Welcome to Buster's Blog

Irregular commentary on whatever's on my mind -- politics, sports, current events, and life in general. After twenty years of writing business and community newsletters, fifteen years of fantasy baseball newsletters, and two years of email "columns", this is, I suppose, the inevitable result: the awful conceit that someone might actually care to read what I have to say. Posts may be added often, rarely, or never again. As always, my mood and motivation are unpredictable.

Buster Gammons

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our New Form Of American Government

This world has known many different forms of government:

Democracy is government by the people or their elected representatives.

Aristocracy is government by the elite or upper class.

Plutocracy is government by the wealthy.

Theocracy is government by the church.

But what do you call government by the crazy? Because that's what we have right now in America. Loonie-ocracy? Insane-ocracy? Psycho-ocracy? Wack-ocracy? Tea-ocracy?

We need to pick a good name for our new form of government.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debt Ceiling Impasse -- The Takeaway

This Monday night President Obama went on TV to address the nation about the urgent need to avoid federal default by raising the debt ceiling now. He spoke the truth about the stupid and recalcitrant House Republican Tea-bag freshmen. He gave a compliment to Speaker Boehner for at least attempting a compromise deal, and asked all of us to contact Congress to urge an end to all this shit. (DC phone lines and servers were maxed out by the flood of calls and emails.) Allowing default of the U.S. government over something so routine would be inexpressibly asinine.

Next up, career-hack Boehner's orange mug appeared on the screen. He spoke mealy-mouthed lies and distortions in an effort to appease the torch-and-pitchfork segment of the House R's. He hauled out all the tired old bumper-sticker slogans about cutting taxes, capping spending, balancing the budget, and living within our means (which have nothing to do with the fucking issue at hand!). The word "compromise" never crossed his sweaty lips.

I do not know how all this will end. Badly, I fear. It's a dangerous game, and most unnecessary. But here's the takeaway:

Today's Republicans are "ends justify the means" types, and their fervently desired end is the destruction of the Obama presidency at any cost. Government default? Spiking interest rates? Economic crash? You and me up Shit Creek? They don't care about any of that. They just want to take down Obama. It's the suicide bomber mentality.

And here's the rest of the takeaway:

If you want a modicum of honesty, order, reasonableness and integrity in your public leaders, vote Democrat.

If you want foamy-mouth bat-shit crazy, vote Republican.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beach Thoughts

Wherein that original Son of a Beach, Buster Gammons, having returned from his annual sojourn to the South Carolina shore, reflects on some of the beach people and beach events of the past two weeks, including: Weather, Etiquette, Electronic Devices, The Local Newspaper, A Particular Individual, Beachwear, The Untattooed Minority, Meeting Another Owner, Sheriff Brown, Metrosexual Haircut, and a Geography Lesson At The Pool.

For the most part, our vacation weather was, in a word, hot! The hottest day was the first Wednesday, with temps of 100 on the beaches, 110 inland, and a heat index of 122. All in our little "group" agreed it was the hottest day we'd ever experienced in all our years at Surfside. In honor of that fact, that afternoon we fired up 4 charcoal grills for the annual oyster roast and made it even hotter! Brilliant! But the oysters made it all worthwhile.

Then the next four days were marked by sustained high winds (30 mph or so) as a front stalled to the north. On the beach, your ankles received a low-level sand-blasting, and constant alertness was required, lest you get beaned by some wind-tossed object, like a boogie board, an umbrella, or a small child. All this wind actually made the evening hours kinda chilly. After 18 years down there without long pants, long sleeves or even a pair of socks, I broke down and bought myself a sweatshirt. Naturally enough, the wind stopped the next day.

There are a few rules of "etiquette" that most decent people try to observe when on the beach. Basically, it all boils down to recognizing personal space and maintaining a reasonable buffer zone between groups of beach-goers. The beach is plenty big enough, and therefore setting up all your shit directly in front of me, just behind me, or cheek-by-jowl beside me is breach of beach etiquette -- unnecessary, thoughtless, and a beach foul most odious. Ironically, this foul was usually committed by the crew of Russian lifeguards, who repeatedly placed their rental chairs and umbrellas smack-dab in front of our chairs (which were there first!). Dmitri, you dumbass, what are you thinking?

Device Vice. It's most definitely a sign of the times. Possibly a sign of the Apocalypse too. For the past couple years, a family from our neighborhood has joined us at our condo for a few days. This year, there were five of them and three of us, along with 4 laptops, a WiFi card, a couple digital cameras, and 6 or 7 cell phones, each with its' own plug-in charger. For a few days, our unit was a friggin' rat's nest of wires and cables. Nothing exceeds like excess!

The local newspaper down there is the Myrtle Beach Sun News. It's a red rag for rednecks in a deep-red state. I spend the 75 cents mainly for the tide tables. Other than that, it's fish-wrap. SC Sen. Jim DeMint is a right-wing religious zealot who is somehow highly regarded in the Palmetto State. Every day, there was some glowing article (with glowing photo) in the Sun News describing DeMint's latest demented doings. DeMint has said he will not run for President in 2012. (Good!) So the Sun News ran a letter from a woman who was very sad about this, but rambled on at length about how the next-best choice for "true conservatives" such as herself was none other than certified fuck-head Rick Santorum! (In the medical field, the smelly gray-green fluid released when a boil is lanced is known as santorum.) Then on Sunday, as icing on the cake, the Sun News ran an op-ed column from Fox-wad Bill O'Reilly. Jesus! Is it any wonder the Rebel flag still flies over the South Carolina statehouse?

As mentioned, Buster, wife and son have been vacationing at Surfside for 18 straight years. Some in our group have been going even longer. One of our old originals is an SC family. For several years now, another SC family has tagged along with them, crowding their condo to the max. The dad of this tangential family (whose name I won't mention -- let's just call him A Particular Individual) -- is one of those universal experts. He'll expound on any and all topics, sharing his knowledge and opinions for an excruciating length of time. If you're drawn into conversation with this Particular Individual, that's 90 minutes of your life you'll never get back.

Our Particular Individual often ignores the old advice to avoid discussions of religion and politics. Over happy hour drinks on the deck, P.I. saw fit to announce, apropos of nothing, that he was reading the Koran (in English, of course) simply to "prove" to himself that Islam was indeed an "evil religion". OK, dude. Thanks for sharing.

In the next breath, he declared himself a loyal Tea Party member, a.k.a. a right-wing, anti-government crackpot. Said the Particular Individual, "Our government doesn't do anything for me. It doesn't give me anything I want or need -- it just wastes my money." Another of our old originals and my dear friend of many years, Jim, offered his opinion that government did in fact have its legitimate role and asked the retired P.I. if he cashed his Social Security checks. P.I. replied that, hell yes, he took his Social Security benefits because he'd paid into it, and paid plenty.
Paid so much, he said, that his contributions were "supporting" hundreds of indolent Negroes and illegal Mexicans. (Is that how Social Security works? Uh, no, it's not.) But the Particular Individual was proud to inform us that he's not on Medicare. (So far. That's because his wife still works and he's on her insurance.) When Jim chuckled at all this nonsense, P.I. called him a bleeding-heart liberal (Yeah, so? What's your point?), made a disparaging remark about Ohio State football, and stomped off in a huff.

The next night was the Home Run Derby. The little traditions of our beach bunch: oysters, happy hours (often many hours), the Home Run Derby, the All Star Game.

So four of us are sitting in Jim's condo having beers and whatnot and watching the Home Run Derby. Not exactly Masterpiece Theater, but we like it anyway. After awhile, who should waltz into the condo but the Particular Individual, and he plopped down on the couch right beside Jim and proceeded to regale Jim/us, utterly unprompted, about his recent trip to Alaska and his flight in a "mosquito" plane. ("Have you flown a plane, Jim? No? Well, I have. Let me tell you all about it -- for the next fucking hour!") As this monologue lacked all political content, it may have been a sort of back-handed apology from P.I., but it was like someone hit the "Second Audio Program" on the TV and it wasn't Spanish, it was the "Particular Individual Channel". At that point, you could watch the Home Run Derby but you sure as hell couldn't hear it. Oh well. One by one, we made lame excuses and cut out.

A couple nights later, the Particular Individual managed to engage the lovely Mrs. Gammons in a little chat (after I'd gone to bed, Hallelujah!). He wanted to talk about his Alaska trip again. Baiting him just ever so slightly, the wife said, "You mean Alaska, home of that great American, Sarah Palin?" Replied P.I., "At least she loves this country, not like that Communist Barack Obama!" Mrs. Gammons retorted, "Sarah Palin doesn't know shit about America, and Obama's not a Communist!" Particular Individual says, "Yes he is, and it sounds like you are too!" Quoth the missus, "You're an idiot and a bigot, P.I. Get your Tea-baggin' ass outta my condo!!!"

In another twelve months, we'll all get another dose of the Particular Individual. Can't wait!

Buster's "What Not To Wear" At The Beach:

For both genders: Unless you're gonna take a run on the beach, don't show up wearing shoes and socks. You'll look like you wandered onto the beach purely by accident. "Honey, lookit at all this dadgum sand! Whadya suppose it is?"

Ballcaps and visors are always your best choice for beach headwear, male or female. Some girls work the straw-hat thing, but, in the absence of a chinstrap, they're liable to fly off in a decent breeze. And chinstraps at the beach are dorky.

Speaking of dorky looks, what's up with those big, ultra-floppy "jungle" hats? Or is it the "bee-keeper"? The "anthropologist"? Whatever the fuck they are, they all have chinstraps and they all scream "Dork!" Really bad beach hat.

And c'mon people, cowboy hats at the beach? Roundup at the Surfside Corral? There are no cows at the beach.

For women: Nothing is more attractive on the beach than a woman in a nice bikini, assuming the wearer has a fairly attractive body. If you're uncertain about whether you have a bikini body, you probably don't. Pick a different swimsuit.

For men: If you haven't had a new swimsuit since Hector was a pup, if your swim trunks resemble Wilt Chamberlain's basketball shorts, please do us all a favor and spring for some new shit.

Resist all urges to wear a Speedo on the beach. Brazil is far, far away, and you're not Brazilian anyway. The cock-sock, banana-sling is strictly verboten.

If you have man-boobs -- honest-to-god Fat Bastard he-titties -- please wear a shirt. Please.

Speaking of man-boobs, while sitting up on our little deck, we noticed a large man -- very large, say, 500 lbs. give or take -- regarding one of those small, very low, folding surf chairs. Should he try to sit in it, or not? He unfolded the chair, looked at it from every angle, placed it on the sand and decided to go for it. His fat ass plopped down like he'd just fallen out of a tree. The poor chair exploded into pieces, squashed flatter than a flounder. OMG, how hilarious! For the rest of the week, he made different seating arrangements. We called him "The Crusher."

As always, there's no better place than the beach to observe "Tattoo Nation". Having no tattoos at all, I may now actually be in the minority. Ain't I the non-conformist! I've recently heard some of the younger generation suggest that tattoo's are "art". Rembrandt, DaVinci, VanGogh? Art. Tattoos? Not art. When you were little, staying between the lines in your coloring book was a major "artistic" accomplishment, and your mother displayed your achievement on the refrigerator. Tattoos are the artistic equivalent of coloring between the lines. The difference is, instead of a couple months on the fridge, a tattoo is on your body forever.

Our usual group left after the first week. None of our other beach acquaintances was scheduled for the second week, so we figured it'd be just us. But then we met Don, the owner of the next-door unit. He's a hoot -- smart, funny, politically aware, a writer, an ecologist, a prankster, and something of a philosopher. He was there with a friend, and we all hit it off immediately. We had dinner and drinks together that Saturday night, and hung out a lot that second week. It never hurts to know one of the owners!

Sunday morning around 9 the phone rang in our condo. It was the house phone, the land line, which never rings unless it's some stupid sales call. Reluctantly, I answered it in my iciest, most disinterested tone. The caller was a deep-voiced Southern black man, who identified himself as "Horry County Sheriff McAlister Brown." He said, "I'm callin' 'cause we got some complaints about you people, that last night you was loud and was usin' profanity and wasn't talkin' right about Jesus. We ain't gonna have that here in Surfside, and I'm tellin' you to get your white asses off the beach and go home." Completely stunned and flabbergasted, I mumbled, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about," and hung up. A minute later, the phone rang again. I picked it up and just placed the receiver on the counter. Even so, I could still faintly hear Sheriff Brown's voice. First thing in the morning and I'm fairly freaking out! Suddenly, there's a knock on the door. I look through the glass and there's Don waving at me with a phone in his hand and a big grin on his face. I'd been punk'd big-time. He was "Sheriff McAlister Brown", calling from next door! Gawd!! He got me good.

In some years down at the beach, I feel the need for a haircut. I've found a striped pole, good ol' boy barber shop and have patronized it a couple times before. It features three old-school barber chairs -- leather, porcelain, and chrome -- and several other old barber chairs just sitting there as collector's items. There's a framed picture of "Floyd the Barber" from the Andy Griffith Show. It's pretty cool. Anyway, this year I was a bit shaggy (relative concept) and went for a cut. Turns out the Surfside Barber Shop has gone metrosexual. They had never done it before, I did not know I needed it, did not ask for it, and don't know what I'd have said if I was asked, but as a final touch, my barber gave me an eyebrow trim. And you know, once they start something like that, you can't really stop 'em. Whatever you're doing to the one, I guess you better do it to the other. Here are the "before" and "after" pix. What do you think?

One of our last afternoons down there found son John and I in the pool for a de-beaching dip. Also in the pool were a young-ish 20-something couple and an older 40-something couple, the parents of one of the younger pair. The younger gal had been surfing travel sites and mentioned she'd found a really good deal for an all-inclusive trip to Morocco. She mentioned the price and they all agreed it was a bargain.
Then she said, "Where's Morocco? In Central America, right?" Someone else chimed in and said, "No, I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in South America." At this point, John and I were climbing out of the pool with barely-contained laughter. I asked him, "Son, just for the record, on which continent is Morocco located?" He said, "Dad, that'd be Africa." I said, "You're a good boy."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mark Twain On Patriotism

I had said, if there was any valuable difference between being an American and being a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn't; whereas the king could dictate the monarchist's patriotism for him -- a decision that was final and must be accepted by the victim; that in my belief I was the only person in America who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.

They said, "Suppose the country is entering upon a war -- where do you stand then? Do you arrogate to yourself the privilege of going your own way in the matter, in the face of the nation?"

"Yes," I said, "that is my position. If I thought it an unrighteous war I would say so. If I were invited to shoulder a musket and march under that flag, I would decline. I would not voluntarily march under this country's flag, nor any other, when it was my private judgment that the country was in the wrong. If the country obliged me to shoulder the musket I could not help myself, but I would never volunteer. To volunteer would be the act of a traitor to myself, and consequently traitor to my country. If I refused to volunteer, I should be called a traitor, I am well aware of that -- but that would not make me a traitor. The unanimous vote of the entire population could not make me traitor. I should still be a patriot and, in my opinion, the only one in the whole country."

(Dictated January 1906 for the Autobiography of Mark Twain.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Al Gore On The "Conversation Of Democracy"

(Excerpted from "Climate Of Denial" by Al Gore, published in the 7/7/11 issue of Rolling Stone.)

The "public square" that gave birth to America has been transformed. The conversation that matters most to the shaping of the "public mind" now takes place on television.

Unlike access to the public square of early America, access to television requires large amounts of money. Thomas Paine could walk out his front door in Philadelphia and find a dozen competing, low-cost print shops within blocks of his home. Today, if he traveled to the nearest TV station or to the headquarters of Comcast and tried to deliver his ideas to the American people, he'd be laughed off the premises. The public square that used to be a commons has been re-feudalized, and the gatekeepers charge large rents for the privilege of communicating to the people over the only medium that really affects their thinking. "Citizens" are now referred to as "consumers" or "the audience".

Of course, the only reliable sources from which such large sums can be raised continuously are business lobbies. Organized labor struggles to compete, and individuals are limited by law to making small contributions. The recent deregulation of unlimited -- and secret -- donations by wealthy corporations has made the imbalance even worse.

In the new ecology of political discourse, special-interest contributors of the large sums of money now required for the privilege of addressing voters are not squeamish about asking for the quo they expect to get in return for their quid.

As a result, the concerns of the wealthiest individuals and corporations routinely trump those of average Americans and small businesses. A couple examples from a long list: eliminating the inheritance tax paid by the wealthiest one percent of families is considered a much higher priority than addressing the suffering of the long-term unemployed; Wall Street's desire to engage in legalized gambling with trillions of dollars in "derivatives" was considered way more important than protecting the integrity of the financial system and the interests of middle-income home buyers.

Meanwhile, almost every group organized to promote and protect the "public interest" has been backpedaling and is on the defensive.

The "conversation of democracy" has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Are They Insane?

(Excerpted from the 7/14/11 column by Paul Krugman, published in the NY Times. For the full column, click "NY Times" under Buster's Links.)

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. "Has the GOP gone insane?", they ask.

Why, yes, it has. It's the culmination of a decades-long process. The modern GOP does not accept the legitimacy of any Democratic President (see Clinton then, Obama now). As a result, they are automatically against anything a Democratic President wants, even if they've supported similar proposals in the past.

Voodoo economics has taken over the GOP. Supply-side voodoo -- which claims tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes leads to economic collapse -- has been a powerful force in the GOP since Reagan.

The GOP has gone off the deep end. If you're surprised, that means you were part of the problem.

The Mother Of All No-Brainers

(Excerpted from the 7/4/11 column by David Brooks, published in the NY Times. For the full column, click NY Times under Buster's Links.)

Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. Many Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. A normal Republican party would seize the opportunity as the mother of all no-brainers.

But the Republicans have been infected by a faction that doesn't accept the logic of compromise, or the legitimacy of scholars and authorities. This faction has no sense of moral decency and talks blandly about default. This faction has no economic theory worthy of the name. For them, tax levels are everything.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. They will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default and will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

"I Pledge Allegiance To Grover Norquist . . ."

Are you like me -- ready to puke over the endless Debt-Ceiling Dance of Death? It's a trumped-up farce being foisted upon us by Tea Party Republicans like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. (It's shrill shitheads like Cantor who occasionally make John Boehner seem like a reasonable fellow.)

Raising the debt ceiling is as routine in Washington as pork and patronage. It happens all the time, including ten times under Dubya. If we don't do it, the government is officially in default and all sorts of bad things happen which will cost all us dearly. But today's crop of R's threaten to chop off our national nose to spite our federal face. They insist on tying any debt ceiling increase to massive deficit reduction, but -- here's the catch -- without any tax increases of any sort. And if we can't agree on doing everything their way, well, too bad -- they'll just keep doing the Tea Bag Tango, blithely dance us over the edge, and teach us all a lesson.

President Obama and Democratic leaders have been surprisingly (excessively?) willing to compromise on large spending cuts, but understandably want some additional revenue as well. There is almost universal agreement that revenue increases would be a really good idea. But many/most in the Republican party just dig in their heels. They refuse a deal which gives them 90% of what they want. They're holding out for 110%.

It's a hijacking, a shakedown; it's hostage-taking and a really stupid game of chicken. It is disgusting. Why are the R's behaving so badly?

Meet Grover Norquist. Who? Grover Norquist, the sort of dangerous DC douchebag who often flies under the radar. He's a big-time lobbyist and power-broker for conservative causes, and the head of PAC called "Americans For Tax Reform". Grover's idea of tax reform is, basically, tax elimination. He has said he'd like to shrink government to the size it could be drowned in a bathtub. He's backed by extreme corporate wealth and has been the most influential far-right wingnut in Washington for over a decade. Dubya was his lapdog. When Grover starts dangling the dollars, most R's sit up and beg.

In a obedience-for-cash deal, Norquist not long ago issued his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge", in which he asked all members of Congress to "oppose any and all efforts" to increase tax rates, and to preserve all tax deductions and credits. Those who signed on to this pledge gained increased access to Norquist's considerable money and influence. The pledge was signed by 233 of 240 House Republicans and 40 of 47 Senate Republicans. One or two dipshit D's signed the fucking thing too.

If the question is why are Congressional Republicans acting like complete assholes over a mundane bit of governmental housekeeping, the answer is because Grover Norquist has 'em by the short hairs.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Shame Of Rupert Murdoch

"One cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God, the British journalist.
But knowing what the chap will do
Unbribed, there is no reason to."

Don't know who said that, and OK, Rupert Murdoch is, I believe, Australian, but what the hell. Close enough. Murdoch's media monster, News Corp., has been implicated in cell phone hacking, invasions of privacy, police bribery, and political intrigues. It's hardly a revelation -- sooner or later, everything this tabloid schlockmeister touches winds up covered in scum.

This time, it's resulted in the closure of the 168-year old London Sunday rag, the News Of The World. The scandal has cost jobs, market share, stock price, and what little credibility News Corp. had before this brouhaha. It may yet ensnare British P.M. David Cameron, who had 26 personal meetings with the Murdoch family prior to his recent election.

Feeling the heat, Murdoch slapped together a puff-piece faux "interview" in the Wall Street Journal, the formerly respected business daily now owned by Murdoch. In it, he earnestly proclaims his company's ignorance and innocence. Nobody knew nuthin'. Right!

Not enough. His empire in jeopardy, Murdoch today made acts of contrition by running treacly "We Are Sorry" ads/articles in many U.K. newspapers. More are sure to follow. Might work, might not.

Buster recommends that Rupert follow this simple two-step process:
1. Eat crow.
2. Eat shit!