As I watched the All-Star Game this year – way to go National League! – I found myself thinking about Casey Anthony. It’s not that Casey Anthony was a can’t-miss power hitting 3rd baseman or anything (that would have been awesome), it’s because Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, who are both awful, kept talking about Derek Jeter.

McCarver thought Jeter “owed it to the fans” to show up, tip his cap, and make the celebration of his 3,000th hit a national thing, not just a local one. That’s horseshit. And for several reasons. 1. We all have cable and/or the internet, so anyone who wanted to see it could already watch it in perpetuity over and over again. This is 2010, not 1962 when there were 3 channels and racism was still sort of okay. 2. When have ever had to do that before? I don’t remember having to drop what I was doing to continue to applaud Craig Biggio or Tony Gwynn. 3,000 hits is nice, and quite an accomplishment, but several SportsCenters in a row dissecting it is enough. 3. That means Jeter would have had to fly across the country, continue to get hounded by media, then fly back, and play Thursday. That’s not rest, that’s unnecessary PR hassle.

That didn’t stop McCarver from bitching about it, which led me to think about all the noise about Casey Anthony. People who shouldn’t even have an opinion about it were going on and on, and the dialogue was becoming less and less cogent.

In today’s feature, let’s look at three pressing issues (two national, one personal) and try to figure out what the fuck is going on. We’re squawking, but do we even know why? Maybe, maybe not.

***

At the forefront of our collective consciousness currently is the debt ceiling, another in a long line of issues we don’t understand, but pretend to, so we can have something to yell about with each other. People have no idea what the debt ceiling is, why it needs to be raised, or what the implications are if it isn’t. I have only a tenuous grasp on this myself.

But the debt ceiling, while extraordinarily important on its own, has become a cipher for political theater by both parties. Republicans hold the threat of financial apocalypse over the country like the Sword of Damocles in order to push issues like entitlement reform to the top of the agenda. It amounts to what is essentially blackmail. Democrats, meanwhile, dare Republicans to go nuclear and be responsible for economic disaster not only here, but all over the world. If Republicans remain this inflexible and cause the meltdown that most people think will happen if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, Democrats believe they’ll get to claim election victory next year, which is tantamount to blowing up your entire kitchen to kill a cockroach.

We can’t get anything done without threatening to basically blow each other up. And the debt ceiling issue isn’t even that contentious when you get right down to it. From the Denver Post editorial Wednesday: “Remember that in all other years, there is no debt ceiling crisis. Republicans and Democrats alike routinely raise the ceiling. It was raised seven times under George W. Bush … There’s a reason for that. Failing to pass a new debt ceiling ‘would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.’ Those were Boehner’s words in January.”

It’s just that Republicans have figured out a way to play dirty and force the hand of Democrats to approach issues that were previously untouchable under a Democratic president. It’s effective partisan gamesmanship, and utterly reprehensible philosophically. Granted, Republicans aren’t wholly at fault here as this behavior is the result of accelerated shitty behavior from both parties since the 1990s. And thanks to the internet, despicable personalities on the airwaves and the need to cut through all the cultural noise, this is the only type of rhetoric that seems to break through.

I was at a golf tournament earlier in the week, and one member of my foursome brought up her distaste for Sarah Palin and wondered aloud how anyone could vote for her. I silently agreed as I think Sarah Palin is basically weird masturbatory fodder at best, and a vacuous publicity hound at worst. The guy next to her whipped his head around to her and said forcefully, “She couldn’t be any worse than the guy we got in there now!”

The skies of this conversation were turning gray quickly, so I proposed a subject change and we somehow ended up debating whether or not Heavy D was still alive (Update: He is!), and the finer points of the Ed Lover Dance. Much better. The point is, we can’t even go five seconds into a political debate anymore without someone getting their back up and snarling at someone else. We’ve lost our fucking minds politically, and I’m not entirely sure why.

I suspect that the issues associated with running our country are very grown up issues being debated by children. Noted lunatic Michele Bachmann said she wouldn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling, and she hadn’t even seen the terms of the deal. That’s definitely the type of person I want making decisions that impact the entire world’s economy. Someone stubborn, impetuous, and intransigent! Awesome. On the other side is Nancy Pelosi (who I suspect cannot be killed by conventional weapons) who reacted with the requisite knee jerk fury of a bed-wetting liberal when she learned cuts to entitlement programs were on the table. These are not people who live in the real world, these are children who have to interact with other children at all times. Washington is not a place of reason; it’s a place of petty madness.

Tea Party maniacs, environmental wackos, pro-life yahoos, union thugs, Evangelical Christians who want to force God on everyone, Evangelical atheists who want the phrase “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, social conservatives who want to legislate your bedroom, social liberals who think the world is better with no filter whatsoever, and a whole goofy shitpile of other screaming, myopic jackasses are who our politicians have to deal with everyday. Very few normal people actually get through, and when you’re exposed to that sheer mountain of crazy day after day, you tend to lose your grip on your reality button.

The rest of us have to make compromises all the time. Try planning a wedding with the petulance and obstinacy that each side currently employs in the debate over raising the debt ceiling and see if your partner still wants to marry your stubborn ass. Try taking that tone in a meeting at work. Try going nuclear on your children and see how long they remain your children.

There are people like Mike Rosen (who is an asshole) who like to criticize those in middle like me with the dusty old cliché: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

Fine. I stand for compromise and teamwork. I stand for understanding my enemies and trying to learn from them. I stand for listening and growing as a person. I won’t fall for blowhard partisanship and self-serving political grandstanding. I won’t fall for blind allegiance to things I don’t fully understand and/or believe, and then pontificate about them. I won’t fall for winning at all costs at the expense of everyone else.

How’s that, assholes?

Life is more complicated than simply pledging allegiance to a team.

***

I did not willfully follow the Casey Anthony trial. But because I often have national morning news on in the background, I knew most of the pertinent details. Getting sucked into the case was easy. There was a hot young woman, an adorable toddler, gruesome details of the little girl’s death, tons of lies and intrigue coming from all angles, and a giant fuckpot of salacious details to pore over every day and speculate about with your co-workers.

The whole case was so unnerving and so raw and filled with so much ooey-gooey scandal, it was hard not to get excited while watching it. It appealed to everyone’s worst voyeur tendencies and touched us right in the ugliest part of our human nature.  Journalist/parasite Nancy Grace spearheaded the tidal wave of coverage that saw Headline News in June record its highest ratings ever. That such a person would this shamelessly grab for attention in this way doesn’t surprise, or even bother, me. I mean, this is a woman who used to regularly take time out of her day to argue with Jon Gosselin, for God’s sake. She’s already a bottom feeder.

In addition to being the perfect storm of awfulness that grabbed the country’s attention (including Florida’s bizarre rule that allows cameras in the courtroom), everyone was allowed to have an opinion about Casey Anthony. And why? Because it didn’t fucking matter. You could live here in Denver (or wherever) and hate her a lifetime away in Florida with all of your guts, and it wouldn’t make a goddamn bit of difference. Why?

Because while this country is pretty much undeniably fucked up, we will always be protected by the 6th and 14th Amendments (along with all the other ones). And unlike the OJ Trial (the last time this country was this maniacally tuned into a legal proceeding) where the prosecution did a fine job but ran into an insanely talented and totally relentless defense team, the prosecution in the Casey Anthony trial did a piss poor job of making their case and ultimately lost (in my opinion). Did she do it? I think probably, yeah. But that’s not my call, and if there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the jury respected our legal process enough to look only at the facts as they were presented in a court of law. They decided the prosecution did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Casey was guilty. End of story.

This opinion was not shared by my friends on Facebook. Outrage, anger, shrill cries of injustice and wailing about this evil person were the order of the day. It’s natural for a heart to ache over this little girl (as mine does, to an extent), but for this level of noise? Not to be cold-hearted here, but how does this verdict change anyone’s, outside of the trial’s key participants, lives one fucking iota?

Yet like we saw during Michael Jackson’s extended six month death, everyone feels compelled to make every tragedy their own.  But why?

***

Recently Lady E learned that guy she knew in high school died. Based on what she told me, she was friendly with him, but not friends. She sort of knew his family, but hadn’t talked to him in at least 10 years. She felt sad for the loss of the family, but didn’t collapse in an emotional heap or bleed remorse and sadness all over her Facebook page. So many of her classmates did, even those she says either didn’t know him that well, and those who outright disliked him. 

She struggled with whether or not to go to the funeral. On one hand, it’s always good to pay your respects to anyone who has been a part of your life. On the other, they really weren’t that close and funerals are for those closest to commiserate together and begin the healing process. Everyone else is basically there for their own reasons or, in some crass cases (think Randall in Clerks), for altogether social reasons. She opted not to go and asked me rhetorically why everyone was so worked up about this.

I responded, “Your friends are basically just sad they’re getting older. And this guy dying is a tangible reminder that we’re all more than 10 years older than we were. And that sucks.”

I think that’s right. Lady E’s classmate dying only reminds us that we can’t be young forever. By being forced to consider this young man for the first time in forever, you end up putting yourself back where you were when you last saw him everyday. Naturally, that leads to assessing who you were then versus who you are now, which isn’t always a rosy picture. In high school the world is still in front of you and everything is still possible. Get more than a decade away from that, and the picture might not be so pretty. Maybe you gave up on some dreams, failed at a few relationships, and don’t look quite as good as you did then.

Life is brutal, and facing a stark reminder of that fact (with death, no less) maybe necessarily allows for a bit of self reflection. In a totally weird way, talking this out with Lady E made me understand the Michael Jackson circle jerk from two years ago a lot better. It wasn’t so much that he died considering we weren’t all eagerly awaiting new music from him or anything; it’s that we all remember where we were and how we felt when we heard our favorite songs.

I myself was sad about Michael Jackson’s passing because I remembered listening to “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” while we played Beirut while I was in grad school. Thinking about that made me miss living with Tron, Limon, and Hart. I’ll never live with those guys again, and now the four of us live in three different states.

In an even weirder way, I understood the Casey Anthony outrage better too. We feel for the death of the little girl, but we’re really doing is expressing our greatest fears in a circuitous way. Getting pissed off about Casey Anthony is just a roundabout way of getting pissed off that the world is a scary, uncontrollable, and unfair place. The death of a child is probably the worst thing that can happen to an individual family, so seeing it enacted in such a gruesome way in front of the world is like watching your worst nightmare unfold in front of you, audience of one style.

***

The world is a big and scary place, and the one each of us inhabits is a tiny little sliver of it. When monstrous topics like the almost impenetrable debt ceiling debate or the media juggernaut of the most sensational trial since a star running back murdered his hot blond wife infringe on them, we defend our turf like the a farmer futilely tries to defend his land from oncoming invaders.

It’s not fair that we’re not equipped to understand any of this shit or the way we react to it in a sophisticated way. And that’s what makes Tim McCarver so goddamned fun to hate. We may not know why little Caylee Anthony touches us so much or why we mourned Michael Jackson like he was a member of our family, but we know McCarver is dead wrong about Jeter. And that he’s an awful announcer, and we’re pretty sure Justin Timberlake was drunkenly razzing on Joe buck, which is awesome.

We may not know a lot, but we know that. And that sort of thing always helps me get through the day. Doesn’t it you?

edagger@crujonessociety.com