Saturday, October 8, 2011

Weekend potpourri ... and nothing to do with sports (OK, Kat?)

A little of this and a little of that on this gorgeous autumn weekend ...

This past week, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and the presumed frontrunner in the race to unseat him next year -- Elizabeth Warren -- got into a war of words that, frankly, doesn't make the sitting senator look all that, shall we say, mature.

Here's what happened. During a debate (more like a friendly round-table discussion) between Democratic candidates, Warren, a Harvard professor, was asked what she did to get through school. The questioner (and this is important) reminded her that Brown had posed in the altogether for Cosmo, using the money to foot his educational bill.

"I kept my clothes on," Warren said, to laughter (and thankfully, there was laughter, because everyone saw it for what it was ... a light, off-the-cuff, and some might even say disarming, answer to a somewhat loaded question.

Next day, on a local morning drive-time radio show, Brown was asked what he thought of Warren's remark.

"Thank God," he said, again, to much laughter.

What followed is the very definition of "knee jerk." All the usual suspects got on their high horses about Brown's remark. Democrats called him sexist, said it was outrageous that he used "frat-boy" talk to demean Warren's appearance.

It was really a stupid thing for him to say. Nothing like reducing a senatorial campaign to "rate-them-on-a-one-to-ten-scale" lockerroom talk.

It's what he said later that really offended me, though. Brown said he didn't go to Harvard, and that he went to the school of hard knocks. There's so much wrong with this statement that it's tough to know where to begin.

First, the obvious. Warren did not go to Harvard. She started out at George Washington University in D.C., got her undergrad at the University of Houston, and then went to the Rutgers School of Law. Hardly Ground Zero for Eastern elitists.

Brown went to Tufts University (hardly a "college of hard knocks" school) and then to Boston College Law. I'd say that educationally speaking, the senator might have the upper hand in "elitism," if that's the label he's trying to pin on Warren. Graduating with a BC law degree is not too shabby.

So let's just cut that out now. Brown tries to portray himself as "everyman," and it worked in his last campaign against the politically inept Martha Coakley, who -- in somewhat of a reversal of the usual political ethic -- is a better administrator than she is a campaigner. Brown was able to box her ears off by doing the type of political pandering 101 that Coakley found odious -- such as shaking hands in front of Fenway Park on an ice-cold New Year's Day before the NHL's winter classic between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Something tells me Warren won't fall into that trap. Something also tells me she's a tad bit tougher than Coakley. She was passed over for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's directorship in part because she intimidated Republicans who would have to be instrumental in approving her nomination. With that knowledge in hand, President Obama turned to someone else (it's things like this that aggravate people who voted for the president in 2008).

So far in her public life, Warren has had no problem standing up for what she holds near and dear, so I don't see where Scott Brown's going to give her many sleepless nights. It remains to be seen, however, whether even the Massachusetts electorate, with its reputation for electing liberals, will -- in its current mood -- vote for anyone connected with Harvard.

We're not that much different than anyone else up here. The economy affects us, too. And just being associated with the cradle of east coast liberal elitism (go into the Harvard Co-op sometimes and you'll know what I mean) might put a little too much baggage on her back.

Still, I like her. And I agree with her belief that no one gets rich on his own. People who make a lot of money do so with a generous portion of help from both the public and the public sector. Good for her for reminding everybody.

One hopes the election turns on more than catty remarks about posing nude for Cosmo ... and the subsequent rebuttals and the usual fallout. In this day and age, however, I doubt it will.


It was a simply, snarky Facebook status: "NEWS FLASH: Steve Jobs still dead." Yet the reaction was interesting.

The notion came about after I read an column by someone -- obviously not a Jobs fan -- taking people to task for their over-the-top reaction to his death earlier this week.

I posted the article on another bulletin board, where it was suggested that I had to be a liberal because the author minimized Jobs' contribution to the human condition. I hadn't thought of that. I simply thought the article had something kind of interesting to say.

But to me, the message to me wasn't about politics. It was about the way people overreact to the death of their icons -- something that goes double for Baby Boomers like myself.

And make no mistake: Steve Jobs was one of our icons as as much as he may belong to the ages. His genius is/was totally, totally lost on a lot of the people who came of age in World War II through the 1950s. What he did, more than anything else, was to move move technology forward by making it more accessible to people who didn't necessarily have a technical aptitude. Such as me.

I'm one of those guys who needs to find someone my son's age to help me with even the slightest detour with my computer. Yet even I know how to work an iPod (well, now, after he taught me).

(I've mastered the Blackberry, but the idea of converting to an iPhone is still a bit intimidating to me.)

You know how they say that computers become obsolete almost as soon as they hit the market? Well, that's because Jobs helped make it that way. As much of a genius as he was with the technology, he was even more of a genius at marketing. He used to say that people don't know what they want until you show them. And he had an uncanny ability to know exactly what to show and when to show it.

There are a thousand different ways to honor Steve Jobs in death, most of them to do with talking about all that he did for, and contributed to, our culture. He was as important to this generation as Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell were to theirs, and his legacy will certainly be on a par with theirs.

But can we please stop these shrines? And the over-emoting? And the muck-raking that's already starting to unearth itself now that he's gone? (example: "The Secret Private Life of Steve Jobs" ... the headline that greeted me when I logged onto the internet today)?

I don't care. I don't care if you're all broken up about it. And I don't care about his secret life either, unless it affects how my iPod works.

This is the downside of social networking, if you ask me (something Jobs is certainly responsible for too). It's so easy, with Facebook and Twitter, and the rest, to go from any kind of decent retrospectives to all-out mawkishness. It just becomes mind-numbing, and it cheapens the whole discussion.

Thirty years ago, when John Lennon was shot to death, there was no Facebook. No Twitter. Apple was really in it infancy. The only way to mourn the unconscionably violent death (key point!) of such a cultural icon was to go to New York and sing songs in Central Park, across from the Dakotas. The people who went actually had to do something ... and, you know, unite.

These days, there's no such spirit because all you have to do is get on Facebook and say "RIP, Steve Jobs," or post something about how hearing of his death reduced you to tears (really? I mean, seriously?). And then, after that, you go back to posting about about how good (or bad) Glee was last night, or cutting and pasting some absolutely inane political statement that 120 other people have already posted. There's no connection beyond that. At least, not to me.

The sadness in Steve Jobs' death, to me, lies in the fact that he was only 54 (four years younger than I am) and that whatever else was germinating inside his brain -- things that could have further humanized technology -- will now remain locked inside. We'll never bear witness to them. That is sad.

Years ago, there was a running joke on Saturday Night Live about Francisco Franco, whose death watch was like Waiting for Godot. SNL spoofed the whole thing by having Chevy Chase say, "this just in ... Francisco Franco still dead."

Some of the over-the-top coverage of Jobs' death reminded me of that.

And, I suppose, we'll get it some more now that Al Davis (Oakland Raiders' owner) has died. I guess it's this old, crusty New Englander's way of saying that owning a Mac, or an iPod doesn't mean you're on such intimate terms with their inventor that you have to go around acting as if someone near and dear to you just died.


I don't have a problem with religious people. I don't see religion as superstition, and I bristle when I hear people who refer to believers as ignorant and uninformed.

To me, whatever puts you on the right path in your life has as much validity as anything else. And if that includes a belief system -- any belief system -- that works, and it doesn't intentionally aim to harm non-believers, who's to argue and tell you you're wrong.

However ...

Now that Mitt Romney is a serious contender for the presidency (in fact, I'd even say that the nomination at this point is his to lose, only because he's less scary that any of his alternatives), his Mormon faith has become an issue.

And here's where I take issue with Christians who feel qualified to demean Romney's faith. Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor (and, not surprisingly, a Rick Perry backer) says Romney's no Christian, but, rather, a member of a "cult."

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding
. Raise the red flags. He said "cult." Bad word. It conjures up images of crazed people like Jim Jones and David Koresh.

First, Mitt Romney was my governor for four years (well, it was probably two and a half, and then he set his sights on the White House and pretty much abdicated day-to-day governing unless doing so made him look good). I'm no Mitt Romney lover. In fact, I think he's one of the biggest phonies in politics.

But one thing Romney did exceptionally well during his tenure as Massachusetts governor was keep his Mormonism out of it. If you didn't know he was a Mormon, nothing he did, or said, would have given it away.

It is OK to give people with whom you disagree politically their proper props, by the way.

But having said all that, it is entirely beside the point. There is nothing more boring than listening to religious zealots find fault with those who don't follow their particular path to salvation. And nothing more irrelevant.

Here it is still only 2011, and we're going to have to wade through this stuff? We're going to have to wade through the "my God is better than your God" argument?

Who cares?

If you need a better reason for the framers of the U.S. Constitution ensuring that a specific religion never becomes too powerful a force in this country, I don't know where you're going to find it. The idea of any Christian foisting any kind of a litmus test on the political process is patently offensive, even if it comes from nutjobs like the Reverend Jeffress.

We already have enough religious extremism in this world -- everything from radical Islamists (we all know about them) to whack jobs like the Westboro Baptists and Fred Phelps, who -- by the way -- planned to picket Steve Jobs' funeral (how's that for tying up all these fragmented subjects?). The last thing we need is to enter into a debate on who's version of salvation has more validity and throw it into the process of electing our president.

I'm a Catholic. But I don't care what Romney is. I don't care if he believes that the tides that go in and out every day carry the key to salvation, or whether he finds it in a quiet walk through the woods in the early morning. In fact, if I ever found out he did, I'd probably like him a whole lot more than I do, because, frankly, those are my two favorite places to be ... walking along the beach or walking through the woods.

One of the worst things about our political climate today is that candidates feel compelled to avow some attachment to a deity. I so wish it weren't so.


Speaking of religion, there's this:

I wonder if this is on the level. If it is, it appeals to my sense of the uber perverse.

But since the perpetrator's name is Sam Mullet, I have my doubts. Lest any of you out there doesn't know what a "mullet" is, Google it.

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