Sunday, July 31, 2011

The media loves drunk Tweeting

Never drink and tweet. If you do, you might start a revolution. Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis (who knows better) downed two of glasses of pinot and logged on anyway. It promptly resulted in the “#F*ckYouWashington” uprising on Twitter. First Jarvis wrote: “Hey, Washington assholes, it’s our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it.” Then, between guzzling more wine, he wrote: "Can we start a Twitter chant: FUCK YOU, WASHINGTON! Pass it on." They did. And a big Trending Topic was born. The media picked it up and jabbered about it all morning. Naturally, they trotted the clip of Howard Beale from the movie Network ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"). The media assumption: The whole country is on Twitter. Ergo, isn't this funny everyone? Let's play the tape again! Then, let's bring on the talking heads to talk about it! Gosh, isn't this fun? There's just one problem: only 13 percent of the US online population uses Twitter. Much of the other 87% is all like "Tweeter wha'?" And of the folks on Twitter, only 21% are active users. Of that subset, 23% are responsible for 90% of all Tweets. And (trust me on this) a good portion of those are from reporters. So, on the Great Jarvis Insurrection, the media was mostly talking to itself (again). The rest of us were at HBO or otherwise having a life.

Whither solitude?

In this Age of Facebook, English poet Alice Meynell's (1847-1922) meditation on solitude is germane to our noisy, always-on, inter-connected world: "The wild man is alone at will, and so is the man for whom civilization has been kind. But there are the multitudes to whom civilization has given little but its reaction, its rebound, its chips, its refuse, its shavings, sawdust and waste, its failures; to them solitude is a right foregone or a luxury unattained ... One knows the men, and the many women, who have sacrificed all their solitude to the perpetual society of the school, the cloister, or the hospital ward. They walk without secrecy, candid, simple, visible, without moods, unchangeable, in a constant communication and practice of action and speech. Theirs assuredly is no barren or futile loss, and they have a conviction, and they bestow the conviction, of solitude deferred. ... If there is a look of human eyes that tells of perpetual loneliness, so there is also the familiar look that is the sign of perpetual crowds."

To Facebook or not to Facebook

To Facebook or not to Facebook, that is the question / Whether 'tis nobler online to suffer / the slings and arrows of outrageous "pokes" / Or to ignore the "friend" request against a sea of troubles / From favours in the digital cloud.

I beg the Bard's forgiveness for mangling Hamlet's famous soliloquy. But the other day, I quipped to a friend that the only reason I'm on Facebook is because, well, everybody else is. Anyone who knows me knows that's a heckava revelation. You see, I was born without the human lemming gene (and that isn't necessarily a good thing). As a result, I am notorious for going in the opposite direction of the crowd. You know, just because. Besides, if everyone wants to do it, and do it simultaneously, it can't possibly be good (see left side of above photo). That's just how I roll.

More seriously, I find that there is something primaevally unpoetic about Facebook, a "world thronged together into some blind by-way," as English poet Alice Meynell might have put it. After all, what folks mostly do on Facebook (besides posting endless photos of themselves) is converse inanely (Bob: "Is that Lightning outside?" Ted: "And Rain even! Oh, my!" Alice "Likes" this.). Nevertheless, I do have a Facebook account. As an old surferdog, I know when to "duck dive" a cruncher. That's surfology for diving under a big, F-ing wave ― including a behemoth like Facebook. Anyway, all of this got me to thinking. Is everybody really on Facebook? Basically, yes.

Of the 211 million Americans now on the Internet, a whopping 72 percent have a Facebook account. Even grandma is busy "friending." It's the most visited website on the planet. Most Facebookers are Californians. Texans, New Yorkers and Floridians make up the next biggest group of users. Curiously, Arizonans use Facebook the least (what's that about?). Facebook itself says the average user has 130 friends, visits the site 40 times per month, and spends about 23 minutes on each visit. Most Facebookers are young (18-34) but the 40+ crowd is the fastest growing segment. Though I rarely visit myself, Facebook is a wonderful tool for social interaction via PC or iPhone if that floats your boat.

On the other hand, Facebook propagates the dubious idea that you are whom you friend (not unlike high school). The more "friends," the better. Never mind that these "friendships" are mostly superficial and often strictly digital. As we merrily "friend" and "poke" and build Profile Wall monuments to self-love, are we unwittingly skipping down the proverbial road to perdition? I dunno. But one thing is clear. To paraphrase novelist Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott), many Americans don't need friends ― they only need crowds.

Thinking Washington's Can't-Shoot-Straight Gang

"In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity." (Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of West Germany from 1949-1963)

A lost concept on Facebook?

"Knowing how to keep a friend is more important than gaining a new one." (Baltasar Gracián)

Today's chuckle

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice. (Kinda like getting anything through Congress that makes sense.)

OMG! Debtageddon is here! Oh wait ...

Washington Post: "White House, Senate leaders announce deal." The powers-that-be have reached a bipartisan deal Sunday to raise the federal debt limit. No, it's not yet a slam dunk. It will be a close, messy, ugly vote in Congress. But: the. bill. will. pass. Shooting ourselves in head economically is simply not an option ― and everyone in Washington knows it. Toldjah.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Celebs Who Look Like Historical Figures

The website PopHangover has some fun photos that compare today's celebs with prominent figures from history. Some, like the two below, are spooky close. (Maggie Gyllenhaal vs. Rose Wilder Lane; and Keanu Reeves vs Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel):

Um, impeach Obama? - Cont'd

Some speculate that if Obama tried to use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit unilaterally, Republicans would use it as an excuse to impeach him. Yes, it's absurd. But one astute reader reminds us that the first use of impeachment was aimed at President Andrew Johnson. I haven't independently checked this, but the reader said Johnson committed no act of wrongdoing or corruption. The legislature simply "wished him out of office, and so manufactured a power struggle between the branches." That, I think, is essentially correct. It's true that our 17th president survived removal from office by a single vote. The reader wrote, "Ironically, the faction in Congress that attempted to oust Johnson was known as ... the Radical Republicans." True, but the picture the reader draws is not quite analogous to today's GOP Hobbits. Johnson was no Lincoln. If memory serves, Johnson's hurry to make nice with the defeated Confederacy (which included vetoing most civil rights bills) underpinned his conflict with the "Radicals." It's not a stretch to imagine that many of our modern "Radicals" would have sided with Johnson's anti-Reconstruction policies.

Britannia revisited

Andrew Sullivan, now a green card holder, is just back from a sojourn in his native England. He hadn't been back for five years. "The stops on the train journey from my Sussex home to London are exactly the same, almost a long-forgotten mantra of Englishness to me: Hurst Green, Oxted, Woldingham, Upper Warlingham, Riddlesdown, Sanderstead ... The names reassure. And after you’ve lived in America, the sheer depth of each tiny stop, the generations that have lived there or near there for centuries, the overwhelming sense of real place you feel is something I once took easily for granted. Now it has the shock of the old, a sudden remembrance that this little island really does have an identity, a character. ... it seems a country that still makes sense; that has come to terms with itself; a country that, unlike my new home, America, is not in the midst of a cold civil war." As usual, Sully pens a lovely essay. Spend some time with it here.

Idiots, Congress and Repeating Thyself

Somewhere in Heaven, Mark Twain is chuckling between cigar puffs as scribes like me keep trotting out his famous line about politics: "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself." After twisting countless arms, Speaker John Boehner (R) finally got his debt-ceiling bill passed in the House Friday night. On cue (and as predicted), the Senate killed it two hours later. Elapsed time: one week. And now we're back to square one. As Steve Benen noted, Boehner never made a serious attempt at policymaking. The exercise was mostly designed to save his political hide. "The proposal needed to be bipartisan, but was written in secret to be as partisan as possible. The proposal needed to be sensible, but would instead force us to go through all of this again in six months and would mandate approval of a constitutional amendment in both chambers before House Republicans would allow the United States to pay its bills. Think about that for a moment. Elected GOP lawmakers have come to believe extortion is a legitimate tool to get Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When I talk about Republicans shredding the American political process, this is what I'm talking about." Which reminds me of another, even more appropriate Twain quote: "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class ― except Congress."

The Dowd Diary - Cont'd

Commentary-diva Maureen Dowd opens her latest NYT piece thusly: "So I was chatting with Chris Coons, the new Democratic senator from Delaware who had a rare win over the Tea Party when he beat loony Christine 'I’ve Dabbled in Witchcraft but I Am Not a Witch' O’Donnell in the midterms. Coons is a smart guy who’s alarmed at finding himself in a vicious combat zone that makes 'Shark Week' look like a guppy party." Yes, folks, that's another effortless long ball over the middle. Here's one more sample of her piquant wit: "Like gargoyles on the Capitol, the adamantine nihilists are determined to blow up the country’s prestige, their party and even their own re-election chances if that’s what it takes." Another tight literary dinger. Too bad Dowd's game often gets called on account of rain. Her columned "analysis" routinely leaves me (and a lot of folks) slack-jawed in its superficiality. Today's piece too is a swing and a miss, though lovely written. (Essentially, she argues that the GOP "wolfen" in Congress are winning because - wait for it - Obama is not beating his chest hard enough. If only he'd use the magic powers she imagines he has. Sigh.) But as a wordsmith, Dowd continues to blow away the competition. A hat tip, madam.

Speaking of crazy ...

I wish I had app that would let me count the number of times I've used the word "crazy" in connection with Congress and Republicans so far in 2011. I bet it is over one hundred. "Idiot" and "dunderhead" would likely rank second and third in the count. Just thinkin' out loud.

Um, impeach Obama?

You want crazy? Andrew Sullivan says try this on for size: The House filibusters "the Reid plan in the Senate, forcing Obama to invoke a 14th Amendment executive prerogative, which they will then turn around and impeach him for it. Far-fetched? I hope so. But every time you think you have reached the end of Republican extremism, they manage to move further out of the solar system." Interestingly, Sully sez Obama should go ahead and launch this nuke if push comes to shove. I dunno. That sounds too much like a death wish to me.

Pottering about

"Gardening, like Englishness, is about being home; it is about tending to things, not remaking them; it is about learning to bend with nature, not to master it; it is a function of a culture that knows what it is and is prepared to stop for a few minutes to enjoy it." (Andrew Sullivan)

OMG! Obama is doomed (again)

Oh no. Not another "Obama Is Doomed" prediction. Andrew Sullivan flagged this handwrung piece by John Sides:
"The new economic numbers and the trend in presidential approval [he's down to 40%] bring us to this point: Barack Obama is on the cusp of becoming the underdog in the 2012 election. The outcome of the debt ceiling debate will not change this. In fact, the outcome is likely to make things even worse for Obama. A default would likely create economic chaos, and any deal will cut government spending, which seems likely to reduce economic growth further. [...] Can Obama successfully compete with a Republican who campaigns on “jobs, jobs, jobs” while the economy is in a near-recession? [...] But finding the issue that neutralizes a weak economy is hard. Neither Carter nor Bush could. I don’t know whether Obama will."
Oh please. Yes, Obama has hit a new approval low. But Mr. Sides failed to mention that everyone else is polling worse. Moreover, is it really necessary to restate that trend polls taken a year before Election Day are as meaningful as predicting the Rapture would occur (this time for sure) on May 21, 2011 at 6pm ET? We're still here. Yes, a default might create Armageddon. So would an alien invasion. Neither is going to happen. As for the match-up with the 12-foot tall Republican, Abe Lincoln is sitting this one out. At worst we're talking about Romney, the insomnia candidate who can't find a consistent position on the issues with GPS and Google Maps. If Obama faces anybody else, Obama wins in a landslide. Full stop. To paraphrase Bill Maher, if these "Obama Is Doomed" predictions were made of uranium, they could power the planet. But in reality, they're just hot air.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Is no drama bad for Obama?

I admire President "No Drama" Obama's coolness under fire. With political mortars exploding around him daily, I have no idea how this man keeps an even strain. By now, I'd be all over-the-top Al Pacino in Scarface ("Say hello to my little friend!"). Still, having to deal with the insufferable dunderheads in Congress (now and likely for the next five years), sooner or later the man just has to go all Snakes-On-A-Plane on us. In fact, he probably should, esp. since Michelle won't let him have a friggin' smoke anymore. Go on, Mr. President, let your inner Samuel L. Jackson out. It'll be cathartic. We'll understand.

Um, why is Wall Street so spooky calm?

Unless something changes fast, the U.S. defaults on its credit Tuesday. So why isn't the stock market in free fall? With Congress endlessly dithering over the debt ceiling, you'd think Wall Street would be freaking out. You know, as in eating their Glocks or jumping out of skyscraper windows and stuff, Great Depression-style. (Think Mortimer Duke yelling "Sell! Sell! Sell!" in Trading Places.) But not to worry. The Atlantic's Megan McArdle says the stock titans are "relatively calm because they simply cannot bring themselves to believe that we're not, in the end, going to raise the ceiling. It's too outlandish that we would, through the collective action of our congressmen, suddenly and for no apparent reason shoot ourselves in the head." I sure hope she's right. But Jon Chait begs to differ. "The basic problem here is that Wall Street has massively underestimated the loony determination of the Republican right," he writes. "McArdle's description reminded me of Ellis, the financial hot shot in Die Hard who thinks he can deal with the terrorists the way he deals with corporate takeovers in his regular work." Ellis, of course, gets blown away by Hans Gruber, the head terrorist. (Watch the clip here. It's a classic scene.) Let's hope the Republicans decline their all too tempting star turn as Gruber.

'And the sharks took the rest ...'

At 11 p.m. on this day in 1945, Japanese submarine I-58 surfaced into a calm Pacific night, some 250 miles north of Palau. A deck officer soon spotted an approaching ship. She was making 12 knots and not zigzagging. The sub skipper mistook her for an American battleship. But it was actually the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis. She was bound for San Francisco after delivering parts and enriched uranium to Tinian for Little Boy, the Hiroshima atomic bomb. She was alone in the blackness. At 11:23 p.m., the sub fired a rapid spread of six torpedoes. Three hit the Indianapolis' starboard side. She sunk in 12 minutes, killing 300. The rest, nearly 900 sailors, went into the water. The sub loitered, confirmed its kill, then stole away into the deeps. But for the surviving crew of the Indianapolis, the nightmare had only just begun.

In the movie Jaws, Sam Quint (Robert Shaw) describes what happened after the sinking. It's based on historical fact. I've posted Shaw's monologue before. But since it’s a great piece of storytelling, I'm re-posting it today on the 66th anniversary of the tragedy. It's well worth a read.
Hooper: [surprised] You were on the Indianapolis?

Brody: What happened?

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

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

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

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

So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.
The Indianapolis (CA-35) was last major U.S. Navy ship sunk by enemy action in World War II, per Wikipedia. Of the 1,196 sailors aboard, about 300 died in the sinking, 880 went into the ocean, and 316 ultimately survived to tell the tale. The survivors would remain in the water for nearly four days. Grievous injuries, exposure, dehydration, delirium-driven suicide, and shark attacks "took the rest," some 564 men. And I too will ponder the wisdom of putting on a lifejacket again.

Please, sir, may we have some more?

This is encouraging: "Telephone circuits into the House of Representatives were once again near capacity on Friday after President Obama called on Americans to keep up their calls to Congress." Wow. This bully pulpit stuff really seems to work. As a confirmed cynic, I'm frankly surprised (but pleasantly so). More please, Mr. Obama.

Is the GOP using the 'Madman Theory?'

Clearly, some in Republican circles (think Tea Party Hobbits) believe "Failure Is An Option" when it comes to the debt ceiling, even if it means mutually assured destruction ― for them and us.

This rang a bell with Cato Institute scholar Julian Sanchez. Has the Grand Old Party dusted off the old "Madman Theory," the one devised and implemented by the American Machiavelli himself, Richard Milhouse Nixon?

Sanchez explains:
"During the cold war, [Nixon] notoriously developed his 'madman theory,' a stratagem of having senior aides [Kissinger principal among them] circulate their 'concerns' that Nixon had gone unhinged, and might just hit that big red button if provoked, even though the consequences of a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union would clearly be catastrophic for the United States even in 'victory' (if that term is even intelligible in the context of nuclear war). Nixon faced the problem of “credible commitment,” as game theorists call it: It’s hard to use a threat as leverage when it would clearly be irrational for you to actually make good on that threat. An opponent who thinks you’re rational, therefore, will discount the threat as an empty bluff. But if your opponent thinks you’re crazy—crazy enough to make good on a threat even when it means mutual ruin—they may just be inclined to give you what you want."
Sanchez wonders if this is the stratagem Republicans are using to face down Obama over the debt issue. Granted, it's a compelling thought and "Madman Theory 2.0" would certainly explain GOP intransigence. "If you don't give us everything we want, then today is a good day to die, Kimosabe." Refuse them, and swoosh. Bye bye economy. The bad news is the Tea Party Hobbit wing of the GOP is indeed crazy. The good news is they're not that clever. I doubt that these right wingers could even spell "Machiavellian" or "Strangelovian" let alone divine their meanings. So, come out from under your school desks. The Cold War is still over.

How to save the country

You say you want a sensible resolution to the debt ceiling showdown? Well, Steve Benen has a sensible answer: "[W]alk away from the tea partiers. Instead, strike a deal that a hundred non-insane House Republicans and 20 or 30 non-insane Senate Republicans can support. Add that to a majority of the Democratic caucus and you're done. You've saved the country."

What a loser sounds like

David Frum: "I listened to about 45 minutes of the first hour of Rush Limbaugh in the car today. The dominant theme of the hour, repeated over and over: 'You' – meaning, Limbaugh listeners – are not 'losers.' It’s Obama’s who’s a 'loser'. The word 'loser' must have been repeated dozens of times, half as reassurance (that’s what you are not!), half as epithet (that’s what President Obama is!) The psychological interpretation of what’s going on here is almost too obvious to remark. But what I can’t decide is whether it’s more sinister or more sad." Heh. I'll just add that I envy Frum's fortitude. Listening to Limbaugh for 45 minutes straight? Impressive. Me? I'd prefer root canal. Better yet, a firing squad. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

And the scales fell from his eyes ...

Look, I despise Bill O'Reilly. He's a blowhard and a bully. He is as dumb as he looks. And that smirk ... well, you get the picture. But every now and then, the Fox News curmudgeon gets it partially right. To wit: "The only thing that can save Barack Obama at this point is craziness on the right. ... It's not only going to hurt the Republican Party, which has already been hurt, but it's going to save President Obama who they hate ... The irony is, the people who dislike President Obama the most ... are helping him the most. You've got to stop this hateful rhetoric." Obama hardly needs saving, but the part about right wing craziness is spot on. Granted, as someone noted, the debt mess is probably messing with his sizable investment portfolio (though he's richer than God by now). Hence his sudden rage against the Tea Party Hobbit Machine. But hey, credit where credit is due ... just this once.

Congress: No good deed goes unpunished

"On a normal day, when congressional Republicans aren't pushing the economy towards a catastrophe, the deal the White House struck on fuel-efficiency standards would be a pretty major story. [Honda, Hyundai, and the Big Three domestic automakers agreed to nearly double fuel-efficiency for vehicles sold in America.] ... And from a political perspective, what's the best part of this? It doesn't require Congress to intervene and screw it up. No filibusters, no hostage strategies, no Tea Party tantrums." Heh. (Washington Monthly)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

Taking to the White House podium this morning, a steely-eyed President Obama stared into the wary-eyed faces of his fellow Americans. Take our dignity, our credit rating and even our lives ... but never our compromise! (as Jon Chait wryly point it.)
Obama: "Make no mistake ― for those who say they oppose tax increases on anyone, a lower credit rating would result potentially in a tax increase on everyone ... that’s inexcusable. I asked the American people to make their voice heard in this debate ... Make a phone call. Send an email. Tweet. Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you: STAND, Men of the West!!"
Oh wait ... that's mostly Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Sorry. Obama's knight-in-shining-armor thing occasionally triggers a Democratic fever dream. Anyway, as Shakespeare might say (and Obama is thinking), we in this debt ceiling debate on righteousness' side shall be remembered (come Election Day 2012). We few, we happy few, we band of brothers ... To the BARRICADES!

Caution: Train wreck in progress

Noting House Speaker Boehner's frustration today, Jon Stewart called him "the world’s saddest tangerine." POLITICO explains why: "Still lacking the votes at 9 p.m., Republicans were considering sending their bill back to the Rules Committee for minor tweaks to win more votes." To which Steve Benen snarked: "What kind of 'tweaks'? Apparently, several far-right House Republicans believe Boehner's plan is too generous when it comes to Pell Grants. Helping low-income students go to college is, as they see it, 'welfare,' and therefore makes his bill unacceptable. Thanks again, midterm voters. Great job. If the bill goes back to committee, it's likely to delay a House vote until Friday. (Take your time, guys. It's not like there's a looming deadline that would cause an economic disaster next week.) Also, don't forget, all of this is to simply get the Boehner plan through the House, so it can be promptly killed by the Senate." Translation: Boehner either gets a knife in the back from the Senate or several of the long variety from his own House caucus, Caesar-like. If it's the latter, he's a dead man politically. To paraphrase Mark Twain's famous observation, Congress' cup runneth over with Village idiots. But even I have to admit this is becoming a Five Alarm catastrophe. Wow.

Today's most tasteless article goes to ...

Slate! Congratulations! Today's Explainer Column: "Amy Winehouse's family believes that quitting alcohol cold turkey precipitated the singer's recent death, according to the British tabloid the Sun. ... [M]ost observers have assumed that she suffered from a drug overdose of some kind. Can you really die from not drinking?" Answer: Yes. D'uh.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I'm not a Hobbit. I'm you.

Going all Witchy Woman on us, Christine O'Donnell also fired a shot over McCain's bow (see Lord of the Zings) in response to his diss. Like, how dare he criticize my campaign debacle after his "own presidential candidacy debacle," O'Donnell said tauntingly. "After that nightmare, McCain had to veer right so fast he almost got whiplash from all his flip-flopping just to keep his Senate seat. It doesn’t help him to attack those conservatives and Tea Partiers who graciously gave him another chance to keep his job." As Mediate noted, them are fightin' words. But since this is O'Donnell, there must be more. There has to be a Hobbit connection. Gotta be. And guess what? There is. Not only did she pen a curious piece in 2003 entitled, "The Women of Middle Earth," she later compared herself to Tolkien's "shieldmaiden" character. During a discussion, she said: "Look at the significance that he gives to Eowyn, the lady of Rohan. She was a warrior spirit and, to me, that's who I love ... I'm a fighter, like Eowyn." Well, at least she's got a catchy slogan for her next Kamikaze campaign: "I'm not a Hobbit. I'm you."

Lord of the Zings

As you know, Sen. McCain fired a broadside at the clueless, uncompromising malcontents in his party yesterday. To recap, he thinks they're crazy to think they can block raising the debt ceiling, escape blame for the resulting catastrophe, and then, like "Tea Party Hobbits," return triumphantly to "Middle Earth having defeated Mordor." Twisting the dagger further, McCain said, “This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees.” Today, Angle fired back. “As in the fable, it is the hobbits who are the heroes and save the land. This Lord of the TARP actually ought to read to the end of the story and join forces with the Tea Party, not criticize it,” Angle said in a statement. “Meanwhile, we look forward to meeting members of Congress and the President at the polls in 2012 … And we will keep in mind those who supported increasing our nation’s mountain of debt, what could be called their very own Mount Doom.” Now, I doubt that Angle herself crafted these words. But whichever wordsmith did deserves points for metaphorical cleverness. And pass the popcorn.

Time to send government to rehab

Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards (now at the Aspen Institute) believes American government has been reduced to an out of control "battle between warring tribes." He's right. Republican or Democratic majorities come and go, but nothing ever changes. It just gets worse.

Pardon the lengthy excerpt, but Edwards' take on what ails our democracy is worth reading:
"If we are truly a democracy—if voters get to size up candidates for a public office and choose the one they want—why don’t the elections seem to change anything? Because we elect our leaders, and they then govern, in a system that makes cooperation almost impossible and incivility nearly inevitable, a system in which the campaign season never ends and the struggle for party advantage trumps all other considerations. ..."

"Many Americans assume that’s just how democracy works, that this is how it’s always been, that it’s the system the Founders created. But what we have today is a far cry from what the Founders intended. George Washington and James Madison both warned of the dangers posed by political parties. Defenders of the party system argue that parties—including Madison’s own—arose almost immediately after the nation was founded. But those were not parties in the modern sense: they were factions uniting on a few major issues, not marching in lockstep on every issue, large and small. ..."

"What we have today is not a legacy of 1789 but an outdated relic of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Progressives pushed for the adoption of primary elections. ... This reform was supposed to give citizens a bigger role in the election process. Instead, the influence of party leaders has been supplanted by that of a subset of party activists who are often highly ideological and largely uninterested in finding common ground. ... [Ergo] small bands of activists to limit our choices of people to represent us in making the nation’s laws ..."

"If we really want change—change that will yield a Congress that is more representative and more functional, change that can be replicated in state and local governments—we need to rethink the party-driven structures we have so casually accepted for decades ..."

"In a democracy that is open to intelligent and civil debate about competing ideas rather than programmed for automatic opposition to another party’s proposals, we might yet find ourselves able to manage the task of self-government. Our current political dysfunction is not inevitable; it results from deliberate decisions that have backfired and left us mired in the trenches of hyper-partisan warfare. Political parties will not disappear; as a free people, we will continue to honor freedom of association. The goal is not to destroy parties but to transcend them; to welcome their contributions but end their dominance; and to take back from these private clubs control of our own elections and our own Congress."
In his piece, Edwards outlines a compelling Six-Step Method to fix Congress. Think of it as rehab for glassy-eyed politicians habitually strung out on the potent Mary Jane they call partisanship. However, there are two problems. First, we Americans should have banded together to do an intervention long ago. Congress' political substance abuse is now Winehousian in scope. These guys and gals may be too far gone to save. Asking them to change now is like telling your dog to stop wagging its tail. It's a fool's errand. Second, to pull off the excellent reforms Edwards suggests would require throwing most of these bums out of office and replacing them with folks who, when push comes to shove, do not regard compromise as a "dirty word," as Obama put it. We want a majority of principled, cantankerous, hard-fighting folks who will nonetheless give their their first allegiance to the nation.

But frankly, the actual path to this political Shangri-La eludes me. Edwards is silent on the matter. Except for the "Era of Good Feelings" (1816–1824), a time when partisan combat abated under President Monroe, Congress has been a viper's nest of parochial interests. Yes, the system works. But just barely. We deserve better. But so far, nobody has come up with a viable way to let us "take back" our government. Could Obama still lead a change movement that goes beyond mere rhetoric?

It is famously said that only Nixon could go to China. Perhaps only Obama can return the government to the noble place that the Framers intended for it. As the last adult standing, no one is better equipped for the task than Obama given his trustworthiness and talent, combined qualities rarely seen in American presidents. Obviously, accomplishing "change" has proven impossible in his first term. In retrospect, that isn't surprising. Who knew the "loyal opposition" would morph into near treasonous jackals and willfully sabotage all efforts at truce-making? But now they've shown us their cards and another chance to overturn the tables beckons in 2012.

This time, Obama could marry his patented change message with an earnest plea for governmental competence and patriotism. Extending his coattails, the president could pitch the counterintuitive idea of a "Congress You Can Believe In," hammering home the critical importance of not electing narrowcast mouth-breathers into state or federal office. "You want decisive government, not dysfunctional government," the sound bite might go. Such a message would appeal to every frustrated voter in the country. You want a liberal congressman? Fine. How about a conservative one? Fine. Just make damn sure his or her IQ is higher than room temperature. And then go all Missouri on them by saying "Show Me" how you'll get stuff done through both debate and cooperation, Mr. or Ms. Candidate.

"Help me help you, America," Obama could entreat using his great rhetorical gifts. "Uncle Sam needs a new pair of shoes, folks -- and maybe a swift kick, too. (laughter) Elect the best, you get the best, America." I can easily imagine Obama having fun with this, and the crowds eating it up. If Obama thundered this message relentlessly in 2012, would it resonate with voters? Absolutely. Could it create the groundswell that would be necessary to turn the reforms proposed by Edwards into reality? Maybe. But it would be well worth a try.

Will Work For News

I feel like the guy in the photo. Except my sign would read: "Will Work For News, Any News." And by news, I mean real journalism. Here's a sampling of top headlines from the major dailies and political blogs today: Deal or no deal: Cillizza and Klein take the pulse. Boehner seeks to quell dissent as vote nears. Why does anyone trust the CBO? With G.O.P. Unity at Risk, Boehner Tries Tougher Style. Boehner risking much by going to brink over debt. Obama-GOP standoff in debt ceiling talks triggers public disgust. Reid will move to kill Boehner bill. Pols cash in on the debt debate. House GOP Unprepared For Senate Rejection Of Boehner Plan. Pelosi: GOP Using Debt Talks As A Trojan Horse To Attack Middle Class. Budget Showdown: Debt ceiling vultures come home to roost. Last Plan Standing: GOP At Risk Ahead of Key Debt Vote. And my personal favorite from The Daily Beast: "Will Debt Crisis Ruin Obama’s Birthday?" (He turns 50 on Aug. 4, two days after the U.S. potentially careens into default and the abyss.) By all means, "stop the presses." Notice the common thread? As usual, it's all about who's up and who's down. It is style/inanity over substance, and never the twain shall meet. The media's subliminal message? Shut up and eat your gruel. We wouldn't sell it if you didn't buy it. Sadly, they're sorta right.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Norwegian tragedy a symptom of our times?

In a thoughtful piece, Chris Bertram writes: "We may be, now, in ... a world where people select themselves into groups which ramp up their more-or-less internally coherent belief systems into increasingly extreme forms by confirming to one another their perceived “truths” (about Islam, or Obama’s birth certificate, or whatever) and shutting out falsifying information. Put an unstable person or a person with a serious personality disorder into an environment like that and you have a formula for something very nasty happening somewhere, sooner or later. Horribly, that somewhere was Norway last Friday." I fear Bertram is right. This storm too humanity will weather. Unfortunately, the price is likely to be high.

Yahoo! and Humanity's Crooked Timber

As all Philosophy 101 students should recall, Immanuel Kant famously said, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." Its meaning is debated ad infinitum. One reader on a philosophy forum website opined: "Kant is saying that humans have an irrational predisposition so there is little hope of perfecting anything or ever getting it totally right." Another reader said Kant meant "that rarely does humanity ever do the right, logical thing for itself in a linear, logically concatenated manner but more in a perverse, dialectical zigzaggy manner." Both interpretations, variations on a theme, are probably right, methinks.

That said, whenever one Googles a quote, even one by Kant, it invariably kicks back a top-of-page link to that most useless of websites: Yahoo! Answers -- a digital conglomeration of the nitwits, by the nitwits, for the nitwits. Yes, yes -- that's unfair and I'm being overly harsh. Y/A wouldn't exist were it not popular (or, more accurately, didn't attract page hits like moths to a porch light). But in deciphering Kant's "crooked timber" quote, one Yahoo-er hit the proverbial nail on the head for his audience of mouth-breathers.

He/she wrote:
"Kant ... is basically implying that 'humanity' i.e. humans, are incapable and not interested enough in each other to do something for another without personal gain. In other words, we are all 'crooked'. If that was the case, then this website of yahoo questions and answers would not exist. Although Kant would dispute that and say that the only reason people answered these questions was to show off (therefore 'gaining' some misguided form of recognition for their efforts) and the only reason people asked the questions in the first place would be because they were craving some sort of attention."
If Dr. Kant could visit Yahoo! Answers, he just might agree with this unique take on the bent condition of modern "humanity" i.e. humans in the Yahoo-verse. Priceless.

Game over for al-Qaeda?

There is consensus in the US intelligence community that al-Qaeda is on the brink of collapse. Apparently, its remaining players have been reduced to raggedy dead-enders (to use the Rumsfeldian noun). Relentless drone attacks, countless kill & capture missions, and the fact that brandmaster bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes have taken a devastating toll on the jihadists. Wired's Spencer Ackerman thinks it's time to spike the football and declare victory. It's now a question of changing our mindsets. To wit: "That is what victory actually is: terrorism as a manageable threat, not to be dealt with through a perpetual global war. Once we harden some domestic targets, maximize the 'Americanness' of U.S. Muslims, bolster the defensive capabilities of key foreign allies -- their populations more than their security apparat -- then we can slow down the drone strikes responsibly, replace them with ISR orbits and do some strikes and roundups as necessary, harassing al-Qaida's residual capability to regenerate itself. The 9/11 era ends on our terms." Ackerman is right -- with the proviso that we stay mindful of what abolitionist Wendell Phillips once said: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

Smoke and mirrors on purpose?

I'm no economist. Nor do I play one on TV (like way too many pundits). So I haven't waded too deeply into the debt ceiling weeds. But for those of you who frocklick in them, here's a very smart take on the current state of play by thistle-master Jon Chait: "[T]he Boehner plan is totally unsupportable. But once you've gotten the right to cross the philosophic threshold Boehner has, the next step is a lot easier. Boehner will lose plenty of conservatives if and when he cuts a final deal, but he'll gain Democrats. The key step was breaking down the right's default denialism and sense of entitlement to total victory. That's achieved." I think Chait may be on to something here. It would explain quite a lot.

Thinking of Speaker John Boehner

"It doesn't matter what damn lie we tell, so long as we all tell the same damn lie," said Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's first prime minister, explaining how a cabinet government works. (Hat tip: David Frum)

No compromise, copper ... or the kid gets it

John Carney, a senior editor at, writes in The Atlantic that the "White House insists the U.S. government will not be able to stay current on all of its obligations as of Aug. 2 unless the debt ceiling is raised. But can the government of the United States ever really run out of money?" No it cannot, he concludes. "It can only run out if it decides--that is, if Secretary Geithner and President Barack Obama choose--to stop writing checks sufficient to pay all of our obligations." Get it? There's no problem. It's all in Obama's mind. Carney makes a number of technically correct points. Some are kinda compelling. But perceptions drive the Dow Jones Index (see this week's 300 point drop). As money monks are wont to do, Carney completely ignores the gargantuan psychological impact a U.S. credit default would have on the financial markets, both here and abroad. Not to mention the accompanying political implosions. The day after, as Carney implies to the contrary, won't be business as usual. So, in the end, Carney's piece amounts to a cogently written suicide note to which the Tea Party Mad Hatters can eagerly affix their signatures. (Thanks, John!) But this order of business would be addressed only after the hostages, me and thee, are dispatched by the "no compromise" dunderheads in Congress.

In Congress, Dysfunctional 'R Us

After Shays' Rebellion, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to James Madison: "I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." Madison was less sanguine: "Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power." George Washington too was nervous: "Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once." Indeed, the 1786-87 armed uprising in Massachusetts sobered the minds of many attending the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It's one reason why the Framers ultimately designed Congress to be, well, dysfunctional. Though Congress was created to pass laws, what it mostly does is stymie them. Easy or undemanding change through legislation, the Framers figured, would be a dangerous thing. Slate's Shankar Vedantam observes that the idea that Congress was designed to gum up the works is nothing new: "Political scientists have made this argument for years ... What we criticize as dysfunction or ineptitude is really an institution designed with a profoundly conservative vision—that's conservative with a small C. ... You can see this as good or bad, but that's not the point. The point is that it's silly to build a supertanker and then criticize the sailors because the ship doesn't maneuver like a speedboat." Therefore, Vedantam concludes, Congress deserves an "A" for not raising the debt ceiling (yet). How's that for counterintuitive thinking? Heh.

Channeling Jefferson?

In his address to the nation Monday night, President Obama said, "The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government. So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message." They did, deluging the switchboards and computer servers of Congress in the process. Being the erudite man that he is, I wonder if Obama had the words of Thomas Jefferson in mind as he crafted his call to action. In a 1789 letter to English philosopher Richard Price, Jefferson wrote, "Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights." Let's hope Jefferson is right.

The triumph of politics

Elvin Lim: "America is the only country in the world that that has the luxury of creating an economic crisis when there isn’t one. ... That we ended up with so much debt is a result of politics, anyway. For all the talk of budgetary restraint coming from Congress, the fact is it was Congress that authorized all the spending that has brought us to where we are. Yes, every single dime." Ridiculous, ain't it?

McCain reintroduces himself to sanity

Sen. John McCain thinks Tea Party-allied Republicans are barking mad if they think President Obama will get the blame if Republicans refuse to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. By that wrongheaded logic, “Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced budget amendment and reform entitlements and the Tea Party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth. This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into G.O.P. nominees," McCain said on the Senate floor today. Yowzer. I guess this means McCain, 74, won't be running for reelection. Of course, this is the guy whose "crack political thinking" turned Sarah Palin into his VP running mate in 2008. McCain apparent return to sanity is welcome. But it's a little late, Senator.

A Quote for Wednesday

"Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them." (Abraham Lincoln)

Not since Lincoln

P.M. Carpenter ponders the incredulity of it all with a heavy sigh:
"Not since Abe Lincoln took office has a president's political opposition been so ruthlessly determined to oppose -- even to the point of national disloyalty, which is precisely what the GOP's treacherous machinations over the debt limit represent. It is futile to look back on Obama's first two years and speculate that he should have done this, or that he should have done that, and then this or that might have proceeded better; it is futile because whatever path Obama might have chosen, his opposition was acrobatically hellbent on obstructing it."

"If Obama is to be properly faulted, then his fault lies in the rather incongruent criticism of excessive rationality. No one, least of all a chief executive of profound intellect and with a corresponding belief in the great and unifying power of Reason, could have predicted in January 2009 that the spiritually broken Grand Old Party would redouble its preceding madness, and then double that, and double even that again. ... Neither could anyone have predicted the activist left's infantile behavior and ceaseless crankiness."
Carpenter's entire piece is worth a read. In his famous 1858 "House Divided" speech, Lincoln said, "If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it." For now, alas, understanding this season of discontent and "whither we are tending" seems beyond the grasp of our current crop of political leaders save Mr. "Abraham" Obama.

A Timeless Quote

“Language most shows a man; speak that I may see thee.” (Ben Johnson, English poet, 1572–1637)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Do I look fat?

Honey, do I look fat? Those are five of the most dangerous words in the English language. Epic civil wars and divorce court proceedings have been launched over them. Now Gawker has added a new twist: Honey, would you dump me if I got fat? "According to Ask Men's annual Great Male/Female Surveys, half of all straight men say they would dump a girlfriend who got fat," Gawker reports. That's right, a whopping 50 percent of guys would just up and say "see ya." How uncivilized, right guys? In fact, it's downright shocking, shocking! ... until you poll yourself with the same question. What's that you say? The thought would never cross your magnanimous mind? You would have no problem at all cuddling nightly, 7 days a week, year in and year out, with the bountiful "babe" shown above 'til death do youse part? Riiiight.

Is this good or bad?

In England, no one can make you go to rehab. But they can in America. Slate's Explainer Column (Brian Palmer): "It's easier to force a family member into rehab in the United States, where 38 states permit involuntary commitment for substance-abuse treatment. The statutes vary widely in terms of what it takes to force someone into treatment and how long she can be kept there against her will." Bonus question: "Does compulsory treatment actually work?" Bonus answer: "The research is, unfortunately, all over the map."

Poor choice of words

Let me state up front that The New Republic's Jon Chait is not sexist. No way, no how. I wouldn't read him if he were. Still, this headline-link on his blog speaks volumes about the unconscious male mind: "WaPost: Bachmann shacked up with Uncle Sam for federal home loans." Was the use of "shacked up" really necessary? Here's the Urban Dictionary take on the expression: "To move into shared accommodation with someone, generally of the opposite sex for purposes of sexual intercourse. As in: I'm shacked up with a few sheilas." I'm almost certain that Chait's innuendo was/is unintentional. He probably spent all of a nanosecond assembling the words for his headline. But as much as it pains me to say it, Bachmann and Palin have a point when they complain that the media deck is stacked against them as females. Just sayin'.

Winehouse, Take Two

Slate's Bill Wyman explains why her music will last: "She was boozy and disheveled, a tarted-up gamin somehow reminiscent both of a blowzed '60s pinup and a canny street urchin, all wrapped up with the bow of her almost Dickensian name on top. Yet she radiated precision and formalism in her music. Her gaze on a stage could be vacant, almost affectless. But somehow her albums betray an astringent intelligence, over- and undertones of meaning and calculation, and a surprisingly nuanced grasp of the music she loved from decades long past. And her arresting voice conveyed not just emotion, but on occasion universal cataclysms of love, loss, and degradation."

Over-thinking Obama

As usual, the Chattering Class is over-thinking President Obama's intent in his debt ceiling address to the nation last night.
TNR's Jon Chait: "I'm not really sure what Obama was trying to accomplish in his speech. I thought he would try to find some kind of lowest common denominator between the Reid and Boehner plans that would stand a chance of passing Congress. He didn't. Instead he appealed once again to the Grand Bargain. If Obama thinks Congress will pass something like that, he's nuts. ... The most rational explanation for Obama's speech is that he's positioning himself for failure. He's explaining his position so that when Congress fails to lift the debt ceiling, Americans will blame the Republicans and not him. Maybe in the meantime some small deal can arise."
Nice try. But Obama wasn't speaking to the know-it-all pundits (who actually have no idea what is in the president's head). He was educating the American people about what the Republicans have wrought. And yes, he's deftly positioning himself politically to deflect blame. That said, Obama will do whatever it takes to force Congress into raising the debt ceiling. And it probably won't be pretty.

A Manhattan Maid's Tale

Nafissatou Diallo, the Guinean hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape, broke her silence today to tell her side of the story. The three-hour interview with Newsweek is riveting. (The magazine couldn't resist giving Diallo the once over, describing her as "statuesque" but "not glamorous" and noting the "faint acne scars" on her "light-brown skin." In other words, DSK didn't mistake her for, say, Tyra Banks or the sculpted beauties he has allegedly manhandled in the past. Decipher that subliminal message as you will.) Though Diallo is compelling as her own witness, angelic is not the adjective I would use to describe her. That goes double for DSK, of course. Frankly, I don't know whom to believe. My gut tells me that this was probably a tryst gone horribly wrong. But I wouldn't bet a wooden nickel on my gut. Diallo's credibility issues notwithstanding, maybe this thing ought to go to a jury for a proper sorting out. (Right. Like that's going to happen.) In any case, one assertion in the Newsweek piece grabbed me by the lapels: "Diallo cannot read or write in any language." That should not have astonished me (the literacy rate in Guinea is 29%), but it did. If, as Shakespeare said, "there is no darkness but ignorance," then Diallo's world is surely beclouded by her illiteracy. Now that she is mired in an unwanted but scandalous predicament, one can only image her bewilderment. The klieg lights will almost certainly deepen it. Diallo may or may not be innocent. But it's hard to avoid thinking that she is an unwitting lamb being led to the slaughter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

At least we've got football

Just thought I'd share a note I e-mailed to a friend: "Glad to hear we're gonna have a NFL season after all. Of course, getting to the games could be dicey. After the just-can't-say-yes Republicans drive the country off an economic cliff, our post-debtpocalyptic landscape will be littered with roving "Mad Max" tribes vying for food, water, gas, and football tickets. Worsening matters, there will probably be cannibalistic zombies (mutant Tea Party spawn) to contend with, too. Moreover, with the dollar's extinction, I wonder how many sea shells a Cardinals game will set us back? And we're 6 hours away from the closest Pacific shoreline. Folks in what's left of flyover country could be screwed. But hey, why sweat the small stuff, right? Pro football is on, baby! Cheers."


Talk about the Monday blues. I've been lying in wait, Vietcong-like, for the Media-Blog Complex to leap beyond the pale on the debt ceiling impasse. Talking Points Memo finally "went there" this afternoon, calling the crisis: "Debtpocalypse." This means the made-up word has forded the Rubicon and entered the lexicon along side "carmageddon." Swell. Naturally, this please-please-click-me teaser is paired an equally bombastic story on TPM (cue the WWE Raw voice-over guy): "DEBT DEATHMATCH! Reid And Boehner Introduce Incompatible Plans To Avoid Default." How's that for reducing our latest economic Dunkirk to a punchline -- sung to the tune of R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)?" But unlike Charlie squatting beside a Mekong Delta trail, I don't have a satchel of Soviet RPG-7s to consummate this rhetorical ambush. All I can do is watch and weep as the politicians potentially drive us over a cliff to the cheering taunts of the media.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Train wreck in progress?

The New York Times' John Harwood on the debt ceiling impasse: "The toughest legislative negotiations always resemble those old movies in which a terrified and helpless damsel lies bound to the railroad tracks. At the last instant, a hero intervenes to stop the locomotive. It happened with tax reform in the 1980s, deficit reduction in the ’90s, and the health care overhaul last year. Odds remain good that because of the immense pressure for action on all involved, the pattern will repeat itself this week on raising the debt limit and averting a default by the United States government." Unfortunately, as Harwood notes, the margin of error is exceedingly small.

'Sugar Candy'

It's easy to over-romanticize Winston Churchill as the proverbial "great man." But the man had a way with words. As a political organism, the nation seems (again) to be at that darkest moment before the dawn. It is therefore worth remembering Churchill's words before the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on 30 December 1941: "We have not journeyed across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy."

A thought for Sunday

"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic." (Frank Herbert, author of the Dune novels)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

History as a comic book

In a thoughtful piece, "Race Man" Chauncey DeVega takes Hollywood to task over Captain America: The First Avenger and the mangling of American history.

He says the movie distractingly "applies a heavy whitewashing to World War 2 that is distinguished by a deep commitment and dedication to an insincere multiculturalism and a childish flattening of historical events."

He writes:
"In a Jim Crow military there are black soldiers fully integrated as equals in fictional white Army units without a mention of tension or conflict. There are African Americans as equal partners in the most secret Allied spy programs of World War 2. Black and white folks sit side by side in integrated recruitment centers in New York City. Black and white kids play together in the streets of Brooklyn, a Nathan Glazer ethnic melting pot dream, all the same, united in childhood and rooting for Captain America and the good guys to win The Big One."
DeVega qualifies his critique by noting that he didn't expect (nor wanted) the movie to be a "treatise on the Double V campaign" for African American freedom at home, and victory Nazism abroad. "Rather, my hope is for a film that works with these realities in order to enhance storytelling by adding richness and depth to a project--moves that make a movie more entertaining and not less," he wrote. Playing script doctor, DeVega then supplies a list of smart ideas.

I wholeheartedly agree with DeVega's premise and his ideas. But I'm also not holding my breath. This is navel-gazing, two-dimensional, money-obsessed Hollywood we're talking about. You know, the folks who put the L, C, and D in the phrase "lowest common denominator." One can always hope. Some filmmaker may yet find a way to get the history right, be entertaining and make money. But I wouldn't bet much on an industry that produced Police Academy and then made six - count 'em, six - sequels to it. And yes, the seventh is due out later this year.