Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mad tea parties

I've been thinking a lot about the most famous tea party in literature, the one where Alice encountered various mad people. In the nineteenth century, hatters really went mad, from the mercury they used to make beaver hats. As for the white rabbit, it was folk wisdom that hares went mad in March -- springtime -- when their hormone levels reached a peak even for hares.

Whether from mercury poisoning or hormones, the Capitol last week resembled a casting call for a production of Marat/Sade. If there was still a line between the Republican "base" and its elected officials, it dissolved in flying saliva and cries of "Faggot!" "Nigger!" "Baby-killer!" "Armageddon!" When HCR finally passed -- it's taken so long, the thing is known by its initials, like WMD and the GAO -- the lunacy spread out like heat lightning, manifesting in death threats to Congressmen and their children, scarcely veiled threats to assassinate Obama, and broken windows galore. I think Frank Rich is out of line to compare the brick-throwing to Kristallnacht, which was organized and executed by the German government, not a mob of spontaneous Jew-baiters; but he's right as can be that health care is only a pretext for the rabble and their high-paid rousers. From the presidential campaign onward, the right has demonstrated that if there is no issue to suit their purposes, they don't mind inventing one.

Having sown the wind, God's Own Party is already reaping the whirlwind, and I love it. Bush speechwriter David Frum has been defrocked for saying that the rhetoric and physical intimidation might not do the party any good in November. John McCain, the Country First POW, is in disgrace for insufficient zeal, even though he has pledged to never, ever, cooperate with any Democrat again, ever, so there. There was even a trace of the bipartisanship Obama has sought in vain for fourteen months, when an east Tennessee 'bagger called Gary Armstrong proposed that "right now I think we should tar-and-feather Dick Armey." Well, all right! I don't have any feathers, but I believe there's an old eiderdown in the attic. Can we invite Karl Rove and Tom DeLay, too? This is the first thing Americans could unite behind since Obama called Kanye West a "jackass." It's also proof that the Republicans are no longer a party, but a cult. Ideological purity is all.

It gets funnier. Sarah Palin has ordered her musketeers to "reload" -- apparently the first volley was wide of the mark -- before heading off to basic cable channel TLC, where she will share space with "My 587-pound Mom" and "Say Yes To the Dress." Rep. Louie Gohmert wants to repeal the 17th Amendment, taking away our right to elect senators, because apparently we're doing it wrong. (He got the idea from Ann Coulter, who wants to repeal the 19th because women persist in voting for Democrats. Why do Republicans hate democracy?) Not content with comparing the HCR bill to mere Armageddon, male impersonator Glenn Beck links it to Pearl Harbor, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Chamberlain at Munich. (He didn't have any video of Mt. Vesuvius or the Great Fire of London.) After fear swept Costa Rica, Rush Limbaugh backed away from his promise to move there upon passage of the dreaded reform. You may recall that Texas also promised to leave. I'm not scouring the antique shops for a 49-star flag.

Maybe it isn't mercury or hormones. When people act against their own interests, you have to think of Tourette's. According to the Merck Manual, "People with Tourette's syndrome may call out obscenities for no apparent reason...Many people with this disorder develop impulsive, aggressive, and self-destructive behaviors." Coulter recently lost a speaking engagement in Canada because she couldn't keep from blurting out an anti-Muslim slur. (Hate speech is not protected in most other countries; just the opposite, in fact.) She had ample opportunity to learn from Michael Savage, who was denied entry to the U.K. for that reason, but it obviously isn't something she can control. The Manual says Haloperidol may help. And thanks to the new health care legislation, more people can afford it. Sadly, it makes you feel sleepy and stupid, like Alice just before she followed the White Rabbit.....


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Hurry hard!

I keep missing opportunities to be part of the Biggest Audience Ever Gathered Before a Television Screen. I didn't watch the Superbowl, I didn't watch the men's Olympic hockey final, and if I don't watch the Oscars next week I can only imagine the consequences. Will some hooded men take away my cable? My glasses? My remote control with worn-out mute button?

I enjoyed the Vancouver games, with their distinctly Canadian flavor. Who decided to save a few Canadian dollars by acquiring a Zamboni knock-off, which didn't get the job done? Who built the malfunctioning torch tripod? It was all wonderfully cheerful and relaxed, especially after the industrial precision of Beijing. Canadians have to relax -- they have learned to wait politely while everything is said to them in two languages. Americans, by contrast, get snappish if they think you're talking English too slowly. Some of them go completely Lewis Black if they're even offered a choice of languages by a phone menu. ("Para continuar en espanol..." "I'm American, goddam it, speak English!") Of course, francophone Canadians can be assholes, too. Some of them wouldn't get off a burning plane if you only instructed them in English. ("Qu'est que c'est, fire? Je ne comprend pas.")

The opening ceremony tried a little too hard to sum up the country's history and culture, from First Nations to what looked like Maynard G. Krebs delivering a rap. Could they have found a less appropriate, more depressing song than Joni Mitchell's "Hallelujah"? Maybe "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"? I guess every such event has to have aerial acrobats, but after all, Canada was the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil. And colorized movies. And subtitles for opera. Hey, why are we friends with these people?

Closing night was more fun. They hit every cliched view of their country, and hit it with the goofy stick. Catherine O'Hara deserves a special gold medal for being the first person to get intentional laughs at the Olympics, an enterprise which takes itself with staggering solemnity. The showgirls in maple leaves, the small child dressed as a puck, the dancing Mounties and giant inflatable beaver -- the only thing missing was Sergeant Preston and his lead-dog King, skimming across the Yukon to the Donna Diana overture, the image of Canada I grew up on. High culture, too. You have to have a Big Tenor -- Domingo in Barcelona, Pavarotti in Torino -- and there's no one bigger than Ben Heppner.

When the Russians arrived to accept the flag and give us a preview of 2014, they went with their heavy hitters: Tchaikovsky, ballet and Valery Gergiev, who must have logged more time in the air than NORAD. A formally-dressed choir sang the Russian national anthem for ten minutes, as if to make up for all the medal ceremonies where it wasn't played. Based on this (and Vladimir Putin's continuing efforts to rehabilitate Stalin), I'm not expecting many laughs in Soshi. The competitors had better plan on bringing their own condoms (several hundred thousand were distributed in Vancouver, I'm told).

What can I say about curling that hasn't already been said? Love it or hate it, it's just there, and it makes a good argument for adding boccie to the summer games. (I love the idea of three elderly Italians being helped onto the medal platform.) How important is CNBC to the Business Community? It was pre-empted for hours and hours of curling, and nobody cared. Anything that pre-empts fare like Dr. Phil and "The Biggest Loser" is fine with me. I would watch figure skating even without the tragic back-stories. I would watch speed-skating even without the Spiderman costumes. I would watch skiing even if it wasn't raining on the slopes. I miss it already.