Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sock puppets and racists

I've seen the infamous sock puppet, and it does look like a black monkey. What I had in mind when I read the original news item was one of those sock puppets that have a red nose and behind because that's the color of the sock toe and heel. This one is clearly intended to be black. Still, I have to ask myself if this is enough to make it a racist effort. Remember, in order for something to be racist it must not only refer to the person's race, but be negative, and the race has to be the driving factor. So, it's not enough to make a crayon drawing of Obama black, cause he is. If I make a black sock puppet, is that enough to make me racist? Remember that I'm also making a wrinkled McCain puppet.
The crux of the matter seems to be that the sock puppet is equated with monkeys, and people have in the past equated African-Americans with monkeys. McCain's puppet is also a monkey. Does the fact that there is a McCain monkey cancel out the Obama monkey? Or is the very suggestion that we might equate Obama with a monkey make it out of bounds? I admit that it's an interesting and potentially disturbing question. Have we gone too far in "sensitivity"? Or is it just good manners to refrain from anything that might be injurious, like not mentioning hippos around fat people?
I haven't changed my opinion, though, about who the real racists are. They are the self-proclaimed keepers of the gate who keep a watch on us lest we slip. Remember the joke about the guy who went to the doctor? The doctor showed him several geometric shapes and asked the guy what he was thinking of. To all the man replied "sex." Said the doctor, "You are obsessed with sex." But, came back the man, "You keep showing me dirty pictures."
Remember also the definition of a Puritan as a person who is angry because somewhere somebody is having a good time. (I wish I knew who said that) Whatserface at the Tribune sees racism in just about everything and piously intones, "They just don't get it." Right.

Friday, June 20, 2008

How noble we are

Let’s suppose for a moment that we are considerate beings (which is true) and that we are visiting in a country where it is considered polite to belch loudly after every meal, the louder the belch the better the meal. We know this. Though livid with embarrassment, we personfully summon up a belch after every meal.

Now, let’s suppose that a person from this country comes to visit us, and, after every meal, gives out with a loud belch. We don’t do that here, but of course, how could this person know that?

So, we are gracious, understanding, generous. Actually, what we are is racist. Look at the assumptions behind our gracious actions. They are 1) that the people we are visiting in their country are too dumb to know that things are done differently in other places, 2) that they are too backward, rigid and unforgiving to make allowances, and 3) that they are too dense to see that things are done differently when they are outside their own country.

So, our graciousness is simply a rather smug acknowledgement of our own superiority. Noblesse oblige in a democracy.

The fact is, however, that the people we condescend to are aware of what’s happening. They resent it, they exploit it, they sometimes use it on us. The Samoans who hoodwinked poor Margaret Mead are an example. So the guy whose table you belched at is probably secretly laughing at the poor dumb twit who isn't very good at belching in the first place and doesn't know he's making a fool of himself in the second.

Isn’t it about time that we realized that we are as dumb as the rest of the world?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Worshipping at the alter of our Ford

There are two kinds of car dealerships: Those that are businesses and those that are temples. Ford, Chevy, Toyota, and the like are all businesses. When you walk into the dealership you see cars, and you see people sitting at desks and studiously ignoring you, and maybe some posters on the wall, but that’s about it.
On the other hand, walk into a Jaguar, Audi, BMW, Mercedes , or Land Rover dealership and you might as well be in church. There is a definite aura of worship in the place. The attitude is hushed, the d├ęcor is sumptuous, and the people are well –dressed and quietly spoken. If you want your car serviced, you call ahead and make an appointment, then meet in an office room with a service consultant who takes all the pertinent information and finally consents to fit you into the schedule.
If you have to use the restroom, you’ll find it well appointed, with top-of-the-line fixtures. The towels will be in a little basket on the marble washstand, and there will be flowers on a stand in the corner, maybe a copy of The New Yorker to read.
If you want service, you’d better wear your Yuppie duds. Get the Rolex out of hock, shine up the tassled Bally loafers, press your jeans and wear a Lacoste shirt (DI gets them from time to time). Oh, and get a haircut.
My problem is that I love to worship at these shrines, but the only cars I have are so old that no one will take me seriously. While people will roll out the red carpet for a 2007 Range Rover, they chuckle indulgently over my 95 Discovery (the one with the permanent list to port).

Barack's big chance

A racist is someone who attributes a negative characteristic to a person solely on the basis of his or her race. If I note that Coby Bryant is African American and suggest that this might have something to do with his phenomenal ability at basketball, that’s not racist. Is it? Actually, according to the PC folks, it is. It doesn’t matter that the data might bear out my assertion. The very fact that I’ve linked any characteristic and race is enough to get me branded a racist.
So I won’t. What I will do is comment on the persons I consider the real racists: those people who see slurs in everything and believe, deep down inside themselves, that other races can’t defend themselves and that they, the heroes of the hour, have to do it for them.
Case in point. Some people in Utah want to market a sock doll and call it some version of the Obama Doll (I forget the real name). These same people have a version of the doll for John McCain too. Now, the Obama doll isn’t black, it’s a simple red-toed sock doll, the kind you’ve seen a million times. The rub comes when you remember that this sock doll is sometimes a monkey. So, one of our beloved Salt Lake Tribune writers hopped in and started calling the sock manufacturers racist, saying, “They just don’t get it” (That’s a dead giveaway, by the way).
Why is this writer racist? Because she hooks Obama, the sock doll, and monkeys together in her mind. That is, she’s the one who sees the insidious threat when all we see is a funny doll. And she’s the one who has to speak out and protect pore ol’ Barack. She’s the superior mind in her mind. Ergo, racist.
If my reasoning is too subtle for you, consider this: every act of protection is an assertion of superiority. I think Barack Obama is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and I’m willing to give him a little advice. Want to get elected? Buy one of those Obama sock dolls and carry it around with you. Show it to people and tell them you think it’s cute and that you like it much better than the McCain doll.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Liquor for young people

There's a bar in Logan, Utah, called The White Owl. It's quite a popular place. Of course, there aren't that many bars in Logan, Utah, so anyplace with booze is likely to be popular. Anyway, underage kids like to get in to the Owl, and the Utah State Liquor control people like to bust young people trying to get into the Owl. Now, I'm in favor of keeping young people from the inside of bars. Let's make 'em get their liquor in the old-fashioned way, by raiding dad's cabinet.

The point of this whole essay, though, is a recent escalation in detection by the White Owl. Seems like every time the state catches someone inside the Owl and underage, they jerk the bar's license for a time. No booze, no profits. So, the Owl has a very real interest in keeping kids out. Recently, they installed a sophisticated scanner that can pick out phony ID's.

You'd think that the liquor control people would applaud this. After all, the Owl is doing all it can to help keep kids out of the bar (at gunpoint, but they are doing it). This is, however, not the case. See, the state loves to run sting operations. That is, they find some underage kid and get them to try to infiltrate the Owl. Then, if the kid get in, the cops have the Owl cold and can shut 'em down again. The cops don't like the new scanner because -- get this -- it makes it harder for their moles to make it into the bar.

The cops seem to have forgotten the whole point of the legal system, which is to keep underage people from drinking. Instead of keeping their eye on this simple goal, the cops have allowed things to evolve into a contest between the cops (getting kids in) and the Owl (keeping kids out). And in this escalation the targets for the system, the poor dumb teeners who want to get drunk and act grownup, are completely forgotten. They stand on the sidelines, puzzled and stupid, while the law and the bar duke it out to see who has the best technology or the smartest spies.

I realize that, given freedom to do so, many bars would serve liquor to kids in diapers, but still, in this case, the state liquor control people really need to back off, re-evaluate what they are doing and why they are doing it, and perhaps, just maybe, get real?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You are what you wear

An article in today's paper notes that scientists changed the physiology and behavior of birds by making their breast feathers darker with magic markers. Dark breast feathers are apparently the sign of virility and desirability in this species of birds. Here's the kicker. Not only did the birds behave more like alpha birds and get more chicks (intentional pun), but the levels of testosterone in their blood actually rose. The scientists hinted that the same principle might apply to humans as well.

Think of it. We all know the folk wisdom that you don the persona that your clothes proclaim, but to think of actual physiologicial changes -- well that's something else again. Maybe that's why school uniforms work.

I think this is not only true, but that it expands to other areas of social life as well. For instance, you could say, "You are what you drive." I've always been of the opinion that people who drive high-end BMW's were arrogant jerks, and assumed that the Beemer was simply the arrogant guy's car of choice. But what it the Beemer makes the man?

The implications are staggering. Got a kid with low self esteem? Make him drive a Mustang GT. Got a kid with too much aggression? Make him drive a Ford Festiva. I can see the scene now: Juvenile court. A young man charged with starting fights. The judge looks sternly at him and says, "This is a serious charge, and must be dealt with seriously. I order you to spend six months driving a Geo Metro." Ashen-faced and contrite, the young man is led from the courtroom, his spirit broken.

I trust that conservatives will mount a campaign to have young people drive old six-cylinder pickups and that Liberals will press for everyone to have a Rolls.