Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This is really getting embarrassing - Ctd

With the exception of Jon Huntsman (he's the moderate, sane one), I cringe every time one of the GOP candidates say something publicly. Damn, I mutter to myself shuddering, I hope our friends abroad didn't hear that. They'll think we Americans are all idiots. Well, guess what, some are listening from across the pond -- and they're aghast.

Behold the German newsweekly Der Spiegel (it's more or less the equivalent of Time):
“Africa is a country. The Taliban rule in Libya. Muslims are terrorists. Immigrants are mostly criminals, Occupy Wall Street protesters are always dirty. And women who claim to have been sexually molested should kindly keep quiet.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Republican Party. Or rather: to the distorted world of its presidential campaign. For months it has coiled through the country like a traveling circus, from debate to debate, from scandal to scandal, contesting the mightiest office in the world — and nothing is ever too unfathomable for them… These eight presidential wannabes are happy enough not only to demolish their own reputations but also that of their party, the once worthy party of Abraham Lincoln. They are also ruining the reputation of the United States. They lie, deceive, scuffle and speak every manner of idiocy. And they expose a political, economic, geographic and historical ignorance compared to which George W. Bush sounds like a scholar …

But as with all freak shows, it would be impossible without a stage, the U.S. media, which has been neutered by the demands of political correctness, and a welcoming audience, a party base that seems to have been lobotomized overnight. Notwithstanding the subterranean depths of the primary process, the press and broadcasters proclaim one clown after the next to be the new frontrunner, in predictable news cycles of forty-five days.

The best political title ever

Hands down, it goes to His Most Sublime Majesty, the Emperor of Lilliput. To wit: "Golbasto Momarem Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue, most mighty Emperor of Lilliput, delight and terror of the universe, whose dominions extend five thousand BLUSTRUGS (about twelve miles in circumference) to the extremities of the globe; monarch of all monarchs, taller than the sons of men; whose feet press down to the centre, and whose head strikes against the sun; at whose nod the princes of the earth shake their knees; pleasant as the spring, comfortable as the summer, fruitful as autumn, dreadful as winter." Jonathan Swift -- satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, and author of "Gulliver's Travels" -- was born this day in 1667 in Dublin, Ireland.

Who woulda thunk it?

Did you know that the "North American lottery system is a $70 billion-a-year business, an industry bigger than movie tickets, music, and porn combined?" I had no idea. There's more. According to Wired's Jonah Lehrer, "These tickets have a grand history: Lotteries were used to fund the American colonies and helped bankroll the young nation. In the 18th and 19th centuries, lotteries funded the expansion of Harvard and Yale and allowed the construction of railroads across the continent. Since 1964, when New Hampshire introduced the first modern state lottery, governments have come to rely on gaming revenue. (Forty-three states and every Canadian province currently run lotteries.) In some states, the lottery accounts for more than 5 percent of education funding. While approximately half of Americans buy at least one lottery ticket at some point, the vast majority of tickets are purchased by about 20 percent of the population. These high-frequency players tend to be poor and uneducated, which is why critics refer to lotteries as a regressive tax." Amazing.

Only in LA ... and the Hollywood Post Office

"Lick the stamp, Pam! Lick the stamp!" shouted the photographer at retro blonde bombshell Pamela Anderson. This classic "only in LA" moment occurred at the Hollywood Post Office (where else?), a magnificent monument to art deco at 1615 N. Wilcox Avenue. The former Baywatch Babe, along with former game-show host Bob Barker, were "on location" to promote US postage stamps featuring famous vegetarians (which include Mohandas Gandhi, Leonardo da Vinci -- and, um, Natalie Portman). The project, a limited-edition sheet of twenty 44-cent stamps, is the brainchild of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which will produce and sell them. At least it's all for a good cause. However, LA Times readers will encounter disappointment if they were seeking the backstory of these famous vegetarians. The Times thought it was far more important to report that Ms. Anderson "wore a smoky blue-gray sleeveless dress that reached mid-thigh and revealed cleavage and lacy, peach bra — as well as the barbed-wire tattoo on her left arm." But I digress. To paraphrase a few lines from Joan Didion's "Notes from a Native Daughter,” it is very easy to stand in front of the famous post office at 1615 N. Wilcox Avenue and share in the perverse delusion that Hollywood is only hours from the East Coast by air. The truth is that the famous post office at 1615 N. Wilcox Avenue is only hours from the East Coast by air. Hollywood (and my beloved LA) is somewhere else.

(Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

RealTime History

French minister Vergennes scoffs at the Treaty of Paris: "The English buy peace rather than they make it." (The preliminary treaty, ending the American Revolutionary War with Great Britain, was signed this day in 1782 by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay.)

Lest we forget

"Lost in this debate is the fact that Mr. [Herman] Cain's greatest sin is not infidelity, but mendacity." (The Economist, "The limits of credulity")

No, Barack Obama is not Harry Potter

FOR SOME REASON, a lot of people think after that his inauguration, President Obama was handed a top secret magic wand (code-named "Potter") along with the nuclear launch codes. Behold the statement of Corey O'Brien, a Democratic official in Pennsylvania and Obama supporter: "Enough with the soft approach [to fixing the economy]. He's got to say, 'I'm in charge, and I'm going to get it done with or without Congress.' " I feel his pain. But his proposed solution -- a vigorous shake of the Potter wand -- is delusional. The Washington Monthly agrees: "The public likes to think of the President of the United States, no matter who's in office, as having vast powers. He or she is "leader of the free world." He or she holds the most powerful office on the planet, making life and death decisions every day. If the president -- any president -- wants a proposal to create jobs and grow the economy, it must be within his or her power to force one into the Oval Office, if necessary, through sheer force of will." Except of course no president has this Stalin-like power, thank god. It says so, right there in the US Constitution under "separation of powers." At some point, America needs to graduate from high school, but not before re-taking -- and this time, passing -- Civics 101.

When the pot calls the kettle black

Herman Cain: "Stupid people are ruining America!”

He's doing what?!

Oh. My. God. After "reassessing" whether to continue his presidential bid, Herman Cain just announced that he is NOT dropping out. I'm surprised. Very surprised. But his ego is clearly running amok. Incredibly, the Hermanator has even summoned the gall the ask supporters for "donations" to help him fight the "troubled Atlanta business woman" who claims to have had a 13-year affair with him. Mr. Cain is evidently determined to fly his tattered campaign into the ground regardless of the collateral damage to anyone near him. Man, I never thought I'd ever say this, but next to Cain's astounding display of megalomania, Sarah Palin looks like Mother Theresa. Wow.

UPDATE: Despite his blustery defiance, Cain later confirmed he is still "reassessing." Apparently, he has not meet with Mrs. Cain (and her frying pan) yet, face to face. That is supposed to happen on Friday.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Torn asunder

I am of two minds about this photo (by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) of an Egyptian woman voting in yesterday's elections. This simple but crucial act on the road toward democracy is a marvelous sight. One the other hand, the black burka and the humanity it so clearly suppresses is profoundly disturbing. I am reminded of what Simone Weil said: "Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing." In the end, at long last, are they not simply men, "the ones" who insist upon twisting religion for subjugation?

When history airs re-runs

Concerned about our fate in Afghanistan and the growing civilian-military gap in America, UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge cited some historical insight from "Queen Victoria's Little Wars," a book by Byron Farwell. In it, the tome's author writes: "From 1837 to 1901, in Asia, China, Canada, Africa, and elsewhere, military expedition were constantly being undertaken to protect resident Britons or British interests, to extend a frontier, to repel an attack, avenge an insult, or suppress a mutiny or rebellion. Continuous warfare became an accepted way of life in the Victorian era .... Even at the time, punitive excursions, field forces, and minor expeditions were so commonplace that most Britons never knew of them." As for the fighting in the land of the Hindu Kush, Farwell noted that "while always protesting friendship, the British repeatedly invaded [Afghanistan] and shot at its inhabitants. Always unable to subdue the proud, fiercely independent Afghans ... [The campaign of 1880] proved once more that the British could defeat the Afghans in open battle but they could not hold the country. ... the Afghans had a disconcerting habit of not knowing when they were defeated." Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?

Rubes R Us?

In foreign policy circles, George Kennan, the architect of America's Cold War "containment" policy was "commonly regarded as the wisest of the Wise Men." And yet, as Louis Menand writes in the New Yorker, "the most peculiar thing about Kennan, a man not short on peculiarities, is that he had little love for, or even curiosity about, the country whose fortunes he devoted his life to safeguarding." In his terrific review of a new book about the diplomat, Menand notes: "Kennan thought that Americans were shallow, materialistic, and self-centered—he had the attitude of a typical mid-century European—and the more he saw of them the less fond of them he grew." Although it's hard to argue that Kennan's low regard for his fellow citizens is completely without foundation, his assessment from the Ivory Tower is overly simplistic. Americans are, well, complicated. Yes, broadly speaking, cultural sophistication (esp. in the European sense) is probably not our strongest suit. Still, I would not categorize most folks as self-absorbed rubes (Facebook notwithstanding). But then I come across's Top Searches for 2011. Among news stories, the "most searched" unsurprisingly included Osama Bin Laden's death, Hurricane Irene, and the Japan earthquake/tsunami, in that order. However, there was one story that towered above them all: The Casey Anthony Trial. Um, well, Kennan is still wrong because, well, er ... hmm ...

The Frog and Mr. Cain

I chuckle when people go all rational and try to decipher Herman Cain. To paraphrase that "This Is Your Wake-Up Call" dude in those clever Sears commercials, folks are doing way too much overthinking "all up in here."

Anyway, Steve Benen is the latest to give it a go:
"[T]he question that I keep coming back to is why in the world Herman Cain even decided to run for president in the first place. He had to realize that the sexual misconduct allegations would surface eventually, which would prove humiliating to Cain and his family. He doesn't seem to understand government or public policy; he's never held public office at any level; he seems to have a Bush-like level of intellectual curiosity; and he appears to have a scandal-plagued personal life. Cain realized all of this and decided to launch a presidential campaign anyway? What was he thinking?"
What was he thinking? He wasn't ― thinking, that is. Like all megalomaniacs, Cain believed he was invulnerable. Indeed, until he tossed his hat into the presidential ring, he had gotten away with every sexual misdeed (assuming the sundry allegations from five women are true). Even then, he nearly pulled it off. But Cain is the classic illustration of the fable, "The Scorpion and the Frog." A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. Fearful that the scorpion may sting him, the frog is reluctant to do so. "But why would I sting you?" says the scorpion. "You'd sink if I stung you and we'd both drown, right?" The frog agrees and they begin their watery journey. Midway across the river the scorpion stings the frog. "Oops," the scorpion says to the shocked frog, "it's just my nature." Both creatures then drown. Cain of course is the scorpion. He just can't help himself. "Thinking" has nothing to do with it. And his own political drowning is imminent.

Speaking of bimbo eruptions ...

No, I'm not calling Arizona state Sen. Lori Klein -- Herman Cain’s Arizona state chairman -- a bimbo, even if she sounds like one. Until proven otherwise, I presume she is bright, virtuous and rational. Defending her hero on both CBS and Fox News, Klein said she has known Mr. Cain for 12 years and he’s "never been anything but a gentlemen – and I am not an unattractive woman." Um, no comment on that last point. Then, hurtling over the cliff, Klein implied that politics is a rough business and no place for wide-eyed naifs. But I don't wish to put words into her mouth. Klein elucidated the point this way: Voters too often expect "a virgin to do a hooker’s job." Ergo, as Salon's Alex Pareene writes, Cain is "a hooker with a heart of gold" and has "the constitution to resist harassing or assaulting Lori Klein, a noted attractive woman!"

A homewrecker speaks

The "bimbo eruption" was inevitable. It seems, alas, that Herman Cain conducted a 13-year extramarital affair with an Atlanta businesswoman. Cain denies it, of course. But if he were a stock, I'd have my broker short it post-haste. I'll skip the tawdry details since (a) this revelation comes as no real surprise, and (b) none of it really matters. Cain's candidacy is already in a death spiral. With luck, this will just speed things up. What really left me aghast were the remarks of Ginger "homewrecker" White, the Other Woman. She told Fox News: “It was pretty simple. It wasn't complicated. I was aware that he was married. And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship. He made it very intriguing. It was fun. It was something that took me away from my humdrum life at the time. And it was exciting.” Naturally, she is now taking her star turn as the proverbial spurned woman by ratting the Herminator out. Ms. White clearly never gave a damn about the feelings of Mrs. Cain, the presumably faithful wife who made a recent show of "standing by her man" on national television as an antidote to the sexual harassment allegations leveled at her husband. Now Cain has made his wife look foolish. I wonder if the scales have fallen from this poor woman's eyes yet. What a sad tale.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The universe, alas, is a gamble

Slate's Chris Wilson has an interesting article about E.T. and why we're having so much trouble finding him. Long story short: It's complicated (but read his piece here). He ends with this sobering bit: "At press time, the planet Earth has about 5 billion years left before our sun becomes a red giant, probably swallowing us up in the process. There are any number of ways that our fate could be hastened. The moon could take a hit, throwing us off tilt; we could succumb to a super virus; global warming could bake our planet to a crisp; or we could nuke one another into oblivion. There is a distinct possibility that we are living out the final act of the human race. This is not some gloomy assessment of humanity. It is a basic fact of the uncaring randomness of the universe, not to mention our stunning incompetence at preserving our finely-tuned habitat. As those investment commercials say, it’s not too early to start thinking about our retirement." Albert Einstein was convinced that "God does not play dice." The trouble is that His handmaiden, the universe, does. Happy Monday.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Sunday thought

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever." (Dr. Robert P. Ricciardi, Chief Science Officer, Genelink Inc.)

Art for Sunday

"Electus," by digital artist Adam Martinakis.

Laika Yaz writes: "Adam's work feels trapped full of pain―and beautifully so―but what's remarkable about it is how close to real it feels. Upon first glance you might not suspect that these works are not photographs of actual, physical objects. The way he manipulates light and texture is so realist that it makes the surrealism of the work itself stand out all the more. Unlike earlier work in the genre, you can't see the marks of computer generation. All you have is the image and the knowledge that it was never really there."

Love and politics

Marina Adshade says picture this: "You are on a date with a wonderful man/woman. He/she is speaking, but you are gazing lovingly into his/her eyes thinking how lucky you are having finally met your perfect match. Then you hear him/her say this: 'And that is why I think Sarah Palin would make a great president.' How attracted are you now?" Heh. Personally, I'd run for the nearest exit screaming with arms flailing. Adshade (an uncommon surname of Anglo-Saxon origin and derivative of "Adshead") is a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She explores dating and politics here.

Lap-dance therapy

In my travels, I've encountered some sad souls in various corners of both the real and digital worlds. But this confession by a lonely, 24-year-old male who frequents strip clubs makes my top ten:
"I've gone to strip clubs because my life lacks intimacy. There we go. Might as well just come out with it. Nobody talks to me, nobody cares what I say. I'm a 24-year-old drone who wastes his days sitting at a computer reviewing spreadsheets that don't really matter. ... The reason I go to places like this is for those moments when they stay and talk. That's all I wanted. They don't have to be naked. They could be wearing a suit of armor for all I care; I just want to talk to someone who cares, and $1 every 3 minutes is a lot less than $250 an hour for a therapist."
The anonymous letter is among the many that Susannah Breslin (a freelance journalist and author) has collected for her Letters Project (in this case, "Letters From Men Who Go To Strip Clubs"). As for strip-club-man, a self-described "drone," none of us can know the true (and no doubt complicated) psychological issues that underlie his social isolation. But it surely doesn't help that we reside in a culture where people too often measure self-worth by the number of Facebook "friends" they have or, worse, live by the credo: "I Tweet, Therefore I Am." And it is disheartening that so few seem to realize that popularity (or fame) does not end loneliness. Anyway, I hope the lap-dance "therapy" works for this poor guy. In a sense, it is more rational than manically posting banalities on Facebook or Twitter (which exhibit environments eerily reminiscent of high school) in an endless bid for attention.

Rooting for Newt

It's highly unlikely Newt Gingrich will win the GOP nomination. But if by some miracle he did and faced President Obama in the general election, Obama would win in a landslide. Hence my support for Newt. (C'mon dude, make my day.) Crushing Newt on Election Day 2012 would also benefit the party that once played the honorable role as the loyal opposition. Andrew Sullivan sums it up: "The silver lining is surely that a Gingrich candidacy would put out there in clear and uncompromising terms the reality of today's Jacobin GOP. If a Gingrich candidacy were to give us an Obama landslide re-election, it would underline the death-throes of a "conservatism" reeling since the collapse of the Rove project under Bush and Cheney. It would kill off conservatism as it has been and allow for some kind of reformist brand to put down roots. It would give us Huntsman in 2016, or some variant thereof." Rational Republicans better hope this scenario, or some variant thereof, plays out even if Mitt Romney is (as is likely) the party standard bearer. Otherwise, the GOP has a date with oblivion.

Some very good advice

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argues, as I do, that President Obama "has done better than many critics on the left or the right give him credit for." After making his case, Kristof ends his piece ("President as Piñata") with advice that is worth contemplating: "[T]hink back to 2000. Many Democrats and journalists alike, feeling grouchy, were dismissive of Al Gore and magnified his shortcomings. We forgot the context, prided ourselves on our disdainful superiority -- and won eight years of George W. Bush. This time, let's do a better job of retaining perspective. If we turn Obama out of office a year from now, let's make sure it is because the Republican nominee is preferable, not just out of grumpiness toward the incumbent during a difficult time."As a partisan, I hope most of us have his back come next November for the country's sake.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Life is good

USC 50, UCLA 0. All is right with the world.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Got the Black Friday indecision blues?

It's Black Friday and you're standing in a way-too-crowded aisle at your local Tarjay (Target). Sweat is beading on your forehead. Drool slips unnoticed from your slackened mouth as you stare at the price tag of a gadget that you just gotta have. But suddenly you're paralyzed like a reindeer in the headlights: OMG ― Should I buy now or wait? Fear not, dear shop-a-holics, there's an app for that. The Ph.D-armed busybodies at e-commerce startup are now offering an iPhone app with its "price prediction technology," whatever that is. reports that it "lets users scan an electronic device in a store to learn whether its price is apt to fall and when the next model will likely come out." promises shopping nirvana and says their app will save customers an average of $54 per product, "ensuring you buy the hottest devices at the best prices!" Apparently, the app (which is free) has a 77% accuracy rate, or so its makers say. Color me skeptical, but I suspect those in touch with their inner Crazy Target Lady will love it.

Crossing the Black Friday Rubicon

Congratulations, America, we've just created a new Black Friday phenomenon. They call it "shopping rage." One headline-grabbing incident took place at a Wal-Mart in California's San Fernando Valley, according to the LA Times. Reportedly, a still-unidentified woman "trying to get her hands on merchandise used pepper spray to get rid of the competition ... It worked, apparently, as the woman reportedly made her purchase and exited the store." It seems the chaos began when "a whistle signaled the start of the Black Friday sale at 10 p.m., sending shoppers hurtling in search of deeply discounted items." A local resident described what happened next: "People started screaming, pulling and pushing each other, and then the whole area filled up with pepper spray. I guess what triggered it was people started pulling the plastic off the pallets and then shoving and bombarding the display of games. It started with people pushing and screaming because they were getting shoved onto the boxes." Wow. To quote a memorable line by Bubba Blue's mother in Forest Gump, here's my "Blue Light Special" message to all Wal-Mart shoppers: "Are ya crazy or just plain stupid?" Take a deep breath, people.

And speaking of crazy, the lady in the below Target commercial sums it up well:

Kids, don't try this sitting down

Can you sleep while sitting? Now why someone, presumably a sentient human adult, could not solve this simple equation and felt compelled to query Slate's Explainer columnist Forrest Wickman about it is beyond me. But I digress. Wickman's answer is worthy of one of those teasers for your local TV news. Yes, numbskull, you can sleep while sitting upright -- but it might kill you. News at Eleven. Mr. Explainer explains that "you'll sleep as well sitting up as you would lying down. However ... sitting motionless with bent limbs for more than a couple of hours can lead to the development of deep vein thrombosis, a type of blood clotting in large veins which can be fatal if it travels to the lungs." So, lemme get this straight. During the countless hours I have logged sleeping upright on airplanes while jetting to Europe and other points around the globe, I coulda died horribly? Really? Now I'm sure Wickman has his facts right. But he skipped the part about the probability of sudden death by blood clot. I'm no doctor but I suspect it's rare in the extreme. And I'm still here. Anyway, check out his column. It's a hoot. Among other nocturnal trivia, you'll learn about the sleeping habits of nomadic cultures, horses and dolphins, too.

'Password' is not a good password

Neither is 123456, 1234567, 12345678, qwerty, abc123, letmein (as in "let me in") or trustno1. And yet, these are among top passwords used by people, according to SplashData’s annual list of worst internet passwords. Check out the top 25 here. If you recognize any of yours on the list, be advised: you're hacker bait.

They're kidding, right?

Nope, afraid not. And April Fool's Day didn't show up four months early. The august New York Times, the newspaper of record, has a front page story devoted entirely to -- wait for it -- Mitt Romney's hair. Seriously. And no, it's not a quick blog post done for yucks. It is a full-blown 1,114-word story (that's 6,379 characters for you Twitterites) to which the Times editors assigned not one but two reporters. "A certain segment of the political world seems riveted by the topic," the piece reports with a straight face. Granted, all is fair in love and politics and not all stories need be "serious." But let's call a spade a spade: The only "segment of the political world" that finds Mr. Romney's coiffure of interest is the New York Times. And they wonder why newspaper circulations are in a death spiral.

Overthinking Thanksgivings

Did you desperately ponder what to bring on Thanksgiving? You should have used this flow-chart.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A timeout to talk turkey

HISTORY IS such a killjoy. Always insisting on going all reality-check on us, it can't leave well enough alone. So it is with Thanksgiving. No, America's first Thanksgiving wasn't held by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1621. In fact, the first celebrations of a bountiful harvest or good fortune occurred in Florida (near present-day Jacksonville) by French and Spanish Pilgrims as early as 1564, some 57 years before the Mayflower crowd broke bread with the Wampanoag. And that's just the European side of the coin. According to Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota and publisher of the Native Sun News, Native Americans had a strong tradition of "giving thanks" (or "wopila," as the Plains Indians called it) and did so regularly for centuries before the pale faces showed up. In effect, the first Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving were the First Americans. In all cases, nobody contemplated making wopila or its European variants an annual holiday. Nor did they call the occasions "Thanksgiving" -- that's a relatively modern invention like most aspects of the holiday. The early celebrants feasted on whatever was available. The Spanish shared bean soup with the Timucua Indians. Back at Plymouth, the Pilgrims (the 53 of 102 who were still alive) dined on wild fowl (along with venison) during their 1621 feast. History is silent on whether their meal included turkey. And lest we forget, those first joint meals with the Indians did not foster better relations between colonizer and colonized despite Plymouthian myths to the contrary. We know how this movie ended thanks to history's unavoidable "spoiler alert" (i.e., conquest and genocide). Although this cultural amnesia is unfortunate as we blissfully gorge ourselves on turkey, Professor Daniel Brook of UC Berkeley observed that "We do not have to feel guilty, but we do need to feel something." He's right. So with the complexity of history in mind on this Thanksgiving day, it is especially important to heed what John F. Kennedy once said: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

If a Pilgrim could tweet 'Thanksgiving'

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor." (@Edward-Winslow, Plymouth Rock, 1621)

Quote of the Day

"Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow." (Edward Sandford Martin, Life magazine’s first literary editor)

Making Thanksgiving official

In the language of the times, and in testimony whereof, President Abraham Lincoln had hereunto set his "hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed" to the below document, "done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three":

A Proclamation:
"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. ... I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Perhaps the American most responsible for the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it is Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor and, interestingly enough, author of the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb." She had tirelessly promoted the notion for some 15 years but her letters to previous presidents had fallen on deaf ears. To Lincoln she wrote:
"[T]he purpose of this letter is to entreat [you] to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government ... thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured."
Typical for the times, her English was grandly verbose, but it worked. Lincoln, sensing an opportunity to promote national unity during wartime (and buoyed by Lee's defeat at Gettysburg), immediately warmed to Mrs. Hale's idea and issued a proclamation shortly after his Secretary of State, William H. Seward, penned the words.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Tis the season, sigh, again

IT IS EASY to lament the mind-bending superficially of our annual holiday season which, god help us, kicks off tomorrow on Thanksgiving. Like many a reflexive scold, I intended to go all "bah humbug" on you. But the always clever writers at the Economist beat me to the punch. To wit:
"NO HOLIDAY is safe from the scolds. ... Now here we are on the cusp of Thanksgiving. Other than lamenting the white man's plundering, murdering, colonising ways (ask an Iroquois) what else is there to say to take the fun out of the national day of gluttony here in the home of the bravely obese? Plenty! Before you stuff yourself to the gills with the flesh of innocent birds fattened in disgustingly inhumane conditions, please read this discourse on "Thanksgiving as 'System Justification'", by Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law at Harvard. In a nutshell, "system justification" is the socio-psychological process by which turkeys come to welcome their impending slaughter. Every society is rife with injustice. System justification is how we convince ourselves it's all for the best."
There's no topping that, eh Ebenezer? So I'll skip to the moral of my story: You are not obligated to perform in the perennial drama (which the Economist labels as "the sickening display of consumerism run amok") that comes pre-packaged with the holiday season. Granted, that may come as breaking news to some. But Thanksgiving is what you, dear reader, make it. Shut out the crassness and gracefully celebrate the harvest we call American democracy and the good fortune that you and yours live in it. Yes, it is messy and, at times (like now), seemingly unmanageable. But, as Churchill said, it is still better than all the rest. Just ask the envious owners of those foreign noses that are pressed against our American window.

Sweet talk us some more, baby

Esquire's Charles Pierce pens a -- shall we say, colorful -- portrait of today's GOP in the wake of yesterday's Republican debate. "Then, somehow, the issue of immigration came up, and Newt suddenly found himself caught in the maelstrom that is the party he helped create, lo those many years ago — the party of mindless jingoism and barely disguised bigotry, empty of mind, vacant of soul, a pile of adjectives and talking points masquerading as a governing philosophy." Yowzer. This characterization is of course over the top, not to mention unfair. But, damn -- Pierce is one talented Romeo, politically speaking. He's clearly mastered the art of the rhetorical put-down. And the sound of his sweet nothings -- ah, ma chérie, zay are empty of mind, vacant of soul -- is music to Democratic ears. So, Charlie, quote us some more of that partisan poetry -- even if it is light years from being objective or even helpful.

Real Americans don't eat Islamic turkeys

Conservative whackjob Pamela Geller, an unrelenting aspirant for The Real Housewives of the GOP), today wrote this gem: "Did you know that the turkey you're going to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day this Thursday is probably halal (i.e., food deemed as permissible according to Islam's Sharia law)? If it's a Butterball turkey, then it certainly is -- whether you like it or not." Then, sailing over the top like a jumping shark, Geller dispensed her advice to all right-thinking patriots: "Non-Muslims in America and Europe don't deserve to have halal turkey forced upon them in this way, without their knowledge or consent. So this Thanksgiving, fight for your freedom. Find a non-halal, non-Butterball turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday." I'll just let Geller words stand without comment as my mind reels.


During an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club," former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked, "What's that one thing at Thanksgiving you just have to have?" Rice replied: "Mac and cheese ... but only once a year." A rather pedestrian choice, but hey, whatever. But then things got weird. Co-host Pat Robertson later asked, "What is this 'mac and cheese,' is that a black thing?" Um, say what? Mac and cheese, a mainstay that shows up on many an American table on Thanksgiving and countless other days, probably originated in medieval Italy. I'm guessing that the dish gained currency here after large numbers of Europeans immigrated to America at the turn of the 20th century. Anyway, Robertson meant no disrespect to African Americans. He just had no clue what mac and cheese was. As Steve Benen noted in his post (which the video clip), "In 1988, the guy very nearly won the Iowa presidential caucuses." Lord, give us strength ...

Quote of the Day

"It was the most amazing of all the debates so far: A Republican candidate for president [Newt Gingrich] said, 'Let’s be humane about enforcing the [immigration] law,' and he was not booed." (Roger Simon, POLITICO)

Life with civilian feather-heads

Maj. Crispin J. Burke is a U.S. Army officer and Iraq combat veteran. Now home, he avoids telling people that he's in the military because, well, "I'm sick of the questions," he says. If he reveals his career choice, Burke finds himself quickly slobbered with hero-worship praise or whispered pity that he's suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. To other peckerwoods, I mean, civilians, entering the military is like being condemned to the Gulag. Burke wrote: "I once visited my old high school and revealed that I had just been commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army. One woman gasped, covering her mouth, "How much longer do you have left?'"

But mostly it's the dumb questions of late ("Dude, how many Iraqis did you kill?") that gets to Major Burke. To wit:
"My friend's cousin Steve is in the Army or the Navy or something like that. Do you know him?" (Sorry, missed the [memo] that designated one day as "Everyone in the Armed Forces gets together and introduces themselves day.")

"Is war really like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3?" (Never played COD:MW3. But rest assured, this video game is about as hard-hitting and realistic as it gets.)

"There are girls in the Army? When did they start letting girls in the Army?" (You'd be surprised at how often this one comes up.)

"What's Iraq like?" (Do you want metrics? I seem to have forgotten my Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides.)
Frightening, isn't it?

Jesus slept here

HERE WE GO again. It seems yet another miraculous "sign" of Jesus has been unearthed. This time, landscapers found the "shape of the cross" with a Jesus figurine embedded inside the trunk of a pine tree the crew had just chopped down at an Escondido church in California. Needless to say, good Christian folks are hyperventilating over the blessed discovery. A virtual gold rush is on to buy pieces of the wood. Naturally, the press -- evidently taking a brief break from relentlessly hyping Black Friday -- is tripping all over itself in the rush to feed the frenzy with big headlines. Jim Rants, the boss at Star Landscaping, ranted to the local Fox News station: "It's God and Mother Nature working together." No, Mr. Rants, it's tree sap that arbitrarily formed into a post-crucifixion shape familiar to a hominid species that once believed that the Earth was flat. Amazing. It's hard to fathom why people cling so desperately to the belief that the universe (and God) revolves only around us. Does God have nothing better to do than randomly implant "signs" of His existence for our accidental discovery? You know, like the image in the sandwich below:

Somehow, methinks the Almighty is a tad bigger than what our oft-silly reptilian brains can possibly comprehend. It seems to me that the existence of the Escondido pine tree itself -- once a tiny seedling that somehow flowered into a magnificent biological organism over decades -- is a precious example of life that is nothing short of miraculous. Indeed, our own human biology and self-awareness (a blessing and a curse) is even more miraculous. Why invent sea monsters or imaginary crosses? Isn't life in all of its glorious manifestations proof enough of God's presence as He orchestrates the boundless symphonies of Mother Nature?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Amazon plays the op-ed card

I had no idea that was also in the political punditry business. See the red can the copper is using to spew pepper-spray on students in the above photo? Well, guess what? Amazon sells them for $74.79. And they're "In Stock!" As you probably know, the UC Davis campus police are under heavy fire for its gratuitous actions against peaceful protesters. Amazon opted to play its op-ed card by not removing satirical "Customer Reviews" such as the one below (entitled "Accept no substitutes when casually repressing students"):
"Whenever I need to breezily inflict discipline on unruly citizens, I know I can trust Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray to get the job done! The power of reason is no match for Defense Technology's superior repression power. When I reach for my can of Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray, I know that even the mighty First Amendment doesn't stand a chance against its many scovil units of civil rights suppression. When I feel threatened by students, no matter how unarmed, peaceful and seated they may be, I know that Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray has got my back as I casually spray away at point blank range. It really is the Cadillac of citizen repression technology. Buy a whole case!"
Heh. Happily, the offending cop (who remains unidentified) is getting keelhauled in the court of public opinion. He's now a meme that has gone viral on the Internet worldwide. He better pray that someone won't leak his name:

More here. By the way, why do these doofuses always sport a 70s-style mustache?

Mr. Flim-Flam Man

Yesterday, Mitt Romney launched his first attack ad against President Obama -- and quickly revealed his inner Flim-Flam Man. It contains a blatant lie and Romney knows it's a blatant lie. Take it away Steve Benen:
In October 2008, a month before the president was elected, then-candidate Obama spoke in New Hampshire and told voters, "Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.' In Romney's new attack ad, viewers only see Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." The obvious point is to deceive the public -- Romney wants voters to think the quote reflects Obama's current thinking, not McCain's three years ago. Romney, in other words, is choosing to mislead voters and hoping they don't know the difference.
The sad truth is that "they" will not know the difference. But it's not because people are stupid. It's just that few pay attention to the details of politics and, for most, 2008 was a century ago. Still, I'm not sure which is worst: Our perennially uninformed citizenry or the character of a man (Romney) willing to exploit the ignorance of said citizenry. An informed nation assisted by a free, responsible press is the best defense against the political flimflammery currently in vogue. But it doesn't help when one major party treats Americans like "children whose memories evaporate instantly," as Andrew Sullivan put it, and "who are only beguiled by the cliches of lost eras."

Monday, November 21, 2011

The real Rome wasn't for tourists

Robert Hughes, the former art critic for Time magazine, has penned what the New York Times calls an "engrossing, passionately written" new book: Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History. The historical reality of the ancient city and its people are not what you think. Hughes writes: “We cannot make the mistake with Romans of supposing that they were refined, like the Greeks they envied and imitated. They tended to be brutes, arrivistes, nouveaux-riches. Naturally, that is why they continue to fascinate us — we imagine being like them, as we cannot imagine being like the ancient Greeks. And we know that what they liked best to do was astonish people — with spectacle, expense, violence, or a fusion of all three.” Even our popular image of Classical Roma the city is distorted thanks to its glamorization by latter-day artists and Hollywood. Though the Rome of antiquity was indeed suffused with majestic marble columns, ascendant stairways and other architectural marvels of imperial power, Hughes reminds us that the city was actually a “Calcutta-on-the-Mediterranean — crowded, chaotic, and filthy,” even at its Augustan peak. And it's easy to forget that roughly "one person in three was a slave." Idyllic utopia it wasn't. Yet, who among us has not dreamed of traveling back in time to antiquity as a tourist? We could discover what Caesar actually looked like, listen to Cicero wax philosophically, and sip real Roman wine as white-robed artisans plucked their lutes sweetly. But if we could book such a trip, I bet most of us would quickly recoil in horror at the smelly, squalid, brutish reality we would actually confront -- and catch the first train back to the present.

'We have met the enemy and he is us'

Jonathan Chait has written a keeper. It is a timely antidote the incessant meme that liberals -- and by implication, Democrats -- are profoundly disappointed with President Obama. By "liberals," he means the Twittering Starbucks revolutionaries (and their equivalents in the past) who populate the ranks of both activists and pundits. (Contrary to the myth propagated by the media, recent polls show that rank and file Democrats have Obama's back.)

Though Chait goes deep and takes six pages in New York magazine to explain the political dyslexia of the left, his bottom line is clear:
"Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president."
As Pogo (the cartoon character) succinctly put it: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Political punditry in perspective

"Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something." (Plato)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sadly, a foreseeable train wreck

When Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore married in 2005, my first reaction was: Really? He was 27. She was 43. Go figure. I then predicted: No way would this high-profile, Hollywood hook-up last. In time, carnal temptation would surely prove to be too strong for young Mr. Kutcher to resist, I thought. Fast forward six years to the present day. He is 33. She is 49. He is still in his prime. She isn't. On cue, he began to cheat on her (and one wonders if those cute Nikon commercials in which he chased any pretty skirt in viewfinder range were art imitating life). As everyone on planet Earth now knows, she is dumping him. So endeth the fairy tale. Toldja. I want to think the best of Demi and Ashton. Love is complicated and marriages fail. Some are just never meant to be despite the best of intentions. But I wonder if Demi should have seen this coming (not that I'm blaming her) given the 16-year gap in their ages (not that this should matter). Was Kutcher really emotionally mature enough to handle a long-term relationship with someone who was in high school before he was born? I think we know the answer. Moreover, our male-tilted culture makes such a pairing even more difficult, particularly when the older half of "His & Hers" is the latter. Chicago Sun-Times writer Richard Roeper got it exactly right (unfortunately) when he observed: "Middle-age women who enjoy the company of younger men are known as 'cougars.' Middle-age men who enjoy the company of younger women are known as 'men.' ” What's wrong with this picture? Ladies, it's time to woman-up. Stop letting men define you.

Roses are Red

Roses are red
violets are blue,
most poems rhyme...
this one doesn’t.
―Ellie Leigh.

Deep. Heh.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

'My little speech'

On this day in 1863, nearly a century and a half ago, Abraham Lincoln sat on a wooden platform before the multitudes dressed (as Shelby Foote wrote) in "a black, full-skirted suit, a tall silk hat, and white gloves" at a cemetery in Pennsylvania's hill country. The interment of some 8,000 bodies there had barely begun. Most of the dead still rested in shallow graves in nearly every farm field or garden near Gettysburg; and under loose dirt mounds on the mangled battlegrounds where North and South had clashed only four and a half months earlier.

The stench of decomposing flesh hung in the stifling morning air when Lincoln removed his hat and rose to deliver what he later dubbed as "my little speech." Honest Abe looked a "ghastly color" as he perched his glasses on his nose, recalled John Hay, the president's secretary. But his hands were steady as he began to speak. Reconstructing the scene in his historical novel, Gore Vidal wrote that in contrast to the "deep rich cello" of the previous speaker, "Lincoln's voice was like the sound that accompanies a sudden crack of summer lightning."
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

To Vidal, Lincoln "seemed to be firing each word across the battlefield" as he spoke with unusual (but likely deliberate) slowness.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as the final resting place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
In ten sentences, the 16th President of the United States delivered one of the greatest speeches of all time. If Hollywood could script history, Lincoln's words -- a terse but singular American poem that framed the Civil War as the crucial test of our democracy -- would have been met with rapturous applause as the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" swelled to its goosebumps-inducing climax. Reality of course is rarely cinematic. As Foote noted, Lincoln's three-minute speech was actually greeted by "delayed, scattered, and barely polite" applause by the 10,000 or so attendees. Although one Massachusetts newspaper later called it a "perfect gem," Lincoln's home state paper, the Chicago Times, opined that the “cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.”

History of course rendered a different verdict -- one, I suspect, that would have surprised the oft-morose Lincoln (legend has it that even he thought the speech fell flat). Indeed, when read for irony, one passage has always leapt out for me: "The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here," said Mr. Lincoln. He couldn't have been more wrong. Not only did "the world" ultimately note what was said, the deeper meaning of the Gettysburg Address has been imprinted forever in our national memory. The Great Emancipator never heard the Hollywood-style applause he deserved on that long ago day in 1863. But he surely hears it now.

Wisdom for ambitious politicians (and wannabes)

"I am trying to do two things: dare to be a radical and not a fool, which is a matter of no small difficulty." (James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States)

The zombies are us

Like me, I suspect you've wondered: What's up with our cultural obsession with vampires and zombies? Hollywood and the book industry can barely keep up with consumer demand for these monsters. I'm still largely clueless about why people (mostly young women, I hear) are into vampires, especially the sexy, romantic variety. Color me confused. However, novelist Alix Ohlin sheds some interesting light on the popularity of zombies. He writes: "If postwar fiction and popular culture were haunted by the technologies humans had made and the danger that they might backfire and destroy us completely [think Godzilla in the 50s], our own moment’s fears seem to take on a more manageable, face-to-face, if no less terrifying character. We live in an era of rampant overpopulation, ever-increasing consumption, and limited resources, and our monster of choice, today, is the zombie. The current zombie renaissance ... is a clear descendent of the kind of displaced cultural anxiety Dickstein diagnoses, but with a difference. Zombies aren’t space invaders or giant insects; they’re not 'others' in the way most monsters are. They’re human victims, really, who can’t control what they do. They are uncomfortably, uncannily close to being just like us: our zombies, ourselves." Perhaps when romantic comedies again reign supreme at the box office we'll know that all is right with the world again. Here's hoping for a big-time Jennifer Aniston comeback soonest.

Another inconvenient truth

The late Daniel J. Boorstin, renowned historian, wrote: "As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves."

I Like, Therefore I Am

So I was reading about Rep. Gabby Giffords at the Arizona Republic today when I spied this sidebar headline: "Skinny Snooki Shows Off Her Bod at Her 24th Birthday in Vegas." The good news is that these two stories are completely unrelated. (Never mind why a link to Snooki's latest antics appear anywhere near a story about Giffords.) The bad news is that the "Skinny Snooki" teaser broke my concentration. Even worse, I clicked on the link. Sadly, I couldn't help it. The gravitational pull of sexy celebrity gossip is akin to that of a black hole: Resistance is futile, baby, so abandon hope all ye who enter anywhere near here. Anyway, I arrived at some website called Wetpaint Entertainment featuring a slideshow that promised to show me titillating photos of Ms. Polizzi's new bod. Having slipped into a slack-jawed trance, I began to click through the pics to sate my curiosity. Then, at slide no. 3, the way forward was rudely blocked by a pop-up which declared: "LIKE US! To Continue Viewing This Gallery and Get the Latest Updates on your Favorite Shows!" You gotta be kidding me, I thought. It was like getting mugged at gunpoint: Click here to "Like Us," sucka -- or else. Having been punked, I snapped out of my trance, refused to "Like" them, and sheepishly retraced my steps back to the Republic's Giffords story. I don't want to overstate it, but there is something vaguely pathetic about the omnipresent Facebook culture and the groupthink it promotes: I Like, Therefore I Am. On the other hand, this cultural observation ignores the real question for the ages: Did Snooki really lose weight?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dame Helen Mirren would beg to differ

"I wouldn't do nudity in films. For me, personally ... To act with my clothes on is a performance; to act with my clothes off is a documentary." (Julia Roberts)

'Kardashian' with a Konscious? - Ctd

My cheeky little post on Aliaa Magda Elmahdy yesterday was intended to a be a diversionary one-off (OK, OK -- I couldn't resist the nudity angle). Well, lo and behold, the New York Times, the Gray Lady herself, has picked up the story in Cairo. They devoted not one but two reporters it. (And, no, it's not about the page views, right? Um, right?) Apparently, Elmahdy was "striking a blow for sexual equality and free expression in Egypt when she posted nude photographs of herself on a blog." Egyptian politics per se had little to do with it. My initial source (The Daily Beast) implied that Ms. Elmahdy belonged to the political movement that unseated ex-Pharaoh Mubarak. This, as she confirmed on Twitter, wasn't true. In fact, per the NYT, the liberal (but amazingly chaste) April 6th Youth Movement "raced to disavow any connection to her" and all but called Elmahdy a slut after the media catapulted her into the news. “[T]he movement does not have any members who engage in such behavior,” an aghast spokesman told the NYT. Heavens. Anyway, given this background, Elmahdy's blog (and the nudity that graces it) suddenly makes sense. It ain't about politics, it's about publicity. I still suspect Elmahdy is a sort of "Kardashian with a Konscious." However, if she's willing to go all pin-up girl in the service of breaching the Walls of Jericho in sexually uptight Egypt, then more power to her. Unwittingly, perhaps, Elmahdy is provocatively advancing the timeless words of Abe Lincoln: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Egyptian 'Kardashian' with a Konscious?

Aliaa Maghda El-Mahdy is a 20-year-old dissident blogger from Cairo. The college student describes herself as a “secular liberal feminist vegetarian individualist Egyptian,” according to the Daily Beast. (She writes in Arabic, so we'll just have to take their word for it.) Few cared that El-Mahdy was a secular-liberal-feminist-vegetarian-individualist-Egyptian until she started posting nude photos of herself on her blog, "A Rebel's Diary." This has allegedly "set off a firestorm in Egypt and in the Twitterverse of Arab dissidents." The post featuring the nudes also generated over a million page views overnight. Since El-Mahdy is kinda hot, I suspect that number will quadruple in the next 24 hours (thanks to the Beast story). She goes the Full Frontal Monty in one photo. In another, yellow rectangles cover strategic areas of her body. She writes (again according to the Beast): “I took my nude photo myself in my parents’ home." As if she wants us to believe that daddy approved. "The yellow rectangles on my eyes, mouth and sex organ resemble the censoring of our knowledge, expression and sexuality.” Uh huh, sure it does. So why my skepticism? Well, for one thing, El-Mahdy's "blog" is comprised of a single post. Then there are the other "dissident" photos it contains. In one, she poses freshly out of the shower with that oh so familiar come-hither look. Granted, it's probably just me ― but the revolutionary fervor spawned at Tahrir Square just doesn't leap to mind when I study those wet pouty lips. To be fair, El-Mahdy could indeed be an artist-provocateur whose, um, "body of work" is designed to raise political consciousness and not just, ahem, something else. And since nothing concentrates the political mind like a naked female, why use the power of prose to erect change when you can just strip and (theoretically) do the same thing? Think PETA. But if I were a betting man, I'd wager that El-Mahdy is mostly a Kardashian with a Konscious ― i.e., yet another web-savvy exhibitionist seeking attention. Naturally, it's working.

Hunka hunka burning bunker-busting love

It's no surprise that the products of Boeing Co. ― one of Southern California's largest employers ― frequently grace the pages of the Los Angeles Times. Still, the LAT's piece about the aerospace firm's new 30,000-pound bomb had a weird Dr. Strangelovian vibe to it. The weapon, called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, is designed to ravage deeply buried targets that heretofore hoped to remain chastely hidden (think Iranian nuclear complexes). I'll leave it to you to ponder the not so subtle phallic allusions. (The only thing missing from the above illustration is a whooping and hollering Slim Pickens riding the weapon down to its intended target.) Packing a wallop ― i.e., 5,300 pounds of high-explosives ― the GPS-guided, 20-foot long shaft of righteous destruction is 10 times more powerful than its predecessor. If you're on the receiving end, this "hunka hunka burning bunker-busting love" will definitely ruin your day. The LAT reports that the U.S. Air Force took delivery of the first batch of Penetrators in September. Trust me: It is no coincidence that this news comes only a week after a UN agency said Iran is secretly hell-bent on building nukes. Think of the revelation as a strategic love note from President Obama to President Ahmadinejad that reads: "Just thinking of you." Hopefully, the Iranian despot will get the message before "Elvis" leaves the building.

'A leader, not a reader' and other nonsense

Steve Benen noted that Herman Cain (who's campaigning in New Hampshire today) was "asked to explain his child-like incoherence on international affairs." The Herminator, the self-proclaimed "big picture" man, responded: "We need a leader, not a reader." Yeah, he really said that. The mind reels. Benen snarked, "Herman Cain makes George W. Bush (The Decider) look like Stephen Hawking." Heh. Meanwhile, on the Rick Perry front, the Texas governor challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (whom Cain derisively called "Princess Nancy") to a debate. Why he did so remains a mystery since Pelosi is not running for president. Anyway, Pelosi responded and went all "oops" on Perry via Twitter: "Re: Gov. Perry--Monday I’ll be in Portland. Later visiting labs in CA. That's 2. I can’t remember the 3rd thing." Heh. Notice how deftly Pelosi eviscerated Perry? She effectively won the tête-à-tête in absentia before Perry knew what hit him. That's the difference between being a political pro and a wanker. The bottom line: Don't mess with Nancy. But after reading all of this (and having lost those precious minutes I'll never get back), I too have decided to adopt Dan Drezner's "Little League Mercy Rule" when it comes to the sundry clowns pursuing the presidency. Unless something spectacular occurs, it just ain't worth blogging about them anymore. As Drezner says, one can only pick on ignoramuses so many times before it feels sadistic.

Time to Occupy Congress

After sifting through the latest polls, the Economist concludes: "America has swiftly soured on the Occupy Wall Street movement. OWS is now even less loved than the positively ancient tea-party movement. ... It's time for OWS to relinquish our cities' public spaces to the actual public and get on with the tiresome and frustrating grind of actual democratic politics." To back up this thesis, they quote Cato Institute think-tanker Julian Sanchez who wrote: "To imagine protest not as prologue to politics, but as a substitute for it, suggests a denial of the reality of pluralism, and an unwillingness to find out what democracy actually looks like." Both Sanchez and the Economist oversimplify matters, but their core assertions are worth pondering. The messy protests were worthy (and, I think, necessary), but it really is time to Occupy Congress via the ballot box. Real change won't occur until We the People wise up, undo the disastrous effects of 2010 mid-term elections, and throw the (intransigent) bums out.