Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Test

"Southern Storm Recovery a Test for President," the Washington Post headline read. As he surveyed the destruction, Obama told residents they will "not be forgotten." But - there's always an ominous "but" - there was "little sign of federal aid or government officials, an absence that revealed the immensity of a cleanup effort that spans eight states" wrote the Post. As if FEMA magically appears within minutes of a natural disaster. As for Obama being tested, remember that little incident in the Gulf involving a spot of BP oil? You know, the one USA Today and others called "the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history." What does the president have to do to prove his mettle -- don a biblical robe and divine manna from dew like Moses? Sheesh.

Cry me a river

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) said he and his wife "are struggling" financially like regular Americans. "I'm a small businessman. My wife is a small businessman. You know she hasn't taken a salary in ten years? She has not, as a result of the business, because we are struggling like everyone else... with the economy," he told a town hall audience in Missoula. But hold the mournful violin music. Rehberg is the 23rd richest member of Congress. Net worth: As high as $56 million. There go us but for the grace of God. You, too, could be "struggling" with millions of dollars. The horror.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Photo of the day

Credit: Associated Press /Gero Breloer

Get over it

Eugene Robinson: "Look, I’m not surprised that the first black president faces unprecedented scrutiny about his origins, and I hope Obama’s not surprised, either. This sort of thing comes with being a historic “first,” and there’s no way around it. To those deniers who can’t come to terms with the fact of the Obama presidency, I have nothing to offer but this: Yes, he’s smarter, richer, luckier and better looking than you, and he’s your president. Yours, mine and ours. And he’s black. Get over it." (The Washington Post, "The president is Citizen Obama")

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Good point

"Actually and quietly and gallingly for some," writes Alex Massie, people are indeed interested in the royal wedding. Half of England (some 47% if the polls are right) plan to watch the nuptials. So will millions in America and much of the world. This being the case, Massie says, "it's daft to complain about too much coverage. ... It's a big world out there and there's plenty of room for those who want no part of any of it and plenty of TV channels for them to watch too. But the suggestion, implicit in some of the commentary, that few people are interested in the wedding is not supported by the facts. On the contrary, few events are followed by as many people. That's the real story and it's a much stranger, more interesting, more human one than the idea that people aren't or shouldn't be interested in this." Massie is probably right. Or as Matt Yglesias put it, "You don’t need to be a nihilist to want to watch a spectacle, you just need to be a human being." In the end, this is an instance when it's best to simply bow to the absurd and offer two words: mazel tov.

Brilliantly, spectacularly bland

"Pretty without being distractingly gorgeous, fashionable without pushing boundaries, reserved without being shy, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton doesn't have even a fraction of the tragic mystique of Diana, Princess of Wales. And that could be her saving grace." (Meghan Daum, Los Angeles Times)

Nicely put, old boy

"A British royal wedding is like a cross between Masterpiece Theater and Monty Python." (Los Angeles Times Editorial)

Republican radioheads

Salon astutely noted that the GOP is increasingly governed by what sportswriter Charles Pierce calls the "Three Great Premises" of talk radio: "First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units ... Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough ... Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it."

Another inconvenient truth

The long-form has been released. So, what will the birthers do now? No worries — they'll think of something.

Pot, meet kettle

On Obama 2012: "America is likely to see the most negative re-election campaign ever mounted by a sitting president," said the architect of what has almost universally, and with virtually no dissent, been described as the most negative reelection campaign ever mounted by a sitting president: Karl Rove. (Jon Chait, The New Republic)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Certificate of Embarrassment

New York Times editorial: "With sardonic resignation, President Obama, an eminently rational man, stared directly into political irrationality on Wednesday and released his birth certificate to history. More than halfway through his term, the president felt obliged to prove that he was a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office. It was a profoundly low and debasing moment in American political life. ... It was particularly galling to us that it was in answer to a baseless attack with heavy racial undertones. ... Mr. Obama was tactically smart to release the certificate and marginalize those who continue to keep the matter alive. It is tragic that American politics is fueled by such poisonous fire."

Weirdest news of the day

BREAKING: You can get leprosy from - wait for it - armadillos. That's right: armadillos. "It had long been believed that the disease was passed only from human to human. The new finding may explain the origin of the malady for those in the U.S. who don't know where they picked it up," reports the LA Times. Leprosy is treatable today with antibiotics. Only 5% of humans are susceptible. Still, some folks will freak. But before you do, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and then recall the last time you've had "close and repeated contact" (what it takes to get infected) with an armadillo. Right. I can't remember either. Weird news for a weird news day.

Trump and 'the blacks'

Slate's John Dickerson writes: "Trump has moved his focus to questioning whether Obama was qualified to attend Harvard. (Obama graduated magna cum laude and served as editor of the Harvard Law Review, trinkets not just distributed at the bookstore.) One of the evils of racism is that it locks in the idea that no matter how well you do, your achievements will never be considered legitimate. Because of the color of your skin, someone will always be raising doubts about you. The only way Trump can top himself now is to attack Obama for not serving in Vietnam. Maybe he's saving that for the fall campaign, along with the dancing lions and flaming acrobats." By the way, Trump has a Bachelor's degree in economics from the Univ. of Pennsylvania. And he didn't graduate magna cum laude (as he keeps proving daily).

The GOP punts (again)

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes: "This morning I noted that Obama’s release of his long form birth certificate gives leading conservatives and Republicans an opportunity to show a bit of leadership. ... They could, if they so chose, place the blame for this situation — which is a profound embarrassment to the country — where it belongs: Not on Obama, but on those who continue to traffic in the slander that the President wasn’t born in the United States. ... The early returns are not encouraging. ... a number of leading Republican figures who have either endorsed birtherism or flirted with it are either refusing to say anything about today’s developments or are still insisting that Obama took too long to come clean. Until these good people step up and call out birtherism for what it is, we can only conclude that they are either too lacking in leadership to disabuse voters of their birther fantasies, or are hoping to continue capitalizing politically from the out-of-control hatred and paranoia that will continue to be directed at America’s first black president." Well said. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the Republican adults to show up, assuming there are any left.

Thinking of Trump

“A fool’s bolt is soon shot.” Meaning: A fool shoots quickly and overshoots his mark. (Henry V, Act 3, Scene 7)

How the game is played

Slate's Dave Weigel: "Did I just admit that I paid more attention to birtherism, in part, because some Republicans made an issue out of it? Sure, that was part of it. You need some impetus for investigating rumors." Andrew Sullivan: "Note how this passive attitude skews the news. The GOP makes a huge fuss about many crazy stories - because they're crazy. So Weigel covers them. The Democrats? Not so nuts. So Weigel doesn't cover them. And one wonders how a liberal MSM actually enables the Republican media edge? Jon Stewart, you have 'Exhibit A.' A journalist bored because a story isn't being pushed by Republican fanatics."

Step right up, folks!

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up. My friends, consider yourself honored to be present at the creation of a new cliché: "Carnival barker." President Obama used the noun phrase today to refer to folks (read: Donald Trump) currently spreading lies about his birth certificate. By the time I finish typing this, the phrase will have morphed into a cliché and traveled deeply into the land of trite. But in this case, that's okay. For now we have a title prefix befitting to Trump. Henceforth, The Portal will identify The Donald as Carnival Barker Donald Trump. It sings, doesn't it?

Truly embarrassing

WITHOUT a doubt, President Obama (a master rope-a-dope player) will turn this birther lunacy to his political advantage. The release of his long-form birth certificate is just Act I of undercutting the carnival barkers. Still, it's a shame that a sitting president was, in effect, forced to produce an ID card. His crime (in the minds of the fringe)? Governing while being Black. This is a deeply embarrassing moment. Most Americans do not care about this "issue" and dismissed it long ago. It is only a concern for a small segment of the Republican base. It only became a "controversy" because the media made it into one. It did so by treating "this garbage as a legitimate area of inquiry," as the Washington Monthly noted. And for what -- ratings? Given their giddy descent into tabloid journalism, are the major news organizations even capable of showing better judgment anymore? I truly wonder. If media outlets begin to obsessively cover the president's SAT scores, college grades or eligibility for admission to Harvard, we'll know the answer shortly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Open thine eyes, please

Time's Joe Klein has undergone an awakening: "For most of the 40 years that I’ve been a working reporter, the country chugged along pretty damned well. There were plenty of important issues, but none that threatened the essence of our American miracle. That’s no longer true. We face a future dominated by the celebration of ignorance and sloppy short-term thinking. I think those of us who are trying to actually report the world as it is–flawed and mistaken as we sometimes are–are facing a great challenge right now. We really owe the public a good, smart, rigorous couple of years between now and election day, 2012." Well, the scales have finally fallen from Klein's eyes. Good show. If only the rest of his colleagues would follow suit and take his advice. Just don't bet the mortgage on it.

Obama is doomed – again

THE PATTERN should be predictable by now. Obama was doomed after Hillary’s upset primary win in New Hampshire (she works for him now). Obama was doomed as the health care fight dragged on (he made history signing the bill). Obama was doomed if he didn’t plug the hole from the BP oil spill (Armageddon was averted and he made BP pay cash upfront). Obama was doomed after the “shellacking” in last year’s midterm elections (made moot by historic wins in the lame duck session). Obama was doomed if he didn’t invade Libya (he wisely got NATO to do our bidding instead). So, what’s the latest, pundit-driven, doomsday scenario for the president? Gas prices. Obama is DOOMED if prices reach $5 or $6 dollars a gallon. “If people have to keep paying more and more to fill their cars up, the president could lose re-election—even to one of the current batch of Republicans. There's evidence, circumstantial but graphically compelling, that the president's current poll numbers are a function of the price of gas,” writes Slate’s David Weigel. Oh please. Until proven otherwise, I’ll presume the American people – irrespective of party – are simply not that stupid.

We’re better than this

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told CNN today that the birther controversy "is leading our country down a path of destruction and it just is not serving any good purpose." The nation will survive this bout with madness, but Brewer is spot on about its utter purposelessness. But what does it say about America today – a nation that incubated the genius that resulted in the Constitution, built a nation across nearly 4 million square miles, survived near-destruction by a great civil war, emancipated a race (and itself) from bondage, overcame a depression, won two world wars, expunged Jim Crow and extended civil rights, invented the world’s greatest economic engine, and ultimately spawned a people who could elect an African American to the presidency – that so much attention has been given to the fevered fantasies of a Pied Piper with bad hair and his deluded followers? I suspect it is mainly a reflection of a rudderless, ratings-crazed news media and not that of most Americans. As our history shows, we are so much better than this.

Revolution and religion

David Sehat, author and professor of history at Georgia State University, notes that in 2000, some 62 percent of Americans belonged to a religious institution. It wasn't always this way. In the Washington Post, Sehat writes, "The American Revolution was actually a low point in American religious adherence. Sociologists have shown that no more than 20 percent of the population in 1776 belonged to a church." This raises an interesting question: Would our founding documents and tenets have been as brilliant if religious beliefs (instead of reason) had held more sway? Think about it.

She made things 'all right'

CERTAIN songs are indelibly imprinted on the soundtrack of our lives. For those of us of a certain age, Phoebe Snow's romantic ode "Poetry Man" is one of those songs. "Talk to me some more / You don't have to go / You're the Poetry Man / You make things all right." In my case, those lyrics evoke winsome memories of gentle ocean breezes and midnight drives beside a starry beach when life was new. Snow died today at age 60. But her voice lives on, and that at least will continue to make things seem "all right" for those she touched with her music. RIP.

Too close for comfort?

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." (Mohandas Gandhi)

Wrong side, wrong cause

"[Robert E.] Lee was a brilliant field marshal whose genius was widely acknowledged — Lincoln wanted him to command the Union forces. In a way, that’s a pity. A commander of more modest talents might have been beaten sooner, might not have taken the war to the North (Gettysburg) and expended so many lives. Lee, in this regard, is an American Rommel, the German general who fought brilliantly, but for Hitler. Almost until Hitler compelled his suicide, Rommel, too, did his duty. ... In the awful war (620,000 dead) that began 150 years ago this month, he fought on the wrong side for the wrong cause. It’s time for Virginia and the South to honor the ones who were right." (Richard Cohen, Washington Post, "Dispelling the myth of Robert E. Lee")

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kitsch and Circumstance

The New Yorker's Macy Halford writes: "The British royal wedding might be the last great bastion of (non-religious) kitsch in the English-speaking world. ... American lives are not very romantic. Neither we nor our classic literature endorses fairytale love (Hawthorne, James, Wharton, Cather, Fitzgerald, Hemingway: thanks a lot). For real romance, the sort that comes out of the grand British romantic-storytelling tradition (Jane Austen), one needs a castle of the imagination, a servant class, a tacit endorsement of not working and not raising your own children, and, crucially, a belief that such a lifestyle is the natural right of certain people. The closest we come—movie-star marriages—often have about them an air of tawdriness and even, in some of our favorites (Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Brad and Angie), insanity. The spectacle overwhelms the story, and becomes rocky soil in which to plant our fantasies. ... But in the British royal family there is dignity, eternity, perfection. ... their romances can blossom in earnest ... And because it can grow freely and sincerely, so too can twee representations of it, sincerity being prerequisite for good kitsch."

The tragically hip Mac user

Mac vs. PC. I thought we were past this. The Daily Dish flagged a recent "Hunch Blog" survey that analyzed how self-described Mac and PC people are different. My knee-jerk response is: who cares? Hunch patrons reacted in a similar vein. "Hunch users tend to think debates about operating systems are pointless, but Mac people are more likely to think weighing the merits of Mac vs. PC vs. Linux is important," wrote the survey headmaster, a self-described Mac person. It turns out most Hunch readers (52%) are PC users. Apple's estimated world share of operating systems is about 11%, a figure that has changed little since the 80s. Bill Gates and his PC Windows won. Game. Set. Match. Decades ago. Yet Mac cultists, a needy lot, remain in perpetual denial over this tragedy. Needless to say, the survey found that Mac people are hipper than Microsofties. What a surprise. Dear Mr. Gates: Even if it takes a symbolic surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missoui to make it stop, please do it. PC people will be eternally grateful.

[Expletive] the Royal Wedding

On America's love affair with the royal nuptials: “You [Americans] had your whole revolution to get rid of them!” bellows Michael Urwin, who owns a pub in central London. “And now you want them! Take them! Just take them!” (Washington Post, "Royal wedding haters have had enough")

Getting royally 'inceptioned'

The Washington Post reports that Londoner Samantha Sylvester does not buy tabloids or watch television. She is uninterested in the royal wedding and has no plans to watch it. And yet, “Apparently, at 10:51, she’ll be leaving for the church,” Sylvester, a medical student, tells her friends while picnicking in Green Park. She pauses and looks horrified. “God, why do I know this?” Osmosis. Absorption. Subliminal messaging. Somehow, the Post's reporter writes, details about the wedding have hunted Sylvester down, "as they have hunted everyone else in this country. Inceptioned her like nobody’s business. Leonardo DiCaprio revealed Kate Middleton’s travel route to Sylvester in a dreamscape three levels down." Blimey. And I thought it was bad here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

'Footsteps On The Sea'

"God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea / And rides upon the storm." (From William Cowper‘s poem.)

Providence abhors quietude

"Uncertainty is the dish humans hate most — and it’s the one thing we can count on God to serve." (Walter Russell Mead, "He Plants His Footsteps On The Sea")

Anything but 'Happy Easter'

Bah humbug. In my book, reducing Easter to a banal American idiom is the quickest way to wrench all meaning from it. And yet we dumbly grin and blissfully wish each other "Happy Easter" as if the Christ figure, real or imagined, is nothing more than a smiley face button wrapped in a bow. For much of humanity, Easter is indeed a special day. Devout believers engage in joyous prayer and worship. "But from this earth, this grave, this dust, My God shall raise me up, I trust," as Walter Raleigh said. Secularists (or Spring fertility pagans) might deeply contemplate life and its meaning. "For I remember it is Easter morn, And life and love and peace are all new born," as Alice Freeman Palmer said. In any case, why do so many of us insist upon reducing this day to a weekend party slogan with "Happy Easter?" Ironically, on this most Christian of Christian holidays, an ancient Muslim greeting is probably the most appropriate of all: "Peace be upon you."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Life without mosquitoes

INTERESTED in moving someplace where mosquitoes are not? Forget about coming here: The Arizona deserts (to my endless amazement) are full of 'em. Besides the North Pole, Antarctica and the Moon, you really only have 4 choices on planet Earth: Iceland, New-Caledonia, French Polynesia, and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

Shakespearian Facebook

"Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters. To beguile the time, look like the time." (William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5)

Fade to black

"Nothing happens, until it does." (Chris Hondros, a photojournalist who died in a rocket-propelled grenade blast in Libya this week. RIP.)

Wither the undiscovered country

“I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” (Aldo Leopold, 1887–1948)

Joker's wild

Donald Trump is a joke. You know it. I know it. Most of America knows it. And on some level, Trump himself probably knows it, too. So behold the Reverend Franklin Graham whose father (Billy Graham) once counseled presidents. "Donald Trump, when I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, well, this has got to be a joke," Graham told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour. "But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know, maybe this guy's right." Would Trump be his candidate of choice? "Sure, yes," Graham responded. I guess we have another contestant for the national joke list.

Hook, line and sinker

I HATE getting snookered. But the Washington Post pulled a fast one on me this morning. The headline read: "List is out: Obama not invited to royal wedding." Huh? The leader of the free world not invited? A snub? Has the "Special Relationship" hit a sandbar off Plymouth? After clicking in, I devour the gossipy story like a wide-eyed housewife in hair-rollers. David Beckham and Elton John are coming. Ooooh. And so are the relatives of William’s mother Princess Diana. Don't they hate the royals? Giggle. It is only in the last graf that Mr. Obama is mentioned. It turns out "only crowned heads of states are traditionally invited to royal weddings." That means mere presidential vassals like Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy of France don't merit invites. So, the Post headline was nothing more than Striped Mojarra, fish bait that I mindlessly swallowed along with the proverbial hook, line and sinker. Hey, what's up with this other headline? "In Your Face: Paparazzi take root in Washington." Hmm. Better get outta these hair-rollers ...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Your Airplane! moment

Reporter: What kind of plane is it? Johnny: Oh, it's a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol!

'Pomp and stuff'

THE ANTICIPATION for the royal wedding is reaching fever pitch ... on the news broadcasts. Watching CNN this morning, I discovered we're way beyond the usual anchor-to-reporter gushing. I'm talking all-in, Full-Monty, school-girl-giggly, OMG!-OMG!-I-can't-wait!-type gushing. I think I broke a new landspeed record changing channels. But it seems I'm not alone in my acute disinterest. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll found that only 6 percent of Americans (mostly women) are following news about the wedding very closely. Another 22 percent (again mostly women) are following it somewhat closely. “I think it’s a lot of hoopla, all that pomp and stuff,” Eric Zeff, 49, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho told the Times. “They did that for Charles and Diana, and see how their marriage turned out.” But worry not, friends. America's collective yawn won't prevent the entire News Media Complex from moving to London next week to cover Prince William’s and Kate Middleton’s nuptials, 24/7. We're going to be awash in giddy wedding reports whether we want it or not. Like Steve McCroskey said in Airplane!, looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.

When the public is clueless

"Americans like higher taxes for the wealthy, dislike radical changes to Medicare, and don't want the debt ceiling to be raised. Here's the uncomfortable truth: policymakers simply must ignore them. The public has no meaningful understanding of what the debt ceiling is, what happens if interest rates go up, or the global economic consequences of a potential default. ... This is one of those classic dynamics in which responsible policymakers realize that they know more about the subject matter than the public at large, so they have to do the right thing, even if the uninformed find it distasteful -- knowing that the disaster that would follow would be far more unpopular." (Steve Benen, Washington Monthly, "What to do when the public is wrong")

Leave the gun. Take the Baklava.

Time columnist Joe Klein: "A few years ago, when I was about to interview Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, I asked a US intelligence expert what he most wanted to know about Syria’s President. “We’d most like to know if he’s Michael or Fredo,” he said, referring to the Alpha and Omega brothers of the Corleone crime family. I came away from my interview with Assad uncertain as to the answer to the spook’s question: He was much smarter than Fredo, but less confident and controlled than Michael." Klein says Syrians are among the "most gracious people" he has ever met. It's too bad that this beautiful country is being run by a Middle Eastern version of the Corleone family. As Klein observes, the Syrians deserve better.

Behind the Green Door

"I'm kind of pissed off that I didn't get over the hump, pardon the expression, and get to do my major film. My advice to somebody who wants to go into adult films is: Absolutely not! It's heart-breaking. It leaves you kind of empty. So have a day job and don't quit it". (Marilyn Chambers, born this day, 1952-2009)

'He-e-e-e-re's Johnny!'

"Dave, there are two kinds of angry people - explosive and implosive. Explosive is the type of individual you see screaming at the cashier for not taking his coupon. Implosive is the cashier who remains quiet day after day and then finally shoots everyone in the store. You're the cashier." (Jack Nicholson in Anger Management. Born this day in 1937. He's 74.)

Poems and problems

"PROBLEMS are the poetry of chess. They demand from the composer the same virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, harmony, conciseness, complexity, and splendid insincerity." (Vladimir Nabokov, novelist, born this day in 1899. He died in 1977 at 78.)

A Good Friday thought

"We cannot deny Darwin without also denying God, to put it provocatively, since God cannot be in contravention of Truth. ... In the beginning was reason. And reason was with God. And reason was God. This beginning of John's Gospel - I'm translating logos as reason - is my faith." (Andrew Sullivan, "A Rigorous Theology")

Hit by a bus, then run over

"Whether it is fair or unfair is not the point. I became the public face (of the disaster) and was demonized and vilified. ... Life isn't fair. Sometimes you step off the pavement and get hit by a bus." (Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP)

Pray for rain?

SCIENCE? Who needs it. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has declared a weekend of prayer to solve the state's deepening drought problem. "WHEREAS, the state of Texas is in the midst of an exceptional drought, with some parts of the state receiving no significant rainfall for almost three months ... the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life.” No, this is not satire from The Onion. It's an official proclamation issued by the governor's office. You just can't make this stuff up.

Trump dreams

Andrew Sullivan thinks David Plouffe, Obama's chief political strategist, is currently having two, near-orgasmic dreams involving Donald Trump. Plouffe Wet Dream #1: Trump destroys Romney, allowing Palin to win. Obama destroys Palin. Plouffe Wet Dream #2: Romney beats Trump and Palin; Trump goes rogue as an Independent, makes Palin his veep. Obama destroys both in an electoral college landslide (see PPP on Iowa). Ha!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A confrère remembered

In Vanity Fair, Sebastian Junger remembers his "collaborator, confrère, and friend" Tim Hetherington. The photojournalist was killed on April 20 while covering the conflict in Libya.
"Tim, man, what can I say? For the first few hours the stories were confused enough that I could imagine maybe none of them were true, but they finally settled into one brief, brutal narrative: while covering rebel forces in the city of Misrata, Libya, you got hit by a piece of shrapnel and bled to death on the way to the clinic."

"... I’ve never even heard of Misrata before, but for your whole life it was there on a map for you to find and ponder and finally go to. All of us in the profession—the war profession, for lack of a better name—know about that town. It’s there waiting for all of us. But you went to yours, and it claimed you."

"You and I were always talking about risk because she was the beautiful woman we were both in love with, right? The one who made us feel the most special, the most alive? We were always trying to have one more dance with her without paying the price. All those quiet, huddled conversations we had in Afghanistan: Where to walk on the patrols, what to do if the outpost gets overrun, what kind of body armor to wear. You were so smart about it, too—so smart about it that I would actually tease you about being scared. Of course you were scared—you were terrified. We both were. We were terrified and we were in love, and in the end, you were the one she chose."
Powerful, poignant words. Read the entire piece here.

The cross he bears

Leave it to the funny folks at The Onion to put Mitt Romney into proper perspective:
BELMONT, MA—Though Mitt Romney is considered to be a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the national spotlight has forced him to repeatedly confront a major skeleton in his political closet: that as governor of Massachusetts he once tried to help poor, uninsured sick people.

Romney, who signed the state's 2006 health care reform act, has said he "deeply regrets" giving people in poor physical and mental health the opportunity to seek medical attention, admitting that helping very sick people get better remains a dark cloud hovering over his political career, and his biggest obstacle to becoming president of the United States of America.

"Every day I am haunted by the fact that I gave impoverished Massachusetts citizens a chance to receive health care," Romney told reporters Wednesday. [...] My hope is that Republican voters will one day forgive me for making it easier for sick people—especially low-income sick people—to go to the hospital and see a doctor," Romney added. "It was wrong, and I'm sorry."
Ha! Read the entire Onion piece here.

Gotcha, dead to rights, again

Last night, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) appeared on "The Sean Hannity Show" and boldly accused Fox News of regularly inciting islamophobia and racial/ethnic animosity. Naturally, Hannity took great umbrage: "This is an incredible charge, this is a charge of bigotry! [...] I’m offended by what you say ... nothing is further from the truth, and I’d like one example." Just gimme a single example! Well, Sean, if you really insist.

Here are Exhibits A, B and C, courtesy of
- Fox Host John Gibson Said We “Need More Babies” Because The Majority Of Americans May Be Hispanic In 25 Years [5/12/06]

- Fox Host Steve Doocy Claimed Barack Obama Went To A “Madrassa” And Was Possibly A Muslim Extremist [1/19/07]

- Fox Host Sean Hannity Repeatedly Suggested That Middle East Uprisings Are Signs Of “World War III” [2/8/11, 2/10/11, 2/22/11]
Those are just three examples. Think Progress has more documented evidence here. If they had the time or inclination, there's little doubt they could fill a book with more examples. As the facts have proven once again, Hannity is nothing more than a clown who manages to give even clowns a bad name.

He is his mother's son

Yes, the little pirate in the photo is Barack Obama as a kid at his mom's side in Hawaii. Janny Scott, a New York Times reporter and author of the new book “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother,” provides an intriguing glimpse into the person who perhaps most shaped our current president:
"To describe [Ann] Dunham as a white woman from Kansas turns out to be about as illuminating as describing her son as a politician who likes golf. Intentionally or not, the label obscures an extraordinary story — of a girl with a boy’s name who grew up in the years before the women’s movement, the pill and the antiwar movement; who married an African at a time when nearly two dozen states still had laws against interracial marriage; who, at 24, moved to Jakarta with her son in the waning days of an anticommunist bloodbath in which hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were slaughtered; who lived more than half her adult life in a place barely known to most Americans, in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world; who spent years working in villages where a lone Western woman was a rarity; who immersed herself in the study of blacksmithing, a craft long practiced exclusively by men; who, as a working and mostly single mother, brought up two biracial children; who believed her son in particular had the potential to be great; who raised him to be, as he has put it jokingly, a combination of Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and Harry Belafonte; and then died at 52, never knowing who or what he would become."

The cost of 'birtherism'

Andrew Sullivan on the birther insanity: "I have to say that this kind of thing has alienated me profoundly from the GOP even though on some questions, I am exactly the sort of fiscal conservative they might appeal to. It's been clearer to me than ever before in the reaction to president Obama just how hostile the Republican base is to modernity and the diverse America I find one of this country's greatest strengths and joys. It's not the policy positions so much as the tone - toward Latinos, toward gays, toward anything that might be called "the other." Nothing taught me this as much as the easy embrace of torture, and indifference to it, as long as the president was a Republican and the victims had dark skin and funny names. The GOP as a cultural entity has made me nauseous." And I'd say at least half the country and more than a few Republicans agree with Mr. Sullivan.

'This Independent is done'

A Daily Dish reader on the GOP's embrace of birtherism:
"They played with this. They indulged it. They poured resources into the tawdry pols who would smile upon it, or insinuate it when they weren't downright trumpeting it from their podiums and microphones. They chose to do this and then realized that they might have a little problem with this parasitic thing that they seeded. And it's their problem. To vote for them would make it mine. No thank you."

"There is no policy idea or politician they can shine up that would appeal to me at this point, because they have taken their party right into the dirt with this birther business. Those who didn't participate also didn't make efforts to put a stop to it. Those would divest themselves of responsibility now are the worst culprits of all. If you dabble with racism - then you are a racist."

"And last time I checked? You don't win elections without Independents. This Independent is done with them. You might as well ask me to vote for the Klan."
It would not surprise me if more and more Americans are quietly adopting some version of this view, regardless of political stripe. What goes around, comes around.

On a lighter note

"The fact that my 15 minutes of fame has extended a little longer than 15 minutes is somewhat surprising to me and completely baffling to my wife." (Barack Obama)

The hounding of Kate

THE feeding frenzy is afoot. Whether princess-to-be Kate Middleton wants it or not, she is well on her way to becoming the “most photographed woman in the world” thanks to demand by the tabloid press and the gawking public that feeds it. According to the Washington Post, "the price for a candid shot of Middleton has soared 'well into six figures,' higher than for Lady Gaga or Angelina Jolie." I wish Middleton all the best. But how she can possibly handle this stupefying level of fame is simply beyond my comprehension. My own instincts would be to run -- as fast and as far away as possible. But by all accounts, Ms. Middleton seems the well-grounded sort. I hope so. Otherwise, as Oprah Winfrey once said, "If you come to fame not understanding who you are, it will define who you are."

A strain of madness

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows a plurality of Republican voters, 47 percent, believed Mr. Obama was born in another country. (He was born in Hawaii.) Steve Benen: "I might be able to spin this into a less-depressing result ... But frankly, the effort not to believe the worst about the GOP base is a tough sell. When 47% of Republicans [are deluded] it reinforces the notion that there's a deeply ugly strain of madness that runs through Republican politics." And, it has to be said, a deeply racist one as well.

For those dreaming of stardom

"Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful." (John Wooden)

The man underneath

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams shares an insight about Obama gleaned from reading a new book about his mother: "Obama's is not the old-fashioned, Clintonesque story of the small town kid who made good, nor is he that other old-fashioned tale, of the young lion from a Kennedy or Bush political dynasty. He is a new -- and increasingly more common -- 21st-century boy. The knee-jerk disdain so many of his critics have for him can be traced largely to his worldliness – he's a man who, of necessity, was brought up not to be Joe the Plumber but a citizen of the planet."

Oxymoron defined

"Sean Hannity to host special Fox News report on the problem of media bias." (Talking Points Memo)

He has a point

“Today's mess didn't just happen. We elected it -- one senator, member of Congress and president at a time.” (Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor)

Clausewitzian fiction

"Most Washington novels are not literature but punditry by other means." (David Greenberg, Slate)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


We both have big appetites for sex. Pinch us and poke us. Spank us and tease us. We love it all. Enter your credit card number now.” So purrs the recorded lady on the other side of a typical 1-800-SEX-CHAT line. That's the lead-in for a USA Today report about how a porn company is amassing 1-800 numbers for phone sex firms in the U.S. and Canada. It's kinda interesting. But I'm more amazed that sex chat is still a viable business given the endless legions of Internet porn sites (turn off "safe search" on Google, type in "redhead," and behold). Why talk when you can watch, mostly for free? Though my philosophy about sex chat is "hey, whatever floats your boat, dude," I've never understood the appeal. The words gross and scam always spring to mind. And, to use an old Cold War argot, "confidence is high" that the "babe" you're panting with is a hot-talking, 54-year-old bag lady with bad teeth. But that's just me. Obviously, somebody is making big bucks from hordes of willing patrons. Indeed, it's a classic illustration of Adam Smith's supply and demand. I guess it also proves what celebrated writer Michael Chabon once said: “It's very difficult to fail at pornography.”

The long and the short of it

"It's hard to get worked up about 2012 horse-race polls. Over the next year and a half, a stronger economy will bolster Obama's standing and make him a safe bet for a second term. A weaker economy will put the president's career in jeopardy. This isn't rocket science." (Steve Benen, The Washington Monthly, "At this point in 1983")

But we're British

BE THANKFUL we're Americans, for ours is a largely classless society. Not so in the UK. Here's how one upper crust Times writer eviscerated poor Kate Middleton, Prince William's bride-to-be: Hers is a tale of "shiny new money systematically raising a girl so perfectly to a prince’s eye level that she is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.” Daaaamn, as Chris Rock might say. That's cold. The Economist concurs: "Class shows up Britain at its worst." This reminds me of the scene in Titanic when Rose's disapproving mother (old money) reminds DiCaprio (no money) about his station in life. "Tell us of the accommodations in steerage, Mr. Dawson. I hear they are quite good on this ship." Jack: "The best I've seen, ma'am. Hardly any rats."

Today's scary thought II

"AND if [Trump] survives the pounding he’s about to get from respectable opinion, then George Will is right: He will make a “shambles” of every Republican presidential debate. But that’s not only because he’s an eccentric demagogue who is willing to say just about anything for attention. It’s also because he’s exactly what conservative voters crave." (Ed Kilgore, The New Republic)

Today's scary thought

"THIS YEAR, GOP voters’ hunger for radicalism is so great that it can be filled by essentially anybody. Kill off Trump’s candidacy and the demand will remain, leaving an opening for yet another demagogic charlatan to take his place." (Ed Kilgore, The New Republic)

John Wayne would be proud, pilgrim

WATER consumption, annual wildfires, crumbling infrastructure, nuclear power plant operations, crime, and a sagging local economy are all major issues here in Arizona, just to name a few. But what is the state legislature busying itself with? Well, I'll tell ya, pilgrim: Approving the Colt Single Action Army Revolver as the state's official gun. Per Reuters, the bill had been rejected earlier in an *all-night* session. Today, the measure eventually won approval by a narrow 32-25 vote. If the governor signs it, we're back in the bulls-eye as a national joke. "Anytime you see a Western movie, the revolver in John Wayne's hand is a Colt single action," Arizona state Sen. Ron Gould (R) gushed to Reuters. "This is a historic firearm and it fits well with the story of Arizona." It sure does, pilgrim. It fits all too well. Like the old joke says, you know you're in Arizona when you wake up one morning and suddenly understand why a town named Why, Ariz. (pop. 116) exists.

Why 'main street' may back Trump

David Frum has a depressing piece about why older white Republicans (who he casts as "main street" America) might find Donald Trump appealing despite his obvious flaws. He walks us through what Mr. 62-year-old White Guy is now thinking. Though I think Frum is oversimplifying, his analysis rings with enough truth to give it an unsettling degree of validity. He suggests that these folks are mostly motivated by two things: anxiety over their financial future and hatred of Obama. In Frum's view, they are unimpressed with Romney (whom they regard as a milquetoast) and think only someone like Trump, warts and all, can stick it to the president in 2012. His take on the "racial thing" is particularly telling (these folks claim not to be racist but think Obama is "uppity"). Anyway, if you're seeking a blue mood, read Frum's piece here. I hope Frum is wrong. But if he's right, it's a sad commentary on a certain segment of America.