1/19/17

The Last 25 Years—What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been In Some Weird Parallel Universe



[It has dawned on me recently that I don’t much like anything that has happened in the last 25 years. America, as you know, is a very stupid country. It often means well, but like many a lucky, spoiled, entitled  trust fund kid, it makes bad decisions and doesn’t give a shit. But elementary chaos theory tells us two things about history: it is highly contingent and it things could have turned out even dumber, by orders of magnitude. So here is an alternate history of the United States of America, completely made up from whole cloth by me. But with an infinite number of universes in parallel existence, this one must exist somewhere. The story begins with a 1992 election roughly as ridiculous as the one that just happed in our “real” timeline in 2016. That was my jumping-off point. So, Geronimo.]

The America of 1992 was a very different place than it had been 20 or even ten years earlier. The Cold War may have been over, but with the U.S. Government putting up record deficits year after year, trade deficits getting steadily worse, most Americans were fed up with business as usual in Washington, D.C. and wanted to send a new president to the capitol who would shake things up.

There was a strong feeling that the only way to make America great again was to completely revamp the approach to governing—perhaps if the government was run more like a basketball team, things could be turned around.

At first, Bobby Knight’s presidential campaign seemed like a joke, but his no-holds-barred style soon caught on and carried him to the Republican nomination. The selection of running mate Dick Cheney provided a salve for the wounded Republican old guard, but more importantly, provided Knight with a prospective partner for his frequent hunting trips. The two then proceeded to run a tight, organized campaign that focused almost exclusively on the economy, hammering home the same simple message over and over again.


“It’s the economy, you stupid fuck.”

Knight’s narrow victory over former first lady Rosalyn Carter confounded the prognosticators and talking heads of the media, but in retrospect, it should have been obvious that Carter had simply been in the public eye too long and carried too much baggage. The public just didn’t trust her; also, her choice of John Wayne Gacy as her running mate may have been ill-advised.

“No skeletons in his closet, no. None.”

But others besides politicians left their mark on the decade of the 1990’s. No one could ever forget that day in 1995 when former star football player O.J. Simpson jumped once again into the national consciousness and took over the television broadcasts for days. The sight of his white Bronco speeding down the highway, with police cars close behind, is one that will be long remembered.

O.J. became an instant national hero when it was learned the three kittens he had rescued from the burning building made it to the vet on time.

It was the best of times, but politics always rears its ugly head again; before we knew it, another election season was upon us.

For some reason, the Democrats nominated a Viagra salesman from Kansas for president in 1996, paving the way for an easy victory and second term for President Knight. This second term itself was not easy, however; in 1998 Knight was impeached by the House of Representatives after a video surfaced showing the president trying to strangle one of his cabinet members. The Senate, whose members were more familiar with auto-erotic asphyxiation, voted to acquit Knight and he finished out his term.

The new millennium arrived on January 1, 2000, and as expected no one thought it was a big deal. It wasn’t, other than the Y2K bug that fucked up every system everywhere in the world and forced that year long delay in the arrival of the big day. Fortunately, few noticed, and of course we didn’t tell the stupid people.

The 2000 election pitted Vice President Dick Cheney against the son of a former president and heir to a political family legacy and fortune: John F. Kennedy, Jr. The contest was the closest in history; the outcome in doubt for weeks. The final result remained in dispute until early election morning, when the Supreme Court finally stepped in and ordered everyone to stop voting. Though he lost the popular vote 17 to 9, J.F.K. Jr. was able to garner the necessary 270 electoral votes to win.

The new president brought a unique style to the White House; he liked to call himself “The Pilot” and promised to take the helm and fly the country on a safe course through the darkness despite his limited set of skills. But early in his administration, events were to put the nation on a crash course with destiny.

Those who lived through it will never forget the images they saw that day. Some events are such that everyone remembers, the rest of their lives, where they were when they heard the news. In many ways, so many years later, America is still coming to grips with the tragic events of 12/17.

Many Americans were already tuned in to the TV when the news reports first flashed. Many more heard from friends and co-workers and rushed to the nearest set. What they saw will always haunt them: two terrorists riding a stolen tandem bicycle into the Chrysler Building. The poor terrorists were horribly killed, and a nation poured out its heart in mourning for over an hour.

Eventually, life mostly got back to normal, and in February 2003 the Oakland Raiders were crushed 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That happens in every conceivable timeline, with mathematical certainty.

The year 2003 also saw the nation. go to war. Certain intelligence reports, since disputed, seemed to indicate a country long unfriendly to the U.S. was in violation of international law and developing weapons of mass destruction. In April of that year, the U.S. invaded France. There was surpisingly little international support for this move, and in fact Germany flatly refused to support or assist the invasion in any way. For this betrayal, everything German known to Americans was soon renamed “Liberty.”

We loved our Liberty Chocolate, but that outbreak of Liberty Measles was scary.

The war itself went well and lasted roughly ten minutes. No weapons were found. In fact, the whole thing was a misunderstanding, an audio surveillance agent who misheard the words “math instruction.” The Bourbaki, it turns out, is not a terrorist cell at all but a group of French mathematicians in the 19th century. There was a brief flurry of stories regarding mistreatment and even torture of French prisoners, but this faded when it turned out no one really had a problem with that sort of thing.

Kennedy was re-elected by a slightly larger margin the second time around when the Republican Party forgot to nominate anyone in 2004.

The year 2005 in America will be largely remembered as the year nature struck back with an act of God so powerful it reminded us all how helpless even the strongest nation can be when pitted against such forces. In August of that year, Hurricane Hillary devastated the entire Gulf Coast area in a matter of hours. Overnight, with winds gusting up to 7 miles an hour, Hillary simply obliterated neighborhoods. Those too poor or stupid to evacuate the area soon regretted their poverty and/or stupidity. A storm surge off the coast of Louisiana caused water to somehow find its way to areas  below sea level, and the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, was nearly drowned. Thousands of refugees found shelter at the Independence Bowl in nearby Shreveport, as the nation watched their desperate plight on TV. Fortunately, help was on the way. To its everlasting credit, FEMA required a mere six weeks to find a map with Shreveport on it, and soon there were enough body bags for all.

Heckuva job, Greenie, or whoever.

The year 2008 was a historic one in many ways. The string of memorable events began in February, when future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Joey Harrington led his Detroit Lions to an exciting win in the Super Bowl to complete the first undefeated 19-0 season in NFL history. Detroit won its fourth championship and wrapped up its perfect season with a signature play in the fourth quarter of this close contest. Lions receiver David Tyree put himself in the highlight reels for years to come with his game-saving play, catching a pass from Harrington with his eye socket.

Then, a few months later, things got scary again, with a meltdown in a key industry threatening to take the whole economy down. Government intervention was required, as some companies are simply “too big to fail,” and a financial bailout was needed when an industry-wide acceptance of ridiculously huge risks became commonplace and the risks went bad.

In retrospect, many felt it should have been obvious that the movie Avatar would be such a disaster that it would threaten the entire entertainment industry, and thus the economy as a whole, but that’s just hindsight. While the new 3D technology gave many of those who saw the film headaches, it did succeed in making others nauseous. No one, however, was prepared for the avalanche of lawsuits that followed, and the government simply had to step in, however distasteful it was. There simply weren’t enough lawyers, and something had to be done.

There were protests, of course; the Occupy Hollywood Boulevard movement seemed to be catching on for a time, but our wise and beneficent government came up with a surprisingly elegant solution: simply move the film and TV industry out of Hollywood. Many traditions fell by the wayside, but in the end the entertainment industry quickly became every bit as entrenched in its new home: exciting Coos Bay, Oregon.

Where the magic happens.

Of course 2008 will also be remembered for its historic election result, in which the United States chose its first African-American president. In a landslide, the voters overwhelmingly supported a man who, while new to the political scene, was able to convincingly assure us that we’d be in good hands: the guy from the All-State commercial.



Perhaps our greatest president, things went so well during his administration that absolutely nothing happened for the next eight years.  At least nothing that we remember. We’re pretty sure he must have been re-elected in 2012, because that’s how the thing works, but with the Electoral College the way it is nowadays, who really knows.

If not the best of times, it at least passed quietly. We think.

But you know how Americans get when things are going well: what the fuck. We get bored, or some damn thing; we need to shake things up again, to live, as they say, in interesting times. So, good luck in retirement, President Guy-From-The-All-State-Commercial; we are on a new track now. And while some of us may have had a few misgivings, mostly inconsequential policy details, about the candidates in 2016, at least none among us have any doubts about the experience, character and temperament brought to the White House by our new President:

Yeah, I don’t know who he is, either.



11/17/16

They Also Ran Good: Hubert Humphrey



[This is the eighth in a series of posts, going back several years now, on the topic of losing presidential candidates since 1960. I’ve actually had this one in the works for a couple of years, but these are supposed to be funny, that’s what I write, and it’s easy to run into roadblocks trying to do that when the subject is 1968. If you lived through it, and maybe even if you didn’t, you should be aware of one stark fact: 1968 simply wasn’t funny. It started bad, mostly ended bad except for the cool bit with the astronauts circling the moon on Christmas eve, and in between was some seriously fucked up shit. I will give it a go regardless; I like to write about history, and with 2016 being such a historic year now, I’m feeling inspired. In a year that saw such a momentous event, with Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman in history to accidentally e-mail the presidency to a cartoon billionaire, it’s time to get back to work. As always, most of what you will read is documented historical fact; some, though, is shit I made up whilst sitting alone in my room chain-smoking joints. I trust you will be able to tell the difference.]

The Man
Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr., was born on May 27, 1911 in Wallace, South Dakota. Yup, Hubert Horatio Humphrey. I’ve made fun of his cartoonish name in the past, but I’m not going to do that here. I will not. No more “Oompa-Loompa” jokes; nope, the man was Vice-President of the United States of America, after all, and deserves his dignity.

Hubert Horatio Humphrey Hornblower Honk Honk Honk

Hubert studied pharmacy in college (hey, so did I!) and ran the family drugstore before entering politics; he was elected mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1945 and senator from Minnesota in 1948. Known as a strong anti-Communist in his early political days, he became more known as a senator for his work in passing civil rights legislation and involvement in the creation of Medicare and the Peace Corps.  Chosen by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be his running mate in 1964, he spent the next four years as understudy to a man who became less and less popular seemingly by the minute after 1965.

11/10/16

Canada To Build Wall, Make America Pay For It


I'm not sure I've really got my thoughts together on this recent election, or if such a thing is even possible, but I'll give it a shot while I've got this stuff rolling around in my head. Then, of course, I will retreat back into zombie world, probably for another four years, It's OK. I'm happy there. They know me there.

This isn't about political philosophy anymore, and it's not about Hillary Clinton anymore, either. Donald Trump is actually going to have to be president now, and name-calling the opposition won't accomplish anything. Hillary Clinton's flaws don't matter anymore; the Clinton-Bush era of American politics is over.  In any case, I haven't seen any sign that Donald Trump even has a coherent political philosophy, so I don't think there is any real discussion to be had there.

This will be policy by whim, I think. And since I don't think Trump even knows what he's going to do, I'm having a hard time imagining that his supporters have any knowledge along those lines either. Which means they may or may not be happy with the results, if they even have a clue what it was they were voting for. A vote to shake things up? To shake up Washington? That's a morally neutral concept at best.  Really, even the simplest understanding of the laws of entropy and thermodynamics should tell you: a complex system has many more ways of being disordered than it does of being ordered. That's why things tend toward disorder over time, and why random shakeups are more likely to cause a system to be fucked up and dysfunctional than actually start working better. This isn't kicking your TV set back in the vacuum tube days, folks.

So what do I really think is going to happen? I have no fucking idea. My hope is that we can keep Trump too distracted to accomplish anything. Keep asking his opinions on stuff that has nothing to do with the presidency, keep getting him to rate the supermodels according to do-ability or some shit and try to limit the damage he does that way.

Predictions? I think it's 50-50 that the man goes full Napoleon-hat barking mad in office. The nuclear football will be replaced by a dummy suitcase full of knobs that set off buzzers and lights and shit, and Trump will happily bang away on them. Our next Supreme Court justice will be Judge Judy, and Newt Gingrich will think this is a good idea.

We will build the wall on the Mexican border, and make them pay for it by hiring Mexican laborers and stiffing them on the payment.

As for me, I really will try to come out of hiding once in a while to do some writing here. You'd think I would be inspired, but that might actually require watching the news once in a while, and I'm not sure that will happen. I suppose I could try to be one of the many people President Trump will try to sue for writing about him, but with my lack of resources that might be a losing cause. I would likely end up in prison, in another wing near the one holding all the women who accused Trump of groping them. (Did that actually happen? I don't know, but I do know that what makes it believable is Trump's own voice on tape. Maybe they made it all up. Of course, it's also possible that his hair crawls off his head in the middle of the night and prowls around biting women.)

On the other hand, spending my remaining years in prison might actually pass for a retirement plan before this adventure is over. 

3/10/16

My Life As Currently Constructed



I really am going to try to write some new pieces here in the coming months. Really. I would swear to God, but...you know. Whatever. But I think if I’m going to call myself a writer, which I’ve occasionally done on resumes and stuff to make it look like I did anything constructive from 2009-2014, I should probably write something now and again.

To be honest, as you might judge from my paltry few posts the last three years, I’m more TV watcher than writer these days, living in Walking Dead world most of the time now, but also a watcher who takes regular breaks to go survey people on the telephone. These surveys mostly involve the political opinions of Republican voters. The striking thing about this odd dual life is that neither half of it seems to be genuinely weirder than the other right now. In one, the world is full of dead people walking around trying to eat the living; in the other,  Donald Trump is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. I think the word dystopia was coined with one of these scenarios in mind, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one.

Oops. I’m getting into opinions here. We’ll need this:



In any case, one story involves a ragtag group struggling for survival in a world that’s come to be ruled by mindless, flesh-hungry zombies and remorseless people who will take everything they can from the weak and defenseless, while the other...

The other appears on AMC on Sunday nights.

Actually, the emergence of Donald Trump, potential president, seems like nothing more than a joke from one of those stupid 80’s movies or TV shows set in “the future,” where they make some absurd reference to someone in the public consciousness at the time. Something from, say, Robocop or Back To The Future II. Or, I don’t know, Holmes & YoYo.  Maybe a funny reference to the Chicago Cubs winning the series, or a gag about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Wait, what? That really happened? I mean the Governor thing, not the Cubs. Let’s not get ridiculous.

Now I am frightened. Just more on Tuesday nights than on Sundays.

But I don’t just watch election returns and zombie shows exclusively, mind you. For one thing, I did watch most of the recent NFL season, which I was only able to do by giving up the pleasure of calling people on “The Lord’s Day” to do political surveys, a mortal sin and a stain on my soul that I decided I could live without. I replaced that bag of fun with the sublime pleasure of watching Peyton Manning complete enough of those wobbly little turds he throws to win a Super Bowl. Honestly, the man throws turds. He tosses the ball out there like he’s letting go of a balloon, and you think about four guys will be waiting to intercept it. And somehow it’s complete for 20 yards.

To heighten the experience, these events are  interspersed with Peyton’s periodic attempts to sell me his shitty pizza, which appears to feature little turds of its own.

And those commercials, of course, are themselves interspersed with drug company ads attempting to sell me pills for the erectile dysfunction that they would like me to consider having. Maybe if they repeat the words often enough? Repetition sells, right?

She’s always been the one for you. And she’s still pretty hot. But you can’t get it up. You just can’t. Can’t, can’t, can’t. What’s wrong with you? There must be something wrong with you. Something seriously wrong with you. When the moment is right, but something is wrong with you...

Fortunately, these ads come with text at the bottom of the screen: various disclaimers, reminders of all the sexually transmitted diseases the product doesn’t prevent or cure, and warnings of possible side effects. These not only put me off sex entirely, negating the need for help, they actually provide some amusement.

I see it’s been observed and documented that a man, in “rare” cases, may experience a rash, a swelling of the tongue and/or lips, and difficulty breathing after taking this particular drug. When I see these warnings, I cannot help but imagine the not-quite-middle-aged couple on my screen, the handsome, distinguished man and his still modestly attractive wife, right at that magic moment of consummation, about to join as one and share the greatest gift ever created; they owe this bliss to, and no doubt their marriage has been saved by, the wonders of modern chemistry and its agent, the altruistic and selfless drug company.  Heaven awaits them. They disrobe, reach lovingly for each other, and...

With nary a warning, the handsome, distinguished man breaks out in every possible side effect at once. His face suddenly erupting in oozing red pustules, his lips swelling monstrously, his tongue blowing up like a puffer fish in his mouth, he clutches uncomprehendingly at his throat...and from somewhere deep in his chest comes a ghastly bubbling and wheezing sound, like “eehhhh uhhhhh, eehhhh uhhhhh.” Almost like a donkey braying, actually. A faint gurgling ensues; the man topples to his left, bounces once off the bed and falls away offscreen with a sickening thud. Woman screams. Fade to black.

I find this image terribly, terribly funny. Then again, I am a sick, sick person. I will make no apologies for this, as I am merely a product of my environment. In my environment, zombies rule. Zombies, and Donald Trump. So the world keeps telling me, over and over.  The world is obviously trying to die, and I’m inclined to let it. And watch on TV. That’s me, that’s my life.

As currently constructed.