My E-mail to Representative Roger Williams About the Government Shutdown

Friday, October 4, 2013

Representative Williams, The government shutdown is costing us $300 million per day, according to the IHS. It is time for the House of Representatives to stop the political grandstanding and vote for a clean funding bill to end the government shutdown. I happen to be a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. I have friends and family that have pre-existing conditions and can now purchase insurance just as you and I have been able to do in the past. I understand that you and most of your constituents disagree with me. However, it's time to stop fighting this law, which was passed by a democratically elected Congress, signed by a democratically elected President, and upheld by the Supreme Court. The House has now voted 41 times to repeal this law. How many more times will be enough? The 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive Congress in modern history based on measures passed, according to the Pew Research Center. You ran on a platform of ending political gridlock, but it appears that you are intent on continuing your party's obstructionist agenda. Twenty-one House Republicans have now said publicly that they would vote for a clean funding bill, which is enough to get one passed. As one of your constituents, I would appreciate it very much if you joined that number. Thank you for your time. Robert L. Bishop Burleson, TX

My 25 Favorite Episodes of The Office, Part 2: #10-1

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Office series finale airs tonight, and I'm celebrating by counting down my 25 favorite episodes from the show's run. #25-11 can be found here.

10. Traveling Salesmen

The Office was often at its best when it paired characters up that don't normally interact with each other, just to see what happens. Though a huge part of this episode's bright spot is the chemistry between Jim and Dwight, what really puts it over the top is the forced pairings of Karen and Phyllis, Ryan and Stanley, and Michael and Andy (still a new transfer trying to make his way up the office food chain). The pairs are forced to go on sales calls together, and the lengths the couples go to in order to close the deal are creative and funny. Phyllis illustrates to Karen why knowing one's client (and his family) is important, Ryan tries to take the lead with some of Stanley's established contacts, Andy screws up a sure thing for Michael, and Jim and Dwight dust off a well-worked phone routine that underlines the importance of DM's customer service abilities. The episode ends with Dwight resigning in order to protect Angela, but the move never felt like anything more than a footnote. It's an episode that proved that the writers of this show had chops - they even made selling paper interesting.


Dwight: "One of my life goals was to die right in my desk chair. And today, that dream shattered."

Andy: "Oompa loompa, doopadee dawesome, Dwight is now gone, which is totally awesome. Why was he gone, he was such a nice guy? No, he was not, he was a total douche. Doopadee doo."

Michael: "I want you to think about your future at this company. I want you to think about it long and hard."
Dwight: "That's what she said."
Michael: "Don't...don't you dare."

Dwight: "Here's my card. It's got my cell number, my pager number, my home number, and my other pager number. I never take vacations, I never get sick, and I don't celebrate any major holidays."

9. Niagara

The Jim and Pam wedding episode probably should have been a half-hour show, but it was an anticipated television EVENT, so it got the one hour treatment. The result was that we got a lot of extraneous material (Michael not reserving a hotel room, Andy injuring himself dancing) that would have been entirely forgettable otherwise. The meat of the episode carried it, however. Jim and Pam have always been the heart and soul of the show, and given the office's track record with other weddings, it was a foregone conclusion that someone (probably Michael) was going to ruin everything. As it turned out, it was Jim himself who caused the discomfort with his rehearsal speech gaffe ("To waiting!" was such a beautiful line reading), and it appeared that Pam was on the verge of melting down. The runaway bride sitcom staple didn't materialize, thankfully, and what happened at the end was exactly what the show needed in terms of giving those who watch for the office romance the beautiful wedding they needed while keeping everything light-hearted for everyone else. Anticipating that the bridal party was probably going to do the most Scranton thing ever and copy a popular internet video from months before, Jim books a trip to Niagara Falls so they can get secretly married (another sitcom staple, but genuinely earned here) while the guests fight over which of the wedding gifts they'll get to take home after the whole thing falls through. The payoff with the Chris Brown song is great because we know the pressure is off of the Halperts to have a storybook wedding, and we get to see some hilarious dancing at the same time.


Michael: "Meemaw, I think you just need to chill out."

Pam: "She the 80 year-old woman with no smile wrinkles."

Michael: "I have another [painting] of them in the nude, but that one's for me."

Pam: "Are you pushing me off the phone?"
Jim: "No, let's talk for a long time."

Jim: "Is there something about being a manager that makes you say stupid things?"
Michael: "I have not found that to be the case."

Jim: "I bought those boat tickets the day I saw that video."

Kevin: "My dogs are BARKING."

My 25 Favorite Episodes of "The Office," Part 1: #25-11

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Office will bring its 9 year run to an end tomorrow night. It's been a while since the show was particularly relevant, but in its heyday, it was absolutely one of the best comedies on the air. I've used the series finale as an excuse to go back and revisit some of my favorite episodes. Below are numbers 25 through 11. I will post my top ten tomorrow morning.

25. Prince Family Paper

Michael, as a favor to David Wallace, goes to do some reconnaissance work on one of Dunder Mifflin's tiny competitors a county over from the Scranton branch, and he brings Dwight along to help. The story is funny enough, as Michael and Dwight interacting with each other on the road is usually enough to fill an episode. They decide to divide and conquer, with Michael posing as a potential customer while Dwight applies for a job at the same time. Their not-so-subtle attempts to gather information are hardly noticed by the naive Prince family, and the patriarch ends up actually handing Michael a list of their top clients, then fixing his bumper in the parking lot after a botched getaway. What really makes the episode sing in my eyes is what goes on back at the office. The Dunder Mifflin-ites are always looking for ways to distract themselves, especially when the boss is out, and an argument about the attractiveness - no, hotness - of actress Hilary Swank turns into a full-on debate, complete with PowerPoint presentations and a hilariously impassioned speech from Stanley, of all people. In the end, the group remains split, Michael inadvertently breaks the tie, and Oscar gets philosophical. "That's the thing about debating. People just get entrenched in the views they already had."

24. Safety Training

Michael has always had an inferiority complex when it comes to the warehouse, so when the entire office is forced to undergo safety training downstairs because of a forklift incident involving Michael, he doesn't take kindly to the suggestion that the blue collar workers face inherently more dangerous conditions than the office workers on a daily basis. It was only natural, then, that after reading up on depression in the workplace, he would fake a suicide attempt in view of all the employees. What follows is a highly scripted exchange between he and Dwight from the rooftop - so good it had to be done twice. Michael's plan, of course, was poorly thought out, as it turned out he was planning on landing on a bouncehouse after jumping from the roof. ("I'm going to need you to acquire an inflatable house or castle." "Do you want a drawbridge?") He thinks about jumping anyway, but Darrell finally manages to answer the question "What do I have to live for?" to Michael's satisfaction. "Uh...a lot."

Identity Through Exclusion? A Lesson from the World of Soccer

Thursday, December 20, 2012

So it's 2012 - almost 2013.  Surely racism is dead now, right?


Supporters of Russian football (soccer) team Zenit St. Petersburg recently published an open letter of sorts where they demanded that the team not add or select players that make up racial or sexual minorities. 

Pay attention to the language and arguments used in the letter.  For starters, when you have to begin your argument with "I'm not racist, but..." you might want to back up and rethink your position.  The more important point is that the group argues that their identity is in jeopardy.  Many other teams in other nations do this, albeit with more stealth and acceptable language.  In England, for example, the FA requires that teams carry a certain amount of "homegrown" players on their active roster.  Without going into too much detail, a homegrown player is basically defined as a player who has spent a certain amount of years in the club's academy (think minor leagues, but for even younger players) before their 21st birthday.  There's no language in the rule that players have to be a certain nationality, but because of the way the system already works, the rule basically ensures that English clubs will have a certain quota of English players.  Racist?  Eh.  Xenophobic?  Oh yes.  Such is the nature of international sport. 

In both cases (that of Zenit and of England), the fear is that "others" will come along and ruin the identity of the organization.  As members of a melting pot (or is it salad bowl?) society, we Americans have certainly seen this attitude.  Perhaps we have even espoused it.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is inherently exclusionary.  The Zenit supporters have defined their identity using external factors, and therefore the best way to preserve it is through exclusion of people who are externally different.  Let's go back to the original point: they think they're not racist, even though it's apparent to all on the outside that that's clearly not the case.  It's very easy to convince yourself that you're not prejudiced or biased against a certain person or type of person, but that doesn't make it true.  Rather than simply shaking our heads about the state of the world in 2012 and looking down at our noses at those silly Russians, let's examine ourselves.  What excuses are we making in order to exclude others?

Facebook and "Them"

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Over the last several days, I've seen the following pattern repeated several times on Facebook: Person complains about politicization of tragedy, then immediately offers their own political views.  The message seems to be that offering views we disagree with in the wake of terrible news is unwelcome, but as long as we are Right, we can say whatever we want. 

Have we always shown such blatant disregard for the views of others that we immediately dismiss "their" opinions as exploitative, while our own poignant words of wisdom are so essential that they must be shared with the world immediately?  Or have social networking sites like Facebook simply revealed how narcissistic we can be?

It saddens me, because people I know and respect and would love to dialogue with are more and more staying away from Facebook and the like because it can be divisive and ugly.  More than that, I'm saddened because I see this trait (blatant disrespect for others and their thoughts) in myself. 

Is social networking redeemable?

Racist Mascots - Why Do They Still Exist?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Today I experienced a moment of extreme discomfort.  I was listening to the radio, as I do while I work, and the guy doing the sports news said, in reference to Thursday's football game between Washington and Dallas, "The Redskins will be coming over for Thanksgiving."

I don't think the gentleman meant to conjure images of smallpox-infested blankets and genocide, but there it was.  Isn't it time we got the offensive name of this franchise changed?

Political correctness can sometimes go overboard.  Another D.C.-based sports team bowed to pressure to change their name from the Bullets to the Wizards some time back, and the move struck me as silly.  Kids won't know that bullets exist now that we've changed the name? 

But you know what?  The name change didn't hurt anybody.  With the Redskins, we're dealing with institutional racism.  There's no upside to retaining a constant reminder of the terrible way settlers treated the natives when they arrived on this continent, and there's no downside to erasing this embarassment.  Sometimes being politically correct is just plain correct, and this is one of those cases.

A Preemptive Concession

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tomorrow, Americans will go to the polls.  In nearly every race, there will be one winner and one or more losers.  In many of these cases, a little more than half of the people will be happy, and almost as many will be disappointed (or worse).

It's a byproduct of democracy.  The most lopsided victory (in terms of the popular vote) in U.S. history happened in 1920, when Warren G. Harding defeated James M. Cox, 60.3-34.1.  Thirty-four percent is not a small number - over 9 million people voted for Cox!  There were certain counties in South Carolina where every single person that voted cast their ballot for him.  I imagine that if Facebook existed in 1920, November 2 would have been a busy night, what with 9 million people threatening to move to Canada while 16 million others yelled at them to get in line and support the President.

Take a look at the concession speeches given by John McCain (2008) and John Kerry (2004).  Here's what jumps out to me: both candidates are gracious to the point of being almost unrecognizable.  I can't help but think that both men would have done better if they had displayed this side of themselves before the votes were tallied, but when you're behind in the polls, the political playbook says you must go on the offensive to motivate your base.  These men failed, so they each gave speeches about the need for unity and cooperation.  These speeches were promptly ignored by the respective parties, with one audience even booing the speaker. 

Either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be probably declared a loser tomorrow night.  Roughly half of the country will be upset about this news.  The same goes for the many Senate, School Board, Railroad Commissioner, and Justice of the Peace races going on everywhere.  I'm personally most worried about the Senate race in Texas, where it looks like my preferred candidate will lose, but there are other races where I'm happy about where the polls currently stand.  There's a chance that I will be disappointed and perhaps even depressed about the results tomorrow night.  If I don't set standards for myself on how I'll behave when that happens, I may say or do something I regret.  So I'm making the following campaign promises.  You can consider this my preemptive concession speech, in bullet form.

  • I will not suggest that people in my country or state or polling district are mentally or morally deficient because my candidate lost.
  • I will not direct anger, no matter how righteous I believe it to be, at politicians or voters.
  • I will not launch a scorched earth campaign against the winning politician simply because I disagree with him.
  • I will continue to strive to think critically about issues, and place my reasoning above party loyalty.
Will you join me?

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