Monday, December 17, 2007

Voice Of The Establishment

Here are a couple of excerpts from yesterday's Jack Kelly column in the Pittsburgh Psychosis-Gazette, regarding the most recent Republican presidential candidates debate:

-- Even libertarian fruitcake Ron Paul seemed to be on his meds. -- The "debate" also was marred by the puzzling presence of Alan Keyes, who demonstrated yet again that he belongs in a straitjacket, not public office.
Alan Keyes was the candidate for whom I enthusiastically voted back in 1996, and for whom I would have voted again in 2000 if his name had been on the ballot in Pennsylvania. He was a steadfast constitutionalist far and above his opponents in those two races. Ron Paul is the politician who made me aware of libertarianism and constitutionalism back in the late 1980s, and is the candidate for whom I would vote if the election were held today.

Jack Kelly is the PG's token "conservative" editorial columnist. I prefer to think of him as the voice of the nominally conservative establishment, much in the same way as the rest of the PG writers represent the liberal establishment. In short, he is a tool.

By dismissing Paul as a 'fruitcake" and implying that Keyes is clinically insane, Jack Kelly loses any credibility he once had in my eyes. Ron Paul and Alan Keyes are closer to the conservative ideal than any of the other candidates in this race. Both men have their flaws, and they do sound crazy to establishment observers.

That is fine. In a room full of lunatics, the sane man always seems like the crazy one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Genealogical Alchemy

My main hobby is genealogy. That's why I am not a very active blogger.

To give you an idea of what an avid genealogist I am, I have an extensive family tree database, going back as far as the 1450s in some places, and branching out to distant cousins all over the world. Between ancestors, in-laws, and relatives near and far, I have over 22,000 names in my file.

Every now and then, I will do a Google search on one of the more obscure names to see if I can glean more information on my very extended family. One such name came up in news and blog searches, and it looked very interesting.

So I read (and watched) the news story. And I read blog commentary. It was bad news, if true, and it certainly looks like it is true.

Naturally, I checked to see if he is related to me. His surname is not a common one. However, I did not locate him in my family tree. I promptly put my mad research skillz to work on the Internet, and in just over an hour I was able to confirm that he is, in fact, my fourth cousin. (No times removed.) This means that we share a set of great-great-great-grandparents. No surprise, then, that I had never heard of him before this news broke.

If he were more closely related, I would definitely freak out. As it is, I just files things like this into the virtual scrapbook and say, "Now how about that!" Still, as a relative, I have to hope that there is another reason that he was trying to import and illegal substance. I did not know that such a thing as red phosphorus existed until I read this story. A part of me wants to believe that red phosphorus is an essential ingredient for making gold in an alchemy lab. If that were so, and my distant cousin were successful, I would make sure that we would not remain distant for long.

Welcome To the 21st Century, Charlie Brown

As the father of five children between the ages of 12 and 1, I am more familiar with children's television programming than I have been since I was an adolescent. (I fondly recall watching Inspector Gadget and He-Man while doing Algebra homework after school, then discussing the episodes with the guys in my College Boards class the following days. But I digress.) My kids are most interested in the newer cartoons (go figure!) that appear first-run on Cartoon Network, Toon Disney, and the other cable kid's channels. Not surprisingly, today's cartoons are very different from the ones that I watched as a kid. Poop and fart jokes are mandatory these days, it would seem -- kind of like how sex and/or nudity, visual or implied, must be a part of grown-ups' movies these days. Plus, the action shows are faster and more furious that anything I watched back in the old days.

The only old cartoon that my kids get into is Scooby-Doo. That dog has a certain timeless quality, despite the fact that he hangs out with a "gang" that includes a 1960s beatnik and a 1980s preppy in an ascot. And he has managed to keep up with the times by appearing as a CGI character in two live-action movies -- with plenty of fart jokes.

When I checked out last night's TV listings, I was overjoyed to see that there was a new Peanuts Christmas-themed special on ABC last night. (Actually, it is four years old but I had never heard of it until yesterday, so it is new to me.) At last! A classic style cartoon featuring classic characters in classic situations! Or so I thought. Everything has to grow up sometime -- or, in the case of Peanuts, keep up with the times without going overboard.

The special, entitles "I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown", focuses on Rerun Van Pelt, the baby brother of Lucy and Linus. Rerun is one of the better things that happened to the strip during the last several years of Charles Schulz's life. Babies are always cute, and Schulz used Rerun as a sort of "commentary" character who saw the world from the perspective of the back seat of his mother's bicycle. He might have looked virtually indistinguishable from Linus, but he was certainly not a rerun of Linus's character. Rerun kept Peanuts fresh for years after the strip seemed otherwise to have run its course.

Another late comer to the cast, Snoopy's brother Spike, had just the opposite impact on the strip. He was never an interesting character, he looked like a ridiculous parody of Snoopy with his hat and mustache, and he ruined every Sunday strip he appeared in with his boring and unfunny letters to Snoopy from the desert. The only way I would have enjoyed a Spike strip is if it had ended with his carcass drying in the hot Arizona sun after being picked apart by vultures.

Mercifully, Spike's role in I Want A Dog... is brief and makes him look like the reject that he is.

The rest of the characters were their old familiar selves. Snoopy hasn't turned into Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. I think. (For all I know, his "quacking" vocalizations might be about poop.) Lucy is crabby, Linus has his thumb and blanket obsession, Schroeder still has to put up with Lucy's infatuation with him, etc, etc. There wasn't much to date this cartoon as a product of the 21st century.

But what there was, was big -- and predictable.

Rerun is no longer a baby. He is approximately five years old and attends Kindergarten. He has a friendly interest -- not romantic, mind you, but friendly -- in a cute girl who sits next to him at school. I had a similar type of experience when I was his age. There was a girl named Sherry in my kindergarten class. We became friends during activity time, usually playing house, which was kind of boring when the other boys were on the other side of the room riding the fun wooden trucks. I hadn't quite gotten into the whole make-believe aspect of playtime, because I was earnestly stunned when Sherry told me that we were already married. You are supposed to go to church and exchange vows with your bride. Marriage is serious business. It's not something to play around with. But she aggressively insisted that we were married, and that was that. I decided that if she said so, it must be so. I never told my mother, even though I knew I should -- but how do you break that kind of news to your mother at such a young age? Eventually, the school year ended and so did my pretend marriage. I never met Sherry again, although I think I walked past her on the street about four years later.

No big deal, right? That was 1973. Thirty years later, in 2003, a cartoon character named Rerun is having a deep, thoughtful Peanuts-style conversation with a Kindergarten classmate. At one point, he suggests that they take a trip to Paris together. He doesn't know why, really -- it's just something that people (adults!) do. He doesn't understand the romantic allure of visiting Paris, or how much such a trip would cost, or even where Paris is located. The next day, he is mysteriously called to go to the Principal's office. I had a bad feeling about this. "Don't tell me that a baby Peanuts character is going to get hauled in for sexual harassment!", I thought to myself. Sure enough, in the words of the Principal, "WAH-WAH-WAH, WAH-WAH". Or, as Rerun echoed, "Harassment????"

Oh yes! In the year AD 2003, Peanuts went THERE! But that was alright. Do you know why? I'll tell you:

  • The makers of this long-running series of animated television specials showed that they are not afraid of keeping up with the times.
  • They treated the charge of harassment as the idiocy that it is, rather than turning Peanuts into a lame Afterschool Special about feelings and consequences.
  • Rerun's suspension started the day before Christmas vacation, meaning that he got an extra half-day off. Nuts to you, mother of the girl who called the school to complain!
  • The Principal violated Rerun's civil rights by punishing him without making him fully aware of the charges against him. Nice way to teach a kid a civics lesson, Mr. WAH-WAH.
It was a scene that could have gone so wrong, yet they handled it so well. If that sequence imparted any lesson to the young viewers, it's this: Adults can be total jerks sometimes. And I should know. I am one. (An adult, I mean.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Tin Man Cameth And Wenteth

My wife, children, and I spent the last three evenings watching Tin Man on the SciFi channel. If you are not familiar with this new miniseries, it is a riff on the Wizard of Oz story. This production is "oddly familiar, disturbingly different", to borrow a phrase. All of the familiar elements are there: Girl from Kansas is transported to a mystical land where she makes friends with three rejects who aid her in a quest to find some mysterious dude with a curtain fetish; meanwhile, an evil woman tries to confound the girl and her friends by using magic and creepy flying mammals.

The variations on the familiar characters are striking: the Tin Man of the title is not a creature made of metal, but a former cop who used to wear a badge of tin; the scarecrow is replaced by a man who had half of his brain removed, and a zipper stuck on top of his head; the Cowardly Lion is part of a race of timid hairy people who have strong psychic powers; and the girl, D.G., is actually a descendant of Dorothy Gale from the original story. Instead of being raised by an aunt and uncle, D.G. is raised in Kansas by a couple of Cylon skin jobs (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).

What else? Let's see...the wicked witch character uses demonic possession to take over the body of D.G.'s sister; and at one time, she also killed D.G. Yeah, this is heavy. There were six hours to fill. I'm not going to go through the rest of the details.

My wife liked it (she reads books about this kind of stuff all the time), and the kids were not too freaked out by it, though there were some scenes scary enough to make a girl cover her eyes. I thought it was okay. It could have been worse; it definitely could have been better. But I found it watchable. Others did not; those who could changed the channel, while those who could not suffered through.

There was one reason for Tin Man's watchability: Zooey Deschanel. I find her to be one of the most appealing actresses in Hollywood these days, mainly because she seems so real. She's beautiful without being phony; she's the kind of girl you could take home to meet your mother (and who would take you home to meet her mom); and, unless her career takes a downturn, it's doubtful that you will ever see her show up in the Superficial. Plus, she has a really great voice. She made an impression on me the first time I saw this scene:

It wasn't the implied nudity that got me -- it was the sound of the girl singing. Wonderful! She even sings a bit in Tin Man, though under rather more adverse conditions. I like the long, dark haired Zooey better than the blond Zooey, too. Beautiful! Since I'm forty years old, I can start sounding like an old man now: If I were ten years younger, I would so want to marry her.

Yes, I would say that it was worth sitting through six hours of fair-to-middling television to watch her.

Video Debate

Learned Foot gives us a good reason NOT to vote for Ron Paul, and an equally good reason to consider voting FOR Ron Paul.

Strangely, neither reason has much to do with politics.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

On Second Thought...

Perhaps I was a bit hasty in my last post, in which I implied that I was switching my vote from Ron Paul to Mike Huckabee based on the coveted Ric Flair endorsement. I forgot about this guy:

I was on board with Val Venis many years ago, after I read on the Internet that he spent an hour lecturing some fan on why Alan Keyes should be President of the United States. I was a Keyes man back in 1996 and 2000. What a revelation! I would have thought that a porn star wrestler would have thrust his firm support behind Bill Clinton. More fool me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

It's Not Too Late To Change My Mind

My loyal readers know from my posts over the last couple of months that I am a lukewarm Ron Paul supporter in the upcoming Republican presidential primary. That may change, however.

Can I call myself a Ric Flair Republican? I just may be that.