Friday, December 28, 2012

Just Misérable?

I'm not a fan of musicals, so I won't render a judgment on the new (and endlessly promoted) Les Misérables movie. But this passage from a review by Slate's Dana Stevens probably captures its essence: "In the “I Dreamed a Dream” scene—the standalone set piece that will no doubt become the movie’s Oscar audition tape—[Les Misérables tries] to fuse raw emotional immediacy with the mechanics of virtuoso ballad-belting. Anne Hathaway’s big song, delivered in extreme close-up in a single, very long take, is deeply felt and impeccably delivered. ... [But] as the camera reverently gazed through the alabaster pillars of Hathaway’s teeth, all I could think about was the proximity of her tunefully vibrating larynx. She nails the song, no doubt about it, but it’s a performance that, to me, is too much about the awesomeness of its own nailing. (And it doesn’t help that Hooper’s camera won’t stop asking is she nailing this or what?)"

Friday, December 14, 2012

'Tis the season for madness - yet again

ALTHOUGH TWO PEOPLE were tragically killed by a deranged, 22-year-old shooter at that Oregon mall on Tuesday, it could have been much, much worse. I thought we had dodged a bullet from the assault rifle of another madman incubated by the nation's out of control gun culture. That was wishful thinking. Today, yet another 20-something gunman killed at least 27 people at a Connecticut elementary school. Some 18 of the victims were kids between the ages of 5 and 10. Whatever problems each of us have, they pale in comparison to the outcome of this senseless massacre. I cannot begin to imagine what the parents of those slain school children are going through right now, just over a week from Christmas. It's an American nightmare. There's not much to say beyond asking: how high does the body count have to go before this country implements responsible but stringent gun control?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The coronation, again

AS RONALD REAGAN would surely say, "There they go again." As you've probably noted by now, the political media has already called the 2016 presidential election: It'll be Hillary Clinton by a landslide. The sheer ridiculousness of this prediction is self-evident. What we can say is that the pressure on Hillary to run is enormous, and will only increase next year when she steps down as secretary of state. And yes, as the near certain Democratic front-runner, Clinton would probably be a formidable candidate in 2016 if -- and that's a big if -- she chooses to run. That, of course, doesn't mean she would win, let alone cruise to victory. Lest we forget, Hillary was all but coronated Madam President until a fellow named Obama flexed his ambitions. And yet, as Howard Kurtz rightly notes, the media seem to believe that all Clinton has to do now is "plan her inauguration." Kurtz outlines what's missing from these stories: "(a) She is largely insulated from partisan attacks as secretary of State. If Hillary gets in the arena, she’ll start getting pummeled and those approval ratings will come down. (b) Even if Barack Obama is popular in 2016, asking the voters for three Democratic terms in a row is going to be a heavy lift. (c) Hillary was a lousy candidate in 2008, when the press also pronounced her inevitable. (d) She will be 69 and may decide not to run. So why are so many writing and chattering about Hillary Rodham Clinton four years out? She’s good for traffic—and is a heckuva lot more interesting than the fiscal cliff." Will Hillary run? Maybe. But I'll believe it when she actually pulls the trigger.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Girl power, defender of the realm-style

In Shakespeare's Henry VIII, the character Anne Boleyn famously said, "I would not be a queen, for all the world." In real life, the historical Anne Boleyn did indeed become Queen of England as the second wife of Henry VIII. She gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I, whose gender greatly disappointed Henry. However, the second monarch of the House of Tudor would have had a baby himself had he known what was coming five centuries thence. Kate Middleton, as the entire world now knows, is pregnant. We've also just learned that the British Commonwealth has jettisoned the rules that give boys precedence over girls in the royal line of succession. Slate's Alyssa Rosenberg welcomed the change: "So if this royal baby is a girl, Will and Kate won't have to get to work on a boy immediately—or ever." We see which way the stream of time doth run, indeed.

Fiscal reality check

Yet another definition of madness: The parade of pundits on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News opining (with a straight face) about the "fiscal cliff" negotiations in Washington. None of the usual suspects are economists (they just play them on TV). That means they: (a) have no idea what they're talking about, or (b) are badly parroting authentic policy experts (like Ezra Klein) who do. Remember, just a few weeks ago half of these talking heads were predicting Romney would win the presidency, perhaps in a landslide. Just saying.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The burden of beauty

Rula Jebreal (pictured at left) is drop-dead gorgeous. Though her name was faintly familiar, Jebreal's loveliness was top of mind when I first spied her on MSNBC discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum. Aha, I stupidly assumed, another beautiful celeb with questionable intellectual credentials (think Angelina Jolie) using her celebrity to spotlight a pet issue. I should have known better. So I Googled her to learn more -- and ended up on the road to Damascus. Jebreal, 39, is an award-winning journalist and novelist with duel Israeli and Italian citizenship (she was born in Haifa, Israel, to an Italian father). Right -- that Jebreal. Oops. Per Wikipedia, she has a masters in Journalism and Political Science from the University of Bologna. Jebreal became the first foreign anchorwoman in the history of Italian television, winning awards for coverage of the Iraq War (including the International Ischia Award for Best Journalist of the Year). She worked as a journalist in Italy for 12 years, earning a reputation as a tough interviewer. Her first novel "Miral," written in 2003, sold millions of copies worldwide, and was eventually made into an award-winning film. Oh, and Jebreal is fluent in five languages: Italian, English, Arabic, Hebrew, and German. In short: She is no air-head. That honor belongs to me for assuming that she was. Even in 2012, men reflexively tend not to take beautiful women seriously. Hopefully, bright lights like Jebreal will slap some sense into us. And, ladies, please use a two-by-four. Lord knows we deserve it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Are we there yet?

At some point in the future, I suspect scientists (aided by ever smarter computers) will learn how to build the Warp engine (think Star Trek), thus enabling realistic travel between the stars. If history is any guide, if humankind can envision it -- and make the underlying math work -- it can build it. In the interim, contemplate the utter enormity of the problem. Per The Atlantic: "Alpha Centauri may be the closest star system to Earth, but it's still four light years away. Voyager 1, our farthest-traveled probe is moving at 38,000 miles per hour, and after 35 years, it's still in our solar system (barely). Moving at Voyager's speed, it would take 700 centuries for a mission to reach Alpha Centauri."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fools and their money

CALL ME nutty, but I shop only when I need something. Otherwise, I steer clear of the mall. That's why every year I usually say something snarky about the invented, over-hyped event known as "Black Friday." And every year it's like shouting into wind. The frenzied crowds keep getting bigger. So this year I won't bother. Instead, I'll just cite this observation from New York magazine writer Kevin Roose and leave it at that: "Among the most potent reasons no sane person should participate in Black Friday is this: It is carefully designed to make you behave like an idiot. It's a nationwide experiment in consumer irrationality, dressed up as a cheerful holiday add-on. ... [Per behavioral economists], between retail tricks and your own cognitive flaws, you have almost no chance of actually saving money or making rational decisions." Plus, Roose adds, you might get trampled.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lincoln vs. 007

For weeks, I've been reading mostly rave reviews for Lincoln, the new film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president. But Mother Jones "critic" Asawin Suebsaeng (an interactive fellow at the magazine, whatever that is) thinks Lincoln is an "epic fail" and a "listless, heaving waste of cinema space." Mercy. Suebsaeng, a 20-something candidate for a Don't Know Much About History book, is an outlier. Reading his review, one gets the sense that his basic beef with Lincoln is that it forces one to, you know, go all contemplative and stuff. Egads. Where's the fun in that? Of course the fact that Suebsaeng ordained Skyfall, the new 007 movie, as a "flick for the ages" kinda explains everything.

Just a thought

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time." -- E.B. White, July 3, 1943.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The 'no drama' Obama way is better

THE ELECTION is over. In its wake, a gazillion champagne bottles popped in half the country over Obama's reelection and the bullet dodged (think 3 Nino Scalia clones on the Supreme Court). Giddy liberals are still dancing in the end zone. And spiking the football. And doing the salsa. And high-fiving. And trash-talkin'. And ... well, you get the picture. Clearly, as Slate writer Katherine Goldstein rightly notes, liberal Schadenfreude has spiraled out of control. Goldstein wrote: "When the TV networks declared that Obama won his second term, I whooped with glee, did a little dance ... I was so incredibly happy." She immediately conveyed her joy via the social media ("4 MORE YEARS!"). I did much the same. Then Goldstein began to notice something. "Both in media coverage and in social media networks, Obama supporters were not just thrilled that our guy won—folks were insanely, morbidly happy that all Republicans were miserable," she wrote. Jezebel blogger Lindy West, for example, wrote a post entitled “My Ten Favorite Kinds of Right Wing Temper Tantrums” in which she proudly declared, “I am just 99 percent completely fucking delighted by every single weepy right-wing temper tantrum. I can't stop hate-reading. I can't stop.” Sigh. Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile every time. Goldstein is right, of course. This ain't healthy. My progressive friends need to take it down a notch or three and mimic the classy style of the object of their celebration: "No Drama" Obama.

A good man falls

In a stunning fall from grace, Gen. David Petraeus resigned as CIA director today, citing an extramarital affair. It was the honorable thing to do to spare the president, the CIA and the nation from further embarrassment. Nevertheless, Lincoln's famous observation still ring true: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wither the angry white guy

IT IS BECOMING increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Still, like a ghastly car crash, it's hard to avert your eyes. Make no mistake: We are witnessing the last throes of the Republican white power structure, the current surrogate for the vestiges of pre-Civil Rights Era America. They are the "dead-enders," to use the Rumsfeldian phrase, who reject the nation's evolution and refuse to believe that most Americans (including moderate Republicans) have refused to follow them back to 1954 and Old Virginny. I give you Sean Hannity, a sort of modern-day "Bull" Connor in sheep's clothing, who huffed: "America now deserves Barack Obama.” Panicky Hannity should have stopped there. But, like an out of control child, he couldn't:
"Just barely over 50 percent looked at [Obama's] pathetic record and decided they wanted more of the same. I’m not sure exactly why they arrived at that judgment, I think it’s a bad judgment, but we are a self-governing country and the voice and the will of ‘We the People’ have now been heard. America wanted Barack Obama four more years. Now you’ve got him. ... Good luck with that.”
Only FCC obscenity rules prevented Hannity from flipping America the bird after that last sentence. With Obama's decisive reelection and Democratic gains across the board, America has effectively told the GOP to take its Mad Men Era dogmas and shove it. The good news is that "severely conservative" Republicans are on a steep, slippery slope to irrelevancy (see this week's voting results), one of their own making. The bad news is that these angry white guys won't relent we pry their "Father Knows Best" Betamax cassettes from their cold, dead hands.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Obama is reelected! Enough Said.

O how the mighty have fallen

ONCE UPON A TIME, I was a regular reader of the National Review, the once intelligent brainchild of William F. Buckley (1925 – 2008).

Politically, I rarely agreed with its conservative arguments. But the magazine's philosophy was generally worthy of serious consideration and debate. Occasionally, its editors even got it right.

But that, alas, is history.

To understand why, consider this sampling of the stories headlining the NRO website today, on Election Day.
o Mitt’s Inchon Landing: A surprise victory in Pennsylvania?
o Obamanomics Explained: President Obama’s economic illiteracy.
o Romney’s Path to 270: How to reach the magic number.
o A Jew Tours for Romney: Israel hatred is a leftist preserve.
o Why Romney Will Win: Polls can’t measure intensity.
o Virtual Challenger: Obama ends with a whimper, not a bang.
o Black Panthers Back at Polling Sites
Oh how the mighty have fallen, as the biblical saying goes. I found only a single article ("Twilight or Breaking Dawn? Romney faces tough odds") that bore the earmarks of a rational conservative mind. The entire front page was otherwise a shocking exercise in delusional, paranoid fantasy. Sadly, the National Review has become an empty, alternate universe that bears little resemblance to any reality I recognize. I cannot believe the erudite Buckley would approve. But when today's GOP gazes at itself in the mirror, NRO is the reflection it sees. And that's doubly sad.

Monday, November 5, 2012

How large is your bet on Romney?

WOULD YOU bet your mortgage or 401K on Mitt Romney being elected president tomorrow? I bet the answer to that question would quickly separate the men from the boys -- or rather the crazies from the rational -- among Republicans. But I digress. The Economist has a compelling piece on why the media's insistence that the presidential race is a toss-up is misleading at best. Their bottom line: Forget the polls (because reporters are grossly misevaluating the results). You're better off thinking like a bookie about Romney's odds of winning. To wit: "For the baseball fans among you, Mr Romney is in roughly the same position as a team starting the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by one run; for the poker players, he’s all-in holding pocket kings facing an opponent with pocket aces." Bookie's translation: Romney certainly has a chance, maybe as high as 20%. But you'd be crazy to bet money on it, buddy.

An election 'pre-morterm'

FIRST, the caveats: I could be wrong. Most journalists (the folks following this thing the closest) could be wrong. Most political scientists (the folks analyzing this thing the closest) could be wrong. The polls (virtually all of them) giving the edge to President Obama over Mitt Romney could be wrong. And, most importantly, whiz kid Nate Silver, the NY Times pollster who's never been wrong, could be wrong. So, yes, Obama could be toast tomorrow. In theory. All that said, UC San Diego political scientist Samuel Popkin, author of the recent book about presidential campaigns The Candidate, thinks that if all current indications hold, Barack Obama wins. The professor's "pre-mortem" is clear-eyed, balanced and worth mulling. In it, he unpacks "The 3 Myths of the Romney Campaign," the ones that did not lead to his imminent defeat. Read it here. But, yes, Dr. Popkin could be wrong, too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Romney win means the sky is not blue

Andrew Sullivan: "[I]f Romney gets a landslide in the electoral college [as some ordinarily rational Republican pundits are seriously predicting], many of us will have to reassess our entire understanding of America, politics and polls." In fact, that would be the least of it. We'd also be dealing with a Brave New World of "facts." At a minimum, we'll be forced to acknowledge that white is black, the sky is not blue, 2 plus 2 does not equal 4, and the moon really is made of cheese.

Friday, November 2, 2012

In defense of ... President Romney?

FRANKLY, I'M SURPRISED that conservative pundit David Frum has just endorsed Mitt Romney for president. I respect and admire Frum. Though a Republican, he's never been afraid to call a spade a spade in his frequent attacks against his own party. At bottom, Frum is a sane pragmatist, one noted for casting a wary eye at political ideologues in either camp. But his arguments in support of Romney over Obama are epically convoluted. Frum has convinced himself that the real Romney is "Massachusetts Mitt," a fellow who will cast off the Tea Partyists and govern from the middle as president. In other words, Romney will be a rational actor, a Republican Obama, if you like. Right. As I have noted many times in these pages, I, too, suspect that Romney, in his heart of hearts, is essentially a centrist. In a perfect political vacuum, he might even govern like one. But the world is not a void. His White House anterooms will be filled with those Oz-like flying monkeys (along with their GOP political/ideological/cultural detritus) moments after the Big Bang on Inauguration Day. And then there's Romney's apparent hollowness. Though he is not exactly an empty suit, I can detect no core convictions in the man. I mean, does anyone really believe Romney has a clear sense of mission other than just wanting to be top dog as president? Mix in his lack of intellectual curiosity and sophistication and, well, we have a prescription for a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. One LA Times writer noted: "Apparently, Romney is like a lot of people: He reads for pure escapism. Good and evil are pretty clearly defined in most of the books he likes. Life is simpler." Remind you of anyone? Hint: His middle initial is "W." Do we really want to stun the world by dethroning a president who enjoys "Macbeth" for an untested man whose favorite novel is L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth" (universally panned as dreck)? How Frum can rationalize all of this away is simply beyond me.

In the annals of 'no kidding'

TV political ad revenue is up 68% over the 2008 election likely reflecting the many ads financed by super PACs, reports SNL Kagan. (

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Let's just be friends

Well, the verdict is in. Per Scientific American, a new study finally proves (more or less) that men and women can't be "just friends." Right. Now tell us something guys don't know. This memorable scene from When Harry Met Sally still sums up the conundrum best:

And I would be remiss if I didn't include this bookend scene :

Gallup Syndrome

I AM THE walking definition of cynicism when it comes to politics. But even I am taken aback by the media's neurotic obsession with polling as we approach D-Day. Talk about "lies, damn lies, and polls." Though I am happily just Joe Sixpack today, I followed the last three presidential elections as a working journalist. And I've never seen it this bad.

Here's some free advice: Now is a good time to start aggressively ignoring the national press -- print, TV and blogs. Especially the blogs. (To see what I mean, check out Andrew Sullivan's latest use of what amounts to a forked divining rod to forecast the future.) It should be obvious by now that any voter who is still "undecided" at this late date is clearly suffering from a mental disorder. Ditto for people who provide evolving answers to pollsters. Think about it. How could a sane voter be for Obama one week and then for Romney the next?

Ergo, these folks -- upon whose votes the press would have you believe the outcome hinges -- can be safely dismissed since it's unlikely they'll show up at the polls anyway. The only line they'll be standing in on Nov. 6 will be the one to re-fill their prescription meds. In short, this cake is baked. Sorry Republicans, but Obama is very likely to be reelected (and I'll eat this blog before moving to Canada if I'm wrong). But for reasons having to do with ratings, page visits and epic navel gazing, the chattering class is loathed to tell you that.

So do yourself a favor. For the next 10 days, steer clear of all things political. Enjoy the autumn weather, clean out the garage, romance your spouse, write the next great American novel or anything else that moves you. Just ignore the talking heads. Then simply cast your vote on Election Day. You'll thank yourself. By the way, if you truly are undecided and unmedicated, just flip a damn coin and be done with it. You, too, will thank yourself.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The jihad against Santa's pipe

Look, smoking in any form is bad for you. The trend away from the ancient habit of inhaling nicotiana tabacum is a good thing. But what is it with these severely uptight, anti-smoking zealots? Now they're going after Kris Kringle of all people. Yes, friends, Canadian publisher and noted anti-smoking crusader Pamela McColl has decided to tamper with Clement Moore's classic Christmas poem A Visit from St Nicholas ("Twas the Night Before Christmas," etc). In it, a description of Santa reads in part: "The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath." For do-gooder McColl, it's like, my god, we can't have any of that. I mean, how dare St. Nick light up in our 21st century No Smoking Zone. So without batting an eye, McColl simply expunged the two offending lines in her newly "edited" version of the 1823 story. "By removing these words we may save lives and avoid influencing new smokers," she says with a straight face. She even believes that children's books which feature smoking should include parental warnings. Right. Talk about ho-ho-ho. Is no one safe from these people? McColl has (rightly) drawn widespread criticism from anti-censorship groups. Stick that in your pipe, lady, and smoke it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Slouching towards inanity

IT'S TRUE that you can't judge a book by its proverbial cover. But you can sometimes judge political webzines by their headlines. Two of my favorites are Slate and The Atlantic. Both do credit to the profession of political reporting -- most of the time. But, alas, even they are not immune from, well, let's just call it "Huffington Post Syndrome." Both magazines have noticeably increased their paeans to page visits. How else to explain these Atlantic headlines: Romney Fans Like Arby's, Obama Fans Like Red Lobster, The Sex Lives of Conjoined Twins, and The Tango as Relationship Therapy. On Slate's front page are: When Did Tanned Skin Become Fashionable (think Romney)? The Problem With Palin’s “Shuck and Jive”, and my personal favorite -- a perfect example of world-class navel-gazing -- The Tyranny of the Iron (Or Why we should all wear wrinkled clothes). Does the uptick in the manufacture of this haute pablum mean that the apocalypse is nigh? Happily, no. We've merely slouched an inch or two closer to it.

The Long Patrol

The General weighs in. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on CBS this morning: "I am not quite sure which Gov. Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy. My concern is that sometimes I don't sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have. I signed on for a long patrol with President Obama, and I don't think this is the time to make such a sudden change. I voted for him in 2008, and I plan to stick with him in 2012. I’ll be voting for he and for Vice President Joe Biden next month."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Um, who cares?

Stop the presses! Sarah Palin accuses president of "shuck and jive" on Libya! That according to a breathless Washington Post story this morning. Apparently, Palin made the remark on her Facebook page. And, apparently, the Post construed this pablum as news that was worth reporting. Well, that's their story, anyway, and they're sticking with it. Someday, newspapers will get over their Palin-page-views addiction. But not today.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mali on his mind

For some reason in last night's foreign policy debate, Mitt Romney was fixated on Mali, of all places, a landlocked country in West Africa. "Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al-Qaida-type individuals," Romney gravely warned as if the fate of the free world hangs on this development. I bring this up because a noted National Geographic Society-Roper survey found that only half of young Americans could find Ohio on a map. Only 37% could locate Iraq despite the war we fought there. Mali? Fudgeddiboudit. Anyway, this should clear up the mystery for the map-challenged:

Why we're not there yet

THE FIRST DOZEN African slaves were brought ashore near Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. It took two and a half centuries and a Civil War to end this travesty. It then took another 100 years and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to outlaw discrimination against racial minorities (and women). Barack Obama became the first African American president almost 220 years after George Washington took the same oath of office. Though we have seen great progress since WWII, "post-racial" America remains out of reach. How could it not? One does erase over 3 centuries of slavery and virulent racism in what amounts to a historical fortnight since the 60s.

This photo of a Alabama college student is a pitiful reminder of that fact. (Note the spelling of "kenia." The caption should read: "Who's the real idiot?"):

Someday, we'll get to a place as a nation where racial comity is real. But it will surely take a generation or two more before we get there.

Monday, October 22, 2012

#horsesandbayonets: Let the memes begin

Just remember, Gov. Romney, you, sir, opened the door.

You sank my battleship, Mr. President!

Long story short: Obama won a one-sided victory over Romney in tonight's presidential debate on foreign policy. It wasn't even close. This exchange says it all:
ROMNEY: Our Navy is old ... our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1916. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now at under 285. We’re headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. ... And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is a combination of the budget cuts the president has, as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is making -- is making our future less certain and less secure.

OBAMA: The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it. But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We (also) have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.
Ouch. Romney gets schooled -- again. Or put another way: Game, set, match.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A flash mob with weapons

Nobody but the Republicans cares about the tea pot tempest they are attempting make over last month's Benghazi attacks. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius throws some much needed cold water on the Team Romney delusions about what really happened.

Ignatius writes:
The Benghazi flap is the sort of situation that intelligence officers dread — when politicians are demanding hard “yes” or “no” answers but evidence is fragmentary and conflicting. The political debate has focused on whether the attack was spontaneous or planned, but the senior official said there’s evidence of both, and that different attackers may have had different motives. There’s no dispute, however, that it was “an act of terror,” as Obama described it the next day.
Mitt Romney has shamefully turned the issue into a political football. After his drubbing by President Obama in the last debate, Romney would be wise to just let it go.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama schools Romney on debating

Yowzer. In the last debate, Obama was Mr. Magoo. In tonight's debate, he was Cicero, Churchill and Samuel L. Jackson rolled into one. So, what accounts for this head-snapping tale of the Two Obamas? In a word: engagement. In the first debate, Romney certainly aquitted himself well. But, for whatever reason, Obama was lackadaisical and never punched back. So Romney won it in a walk, at least stylistically. Tonight, Obama engaged -- and brought his presidential brass knuckles. The result: Romney got his brains beat out, repeatedly. I knew Obama was good. I didn't know he was that good. They'll be teaching the "Obama technique" in Politics 101 from now on. In fact, Mr. Obama was so good tonight, it's tempting to conclude that a deliberate, rope-a-dope strategy was at play. Feign weakness, feed your opponent's overconfidence, then deck 'em. That's how I'd script tonight's debate for a movie. But real life rarely mimics Rocky II. What actually happened is something more mundane, but just as lethal: Underestimate Barack Obama at your peril. Mitt Romney, the latest to do so, has just joined a long list of opponents who have had their heads handed to them on a plate.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The difference between 1858 and 2012

Biden Rattles Ryan. Night of Withering Ripostes. Passion Play. The Yin and Yang Debate. Notice anything missing from these headlines by our biggest news organizations? How about any semblance of substance. Here's Time's Joe Klein opening take on the Biden-Ryan debate last night: "This was a fine, fascinating, energetic debate. Joe Biden won — certainly on the substance, although he lost a bit on the body language. His frustrated smiles, head shakes, etc., etc., will become a Republican talking point and influence the post-game evaluations, even if they were sort of justified." Can you imagine such a content-free review -- one with so much focus on the "optics" -- for any one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858? Trust me -- I make no plea to return to the 19th century. And granted, neither Biden nor Ryan got anywhere near the elegance or power of Lincoln's "House Divided" soliloquy. Still, it is shocking how the concept of political seriousness has withered on proverbial the vine in the Third American Century. Modern presidential debates have become little more than the political version of American Idol. Given that sad state of affairs and our evident preference for entertainment over ideas, is it any surprise that the criticism of Obama's "bad" debate performance last week is almost entirely about style rather than substance? And never mind that the fate of the nation, and perhaps the world, will rest in the hands of the man who occupies the Oval Office for the next four years. Both Lincoln and Douglas -- not to mention the Founding Fathers -- are probably spinning in their graves.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hope you're ready for Round 2, Mitt

The Economist: "MITT ROMNEY ran hard to the centre, and the president wasn't ready for it. ... Of course, Mr Romney has now opened himself up again to charges of sleazy, opportunistic positioning, of standing for nothing and everything. But not before chalking up an impressive debate win and making Mr Obama look a bit of a fool. This is not a wad Mr Romney can shoot again. And Mr Obama is a tough customer who does not make the same mistake twice. I feel sure he will come back with a vengeance—with the Etch A Sketch, the 47%, and a sharper, more aggressive version of last night's cornered, almost whingeing plaints about Mr Romney's shiftiness."

'The Crisis,' sort of

Damn. Long story short: My president, Barack Obama, performed dreadfully in last night's big debate with Mitt Romney. There's no escaping that fact. It was a drubbing, plain and simple. And the media of course is having a field day. Even worse, I'm obliged to offer a gentlemanly hat tip to that repulsive Republican chameleon. Clearly, neither Mr. Obama nor his team anticipated the return of "Moderate Massachusetts Mitt." Talk about Etch-A-Sketch. As New York magazine's Jon Chait correctly noted, virtually every word out of Mitt's mouth was a bald-faced lie. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant stratagem. Well played, sir.

When it was all over, I suspect Obama gained a new appreciation for the words of Thomas Paine who, in the darkest moments of the American Revolution, memorably wrote: "These are the times that try men's souls." These are the times, indeed, when I really feel for "Barry," the actual human being that inhabits Barack Obama. I mean, who among us can begin to imagine what it's like to get your butt kicked in hi-def, seemingly with the whole world (plus your wife, daughters and friends) watching? Politically, Obama's dismal night in Denver is not the end of the world. But for Barry, the guy, I'm sure it must have felt like it.

On the other hand, this is typical Obama, a man exasperatingly famous for choosing Robert Frost's "road not taken." It's never an easy route. Hopefully, the president is taking solace in the rest of Paine's soliloquy: "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

Friday, September 28, 2012

He loves me, he loves me not

Cosmopolitan just floors me. Flipping through the magazine at the dentist office is a laugh a minute. In the current edition, there's this gem: "Does He Love Me? 8 Signs He's Crazy About You." After several millenia, you'd think the ladies would have us guys figured out by now. They don't. But humorist Dave Barry describes the conundrum best: "Guys are simple ... women are not simple and they always assume that men must be just as complicated as they are, only way more mysterious. The whole point is guys are not thinking much. They are just what they appear to be. Tragically." Exactly.


New York Times technology writer David Pogue renders his verdict: "So Apple has written a beautiful, well-designed [map] app — and fed it questionable data. It’s as though you just got a $1,500 professional coffee maker and then poured moldy beans into it." Heh.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are we special?

We humans love to think of ourselves as special. Very, very special. After all, that's why God, the Almighty Himself, takes a side in our presidential elections and roots for [insert NFL team here], right? Some of us have even advanced the idea that we earthlings could be part of the only biological life in the entire universe. To be sure, as living organisms, we are almost certainly special in terms of our biological uniqueness. But beyond that, we would be wise to temper our braggadocio. Science writer David Blatner explains why:
If you assume a grain of sand has an average size and you calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly (and we're speaking very roughly here) 7.5 x 1018 grains of sand, or seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains.

That's a lot of grains.

But if you use a Hubble telescope and counted all the "distant galaxies, faint stars, red dwarfs, everything we've ever recorded in the sky" you'd end up with "70 thousand million, million, million stars in the observable universe (a 2003 estimate), so that we've got multiple stars for every grain of sand — which means, sorry, grains, you are nowhere near as numerous as the stars."
Kinda of puts things -- and us -- into proper perspective, doesn't it?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Packers was robbed

For those of you who don't follow football closely, Atlantic writer Derek Thompson succinctly described what happened:
Last night on Monday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception in the endzone to lose the game to the Green Bay Packers. Then he gloriously threw up his hands, celebrated with ecstatic teammates, and watched his kicker put the extra point through the uprights, sealing a Seahawks victory.

Wait, what?

Yes, exactly. With the league's officials locked out due to a labor dispute with the NFL, the replacement referees called the interception a touchdown. Basically, the defender caught the pass, but the wide receiver put his hands around the ball to make it look like a shared catch, and under the tie-goes-to-the-runner principle, the refs called it a touchdown -- even after a video review. The TV announcers were apoplectic. Several appeared on the verge of tears. The Packers looked vaguely murderous. Even the prudish ESPN ran the indignant headline "Replacement refs decide game."
More here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Keep your paws off my Google Maps, Apple

In the iconic 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston famously growled, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" I now know how he felt. Per Salon, Apple’s new iOs 6 operating system — which it released with the new iPhone 5 — replaces the Google map app with its own. Bad move. Evidently, it is not "insanely great." iPhone 5 owners hate it because the Apple app is clearly inferior. Think I'll skip the upgrade and keep my iPhone 4.

White Woman's Burden

TO PARAPHRASE Michael Corleone, just when I thought I was out (and done writing about Kate Middleton's breasts), they pull me back in. In a shameless bid to exploit the royal boobs story for eyeballs, Slate's "Explainer" columnist Brian Palmer asks, "When Did Bare Breasts Become Taboo?" You see, says Palmer, those topless photos of Middleton would have been socially acceptable in some eras. You know, about 3 millennia ago. So glad he cleared that up.

Anyway, it's the above photo that spun my head around (think Linda Blair in The Exorcist). And no, it's not a photoshopped fake. Shot by Mark Large of Getty Images, the National Geographic-like photo shows Prince William and his prim ladylove in Marau, Guadalcanal Province, Solomon Islands, earlier this week. But given the couple's relaxed, "just another day in the colonies" expression, it could have been 1899. But what really perturbs me is Slate's readiness to publish a photo of big-breasted, brown-skinned, indigenous women without batting an eye. I can't imagine the magazine posting a topless photo of any big-breasted "Western" woman, let alone the Duchess of Cambridge. Yet it's perfectly OK to display topless "native" women in their "natural habitat." I naively thought we were past this sort of unthinking, and frankly racist, double-standard. Guess not.

As for the "White Man's Burden" angle (captured in the above photo), writer Naeesa Aziz wrote: The royal trip "reeked of stereotypes and cast the royals as the gleaming white hopes whose visit gives the wretched 'natives' hope to carry on through the drudgery of their daily lives. It was as if they made the visit to take a survey asking, 'How’s life been since we stopped owning you?' ” Yes, that's probably overstating things a bit. The locals volunteered to put on a traditional welcome, including going topless. Still, Aziz isn't too far off the mark.

Don't ask, don't tell Romney

SOUND JUDGMENT and sagacity distinguish our best presidents. Those traits in President Obama were certainly tested during the debate over "don't ask, don't tell." Writing for Slate, UCLA scholar Nathaniel Frank reminded us that DADT supporters essentially predicted armageddon if the policy was repealed. It would do "great damage" to the military, said Sen. John McCain. It could “cost Marines’ lives,” said the commandant of the Marine Corps in a revealing "You can't handle the truth!" moment. "We'd be risking "our lives, property and freedom,” said one think-tanker. Franks noted there were dire predictions that "one-quarter of the military, or 500,000 troops, might quit in protest." Obama judged the protestations to be much ado about nothing. He therefore stepped up to the plate and repealed DADT a year ago this week. Guess what? Crickets. Nothing happened. A UCLA study, co-authored by Franks, found “no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts: unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.” Or as one straight solder put it: “It was a nonevent, like driving over a flat road. You don’t even notice a ripple.” Mitt Romney, to his credit, was not one of the DADT doomsayers. But he did say DADT was working and he would not change it. That means had he been president, the policy would still be place today. Let that sink in as you contemplate the notion of a Romney presidency.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Willard Milhous Romney?

Reuters columnist Jack Shafer warns: "Be careful about writing Mitt Romney’s political obituary before they fill him with formaldehyde and pour him into his mahogany condo. Like that other frequent Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, Romney has a remarkable talent for stepping into it, sinking and soiling himself rotten as he extricates himself." Shafer then compares Romney and Nixon in terms of core beliefs (nonexistent), political style (awkward) and personality (stilted). Shafer does a good job here. It's scary how much the two men do have in common. There are even some political environment similarities. Shafer's bottom line: If Nixon could win, so could Romney. The trouble with this theory is that it's preposterous. Though the two men share some key traits, Romney is no Nixon. Romney is a stable, well-intentioned family man (albeit one stuck in circa 1954). Nixon was Darth Vader (see Watergate). They didn't call him "Tricky Dick" for nothing. Nixon's democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was no Barack Obama. Let's just say that oratory and retail politicking were not Humphrey's strong suits, and leave it at that. Lastly, America in 2012 is vastly different from what it was in 1968. The nation today is a bucolic paradise compared to 1968 when it nearly imploded from violent anti-war protests, race riots, and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and MLK -- just to name the highlights. Yes, anything is possible in this election. And that obviously includes grasping at straws.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

No, the debates won't help either

AN INEVITABLE media narrative is taking hold as we approach October. It presumes Mitt Romney is still controlling his own destiny. It further presumes Mitt can save himself by excelling in the upcoming debates with Obama. I give you Andrew Sullivan: "The debates are Romney's best bet to turn this thing around, unless Netanyahu tries to help him out by blowing up the global economy. If Mitt's constantly on the defensive in them, as [Joe Klein] suggests he'll have to be, this could turn into a rout. Down-ballot as well. Has Obama now done to the entire GOP what he did to the Clintons, McCain and Romney? Make them somehow self-destruct?" Sullivan is right about the implications of Romney's defensive posture. But beware of pundits bearing predictions about Mitt's ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat with only 48 days left before Election Day. Short of Romney evolving into Winston Churchill -- like, overnight -- and Obama devolving into Homer Simpson, any notion of Romney turning the election around during the debates is laughable. Remember, Romney has not topped Obama in any poll. Not even once. In short, Romney is toast. The only question is how badly he and the GOP will get burned. My bet is extra crispy.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Do you throw like a girl?

THE VERDICT is in: If you're a girl, you probably throw like one. That according to a comprehensive study by Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In most things, men and women really aren't all that different ... except in two areas: throwing velocity and throwing distance. In those motor tasks, the difference is "very large," Hyde told the Washington Post. Apparently, the "overhand throwing gap" starts showing up at age 4. By age 15, "nearly every boy throws better than the best girl.” Usually, a lot better. And it's true in every culture around the world. Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be a muscular or structural reason for the difference, per the Post. It's all in the physics of throwing execution. For women, then, scientists suspect it's something neurological rooted in human evolution. Back on the African savannah, men threw rocks at prey or for self-defense. So did women, but they often threw with a baby in one arm. The good news is that girls can learn not to throw like girls. It just requires instruction and practice. But there's even better news, ladies. None of this really matters. Throwing like a girl won't stop you from kicking male butt in every other field of endeavor, especially if it involves brains.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Royal Boobs

In this case, "royal boobs" refer to the actual mammary glands, the woman baring them and the slack-jawed legions transfixed by their twin attributes. For some odd reason, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, thought sunbathing topless at a private French chateau was a winning idea. Even odder, Her Worshipfulness was expecting a decent measure of privacy. The result: Over one million mentions on Google about the Baroness' naked boobs, not to mention the countless images that will live forever. In a perfect world, respect for privacy is assured, the paparazzi are refined gentlemen, and telephoto lens do not exist. In the real world, the concept of privacy vanished the moment the Countess agreed to become Prince Willie's hot date a decade ago. Does Her Grace, Bearer of the Royal Breasts, not know that? As for the worldwide audience of salivating gawkers, you'd think that people (i.e., men) have never seen a pair of breasts in all of human history. Of course it doesn't help that every major newspaper (including the NY Times), magazine and television network have covered the story like an imminent, civilization-ending meteor impact. Albert Einstein was on to something when he said, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Me neither.

On living well

Peter Lawler ponders the life and death of the late Christopher Hitchens: "Hitchens did not live as if he were a body. He did not, God love him, live in fearful attentiveness to every conceivable risk factor that might extinguish his biological being. He smoked and drank heavily, and he ignored his body to enjoy life. From the point of view of the health-and-safety puritans around these days, he was pretty much a madman. ... But we might say that his relative indifference to the body was one cause of his undeniable intellectual greatness, his courageous advocacy on behalf of human liberty everywhere. That indifference might be understood to be in the service of the truth, which is that a life without biological death couldn't possibly be one lived in personal freedom. Living well, after all, isn't all about living just a bit longer." Amen.

Gangnam Style -- Um, WTF?

For some reason, a short, pudgy, South Korean "rapper" is now a worldwide sensation. I no longer question these things, mind you. I simply bow to the absurd. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

iPhotography in the iPhone Age

Last year, they estimate that people used their camera phones to snap some 380 billion images of cute pets, cute toddlers, beverages, food dishes, self-portraits and sundry body parts. 380 billion. Most of this photographic dreck ends up on Facebook. The upload rate is tens of millions of pics per day. Even as I wrote this, a Facebook friend shared a photo of the plastic cup he was using to consume a pint of Ranger India Pale Ale in a Columbia, Missouri bar. A white plastic cup. I've long since given up asking why. New York Times writer-photog James Estrin writes: "A photograph is no longer predominantly a way of keeping a treasured family memory or even of learning about places or people that we would otherwise not encounter. It is now mainly a chintzy currency in a social interaction and a way of gazing even further into one’s navel."

Man skydiving into Burning Man

Burning Man: An annual "experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance" in the Nevada desert. Translation: A pointless, overdone, week-long, pot-party by (mostly) middle-class white people pathetically trying (but inevitably failing) to reenact Woodstock who obviously have plenty of time and money to burn, man.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Schooling Romney on diplomacy

Friends, Romans, countrymen -- both here and abroad -- lend me your ears. Underestimate President Obama at your peril. In crisis diplomacy at the world-class level, you first bide your time to marshal all the facts, size up the adversary, and decide which tool to best bring him to heel. Then you act with overwhelming force. With that in mind, the New York Times is reporting that yesterday Obama made a late-night call to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Obama was blunt. That's diplomatese for "furious." It lasted 20 minutes. Obama did most of yelling talking. Long story short: Condemn the violence, protect our embassy or risk losing our friendship, our alliance and our money. Sweet dreams -- Click. By midday Thursday, Morsi (who had been conspicuously silent) was all over national television condemning the unrest. Guess he got the message. In fact, the Times added, the entire Egyptian leadership, including the Muslim Brotherhood, was scrambling on Thursday "to try to repair the country’s alliance with Washington." Guess they got the message, too. That's how it done, Mr. Romney. You don't lash out in blind outrage at a provocation. Nor do you wait for the 3 a.m. phone call. You wake the other guy up at 3 a.m. It's called peace through superior brainpower.

Landing on Mars in Ultra-HD

Just two words: Totally awesome.

They think you're stupid -- Ctd

If you've ever wondered what equivocation looks like in the wild, wonder no more. I caught the following specimen in its natural habitat, The Atlantic in this case. Molly Ball writes: "Romney's Libya blunder might be just a blip, a single news cycle lost in a campaign that still has nearly two months to go and will surely refocus on the economy before long. There's also the possibility that further developments overseas reflect badly on the administration and somehow make Romney's critique look prescient rather than crass." But to make these outcomes work, Ball is suggesting that: (a) voters have the memory of a guppy in a fish bowl; (b) voters are incapable of discerning the magnitude of Romney's flub; and (c) if Obama makes a mistake abroad before November, voters will discount all of his other accomplishments on the international stage to date -- including killing Bin Laden -- and vote Romney. Why? See points a and b. The mind reels.

A gratuitous blog post

OK, OK -- so I couldn't resist. Yes, HBO Newsroom star Alison Pill is the nude subject in the photo at left. Pill "accidentally" tweeted this digital self-portrait to the world, or so she says. "Yep. That picture happened. Ugh. My tech issues have now reached new heights, apparently. How a deletion turned into a tweet... Apologies," she later tweeted. But she didn't hit the delete button fast enough. The pic has gone viral. Just a few thoughts. (a) Meh, big deal. (b) I didn't know Ms. Pill wore glasses. (c) How does one accidentally tweet a nude photo of oneself? (d) Runaway narcissism, amour-propre and daddy issues aside, what motivated Pill to photograph herself in the buff in the first place? (e) This is what I get for visiting the Huffington Post.