Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beck's leaving: Earth to spin on axis again

Today is Glenn Beck's last day at Fox News. Yes ... I know, I know -- my lip is quivering, too. The talk show host is stepping down after two riotousness years, though it felt like decades. We'd love to watch your last show, Glenn, but we have a root canal scheduled today. But hey, no hard feelings. Please accept our hearty congratulations for becoming what the Huffington Post terms as the "most polarizing personality on an already-polarizing network." You're welcome. And hat's off to your brilliant shtick. A lesser man could not have pulled it off. You've bilked enough cash from your mindless minions and Rupert Murdoch to last a lifetime. So, please, don't hurt your fingers counting all those bundled c-notes. Rest assured, buddy, you won't mind not being missed by, well, everybody in the reality-based world. Now, watch yourself: Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Happy trails.

More Halperin reax

Andrew Sullivan: "For the president to react with understated anger strikes me as perfectly natural and overdue. And it comes with the amnesiac, news-cycle crap that Halperin routinely peddles that this basic fact should be ignored for a faux equivalence. It's not the word ['dick'], in other words. It's the empty beltwayism behind it. That's what Halperin should be suspended for. But it was, of course, the reason he was hired."

Perils of the Ivory Tower

Classically overreacting to the recent Kabul bombing, Peter Beinart wants Obama to come clean and level with America: "There’s an honest way to advocate for withdrawal from Afghanistan and a dishonest way. The dishonest way is to suggest that we’ll leave behind a government that can secure the country and a political process than can end the war. The honest way is to acknowledge that the Afghanistan we leave behind will be a chaotic, ugly place where the Taliban rules large swaths of the country, and much of what we have built may be washed away." So, lemme get this straight. Obama should declare total failure, ignore the tsunami of domestic and international blowback it would cause, but take comfort in the points he'll win for honesty from armchair strategists like Beinart. Right. Now might be a good time for Mr. Beinart leave his Ivory Tower for awhile and take a smoke break.

Another inconvenient truth

TPM's David Kurtz: "The somnambulant press corps has been aroused from its summer torpor by the kind of controversy that sends DC into a tizzy: Mark Halperin called President Obama a "dick" on MSNBC's Morning Joe today. MSNBC has apologized and suspended Halperin. Halperin has apologized and agreed that he should be suspended. It's given one half of DC the chance to acknowledge that Halperin himself is a dick. The other half is wringing its hands over the level of our 'discourse.' Rest assured that within a week we can all go back to being dicks again."

File under the Department of D'uh

News outlets are reporting that France is supplying arms to the Libyan rebel groups fighting Col. Moammar Qadhafi's forces. Some folks are, um, up in arms over the move. "[This] is a very crude violation of UN Security Council resolution 1970," cried Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, wringing his hands furiously. I mean, we can't allow the rebels to actually win, can we? Why, that would be - uncivilized. I've wondered why, as Tom Rick noted, the rebels have been lately doing better militarily. Reportedly, they're seizing and holding more ground. Now we know. We'd be further along had the rebels been given arms from day one.

Fantasy vs. reality

Jon Chait: "Make no mistake: faced with the terrifying prospect of nominating Bachmann and handing the presidency to Obama, the Republican establishment would rally hard and fast behind Romney. And while a unified Republican establishment in full combat mode cannot compete with the Tea Party when it comes to making cardboard Uncle Sam hats, GOP Inc. can easily crush a candidate like Bachmann over the full series of primaries."

Not their finest hour

Steve Benen: "If the president stays cool, he's an emotionless Mr. Spock. If the president shows some fire in the belly, he's 'a dick.' What passes for mainstream political punditry in 2011 is too often a national embarrassment."

A true dick reveals himself

Pardon my French today. Parents, cover the kids' ears. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Time magazine editor Mark Halperin was asked to assess President Obama's press conference performance. Smirking, he said, "I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday."

(Cue the sound of screeching tires) Um, a dick?

"Delay that! What are you doing?” host Joe Scarborough said. “I can’t believe ... Did we delay that?” Nope, too late, Joe. No four-second delay to bleep it. Tuned in Americans - dropping their coffee cups from coast to coast - just heard the pundit call the President of the United States and Leader of the Free World - a dick. Nice.

Much ado about nothing? Probably. But Steve Benen spies the real problem: "I couldn't care less which four-letter word Halperin uses. I do care that Halperin is presented to news consumers as a neutral observer when he clearly is not. But I really care that he and others in the media establishment look at the debt-ceiling fight and think Obama's the one who's a big jerk. And why do they think that? Because the president offered some relatively mild criticism of truly insane tactics."

Quite right (see my previous post). Halperin, seeing his White House access and MSNBC career vaporizing before his eyes, later apologized profusely. "I want to offer a heartfelt and profound apology to the President ... My remark was unacceptable, and I deeply regret it." Yeah, but you still called Obama a dick on live TV without so much as a by your leave. Sooner or later, a dick reveals himself. They always do. And now we all know who the latest one is.

Damned if you emote, damned if you don't

"It's hopeless, Mr. Spock, the humans are simply prisoners of their hard-wired perceptions, though we agree that the instinctive behavioral patterns of Journo Erectus is ... fascinating."

I kid the reporters, but the political press wasted no time in following its all too predictable script. This morning, the New York Times headlined the president's news conference thusly: "Obama Shows Emotion, With Political Consequences." Reporter Michael Shear wrote, "The rap on President Obama is that he’s too professorial, too cool, too prone to dissecting a problem logically and then attempting to explain it to the public. If that’s the case, then it wasn’t Mr. Obama who stood in front of the news media on Wednesday." It was ... President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet of The West Wing in full fire-and-brimstone mode. As widely reported, Obama thundered away at the Do Nothing Congress yesterday. The White House press corps was duly shocked & awed. OMG, they gasped, he ... he emoted!

Unlike the fictional President Bartlet, however, Obama doesn't get to live happily ever after (or even have a commercial break). Instead, his emoting only provokes the terrible, inevitable "BUT" (cue the scary organ music). Shear writes, but will Obama's uncharacteristic emoting push "each side further into a corner" and stall the debt negotiations? This from a news media that previously slapped Mr. Obama around for being too Spock-like. Our Vulcan president can't catch a break, can he? You can be sure that if the president had played to type, the headlines would have read: "Is Obama's Coolness Hindering Debt Talks?"

Still, one aspect of the Obama story is certain to have a happy ending. One day, historians will study the habits of Journo Erectus and laugh uproariously -- just before they relegate them to the footnotes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Obama channels his inner Truman

I don't need my hand held by President Obama. Neither do most Americans. We get the dude. But many in the press (along with activist progressives) crave Obama as the emoting Daddy in Chief. They got their wish today. Columnist and mindset barometer Dana Milbank could hardly contain his joy at "Obama’s trash-talking presser." Channeling his inner Harry Truman, Obama gave a feisty performance. He delivered take-no-prisoners answers and took numerous shots at the Do Nothing Congress. The press is now hailing him as Barack "Give 'Em Hell" Obama. As if he had a personality transplant last night. Milbank wrote: "This was Obama as he ought to be. He often seems passive in public, giving friend and foe alike the impression that his presidency is adrift on matters from Libya to gay marriage to the debt talks. But on Wednesday ... he was uncharacteristically assertive, shelving lawyerly rejoinders in favor of basketball trash talk. ... Populism, pugilism and American exceptionalism: From a stoic president, this was a refreshing blend." Oh please. The press is only happy when Obama slips into the "Father Knows Best" caricature that it (and the left) have created for him. Talk about daddy issues.

The left still wants a bedtime story

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent: "In his extended monologue today, Obama basically revealed that he supports gay marriage, that it will ultimately carry the day, and that this is the outcome he wants. ... It’s frustrating that Obama won’t come out and say what he really believes." Because if he did, he'd instantly make everything all better and we'd live happily ever after. Just like in the Wizard of Oz. Read us another bedtime story, daddy. Please, daddy?

I spoke too soon

Last week I wrote, "We've seen neither hide nor hair nor heard a peep about Charlie Sheen in what seems like ages." Life was good again. Naturally, I jinxed it. Today's headline: "Can Charlie Sheen Really Force His Ex-Girlfriend To Give Back the Mercedes He Bought Her?" Enquiring minds (i.e., news site editors trolling for page visits) want to know.

Summer Camp for Insufferable Elites

Salon's Alex Pareene says we must nuke Aspen. That's where the "nation's most insufferable elites gather for a week of mingling and panel discussions." Then Pareene tells us what he really thinks: "The Atlantic discovered not long ago that putting on little parties for America's ruling elite -- carefully disguised as important intellectual gatherings to ensure the attendance of the most self-important members of the political and media classes -- is a much better way to make money than 'producing a magazine full of good journalism.' From that knowledge, the 'Aspen Ideas Festival' was born." Ouch. Hmm ... I bet I know what this angst is really about. Pareene didn't get an invite. But he's not bitter. Of course, Alex, everyone would feel much better if you'd just return those nuclear launch codes ...

Victory's high cost

Al-Qaeda is being decimated. And Osama bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes thanks to President Obama and SEAL Team Six. We're definitely getting the last laugh. But as Andrew Sullivan notes, "[Bin Laden] got the US to spend $4.4 trillion in a decade on counter-terrorism, using just a handful of men with boxcutters - and a whole lot of fear. For good measure, he goaded incompetents like Dick Cheney into violating core US standards of morality."

Can't handle the truth? Change it.

The other day, Michele Bachmann mistakenly said John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, was a Founding Father. In fact, young master Adams was a 9-year-old boy when the Framers signed the Declaration of Independence. So he was really only a Founding Kid. Anyway, moments after Bachmann dug this latest hole for herself, history-challenged groupies rushed to edit JQA's Wikipedia page, adding "founding father" after his name. Because everything on Wikipedia is the Word of God, right? Needless to say, the gambit didn't work. Palin worshipers tried a similar edit job when the half-term governor rewrote Paul Revere's Ride. Who are these pathetic people? With apologies to Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, their motto seems to be, "We can't handle the truth! So we're gonna change it, dammit!" Has it really come to this?

Yes, Rep. Bachmann, the Framers compromised

Andrew Sullivan has some smart readers. Here's one commenting on Michele Bachmann and the misguided notion of Originalism: "This is more about the Founders and the notion of them as some hive-minded group of supermen. The real problem that Originalists have is that even in 1789, the Constitution was a series of compromises. ... Originalists have to overlook the fact that Jefferson vehemently opposed the ratification of the Constitution in 1789. They have to overlook that Madison's views changed. They have to overlook that in order to get the Constitution out of the Convention, the abolitionists (and there were some, Franklin and Hamilton among them) had to agree that the issue of the trans-Atlantic slave trade couldn't be touched for twenty some years." This reminds me of a line in the movie Elmer Gantry: "Tell me," a newspaperman asks Gantry (Burt Lancaster), "how is it some people can only find hate in the Bible?" Folks like Bachmann treat history in a like manner. They see only what they wish to see.

In praise of restraint

Andrew Sullivan on Obama and same-sex marriage: "The president has no actual political authority over this issue. He does have moral authority. But what close observers know about Obama is that he does not think of the presidency the way he thinks of a campaign. He knows he is president of all the people, including those who voted against him and those who conscientiously oppose marriage equality. He does not seek to divide as his predecessor did. By staying ever so slightly above on this issue, Obama is doing the right presidential thing - while presiding over what may well be the most seismic period for gay equality in history. I do not despise his restraint in his office. I wish more presidents exhibited it. ... One more thing. A civil rights movement does not get its legitimacy from any president. I repeat: he does not legitimize us; we legitimize him. As gays and lesbians, we should stop looking for saviors at the top and start looking for them within." I hope the folks in Sullivan's community listen to his wise words.

Cable television's dirty little secret

On any given night, the subjects discussed on the cable talking-head shows are nearly identical. They vary only by the idiosyncratic seasonings provided by the host. ("Would you like tonight's rant with or without Tabasco sauce?") Ever wonder why this is so? Well, if you're a progressive, try this exercise sometime. First, watch MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Then scan the major political stories in the New York Times and Washington Post. Next, during the day, read the major posts (esp. those mocking the right) on Talking Points Memo, Andrew Sullivan, Politico, Daily Beast and Salon. Wrap things up by viewing the latest Jon Stewart video clip. Now watch the talk shows, back to back. You'll quickly discover you pretty much have the evening scripts for MSNBC's Hardball, The Last Word, Rachel Maddow and the Ed Show. What, you prefer CNN? No problemo. The identical scripts will be followed by Wolf Blizter's "Situation Room," John King, Elliot Spitzer and Anderson Cooper. That's how the game work. How do they get away with it? That's easy. These shows exists not for folks who want original reporting or - heaven forbid - erudite discussions that might force them to think. They exist for political choir members who want to be preached to. And the networks have discovered there's ratings gold in dem thar pews. Groucho Marx famously said, "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." That's still good advice.

The gift that keeps on giving

A Daily Beast reader: "So if Bachmann really wants to go back to the vision of 1789, by all means let her. She unfortunately would not be able to vote for herself in the election due to the fact that the 19th amendment didn't pass until 1920." Heh.

It's all in the memes

Dictionaries define "meme" as elemental behavior that's passed from one person to another usually through imitation. The Guardian's Karl Hodge, writing during the Internet's Cretaceous period in 2000, defined the meme as "self-replicating packets of information" that plants "beliefs and values that gain more authority with each new host." In a real world example of how it works, Dana Milbank bemoaned President Obama's "evolving" personal position on gay marriage today, saying that "this is less about the issue than about leadership. ... if Obama really believes, as he says, that a class of Americans is suffering unconstitutional discrimination, you’d think he would take a stand [i.e., openly support gay marriage] as a matter of principle. Instead ... the president is once again 'leading from behind.'” The meme, of course, is the "leading from behind" bit. Though the argument is bankrupt, the tattered baton continues to get passed. Why do pundits, especially smart ones like Milbank, fall prey to the meme so easily? Intellectual laziness (encouraged by lowest common denominator journalism) is part of it. But truth be told, the phenomenon is more complicated than that. Suffice it to say that the Web is the perfect conduit for the meme. Eleven years ago, Hodge asked, "Is the internet spreading a virus through our heads?" Clearly, the answer is yes. And since there are no antidotes yet, the body politic remains feverish and bedridden.

'From the best political team on television'

CNN's "team" has a new member. Media power couple John King and Dana Bash are the proud parents of a baby boy named Jonah Frank King. Dad is a chief national correspondent for CNN, and mom is a senior congressional correspondent. Let's hope little Jonah - who CNN's Political Ticket blog called “a next generation political reporter” - takes more after Dana in the nose department. That's quite a schnozzle you have there, Mr. King. Kidding aside, mazel tov.

Another hack job

POLITICO published quite a whopper this morning: "Jewish Dems losing faith in Obama." And the evidence? Drum roll, please: Two Democratic Jewish couples got into "a screaming match" over Obama's handling of Israel, plus the results of "several dozen interviews." Ergo, a similar conversation must be "taking place in Jewish communities across the country," says POLITICO. Look, poll after poll has shown that this is Grade A hooey. Yes, the president has detractors in the Jewish community. That isn't news. But Obama's support among Jewish voters is not in crisis and never has been. Political insiders know it. Anyone who follows Democratic politics knows it. Hell, even POLITICO knows it. But it puts out this drivel anyway in a cynical attempt to "drive the news cycle," as its top editors are so fond of saying. (It didn't work today because Obama's presser sucked all of the oxygen out the media bubble. Oh well.) Ain't Inside the Beltway journalism grand?

In the annals of stating the obvious

"Poll Finds G.O.P. Voters Lack Interest for Candidates." (New York Times headline, CBS/New York Times Poll)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Those cold, black eyes

"NEW RULE: Nancy Grace has to prove she was somewhere else on the day of the murder. Any murder. I'm not saying she did it; I'm just saying, who's always around and clearly capable of cold-blooded murder without remorse? I think most Americans are relieved to see Nancy Grace on TV because it means she's not hiding in the back seat of our car with piano wire and those cold, black eyes." (Bill Maher, HBO Real Time)

Meet my pet stone, Gufflin

CBS MoneyWatch posted the "20 Craziest Job Interview Questions" they've received from companies like Procter & Gamble, Google and Citigroup. Writer Giles Turnbull, tongue firmly planted in cheek, answered all of them. Here's the funniest:
Kiewit Corp: What did you play with as a child?

Prospective Employee: "We had no toys. Grandpa sometimes brought us interesting-looking stones that he’d found by the creek, so we gave them names and invested them with complex personalities and back-stories. They lived in a stony alter-universe where everybody was a stone. The stones had little stone parties sometimes. We offered them bugs to eat, but the stones weren’t hungry. I have my favorite stone in my pocket. He’s called Gufflin. Would you like to meet him?"
(Hit tip: Andrew Sullivan)

The tyranny of the social network

I was perusing Time when I saw it again, for what, the 10th time today? It sits near the top of most articles, seemingly spinning, like a tiny black hole. On the page I happened upon, I learned "629 people like this." Is that important, I wondered? Then I began to feel its gravitational pull. The omnipresent "Like" icon beckoned me to click it. C'mon, "Like Me," it seemed to whisper ... [FLASHBACK: 1968. Saigon. I'm soaked from the dank, humid air. Can hardly breathe. The last mournful notes of Jim Morrison's "The End" waft from the Blue Lagoon Club. And Suzie Q is still behind me: "Me so horny Joe. I 'Like' you long time. Only five dolla. 'Like' me Joe!" Damn. Every minute I stay here, I get weaker. But every minute Charlie squats in the bush, and gets stronger ... ] Oops. Sorry. Fever dream. What was I saying? Oh yeah, the tyranny of "Liking." Have we gone nuts? I can almost forgive Time and its brethren for pimping themselves out. After all, they're in it for the money. But I worry about a society potentially filled with individuals who may never read something because nobody "Liked" it. Talk about Apocalypse Now. Oh no. I'm slipping again ... [FLASHBACK: "Saigon ... shit; I'm still only in Saigon. I'm here a week now ... waiting for a mission ... getting softer ..."] Sorry. I'm back. Fortunately, most folks probably ignore the "Liking" business. They're too busy Facebooking and rarely leave for the greater Web. Which gives them something in common with the former habits of a former foe. "Charlie don't surf."

The Vietnam War in a nutshell

Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) in Apocalypse Now: "Oh man ... the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam, you needed wings to stay above it. No wonder Kurtz put a weed up Command's ass. The war was being run by a bunch of four star clowns who were gonna end up giving the whole circus away." And they did, of course, at the price of 50,000 American lives. "The horror" indeed.

America's Virgin Birth

On Michele Bachmann's "Good Morning America" interview, a reader writes: "[S]he defended her “pants on fire” statement that the “Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery” (they didn’t) by insisting that John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father (he wasn’t)." To which Andrew Sullivan responded: "For her, America was born in freedom for all and Fundamentalist Christianity. It was born instead in the Enlightenment, slavery, the subjugation of women, and rebellion against the Crown. That is far too complicated a thought for Bachmann to absorb. It would require her to ask questions, even to doubt the immaculate conception of America. And doubt is something these contemporary reactionaries do not do. Sticking to untruths is far preferable."

Inside Bachmann's Mind

I don't plan to spend to much time wondering the drafty, empty corridors of Michele Bachmann's mind. Life's too short. But the Washington Monthly flagged this excerpt from Bachmann's interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. It's revealing:
Bachmann: Well if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that's absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father's secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery.

Stephanopoulos: He wasn't one of the Founding Fathers - he was a president, he was a Secretary of State, he was a member of Congress, you're right he did work to end slavery decades later. But so you are standing by this comment that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?

Bachmann: Well, John Quincy Adams most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary War era. He was a young boy but he was actively involved.
This should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the congresswoman's mind. By the way, John Quincy Adams was a 9-year-old schoolboy when the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence.

Today deep thought (sort of)

"Do you know that 'if' is the middle word in life?" (Dennis Hopper, relating a deep question from Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now)

Ancient Persian wisdom

"One who knows and knows that he knows. This is a man of knowledge; get to know him! One who knows, but doesn't know that he knows. This is a man who's unaware, so bring it to his attention. One who doesn't know, but knows that he doesn't know. This is an illiterate man; teach him! One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know. This is a dumb man; and would be dumb forever!"

Out come the long knives?

GOP establishment elites have two problems with Michele Bachmann. First, she appears to be surging in popularity among Republicans (one poll has her trailing just behind frontrunner Romney). Her "Palin-With-Brains" shtick seems to be working (for now). Second, the press won't shut up about it. So, the long knives are coming out. Out of the blue, Bachmann's former chief of staff, Ron Carey, declared that she does "decidedly" not possess "the judgment, the demeanor, and the readiness to serve as president."

After that salvo, he reloaded, then let loose with this:
"The Bachmann campaign and congressional offices I inherited were wildly out of control. ... If she is unable, or unwilling, to handle the basic duties of a campaign or congressional office, how could she possibly manage the magnitude of the presidency? ... I know Michele Bachmann very well. ... [she is] without any leadership experience or real results from her years in office. She is not prepared to assume the White House in 2013."
That's a rather amazing drive-by shooting, and probably the first of many to come. The reason is simple. Bachmann winning the GOP nomination would guarantee four more years of Obama. Ergo, it's not gonna happen, not if the GOP adults can help it.

'The State’s evidence is not compelling', mo'f@#ker

Sorry, but video games depicting gratuitous violence CAN be sold to minors. In the mood to bitch-slap somebody or blow away a row of cops in Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto? No problemo. Make little Johnny's day. So sayeth the U.S. Supreme Court. In Monday's 7-2 decision, the court overturned a California law that would restrict the sale of violent video games to minors. This was the Golden State's seventh try. "The State’s evidence is not compelling," wrote Anthony Scalia for the majority. Violent video games are free speech. Cue Law & Order's "chung CHUNG!" Case closed.

The trouble is, I agree with Scalia, the high court's equivalent to Darth Vader. The savage violence wrecked by video game icon Duke Nukem is no more graphic than that produced by the Brothers Grimm. "Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore," Scalia writes in the opinion. "Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers 'till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.' ... Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.”

Do you love the classics that we encourage high school students to read? Scalia reminds us that "Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. ... [and] In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they beskewered by devils above the surface." (Kinda how we observe Congress today.) Come to think of it, even our nursery rhymes are infused with apocalyptic imagery. How about Mother Goose's paean to England's Great Plague, the one we all sang as kids: "Ring around the rosie / Pockets full of posies / Ashes! Ashes! / We all fall down!" Sweet, huh? Top that Killzone 3!

Yes, society should be mightily concerned about the violence kids are exposed to. But it's not the job of the state to regulate what entertainment fare they ingest. It's yours as parents and responsible adults.

Passing the laugh test

Sure, I admit it. When reading anything about Michele Bachmann, I am reflexively conditioned to expect a punchline. In that sense, I am as well-trained as one of Pavlov's Dogs. So when Washington Post writer Jonathan Capeheart wrote "Michele Bachmann continues to pass the laugh test" this morning, naturally I thought he was making a funny. He wasn't. "After watching her interviews with him and with Matt Lauer of NBC’s 'Today' show, there’s no doubt that the newest official candidate for the Republican nomination is ready for prime time," he opined. Um, say what? Capeheart essentially concludes that a candidate must be taken seriously if she can speak in coherent sentences and not pathologically dodge questions or shift blame when interrogated by the media." Therefore, Capeheart argues, "Bachmann continues to pass one of the first tests of nomination and presidential politics." Never mind that Bachmann indulges in falsehoods as a matter of course, comprehends little of this world, and gives new meaning to an ancient Persian adage: "One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know (i.e., an ignorant person who will stay ignorant forever)." Other than that, Bachmann is ready for the White House, right? Happily, Capeheart saves himself (and tosses me a Pavlovian bone) in the last line of his piece: "So, settle in for the fun. The GOP nominating process is beginning to get good." Now, where's my Milk-Bone®? Arf! Arf!

'I know that I know nothing'

"This man, on one hand, believes that he knows something, while not knowing [anything]. On the other hand, I - equally ignorant - do not believe [that I know anything]." (Plato, in Apology)

Rumsfeld, a poor man's Plato

"[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know." (Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense )

Your Brains on Palin Crack

This appeared on Twitter: "Postpolitics: Palin is in Iowa for the first time in 2011. Will she make any news regarding her 2012 plans?" ANSWER: The Washington Post, returning to full obsessive-compulsive disorder mode, will manufacture "news" regardless of Palin does. You betcha. I've long given up hoping the media would wean itself off the Palin IV bag. I'll just point out this minor tragedy from time to time as a public service. Somebody has to.

Tweeting makes you dumb

Why? Because you end up posting stuff like this: "fivethirtyeight (Nate Silver): OK, I think I'm ready to jump on the GOP-actually-wants-Palin-to-run-because-she-might-hurt-Bachmann bandwagon." Really, Nate? Dude, let it go ...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Better circle the wagons, pilgrim

Okay, okay -- it's no secret that Michele Bachmann's utterings provide a target-rich environment for pundits and late-night comics alike. It's almost impossible to resist, and few bother trying. Today, the entire left side of the politicosphere is guffawing over her latest gaffe. Apparently Bachmann told Fox News that John Wayne - the actor and movie icon - hails from her hometown: Waterloo, Iowa. "That’s the kind of spirit I have, too,” Bachmann gushed, vacant-eyed. The problem? The Duke was born in Winterset, another Iowan cow town 100 miles to the south. The "John Wayne" who did hail from Waterloo never fought the Apaches or stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima on a Hollywood movie set. Bachmann's hommie was the other guy: John Wayne Gacy, a notorious serial killer who murdered 30 men in the 1970s. He was convicted and executed in 1994. Oops. The voices in Bachmann's head tell her that she is a hardy pioneer destined to bridge the Cumberland Gap of politics. But like the settlers in a typical John Wayne movie, her campaign has been forced to "circle the wagons" to fend off the scalp-hunting media. It's much ado about nothing. We already know Bachmann isn't the brightest flower on the Iowa prairie. I say cut her some slack -- and save the ammo for the serious candidates.

What 'Fair & Balanced' really means

Finding fault with Fox News is like hunting deer with howitzers. It's way too easy and life's too short. But I couldn't resist this post by BuzzFeed documenting "Actual News Headlines" vs. "Fox News Headlines" on the same stories. The contrast is simultaneously hilarious and appalling.

Here's a sampling:
Mainstream Headline:
"USDA Gay-Sensitivity Training Sees Larger Audience"
Fox News Headline:
"Obama Bureaucrats Imposing Radical Homosexual Sensitivity Training?"

Mainstream Headline:
"Michele Bachmann's First Dude"
Fox News Headline:
"The Left Launches Attack on Bachmann's Husband"

Mainstream Headline:
"AP Poll: Economic Worries Pose New Snags for Obama"
Fox News Headline:
"AP: Obama Has a Big Problem With White Women"

Mainstream Headline:
"Obama Will Speed Pullout From Was in Afghanistan"
Fox News Headline:
"Obama Doesn't Thank Petraeus"
Wow. It'd be even funnier if it wasn't so sad.

'Why fish? Why not fish?'

Pet Hostage Negotiator (Ace Ventura): "Calm down, sir. Put the 9mm down. You're surrounded. Don't make it any worse for yourself." Crazed Pet Shop Owner (Samuel L. Jackson): "Back off, mo'f@#kers!! Come any closer - and the guppy gets it between the gills!"

This ridiculous scene is where things are apparently headed in San Francisco. The city, named for the patron saint of animals, is considering an ordinance that would ban the sale of pets. ALL pets. ANY kind of pet. Soulless pet industry lobbyists say such a step is draconian. It would cause small pet shops to close and criminalize any parent trying to sell off an unexpected puppy litter. Wild-eyed animal activists say it will save pet "lives' and end the needless suffering of, well, anything that barks, meows, chirps, flies, crawls, runs, swims or slithers, per the LA Times.

In a rant for the ages, Philip Gerrie, a coauthor of the city proposal, told the Times: "Why fish? Why not fish? From Descartes on up, in the Western mindset, fish and other nonhuman animals don't have feelings, they don't have emotions, we can do whatever we want to them. If we considered them living beings, we would deal with them differently. ... Our culture sanctions this, treating them as commodities and expendable."

So, if we re-shape the canons of philosophy to suit Gerrie, just where does that leave us? "I breathe, therefore I am?" Look, I'm all for the humane treatment of animals (except roaches and mosquitoes - I say kill 'em all). But this debate has clearly careened beyond any semblance of common sense. Each side has hardened into positions best characterized by Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls: "Of COURSE! How sssselfish of me. Let's do all the things that YOU wanna do!"

Charles Darwin has it backwards, ya'll

In a potent public demonstration of "Devolution" -- the theory proposed by Charles Darwin's evil twin brother, Edwin "Big Bubba" Dawrin -- Miss Georgia (a Miss USA contestant) awed the audience with this priceless gem: “I think evolution should be taught but I also think that maybe the biblical stuff should be taught as well, you know. I think kids need to make their own decisions. We’re smarter than ever these days, so, I mean why not teach everything and let people make their own decisions.” Because, you know, scientific facts are just like those diamond necklaces on display at Tiffany's. Just pick the prettiest one. Check, please.

Garlands for Cuomo, Garlic for Obama

In a scene after the battle of Aqaba in Lawrence in Arabia, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) tosses a wreath at the feet of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole). "The miracle is accomplished. Garlands for the conqueror. Tribute for the prince; flowers for the man," Ali says with a touch of envy. "I'm none of those things, Ali."

In New York, the "miracle" is the legalization of same-sex marriage. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo deserves the flowered garlands now being thrown at his tony loafers. "It’s hard not to be impressed by the accomplishment," gushed Nate Silver, the normally leveled-headed Timesman. "The type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised — setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president." That, of course, is a set-up to take a swing at you know who. "It’s also a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama," Silver writes. Sigh. Dragging out the "leading from behind" meme, Silver says "articulating clear and unapologetic goals is not incompatible with persuading votes on the margins."

Except when it is.

Damning the torpedoes may make the socks of activists roll up and down, but it's not a sound governing strategy (esp. when reelection is at stake). And as important as it is, the fate of the nation does not hang on same-sex marriage. But I won't belabor the point. I'm glad the landmark law passed. Just bear in mind that New York is a Democrat-friendly, "blue" state. Obama runs the entire country. A state and a nation are not equivalent. Nor can the former be governed or led like the latter. To Silver's other point, yes, LBJ was indeed a master of legislation (absent a 24-hour news cycle). He also mired us in Vietnam and left the White House a broken man. I'd be careful about putting him on a pedestal. Cuomo has a bright future ahead of him. He deserves credit for his leadership on this aspect of gay rights. But measuring Cuomo for Mount Rushmore is premature. Deriding Obama as an also-ran on gay rights is disingenuous.

The New Battle of Waterloo

Pundits have made much hay over the fact that three-term Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann is from Waterloo, Iowa. She officially declared her White House bid there today. Surely, her many detractors surmise, the gods must be laughing. How could there not be a providential connection between the famous 1815 Battle of Waterloo and Bachmann's political fate? In that much-studied set-piece battle, the Duke of Wellington soundly defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at a site in what is now Belgium. The French armies were driven off the field in a rout. The defeat ended Napoleon's rule as French Emperor. Surely Bachmann is about to face her own Waterloo, right? Har har har. But here's a question that no one has adequately answered yet: Is Bachmann Napoleon or Wellington? When the canon fire ceases and the smoke clears, the GOP may find itself with a big, unpleasant surprise.

Dear, take out the garbage. Then run for president.

George Will thinks Texas Gov. Rick Perry would rather not to run for president. "But his wife, who has a nursing background and is alarmed by Obamacare, says that sometimes [his] desires are secondary to duties." Yes, the Sage of the Washington Post actually wrote that in his column. Still, it clears up who wears the pants in the Perry household.

Our long national nightmare is over

I guess it takes more than good hair to stay out of the slammer. Breaking (Associated Press): Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was "convicted on 17 of 20 corruption charges, including all 11 related to his attempt to sell or trade President Obama’s vacated Senate seat. He faces up to 300 years in prison." This is the guy who said at his 2003 inaugural: "We will meet our challenges head on and we will do it by rejecting the politics of mediocrity and corruption. You voted for change; I intend to deliver it. ... I will govern as a reformer." He forgot to add: "Nah. Just kidding." Now, can we PLEASE return to our regularly scheduled programming? Thinking anymore about Blago just hurts my brain.

Why are great men rarely chosen president?

When looking over the candidates during most presidential elections, we often ask ourselves, "Is this the best we can produce?" Although the Republicans are taking mediocrity to new heights this time around, Democrats have generally done no better in the recent past (2008 excepted). It's easy to conclude that "Rome is Burning" and America is in headlong decline. Cheer up. This is nothing new. In his famous 1888 book "The American Commonwealth," British historian James Bryce wrote: "Europeans often ask ... how it happens that this great office, the greatest in the world -- is not more frequently filled by great and striking men. ... The ordinary American voter does not object to mediocrity. ... He likes his candidate to be sensible, vigorous, and, above all, what he calls 'magnetic,' and does not value, because he sees no need for, originality or profundity, a fine culture or a wide knowledge. Candidates are selected to be run for nomination by knots of persons who, however expert as party tacticians, are usually commonplace men; and the choice between those selected for nomination is made by a very large body, an assembly of nearly a thousand delegates from the local party organizations over the country, who are certainly no better than ordinary citizens." At the time, Bryce was bemoaning the likes of James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce, two of our eminently forgettable presidents. But he captures our modern body politic as well (think Michael Dukakis or Michele Bachmann). In short, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Vote for Pedro

Maybe the hippies had it right: "Never trust anyone over 30."

Princeton professor John Seery believes that the age requirements for election into federal office -- 25 for the House, 30 for the Senate, and 35 for the presidency – are "antiquated” and should be lowered. Not doing so, he argues, imperils the Republic by depriving it of the talents our young people could provide as inspired politicians. Not only is the tyranny of the "doddering old codgers" not working, it’s getting worse. Seery says much of the governing class does not even know how to work a PC, let alone understand the "intertubes." Our new mandate should be: "Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote, Old Enough to Run." Seery makes a compelling case. In theory, a Congress chocked full of Mark Zuckerberg-like visionaries might indeed rival the candlepower of the Founders if not their enlightened output.

But there are two problems with this political nirvana. First, wunderkinds possessing the talents of a young Mr. Lincoln are rare. And let’s face it: The gathering of eagles in 1787 was a providential fluke. Today, it would take more than a few brilliant young minds to make a dent in the ways of Congress. So, dropping the age limit would simply open the flood gates to the likes of, well, Napoleon Dynamite. Do you really want your creepy student body president, a year out of high school, in the Senate? Second, life between ages 18-34 is about scholarship and/or apprenticeship punctuated by youthful indiscretion and impulsiveness that is uninformed by experience. (It’s great fun, but it’s a miracle most of us get out of it alive.) I’m not certain what an entire class of shavetails would add to the body politic.

I’d also posit that the Framers (the devisers of the age rules) were arguably the best class of representatives America ever fielded. They were also “old codgers.” At the time of the Constitutional Convention, all but 12 were older than 34. The majority were 40 or older. The one wunderkind was Alexander Hamilton, age 30. Though I suspect Hamilton was several orders of magnitude smarter than Zuckerberg (see the Federalist Papers), he was easily matched in brilliance by his elders.

Yes, Congress is shot through with dunderheads at the moment. But lowering the age limits for federal office won’t fix it. “Pedro for President” is a nice, idealistic dream. That doesn’t mean I’d really want Napoleon Dynamite’s pal to run. Hell, he could win.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Sunday Sermon: American Genesis

IN THE BEGINNING, the Framers created self-government without "factions." Jefferson Said, "If I could not go the Heaven but with a Party, I would not go there at all." And the Framers said, "Let there be Enlightenment without Parties," and there was Enlightenment without Parties at the Constitutional Convention. All through the summer of 1787, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. In the end, they created a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise. And the Framers saw that it was good. Then the Framers said, "Let it be Ratified," and it was Ratified. The Founders saw all that they had made, and it was very good. And then the Political Parties were born anyway. In the fullness of time, they would rear up as Democrat and Republican. Now the Earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, again. Damn.

Another inconvenient truth

"American parties have been symbolized by such animals as the elephant and donkey, but not by the leopard, which never changes its spots." (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A post about nothing

Whatever happened to yada yada yada, the too-hip-by-half replacement for blah, blah, blah? Jerry Seinfeld (or more probably, Larry David, the show's main writer) popularized the phrase at the close of the last century. For a time, a very long time, there was no escaping it. But like the duck-billed Charonosaurus, it apparently went extinct, at least among the online literati and other purveyors of the written word. Now, if we could only rid the lexicon of "not so much" and "that's how we roll." Where's the KT Boundary extinction event when you need one?

Really, we're not all crazy


Big, sensational "true crime" stories bore me cross-eyed. (They also scare me. The original OJ Simpson trial traumatized me for life. I still have the scars.) I try to ignore them, but I'll occasionally give in and peek. And every time I do so, I end up kicking myself: That's x-number of minutes I'll never get back, and I've killed off scores of brain cells to boot. But given the high ratings these tabloid products generate, I'm clearly a minority in these United States. To paraphrase a line in Thelma & Louise about the (alleged) female psyche, "People. They love that shit."

Which brings me to one Jason Valdez of Utah. Apparently, "an armed Valdez, 36, held a woman hostage at a motel in a tense 16-hour, overnight standoff with SWAT teams," per news reports. But here's the kicker: During the entire episode, Valdez kept his family and friends (and, dumbly, the cops) updated on Facebook. Yes, Facebook. The police think he posted six times and added a dozen new "friends." Which begs the question, why would anyone converse with a crazed felon online, let alone "friend" him, in the middle of the night? I mean, who are these people? Anyway, I'm certain Valdez generated beaucoup "Likes" for his trouble.

Five or six centuries from now, I hope anthropologists will find a shard of this post in the digital stratification of what was once a server room. Hopefully they will gently scrape away the bytes to reveal this crucial part: No, most of us were not BATSHIT CRAZY. But, alas, a great, great many of us were.

Only on

The web editors clearly do not have a sense of irony. In a sidebar adjacent to its breathless Casey Anthony story, it lists a set of links pointing to other breathless stories. The sidebar header reads: "Only on" and is followed by links like, "STD campaign asks lovers to give out meds", "When your airline seatmate won't hang up", and my personal favorite: "Can you die from laughter?" Yep, news you can use at the dawn of the 21st century. And it's only on

Celebrity Me

In a bid to take crazy to new heights, Lakers forward Ron Artest filed paperwork in Los Angeles Superior Court to legally change his name to "Metta World Peace." Yes, really. It's another pathetic cry for attention ("Look at me! Look at me!") by yet another self-important celebrity. To wit: aggravo ergo sum (I preen, therefore I am.) The Los Angeles Times patiently explains that "Metta" is a Buddhist term for ... sigh ... does it really matter? Well, yes, many folks think it does. Which, I guess, is the trouble.

That marvel between your ears

One of the things writers discover early on is the sheer amount of "stuff" inside their brains. Talk about a boundless database. Even as I write this, I'm being bombarded with random ideas and word suggestions from my own neural ether. It feels like magic. The mind is a vast ocean of language, facts, poetry, quotes, memories, jokes, instructions, images and even sounds. Whether you're awake or asleep, it's always on. And its faster and more complex than any computer on the planet. Though most of us cannot manipulate the mind's latent knowledge with Google-like efficiency, almost everything you've ever learned is retained in some form in some corner of your cerebral cortex. That's a whole lotta spaghetti. And you add to it daily. That's both remarkable and spooky. Not convinced? Try this exercise: Surf to Wikipedia's "Most Popular Idioms" page. It lists a whopping 188 idioms. You know, things like "When pigs fly" or "Sick as a dog." I guarantee that readers of this blog - surely an erudite bunch - will know every idiom listed. You've used them all (and hundreds more) countless times. Charlie Sheen aside ("I have a different brain. I got tiger blood, man"), it's worth remembering what Thomas Edison said: "The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around." It's precious cargo. Protect it, feed it, pamper it -- because the mind is indeed "a terrible thing to waste," like you know who.

The Mona Lisa Deception

The popularity of the Mona Lisa is an illusion. So says Nicholas Christakis in his book review of "Everything is Obvious, Once You Know the Answer" by Duncan J. Watts. “We claim to be saying that the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world [but] we are trapped inside a hall of mirrors of our own devising," Watts writes. "We think the Mona Lisa is famous because of its traits, but we think those traits are significant only because they belong to the Mona Lisa, which we know to be famous." Christakis observes that "We rely on common sense to understand the world, but in fact it is an endless source of just-so stories that can be tailored to any purpose. Common sense is a kind of bespoke make-believe, and we can no more use it to scientifically explain the workings of the social world than we can use a hammer to understand mollusks." Fascinating.

The King's Army

“The United States does not have a king’s army,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md) with righteous (and overblown) indignation. He was referring to "King Barack I," of course.

I confess I'm not sure why President Obama picked a fight with Congress over Libya. The 1973 War Powers Act requires the president to secure the consent of Congress. Otherwise, "hostilities" must be halted after 90 days. Obama argued that his Libyan intervention does not rise to the level of war. Now, to most folks, hitting Qaddafi with airstrikes and 119 cruise missiles (which blew up his entire air defense system) easily meets their definition of war. So it's understandable that naysayers (in both parties) view Obama's position as straining credulity. Though I'd love to know Mr. Obama's precise thinking on this matter, I'm inclined to trust him. After all, it's not like I'm worried about another George W. Bush-style cavalry charge ("Mount up, boys, let's invade another A-rab country! Them WMDs have gotta be in one of 'em. Yaaah-hoo!"). Indeed, the trust factor is probably why the public has been largely mute on Libya. The screaming is coming from academia and politicos with agendas.

Technically, Professor Obama, a Harvard-trained constitutional lawyer, is probably right. Yes, America went all shock & awe on Libya during the intervention's opening days. Then, like a dissipating thunderstorm, we throttled back into a quiet support role as nanny to NATO. There are no American boots on the ground. (We'll just pretend - wink wink - that those CIA and Special Forces boot prints aren't really there.) We're not engaged in major combat operations and nobody is dying (yet). Moreover, the War Powers Act is a relic from the 1970s, one designed as a response to the Vietnam quagmire. But times, they have a-changed, and some scholars question the law's validity or relevance today. It's possible Obama is among the skeptics. Friday, the GOP House "rebuked" the Professor by voting against authorizing the mission. But they didn't de-fund it. That rendered the action moot. "15-Love," advantage Obama. So just what is the president up to? There is a method to his madness even if we don't see it.

My guess is that Obama is playing an intricate chess game in Libya. It ends when Qaddafi is ousted (or killed). Special envoys, spies, Special Forces and NATO allies are Obama's rooks, bishops, knights and pawns. Quiet, nuanced moves and patience are required to win. The noisy nimrods in Congress, blinded by politics, will only muck things up. Since Congress won't act in a bipartisan manner that puts country first, Obama prefers that they simply butt out. Hence his obstinacy on the War Powers Act (i.e., give them an inch and they'll take a mile). “[Obama's] argument, you can drive a tank through it," sputtered Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), like a peacock in full plume. Perhaps, but it's the Congress that got run over by a tank. And perhaps that is just as well. Time will tell.

Burning Rome to save it

Back in 2005, an article in Forbes, the business magazine, asked, "Can The Tabloid Format Save Newspapers?" Newspaper circulation is still in free fall and the "tabloid" question is still being asked today. But is this not the wrong question? It's not whether the tabloid format can save newspapers (it might), but whether it should. Funny how that point never gets raised. Going tabloid is like burning down your neighbor's house to save it. Call it the Nero Solution. I wonder if this is the kind of thinking that started Rome towards its decline into ruin.

Ancient sayings

"The mind is everything. What you think you become." (Buddha)

The Drumhead and American Politics

In the photo (left), Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard famously expresses exasperation through a facepalm. He made a similar gesture in "The Drumhead," an episode in which "a retired admiral boards the Enterprise in an effort to determine the actions aboard the ship surrounding an act of sabotage and possible treason." As events spiral out of control, Picard discusses the issue (pronounced "IS-su" like a good Britisher) with his security chief, Lieutenant Worf (the Klingon).
Picard: This is not unlike a ... a drumhead trial. Lieutenant Worf: I do not understand. Picard: 500 years ago, military officers would upend a drum on the battlefield. They'd sit at it and dispense summary justice. Decisions were quick, punishments severe; appeals denied. Those who came to a drumhead were doomed.

Later, under hostile questioning during the trial, Picard facepalms, then interrupts his interrogator in mid-speech: "You know, there are some words I've known since I was a schoolboy: 'With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.' Those words were uttered ... as wisdom and warning. The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged."
Captain Picard, of course, exists in a make-believe world. His words do not. They are worth keeping in mind when debating thorny issues such as same-sex marriage (New York just voted to allow it), Arizona's "Your Papers Please" law (the one targeting Latinos), the DREAM Act (still in congressional limbo), immigration reform (still unresolved) and rising Islamophobia (the Rep. King hearings). And as the presidential election season approaches, we would do well to remember another Picardism: "Villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged [...] waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness." Remind you of anyone?

I give the last word to the sentient android Data who told Picard in one episode, "I aspire, sir, to be better than I am." That's good advice for us all.

What's on NatGeo tonight? You don't want to know.

Vulgarity knows no bounds on cable TV. That isn't news. What is news (to me, at least) is how much of it appears on the National Geographic Channel, the "Inglourious Basterd" child of the august National Geographic Society. Like the Discovery Channel ("MythBusters: Can You Dodge a Real Bullet?"), no show is too titillating or gross to broadcast in the race to the bottom of entertainment fare. Yes, the NG Channel offers quality programming, too. But it's clear which shows are paying the bills.

Like a scene from Masterpiece Theater, one can imagine the hushed talk in the wood-paneled Map Room at the Society's DC headquarters. The awful family "secret" is out. "I heard it escaped the 'nunnery' on its own," said a NG photojournalist, staring into his steaming Earl Grey. "I doubt it, old boy," replied the arctic adventurer-in-residence. "It must have had help from those vile marketeers." The famed photog steepled his fingers. "Those people," he said. "Quite." "It calls itself NatGeo now, you know."

Indeed, it does. NatGeo boasts that it is "your home for the best animals, nature, history, science, engineering, people, places, and exploration content" on television. As showcased on its webpage, it all looks inviting -- until you kick over the rock and expose the icky things wiggling beneath it. Tonight, for example, there are back-to-back episodes of something called "Humanly Possible." At 9pm you can watch "A man who is capable of eating glass." At 10, "A man is rolled over by a truck." And at 11, don't miss how someone "survives a million volts of electricity." Oh goody: Suicidal behavior and sadomasicism. What's not to like? I wonder what NatGeo is planning for next season? The "Joys of Waterboarding," perhaps?

To say this is appalling is being much too kind. Clearly, NatGeo is giving its audience -- presumably Very Special freaks -- what they want. And that says more about our culture than the media complex that feeds its worst impulses.