I’m an Idiot

Effective leaders mix humility, kindness, and composure, in what may be thought of quite simply, as “human decency”.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. The one candidate displaying the most decency is in last place. And it appears as if most Democratic primary voters do not share my opinion either. The Democratic candidate exhibiting the most humility, kindness, and composure is losing that race too.

I can’t help but conclude, I’m an idiot.

I also believe life in the United States has improved over the last seven years—fewer people are destitute around the world, GLBT citizens are enjoying new civil rights, more people are working and have health insurance, our environmental ethic is stronger, we’re opting for diplomacy over conventional warfare, the stock market has more than doubled in value, and everything has worked out beautifully on Downton Abbey.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. Apparently, the frontrunner’s success is the result of deep-seated, widespread anger at the state of things. In their view, we don’t win anymore. Who cares about people in other places, traditional marriage and religious liberty are under constant attack, socialized medicine means worsening quality of care, and who cares about the stock market when there’s not any savings to invest. If only “W” could have had a third and fourth term.

My whacked out thinking is probably the result of my white, male, well-to-do privilege trifecta. In the interest of going along to get along, maybe I should get more angry, think more negatively, and support the most brash candidate possible, human decency be damned.

 

 

 

My Turn to Crime

It’s not my fault. I’ve fallen in with some bad dudes. It started a few years ago when The Sopranos drew me in. Then The Wire. Then Breaking Bad. Now The House of Cards. I should be eligible for a mail order degree in Abnormal Psychology.

What is it about Tony Soprano, Avon Barksdale, Walt, and F.U. that makes it so hard to look away as they leave ruined lives and dead bodies in their wake?

My theory rests on the assumption that I’m a part of the 99% that has a social conscience, but sometimes still wrestles with doing the right thing. At 2a.m., with the streets deserted, we still wait for the red light to turn, but not before imagining going. We get frustrated with people all the time, even irate at times, but we successfully suppress our violent tendencies. We get used to the tension between our better and worse-r selves. And fortunately for society, our better selves almost always win out.

Tony, Avon, Walt, and Frank are the 1% that effortlessly give in to their worse-r selves. Their lives are not complicated by other people’s feelings. Once off the rails, they have zero regrets. On second thought, scratch Tony from that foursome, his earnest therapy sessions with Melfi disqualify him from the truly pathological.

In large part, I think I find these dramas so compelling because I can’t fathom what it would be like to live completely unencumbered by doing the right thing. To not give a single thought to authority, social convention, and the social contract we enter into as drivers while running the light. To not care whether someone lives or not.

There’s another important variable in the equation. For me the gruesome violence is usually just palatable enough because I know they’re fictional dramas. After watching The Wire, I can reason, “That teen drug runner didn’t really die at the hands of the other teen drug runner, because they’re acting.” LIke when watching a play or reading a novel, it helps to know it’s imaginary. In Breaking Bad the innocent kid on the bike in the New Mexico dessert didn’t really die. He’s probably a popular eighth grader somewhere in SoCal.

Could the time I’ve spent with the Mount Rushmore of television criminals have a deleterious effect on my normal, law-abiding self? That’s doubtful because the Good Wife makes me take a powerful antidote to these intense crime dramas every Sunday night. Downton Abbey.

Postscript—Watch this 60 Minutes segment (13:40) on Wolfgang Beltracchi (13:40). Beltracchi, as evidenced by the final exchange which begins at 13:28, has Mount Rushmore criminal potential.

 

Television Highs and Lows

Watching television comes with obvious opportunity costs. You’re (usually) not burning calories, getting to know real live human begins better, or (usually) learning much.

Despite those downsides, I agree with a lot of critics that the quality of television content has never been higher. Especially with Netflix and other similar portals, there are a lot of good shows—past and present—to choose among.

Here’s the Television Writers Guild of America list of the best 101 written television shows of all time. And from that list, here are the top ten shows currently airing new episodes:

7) Mad Men

11) The Simpsons (one more season left)

13) Breaking Bad

16) Arrested Development (resurrected by Netflix)

17) The Daily Show

25) Saturday Night Live

34) Modern Family

40) Game of Thrones

43) Downton Abbey

48) Homeland

And, let’s not forget, a particularly excellent one just wrapped—21) 30 Rock.

The digital video recorder has transformed my viewing experience by making commercials obsolete. Thursday night I tried watching the start of the NBA finals, but the major network showed about fifteen to twenty minutes of commercials right before the tip. It was brutal. So I channel surfed until the game started. I often record sports events and then begin watching them an hour or so later without commercials, without timeouts, without incessant video replays, and even without inconsequential action (like huddles, lining up putts, even walking the ball up the court). When timed perfectly, I finish the tape just as the event is ending in real time. Mad skills.

The rewind feature of the modern DVR is also sups cool. I was floored by Julia Dale‘s rendition of the National Anthem before game 1 of the NBA finals last Thursday night. “Come here and watch this,” I yelled to peeps in the kitchen. Then rewound it for a second viewing. My second favorite performance of the Anthem after Marvin Gaye’s which I was lucky enough to experience live.

Of course there are ways television could be improved. If people stopped watching “reality” shows and the cable “news” circus, they’d go away. More aggravating to me, is some shows gratuitous use of the “f” word and penchant for glorifying drinking.

I’ve been a fan of Julia Louis-Dreyfus since she first started shoving Jerry in the chest on Seinfeld, so recently I gave her Home Box Office series Veep a whirl, in which she plays the Vice President of the U.S. Let’s just say the cute, spunky, chest shoving Elaine of Seinfeld is long gone. In her place is an insecure, foulmouthed, unlikable character. I don’t think of swearing in terms of moral failure. Ever since teaching high school, I’ve been unfazed by profanity. But I don’t like it when it’s forced and exaggerated. I counted 38 “f-bombs” in two consecutive 25 minute episodes. I find it hard to believe that Joe Biden and his staff use the f-word in semi-public nearly once per minute (Rahm Emmanuel maybe).

When a wise guy on Soprano’s or a Jonathan Franzen character lets it rip it adds to the story’s believability, but when the first female vice president or her staffers swear every minute (f-bombs plus more run of the mill profanities), things fall apart. HBO suits must think their success is the result of their characters saying things that characters on the major networks cannot. But it’s not. It’s based upon interesting story lines and strong character development that gritty language sometimes contributes to. Note to HBO, the swearing is an authentic and artistic means to an end, not an end itself.

Then there’s Zooey Deschanel’s show, New Girl, which takes moral irresponsibility to new levels. Like Veep it’s a clever, even funny show, with amusing characters who play their parts well. It’s target audience is probably my 18 and 21 year old daughters. The characters are 30, but in a Seinfeld-like manner, are stuck in a perpetual sex and drinking college-like vortex. In the hands of the shows writers and producers, drinking heavily is both fun and funny. I challenge you to identify one entire 22 minute episode of New Girls that that doesn’t glorify excessive drinking and/or random premarital sex. It’s a shame that responsibility and moderation do not attract as many eyeballs.

You and I would probably be better off with Amish romance novels.

January 2013 Awards

Tweet of the month. “Of course I’d be willing to let the Postal Service continue to dope if it would speed up mail delivery.” Nikolas Kristof

Sports stat of the month. Bench Points—Clips 41.7, Lakes 26.5. Bench Rebounds— Clips 20.4, Lakes 13.4. Bench Assists—Clips 8.7, Lakes 5.4. Bench Steals—Clips 3.8, Lakes, 2.0. Bench Blocks—Clips 3.6, Lakes 1.1.

Unanswered question of the month. Did Beyonce lip sync her National Anthem performance?

Sports loose-end of the month. The likelihood that the Sacramento Kings will move 619 miles north before the start of next season.

Bush league sports move of the month. Azarenka’s “injury” timeout against Sloane Stephens in their Australian Open semifinal match.

Worst losses of the month. Gold—Seahawks 28-Falcons 30. Silver—Butler 64-GonZAGa 63.

Gracious loser of the month. Sloane Stephens.

Best basketball quote of the month. “If you have to bounce the ball three times and flip it and twist your arm before a free-throw, it probably means you can’t shoot ’em. Wynton Marsalis’ youth basketball coach.

Anti-swoosh event of the month. The European Tour’s Abu Dhabi golf tournament where Swoosh Senior (Tiger Woods) and Swoosh Junior (Rory Mcllroy) missed the cut.

Multibillionaire quote of the month. “I like today what I liked fifty years ago. . . I was happy when I was in my twenties, and I don’t see a reason to change things.” Warren Buffet

Parenting essay of the month. Coming Home: Returning to parenting after 16 months on the campaign trail. John Dickerson, Slate Magazine.

Book release of the month. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Television shows of the month. Gold, Portlandia Season 3. Silver, Downton Abbey Season 3. Bronze, 30 Rock.

Movie of the month. Tie. Silver Lining Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

Word of the month. Tradecraft.

EXPLICIT cold ass honkey music vid of the year month. Thriftshop by Maclemore & Ryan Lewis.

Insight of the month. Michael Apted, documentary filmmaker on 56 Up. “That was a very important lesson I learned throughout the decades on the film, that I can’t project my version of happiness or success or ambition onto other people.”

Unappreciated health danger of the month.