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2008: The Race That Was

We’re five days away from November 4th, and it kind of feels like summer camp is ending. I’m a bit sad, but I’m also excited that it’s finally over. After the 4th, there will be no more political ads, no more pandering for votes, and no more McCain-Obama melodrama… something we can all look forward to. To me, election day is almost like an early New Years: I expect that everything will turn out fine, but I still have a little pocket of dread that Y2K will hit, the country will be catapulted back into the dark ages, and Joe the Plumber will become Secretary of State. And so, with the upcoming end to a tumultuous campaign, here is our requisite look back at what we’ve learned in 2008, The Race that Was.

  • If you want to be President, start vetting your acquaintances. If someone you know ever did or said something crazy, you’re on the hook by association. It doesn’t matter how well you know them: if you have an acquaintance who eats babies, you’re a baby eater too.
  • If you want to be Vice President, shoot some moose, drop your g’s, and wink a lot: Vettin’ is not necessary. Neither are press conferences, direct answers, or substance. Simply put on $150,000 worth of designer digs, and tell people that the other presidential candidate eats babies. And if it doesn’t work, well, there’s always 2012. By then you should be able to handle a press conference or two.
  • Tina Fey should send Sarah Palin a Christmas card. With a picture of her in a black power suit, surrounded by the pile of money she’s made.
  • Once again, Ohio and Florida decide. And we shall find out if they are “pro-America” on November 4th. If they are not, we should consider seceding them to Canada and Mexico, respectively.
  • The economy is like an ugly stepsister. When you’re in the family, you don’t want to trot her out at the risk of repulsing other people. So, you dress her up, throw on some lipstick, and try to divert all attention to the pretty, wink-happy stepsister instead. When you’re outside the fam, you take one look at the atrocity, say, “holy crap,” and schedule an emergency extreme makeover.
  • The focus of this election being the economy. Back in 2004, the election focused on terrorism and Iraq. In 2000, social issues like gay marriage and stem cell research were at the forefront. It’s interesting to see how priorities change… Thanks, George.
  • Joe the Plumber has come to symbolize middle America. But, he owes back taxes, he’s not actually a plumber, and his real name is Sam. And if he’s making $250K+ a year, middle Americans should probably look for a better spokesperson… like Phil the Pharmacist or Martha the Schoolteacher.
  • There is still racism in this country. Not just the black-white kind, but also based on religious beliefs. (Colin Powell said it best on Meet the Press: “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.”) You’d think that by 2008, we would be better than this.
  • Democracy can sometimes be scary. They are predicting that McCain only has a 4.3% chance of winning, but I’m still scared about Y2K.

November 4th… VOTE! And even though this post is biased, you can vote however you like.

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The Presidential Debate Redux, With Michael Scott

TOM BROKAW: Good evening from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.  I am Tom Brokaw of NBC News.  Welcome to the second presidential debate of this campaign season, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, AIG, and Dick Fuld’s compensation package.  As you have noticed, this is the first ever debate to feature not only the two presidential candidates, but also a representative of middle America, Michael Scott of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.  Welcome, Senator Obama, Senator McCain, and Mr. Scott. (polite applause)

MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, I would prefer that you address me as Senator Scott.

TOM BROKAW: (long pause)…Uh, okay, let’s get started.  The first question is to Senator Obama.  This from Oliver Clark.  Oliver asks: Through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time.  How is this bailout package actually going to help these people out?

SENATOR OBAMA: Thanks Tom.  Oliver, first, let me tell you what’s in the rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can’t get loans.  If they can’t get a loan, that means that they can’t make payroll. If they can’t make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off.  And if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now imagine a million companies all across the country.  So it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody, and that’s why we had to take action. But we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

SENATOR McCAIN: I’d like to jump in here.  My friends, Oliver’s question is a good one.  You know, the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I’ll bet you, people like Allen and Mr. Scott here probably never even heard of them before this crisis.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (perplexed)Who’s Allen?

SENATOR McCAIN: See?  So, Fannie and Freddie were the match that started this forest fire.  Some of us stood up against it. There were others who took a hike.

TOM BROKAW: Thank you Senator McCain.  Mr. Scott, do you have anything to add?

MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, again I would prefer it if you addressed me as Senator.  And yes, yes I do have something to add.  You know, I run a paper business out in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  While Fannie and Freddie are out there lighting fires, guess who, or more importantly, what–is getting burned?  That’s right: paper.  And you know what will happen if these forest fires don’t get extinguished?  No more paper. (McCain nodding somberly) Now, I’ve taken a hike before, don’t get me wrong.  There are many beautiful trails outside of Scranton.  But if we keep having these fires, what’s going to happen to these trees that overlook the trails?  Whoa, big fire, (simulates fire with hands) Smokey the Bear can’t save us, ahhh–there goes the paper!  There go the trees!  There go the trails!  Now I’m out of both a job and an enjoyable weekend hobby.

TOM BROKAW: …Right.  OK, next question.  Senator McCain, in all candor, do you think the economy is going to get worse before it gets better?

SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, we can fix our economy. Americans’ workers are the best in the world. They’re the fundamental aspect of America’s economy.  They’re the most innovative. They’re the best–they’re most–have best–we’re the best exporters. We’re the best importers. They’re most effective. They are the best workers in the world.

TOM BROKAW: (confused) OK… Senator Obama?

SENATOR OBAMA: Part of the problem here is that for many of you, wages and incomes have flat-lined. For many of you, it is getting harder

MICHAEL SCOTT: That’s what she said!

SENATOR OBAMA: (looking pissed) Excuse me?

MICHAEL SCOTT: Sorry, that’s just a thing I do, I–you know, OK, so seriously–the economy.  I mean, I live a pretty good life.  I don’t own 8 cars or anything, but I do own my own condo, I run my own branch of Dunder Mifflin, AND (pointing to stomach) I am a soon-to-be father.

TOM BROKAW: Congratulations, but we really need to get on–

MICHAEL SCOTT: (continuing) Now, do I want to raise my child in a country where America is #2?  Where we’re sitting at home, looking up as Madagascar laps us in the recyclable paper business?  No, no–that is not what I want for my child.

TOM BROKAW: Thank you Mr. Scott.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (wagging finger) Tom???

TOM BROKAW: (reluctantly)…Senator Scott.  Let’s move on.  Next question, Senator Obama: There are some real questions about whether everything can be done at once.  Health care, energy, and entitlement reform–give us your list of priorities.

SENATOR OBAMA: Terrific question, Tom.  We’re going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now–

SENATOR McCAIN: (interrupting) Hey look, we’re not–we’re not–we’re not rifle shots here.  We are Americans. And I think you can do all three at once.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (whispering) That’s what…

TOM BROKAW: That’s enough.  We’re moving on.  Our last question is from a hippie in New Hampshire.  She asks: As president, how will you know what you don’t know and what will you do when you figure out that which you don’t know?  Senator Obama, I’ll start with you.

SENATOR OBAMA: Tom, one of the things that we know about the presidency is that it’s never the challenges that you expect. Here’s what I do know: I know that if the economy continues to struggle, Mr. Scott over here is going to have a tough time keeping up with the mortgage payments on the condo he’s got.  His firm may soon be facing the real possibility of having to let some people go.

We can’t expect that if we do the same things that we’ve been doing over the last eight years, that somehow we are going to have a different outcome.  We need fundamental change. That’s what’s at stake in this election.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (looking fearful) Will there still be enough money for a Christmas party?

SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, there are challenges around the world that are new and different and there will be different–we will be talking about countries sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the map, some Americans. (Michael Scott nods emphatically)

When times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my life was to always put my country first. And–and–you know who is going to raise our taxes and take away Christmas?  That one.  (points at Senator Obama)

MICHAEL SCOTT: (running from stage) Noooooooooooooo!!

TOM BROKAW: And that concludes tonight’s debate from here in Nashville.  We want to thank Belmont University, the Commission, and the traffic light operator for tonight’s debate.  There is one more opportunity for the talking heads to give their stump speeches: next Wednesday, October 15, with host Ryan Seacrest and musical guest Akon.  Good night everyone.

(NOTE: All text in black is what was actually said, taken from the CNN transcript of Tuesday night’s debate.)


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Democratic Elections in the United States of Florida

Apparently democratic nations are entitled to a system of “one man, one vote.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to the United States, or else Al Gore would have become President in 2000, and either we’d a) all be driving hybrid cards and the world would be at peace, or b) we’d all be dead and the animals will have taken over our planet, a la the zombies in I am Legend. In actuality, “one man, one vote” really comes down to “one man in Florida, one vote that actually counts,” and “one man in MA/CA/NY/TX/KY/TN, go out for Tuesday night’s all-you-can-eat pasta at Uno’s instead, because your state’s already decided… so your opinion just doesn’t matter.”

Now, of course, someone will argue that if everyone in these states believed this were true, then there might come the election day when no one would vote, Uno’s would be filled to the brim, and Ralph Nader would be elected president. Thankfully it seems that only cynics and cost/benefit economists would actually boycott voting in a silent protest against the system on election day. The rest of the country proudly does its civic duty so that the world doesn’t capitulate into a zombie-like state with an incompetent man as its leader… (insert Bush joke here). Still, I am sure that there are many people who would have voted but didn’t, because they knew their voice would not be heard… unless they moved to Boca Raton.

Apparently there were reasons for the electoral college back in the day of T-Jeff and G-Dubs (the original). And there is historical precedent as to why Iowa, of all states, is first in the all-important primary season (surprisingly, it’s not because of its astounding diversity). But how is our system democratic today, when only a few decide for us all? It sometimes seems like Iowa and New Hampshire give us our choices, and Florida and Ohio pick our President. Is it so hard to hold a two-hour event where our candidates make speeches, perhaps sing, and then Americans just call in to vote? Ryan Seacrest could host. That’ll show those guys in Iraq what real democracy is all about.

But in all seriousness, I’d like to see a change in the system that has produced us Mr. George W. Bush…twice.  Why not have an election-year lottery to determine the order of voting in primaries? It could be a family event, like watching the NBA draft lottery or the Powerball numbers. And why not get rid of the electoral college in favor of a truly democratic vote? I know that would drag me away from the pasta bowls to actually do my civic duty.

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Random Thoughts on… Love Nuggets, et al.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’m not a fan of egregious errors in grammar, punctuation, or the like. However, I must admit to one weakness, and one weakness only: I love coining new phrases/words and trying to incorporate them into everyday conversation.

It first started with shortening words. Abbreviations like gonna, wanna, and kinda led the march into my everday lexicon. Longer words were justifiably cut down to more manageable parts–like referring to Democrats as “Dems,” or tuberculosis as “TB”. But it didn’t stop there. There were thousands of well-endowed, multi-syllabic words that seemed just too clunky to use. So, non-traditional abbreviations like “obvi” snuck into my daily conversations. Past abbreviations (whatevs) were shortened even further (tevs). And even though I may have sacrificed some understanding, I made up for it in coolness… obvi.

Technological progress aided this trend. As AIM went, so did traditional conversations. We started to hear people say “LOL” instead of “that’s hilarious.” “WTF” crept out of its older brother’s crude, radio-censored shadow. And as we discovered that we liked the sound of dwarved words, we decided to go one step further and mash them together. Two-for-one derivatives like bootylicious, chillaxing, disturbia, and bridezilla created appropriate new labels to describe feelings and situations.

But there are still some phenomena that cannot be described in a quick, compact manner. Before “bootylicious”, we would have said, “her posterior is quite delicious”, which is too wordy for our liking today. The following, then, is an attempt to encapsulate complicated emotions/events in a single word or phrase. And while the hope is that some of these words and phrases will stay with us forever, for every hit (bootylicious) there will be a bomb (that’s so “fetch”). Tevs. I’ll give it my best shot.

LOVE NUGGETS: What do you think of when you hear the word nugget? You may think of chicken, or gold, or Denver, but I would implore you to think of something else: love. But wait, not real, true, I’m-gonna-marry-you love. This is the kind of love that’s not necessarily whole, but instead, bite-size. I suggest using it in the following way: “I know that we’ve only been dating for two months, but I feel a great connection with you. Love nuggets, Mandy.”

SEPULVEDA: This is the name of a street in Los Angeles, but to me, it sounds like an obscure disease. So, if you have a strange bump on your arm, it’s a sepulveda. If you feel a weird tingling sensation in your leg, you probably caught the sepulveda. Mysterious cuts, rashes, and bruises? All sepulveda. So, if your doctor diagnoses your unknown affliction as a sepulveda… I’ll pray for you.

BOOP: You know the feeling between a blah and an oops? Like: you’re kind of bored at work (blah), but you actually have quite a lot of work to do (oops)? You may feel guilty about being bored and unproductive all the time, but… oh well. Boop.

I’M MARVIN (newly updated, 3/13/09): With a recession, tight wallets, and a skinny President, it has almost become inappropriate to say that you’re “starving”… even if you are really, really hungry. So, if you’re fighting the urge to take a bite out of your own arm, just take the politically-correct route… and say you’re Marvin.

THAT’S SO MADOFF (newly updated, 3/13/09): Unlike the popular Disney TV show That’s So Raven, the “That’s So Madoff” adult version showcases greed, corruption, and the dismantling of the American economy. So whenever you come across liars, cheats, and billion-dollar Ponzi schemes, please let them know that they’re just being unoriginal. Shake your head, sigh, and give them the hand: “Uh uh, girl… don’t commit securities fraud. That’s so Madoff.”

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Random Thoughts on… Grammar

In 1946, George Orwell called for a rehaul of the English language in line with the traditional rules of grammar: “One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.”

Fifty-plus years later, President George W. Bush addressed a crowd in South Carolina with the following: “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?”

Obviously much progress has been made.

When the former President of the United States is frequently making hillbilly blunders of the English language, what can we expect from the rest of Americans?  What example are we setting for the children sitting in grammar classes?  What could we possibly teach the Chinese food delivery guy taking English as a second language?  According to George W., we need to ensure that they is learning proper grammar, but our grammar is deteriorating ourselves.

Personally, my favorite example of the “decay of language” is from Justin Timberlake, in his song “What Goes Around.”  Now, even though music is art and may not fall by the same conventions as speech, I always appreciate it when someone makes up a word so that it can rhyme in a song:

From Justin Timberlake’s song, “What Goes Around“,

“I heard you found out / That he’s doing to you / What you did to me / Ain’t that the way it goes / You cheated girl / My heart bleeded girl…”

Looking at these lyrics with our grammar glasses on (we are so cool), most of us know that Justin means “bleeded,” given the context of hearts “bleeding.”  However, the past tense of “bleed” is “bled.”  Therefore, a grammatically-correct lyrical translation would be “bleated,” like what sheep do.   So, when singing along to the song, we either ignore the grammatical error but get the overall message (“bleeded”), or misunderstand Justin’s message but use the correct word (“bleated”).

Even though this may be a frivolous example, it shows that bad grammar anywhere may lead to confusion: we risk distorting the language which carries the message, or we may miss the message completely.  Some may end up believing that “bleeded” is a word, or that the cries of Justin’s heart sound like sheep. So to mitigate these risks, should we just let the grammar police run wild?  Should we round up all the language offenders and send them off to reeducation camps?  Even though there are indicators that we should (Timbaland’s hit “The Way I Are” comes to mind), language can also be exclusive if we are stringent on the rules, and we can easily alienate one another based on our definition of what is “correct”.  Plus, it would be embarrassing to deport our own President because of linking verbs.

However, there are real dangers when we just let anything go.  As Orwell noted, the future of our society depends on our ability to clearly convey ideas and thought.  If we cannot do so (here’s to you, President Bush), or if we confuse the audience with our words (“my heart bleated, girl”), we not only perpetuate the problem, but we pass it on to others.  This is the greatest risk, at its extreme: as our bad habits become others’ bad habits, and these bad habits are passed down to our children, a whole new language develops.  People start saying “bleeded” instead of “bled,” and thousands of words are replaced or replicated with new words that sound right to some, but are unintelligible to others.  This then raises the communication barrier, as those outside the realm of understanding will have to re-learn a changing language that has been so distorted that we barely know what’s right and what’s wrong.

With how we’re butchering it, who knows if English will be the dominant language in the future.  Thus if you ever feel the urge to laugh at the Chinese delivery guy’s broken English, refrain yourself: after all, what goes around…


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