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."