Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Cure For Chronic Laughter

Every Wednesday I read Reg Henry's humorous take on life, politics, and current events in the Pittsburgh Moist-Towelette newspaper, and I am never disappointed. He is nothing if not consistent. Not one of his columns gets published without a gratuitous swipe at President Bush, and never does his humor succeed in falling flat and failing to make me laugh.

The only kind of amusement I get out of Reg's columns is the sport of trying to find the hidden Bush bash. (Whole columns about the president don't count.) He can sit down and tap out a seemingly innocuous piece about a childhood memory or his relationship with his dog, and he manages to work in a snide remark about George Bush.

Today he gets it over with in the third paragraph:

"What is it that politicians need in order to do their jobs in America today?"

At first I thought the answer was brains, but then I realized -- silly me! -- that many successful politicians from the president on down show little sign of gray matter.

People who don't agree with me are stupid! Simple, direct, and to the point. Reg certainly put us in our place, didn't he? And he did it with such humor.

In case you were wondering what the point of this column is, Reg humorously suggests that he should start a business providing scapegoats and stereotypes for political conservatives. Going into details about the particular kind of scapegoats his hypothetical business sells gives him the chance to go after other right wing types, like Rick Santorum:

Why, just the other day I had a U.S. senator -- I must be confidential about the names of customers -- who bought a whole pack of illegal immigrant stereotypes to use in his campaign. He comes from a part of his state that has few immigrants of any kind, but he forgot this because he lives in Washington now.

No problem. He was pleased as punch to have a stereotype to inflame the voters. Anyway, scapegoats have nothing to do with common sense or reality. They are simply the worst nightmares of the American people, who, lord love 'em, aren't much for thinking things through.

Putting aside that suggestion that the American people are stupid, and the Santorum residency issue dementia, does Reg really think that illegal immigration is something that is only relevant to border states? Let's look at this, shall we?

Last week, a man nearly drowned at the bottom of the municipal pool in the borough where I reside. The brave young lifeguards acted quickly to save the man's life before the authorities transported him to a hospital for further medical care. In a news story -- in Reg Henry's own newspaper, mind you -- about the heroism of the the lifeguards, an interesting fact about the near-drowning victim came to light:

County police say Mr. Lopez-Vilchis is an illegal immigrant from Mexico.

He had been at the pool with three other Mexicans who since have been detained by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly Immigration and Naturalization Services. The agency could not be reached and the other three men have not been identified.

It's an illegal immigrant. From Mexico. In Pittsburgh. Do you still think this isn't an issue in the campaign? Now, it would be easy to buy into a stereotype (not unlike the one that Reg Henry's hypothetical store sells to us stupid conservatives) and assume that these Mexicans were hanging around the pool because that's all they do aside from mowing the occasional lawn for beer money. It could be true, but I don't buy that (sorry, Reg!). There is a small but growing Mexican immigrant community just a few blocks up the road from this swimming pool. The newcomers have opened restaurants and groceries, they have gotten jobs in the area, and they are working hard to establish a community in the Beechview section of Pittsburgh. They support themselves and also send money to help out relatives back in Mexico. The men at the pool could very well have been brand new arrivals who were too anxious to come up and be part of the community that they neglected to go through proper channels.

In short, they certainly do have every right to try to become a part of our society -- as long as they do so legally. The Reg Henrys of the world would have you believe that we would want all undocumented immigrants deported, never to be allowed back again. It seems that Reg has bought his own stereotype of those who oppose his simplistic advocacy of amnesty for illegals. Are we stupid and bigoted? No. We just want the current crop of prospective Americans to do what previous generations of immigrants did, and obey the laws pertaining to becoming a U.S. citizen. What's so terrible about that?

Did I say that Reg Henry was humorous? Perhaps he is, in his own mind. I continue to await the day when he writes something that will make me laugh. But I'm not holding my breath.

There's Just No Pleasing Some Editorialists

A few days ago, President George W. Bush spoke before a gathering of the NAACP for the first time in his presidency. Bush opponents had criticized him for years because of the administration's reluctance to arrange a presidential appearance before the organization. It was, they claimed, a sign that (as Kanye West would say) George Bush doesn't care about black people.

Now that President Bush has not only given a speech at an NAACP convention, but spoke in conciliatory, almost pandering, tones, how does the political left feel? If you're a jabroni who writes editorials at the Pittsburgh Moist-Towlette, nothing that the president does short of disappearing from the face of the earth will ever please you about him. Let's tear this sucker apart:

While campaigning for the presidency in 2000, George W. Bush couldn't say
enough nice things about the NAACP.
Mistake. The NAACP may be the most high-profile black special interest group in America, but it is more representative of left wing politics than it is of "Black America". He shouldn't have gone out of his way to be so nice to an organization that represents an opposing political view and will never have anything nice to say about him.

As the standard-bearer of the "party of Lincoln," Mr. Bush reminded minority
voters that it was a Republican president, after all, who freed the slaves. He
also pointed to his own congenial working relationship with black Democrats in
the Texas Legislature.
Historical fact and personal experience are irrelevant when they conflict with strongly-held, biased political views. The NAACP doesn't care about the truth. Truth gets in the way of propaganda.

But when he failed to garner more than 9 percent of the black vote that November, Mr. Bush took it to heart. He expected more support from a group he'd considered susceptible to his amiable charm.
Mr. Bush learned a valuable lesson: It's no use being nice to people who hate you, so why bother? And how do we know for sure that only 9% voted for him? We have a secret ballot, and exit polls are unreliable. I do not trust that number.

For ignoring a wide array of policy concerns important to African Americans,
the Bush administration was condemned early on by the civil rights establishment. Under the leadership of former President Kweisi Mfume and current Chairman Julian Bond, the NAACP frequently issued withering critiques of the president and his plans.
The president's base is more concerned with the administration ignoring a wide array of policy concerns important to Americans in general. We haven't "condemned" him, either; to do so would imply that we want him to be demolished or sent to hell. But the NAACP does! So why, again, would he want to play nice with this bunch.

BTW, does the NAACP really represent all "African Americans"? I sincerely doubt that.

Mr. Bush reacted to the bad reviews by refusing to address the group's annual conventions. Until last week, he risked becoming the only sitting president since Warren Harding to skip the NAACP's conventions. But six years after hostilities commenced between the president and the nation's oldest civil rights organization, Mr. Bush and the NAACP decided to make nice.
"Hostilities"? I know that the NAACP and the administration have had poor relations, but "hostilities" is a word that normally means "violent conflict" in contemporary newsspeak. This is wishful thinking on the part of a medium that thrives on bad news.

A couple of other points about the above passage:

Last week in his speech to the NAACP, he pledged to sign the renewal of the Voting Rights Act and garnered a strong ovation. His other policy initiatives, like charter schools and repealing the estate tax, left the audience cold, however.
Of course it left the audience cold. It was an audience of leftists. Anything that doesn't involve the government's involvement in myriad aspects of American's lives is anathema to these socialists. They don't want to hear that. The president can't say anything to make the group happy, so why bother, especially at this point in his presidency?
Cynics are right to point out that Mr. Bush's low poll numbers have much to do with his sudden willingness to reach out to black folks. If it takes political weakness to make a sitting president receptive to the petitions of people he once ignored, so be it.
Meanwhile, cynics on the Right are pointing out that poll numbers are irrelevant (no one has ever polled me, so I don't trust the polls); that reaching out to "black folks" should mean talking to blacks who are at heart conservative even if they don't vote that way (yet), instead of pandering to a special interest group that has little in common politically with the president; that George Bush is neither apathetic nor indifferent to "the petitions of people he once (allegedly) ignored", because he has a tendency to treat American citizens as equals; and that speaking to the NAACP leads to political weakness, not the other way around, as the Moist-Towelette editorialist states.

President Bush might as well have spoken to the Democratic National Committee. Why bother trying to make friends with someone who has marked you as an enemy for life?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Circumcision Of The Daleks

Back when I was a college student, about seventeen years ago, I would get together with some friends for a "Whofest". This was a gathering of about a half-dozen 21 year olds who would spend a Saturday night watching Doctor Who on videotape in some guy's basement at his parents' house, and then going out for pizza and beer. Yes, it was even more fun than it sounds.

I had all but forgotten these gatherings until recently, when I obtained a DVD copy of the Doctor Who story "Genesis of the Daleks". On the night in which our merry band assembled for a Whofest to watch this story back in 1989, we found ourselves getting a little bored with the television and bantered amongst ourselves, barely acknowledging that the tape was still running. Suddenly, a guy named Rudy stood up and cried out:

"Wait! Did he just say 'foreskin'???"

Keeping in mind that twenty year olds are basically still adolescents in many ways (though the case can be made that men approaching forty are also), we all desperately wanted this to be true. Doctor Who uses the word "foreskin" in conversation with his hated nemesis Davros, creator of the Daleks! But in what context?

We replayed that segment a couple of times just to make sure we hadn't heard what we thought we heard. The Doctor was bound to a chair and forced to recount his personal history with the Daleks. He explained that he had been instrumental in many Dalek defeats because "I've fought against them". Well, that was certainly sobering.

Not wishing to let the evening's funniest moment die, I suggested that he perhaps was trying to say, "I've foreskinned them". How does the word "foreskin" work as a verb? When one "skins" an animal, he removes its skin. So if the Doctor foreskins a Dalek, he is circumcising it.
Circumcision of the Daleks? Why not? Biblical themes were used in titles of Dalek stories for a number of years in Doctor Who. They not only had a "Genesis", but also a "Resurrection" and a "Revelation". Circumcision would fit right in.

Now that I have had the opportunity to revisit the show on DVD, I can say that, although the captioning for the line says "I've fought against them", it sure sounds like the Doctor tells Davros that "I foreskins 'em". Yep. He catches 'em, foreskins 'em, and sets 'em free just so he can blows 'em all up. He's a regular Torquemada, that Doctor.

A Model Toy Barn

A.B. Charles Hobby Shop, the South Hills's favorite place to go for toy trains, model cars, and thousands of other recreational enthusiasts' diversions, made the news a few weeks ago when it was driven out of its longtime location by an expansionist auto dealer. Now A.B. Charles has found a new home by driving a suburban day care center out of business.

At least that's what some people would have us believe.

In truth, as the owner of the day care center says, "It was purely a business deal". He decided it was time to get out of the business, and took advantage of a good offer. Not that everyone is clear on the matter:

Parents who questioned the day care staff over the past few weeks said they
could get no information, and workers reportedly said they were equally in the
dark on the matter.
This reminds me of the movie Daddy Day Care, where evil Angelica Huston and her snobby day care mansion tried to run Eddie Murphy's home-based day care out of business by unsavory means. I can see this real-life episode being converted into a touchy-feely motion picture in which the day care center employees and parents martial all resources at their disposal to buy the business and save the day care from the evil choo-choo man.

But that would be fictional, the sort of thing that would appeal to Hollyweirdos and other liberals. In the real world, there are no villains in this transaction. Someone wants in, someone else wants out -- it's perfect. I am glad to see that A.B. Charles has found a new home in a better location with parking. It is a very familiar location to me, though I have not been there in years.

When I was a growing boy, the barn-shaped structure was home to Rollier's Hardware. It was cool. Nothing could compare to a big store with two floors that had multiple copies of everything connected to your house. I loved going there with my father just because I enjoyed going inside. I found a plumbing doohickey called a "ballcock" particularly amusing, because it sounded like something that my father would say when he was angry. The toilet plungers also made me laugh, but that was long before I ever had to use one. After Rollier's moved to a more upscale section of Mount Lebanon, the new store lacked the same aesthetic appeal for me. I still go there before I shop anywhere else for hardware, but it's just another hardware store to me now.

I haven't been back to the barn since Rollier's moved out. The first tenant to occupy the space was a Boston Chicken restaurant, but I never ate there since I frequently patronized the BC location closer to my workplace. My wife and I never had any need to send our kids to day care, either. Come October, I will have a chance to reenter the magical building and see just what, if anything has changed about the inside. There will be one big difference, though: Now that I am grown up, the place will be full of toys. This is going to be even more fun than ballcocks and toilet plungers.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Nasty Bad Teeth

I just remembered -- I have an appointment with my dentist this Friday. Why would I suddenly think of such a thing? Oh, it might have something to do with the fact that I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest yesterday afternoon. And the most striking thing about seeing this film in a movie theater is the constant sight of horribly decaying, rotten teeth on display for all to see on the big screen. It was too easy to lose track of the movie's goings-on when varying shades of yellow, black, green and gold leapt out from orifices of the characters on the screen.

Tia Dalma, the friendly witch-type character, wins the prize for shiniest mouth, on account of the fact that most of her teeth seem to be made of gold. She's otherwise very creepy, but at least the actress playing her was cute enough to keep me from turning my head away when Tia was on screen.

Elizabeth Swann, portrayed by the underfed Keira Knightley, has a pretty face, sparkling teeth, and very kissable lips. Just ask Captain Jack Sparrow -- the creep factor went up a few notches when the pirate boldly engaged in a protracted liplock with his pal's chick. Elisabeth is an anomaly in this film. She's almost too pretty to be seen in the company of decrepit scumbags on boats. There's a third POTC film currently in production, and I would not be surprised if Elizabeth lowers her standards even further and engages in tongue wrestling with Davy Jones in that one.

You see, Davy Jones shall I say this... Davy and his crew look like spoiled seafood. Try going out to Red Lobster after watching this movie and see how quickly you lose your appetite. Davy Jones, whose crew primarily consists of anthropomorphic shellfish who used to be men, has a head that looks like an octopus that has gone over the tentacle quota. If Elizabeth Swann has a taste for calamari, she'll be his darling halfway through the next movie. She might even forget the state of his teeth, if he has teeth. Being toothless would actually be an improvement for many of the creeps in this film.

Take, for instance, Pintel and Ragetti. This comic-relief duo would be ideal study aids for dental school students, if in fact there were any kind of dental schools in the Caribbean in the 18th century. If the filmmakers care at all about continuity, these guys will be completely toothless in film number three.

About the movie was good. The kids liked it. The wife loved it. And the ending was a mild shocker, though it was just a touch too similar to the end of Spider-Man 2. It left us wanting more, and that was a good thing. I just hope Keira Knightley makes a lot of dough out of this series, because she really does need to invest in some carbohydrates.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Yes, I Am Still Alive

And I have no idea how soon I am going to be getting back into regular posting here. The rest of this week will likely consist of playing catch-up after vacation lag.

Expect me to comment on California, Amtrak, and other delightful experiences of my recent vacation. Now if you will please excuse me, it's time for another nap.