Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I read in the paper this morning that there will be another re-count in a Minnesota election.

I’m starting to think there is someone in this state who is my exact double in almost every respect except when it comes down to politics. In that realm, where I zig, they zag. When I see, they saw. Whenever I’m feeling helter, they’re skelter.

I think I saw this person a few weeks ago. We were headed into the Metrodome for a Vikings game. I was wearing my foam rubber horns, Helga braids, and of course I had Brett Favre’s number painted across my face. I had just put on my brand new Randy Moss “84” (again) jersey when I spied my double in the exact same get-up, except the purple“4” on her face pointed to the right, and mine went left. Then I noticed the price tag was still on her Moss wear – she got it at Wal-Mart while mine was from Target. She paid less! (And because it still had the price tag on it, she might be able to take it back!)

I wanted to pull her aside, introduce myself, and try to find out why she was so like me, but NOT. Maybe by engaging on a personal level I could help break the deadlock! But I didn’t. On some fundamental, totally unconscious level, I was afraid getting too close to this strange, bizzaro echo of myself.

If I see her again, should I approach?

Sincerely,

Afraid of My Almost-Doppelganger

I told “Afraid of My Almost-Doppelganger” it all has to do with your intentions. Trying to change another person’s beliefs through force of will doesn’t work, and being reasonable depends on them seeing you as something other than a raving lunatic. Having a purple number “4” painted on your face can be a good start only when the other person also has a purple “4” face. Though it is odd that her right-facing “4” was backwards. Maybe she imagined looking at the number from inside Brett’s jersey. That’s disturbing on a whole new level, and difficult to overlook. It sometimes takes great courage to enter into a discussion without pre-judging.

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

The Votes Are Cast

As usual for the first Tuesday in November, there is a last minute statement from a familiar source – the Hon. Loomis Beechly, representing Minnesota’s 9th district – all the water surface area in the state.

Hello 9th Districters,

It is Election Day once again and I encourage you to vote! Voting is a right. You should exercise all your rights and as many of your lefts as possible. Principled debate between opposing viewpoints is key to the proper operation of a democracy, so take the time today to have a say in how you are governed. Simple as that!

Although I just made what I think is a brief and compelling argument in favor of voting, I know that some people will stay away from the polls today. In many cases, 9th districters will skip it because I am running unopposed this year and there is no controversy. That fact alone makes our district very special, so I hope you’ll reconsider just for the sake of taking part in something remarkable. But I’m also concerned. A low turnout opens up an opportunity for successful write in candidates, and my opponents are just stealthy enough to mount a day-of campaign to unseat me.

I can’t let that happen, so I encourage you, if you’re uninspired by the thought of just checking a box on the pre-printed ballot and returning me to office once again, please send me a message by writing me in at the last minute – as an alternative to me.

Yes, I can be my own Tea Party opposition.

I can do it because the Tea Party has no actual mechanism for selecting and endorsing candidates. I can do it because no one owns the market on fed up-ness. I can do it because today is Election Day, and even if my write-in campaign against myself sparks an argument, the voting will be over in a few hours. And lastly, I can do it because there’s no one who knows my flaws and failings better than me!

So write me in! Help me defeat me! I pledge that if my write in totals are larger than my printed ballot totals, I will take that as a clear sign as to how you would like me to govern us, and I will behave accordingly. Yes! I can be a maverick and a thorn in my own side if you will only give me the chance.

But don’t simply react out of anger, fear and spite. Think about the sort of world you would like to live in. Think about the tone of the public policy discussion you would like to have going forward. And think about three-cornered hats. How do you feel about the look? Are you OK with seeing them in movie theaters, in elevators, and on restaurant hat racks all up and down Main Street? Today’s results will determine, to a large extent, the future of the global three-cornered hat industry. But don’t do it simply to keep a handful of hat factories open. I believe they are manufactured in China.

However you vote for me, I hope you WILL find a way to vote for me today, Election Day. Minnesota’s 9th district (all the water surface area in the state) is primarily a fishing district made up of small, independent operators who know how to cast. The time has come to cast your vote in a way that won’t hurt more than it helps, so make sure you don’t catch a hook on your clothes or your nose. Toss out a message that’s straight and true – one I’m sure to get! I’m counting on you and you and you. And the angry revolutionary part of me is counting on you, too.

Your congressman,
Loomis Beechly

Leave it to Congressman Beechly to try to generate a day-of controversy and undermine his own re-election even as he secures his eventual victory.

If a surprise write-in campaign unexpectedly catapulted you into public office, would you serve?

Compostable Clothing

Here’s a note from our friend, a perennial sophomore at Wendell Wilkie High School, the one and only Bubby Spamden.

Hey Mr. C.,

I have an assignment to turn in today in Creative Writing. It’s supposed to be a poem at least ten lines long where all the lines rhyme with each other, and it has to be about something I did over the weekend. But I didn’t really do anything except go trick or treating with a bunch of my friends.

I’m really not into costumes, but I wore one because the other people in this group insisted on having a theme. Everybody was supposed to dress as something “green”. It could be the color green, or an organic food or thing that’s good for the environment.

My buddy Kyle went as a windmill. Tara was a frog. Stephen, (kind of a nerd), covered himself in paper and went as the failed cap-and-trade legislation. I smeared some instant oatmeal on an old shirt and told people I was a seasick tourist. My friends thought that was horrible and gross, which of course it was. It was really satisfying to freak so many people out, and they gave me candy anyway. I kinda like costumes now!

The one person whose outfit I really wanted to see didn’t show up – Ashleigh. She went out with a different group of friends because she couldn’t think of something to go with our theme. Which is too bad because some of the girls these days are wearing Halloween outfits that are more and more risqué, and I was kinda hoping, y’know? I gave Ashleigh what I thought was a great idea on Friday and had my fingers crossed that she’d show up and give it a try. But no.

Anyway, while we were walking around getting candy, I thought of a poem that was about the two biggest things on my mind – Halloween and Ashleigh wearing the costume I imagined, which I don’t think anybody else in the world tried last night, either.

Here it is:

Eeenie meanie Halloweenie.
A compostable bikini!
Ashleigh’s costume is obscenie.
made with scraps of tiny teenie
strips peeled off of a zucchini.

On her head, a pumpkin beanie.
On her feet, shoes of a queenie.
In between, the peeled zucchini
shrinking up like dried porcini
Disappearing, like Houdini.

What do you think, Mr. C.? Should I turn it in? Lady Gaga wore a costume made of meat, so this isn’t too weird, is it?

I told Bubby that his poem was, in fact, far too weird. And it probably violates district policy to hand in any literary work about one of your classmates wearing a shrinking zucchini bikini. Even though it was clever, I suggested he come up with something that is not potentially embarrassing to another student, or actionable by the school’s administration.

What’s the most outrageous garment in your closet?

Mirth & State

Like many habitually shy babooners I am cowed by crowds. In a gathering of two or more people I will tend to move to the periphery, which is no easy task if there is only one other person in the room. My party personality falls far short of “gregarious” and doesn’t quite make it to “lively”, landing much closer to “quiet” and “thoughtful” and sometimes, “a houseplant”. Were I inexplicably attending a massive public event on the National Mall like today’s “Rally to Restore Sanity”, led by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I think I would be most comfortable experiencing it from somewhere around Alexandria, Virginia.

Still, I hope Comedy Central’s stars and their fans have a beautiful and memorable day. Sanity is worth rallying around. Moderation and respect are good goals for the national conversation. Getting people whipped into a state of frenzy over reasonable discussion and principled compromise is an appropriately ironic mission for this mammoth gathering on the eve of the midterm elections.

I’m not surprised to see that a phony “debate” has sprung up over whether it is fitting for comedians to be so politically prominent, as if humor was somehow separate and distinct from other forms of human communication. Making a joke of it is how we deal with things. All things. Laughter is a way to gain perspective. And there’s nothing at all in the Constitution about any kind of “separation of mirth and state”. Take a look. The phrase doesn’t appear. I rest my case.

Stewart and Colbert are good, and I’m a fan. But when I think of great comedy duos, another pair comes to mind first. Over the past few days I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a new 4 CD set of the collected works of the legendary radio comedy duo “Bob and Ray”. These guys were absolutely the best at drawing a laugh with an absurd situation, a line, a phrase, an inflection, or a sound. Were they political? Their portrayal of the imperious Commissioner Carstairs, tyrant of the zoning board of the city of Skunkhaven, was a dead ringer for the red baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy. But alongside their uncanny grasp of human nature and their casual ability to skewer the occasional politician, Bob and Ray excelled at exposing the inanities of media – a mission they share with Stewart and Colbert.

Here are Bob and Ray on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Who makes you laugh?

Wabi-Sabi-Hobbyists

Yesterday we had a great discussion about noticing the beauty in things that have a history, whether they are people, books, or old trunks. Jacque sent this photo of a family heirloom – a well-traveled piece that is now her coffee table. You might be able to make out the year “1807” on the side of the trunk, which is the year the Strattons started their journey. I can only guess it’s rather humbling to set your mug of pumpkin spiced organic decaf on a trunk that was once attached to a wagon rolling over the unspoiled prairie. How can you not think, “Oh, the places you’ve been’!

Not that I would ever choose to go back and trudge across the Midwest with Jacque’s relatives. Time travel is a fascinating improbability, and hobbyists are always looking for evidence. The latest craze swirls around this clip taken at the Hollywood premiere of a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film, “Circus”. Because of the position of her hand, some people are convinced the woman who walks behind the stuffed zebra is a time traveler talking on a cell phone.

Cooler heads have suggested she is probably using an ear trumpet. Why rule out the tantalizing possibility that she is talking on her iPhone? Because the cell phone coverage in 1928 was even worse than it is today due to the complete absence of phone towers and the total non existence of any supporting networks and the absolute unavailability of anyone else to talk to. Spoil sports.

I prefer to think she is a time traveler; a nun perhaps, sent there to collect objects that will be tagged for future wabi-sabi status, or to negotiate for the purchase of a Honus Wagner baseball card so it can be trimmed, shellacked, and eventually sold to fund the sister’s ministries to the poor in 2010. Naturally.

If you could travel backwards to any place on Earth at any time in history with the caveat that you had to stay there (although you could take your cell phone), where would you go?

Wabi-Sabi

Yesterday Steve in St. Paul mentioned (with characteristic modesty) that he won a photo contest organized by a group of camera enthusiasts who challenge each other to offer exceptional images that connect to a declared theme. In the case of Steve’s winning entry, the theme was the Japanese notion of wabi sabi. What is wabi sabi? Steve will explain it in a moment. But first, here’s the picture.

Steve says:

Wabi sabi is an oriental concept of aesthetics. It holds that things can be beautiful if they are worn, aged, broken or missing parts. In fact, not only can such things be beautiful, but there is an inner beauty to things that have served well and now look like they have served well. So a westerner trying to understand the concept might think that my photo was pretty “in spite of” the wear and tear on the Bible. To an oriental mind, that worn Bible is far lovelier than a new one could be. This aesthetic is one reason orientals tend to honor older people. It is the opposite of the western tendency to chase the young, the shiny, the perfect.

Well done, Steve. I think that’s a gorgeous photo. And the older I get, the more I appreciate the idea that there can be great beauty in things that are aged, worn, bald, bleary eyed, a little jowly, and in desperate need of a shave. Especially first thing in the morning.

The trick is getting everyone else to see that.

Steve is right about our fascination with the shiny and “perfect”. It would take a cultural shift for us to embrace the idea that there is a dignified beauty in a well-used object. Perhaps the slow disintegration of the baby boom will make gorgeous decrepitude the Next Big Thing, rather like the revived TV career of Betty White, but for everyone.

Right now, Wabi-Sabi in the USA is limited to 4 locations in California. I like the looks of the one in Rancho Cucamonga.

Do you have a favorite object that reflects this notion of wabi-sabi?

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