Thursday, May 31, 2012

Still crazy after all these years

This photo is making the rounds on the liberal blogs so they can snark and throw rocks at it. I gather that's more fun than serious political discourse. The thing is, crazy people (a demographic to whom Mr. Herndon possibly belongs) have always run for office. The difference today is that more of these folks seem to be winning. But could it be that the constant liberal mocking motivates enraged conservatives to turn out in greater numbers at the voting booth to elect the Johnny Herndons of the world? Just sayin'.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Click me, baby

LA Times writer David Horsey is convinced that online newspapers will be just fine -- if they can avoid becoming "click whores." He writes: "Sure, any fool can get a lot of page views by running photos of cute kittens, funny dogs, hot cheerleaders and bosomy models in bikinis. It might bring in a lot of money. It might be read all over. But it would not be a newspaper.” Ditto for serious, digitized magazines, presumably. But the allure of prostituting for page views is strong. Not convinced? I give you this tweet from The Atlantic Wire, a digital subset of the venerable Atlantic magazine: "Introducing Politwoops, the place to find awkward tweets deleted by politicians (" Egads, talk about opening the digital kimono. Let's face it: The digital press wants to "love you long time," and they clearly can't help themselves.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hayes’s Heroes

Over the Memorial Day weekend, liberal commentator Chris Hayes suddenly found himself inside a proverbial hurt locker for expressing a nuanced opinion about America's overuse of the word "hero." While clearly stating that he meant no disrespect to the troops, Hayes opined: "I feel ... uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war" and that "we marshal this word in a way that is problematic." He's not wrong. But as Peter Beinart noted today, the "right-wing jingosphere responded [to Hayes] with the kind of analysis you’d expect to read on a bathroom wall." Hayes was called everything from "a parasite" to a fop whose "right to menstruate” was being protected by the very soldiers he deigns not to call heroes. Vile stuff. It's worth noting that the pundits hating on Hayes the loudest have something in common with him. None have ever worn a military uniform. If they had, they'd know that soldiers and marines do not consider themselves heroes or call each other such. As Esquire writer Stephen Marche rightly observed about the military mindset: "To be a hero is to do the heroic, to reach above the call of duty. The men and women returning this year are just less selfish and privileged than everybody else. They have done their job. In a previous era we would call them something else — normal Americans." Exactly.

(Pictured Above: Sgt. Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I and the epitome of heroism.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

SUNLIGHT STRIKING a snowy ridge in springtime is a passing glory that ultimately results in barren rock. It is not unlike the sad reality that soldiers who die in battle soon melt from the memory of those who benefit from their sacrifice. That is the irony of war and its tragedy. It is therefore pointless to lament the fact that, for most of us, Memorial Day has little to do with commemorating those who have perished in our wars, some 1.3 million souls since 1775. For in the end, American soldiers have died down the centuries so that we, the current generation, can have the luxury of grilling backyard steaks or seeking mattress sales while being blissfully unconscious of the reasons why we can. It is a privilege purchased in blood. Sadly, two of its latest buyers -- Marine Cpl. Keaton Coffey, 22, of Boring, Ore. and Army Spc. Vilmar Hernandez, 21, of Salinas, Calif. -- were both killed in Afghanistan only days ago. They are worthy of honoring this day. When, at long last, will we as a people become worthy again of deserving of the sacrifice being made on our behalf?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is Battlefield Romney empty?

Last year, I speculated about the seeming emptiness of Mitt Romney's inner core ("Romney: A mirror with no reflection"). To egregiously quote myself, "Sometimes one can glimpse the inner man by perusing his bookshelf." Now that Romney is the de facto Republican nominee, it is worth revisiting. Mitt's favorite novel is "Battlefield Earth," the universally panned tome by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Besides the Bible (Romney's favorite book), let's hope there are other books on that shelf, too. Science fiction magazine Analog criticized Battlefield as "a wish-fulfillment fantasy wholly populated by the most one-dimensional of cardboard characters." Per Wikipedia, sci-fi critic David Langford trashed the novel's "plot, style and scientific implausibilities" and concluded: "From this, Battlefield may sound almost worth looking at for its sheer laughable badness. No. It's dreadful and tedious beyond endurance". Ouch. To be fair, acclaimed sci-fi author Robert Heinlein called Battlefield "a terrfific story." And Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction praised the book as a "rather good, fast-paced, often fascinating SF adventure yarn." But one freelance writer probably captured the novel best: "If you’re just looking for a good roller coaster of a ride without any depth and without learning anything new whatsoever, pick up Battlefield Earth." With a little tinkering, those words might well summerize Mr. Romney, too. You can't judge a book (or Mr. Romney) by its cover. But you can by its content -- especially if, as Romney's book pick suggests, there's nothing there.

Laughing Man

Per Wikipedia, Garry Wills (born 1934) is "a prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and historian." He's written some 40 books and is a frequent reviewer for the New York Review of Books. He's a veritable Renaissance Man and one of my favorite writers.

And yet, even Wills is reduced to analyzing the latest shiny object in front of the political press: Mitt Romney's laugh. In his latest piece for NYR ("Why is this man laughing?"), Wills writes:
"Everyone has noticed by now the non-laugh laugh of Mitt Romney, a kind of half-stifled barking. But what does it mean? It is blurted out as abruptly as it is broken off. Is it a kind of punctuation, part comma, part full stop, part interrogatory mark? What, if anything, is it trying to convey? Why does it seem more like coughing or burping than laughter?"
Wills speculates that Romney might be a living example of Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot.” Fine. Except we all know that Romney's cackle is utterly meaningless. It is not a window into his soul -- no matter how much pundits want it to be. What's worse, few (if any) normally smart observers seem aware that they're spinning nonsense. See Andrew Sullivan here and Paul Walden here. Like more than a few politicians, Romney is oddly awkward on the public stage. The laugh-like sound he emits in response to humor is a reflection of this maladroitness. Period. Wills' piece is still worth reading (he makes an intriguing point or two) given his erudition. But the endless discourse about Romney's jocosity speaks volumes about the current state of political journalism. You might say it's laughable.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Kevin Drum puts the Facebook IPO into perspective: "The right way to think about IPOs doesn't really have much to do with the fundamentals of the company itself. Who cares if Facebook is going to be either (a) a flop or (b) the biggest company in the galaxy five years from now? All you really care about is Facebook's stock price the day after the IPO. Or, at most, a few months after the IPO. What you care about is whether other people are enthusiastic about Facebook. That's it. It's purely an exercise in forecasting the madness of crowds." By the way, as of 4pm eastern standard time, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (age 28) is worth $20 billion. That's just over $714 million for each year Zuckerberg has been alive.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shameless, and proud of it

Slate made me laugh out loud this afternoon from its sheer shamelessness. They're launching "SurveyMonkey," a monthly poll between now and November that will survey "people’s attitudes toward the presidential candidates—and how they are shifting." You know, in real time. Slate admits that this is not a scientific poll. "We are capturing a snapshot, not running a lab experiment," the editors said. So if the polling results are essentially meaningless, what is the point of SurveyMonkey? Well, there isn't any -- aside from its brazen role as pageview bait. When Alexis de Tocqueville observed that "the power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people," SurveyMonkey was not what he had in mind.

Last Dance

IT'S HARD to believe Donna Summers, the disco diva who ruled the 70s, is dead. And she was 63, too? How could that be? I mean, weren't the 1970s, like, yesterday? In fact, LaDonna Adrian Gaines, Summer's real name, was born in 1948 in Boston. And her breakout hit, “Love to Love You Baby,” debuted 37 years ago in 1975. For those of us of a certain age, the word "yikes" comes to mind. On the other hand, we who were of dating age at the time could partake in the fruits of springtide with the abandon of Caligula as Summer's sultry vocals pulsated in the background everywhere. Remember, this brief epoch was pre-HIV and pre-Girls (the culmination of our cultural angst/panic since the 80s). The polyester and the disco balls were more than worth the price of admission. Trust me, if you weren't there, you missed it. RIP, LaDonna.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

'For beauty, starv'd with her severity'

Yes, yes -- Rebekah Brooks, "a close confidante of Rupert Murdoch, was charged on Tuesday with interfering with a police investigation into a phone hacking scandal that has rocked the tycoon's empire," as Reuters reports breathlessly. But I find myself transfixed by her Edwardian Era looks. Only a corset or bodice topped with an embarrassment of jewels is missing from the imagery of this classical, fiery-haired English woman.

Naturally, the words of Romeo spring to mind:
She hath, and in that sparing makes huge waste;
For beauty, starv'd with her severity,
Cuts beauty off from all posterity.
She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair,
To merit bliss by making me despair.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Your 15 minutes are up, baby

Charles Darwin would not be surprised that a new American species is evolving amid our celebrity-mad pop culture. Homo domesticus kardashia, as the famed naturalist might call it, is drawn to fame like moths to light. When exposed to even a minute of fame, these curious hominids will do anything to stay in the limelight. They'll cling to fame even after the last dog dies. Indeed, so deep is the fervor, they'll chase it round a Mevillian Maelstrom and "round perdition's flames" before they give it up. Which brings me to Sarah Tressler, the semi-famous stripper-reporter formerly of the Houston Chronicle. The appellation "stripper-reporter" is a dead giveaway for homo domesticus kardashia. (By the way, guys in Houston, take a long look into those big, seductive, manic eyes. They spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e. Unless you're into the girlfriend-from-hell type, don't even think it.) Apparently, Ms. Tressler is suing the Chronicle for her firing, claiming gender discrimination. Lemme get this straight. Are we to seriously believe that the Chronicle would not have fired a male reporter upon discovering he moonlighted as a Chippendales hip-grinder? Really? For the love of Mike, Ms. Tressler, it truly is time to get off the stage -- at least the one not featuring a stripper pole.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bangkok truth

I was wondering which journalist would muster the courage to say it publicly. Well, it's Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. On the presidential election, he writes:
The people who work for the wire services and the news networks are physically incapable of writing sentences like, "This election is even more over than the Knicks-Heat series." They are required, if not by law then by neurological reflex, to describe every presidential campaign as "fierce" and "drawn-out" and "hotly-contested." But this campaign, relatively speaking, will not be fierce or hotly contested. Instead it'll be disappointing, embarrassing, and over very quickly, like a hand job in a Bangkok bathhouse. And everybody knows it.
I could be wrong, flat wrong, but I've long held this view -- minus the colorful Bangkok "hand job" analogy. Heh.

Burning the GOP house down to save it?

A Tea Party-backed candidate you've never heard of has driven Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) from office. Lugar is a member of the moderate conservative species being blasted to extinction like the buffalo on the Great Plains of American politics. A while ago, former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) said, "If Dick Lugar, having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption." Yesterday, Lugar lost his reelection bid in Indiana's GOP primary by 20 points. Conclusion: The GOP is beyond redemption. But I hold the minority view that before the GOP can reverse its march on the Road to Perdition, it first has to burn its own house down. Lugar's demise is the latest bucket of gasoline being thrown on that fire.

The wackos win one

Most polls show that most Americans don't have a problem with same-sex marriage. Most Americans do not feel threatened by these marriages. Most Americans say live and let live. Indeed, most Americans cannot understand why conservatives just won't leave these poor folks alone, for chissakes. And yet North Carolina just adopted an amendment to its constitution banning same-sex marriages. The state-wide voting wasn't even close. The amendment won 61% to 39%. Tellingly, however, the amendment lost in the state's largest metropolitan areas -- Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville, Raleigh, and Durham. Ergo, this was a resounding victory for the rural, Bible-thumbing hicks. Yes, that's a politically incorrect way of saying the inmates are running the asylum in the Tar Heel State.

Monday, May 7, 2012

American Prudes

What is it with Americans and sex? I never knew how culturally prudish we were until my first foray to Europe eons ago. Then, as now, TV commercials in Paris were akin to soft porn or nearly so. And it upset exactly nobody. But can you imagine the scandal here if, say, Eva Longoria bared her breasts in a L'Oreal commercial? The FCC would have an aneurysm. Europeans are not innately superior in carnal matters. The difference between us and them is mostly societal maturity. American culture, hobbled from the start with Puritanism, is only a few centuries old. Europe's cultural quilt dates back thousands of years -- with an Inquisition or two thrown in for good measure. In that time, they've learned a few things about what matters and what doesn't. Put into historical perspective, America is still an awkward teenager on her first date. And it shows. To wit: Florida's Brevard County recently banned E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" from its public libraries. Officials say it is "too erotic." Never mind that Henry Miller's "Tropic of Capricorn" and Nabokov's "Lolita" are still available for check-out. FSOG, part of a burgeoning genre called "mommy porn," features graphic BDSM scenes. This, I suspect, is behind the pearl-clutching. Per Forbes, the the book catapulted to the top of the New York Times best-selling e-book fiction list in March. Ironically, banning it from libraries will only add to its sexy allure. Good.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's Supermoon!

It was a pleasant evening in Phoenix. At about 7:43 p.m., I looked skyward. And there, from behind a silvery cloud bank, it emerged: Supermoon. Um, good thing the lunar viewing was free. Supermoon brightly dominated my desert sky but "super" it was not. It is amazing how the media over-hyped this event. Here's the Washington Post front page treatment: "Supermoon rises across the globe: As it reaches its closet point to Earth, the moon is up to 30 percent brighter and appears 14 percent bigger on its shining night this year." Please. Supermoon did not appear 14% bigger or anywhere near it. (The above photo was taken using a telephoto lens.) Buddha said the moon is among the three things that "cannot be long hidden." The sun and the truth are the other two. I'd add a fourth: insatiable media greed for attention.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Better late than never?

As NPR reported, Associated Press correspondent Edward Kennedy was among a small group of reporters taken by Allied military officials to witness the May 7, 1945, surrender by German forces at a schoolhouse in Reims, France. The reporters were sworn to secrecy and could not report the news before the Allies had given the green light. The Germans reported it anyway. Since the jig was up, Kennedy quickly picked up a military phone (thereby avoiding the censors) and filed his dispatch to the AP's London bureau. The story -- the biggest scoop in AP history -- was broadcast over the wires within minutes. Allied commanders had a conniption fit and expelled Kennedy from France. Piling on, the AP condemned his actions and then fired him. Today, the AP apologized for the WWII-era incident. Kennedy, who had long sought public vindication from his old employer, died in 1963. Thanks AP, you're only 24,469 days late and a dollar short.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What's the matter with Republicans?

In his first inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan famously said, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." The Gipper got it wrong. His GOP was the problem and it remains so today. A reality check from Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein: "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges." The prosecution rests.

Judgment day or lack of judgment?

Per Reuters, nearly 15 percent of people worldwide -- or roughly 1 billion souls -- believe the world will end during their lifetime and 10 percent think the Mayan calendar could signify it will happen in 2012, according to a new poll. The poll, by the way, was conducted by Ipsos Global Public Affairs for Reuters. Which naturally begs the question: Really, Reuters? You actually squandered money on this? But I digress. Anyway, the manufactured poll discovered that people with lower education "were more likely to believe in an apocalypse during their lifetime or in 2012, or have anxiety over the prospect." Gee, what a shocking surprise.

Newt departs presidential race, finally

It seemed altogether fitting to add a coda (two more lines) to Maddow blogger Kent Jones' clever eulogy to Newt Gingrich: Let it be woven into the tapestry of human events that on this Second Day of May, in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve, American Colossus Newton Leroy Gingrich graciously bowed out of the race to become President of these United States. And a nation wept. Not from sadness, but from laughing out loud uncontrollably. So endeth our (latest) national nightmare.

Hipster talk

Salon film critic Andrew O'Hehir waxes hipster-like as he reviews "The Avengers," the latest from the Marvel Comics movie franchise: "Please don’t let me harsh your vibe." Shakespeare is spinning in his grave methinks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Will sexism ever die?

I've put John Edwards largely out of mind. In retrospect, this befallen Icarus was bound to fly too close to the dark sun of his own narcissism. Picking over the debris on display at his trial seemed pointless. Today, however, curiosity got the better of me. As everyone knows, top aide Andrew Young publicly claimed paternity of the baby his boss fathered with Rielle Hunter. This of course was a lie. Young's wife, Cheri, was in on the cover-up. Today she testified in court about the matter. Writing for the Daily Beast, "investigative journalist" Diane Dimond described Cheri Young this way: "The tiny Mrs. Young, dressed in a red-and-white patterned cotton sleeveless dress, commanded the jury's attention." In one sentence, Dimond reduced Young to a mere object. I doubt if Dimond is even conscious of her sin. Which, alas, is the problem.