Thursday, September 30, 2004

A Mutual Oral Act

Hooray! We're finally getting presidential debates! We are all suitably excited to see our great democracy in action, which we look forward to being imitated by all the nations of the world, especially backward nations where all people believe in false religions and use props!

That's right, we don't live in Gallagherstan. Our political parties have agreed that there will be no use of props by the candidates during the debates (which begin the evening of the day this issue appears, if the canary doesn't die.) So we won't have to see Bush draw Osama's face on a watermelon and then smash it. Kerry will not use ketchup in any way to "brand" his campaign. No one will stick his head in a rubber glove and blow. Both candidates will have to blow on their own.

And they will, if these debates go on. Thanks to the now infamous 32-page Memorandum of Understanding, the candidates are not allowed to do much else. As a result there is now general agreement throughout the country that these will not actually be debates. Critics have suggested various other characterizations, such as "scripted joint speeches" and "bi-partisan press conferences." I like the terms "un-debates" or "unbates" for short. "Planned verbal events" would be accurate.

Even the so-called Town Hall debate planned for October 8 doesn't allow for any spontaneous questioning. While the president's own rare press conferences have allowed follow-up questions from reporters, don't expect any of that at the Town Hall debate.

The questions asked in all the debates will be screened by the moderator, so might as well just be his or her questions. Neither candidate will be allowed to address the other. At the Town Hall event they've even gone so far as to ensure that the areas that Bush and Kerry move about in will not over-lap. No horseplay! No extended shots of Bush standing next to Kerry showing Kerry's five-inch height advantage!

There will be no imitations of Ed Sullivan introducing celebrities in the audience. You will not hear Bush say, "I want you all to give a warm round of applause to Donald Rumsfeld, that's him right there in the third row, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld take a bow…" because the Memorandum of Understanding explicitly makes that sort of thing Verboten.

The Memo of Understanding gets especially surreal where it grinds on about how the questions in the Town Hall debate will not be limited as to topic in any way, and then immediately adds that the number of questions on foreign policy and homeland security must equal the number on economics and domestic policy. So in the reality of our two major political parties "not limited" officially means "limited." Why am I not surprised?

I saved the worst rule of the Memorandum for last. That one states that the candidates who participate in the presidential debates may not only not debate each other in any other forums besides the three agreed upon, but they are also specifically forbidden to debate candidates of any other parties before the election. We all knew that neither Bush nor Kerry wanted to debate Nader, say, but now they have tried to make it look like they can't do it because their hands are tied – "Our campaigns had to agree to this Memorandum." Right, and their campaigns wrote the Memorandum.

Here's something to look for in the debates, especially the first one. Watch for the candidates to stretch the rules (the rules that they themselves insisted upon) in order to show what mavericks they are. When Bush shows how macho he is by breaking the rule against directly questioning Kerry, and Jim Lehrer tells him he can't do that, look for the smirk. When Kerry proves he has what it takes to be a leader by taking bold and decisive action to step briefly away from the podium, watch how he then shows his sun-shiny personable side when he steps back.

After all, the first debate is all about who's going to defeat the terrorists. Everybody knows we're not going to defeat the terrorists by playing by the rules, right?

Likewise, we're not ever going to have a democracy in America so long as the Democrats and the Republicans continue to evade real political debate this way.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Famous Lamous

OK. I was in a really foul mood when I was writing this column for last issue, and that may have caused me to froth excessively. But to refer to it as "my lamest column ever" as one person did is simply ignorant. My lamest column ever was in fact the Sept. 1, 1997 column, which opened with the words "In a world of Labrador Retrievers, I am a duck!! (OHHH YES!! OH YYESSS!! A DUCK, I AM, a DUCK, oooooooh yesss!)," and ended with the sad admission that I was not a duck after all. When I think of lame, I think of that column, which forever set the standard of lame for all columns everywhere.

There is absolutely no possibility that any new column I write will ever be as bad as the duck column, owing to the superiority of my current anti-psychotic medication. Still, I want to try. Because, what is life without hope? If we don't challenge our challenges, what will we challenge? I, for one, vowed long ago that I would not surrender to a shallow, vain, pursuit of excellence.

I could just write "I suck" 400 times and turn that in as a column. The management of this rag has assured me that they are prepared for that eventuality. There is in fact a not-very-secret document in a file cabinet in the back room entitled "Wes sucks" that provides no less than two plans. Plan A is to run an old column (preferably the duck masterpiece.) Plan B is to go ahead and print "I suck" 400 times and to sign my name to it.

But that would be too easy not only for me but everyone else involved. It would give the proofreader too little to do. I would not feel as though I had earned my complimentary copies. Homeless activists everywhere would be disappointed because I hadn't been active enough, they want me to break a sweat. At least every other line I should insert the words "and homelessness sucks too" in order to stay on topic.

So I am always on the lookout for creative new ways to suck without merely saying so. That's why I need television.

Without television and the great communicators that communicate to me on television, I would not know how to be as lame as I am. That's why I have shacked up with a sexy rich woman, Anitra "Pay-Pal" Freeman. I sweep the floor, buy the groceries and do the dishes. In return my woman buys TV and TV access for me. It's all so I can watch Andy Rooney and learn. ("Have you ever noticed how bourgeois I am?" is an actual quote. So is "Why do you think my head is so big?" and "Have you ever noticed lots of people call themselves people-persons but nobody ever calls themselves a thing-person?" )

Thanks to television and to its cousin the internet, I have learned that the only thing that matters to most Americans is the quality of middle-class life. Even poor people in this country don't really care about what other poor people are doing or how things are going to get better so that there won't be any poor people. All they care about are the latest adventures of middle-class people like they wish they were.

But I digress. What's important here is finding creative ways to be lame. So what I want to do today is to join the chorus of hand wringing over the fate of the middle-class in America. How about if I call attention to the tragedy of middle-class homelessness? Here we go:

"That's right. This is a huge problem, people. Every day tens of middle-class people become homeless. I'm not talking here about people who were middle-class who suddenly became poor and are now living on the streets. I'm talking about people who still are middle-class and are now living on the streets.

"OK, they aren't really living on the streets because no one with money would do that. But they're living in motels and hotels and RVs. Some of them are even living in Mexico, being forced to read Spanish for Travelers dictionaries and listen to Berlitz tapes at night.

"It is all the more a tragedy because these people pay the taxes that pay the truck drivers to deliver our government cheeses, and yet no one considers their plight(s)."

Yes! As lame as the campaigns!

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Squawking the Squawk

Lately we have been musing much upon the distinction between the rant and the rage.

Well actually, I just lied right off the bat in my first sentence there, since one muse doesn't amount to much "much", and really what I've been doing is ranting. But "much" is such a nice monosyllable, how can I resist it?

Then again, hey, if I muse at all, that interrupts the flow of my rants, so it's a big deal, right? Maybe that was a lot of musing after all. Yeah, that's it. I mused once. For 30 seconds I stopped yelling at the insane idiots presented to me in all their glory by CNN. So now I'm a regular philosopher. Pretty soon I'm going to be so thoughtful, I'm going to read a book. I'll show those idiots what "much" can mean.

"So, Dr. Wes, you say you mused. What, pray tell, was the content of your musing?" -- you might now be asking, if you were someone who talked like that.

Here's what I think is the difference. Let's say an idiot says something idiotic on the television. Subsequently throwing my shoe through the screen at the electronic image of Tucker Carlson, a right-wing CNN opinionator, would definitely be indicative of a rage. Merely uttering long strings of verbiage suggesting that Tucker Carlson had to be raised by whores because his real mother wasn't house-trained, or suggesting that Tucker was named for an alarming personal habit he developed when he was two and still hasn't kicked, or suggesting that Tucker Carlson "sleeps" with a ventriloquism puppet called "Sleeper" Carlson -- none of that would necessarily indicate rage (unless, of course, it was mean-spirited.) But it would definitely be a rant, because it would consist of words coming out of my mouth. OK, that wasn't a good example.

Let me illustrate it another way. Let's say I were a Vietnam War Vet, which I'm not, and suppose that some other Vietnam Vet in 1971 said some things that I interpreted as casting aspersions on me and still other fellow Vietnam Vets as yet undetermined. Were I to say that what that guy said in 1971 was a crock (which it wasn't actually, when you hear it all in context, but I'm being hypothetical here) and therefore he is now and will forever be a poopy-head, that would be me ranting. But if I were instead to insist that John Kerry didn't deserve his Purple Hearts and that he somehow committed fraud to get them, that could very well be slander and I might very well be accused of rage.

Rage is when I think I've been hurt, so I try to hurt back. Rant is when I'm just mouthing off. Or to put it another way, rage is when you do it; rant is when I do it.

No, just kidding there. It's possible to be a little objective about it. Take for example Bob Dole's incredible idea that Kerry didn't deserve his Purple Hearts because he wasn't wounded enough.

We all know that Bob Dole was wounded enough. But we also know that you don't have to lose the use of an arm to get a Purple Heart. Bob Dole knows that. Bob Dole also knows that if he has a problem with the Navy's policy concerning who gets Purple Hearts, he's a very powerful man and he can take it up with the Navy. But Bob Dole isn't interested in the Navy's policy. He thinks he's been personally slighted and so Kerry has to pay for it. Bob needs to SUCK IT UP.

See? That was a rant. No one got hurt, the dog doesn't have a broken leg, there's no food on the floor or the walls, and nobody is on their hands and knees picking pieces of prized Japanese earthenware out of the carpet.

Now let's contrast that with what's going to happen if George Bush continues to insist that there is no way he can lose the upcoming election. I am going to start hurting deep down in that place I hate to go, that Floridian-Harris-chad place. I am going to start saying, "Oh yeah, and how would you know, Mr. Bush, would it be because the election is already fixed?"

Somebody better hide the tea set.