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Mitt Romney Is Bobbling His Nerf Presidency

Twelve years ago, I voted for Ralph Nader for president. I did so not because I particularly wanted him to be president, and certainly not because I thought he ever would be, but because I wanted him to reach 2% of the popular vote, which would have made the Green Party eligible for the presidential debates in 2004. So young and naive I was, hoping to get more voices into the national debate!

Anyway, I voted for Nader but I was fervently rooting for Al Gore, and since I lived in deep-blue California at the time, I didn’t have to worry about that contradiction throwing the election to Bush. But then the Florida recounts happened, Bush ended up on top, and though it wasn’t the result I wanted to see, I couldn’t help feeling like he won it fair and square.

I use “fair and square” euphemistically, of course, because the Bush campaign used every dirty, dishonest trick in the book, and came up with a few new ones, to win Florida (or, more accurately, to prevent Gore from winning it). But it was a FIGHT, and Bush and his campaign won it.

The point is: the 2000 recount was as good a simulated surprise crisis as a non-incumbent presidential candidate is ever likely to see, and it showed what kind of organizations the candidates were running. Gore’s was sloppy, disorganized, and constantly crying foul about the Bush team’s tactics. The Bush campaign mobilized immediately, sent armies of people to Florida to influence the outcome, and put its various friends in high places to work. It wasn’t pretty, but when push came to shove, Bush had the better-run organization, and he won.

A presidential campaign is long, it’s repetitive, and it’s boring, but it’s also a pretty good Nerf version of the presidency — you can take it out and throw it around without really breaking anything. The candidates are under unbelievable pressure each and every day, every word they say is scrutinized and spun one way or another, and they sit at the head of a big organization, and they’re being pulled in every direction by a million interested parties. It’s ridiculous, it’s antiquated, it’s terribly annoying if you pay more than passing attention to it, but it’s also the best indicator there is of what kind of president that candidate will turn out to be.

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The Trashiest, Most Satisfying Show of the Summer

I just watched the most satisfying television season finale I’ve seen in a long time. It paid off long story arcs, it had surprises, it had romance, it had betrayal, it had reversals, and like the all best dramas, every revelation was at once completely surprising, and totally made organic sense. I refer, of course, to Bachelor Pad 3.

I have made a few embarrassing admissions in this space. I confessed to having quit drinking because of multiple bedwetting incidents. I revealed that I once plotted the murder of my roommate’s dog. I admitted to almost burning down a cabana at the best destination wedding ever. But I am really genuinely embarrassed to reveal this, because I could feel my own standards lowering with each commercial break, but at the same time I feel a need to scream what a great piece of entertainment I just witnessed, the same as I felt when I was the only person I knew watching Homeland last season.

First: What is Bachelor Pad 3? (Other than the greatest reality show ever?) It is the third season of the trashy, (more) exploitative stepcousin of The Bachelor franchise, filmed at the same opulent Los Angeles mansion used for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. (You can’t let a place like that sit vacant, with no trashy reality shows filming in it, for more than a few weeks — that’s just dollars and sense.) Like The Bachelor/ette, it is a competition, but unlike The Bachelor/ette, the grand prize is not a wedding engagement that will go south faster than cheese left in the sun — it’s $250,000, which should last at least a couple of weeks longer.

The contestants are already familiar to the audience, because it is composed entirely of past Bachelor/ette hopefuls, a gene pool characterized by a willingness to do almost anything on camera, including but not limited to:

a) proposing marriage
b) using the word “bro” more than three times in one sentence
c) declaring undying love ten minutes after meeting
d) open disdain of clothing that might obstruct the camera’s view of one’s rigorously maintained abs
e) Listing “VIP Cocktail Waitress” or “Data Destruction Manager” or (my favorite) “Luxury Brand Consultant” as your actual occupation, right under your name and face, on national network TV

The genius of Bachelor Pad is that while the object of the game is to win money — not to pretend to fall in love — the game is structured to encourage and then exploit the relationships that always blossom when you put 16 under-30 tanning enthusiasts in a big house with a pool, a hot tub, 24 cameramen, and ten cases of liquor (per person). Everyone is expected to pick an opposite-sex partner, who they are not required to (but in nearly all cases immediately do) sleep with, to compete against the other teams for the money. There is a ridiculous, Double Dare-esque challenge each week, and the winners are both immune from being eliminated in that week’s voting. Since the contestants (as opposed to the audience) vote each other off the show, alliances are formed, hollow promises are exchanged freely, and bald-faced lies are currency.

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Pay Heed, Allergy Sufferers, For I Am Your King!

As the summer comes to an end, I can’t help but feel sorry for the poor, desperate souls who’ve suffered through the season in one of two miserable states.

One: sniffling, nose red, chafed, and sore, rubbing their eyes, sneezing more often than not sneezing, spitting out the mucus that never stops running down their throats when no one’s looking, constantly clearing their throats as a way to scratch the itch that said mucus creates, and walking around with one pocket full of fresh Kleenex and another pocket full of spent Kleenex (or, looking around wild-eyed for something to use as a Kleenex: napkin, paper towel, old newspaper, candy wrapper).

Or, two: shuffling around in a Sudafed/Chlor-Trimeton/Benadryl haze, feeling like your head has gained twenty pounds, ever so slightly tingling from head to toe and unable to shake the fantasy of lying down and trying to bond with your comforter at a subatomic level.

I feel this pity for the so afflicted because until a couple of years ago, I was one of you. I may well have been your king! I realize that this sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it literally and truthfully: I have never seen anyone else suffer from allergies as much as me. They handicapped me to the point of near-total paralysis. I once ruined — not tainted, not dampened, RUINED — a Thanksgiving dinner at my wife’s uncle’s house because I was so allergic to their cats my eyes swelled and turned the color of an old tomato and I couldn’t stop sneezing for even ten seconds. Again: not exaggerating. Read More

The Soda Ban = Apartheid

I saw something pretty strange the other day on my bike ride home: an ad on the back of a Pepsi-Cola delivery truck depicting, in silhouette, a man triumphantly raising a cup, as an Olympian might hold his torch or a gladiator might hold up the severed head of his vanquished foe: in a pose of defiant triumph.


This refers, of course, to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale of sodapop and other sweetened beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces. in an effort to slow the avalanche of childhood obesity.

How dare he!

There has been a surprisingly strong public outcry in opposition of this move here in the city — there was a hearing about it the other day, and the hearing was attended by activists with signs and everything. Yesterday the New York Times reported on a citywide poll that found two-thirds of city residents not in favor of the motion — most of those quoted in the piece framed it as a civil rights issue, as in “who is the government to tell me how much soda I can drink?” Read More

Obama Staged The Moon Landing

A couple of nights ago Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine, last seen in the mortifying Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster groveling/mending fences with Lars Ulrich 20 years after being kicked out of the band for excessive debauchery — quite a feat in a band once known to friends as “Alcoholica” — made some controversial comments onstage with Megadeth in Singapore.

Behold, the face of stupid

Megadeth is one of those bands that’s been around forever but who no one seems to like. I am certainly no stranger to metal, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard a Megadeth song. The only thing I know about them is that Mustaine started the band when he got kicked out of Metallica, and that they are credited with bringing political awareness to thrash metal, on the strength of their 1987 album Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?

I never gave much thought to what Mustaine’s political point of view might be on that or any of his subsequent records. Turns out it is somewhere to the right of Timothy McVeigh. 

“My president is trying to pass a gun ban, so he’s staging all of these murders,” Mustaine told the crowd, and then went on to list the Aurora massacre, the Sikh temple massacre, and the “Fast & Furious” operation in Mexico as examples.

I have to wonder what Dave means by “staging.” Does he mean that these murders were faked, like the moon landing? Was no one actually killed in Colorado? Or in the Sikh temple? Or maybe Dave means that the president arranged these massacres, like Bush arranged 9/11? Either way, it’s clear who the bad guy is in these tragedies: President Barack Obama.   Read More

Paging Dr. Google

I could have gone to pieces when my wife told me she has Parkinson’s Disease. But I feel that with things like this, it’s best not to overreact. To stay calm, because it’s what she needs from me. It won’t do either of us any good if we’re both panicking. I could get emotional, I could start railing at the fates, but I’ve learned that it’s best to stay calm when talking one’s spouse out of her self-diagnosis.

Because she doesn’t have Parkinson’s Disease. She has a runny nose and a sore back and a headache. But thanks to the wonders of Google, she can search on those symptoms and get a whole array of possibilities. And wouldn’t you know, she tends to skip right over the ones like “common cold” and “24-hour flu” and spend the next 48 hours agonizing between it being Hepatitis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

If, as the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it seems in the Internet era that a lot of it is even worse. Certainly, for certain things, it’s great to be able to tap into the giant hive mind that is the Internet and apply its accrued wisdom. Computer problems are the best example I can think of. I can’t remember the last time I called tech support, or took my computer somewhere to fix it; I just Google whatever it’s doing (or not doing), and pretty soon I’ve solved my problem. I rewired my whole house armed only with a pair of pliers, a quart of screw-on wire couplers, and my computer. I’m sure if I was one to work on my own car, the Internet would be an invaluable resource.

But working on cars and computers, even your own, is not the same thing as trying to figure out what’s wrong with your own body. No matter how much you love your car, it’s still possible — difficult, maybe, but still possible — to take a step back and think rationally about it. But, in the absence of the ten-year medical education and real-world experience that doctors bring to bear in an exam, and burdened instead with the natural anxiety and fear and emotion that are such an unfortunate part of the human condition, the accumulated medical learning of the last thousand years is reduced to a demented Rorschach test, where our worst mortal worries can flower into awful purple-thorned tentacles choking off all our better logical impulses.

Thus, when my wife gets a little sweaty under the blankets at night from time to time, the likely and relatively benign diagnoses of hypoglycemia, or “idiopathic hyperhidrosis” (literally, sweating for no reason) — are immediately and automatically overlooked in favor of the much scarier early menopause. (The conception of our son put this particular worry to rest — for a while, anyway.)

When she has a short muscle spasm, it’s not just a cramp, or fatigue, or restless leg syndrome; not when Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis are at the bottom of the page. When she gets a canker sore, it’s obviously Herpes, even though she’s been with me for 14 years and I don’t have Herpes.

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Snoop Dogg’s New Record Is A Name-Changer

Snoop Doggy Dogg
Snoop Dogg
Snoop Lion

This week I saw one of the most — I don’t want to say “unbelievable” in a world where a sentient tetherball named Snooki gets paid seven figures to wobble drunkenly around the boardwalk in lucite heels, so let’s go with “interesting” — one of the most interesting pop culture developments in a few minutes: Snoop Dogg has changed his name again.

His first name change was in 1998, when, once again following the example of John Cougar Mellencamp (as has always been his wont), Snoop dropped the frivolous “Doggy” to go with the much more upright “Snoop Dogg.” Now he’s switched again to “Snoop Lion,” which is of course a nod to his rich Jamaican heritage, which dates back to last February, when he went there to record an album.

Jumping right over the weird incongruity of putting the words “Snoop” and “Lion” together — a dissonance on par with “Los Angeles Lakers” and “Utah Jazz” — everybody went right to a variation on the same joke: “I’m not sure I want to upgrade to Snoop Lion.” I love operating system-based comedy!   Read More

Jack & Ginger

It’s My Narcoleptic Piano Teacher’s Fault

My kid is starting kindergarten in the fall, and his new school has a menu of options for his extracurricular afterschool activities. We plan to enroll him in the afterschool program, as gainful employment precludes us from picking him up at 3pm. Martial arts and art are among the options, and as the boy has the energy to power Doc Brown’s Delorean, and spends most of his sitting time drawing pictures of ninjas (actually ninjas, dragons, disemboweled supervillains, dinosaurs, skulls, skeletons, and Spider-Man), it seems martial arts and art are the obvious way to go.

One of his other options is music, specifically Suzuki Piano. I have no idea what the difference is between a Suzuki piano lesson and a regular piano lesson, but I’m a little leery of starting him on music lessons so young, particularly with a teacher at his school.

That seems counterintuitive even to me, because music has been my biggest hobby (and “hobby” doesn’t feel like a strong enough word, but let’s face it: my lifetime music earnings are south of a grand) since I was a teenager. I’ve played in a lot of bands, and in most cases I was the least gifted musician in the room. I got kicked out of bands for that very reason. But I stuck to it, and I got better, but one thing hasn’t changed: in a room full of rehearsing musicians, figuring out how to play this piece or that, I always feel like a kid who flunked freshman algebra sitting in on an astrophysics debate. Read More

When Collect Calling Ruled The Airwaves

I was watching the basketball game the other night, and during one of the many commercial breaks, I couldn’t help noticing how many ads there were for various cell phone data plans, trumpeting higher speeds, and the relative superiority of their networks, and on and on and on… THIS one doesn’t lock you into a contract! THAT one offers unlimited text! This OTHER one has the fastest data network in the country! This one HERE says it’s the most reliable!

So many phones, so many carriers, so many data plans, so much technical jargon to absorb! It’s enough to make a person of a certain age long for the simpler days when there were no such commercials, because cell phones were strictly for rich people and assholes, and the rest of us were forced to use olde-tymey phones with cords and no touchscreens that didn’t vibrate or send text messages or provide turn-by-turn directions to restaurants it recommended itself.

Of course, the networks did not just show test patterns before cell phone commercials came along. Just as cell phones made landlines obsolete, cell phone commercials displaced the many, many commercials for long-distance and collect-calling plans, which by my scientific estimate accounted in the ’90s or 96.9% of all commercials. Read More