Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stopping Sarah Palin

Well, well. Looky here. POLITICO reports, “Top Republicans in Washington and in the national GOP establishment say the 2010 campaign highlighted an urgent task that they will begin in earnest as soon as the elections are over: Stop Sarah Palin.”

Continuing, they write:
“Interviews with advisers to the main 2012 presidential contenders and with other veteran Republican operatives make clear they see themselves on a common, if uncoordinated, mission of halting the momentum and credibility Palin gained with conservative activists by plunging so aggressively into this year’s midterm campaigns.”

“There is rising expectation among GOP elites that Palin will probably run for president in 2012 and could win the Republican nomination, a prospect many of them regard as a disaster in waiting.”
Exactly. Belatedly starting their car chase, the only question now is whether the remaining Republican adults can stop Thelma & Louise + Sarah from driving the convertible off the cliff. Could be a good movie. Read the rest of the POLITICO article here.

And just remember, noble friends, you read it here first. ;)

Joe Politician wants you to DIE

ARE YOU as fed up with these endless, mind-bending, negative, political attack ads as I am? Somebody make it stop, please.

For the past week, virtually every commercial on television has been an attack ad. I could almost tolerate it if they contained at least a modicum of recognizable substance presented entertainingly. Foolish thought. Today, these ads are 99% drivel, and badly produced drivel at that. AND YET, the experts say negative ads work. To quote Reason magazine, “Voters Hate Negativity—Except When They Like It.” Sadly, they may be right.

A piece entitled “Attack Ads Are Good for You!” makes a fairly convincing case. If it’s true, then I don’t know which is scarier: the imbecile-level content in the ads or the imbeciles who believe it – and who then go out to vote accordingly. Still, the article was written in 2006, before blogs and cable news dramatically kicked up our political mayhem by several big notches. Given that fact alone, I suspect we may be speeding headlong down the Road to Political Perdition now. God help us.

Anyway, to vent, here’s my negative attack ad in response to the negative attack ads now encircling us like great white sharks:
[Cue the scary “da-nump, da-nump” music to Jaws]

“Politicians say they want your vote, but do nothing to earn it. They say they’re honest, but LIE as a matter of course. They say they’re smart, but IDIOTICALLY barrage you with constant attack ads during your favorite NFL games. They say they’ll improve your life, but they DANGEROUSLY raise your blood pressure with their attack ads.

Politicians really HATE you. They are:

WRONG on worth.
WRONG on truth.
WRONG on facts.
WRONG on brains.

Did we mention politicians LIE? Politicians want to KILL YOU!

I’m a voter and I approved this message. (Paid for by the Concerned Citizens of the Attack-Ad-Free Television Assoc. – especially during prime time, live sporting events and my favorite TV shows).”

Heh.

'Double, double toil and trouble'

Wikipedia says, “Halloween is an annual holiday observed on October 31, primarily in Ireland, Scotland, Canada  and the United States.

It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday “All Saints' Day.” It says the word witch, a practitioner of witchcraft , derives from the Old English nouns wicce (fem.) and  wicca (masc.)

For your Halloween afternoon reading, here’s a scary set piece from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. (Glossary: Brinded – having obscure dark streaks or flecks on gray. Gulf – the throat. Drab – prostitute. Chaudron – entrails.)

The scene: A dark Cave. In the middle, a Caldron boils. Thunder echoes throughout. And enter three Witches:

   1 WITCH.  Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
   2 WITCH.  Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.
   3 WITCH.  Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!
       1 WITCH.  Round about the caldron go;
    In the poison'd entrails throw.—
    Toad, that under cold stone,
    Days and nights has thirty-one;
    Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
    Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
       ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
       2 WITCH.  Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the caldron boil and bake;
    Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
    Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
    Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
       ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
       3 WITCH.  Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
    Witches' mummy; maw and gulf
    Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark;
    Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark;
    Liver of blaspheming Jew;
    Gall of goat, and slips of yew
    Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse;
    Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
    Finger of birth-strangled babe
    Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,—
    Make the gruel thick and slab:
    Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
    For the ingrediants of our caldron.
       ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
       2 WITCH.  Cool it with a baboon's blood,
    Then the charm is firm and good.

+ + + + +
NOTES: The above scene appears at the beginning of Act IV, Scene 1 as found in: The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works Annotated. Howard Staunton, editor. New York: Gramercy Books, 1993.

Master of the memorable word

HEAVEN reserves a special place for gifted men and women of the memorably written word.

Theodore C. Sorensen, former confidante and speechwriter to John F. Kennedy, was one of those talented few. He died today at age 82 in Manhattan following a stroke last week. His words and counsel gave “voice to ideas that shaped the president’s image and legacy,” said the New York Times.

In his obit, the Times noted: “Mr. Sorensen said he suspected the headline on his obituary would read: ‘Theodore Sorenson, Kennedy Speechwriter,’ misspelling his name and misjudging his work. ‘I was never just a speechwriter.’”

Mr. Sorensen can rest assured. Spoken through JFK's audacious voice, he proclaimed that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans,” and encouraged the nation to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” His legacy is secure.

Words from the Bible, the Gettysburg Address, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill inspired his speechwriter’s mind. Sorensen personifies the adage that good writers borrow prose from other writers; great writers turn the borrowings into singular poetry.

Ironically, Sorensen received some of the highest praise from JFK archrival Richard M. Nixon. In 1962, Nixon said Sorensen had “a rare gift:” the knack of finding phrases that penetrated the American psyche, reported the Times. (Something, I might add, the White House sorely needs.)

Demonstrating that knack, Ted Sorensen once told presidential historian Michael R. Beschloss, "The liberal who is rationally committed is more reliable that the liberal who is emotionally committed."

What perfect advice and comfort to Barack Obama – another calm, rational man who occupies a White House in whose shadow a pensive portrait of JFK hangs, and where Sorensen's words reverberate still.

Rant, Fume, Repeat

Man, Maureen Dowd makes my blood pressure skyrocket sometimes. The Pulitzer Prize winner did it yet again with her latest drive-by hit piece, er, column on President Obama for the Sunday New York Times. You can read it here.

(Public Service Announcement: To all Obama supporters, please remove all sharp objects from your person; and remain seated while reading. To all Obama haters, you’re just gonna LUV this one. Thank you.)

A few choice highlights:

At first it was exciting that Obama was the sort of brainy, cultivated Democrat who would be at home in a “West Wing” episode. But now he acts like he really thinks he’s on “West Wing,” gliding through an imaginary, amber-lit set where his righteous self-regard is bound to be rewarded by the end of the hour. Hey, dude, you’re a politician. Act like one.

In 2008, the message was him. The promise was him. And that’s why 2010 is a referendum on him.

With his coalition and governing majority shattering around him, President Obama will have to summon political skills — starting Wednesday — that he has not yet shown he has.

His arrogance led him to assume: If I build it, they will understand. He can’t get the gratitude he feels he deserves for his achievements if no one knows what he achieved and why those achievements are so vital.

As the president tries to ride the Tea Party tiger, let’s hope for this change: that he puts some audacity in his audacity.

The only thing she didn’t say was “Man up!” In her piece, Dowd unburdens herself with a long, tired litany of alleged character flaws that are allegedly sapping Obama’s audacity. I hardly know where to begin. But no worries. I’m not going to go all Jack Nicholson on you – though I feel the same as Jack when, in The Shining, he said: "Heeere's Johnny!"

Granted, Dowd plays the role of simple provocateur (or to some, court jester). Indeed, per New York magazine, Dowd regards her columns as “political cartoons” meant to shock & awe. Substantive arguments rarely grace her witty prose. She is the polar opposite of, say, Ross Douthat, the conservative thinker on the Times’ editorial staff. When you read Douthat, you best get your PoliSci on. That said, I do (mostly) enjoy Maureen’s work. But these days I don’t read her for anything but entertainment.

The trouble is that from her towering ivory perch at the Times, Dowd has what surfers call a “hugangus” megaphone. For good or ill, her words reverberate worldwide. Today she goes off in a scathing indictment of Obama. She is spectacularly wrong on all counts. Yet, rebutting Dowd on the merits, such as they are, is usually a fool’s errand. It’s hard to garrote smoke. Still, this one time, I’m going to be a Motley Fool and give it try, albeit briefly. Doing so tellingly reveals that the Duchess of Droll has no clothes.

So, let’s unpack Dowd’s principal “arguments” one by one, shall we? (Her allegations are in bold.)

To stay president, Obama must show he can understand our story: Sounds like one of Bill Maher's "New Rules." This is a recurring theme suggesting Obama hasn’t “connected” with regular folk and doesn’t “feel our pain.” To the extent the Obama/White House has not communicated well enough in the face of relentless GOP distortions, I somewhat agree (the picture is more complicated than the one Dowd paints).

Obama has no guts: A recurring theme that is false on its face. See healthcare bill, among many other courageous moves since 2008. What Dowd really means is that Mr. Obama is not fanatically liberal enough.

He didn’t have the guts to endorse Frank Caprio: Frank who? Yeah, I had to Google him, too. (He’s the Dem candidate for the 2010 Rhode Island gubernatorial election.) Goes to the no-guts theme. It’s a throwaway claim that only a Washington insider could love (or would know about).

He was reduced to sparring with Jon Stewart to get young voters back: Baloney. Historically, most voters don’t vote in the midterms. Especially true of young voters. Even more true of first-time voters of any age. Obama’s outreach is simply good macro politics ahead of the midterms.

When Stewart called White House legislation “timid,” Obama got “defensive”: Guess I watched a different Daily Show. Bogus, and goes to the no-guts theme. (And funny she didn’t mention the long standing ovation Obama got when he walked into the studio. Stewart nearly went out for a smoke break.)

“In 2008, the message was him. The promise was him. And that’s why 2010 is a referendum on him”: Pure bull feathers. All politics is still local, especially during the midterms. And Obama actually said, “This election is not about me, it’s about you.” Repeatedly. The media made it about him and his messianic promise (oh, and we’re only 2 years in. The jury is still out on the promise thing).

His coalition and governing majority shattering around him: A ridiculous, unsupported claim. Have you seen the tens of thousands at his recent rallies, all cheering like it was 2008?

He has not yet shown “political skills”: Another ridiculous, unsupported claim. Goes to the lack of empathy theme.

He’s arrogant (“If I build it, they will understand”); he expects hosannas for his achievements: This is a flat-out fabrication and completely unsupported. (Also, I suspect a number of big-time journos, Dowd included, subconsciously resent the fact Obama is frankly more intelligent than they are. Calling someone haughty is a way of salving the wound. Just a hunch.)

He shows an unwillingness to be wrong: Another false, unsupported allegation.

Many voters are so turned off by “Obama’s superior air … they’re rushing into the arms” of inferior pols: A completely whacked interpretation of unfolding events. And she offers no supporting evidence. I’ll grant her a bit of facetiousness here, but a political analyst she ain’t.

He should have done jobs first, not health care: A tired opinion offered without arguments.

He should have been harder on the bailed-out banks: Another tired opinion offered without arguments.

He should have killed DADT by edict: Yet another tired opinion offered without arguments.

He poorly communicated his political messages on healthcare & stimulus; he should have known public “gullibility would trump lofty rationality”: Well, here’s one I basically agree with. Still, she offers no supporting arguments.

Needs to put “some audacity in his audacity“: Simply a gratuitous, concluding line – but it sure writes pretty, donit? Hey, I never said she wasn’t glib. She's the best there is at this stuff.

As should be clear from this little exercise, Dowd is all hat, no cattle. She waxes poetic, but says nothing of value beyond throwing gasoline on the barn fire. None of her assertions – nada – are supported by facts or reasoned arguments. At least one claim is utterly false.

Obviously, Dowd is deeply frustrated with Obama, and it shows. Buying it wholesale in ‘08, I think she thought the president really was “The One.” Her hopes were dashed when she belatedly discovered Obama is not the valiant Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) of The American President after all. She dearly wants Obama to charge into the White House press room to heroically declare, “I was so busy keeping my job I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now!” That’s the line handsome Andy Shepherd used to reclaim his presidential cojones. Never mind that political reality requires compromise and, at times, taking unpopular stances for the good of the nation. It’s what non-fictional presidents are paid to do.

The trouble with Dowd’s “you know, scenario” (as Annette Bening so cutely put it in the film), is that President Obama must in effect become an Aaron Sorkin character in order to “act like” the real politician Dowd so desperately pines for. Except, Obama *is* a politician, Maureen. That is why he’s “The One” sitting in the Oval Office against all odds. It is why he’s still “The One” outpolling his opponents despite GOP efforts to take him over the cliff with them.

To mix metaphors, I submit that Dowd herself is the one living in that “amber-lit” West Wing fantasy she so drolly manufactures for Obama. In fact, I suspect she’d agree with me. The prosecution rests.

+ + + + + +
Maureen Dowd Trivia: Never married, she’s a former sportswriter who once dated West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin. He also wrote the screenplay for The American President, too. Calling Dr. Freud ... (I kid Maureen)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Listening, but hearing nothing

As predictable as the setting sun, some in the thin-skinned press corps would take umbrage when Jon Stewart aimed his considerable comedic guns at cable news.

First up (so far) are MSNBC’s liberal firebrand Keith Olbermann and CNN’s Howard Kurtz. Both reacted negatively to comments Stewart made in his final, mostly serious “address” at today’s “Restore Sanity” rally in DC. It frankly surprised me.

The funnyman rightly said:
"If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we eventually get sicker." (Taking a well-deserved swing at the self-righteous lunatics on the right, he also said, “These are hard times, not End Times.")
And as Politico reported today, “Stewart insisted it was ‘a clarion call for rationality,’ and a collective plea for the nation to stop yelling and show more respect to those they disagree with.”

On Twitter, Olbermann said, “It wasn't a big shark but Jon Stewart jumped one just now with the ‘everybody on Thr cable is the same’ naiveté.” He later added, “You can tone down all you want and the result will be: the Right will only get LOUDER. Sorry.” So the solution is, what, to keep SHOUTING? In reality, the only one who has “jumped the shark” is Mr. Olbermann.

Kurtz then weighed in by noting, “Stewart's serious close hit favorite punching bag, cable news. Which needs punching. But nothing on our nasty, broken political system?” Meaning: It’s the fault of those nasty pols, not us innocent journos. We’re as pure as the driven snow. But revealingly (and lemming-like), Kurtz dutifully retweeted all of Olbermann’s snarky remarks to his own followers as they rolled hot off the Twitter press. That driven snow looks a bit blood-stained to me.

Although Olbermann and Kurtz are hardly the worst offenders (that would be Fox News & Co.), they remain classic examples of the precise mindset that Stewart is talking about. And it’s like shouting into the wind. Clearly, both men “hear nothing.”

------------------

BY THE WAY: Here is the video of what I call Stewart’s "These Are Not End Times" State of the Union Address at today’s rally. Seriously, the speech really is quite good – and funny, too. Worth a listen.

Sanity Rally, Ctd

Who are these people? On Jon Stewart's "Restore Sanity" rally, satirist Andy Borowitz jokingly quoted Glenn Beck as saying, “I was struck by how many correctly spelled signs there were. That’s not my America!” Heh.

Sanity Rally

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo sums up Jon Stewart's "Restore Sanity" fairly well thus far, politically:
"Somehow this seems about right. Red America shows up for a raucous, passionate, blunt rally on the mall. Blue America shows up for a tongue-n-cheek, ironic, humor-based rally on the mall with no explicit reference to an authoritarian, fear-based society but a comedian in character who makes the point indirectly."
Yet, I suspect among most rational Americans (even those living in "flyover country"), the divide between Red and Blue is not as great as it often portrayed.

Great movie quotes - Jaws

It is a little hard to believe that it’s been some 35 years since the movie Jaws premiered in the summer of 1975. Folks 34 or younger weren’t even born yet. Folks born between 1967 and 1975 would have been too young to remember it. But I suspect everyone of movie going age today has seen it, probably multiple times.

For those who didn’t see the premiere, you really missed something. (Ditto for Alien, the first one, in 1979. Talk about scary.) Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was among the first true blockbusters. And I’ve never regarded the ocean the same after seeing it (and, being part fish, I love the ocean).

During a lull between the action sequences, the below scene occurs below deck at night. Sam Quint (Robert Shaw) relates a personal story from WWII to Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) and shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss).

The story Quint tells about the USS Indianapolis is based on historical fact. Pardon the length, but it’s a great piece of cinematic storytelling and worth reading:
Hooper: [surprised] You were on the Indianapolis?

Brody: What happened?

Quint: [low voice] Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week.

Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named "The Battle of Waterloo" and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they... rip you to pieces.

You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us... he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper.

Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened... waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again.

So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.
Great stuff. If you’re one of the five or six people on the planet who hasn’t seen Jaws, check it out on a big screen TV. Crank up the surround-sound up and dim the lights. I promise you’ll love it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

One Shot, One Kill

As much as I criticize the press, a fair majority of columnists do make a reasonable effort to get their journalism right. Yes, too many submit to herd thinking. Yes, too many are shockingly uninformed about the subjects they cover. But most don’t do it purposely.

But then there are glib hacks like Jonah Goldberg, a 41-year-old columnist, author (Liberal Fascism, 2008), and editor-at-large for the National Review (once a great magazine platform for rational conservative thinkers). He, and others like him, belongs to a special sect within the Church of Commentary. Call them the Opus Dei of punditry. For they pray to Doctrinaire Conservatism. Their motto: We’re right – You’re wrong, plus you’re a Heretic, too.

Here are some opening stanzas of his astonishing column (“Why is Assange still alive?”) today:
I'd like to ask a simple question: Why isn't Julian Assange dead?

Assange is the Australian computer programmer behind WikiLeaks, a massive … effort to disclose secret or classified information. … Military and other government officials insist that WikiLeaks is doing serious damage to American national security and is going to get people killed. Even Assange agrees. He told the New Yorker … that he fully understands innocent people might die as a result of the "collateral damage" of his work.

So again, I ask: Why wasn't Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago? It's a serious question.
Predictably, Goldberg then falls back to the usual equivocations (otherwise a trip to the lunatic ward awaits): OK, OK – I know it’s against the law to kill him. And OK, OK – I know the world isn’t as black & white as “self-important journalists” (like him) think it is. And OK, OK – I know things aren’t as simple as they are portrayed in the movies.

But isn’t it obvious that these are exactly his beliefs? In Goldberg’s fevered mind, Assange – like Al Qaeda and Islam – represents The Existential Threat. They must be obliterated at any cost, even if it means trashing the Constitution and our moral principles. To Goldberg, the world is indeed a Jason Bourne movie. And, like Bourne, only he (and the other majority stockholders of The Truth) has the steely nerve to make the kill shot or twist the garrote. (By the way, Goldberg has never served a day in a military uniform – or in intelligence or homeland security. He merely talks like Jack Bauer. Just so you know.)

Beyond listening to a nonsensical rant by an armchair capo, what have we learned? Nothing – other than the unmoored delusions floating about in Goldberg’s mind. So, what’s the point of writing the column? There is no point – other than getting TV airtime to rant some more.

Goldberg and his ilk represent an ominous quarter in American society. They appeal not our better angels, but to our darkest impulses. They’ve always been among us. But now they have outsized influence thanks to the megaphones handed to them by Fox News, ratings-crazed news networks, cowered newspapers and the Internet. The good news is that Goldberg, like all the other Special Ops wannabes, is all foam and no beer. And it is relatively easy to keep these knuckleheads in check. Call them out whenever they step over the line (as I think Goldberg did today), and ignore them the rest of time.

My brain at rest

Dreams are amazing things, aren't they? Without providing too much fodder (I hope) for any Sigmund Freuds out there, here’s a fun snippet from the one I had last night.
I was at a parade somewhere watching a fancy-stepping marching band pass by. After a while, I had to leave. Why? Beats me. Anyway, I walked to a bank of elevators inside a quiet office building where, mysteriously, I suddenly found myself standing. As I waited, I noticed one elevator had yellow construction tape across its closed metal doors. An orange traffic cone stood in front. A sign said, "Elevator out of order." After a moment, the doors to the broken elevator opened. It figures, only the broken one works, I thought nonsensically. But I nonchalantly enter it. And down I went, observing the passing floors through a rattling ragged opening. It felt perfectly normal. Then I woke up.
What does it mean? Dude, who cares? It was kinda cool. But it could be the start of a good mystery novel. My Own Private Inception – Part Deux, perhaps? Heh.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

GOP vs. Palin – is it on?

In a post ("Handicapping Doomsday") a couple of weeks back, I pooh-poohed the notion of Sarah Palin winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. I said it won’t happen. No way, no how. And now, it seems, my thesis is being buttressed from an unexpected quarter on the right.

Just covering the ground lightly, I argued/ranted:
"I just don’t see a rational scenario where the Republican establishment just hands the Party keys to a half-term governor and her First Dude. They won’t admit it publicly, but sane Republicans know such a situation would put both conservatism and the nation at risk. Yes, the GOP is often dumb, but it’s not stupid. They know an Obama-Palin contest would hand Obama a 50-state landslide and a mandate to match. And if wouldn’t matter one whit whether the economy in 2012 remained in bad shape."
Emerging from the blackness like Darth Vader, Karl Rove just signaled that he agrees, albeit subtly. He told the UK’s Daily Telegraph that he questioned Palin’s viability as a White House contender. Going further, he cast doubt on her “gravitas” for the job.

Do tell us more, Mr. Vader:
“With all due candor, appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel, I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of 'that helps me see you in the Oval Office’.”

“Being the vice-presidential nominee on the ticket is different from saying 'I want to be the person at the top of the ticket’.”

“There are high standards that the American people have for it [the presidency] and they require a certain level of gravitas, and they want to look at the candidate and say 'that candidate is doing things that gives me confidence that they are up to the most demanding job in the world’.”
Wrapping up, the Telegraph said Rove suggested that “outside of the true believers”, most Republican primary voters were still watching the race and would choose the candidate most suitable for the role. “They are going to be saying 'the person who can win is the person who proves to me that they are up to the job’,” Rove said.

This, noble friends, is what we call a political tell, a subtle but unmistakable shift in the electoral winds, a dog whistle to the GOP establishment, if you will.

It is true that the GOP strayed off their traditional compound and galloped full-tilt into Tea Party coo-coo land. (Drinking their cache of Simple Jack’s Potion No. 9 didn’t help.) But they did it to (a) secure short-term political gains and (b) tarnish President Obama’s scary messianic halo. Republicans will probably recapture the House in the midterms. Obama’s poll numbers have fallen (though not catastrophically). So, I’d say the GOP succeeded in their twin goals, more or less.

That said, Republicans are a coldly calculating lot with outsized cojones. They’d feed their mothers to the wolves if it guaranteed them the presidency. And they’ll shotgun a Mama Grizzly with a 12-gauge without so much as a by-your-leave, ma’am – and laugh about it afterward at the GOP Gentleman’s Club. They work hard at appearing stupid. They’re not. And Rove is anything but stupid. Any man that could get George W. Bush elected – twice – is the very definition of shock & awe.

Bush’s Brain and his adult GOP compatriots know Sarah Palin Boulevard leads directly to political oblivion, or worst. They know that Obama, barring some catastrophic misstep or another Great Depression, is unbeatable in 2012. They know that 2016 is the real target date for reclaiming the presidency. And they know they must end the Tea Party reality show to regain political viability at the national level. When the time comes, and come it will, the Republicans will throw Palin and the Political Pod People she spawned under the bus. Bet on it. Karl Rove’s poker tell is merely the beginning.

So, yes, it’s on. The slow-motion game to retake the Republican Party from the Republican Party is afoot.

'Til text do us part

Borrowing a line from the Twilight Zone movie, "Do you want to see something really scary?" Behold this recently compiled data on teen texting:
The Nielsen Company analyzed mobile usage data among teens in the United States for the second quarter of 2010 (April 2010 – June 2010). No one texts more than teens (age 13-17), especially teen females, who send and receive an average of 4,050 texts per month. Teen males also outpace other male age groups, sending and receiving an average of 2,539 texts.
Oh. My. God. Just sorta leaves you breathless. Safe texting is fine, I guess. Great way to communicate, I guess. And if you're a teen, it is sooo kewl, I guess. But still, this strikes me as ridiculous -- as in way over the top. Memo to parents: Um, what the heck are you doing? Apparently, not much.

Daddy, did you save the world yet?

“Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?” That was the actual question little Malia posed to her father, Daddy in Chief Obama, at the height of the BP oil spill crisis last spring. America – or at least the news networks – was then convinced that the world as we knew it was ending in a cataclysm of crude. (Funny – we, the world and the Gulf are still here. A tad over-hyped, perhaps?)

But Malia’s innocent interrogative is a good metaphor for the wildly unrealistic expectations held by the public today.

Speaking to the upcoming midterms, Washington Post political writer Dan Balz wrote:
A far grimmer mood now pervades the electorate, one shaped not just by the immediacy of the economic distress that has hit virtually every household, but by fears that it might take years for everyone, from the average family to the federal government, to climb out of the hole.
Memo to America: Well, of course it will take years. The hole is as deep as the Grand Canyon, and decades in the making. Life may seem like a movie, but it isn’t. President Jed Bartlet isn’t available to cinematically kiss our foreheads, say “don’t worry, sweetheart” and make it all better by the closing credits. There is no magic wand.

In a separate WaPo piece on the Obama-Stewart tête-à-tête, reporter Hank Stuever wrote:
“Poking gently at the president, [Jon] Stewart wondered what we all wonder: Can the economy truly recover?”
Memo to America: Well, of course the economy will recover. Assuming we won’t get taken out in a nuclear war (a safe bet), it’s only a question of when, not if. Does the Great Depression (1930s) ring a bell? That was way worse. And then there was that whole Second World War thing. Only our entire way of life hung in the balance. We survived both and thrived. We’ll survive the current Great Recession, too, and thrive.

On the media’s role in this, I know I sound like a broken CD track stuck on repeat. But they do play a huge role in stoking public despair. It’s collateral damage from pimping simple-minded narratives and chasing ratings.

So, what should President Obama do? Stay tuned for a later post.

‘Ch-Ch-Ch Changes’

A relaxed and confident President Obama appeared on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show last night. “You ran on very high rhetoric, hope and change, and the Democrats this year seem to be running on, ‘Please baby, one more chance,’ ” Mr. Stewart said, drawing laughs.

But had Mr. Obama modified his 2008 platform of “Yes we can” to the more pragmatic “Yes we can – given certain conditions?” the funnyman wondered aloud. Alas, too many people wonder the same.

No, Mr. Stewart, it is still just “Yes We Can – but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Obama replied. And in fact, he has never promised otherwise. Had America been listening (and obviously they were not), they’d know Obama has been saying this repeatedly since Inauguration Day. Remember this line from the speech?
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
That was on Day 1. Yet, echoing the media meme, Stewart’s line of questioning perpetuates the fiction that Obama has shied away from “audacity.” That he has sold out. That he has thrown his ideals under the bus. In response, Mr. Obama acquitted himself well. Judging by the wild applause, the audience agreed. But I’m not sure Stewart got it. And judging by the initial reviews in the major newspapers, the media doesn’t get it either. It’s easier and more satisfying to kowtow to the “narrative.” It’s substantively worthless, but like cotton candy, it sure tastes good. But isn’t it time to join Obama in adulthood and heed another line from his inauguration speech? “The time has come to set aside childish things.”

Watching this circus unfold, I wonder what Obama really thinks about it all. We’ll have to wait for the memoir, but I wouldn’t be surprised if David Bowie’s “Changes” comes close to the mark:

I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last ‘Danse Macabre’ for Classical?

During the Jurassic Period, when Sony Walkman-wearing dinosaurs roamed the wilds of Los Angeles, I played second flute in my high school orchestra. It sparked a lifelong love affair with classical music. Sadly, there has been much talk that the genre is dying.

We instantly recognize Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” But few know Puccini’s Dorma Fantasia for Violin ("Turandot"), let alone listen to it voluntarily. I like Lady Gaga, too. I love jazz, R&B and rock. Occasionally I get my hip-hop on; and even listen to country & western when ah need ta cry in mah beer. But I couldn’t imagine a world not graced with the music of Debussy, Mozart, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. I certainly couldn’t imagine it without Johann Sebastian Bach. His every sonata, cantata, fugue and chorale is a perfect pearl. If God exists, one of his expressions is Bach. (A sample: Goldberg Variations: Aria. Glenn Gould.)

Concerned citizens, musicians and patrons of the arts are working to preserve the classical genre. But it’s an uphill struggle. Yet, some of the problems are self-inflicted. Radio station playlists, to take one example, need a rethink. Here in Phoenix, KBAQ (89.5 FM) is our sole classical music station. (Oh stop laughing. It’s not quite true that there’s more culture in a yogurt cup than in this town.)  KBAQ does itself no favors when its choice of classical works makes it hard for listeners to connect with the music.

Often, the station will air works like Swedish composer Gustav Pettersson's Symphony No. 7. It’s a wonderful piece for a slice of connoisseurs. But its tonal complexities make it tough listening for the untrained ear. Indeed, a minute or two spent with “Symphony No. 7” will send most folks running back down the radio dial to Lady Gaga. It’s bad for business since most of KBAQ’s audience (and potential members) are casual listeners.

No, I am not arguing for a gratuitous increase in surgery, beginner works like "The Blue Danube" by Strauss. But radio announcers – the self appointed gatekeepers of the genre – need to drop the snobby notion of airing difficult classical work to widen the palate. They should stick to sophisticated masterworks with accessible harmonics. Do that 98% of the time, especially in prime time, listeners will come and return often. Great but accessible classical music is the equivalent of the real estate adage: “location, location, location.” Fortunately, classical music is a vast ocean filled with such offerings. One could live off Bach and Beethoven alone for months.

The word is spreading, however, about classical music's tenuity. Dale Henderson, a young professional cellist, has begun playing Bach Solo Cello Suites in the subways of New York. He plays alone and accepts no tips. It’s his way of exposing passersby to the music. "I caught some fear from some other musicians that classical music is dying and in 100 years there will be no more classical music,” he told CNN. “I can't believe that's true. I mean, it scares me to my soul if it were true."

It scares me to my soul, too. As it should you.

----------------------
For the curious: The music reference in the headline is Danse Macabre, Op.  40, by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, first performed in 1872. It happens to be good Halloween music.

Are you a lefty snob? Ctd.

In the wake of Charles Murray's extraordinarily odd piece on "elitism," Claire Berlinski created the "How Plebe Are You?" exam. I gave it a try:

1. Can you talk about "Mad Men?" Yes, in scary detail. I read the weekly post-game reviews religiously, too.

2. Can you talk about the "The Sopranos?" Sure, of course, in great detail. The last episode was all about "art for art sake." What was David Chase thinking? I mean really. But, um, I digress.

3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right?" I haven't the foggiest.

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? Wha'? Are you nuts? I have a life, you know.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? No. Real men work out at LA Fitness.

5. How about pilates? Fudgeddaboud it.

5. How about skiing? Sure, I ski. Totally into cross-country skiing.

6. Mountain biking? Absolutely, it's great exercise.

7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? Nah uh. Sorry.

8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? Um, say wha'? Something to do with M&Ms? No? Not even close? OK, next question.

9. Can you talk about books endlessly? They are what I live for. I'm even writing one.

10. Have you ever read a "Left Behind" novel? You're kiddin' me, right?

11. How about a Harlequin romance? You're kiddin' me, right?

12. Do you take interesting vacations? Sure, Malibu, Hawaii, the Grand Canyon. And Europe whenever I can.

13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? Sure do. But I'm not tellin'.

14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? Never been there. (But I do know this place in Maryland's horse country... )

15. Would you be caught dead in an RV? Only if it's on a Hollywood movie lot, and Halle Berry invited me in.

16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? Nope. It's mostly losers, geeks and retired couples, right?

17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? Not until I Googled it.

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? A Kiwani-what?

19. How about the Rotary Club? Why, oh, why, would I? No.

20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town? Dude, I'm from LA. Small to me is Orange County.

21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? Afraid not.

22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line? No.

23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? Nope. But, hey, I'm not doing it on purpose. Jeez.

24. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Aha! Yes.

25. Have you worked on one? Aha! Yes. One time. As a teen. A summer job -- before attending my fancy college.

SCORING: The correct answer to questions #1 and #2, for example, is no and no. The answer to #3 and #4 is yes and yes. Got it?

So, I scored a grand total of -- wait for it -- 5 correct answers out of 27. Must be a new record low. Hmm. Think I'll just take MoJo columnist Kevin Drum's advice: Shut up, drink my Starbucks latte grande and accept my hopelessly out-of-touch elite status without complaint.

What Fox has wrought

I directed my Twitter followers to a piece by the Washington Monthly's Steven Benen. My tweet headline read: "If You're Having A Good Day, Don't Read This." And for good reason:

Take it away, Steve:
If you missed "The Rachel Maddow Show" reporting from Alaska last night, the episode was chock full of interesting content. There was one fairly brief segment, however, that stood out for me.

Rachel chatted with some Joe Miller supporters campaigning on a street corner, but before she could walk away, the activists wanted to emphasize that they resent Sen. Lisa Murkowski for being one of 19 Republicans to vote to confirm Eric Holder as the U.S. Attorney General. Rachel asked why that was a bad thing. That's when it got amusing.

One young man insisted that Holder is "the most anti-gun attorney general this nation has ever had." When Rachel asked how he arrived at this, he had absolutely no idea why he believes what he believes. He referenced Holder's "voting record beforehand," which made no sense, since Holder has never held elected office. Asked what it was, exactly, that Holder did on gun policy he didn't like, the Miller supporter -- who, remember, feels so strongly about this issue that he brought it up -- replied, "I, uh, I honestly, uh, I don't know enough about him to answer that truthfully."

"This is the world that Fox News has created," Rachel concluded.
Benen concluded, "Ignorance spreads like a cancer, and right about now, it's making our body politic pretty sick." Yeah. Scary, isn't it? Happy Halloween.

Games reporters play

In a long piece for Mother Jones magazine, liberal columnist David Corn (whom I like) explores the "how Obama lost his groove" meme. The president has not lost his famed mojo. But never mind. It's an endless national pastime for Washington pundits. Naturally, it is written as though we Dems are at the brink of a great cataclysm, as in, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." And naturally it's all Obama's fault.

He then unfurls the usual litany of liberal laments. Size Matters: His stimulus was too small. Obamacare Slog: Glad he got it done, but it took too long. Banking on Banks: He let Wall Street off too easy. Read Me a Story, Daddy: He failed to tell his story and frame the policy debate. Underestimating the Enemy: He should have seen the GOP's misrepresent-and-obstruct strategy a mile off (even though it kinda explains the roots of the aforementioned storytelling mistake).

Corn concedes that Obama is not Superman after all. (Funny how so many, like Corn, thought/hoped he was the Caped Crusader.) But then he rolls out Obama's "Ultimate Political Error": He failed in essence to keep the base energized and engaged in the "narrative."

The narrative?

Right. The jig is up, dude. By “narrative,” Corn means the media narrative. So, in the end, it's all about them – i.e., Obama just won't come out and play marbles with them on the White House lawn, or dance for the cameras. After all, we the media, were in the tank for you. Remember? You, Obama (the real President Jed Bartlet), were going to save the world and lead us to the Promised Land, synced to the West Wing theme song. Like, overnight. Damn ingrate.

(I kid David Corn. He makes a point or two worth chewing on in his piece. Read it here. Just take it with a grain of Washington insider salt.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wanted: Straight Talk

The media have relentlessly promoted the straw man argument that Obama should have focused on jobs instead of health care. Ergo, as the narrative goes, the Dems will get massacred in the midterms.

The reality is that jobs, the economy and health care are all connected. But never mind. The media, see, are stickin’ to their story, see – no matter what. And they ain’t afraid of dem facts to da contrary, see. Got that, youse lousy coppers?

So, let’s just move on and talk jobs. Realistically, is there anything that Obama could have done to get more people working?

Take it away Kevin Drum, columnist for Mother Jones:
"Within a month of taking office, he had signed an $800 billion stimulus, 36 percent of which came in the form of tax cuts. Two months later, he announced a rescue plan (PDF) for GM and Chrysler, saving perhaps another million jobs. And later in the year, he proposed a further $200 billion jobs program, using unspent money from Bush's bank bailout."

"It's an open question whether Obama wanted a bigger stimulus bill in the first place, or whether he would like to pass another one now. … But [it] hardly matters. Republicans have 41 votes in the Senate, and that's pretty much the end of the story for any program big enough to make a difference."
Exactly. Drum further laments that "Obama's efforts to trumpet the jobs that his stimulus plan saved or created haven't connected with the public." That's true, but that says way more about the public and their gullibility in anxious times than it does about Obama and his good faith efforts. The GOP is selling snake oil (i.e., the stimulus is evil). And John Q. Public is gulping it down like a drunken sailor.

The bottom line, as Drum says, is GOP obstructionism. Short of condemning Republican leaders to the gulag following a Stalinist show trial (and oh man that sounds tempting), there really isn’t much Obama can do to change this debilitating dynamic. That speaks volumes about the GOP and their destructive role in today's body politic. But it will come back to haunt them. Bet on it.

Memorable movie quotes

Spencer Tracy (playing defense lawyer Henry Drummond) in the 1960 classic film Inherit the Wind.
Henry Drummond: Yes. The individual human mind. In a child's power to master the multiplication table, there is more sanctity than in all your shouted "amens" and "holy holies" and "hosannas." An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man's knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters!
Amen, brother. Great screenwriting, great movie. (It's on TCM tonight, I think.)

The 'journalism' we deserve?

Wishing Upon A Star: E.D. Kain pines for better conservative journalism and Fox 2.0 (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan):
I would love a more reasoned, measured conservative journalism to take root – a Fox 2.0 that abandoned all the antics and dishonesty and stated its case for conservatism forcefully and cogently, but I’m not at all sure there’s a market for that – or at least a large enough market for that. And therein lies the rub: the point of Fox may not be to create an emotionally driven television station, but the market has spoken, and Beckian hyperbole is what the people want. And so it’s what the people will get.
Oy. But let's hope this proves wrong eventually.

'Truth is truth'

In an excellent piece today, Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein raps David Brooks for mocking Democrats for being proud of their accomplishments despite facing a loss at the polls. Read Brooks' column ("No Second Thoughts") here. I lifted two of Klein's grafs that spotlight the citizenry and the realities driving our midterm politics:
Brooks criticizes President Obama for criticizing the judgment of Americans. Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that the vox populi was less infallible in 2005, when Brooks wrote, "Oh, yes, there's one more group to be criticized: the American voters. For the past 30 years, Americans have wanted high entitlement spending and low taxes. From the looks of things today, they - or more precisely their children - are going to live with the consequences." It's funny: That sort of sounds like "Americans are nearsighted and ill-informed."
I also share Klein's view about political realities and the difficult task Obama faces in herding donkeys and elephants (i.e., us):
As it happens, I don't think the political environment is all that difficult to explain: Unemployment is near 10 percent. If you want some more explanations: The legislative process is bitter and angry and ugly; the media focus on conflict and encourage polarization; and presidents almost always lose seats in their first midterm election. In fact, there are only two exceptions since the Civil War. ... Elections matter, but so, too, does substance. ... Next week, Democrats are likely to be writing the obit for their congressional majority. Better that, many of them feel, than the obit for the policies they believed the country needed.
Klein's calm, clear-eyed views are a welcome break from the daily, droning gibberish of the chatter class. As the Bard said, "Truth is truth. To the very end of reckoning."

Quote of the Day

"You don't win elections in order to win more elections. You win elections in order to solve problems and make the country better."
-- Ezra Klein, Washington Post columnist

Fear the sanity

Lordy. My fellow Dems are a nervous lot. Especially the ones with journalistic bullhorns. The Washington Post's Jonathan Capeheart -- a progressive pundit, editorial writer and all-around good guy -- today asked of Stewart & Colbert: "Isn't there a better way to restore sanity?"
"I still think Stephen Colbert's testimony before a congressional hearing on immigration -- in character -- was a boneheaded idea and a distraction from the key issue. That's my fear about the upcoming rally."
Uh huh, right. I'm sure it's Topic Number One at American kitchen tables coast to coast. The Post's Anne Applebaum made a similar lament in her Sunday column. She said straight out that "Jon Stewart's march is no laughing matter." Actually, Anne, it is a laughing matter -- knee-slappingly so.

MEMO to Liberals and Others Cowering in Corners: What's up with the weak-sister handwringing? Why on earth are you taking Jon Stewart's brilliant schtick sooo seriously. Folks, it's a gag. It's straight-up, stand-up comedy. It's fun. And, most importantly, it's great for ratings. Repeat after me: "It. Is. Not. The. State-of-the-Union-Address." It ain't Gettysburg, people. And the fate of the nation won't turn on a Stewart punchline. America gets the joke.

So, to borrow a tired cliché, Man Up! Jeebus.

Every thought 'tis for Facebook

The other day, I found a rather stern note in my e-mail inbox: "You have not been back to Facebook recently. You have received notifications while you were gone. You have 1 group invite, 1 poke, 1 friend request. Signed, The Facebook Team."

Jeez, I said aloud as a sudden Orwellian breeze whipped through my study. It is 2010, but it sure felt like Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Or maybe it is 1984 and I just think it’s 2010. Well, let's do the proverbial math. Facebook’s HQs is based in Palo Alto CA, not that far from the Pacific Ocean – as in Oceania? The firm is essentially organized as an online collectivist society. It has corporate divisions that parallel the Ministry of Truth (for those pesky privacy violations) and the Ministry of Plenty (for rationing out those 500 million “friending” opportunities).

Early in the 1984 novel, the protagonist thinks to himself:
"There were ... whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies ... which circulated clandestinely ... It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as The Book".
Gee, that kinda sounds like the compendium of clandestine emails and IMs written by Mark Zuckerberg. We’ve since learned they outlined the "dirty tricks" (a heresy by any other name) that he intended to use in order to cut out his co-partner, Eduardo Saverin, from the business.

In 1984, everyone is under constant surveillance. Kind of like those "I Like" tags you see EVERYWHERE. Then there's that constant pressure to "share." And not just articles or photos. Facebook wants to know every detail of your life. Let's not forget those never-ending "friend requests" and "pokes." More pressure. It's all designed to let Facebook propagate its omnipresence.

Then there is this troubling Facebook “doublethink,” a simultaneous belief in two contradictory ideas. I must actively maintain my Facebook page. I have no time (nor the desire) to actively maintain my Facebook page. I must post on Facebook. I hate posting on Facebook. In all of these ideas I firmly believe.

And what about this Zuckerberg kid? How does he compare to 1984’s Big Brother?

Is he is enigmatic? Check.
Oligarchical? Check.
Arrogant? Check.
Revoltingly condescending? Check.
Tactless and cares not a whit? Check and Check.
Wields vast power over Oceania. Check.

That seems to describe B.B. to a tee. Taken together, it all sounds pretty dystopian to me. Naaah. That’s crazy. It's 2010 and surely I'm being paranoid.

But you’ll have to excuse me now. I must head over to the Ministry of Plenty. They require that I lead tonight’s national anthem to Oceania (and I want no part of Room 101): "Unfurl the banners, look at the screen; Never before has such glory been seen. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, 'tis for thee. Every deed, every thought 'tis for thee ..."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Where art the moderates?

Slate's Anne Applebaum says Jon Stewart's Million Moderate March shows how skewed the political center has become.
"This is how words, and then ideas, vanish from our political lexicon: Whatever connotations it once had, the word moderate has now come to mean liberal or even left-wing in American politics. It has been a long time since moderate Republicans were regarded as important, centrist assets by their party. Nowadays, they are far more likely to be regarded as closet lefties and potential traitors. Moderate Democrats, meanwhile, no longer exist at all. In their place, we have 'Conservative Democrats.' Nobody pays attention to them, either—unless, suddenly, one of them threatens to vote against the health care reform. And then he is vilified."
Yes, she's basically right. But though it is tear-your-hair-out maddening, American politics is cyclic in nature. Despite all of the woe-is-us chatter (including my own), the current pendulum swing toward nuttiness stems mainly from the recession and cultural changes (most symbolically represented by Obama). As sure as the dawn, sanity will return to the union -- eventually.

Et tu, Jesse Jr?

I was reading a Chicago Tribune story about Jesse Jackson Jr. and his decision not to run for Chicago mayor.

It’s a big surprise.

As the Trib reported, Jackson, 45, has “long contemplated a run for mayor, even toying with the idea when it meant a challenge to Daley.” Hmm. Something, I thought, is not adding up.

Sure enough, Jackson allegedly had an extramarital affair with one Giovana Huidobro, a DC restaurant hostess (whatever that is) and former model (inevitably). She’s the one pictured above with the “come hither” look. The Trib said Jackson and his wife are “working on their marriage.” Which, to me, kinda takes the “allege” out of the “alleged” affair, which Jackson has not denied.

What is it with pols and their libidos? Otherwise rational men risk it all for sex. Granted, certain types of women throw themselves at the powerful, not caring a whit about marital status. Most are as alluring as Ms. Huidobro, the kind of woman many men dream about. And granted, it’s consensual and probably the best sex these pols have ever had.

Still, the cost-benefit analysis never, ever adds up. Which, in the end, means Henry Kissinger is right: “Power is the great aphrodisiac.” And given his once infamous street cred as a “ladies man,” he ought to know.

You betcha?

Former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush said recently he isn't running for president. When CNN's John King asked if he'd support former Alaska (Half) Governor Sarah Palin if she were the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. "You betcha!" he replied with gusto.

That answer momentarily left me breathless.

As a boy, Jeb attended the Phillips Andover Academy, an elite private boarding school in Massachusetts. He made the honor roll in his first semester. He attended the University of Texas (at Austin), where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He completed his course work in only two and a half years. He was a well regarded governor of Florida, the first Republican to serve two full four-year terms. His approach to politics has generally been moderate and pragmatic.

In short, Jeb Bush is a smart, sophisticated man who is a political realist. And yet he would endorse Palin? Since it doesn't really cost him anything, I assume he's just playing politics. Why make an enemy of Mama Grizzly? Let's hope it's just that. For if the day ever comes when reasonable pols like Jeb Bush can get behind an empty-headed charlatan like Palin, we really will be in deep kimchi.

Why we need NPR

The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart on conservatives' short-sighted populism -— and why we need NPR now more than ever:
"The ... revealing thing about the right’s reaction to [Juan Williams’] firing is what is says about conservative populism. Republican pols are climbing over each other to defund NPR, not merely because of its 'liberal bias,' but because, in the words of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, its programs 'should be able to find a way to stand on their own' in the free market.”
"Yes, NPR is elitist, and it’s a good thing too. The people who run the station believe that Americans should know more about what is happening in China and less about what is happening to Britney Spears, which in today’s media makes them downright subversive."
"Once upon a time, there was a wing of American conservatism that recognized that there were public goods and cultural standards that needed to be insulated from the whims of the market. Today, that’s considered elitist. Flagrant ignorance, by contrast, especially about the rest of the world, is a sign of populism, a sign that you don’t think you’re better than anyone else. On the right today, Sarah Palin isn’t adored in spite of her parochialism; she’s adored because of it."

Minstrel Boys

Author and Foreign Policy magazine columnist Tom Ricks posted this short, grim and poignant note on the meaning of a death in combat. It's not clear who the writer is, but it doesn't matter:
"SOMEONE dies in combat. At Brigade level, he's a social security number and a status that gets tracked to Landstuhl. At Division, he's a storyboard. At Corps, he's a statistic. At Platoon and Company, he's a gaping wound in the soul of a hundred men. To his family, it's the end of the world."
Haunting. It's a reminder that however required or justified, war is a crime. That, in turn, reminds me of the old Irish air by Thomas Moore:
"The minstrel boy to the war is gone, in the ranks of death you'll find him ... The minstrel fell but the foeman's chains, could not bring his proud soul under ..."

Rubes R Us?

Mystified historians will undoubtedly recall 2010 as the year Dumb & Dumber triumphed. A time when crowds paid homage to the astonishing number of "Simple Jacks" running for political office. (Let's also hope, nay pray, that they record America ultimately re-embraced sanity and the basic virtues of Socratic logic before driving the red convertible off the cliff a la Thelma & Louise.)

In tough economic times amid the shifting of our cultural tectonic plates, many conservative voters feel under siege. They are understandably anxious. They thirst for direction and answers. Some are so thirsty that they'll skip the Evian of rational ideas to swig down the fast, miraculous cure-all promised by Simple Jack's Potion -- i.e., the bottled pabulum served by the likes of Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell and Glenn Beck, who think a return to a Disneyland version of the 1950s is the solution to what ails us. To them, it seems, reason is anathema. "Cast off the demonic liberal rationalists and repent!" they say in effect, thundering like Charlton Heston's Moses. "And thou shall be saved!" Bottoms up.

Adding insult to injury, purveyors of the mindless culture wars like Fox News and Charles Murray further poison the waters in our democratic oases by pitting so-called elites against so-called rubes. (See post below)

Yet, voters do bear at least some responsibility for our current indulgence in idiocy. Too many are gulping down what appears to be political elixir, but is in fact dry sand. It is a mirage -- answers unmoored from reality. Sadly, what Michael Douglas said in The American President rings true: “People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.”

We'll learn. But our democratic desert is as vast as the Sahara. That means a lot of time on foot between watering holes. And the canteen holding Simple Jack's Potion has a hole in it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are you a lefty snob?

Did you go to a really good (even prestigious) university? Are you into yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but have no idea what MMA (mixed martial arts) is? Are you married to a college grad or live where there lots of them? Never read a Left Behind novel? Do you love "Mad Men” but never watch "The Price Is Right?

Know who Oprah is but never watch her show? Like backpacking the Sierra Nevada but just not into RVs. Love that B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but wouldn't be caught dead on a cruise ship? Not a member of a Rotary or Kiwanis Club, you say? Or ever lived in a small town? (your ivy-covered college doesn't count) And shockingly, you've never even heard of Branson, MO?

Then you, my noble friends, are despicable members of America’s new elite. Pthu! And “a plague a' both your houses!”

That is the crux of Charles Murray’s superficial and, well, appalling op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post. The only thing missing at its conclusion is Marlon Brando’s Kurtz apocalyptically whispering, “The horror. The horror.” Read it here.

There is of course a granule of truth in the charge that some liberals (okay, most liberals) condescend toward the less enlightened among the right, with high-profile pundits like Keith Olbermann and funnyman Jon Stewart gleefully leading the charge.

But it is also true that too many conservatives take anti-intellectualist and/or irrational stances on evolution, Mosque-building, climate change and Obama’s citizenship/religion that make condescension all too easy. To reword John Houseman’s famous catchphrase, they make stupidity the old fashion way, they earn it.

One last thing: What the heck is Branson, MO? Inquiring liberal elite minds want to know. I’m afraid I had to ask The Google. It said: Branson, Missouri is the "Live Music Show Capital of the World," according to the official website.

Well, shut my mouth, honey child. I had no ideeah. And now I got me this strange urge to thump a bible, protest Starbucks, rent a Winnebago, watch the “Price is Right” and cling to mah gun – right after catchin’ me some live NASCAR. Burp!

Oh, by the way, Charles Murray, 67, is a 1965 graduate of über elite Harvard University and proud owner of a PhD from über elite MIT. So, take that, you latte-swilling, pilate-loving, effete liberal snobs. Oh wait … 

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BONUS: Does the name Murray ring a "bell"? It ought to. Murray was co-author of the controversial book The Bell Curve (1994) in which he discusses the role of IQ in American society. Ding! Yeah, that Murray. And let’s just say the book’s insights didn’t sit well with most folks inside or outside elite circles, including some on the right. He’s currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the über conservative think tank in Washington.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I, Narcissist

I was skimming Romenesko (a popular blog aimed at journalists) today when a headline caught my eye: “TV reporter Lu Parker plays by her own set of rules.” The name rang a distant bell. In a click, I was deposited at the LA Times website.

The article reported:
“The KTLA reporter is dating L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, advocating for causes and promoting herself in ways that critics say is a problem for her professional reputation.”
Ding! Oh, her.

The LA Times piece duly covers her celebrity romance with LA’s perpetually tanned, Hollywood handsome, “I-Can-Hardly-Wait-To-Run-For-President” mayor; her glam photo-filled website (luparker.com), her sexy bikini photos and how said behavior (all of which screams: LOOK AT ME!) impacts her job as a “journalist.”

Appalled critics say she's trading on her hot looks, fame and mayoral hook-ups. Parker’s response? “I’m not posing nude or doing anything salacious.” Besides, she maintains, it’s the standards of that media that need changing, not hers. Hey, it’s all about the branding, baby. And the times, they are a changin'. Villaraigosa smartly declined comment. (The now divorced major blew up his marriage in 2007 with his extramarital affair with KVEA-TV reporter Mirthala Salinas. Parker is his second, um, foray into intimate “journalism.”)

"It speaks to the evolving standard of journalism," journalism professor Loren Ghiglione told the LA Times. "Lu Parker is creating a brand, hustling herself and her book. Her station should be nervous about the presence of her with a newsmaker on her website."

"I've never felt more fulfilled in my life," Parker, 39, gushed to the LA Times. "I'm in a great relationship; I have an amazing family and amazing friends. I love my job. Things are great!"

Shakespeare’s King Henry said, “By being seldom seen, I could not stir. But like a comet I was wondered at.” And Lu Parker is a wonder to behold. And she’s hardly the lone narcissist in the galaxy of TV journalism. (Think Rick Sanchez or Sean Hannity.) In Parker’s case, all one can really do is shrug, and say: Work it, sister. You've only got 15 minutes.

The hell we wrought

The latest WikiLeaks document-dump allows us to once again peer into war’s dark, dank abyss. This time the subject deposited is Iraq. The 400,000 secret field reports contain no bombshells. But their stench is pungent. For they reveal, among other things, the systemic use of torture, mainly by Shiites on Sunnis.

Andrew Sullivan writes:
It's horrifying - along the lines of Abu Ghraib and Bagram, but also, in many cases, even worse and cruder. It occurred during US occupation of the country; although most of the torture was perpetrated by Iraqi security forces, and although on occasion American forces prevented torture, some occurred under American control, and there was inevitable enmeshment as they fought alongside.

The forces that conducted these horrific acts are the forces we are handing the country over to. History will harshly judge this war, and those of us who supported it, its long-term strategic effect, and so forth. In particular, it appears, that one of the main actors was Iran, and Iran has emerged as the core winner. But the hell unleashed by the incompetent occupation led to over 100,000 often gruesome civilian deaths in what was a nation-wide bloodbath of almost frenzied proportions.

I think it can be said, now more forcefully than ever, that whatever moral legitimacy this war once had is now gone forever. It was worse than a mistake. It was, in many ways, a crime.
It’s hard to disagree with Sully. However, there is something vaguely naïve about our expectations. Iraq is not post-WWII France. Like all human societies with long histories, Iraq comes with its own unique baggage. Not all of it is good. Is one truly surprised at Iraqi use of torture as evidenced by the WikiLeaks papers? Sadly (and abominably), it is standard operating procedure, albeit unspoken, in many Arab countries. Do we really think a piece of paper stamped “Constitution” will alter dubious jurisprudence and non-democratic behavior overnight?

In 9/11’s wake, an unholy alliance between fanatical neo-conservatives and establishment Republicans fed the raptures for payback. With visions of T.E. Lawrence’s splendid charge into Aqaba, we plunged blindly into the sands of Mesopotamia. It would be a short “cakewalk,” they promised, leading to democracies radiating outward across the windswept deserts from Iraq. It would be “Morning Again” in the Middle East. Besides, to (crudely) paraphrase a famous line in the film Full Metal Jacket, inside every “Haji” there is an American trying to get out. (No offense to anyone intended.)

It was a glorious fantasy, one tragically uniformed by the realities on the ground or Iraqi history. At best, in my view, Iraq will eventually coalesce around a benign strongman friendly and beholden to American interests. He will not be mistaken for John Adams or any Founding Father we’d recognize. He won’t be another monster like Saddam. But he’ll rule in a manner that will sometimes offend our Western sensibilities. True democracy and a moral justice system may come to Iraq in time. And we should nurture it. But we should be wise enough to know it will likely take generations, and perhaps a civil war or two.

Just like it did here in America.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Danger Zone

Ronald Radosh, a Senior Fellow at The Hudson Institute, and hisorian at the City University of New York, explores the dangers of politicizing history:
"Having spent a good deal of time writing about the crude left-wing history of our country by charlatans like Howard Zinn and Oliver Stone, I have become wary of politicized history in general, whether it comes from the precincts of the far left or the far right. This time the culprits are on the right, one of the biggest examples being Glenn Beck. ... Now, from the precincts of the left, come two important critiques of both Beck’s and the Tea Party’s historical narrative."
The entire piece is worth a read.

Rest easy, old friend

GOD WILLING, they never knew what hit them. God willing, they never felt pain as death claimed them in the dawning light. I hope God was especially merciful that day as the lives of 241 Marines were obliterated in an instant. And I especially hope my friend Mike was a recipient of that mercy when he, too, perished in Beirut, on that long ago Sunday at 6.22 a.m., October 23, 1983.

My friend was Captain Michael S. “Iron Mike” Haskell. That's his mug on the left. Mike had been an enlisted man, a staff sergeant, before joining the Corps’ officer ranks after college. To us newly commissioned lieutenants at Quantico, VA, that made Mike a god-like “Marine’s Marine.” He already knew what he was doing.

As young officers, Mike and I trained together, sweated together, played softball together and drank together. We even served together as platoon leaders at the famous Marines Barracks in Washington DC. Another Marine who knew him, retired Chief Warrant Officer Charles Henderson poignantly made tribute to Mike this way: “He kissed his kids. He hugged his fellow Marines. He wept, sitting on an ammunition box one evening in Beirut, because he missed his wife, back home in Virginia.”

Yes, that’s the Mike I knew. And I remember his sensitivity well. It marked him as a real man. October 23 marks the 27th anniversary of his death at the Marine Barrack in Beirut, Lebanon. The tragedy occurred when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with explosives into the Marine compound at Beirut International Airport, killing the Marines (and about 100 others) as they slept. The blast then was the biggest non-nuclear explosion in history.

Mike’s premature passing, along with the others, is the reason the name Ronald Reagan sticks in my craw, even now. The deaths were unnecessary. And I've never been able to forgive Reagan for it. At the time, even I knew that the deployment of our Marines to Lebanon was a fool’s errand. Reagan’s well-known biographer, Lou Canon, put it best in The Role of a Lifetime: “The story of the Reagan administration’s involvement in Lebanon is a case study of foreign policy calamity.” Canon concluded that it was the “greatest disaster of the Reagan presidency.” He’s still right.

I had intended to delve deeper into Reagan and the Marines in ‘83. But a peculiar quote from a brilliantly absurd film character sprang to mind. Narrating, Forrest Gump said, “She had got the cancer and died on a Tuesday. I bought her a new hat with little flowers on it. And that's all I have to say about that.”

My good friend Mike Haskell died in a violent explosion in Beirut. He was sent there by “wise men” with little knowledge of the world. And that's all I have to say about that.

Firing Juan, Redux

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted on his blog this morning, Juan Williams finally said what his hyperventilating critics wanted him to say: Yes, it's wrong to judge on Muslim garb alone.

In an article he penned late yesterday, he wrote:
"Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims. This is not a bigoted statement. ... In a debate with Bill O'Reilly I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. ... And I made it clear that all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to the violation of anyone's constitutional rights."
As I've said previously, Williams is no bigot. The good, over-sensitive folks at NPR overreacted by firing him. Now, of course, the Washington press corps is using him as a political piñata in our incessant war of liberal v. conservative. I say, enough. Leave the guy alone and, as Sargent aptly put it, "let him get on with his life as a full-blown, out-of-the-closet Fox News personality already."

Old Chinese Proverb

I rediscovered one of my favorite Chinese proverbs today:
"All crows in the world are black."
The normal interpretation is: Some rules, like the natural forces governing the universe, are unbendable. (One plus one will always equal two, despite wishing otherwise.) Politically, I interpret it as: Congress is the finest body of men and women money can buy. Heh.

Great Passages – ‘Mister Roberts’

Mister Roberts is a 1955 film about life aboard an obscure US Navy cargo ship plying the Pacific’s backwaters in the waning days of World War II. The screenplay was written by Rob Hartill.

The protagonist, Lt. Doug Roberts (Henry Fonda), desperately wants to transfer to a combat destroyer before the war ends. The ship’s captain, memorably played by James Cagney, is a crude martinet who won’t permit it. The plot, blending madcap humor with the deadly reality of war, deals with how Mr. Roberts finally gets his transfer. (The crew ends up forging the captain’s signature on the transfer orders.)

Near the film’s end, Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon) gets a pair of letters. One is from the beloved Mr. Roberts who is now aboard a destroyer in comat. As the crew gathers around, Pulver reads the letter aloud:
Ensign Pulver: “Doc, I've been aboard this destroyer for two weeks now and we've already been through four air attacks. I'm in the war at last, Doc! I've caught up with that task force that passed me by. I'm glad to be here. I had to be here, I guess. But I'm thinking now of you, Doc, and you, Frank. And Dolan, and Dowdy, and Insigna and everyone else on that bucket. All the guys everywhere who sail from Tedium to Apathy and back again, with an occasional side trip to Monotony. This is a tough crew on here, and they have a wonderful battle record. But I've discovered, Doc, that the unseen enemy of this war is the boredom that eventually becomes a faith and, therefore, a terrible sort of suicide. l know now that the ones who refuse to surrender to it are the strongest of all. Right now I'm looking at something that's hanging over my desk. A preposterous hunk of brass attached to the most bilious piece of ribbon I've ever seen. I'd rather have it than the Congressional Medal of Honor. It tells me what I'll always be proudest of: That at a time in the world when courage counted most I lived among 62 brave men.”
Pulver quietly reads the second letter. It’s from a friend who is serving on the same ship as Mr. Roberts. He learns Roberts was killed in combat. "A Japanese kamikaze hits a 40mm battery and goes through into the wardroom, Doug was getting a cup of coffee." The film is based on a 1946 novel and 1948 broadway play written by Thomas Heggen. Jack Lemmon received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

From Tedium to Apathy ... with an occasional side trip to Monotony.” 

Great screenwriting, great acting, great movie.