Hot Air and Chicken
The top ten signs that you've watched too much Olympic coverage on TV:
- You now understand the finer points of table tennis.
- You have given up on understanding how gymnastics is judged.
- You still wonder how beach volleyball was ever named an Olympic sport.
- You wake up from a snooze and think you're watching a movie called 'Dances with Horses'.
- You've worn a path between your easy chair and the fridge.
- Instead of counting sheep to go to sleep, you count divers.
- The house looks like a tip. (No wait, it always looks that way.)
- You have a couple of the more obnoxious commercial ads stuck in your head.
- The highlight of your evening is the ad for the new televison program 'Father of the Pride'.
- You are sick to death of political ads.
Yes indeedy, I think I saw more ads for the upcoming US Presidential election than I saw sports, and I'm not being facetious when I say I'd rather have watched more table tennis. Up to now, the political discourse surrounding the election scarcely deserves the name, consisting as it has of pot shots and sniping by and at George W Bush, Democratic Party Presidential candidate John Kerry and their minions. Not only is this tedious — it reminds me of school kids calling each other names — it makes me wonder if either candidate has realised that we've got some serious issues on the table right now that we should talk about. Or worse, that they've realised it but they don't have any real plans for dealing with said issues. Or even worse than that, that they do have ideas and plans, but they've realised that the American population can be manipulated by slogans and shouldn't be bothered with real information.
GWB: I'm tough on terrorism.
JK: You're a draft-dodger.
JK: Incompetent weasel!
GWB: You're a poopyhead!
JK: No, YOU'RE the poopyhead!
This is less than inspiring stuff, and we've got several more months of it ahead. Cheap Shot Alert: It's probably appropriate that we hold political conventions during the hurricane season, as all the hot air emanating from our politicians is less noticeable then. In my more cynical moments, I liken our politicians to medical doctors; the patient generally gets better in spite of the care he's given, not because of it. (Apologies to the doctors out there who are actually doing a good job.)
I live in what political reporters call a 'battleground state', one of the heavily-populated states like New York, California, Florida and Ohio where a lot of electoral votes are up for grabs. In the US we have this curious thing called the Electoral College. In effect, people vote for a slate of electors who in turn cast their votes for the presidential candidate who wins in each state. There are some problems with this. First, the electors are expected, but are not required, to cast their votes for the candidate who won in their state. Second, the number of electors for each state is imperfectly correlated with the population of the state. This means that some people's votes — like those in my state — are worth more than others. And the winner-takes-all aspect of the current system leads to situations like that in 2000 when George Bush actually lost the popular vote but won the election. As a result, candidates tend to concentrate their efforts in states with the greatest number of electoral votes, especially in years like this when they are running neck and neck in the polls. Those of us living in the battleground states get to see the presidential and vice-presidential candidates a few times each month. This would be a good thing if the level of debate were raised a bit.
It also means that a body can't watch television around here without being bombarded with political ads. At this point they're more annoying than that stupid McDonald's Chicken Selects commercial that aired repeatedly during the Olympics. For those who haven't had the dubious privilege of seeing it, it features an oddly-dressed woman standing on the furniture telling the non-existent people around her to stay away from her food. I've concluded that eating Chicken Selects makes you paranoid and you start to hallucinate. (Those of you who missed the 1960s might want to give 'em a try.) This commercial is so stupid that the Post Room 101 is too good for it — instead it should be consigned to the depths of Advertising Hell. It is so stupid that it kills the brain cells of any living creature in its blast zone. It is so stupid that the political attack ads seem paragons of informed discourse by comparison.
So anyway, the 2004 Summer Games are consigned to history. Next up for you Olympics fans: the 2006 Winter Games — I'm already looking forward to judging controversies in the figure skating competitions — and next up for the residents of the US: the November Presidential Election. It's gonna be a l-o-n-g autumn. I sure hope the best poopyhead wins.