Friday, December 30, 2011

Greed, alas, is eternal

From time immemorial, merchants have relied on a simple axiom when pricing goods or services: Charge whatever the market will bear. Or as the uber-capitalist Ferengi of Star Trek would put it: "Why offer a fair price when you can hoodwink your mark into paying triple?" But all is fair in love and free enterprise. Well, almost all. Yesterday, the pinstriped Ferengi of Verizon Wireless unveiled plans to charge customers a $2 monthly fee for the f**king privilege of paying their bills online or by phone. The blowback by said customers was massive and instantaneous. By sunup, one online petition against the fee had garnered 95,000 signatures, per Reuters. Today, Verizon blinked and quickly scrapped its bid for robber barondom. "We take great care to listen to our customers," bleated Verizon CEO Dan Mead. Suddenly, the mea culpa went, there was no "need to institute the fee at this time." Yessir, nothing like getting your hand caught in your customer's pocket in broad daylight. Clearly, the mobile phone giant forgot Ferengi Rules of Acquisition No. 203: "Customers are like razor-toothed gree-worms. They can be succulent, but sometimes they bite back." Heh.

(Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Come Get Drunk And Cry

New York magazine's Dan Amira gets it exactly right when he writes: "The Most Honest New Year’s Eve Invitation Ever" -- adding: "We have all been to these, and they are exactly like that." Heh. It kinda reminds of that time, years ago, when I ... um, hmm ... never mind. I keep forgetting: what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet, forever.

Shopping While Male (sort of)

Granted, the holiday week between Christmas and New Years is notoriously slow, news-wise. It explains the plethora of zero-calorie articles now choking "the internets." (Slate: "What Will Beyoncé’s Birthing Experience Be Like?") Not to be outdone, the New York Times heaved one of its own notorious "trend" stories into the thin digital gruel. It asked rhetorically: Do Men Shop Like Women? Answer: "Women shop, men stockpile." No kidding. And Mars, like Venus, still orbits the sun, too. For most men, shopping is a chore not a social activity. Anyway, the Times inquired into les habitudes d'achat of a dozen or so Famous Men to support this obvious thesis. Topping the list (inevitably) is Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair (pictured above). The only thing bigger than Graydon's shock of trademark hair is his trademark ego. He regaled the Times with this bit of peacocking:
"A dozen or so years ago, I came across a Paul Smith knit shirt that just sort of hit with me. It was dark blue with long sleeves, and it had a slightly old-fashioned rolled collar. The three buttons in front were small, light blue enameled half-globes with penguins in them. I thought it might be the sort of shirt I could wear for years and went back to the shop on lower Fifth to get a few more, but they had nothing in my size. I have a passing acquaintance with Paul, so I wrote him asking if they could make up a few more like the one I bought and send me the bill. Which in time, they did. I still have the shirts. And I still wear them. And damned if I don’t wish I’d bought even more."
Oh brother. I just loved the line: "I have a passing acquaintance with Paul ..." For those condemned to toil as one of the unwashed "little people," as ex-BP chief Tony Hayward once put it, Paul is Sir Paul Smith, a menswear icon in haute couture circles. I don't know what's in your closet, but none of the buttons on my knit shirts have "penguins" in them. But it must nice to pen a letter to the knighted head chap, order few more "like the one I bought," and have the knits and the bill sent to me at his leisure. Wow. Talk about a three-alarm Poseur Alert.

The 'outhouse' that Newt built

Newt Gingrich -- who clearly can't catch a break -- is now taking some flak about his home in leafy McLean, Va. It's a nice house. According to the New York Times, it's a "5,206-square-foot stone mansionette, built in 1987." It also contains an Ann Kenkel-designed master bathroom with enough wall-to-wall mirrors and chandeliers to make Marie Antoinette blush. Why the Times felt it important to highlight the bathroom decorum (and provide a link to a lavish photo of it) remains a mystery. Upon seeing the bathroom, I was reminded of that scene in Men in Black where Will Smith tries to convince a woman that her recently departed husband wasn't really an alien: "In fact, you know what - you kicked HIM out! And now that he's gone you're gonna go into town ... find some nice dresses, get yourself some shoes, you know, find somewhere, maybe you can get a facial. And, uh, oh - hire a decorator to come in here quick, 'cause... DAMN."

'All I Ever Wanted'

For whatever reason (though it truly doesn't matter), singer Kelly Clarkson endorsed GOP candidate Ron Paul on Twitter last night. Clarkson, as you may recall, careened into our musical lives after becoming American Idol's first winner in 2002. "I love Ron Paul. I liked him a lot during the last republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he's got my vote. Too bad he probably won't," she tweeted cheerily. My reaction to this breaking news: Um, Clarkson is a Republican? That explains a lot. Scarier still, the political press considers this news.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

OTUS, my man!

Oh, great. ABC News is birthing a new website for politics. They've christened it OTUS (meaning "Of The United States"). The name is a play on POTUS which, among DC reporters, is short for President of the United States. Get it? To further confuse things, OTUS will probably be pronounced as "Otis" -- as in "Otis, my man!" from the infamous scene in Animal House. Anyway, Jake Tapper, the network's top political reporter, "promises that OTUS will flag both the 'urgent and the ridiculous,' offer games, display correspondents’ Twitter feeds, and create a stock market-style ticker that assesses the rising and falling worth of candidates with social media," according to Slate alum Jack Shafer. In other words, Fluff R Us. To regurgitate an old cliche, we need another political website like we need a hole in the head. But, whatever. There's still plenty of room in the media rabbit hole we're all plunging down together.

Is Romney a RINO?

At the start of the year, Steve Benen predicted that the Mitt Romney juggernaut would get derailed once Republicans learned about his past moderate positions on hot button issues. Holding himself to account, the Washington Monthly pundit admits that he "wasn't even close to being correct." But his prediction was not without logic. After all, he writes, "We're talking about a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, 'amnesty' for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change. He distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. He supported taxpayer-funded abortions and taxpayer-financed medical care for undocumented immigrants." Romney of course brazenly flip-flopped on all of those issues -- and (as I continue to predict) he is still likely to be the GOP nominee. But therein lies Romney's core problem. The GOP base, in their hearts of hearts, thinks Romney is a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Ironically, the base is probably not wrong.

Friday, December 23, 2011

'Twas two nights before Christmas

JUST BACK from your sixth gift-buying visit to the mall? Still have 100 Christmas cards to sign and mail? Does your home (which you still have to clean before the guests arrive) resemble a Kandahar battlefield? And if you hear one more version of "Jingle Bells" on the radio your head will explode, right?

Welcome to Christmas 2011 and its attendant madness. You can blame Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston Jr. (historians aren't sure which) for your yuletide crisis. On this day in 1823, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was published anonymously by one of the aforementioned men.

According to Wikipedia, our conception of Santa Claus (from the Dutch "Sinterklaas") and its Christmassy accoutrements sprang from this children's fairy tale. Before the mid-nineteenth century, Christmas customs in America were much simpler: "Church, dinner, dancing, some evergreens, [and] visiting." That's it, according to historian Emma Power. There was nary a Christmas tree, let alone the frenzy of gift buying and exchanging. Williamsburg-based writer Ivor Noël Hume notes, "In truth, most of the panoply of Christmas is the product of pagan tradition, of Victorian sentimentality, and of modern marketing that keeps millions of the world's elves in the manufacturing business." Which explains why the "visions of sugar plums" [i.e., Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3] really dance in your kids' heads today.

OK, time's up. It's T-minus 30 hours to Christmas. Stop reading and get back to work! Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The real '1984'

It is hard to believe that Orwell's Oceania, the dystopian state that provides the setting for "Nineteen Eighty-Four," could actually exist. But it does. We know it as North Korea (or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea). And it currently imprisons some 25 million souls. The Atlantic's Max Fisher writes:
North Korea is saturated with state propaganda and little else. Outside radio signals are jammed, while radios blasting state messages are installed in every home and impossible to turn off. Fax machines and internet access are both illegal except for a small cadre of trusted elite. Computers must be registered with the police as if they were hunting rifles. Schools double as indoctrination centers; children are taught songs with titles like "We Have Nothing to Envy In the World" as soon as they can speak. Many towns in North Korea have no cars or little food beyond cornmeal, but every single one has a movie theater, where the 40 films produced every year by state-run studios depict the greatness of the Kim family and the awfulness of the outside world.

Expression is so limited that even certain colors are off-limits for personal use. Without exposure to any ideas or version of events from outside North Korea or even from fellow North Koreans not directly involved in disseminating propaganda, people have no reason to doubt the official version: they are living in the happiest, richest country on Earth, and they are constantly beset by an external threat that could end everything if they are not vigilant. The American threat is portrayed within North Korea as ever-present and horrifying.
Fisher's piece ("Gulag of the Mind: Why North Koreans Cry for Kim Jong Il") is gripping. It is a sad reminder of what men will do (and have always done) for the sake of power and its maintenance for the few, or the one. North Korea serves the Kim family, and nothing more. And we have the audacity to call ourselves Homo sapien, Latin for "wise man." Not yet ...
Stretching in front of you the night's immensity
Hides the western hill where sleeps the distant sun;
Still with bated breath the world is counting time and swimming
Across the shoreless dark a crescent moon
Has thinly just appeared upon the dim horizon.
--But O my bird, O sightless bird,
Not yet, not yet the time to furl your wings.

Rabindranath Tagore ("Hard Times")

What equality looks like

Thanks to the historic elimination of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy by President Obama, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, left, assigned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) could openly kiss her fiancée, Fire Controlman 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, upon her return from a deployment. To it's credit, the US Navy posted the photo on it's website.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Bourne Idiocy, Part Deux

In As You Like It, Shakespeare famously wrote: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players [who] have their exits and their entrances."

However, many Hollywood stars think they're more than just "players" (and lotsa luck dragging them off stage). Some evidently believe stardom confers Cicero-like wisdom. Take Matt Damon. Doing his best Marcus Aurelius imitation (i.e., Jason Bourne in a toga), he recently told Elle magazine that he is disappointed with President Obama. "You know, a one-term president with some balls who actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better,” he said. This, mind you, is coming from a college drop-out (Damon) with the gall to critique the guy who earned two university degrees, edited the Harvard Law Review and became leader of the free world while being black. But I guess starring as "Bill the Krill" in Happy Feet 2 has given Damon special insight into judging presidential leadership.

Even Elle noted Damon's "now-familiar tone of wounded idealism." Evidently, Damon & Friends thought they had elected the Messiah to the White House. With Resurrection 2.0 nowhere in sight, they're crestfallen. What they got instead was the most productive president in half a century and who operates with the brains, efficiency and, yes, ruthlessness of Michael Corleone. Just ask Obama's opponents in The Five Families worldwide. Yes, Obama had to compromise at times -- you know, like those dithering Founding Fathers -- and he hasn't gotten everything he wants. But Bach's Präludium D Major is still playing in the background. (Think The Godfather, the Baptism sequence.) And yet Damon is convinced that Obama lacks cojones and has little to show since inauguration. Why do the Wizard of Oz lyrics to "If I Only Had A Brain" suddenly leap to mind?
With the thoughts you'd be thinkin'
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain ...
Damon's observation is meaningless, of course. Were he a starring member of a theatre troupe in 180 AD and he made similar remarks about Emperor Aurelius, Damon's head would quickly find itself mounted on a Roman pike. Gaius Barackus Obama is more forgiving. But, like the Godfather, he also doesn't miss a thing. The president put the matter into proper perspective when he addressed the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington: "I've even let down my key core constituency: movie stars. [laughter] Just the other day, Matt Damon -- I love Matt Damon, love the guy -- Matt Damon said he was disappointed in my performance. [dramatic pause] Well, Matt, I just saw The Adjustment Bureau, so ... right back atcha, buddy."

Trump This

Touré on Donald Trump: "Brash, bold, big mouthed, egotistical, certain he's right even when he's not. But he's also a liar — constantly lying about how much money he has and how important he is and how smart he is. He's the classic man born on third base who thinks he hit a triple. And he's an American obscenity: His self-absorption and media whoredom are gross, and his perversion of the presidential process was disgusting. Carnival barker indeed." (Hat tip: New York magazine)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vegans vs. carnivores

Finally, a sensible vegetarian speaks truth to reality. Nicolette Hahn Niman writes: "As any attentive observer of nature knows, life feeds on life. Every living thing, from mammals, birds, and fish to plants, fungi, and bacteria, eats other living things. Humans are part of the food web; but for the artifices of cremation and tightly sealed caskets, all of us would eventually be recycled into other life forms. It is natural for people, like other omnivores, to participate in this web by eating animals. And it is ethically defensible -- provided we refrain from causing gratuitous suffering. ... Concerns about health, the environment, and ethical eating do not require giving up meat. What they do require is a new ethics of eating animals: one rooted in moderation, mindfulness, and respect." Amen. (By the way, the sign the lettuce-clad woman is carrying in the above photo reads: "Vegetarians Taste Better." The polar bear is thinking: "Yum, I bet she does." Heh.)

Sagan's God

"Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws." (Carl Sagan, astronomer/astrophysicist, died this day in 1996 at age 62)

Quote of the Day

"Given the evident inability of any of the current candidates to generate enthusiasm in even one third of Iowa Republicans, and the fact that the caucus 'winner' could well be someone that 3/4 of the voters rejected, I am comfortable predicting right now the winner of the GOP Iowa Caucuses: President Obama." (Keith Humphreys, Stanford University)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Once upon a midnight dreary

Sometimes, a photograph or work of art best captures the legacy of a leader. Behold what North Korea's Kim Jong-Il left behind. The vibrant, interconnected, illuminated areas are located in South Korea. The north, alas, is a black hole trapped in a moonless midnight.

(Photo: A Department of Defense satellite image of the Korean Peninsula at night, circa 2006. The sole patch of light seen above the DMZ emanates from Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, home of the ruling junta and their luxury compounds.)

Nether regions, the last frontier

Writing for The Atlantic last week, Ashley Fetters opened a certain kimono by asking: Is female pubic hair in America going extinct? Talk about link bait. Needless to say, this can't-miss feature story has gone viral. Apparently, the ubiquitous Brazilian wax is de rigueur for women under 30 (though not exclusively so). Citing a scholarly Indiana University study (yes, they actually research this stuff), Fetters says more women than ever have adopted the Barbie look down under. "[N]early 60 percent of American women between 18 and 24 are sometimes or always completely bare down there, while almost half of women in the U.S. between 25 and 29 reported similar habits," Fetters reports. The reasons are variable. They include the influence of pornography, the pursuit of better hygiene and a supposed effort by women to "take control of their bodies" -- you know, Sex And The City-style. But I think Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a gynecologist at New York's Columbia University Medical Center, has identified the real reason behind the surge in nether region grass-trimming. Per the LA Times, she told ABC News: “For every single thing that's normal about a woman's body, there's a man trying to change it […] The last frontier was the vagina." Take note, ladies.

(Painting Credit: Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). Nude Looking over Her Right Shoulder. 1917.)

Buh-bye, Dear Leader

From which of these "Dear Leaders" would you buy a used car? Right. I'd pass on both, too. The son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un (pictured at right), makes even Scrooge look like Santa Claus. Exuding warmth is clearly not a hereditary trait. I generally avoid speaking ill of the dead. But in the case of Kim Jong-Il, 69, who died from heart failure over the weekend, I hope a special place has been reserved in Hell for him. Per New York magazine, "A wearer of four-inch lifts in his shoes, [Kim Jong-Il] reportedly gathered the shortest people in Pyongyang with the promise of a wonder drug, and then exiled them to uninhabited islands to die." Worst, as National Journal writer Michael Hirsh has noted, "North Korea's regime has come the closest of any society to what Orwell called, in 1984, the literal inability to conceive an unorthodox thought. Good riddance. Let's hope that the new Dear Leader is not a chip off the old block.

Another inconvenient truth

"There’s something horrible and undefeatable about people who have no life except the worship of power, people who don’t want the meeting to end, the people who just are unstoppable, who only have one focus, no humanity, no character, nothing but the worship of money and power. They win in the end." (Christopher Hitchens)

Re-chiseling the Ten Commandments

The late Christopher Hitchens thought that the Laws of Moses, the Ten Commandments, were seriously overdue for a re-write. "It’s difficult to take oneself with sufficient seriousness to begin any sentence with the words 'Thou shalt not,' ” he wrote in a piece for Vanity Fair last year. In fact, he asked, why not toss the Tablets and simply state the obvious in their stead? To wit:
"Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color. Do not ever use people as private property. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature—why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them? Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and think and act accordingly. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife. Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions. Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above."
"In short," Hitchens wrote, "Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form." Amen.

(Illustration credit: Edward Sorel / Vanity Fair.)

Marley's Ghost

"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

And so begins the familiar tale, "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, published this day in 1843. A few passages later, we meet the crotchety protagonist, the business partner of the dearly departed Jacob Marley, as he sat "busy in his counting-house" on Christmas Eve:
EXTERNAL heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did ...

“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”
In his preface, Dickens famously wrote in part: "I HAVE endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly." May it do so, indeed. Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Passage of a poet-president

Vaclav Havel: "The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less." The former Czech Republic president, a dissident playwright who inspired the non-violent "Velvet Revolution" that brought down communism in Czechoslovakia, died today at age 75.

Selling madness by the bottle

Among the sentient, the reasons to keep Newt Gingrich out of the White House are legion. But the GOP candidate's response to a question by CBS News host Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" this morning should probably top the list:
SCHIEFFER: "One of the things you say is that if you don't like what a court has done, that Congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before Congress and hold a congressional hearing ... how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol Police down to arrest him?"

GINGRICH: "Sure. If you had to. Or you'd instruct the Justice Department to send a U.S. Marshal."
Yowzer. Dumbfounded (like me), the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen wrote:
"Just so we're clear, this week, a leading presidential candidate articulated his belief that, if elected, he might (1) eliminate courts he doesn't like; (2) ignore court rulings he doesn't like; and (3) take judges into custody if he disapproves of their legal analyses. I hope it's unnecessary to note that Gingrich's vision is stark raving mad."
Yet, one wonders given Newt's rise in the polls. Granted, Aristotle was right when he said, "There was never a genius without a tincture of madness." The trouble with Newt is that, like the proprietors of Jonathan Swift's proverbial tavern, he sells madness by the bottle. Yet Gingrich's grandiloquence illuminates a larger, more consequential point that John Updike articulated so well: "A leader is one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take upon himself the woe of the people. There are few men so foolish, hence the erratic quality of leadership in the world."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Christopher Hitchens died last night at age 62. The National Journal tweeted that the New York Times literally stopped the presses to publish his obit on A1. That alone speaks volumes about stature of the thinking man whom many called "the Hitch." The deluge of tributes to his outsized personality and polemics is wondrous to behold. Some of his antagonists even tipped their hats. Even his Achilles Heel ― an overindulging fondness for smoking and alcohol ― is remarked about with awe. All this, ironically, for an Englishman most Americans have never heard of. That, too, alas, speaks volumes about us writ large. Hitchens was a candle that flickered defiantly in what sometimes feels like an intellectual Dark Age. We are the worst for that light being extinguished prematurely.

I shall miss the heft and worldliness of his arguments, his complexity and nuance, his unflinching fidelity to the truth as he saw it, the breathtaking audacity of his stand against organized religion (which he saw as "violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry"), the shimmering brilliance of the prose he produced so effortlessly, and his wicked Wodehousian humor (think Jeeves and Bertie Wooster). And then there is his bohemian voice, now silenced. "[V]irtually no one else on earth talked the way that Christopher talked, with that degree of precision, passion, learnedness, and lethal wit. Yes, his mots were mighty bon," wrote John Heilemann today. That, too, I will miss. Hitchens, to my mind, is among the last of the great 20th century intellectuals. We may well endure a Long Winter before we see the likes of him again.

Time's Joe Klein nailed it when he wrote:
"He may have been among the last of his kind–truly, a thought-full man of letters, rather than of “takes” and sound bites. ... I worry that Hitch is taking with him a world, a world of contemplative reading and writing―the very opposite of what I am doing right now, posting an immediate reaction to his death on this blog. He lived life perpetually intoxicated, not just by booze (he was happily soused during our English debate), but by books and words and thoughts and ideas. I will miss him, and all the excesses he cherished. We need more such, and are left with less."
There are some great remembrances out there. Heilemann's here and Christopher Buckley's here, are two of the best thus far. But Hitchens touched the literate commoner, too. One of Andrew Sullivan's readers wrote:
"I once went to hear Hitchens speak in San Francisco. Afterward, he was signing books. I was broke and didn't have enough money for a book, but I got in line just to thank him for his articles denouncing Kissinger, which meant a lot to me and my parents, who were both deeply affected by the Vietnam War. I told him all this. He listened - he seemed as good at listening as speaking - and he asked me all kinds of questions. We talked for a bit, and finally he asked if he could sign something. I told him I didn't have enough money for a book. Without hesitating, he pulled one off the pile, asked for my parents' names, and inscribed the book to them. One of the best moments of my life. I loved the man. He's left the world to a bunch of fucking lightweights, but we have to try our best."
Fred Kaplan, who knew Hitchens, is right about not sentimentalizing him. "Hitch could be a real shit if you fell on the wrong side of his favor," wrote Kaplan. "Among our mutual friends, he had fallings-out, in some cases multiple ones, with almost every one of them. And yet, at some point, they always fell back in. He was too irresistible and, in a pinch, too good a friend." RIP.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Santa by the numbers

So, just how does Santa Claus deliver the goods to every Christian soul under age 14 on the Night before Christmas? I mean, we're talking about one bearded dude with a limited-capacity sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Sounds a tad impractical. But -- no worries, kids. Writing for The Atlantic, Philip Bump (yes, that's his real name) does the math: "There are just over 526,000,000 Christian kids under the age of 14 in the world who celebrate Christmas on December 25th. In other words, Santa has to deliver presents to almost 22 million kids an hour, every hour, on the night before Christmas. That's about 365,000 kids a minute; about 6,100 a second. Totally doable."

Poseur alert

When a tweeter asked Alec Baldwin "How do you take your coffee?" he replied: "Like my women. Expensive and bitter." (Hat tip: Jim Windolf, New York magazine)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Beatles before the 'Big Bang'

SCIENCE doesn't yet know what occurred before our universe exploded into being. But we do know what happened before the "Big Bang" that produced the Beatles. OUPBlog's Gordon Thompson takes a fascinating look back.

By the end of 1961, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison had adopted the “pilzen kopf” hairstyle (or "Beatle" cut) from the German students they had seen sporting it during their Hamburg gigs. After hearing the Beatles play in a Liverpool club (a "claustrophobic former vegetable cellar"), future band manager Brian Epstein was convinced he had discovered a diamond in the rough. But even he realized that the mountain to fame would be steep. At this point, the Beatles were mimicking the "leather-jacket look of American rocker Gene Vincent." According to Thompson, their stage presence left much to be desired. During sets, they played songs disjointedly (randomly stopping and starting), "spiced their stage banter with profanity, flirted with women, left cigarettes burning on the edges of their amplifiers, gnawed on sandwiches, and emptied bottles of Coca Cola into their thirsty mouths."

In short, they were the epitome of "adolescent thuggery" and seemingly condemned to "playing the same Liverpool clubs and dance halls over and over with occasional trips to Hamburg for little pay and even less of a future." Nevertheless, Epstein pitched the future "Fab Four" at his record shop on a quiet Sunday in December 1961. Thompson writes:
"Their previous manager Allan Williams had warned him away from the band, but Epstein represented an elegant, polite, and persistent force of nature, an anomaly in Britain’s often-seedy entertainment industry. If they took him as their manager, they would have (a) to clean up their stage presentation (e.g., no more private or obscene jokes on stage and no more smoking, eating or drinking on stage), (b) to play preplanned organized sets (i.e., no more rehearsing songs during a performance), (c) to carefully control their stage time, (d) to arrive in a timely fashion for engagements, and (e) to exchange their leather jackets for tailored suits. The preternaturally punctual Epstein would provide them with their weekly schedules, typed and annotated with instructions on how best to please their employers and audiences. He took a percentage of their income, but he immediately set to converting aspiration to realization."
The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

High Plains Drone

AS THE SUN slipped below the North Dakota horizon on June 23, Sheriff Kelly Janke stood eyeball to eyeball with three men brandishing rifles at the Brossart family farm. Janke was looking for six missing cows. The men -- brothers and known troublemakers -- were unimpressed with the search warrant Janke had just shown them. At gunpoint, the Brossart brothers told him to get off their land, a 3,000-acre spread. Sheriff Janke, a wily cuss, wisely backed off and left. But it wasn't over, by gum. Not by a long shot. Thinking an armed confrontation was inevitable, Janke called for back-up from the Highway Patrol -- plus a "regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties," per the Tribune Washington. And then he did something that previous generations of Dakota lawmen could never do (let alone conceive of): He called in a Predator drone.

Cue the theme song from Clint Eastwood's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Long story short: The next day, the spy drone (courtesy of the US Air Force) circled 2 miles above the prairie, pinpointed (in real time) the Brossart brothers riding all-terrain vehicles on the outskirts of their property, and (via the Predator's hi-res infrared mode) determined they were unarmed. A SWAT team then swooped in to arrest the alleged cattle rustlers. No shots were fired. The Brossarts went to jail all peaceably-like. Sheriff Janke got to ride into the sunset, Hollywood-style.

Apparently, this was the first use of a Predator to help police arrest US citizens. Despite the happy ending, some folks worry that we are opening Pandora's Box. Former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) told the AP that using Predators for routine law enforcement without public debate or clear legal authority is a mistake. "There is no question that this could become something that people will regret," she said. Point taken. There are legitimate privacy concerns. And robust legal oversight should be put into place -- quickly. But hyperventilating over domestic drone use and the attendant "slippery slope" theories (see Glenn Greenwald) strike me as overblown. A straightforward (albeit Reaganesque) approach seems more appropriate: Trust but verify.

The 'Witchy Woman' speaks

“That’s one of the things that I like about him — because he’s been consistent since he changed his mind.” ―Christine "I'm not a witch, I'm you" O’Donnell, endorsing Mitt Romney for president today. Only in America. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Hurtling toward a train wreck

IS HISTORY repeating itself? As Rick Perlstein wrote in his book “Before the Storm," the Republican Party was hijacked in 1964 by “a little circle of political diehards whose every move was out of step with the times.” Sound familiar? The GOP nominee, Barry Goldwater -- who was the equivalent to Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Gingrich and Palin rolled into one -- "embraced 'extremism' in the fond hope that its time, if not his time, would come." Nobody worried about “electability.” LBJ, of course, went on to crush Goldwater. A similar fate probably awaits the GOP in 2012. They just don't know it yet.

As Jeffrey Toobin explains in the New Yorker, it ain't rocket science:
"What makes this collective embrace of [unpalatable issues] so peculiar is that the Republican candidates, as well as most Republicans, are positively obsessed with winning the 2012 election. They revile Obama and desire, above all, his ouster. In light of this, wouldn’t they seek out the broadest possible coalition for defeating him? Apparently not. Rather, the working Republican hypothesis seems to be that the damaged economy will trump any specific stand on the issues. Americans will embrace the Republican candidate simply to punish Obama for failing to cure what ails the economy. In this environment, even the Republican id will be an easy sell. ... There is, in short, a lesson about both the long and the short run in the election of 1964. In the long run, a campaign based on unpopular ideas may change the country forever. In the short run, the fate of a platform of uniformly unpopular ideas—like that of the Republicans in 2012—is more certain. It loses."
He's right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I think, therefore nature does, too

Essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan: "What’s true of us is true of nature. If we are conscious, as our species seems to have become, then nature is conscious. Nature became conscious in us, perhaps in order to observe itself. It may be holding us out and turning us around like a crab does its eyeball. Whatever the reason, that thing out there, with the black holes and the nebulae and whatnot, is conscious. One cannot look in the mirror and rationally deny this. It experiences love and desire, or thinks it does. The idea is enough to render the Judeo-Christian cosmos sort of quaint."

The 'weird' road to the White House

Rob Long of Ricochet (a conservative blog) offers his Theory of Everything as it applies to winning presidential elections. To wit: "It's a pretty simple law. Here's what you have to do: You have to act less weird than your opponent. Note: Long's Law doesn't say you have to act normal. For most office-seekers, that's just not an option. Long's First Law of Winning Elections is, you have to act only slightly less weird than your opponent. Think about it: Bush v. Gore. Clinton v. Bush. Obama v. Clinton. Even Obama v. McCain. All of these races were colored, primarily, as a contest between an awkwardly packaged and remote-controlled candidate and one who seemed more, well, human. Less weird." Right. Long's theory is daft, of course. But let's humor him. If being less odd than the other odd ducks is all it takes to win, then President Obama can totally relax about reelection.

Go ahead, punk, make my day

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN that Mitt Romney may not be the best candidate to run against President Obama. “My gut tells me right now as I look at it that Gingrich might actually be the stronger candidate, because I think he can make a broader connection than Mitt Romney to those Reagan Democrats. You won't have this barrier of possible elitism that I think Obama could exploit pretty effectively,” Giuliani said. On the one hand, this "analysis" is coming from a former GOP candidate (and elite multimillionaire) who promptly flew his own presidential campaign into the ground in 2008. Ergo, only a fool would bet on Giuliani's "gut" instincts. On the other hand, if Hizzoner's viewpoint takes hold among Republicans and they select Newt as their 2012 standard bearer, they'll be popping champagne corks in the White House. Go ahead, GOP, make Obama's day.

Monkey business

Putting the "p" back in pithy, Obama's top political adviser David Axelrod summed up the Newt Gingrich campaign to date: "The higher a monkey climbs on the pole the more you can see his butt." Perfect. (Hat tip: New York magazine)

The most watched GOP debate - evah!

ABC News is boasting that its GOP debate (“Your Voice, Your Vote”) on Saturday drew the highest ratings yet with 7.6 million viewers. As the Washington Post noted, “[The debate] — starring Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos, co-starring candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — ranked as Saturday night’s most watched program." Amazing. On the other hand, the folks who actually planned their lives around this reality show debate represent only about 2.5 percent of the population. But GOP activists and groupies aside, one still wonders who these poor people are. ("Honey, let's skip dinner and a movie tonight. I mean, heck, who needs George Clooney in The Descendants when we can watch the actual progeny of George and Lenore Romney (i.e., Mitt), do his tragicomic performance art on TV -- live") Fortunately, most of America has a life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Spooked by 'Eye of Newt?'

Daily Beast writer Michelle Cottle thinks Newt Gingrich has Mitt Romney "spooked" after Saturday's Republican debate. "Up to now [Romney] had looked consistently solid in these forums: calm, cool, reasonable, informed, somewhat robotic, but on the whole believably presidential," Cottle wrote. "Tonight, by contrast, it was as though he had prepped for the showdown by doing several lines of coke backstage. He was talking too fast. Blinking too fiercely. Fidgeting too much. Babbling. Cackling. On the whole looking, as Newt Gingrich might put it, fundamentally twitchy." Clever. I too giggled when I read Cottle's piece. Now step back. What have we really learned from her sardonic observation? Yes, Romney had a bad night, sorta. (One wonders how Ms. Cottle would do if she were behind the podium under the klieg lights.) But what does Romney's "twitchy" performance have to do with, well, anything? Is Romney throwing in the towel because Newt outflanked him, bullshit-wise? Nope. Did his "fidgeting" cast doubt on his mettle for the presidency? Or that he'll blink first in a future staring contest with Vladimir Putin? Ridiculous. In short, Cottle (like many others) served up another tasty but nutrient-free meal for rote consumption. This, dear readers, is what too often passes for political "analysis" these days. Sure, a girl's gotta earn a living and spinning fluff is an easy way for Cottle do it. Fine. But she produced zero evidence that Romney, the most monied and best organized candidate in the GOP race, is in any way spooked by "eye of Newt" or his "howlet's wing." I am spooked, however, by the increasingly scary press coverage of this election cycle, a true witches' brew.

Profits über alles?

In another blow to newspapers, The Tampa Tribune announced it is laying off 165 people or about 16 percent of its workforce. While sad, the development was not wholly unexpected at the financially troubled Trib. But sadder still is the mindset exhibited by the "suits" at the newspaper. In an attempt to apply lipstick to this pig, John Schauss, vice president of market operations (and whose own job is presumably safe), said, "Going forward, we will still have more than 300 content generators across multiple media platforms in the Tampa market." Notice that Mr. VP said "content generators" rather than "journalists." He might as well have been referring to soybean and pork belly commodities in his futures portfolio. Yes, newspapers are obliged to make money and earn reasonable profits. But it's a shame that so many are being reduced to bare-bones sweatshops in order to do so, seemingly at the expense of journalism. Sigh.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hug me harder because, damn, I'm great

For some reason, football players are increasingly jumping into the stands immediately after a touchdown. Um, why? Is the fawning applause, spiking-the-ball rituals, dancing in the endzone or, in Tim Tebow's case, offering a post-score "benediction" no longer enough for these heroes in tights? Guess not. Now they need tactile gratification. Sure, leaping into a sea of loving arms after a score is harmless (I hope) and presumably fun for players and fans alike. And yes, it really is too late to ask these multimillion-dollar receivers (and their college imitators) to tone it down and behave with manly humility. That train (along with classic sportsmanship) left the station long ago. But the endless displays of self-centeredness on the NFL gridiron (or NBA court or MLB diamond) merely reflect a larger truism: "We are a society of self-pleasers," as one blogger aptly observed. Let's hope it's all just a temporary cultural phase through which we must pass on the road to societal maturity.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Glee, Republican-style

Sometimes, watching the GOP primary is like being teleported to a high school from which you can never graduate. Think Glee without the glee or the possibility of parole. Newt Gingrich (a cool kid wannabe) is a chess club nerd without the brains. Rick Santorum, an ongoing legend in his own mind, is the preening student body president who has already picked out his spot on Mount Rushmore. And Donald Trump, well, he's one of those "mean girls" despite his bad hair. Talent, let alone singing ability, is unknown at this infamous institution of lower education. We've now gotten the news that all but Newt and Rick have declined the Donald's invite to attend his school debate on Dec. 27. (Herman Cain, the class clown, would have gladly shown up but was kicked out of school last week for, um, inappropriate behavior.) Speaking from the campus of his delusions, Trump -- the self-appointed "moderator" -- told CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "People are afraid that I'm going to run as an independent candidate and some of the people that are supposed to be in the debate have expressed that. And I don't want to give up that option, because it certainly is an option." Right. Scotty, can you please beam me back now?


Newt Gingrich: "A stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like." ―Paul Krugman, New York Times. (Illustration by DonkeyHotey via Flickr)

Something to ponder

Chuck Klosterman writes: "Just because a bunch of people believe something does not make it true. This is obvious, even to a child. People once thought the earth was flat. But here's a more complex scenario: If you were living in Greece during the sixth century, and there was no way to deduce what the true shape of the earth was, and there was no way to validate or contradict the preexisting, relatively universal belief that the world was shaped like a flat disc … wouldn't disagreeing with that theory be less reasonable than accepting it? And if so, wouldn't that mean the only sixth-century people who were ultimately correct about world geography were unreasonable and insane? Trust the insane!" Hmm ...

Obama: Chamberlain or Corleone?

Republicans have lately begun to charge that President Obama is an appeaser, a veritable Neville Chamberlain, in his approach to foreign affairs. Seriously. They're actually saying the guy who had Bin Laden whacked, Michael Corleone-style, is a weak sister. Rather than simply ignoring this claptrap, the DC press corps insisted on having the commander in chief respond. So he did, memorably: "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22-out-of-30 top al Qaeda leaders who've been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that," Obama remarked. Cue the chill wind. (I just love it when Obama goes all Godfather on his detractors and their enablers.)

Washington Monthly writer Steve Benen agreed that the weakling talk is laughable on its face. But he oddly felt it necessary to caveat his commentary. He wrote: "Now, there's a reasonable discussion to be had over whether the president should boast about how many people he's had killed, even if the targets are al Qaeda terrorists." Um, really? The moralists aside (who, like bad weather, will always be with us), is there really a detectable chorus in America that is fretting over whether no-drama Obama is dancing too eagerly in the endzone? Is this, as Benen suggests, really a "legitimate" subject for debate? If so, would a prime-time panel discussion hosted by Anderson Cooper help? Or is that still too tame for this obsession with self-flagellating? Please. Let's call out this malarkey for what it is: political correctness run amok.

If the ghost of Neville Chamberlain lives, he lurks among the hand-wringing punditry class, not at the the White House. Clearly, Obama has long internalized what Michael Corleone famously said in Godfather: Part II: "If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone." Like Obama said, just ask al Qaeda -- or, I might add, the late Colonel Qaddafi.

Elect me because I love my dog

Mitt Romney is a really, really nice guy. Ergo, he's qualified to be president of the United States. That's the gist of New Jersey governor Chris Christie's endorsement of the presidential hopeful. To wit: “This is a guy who is a father and a husband and loves his wife and his kids. ... When you look at candidates say, ‘Is this the kind of person who’s always going to make me proud in the Oval Office and never have to worry will embarrass America? That I’ll never have to worry he will do something that will just make me ashamed?’ [Romney] just won’t.” Wow. I say again, is it any wonder that the Founders are spinning in their graves? (Hat tip: John Dickerson)

Fair is fair

I too poked fun at Rick Perry for wearing a jacket in an anti-gay ad that appeared similar to the one worn by the gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. Hell, I just couldn't resist. But in fairness to the cowboy governor from Texas, I give you this from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers: "I'm not a fan of Perry, but I really gotta comment on the fun people are having with that jacket he's wearing in that new ad. Carhartt jackets are essentially THE working class's uniform, at least in the West. ... People who look at that jacket being worn by Perry and only see 'the Brokeback Mountain jacket' are showing a pretty large disconnect from this country's working class. Literally millions of Americans woke up this morning and put on that exact same jacket to go to work. Not recognizing that jacket from anywhere other than Brokeback Mountain says quite a lot." He's right. Guilty as charged.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Perry accidentally hikes Brokeback Mountain

The Rick Perry campaign just launched a political ad called "Strong." (Get it?) Perry appears solo to promote his so-called "Christian values" street cred to Republican evangelicals. Naturally, the ad is anything but Christian-like. Not only is it stridently anti-gay, the Texican governor flat out accuses President Obama of "waging war against religion." This is utter bullshit of course, but it lends credence to a famous observation by Mahatma Gandhi: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” Exhibit A is Rick Perry. But in his rush to be holier than thou, dear godless liberals, the clueless Marlboro Man slips Freudian on us big time. Check out the below photos. Notice the jacket being worn by the late Heath Ledger (who portrayed a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain) and the one adorning Perry as seen in the ad. They're nearly identical. Heh. Once again, the gods must be laughing.

'Tebowing' on the Lord's gridiron

There's a big (albeit odd) debate on the Daily Dish blog about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow's open display of religiosity (i.e., "tebowing") on the gridiron. Some applaud his prayerful sideline proclivities. Others condemn them as misguided grandstanding. Personally, I'm indifferent. If Tebow wants to publicly fly as JC's wingman on any given Sunday, that's his business. I am mystified, however, about why no one is asking the obvious question: What, pray tell, is Tebow actually asking of the Almighty when he takes a pious knee between offensive plays? Somehow, I doubt he is beseeching the Lord to watch over the destitute children in America's slums as the clock ticks down to the two-minute warning. Granted, I could be wrong. Tebow could indeed be Mother Theresa in shoulder pads and tights. But would anyone like to bet against my guess that most of Tim's "Tebowing" is some variation on: "Please, God, help me connect with [insert name of millionaire receiver] in the endzone before the Vikings score another touchdown?" And this of course presumes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are rabid NFL fans who take a particularly divine interest in the Denver Broncos, their playoff chances, and their (overrated) quarterback. So, place your bets right here, folks. Surely I'm reading Tebow all wrong, right? Don't be shy. C'mon, I'll even give you 2-to-1 odds. What, still no takers -- ye of little gridiron faith?

Pearl Harbor and history's ironies

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida knew he was making history as he led the first wave of 183 Japanese aircraft past Honolulu toward Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7. But would this first chapter end with triumph or catastrophe? When the silent, anchored American fleet came into view, the question quickly answered itself. At 07:53 Fuchida he signaled the code words "Tora! Tora! Tora!" They had taken the Americans by complete surprise. Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC), was reduced to simply signaling: "AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL." As the Japanese dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighters rolled into their attacks, Fuchida climbed to 9,000 feet to observe and coordinate the unfolding scene below him. Circling over battleship row, he watched the USS Arizona meet her fate in real time. "The smoke and flame erupted together, it was a hateful, mean-looking red flame, the kind that powder produces, and I knew at once that a big powder magazine had exploded. Joy and gratification filled my heart at the time, for I knew now that our mission would be a success," he later said. Of the 1,400 sailors who manned the Arizona, only 200 would survive the "day of infamy." Fuchida went on to fight other air battles in the Pacific and, by the slimmest of margins, survived World War II. While attending a conference in Hiroshima during early August 1945, Fuchida was recalled to Tokyo. The next day, August 6, the city was obliterated by the atom bomb. Fuchida rushed back to Hiroshima the following day with a damage assessment team. Every member of the party later died from radiation poisoning -- except Fuchida. Fate, it seems, wanted him alive. Ironically, the Imperial Japanese Navy pilot who joyfully watched Americans die at Pearl Harbor, became a U.S. citizen himself in 1966. He devoted the rest of his life to Christian missionary work. Fuchida died at age 73 in 1976. Such are the vagaries of history.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Don't know whether to laugh or cry

Comedian and author Andy Borowitz tweeted this gem today: "I'm beginning to think that Sarah Palin has stayed out of this GOP race because it's beneath her dignity." Heh. Unfortunately, this begs the question: How on earth did our body politic get here?

Monday, December 5, 2011

O tempora, O mores!

On this day in 63 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero, the consul of Rome, stood in the Roman Senate to expose the plot of Lucius Sergius Catilina and his allies to overthrow the Roman government. Ciecero famously said, "How long, O Catiline, will you abuse our patience? And for how long will that madness of yours mock us? To what end will your unbridled audacity hurl itself?" Fast-forwarding two millenia, it is regrettable that one can so easily put those same questions to our current "Catilina": the Grand Old Party.

One definition of madness

Gen. George Armstrong Custer, born this day in 1839, once wrote: "You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought, so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end. ... I would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life." The "Boy General" was speaking of the Civil War in a letter to a cousin in October 1862. I suspect most of the 625,000 soldiers who died in that conflagration -- along with the 268 US soldiers (and an unknown number of Native Americans) who perished with Custer at the Little Big Horn -- would beg to differ with his lust for endless war.

Toughest job in the world

Regardless of political stripe, I suspect all American presidents can relate to Martin Van Buren, the nation's 8th president, when he said, "As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it." Van Burn was born this day in 1782. Interestingly, he was the first president born a citizen of the United States (the previous presidents were born before the American Revolution).

Quote of the Day

"[Newt] Gingrich, who would have made a marvelous Marxist, believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how." (George F. Will)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Your smart phone is watching you

Your iPhone (or similar device) is “anonymously” tracking virtually everything you do with it, according to Slate (and a host of other folks looking into the matter). That means, as Farhad Manjoo writes, "It can see the apps you use, the sites you visit, your physical location, and it can even log your individual keystrokes, which means that it can read your text messages and passwords." Welcome to the 21st century version of Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Well, sort of. Although the potential for malice (now or in the future) certainly exists, the phone manufacturers and carriers say they use this information to enhance your "mobile experience." The ability of your iPhone to quickly find itself on a Google map, for example, is one benefit. The dystopian dimension to all of this is probably unavoidable as new technology pulls us into yet another Brave New World. We have indeed lost a measure of absolute privacy. Still, I'm not ready to go all paranoid just yet. As Manjoo noted, technology writer David Pogue puts things into a healthier perspective: “Yes, Big Brother is watching you," he says. "And you know what? I’ll bet he’s bored to tears.”

Exit, stage right, at long last

Comedians and pundits everywhere are in mourning. To the surprise of no one, Herman Cain dropped out of the presidential race this afternoon. “As of today with a lot of prayer and soul searching I am suspending my presidential campaign ... because of the continued distractions, the continued hurt caused on me and my family,” announced Cain. Instead, he'll shift to what he called "Plan B": continued advocacy of his "ideas" from "the outside." Translation: He's going to exploit for cash what's left of his "15 minutes" as much as he can as fast as he can. I think Steve Schmidt, who managed Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential race, summed it up best: "That Cain’s candidacy was taken seriously for longer than a nano-second in a time of genuine crisis for the country raises fundamental questions about the health of the political process and the Republican party.” Enough said.