Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dirkus Circus, Love Children, Right-Wing Social Engineering, and Ska2oosh!

kaytiethelion called me out in the comments to my last post for not posting frequently enough. First of all, that's the kind of complaint I love to hear. It's so much better than "Quit your bloggin', you loser!" Second, she’s right. I should be more regular in my posts. I could post the kinds of detritus that ends up in my tweets or Facebook status updates, but that’s not really the style I want to use in this space. Twitter is for microblogging. I want this site to be for longer pieces. Sometimes they’re too long, I admit. I call that “macroblogging.” The problem is that I'm trapped in a kind of choice paralysis; what to rant about this week? There are so many great topics.

For one thing, when is it okay to root for an unstoppable German machine vs. a group of united allies? When that machine is Dirk Nowitzki, and those allies include a guy with his initials tattooed on his arms and the phrase "Chosen One" on his back.
As I told my uncle, a Dallas resident, I usually don't root for teams from Texas (the state that gave us both Dubya and Dr. Phil), but I can't help but admire the Dirkus Circus, and you've gotta' love Jose Barea, the five-foot tall Puerto Rican who is tearing up guys twice his size on both ends of the court. I rooted for Miami the last time these two met in the NBA finals, because D-wade was only in his third year in the league and was already a joy to watch. Now I'm old and I want Jason Kidd (who is about to start collecting Medicare and is blocking shots and hitting 3s better than ever) to make being old and bald halfway respectable again. Oh, and as much as Dirk is putting on a clinic on the court, he's also schooling everybody inside and outside of the NBA on humility, something that's in short supply when too much talent crowds it out in South Beach. Go Mavs!

But I'm not going to blog about that.

Not when there's an absolute rash of political sex scandal bursting out everywhere. DSK (nicknamed "The Great Seducer" in France, a country that really should know a thing or two about that) has shown that his seduction techniques leave a bit to be desired. Maria Shriver has learned that standing by your man when serious allegations come out about his sexual behavior can sure come back to haunt you when that kid at your son's birthday party has an Austrian accent. And John Edwards is learning that cheating on your wife while she has cancer might be a bigger political no-no for Democrats than Republicans (right, Newt?) but using campaign funds to pay to keep it a secret is a bi-partisan violation of the law. Oh, and we're all learning to KEEP IT IN YOUR TROUSERS! It does beg the serious question, though. Does the need for ego gratification that drives these guys into politics compel them to reach out and touch someone just because one wife seems a bit bland compared to crowds of adoring fans chanting your name, or is it the kind of narcissism that leads them to believe they can do a good job telling lots of people what to do that also makes them think they can get away with any behavior, not matter how unethical and illegal?

But I'm not going to blog about that.

Why not? Because the tabloid spectacle of love children is a distraction from the election that is starting to cohere on the Republican side of the fence, and there are some genuine policy issues that are rising to the surface there which may change the political landscape for years to come. Way back in 2010, the Republicans made great hay about the fact that Obamacare would make changes to Medicare. This freaked-out Tea-Partiers who were concerned that having a socialist in the White House might threaten their government-run defined benefit insurance plan. Enter Paul Ryan, who proposed a plan that would flip the defined benefit plan into a defined contribution plan, and one that would not keep pace with medical inflation. Oops. Well, 2010 was a long time ago, so maybe they forgot how much mileage they got out of that attack. Surprise: The Democrats didn't. When they saw that a question about how a candidate WOULD HAVE voted on the Ryan Plan sunk her in a New York congressional election, they quickly put the Ryan Plan to a floor vote in the Senate so that every Republican has had to take a stand on the plan. Oh, and the Republicans can't just run away from it. Newt Gingrich generously demonstrated why not by calling the plan "right-wing social engineering." This is what we call a Kinsley gaffe; the accidental utterance of a politically unpopular truth. The beating Gingrich took probably pushed Republicans to vote for the plan, and the beating they'll take for that will be even more unpleasant. The lesson both sides are learning: Don't mess with Medicare. Even if it's unsustainable and will bankrupt us all, you let it slide. Heaven help us.

But I'm not going to blog about that.

Not when Sarah Palin may re-enter the race. Can you imagine the possibility that someone who doesn't really have a handle on the issues but loves attention would tease the country with the prospect of running, eat up tons of airtime, then pull out at the last minute and reap huge financial rewards via all that attention for not really doing anything at all? Well, Donald Trump may be out of the race, but Sarah Palin seems like she might be in. She's moving closer to her daughter, but that means she's also moving closer to an airport, which, of course, means she's going to run for president. It's hard to predict which Republican nominee will lose to Obama in 2012, but a Palin entry would sure make the nearly inevitable defeat a lot more entertaining to watch than a contest between Pawlenty and Romney or that other guy or that other guy, so political reporters are drooling. Me, I'm waiting to see just how long she can go before talking to a reporter, live and on camera, who does not work for Fox News. Furthermore, how long will it take before people start to get suspicious about a candidate who believes she's capable of being President but is too afraid to talk to people armed with nothing but microphones and tough questions? And will any of her primary opponents point that out in order to save their own necks when things get desperate for them, or could she make it all the way to the general before Bidden or some other not-the-candidate calls her out for hiding from reality in Reality TV?

But I'm not going to blog about that, either.

Why not? I'm going to bed, because I'm taking my son to see Kung Fu Panda 2 tomorrow, and that promises a level of awesomeness none of these things can hope to compete with.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

It's Thunder and It's Lightning

We went and saw Thor today. Predictable? Yes. Fun? If you're a comic book geek and mythology fan, absolutely! I do have a gripe, though. Back when I heard they were going to make the movie, I immediately thought they should include the song "It's Thunder and It's Lightning" in the soundtrack. Then, every time I heard the song, I thought about how smoothly they could weave it into the story. Or just use it as a final credits track. No dice. Well, enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Venn Diagram of Obama Conspiracy Theorists

I was thinking about how the killing of bin Laden complicated things for conspiracy theorists, especially those who hate our President. Of course, the simplest explanation is that Barack Obama is an American and did give the kill order on Osama bin Laden. That's what all the evidence points to. But conspiracy theorists aren't big fans of evidence. In fact, if evidence goes against their preferred theory, rather than simply dimiss it, they often absorb it into the conspiracy itself; every piece of evidence to the contrary becoming fake evidence which proves the conspiracy. Only, in this case, the ideological underpinnings of the conspiracy are the problem. Folks who hate our President often claim that he's not tough enough on terrorists, and this plays into their belief that he's not only a foreigner, but a secret Muslim who is probably in league with terrorists. So when he orders the assassination of bin Laden, what is a Birther to do? On the other hand, if you're the kind of jihadist conspiracy theorist who thinks 9/11 was a big fake by the U.S. Government to create a war with Islam and bin Laden is innocent or a hero or whatever, you now have to deny his death in order to avoid giving credit to America. Unless, that is, you can deny that Obama, who ordered the hit, is American, in which case a Kenyan killed your favorite terrorist. Or you can deny both Obama's natural born status and bin Laden's death.

But these positions can't overlap. Obama can't be both the American responsible for killing bin Laden and not American. He also can't have ordered and not ordered the hit. So how will patriotic Birthers handle the fact that they want America to take credit for bin Laden's death, but they don't want to acknowledge that Obama, the President who made the call, is American?

Perhaps President Obama, using his Kenyan-born Muslim genie-powers, teleported George W. Bush into the White House so Dubya could make the decision to go for it. (Seems this theory is getting some play already.) Then Obama whisked Bush II away so he could take the credit, all the while having bin Laden quietly escorted to White House basement so the two of them could spend an evening bowling with the robot that carries the floating brain of Richard Nixon?

Oh, I shouldn't even joke, because someone will voice that "theory" and cite "the internet" as their source.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Noah's "Yes Day!"

A few weeks ago, my son, Noah, came home from school and wrote "Yes Day" on the calendar by the fridge. He'd read a book in the school library about the new holiday, and wanted to make sure we observed it. He explained it to me, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. In essence, kids are told "No" by their parents every day of the year. So what if there were a single day when Mom and Dad had to say "Yes" to every request? Conveniently, Noah had chosen a Saturday. We couldn't have pulled this off on a week day; we would not have had time for all his ideas in the afternoon, and he invariably would have asked me to skip work. That would have been tough to explain to my boss. "Sorry, but my son asked me to stay home today, and, well, you see, it's 'Yes Day' so..."

I decided use this as an opportunity to force him to practice his writing. He had to write all his requests down in advance. Not only would this give him time to think about what he really wanted, but it gave me a chance to vet his ideas and get some "No"s in before the big day arrived. My wife, Paige, and I explained to Noah that we reserved the right to say "No" to anything extraordinarily expensive or unsafe. Paige wanted to qualify the whole thing with "as long as it's within reason," but I felt like, since that has no real meaning to a six-year-old, we'd be giving ourselves too much flexibility. We needed to have our hands tied a bit in order for this to work.

Part of what made it possible is that six-year-olds (ours, at least) do not have particularly expensive or extravagant tastes. For example, Noah wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch. I can afford that. He also wanted to go to the park and play a whole bunch of variations on tag of his own design. I can afford that, too, though I did find myself saying, "Yes, as soon as I catch my breath." I made a few suggestions to help him out. By last evening you'd have thought it was Christmas Eve.

Here's something of a run-down of the day. Paige encouraged Noah to let me sleep in a bit later than he did so I would have energy for all his big ideas (bless her!). When I woke up, he asked me to play a particular video game with him which I don't really enjoy. I said, "Yes." After his normal allotted video game time, I reminded him that if he asked for more time he'd get it, so he chose a different game I don't like very much and asked to play that one with me. I said, "Yes."

We went to lunch at McDonald's. I don't like the food there, so I have no need to eat more than the bare minimum. I hinted that if he asked me to get a Happy Meal as well, he'd get two toys. He did ask. I said, "Yes."

After he played on the McDonald's play structure for a while, we went to Circle K and he got to pick out some candy. He picked Jujubees. I think they're gross, but those were the ones he wanted, so I said, "Yes."

Loaded up with our secret stash, we went to see Rio at the local cineplex. It's in 3-D, so it cost an arm and a leg. That's not a cliche. It's an understatement. It cost a lot more than one of my arms and one of my legs would be worth on the black market. My arms and legs are hairy, knobby, pale, and stringy. Hungry cannibals would refuse my arms and legs. On of your arms and one of your legs might have purchased three 3-D tickets.

I enjoyed the movie. It wasn't up to Paige's high standards for animated movies, and I have my quibbles with some of the choices, but Noah loved the physical comedy. It's set in Brazil, so there were lots of soccer balls kicked in faces and people being knocked down by equally round butt-cheeks. Noah would bark out big lung-fulls of laughs, and those are worth more than both my arms and legs.

We came home and Paige asked to be excused from the festivities to work on a project, so Noah and I went to the park. He has this amazing ability to tell a long narrative about the good guys and bad guys, their motivations, their preferred weapons, and a landscape of invisible obstacles, all while chasing me around. And he's asthmatic. I don't get it; how can he run around and talk constantly without taking a breath one day, then need an inhaler in order to sit on the couch and watch TV the next? Maybe, if he'd breathe while playing, he could store up some oxygen for more stressful video game sessions. Anyway, I'm not asthmatic, but he ran me ragged.

We came home and he reminded Paige about the dinner request he'd written down. Wait for it... Wait for it... Mac and Cheese. "Yes."

After dinner he seemed a bit unsure about what to ask for next, so I reminded him that I wouldn't be able to say no to a third round with the Xbox 360. We played another of his games I don't enjoy very much. It turns out that I'm not very good at it, either. Paige reminded him to be patient with his old man, and he graciously acquiesced.

When it was nearly his bedtime, he asked to watch a TV show. We'd already gone well beyond the amount of time I like to let him stare at any screen in a single day, but the book makes it clear that the kid gets to stay up really late on Yes Day, and I was raised to observe holidays in a traditional fashion. I whispered that he could choose a movie, get on his PJs, and fall asleep on the couch. We flipped through the Xbox's Netflix queue and Paige and I rediscovered Robinhood: Men in Tights. We tried to sell him on it, but it only reminded him of the Disney version, so we said, "Yes" to that.

He didn't fall asleep, of course. He never does fall asleep on the couch watching anything. He asked for some ice cream, and asked if he could help scoop it. We did that together without any serious mishaps. Now I know he can scoop me a bowl in the future.

Ultimately, Paige and I made the arbitrary decision that Yes Day ends at 10:00. The book doesn't say for sure, so Noah interpreted that to mean that it ends at dawn the following day. That's a reasonable assumption, but since it was after 10 o'clock, we were allowed to say, "No."

A few times over the course of the day, Noah asked me when it would be my Yes Day and what I would do. I told him that all the things I would want to do would be too expensive, so I don't get a Yes Day. That's not entirely true. Sure, I'd probably choose things like flying off to Europe on a private jet, only to have those vetoed on expense grounds, but I might also choose to sit in my recliner all day and watch NBA basketball. I get to do that anyway, which is precisely why kids deserve a Yes Day and grown-ups don't.

I don't even want to think about the things Noah will ask for as he gets older. Having experienced a six-year-old's Yes Day, I have no interest in a sixteen-year-old's. Considering what he chose today, I think we'll make these events the tradition. Next year, he'll resent not being able to choose new activities, but I think a day of movies, video games, and hanging in the park will go back to being cool just before he dicides it's un-cool by virtue of being spent with his dad. Still, he announced that today was the best day of his life. If I force him to relive that a dozen more times before he goes off to college, that doesn't make me a bad parent, does it?

Because it was one of the best days of my life, too.