Thursday, June 28, 2012

Health-care law doomed! ... Oh, wait

This morning's NY Times headline screamed: "HEALTH LAW STANDS."


I immediately thought of Jeffrey Toobin. So did CNN's Howie Kutz. He wrote today: "During the Supreme Court’s oral arguments over Obamacare in March, CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin famously said this: 'This was a train wreck for the Obama administration. This law looks like it’s going to be struck down. All of the predictions, including mine, that the justices would not have a problem with this law were wrong.' "

Then, inserting the shiv, Kurtz added: "Um, make that wrong twice."

In March, the talking heads confidently pronounced that Obamacare -- and by implication, Obama -- was doomed. It's a familar refrain. This same bunch predicted the landmark law would never pass Congress in 2009 -- until it did. At the conclusion of the Court's oral arguments in March, the media pressed President Obama for his take. Obama simply said, "I'm confident the Court will uphold the law." I remember thinking, "Hmm ... what did (former constitutional law) Professor Obama know that the political media didn't?" Quite a bit, it turns out.

For some reason, the media and Mr. Obama's political opponents keep misjudging him. They keep ignoring the ever-growing pile of facts in evidence. Today's landmark ruling just underlines a point I've been making since the 2008 election: Underestimate this guy at your peril. He has a bad habit of, you know, winning. Oh, and Mr. Romney? You can now fuggettaboud running against Obamacare. That piece has just been knocked off the chess board. Funny how that happened, huh?

Or as the Road Runner would put it: "Beep-beep."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Just about everybody is wrong about SB1070

SO WHATEVER happened to the Age of Reason? It would help, for example, if folks actually read the Supreme Court's SB1070 opinion -- you know, BEFORE rendering an opinion about it. But we're on deadline, the press said. So in its best rendition of yellow journalism yet, it simply declared that both sides had won. SB1070 proponents say they scored an EPIC victory. They boast that the heart of the law -- the right to question suspected illegal aliens if held for unrelated infractions (like speeding) -- has been ruled constitutional. Hypothetically, Arizona can finally enforce its "papers please" law. But the average cop doesn't speak hypothetical. Neither does the federal government. And neither is much interested in prosecuting (or stemming the "tide" of) housemaids and gardeners. So catch-and-release is what law enforcement will amount to. The actual bad guys -- drug dealers, pimps and gunrunners -- don't exceed the I-10 speed limit and keep to the shadows. SB1070 opponents are dancing in the end zone, too. They say the law has been gutted and rendered meaningless. They're not wrong (3 of the 4 provisions were tossed out by the Supremes). But the ruling still leaves the door open for racial profiling and other abuses by overzealous enforcers. SCOTUS got it wrong, too. It rationalized Arizona's right to go all Gestapo on brown people by opining that there's no evidence states will abuse this power. Yes, and hope springs eternal. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a fine ideal. But is it wise jurisprudence given the stakes? Comprehensive immigration reform is the only way out of this mess. The sooner, the better.

The day Kennedy was shot

I updated my father's genealogical timeline on the other day, adding the traumatic event of JFK's assassination to give it context.

 For me, a third grader in Los Angeles, 22 Nov 1963 began like any other day.

Weather-wise, too, it was classically L.A.: Hazy blue skies (one part high clouds, two parts smog), pleasantly warm, a soft marine breeze from the west. No sweaters, jackets or batteries required.

Being little more than a skinny bean sprout, the world at large – the one beyond school, play, cartoons, and our dog Trixie – was not yet my concern. I was an eager but empty vessel waiting to be filled with practical knowledge and, someday, the wisdom gleaned from the relentless vagaries of humankind. I was unaware that its latest vagary was unfolding in a placed called Dallas. In that, at least, I was not alone.

When the recess bell rang that Friday morning, getting to the playground sock-ball courts first was my top priority. Running to my goal, I unleashed a breathless whoop when I succeeded (ostentatious fist-pumping like Tiger Woods – who wouldn’t be born until 1975 – had yet to be invented). Then, maybe 15 minutes later, my world shifted from its normal, late morning course. I began to hear whimpering. It was emanating from the outdoor lunch tables. A number of the older girls were weeping. Was someone hurt? Teachers had suddenly clumped together along the edges of the schoolyard’s black-top. They were urgently whispering to each other, some nervously covering their open mouths with both hands. Some of them, too, had moist red eyes. What, I wondered absently, had happened? Still, many other kids were playing and doing what kids do without a care in the world. And the bright California sun sat contently overhead. Not comprehending, I inwardly shrugged as I took in this kaleidoscope of contrasting images.

Then the bell rang again, abruptly ending recess, and we filed back into our classrooms.

There may have been an announcement over the PA system. My teacher, Mrs. Buchanan, probably passed on the solemn news to us as we sat facing her, blank-faced at our little desks. I simply don't remember. I do remember going home early, walking up the gentle hill of San Pedro Street, jumping over the familiar cracks on the sidewalk, but noticing an uncharacteristic stillness at the houses along my path. I didn’t know it then, of course, but my school, like most in southern California, had shut down almost immediately as word spread. Mom was not surprised to see me. She knew.

At the family dinner table later that evening, I recall my father intently watching the news. Having just gotten home, he was still wearing his royal blue work shirt, the one with the orange “AA” (American Airlines) patch above one pocket. Dad was a CBS man, so the anchor on the low-def, black & white TV screen had to have been Walter Cronkite. I would come to know “Uncle Walter” well in the coming tumults triggered by civil rights marches, riots, Vietnam, nightly body counts, and student protests at places like Kent State. I vaguely recall Dad sighing in resignation, and making a kind remark about Mr. Kennedy. I knew was our president. JFK was an admired figure in our staunchly Democratic household. Something bad had occurred, but my child-mind could not yet grasp its gravity. Besides, I was busy patting Trixie, our German Sheppard, who was quietly panting her dog-smile below the overhanging table cloth.

After dinner, I went off to play – and onward to finish living my boyhood. Only many years later did I connect the dots and have that oh-my-god epiphany. Only then did I realize I had been part of a greater American family whose members could recall exactly where they were on the day Kennedy was shot. Like them, I had borne witness to a shocking tragedy, one with the power to knock the breath out of me even years after the fact.

Our 35th President, of course, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. Central Time (10:30 a.m. at my playground) on that black November Friday in Dealey Plaza. It explained the crying girls, the anxious whispers, the pained look on Mrs. Buchanan face, my dad’s dismay at the somber words coming from Mr. Cronkite, and the hush that seemingly enveloped my little world along San Pedro Street.

But that's the way it was in 1963, to paraphrase Cronkite's trademark phrase. It was momentous history, the day Kennedy died, as witnessed through one child’s eyes in L.A.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Men and their cars

My daddy drove a Hudson.

And not any Hudson, mind you. Father drove a 1949 Hudson Commodore 6 Sedan. In the slang of the times, it was truly the Cat's Meow.

You may have trouble picturing this now classic automobile. Think "Driving Miss Daisy," the 1989 movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. The car Freeman drove in the film was a Hudson Commodore (pictured above). Dad's car was identical to it. Fortunately, I own an old black & white photograph of my then 23-year-old father posing beside his brand new prize on a Chicago South Side street. You’d need a big ruler to measure the length of the grin on my dad’s beaming face. Turtleneck-clad and pencil-mustached, he sported a fedora in the photo. The gleaming Hudson sported 1949 Illinois license plate "1700 202".

Dad always dreamed of buying a Cadillac. But he never did. A practical family man, he could never quite justify the cost of owning one -- even when he and my mother became reasonably secure empty-nesters. But at least he had once owned a Hudson Commodore. Talk about a "dame magnet." In 1949 he was courting my mother (who could have given 1940s actress Dorothy Dandridge a run for her money in the beauty department; mom is on the left in the photo below). I wonder if that Hudson had anything to do with him closing the deal (they married in 1950 and stayed that way for over 50 years).

As the curtain fell on the 1950s, dad found himself saddled with three kids and a wife to feed. There were few two-income families in the Mad Men Era. The Hudson, alas, had to go. Enter car number 2: The iconic 1960 Rambler station wagon, complete with roof rack and fins. When he purchased it, the car's blue color probably matched dad's unconscious mood. For it was a reminder that his freewheeling days as a man-about-town were gone for good. (Ladies, think of it this way: You end up buying that nice pair of sensible pumps because it's the right thing to do. But what you really want are those hot, black stilettos, right?)

When the family migrated to southern California in late 1961, mom and my siblings flew to the Golden State. Dad and I drove the 4-door Rambler cross-country to Los Angeles via the old Route 66. A memorable trip, it was. As dad’s life progressed, other cars -- Buicks, Chryslers and even a yellow Ford Pinto for mom -- came and went in succession. But the Hudson Commodore had to have remained special to him.

I know that special feeling. When I turned 23 myself, as life would have it, I bought a screaming-red Triumph TR7. It was called "The Wedge." And we’re talking 0 to 90 in six seconds, baby. Like all rebellious teens, I swore I’d never become my father. But let’s face it, that hot TR-7 was my version of his Hudson. Dad was duly impressed, too. When the damn thing would start (always an iffy proposition with Triumph sports cars), it was a dream to drive. And talk about a “chick magnet.” As cars go, it was my first love. Like father, like son -- inevitably.

(Historic Sidebar: The manufacturer of dad’s Rambler, American Motors, was headed at the time by one George W. Romney -- yes, Mitt Romney's father -- before he entered politics. Rich is the generational irony.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Day the (CD) Music Died

Per the NY Times, 20-year-old NPR Emily White reported that despite being “an avid music listener" and collector of 11,000 digital songs for her iTunes library, "she has bought only 15 CDs in her life." Hmm.

Monday, June 18, 2012

'Notes from Underground' Reconsidered

As Andrew Sullivan noted, David Denby thinks Dostoevsky's classic, Notes from Underground, still kicks us in the gut:
"Predictors of human behavior, as the underground man says, generally assume we will act in our own best interests. But do we? The same question might be asked today, when "rational-choice theory" is still a predictive model for economists and sociologists and many others. When working-class whites vote for Republican policies that will further reduce their economic power—are they voting in their best interests? What about wealthy liberals in favor of higher taxes on the rich? Do people making terrible life choices—say, poor women having children with unreliable men—act in their best interests? Do they calculate at all? What if our own interest, as we construe it, consists of refusing what others want of us? That motive can’t be measured. It can’t even be known, except by novelists like Dostoevsky. Reason is only one part of our temperament, the underground man says. Individualism as a value includes the right to screw yourself up."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why are we here?

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr: “Nothing demonstrates the improbability of high intelligence better than the 50 billion earthly species that failed to achieve it.” He's right. Um, hmm ...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Just because

No commentary. This is just a nice photo of the president by Getty's Chip Somodevilla.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury, 1920–2012

The author of Fahrenheit 451 lived by a simple credo: “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why is Venus laughing at us?

Every TV news outlet and newspaper from here to Timbuktu is promoting the "Transit of Venus" as a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event -- if, that is, you missed it in 2004 like me and everyone I know. Per Wikipedia, the Venusian transit occurs once a century in pairs separated by an interval of eight years. Part deux is happening today and tomorrow. The next event is scheduled for 2117. Ergo: "Millions will look skyward as Venus crosses the Sun on June 5 for the last time more than 100 years," gushed Astronomers Without Borders. Millions. NASA has a Google Maps mashup to search for "transit" events in your area. And if you're completely around the bend, there's even an app for the flyby. You, too, can "participate in a modern-day experiment to recreate the heady days of scientific exploration," said Wired magazine. Among other things, the app will help you "calculate the size of the solar system." Hey, that's almost better than sex, right? So is the world waiting with bated breath for this "chance of a lifetime" beginning at 3 p.m. PDT? Of course not. Despite the media hawking, it's unlikely the average Joe or Jane has even heard of the pending solar transit. It's a safe bet that millions of eyes will not be cast sunward at the appointed time. And I admit to a certain dyspeptic pleasure in that knowledge. Rather than simply reporting that this event is a boon to scientists probing the makeup of exoplanets orbiting distant stars, CNN et al has turned it into a media circus for ratings. Remember the hype over the "supermoon" last month, a celestial event that was anything but super? Welcome back to the future. Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, must be laughing. And for good reason.

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's all good

In a shameless bid for free publicity, Ragan's PR Daily (the corporate flacks of Lawrence Ragan Communications Inc) has a list of "the decade’s most irritating words and phrases" that is making the rounds on the web today. Ragan nominates: It is what it is, Man cave, Amazing, Baby bump, Awesome, Whatever, Literally (pronounced “LIT-rally” ), Think outside the box, It’s all good, Process, Just a thought, and Virtual. In my book, "man cave" is probably the most egregious. To Ragan's list, I'd add "not so much", "cool" (which is waaaay overused), and the irritatingly ubiquitous "so" when a speaker uses the word to start a statement or soliloquy. It drives me crazy. The principal perpetrators are techies, academics, hipsters and (increasingly) political talking heads. Chalk it up to the lemming factor in the age of digital mass media.