Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Are we there yet?

At some point in the future, I suspect scientists (aided by ever smarter computers) will learn how to build the Warp engine (think Star Trek), thus enabling realistic travel between the stars. If history is any guide, if humankind can envision it -- and make the underlying math work -- it can build it. In the interim, contemplate the utter enormity of the problem. Per The Atlantic: "Alpha Centauri may be the closest star system to Earth, but it's still four light years away. Voyager 1, our farthest-traveled probe is moving at 38,000 miles per hour, and after 35 years, it's still in our solar system (barely). Moving at Voyager's speed, it would take 700 centuries for a mission to reach Alpha Centauri."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fools and their money

CALL ME nutty, but I shop only when I need something. Otherwise, I steer clear of the mall. That's why every year I usually say something snarky about the invented, over-hyped event known as "Black Friday." And every year it's like shouting into wind. The frenzied crowds keep getting bigger. So this year I won't bother. Instead, I'll just cite this observation from New York magazine writer Kevin Roose and leave it at that: "Among the most potent reasons no sane person should participate in Black Friday is this: It is carefully designed to make you behave like an idiot. It's a nationwide experiment in consumer irrationality, dressed up as a cheerful holiday add-on. ... [Per behavioral economists], between retail tricks and your own cognitive flaws, you have almost no chance of actually saving money or making rational decisions." Plus, Roose adds, you might get trampled.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lincoln vs. 007

For weeks, I've been reading mostly rave reviews for Lincoln, the new film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president. But Mother Jones "critic" Asawin Suebsaeng (an interactive fellow at the magazine, whatever that is) thinks Lincoln is an "epic fail" and a "listless, heaving waste of cinema space." Mercy. Suebsaeng, a 20-something candidate for a Don't Know Much About History book, is an outlier. Reading his review, one gets the sense that his basic beef with Lincoln is that it forces one to, you know, go all contemplative and stuff. Egads. Where's the fun in that? Of course the fact that Suebsaeng ordained Skyfall, the new 007 movie, as a "flick for the ages" kinda explains everything.

Just a thought

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time." -- E.B. White, July 3, 1943.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The 'no drama' Obama way is better

THE ELECTION is over. In its wake, a gazillion champagne bottles popped in half the country over Obama's reelection and the bullet dodged (think 3 Nino Scalia clones on the Supreme Court). Giddy liberals are still dancing in the end zone. And spiking the football. And doing the salsa. And high-fiving. And trash-talkin'. And ... well, you get the picture. Clearly, as Slate writer Katherine Goldstein rightly notes, liberal Schadenfreude has spiraled out of control. Goldstein wrote: "When the TV networks declared that Obama won his second term, I whooped with glee, did a little dance ... I was so incredibly happy." She immediately conveyed her joy via the social media ("4 MORE YEARS!"). I did much the same. Then Goldstein began to notice something. "Both in media coverage and in social media networks, Obama supporters were not just thrilled that our guy won—folks were insanely, morbidly happy that all Republicans were miserable," she wrote. Jezebel blogger Lindy West, for example, wrote a post entitled “My Ten Favorite Kinds of Right Wing Temper Tantrums” in which she proudly declared, “I am just 99 percent completely fucking delighted by every single weepy right-wing temper tantrum. I can't stop hate-reading. I can't stop.” Sigh. Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile every time. Goldstein is right, of course. This ain't healthy. My progressive friends need to take it down a notch or three and mimic the classy style of the object of their celebration: "No Drama" Obama.

A good man falls

In a stunning fall from grace, Gen. David Petraeus resigned as CIA director today, citing an extramarital affair. It was the honorable thing to do to spare the president, the CIA and the nation from further embarrassment. Nevertheless, Lincoln's famous observation still ring true: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wither the angry white guy

IT IS BECOMING increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Still, like a ghastly car crash, it's hard to avert your eyes. Make no mistake: We are witnessing the last throes of the Republican white power structure, the current surrogate for the vestiges of pre-Civil Rights Era America. They are the "dead-enders," to use the Rumsfeldian phrase, who reject the nation's evolution and refuse to believe that most Americans (including moderate Republicans) have refused to follow them back to 1954 and Old Virginny. I give you Sean Hannity, a sort of modern-day "Bull" Connor in sheep's clothing, who huffed: "America now deserves Barack Obama.” Panicky Hannity should have stopped there. But, like an out of control child, he couldn't:
"Just barely over 50 percent looked at [Obama's] pathetic record and decided they wanted more of the same. I’m not sure exactly why they arrived at that judgment, I think it’s a bad judgment, but we are a self-governing country and the voice and the will of ‘We the People’ have now been heard. America wanted Barack Obama four more years. Now you’ve got him. ... Good luck with that.”
Only FCC obscenity rules prevented Hannity from flipping America the bird after that last sentence. With Obama's decisive reelection and Democratic gains across the board, America has effectively told the GOP to take its Mad Men Era dogmas and shove it. The good news is that "severely conservative" Republicans are on a steep, slippery slope to irrelevancy (see this week's voting results), one of their own making. The bad news is that these angry white guys won't relent we pry their "Father Knows Best" Betamax cassettes from their cold, dead hands.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Obama is reelected! Enough Said.

O how the mighty have fallen

ONCE UPON A TIME, I was a regular reader of the National Review, the once intelligent brainchild of William F. Buckley (1925 – 2008).

Politically, I rarely agreed with its conservative arguments. But the magazine's philosophy was generally worthy of serious consideration and debate. Occasionally, its editors even got it right.

But that, alas, is history.

To understand why, consider this sampling of the stories headlining the NRO website today, on Election Day.
o Mitt’s Inchon Landing: A surprise victory in Pennsylvania?
o Obamanomics Explained: President Obama’s economic illiteracy.
o Romney’s Path to 270: How to reach the magic number.
o A Jew Tours for Romney: Israel hatred is a leftist preserve.
o Why Romney Will Win: Polls can’t measure intensity.
o Virtual Challenger: Obama ends with a whimper, not a bang.
o Black Panthers Back at Polling Sites
Oh how the mighty have fallen, as the biblical saying goes. I found only a single article ("Twilight or Breaking Dawn? Romney faces tough odds") that bore the earmarks of a rational conservative mind. The entire front page was otherwise a shocking exercise in delusional, paranoid fantasy. Sadly, the National Review has become an empty, alternate universe that bears little resemblance to any reality I recognize. I cannot believe the erudite Buckley would approve. But when today's GOP gazes at itself in the mirror, NRO is the reflection it sees. And that's doubly sad.

Monday, November 5, 2012

How large is your bet on Romney?

WOULD YOU bet your mortgage or 401K on Mitt Romney being elected president tomorrow? I bet the answer to that question would quickly separate the men from the boys -- or rather the crazies from the rational -- among Republicans. But I digress. The Economist has a compelling piece on why the media's insistence that the presidential race is a toss-up is misleading at best. Their bottom line: Forget the polls (because reporters are grossly misevaluating the results). You're better off thinking like a bookie about Romney's odds of winning. To wit: "For the baseball fans among you, Mr Romney is in roughly the same position as a team starting the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by one run; for the poker players, he’s all-in holding pocket kings facing an opponent with pocket aces." Bookie's translation: Romney certainly has a chance, maybe as high as 20%. But you'd be crazy to bet money on it, buddy.

An election 'pre-morterm'

FIRST, the caveats: I could be wrong. Most journalists (the folks following this thing the closest) could be wrong. Most political scientists (the folks analyzing this thing the closest) could be wrong. The polls (virtually all of them) giving the edge to President Obama over Mitt Romney could be wrong. And, most importantly, whiz kid Nate Silver, the NY Times pollster who's never been wrong, could be wrong. So, yes, Obama could be toast tomorrow. In theory. All that said, UC San Diego political scientist Samuel Popkin, author of the recent book about presidential campaigns The Candidate, thinks that if all current indications hold, Barack Obama wins. The professor's "pre-mortem" is clear-eyed, balanced and worth mulling. In it, he unpacks "The 3 Myths of the Romney Campaign," the ones that did not lead to his imminent defeat. Read it here. But, yes, Dr. Popkin could be wrong, too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Romney win means the sky is not blue

Andrew Sullivan: "[I]f Romney gets a landslide in the electoral college [as some ordinarily rational Republican pundits are seriously predicting], many of us will have to reassess our entire understanding of America, politics and polls." In fact, that would be the least of it. We'd also be dealing with a Brave New World of "facts." At a minimum, we'll be forced to acknowledge that white is black, the sky is not blue, 2 plus 2 does not equal 4, and the moon really is made of cheese.

Friday, November 2, 2012

In defense of ... President Romney?

FRANKLY, I'M SURPRISED that conservative pundit David Frum has just endorsed Mitt Romney for president. I respect and admire Frum. Though a Republican, he's never been afraid to call a spade a spade in his frequent attacks against his own party. At bottom, Frum is a sane pragmatist, one noted for casting a wary eye at political ideologues in either camp. But his arguments in support of Romney over Obama are epically convoluted. Frum has convinced himself that the real Romney is "Massachusetts Mitt," a fellow who will cast off the Tea Partyists and govern from the middle as president. In other words, Romney will be a rational actor, a Republican Obama, if you like. Right. As I have noted many times in these pages, I, too, suspect that Romney, in his heart of hearts, is essentially a centrist. In a perfect political vacuum, he might even govern like one. But the world is not a void. His White House anterooms will be filled with those Oz-like flying monkeys (along with their GOP political/ideological/cultural detritus) moments after the Big Bang on Inauguration Day. And then there's Romney's apparent hollowness. Though he is not exactly an empty suit, I can detect no core convictions in the man. I mean, does anyone really believe Romney has a clear sense of mission other than just wanting to be top dog as president? Mix in his lack of intellectual curiosity and sophistication and, well, we have a prescription for a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. One LA Times writer noted: "Apparently, Romney is like a lot of people: He reads for pure escapism. Good and evil are pretty clearly defined in most of the books he likes. Life is simpler." Remind you of anyone? Hint: His middle initial is "W." Do we really want to stun the world by dethroning a president who enjoys "Macbeth" for an untested man whose favorite novel is L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth" (universally panned as dreck)? How Frum can rationalize all of this away is simply beyond me.

In the annals of 'no kidding'

TV political ad revenue is up 68% over the 2008 election likely reflecting the many ads financed by super PACs, reports SNL Kagan. (