Friday, September 28, 2012

He loves me, he loves me not

Cosmopolitan just floors me. Flipping through the magazine at the dentist office is a laugh a minute. In the current edition, there's this gem: "Does He Love Me? 8 Signs He's Crazy About You." After several millenia, you'd think the ladies would have us guys figured out by now. They don't. But humorist Dave Barry describes the conundrum best: "Guys are simple ... women are not simple and they always assume that men must be just as complicated as they are, only way more mysterious. The whole point is guys are not thinking much. They are just what they appear to be. Tragically." Exactly.


New York Times technology writer David Pogue renders his verdict: "So Apple has written a beautiful, well-designed [map] app — and fed it questionable data. It’s as though you just got a $1,500 professional coffee maker and then poured moldy beans into it." Heh.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are we special?

We humans love to think of ourselves as special. Very, very special. After all, that's why God, the Almighty Himself, takes a side in our presidential elections and roots for [insert NFL team here], right? Some of us have even advanced the idea that we earthlings could be part of the only biological life in the entire universe. To be sure, as living organisms, we are almost certainly special in terms of our biological uniqueness. But beyond that, we would be wise to temper our braggadocio. Science writer David Blatner explains why:
If you assume a grain of sand has an average size and you calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly (and we're speaking very roughly here) 7.5 x 1018 grains of sand, or seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains.

That's a lot of grains.

But if you use a Hubble telescope and counted all the "distant galaxies, faint stars, red dwarfs, everything we've ever recorded in the sky" you'd end up with "70 thousand million, million, million stars in the observable universe (a 2003 estimate), so that we've got multiple stars for every grain of sand — which means, sorry, grains, you are nowhere near as numerous as the stars."
Kinda of puts things -- and us -- into proper perspective, doesn't it?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Packers was robbed

For those of you who don't follow football closely, Atlantic writer Derek Thompson succinctly described what happened:
Last night on Monday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception in the endzone to lose the game to the Green Bay Packers. Then he gloriously threw up his hands, celebrated with ecstatic teammates, and watched his kicker put the extra point through the uprights, sealing a Seahawks victory.

Wait, what?

Yes, exactly. With the league's officials locked out due to a labor dispute with the NFL, the replacement referees called the interception a touchdown. Basically, the defender caught the pass, but the wide receiver put his hands around the ball to make it look like a shared catch, and under the tie-goes-to-the-runner principle, the refs called it a touchdown -- even after a video review. The TV announcers were apoplectic. Several appeared on the verge of tears. The Packers looked vaguely murderous. Even the prudish ESPN ran the indignant headline "Replacement refs decide game."
More here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Keep your paws off my Google Maps, Apple

In the iconic 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston famously growled, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" I now know how he felt. Per Salon, Apple’s new iOs 6 operating system — which it released with the new iPhone 5 — replaces the Google map app with its own. Bad move. Evidently, it is not "insanely great." iPhone 5 owners hate it because the Apple app is clearly inferior. Think I'll skip the upgrade and keep my iPhone 4.

White Woman's Burden

TO PARAPHRASE Michael Corleone, just when I thought I was out (and done writing about Kate Middleton's breasts), they pull me back in. In a shameless bid to exploit the royal boobs story for eyeballs, Slate's "Explainer" columnist Brian Palmer asks, "When Did Bare Breasts Become Taboo?" You see, says Palmer, those topless photos of Middleton would have been socially acceptable in some eras. You know, about 3 millennia ago. So glad he cleared that up.

Anyway, it's the above photo that spun my head around (think Linda Blair in The Exorcist). And no, it's not a photoshopped fake. Shot by Mark Large of Getty Images, the National Geographic-like photo shows Prince William and his prim ladylove in Marau, Guadalcanal Province, Solomon Islands, earlier this week. But given the couple's relaxed, "just another day in the colonies" expression, it could have been 1899. But what really perturbs me is Slate's readiness to publish a photo of big-breasted, brown-skinned, indigenous women without batting an eye. I can't imagine the magazine posting a topless photo of any big-breasted "Western" woman, let alone the Duchess of Cambridge. Yet it's perfectly OK to display topless "native" women in their "natural habitat." I naively thought we were past this sort of unthinking, and frankly racist, double-standard. Guess not.

As for the "White Man's Burden" angle (captured in the above photo), writer Naeesa Aziz wrote: The royal trip "reeked of stereotypes and cast the royals as the gleaming white hopes whose visit gives the wretched 'natives' hope to carry on through the drudgery of their daily lives. It was as if they made the visit to take a survey asking, 'How’s life been since we stopped owning you?' ” Yes, that's probably overstating things a bit. The locals volunteered to put on a traditional welcome, including going topless. Still, Aziz isn't too far off the mark.

Don't ask, don't tell Romney

SOUND JUDGMENT and sagacity distinguish our best presidents. Those traits in President Obama were certainly tested during the debate over "don't ask, don't tell." Writing for Slate, UCLA scholar Nathaniel Frank reminded us that DADT supporters essentially predicted armageddon if the policy was repealed. It would do "great damage" to the military, said Sen. John McCain. It could “cost Marines’ lives,” said the commandant of the Marine Corps in a revealing "You can't handle the truth!" moment. "We'd be risking "our lives, property and freedom,” said one think-tanker. Franks noted there were dire predictions that "one-quarter of the military, or 500,000 troops, might quit in protest." Obama judged the protestations to be much ado about nothing. He therefore stepped up to the plate and repealed DADT a year ago this week. Guess what? Crickets. Nothing happened. A UCLA study, co-authored by Franks, found “no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts: unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.” Or as one straight solder put it: “It was a nonevent, like driving over a flat road. You don’t even notice a ripple.” Mitt Romney, to his credit, was not one of the DADT doomsayers. But he did say DADT was working and he would not change it. That means had he been president, the policy would still be place today. Let that sink in as you contemplate the notion of a Romney presidency.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Willard Milhous Romney?

Reuters columnist Jack Shafer warns: "Be careful about writing Mitt Romney’s political obituary before they fill him with formaldehyde and pour him into his mahogany condo. Like that other frequent Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, Romney has a remarkable talent for stepping into it, sinking and soiling himself rotten as he extricates himself." Shafer then compares Romney and Nixon in terms of core beliefs (nonexistent), political style (awkward) and personality (stilted). Shafer does a good job here. It's scary how much the two men do have in common. There are even some political environment similarities. Shafer's bottom line: If Nixon could win, so could Romney. The trouble with this theory is that it's preposterous. Though the two men share some key traits, Romney is no Nixon. Romney is a stable, well-intentioned family man (albeit one stuck in circa 1954). Nixon was Darth Vader (see Watergate). They didn't call him "Tricky Dick" for nothing. Nixon's democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was no Barack Obama. Let's just say that oratory and retail politicking were not Humphrey's strong suits, and leave it at that. Lastly, America in 2012 is vastly different from what it was in 1968. The nation today is a bucolic paradise compared to 1968 when it nearly imploded from violent anti-war protests, race riots, and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and MLK -- just to name the highlights. Yes, anything is possible in this election. And that obviously includes grasping at straws.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

No, the debates won't help either

AN INEVITABLE media narrative is taking hold as we approach October. It presumes Mitt Romney is still controlling his own destiny. It further presumes Mitt can save himself by excelling in the upcoming debates with Obama. I give you Andrew Sullivan: "The debates are Romney's best bet to turn this thing around, unless Netanyahu tries to help him out by blowing up the global economy. If Mitt's constantly on the defensive in them, as [Joe Klein] suggests he'll have to be, this could turn into a rout. Down-ballot as well. Has Obama now done to the entire GOP what he did to the Clintons, McCain and Romney? Make them somehow self-destruct?" Sullivan is right about the implications of Romney's defensive posture. But beware of pundits bearing predictions about Mitt's ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat with only 48 days left before Election Day. Short of Romney evolving into Winston Churchill -- like, overnight -- and Obama devolving into Homer Simpson, any notion of Romney turning the election around during the debates is laughable. Remember, Romney has not topped Obama in any poll. Not even once. In short, Romney is toast. The only question is how badly he and the GOP will get burned. My bet is extra crispy.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Do you throw like a girl?

THE VERDICT is in: If you're a girl, you probably throw like one. That according to a comprehensive study by Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In most things, men and women really aren't all that different ... except in two areas: throwing velocity and throwing distance. In those motor tasks, the difference is "very large," Hyde told the Washington Post. Apparently, the "overhand throwing gap" starts showing up at age 4. By age 15, "nearly every boy throws better than the best girl.” Usually, a lot better. And it's true in every culture around the world. Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be a muscular or structural reason for the difference, per the Post. It's all in the physics of throwing execution. For women, then, scientists suspect it's something neurological rooted in human evolution. Back on the African savannah, men threw rocks at prey or for self-defense. So did women, but they often threw with a baby in one arm. The good news is that girls can learn not to throw like girls. It just requires instruction and practice. But there's even better news, ladies. None of this really matters. Throwing like a girl won't stop you from kicking male butt in every other field of endeavor, especially if it involves brains.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Royal Boobs

In this case, "royal boobs" refer to the actual mammary glands, the woman baring them and the slack-jawed legions transfixed by their twin attributes. For some odd reason, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, thought sunbathing topless at a private French chateau was a winning idea. Even odder, Her Worshipfulness was expecting a decent measure of privacy. The result: Over one million mentions on Google about the Baroness' naked boobs, not to mention the countless images that will live forever. In a perfect world, respect for privacy is assured, the paparazzi are refined gentlemen, and telephoto lens do not exist. In the real world, the concept of privacy vanished the moment the Countess agreed to become Prince Willie's hot date a decade ago. Does Her Grace, Bearer of the Royal Breasts, not know that? As for the worldwide audience of salivating gawkers, you'd think that people (i.e., men) have never seen a pair of breasts in all of human history. Of course it doesn't help that every major newspaper (including the NY Times), magazine and television network have covered the story like an imminent, civilization-ending meteor impact. Albert Einstein was on to something when he said, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Me neither.

On living well

Peter Lawler ponders the life and death of the late Christopher Hitchens: "Hitchens did not live as if he were a body. He did not, God love him, live in fearful attentiveness to every conceivable risk factor that might extinguish his biological being. He smoked and drank heavily, and he ignored his body to enjoy life. From the point of view of the health-and-safety puritans around these days, he was pretty much a madman. ... But we might say that his relative indifference to the body was one cause of his undeniable intellectual greatness, his courageous advocacy on behalf of human liberty everywhere. That indifference might be understood to be in the service of the truth, which is that a life without biological death couldn't possibly be one lived in personal freedom. Living well, after all, isn't all about living just a bit longer." Amen.

Gangnam Style -- Um, WTF?

For some reason, a short, pudgy, South Korean "rapper" is now a worldwide sensation. I no longer question these things, mind you. I simply bow to the absurd. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

iPhotography in the iPhone Age

Last year, they estimate that people used their camera phones to snap some 380 billion images of cute pets, cute toddlers, beverages, food dishes, self-portraits and sundry body parts. 380 billion. Most of this photographic dreck ends up on Facebook. The upload rate is tens of millions of pics per day. Even as I wrote this, a Facebook friend shared a photo of the plastic cup he was using to consume a pint of Ranger India Pale Ale in a Columbia, Missouri bar. A white plastic cup. I've long since given up asking why. New York Times writer-photog James Estrin writes: "A photograph is no longer predominantly a way of keeping a treasured family memory or even of learning about places or people that we would otherwise not encounter. It is now mainly a chintzy currency in a social interaction and a way of gazing even further into one’s navel."

Man skydiving into Burning Man

Burning Man: An annual "experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance" in the Nevada desert. Translation: A pointless, overdone, week-long, pot-party by (mostly) middle-class white people pathetically trying (but inevitably failing) to reenact Woodstock who obviously have plenty of time and money to burn, man.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Schooling Romney on diplomacy

Friends, Romans, countrymen -- both here and abroad -- lend me your ears. Underestimate President Obama at your peril. In crisis diplomacy at the world-class level, you first bide your time to marshal all the facts, size up the adversary, and decide which tool to best bring him to heel. Then you act with overwhelming force. With that in mind, the New York Times is reporting that yesterday Obama made a late-night call to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Obama was blunt. That's diplomatese for "furious." It lasted 20 minutes. Obama did most of yelling talking. Long story short: Condemn the violence, protect our embassy or risk losing our friendship, our alliance and our money. Sweet dreams -- Click. By midday Thursday, Morsi (who had been conspicuously silent) was all over national television condemning the unrest. Guess he got the message. In fact, the Times added, the entire Egyptian leadership, including the Muslim Brotherhood, was scrambling on Thursday "to try to repair the country’s alliance with Washington." Guess they got the message, too. That's how it done, Mr. Romney. You don't lash out in blind outrage at a provocation. Nor do you wait for the 3 a.m. phone call. You wake the other guy up at 3 a.m. It's called peace through superior brainpower.

Landing on Mars in Ultra-HD

Just two words: Totally awesome.

They think you're stupid -- Ctd

If you've ever wondered what equivocation looks like in the wild, wonder no more. I caught the following specimen in its natural habitat, The Atlantic in this case. Molly Ball writes: "Romney's Libya blunder might be just a blip, a single news cycle lost in a campaign that still has nearly two months to go and will surely refocus on the economy before long. There's also the possibility that further developments overseas reflect badly on the administration and somehow make Romney's critique look prescient rather than crass." But to make these outcomes work, Ball is suggesting that: (a) voters have the memory of a guppy in a fish bowl; (b) voters are incapable of discerning the magnitude of Romney's flub; and (c) if Obama makes a mistake abroad before November, voters will discount all of his other accomplishments on the international stage to date -- including killing Bin Laden -- and vote Romney. Why? See points a and b. The mind reels.

A gratuitous blog post

OK, OK -- so I couldn't resist. Yes, HBO Newsroom star Alison Pill is the nude subject in the photo at left. Pill "accidentally" tweeted this digital self-portrait to the world, or so she says. "Yep. That picture happened. Ugh. My tech issues have now reached new heights, apparently. How a deletion turned into a tweet... Apologies," she later tweeted. But she didn't hit the delete button fast enough. The pic has gone viral. Just a few thoughts. (a) Meh, big deal. (b) I didn't know Ms. Pill wore glasses. (c) How does one accidentally tweet a nude photo of oneself? (d) Runaway narcissism, amour-propre and daddy issues aside, what motivated Pill to photograph herself in the buff in the first place? (e) This is what I get for visiting the Huffington Post.

They think you're stupid

Well-meaning pundits often presume that you, dear readers, are idiots. In his latest column, The Atlantic's Clive Crook asks: "Romney or Obama: Who Loses More From the Crisis in Egypt and Libya?" Okay, wait. Don't tell me. Lemme think. Damn, this is so hard, dude. OK, OK -- I got it: Romney loses. It's obvious, right? Wrong, says Crook.

Crook writes: "The administration's posture of calm, cool confidence on foreign policy is going to need, let's say, tweaking. The power of leading from behind, quietly delivering such excellent results in Egypt and Libya, is no longer an achievement in the bank. If he had a semi-capable opponent, these events would have been seriously bad news for the president. He doesn't, I grant you. Nonetheless, it's too soon to know who'll sustain the greater damage."

My initial reaction was, Clive, you gotta be kidding me, man. Romney figuratively shot himself in the head. The "greater damage" is plain to see. Moreover, you'd need to be dense indeed to buy Crook's arguments. And people, especially Atlantic readers, aren't as dumb or as ill-informed as he evidently thinks they are. Then I got mad.

First, Crook comes within a hair's breadth of calling Obama "uppity" for his winning and nuanced stoicism. Second, he lazily repeats the fiction that Obama is "leading from behind." The charge is misleading and wholly inaccurate. Third, he suggests that a swaggering Obama promised to deliver "excellent results in Egypt and Libya." He did no such thing. In fact, Obama promised the opposite late last year: "We’re under no illusions -- Libya will travel a long and winding road to full democracy. There will be difficult days ahead." Yesterday was such a day, was it not? Fourth, Crook takes it as an article of faith that Obama is winning only because he is facing a political dolt (i.e., Romney). And that a more capable challenger would have had the abracadabra to cut Obama down to size. Right. And the moon is made of cheese.

So on the basis of these thin reeds, Crook concludes Obama can still make a hash of things, thereby giving Romney a shot at winning. Ergo, the proverbial jury is still out. But this conceit only works if one bends the truth, ignores the facts and refuses to see what is in front of one's own nose. Simply stated: Romney got his clock cleaned, and he won't be snatching victory from the jaws of defeat any time soon. Most folks get that without the tiresome equivocations.

Another fine mess

THE WHEELS have not yet come off the wobbling Romney campaign, but the bolts attaching them are getting awfully loose. Yesterday, in front of god and everybody, Mitt Romney showcased his own incompetence on foreign policy by questioning Obama's competence in these matters. Give the man credit. That's a neat trick, and a novel twist on the pot calling the kettle black. As the whole world knows by now, Romney chastised Obama for supposedly "apologizing" for American values as attacks against US embassy personnel broke out in Benghazi (where our ambassador was killed) and Cairo. Obama did no such thing. So Romney was either lying or just making shit up. And now everyone knows it. More ominous for Mr. Romney: even Republicans are questioning his fitness for the Oval Office. Worse, that narrative is taking hold in the news media. Talk about "another fine mess," as Hardy would put it. That sound you hear might be the life draining from the Romney campaign.

Flunking Politics 101

Mulling Mitt Romney's Libya/Egypt flub, the Atlantic's Clive Crook gets at the heart of the matter: "Romney's mistake wasn't that he was opportunistic. Every successful politician is an opportunist. It was that he was crassly and nakedly opportunistic."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mika's table dance

Cue the bump-and-grind music. I had a hunch that MSNBC "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski was, well, smokin' hot. I'd say this Vanity Fair photo puts to rest any lingering doubts. As the Bard would put it, "Zounds!"

Needless to say, the pic has gone viral. I'm of two minds about Mika's table dance. First, I'm no prude. So part of me says: Hey, if you've got it, work it, baby. I admire strong, unblushing women who are comfortable in their own skins. On the other hand, as Slate's Alyssa Rosenberg asks, "Do We Really Need To See Sexy Mika?" Probably not. Brzezinski is, after all, a serious broadcast journalist. But her Vanity turn has added an upwardly thrust leg to the menu of my male mind -- a steamy image that will now compete with whatever she says next on US-Russia bilateral relations.

Rosenberg writes: "My jaw literally dropped when a friend sent me the link to Vanity Fair's new joint profile of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski ... It was the picture that did it: Scarborough in a blue suit and blue, open-collared shirt lounging comfortably in a chair next to a butcher block table. On which is perched Brzezinski, his Morning Joe co-anchor, posed with her left leg skyward, ass just barely covered, balanced on one spindly black high heel. The takeaway: A man is a man and a woman is a table-top ornament."

Rosenberg is spot on, of course. Brzezinski's boldness plays right into the tenacious conceit that women are decorative eye-candy not to be taken seriously.

That said, if a beautiful woman wants to showcase her physical attributes, then she has every right to do so. Moreover, there's no escaping the fact that the female body can be a glorious objet d'art. Just ask Renoir, Degas, and the legion of other artists down the millennium. And Mika is drop-dead gorgeous from bow to stern. But as I've argued before in these pages, I remain mystified why more women -- especially those positioned as role models -- do not at least pause to consider the full consequences of gratuitously sexing it up like Mika.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Precious bodily fluids

There are times when it is just plain embarrassing to live here in Arizona.

Don't get me wrong, most folks here are quite rational and sane, including those in the Republican population. It's just that the nutters have a way bigger megaphone.

Before I continue, recall this classic scene from the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb:
General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden): Mandrake?
British RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers): Yes, Jack?
Ripper: Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
Mandrake: Well, I can't say I have, Jack.
Ripper: Vodka, that's what they drink, isn't it? Never water?
Mandrake: Well, I-I believe that's what they drink, Jack, yes.
Ripper: On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason.
Mandrake: Oh, eh, yes. I, uhm, can't quite see what you're getting at, Jack.
Ripper: Water, that's what I'm getting at, water. Mandrake, water is the source of all life. Seven-tenths of this Earth's surface is water. Why, do you realize that 70 percent of you is water?
Mandrake: Good Lord!
Ripper: And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids.
Mandrake: Yes. (he begins to chuckle nervously)
Ripper: Are you beginning to understand?
Mandrake: Yes. (more laughter)
Ripper: Mandrake. Mandrake, have you never wondered why I drink only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure-grain alcohol?
Mandrake: Well, it did occur to me, Jack, yes.
Ripper: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation. Fluoridation of water?
Mandrake: Uh? Yes, I-I have heard of that, Jack, yes. Yes.
Ripper: Well, do you know what it is?
Mandrake: No, no I don't know what it is, no.
Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face? ... That's the way a hard-core Commie works.
Pardon the long set-up, but it's sadly necessary for context. Yesterday, the Phoenix City Council heard two hours of very heated testimony about the wisdom of fluoridating the city's water supply. Yes, you read that right. It gets worse. Opponents loudly argued that fluoride "lowers IQ levels in children." During the debate, some repeatedly shouted "Fluoride is dangerous!" and "The government is poisoning us!" according to the Arizona Republic. Yes, really. After hearing all of this, I'm happy to report that the council voted to keep adding fluoride to the water supply. Bullet dodged. And a grateful citizenry is once again safe from tooth decay. Like I said, most Arizonans are as sane as those city council members. But those who fret about their "precious bodily fluids" always get the spotlight. That's the way your hardcore whack-job works. The gods must be laughing, again.

A return to normalcy, at last

Mercifully, the events of Sept. 11 have largely receded into the realm of a bad dream for most of us. To be sure, the haunting images, sounds, shock and horror of that crystal clear day in 2001 are seared into my mind. I will go to my grave with them. But lingering in those awful moments, 11 years ago, would truly be a form of madness. Somehow, life continued. Somehow, so has mine. Thank God. Indeed, there is now an entire generation of kids 15 or younger who have no memory of 9/11 at all. It's hard to believe, but true. And yet, there are those who would have us re-live the tragedy ad infinitum. Call them the Opus Dei of mourners who insist that we join them annually in what amounts to self-flagellation. Today, for example, NBC caught hell for daring to interview a “Kardashian” star during the 9/11 moment of silence that all the other networks aired live. Was it incredibly tacky of NBC's "Today Show" to chat up "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star Kris Jenner about her breast implants while the nation bowed its head in remembrance? Absolutely. Is it right to castigate NBC for its dumb decision? Absolutely not. Folks, it's been 11 years. And it's highly likely that most of the country woke up this morning without "September 11" at top of mind. And that's OK. It the simple, inevitable return to normalcy. More to the point, the amazing fact that I can utter "Kardashian" and 9/11 in the same breath means the terrorists have truly lost.

Don't bet on the conventional wisdom

I'VE LONG ARGUED that viewing this presidential election cycle through the lens of the "conventional wisdom" would prove worthless. There are simply too many moving parts this time around. Even the polls seem unreliable. Charlie Cook, the longtime sage of political forecasting and a charter member of the CV club, is clearly flummoxed. He essentially threw in the towel with this gem: "It is becoming clear that if President Obama is reelected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign; if Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign." Hells bells, my grandmother could have cooked up that one (pun intended). Talk about hedging your bets. Cook, who is actually a good guy and often right, says that "this is a very close race and one that still could go either way," though the odds of Romney winning are getting slimmer. That of course is the classical conventional wisdom in all of its unimaginative glory. But just as Obama was no ordinary candidate in 2008, he is no ordinary incumbent today. He's a historical figure, and a very likable one to boot. That alone makes him a wildcard. He's also a master politician (albeit an introverted one) who opponents tend to underestimate (see Hillary, McCain, and the late Osama bin Laden). That means all bets are off. Don't be surprised if Obama wins re-election in a walk if not a landslide.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A chip off the old block

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein observes that:
"Parties emulate their successful presidents, and for Republicans Ronald Reagan is their successful president. But Reagan's relationship with the truth was pretty complicated, and he would regularly say things that were just not true. I mean, regularly: after every press conference someone would have to clean it up. The thing is that Reagan's genius was for believing what he wanted to believe, and once he was set on something it was nearly impossible to break him from it. ... One of the lessons that Republicans learned from Reagan was that facts just get in the way; what you want are politicians with strong beliefs, not a complex grasp of details."
Which is exactly why we got the Iran-Contra scandal, the Iraq War (plus "Mission Accomplished" and no WMDs), Abu Ghraib, the Great Recession and, well, Mitt Romney.

'One man in his time plays many parts'

Martin Amis, the celebrated novelist, thinker, and great friend of the late Christopher Hitchens, on aging:
"Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you’re not going to die, and then you accept that you’ll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you’ve got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn’t there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin [Amis is 62], but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it’s not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating."
Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

In Mitt We Trust?

OUR LONG national nightmare is over. OK, OK -- it was just a fever dream, but work with me. Yesterday, Mitt Romney proclaimed that he will not -- repeat not -- remove the word “God” from America's currency. Glad he cleared up that burning-bush issue. Never mind that no one is advocating it. Barack Obama certainly isn't. But Romney went all Elmer Gantry anyway before a Virginia Beach crowd, chastising Obama and the Democrats for not mentioning God in their political platform. The Dems did in fact remove a pro forma plank on faith-based initiatives, but later reinserted it after conservative bible-thumpers went all Inquisition on them. For Romney, this is all about pandering to religious right voters. But since it's a safe bet that those folks won't be voting for Obama anytime soon, it isn't clear why the Dems caved on this silly issue (apart from being pussies). “We’re a nation that’s bestowed by God,” Romney ordained, as if the Almighty is heavily invested in the speck of dust we occupy in the vastness of the universe. I suspect the Lord is bemused by our child-like attempts to categorize religion as right or left on some political spectrum. I also suspect He would agree with Gandhi's view that humankind is "not divided into watertight compartments called social, political and religious. All act and react upon one another." As for Mr. Romney's gambit, Proverbs 14:8 best sums it up: “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I *am* the President

IN THE CLOSING moments of his convention speech in Charlotte, President Obama said: "I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention. The times have changed, and so have I. I'm no longer just a candidate. I'm the President." (my italics)

That last phrase -- which largely defined the speech -- was actually written as a transitional device to a larger point about the need for a serious leader in serious times. I re-watched that segment several times on YouTube to confirm my hunch. When Obama said "I'm the President" he paused a beat, then drew in breath to speak again. But the crowd went wild. Instinctively realizing the sudden import of those three words to his audience, Obama paused for several more stately beats to let them reverberate while the cameras zoomed in on his firmly set jaw.

Pardon the gushing, but it was magnificent. The viewing audience, all 35.7 million of them, clearly thought so, too. Per Twitter, Obama's speech prompted 52,756 tweets per minute, a new record that peaked at the "I'm the President" phrase.

So what's really going on here?

The Atlantic's James Fallows wrote insightfully: "To me, that final sentence came across not as boasting or preening. Instead it had a startling spare, understated drama. Obama used it as the transition to a line about the burden of wartime leadership. But I heard it as also conveying, Let's get serious here. I'm the President, so I know how hard these trade-offs are. I'm the President, so there are some things I won't joke about. But also: for all of you who think I'm a Muslim, an alien, a socialist, a fraud, here's a reminder. I'm the President."

Fallows is right. But there's something else here that is more profound. From the start, Obama has been savagely disrespected on the right. He has stoically taken, and continues to take, all manner of insults. A goodly number are racially-tinged. Some, if truth be told, stop just shy of the N-word. They hurt. How could they not? But what is lost on the detractors is that decent Americans of all political stripes feel the sting of that hurt, too. An epithet spat at Obama lands on our collective face as well. And for countless Democrats, this particular president is a mirror of their ideal selves. He is us, and we are him. It is visceral, and borne of bone-deep history. Disrespecting him is disrespecting America, her improbable achievements, and the ideals for which she has tirelessly fought for centuries.

Decent folks well know Obama is a product of this great but unfinished American Experiment, and they're rightly proud of it. And that, at bottom, is why Obama's statement of unalterable fact -- I'm the President -- felt so good to so many. Like the America that spawned him, he just won't back down. He is, by God, the President.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Still waiting for Superman -- Ctd

The estimable David Brooks weighs in: "What was there in this speech that will make us think the next few years will be any different? America will only be governable again if there is a leader who breaks the mold and reframes the debate." Point taken, sir. Um, how? Mr. Brooks conveniently didn't say. The ivory tower types never do. Reagan was arguably the last president to break the political china and remold it (never mind the ghastly result). But consider the context. Reagan had a friendly, GOP-majority Senate and a (mostly) rational Democratic House prepared to at least listen to Republican ideas. Compromise, that pesky building block of good governance, had not yet been stood up against the wall and shot. Nor had the Cable-News-Internet Complex arisen like zombies yet. The political environment Mr. Obama faces is vastly different. Dysfunctional is the kindest thing I can say about it. Congressional moderates -- who traditionally played rational codas to presidential prologues -- have, like Elvis, left the building. The Lincolnesque figure in the White House has no William Seward counterpart, nor a LBJ to knock heads in Congress. The news media, while never perfect, is now a toxic stew of intellectually lazy journalists with the memory of a Guppy in a fish bowl. How, then, does Obama "break the mold?" He must first do whatever it takes to win re-election. Once his own political neck is off the block, he must then relentlessly shame Congress into living up to its constitutional responsibilities. As part of this bully pulpit campaign, he could even appropriate John McCain's 2008 slogan: "Country First." It's simple and easily understood. Obama's intriguing discussion of "citizenship" in his speech could be a hint that he's already thinking along these lines. Anyway, Mr. Brooks, that's how.

America's reax

In a previous post, I rolled my eyes at the delusional media expectation that President Obama can be the diviner of miracles if only he'd whip out his Harry Potter wand. I hope, nay pray, ordinary America is less crazy. To that end, the latest Gallup tracking poll shows Obama's job approval has hit 52 percent, his highest since 2009. As some observers have noted, the 3-day rolling average (which doesn't reflect the entire convention yet) suggests a post-convention break-out in Obama's favor. Of course, anyone who watched Obama's speech without blinders won't be surprised at this promising development.

Views from outside the bubble

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers weighs in on President Obama's speech: "I wish that the pundits would watch these speeches with ordinary people. Last night I watched the speech with a gathering of about 50 people, from junior-high age to seniors. Everyone loved the speech. The most important thing for me from his speech was that he was challenging us to be grown ups and offering a vision of a people who are united and proud of the contributions they make to each other." Another writes: "Obama is self-aware and sane compared to so many of the twisted souls in politics. Why does so much of the country fail to recognize how fortunate we are to have this guy leading us?"

Still waiting for Superman

It's too early to gauge America's reaction to President Obama's speech. But we're clearly having one of those Aaron Sorkin West Wing moments in the media. Time's Joe Klein perfectly captures the mindset of the left-leaning, elite politicos: "The President gave a fine speech Thursday night. ... He made no absurd promises. He recognized the difficulty of our situation. He acknowledged mistakes. But he did not close the deal. The speech disappointed me, and I’m not quite sure why. ... [perhaps] it’s not too wise to dream big anymore. ... But I want more from him, more guidance, more leadership." Amazing. What more can Obama possibly say or do? I presumed the media had finally gotten past its Messiah Complex, the notion that Obama is Superman. Evidently not. Obama wanted neither the spandex nor the cape. But at the media's relentless urgings in 2008, America insisted that he wear them anyway. After obsessively hyping Hillary, the new narrative became: Obama is "The One." Obama has always argued that the election was never about him. "It's about you," he has said repeatedly. But it fell on deaf ears in 2008 and is doing so again today. Ergo, he's paying the price for impossible expectations. Granted, I could be misreading this. Media opinion could in fact mirror America's. But I'm betting it doesn't.

Do you feel lucky, Mitt?

Republicans ought to tell Dirty Harry to, well, shut the fuck up. Unlike his pick for president, Clint Eastwood is catnip to reporters. That means Mitt Romney gets shoved aside whenever "Detective Callahan" speaks. Eastwood, famous for his man-of-few-words persona, has suddenly gone all chatterbox about his now infamous conservation with an empty chair. "I had three points I wanted to make,” Eastwood told the Carmel Pine Cone. “That not everybody in Hollywood is on the left, that Obama has broken a lot of the promises he made when he took office, and that the people should feel free to get rid of any politician who’s not doing a good job." Glad you cleared that up for the historical footnote you won't be in, Clint. But do keep talking cuz you make way better copy than what's his name. And Mitt, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky letting Eastwood talk? Well, do ya, punk? As the sweating bank robber said in the movie, "I gots to know." Heh.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The President's Speech

I'm biased. So I'll skip the overt hosannas. But I suspect history will ultimately judge President Obama's speech tonight as pivotal and defining if not one for the ages. His call for citizenship, the essence of democracy, was brilliant. So was the linkage to his iconic "hope and change" message. In 2008, candidate Obama said, "You're the change you've been waiting for." Tonight, President Obama said, "The election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens, you were the change." He then deftly cataloged the accomplishments -- from healthcare to education to ending the Iraq War -- that ordinary Americans made possible by electing him. "You did that," Obama said repeatedly. And here was a man, older and grayer, who has borne the burdens of office, and been humbled by them. "The times have changed, and so have I. I’m no longer just a candidate," he said. "I’m the President." Those words echoed like a thunderclap. More tellingly, he said: "I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.' ” The contrast is clear. Romney wants a job. Obama wants to make history.

Still pining for Hillary?

For some reason MSNBC's Chris Matthews has been relentlessly pushing the idea that Hillary Clinton should run for president in 2016. He's been bullying his guests on the subject all week at the DNC convention. Color me perplexed. Put aside Hillary's qualifications, potential presidential temperament or the daunting politics of a run. Does the Hardball host not realize Hillary turns 65 in October? That means she would be 69 on Election Day 2016. She would 73 at the end of her first term, a mere warm-up act for the next one. Sure, Reagan did it. But that was a wholly different time (now 31 years ago) and pleased only Republicans of that era -- the legacy of which the nation is still paying dearly. Sure, in my book, Hillary would be preferable to a Republican in the White House in 2016. But would she be preferable to a younger, stronger Democratic candidate (without her baggage) and better adapted to the 21st century in a post-Obama world? Moreover, could she even win? Matthews thinks Hillary would be a slam-dunk. But we've heard this talk of "inevitability" before -- and we know how that movie ended. If I were Hillary, I'd exit gracefully on a high note, bask in the coming sunset, and pass the baton to Chelsea's generation. I, too, wish to see a Democratic female president. But Hillary ain't The One.

The King's Speech, Arkansas-style

THAT WAS SOME hootenanny last night in Charlotte. Perhaps you're still shaking off the political hangover. And if you're wondering why there are two vials of Snake Oil No.9 sitting on your kitchen countertop, you bought them from that silver-tongued devil they call the Big Dog. I am of course poking fun at William Jefferson Clinton -- whom the national press is unabashedly dubbing the Greatest Politician on Earth. (Daily Beast reporter Michael Tomasky: "Holy smokes. That was the best political speech ... ever!") By their telling, the man could sell a howitzer to a pacifist. It's embarrassing. But make no mistake: Elvis was definitely in the building last night. By all accounts, Bill Clinton -- in full Spencer Tracy Inherit the Wind mode -- was simply masterful (read the speech here). The only thing missing were suspenders and the rumbled white suit. Clinton didn't just dismantle every charge Team Romney has made against President Obama, he exploded them. His exposure of the lies and obfuscations at the core of the Republican argument was devastating. A few key lines cleared the air for all to see: "[Republicans] think government is always the enemy, they're always right, and compromise is weakness; Their number one priority was not to put America back to work -- it was to put the president out of work." And Clinton literally laughed at the argument against re-electing the president, saying: "We [Republicans] left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in." Again and again, Clinton said "We're all in this together." That is the Democratic way, and one Obama espouses. But if you want a "winner-take-all, you're-on-your-own society," Clinton said, then vote Romney. As they say in Hollywood, that's a wrap.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Politics and pink pumps

Garance Franke-Ruta, a senior editor at The Atlantic, rightly observed that Michelle Obama "knocked it out of the park" during her DNC convention speech last night. Then she muffed it: "Those who are fans of the first lady will doubtless spend the next few days dissecting her patterned silk Tracy Reese frock, or her very high pink heels, or how she made them feel. But the first lady is no Barbie doll." Yes, but Franke-Ruta dolled her up anyway with the unneeded reference to haute couture. Granted, this is a pet issue of mine. Franke-Ruta is a decent political observer, and her piece is worth a read. She is simply being too clever by half with the cute "FLOTUS like a butterfly, sting like a bee" motif. And her fashionista laspe is actually tame compared to others. "Obama drew 'oohs' and 'aahs' as she stepped on the stage looking striking in a sleeveless, deep pink dress with a shimmering pewter hem. The two-tone frock accented her rose-colored pumps and highlighted her perfectly coiffed bob and hip silver manicure," wrote Allison Samuels of the Daily Beast in full-on fashion runway mode. Yeesh. Even when it's unintentional, we objectify women each time we reference their appearance. It's rarely appropriate. And, sorry ladies, women are often the worst offenders. Will anyone wonder or care whether President Obama is wearing Brooks Brothers or Armani when he glides across the stage to accept his party's nomination? Nope. Like the old Virginia Slims ad said, "You've come a long way, baby." But it's time to break the mindset, ladies.

Quote of the Day

Roger Simon: "I am not saying there are no undecided people. There are. But they are not going to vote. They are going to do what they always do: Sit on their behinds on Election Day and then complain for the next four years."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

'Michelle, ma belle'

Andrew Sullivan sums up Michelle Obama's DNC convention speech this way: "Stunning, brilliant, moving, passionate and right. Flawless." Well said, and spot on. It's another testament to the priceless value of this once-in-a-generation president and his character. Will America foolishly fritter it away?

Monday, September 3, 2012

And the hits just keep on coming

I was scanning Slate today when I spied an item about Russell Crowe. Apparently the actor and a friend got lost (sorta) while kayaking off Long Island. The Coast Guard helped guide them back to civilization. Why is this news? Beats me. So I grunted and prepared to click away when I spied the buried lede. Crowe was in the area filming Darren Aronofsky's upcoming movie, Noah. As in Noah's Ark. As in the Genesis flood narrative. This won't be your father's biblical epic, Aronofsky promises. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk," he told the Guardian, as if that's a historical fact. "It's there in the Bible ... There was some real survivor's guilt going on there." So, Noah has 21st century-like "issues." Right. In the movie, a divine vision alerts Noah (Crowe) to God's plan to drown humanity for mistreating the earth. Why can't they be more like the Na'vi of Pandora? Anyway, Noah warns everyone that the End Is Near. They laugh and cast him and his family into the wilderness. Noah sets out to build his ark. But he needs help. So he enlists the "Watchers," a race of giant six-armed angels. And ... well, you get the picture. U.S. movie box-office revenue fell 3% this summer, the first time that's happened in 7 years, per the NY Times. Gee, I wonder if Hollywood dreck like Noah could be the leading reason?

Break 'The Cycle?' Not yet.

THERE ARE plenty of well-educated, knowledgeable, telegenic, articulate women with deep track records in political affairs. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is an example, just to name one. And yet such women are rarely given cable shows to share their insights. When Dylan Ratigan ended his show on MSNBC, the network suits came up with "The Cycle," an ensemble talk show. Its two male "stars" are Touré (a writer and pop-culture gadfly) and Steve Kornacki (a political writer for Salon). Kornacki, only 33, provides the political gravitas, such as it is.

But let's get down to cases.

The two females stars are S. E. Cupp (seen at left) and Krystal Ball (yes, that's really her name). Both sport the lofty but meaningless title of "political strategist." Cupp is the conservative yin to Ball's liberal yang. Cupp's claim to fame: She's a Cornell grad (art history), a classically trained ballet dancer and author of a book slamming liberals for "destroying" religion. Ball's claim to fame: She's a Univ of Virginia grad (economics) and political naif who was photographed holding a dildo while running for Congress (she lost) -- hence, instant fame. MSNBC is now showcasing both women as paradigms of political wisdom on The Cycle. How'd that happen? Simple: Cupp and Ball are bright, articulate and, let's not mince words, raven-haired visions of Aphrodite. And that's ok. What's not ok is MSNBC's exploitation of two smokin' hot babes for ratings. Clearly, neither is there for their intellectual heft -- which, on politics, is feather-weight at best. The need for breaking this sexist "Cycle" is obvious. But it's going to take concerted Girl Power to do it. Without vigorous protest from females, trust me, guys will just sit there and salivate. That said, I wish Cupp and Ball all the best and don't blame them for going for the gold. After all, a girl's gotta pay the rent. But I'll get my political analysis elsewhere.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Crow with all the trimmings

Politico's Roger Simon says: "Can the president save himself this week?" Oh brother. Clearly, it's time to start my "Eat Crow" list. The pundits -- the folks who live inside the hermetically-sealed media bubble and work overtime to keep it inflated -- will have you believe President Obama is toast. This is the same bunch who confidently predicted Hillary would inevitably become Madam President and that Sarah Palin was a "game changer." Simon writes that at Tuesday's convention, "It will be the Democrats’ turn at bat. They will get one big try here in Charlotte to persuade America to trust them again. ... He has three days. Or America will be done with him." Right. Dinner will be served after the polls close on Election Night.

Rolling the dice with Mitt

Still wondering what makes Mitt Romney tick? Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Laurie Winer tours LDS history and uncovers some clues. She writes that unlike other Christian sects, the Mormons were borne of recent history -- one that unfolded in full view of witnesses and documentarians. Ergo, there are few biblical fig leafs to obscure the traditional half-truths. That means, Winer says, Mormonism demands a different kind of faith. It asks its members to ignore or not believe "wide swatches" of American history. "To believe Mormonism is true depends on a mindset that downplays intellectual openness in the name of obedience, even obedience to doctrines that might change in an instant." This is because founder Joseph Smith was well-known for frequently rearranging the LDS deck chairs on a whim. Winer notes that Smith and Romney share "an ability to shape-shift without anguish, a refusal or inability to see those shifts as hypocrisy, and what looks like a full belief in whatever they are saying, until it comes time to say something else." This may help explain Romney's "etch-a-sketch" beliefs. I don't care how or why Romney practices his faith. Though he is devout, he's unlikely to go all Pope Borgia on us if elected. But his penchant for seeing black as white (or vice versa) without questioning the illogic is worrisome. That is a clue to a narrowness of mind, one possibly closed off to fresh thinking or even seeing the world as it is. I mean, does it bother anyone that Romney has called Russia our pre-eminent foe even though the Cold War ended 20 years ago? Given that Sarah Palin, too, had a viable shot at a White House slot only 4 years ago, why do our elections increasingly resemble Russian roulette?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Shoot the messenger. Leave the lie.

I don't get worked up about Arizona Republic editorials because, well, that way madness lies. But their ability to spin a tale with full blinders attached can be wondrous to behold. The press, finally, is calling out the blatant lies and distortions that ooze from the Romney camp like toxic waste. And yet, on the GOP convention, the Republic today writes: "The candidates had important things to say. Getting lost amid the dubious contentions of uninformed fact-checkers is antithetical to a fair and honest debate." Hmm. I see. It's the Godfather Cannoli Gambit. But instead of "take the cannoli; leave the gun," it's "shoot the messenger; leave the lie." A grinning "Uncle Joe" Stalin would instantly recognize the tactic, even after a seventh shot of Stolichnaya. Affix blame to the truth-tellers (or any other menaces régime) to justify the figurative pogrom against them. The absolute temerity is Absolut, one might say. Granted, this is par for the course. But it still takes my breath away.