Dramatic Campaign

It was sad to hear of the death, from cancer, of beloved actor Tom Bosley. Bosley was famous for appearing as the dad in the long-running TV series “Happy Days”, but his reputation as a stage actor on Broadway was sealed by his portrayal of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in the Pulitzer Prize winning 1960 musical, “Fiorello”.

“Fiorello” is one of 8 musicals to win the Pulitzer for drama. (The others are “Of Thee I Sing”, “South Pacific”, “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, “A Chorus Line”, “Sunday in the Park With George”, “Rent” and “Next To Normal”. Only two of these are about politics – “Fiorello” and “Of Thee I Sing.” That got me thinking about our discussion yesterday on politics and cynicism.

“Of Thee I Sing” debuted in 1932, written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind with music and lyrics from George and Ira Gershwin. Act one describes a political campaign where the candidate runs on the “love” platform, promising voters that if they elect him, he’ll marry the woman of his dreams, thereby making the biggest campaign issue whether or not people want a happy ending to a romantic story. No need to hire a pollster to figure how that one will turn out.

That’s what you get when you let politics and musical theater collide.

“Fiorello” has a similar romantic storyline, but for lovers of musical cynicism the standouts are two songs sung by corrupt politicians – “Politics and Poker” and “Little Tin Box”. Bosley didn’t appear in either one of these songs – he was the hero and these are numbers for the villains – but they represent America’s best effort at distilling political corruption into a cheerful little ditty.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t offer videos of the original Broadway cast doing these songs (I’m shocked, scandalized), but Farmingdale High School on Long Island did a nice job with “Little Tin Box”. Kudos to the guy in the greenish vest.

It’s hard to imagine what sort of musical would reflect the political times we live in today, or if such a show could even exist. After all, you have to have a sympathetic protagonist, and as soon as you put someone from our current cast of characters up on a pedestal, half the audience will write you off as partisan. You could try to go entirely in the other direction and built the show around an anti-hero (Michele Bachmann, the Musical) with the same disappointing result.

Maybe the political musical for our times is really about our concurrent but weirdly separate realities. Act one tells the story from a red politics perspective. Act two brings in the same characters and re-tells the same tale, blue. But where does that leave us at the end? Ready to run from the theater and go have a drink somewhere.

What’s your favorite political drama on stage or screen?

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Put Up the Barn!

A message from our favorite public servant.

Greetings Constituents!

Election day is two weeks from today! Regardless of your political tendencies I hope you’ll get out and vote, especially if you live in my district and are inclined to vote for ME!

I still don’t have an “official” opponent in Minnesota’s 9th (all the water surface area in the state), but I know that a submerged wave of support for a write-in candidate can easily tip over an electoral kayak if the guy with the paddle is not paying attention. That’s why I thought I’d better hurry up and make some last-minute promises.

I promise to hate the government as much as anyone.

Anti-incumbent cynicism is high this year, but that shouldn’t be a problem for a rougish outsider like me. But some casual observers have been known to mistake me for an establishment politician just because I’ve been around a long, long while. That’s totally unfair. Believe me, nobody is more opposed to the government than I am!

Our government is too invasive, too intrusive, too insular, and a lot of other in- words I don’t have the space to write down here, including inward. I want to keep government from interfering in your life when the reason for doing so doesn’t interest me. And if I we don’t get enough government haters in the government to accomplish that in this election cycle, I promise that at least I’ll continue my already successful efforts to keep the government inept at everything it does.

I also promise to change the tone.

Yesterday, an unnamed group of online conversationalists offered up as a joke that our current congressional leaders would be unable to complete an old-fashioned Amish barn raising because our political culture is too toxic to permit cooperation. That may be true but there’s no way we can know for sure until we try.

That’s why, as soon as I get back to Washington, I plan to introduce the National Political Reconciliation Amish Barn Construction Fellowship Bill of 2010! Under the provisions of the bill, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will be required to start the 2011 session by building a big red barn on the national mall at the foot of the Washington monument, using only horse power, hand tools and brute strength.

I know we can do it, but to make sure, one of the requirements is that both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate will have to move their offices into the hayloft. Trust me, it will be a very nice barn, and it will set the stage for another initiative I have in mind – the Washington Monument Green Energy Generator Bill of 2012.

I know what you’re wondering – “Why would any one of the Congressional Fat Cats will vote for this?” Well, I’m certain that in the weeks following this election everyone who remains in Congress will be eager to bolster their wholesome, hardworking Common American Person credentials. How can any Common American Person say “No” to building a barn? It speaks to our values and shared aspirations, even though most Common American People have no idea how to build a barn.

Plus, it will provide great, positive publicity for our political leaders. I expect my bi-partisan barn raising to get 24/7 coverage from CNN, and I’m sure my colleagues will be out there working hard, maybe even shirtless, because the only kind of bad exposure in Washington, D.C. is the kind that’s not enough. And that’s true even when the exposure looks flabby and old and horrible.

Do us all a favor and return me to Congress so I can get down to business, force this community-building bill down the throats of my fellow public servants, and then take my shirt off in the January sunshine to show the world how very much of an American I am!

Sincerely your very best friend in our nation’s capitol,

Congressman Loomis Beechly

Have you ever organized a large group to accomplish something together?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m a political candidate for a major state office and I’m so excited about Election Day I can hardly wait! After months and months of trying to connect with the voters they will finally decide and even if I lose I won’t be mad because the end of the campaign means I can stop hanging out with my opponents. I don’t think the three guys who went to the moon were together as much as we’ve been in the last few weeks. Honestly, I see them more than the people in my family. If it’s Tuesday, this must be the breakfast forum at the League of Earnest Accountants.

It has come to the point where I know the other side’s arguments as well as my own. I never expected to memorize so many reasons why I’m inadequate, but I guess that’s what a career in politics does for you. Don’t get me wrong. They’re nice enough people, but there are limits to togetherness, or there should be. Even with people you sort of like you can know too much, and right now I feel like I know WAY too much about me and him and him. And confidentially, Dr. Babooner, I’m starting to think none of us would be a very good choice. Hope the voters don’t find out!

But that’s not my question. My problem has to do with etiquette, and this is it – even after all the struggling and maneuvering for an advantage, when we have our final debate I suspect I’ll be saying goodbye to these guys for quite a while, maybe forever. I think I’m going to miss them. Should I bring parting gifts, and if so, what?

One of Three

I told One of Three it would be a very nice gesture to bring gifts for his political opponents on the occasion of their final debate, and by now he should know enough about them to buy just the right thing.

The hard part is how to bestow these gifts, since he will probably have to do it when they are all standing there together. It would be tacky to get each one the same item, like, say, a fruit basket. But he would want to be sure to spend roughly the same amount – it’s embarrassing to have a huge disparity in gift value, especially if one of the recipients is wealthy and the other is not.

And although they’ve spent a lot of time talking about it, cash is probably not a good choice as a parting gift for one’s political opponents.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Underground Week Wrap-up!

The re-surfacing of trapped Chilean miners has set an upbeat tone for underground adventure this week.

Yesterday, tim described his childhood escapade using storm sewers to go to the store for cigarettes. Need I say it? Kids, don’t try this, really. Flash flooding and lung cancer are the very first things that come to my risk-averse mind, followed closely by enormous spiders and sudden earthquakes. Here’s an excerpt:

it was winter out so the underground route was warm (good news) but we all had our winter coats and boots so we were kind of klunky . the master map charter got messed up and we had to double back a couple times. in a few places the drain pipe got small and we had to take off jackets and shinney through. in other places the pipe was short and instead of walking a little hunched over you had to go for long distances with kness bent doing the duck walk and scraping your back on the concrete pipe above.

A vivid account of a bit of scary risk-taking, tim. But it does remind me that some people seem to enjoy navigating tight underground spaces. A family trip to Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park ten years ago opened my eyes to the caver culture. The area is shot through with subterranean passages, and on a tour of one less-than-mammoth cave a young guide described how she and her friends still spent their after hours squeezing through uncharted tunnels, just for the fun of it. Not for me, thanks.

If I’m going to go underground at all, it has to be with a jumpsuit, a hardhat and 10 billion dollars worth of burrowing and air handling equipment so I can stand tall, stay clean, and completely obliterate all icky worms and any other obstacles that might block my way.

That’s how they do it in Switzerland.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel will be the longest railway tunnel in the world when it is completed, 35.5 miles from end to end. The Swiss have been working on this one for 20 years – imagine having the political will to continue on such an expensive project for two decades! Given the same task, I’m afraid we would have abandoned it for political reasons at the first change of administrations. On Friday the Swiss had a long-awaited breakthrough.

Staged for the media? Of course. But if you’re going to spend that much time and money burrowing, shouldn’t there be someone there to marvel and applaud when you get to the end?

“Hey Ma! See what I did!”

“Nice, honey. But look at all the mud on your pants!”

What is the most impressive thing you’ve ever done with a shovel?

Goats in the News

Wild goats in northern Italy are defying gravity on the face of the Cingino Dam. These animals are actually called Alpine Ibex, though one online account falsely labeled them Bighorn Sheep and magically transported the dam from the Alps to Montana.

That’s the internet for you, where any half-truth can make it around the world if it has shock value, plausibility and a certain wacky appeal. I’m inclined to call them Goat Flies and to claim they are sunning themselves on the south wall of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. We’ll see how far that goes.

Regardless of the details, it is remarkable to see animals with such a casual approach to verticality. They appear to be licking the surface of the structure, and some accounts suppose that it is a mineral, probably salt, that attracts them. At any rate, Alpine Ibex are very much unlike Trail Babooners, who suffer from fear of heights, fear of THINKING about heights, and extreme squeamishness when it comes to watching YouTube videos about mammals climbing things.

This video will simultaneously terrorize you if you have acrophobia, and soothe you if you enjoy the sound of 1,000 melodramatic, artificial strings.

Alpine Ibex mom to Alpine Ibex youth: “Just because all the other kids go climbing on the Cingino Dam, that doesn’t mean YOU have to do it too!”

Ever accept a dare that you wish you hadn’t?

Howdy Neighbor!

As a person with officially-confirmed-by-Myers-Briggs introvert tendencies, it is always a delight to me when someone new enters the neighborhood, waves hello, and keeps on going.

Especially when the visitor is an asteroid.

2010 TD54 zipped by early Tuesday morning on its way to who knows where? Watchers of extra terrestrial rocks say this one wasn’t big enough to cause damage, even if it had entered Earth’s atmosphere. But the latest thinking about the asteroid threat suggests that these smaller rocks are worthy of our attention; not for a potentially planet killing impact, but rather for the possibility that they might merely penetrate the atmosphere just far enough to cause an aerial explosion, or “airburst”, that could create tree flattening winds and rock melting temperatures.

That would be enough to get my attention.

The experts say this is what happened at Tunguska in Siberia in 1908 with an airburst that devastated an area of about 830 square miles. Hennepin and Ramsey counties together cover 776 square miles, so it’s important to think about asteroids, both big and small. We can learn about the origins of the universe from them, mine them for precious metals and maybe even change their paths to avoid future collisions. In fact, President Obama signed a space bill earlier this week that sets us on course to land astronauts on an asteroid by 2025, under the theory that the best defense is a good offense. Let’s get in the face of Tiny Asteroid before he gets in ours!

An asteroid named Ida and her moon (courtesy of NASA Images)

Word about 2010 TD54 only surfaced on October 9th. One scientist was quoted by space.com as saying smaller, locally destructive asteroids are more numerous and harder to detect than the big ones, and even if we spotted a reckless intruder two weeks before impact, we’d just have to “take the hit”. Ow!

I wonder how much we would know about where an asteroid would enter the atmosphere and whose terrain might get cooked. Suppose you had a week to get out of the way …

Where would you go?

One At A Time

One of my childhood flights of fancy when mom took us to the drive-up teller window was that I could climb into the tiny shuttle and ride it through the pneumatic tube from our car into the bank. Tight fit. Fun trip. It was the sort of ridiculous thing a kid imagines that would not be fun at all in reality, but that’s what crossed my mind watching Chilean miners climb into a narrow capsule to be pulled 2,000 feet through an angled tube to the surface.

The rescue will go on, without complications or setbacks we hope, for the next day or so. It makes surprisingly good television, bringing together all the key elements – danger, tension, suspense, success, joy, tearful hugging, repeat. With lots of time along the way for a message from our sponsors. There are cameras at either end of the journey and a single prominent wheel atop the hoisting structure that we can watch as it reels in the cable that’s attached to the rescue capsule. Keep an eye on that gizmo, an airy multi-spoked contraption reminiscent of Gandhi’s symbolic spinning wheel. It will wind up in a museum someday.

When we talked about this unfolding dilemma back in August, our shared wish was that the ending would be happy enough to trigger a cheesy disaster movie, ala “The Poseidon Adventure”, or perhaps some new kind of surrealist stage play. “Waiting for Gondola”, anyone? I suspect there will be a slew of paintings, sculptures and YouTube mash-ups, not to mention the books, possibly one from each of the 33 miners. If this were happening in the USA, the rescued men would need a publicity agency to manage their opportunities and to keep them out of trouble with an aggressive press that is voracious for details, positive or otherwise.

You’ve been underground with 32 co-workers for well over two months. Now that you’re on the surface and are a national hero with a world press that has seemingly unlimited interest in your personal life, where do you draw the boundaries?

On Auto Pilot

Many thanks to the Trail Baboon guest bloggers for giving me a week-long blog holiday. Steve, Jacque, Anna, Barbara, Renee, Donna and tim took the lead while I spent a few days not thinking about, reading or even glancing at the blog. It was a carefree respite because I knew things were in good hands and it was a nice break from the routine. But I also missed the conversation and the many pleasures of being part of a friendly congress of baboons, so I’m equally delighted to be back. It will take me a few days to read through all your comments on the previous entries, but I aim to catch up!

While I was not paying attention, the following missive arrived from our good friend Bubby Spamden.

Hey Mr. C.,

I know we’re supposed to be concentrating on our schoolwork, but the sophomores here at Wendell Wilkie High School are really distracted by the news that Google has been secretly testing a fleet of 7 cars that can drive themselves. The cars have gone over 140 thousand accident free miles with minimal human intervention, which is a lot better than 7 high school sophomores can do.

Some adults think this is a great idea, but me and my friends, we’re kinda ticked off.

If you don’t get that, think of it this way – you’re just about old enough to get your license and your mom goes, “You know what honey? I think I’ll just quit my job and be your chauffeur. For the rest of your life. OK?”

Weird, huh? I actually know a kid whose mom said that.

Speaking for all the almost-16 year olds, we haven’t really known a world that didn’t have Google in it. And Google has kind of been a mom and dad for us, because whenever we want to know something, that’s who we ask. We figured out a long time ago that our biological mom and dad are kinda clueless about most everything.

And now mom is hanging on to the car keys? No thanks!

Some of my smarter friends also figured out that there’s nothing you can do online that isn’t remembered and noticed. Getting control of the car meant maybe we could finally go somewhere and do something where some body wouldn’t be looking over our shoulder. But now with Google behind the wheel, every trip will be part of our history of sites visited. Drat!

And what’s worse, the cars have cameras in them. Double drat!

We have to do something to stop this project! Without car-key based freedoms, my generation will have no reason to work or even to move out of the house. That means there’ll be no incentive to apply for all the non-existent jobs. And if we’re not working, who will fund the social security payments that you and all your old bloggers are counting on? Try to see it our way. This is an emergency!

Where you see a safety advance, we see the complete and total loss of any chance that we might actually have fun someday.

Anyway, I’m hoping you and your blog people can be on our side in this one. Speak out! Defend our youthful autonomy, rather than giving in to this scary auto tyranny by Google.

Your pal,

I told Bubby I couldn’t agree with him completely. For one thing, youthful indiscretions are overrated. And as a person who, as a 16 year old, totaled my father’s prize Corvair, I can’t argue that teenage driving skills are more reliable than a computer. Still, I don’t think the Google car project will ever be a realistic threat to Bubby’s freedom. Liability concerns will slow widespread adoption of the technology, and although it looks promising in these early stages, how many times have you started surfing on the internet with a clear destination in mind only to wind up a million miles away from where you thought you were headed? How will that tendency translate to a cross country trip, a Thanksgiving jaunt to Grandma’s house, or even a “quick” trip to the store? I’m not all that excited about climbing into my Googlemobile and clicking “I’m feeling lucky.”

Would you let a computer drive the car?

making life beautiful

Guest Blog by tim

the blog for my day will have to do with the arts. this group more than the norm seems to have an appreciation for the arts or at least an acknowledgeable acceptance of it.
the photographers the drawings the painting the discussions are something that remind me I am not living in a vacuum.

art is the difference between the walls of the walker art center and the walls of super 8 motel. the difference between seeing a sunset and adjusting the rear view mirror to get that annoying bright spot out of your eyes. the difference between walking seeing listening to the poetry of the forest and the mindless preoccupied walk with to do lists and the agenda of the day clogging up the brain arteries.

art is what makes life beautiful. years ago i was in italy buying tile with a colleague who taught me to the ropes. he is a great business mind, a multi millionaire, the guy who taught me that it is not the age or experience that allows great things to happen but the mind, the vision and the ability to recognize how to make the opportunity of the day happen. a remarkable man with a heart the size of all outdoors but with an artistic set of blinders on that allow him to enjoy beauty and the world around him only in the rarest of moments. he prefers mcdonalds and kfc to fine dining in world venues because they are familiar . he prefers ramada and holiday inn to world venues because they cater to americans. we were in line to see the last supper as it was being restored in milan , and he wanted to leave because the line was 30 minutes long.i said are we going back to the hotel for a beer 30 minutes earlier than otherwise? art for him and many others is a nice thing and i am glad they have an appreciation of art but the understanding and appreciation of the world of the arts is not something they get.

this group gets that the artistic side of life is a very vital part of life. the poetry, the drawing, painting, the music, the photography is what makes the world go round. It used to drive me crazy to go to china because they had such bad music. the mtv equivalent was on tv everywhere over there but the music was horrible. It was like chinese people trying to be madonna with cutesy little tunes that were bubble gum and bouncy or toooo dramatic. today when I go i can stream the music of my choice of just hit the shuffle button on my itunes and listen to my music. I feel like my friend eating at macdonalds in one sense but I feel like I am doing it to make my world better, more beautiful.

What do you do to make the world beautiful?

First Grade With Dr. Franklin

Guest blog by Donna

Our school office regularly sends newsletters home to inform families about upcoming events, fundraisers, procedures, and other relevant items. A couple of years ago my colleagues and I were strongly invited to contribute to the newsletter by writing a few notes about the goings on in our classrooms. My turn fell on the week of my birthday, which made it very special … so special, that I submitted two descriptions.

Here’s the piece they rejected:

First graders in room 102 are learning about weather tools that can measure temperature, wind and rain. On Tuesday we taped crepe paper streamers to craft sticks and predicted which condition our tool would measure. Next we took our tools outside and observed what happened when we stood and held them above our heads. Then we tried walking, skipping and running with them. Back in our room we discussed our observations and concluded we had made the perfect tool for measuring how loudly we can scream and shout.

Next week we will take our inquiry a step further and design another weather tool. Scattered thunderstorms are forecasted so we will measure the intensity of lightning. Please send a wire coat hanger and pair of pliers with your child by Monday. Please include a pair of rubber-soled shoes for your child to keep in his locker, since we won’t know until we hear thunder that it is time to take our weather tools outside. Please sign and return the parental release form that you will find today in your child’s folder. And finally, a great big THANK YOU for helping your child explore the exciting world of weather!

“When is the use of satire inappropriate?”