Dumb founded

One of the problems with wearing black all the time is that no one can tell whether you're in mourning or a state of protest. A black arm band just looks like some frayed threads. It doesn't look like you're socially conscious. It looks like you buy cheap shirts.

I realized this when I heard that GW had won Florida, at least for the five minutes there when it looked like he did; as of this writing things are still up in the air, although definitely in his favor. Still, I'm hoping this mess will drag on until GW gets distracted by a colorful pinwheel and forgets the whole being-president thing.

Realizing that we could be stuck with him, I'm wondering if a private citizen can just refuse to acknowledge someone as president, like the people on TV who say, "I have no son," when their kid puts them in a nursing home. If I turn my head and say, sniffily, "I have no president," would that be legal?

It's not just the fear of Republican mitts on the Supreme Court. It's not just the insiderism -- Katherine Harris, the Bush cousin on the Fox News desk, Jeb. It's not the dead heat. It's the stupidity. GW is widely acknowledged as not smart enough for the job and is constantly being taunted as an idiot by every comic who can get in front of a camera. I've never heard of this happening in another country. One hears of leaders who are corrupt, dictatorial, drunk, but you seldom hear them called stupid. This doesn't really reflect badly on GW. It reflects badly on us.

I'm with stupid

From reading choices to restaurant styles, the signs are that we're dumbing down, way down. Low-brow culture used to be ironic and fun. Now it's becoming who we are, like some "Twilight Zone" episode where we have become our masks.

A Newsweek story from Nov. 13 tells of a Harvard Ph.D. who also got a degree from the "United Tractor Trailer School in Central Massachusetts," because those who hold "Ph.D.s in humanities disciplines" can't find any work -- their education just isn't useful in the U.S. The same issue also contained an article, "G'bye Truffles, Hello Ribs," about how our best chefs are, largely for economic reasons, opening rib shacks and "family" restaurants, which is like hearing that Woody Allen is writing the next "Police Academy." Likewise, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" used to be a witty, concise, 20-minute cartoon. Reading that the meanness of the Grinch in the current movie version comes from his childhood trauma reduces the great Dr. Seuss character to the level of a Jenny Jones guest. (Admittedly I haven't seen the movie. It's like wanting to remember someone the way they were when they were alive. I'm a little afraid of what I might find.)

Johns Hopkins professor and "Marxist-idealist" Morris Berman feels, according to writer Mark Egan, that "American culture is dead -- if not totally dead, then twitching on the emergency-room floor with no health insurance and nary a doctor in sight." Egan's August Reuter's story about Berman's book, "Twilight of American Culture," cites observations from it, like the fact that 120 million Americans read at an 11-year-old level, and that our favorites -- self-help books -- are "essentially watered-down sayings on tea bags," Berman notes. Speaking about Bush, he quotes one of the candidate's supporters who described him with the words, "He's pretty smart but he doesn't know very much."

Room for improvement

The ballot confusion, the premature calling of the election, the whole shebang has given us a surprise picture of ourselves, like when you get your photos back from Eckerd and you realize you've gained 20 pounds. We don't look as good as we used to.

And the question has been raised: Will we shape up, or will this just make us more cynical? Hopefully it will be the former. We'll be like those people who go through a messy divorce -- courts, lawyers, contesting the custody of votes -- and, once freed up, realize just how complacent they've become. Then they go to the gym, cut their hair, maybe take a class, and then they knock people's eyes out at the next party. It's nice to think that the wake-up call of this election will be just the kick in the ass we need, and that four years from now we'll all vote for someone instead of against someone, and on modernized balloting equipment more infallible than the pope.

But that's just the kind of crazy reverie people sink into when they're depressed. I myself have metaphorically shaped up and taken a great interest in presidential politics. Ultimately, though, it probably will be the equivalent of buying a Stairmaster that in three weeks' time serves as a clothes rack. Until someone wins, I'll be fascinated. After that, you can reach me on a river in Egypt.


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