Friday, August 31, 2012

Can the 'wrong stuff' carry the day?

Evidently, there is no shortage of apologists for Mitt Romney who, as many have remarked, was nearly upstaged by Clint Eastwood's "imaginary friend" last night. They so want to believe that Romney's CGI persona is not a handicap. Will Wilkinson, a libertarian who contributes to the Economist, writes: "Mr Romney's acceptance speech didn't rock the rafters, but that's not his style. What he did manage to do was, for once, make himself feel emotionally present, and not so canned. He told Americans ... that he'll do better [than Obama] as clearly and forcefully as he ever has. I don't think he has it in him to do much better. It may be good enough." Granted, that's not a ringing endorsement. But have we really arrived at a point, as Wilkinson seems to suggest, where it is blithely acceptable to elect a president who is merely "good enough?" I must have been asleep on the day mediocrity became a virtue. And yet Romney is in a dead heat with President Obama, if the polls are right. What does that say about us? Have we become so neurotically prone to political bamboozlement that the idea of choosing the best among us for high office has lost all meaning? I wonder if, at bottom, Rome's fate was sealed by a similar thoughtlessness at a similar fork in the road.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

High Plains Drifting

Dirty Harry and a long line of Men With No Names are spinning in their dusty film canisters somewhere in Hollywood. Was Clint Eastwood really conversing with an imaginary Obama "sitting" in an empty chair at tonight's GOP convention? What idiot-savant came up with that idea? How embarrassing. At one point during a disjointed harangue about the president's supposed failures, Eastwood turned to the empty chair and growled, “I’m not going to shut up. It’s my turn.” Lordy. The words being bandied about on the Internet are "surreal", "disaster" and "debacle." Eastwood's performance has already spawned an "Invisible Obama" meme. The jokes for Jon Stewart et al (and Team Obama) are writing themselves. A pundit tweeted: "Invisible Obama should consider tripping Romney when he walks out on stage." And why stop with Obama's invisibility? How about the Invisible Gran Torino Clint drove to the convention? You know, the one in which he clearly left his meds. Pardon yet another pun (hey, i'm on a roll), but For a Few Dollars More, Romney could have hired Democrat-turncoat Dennis Miller. He at least would have gotten some laughs without being laughed at. Talk about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Wow.

Mountains and molehills

Here's a story that's much ado about nothing. According to the New York Times and other purveyors of Serious News, Osama bin Laden may have posed no threat to SEAL Team Six commandos when they gunned him down. A new book on the raid -- authored by an operator who was there -- alleges Bin Laden was unarmed and defenseless in the final showdown. After an initial (probably fatal) wounding, the operators (supposedly) pumped a couple more rounds into his chest to make sure the Al Qaeda leader would meet those Seven Virgins in the afterlife. If true, the Times says it "raises questions" about whether this really was a "capture or kill" mission. Oh please. Is there someone out there who actually believes that this wasn't a targeted hit? More to the point, is anyone here crying a river over it? There was no chance bin Laden was leaving that compound alive. SEAL Team Six had a license to kill, and they acted accordingly on behalf of a nation out for blood. Yes, that doesn't make it right. Yes, there are legitimate moral issues here. And yes, in a perfect world, we probably should have captured the man (assuming it really was possible) and brought him home for his hanging. But either way, he was a dead man. In the end, SEAL Team Six just fast-forwarded matters and saved the taxpayers the cost of a trial.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Please love me do

You know your presidential candidate is in big trouble when the nominating convention is wholly purposed for proving that said candidate is, well, human.

Last night, Rick Santorum tried, Chris Christie tried, and candidate wife Ann Romney tried (really, really hard) -- but all to no avail.

So here's an idea: Instead of windy speeches in lock-step service of Project Humanize Mitt, how about ripping off and then riffing off the old Beatles' standard, "Love Me Do." All together now:
Love, love Mitt do
You know I love you
I'll always be true
So please love Mitt do
Wo ho love Mitt do
Yeah love Mitt do
Wo ho love Mitt do
What, still not working? Damn. The trouble, of course, is that the Republicans would need the actual Fab Four to pull it off. Unfortunately for them, Lennon and Harrison are dead. And Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney are in the tank for Obama. Plus, they'd sue the GOP blind for any unauthorized use of their music. Can't catch a break, eh Mitt?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One small step for a man

America of course is busy idolizing and idealizing the late Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. It's what we do, alas. But somewhere in the empyrean reserved for singular history-makers, Armstrong is probably shaking his head in polite bewilderment. The best thing about this guy, post-moonwalk, was his dedicated refusal to indulge in glory's recompense, the heroin-like elixir to which the lionized usually succumb (think Charles Lindbergh). Armstrong knew he was just a man, albeit a lucky one, like any other man, with all of the contradictions that connotes. Legend has it that Armstrong believed history misconstrued his now famous words. The world heard what it wanted, or needed, to hear when the astronaut first put boot to lunar soil. By his telling, Armstrong meant to convey, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." It's a trifling detail in the great scheme of things. But given his admirable humility since that momentous event, it is in perfect accord with Armstrong, the man.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Decadence hath its privileges

There is a reason why some view us as the land of decadent, capitalist running dogs. Exhibit A: Hollywood power broker Brad Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures. He's worth hundreds of millions just for producing films about, well, alien robots (think Transformers), among other cinematic citadels to human folly. In terms of wealth, though, this is lighting-Cuban-stogies-with-hundred-dollar-bills territory, baby. As for for decadent part, I give you Exhibit B: Grey bought a 4-bedroom Manhattan apartment at the Carlyle for $15.5 million last winter. That, friends, is just for openers.

For the privilege of living there, our mogul pays the storied co-op $37,946 -- a month -- for maintenance. So, for the "price of a new BMW each month," as the NY Times put it, Mr. Grey gets twice-daily housekeeping service, daily newspapers, the use of Frette bathrobes and 600-count Yves Delorme bedding; window-washing, heavy cleanings, bath amenities, cable television and telephone voice mail. This tidy sum (the equivalent of buying two median-priced homes a year) also gets him discounts on laundry, personal training sessions, room-service food and drink; plus preferred pricing on treatments at the hotel’s Sense spa, and 20% off on parking rates in the garage. But it's not all wine and roses. Services like dog-walking, couriers and personalized flower arrangements cost extra. Plus tips, of course.

There is, however, a dirty little secret, as running dogs the world over know. At this stratospheric level of wealth, the buckets of cash made from interest income alone (compounded monthly at a minimum of 4%) conveniently pays for all of this capitalist decadence, and more. Where do you think the saying, "laughing all the way to the bank," comes from? The phrase "running dog" -- typically used in combination with corrupt, decadent, imperialist or capitalist -- was a Chinese communist pejorative smugly flung at Westerners. Today, of course, they're busy elbowing their way to the head of the monied canine pack. Thick is the irony.

OMG! Look! They're NAKED!

Recent research by the Puritans Parents Television Council has discovered a "staggering" increase in both the frequency and explicitness of nudity on primetime TV. Staggering, mind you. And we're talking "full-frontal nudity, full nudity," too, says the PTC. In fact, the only thing standing between viewers and eternal damnation are those black bars that (barely) block viewing of the actor's tallywacker or bodacious ta-ta's. And, God help us, these unspeakable sins are happening at earlier evening hours. The PTC huffs that the values of the American people "are being assaulted on a nightly basis" without warning from those prurient broadcast networks. And why, oh why, hasn't the FCC zealously adjudicated its "backlog of 1.6 million unadjudicated indecency complaints?" Because Our Children Are Watching, intones the PTC. So, just who are these self-appointed guardians of 17th morality? Well, the PTC claims to be a non-partisan organization that advocates "responsible entertainment." In reality, they're uptight Puritans who harbor the haunting fear that somebody, somewhere, may be happy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Is your boss killing you?

Ah, the joys of being told how to do your job. Micromanagers are the bane of the workplace. These fretful souls are always the worse (and least respected) bosses. Unfortunately, they are all too common, like bad weather. But it's actually worse than that. When humans are subjected to danger or pressure or useless "advice" from bosses, the body secretes stress hormones that hike your heart rate and blood pressure while inhibiting other functions, like digestion. Over the long term, scientists say stress can diminish brain cells needed for learning, and contribute to obesity (due to the adverse way it distributes body fat). In short, stress can dumb you down, make you fat, and ultimately kill you. In effect, overly "helpful" bosses (who seem to be proliferating like rabbits) are making life "nasty, brutish and short" again. But things were better once. Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky noted that if you were a normal mammal, what stress was really about was “three minutes of screaming terror on the savannah, after which either it’s over with or you’re over with.” Ah, the good old days -- brutish but healthier for the body. Plus there was the added comfort of knowing that fussy (and therefore indecisive) bosses always got eaten by the saber-toothed carnivore first.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Class of 2016: Running on empty mindsets?

I guess I’ll go all lemming-like, too. The Internet has been awash with back-to-school talk about the Beloit College Mindset List. The list looks at this year’s entering college class of 2016. It is fascinating and a bit frightening.

Here's a sampling:
For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Richard Nixon have always been dead. They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.” The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them. Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker's long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone. They have never seen an airplane “ticket.” Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they really have no use for radio at all. Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends. The Twilight Zone involves vampires, not Rod Serling. Two-thirds of the independent bookstores in America have closed for good during their lifetimes.
Who knows what this mindset actually means or where it will lead this nascent generation. But think about it. From their understandable perspective, everything that occurred before the 90s is not only history – but antiquity. I can already hear them say in unison: “John Lennon who?” Rigged with laptops (instead of notebook and pen) for class, most have never seen a typewriter let alone used one (not that I wish it on anyone).

Nor have these kids ever been without cell phones, GPS or the ability to "Google it." But when confronting two roads diverging “in a yellow wood,” as the poet Robert Frost penned, they’ve never taken the “one less traveled” and reveled in discovery because, well, their iMap app says it’s a longer haul. Nor would they know the joy of being lost on some lovely back-country road surrounded by sunflower fields, laughably armed with a paper map and reduced to trusting one’s fate to serendipity. As Frost knew, it “(makes) all the difference.”

The Class of 2016 is social networked to within an inch of its life. Evidently, its members (and everyone else hooked on this digital cocaine) prefer it that way. Yet, I bet they've never spent a cozy evening with friends for the simple pleasures of conversation, cigarettes, cognac and Coltrane -- with no possibility of sabotage by texting or ringtones.

Facebook and Foursquare have conspired to put privacy and the accidental encounter on the endangered species list. iTunes has done the same to quietude. The sublimity of silence, it seems, is avoided at all costs. How often, I wonder, do these kids remove their earbuds long enough to listen to the wind or the patter of raindrops against a windowpane?

All of that said, I'd still vote against turning the clock back to simpler times. Access to knowledge (and to each other) is nearly boundless now. Technology has indeed set us free. Life as we know it today is safer, healthier, greener, more diverse, more tolerant and vastly more convenient. But I do wonder whether it is much emptier, too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Catholic Deer Hunter

Yesterday, Romney's VP pick Paul Ryan told Pennsylvania voters that he's a "Catholic deer hunter." What does that mean? Is he saying that blowing away Bambi for sport is a blessed activity? I don't know. Not stopping there, Ryan then proclaimed, "I am happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion." Again, meaning what? Besides the tired dig at a comment Obama made over 4 years ago, does Ryan believe guns and religion go together like bacon and eggs? Perhaps the pairing of Christians and Crusades, 12th century-style, is what he's thinking. Again, I don't know. I do know that Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." But that notion may conflict with religious gun-clinging. But who knows? It's tough getting inside the heads of Catholic deer hunters. Still, I know what Mahatma Gandhi said: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Is Ryan living proof of that? I dunno. You decide.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lovely words for Sunday

Just heard this lovely quote (author unknown): "If you love life, life will love you back." Nice, eh?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

War is awesome, dude

There's been a chorus of criticism aimed at NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes, an imbecilic reality show in which celebs "play war" in a series of challenges supposedly drawn from real-life military missions. The Top Guns donate their winnings to charity. Ergo, that makes it okay to glorify the art of killing and blowing shit up on TV. The show deserves to be damned, as does any idolatry of war. Glorifying militarism (along with the slobbering idolization of our servicemen and women since 9/11) is problematic for a host of obvious reasons. Or as H.G. Wells put it, "If we don't end war, war will end us." On the other hand, bowing to Ares or Mars is hardly anything new. It harks back to Sparta at the very least. In our own epoch, what American male hasn't played "war" as a boy? And to be brutally frank, how many moviegoers -- the folks who weren't at Normandy on D-Day -- were horrified but simultaneously thrilled at the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan? The thirst for combat by those who have never experienced its monstrosity is in the human DNA, I'm sorry to report. This partially explains why we keep killing ourselves en masse for King and Country or Religion. And yet -- despite this latest iteration at exalting armed conflict, the Earth will likely remain on its axis even as its human inhabitants spin off of theirs (again), this time via a dumb reality show. It is always wise to temper the tendency to sing hosannas to war with robust criticism. But let's keep the debate real, shall we?

Monday, August 13, 2012

They just won't get off the stage

Speaking at a fundraising event here in Arizona for state Sen. Lori Klein, Samuel Wurzelbacher (you know him as "Joe the Plumber") proclaimed that the United States needs to build a fence at the Mexico border -- and “start shooting” at suspected illegal immigrants. I'll just let that stand without commentary because it would hurt my brain too much to digest his words. Speaking of batshit crazy, Klein (who keeps a loaded raspberry-pink handgun in her purse -- seriously) stood up for the rights of the individual this year, sponsoring a bill to allow dogs to run free as long as they have liability insurance. More proof that Dodo birds of a feather flock together.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Riotous Pussy

Um, no, I haven't been following the travails of "Pussy Riot," the Russian punk band now on trial in Moscow for existing or something. (Hey, I wish them well, but c'mon, archaeologists digging through our rubble 300 years from now won't be shifting dirt for evidence of Pussy Riot.) But the press has made it virtually impossible to avoid the phrase Pussy Riot. It's, like, everywhere. I get the distinct feeling that people just like to say Pussy Riot because it's suddenly okay to prepend the word "pussy" (and all that connotes) to "riot" -- you know, aloud. It kinda rolls off the tongue, so to speak. And guys, just fess up. When you say "Pussy Riot," you're really thinking "Riotous Pussy." Think of the double entendre "Pussy Galore," a fictional female character in Goldfinger. Appending pussy works, too. Think "Octopussy," courtesy of yet another James Bond flick. Better yet, think Beavis and Butt-head: "Hey Beavis ... huhhh huhh huh ... he said *Pussy* Riot .... huhhh huhh huh. Cool." Or put another way, as our duo of teen delinquent-philosophers would say: “Uh, hey, baby -- Damn we're smooth."

Let the hyperventilating begin

Romney's VP pick, Paul Ryan, is the Last Chance the political media has to make The Most Boring Presidential Race in History, well, less boring.

Lotsa luck.

If history tell us anything, it's that VP picks do not determine who wins the race. Remember how everyone went gaga over Sarah Palin, a made-for-TV matinee idol? McCain lost anyway. And Ryan, handicapped by having brains (and just possibly, a soul), is no Palin -- thank God.

Anyway, expect a flood of silly, hyperventilating stories like this one from Slate (my comments are embedded in brackets):
"The conventional wisdom [um, and 224 years of American history] is clear. Running mates can clearly hurt a presidential campaign [see Palin], but they really don’t make much of a difference in helping a candidate win [correctamundo]. But [you knew a "but" was coming] there are three big reasons why the Ryan selection could be different [aw shucks, just three?]. First of all, as Politico points out [stop -- Politico? The folks who put the hype in hyperventilate?], it changes Romney’s basic strategy about the race: Make it about Barack Obama [it already is about Obama, bro]. It also could vastly [repeat, vastly!] help Romney erase persistent doubts about his conservative credentials among some of the most important members of the GOP base, points out the Wall Street Journal [yeah, the I-hate-Obama crowd who will vote for Mitt by default and not get him any closer to winning]. And it virtually assures that the country’s fiscal challenges will take center stage in the campaign, writes the Washington Post." [Which is exactly what Team Obama has been salivating for all along. As the Road Runner would say, "Beep Beep!"]
We now return you to our regularly scheduled Olympics coverage.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

American ingenuity in black & white

In an amazing feat of celestial mathematics and navigation, NASA precisely positioned a second satellite orbiting Mars to capture the split second when Curiosity hit the Mars airspace.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Holy sh#t! Curiosity made it!

Hot damn. They actually pulled it off. After surviving a make-or-break descent and landing, the Curiosity Rover is safely on Mars. It has already phoned home to say all is well. Looks like NASA has got it's mojo back.