Saturday, October 12, 2013

The nub of it

Time's Joe Klein: "It isn't hard to locate the immediate cause of the shutdown and impending debt-ceiling debacle: the radical nihilist minority of the Republican Party and the GOP's craven leadership. Words should not be minced here. These radicals--it is wildly inaccurate to call them conservatives--are a pestilence feeding on ignorance and cynicism, preying on fear as a period of unprecedented prosperity wanes. They are not the apocalypse but represent the desperate last gasp of the white majority and of an era. My generation's era." Alas, no truer words have e'er been said.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Putin doppelgänger

Assuming the dog hasn't been artfully photoshopped, a Ukrainian man allegedly found this Staffordshire terrier-German shepherd roaming the streets of Kiev. It's a dead ringer for Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Substance over style

President Obama's ham-handed trek on the road to Damascus wasn't pretty. There's plenty to criticize about his handling of Syria over the past two years. And yes, as Kevin Drum opined, the president's team "probably blundered into the possibility of a diplomatic solution on Syria." But given the mind-numbing difficulty of the Syrian problem (it's akin to 12-dimensional chess), Obama's "accidental diplomacy" is probably beside the point. After all, as Drum rightly notes, "it’s rock solid certain that Assad isn’t going to launch another gas attack anytime soon, which means that, by hook or by crook, Obama has achieved his goal for now. No, it’s not the way he planned it, but the best war plans seldom survive contact with reality, and the mark of a good commander is recognizing that and figuring out to react. It may not be pretty to watch it unfold in public in real time, but it’s nonetheless the mark of a confident and effective commander-in-chief. It’s about time we had one." It is also worth noting something Obama himself said recently about his critics: "Had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear, they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that, because that’s exactly how they graded the Iraq war." Good point. Still, Obama should do himself a favor with a closer study of both Machiavelli ("Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are") and Sun Tzu ("Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt").

Friday, September 6, 2013

An insignificant man

In the opening quote of his memoir, The Last Witness, former Adolf Hitler bodyguard Rochus Misch wrote: "My name is Rochus Misch. I am an insignificant man, but I have experienced significant things." Misch, who died at age 96 today, was the last survivor from Hitler's bunker in Berlin. He thought the Furher was a swell quy. Prior to his death, Misch told the AP that Hitler was "a very normal man... he was no brute, he was no monster." Right. The moral blindness in some men beggars belief. Given the horrific consequences of WWII (which Hitler started and resulted in 60 million dead worldwide) and the "Final Solution" (which Hitler ordered and resulted in the murder of six million Jews), Misch's daughter, Brigitta Jacob-Engelken, told the BBC that "she could not understand why her father, who remained loyal to Hitler to the end, was not more critical in his reflections of Nazi history." The answer is simple. Misch was an insignificant man without a discernable conscience or a soul -- and incapable of developing either. Let that be his true epitaph.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Obama's Syrian two-step

Apparently, President Obama is prepared to bomb the bejesus out of Syria for using chemical weapons -- but only if Congress approves. Only time will tell whether this high-stakes gamble proves to be brilliant or breathtakingly foolish. Lord Horatio Nelson, the famous Royal Navy commander, would probably be of two minds about Obama's abrupt about-face. On the one hand, he'd squint his remaining good eye and conclude: "If a man consults whether he is to fight, when he has the power in his own hands, it is certain that his opinion is against fighting." On the other hand, Nelson might tip his hat to Mr. Obama for his enigmatic moxie: "The measure may be thought bold, but I am of the opinion the boldest are the safest."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Historical profiling

The New Yorker's Jelani Cobb captures the essence of the Zimmerman trial: "The decision the six jurors reached on Saturday evening will inspire anger, frustration, and despair, but little surprise, and this is the most deeply saddening aspect of the entire affair. From the outset— throughout the forty-four days it took for there to be an arrest, and then in the sixteen months it took to for the case to come to trial—there was a nagging suspicion that it would culminate in disappointment. Call this historical profiling. The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty. ... Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but it is certainly prone to extended paraphrases. Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away."

Friday, June 7, 2013

Pitch perfect

Now that's comedy. Needless to say, this "review" has gone viral on the Web with a billion tweets -- and counting.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Jaw-dropping body art

Photographer Ray Massey and artists Annie Miller and Annie Ralli give new meaning to an observation made by Edgar Degas: "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." See more of this amazing art here.

In the annals of WTF?

The head officer of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch at the Pentagon -- Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41 -- was arrested and charged with sexual battery Sunday after he allegedly grabbed the woman's breasts and buttocks, per USA Today. Wow. Clearly, there is something terribly rotten in the state Denmark and it has nothing to do with Hamlet. Methinks it may be time for Congress to take sexual assault/harassment prevention programs out of the military chain of command.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Why gun reform keeps failing

SOMETHING like 90 percent of Americans, including most rational gun owners, favor more robust background checks as one means to deter gun violence. And yet, that proposal – and any other sensible gun reform measure – has been declared KIA in Washington. One only needs to look to Arizona to understand why. The state recently made it a crime for the police to destroy firearms that come into its possession via buy-back programs. Surrendered arms must now be warehoused until sold. Make of this what you will. But it is telling that Gov. Jan Brewer received some 2,000 pleas in support of the new law and only 25 in opposition to it. This disparity explains, in a nutshell, why gun reform keeps failing. The folks who really care about this issue make their voices heard. Or as Woody Allen would summarize it, eighty percent of success is showing up.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

No escaping history

Some folks are desperately trying to repair George W. Bush's broken legacy by rewriting history. Jon Chait is particularly impressed with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin's valiant try at defending the indefensible. "It is so slavish and so crude it inadvertently exposes all the catastrophic weaknesses in the Bush record that more clever defenders have usually learned to tiptoe around," he wrote. Chait cited a particularly masterful sentence. "Unlike Obama’s tenure," Rubin wrote, "there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11." Chaits correctly noted that this is not true. But, he drolly opined, "exempting the most disastrous attack on the United States from Bush’s record of avoiding terrorism is a feat of propaganda that, while common, continues to boggle the mind. Emperor Honorius Kept Rome Safe, except that one time it was sacked by the Visigoths."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Forever snarky

There is a popular misconception that cynicism or snarkiness is a recent cultural phenomenon. It isn't. Consider this bit from the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. Scarecrow: "I haven't got a brain ... only straw." Dorothy: "How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?" Scarecrow: "I don't know ... But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking ... don't they?" Indeed. And, clearly, the habit remains unbroken.

Ode to the politics of fear?

I CONTINUE to be amazed by people -- intelligent, rational people -- who evidently believe that President Obama has Marvel Comics-level superhero powers. "Why doesn't he just get in touch with his inner Incredible Hulk to cure what ails us?" they wonder with childlike incredulity. And speaking of the Hulk, I am further amazed by how devoted some of these folks are to benevolent brute force and its supposed effectiveness. In a lengthy front page article about gun control ("In Gun Bill Defeat, a President’s Distaste for Twisting Arms"), the New York Times flatly stated what it sees as a basic "truth" about Mr. Obama: "After more than four years in the Oval Office, the president has rarely demonstrated an appetite for ruthless politics that instills fear in lawmakers." After all, LBJ used to "back people up against a wall" to get his way, famed biographer Robert Dallek told Peter Baker, the auteur of the the Times piece. "Obama has this more reasoned temperament," Dallek said. "It may well be that it’s not the prescription for making gains. It raises questions about his powers of persuasion." In a jaw-dropping Sunday opinion piece, "No Bully in the Pulpit," Maureen Dowd wrote: "Sometimes you must leave the high road and fetch your brass knuckles." So, let's add this up. Ruthlessness. Arm-twisting. Slamming folks against walls. Brass knuckles. Bullying. Instilling fear. Excuse me, but have these people lost their collective minds? And when did the politics of fear become a virtue or democracy a zero-sum game? It is true that neither Mao Zedong (who famously said that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun") nor Joseph Stalin would have lost a gun control debate. But the price of their "persuasion" tactics would strike most Americans as a tad high, Dowd's talk of brass knuckles notwithstanding. Granted, LBJ -- the fellow to whom Obama is often and inaccurately compared -- got Congress to enact some marvelous legislation through intimidation. But he also force-marched the nation down the rabbit hole of Vietnam at a cost of 58,282 American lives; and ended up as a broken, one-term president. I'll take Mr. Obama's "reasoned temperament" anytime and twice on Sundays.

What the terrorists never learn

In 1957, Albert Camus -- a Nobel Prize for Literature winner -- elegantly rejected the equation of justice with revolutionary terrorism: “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.”

Friday, April 19, 2013


Believe me, I hope the cops find and neutralize Suspect No. 2 -- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- and do so soon. But have the authorities overreacted by letting a lone (albeit deranged) 19-year-old completely shut down Boston, a city of nearly a million souls, at a cost of a billion dollars a day?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Glock, Ruger, Smith & Wesson win again

From the Economist: In the aftermath of the failed background-check vote, Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the head two years ago in Arizona, remarked: "Moments ago, the US Senate decided to do the unthinkable about gun violence—nothing at all."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Don't be terrorized

Despite yesterday's horrible bombings, the chance of dying by an act of terrorism is about 1 in 20 million. On the other hand, the annual risk of getting killed in a car accident is 1 in 19,000. Do the math. Tomorrow morning, your fellow motorists will pose a greater threat to you on the freeway -- by several orders of magnitude -- than any potential terrorist.

Madness rears its head again

HISTORY ADDED an unexpected footnote to its chronicle yesterday. It took the form of the terrorism that marred the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. The only silver lining is that it could have been worse, much worse, though that is of little comfort to the dead and maimed. It is also sad that news coverage rapidly descended into tragedy porn, bookended by the endless video-loop of the first bomb blast and the morbid fixation on the resulting amputees. But fretting over this is pointless. Periodic suffering – sometimes great suffering – from the madness of a few is the unavoidable price of being alive. In the post-9/11 world, perhaps the best tonic for facing these events is the stoicism famously displayed by the British during World War II: "Keep Calm and Carry On." For come what may, as Macbeth said, time and the hour run through the roughest day.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pretty hypersensitive

LET'S START with a show of hands: How many think Barack Obama is a sexist boor? Don't be shy. Hmm. Just as I suspected: I'm not seeing any hands out there. And yet Obama is being slammed (by a vocal minority) for complimenting the physical beauty of California attorney general Kamala Harris -- in good humor, mind you. But judging by the Serious Writer harrumphs out there, you'd think the president was caught waving $20 bills at Harris for a lap dance. The LA Times' Robin Abcarian wrote that Obama was "more wolfish than sexist" and "may be a little problem he needs to work on." Salon's Joan Walsh wrote that "my stomach turned" over the comment. Um, right. Molehill meet mountain. Yes, technically, though it's a stretch, Obama's ad-libbed comment -- "... and [Harris] is by far, the best looking attorney general" -- could be construed as "benevolent sexism" in the way that the phrase "he is a credit to his race" is a belittling form of racism. Yes, telling a female colleague at the office that she looks "cute" is generally improper, as Slate's Amanda Marcotte rightly notes. And yes, the male propensity for objectifying women is a problem. But to lay this all at Obama's feet -- as if our societal plate tectonics are governed by his every utterance -- is patently absurd. Everything (thank god) is not political. Sometimes, a compliment is simply a compliment.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

OMG! 'Lizard People' are running America!

THE GOOD NEWS is that the crazy election season is over. The bad news is that the crazy election season is over. The latter assertion may help explain why the good folks at Public Policy Polling -- who evidently have nothing better to do -- have conducted a poll on America's belief in conspiracy theories. Per PPP, 51% of Americans believe JFK was killed by a conspiracy (no surprise), 21% believe a UFO crashed at Roswell (also no surprise), 13% believe Barack Obama is the antichrist (um, huh?), and 4% believe "lizard people" control our societies by gaining political power (say what?). And the point of this poll? There is no point. And as Joshua Keating points out, it's even ridiculous to take this poll at face value. He writes: "Given the small sample size -- 1,247 voters -- we're talking about 50 people who actually said yes to the [lizard people] question. ... But I'd hesitate to assume that even those 50 people actually believe this. Applying Occam's razor here, I'm going to assume that the people who answered yes to many of the questions on this survey fall into four categories." He goes on to identify: The true believers (the minority), people messing the survey-taker, the delusional, and the easily suggestible. So, how long until the next crazy election season?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Local TV news: 'Sunny today, but that could change.'

Local TV news is a bit like Drunk Uncle: It will never shut up or leave. Ed Rabel, an Emmy Award-winning former television news correspondent, confesses: "Not to be dispiriting, but there is very little reason to watch the local news. If you're satisfied to simply see the day's digest of house fires, fender benders and high school reunions, fine. Otherwise, the regional boob-tube newscasts are nothing more than a "vast wasteland" in the words of one-time FCC Chairman Newton Minow. Basically, the items they flog as news are merely undemanding fillers located between used-car commercials and mattress ads." Or as Ron Burgundy would say, "You stay classy, [insert your local town]."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Seeing is easy with eyes closed

Watching the conservative old men in black robes tie themselves into knots over same-sex marriage this week has been amusing -- and a little sad. Everyone knows that any rational ruling should bend toward equality. America is just waiting for the justices -- i.e., the COMIBR -- to awaken to the fact that it's no longer 1954. And yet, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's observation has never been truer: “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” Naturally, Roberts, Scalia, Alito et al are conforming to stereotype. Take Nino, for example. Webster's should add his full name to its dictionary as an additional definition for the noun "anachronism." To wit: “When did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage?” Scalia asked Ted Olson, the ex-solicitor general for the George W. Bush administration and a Republican. “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages?” Olson retorted. TouchĂ©, as they say. Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” Let's hope the COMIBR possess senses capable of being sharpened.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hillary 2008: Thwarted by a malign star?

I LOVE IT when star pundits make sweeping assertions as though they were God's Own Truth. Take Kathleen Parker, reigning queen bee at the Washington Post Commentariat. In her latest column -- part perfumed valentine, part plea for Hillary to run for president, and part resume for a future press secretary job -- she writes: "President Obama visits the Middle East, makes history as he speaks war to Syria and Iran and peace to Israelis and Palestinians, and the talk back home circles The Big Question: Will Hillary run?" Yes, there's circular talk alright -- but it is only inside the Beltway. The actual Big Question: How Hillary-obsessed will the national press corps become? And yeah, I noticed how Parker belittled Obama, too. She actually does it twice. Anyway, there's nary a sound about Hillary in the rest of America. And for good reason: Election Day 2016 doesn't begin for, well, 1,325 days, 15 hours, and (as of this writing) 10 minutes. Just so we're clear: That's 3 years, 7 months and 9 days from today.

That said, Parker says the "zeitgeist" is ready for a female president. I agree. But is it ready for Hillary? Taking a stab at that potent question would have made a very interesting column. Instead, Parker whines about the Last Campaign. Hillary "coulda been a contenda," Parker suggests. But, alas, The Female Chosen One was thwarted in her 2008 bid by "this man Obama, this deus ex machina who descended from some distant star to blind the masses with his light. His destiny, alas, was greater than hers and so, once again, Hillary had to wait." Sooo ... you're sayin' Hillary was a powerless bystander? Really, Ms. Parker? That all you got? And did you have to go all Latin on us, too? I mean, deus ex machina?

Two can play that game, for I have an alternative theory: This man Obama, this alis volat propriis ("he who flies by his own wings") who ascended 35,000 ft. and flew 530 nautical miles from Chicago to DC in coach, was the better candidate. Full stop. And as such, he swept the floor with that chaotic campaign known as "Hillaryland" and won. It's also worth bearing in mind that Hillaryland's dysfunction had a bit something to do with Parker's objet d 'art politique: um, Hillary.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Time to stop whining, I guess

As usual, Jack Shafer cuts through the bull: "I’ve yet to meet anybody who used Google’s RSS Reader more, or pushed it harder than I have over the last eight years. ... [But] the old software maxim — if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product — is true of almost every Google service. Google sells your Gmail activity — as well as your searches of the Web, images, maps, and use of its other services — to advertisers. We, the Google Reader product, weren’t producing much, if anything, in revenue for Google, so the company fired us."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Say it ain't so, Google

Forget the Pope. "Hear that? That's the sound of millions of news junkies on the Web scrambling to find an alternative to Google Reader. The search giant has announced that it will shutter its much-maligned, though still widely used RSS Reader, which will, no doubt, leave many users in a tizzy, searching for other ways to subscribe to their favorite RSS feeds." That's how CNET reported the breaking news this afternoon. I'll be among those in a tizzy. Lemme get this straight: You've got a workmanlike product that's reliable and popular. So you kill it? Google's corporate motto is: "Don't be evil." This isn't evil. It's just stupid.