God Bless the USA (And No, I'm Not Being Ironic) Wednesday is one of the most significant days in the American calendar: July 4, Independence Day. The day when Americans decided to, in the words of the surfer dude character from the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "leave this England place because it was bogus."
So, 231 years into this experiment we call America, how are things going?
You could look around and think, "not too good." And it seems a lot of people would believe you.
A recent Gallup poll showed that Americans are losing confidence in just about every institution the folks from Gallup cared to ask about. Confidence in "the presidency" was at 25 percent, down eight points since 1996. Confidence in Congress was only 14 percent, an all-time low, down five points. Confidence in newspapers is down a whopping eight points, with only 30 percent of people polled saying they had a "great deal" or "a lot" of confidence in the press.
We're still stuck armpit-deep in a war we actually won years ago but from which we can't seem to extricate ourselves. Despite the claim that "we're fighting terrorists in Iraq so they won't follow us home," a recent report warns that squads of suicide bombers have already been dispatched to the U.S.
We're getting hit with so many scandals around the presidency, some days it's hard to keep track of them all. The president himself seems hell-bent on grabbing more and more power for himself in the name of the terrifying concept he and his henchmen call the "unitary executive": the idea that the president has the "inherent power" to do literally anything, including break the law, if he claims it's to protect America.
Meanwhile, the Congress, which we elected to end this war, goes back to its old habit of knuckling under to Dubbya whenever he says, "Vote my way or the voters won't like you." Well, surprise, surprise, Congress. You voted his way on the troop funding bill and your poll numbers plummeted.
So what is there to celebrate this Wednesday? Should we raise our beers in salute to our country or slump over them in dark bars and mutter darkly about impending doom?
Well, my friends, despite of all of the above, I still believe there are a lot of things to love about America. Some are sublime, some are wonderfully ridiculous. For example:
-- We still have Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show," as well as Stephen Colbert and his "Colbert Report." I don't know how they do it, but they manage to keep us laughing about the absurdities of our government and our society.
-- We still have people in this country like Florida's Dale Rippy. According to The Associated Press, when the 62-year-old Vietnam veteran was attacked by a rabid bobcat on his deck, he "endured the bobcat's slashes and bites until it clawed into a position where he could grab it by the throat. Then he strangled it." Now I'm not automatically anti-bobcat, but you've got to admit, that's pretty bad-ass. "If that cat had attacked a child, it would've been really bad," Rippy said later. Glad that old dude's on our side.
-- Support for the idea of banning "books with dangerous ideas" from public school libraries has declined from 55 percent in 1998 to 46 percent. It has now fallen to the lowest level of support of the past 20 years.
-- Vice President Dick Cheney's influence appears to be waning in the White House, with the war-mongering, power-grabbing holdout from the Nixon administration wielding less and less power in foreign policy. People like convicted perjurer Scooter Libby and the guy Cheney shot in the face down in Texas might be actually due for a Presidential Medal of Freedom for turning the veep into the joke he so richly deserves to be.
And let's not forget the biggest thing: We still have our Constitution -- and people who are willing to support it. Like the judges in the Fourth Circuit who recently delivered a stinging rebuke to King George's idea that he can lock people up on his own say-so without due process. Or people from Dubbya's own party, like Sen. Arlen Specter, who are willing to stand up and challenge the idea that any chief executive can just issue a "signing statement" saying, in effect, "I don't have to pay attention to this law."
There are still people who believe in the American system of checks and balances, that no man is a king over us, and that there is still such a thing as the rule of law. We still have the power to change the course America is on, if we'll take it. And that's an idea in whose honor we can light a Roman candle and hoist a beer.
Life Imitates "Art" There's a moderately funny movie called "Born in East L.A". It's based on a single by Cheech Marin (of Cheech and Chong) that's a parody of Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." The record tells the story of a Hispanic guy who gets accidentally deported to Mexico because he can't produce a Green Card...and the reason he can't produce a Green Card is that he's American.
The family of an American citizen who disappeared after apparently being mistakenly deported to Tijuana a month ago has filed suit asking the U.S. government to help find him.
Pedro Guzman, 29, a Lancaster construction worker, is developmentally disabled and penniless, and he hasn't been heard from since May 11, said his family at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday.
His mother, Maria Carbajal, said she spent the last month in Tijuana living out of her car while searching in vain for her son. She said neither the U.S. nor the Mexican government has helped in her search for him.
Guzman was born in Los Angeles, his family said. He is light-skinned and 6 feet 5. He speaks English and Spanish, made it through the 10th grade and has a driver's license.
But his family said he cannot read or write, gets lost easily and, although he does not appear mentally impaired, can be taciturn and suspicious of strangers.
The situation began when Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies arrested Guzman for trespassing at an airplane junkyard in Lancaster.
His mother said he was sentenced in April to 120 days in jail, but that about a month later, he called to say he had been deported to Tijuana and didn't know why.
MSNBC Cuts Away From Pentagon To Paris - The Huffington Post: With obvious yelling in the background, MSNBC cut away from an interview with Colonel Rick Francona on the Defense Secretary replacing the Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, to show Paris Hilton leaving her house in West Hollywood to attend court.
Glad to see they have their priorities straight.
I am truly in despair for this country. The "resignation" of General Pace appears to be a direct consequence of his opposition to widening the war in the Middle East to include Iran. Officers who fail to toe the increasingly insane party line are being purged.
But let's not think about that. Let's follow the latest exploits of some bubble headed starlet as she weeps and wails her way to jail.
Note: This is what I call "the directors' cut". The newspaper version, of course, was edited for length and content)
Allison Stokke never set out to be an Internet sensation. She didn't have a weblog where she posted messages about her life for all the world to see. She didn't post videos of herself being silly on YouTube. All the California high school senior wanted to do was be the best at what she did -- the pole vault.
And she's been doing a fine job at it. Shortly after she took up the event in her freshman year, she'd set a new school record. Soon after that, she won her first state championship. She's now broken five national records and earned a scholarship to the University of California, according to a recent story in The Washington Post.
But unfortunately, it's not Allison's athletic prowess people are talking about. It's her looks. More accurately, it's The Picture, a photo taken by a professional sports photographer and posted on a Web site devoted to California high school sports.
It's a striking photograph: Allison with the vaulting pole over one shoulder, looking off to one side, reaching back to adjust her ponytail. There's nothing overtly sexy about it. There's a bit of a heroic quality, somewhat reminiscent of a Greek statue, except that unlike such statues, Allison's arms and head are still attached.
But, since this is a picture of an attractive young woman in excellent physical shape and dressed in skin-tight athletic gear, and it's on the Internet, it didn't take much for a bunch of socially dysfunctional dweebs munching on Cheetos in their mom's basement to immediately begin drooling and howling like monkeys.
It started when a "humor" Web site called With Leather posted the picture, along with the comment "Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds." Things went downhill from there. Most of the comments posted on the original site can't be repeated in this newspaper.
The photographer contacted the site owner and demanded that the picture be taken down for copyright reasons, and it quickly was. But by then, the picture had "gone viral," as they say, copied with a few mouse clicks and spreading across the Internet faster than any threat of legal action could stop it.
A fan site sprang up for Allison, and any number of discussion boards posted her pictures and commented on them, with some of the comments getting downright creepy and others probably providing sufficient grounds for a restraining order. And of course, this being the Internet, any number of the comments were of the "ugh, she's a dog"variety, which is particularly ironic when you consider that they were probably posted by dorks who'd faint dead away if an attractive girl, or ANY girl for that matter, spoke to them.
Someone created a fake site in her name on the "social networking" site Facebook, listing her only 'interest" as "BOYS!" Allison began to be deluged with requests for other photo shoots, including one from a Brazilian girlie magazine.
So how did Allison react to this? Being a young woman of intelligence, and not, say, Paris Hilton, she's less than pleased.
"It just all feels really demeaning," the Post article quotes her. "I worked so hard for pole vaulting and all this other stuff, and it's almost like that doesn't matter. Nobody sees that. Nobody really sees me."
She wrote Facebook and demanded the fake site be taken down. They complied. Even so, she reports, she's still uncomfortable being recognized and stared at in public. She doesn't leave the house alone anymore.
Allison's parents, as you might imagine, are even less happy. Her father scans the message boards, keeping a "watchful eye," as he puts it. (He's a man of more restraint than I. If it was my daughter, I'd be cleaning my shotgun.)
"It's just locker room talk," her mother says, "but now everyone can read it, even her mother."
Good Lord, is this what we've come to? Where a young female athlete has to worry, not just about her next match, but about whether somebody taking a picture of her doing what she loves best is going to result in her turning, against her will, into the next Internet sex object?
I see things like this happening, and I begin to wonder if maybe those fundamentalist Muslims might not have a point with the whole burka thing, but not for the reasons they think. Maybe we guys really are pigs who can't be trusted with the sight of the female form. Don't worry, though, the burka idea passes quickly, as soon as I express it within the hearing of my wife and daughter, who immediately set me straight. They're good at that.
Hang in there, Allison. Because there's another thing about the Internet you're likely to learn very soon: These things pass. The Internet being what it is, hopefully it won't be long before this blows over and you can concentrate on your sport without worrying about this crap.
Or even better, you'll be like golfer Michelle Wie, tennis player Maria Sharapova, or race driver Danica Patrick, and you'll be so busy doing endorsements and making money that you won't have time to worry about the Internet.
P.S. for Internet readers of this column: a few people have criticized both the Washington Post and the Stokkes, accusing them of hypocrisy for participating in a newspaper story about unwanted media attention. the Post's Deborah Howell addresses the issue here.
It's more than a little self-serving for the critics of the Stokkes to take this sort of "heads we win, tails you lose" stance. Reduced to its essentials, their position is that if you seek media attention, you're what's charmingly referred to as an "attention whore. " If you don't seek media attention, but complain to any the media outlet about the unwanted attention, you're still an attention whore. Riiight.