and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
August #1

Sense of humor the only defense in a world gone mad
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad."

From "Scaramouche" by Rafael Sabatini

I usually laugh each year as the legislative session ends, reading news stories in which our alleged representatives tell reporters about how hard they had to work, all the late-night session, being exhausted, blah, blah, blah.

The truth is, essential issues are always left to the last minute so that the leadership controls all and no one else knows much about what's happening.

This year was amusing as ever, with major issues awaiting action Thursday while Miss Massachusetts was introduced, and former speaker-turned-lobbyist Tom Finneran showed up on the House floor, where lobbyists are not allowed.

Finneran told reporters he was just acting as guide to some tourists he'd met when, in fact, he was actually showing the money guys that he is the only lobbyist who can get into the middle of the action while other lobbyists must hang out in, well, the House lobby. The message: The money guys should hire him instead of those other lobbyists.

The session was supposed to end at midnight, but this one continued until 1 a.m. because there was "the people's business" to be done. The media was eventually able to analyze the frenzied activity, so over the weekend we learned how we citizens got the business.

I was in-studio at WTKK-FM Friday, talking about the week just ended, and about the measure to repeal the income tax that will be on the ballot this November.

After a lively hour with Michael Graham, I joined Jim Braude for two more, since his co-host Margery Eagan was on vacation. Jim and I had been opponents on ballot campaigns in the past; this time we are not directly involved in the Question 1 income tax repeal, so we could have a nice, objective argument.

Most of the callers agreed with me that voters should say Yes on 1.

Jim asked them if they would change their minds if the Legislature did reforms in the areas of public employee pensions before the election.

I reminded him that legislators just went off on paid vacation themselves until AFTER the election, so no reforms are likely to be done this fall.

My point was further made the next morning, when The Boston Globe reported, "Pension boost OK'd for state workers" during the final hours of the legislative session. On the same front page was an item about the private-sector unemployment rate rising "as employers cut their payrolls..."

Pretty funny juxtaposition, huh?

After getting my giggles from the morning papers, I finished Dave Barry's wacky novel, "Big Trouble" that afternoon. I was laughing so hard that the cat, sleeping on my lap, was bouncing up and down on my tummy. Didn't open his eyes, just dug his claws into my jeans so as not to fall out of the hammock.

I found myself wondering when I'd laughed this hard at a book, and remembered Pat Conroy's 1979 novel "The Great Santini." My teen-age son fell off his bed laughing when he read it.

More recently, there was Christopher Buckley's "Thank You for Smoking," which was also a movie, though it wasn't as funny as the book because you didn't get to follow the narrator's thoughts as he defended Big Tobacco on a television talk show.

I have seen some really funny movies though. Some of you may remember the original "M*A*S*H" with Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. I saw it at a military theater whose clients could really "get" the fast-talked humor; I recall one Navy chief falling out of his seat onto his knees in the aisle, he was laughing so hard.

Earlier than that: Anyone remember the scene in "Pillow Talk" with Doris Day and Rock Hudson, in which Rock had to fit into a VW bug? Volkswagens were new back then, so it was a really funny sight gag.

Or how about that Clint Eastwood film in which the bad guys shot multiple holes in a bus to stop it, never thinking to just shoot out the tires.

My parents and I used to laugh together at live television, in which mistakes made could not be corrected. In one drama, a doctor came downstairs to a distraught husband after treating his wife, who had tried to kill herself.

"Has she ever committed suicide before?" the doctor asked, then hearing himself, struggled, with the other actor, not to laugh until the commercial break.

Now I laugh and cry through "Boston Legal," which is just good writing, not bloopers.

We can laugh in real time while watching the Sunday-morning talking heads, though. The Democrats were in high dudgeon last weekend over the funny "attack ad" comparing Obama's celebrity to that of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle insisted on Fox that Barack Obama never uses the word "I," humble soul that he is. Unfortunately for the humility fantasy, Chris Wallace had the "I come to Berlin... a fellow citizen of the world" clip from Obama's recent celebrity tour.

Yes, folks, we can laugh at this year's presidential campaign, or we can cry. The world in 2008 is indeed mad.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.