Monthly Archives: April 2009

history abhors a vacuum

4/30/09

I’m going to tell three alarmingly short, totally true stories that I call Great Moments in Era Self-Awareness.

1. It’s June of 1982, and I’m barely fifteen years old, walking down the beach in Duck, NC with my classmate and great friend Hamp Tucker. I’m wearing pink, black and chartreuse Jams and a shirt that is dark blue on one side and light blue on the other and it says “17th Street Surf Shop”. Hamp is wearing cherry red culottes and a ripped rose-hued B.D. Baggies poplar button-down. “You know,” he suddenly says, “I think people are going to look back at this time and think it was all in incredibly poor taste.”

2. Some time in 1983, my brother Sean, my sister Michelle, and their friend Chip Davis were in our bedroom listening to the radio. “Jack and Diane” comes on, and all three stay silent for a while. Finally, Chip says, in all seriousness, “Man, it’s true. Life does go on long after the thrill is gone.” Sean puts down his Rubik’s Snake and says “Chip, we’re twelve.”

3. It’s spring of 1987, and I’m in Grimes Dorm at Carolina with Chris Chapman, Jon Vaden and the Budster. Bud has ordered Roman Wings, Jon is watching “Sanford and Son” reruns, and I’m lost in thought, skipping orchestra. During an ad, Jon mutes the television. Suddenly, I’m overcome to say “Is anything ever going to happen?” and the Budster says “No, we live during the most boring period of American history ever.”

I mention these things because one must really take stock of one’s era while one’s living it, and I have to ask… sea change in American government, first African American President, meltdown of capitalism, imminent environmental disasters, flu pandemic? Is it me, or does more happen in a week these days than happened in an entire decade while we were growing up?

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me, Bud, Chip and Jon in boring times (1987) ↑ and batshit times (2008) ↓

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bac-o-bits

4/27/09

Rick Perry – yes, you, the Governor of Texas – should go into the bathroom, take a long look at yourself in the mirror, and then stab yourself in the eyeball with a fork. You can’t wave your dick around, talking about seceding from the Union, and then request 850,000 courses of anti-viral medication from the Center for Disease Control. No, you should just go ahead and get the Swine Flu and then warble “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while you writhe in bed with a temperature of 103.

Sure, I’m an asshole, but I’m not the one who belittled and undermined a stimulus package just to score cheap political points. You’re a fucking GOVERNOR, which means behaving like an adult. If I ran the CDC, I would tell you “Sure, Rick – you can have your anti-viral drugs. Oh, but just one thing first: can sign this document confirming you’re a hypocritical douchebag?”

As for you, Republican David Vitter (LA) and sorta-Republican Susan Collins (ME) and Democrat Chuck Schumer (NY)? You guys should be hanging your head in shame. Susan, you only provided the deciding vote on the stimulus package once $870 million of pandemic preparedness was stripped away, asking “what does that have to do with a stimulus package?”

Gee, I dunno, Ms. Collins. Maybe because if there’s a flu pandemic, people will stop leaving their houses and the recession will turn into a Medieval Depression? What is WRONG with you people?

Curiously enough, I’m not that worried about the swine flu, despite living in the two places in the U.S. where it has broken out. It’s true that my nephew Barnaby lives in Queens, and Lucy is in daily contact with friends and neighbors who visit their families in Mexico all the time – but there’s not much you can do about it besides wash your hands, and make sure they wash theirs. I’m not going to wear a fucking mask, because it doesn’t help and I’ve got enough pills to contend with.

The only thing that scares me, however, is the triviality this country places on protecting its citizens from things they can see coming. Particularly, Republicans see infrastructure, preparedness and “helping fellow citizens in an emergency” as a big fucking joke. Maybe the Mormons were half-right: hoarding that much stuff in your apocalycloset won’t help you see Jesus, but it’ll get you through flu season.

yet spencer’s gifts lives on

4/26/09

The 24/7 Wall Street website just ran a story about 12 brands that will not survive the end of next year. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

1. Avis/Budget car rental – This parent company runs both rental units, which raises the perennial question: why do corporations own competing brands? It’s one thing if the product is cigarettes or something else that is a matter of taste, but these two companies are both just plain old shitty rental car shingles. I think their bigger problem is that they don’t have an ace in the hole like the other two companies: cheapo Enterprise actually does pick you up (even if it takes 2.5 hrs) and Hertz’s Gold Club is about the most easy, painless experience in travel.

2. Borders – This company’s main problem is that it isn’t Barnes & Noble. Actually, its biggest problem is that it’s in an industry that is approaching “blacksmiths” and “haberdashers” in relevance, but that hasn’t stopped B&N from staying the classier option. You go to Borders only if it’s bizarrely close to where you happen to be standing; if not, you trek to B&N or just spend hours on Amazon.

3. Crocs – This is a tough one, because as much as I like to see a simple idea succeed, I fucking hate Crocs almost as much as I loathe seeing men’s toes.

4. Saturn – No, not the planet, which remains a solid buy, and the best attraction for even the cheapest telescopes. The Saturn automobile, however, is now a goddamn piece of shit. It wasn’t that long ago that we all considered purchasing one as soon as we sold our first screenplay; now they are made of baling wire and super glue.

5. Esquire Magazine – Not being privy to the elevator conversations at Conde Nast, this is a surprise to me. The cover is always a stunner, and they always seem to have good articles, but I guess it’s not hitting a key demographic right now. It would be a pity if a magazine that started in 1933 and featured writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were to go under.

6. Gap or Old Navy or Banana Republic – The article calls this entity “a three-brand company living in a two-brand body”, but I think that’s crap. Leaving aside my beloved BanRep for the moment, if you want humongous, thick-cottoned shirts with advertising on them, you can go to Old Navy, and if you want basics that actually fit and feel good, you go to the Gap.

The interior of an Old Navy is warehouse-like with pounding fluorescent lights, but you can dress yourself for practically nothing, and their toddler/baby sales are astounding. The Gap has the cachet and calm of an upscale store, but they really have lost their vibrancy since the mid-90s. If they’re forced to merge, I hope they take the best elements of both.

7. Architectural Digest – I want to want to get this magazine occasionally.

8. Chrysler – Apparently the “Chrysler” part of Chrysler is its worst division – Dodge and Jeep are shellacking it despite their own sales sucking. I dunno, can any of you muster the enthusiasm to say, “God, I’m really jonesing for a Chrysler”? The PT Cruiser had its moment, but can you honestly look at this Sebring and feel your pulse quicken?

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20 miles per gallon! WHOOO-HOOO!

9. Eddie Bauer – Eddie Bauer wants to be L.L. Bean, but ends up being Dockers. In a world with REI, it’s hard to understand how anyone can measure up.

10. Palm – This one is a little heartbreaking to me, because I remember when I got my first Palm at That Internet Job in 2000, and how excited I was to have all my phone numbers and lists and calendars in one spot. Learning the graffiti was awesome too, and it could wirelessly synch with your computer. The games were fantastic, especially Scrabble – my Treo 650 was the balls.

But then Palm coasted for years, while the iPhone came out and destroyed it. If the Palm was Nick Faldo, then the iPhone was Tiger Woods. It doesn’t help that Palm is stuck with Sprint, a company that should be taken out back and beaten with a switch.

11. AIG – This won’t be so much a brand failure as a name failure – AIG owns lots of little insurance companies that can revert to their real names, and all the other holdings will quietly settle their business and move on to other pastures, or whatever AIG renames itself. Too bad motherfucking “Altria” is already taken.

12. United or US Air or American Airlines – Apparently one’s gotta go, and as far as I’m concerned, all three eat shit. Flying with any one of these carriers is like being trapped in a veal-fattening pen at 34,000 feet. The service is rude, you have to pay for breathing and the planes feel ancient. I don’t know why Delta and Northwest aren’t on this list – they’re just as bad. Except for the exemplary Virgin America, this is another in a long line of businesses that Americans can’t get right. Like rock and roll, we invented flight, but now everyone else is better at it.

hoppin’ down th’ bunny trail

4/23/09

And here we go with another entry for our far-flung relatives, so we can give them a smattering of images from Lucy’s Easter birthday celebration (and to perhaps bore you to waking drool, our casual blog reader).

First off, the obligatory post-National Championship couch celebration:

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After the game, we drove upstate to Columbia County to get ready for Lucy’s birthday and six toddlers over Easter. My present to the Lulubeans was a battery-operated car she could drive around the farm, but I was worried I’d turned into “that parent what gives their kid crazy shit”:

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Tessa and Laura made sandwiches cut into duck and kitty shapes. I, of course, scissored up some prunes for eyeballs:

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Tessa also found these rad cake pans that made egg-shaped cakes. Since Lucy’s birthday basically fell on Easter, it was perfect:

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All the kids showed up – Polly, Esme, Ben, Hank and Barnaby – and the first task was to dye all the eggs without dyeing our entire barn, which was not easy:

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Then a jaunt up the hill, where New York screwed us by being UNSPEAKABLY FRICKIN’ COLD:

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With all the egg cakes, we had all the kids blow out all kinds of candles:

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With an embarrassed disclaimer, I rolled out the Peg Perego rider, and expected everyone to be horrified. Instead, the most bizarre thing happened: the boys were scared of the car, and the girls piled in:

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We started shouting “Fort Lauderdale Spring Break 2025!” 24 volts and 2 mph, baby!

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As night fell, the kids got into pajamas, and we put on “Happy Feet” to much enthrallment:

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As you might know, there are scary bits to “Happy Feet”, and Lucy and Hank sought solace in each others’ arms:

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That night, I took Tessa’s Easter baskets and put pictures and some treats inside – kept it low-key, ‘cuz you never know which toddlers are allowed high fructose corn syrup:

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Hiding the eggs was treacherous for yours truly. It was goddamn 27 degrees, and my hands were falling off. Finally, I just tossed them around the yard, but you know, kids don’t care about the weather:

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We fired up the wood stove, and all Lucy’s friends piled in the barn, where I put cardboard on the walls, and strung up a room-length strip of paper for them to paint. They did three 17-foot murals, and they’re kinda awesome:

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The weather threatened to get better, and the cows came out onto the hills, which always makes for nice backdrops (I like this one of Barnaby and Uncle Sean):

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I tried to take pics of Lily, but she found the cows very unnerving:

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The next day, all the kids bade farewell, and the temperature shot up thirty degrees. So Laura and Lucy went a-bubblin’:

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I like kid events, especially with exactly six – the perfect measure of both calm and chaos. These have been Lucy’s best friends since the first days of her life, and I hope she keeps them for a long, long time… but you know how odd that path can be. For now, they are a fantastic little crew.

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photos by Ian, Tessa and Laurie Williams Gilmore

dark sarcasm

4/21/09

This has become “The Crazy Shit Parents Do” week on the blog, so I should probably chime in on the when-to-start-kindergarten issue, speaking as someone who could not have done it more devastatingly wrong. I was one of those über-zorks who actually skipped kindergarten – and having a late spring birthday, that meant being ushered into 1st grade having barely turned five.

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I’m easy to spot – they didn’t even bother aiming the camera down to my height (click for bigger)

Notice, also, the woeful spelling above: the 15th President of the United States is spelled “Buchanan”, but that’s the sort of thing you’d get your ass kicked for saying. It’d be easy to blame my mom and dad for putting me on the fast track to shitsville, but you have to look at it like leeches, bloodletting, thalidomide and the Whig Party: it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Apparently I was already reading my own books at three, so the educational professionals of the day concluded I’d be “bored”. I actually remember going to kindergarten for about a week – I found naptime on the cold floor to be completely insane, but the toys were top-notch. I also remember my first day in 1st grade a few days later; we were all given a quiz where we had to color in the sails on some ships according to a formula. When they graded them, I’d gotten every one wrong, and my school experience went from there.

I cannot begin to tell you how bad skipping kindergarten was for me, mostly because I’ve spent seven years here (as of last week, hurray blogiversary!) doing just that. It certainly didn’t help that I had two social settings: painful shyness and unfettered rage. I had no idea how to interact with human beings my age, and thus wound up being bludgeoned by them, until finally, FINALLY I went to a private school that had no tolerance for that shit. I actually repeated ninth grade at Norfolk Academy, although it didn’t matter, since my “first” ninth grade had been a thousand miles away.

Even though I was able to make many like-minded, intellectual friends, I was still a twit, and continued to be a twit clear into Carolina, not kissing a girl until my freshman year at Hinton James, and not losing my virginity until my senior year at the Lodge. After that, I became a full-blown cad determined to make up for years missed, and once I settled down years later, had a nervous breakdown. I now take Celexa for the depression that started when I was five, and Dexedrine for the ADD that made my education scattered, smothered and covered.

Do I blame skipping kindergarten for all of this? No, only about 87% of it. But if there’s a lesson here, I’d say this: the only thing you really learn from school is how to function with your peer group. Vocab, cursive, long division, sure, sure, but that’s just a distraction from your real education. I’d make sure your child studies Other People long and hard, because they’re everywhere, and they don’t grade on a curve.

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cookie jar at floor level

4/20/09

Yesterday’s debate is an excellent reminder of the one holy truth in American parenting: it’s blindingly easy to look at other parents and think they’re goddamn insane. Not that I’d do this with any of you, but how many times have you driven home from some playdate or birthday party or miserable yard-monster-fest and commiserated with your spouse on how freakish other parents’ habits are?

Other parents let their kids get away with murder, they let their kids eat Strawberry Quik right out of the package, they stay up until 10pm or else they’re all put to bed at 5:30 in the afternoon, they hover over their kids like a storm cloud, they have no idea where their kids are, how could they have possibly gotten a Rottweiler, that kid is unbelievably fat, and that kid must be on the autism spectrum, blah fargin’ blah blah blah.

I say these things knowing full well I’ve indulged myself in them a time or two, and it certainly reveals some painfully shallow and judgmental aspects of my own character – especially instances where it’s so easy to blame the kid, even though the poor little soul is, by definition, doing only what he or she knows in order to survive. Certainly I should know better, having felt constantly judged and vilified growing up, even though I had been given ZERO lessons on what the world expected.

Of course, if we simply looked the other way when parents engage in crazy shit with their kids, then the whole “village” concept is a sham, and our community means nothing. As to the specifics mentioned yesterday by the observant la la, here’s where I’d stand:

1) Sticking your kid in a crib and leaving your house to do errands is illegal, unconscionable, and it’s entirely okay to call the DSS. Sean, you don’t count in this instance, because the deli is forty feet away from your bedroom, and Mom is home most of the time with a monitor. True, she’s probably bent over a score of “Peter and the Wolf” making corrections, but she’d know if the place caught fire.

2) Smoking pot and drinking beer whilst in your third trimester is not illegal, and it probably won’t do a damn thing to the baby, but you don’t need a post-doc psych degree from Amherst to sense much bigger issues at work here. I mean, you only have to stop drinking and smoking for nine months, and at 8 1/2 months, you haven’t got that far to go. If your jones is that severe, and you absolutely HAVE to be the chick with the enormous pregnant belly, a Bud Light in one hand and your mouth around a bong, you might be an addict, my friend. Which probably needs to get looked at.

3) Screaming at your kid about a “time out” during a party seems pretty sysiphean, but like my brother says, nobody has any idea how many methods a parent has exhausted in an effort to get their child to behave. Screaming “time out” may actually be the 45th technique she tried.

Leaving aside for the moment our extreme examples, the real battle most of us fight every day is this: where can we draw the line between our kids’ lust for adventure, and our fear for their lives? Obviously that line flutters and wows greatly by temperament and gender, but it remains constant through a series of microjudgments we make every few seconds we’re with them.

To those without kids, this must read as a manifesto of unrelenting misery, a non-call-to-arms if you will, a call-to-not-bother. Like anything gloriously worthwhile, the play-by-play is unbearable to describe. So I’d leave it at this: none of us on these pages will knowingly let our kids do anything disastrous. The rest of your parenting is more about your temperament, and occasionally you’re going to have to ask yourself if your style is doing you any favors.

My brother Kent always says that parenting is basically pass-fail, so, as far as grades go, we’re cautiously optimistic about this semester.

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hiding the baker’s chocolate

4/19/09

I know great things are expected of me on these pages, but I just got off a flight where not one, not two, but ELEVEN KIDS were shrieking at the top of their lungs, one of whom was yelling “AGGIE!!! AGGIE!!! AGGIE!!!” as loud as she could while kicking the back of my seat. Apparently “AGGIE!!!!” meant “I’d like some eggs, please” but her mother was in no hurry to get her any, as she had two other kids to contend with.

I turned around and asked her to please tell her wonderful little child not to beat the shit out of my chair – and the mother was very nice about it – but the whiplash continued about fifteen seconds later and lasted 4 1/2 hours. I would have turned around again, but by this time, my Xanax has kicked in, leaving me in that liminal state where I could feel annoyance, yet lacked the strength to do anything about it.

The rumor among the adults without kids was this: Passover had just ended, and all the Hasids were now free to move about the country with their endless array of children. It occurred to me that’s where my LDS forbears got the idea, as Mormons will do pretty much anything if the Jews did it first. The Hasids also share another thing with my cousins: everyone is content to let their babies float around any social event, as it allows the parents a few minutes to do something other than, well, tend the baby.

At my family reunions, cousins are always carrying around babies that don’t belong to them, especially the 10-15 year-olds, who consider it second nature. Likewise, Tessa held one of the babies on the plane for a few minutes, and Lucy made the little girl giggle incessantly. I mean, we’re all in a tube 34,000 feet in the air, how much trouble can they get into?

This contrasts sharply with the hyper-protectivism of most modern parenting, when your baby is looked after every millisecond, and followed around like the lead singer to a hot band. Obviously, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere – while it does “take a village” to keep you from going batshit, we are certainly not going to make the same mistakes our parents did, i.e., taking a valium and letting us play with the soldering iron.

Which leads to a good CODE WORD question: those parents out there, how much do you monitor your kids? And for those without kids, how monitored did you feel as a child?

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Sean and me, in lavishly-constructed swimming pool, Iowa 1971

dinah won’t you blow

4/16/09

The Obama Administration unveiled its high-speed rail plan today, which was met mostly with “why didn’t we do this thirty years ago like all other industrialized nations?” It’s meant to buttress and/or replace the sad-sack Amtrak trains that are notorious for two things: being expensive and smelling like urine.

So we could see the scope of the project, the Administration gave us this map of once and future projects:

Now, I’m a huge fan of high-speed rail, and it looks like there will not only a superfast way to get upstate from New York City, but also North Carolina to New Orleans as well. This plan would rewrite American travel, and I can’t wait. However, despite the title “Vision for High Speed Rail in America”, the map is oddly lacking in, well, vision.

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First off, can someone please tell me the inspiration in connecting Little Rock, Arkansas to Texarkana with a magnetic levitation bullet train? Is there something I don’t know about these two towns? I’ve actually done that drive twice, and heard no legends about secret treasure, breathtaking canyons or wild gazelle.

Here’s the thing: not to be a snob, but there is one high-speed train that would capture the imagination of all Americans – even the ones who bristle at the inexorable influence of both coasts – and when rendered in yellow, it looks like this:

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The Great American West, the allure of travel, the excitement of America’s promise was not achieved when they connected Cleveland to Akron – it happened when they connected the coasts. As soon as that golden spike was pounded in 1869 at Promontory, Utah, our country was forever bound and we were off to the races.

The new Transcontinental Railroad would connect New York to Los Angeles via Chicago – basically a mashup of I-40 and I-80. All other routes would spine off that one, connecting all of us at 300 miles per hour. Think of it: leave NYC at 8am, none of the cramping of airlineers, free to walk about as you choose, free to sleep (in a bed), eat, read, anything you want. Arrive at Union Station in LA at 10pm. LOVE IT!

i like my tea green, and in cameron

4/15/09

While writing a blog to my daughter, I got sidetracked by some vile Americans who are threatening her future, and if you’ve seen any of the “teabagging” horseshit going on today, you’ll know what I mean. What a bunch of pathetic, easily-swayed, rage-fueled fuck-alls. Really, it’s two groups of people: the overwhelmingly white, deeply misinformed lemmings who make their kids hold signs – and the Republican-backed right-wing thugs who inspire them. They would have you believe they are Mainstream America, but they most assuredly are not.

The classic nature of a bully or a narcissist is to accept “life on life’s terms” only when the terms happen to align with your desires. But once the world starts to change around them, these people either lash out, proclaim they’re not playing anymore, or both. Conversely, when us liberals were forced to endure a decade (two decades, really) of conservative rule, we were wracked with misery, but we still mailed in our fucking taxes, still paid for wars we loathed with our own hard-earned money.

Now the tables have turned, and right-wingers will have none of it. They are rejecting the argument out of hand; they want to take their toys and go home. Texas – helmed by the insufferable Rick Perry – has even put secession on the table. Lost on someone as dumb as Perry is why Texas is even a part of America: they begged the U.S. to take them as soon as Mexico got a real army, and UNC grad President James K. Polk saved their sorry asses.

How fucking DARE Texas – or to be more specific, the Texas Republicans currently holding court like Cromwellian overlords – talk like this after they took OUR taxpayer money to fight wildfires, defend their borders, and pick up the pieces after Hurricane Rita? I say let’s give them the “sovereignty” they so desperately desire, and see how they cope – it won’t be the Mexican Army next time, it’ll be a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on Houston.

These “teabaggers” across the country have not only subjected us to round after round of testicular innuendo from nudge-nudge wink-wink headline writers, they are actually embarrassing. They drive to these events in American cars filled with ethanol, and speed down the highway to public parks… to rage against the very machine that creates public parks, paves the highway, subsidizes ethanol, and is now bailing out the car companies.

In all likelihood, these protesters don’t even know what they’re protesting. If asked, all they would offer is vague but emotionally-charged aphorisms about the evils of “big government”. They wouldn’t even know which taxes they’d like to remove, which services they’d like to cut – try to explain to them that Obama’s tax plan will not raise (and in most cases, cut) taxes for 95% of Americans, and they’d look at you with the singular fury of “don’t confuse me with the facts, faggot.”

Because all they have is their rage. And all their leaders have is nihilism. That’s what happens when you run out of ideas. The rest of America is trying to see their way out of this mess, having a little faith in the collective community, trying out optimism for the first time, putting a few new ideas up for consideration.

The right-wingers and anti-tax nutjobs are just reverting to their core cruelty, with the motto “I’m gonna get what’s mine, and everyone else can fuck themselves.” They remind me of that Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith, the one about the nearly-blind bank teller with gigantic glasses who wishes everyone in the world would disappear so he could read his stories. He gets his wish; a holocaust leaves him with a mountain of books and not a soul around. He cackles with glee, bends to pick up a book, and his glasses shatter on the ground. Oh, the ironing!