Friday, December 31, 2010

Tomorrow's hangover takes an in-depth look at preventing and curing the common hangover. Well worth reading if you're planning a rockin' New Year's Eve tonight. In the "morning after" department, we former Marines discovered long ago the best cure: vigorous exercise. Seriously. Wired writes: "Frankly, this sounds crazy to us. But exercise speeds up your metabolic rate, and thus gets the alcohol moving out a bit faster. Not for the faint of heart, but if you feel like going for a run, by all means knock yourself out. Bonus points if you smell like a bar sweating its way down the street." Trust me -- it works, folks. I still drink, but I'm happily retired from over-indulging. In fact, the best advice for keeping the hangover at bay is simple: Don't get drunk. Try it. You'll thank yourself tomorrow morning. Cheers, mate. And Happy New Year.

Between Light & Shadow

The Twilight Zone Marathon is airing on the SyFy channel this year. Watching it during New Year’s Eve weekend is a ritual for many Americans (including moi). The television series, which ran 1959-64, was created by the brilliant Rod Serling. His brainchild has shown remarkable staying power. Chalk it up to the timelessness of the morality tale well told. It’s even trending on Twitter today. “There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.” That is the Twilight Zone as famously narrated by Serling at the top of each show. Curiously, it is also a pretty good description of politics in 2010, a set of spooky tales no less surreal than Serling’s science fiction.

Just thinking of you

Chasing page views, the crew at the Daily Beast just tweeted this: "The Deadly Aviation Disasters and Chilling Close Calls of 2010." Nearly 800 people died as 16 planes fell out of "2010's unsafe skies," it reported. Just what you want to read as you're flying home from the holidays amid the blizzards raging across the country, right? Thanks so much, guys.

Flipped off on Xmas

For most folks, whether one is religious or not, Christmas is all about “goodwill toward men.” Alas, some people didn’t get the memo. Two such persons threw a hissyfit -- on Christmas Day -- because the Los Angeles Times did not wish its readers a “Merry Christmas” on the front page. Reader Anthony Filosa wrote: “Went outside to pick up my papers on this Christmas morning. The other paper had a very prominent front page Christmas greeting. But your paper was void of any reference to [Christmas]. Bah humbug." Reader Mike Miser wrote: "As a Christian I ask that God forgive you for your avoidance of any recognition of Christ's birthday." One is mean-spirited. The other is sanctimonious. And both are clueless about the meaning of Christmas. Wow.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Good News, Bad News

First, the bad news: Per Nielsen, Fox News posted big-time ratings in 2010, beating the ratings of CNN and MSNBC combined. Now, the good news: Fox viewership declined roughly 8 percent compared to 2009. CNN viewership is down a whopping 34 percent. I say, good. The less cable news is viewed, the less ruinous it is on the body politic. And if viewership continues to wither, it might even spur Fox-CNN-MSNBC into producing something worthwhile. (Yeah, I know -- I must be high.) I’m also happy to report that WWE and Spongebob Squarepants still rack up more viewers than O’Reilly, Hannity and Beck. Cable news is also routinely left in dust, ratings-wise, by ABC, NBC and CBS network news. This, too, is comforting. It means that the bulk of America still knows the difference between an oasis and a mirage.

Mission Impossible

Toby Harnden, a columnist for The Telegraph (UK), made this observation, a reflection of Washington's warped conventional wisdom:
"[Sarah] Palin has shown she has enormous political skills and popular appeal. To win the Republican nomination, she’ll need to build on that by offering ideas and policies rather than relying on sentiment, snark and antipathy towards Obama. One of the big questions of 2012 is whether she’ll bite the bullet and do that."
The short answer is no, she won’t.

First, Harnden vastly overstates Palin’s political skills. She is Pandora only because John McCain ill-advisedly opened the Box. Skilled politicians do not decamp from office midterm or burn capital by picking endless trivial fights (See: Palin vs. the “lamestream” media, Palin vs. Michelle Obama over obesity, etc). Skilled politicians foster alliances in their party not opposition from it. (See: La Movement Résistance, led by “Bush’s Brain” himself, Karl Rove.)

Second, public polls strongly dispute Palin’s political sex appeal. Six in 10 voters won’t even consider voting for Palin for president (Post/ABC News). Many more do not think she is qualified. Her negatives hover near the bottom of the Pacific's Mariana Trench. To use a Palinism, the facts "refudiate" the popular appeal of the former half-governor.

Third and most importantly, asking Palin for coherent ideas is akin to having a 7th-grader critique US-China bilateral relations. Only the deeply deluded would expect a credible result. It is impolite to say this, but I'm sorry -- the synapses in Palin's neurotic brain stopped firing long ago. Any fool can see that. And no amount of 11th-hour schooling can help. The McCain campaign tried valiantly -- and failed miserably. Yet, otherwise intelligent people like Harnden keep insisting that it is possible to get blood from a stone.

To be sure, Palin is telegenic. She is (oddly) charismatic. She is appealing to a wafer thin slice of the citizenry. And, like Snooki, she is famous for being famous. Fortunately, none of that adds up to "President Palin." However, it does compute nicely for a long career in reality television, a place where most Democrats and Republicans hopes she remains.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oh the Canine-ity!

I spent most of today writing and paid little attention to the blogosphere. So when I logged back on this evening, I was startled to see Tucker Carlson’s face on nearly every website I usually visit. The lefty blogs are mocking his absurd comments about Michael Vick. To wit: “I think personally [Vick] should have been executed.” Even the major newspaper sites are gossiping about it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Tucker is (sadly) little more than a bow-tied hack. And everybody in the media knows it. Trust me – his remark “shocks” no one. So, what’s the deal? First and foremost, the faux outrage is perfect catnip for page views. (And yes, too many readers are that gullible.) That's the real reason the story went viral. Secondly, I’m sure Tucker himself is now busy fanning the flames. The instant notoriety will do wonders for his considerable ego and traffic at the Daily Caller, a whacked conservative website he founded not long ago. (As I write this, the lead story is: "SECOND COMING? DeMint says Palin has done more for the GOP 'than anyone since Reagan'." Get the picture?) Have you noticed that I haven’t touched on the substance of Tucker’s remarks (nor, for that matter, has anyone else)? That’s because there isn’t any.

Last Man Standing

Esquire's Tim Hefferman on the political wars in 2010 and beyond:
"My fellow Editors are right that we as a country get what we vote for. But it's worth noting that among what we voted for are a center-left president, a moderate Republican from Sarah Palin's home state, and a host of both purists and pragmatists, of conservative Democrats and libertarian Republicans, of people who at one moment seems hidebound in their partisanship and at the next surprise us with their independence. ... there are many in Congress who do not fit and do not follow the Manichean model of two-party politics. I expect to hear more from and about them in the next two years. I expect that much will get done because of them. And I expect that this two-line assessment of 2010 will be vindicated:

The Republicans won the battle. And the president won the war."
Damn right. And no one more than Obama knows that at the end of the day, "war," as Bertrand Russell put it, "does not determine who is right - only who is left."

‘Damn right,’ I said

Eliot Weinberger of the London Review of Books casts a critical eye on former President Bush's memoir "Decision Points." As someone said on Twitter today, his book review "may be the all-time great takedown" of Dubya.

Teeing off from a prescient observation by Michel Foucault -- who said: "Today’s writing has freed itself from the theme of expression" -- Weinberger writes:
"Even the title of the book unchains the signifier from the signified. ‘Decision points’ is business-speak for a list of factors, usually marked by a bullet in PowerPoint presentations, that should be considered before making a decision. There are no decision points in Decision Points. Despite what is claimed above, Bush never stops to consider. He is the Decider who acts impulsively and ‘crisply’, drawing on his ‘moral clarity’. In the scariest line in the book, he has been allowed to let slip that his motive for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was simple revenge, surely the least desirable emotional quality one would want in a world leader with access to nuclear weapons. About 9/11 the text says: ‘My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.’"

"... In the book, as in his life, Bush the postmodernist is a simulacrum: a Connecticut blueblood who pretended to be a Texas cowboy, though he couldn’t ride a horse and lived on a ‘ranch’ with no cattle. He was, and is, happiest when surrounded by professionals in the three areas in which he was a notable failure: athletics, the military and business. He is like a sports fan who dresses up in the team jersey to watch the game. References to his ‘military service’ recur frequently throughout the book, as though it were actually more than a few months spent avoiding it. He was the only modern American president to appear in public in a military uniform – even Eisenhower never wore his while president – like a ribboned despot from a banana republic."
Read the entire review here. It's quite entertaining.

Quote of the Day

In his year-end wrap up column, Esquire's Tim Hefferman (accurately) observes: "Sarah Palin's star has flown, and with it the far right/Tea Party's moment of glory. That caribou (after much effort by Palin) is cooked." Toldja. Heh.


President Obama recently praised the NFL and the Eagles for giving Michael Vick a fair shot at a second chance, something ex-cons rarely get. He believes Vick’s redemption is a teachable moment for the nation. It is, but only for those whose hearts are not made of stone.

Behold Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. Judging by his rant today, you’d think he believes that forgiveness is a vice.
Cohen writes: “You would think from the commentary that Vick was some poor kid who got caught swiping something so he could get something to eat. … Vick staged dog fights and killed dogs not because he had to, but because he chose to. He's a thug. Dog fighting was Vick's hobby. ... The sanctimony regarding this dog killer is sickening. … Vick got a second chance not because he deserves it but because he can play football. This is the lesson we can all take from this sorry episode. It's one thing to be sorry. It's much better to hit your man in the end zone.”
Cohen, a well-known liberal, has evidently gone all Captain Ahab on us. His entire column can be reduced to Melville’s famous line: “From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.” Tucker Carlson, a conservative pundit who used to be a thoughtful, rational journalist, said on television today: “I think personally [Michael Vick] should have been executed.” That’s shocking, but I’m not shocked Carlson said it. For him (and the stonehearted ilk who agree with him), it is par for the course.

Without question, Vick’s crime was heinous. And yes, he was a thug, the all too typical product of an underprivileged upbringing. But let’s keep it real: Vick is not Josef Mengele. Crimes against dogs (and I love dogs) is not the equivalent to crimes against humanity. And unlike Hitler’s Todesengel (who evaded capture), Vick paid his debt to society. If the Eagles quarterback can pull off rehabilitation and his example motivates even one ex-felon to stay straight, then we all win. Why not root for his continued success? What is the point, as some insist, of stoning him endlessly?

What is striking to me in this “debate” is what it says about Vick’s detractors – particularly those professing to be the Praetorian Guard of defenseless animals. It is startling to learn that decent folk like Richard Cohen have so little capacity to forgive or even empathize. It also makes me wonder if the noise level from all sides would be as high if Vick were white. Ponder that uncomfortable notion for a minute.

In any event, people are free to judge Vick or not. They can forgive him or not. But before rendering a verdict, it is worth pausing to consider the words of noted theologian Lewis B. Smedes: “When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.”

Perhaps more to the point, Smedes also said: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I still see a lot of Vick critics dressed in orange.

Do we have a 'Twitter Problem?'

You be the judge. From Nation blogger Greg Mitchell: "Ha, first time tweeting from highway stop on way to son's movie premiere. Missed any WikiLeaks nonsense?" :D

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How lunacy works

TODAY, the headline on TPM read: “Latest Right-Wing Freak-Out: Obama Wants To Give Manhattan Back To Native Americans.” This how some on the right interprets the president’s decision to support a non-binding UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Obviously, the idea that Obama desires to give the Big Apple back to the Indians is absurd. But that matters not a whit. The meme will be fruitful and multiply on blogs and cable talk shows. For this is the mindless game the News Media Complex plays for sport. The right makes a false or silly claim. The left mocks the right for doing so. Or visa versa. In any event, both sides keep the volleyball in the air by spit-balling each other for as many news cycles as humanly possible. Watching the spectacle slack-jawed, the reading public gets its mistrust of the media validated yet again. Then another faux outrage or bright shiny object will surface. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And that, depressingly, is how it works. Let's hope it is just a phase adolescent America is going through.

'We shall fight in the showers'

THE odious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is dead. But, going all Melville on us, some anti-gay groups are prepping to chase their targets "round perdition's flames" before they give them up. Showers are "huge issue," said Elaine Donnelly, the head of one advocacy group. "To pretend that throwing up a few shower curtains solves the problem is tantamount, again, to saying, well women should share close quarters with men." Um, no -- but debating her is like discussing Plato with your dog. I next expect these nutcases to start channeling Churchill: "We shall defend our Island of homophobia, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the nude beaches, we shall fight on the playgrounds, we shall fight in the malls and in the parking lots, we shall fight them in the showers; we shall never surrender." Apologies to Winston.

In tones plummy

New York Times columnist David Brooks hands one of his "Sidney Awards" to New Yorker writer Adam Gopni for best magazine essays of the year. It is well deserved.

Here's a slice of Gopni's inspired writing, a passage from "Finest Hours - The making of Winston Churchill":
"At that moment when all seemed lost, something was found, as Winston Churchill pronounced some of the most famous lines of the past century. 'We shall go on to the end,' he said defiantly, in tones plummy and, on the surviving recordings, surprisingly thick-tongued. 'We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.' Churchill’s words did all that words can do in the world. They said what had to be done; they announced why it had to be done then; they inspired those who had to do it."
Gopni describes his protagonist this way: "Churchill is a kind of Hamlet in reverse, a man who was called on, late in life, to do the one thing he was uniquely able to do, and did it." Perfect. To date, Gopnik has won three National Magazine Awards, and a George Polk Award. It is easy to see why. Bravo.

Yes We Can

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times yesterday that “American politics has been dominated by a liberal fantasy and a conservative freakout” in the wake of Obama’s election. As evidenced by the productive lame duck session, Douthat believes (perhaps a bit too optimistically) that a new dawn of bipartisanship may be upon us.

His take on Democrats is, well, interesting:
"The fantasy was the idea that Barack Obama, a one-term senator with an appealing biography and a silver tongue, would turn out to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi all rolled into one. This fantasy inspired a wave of 1960s-style enthusiasm, an unsettling personality cult (that “Yes We Can” video full of harmonizing celebrities only gets creepier in hindsight) and a lot of over-the-top promises from Obama himself. It persuaded Democrats that the laws of politics had been suspended, and that every legislative goal they’d ever dreamed about was now within reach. It was even powerful enough to win President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize, just for being his amazing self."
Viewed cynically, that’s not too bad of a critique, as far as it goes. But it also demonstrates the tinted lens through which most conservatives choose to see the political world. (Douthat, for example admonishes Obama for his “over-the-top” promises but fails to mention that he has delivered on most of them.) Change, by definition, scares the conservative mind. Transformative change, the kind that Obama potently represents, scares the bejesus out of it. Hence, the GOP “freakout,” as Douthat puts it.

That Obama is not the Liberal Messiah misses the point. It was his aura (real or imagined) and sincerity that instilled a sense of hope in so many people. Not unlike Reagan and his “Morning in America” trope, Obama let us dream again. He still does. The palpable yearning for change was real. It still is. That is why the “yes we can” clarion resonates so deeply, even beyond liberals.

Whether conservatives like it or not, most of America wants Mr. Obama to succeed. And, according to Gallup, he remains the most admired man in the land. I suspect Douthat hopes bipartisanship will slow the Obama Express. I, too, welcome political comity. But if it comes, I hope it allows Obama to put the pedal to the metal.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What Appomattox wrought

THE Civil War formally ended slavery but it begat another form of black enslavement: Informal Apartheid. That ended only after the horrific trials of the Civil Rights Era, some 45 years ago. In other words, yesterday. With that (and the Barbour flap) in mind, one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers at the Atlantic, a white Southerner born in the late 1960s, offers an insightful critique on the meaning of guilt, shame and selective memory in the Deep South. An excerpt: "I'd bet money that Haley Barbour is just like his contemporaries in my hometown, including my parents: they have genuinely convinced themselves that things were Just Fine Here ... it's a way of being able to look on all the nice older folks you grew up loving and respecting without having to reckon with the fact that they did horrible things to their black neighbors, either actively or by standing passively by." Powerful stuff. Read all of it here.

Past the smelling salts

Well, I'm glad somebody is calling a spade a spade. The usual Washington talking heads are debating whether Haley Barbour's recent trip down memory lane with Jim Crow will hurt his presumed presidential bid. TPM's Josh Marshal administers some needed smelling salts: "Let's state it flat out. You have to be deeply, securely, and no doubt permanently encased in the DC cocoon ever to have thought that Haley Barbour was a serious presidential candidate. Really, people. Any number of things would have to change to make Barbour a remotely credible presidential candidate -- starting with erasing the image of Boss Hogg [see above pic] from the cultural memory of every American over the age of 30. And that would probably be one of the easier tasks on the list." For a dose of additional reality, read the rest of Marshal's piece here.

File Under: Yeesh

THIS just in: Apparently, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, 84, plans to wed his “No.1” girlfriend, 24-year-old Playmate Crystal Harris (pictured left). Hef announced the engagement on Twitter yesterday. So what if the age differential – six decades – is longer than most of us have been alive? "A lot of people talk about the age difference between Hef and I but I don't see the age difference at all," said the Blonde Bombshell adoringly. See? No need for an optometrist here. Crystal is all about 20/20 love and not the money. And I believe you, sweetie. After all, it’s not every day a smokin’ hot babe like yourself can hook up with a man older than your grandpa. Any woman would kill for that deal. So, just ignore my cynical smirk and involuntary twitching. It happens whenever I need to muster the strength to keep a certain wedding night image out of my head.

Breaking: POTUS still in Hawaii

THE mainstream media has a problem. The vacationing Obamas are making zero news in Hawaii (unless you consider “POTUS departs 8:03 a.m. for the gym” news). Reporters seem convinced that there’s absolutely nothing else in Oahu that could shed insight into the local boy who became president. Evidently, it’s like being marooned on Gilligan’s Island. So, what’s a presidential press pool to do? Why, it covers itself, that’s what. The Washington Post reports that CNN's Ed Henry sports an "endless variety of multi-colored Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops." ABC News reporter Yunji De Nies complains she can't go surfing. "I have to be camera-ready all the time," she said with a straight face. Something might happen, you know. Gee, I wonder if any of this is connected to why America’s interest in news is melting faster than Obama’s favorite brand of Hawaiian shaved ice.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Do we have a ‘Twitter problem?’

Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Perry poked fun at herself during a recent interview on Rachel Maddow’s talk show. She confessed to having “a Twitter problem.” That is, constant tweeting has nearly become a way of life, and maybe a little out of control. I chuckled, thinking of my own past tweeting habits. Recognizing the Twitter trap some time ago, I’ve cut way back and try to keep my modus operandi in line with Disraeli: “The choicest pleasures of life lie within the ring of moderation.”

Now, if ever there was a day to relax, commune with family or friends or do whatever it is that floats your particular boat in the *real* world, Christmas Day is it. Surely not many people just tweet it away, right? After briefly scanning the headlines online, I dipped my toe into Lake Twitter. I was expecting quiet. Instead, it was like a beer-soaked Spring Break party. I follow some 124 people, mostly journos and pundits. Christmas Day unveiled the Twitterholics. Those passing around the bottle on the party boat included Salon’s Joan Walsh, The Nation’s Greg Mitchell (I don’t think he ever sleeps), the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, GQ’s Ana Marie Cox (who has 1.4 million followers!), Mediate’s Rachel Sklar and ever-present film critic Roger Ebert waxing neurotically. And yes, Harris-Perry. I ran screaming from the room and quickly unplugged my iPad.

For good or ill, that’s life in the 21st century as many of us now know it. Social networks have clearly shown us that the need to share is compulsive. And Twitter, the digital version of Dr. Feel Good, can fill your prescription 365 days a year, 24/7. Maybe it is symbiotic. Maybe it acts as a healthy, societal relief valve. But I am reminded of what Tacitus once said about something we perhaps offer too easily today via social networks: “Candor and generosity, unless tempered by due moderation, leads to ruin.”

Over-thinking his leisure

COME hell or high water, the New York Times is determined to divine meaning out of Barack Obama's Hawaiian vacation. Stating the obvious, Times reporter Sheryl Gay Strolberg wrote, "If there is one thing President Obama craves during his leisure time, it is privacy." She noted that after Air Force One deposited him in Oahu Wednesday night, "the most visible man in America promptly dropped out of sight. Mr. Obama’s disappearance behind the palm trees reveals much about his presidential style." No, it doesn't. It's been a grueling year for the White House. So it is not a revelation that our president wants some down time without the Krieg lights. That's it. End of story. Why is this so difficult for the press to grasp? As for privacy, the president is among those souls aptly described by English poet Abraham Cowley: "Solitude can be used well by very few people. They who do must have a knowledge of the world to see the foolishness of it, and enough virtue to despise all the vanity." Members of the press need not apply to Club Cowley.

Call me Yeshua

WAS "Jesus" a common name 2,000 years ago? According to's Explainer Column: "Many people shared the name. Christ's given name, commonly Romanized as Yeshua, was quite common in first-century Galilee. (Jesus comes from the transliteration of Yeshua into Greek and then English.) Archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 Yeshuas from the period of Jesus' death."

Gifting gratitude

Dr. Robert Leahy made a radical holiday recommendation on the Huffington Post."I have a suggestion for a gift -- a gift that you can receive and give at the same time. It's called 'gratitude.' What you can do is think about the people that you love, the special people, and contemplate why they matter to you." The good doctor then proposed something even more radical: "Now, tell them."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dousing the candle

Barring some earth-shattering news event, I’m dousing the candle on “The Portal” to engage Christmas in my traditional, low-tech way. (**Batteries and the Internet are not included.)

So, see you after the holiday.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Christmas in Afghanistan

FOR the frontline troops in Afghanistan, Christmas will largely consist of combat patrols and, as the Associated Press put it, a “chemically heated meal of preserved meat.” At Patrol Base Talibjan, Marine SSgt. Josh McCall told Fox News that the only thing he wants for Christmas is “a quiet day.” That is one gift I hope Saint Nicolas and Providence will deliver.

Christmas Carol

A carol (excerpt) by British poet Ann Gray:
”We sit down together at Christmas,
we toast those who cannot be there,
throughout the laughter and plenty
we all know there's one empty chair.

Let's open our hearts then, this Christmas,
look out for those who're alone,
Lay one extra place at the table,
throw open the doors of our home,

because there's frost on the grass in the orchard
where songbirds have gathered their choir,
snow colours the hawthorn, the holly,
and we've heaped up the logs on the fire.”

What the 'shellacking' wrought

I can’t believe I’m about to praise Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, the famed über conservative and curmudgeon. In his latest piece, he writes, "Riding the lamest of ducks, President Obama just won the Triple Crown."

The bottom line for Krauthammer: The Republicans just got their butts kicked by a re-energized White House – and they better get ready for more of the same.

Some starling excerpts:
On DADT: “The symbolism of the don't ask, don't tell repeal cannot be underestimated. It's not just that for the civil rights community, it represents a long-awaited extension of the historic arc - first blacks, then women, now gays. It was also Obama decisively transcending the triangulated trimming of Bill Clinton, who instituted don't ask, don't tell in the first place. Even more subtly and understatedly, the repeal represents the taming of the most conservative of the nation's institutions, the military, by a movement historically among the most avant-garde. Whatever your views, that is a cultural landmark.”

On Red vs. Blue: “The great liberal ascendancy of 2008, destined to last 40 years (predicted James Carville), lasted less than two. Yet, the great Republican ascendancy of 2010 lasted less than two months. Republicans will enter the 112th Congress with larger numbers but no longer with the wind - the overwhelming Nov. 2 repudiation of Obama's social-democratic agenda - at their backs.”

On Obama: “’Harry Reid has eaten our lunch,’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham, lamenting his side's "capitulation" in the lame-duck session. Yes, but it was less Harry than Barry. Obama came back with a vengeance. His string of lame-duck successes is a singular political achievement. Because of it, the epic battles of the 112th Congress begin on what would have seemed impossible just one month ago - a level playing field.”
A singular political achievement. Wow. That's high praise considering the source.

But giving credit where credit is due, Krauthammer’s overall analysis is excellent (though I have a quibble or two with his read on START). His take on the repeal of DADT is spot on. In fact, it is more penetrating than anything I’ve read on the left – by a country mile.

Methinks something else is afoot, too. Krauthammer’s piece is evidence that Obama is winning the grudging respect of conservative intellectuals and Republican grown-ups. In 2008, George Will wrote that Obama is “Reaganesque in two important senses: People like listening to him, and his manner lulls his adversaries into underestimating his sheer toughness -- the tempered steel beneath the sleek suits.” The baying critics are finally getting a close-up of Obama’s steely spine – now in tandem with his able swordplay – and the scales are falling from their eyes.

Admittedly, this could be wishful thinking on my part. Only time will tell. Then again, I never thought I’d see the day when Obama would earn what amounts to a gentlemanly hat tip from the likes of Charles Krauthammer. Amazing times.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We’ve seen this movie before

Steve Benen (Washington Monthly) writes: "To be sure, the 'season of progress,' as President Obama called it yesterday, is over. A new Congress will begin next month, with what will likely be the most reactionary right-wing House majority in the modern political era. If you're not expecting bitter ugliness, you're probably not paying attention." To his credit, Benen doesn’t peddle the conventional wisdom. The odds favor his projections. But I wonder. What's missing from the talk is the Obama wild card. As we've been reminded this week, the president is not a potted plant – nor a shrinking violet. He is, as he boasted, "persistent." From Day 1, the political press has continually underestimated Obama. So have his opponents. Yet, they’re edging toward doing it again. Maybe that's why the famous Obama smile was brighter than usual as he boarded Air Force One for Hawaii last night. He knows every time he’s written off, he wins.

How not to blow it

To make a political point, conservative writer David Frum relates a story from Karen Hughes (left), the ex-Bush communications adviser. Walking along a beach one day, she looked up, saw an airplane pulling an advertising banner. It read: "Jill come back, I am miserable without you, Love, Jack." Hughes thought: "Bad message, Jack. Too much about you — not enough about her." Frum thinks that is "good advice for all the would-be Republican nominees." He's right. Hughes, too, is right about clueless (and presumably still single) Jack.

OMG, it's breeding!

JUST when you thought American pop culture couldn't possibly get any worse, it does. Pauly D (the self-declared "guido") gets the first 'Jersey Shore' spinoff show, the LA Times reports. MTV exec Chris Linn says people are "curious about his life away from the shore." Reporter Christie D'Zurilla shot back: "Wait, these folks have a life away from the shore?" Exactly.

Love eat hate pray

A Talking Points Memo reader writes: "Oh god, now [Obama has] got me all confused. I hated that sad sack of ---- worse than W in the day, but now I'm prepared to support him as a Democrat again. Whipsaw!" In other words: I love him. I mean I hate him. I mean I love him. Oy veh. I guess I'll never understand folks like this. But here's a crazy idea: Grow up and trust Obama. Or at least lend the man the benefit of the doubt. Unlike some of his fair-weather fans, he is consistent. And he's been right more often than wrong (see: lame duck session). Once again, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."

Why the string of wins?

Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall wrote: "Why has the president had a striking string of legislative wins after the Democrats' drubbing at the polls in November? The best answer is probably the simplest: the primary reason for bottling up these bills was political, with the aim of damaging the Democrats and the president in the midterm election. Once that election was over, the reason for blocking them disappeared." Sounds about right. I'd also add that the Republicans, flush with victory, thought they could roll Obama during the lame duck session. So did most in the press corps. But they underestimated the president (yet again) and fell for his rope-a-dope strategy (yet again).

Out of Rightfield

Pat Robertson: “I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it’s just, it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people.” Holy pot smoke, Batman! Is the über-conservative televangelist really going all rational on us? Nah, not totally. A spokesman later told the NY Times that Robertson does not endorse legalizing marijuana. He merely questions the severity of the punishments. Oh. For a moment there, I thought "peace on earth, goodwill to men" was about to break out all over the place.

One last slap

Before shutting down for the holiday, the estimable Joe Klein (Time) wrote: "I can't let the week pass without noting that John McCain--who seemed poised to vote for the New Start treaty--voted against it after Don't Ask, Don't Tell passed, thus completing a perfect record of mean-spirited minginess for the year. Nation first? What a laugh. More like, Peak Pique." Ouch. Now, tell us what you really think, Joe. :D

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Clearly, the folks running North Korea are raving lunatics. Out of the blue, defense minister Kim Young-chun said they're “fully prepared to launch a sacred war,” including the use of its nuclear weapons if attacked. This is nothing more than a nutty harangue. Probably. All of this would be hilarious were it not for the fact that the inmates (equipped with nukes) are running the asylum.

Hamlet for Leftys's Nate Silver tweets: "The 'smart' liberal critique (IMO) is not that Dems didn't accomplish enough in the 111th, but that they paid too high a political price." Um, as defined by whom? The far left? To paraphrase Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, the "purist" doth protest too much (IMO).

Damned if you do – or don’t

HA! Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank just kills me. In his latest piece, he advises Obama to slow the pace of his victory lap. “The man who faced reporters [Tuesday] ... was treated by his questioners as a conquering colossus – and Obama didn't mind wearing those shoes. ... Careful, Mr. President.” Stratospheric expectations were what got him in trouble in the first place, he opines. Then, leveraging the zombie auto metaphor that just won’t die, Milbank tells the president, “For your own safety and that of your passengers, please park the celebration.” Clever. But what would we be reading if a dour, mechanical “Mr. Spock” had shown up for the presser instead of the “conquering colossus?” I guarantee Milbank would have crafted something like, “C’mon Mr. Obama, you should be dancing in the end zone. Jump in that car and get it in gear!” Ain’t life grand in DC, Mr. President?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kamikaze Joe

PRESIDENT OBAMA is ending the year with a string of spectacular wins in Congress. His pragmatic, reality-based strategy worked brilliantly. But Obama’s performance still wasn’t good enough for Time magazine's Joe Klein. He wished Obama had not compromised and mounted the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” even at the risk of probable defeat. In his latest column ("What Congress Didn't Do"), he said Congress failed because 1) it did not break up the "big six 'too-big-to-fail' banks in the financial reform package,” and 2) it too readily appeased the rich in the “tax-cut compromise package just passed." Klein was disappointed that “Obama wanted no part” of leading a frontal, non-compromising assault directly into Republican machine gun fire. Writing "I'd love to see that issue reopened," Klein is seemingly convinced Obama should go all Kamikaze on us. Right, that worked out so well for Imperial Japan in WWII. As usual, Joe (one of the level-headed good guys out there) raises some legitimate points. But I think Mr. Obama took the right legislative path. It’s why he (and America) can celebrate today – instead of gloriously sinking beneath the waves with the U.S.S. Klein.


Sasha Abramsky, author of "Inside Obama's Brain," made this observation some six months ago:
Time and again when I was researching my book Inside Obama's Brain, friends, colleagues, and long-time observers of Barack Obama explained both his political tenaciousness and his strength as a counter-puncher.

One of the president's sporting heroes is the boxer Muhammad Ali, who specialized in drawing his opponents in, letting them gain in confidence, and enticing them to come in against him firing on all cylinders, at which point he would dance around them and unleash a devastating counter-attack. The rope-a-dope strategy allowed Ali to live up to his moniker: the Greatest.

For decades, this has been Obama's modus operandi. He goes the extra mile for bipartisanship, but when his opponents come after him, he shows his firmness, his ability to play hard when the chips are down.
Helps to explain the last two weeks, doesn't it? As the Roadrunner would put it, "meep-meep."

What youthful hubris looks like

ON the president's string of legislative wins, Slate's Dave Weigel (left) just tweeted this amazing statement: "These are pretty easy Obama wins, though: Momentum shifts right back to GOP in two weeks." START, DADT, tax-cut deal -- easy? Whatever Weigel is smoking, it must be good sh#t. By any yarnstick, his conclusion is highly dubious. Methinks Weigel's youth (he's 29), inexperience and breathtaking hubris is showing.

Go tell it on the mountain

WITH Senate ratification of the START treaty all but assured, President Obama is savoring a big win. The man, in effect, just climbed the North Face of the Eiger. But good news doesn’t sell newspapers. Faster than you can say “Congratulations, Mr. President,” the press is handwringing over the next mountain of problems facing Obama on nuclear weapons. And in the news business nothing sells like perpetual conflict. First out of the gate is David Sanger’s piece in the New York Times, headlined “Political Divide Undermines Obama’s Nuclear Goals.” Sanger says Republicans will fanatically oppose future pacts to ban nuclear testing. Nascent nuclear powers like Pakistan are gunning to kill U.S. efforts to reduce fissile material production. And any new treaty dealing with small, tactical nukes is certain to instigate barroom brawls between the White House and Congress. It could get ugly, Sanger hints. Look, I’m not really knocking the Times. These are legitimate and important issues that deserve scrutiny. But the Sherpa-less press too often fixates on the climb rather than the mountains themselves, thereby missing the larger point: We have, in Mr. Obama, a wily president who can actually summit them. That is rare. Go tell that on the mountain.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cheerio, America

DEPARTING British journalist Kevin Connolly, who covered the USA for the BBC for the past 3 years, recently wrote a witty “Farewell, America” column worthy of Alexis de Tocqueville (shown left):
On writing: "American writing, for example, beguiles and exasperates in equal measure. Its newspapers - with one or two exceptions - are awful. Endless sub-clauses roam across prairies of newsprint in search of the point, like homesteader wagons on the Oregon trail circling around a knackered old buffalo."

On gun ownership: "Show [Europeans] a gun, and we picture a muscular ne'er-do-well in a balaclava menacing an elderly sub-postmistress. An American is more likely to visualise a plucky homesteader crouching between an overturned sofa in a burning ranch house, preparing to defend his family to the death."

On manners: “America was first into the world of over-effusive politeness ... [For example] they could speed up their journeys to work by not insisting on holding every elevator for everyone who wants to catch it as though it was one of the last helicopters leaving the roof of the Saigon embassy in 1975."
Ha! How true. Connolly shares Tocqueville's talent for getting at the essence of American culture. Read the entire column here.

Barbour makes a U-turn, sorta

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is catching well-deserved flak for casting white segregationist groups in a positive light during the Civil Rights Era.

Backtracking, he issued this clarification today:
"My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the ‘Citizens Council,’ is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time."
Question: Does Barbour regularly go all Thurgood Marshall on his Southern Republican donors when he's knocking back bourbon & branch water with them at the governor's mansion? Yeah, right -- I don't think so, either. Action speaks louder than words, Boss Hogg. And, so far, all I see is your mouth moving. Try again.

On Geekness

Chris Cillizza, who edits the politics page on, just tweeted this: "An awesome graphic that allows you to sort through reapportionment gains and losses through the decades." The awesome graphic is an interactive map that shows which states have lost or gained seats in Congress based on the 2010 Census. To actually mind-meld with it and drool over "reapportionment" takes the fortitude of a true political geek. Just another short reminder on the importance of getting a life.

Am I weird?

Dana Goldstein, a contributing writer to the Daily Beast and The Nation, just tweeted this: "when i was a teenager i was weird for being into vampires. now it's a section at Barnes and Noble. VINDICATED!" Um, sorry, Dana. Anybody "into vampires," especially grown adults, is still squarely in the weird category of homo sapien.

Slogging to victory

FLEXING his presidential muscles, Obama got the Senate to advance START today. Senators voted 67-28 to put the arms treaty up for near certain ratification tomorrow. Most Republicans fought it tooth and nail. And getting here was politically messy, as usual. Then again, consider the last paragraph in the New York Times article which reported the news: “For the treaty to take effect, the Russian parliament must ratify it as well. But given the Kremlin’s control over the Russian political system, that is viewed as a formality.” That’s the difference between us and them. Yes, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy remains the worst form of government – except for all the others.

Comic relief

British comedian Ricky Gervais does not believe in God, but he's no Christmas killjoy. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, he wrote:
"I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It's when belief starts infringing on other people's rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral. It’s strange that anyone who believes that an all-powerful all-knowing, omniscient power responsible for everything that happens, would also want to judge and punish people for what they are."
Refreshingly sane. Too bad the warring clans of christianists and atheists cannot embrace this simple, rational concept of tolerance.

See Jack write – or not

IN another one of its dubious “trend” stories, the New York Times reports Americans are moving away from e-mail to chat and texting. “The problem with e-mail, young people say, is that it involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours.” (Gmail usage is actually up 10% this year, but never mind.) If e-mail is really in decline, then the culprit may have more to do with basic grammar than instant gratification. The fact is that fewer and fewer people know how to write competently. Just witness the daily destruction of the King’s English in any comment section on any news site. It is a horror to behold, like some post-apocalyptic Mad Max landscape where wild, roving bands of English speakers do unspeakable things to syntax. The emoticon-heavy verbiage used for texting and tweeting is, if anything, worse. One observer told the Times, “We’re going down a road where we’re losing our skills to communicate with the written word.” Let’s hope, nay pray, somebody will devise a solution at one of the remaining road exits because we’re rapidly running out of drivable asphalt.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Darwinian Nightmare

A new Gallup poll revealed: "Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement." It's dismaying to learn that, in effect, a whopping 40% of us have never left the Middle Ages and its flat-Earth mythologies. If nothing else, it is an indictment of our educational system. Without a doubt, Charles Darwin is spinning in his grave.

'Tis the Bonus Season

The New York Times reported that many traders, bankers and brokers are "facing a once-unthinkable prospect: an annual bonus of ... nothing." One executive search firm spokesman said, “It’s going to a cause a lot of panic on Wall Street.” Damn, these poor guys just can't catch a break. And I'll weigh in on this cruel injustice -- just as soon as I stop rolling around on the floor laughing.