it’s a good thing i’m not president

I’ve never wanted to be in charge of anything.  I’ve certainly never wanted to have political power, and I don’t envy those who have it. I’m content to change the world five hundred words at a time with my little comedy pieces.

Besides which, I’m probably not very electable, and it’s not my stands on the issues as much as what some would call ‘voter negatives’—namely, that I’m a bisexual, pot-smoking socialist. I don’t doubt that there exists an vast army of horny, stoned leftists out there as a potential base, but it strikes me that this would be a difficult group to galvanize, what with them already busy getting laid and getting high.

I may not want to be president, but I do have a big enough ego to imagine myself as president.  And in looking at what President Obama was handed for his first term, I think if I were in his place, my first official act would have been to flip out.

Seriously, what a crappy gig this is.  Two (three? I can’t keep track) unwinnable and unpopular wars, collapsed banks, outsourced companies, nobody has credit, nobody has a job, nobody wants to buy cars because they don’t have credit (and don’t have jobs to drive to),  and, for nostalgia’s sake, let’s throw in travel advisories for the country right next to us, a country that is apparently governed predominately by drug lords. Oh–almost forgot–most of the world isn’t really sure they trust us. Here’s the paperwork on all that, Mr. President. Any ideas?

As we approach the next election cycle, pundits are already assigning letter grades to the President–and they’ve been doing it since his ‘first hundred days.’ First hundred days’ is such bullshit. Do the math, people. A little over three months, and we’re seriously judging  performance? It takes most people more than three months to get the hang of a new job in the mail room. Hell, it took me four months at my last office job before I figured out where they kept the extra paper clips.

When I look at my last hundred days, I see a mixed record. In no particular order of importance, my accomplishments include:

  1. filed income tax returns
  2. signed up with two temp agencies
  3. responded to 137 Craigslist job leads
  4. wrote over several allegedly funny essays
  5. organized the music on my computer into folders
  6. bought two pairs of jeans

In my defense, I didn’t have a staff of advisors, so I was pretty much flying solo on most of this.

I don’t think my personality is suited to the demands of the presidency, anyway. First, I’m not a morning person, and I understand the president has  ‘morning briefings’. Now, everyone I worked with at the old office job knew that until 11 o’clock, it probably wasn’t a good idea to talk to me, let alone hand me a bunch of paperwork.

Secondly, and I’m not proud of this–I’m a ditherer. If I absolutely have to make a decision, it takes me for-freakin-ever. I once spent three and a half hours in a book store trying to decide what to get for a girlfriend’s birthday. “Hmmm…I could get this, but she might have that already, maybe this is too serious, she might hate this, screw it I’ll get a gift card. ”

So imagining I were president, let’s look at just one decision from Obama’s first year. The Somali pirate thing. Here’s how I would have handled it.

After making several dumb pirate jokes, I would call my advisors in, and then I would have to sort through the options. And then I would freeze up.

“Hmmm…I could send in the Navy, but maybe that’s too aggressive, and what if the pirates shoot the captain, well then we have to shoot the pirates first, but they’re teenagers, and what if we miss, then they shoot the captain anyway, but if I don’t do something right away I look weak, but wait I’m the President so who cares what they think”–and by the time I called my advisors back in, the pirates would have actually seized our Navy ship. And the pirates would have been in their mid-thirties.

I think it’s pretty clear that I shouldn’t be president. What’s also clear to me is that it’s a thankless job for anybody, and maybe we should hold off with the evaluations and grades. In fact, I have an idea–maybe, instead of the first hundred days, we should judge him on his first 1460 days in office. Then we can…vote on it or something.

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and the senate seat goes to…

Having lived in Illinois during the Blagojevich era, I came to enjoy political scandal as theater. In a state where reading the local political news feels like reading Soap Opera Digest, reactions from people on the street to the latest allegations weren’t so much “Oh no he DIDN’T” as they were “Ah, what are ya gonna do?”

Here in Minnesota, political controversy is a much bigger deal because, well, it’s pretty darned unusual.  We like our politics as clean as our cities, don’t ya know. In an exhaustive ten minute internet search, I was only able to find one previous scandal in Minnesota:

  • Minnesota State Senator Sam Solon (D-MN) Pleaded guilty in 1995 to telecommunications fraud for letting his ex-wife make $2,430 in calls on his State Senate telephone line

Outrageous! Where are the reformers?! The system is broken! Seriously, folks–that’s it. Over a decade ago, a state senator’s wife made some long-distance calls. See, ‘Minnesota nice’ means that we don’t have scandals. Heck, we even have a Muslim congressman, and the hubub over that here in Lutheran Land lasted maybe a week. And though right-wing nutjob Michelle Bachman is TRYING to generate some cymbal-clanging outrage, we tolerate her, too.

Our politics is quirky here. Minnesota has historically been a bastion of old-school liberalism (Hubert Humphrey, of course, and don’t forget we’re the only state Mondale carried), but we also elected a professional wrestler as governor. And, if is former comedy partner is to be believed, our current senator is the only member of that august body to have dropped acid.

So I figure there might be an opening in the next election. The issues which grip this state will be the same–having enough Target stores, keeping Garrison Keillor on the radio, and solving the Twins’ pitching problems. So I have decided to launch an ‘exploratory committee’ in advance of the 2016 race.

Let me offer a little background for the voters. I have always registered as a Democrat, except for the year in California when I switched my registration to the Peace and Freedom Party. Suffice to say, there was a woman involved. And some weed. On the issues, I’m opposed to crime, and in favor of education. I will save the state millions of dollars by running official business from my apartment,, and since I am currently unemployed, I will have the time to commit at least three hours each day to solving the state’s budget crisis.

The state’s unemployment will be addressed by the creation of a massive public works project.  I propose we build a giant insulating dome over the city of Minneapolis, thereby courting conventions and tourist dollars even in the middle of winter.

Now here’s the most visionary part of my plan. Forget ‘sin’ taxes, which clearly haven’t stopped people from smoking or drinking (every smoker I know has said things like “When cigarettes get to be more than x dollars a pack, I’m quitting,” and in reality, we would buy them for fifty dollars a pack out of the back of a van).

Instead, I am proposing a  tax on healthy things. Soy milk. Broccoli. Bicycles. Especially bicycles. And everything related to bicycles–tax their goofy little blinking lights, tax their ridiculous bells and tax their helmets which apparently make them feel invincible as they cross three lanes of rush hour traffic and ignore stop lights even though the helmet will only protect your skull while the rest of your body can still get RUN OVER! Sorry. Bicyclists just seem a little full of themselves sometime.

Oh, and to avoid any possibility of getting caught up in some pay-for-play, graft-fueled corruption scandal, I will sever all ties with any professional politicians. I will only talk to my closest friends. Just my buds. Who will also be my advisors. And who will serve in various positions in my office.

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i’m all about solutions

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the world’s problems, and frankly I was stumped. Don’t get me wrong– I came up with a lot of answers to life’s big questions (what God would call ‘hot-button issues’ if God were in marketing)– but I thought nobody would actually listen to me. Then I realized that the world NEEDS my help–and if I didn’t makes these ideas available to everyone, well, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. And if you can’t live with yourself, who do you move in with? But that’s a subject for another time. So–here are some solutions to the world’s problems. I’ll give you these a few at a time so nobody gets overwhelmed. If anyone in the government wants to try any of these ideas, they’re free. Because I care.

HOMELESSNESS

After listening to several experts, I have determined that the country has too many homeless people. I have also found out that there are people in the country with more than one home. Solution—the government seizes all the extra houses, and turns them into homeless shelters. You have a condo downtown and a house in in the burbs?–pick one. Nobody needs two places to live.

GUN CONTROL

In Canada in 2002, where handguns are illegal, there were one hundred forty-nine handgun murders all year. I think I had that many on my block in Chicago last year. What does this prove? That handguns should be illegal? Maybe, or maybe it proves that Canadians are lousy shots. But we don’t need to ban guns. I say, you can have as many guns as you want. However, if you want bullets you should have to buy them one at a time . If you use your bullet, you can go back and buy another one.

THE DEATH PENALTY

Although we are the only industrialized nation that kills its own citizens, public opinion in the U.S. still supports the death penalty. So, here’s an idea that might provide a balance. If someone is given the death penalty, and their innocence is proven later, the prosecutor who asked for capital punishment will be executed, along with the jury that handed down the sentence.

IDIOT DRUNKS

Here’s the deal. When you’re old enough to drive you take a driving test, right? Well, when you’re old enough to buy booze, the state should administer a drinking test . You would go to an actual state office, tell them what you like to drink, and the state will get you drunk. Then you will be placed in different situations that might occur when you’re drinking to see if you act like an asshole. Someone will bump into you, look at you funny, maybe play ‘Free Bird’ on a jukebox…if you can handle these tests without getting into a fight, or breaking things, or screaming “LYNRD SKYNRD!”, you get a drinking license.

Now I’m not talking about the responsible drinker here. I’m not talking about the kind of guy who is, let’s say, just trying to make a living as a writer, but because of the whims of the entertainment business has to look for work at a mind-numbing eight-dollar-an-hour job, while talentless hacks make millions of dollars creating garbage, so in order to cope with the bitterness and crippling depression he might have a few shots at a dive bar before he gets home and then drink enough store brand vodka to fall asleep. I’m talking about the real problem drinkers.

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multinational stupidity

It’s not news that this country has gotten dumber. What’s frightening to me is how we’ve become a country that embraces dumb. I think most people would agree that a country is best judged by its tv game shows, and today, the three most popular are “Wheel of Fortune,” “Deal or No Deal,” and “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”.

“Wheel,” of course, rewards people for figuring out phrases with certain letters missing. I actually saw someone buy a vowel when they were looking at a board that said ‘M__nt R_shm_r_.’ You can figure that one out pronouncing it without the vowels! “Deal” requires even less cognitive skill than “Wheel,” since the entire show consists of GUESSING. But the worst is “Fifth Grader,” which gives out huge sums of cash to adults who have to prove they know more than eleven-year olds. Here’s where they’ve got it wrong—the show should in fact punish the grownups who don’t win–if you’re not smarter than a fifth grader, you should be put in some sort of internment camp so we can isolate the dullards and prevent them from breeding.

Sadly, we seem celebrate mediocrity in America. Who is mentioned in any election as the bellweather for any issue?—the ‘average’ American. Not the best or brightest American, but the ‘average’ American. Pardon me for not jumping on some Capra-esque bandwagon here, but should policy really be dictated by the law of averages?

It’s too bad a candidate for elected office can’t say things like “My opponent is a good person with a beautiful family, but the fact is I AM MUCH SMARTER THAN HE IS.” Or, “I’m not worried about attacks from my opponent, because THEY’RE STUPID.” Read the speeches of great leaders from the past–they didn’t speak like the average Americans of their time. They used nuanced concepts, polished turns of phrase, and really big words. Lincoln never felt the need to sprinkle in some ‘you betcha’s and ‘darn right’s just to connect with people who are ‘average.’

Not to offend any dactylonomists reading this, but this country needs to start celebrating smart people. Why do we think it’s good to be average? In game show terms, that’s the $64,000 Question. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, elitism in the defense of intelligence is no vice, and commonality in the defense of mediocrity is no virtue. We should be aiming for the top, and by definition, ‘average’ means somewhere in the flabby middle.

The average American is that guy working at Target who is baffled by any question that doesn’t involve the particular section of the store for which he’s been trained. The average American is the woman on the bus who doesn’t understand that by standing in the front of the bus, she’s actually preventing other people from getting on the bus. The average American is that person who sees a ‘push’ sign on a door–because it’s at freaking eye level–and proceeds to pull the door…not once, but twice.

This naive notion that our country would be better off if the average American were running things, or that our elected officials should explain things in terms the average American can understand, is why we will someday be ranked somewhere between Sri Lanka and Chad on the list of world powers. Not that the average American would know where Sri Lanka or Chad are. I sorta think the people in charge of the dumb people should be smarter than the dumb people, but maybe that’s just my elitism talking.

Thankfully, we will always have the North Koreans when we want to feel superior. By this I mean the government of North Korea, not the ‘average’ North Korean. Now I would be worried about offending North Korea, but since their Great Leader doesn’t allow them access to the internet (or, for that matter, food), I’m probably on safe ground.

In their latest saber-rattling, rather like an eight-year old stomping his feet, Pyongyang wanted attention. So they launched a rocket. At this point, I think the world is more afraid of a North Korean lunch than a North Korean launch. This time, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly,

“The…rocket fired …and apparently did not boost a satellite into space…because no satellite has been detected by numerous space tracking systems. As for the rocket itself, only the first stage appears to have worked. The other two stages fell into the ocean, taking the payload with them.”

At this point, North Korea would be more intimidating if it rattled actual sabres at people.

Since the DPRK says it wants dialogue with the West, and since President Obama is busy at the moment dealing with countries which are…important, I am offering my services for the purpose of this dialogue. One of the most entertaining websites I visit is the official news agency of the ‘Democratic’ ‘Peoples’ Republic of Korea (click here for the English version). The following is an actual ‘news’ item from the website—the parenthetical comments would be my ‘dialogue’ with the North Koreans.

U.S. hard-line policy flailed

Pyongyang–It is foolish of the United States (great–the opening sentence sounds like something from a fifties sci-fi flick–“Your feeble Earth weapons are useless against us!”) to try to stifle the DPRK with its hard-line policy, says Rodong Sinmun (wait–didn’t Rodong lose to Mothra?) today in a signed article. It says:
The U.S. is working hard to isolate the DPRK under the pretext of “military threat” and “missile threat” from the DPRK and “threat” from its conventional forces after terming it “no. 1 enemy” but this is a folly (maybe so, but at least it’s not annoying like your use of “quotation marks” ), in utter ignorance of the stand, strength and will of the DPRK (although the people’s strength and will is a bit less than it used to be, what with rampant starvation, no jobs and and not a whole lot of foreign aid, you isolationist bozos).
In the 1990s, too, the U.S. was defeated in confrontation with the DPRK (known to historians as The War That North Korea Imagines).
The DPRK reacted to the U.S. frantic nuclear blackmail and war moves with a super hard-line stand (OMG it was like super hard-line!). It dealt a heavy blow to the U.S. and its followers by taking such countermeasures for self-defence as withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and declaring a semi-war state (very cagey–if we only declare “semi-war,” they might not bomb us out of existence).
The DPRK has become a powerful country which the U.S. dare not provoke and the U.S. lost its face before the international community (ok–beyond the grammar problem,you guys are kidding now, right?).
The U.S. failed in its policy to stifle the DPRK (damn–now I guess we’ll have to go back to ignoring them).

So as to not paint an unfair picture of the North Korean people, I’ll end this with a picture from the same official website (I’ve translated the caption from the original Korean):

korea

Here is an example of the beneficence of The Great Leader Kim Jong-il, as he has given every child in the Republic a new accordion. Those smiles say “Thank You Great Leader, We Are Very Hungry But Are Grateful For Our Accordions!”

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even ignorance is bigger in texas

First, a disclaimer. I do not believe that all Texans are idiots. It would be unfair of me to suggest that all Texans are stupid. I do feel safe in saying that the Texas State Legislature has lost its collective mind.

Now it’s not like I subscribe to ‘Texas Legislation Monthly,’ so my information may not be current. But in 2009, they unanimously passed a law allowing Texans to carry guns and ammunition in their cars to work, as long as they leave them locked in the car, and only narrowly defeated . Now before you rip the second amendment out of the Constitution and shove it in my weak-kneed, lily-livered, pacifist face, let me just suggest that the Founding Fathers probably didn’t think that a “well-regulated militia” would necessarily include Bob in accounting, and it seems unlikely that the guy in the doing data-entry in his cubicle was meant to be our first line of defense against the forces of sedition.

Seriously, people. If anything defines ‘slippery slope,’ I think it’s this. Basically, if you have a job, you can put your gun in your car and drive to work. In an society where workplace shootings make the news every few weeks, where will this lead? Back in the day, the only people who shot their co-workers worked at the post office (which I never understood–what kind of pressure was making those guys snap? There are jobs where I can picture someone cracking under stress, but whenever I go to the Post Office, the employees move WAY too slow to be under stress) .

Now, let’s say that jerk of a boss is on your ass again to finish some project–he needs the March numbers now! I mean how many of us have thought “I am gonna kill that fucker!”. Well, now in Texas, you just go to the parking lot on your lunch break  and all of a sudden that Excel spreadsheet can wait.

And I love the reasoning espoused by State Senator Glenn Hegar. Apparently, people “like their firearms,” but are kinda ambivalent about their LAWS.

“People like their firearms in Texas, and if they want to bring them to their workplace, they are going to do it whether there is a policy or not,” Hegar said.

Now here’s what’s really cool. The whole “Take Your Gun To Work Day”  idea wasn’t the scariest thing to come out of the 2009 legislative session in Austin. This same august body also only narrowly defeated a proposition that would have required schools to teach that the theory of evolution has “strengths and weaknesses,” thus opening the door ever so slightly to creationism.

Now before you internet villagers get your torches out, let me say that I am actually that seemingly rare liberal intellectual who believes in God. And I believe it’s possible that God may have thought up the whole evolution thing, and sorta kick-started it. But please understand, my creationist friends–evolution is a fact.

Here’s how it breaks down, kids:

Strengths: it really happened, and there is an Earth-sized mountain of tangible evidence to prove it happened.

Weaknesses: Well, scientists agree that evolution cannot yet explain the lack of development in the brains of Texas state legislators.

What’s really amazing is that the Luddites were only defeated by a margin of 8-7. Vegas wouldn’t have taken those odds. I can just imagine that debate…one by one, seven people made impassioned, Bible-centered arguments showing the ‘weaknesses’ of 150 years of evolutionary research, at which point the other eight senators looked at each other and said “are you people kidding me?”

School board president Don McLeroy led the effort, threatening to not approve textbooks which don’t allow some compromise on the issue.  I worry that the Texas Board of ‘Education’ (quotation marks entirely mine) will start ‘re-examining’ other scientific theories–kids in high school will be introduced to ‘alternate theories’ about gravity (maybe it’s the actual Hand of God that’s pushing down on us–students should consider this) or the solar system (Earth might not be the center of the universe–telescopes are known for their ‘weaknesses’).  Please, Texas. You’re bringing down the curve for the rest of us.

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priorities

Although some of the mystical ‘leading economic indicators’ seem to be recovering, don’t think this country is done with the nightmare. For the most part, I have been insulated from the economic crisis. A key reason for this: I had no money when the crisis began; I am exactly as broke as I was when all of this started.

But a some recent news items point out how dire things still are. In March, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra went on strike, and now it seems the Syracuse Symphony may have to cancel the rest of its season. What? We’re talking he cornerstone of the entire upstate New York classical music industry–how could we let this happen? I mean, GM is one thing–but the Syracuse Symphony?!  Where are the congressional hearings? Where’s the outrage?

I don’t think any of us can imagine where this will lead.  Fewer musicians working could mean that,  I think for the first time in our nation’s history, we could see musicians in the unemployment line. Less rehearsal time may mean that audiences will be forced to endure unevenly performed string quartets. And who knows–maybe they won’t even be played by quartets! Everyone knows that our nation’s cellists are the first to be cast aside in a crisis.

Of course, economic analysts often point to small regional orchestras as the true bellweathers of the economy–the proverbial ‘canaries in the coal mine.’ Just think what might happen next. Ballet companies having to dance in street shoes…operas mounted with NO incidental music… a production of  Wagner’s ‘Ring’ cut down to only three and a half hours!

If the SSO and other crucial groups are not bailed out by the federal government, the repercussions will shatter the very foundations of our society. We cannot leave our children a country in which community theaters, in the interest of ‘financial responsibility,’ have to mount productions of  “One Gentleman of Verona” or “Seven Angry Men.” Or a version of “The Music Man’ where the townsfolk can only sing about “55 Trombones.” Please, people. Demand that Congress save the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Or this great experiment, this America, will surely collapse.

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