Monday, April 30, 2012

The irony of it all

It is not without irony that The Huffington Post broke the news that The American Prospect, "an influential liberal politics and policy magazine, could shut its doors at the end of May unless the nonprofit publication raises a half million dollars to fill a current funding gap." Meanwhile, Arianna's brain-child -- the now giant "Internet newspaper" that produces a smidgen of journalism and links prodigiously to the rest -- rakes in millions. One publication gives us what we need to know (e.g., "The Limits of Equality"). The other gives us what we want to know (e.g., "Kim Cattrall's Bikini Days"). That said, and knowing that life is not fair, I say to HuffPo, live long and prosper. And yet, as Macbeth said, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Curious but not surprising

Yesterday, CNN outed the Secret Service agent who sparked the Colombian hooker scandal when he didn't pay up. I won't pile on by naming him here. What's important is his profile. Besides being a) stingy, b) devoid of good judgment, and c) a loose-cannon, our hero is 41 years old, married (though he may not be for long), and the father of two. Per NYMag, his wife runs a neighborhood Bible study and their two kids are home-schooled. From there, it's easy to fill in the blanks. Funny how these archetypal personalities -- conservative, moralistic, paranoid -- are always the first to get caught with their pants down.

Throwing Ayan Rand under the bus

[DISCLAIMER: What follows is a non-story. It is political "inside baseball." It is part of the high-intensity, navel-gazing commentators do because, hell, substantive analysis is way too hard.] Actually, I generally avoid commenting on this stuff because life, mine and yours, is too short. That said, today's non-story perfectly captures the essence of the species known as politician. That's worth a few lines of digital ink. Congressman Paul Ryan, a rising (but empty-suited) Republican star, is (or was) a devoted acolyte of novelist and faux-philosopher Ayn Rand, the author of "Atlas Shrugged." In 2003, Ryan gave out Rand's tome as Christmas presents. In 2005, he said, "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand." But yesterday, according to New York magazine, Ryan claimed that Ayn Rand's philosophy "reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview." That's a whiplash-inducing 180-degree turn. Amazing, even for a politician. This brought to mind something Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, once said: "I did not deal well with the politicians. I tend to tell people that when they are full of crap, that they are full of crap." In Ryan's case, there's never a Crandall around when you need one.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Check out this article at Discover Magazine to learn why you think the above image is spinning.

Rolling Stone should stick to rock stars

Rolling Stone got to sit down with President Obama for an interview. The questions were so-so. When they got to the "human interest" part, RS asked: "I heard you liked the TV show Homeland." Obama: "I did, it was a great show." Then, amazingly, RS asked: "In the show, a drone strike destroys a madrassa and provokes an assassination attempt on the vice president of the United States. What did you enjoy about it?" Um, WTF? RS might as well have asked, "Why do you enjoy watching people suffer and die?" Did the interviewer really think Obama would fall for this lame gotcha question? Obama replied: "What I liked was just real complicated characters ... It's a terrific psychological study, and that's what I enjoy about it." Perfect. Memo to Rolling Stone: You're not that good. And you're certainly not in Obama's league. Stick to Ted Nugent.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Despite the salt the upcoming Trayvon Martin trial will rub into the nation's racial wounds, all is not lost. In a lengthy interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama explains why:
"I never bought into the notion that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period ... [But] when I travel around the country, a lot of people remark on how inspiring seeing an African-American president or an African-American first lady must be to black boys and girls, how it must raise their sense of what's possible in their own lives. That's hugely important – but you shouldn't also underestimate the fact that there are a whole bunch of little white girls and white boys all across the country who just take it for granted that there's an African-American president. That's the president they're growing up with, and that's changing attitudes. My view on race has always been that it's complicated. It's not just a matter of head – it's a matter of heart. It's about interactions. What happens in the workplace, in schools, on sports fields, and through music and culture shapes racial attitudes as much as any legislation that's passed. I do believe that we're making slow and steady progress. When I talk to Malia and Sasha, the world they're growing up with, with their friends, is just very different from the world that you and I grew up with."
A perspective worth keeping in mind. Can you imagine "President Romney" being as thoughtful?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hoping for 'Yo-leven'

Watching Mitt Romney flip-flop and outright lie on the campaign trail is a wonder to behold. But his political performance art differs little from past presidential candidates. You may wonder: how do they get away with it? As New York magazine's Jon Chait explains, the answer is painfully simple: "As it happens, most persuadable voters lack much information about politics or policy, and tend to vote like that. It's a true but regrettable fact of democracy. I don't blame Romney for taking advantage of it, the way candidates in all parties everywhere do." It sorta underscores the truism that history is mostly a crapshoot made by people who don't know the rules of craps.

The Day Facts Died

I'm late to the party on this one. Last week, the Chicago Tribune's Rex Huppke wrote a smashingly good op-ed entitled, "Facts, 360 B.C. – A.D. 2012." It is an obit for the long-suffering "fact." And it's gone viral. It is not the best op-ed ever written as some have claimed. But it is brilliant. Here's a sample:
"To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives are communists."
To paraphrase one clever writer: If you haven't read it, read it. If you’ve already read it, read it again. And weep.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hot with a chance of madness

The presidential elections? Ha! Who care about that? Here in Phoenix, all everyone is talking about is the weather. Daytime temps actually climbed into the triple digits last weekend. Yeah, 103. In April. My annual self-flagellation, Opus Dei-style, begins anew: Lord, why on earth am I still living here? I guess I need a better cattail whip because I'm clearly not getting through to myself. Anyway, the incessant weather talk is weird when you think about it. Sure, knowing about major storms in advance is a good thing. But 99% of the time, tomorrow's weather is mostly irrelevant to modern man or woman. Indeed, consider this paradox: When humankind needed weather info the most, the technology didn't exist to provide it. Today, when we need weather knowledge the least, technology floods us with it. The gods must be laughing.

Going un-postal

It is inevitable. The U.S. Post Office is going the way of Triceratops. An editorial writer for The Economist drives home the point: "During the day I check my work email about once every ten minutes. I comb through my personal email about once an hour. I look at Twitter more often than I care to admit, and I just sent a text message on my phone. But when I get home from work I walk right past my mail box, blissfully ignorant of all the crap that sits inside. Like an increasing number of Americans, I have very little use for the US Postal Service." Me neither. Still, it's rather sad to watch this historic relic fade in real time. American ingenuity created the postal service. Ironically, this will also be its undoing.

A clever quote

"If Hollywood is high school with money, Washington is high school with power." (Matt Zoller Seitz, New York magazine)

Veep in a nutshell

Reviewing HBO's Veep, Matt Zoller Seitz is spot-on: "At times the series feels like a live-action version of Doonesbury, but minus the sociopolitical context, and with baroque profanity and scatological metaphors. ... This is a shark-tank world of a type that HBO specializes in; the ego-warring over perks, loyalty, and respect might remind you of the cable channel’s other classic half-hour studies in bad behavior: The Larry Sanders Show [and] Curb Your ­Enthusiasm ... the first three episodes of Veep don’t suggest we’re going to see those series’ depth and poignancy. [British writer-producer Armando Iannucci] has a tactically limited view of political skulduggery, the type showcased in the insufferably cutesy columns of Maureen Dowd. It’s all rather weightless. ... That’s not a bad thing in and of itself—the world can always use one more ­amusing sitcom—but for all its madcap goofiness, Veep doesn’t say or add up to much—which, in a way, suggests it’s the right satire for a political era marked by stupid feuds, inertia, and superficiality."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In a lonely place

Arching an eye at the behemoth known as Facebook, Atlantic writer Stephen Marche makes some astute observations:
"[W]ithin this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information."
Marche concludes that the advent of digital socialization "obscures what isn’t being served: everything that matters."
"What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity. Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are. Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect."
Read Marche's thoughtful piece here.

Facebook never takes a break

Per The Atlantic, more than half of Facebook users—and one of every 13 people on Earth is a Facebook user—log on every day. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, nearly half check Facebook minutes after waking up, and 28 percent do so before getting out of bed. Yowzer.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What price ignorance?

As evidenced by a great many tweets yesterday, the late Dick Clark, Mr. American Bandstand himself, is a virtual unknown among today's young people. That should come as no surprise.

The Atlantic's Megan Garber observes:
What's interesting, though, is what the [tweeters] -- and their thousands of fellow "Who's Dick Clark?" queriers -- did with their ignorance. Rather than do a Google search for "Dick Clark," rather than look him up on Wikipedia, rather than avail themselves of the approximately 5,000 other web-based mechanisms that exist solely to rectify the world's ignorance, these people asked their followers on Twitter.
But then Garber argues: "It's easy to make fun of the people who broadcast their ignorance, it's much better to celebrate them. They're a collective reminder that, with the world's knowledge newly at our fingertips, the only thing worse than ignorance is indifference." I'm not so sure. In The American President, Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox) heatedly asserted that people were so thirsty for leadership, "they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand." President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) replied: "Lewis ... People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference." That trumps Garber's argument about dumbitude, methinks.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Still jumping Jim Crow

I WAS LOOKING for something else on HuffPo this morning when I tripped over this nugget: A casting sheet obtained by TMZ specified that the actor playing the African-American car dealer in the Super Bowl Acura commercial with Jerry Seinfeld be "nice looking, friendly, not too dark." Wow. A spokesman for the unidentified ad agency reportedly said that "the skin tone restriction was to avoid problems with lighting and special effects." Uh huh. Right. That's right up there with "some of my best friends are black." Acura later apologized profusely. In the larger scheme of things, this is a trifle. But it speaks volumes about racial mindsets set on auto-pilot from centuries of stereotyping. We've made progress, but we're clearly not home yet. (The headline refers to "Jump Jim Crow," a minstrel song & dance routine done in blackface by Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice in 1828.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Should we laugh or cry?

In the NY Times, Carina Chocano profiles Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who stars as Vice President Selina Meyer in HBO’s upcoming political comedy Veep:
“Veep,” by contrast, comes not to justify Caesar but to goose him. It captures our post-Reagan, post-Clinton, post-Bush, 24-hour tabloid news and Internet-haterade dystopia, and reflects our collective queasy ambivalence toward a political system that we fear simply reflects our own shallowness back at us. If “The West Wing” was a fantasy of hyper-competence, “Veep” is its opposite: a black-humor vision of politics at its bleakest, in which both sides have been co-opted by money and special interests and are reduced to posturing, subterfuge, grandstanding and photo ops.
She adds, drolly, "Naturally, it’s hilarious." Too bad Veep's portrait of politics today is all too real. And that's not hilarious at all.

Government accounting

IT MUST HAVE been a sight. The space shuttle Discovery, atop a modified Boeing 747, did a slow, low, graceful turn over the Mall in DC as it flew toward the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport today. Out of sight was the delivery fee: $11 million. Yeah, you read that right. $11 million -- courtesy of those income taxes we just mailed to Uncle Sam. But wait -- it gets worse. It seems that after NASA calculated the delivery fee, it found that the intragovernment transfer of funds "just got too complicated," according to the Washington Post. So NASA, in its infinite bureaucratic wisdom, just waived the charges. They waived $11 million dollars. Right. I wonder why NASA simply couldn't hire a U-Haul truck, have an astronaut back it up to a ramp at the U.S. Mint, and say, "Fill her up, buddy -- and we want new, unmarked bills, too." If we could send a man to the moon, why can't ... oh never mind. Watching how our government works (or doesn't) is almost as amazing as seeing a flyby of the Discovery.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bending an image toward bias

I haven't expressed an opinion on Trayvon Martin because we're still missing a commodity distinctly lacking in this case: The facts. Yeah, I know -- silly me. But I can make a related observation. Mainstream media and blogs have insisted on using the photo seen at left when referencing Trayvon. This now iconic image is everywhere on TV and the Internet. The photo was taken when Trayvon was a 12-year-old. It's a nice picture -- and straight out of Central Casting for any role calling for an angelic-looking kid brother. Fine. But on the rainy night Trayvon and George Zimmerman fatally locked horns, Trayvon was a 17-year-old, 6-foot-1, ex-football player who probably weighed at least 180 lbs. These facts are (probably) neither here nor there in terms of the murder case. Trayvon's death is still a tragedy. But you see the problem. The portrait of Trayvon as a sweet-smiling kid evokes sympathy whether it is warranted or not. In contrast, an unsmiling, unshaven Zimmermann was usually shown wearing a prison-orange shirt, mugshot-style. His image evoked suspicion whether it was warranted or not. (Since his arrest, a dour Zimmerman is now shown in an actual prison shirt, but at least it's accurate.) The arc of media good intentions is long, but in this case it bends toward bias.

Men in Black unzipped

Well, hells bells and cockle shells. Evidently, 11 members of a Secret Service advance team were caught cavorting with hookers in Cartagena, Colmbia -- just before President Obama arrived there for the Summit of the Americas. Whoops. This is the part where I could feign umbrage and wryly say: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling whoring is going on in here!" But I won't. Little in the affairs of mice and men surprises me, least of all when it comes to The Oldest Profession. But I bet more than a few Americans are shocked. We like to think our Men in Black are Immaculate. They are of course mere mortals, prone to temptation like every other guy who habitually thinks with the wrong head. It's embarrassingly clear, too, that our horny heroes are not members of good standing with "Ocean's Eleven," the federal edition. Indeed, one wonders how a crew dumb enough to get caught with their pants down -- literally -- made the cut in the first place. The vast majority of Secret Service agents are fabulous public servants the nation can reply on. The knuckleheads in the spotlight are anomalies. Which brings me to the silver lining of this tale. After this scandal, our wayward agents (assuming they're guilty) will be lucky to find jobs as a Vegas strip club bouncers. Hope the painted ladies were worth it, amigos. Adiós.

The Man in the Google Glasses

Google is busy inventing wearable technology. It's closer to reality than you think. In his NY Times piece, "The Man in the Google Glasses," Ross Douthat contemplates the "sense of isolation that coexists with our technological mastery."
"The Man in the Google Glasses lives alone, in a drab, impersonal apartment. He meets a friend for coffee, but the video cuts away from this live interaction, leaping ahead to the moment when he snaps a photo of some “cool” graffiti and shares it online. He has a significant other, but she’s far enough away that when sunset arrives, he climbs up on a roof and shares it with her via video, while she grins from a window at the bottom of his field of vision. He is, in other words, a characteristic 21st-century American, more electronically networked but more personally isolated than ever before. ... In this kind of world, the Man in the Google Glasses might feel like a king of infinite space. But he’d actually be inhabiting a comfortable, full-service cage."
As the future rushes over us, we would be wise to consider the words of poet Thomas Merton: "Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Presidential tax returns are none of our business

THE PUBLIC has a right to know how much income tax the president pays. Right? Wrong. Mitt Romney's dad (yes you read that right) and the media are the principal culprits behind this myth. I'll explain in a minute. First, the facts. Boiled down to its essence, the Constitution (Article II, Section 1) simply states that a president shall "receive for his services, a compensation." Batteries (and taxes) not included. In 1923, Warren G. Harding became the first president to pay income taxes after their national adoption via the 16th Amendment. But individual income tax returns — including Mr. Obama's — are private information by law. Disclosure is strictly voluntary. During the 1968 Republican primary, Gov. George Romney became the first presidential candidate to release tax returns. Like lemmings, almost every presidential candidate and incumbent have done the same since then. It's like the presidential compulsion to say "God bless America" at the close of every speech. Nothing wrong with that. But, really, it is kinda neurotic. And speaking of neurosis, we now come to the real Macbeth of this story. Every year at tax time, the press obsesses over the president's 1040 to let a thousand stories bloom. Yet, America is not (and has never been) much interested in combing through presidential tax returns. But the media is hell-bent on converting us into Turbo Tax fetishers like them. Whatever happened to simply minding our own business?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Boys will be boy leaders

Leonardo da Vinci once said, "I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough ... we must do." And those who do can do much. Little is more impressive than how one person -- a single human being -- can influence the course of events that shape history for good or ill. The South might have won but for Lincoln. WWII would not have occurred but for Hitler. When historians speak of nations, they really speak of individuals. When they speak of state actions, they really speak of human decisions. Although these sovereigns are usually endowed with royalty or other accoutrements of power, all are captive to human frailty. Unfortunately, that has meant (as history has repeatedly shown) boys will be boys. North Korea's Kim Jong Un is the latest living example. The Dear Leader ok'ed the launch of a three-stage rocket ostensibly to put a weather satellite into orbit -- despite knowing the action would abrogate a food aid agreement with the U.S. Minutes after blast-off, the rocket exploded, broke into four pieces, and crashed into the Yellow Sea off the Korean Peninsula. In short, it was a Total Epic Fail. The White House promptly signaled the boy leader that he could kiss 240,000 metric tons of food aid goodbye. So why did His Righteous Benevolence do it? Simply to demonstrate that he too has cool toys, even if they explode or when brought out to the playground could trigger World War III. One wonders how human civilization has managed to survive this long.

Just read

Over at the Daily Dish, there's a lively discussion about the popularity of young adult novels among adults who aren't young. Some seemed surprised. Others pooh-poohed idea and sniffed, "Silly adult, those are kiddie books." Still others approved of the trend. I'm in the last camp. Reading is good. And if YA novels encourage it, great. That said, I was a bit taken aback when one Dish reader wrote: "My brother is 58. He had not read a book since high school until a coworker lent him Twilight. It lit him up like a Christmas tree." Apparently, his bro is now an avid reader and has stepped up to "the likes of Tom Clancy and other challenging adult fiction." Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, of course, is the YA vampire-romance novel. Meyer (who rakes in $40 million annually) is sometimes compared to J. K. Rowling. Stephen King stated, "the real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer, and Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a darn." Enough said. As for Clancy, well, let's just say he's a long, long way from Hemingway. The secondary school system clearly failed the reader's brother by not inspiring him to read. But now that he is doing so, let's hope someone exposes him to some decent literature. If Clancy's The Hunt For Red October lit him up, think what Patrick O’Brian's Master and Commander or Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny would do. Otherwise he might start reading health books and end up, as Mark Twain noted, dying of a misprint.

The People v. [Insert Trial Célèbre Here]

George Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Needless to say, the news media have plunged headlong into full breathless reporting mode. Here we go again. And it's only been 10 months since the hated Casey Anthony walked into the Florida sunshine after being acquitted of murder. And if a trial results in Zimmerman following the footsteps of Mommy Dearest, the consequences could be explosive. America's obsession (or neurosis) with sensational true crime didn't start with O.J. Simpson. It really began with alleged axe murderess Lizzie Borden in 1893. She was acquitted but the case became a cause célèbre. Next came the People v. Hauptmann, the world famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping case in 1935. It became the media template for future courtroom melodramas. The technique was refined "In Cold Blood," the 1959 trial of the two men who murdered a Kansas farm family and the basis for the famed Truman Capote book. The 1970s saw Charles Manson, Lt. William Calley (My Lai Massacre) and the Patty Hearst saga. In 1995, of course, we endured the mother of all murder cases: The People v. Simpson. Since then, we've been subjected to a rogue's gallery of sensational trials: Amanda Knox, the Michael Jackson saga, O.J. Simpson's retrial/conviction and, most recently, the death row case of Troy Davis. Now we can look forward to neurotic coverage of the People v. Zimmerman, assuming he doesn't plead out. And this one, God help us, has the potential to top O.J.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Oh no, now we're left alone with Romney

It's not like I'm going to miss Rick Santorum, the best Republican candidate the 6th century ever produced, as someone drolly quipped. His withdrawal from the race today drew much pablum about his so-called success as an underdog campaigner. Spare me. Santorum, albeit well-meaning, is a Taliban-style theocrat in a sweater vest who believeth what he speaketh. He belongs in a medieval castle (or megachurch) with a moat -- not the Oval Office. Jon Chait rang the bell of reality with his column ("Requiem for a Warm Body") today: "Santorum’s success was entirely the function of his being a Republican not named Romney who happened to be there when every other alternative had either been destroyed by Romney’s money or collapsed on its own." Precisely. There is, however, a downside to Santorum bowing out. We are now condemned to witnessing Mitt Romney's solo act for the next 8 months. Eight. Long. Months. It will be as inspiring as paint drying. But the news media will insist we watch. And it will feel like we're being subjected to the "Ludovico Technique," the fictional aversion therapy (pictured) from the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Swell.

3rd graders have cell phones?

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal reports: "Kids in the third grade are, on average, eight years old. Nowadays, 20 percent of third-grade boys and 18 percent of third-grade girls already have a cell phone, according to a 2011 study of 20,766 Massachusetts elementary, middle, and high school students. By the time the kids reach fifth grade, 39% of the kids have cell phones, and phone saturation is nearly complete by middle school, when more than 83% of the students have a device." The implications of this may prove benign. Maybe they won't. But today's K-12 set will certainly be different when they grow up, assuming their digital umbilical cords will let them go to do so.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Last Laugh

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan. Image via Adam Kaplan)

Scary White Men

Kids, if you see this man, run. National Review columnist John Derbyshire (pictured) is one of those scary white men. He is an angry conservative from whom even fellow travellers avert their eyes.

In his latest screed, he shared with readers what he said he shared with his children about dealing with black-folk in America. I won't dignify his words by reprinting them here. Suffice it to say that Derbyshire advised his kids to avoid "concentrations of blacks," for there perdition supposedly lurks. Adding insult to injury, he rhetorically asked why no black person has ever won the Fields Medals, the prestigious award for Mathematics. This was the wind-up to his pitch that "the mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites." Yeah, he actually went there. Clearly, he couldn't help himself. And he's written trash like this before. "I'm a proud racist," he boasted in 2003.

Derbyshire says his piece wasn't satire -- he called it "social commentary." Whatever it was, the piece still splashed across the Rubicon to opprobriousness. Even National Review editor Rich Lowry disowned him, stating that no one at the magazine shares "Derb's appalling view of what parents supposedly should tell their kids about blacks in this instantly notorious piece here." Fine. But why does "The Derb" still have a job?

It's rare to spot a fully-feathered bigot in the wild, but Derbyshire cleverly hides in plain sight. Most racists are not as bold as he. They are cowards who ply their bigotry in mufti to avoid the spotlight brass-buttoned prejudice swiftly brings, Rush Limbaugh notwithstanding. Derbyshire is no less a coward, but he hides behind his braggadocio.

Derbyshire, 66, is a member of what I call the Lost White Generation, a sub-tribe of the Silent Generation born during WWII (1940 to 1945). LWG'ers learned the parental prejudices of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" well and transplanted them to their own spawn (the Rosemary Babies of Generation X). That is how racism propagates and why it is so insidious. For a pop cultural reference, think Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino. Derbyshire is the scribe equivalent. I have long written off the Derbyshires of the world. Exposed to a perfect storm of cultural brainwashing, apartheid, and bastardized conservatism in their formative years, LWG'ers became ideal receptacles for intolerance. Bigotry is in their bone marrow. No amount of cultural chemotherapy can eradicate it. The sooner they depart from societal relevance, the better.

But all is not lost. Whatever The Derb told his two kids about African Americans, odds are better than even that it didn't take. As children of the 1990s maturing in the Age of Obama (they are now teenagers, 16 and 19), it would not be surprising if they ignored or have since rejected their old man's advice. If we are to break the cycle of bigotry, the task will largely fall to the current generation of kids. On the surface at least, it appears they are doing just that.

POSTSCRIPT: Just after I posted this, the news broke that the National Review fired Derbyshire. I'm glad somebody came to their senses. Sorry Derb -- you lose, asshole.

Temperament, Tiger and talk

Amiable Fred Couples is tied atop the leader board with Jason Dufner at Augusta. But the story is all about Tiger. Columnist Thomas Boswell waxed poetically about how golf is about "talent, technique, tenacity" and, most importantly, "temperament." But he soon turns to Woods like a moth drawn to light. "Under pressure, his current temperament is precariously close to disintegrating. By the 16th hole, Woods had been reduced to a child." Yes, Tiger had another bad day, or bad for him anyway. He finished 3 over par in the second round of The Masters (ditto for today's round). Mere mortals wouldn't even make the cut for Augusta's parking lot. Still, it is amazing how Tiger continues to dominate news coverage. Now the storyline is all about his comeback -- cue the thunderclap -- after The Fall. Yes, Fred Couples is momentarily sailing atop the field. But sports writers, the TV networks and the PGA all owe thanks to Tiger's melodrama on the greens. Without it, few would be paying attention to this event -- or pro golf -- at all.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Democracy, warts and all, still better

Winston Churchill famously said democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the others. In fact, democracy, defined as government by the people, is only as good as the caliber of the leaders the people elect to run it. That means everything really hinges on the ability of people to discern talent. Now there's a scary thought. The trouble stems from most people voting from the heart instead of their heads. Brains and competence alone are rarely enough to win votes. Ergo, talented leaders must also be charismatic to get elected. On the other hand, telegenic glad-handers are shoe-ins for public office. Their skill at fooling all of the people all of the time negates the need to demonstrate acumen. Since the baby-kissers outnumber the truly talented, the result is the mess we witness daily on Capitol Hill and, across the pond, at Whitehall. And that, alas, is the context for Churchill's woeful quip. It's also why the Last Lion said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." I'd almost agree, except for all the other alternatives. Better a system with dumb voters than one with no voters at all.

There's an app for that, but should there be?

Technologist Edmund Zagorin writes: "Like most things in the tech world today, ubiquitous GPS data is quickly becoming “social”. Of course, a lot of people want their friends to know where they are and what they’re doing at all times; they post it, tweet it, and check-in through FourSquare. But it may not be long before where we live in a world where our smartphone’s will give us the digital equivalent of Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map, where we can examine our environs at any geographical scale to see the exact real-time GPS locations of our friends and family. To be sure, used wisely this technology has the potential to do a lot of good, probably even to save lives. But if information is power, then access to it is only as good as the intentions of the user."


Once again, the golf columnists say, Tiger Woods is at war with himself, this time at the PGA Masters Tournament in Augusta. Evidently, he's having "motor memory" issues. Lots of motor, little memory (of the correct swing). "As soon as you step to the first tee of a major golf championship, an entirely new nervous system takes control of your body. Unfortunately, it is often your old nervous system — even if you are Tiger Woods at the Masters," writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. Citing well-known psychology, Boswell notes that the human brain clings to its native language. If you were born speaking German, but have spoken English fluently for decades, you'll still scream "Feuer!" (fire) if you awaken in a burning house. That probably explains why Herr Tiger -- after a bogey-bogey finish yesterday -- was heard shouting "Verdammt!" (Dammit!) on the 18th hole. (Woods finished at an even-par 72 Thursday in a 16-way tie for 29th place.)

Masterfully contemptible

The Augusta National Golf Club, annual host of the PGA's prestigious Masters Tournament, does not permit female members. Every year the feckless press drags out its tsk-tsk stories lamenting that fact. And every year, the issue is put back into cold storage as soon as the last hole is played. A blow-the-doors-down, Pulitzer-worthy exposé is way overdue. (That's a hint, New York Times.) Meanwhile, "livin' in the high cotton," as they say in the South, continues apace for the rich Good Old Boys. And they're dead set against womenfolk spoiling their fun. Yes, yes -- as a private club, it has the legal right to discriminate. As writers Michael McCarthy and Erik Brady observed in USA Today some years ago, the club is "a golfing version of Yale's Skull and Bones: a secret society of the well-heeled that answers to one. You don't apply for membership. You get called — if you have the right combination of money, influence and friends." And that, one supposes, is the allure for its 300-odd members. Yet, Jim Crow was contemptibly de rigueur until the very late 20th century. Before 1983, the staff caddies assigned to pro players were, yes, all black. Hell, the club couldn't bring itself to admit an African American to its all-alabaster ranks until 1990. Augusta's "No Females" rule -- like its former "No Coloreds" rule -- is archaic, abhorrent and, well, just plain stupid. Then again, so too are more than a few of my fellow brethren. Just ask any woman.

Are these people crazy?

Today's New York Times editorial noted that Tampa is taking extra security precautions in the run-up to the Republican National Convention there in August. The Gray Lady writes: "The City Council is sensibly preparing tight security precautions for the downtown area by temporarily banning clubs, hatchets, switchblades, pepper spray, slingshots, chains, shovels and all manner of guns that shoot water, paint or air. But not handguns that shoot actual bullets. In other words, someone outside the convention hall will be entitled to pack a handgun, but not a squirt gun." To answer my headline question, yes, these people are certifiably nuts. Wow.

Reaping what we sow

"Environmental disaster, meanwhile, threatens all even as it is ignored by most." (Charli Carpenter, Foreign Affairs)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Doublethinking Romney

In his seminal novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell defined "doublethink" thusly: "The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies." Is it me, or is that a near perfect description of Mitt Romney on the campaign trail? Scarier still are those Republican voters who showed up at the televised GOP debates. Again, is it me, or do these folks resemble Parsons, a secondary character in 1984 who was the protagonist's naïve neighbor? As Wikipedia describes him, Parsons is "an ideal member of the Outer Party: an uneducated, suggestible man who is utterly loyal to the Party, and fully believes in its perfect image." Parsons ultimately gets his just desert when he is reported to the Thought Police by his own daughter. She overheard him mumbling ill will toward the Party as he slept. Memo to conservative America: What goes around comes around. And don't think things can't get that crazy. Once upon a time, torturing POWs was illegal -- until the last administration went all medieval on us with waterboarding.

Drink in the detail and behold

The Founding Fathers (and every other American soul prior to the mid 19th century) live in our minds as aging oil paintings or etchings. Their real-life appearance will forever elude us. Did a five o'clock shadow grace the jaws of Washington and Hamilton at day's end? Just how pink were Ben Franklin's jowls? Alas, we'll never know. Without photographs, these men will always be approximations drawn by our imagination. Not so with Mr. Lincoln. Pictured below are the president and Gen. George B. McClellan. Drink in the detail and behold:

People, time to let it go

This is getting embarrassing. The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost, like a lot of pundits who just can't let go of the GOP primary, has officially entered the realm of grand delusion: "A win in Pennsylvania could in theory jumpstart [Santorum's] campaign, undo the tentative movement we saw toward Romney in Wisconsin ... and give Santorum a boost heading into the final leg of the contest. If that were to pan out, Santorum could argue – plausibly – that his late stage momentum gives him an equally strong moral claim to the nomination as Romney has." And heck, if the stars then align, Santorum could win the nomination, beat that despicable Obama, and become president-king of all the land. Amazing. Why, as Orwell famously asked, is it so hard for some folks "to see what is in front of one's nose?" Andrew Sullivan, too, thinks Cost's scenario for a Santorum comeback is "wildly implausible." About the candidate he writes: "One thing I've learned from watching these things over the years is that once you get a taste of that kind of power, it's very hard to let go." True, but that goes double for pundits.

Those people

Assessing Romney's (apparent) clinching of the GOP nomination, Time columnist Joe Klein reminds us that primaries on both sides always have a "Donald Trump Meets Al Sharpton" quality to them. This season, it was the Republicans' turn to stage what even the uber conservative Charles Krauthammer called a "clown show." But, as Klein observes, "the real damage this year was not caused by the candidates; it came from a segment of the Republican electorate, which all too often celebrated ignorance and bigotry and displayed a disturbing appetite for nihilism." So true. But it's worth remembering that these folks represent a minority of Americans, thank Providence.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Governing While Black

The estimable Andrew Sullivan is not the best authority on America's racial issues. His past excursions on the topic have revealed a bit of a tin ear (probably due to a dearth of knowledge). That's okay. He's British, it's an American thing, and the subject is complex given the history. So, I give him a pass. Besides, unlike a lot of "thought leaders," he's courageous about hosting insightful discussions about race. The current back and forth on Mr. Obama, the Right, and race is useful. However, Sullivan did throw one wild pitch today: "I think I correctly gauged the American public's willingness to elect a biracial president. I think I drastically under-rated their willingness to actually be governed by one." Come again? It seems to me that the latter cannot be true if the former is, too. So, I'm not sure what Sullivan is talking about. But he seems to be conflating the archaic views of a relative minority (negrophobic Republicans, conservatives & old white people) with those of the majority who would beg to differ. If I'm right, then Sullivan's suggestion that Americans -- white Americans -- are uncomfortable with the idea of Obama "Governing While Black" is both convoluted and wrong. Still, the conversation is healthy.

Worth mulling over

One of Andrew Sullivan's thoughtful readers believes "rejection" (not racism) is the driving force behind the putrid Republican animus toward President Obama. "This is how they felt in 2008. They didn't hate Obama because he's black; they resented him because he was beloved. The nation had fallen in love, and it wasn't with them," he wrote. Interesting. I remain convinced that racism -- the largely unconscious but deeply cultural kind borne of a sad historical legacy that plagues us still (see the Trayvon Martin case) -- plays a central role in the hatred of Mr. Obama by white, mostly over 50, conservatives. That said, the reader (who, like many well-intentioned and unbiased whites, is in denial about the racial factor, I think) still has a point well worth pondering.

Avert your eyes, people

New York magazine's John Heilemann is among the best political analysts out there, hands down. When he speaks, you should listen. Going all Old Testament today ("to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven"), Heilemann writes: "The Republican presidential-nomination contest is now effectively over, and the general election has begun. ... If you thought the Republican nomination tussle was sickeningly, deplorably, appallingly ugly, I have just five words of advice: Avert your eyes now, people." I, for one, intend to, all the way to November if possible.

What's wrong with this picture?

Jim Romenesko: "While CEOs at struggling newspaper chains are getting huge bonuses, journalists at struggling papers are getting pay cuts. Media writer Michael Roberts hears that the Denver Post has cut the salaries of sports columnist Woody Paige and editorial page columnist Vincent Carroll." Unbelievable. One observer shook his head and said, “This is a time for gallows humor in the newsroom.” Yes, sadly. And there's no clearer sign that newspapers are in their death throes when they start eating their young.

The sun of Romney is set

Yesterday, Mitt Romney swept the primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and DC to the utter surprise of -- nobody. Santorum, who was always destined for irrelevancy, is now there officially. Gingrich, who took up residence in irrelevancy-ville some time ago, has resumed his vanity book tour. And Ron Paul who? The GOP should spare us the theatrics and just crown Romney as the nominee (the position he's had a lock on since Day 1) and get it over with. Naturally, the blogosphere is awash in navel-gazing "Is it over?" stories today. Steven Benen saves me the trouble of opining: "For most of us, of course it's over, and it's been over for quite some time. ... More important than these results, though, is the larger context: the Republican Party has lost its appetite for this nomination fight, and has effectively demanded its completion. They don't love Romney, they don't trust Romney, and they don't even seem to respect Romney, but GOP officials are well aware of the fact they're stuck with him anyway," he wrote. Correctamundo. And this is the guy Republicans are running against the most charismatic (and wily) incumbent president in decades? As Shakespeare would put it, "The sun of Rome is set." Willard is toast.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Boyz with guns at the Legislature

We Marines have an old saying: There's nothing more dangerous than an inexperienced Private with a carbine and a full clip of live ammo. Evidently, it's the same with some Arizona legislators, too. You see, one of the flock, Rep. Daniel Patterson (a Democrat no less) is being investigated for ethics violations. A late-breaking report alleges that he is predisposed to "hostile outbursts and erratic behavior." Since efforts to formally expel Patterson have thus far failed, he still has access to the Capitol chambers. In response, some legislators -- like Rep. Ruben Galleg (another Democrat) -- have begun packing heat at work. The bulges seen at the back of sundry suit jackets gave the game away. Gallego, an Iraq war veteran, brought his 9mm Glock in today. Now, I halfway expect these Dirty Harry antics from jumpy Republicans (and you can bet they're loaded for bear, too). But Democrats, et tu? Since few, if any, of our lawmaker-cowboys are trained in law enforcement (that's why the Capitol cops are there), what, pray tell, would a O.K. Corral-style shootout accomplish other than potentially raising the body count if (God forbid) somebody went "postal?" It's utter madness. Marines guide and temper their inexperienced enlisted ranks with leadership. I wish somebody would exhibit some (along with maturity) at the Legislature.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

All Fools' Day

Naturally, the Internet and Twitter is all atwitter about April Fool's Day. And, naturally, there is nary an original thought anywhere about this over-hyped date (the prank Mitt Romney's staff pulled on their boss -- loud yawn -- doesn't count). I made a vain attempt to unearth some new fruit, but found the digital grounds to be as barren and frozen as Callista Gingrich's smile. That cheap shot aside, I got nothin'. Though there are competing theories about the origins of All Fools' Day, no one actually knows. And I expect we never will. We do know, however, that the earliest extant record associating April 1 with foolishness is found in "The Nun's Priest's Tale," one of Chaucer's famous Canterbury Tales (1392).

The relevant lines are:
Syn March was gon, thritty dayes and two,
     [Since March had gone, thirty days and two]
Bifel that Chauntecleer in al his pryde
     [Befell that Chauntecleer in all his pride]
Which roughly means trickery would befall the character Chauntecleer on April 1 (i.e., March 30 + 2). And with that, I'll end my own tomfoolery fiddling with this silly topic.