Monday, February 25, 2013

Ennui. Apathy. World-Weariness. Tedium

I consider myself a fairly engaged and knowledgeable observer of politics and world events. But I must admit to a high degree of ennui as it pertains to the machinations of Congress and the president as we draw near to the deadline for implementation of the sequester that will strip many social welfare, education and defense programs of much needed funding if a budget agreement is not reached by Friday.

I’m tired of reading Paul Krugman, David Brooks and countless other thought leaders argue for sanity from the other side. It just is not going to happen. It must be disheartening if you’re a pundit who daily doles out advice and never sees any tangible movement toward compromise. We might still live in the greatest democracy in the world, but it is far from being a paragon of virtue and efficiency. 

Our democracy at present is dysfunctional. When one senator can effectively stop the nation’s business just by threatening a filibuster, we no longer can say the Senate is the greatest deliberative body in history. 

As an aside, I noticed that Pope Benedict XVI changed the rules of the conclave that will elect his successor. He has authorized the cardinals to begin their conclave once all their members arrive in Rome. They no longer have to wait 15 days from the time the papacy is vacant. Benedict is retiring Thursday. 

What struck me as questionable in Benedict’s action is that he left open the prospect of mischief by any one cardinal who might choose to delay his arrival in Rome. Just as Tea Party senators, or just plain conservative Republicans, have stymied President Obama and Democrats, the same fate could befall the Church should just one disgruntled cardinal resent changes in the Holy See. 

Anyway, back to my lament about American politics. It’s gotten so bad that I regularly skip reading the front of The NY Times and immediately skip to the Arts section. Maybe all those years reporting and editing news of the retail industry has made me into a metrosexual more interested in style and worldly goods than world affairs. Whatever the case, it’s a lot more fun noting the incongruities of the metrosexual-inclined.

Take, for instance, two press releases that appeared back to back in my in-box even before the Academy Awards telecast finished. They represented a clash of metals, gold vs. platinum. On the one hand, celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kristen Stewart, Kathryn Bigelow, Renee Zellweger, Olivia Munn, Nicole Kidman, Gloria Reuben, Jane Fonda, Jessica Chastain, Samantha Barks, Catt Sadler, Octavia Spencer and Naomi Harris were decked out in gold jewelry, while the likes of Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Garner, Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Adele, Kerry Washington and Zoe Saldana chose to show off platinum baubles. Does it matter to the ordinary viewer? Probably not. But it sure beats thinking about which political party is more attuned to what the public wants.

Indeed, here are some data from a January 17-22 Harris Poll that reveals how divergent Republicans and Democrats are in their approach to handling budget cuts: 

As could be expected Democrats favor cuts in defense spending 61% vs. 21% by Republicans, while 74% of GOP members want to chop federal welfare spending vs. 32% of Democrats who so desire. 

For a look at why Republicans will have a hard time convincing the electorate they are a party of the future, consider these numbers: by a more than 2-1 margin over Democrats, Republicans want to cut the food stamp program, federal housing programs, spending for mass transportation, pollution control measures, federal aid to cities, and federal job training programs. They are more than four times more likely to favor cuts in health care spending and federal aid to education. By 48% to 29% they want to cut federally funded scientific research programs. 

Just how out of whack is the Republican view? From 1980 to 2013, of the 19 programs studied by Harris, only one—defense spending—registered an increase in the number of consumers who desired spending cuts. All the others saw a reduction in those who favored slashing the budgets of the respective programs. 

It’s too difficult to make sense of it all. Instead, let’s turn to another survey, from Harris Interactive, about one of the more vexing issues troubling mankind, or at least those men and women who live together in marital bliss, or discord. Sponsored by Bosch Home Appliances, the survey purported to shed light on something that can come between partners—the proper way to utilize a dishwasher. Apparently, the biggest fight couples have is over the need to pre-rinse dishes. Six out of 10 husbands and wives argue about this. For the record, Bosch says pre-rinsing is not required. I’ll spare you details of the rest of the survey. Your welcome.

Well, that’s enough metrosexual news for the evening. It’s time to watch Fashion Police’s recap of the Oscars.