Saturday, May 29, 2010

Accountability: A Quaint Fantasy

I just got a telephone call asking me if I thought Obama is doing a good job.

"It's not going to matter anyway," I replied, "once the mother ship returns and my Beloved Overlord makes slaves of your entire species."

You can imagine the pollster's response: nothing, since I was being polled by a recording.

Robot calls take the fun out of everything. My grandfather once convinced a telemarketer he could not buy his vacuum cleaner because he had dirt floors.

Ah, the good old days.

Anyways, had I been talking to a live human being, my most honest answer would have been, "How the hell do I know?"

Say what you want about George W. Bush, but at least his incompetence was obvious. He defied common sense in a way everyone could understand.

Going to kill a bunch of innocent people on the other side of the world instead of hunting those who attacked us? I'd rather you didn't.

Giving tax breaks to oil industry cronies? I object.

Taking funding away from schools that don't function well because they're underfunded to begin with? I question your logic, sir.

But with Obama, everything requires outside expertise to form an opinion.

You have your bank bailout. Virtually no one understands economics well enough to know if this was really necessary to avoid a depression.

I wish all the taxpayer money given to banks could have come with more strings attached. At the same time, though, the whole plan seems to have worked. Not only did we avoid a depression, we don't even have a recession. Instead we have an "economic downturn." Phew!

Health care: Everyone agrees it's broken. No one knows how to fix it. Even supporters had to water down their argument to, "some change is better than none."

The oil spill disastrophe -- another shining example of how wonderful things could be if we would only scale back government and let free enterprise do its thing -- is ultimately Obama's fault, right? 

To his credit, Obama has shown himself willing to acknowledge the crude on his hands as this ugly situation drags on, and the best minds available work their way through one futile idea after another, like the Keystone Cops trying to stop a bank robbery in progress.

"I take responsibility," the President says, as if preparing to don SCUBA gear and swim down there himself with a giant cork.

You can blame him for the disaster only if you think one person should have his finger on the job performance on every single federal employee.

He's not a subsurface drilling engineer. He hires people who hire people who hire people, and eventually you get down to the federal regulators watched porn and snorted crack on the job, while they were supposed to be making sure drilling platforms followed safety procedures.

Of course, heads are rolling. But that won't solve the real problem. The next heads won't work any better.

The amount of specialized knowledge in the world is growing exponentially. Layer upon layer of bureaucracy is required for government to keep up. Accountability has become a quaint fantasy.

But there's still cause for hope. The Beloved Overlord is on his way.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Do Not Reuse


On June 8, Maine voters will narrow down the field of 6,391 irrelevant candidates for governor to two irrelevant candidates for governor.

I have to admit - I paid almost no attention to this election until I noticed the words "Do Not Reuse" on the side of a bottle of apple juice.

Initially, this burned my briefs. Why can't I reuse a plastic bottle? Is it because the bottling company wants me to buy new beverages instead of refilling from my tap?

Then I wandered onto the Internet and discovered all this talk about toxic chemicals leeching into liquids over time as the plastic ages. While some of the anonymous message board experts said the quantities were too small to worry about, others said "better safe than sorry."

So "Do Not Reuse" started to make sense to me. Then I realized that it would make a fantastic campaign slogan for Les Otten, Republican candidate for governor, who pledges to create jobs.

Think about it. Otten's campaign has been accused of plagiarism over and over again, starting with an Obama-inspired campaign logo, and culminating in a written interview response lifted from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, published at

No question about it: Otten's thriftiness has leeched toxic chemicals into his electability.

What better way to convince the electorate that you've learned your lesson than to remind them in your ads: "Do Not Reuse"?

As slogans go, it certainly beats the rest of the field, starting with Peter Mills's "It's Time."

What, exactly, is it time for, Peter? Lower taxes? A governor with hair? Ritual sacrifices of the elderly on Cadillac Mountain?

How bad is "It's Time?" Mills, who pledges to create jobs, has it on all his signs, but he won't use it in his TV ads, which instead feature the scintillating line, "I'm Republican Peter Mills, and I'm asking for your vote this June 8."

Oooh, zing! 

Steve Abbott checks in with "A Governor for All of Maine." Abbott, who pledges to create jobs, does not specify which parts of Maine his opponents would choose not to govern, but wherever that might be, I'm not sure the people there would consider it such a bad thing.

On the Democratic side, Steve Rowe can't seem to decide on one slogan. His website features four, including (my favorite), "Please make a contribution." 

By the way: Rowe would like to see to it that we get some jobs created.

Rosa Scarcelli offers the simple "Rosa For Maine." I like it. Then again, I have a little crush on Rosa Scarcelli, so it's possible I would like her even if she promised to nominate a pigeon for education commissioner (still an improvement, you have to admit). 

What can I say? I'm an average voter. I'd like Rosa to come create some jobs in my neck of the woods, if you know what I mean, so she'll probably get my vote.

Libby Mitchell: "She gets things done." Yeah, like presiding over epic ineptitude in both houses of the legislature. 

Is she prioritizing jobs? Do you really have to ask?

With all the originality and fresh ideas pulsing through this election already, you have to admit, "Do Not Reuse" would work as well as anything.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Touched a Nerve

By Chuck McKay
"You sir, are a fool and an idiot," said the first email.

Hey, at least I'm multitasking.
Another one began, "After reading your column I believe a more appropriate sobriquet might be Head Up Rectum."
Congratulations, Captain Vocabulary. I had to look that one up. "Sobriquet" means "nickname." Of course, you can't say "nickname" because that doesn't sound pompous enough. 
This is just a small sample from quite a few messages I received in response to my recent column "Immigration: Ruining America Since 1607," in which I criticized the new Arizona law that allows police to arrest "suspected" illegal immigrants simply for not having ID with them.
I guess I touched a nerve. 
Nearly all of those who wrote in attacked me for being a bleeding heart sympathizer of law-breaking scum, which shows that people who are pone to launching angry, insulting emails into cyberspace are not the same people who are adept at close reading. My column focused on the impact of the law on legal immigrants - U.S. citizens who look and sound different from white people, but are not breaking any laws.
Even though race is not supposed to be a factor in deciding who is a "suspected" illegal immigrant, I have a hard time believing this law won't disproportionately impact Latinos. Just a hunch.
One reader suggested that racial profiling is perfectly OK, which is a very logial position to take as long as you're not among the race being profiled.
Captain Vocabulary, on the other hand, would have us live in a country where everyone talks the same, so that we can all get along. "A polyglot society leads to suspicion and estrangement," he said. Then how do you explain all the suspicion and estrangement between two Anglophile white guys in Maine who have never even met in person? It takes more than a language barrier to get people snippy with each other.
Another writer criticized me for not being a lawyer. I guess non-lawyers aren't allowed to have opinions about laws.  

My previous column also argued that offering driving tests in lots of different languages is a perfectly reasonable and fair thing to do.

People could not believe I could say such a thing. The best argument against my position came from a man who said other countries, such as Germany, don't make accommodations for immigrants; they expect people to take driving tests in German.

This was a pretty compelling point, except for being absolutely false.  Less than five minutes of research about German driving laws revealed that the German government is happy to let you cruise the Autobahn as long as you hold a valid license from pretty much any country.

If you do need to take their driving test, it is offered in lots of different languages, including English.

So, overall, not a great showing from the Tea Party nuts in their attempt to flood my inbox. Do they all live in a Fox News cave of skewed logic and propaganda, or just the ones who have the debate skills and social decorum of a Doberman pinscher?

Is it possible we've blown this problem out of proportion?  People have been moving to our country illegally for generations. In spite of this gargantuan injustice, we've certainly done okay as a nation. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to enforce immigration laws, but you have to wonder how much of this intense reactivity is warranted. Don't we have larger problems?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Crazy Busy

"The human race will eventually die of civilization." 
        -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Chuck McKay
    Springtime: the time when a man's fancy turns to thoughts of how insanely fricking busy he is all the time.
    Every May, it's the same. All the day planners and appointment calendars belonging to everyone I know fill up like water balloons on a fire hose, until they explode into a colossal overwhelming mess of stress and exhaustion that makes you want to spend the day curled up on the couch, crying.
    Check out this example of a to-do list I made recently:
    Saturday, May 8:
        - Clean out shed
        - Cut grass
        - Plant garden
        - Move giant tree blown into yard by absurd storm
        - Write column
        - Plan daughter's birthday
        - Move messy dishes from counter to sink
        - Arrange fantasy baseball line-up
        - Play with child
        - Acknowledge existence of wife (quick nod)
        - Search the aisles of Wal-Mart vainly for magic anti-sleeping potion
    And that was only the first page. Yikes!
    The busiest people in the world are American middle-class parents of young children. Not only do they have to manage their own affairs, but they're in charge of the increasingly busy lives of their 2.5 children.
    And, increasingly, they're doing it all with virtually no outside support.
    Granted, my research on this topic consisted of several minutes of intense personal reflection, half-distracted by trying to excavate a booger without anybody noticing. But the logic is sound.
    In generations past, old people got feeble and pathetic around age 50. They would move in with their kids, and you'd have several old and people around to help.
    Nowadays, you're just hitting your stride at 50. Time to start a business, do some traveling, live for yourself now that the kids are grown. Certainly not time to go back and help somebody else raise their kids.
    In generations past, the husband earned money, the wife managed the household. Nowadays, the wife earns money, and the husband lives alone in a shabby apartment and sends child support whenever he remembers to get around to it.
    In rare cases in which parents are still married, they're both working, and both exhausted when they get home.
    In generations past, two incomes were not necessary, partly because people didn't have to rely on corporations to meet all their needs. They could grow their own food and make or mend their own clothing.
    Nowadays, you're lucky to find someone who can make his or her own paper airplane without the aid of a Youtube video.
    Our society has structured itself to squeeze productivity out of the working class, children or no children. Pay them enough to buy basic needs and hire daycare and everything will be fine.
    Except it's not. Parents who have nothing left to give their kids (or each other) at the end of the day end up raising kids who lack healthy emotional attachments and direction.
    They end up getting divorced and bouncing the kids around like beach balls, hoping the lack of consistency and permanence doesn't scar them too badly.
   Can we still expect tomorrow's adults to become leaders instead of prisoners; strong parents instead of deadbeat couch potatoes?
   A society that does not funnel as much resources as it can to people raising children is a society that has gone crazy and botched its priorities. It's that simple.