Monday, October 31, 2011

Keeping up with Kim Kardashian's money

New York magazine's Norren Malone is impressed with Kim Kardashian's financial savvy. She writes that you too can be a smart investor like Kim. Here's how it works: "Step one: Find a handsome professional athlete who looks good in a tux. Step two: Throw a $10 million wedding. Make $18 million off the media rights to said wedding. Step three: Put up with each other for 72 days. Step four: Announce your divorce! Assuming you split the profits with your business partner ex, you've just made a tidy profit that works out to $2,314 an hour each. Not too shabby! Can we get this woman working on revenue creation for Congress, maybe?" Heh.

The drama's done

As Herman Cain is learning the hard way, the media giveth and the media taketh away. Sooner or later the USS Cain was bound to take a torpedo or three. Well, they got hit amidships over the weekend and Team Cain never saw it coming. According to POLITICO, Cain was accused of sexual harassment by two female employees while he headed National Restaurant Association back in the day. Five-figure payouts (in the form of legal financial settlements) were made to both women to allegedly keep them quiet. Needless to say, the media smells blood in the water and are all over the report like frenzied sharks. (You know you're in deep kimchi when the New York Times headlines the story.) Given the sensational nature of this affair, it's a safe bet that the Hermanator is doomed to founder on the shoals of his unchecked vanity. Cain says the allegations are baseless. (Predictably playing the Clarence Thomas card, he's now calling the press reports a "witch-hunt.") It doesn't matter. Without incontrovertible proof, his words carry the same import as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. This is all about perception. In a presidential race, even a whiff of sexual impropriety is enough to consign candidate Cain to the briny deeps. But let's keep this real: Cain was always doomed to lose the GOP nomination. And he was always destined to end his quixotic bid in one of two ways: He would either scuttle his ship at the right moment and throw his support to the real GOP frontrunner -- or he'd be blown out of the water and sink with all masts aflame. The second option became inevitable when Cain started drinking his own Kool-Aid. Riding high in the polls, I suspect he became enamored with the White Whale. Maybe getting to the Oval Office wasn't a pipe dream after all. So instead of steering his Pequod out of harm's way, Cain lashed himself to Moby Dick with the obsessiveness of Ahab who came to believe that "the path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run." We know how this movie will end. As Melville would put it, the drama's done.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gimme a break, critics

Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz writes: "Huh-huh, huh-huh, huh-huh. Beavis and Butt-head are back. Did anyone really miss them, though? And can a resurrected version of the cartoon duo’s series be anything but a bad idea? Judging from tonight’s premiere (MTV, 10 p.m.) — the first new 'Beavis and Butt-head' episode since 1997 — the answer to both questions is no." Oh please. Seitz's snide remarks should tell you everything you need to know about the value of his opinion. Though condescending, Seitz's review is smart and fairly thorough. He thinks the new episodes may come off as stale (his idea of a fresh take is having the "duo still sitting on that same couch in their mid-’30s, 20 pounds heavier"). "Watching a ’90s pop culture-dependent show try to revive itself after 14 years is a weird and vaguely depressing experience, like revisiting your old high school as an adult and failing to feel nostalgic," Seitz writes. Fine. But here's the thing that's always been true about Beavis and Butt-head: If you have to think about it, you'll never get it. The cartoon's sheer ridiculousness is its charm. That, I suspect, is why Mike Judge, the show's creator, brought it back for a new generation. So, Mr. Seitz, spare us your whining.

Why Obama might win handily

To be sure, it ain't over until the proverbial fat lady sings. But I will not be surprised if President Obama wins reelection in a walk. Andrew Sullivan is beginning to sense what my gut is telling me. He writes: "[Herman] Cain is a function, I think, of a deeper Republican reality. It has become a wing of the entertainment industry, and in that media-industrial complex, the money to be made is immense. You do not make that money or become a star in conservative circles by actually governing, by the process of compromise and negotiation with one's opponents, or by detailed policy knowledge. ... This is an entertainment company based around a religious identity politics and masquerading as a political party. Once you grasp that, you can see why a Mitch Daniels or a Richard Lugar or a Jon Huntsman are asterisks. They know things; they want to govern, not perform; and they are not in a permanent mode of marginalized and angry opposition. I'm beginning to wonder if the GOP is heading for a defeat they don't see coming -- even in an economic environment which should make the presidency theirs' for the taking."

The Cain Bubble

It's no surprise that the political press is giving Herman Cain nearly Palinist coverage in terms of hype. And its fixation on Cain's frontrunner status in the polls is nearly Pavlovian. Even folks as smart as Slate's John Dickerson have succumbed to writing stuff like: "Cain is no longer flavor of the week—he’s a regular menu item." You see, Cain, is like nothing we've ever seen before, Dickerson asserts. Ergo, the laws of gravity have been suspended and anything is suddenly possible, no matter how absurd.

The last time I heard such crazy talk was during the peak of the housing bubble. Against all logic and history, friends and family members alike kept insisting to me that housing prices would never, ever, fall again. They were like the torture victim (John Hurt) in 1984 who finally agreed that his dystopian tormentor, Richard Burton, was holding up five fingers when in fact he was showing only four. For them (and the Wall Street predators who feasted on their delusion), it truly was a Brave New World -- and I'd be absolutely balmy not to snap up a McMansion or two with a nothing-down loan. We know how that movie ended, right?

Fortunately, a few political analysts have not taken leave of their senses. As Nate Silver correctly observes, Herman Cain is a classic outlier. Sure, he's the talk (if not the toast) of the town. Since they cannot explain Cain, many seem to think that this gifted charlatan must therefore be on some mysterious glide path to the Republican nomination. Because, you know, This Time It's Different. But if one pulls the curtain aside, as Silver does, then the con artist operating the smoke-machine levers as he speaks through a megaphone plainly emerges.
Cain Silver writes: "Mr. Cain has no endorsements from Republican members of Congress or Republican governors, and very few from officials in key early voting states. He has raised very little money. He has not hired well-known names for his campaign staff. He does not have traditional credentials. He has run for elected office just once before. He has begun to get a fair amount of media coverage, but the tenor of it has been fairly skeptical. His campaign commercials have been … interesting."
Silver sensibly concludes that while the odds of Cain winning the nomination is not zero (or infinity-to-1 against), they are slim (he posits 50-to-1 against). My money's on Silver.

Madness in a nutshell

There are 11 -- count 'em, 11! -- more Republican debates scheduled through the end of January.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Playing catch-up

Jon Stewart on Rick Perry: "See, now he's only six months behind the national conversation [abot birtherism]. But his 'n-word' family hunting ground was, like, 150 years behind. In many ways, Perry's actually gaining time." Heh.

Quote of the Day

On Rick Perry: "If at first you don’t secede, try the birther movement." (Dana Milbank, Washington Post)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's Obama vs. Romney. Get over it.

I'VE ARGUED for over a year that when the smoke clears, Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee for president. Any other choice would likely hand President Obama a landslide win in 2012. (In theory, Jon Huntsman could give Obama a run for his money. But he's a leper in his own party and will never get the chance.) Ross Douthat agrees: "[B]arring an unprecedented suspension of the laws of American politics, Mitt Romney has this thing wrapped up. ... People like to cite counterexamples: The Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, after all, and the Democrats nominated George McGovern. But Goldwater and McGovern, for all their weaknesses, were far more credible nominees than a Perry, a Herman Cain, a Michele Bachmann, a Newt Gingrich. They were too extreme to win the general election, but they were not political novices or washed-up self-promoters, and they had a mix of eloquence and experience that’s largely absent from the current Republican field. (Watch clips of Goldwater being interviewed by William F. Buckley Jr. on “Firing Line,” and then try to imagine how Perry would fare in the same format.)" It's too bad we can't fast-forward pass the pretense that this contest isn't about Obama vs. Romney.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

OMG! Shark Attack Hype!

Cue the theme music for Jaws. This morning the LA Times ran a front page story about a great white shark attack that killed an American diver today off southwest Australia. It is the third such fatality in recent weeks and "has shaken beach-loving residents and sparked fears of a rogue predator targeting humans." The diver's death is of course unfortunate. But the story is patently ridiculous. Sharks do not lie awake at night salivating at the thought of People Happy Meals. In fact, most sharks attacks are accidental and non-fatal. (But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good meme, right?) Nor do these predators specifically target humans (as the movies and the news media keep suggesting). Sharks dine when the opportunity presents itself. Period. The notion of "rogue" sharks is equally preposterous. Some shark species (the great white among them) are believed to be territorial animals who tend to attack when threatened, according to the National Park Service. In the case of today's breaking news, large numbers whales happen to be migrating off the west Australian coast. That kinda explains the presence of the sharks. Your odds of being shark food? Remote in the extreme. You are 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a shark. In fact, dog bites are 1,000 times more common than shark bites. And yet the media-driven hysteria is such that even sane government officials are forced to "do something." Aussie officials have "promised to hunt the killer." Uh huh, right. Cue the scene in Jaws when Sam Quint says: "Y'all know me. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish. This shark, swallow you whole. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing." Here's the bottom line: To be foolish is human. To hype foolishness is to be a newspaper.

Friday, October 21, 2011

News flash: Bad politicians are normal

It is a sad truism that, in politics, the worst often get to the top. In our grand democracy, the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR (and I'd argue, Obama) -- the best of us -- were providential flukes. As history has borne out, mediocrity (and often rank incompetence) is the default position for most politicians. Or as H.L Mencken colorfully put it: "The average American legislator is not only an ass, but also an oblique, sinister, depraved and knavish fellow." The Sage of Baltimore was exaggerating of course, but he's not too far off the mark (see the current clowns -- on both sides of the aisle -- in Congress). In an interesting piece ("What Kind of Person Runs for Public Office?"), Doug French wrote: "Because democracy is open to any and all who can get themselves elected, either through connections, personality, or personal wealth, it is a social system where leadership positions become a hotbed for sociopaths. [Abraham] Maslow's self-actualizing man won't have an interest in politics. But those stuck on the need for esteem are drawn to it like flies to cow pies." Need more proof? Yesterday, New Jersey state senate candidate Phil Mitsch, a pol with a serious Madonna-whore complex, tweeted to his fans: "Women, you increase your odds of keeping your men by being faithful, a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom." Yikes. Needless to say, Mitsch was forced to apologize for his remarks. And, if one connects the dots, I'm sure he has some 'splaining to do to the presumably faithful Mrs. Mitsch. Somehow, our democracy continues to survive these case studies in vacuousness. But as politicians go, we could sure use more providential flukes before our luck runs out.

This is really getting embarrassing

Herman Cain talked foreign policy at the Western Republican Leadership Conference today in Las Vegas. Taking on his detractors, he said, “I have been criticized for not having extensive foreign policy experience. And the guy there now does?” Hmm. I guess Cain doesn't know that President Obama (the fella with the Nobel Peace Prize) has been running American foreign affairs since 2009 with élan. Just ask bin Laden (if you can find the body) or the late Col. Qaddafi (if you find the morgue). So what exactly is Cain's foreign policy? “Peace through strength and clarity,” he said. In other words, peace through superior firepower, as the trope goes. Or as Tacitus would put it: Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant (Where they create desolation, they call it peace). Cain also pledged to “stop giving money to our enemies and tell the world who our friends are.” He declined to say which enemies our government is currently handing cash to. Turning to the Far East, the Hermanator is convinced that as president he can browbeat China into submission. “My strategy for China is three words: Outgrow China,” he said. Um, that's two words. Unlike Rick Perry (who spoke to the same group earlier), Cain got a standing ovation. Frightening, isn't it?

Slobbering them with kisses

Kasie Hunt, an AP political reporter, means well. But she has a bad case of TYFYS, the gratuitous Thank-You-For-Your-Service syndrome. On the heels of the news that all US troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by year's end, Hunt tweeted: "To all of the men and women who will soon embark on the long journey home: Godspeed. We are in your debt and hope to live up to your example." Granted, Hunt is too hero-smitten to knoweth what she hath tweetedth. So I'll cut her some slack. Still, this unthinking idolatry of our troops is deeply creepy. These men and women are not gods. They are us, warts and all. With that in mind, a simple "have a good trip home" would have sufficed.

Are his 15 minutes up yet?

Writing in Time today, Touré (author of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?) lowers the boom on GOP "frontrunner" Herman Cain:
"Cain is a clown. You see it in the way he constantly mollifies white audiences with self-effacing, racialized comedy that borders on minstrelsy (referring to himself as 'black-walnut ice cream' or suggesting that the Secret Service call him 'Cornbread'). You see it in his stunning gaps in knowledge and understanding of foreign policy and domestic affairs. He says if you don’t have a job, don’t blame Wall Street, because it’s your fault, which in a crippling recession with historically high unemployment numbers means he’s either frighteningly blind or offensively ignorant. This is not a man of serious intellect or realistic solutions or admirable character. This is a buffoon. Cain is what I long imagined the first Black President would be like: a Republican who many Blacks find unctuous. But is he really the most unctuous Black man in America? I’d say it’s a race between Clarence Thomas, Flavor-Flav and the Hermanator, and if Cain isn’t No. 1, he’s no worse than tied."
Um, ouch.

If only

“It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to make things great; I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value on the work and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak; and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised to make an energetic people out of a community of pusillanimous and enfeebled citizens.” (Alexis de Tocqueville)

Thursday, October 20, 2011


While periodically checking the web for the latest news about Qaddafi's killing today, I kept running into a curious story. To wit: When Hillary Clinton first learned of Qaddafi's death she said, "wow." That's it. That's the news everyone from the Huffington Post to the LA Times to the Washington Post wants you to know. It's a safe bet that most Americans are not hanging on Hillary's every word. So, what's going on? First, and most important, she said it on camera (by happenstance). That effectively turned her "wow" into a bright shiny object for an easily distracted media. Second, reporters and editors are still inexplicably obsessed with Hillary, even though nobody else is. Lastly, Hillary's "wow" is a story because the media made it a story. Hyping the story begets page visits which begets more stories which begets more page visits, etc. Granted, the story is harmless. Still, wow.

Is Herman Cain's Pizza Any Good?

Cleverly using three pundits, POLITICO conducted a taste test to determine whether Herman Cain's Godfather pizza is any good. You'll have to watch the video to learn the verdict (hint: don't rush out to buy any). The clip is kinda fun. But it's also an unintentional commentary on the state of political journalism today. The word "gag" leaps to mind.

The Unbearable Smallness of Mind

Rising GOP star Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Qaddafi's death: "I'm glad it's all working out. ... So, that's the first thing. The second thing is, you know, I criticize the president, for, he did the right things, he just took too long to do it and didn't do enough of it." Um, what? Rubio of course has zero foreign policy experience -- and it's showing. His remarks are roughly akin to saying he's glad FDR won WWII but he took too long to defeat the Axis powers. (That whole Normandy beach landing thing shoulda been done right after the Pearl Harbor attack, right?) The unbearable smallness of Rubio's mind -- politically and intellectually -- is a wonder to behold. Can you imagine Obama ever saying something as obtuse and unhelpful as this about a sitting president who just scored a big win for us, Libya and the world? If Rubio represents the future of the GOP as some say, then this country really is in trouble. (And is it just me or is Rubio the spitting image of song-and-dance man Desi Arnaz of the old "I Love Lucy" show?)

No grand theory needed

On the presidential race, a lot of Americans are asking: Is this the best the GOP can do? Why didn't any of the Republican big-guns run? Andrew Sullivan provides a straightforward answer: "Christie isn't ready. Daniels didn't have the charisma or balls. Jeb's last name is Bush. The new crop of governors - Rubio, Scott, Walker - is too green. Barbour is too Southern. Palin couldn't handle more scrutiny of her actual life. Sometimes, no grand theory is needed. Events and timing matter. It reminds me of the Dems in 1991. But they had a Clinton in the pack of cards. A rogue card, but better than any that the GOP now has."

Politics, like life, isn't fair

Andrew Sullivan: "To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he'd be on Mount Rushmore by now."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Havana still life

Just an exquisite photo of a street in Havana, Cuba by Jordi Martorell. (Hat tip: The Paris Review)

Still a long way to go, baby

Just when I think we are getting past sexism, it subtly rears its ugly head. Like every other pundit this morning, Esquire's Charles Pierce too weighed in on last night's GOP debate. In the course of trashing Michele Bachmann's performance, Pierce observed that she was "dressed, for some reason, like a Marriott bellhop." Um, exsqueeze me? (as Pierce is fond of saying.) Pierce did not comment on the attire of the other candidates. But he thought it perfectly acceptable to go all Robin Givhan on Bachmann. Pierce is no male chauvinist and he's well-known for his frat-boy writing style (he calls Mitt Romney a "smug, entitled prick"). Yet, in this case, he exemplifies the unthinking tendency by men to reduce women to objects. For some of us, it nearly qualifies as a pre-existing medical condition. (And lest you think I'm picking on Pierce, New York magazine's Dan Amira wrote that Bachmann was "Most Likely to Serve as the Captain on a Carnival Cruise Immediately Following the Debate.") In 1968, the cigarette brand Virginia Slims was marketed to young women using the slogan "You've come a long way, baby." Too bad too many of us guys haven't.

Primal scream

Dana Milbank ponders the lunacy now running amok in the Republican Party: "[The GOP] nominating process, controlled by the religious warriors and anti-government agitators who dominate straw polls, has reached its logical conclusion: The hottest candidate in the field is Herman Cain, a fast-food tycoon who never heard of neoconservatism, has never held office, has no foreign policy and a three-digit number for a domestic policy, and likes to joke about electrocuting illegal immigrants. By contrast, Jon Huntsman, governor, ambassador, the man who in a normal political environment would be the most qualified and formidable candidate in the race, wasn’t even on the stage. A system that rejects a Jon Huntsman in favor of a Herman Cain isn’t a primary process. It is a primal scream."

When fate takes a hand

Jon Chait identifies an inconvenient truth: "The real risk is being an incumbent in hard economic times when the opposition party can block your plans. [President] Obama is not, of course, a pure bystander to his fate. He can help change the agenda and highlight Republicans’ lack of a short-term economic response. Polls show he has increased his standing vis-à-vis the Republican party on the question of who has a better plan to promote jobs. But he hasn’t helped his approval rating, which is the most important metric of his strength, and it’s hard to imagine what, within his control, could do so. We construct narratives assigning Obama’s success or failure to his own decisions or his own character because cold structural explanations are not simple or satisfying enough. We crave stories about presidents as masters of their fate. But the reality is far less satisfying than that."

Ay, caramba

Steven Colbert on the GOP presidential race: "It's like a Mexican telenovela that wants to deport itself." Heh.

Fight Night in Vegas

An apt summary of last night's GOP debate in Vegas -- a largely substance-free event -- by POLITICO's Roger Simon: "At its 26th debate in the last 36 hours - - or maybe it has just seemed that way - - the GOP field showed America Tuesday night it was capable. Capable of fussing and fighting and feuding. The candidates also showed they were full of it: Full of sound and fury signifying nothing. ... 'Oooooo,' went the audience in the hall. 'Oooooo,' went the TV audience at home. (I am guessing.) 'Hahaha,' went the audience at the White House. (I am guessing.)" It's also worth mentioning that if you asked the average American about this GOP reality show, the response would be: "Debate? What debate?"

Monday, October 17, 2011

What part of no don't you get? - Ctd

In both life and politics, when a lady says no, she means no. But when Hillary Clinton says no, the political press insists she really means yes. Speculation is (again) running amok about her presidential ambitions. As in: Will she or won't she replace Biden on the 2012 ticket? Will she or won't she run for the nation's highest office in 2016? All of this of course is based on un-sourced "rumors." Clinton's answer has always been "no," a thousand times no. Yet, she was forced to say it again this morning. “I’m very privileged to have had the opportunity to serve my country,” Clinton said on NBC's "Today" show. “I feel I have made my contribution. I have done the best I can. But now I want to try some other things. I want to get back to writing and maybe some teaching, working on [issues affecting] women and girls around the world.” In other words, Hillary, 63, wants her life back. At the LA Times at least, the meaning of "no" seems to be sinking in: "As she has in the past, Clinton shut the door and drove heavy nails into the jamb on Monday." No kidding. Do the math. If Hillary ran and won in 2016, she'd be 68. If she served two terms, she'd be 76 when she handed the reins over to the next president in 2024. Alternatively, she could enjoy her grandchildren as well as life as an influential elder stateswoman. Option two is a no-brainer. But the press corps simply won't take no for an answer. Here's a suggestion, Madam Secretary: At your next TV interview, don't bother answering. Just whip out a can of mace -- and use it. You'll be doing the nation a great service.

Not buying what Herman Cain is selling

Time's Joe Klein has had enough of Herman Cain, a candidate he rightly regards as "phenomenally unprepared" and unworthy. Underlining this point, he writes: "I know what I’m about to say is impolite, but Herman Cain strikes me as something of a jerk and an ignoramus. He has made absolutely outrageous statements about Muslims, immigrants and homosexuals; he takes the most extreme position imaginable on abortion. Indeed, I have never, ever seen him acknowledge the idea that complexity exists in the world…or that an ability to weed through complex issues might be a qualification for the presidency." Going for the jugular, Klein asks: isn't it time for us to "acknowledge that this guy is a snake oil salesman? That he’s an embarrassment to the Republican Party? That his momentary strength is a four-alarm cry of Republican desperation?" Do tell. Finally, a mainstream pundit willing to plainly state what we're all thinking. Instead of focusing on the two viable (or semi-viable) candidates -- Romney and Perry -- the media is drowning us in a river of ink about Cain, the man who will never be the Republican nominee for president. Sorta speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Weak tea

Though it shouldn't come as a shock, the Tea Party's political influence is waning. In an upcoming Washington Monthly piece, Colin Woodard reports: "As 2010 drew to a close, the Tea Party looked like a truly national movement, racking up congressional seats and governor's mansions not just in traditionally red states like South Carolina, but in the Northeast and Midwest as well. And yet, twelve months later, the Tea Party's power seems to be melting away in much of the country. Tea Party-supported governors in states like Maine and Wisconsin find themselves beset by controversy over their radical agendas and incredibly unpopular with voters. Meanwhile the broader movement, once deemed unstoppable, seems to be running out of gas." If the GOP is decimated in 2012 (as I suspect it will be), then the Tea Party will ushered to history's ash bin like its nativist predecessors (see the American Know Nothing Party, among others). And if I'm right, Republicans should rejoice at the prospect because only then will they get their party back.

Progress is hard

In another powerful speech, this time delivered at Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial dedication yesterday, President Obama reminded the nation that progress does not happen overnight: "First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination." I just hope my good friends on the activist left got the message.

The Ethics of Voting

In an intriguing piece, Jason Brennan writes: "Voting is not like choosing what to eat off a restaurant’s menu. If a person makes bad choices at a restaurant, at least only she bears the consequences of her actions. Yet when voters make bad choices at the polls, everyone suffers. Irresponsible voting can harm innocent people."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The everyman conundrum

AP political analyst Shannon McCaffrey thinks Herman Cain's everyman image is resonating. Voters (i.e., "regular folks") are responding, she writes. Among others, she quotes 60-year-old physician Jimmy Hoppers as proof: “In the field right now, he’s the most like me,” said Dr. Hoppers. “He’s run a business and paid the bills. He’s authentic.” It's hard to believe that a presumably well-educated doctor would rank as a low-information voter. But there he stands in the flesh, complete with slackened jaw. Not all such voters are as politically neritic as the good doctor seems to be. Most of the time, the Huddled Masses at least use a healthy dose of common sense when selecting a president. Moreover, a president need not rank with Cicero in terms of intelligence and sophistication to govern competently (though it would be nice). Still, I've never understood why so many Americans deem it a virtue to have a president who's "most like" them. One could argue that Andrew Jackson, Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush had much in common with the mores of regular folk. Though each man possessed admirable traits, each was nevertheless a near disaster in office. Jackson was pivotal in setting the stage for Civil War (he was a proponent of both slavery and Indian removal). LBJ gave us the nightmare known as Vietnam. Bush made a hash of the economy and foreign affairs (see the recession, Iraq, etc). Think how differently history might have unfolded had these presidents been more "thinking-man" than everyman. “I love him,” gushed truck driver James Bland about Herman Cain. “He doesn’t talk down to you. I think he gets the working man.” Bland's wife added: “And it makes me so happy that he’s put God back into things.” Now if God could only put "brains" back into things.

The skinny on Perry

Joshua Green cuts to the chase: "[T]he swaggering governor says he’ll do for America what he did for Texas. Is that a promise or a threat?" Green writes that the "basis of Perry’s appeal is the idea that he is an uncompromising conservative, sure of what he knows. And what he knows best is that America would be a lot better off if it were a little more like Texas. 'We’re gonna translate what’s happened in Texas to Washington, D.C.,' Perry says. But look closely at Rick Perry’s Texas and it seems less like an answer to Washington’s problems and more like a reflection of them—rising poverty and unemployment, too many people without health insurance, serious long-term challenges, and not nearly enough revenue to meet them. Texas, like America, has postponed this reckoning, and confronting it will take leadership and a willingness to prepare for the future."

Dog Days of October

Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the New York Times, is a very big deal in journalism circles. Any big-wheel politicians or other Very Important Persons who dare to ignore this powerful lady do so at their peril. She's also a dog lover. In addition to being top dog at the paper, Abramson is also author of a new book: "Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout." It got a rave review from book critic John Grogan -- of the New York Times. Hmm. What's wrong with this picture?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

printf ("Dennis Ritchie, dead at 70");

Dennis Ritchie, an unsung hero, died yesterday at 70. It's a good bet that you've never heard of him. That's a shame because none of the "insanely great" products by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter (to name a few) would have been possible without Ritchie. Even the fact that you can read this post is due in part to Ritchie, the quiet soul affectionately known as "dmr." He invented the C programming language and co-created Unix. As Salon's Andrew Leonard put it, our digital world is literally "built out of the tools that he created and their descendants." That includes Apple's Mac iOS, a variant of Unix. Steve Jobs deserves the plaudits he won after his death. But in my book, dmr deserves more. For unlike Jobs, he was not only a genius without a dark side, Ritchie was renowned for his "gentle wit and gentle ways." He had no fiery id to becalm, no super-ego to stroke. It was enough, as ZDNet noted, that his software "satisfied the intellect while freeing programmers to create their dreams." For Ritchie, like Hamlet, the play was the thing. And yet it is the mercurial Jobs who adorns Time's cover instead of the gracious Prometheus who made the Apple mogul possible. Life, alas, proves yet again that it is rarely fair.

Still, I'm certain Ritchie would appreciate this simplest of tributes:
#include [stdio.h]
printf ("goodbye, world\n");
You may not understand the code. But dmr does. He was living proof that, in the end, nice guys do indeed finish first. Rest in peace, sir.

Cold with a chance of freezing temps

Contrary to popular belief, Hell does freeze over occasionally. It most often happens when Rush Limbaugh says something I agree with. Today, he told his audience that "Romney is not a conservative. He's not, folks. You can argue with me all day long on that, but he isn't. ... This isn't personal, not with what country faces and so forth. I like him very much. I've spent some social time with him. He's a fine guy. He's very nice gentleman. He is a gentleman. But he's not a conservative." Although Rush has no idea what true conservatism is (see the writings of William F. Buckley), he's essentially right. Mitt Romney is fundamentally a moderate who bends toward pragmatism (see his record as governor of Massachusetts, a blue state). Though he leans right of center politically, he is not an ideologue (he's too smart and rational for that). Unlike Rush and his dittoheads, Romney recognizes that shades of gray do exist in the color spectrum. The fact that Romney is reality-based (and would govern in that mode as president) is what scares Republican activists the most.

Piltdown Man of Politics

Esquire's Charles Pierce may have stumbled upon an inconvenient truth about Mitt Romney: "The Republican Party is simply never going to be happy with Mitt Romney. Granted, this is partly because a substantial part of the Republican Party is insane. Granted, this is because another substantial part of the Republican party is only marginally insane. But mostly, this is because a substantial part of the Republican party realizes, as does any sentient human being, that Mitt Romney is the Piltdown Man of American politics, a massive public hoax cleverly built from the dead bones of other campaigns. He's as perfectly manufactured a fake as ever has been handed to the American public."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Much ado about ... red cups?

Slate's Seth Stevenson: "A short while back I was walking through a grocery store when I noticed a radical development. The classic red Solo cup—a keg party staple for nearly four decades—had switched from a round to a square bottom." And so begins Stevenson's article about how this disposable drinking vessel became an American party staple. Ah yes -- the classic article about nothing. It must be Jerry Seinfeld Day. Heh.

Stick a fork in her?

So is Sarah Palin really over? Has her 15 minutes expired? Politically, almost certainly. Pop-culturally -- well, maybe. But at least one leading indicator -- book sales -- suggests the Wasilla Wonder is fading fast. According to Amazon's rankings, Joe McGinniss's The Rogue has nose-dived to 964 among top selling books; ex-Palin aide Frank Bailey's Blind Allegiance is at 25,105, and Geoffrey Dunn's The Lies of Sarah Palin is at 40,973. Book sales by Palin clan members are equally grim. Levi's Deer in the Headlights, last seen at 11,291, is definitely headed south. Bristol's Not Afraid of Life at 104,035, is also in free fall. And Palin's own tomes? Her latest, America by Heart, is at 22,622. Her previous book, Going Rogue, disappeared into a black hole long ago. It's currently languishing at No. 568,389, the worst of the lot.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The day the Genoan waded ashore

It's that time of year again, Columbus Day. Cue the tiresome (and increasingly irrelevant) debate about Christopher Columbus: He was a peerless explorer! He was a destroyer of worlds! He was not! Was so! Was not! ... and so on. On October 12, 1492, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea discovered an island in The Bahamas (the Arawak natives called it Guanahani, he called it San Salvador) after a 5-week voyage across the Atlantic. At daybreak, the Old World splashed ashore warily into the New World, formally setting in motion the forces that would reshape both worlds for better and worse. The tall, 41-year-old Genoan who stood on the beach that day almost certainly did not look like the portrait (by Sebastiano del Piombo) shown above. Signor Colombo was a fair-skinned (and therefore perpetually sunburned) Italian with graying auburn hair. On the day he "christened" Guanahani for Spain, his light hazel eyes beheld an exotic land (he later wrote) "full of trees of endless varieties, so high they seemed to touch the sky."

As the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María swayed in the rolling swells offshore, First Contact began quietly, peacefully and perhaps poignantly. It was of course a mirage. It only took hours for the Admiral of the Ocean Sea to dismiss the Arawak as easy prey to be "converted to our holy faith" -- by force if necessary. Already, he and his band of proto-conquistadors hungrily eyed the gold, the "little bits of this metal hanging at their noses." And so the great but bloody history that would ultimately lead to us began. The story of how Columbus came to be venerated (albeit falsely) as the Discoverer of America is, like most myths, a long and tortured one. His actual historic portrait bears little resemblance to the glamorized version of him. Laurence Bergreen (author Columbus: The Four Voyages) is among those who best sum him up:
Columbus was a vain, deluded, and Quixotic leader. And he was also a courageous and peerless navigator. He was not any one of these things; he was all of these things, many faceted and contradictory. The facts of his voyages to the New World are not in doubt—with the notable exception of the precise location of his first landfall—but interpretations grow more divergent all the time. For better or worse, or rather, for better and worse, he has left his improbable, indelible mark on the American spirit and on history.
Happy Columbus Day, warts and all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I belong. Therefore I am.

Louis René Beres ponders the apparent withering of individuality:
“We are the hollow men,” announced T.S. Eliot, long before the advent of cell phones. Today, still, most of our “whispers” remain “quiet and meaningless.” Aside from rare emergencies and common daily chores, cell phone conversations or messages usually transmit only innocuous prattle, mind-numbing blather, or monosyllabic grunts. ... The known universe is probably many billions of light years “across.” Yet, here, in America, and elsewhere as well, most humans are still desperately afraid to become individuals. “Why bother?” they reason. Why take the risk? “Look at me, please,” is the unspoken but desperate cry of the public talker, or “texter,” or “Twitterer.” I am here. I am important. I have human connections. I count for something. I am not (heaven forbid) unpopular. I am not alone.”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sweet surrender

Embrace the Twitter. Because resistance (for some) is futile. A passage from a terrific piece by New York magazine's Joe Hagan:
Brian Stelter, the TV and media reporter for the New York Times, has adroitly mixed news reportage with details of his personal life, tweeting links to his stories along with documentation of his efforts to lose weight and updates on his onetime love affair with a CNBC reporter named Nicole Lapin. ... Stelter, lauded among his peers as the future of tweeting journalism, says he can’t imagine life without Twitter. “I want to live in that stream,” he says. “So scary to hear myself say, ‘I can’t imagine life without it.’ ”
Um, what life? I don't know whether to laugh or cry at Stelter's confession. But Sarah Mclachlan's lyrics do spring to mind: "The life I left behind me / Is a cold room / And sweet, sweet surrender / Is all that I have to give."

Saturday factoid

According to a recent study ("Who Says What to Whom on Twitter"), 20,000 elite users -- celebrities, bloggers, and media outlets -- comprising less than 0.05% of the user population, attract almost 50% of all attention within Twitter. That explains why millions will be familiar with this representative tweet from Meghan McCain, the 27-year-old daughter of Sen. John McCain: "OHHH MY GOD—A BIG JIANT ­SPIDER JUST CRAWLED ON MY ­PILLOW!!!!!! ARGHHHH OMG OMG OMG EWWWW OMG!!!!!!!!!!!" No, the apocalypse is not nigh. It just feels like it is.

The deafening hagiography of Steve Jobs

I hate to say this, but enough already. Yes, Steve Jobs was "insanely great." The Apple mogul deserves praise for his culture-altering accomplishments. I too wish he had not departed this world so soon. And may he rest in peace. But enough with the soul-rending eulogies already. GASP! What, too soon? Well, perhaps. But c'mon -- am I really the only one who thinks the cartoon at left is a tad over the top? Granted, it is well-intended and represents only one in a flood of digital bouquets thrown as appreciations, remembrances or retrospectives. A bit disturbingly, some border on being self-serving tales in obit guise. ("We spent the afternoon on the shoreline of Kona, Hawaii, where Jobs and his wife ...," waxed one writer in an apparent need to showcase her "chosen few" status.) Another obit-tale, written by Ron Rosenbaum for Slate, is entitled "Steve Jobs and Me." In it, he reveals how his 1971 article supposedly inspired Jobs. Anyway, you get the picture. I have little doubt that Jobs, an intensely private man, would cringe at the sheer volume of hagiography being spun about him. "Apple is a new religion, and Steve Jobs was its high priest," read the headline of a Washington Post story about Jobs this morning. Post reporter Michael Rosenwald wrote: "[T]here’s a greater, higher power at work here, a mystical truth that has emerged among more enlightened Apple fans and on the fringes of academic research. In a secular age, Apple has become a religion, and Steve Jobs was its high priest." Um, you gotta be kidding me. Though Rosenwald is quite serious (he drank the Apple Kool-Aid long ago), he acknowledges that there is truth in the words of a friend who told him: “I feel bad for the guy and his family. ... if anything, the outpouring of grief shows just how obsessed we’ve become with our electronic toys." In other words, this amazing surge to canonize Jobs as a saint says more about us than him. It probably speaks to a yawning cultural emptiness that is nibbling away at the soul of an increasingly narcissistic society. But that is grist for another post. History will give Jobs his proper due. In the here and now, Apple fans might be wiser to follow the advice Jobs himself gave: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." Or worshiping it.

Cartoon credit: Steve Breen (San Diego Union-Tribune)

The long goodbye?

Has the Economist identified another inconvenient truth about the Sarah Palin phenomenon? It writes: "Many now expect Mrs Palin to fade away, which is something we've heard before. But is our collective fascination with her really dependent on her potential to run for office? Liberals love to hate Mrs Palin because they believe she's a divisive, know-nothing windbag. And conservatives love to hate the liberals she so effectively pisses off. She will no doubt continue to cater to the needs of both groups. And our TMZ-inspired political media can hardly turn away from her family drama and experiments with the English language. I'll celebrate the death of Mrs Palin's political celebrity if she ever starts making sense or develops the wherewithal to string two coherent sentences together. That is when she will be forgotten, when she is no longer a spectacle. ... As long as she keeps floating somewhere between Huckabee dullness and Beck insanity, she's not going anywhere." Damn.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lies, Damn Lies, and Polls

The Daily Caller breathlessly reported, "In news sure to inject shock and awe into the Republican political primary season, a Zogby poll released Thursday showed Herman Cain leading the Republican field, topping former front-runner Mitt Romney by an astonishing 20 points. Cain would also narrowly edge out Obama in a general election, the poll found, by a 46-44 margin." The poll results are the preferences of likely Republican primary voters. Still, should Cain start measuring the drapes in the Oval Office? Um, no. A new Pew Research Center poll found that few Americans could even name a leading GOP candidate. Only 28 percent named Rick Perry and only 27 percent named Mitt Romney. As for that Cain fella in the Zogby poll, for most Americans it's: Herman who? The Pew poll also found that just 27 percent of Americans are following campaign 2012 news closely. If you've wondered what Grade A navel gazing looks like in the news media, wonder no more. This is a classic example of it. Just keeping it real, folks.

The last word

Perhaps channeling the frustrations of all rational Republicans, David Frum unloads on Sarah Palin and laments the havoc she wrecked: "In the end, she exploited, abused, or embarrassed almost everyone who had believed in her. Most embarrassing of all: she was never even a very good con artist. Everything that was false and petty and unqualified in her was visible within the first minutes of encountering her. The people she fooled were people who passionately wished to be fooled. To that extent, what was important in her story was not the faults and failings of Sarah Palin. There have always been grifters in politics. What was important in her story was the revelation of conservatism’s lack of antibodies against somebody with the faults and failings of Sarah Palin. That’s the story that should trouble us still."

Stranger than fiction?

One day a first-rate historian or journalist will pen the definitive book about Sarah Palin. Though history will record her as a curious footnote, Palin's true infamy will be narrated as a cautionary tale. How, some will wonder, did this psychotic personality nearly ascend to presidential-level power? Today, we still do not know what really happened. Nicolle Wallace, a former George W. Bush aide and adviser to John McCain's 2008 campaign, provided a chilling glimpse during an interview with Time. "There certainly were discussions — not for long because of the arc the campaign took — but certainly there were discussions about whether, if [McCain-Palin] were to win, it would be appropriate for her to be sworn in," Wallace said. Oh my. There is clearly more to this story. I've harshly criticized John McCain for plaguing us with Palin. Like most politicians, the Arizona senator has an unsavory, cynical side. But he is neither crazy nor a fool. This implies that he made this Faustian Bargain with his eyes open. Even a few chats with Palin would have revealed her odd duckiness at the very least. It's well-documented that his senior staff wasn't fooled for long. Neither was Wallace. But if upon realizing his mistake McCain planned to oust Palin post-victory, then suddenly a great many things begin to make sense. This is all speculation, of course. But I suspect the real story about Sarah Louise Palin will prove to be far stranger than fiction.

Welcome back from the ledge, Sully

Like many folks who read and admire Andrew Sullivan, I too have given him grief about his Palin obsession. At times it was scarily over the top. But his reasons were always noble. "All I ever cared about was that someone who was incapable of understanding reality, who was, in my view, clinically disturbed, intellectually incapable and emotionally crippled, should not be foisted on the world as a potential US president because John McCain had a temper tantrum," Sullivan wrote today. I "second that emotion," as Smoky Robinson would put it. Sullivan announced he is finally unslinging his gun belt, writing: "There's no need any more to even think, let alone blog, about [Palin]. I did what I could to expose her and the corrupt system - in politics and the media - that made her possible. And she's over. Mission, as they say, accomplished." He of course added: Cue the music from "Jaws". Heh. I too will blog about Palin as events warrant, but I'll mostly do so comedically. For Palin is merely a curio now, a political Paris Hilton or, if you like, a kindred Kardashian of the Wasilla kind. Going forward, I'll treat her accordingly.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What the face of madness looks like

Delusion is a powerful thing. Behold Adam Brinkley: "[A]nyone who thinks Gov. Palin or any of us 'cultists' are going to go away has another thing coming — in fact, a reinvigorated Palin movement is already coalescing. ... I’m practically salivating at the idea of watching the establishment candidates trek up to Wasilla to genuflect and beg for an endorsement." And then there's this fan dispatch on Palin's Facebook Wall: "We will always stay here for YOU, GOVERNOR PALIN!! WE WILL be HERE, WE WILL be HERE LISTENING to YOU, and WE WILL be HERE READY at ANYTIME for YOUR GUIDANCE." And another: "Am I allowed to keep sending you money anyway?" The only thing missing from all of this is the sound of goosestepping jackboots. Wow.

Parlez-vous Palinese?

Uh oh. It's spreading. The curious English dialect known as Palinese (spoken by a certain hockey mom from Alaska) could be spreading. During an interview, behold Texas Gov. Rick Perry explaining the epithet that graced the entrance to his hunting camp: "All of us agree that the word that was on that rock is a very offensive rock and a very offensive word. At the moment we had to move to paint over that rock, we did." Grammar school teachers the world over are fainting. Heh.

Romney's date with defeat

With Palin officially confined to history's dustbin, Townhall's Ben Shapiro thinks the stars are now aligned for Mitt Romney. There's only one problem, "he seems to be everybody's second choice." Ergo, he's toast. "He'll lose the general election for a very simple reason: Nobody in the conservative base is excited about him. While the so-called GOP opinion leaders wax on about how super-electable he is, they fail to recognize that it is precisely that logic that gave us the unelectable John McCain. Turnout wins elections these days, not appeals to the independent voter. ... Republican Romney supporters seem to be counting on sheer dislike for President Obama to carry Romney to victory. That logic is not compelling. Democrats thought the same thing when they nominated John Kerry against the unpopular incumbent George W. Bush. But an empty suit will not beat an unpopular incumbent." I think Shapiro has nailed it.

Palin in five words

Sarah Palin's political career can be summed up in five words: Brief, bizarre, sordid and over. (Courtesy of David Frum, Republican)

And it all started here

The late Steve Jobs (left) and Steve Wozniak ham it up in this classic 1976 photo taken in the garage of Jobs' parents. If you're too young to remember the '70s fashion-wise, count your blessings.

Living the Jobs way

Andrew Sullivan: "Steve Jobs' approach to life is terrifying for most of us, because it demands firstly the hardest thing - facing death - and then its necessary, scary corollary - living your own life, and no one else's. ... And Jobs truly lived without fear - which enabled him to create beyond the measure of most mortals. That he had, in the end, everything to fear - a rare pancreatic cancer slowly moving toward him - only makes his energy and spirit more vibrant. He was alive when he died. How many of us live as if we were already dead?"

The Onion obits Steve Job

Leave to the folks at the irreverent Onion to cut through the bullcrap. Their headline: "Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies." Their obit (in part): "CUPERTINO, CA—Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Computers and the only American in the country who had any clue what the fuck he was doing, died Wednesday at the age of 56. "We haven't just lost a great innovator, leader, and businessman, we've literally lost the only person in this country who actually had his shit together and knew what the hell was going on," a statement from President Barack Obama read in part." Amen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fade to black, you bet'cha

THE IRONY of Sarah Palin bowing out of the presidential race and the passing of Steve Jobs today must be providential. News of the two unrelated events, cultural earthquakes both, occurred virtually at the same moment. But Jobs will rightfully dominate the headlines tomorrow. Even the cable talk shows, each primed to feast on the huge Palin news like ravenous jackals, turned on a dime to cover Jobs instead. Nothing says you're irrelevant like being shoved out of the limelight without so much as a by your leave. Palin became the lead headline at every major news daily and political blog when she halted her presidential striptease in mid-act. When Jobs died, she became an instant page 2 story, even on POLITICO (which speaks volumes). Given her crass, over-the-top entrance at the GOP '08 convention (“You know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick! You bet'cha!”), her unceremonious boot from the stage today is poetic. Though she's been showing leg on stage for some 1.6 million minutes since Sept. 2008 (time we'll never get back thanks to the media's obsession with her), Palin's 15 minutes are up. (You have no idea how good it feels to write that.) Mercifully, there now remain no real reasons to reward her crack-like addiction for attention. The fact that the media dropped Palin like a proverbial bad habit today is a good sign. The other irony is that this soap opera could only end this way. The idea of putting "Palin" and the "presidency" in the same sentence has been laughable from the start. The die was cast the moment Tina Fey perfectly captured the Wasilla hockey mom on Saturday Night Live. So, on behalf of a grateful (and relieved) nation, Ms. Fey, thank you.

The White House on Steve Jobs

"Steve was among the greatest of American innovators ― brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it." (President Barack Obama)

'And one more thing ...'

Sad news. Per the LA Times: Steve Jobs, the charismatic technology pioneer who co-founded Apple Inc. and transformed one industry after another, from computers and smartphones to music and movies, has died. He was 56. Wow. It's hard to believe. Jobs was famously fond of saying, "And one more thing." Sadly, not this time -- except for a culture-altering legacy that will rank with the likes of Edison and Ford. R.I.P.