Thursday, February 28, 2013

The unbearable lightness of being (flat wrong)

YOUR HONORS, may it please the Court:

Um, why are four conservative white men (Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy) -- plus Clarence Thomas -- on this Supreme Court in a rush to deep-six the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

Why the rush to judgment that racism, a tragic hallmark of America for centuries (recent progress notwithstanding), has suddenly evaporated -- now and for all time? Why the rush to embrace the fantasy that, “The radical treatment [i.e., the aforementioned Act] cured the disease,” as Alabama Shelby County lawyer Bert W. Rein has so passionately argued before Your Honors. Why the rush to cast aside the fact that Rein's beloved Shelby County -- the geographic center of Alabama (i.e., the "Heart of Dixie") where Republicans (all white) have held every elected office in the County since 2010, whose first County Courthouse was built by slaves in 1854, and whose current website (where not a single minority face appears) referred to its historic 1820 census as containing 2,044 whites and 448, um, "Negroes" -- has had 240 discriminatory voting measures recently blocked by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act? You know, the reason why Justice Sonia Sotomayor called Shelby County the “epitome” of the reason for keeping Section 5 firmly in place?

Why the bum rush by the Gang-of-Four-plus-Thomas to ignore the 98 to 0 Senate vote in 2006 to keep the Voting Rights Act in place? Why is Justice Antonin Scalia in such a hurry to declare that the will of Congress was proof not of the strength of the case for the law, but of what he called “the perpetuation of racial entitlement?” Say what?! Why, Your Honors, the blind resistance to walking a mile in the shoes of discrimination's victims -- and contemplating the backward pull of the South's blood-red clay -- before declaring with certitude that discrimination is dead? Why, oh why, are you white dudes (plus Thomas) so damn eager to spike the football in your imagined victory over prejudice? Your Honors, are you serious?

And yet chances are excellent that the storied Voting Rights Act -- a law that even Gang-of-Four-plus-Thomas member Samuel Alito said was "probably one of the most successful laws of the 20th century” -- will be struck down in defeat, 5 to 4. Humbly, I ask again, why?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quote of the day

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back to the Oscar prom

So what, among other (way more important) sequester-related things, was headlining the Washington Post front page this morning? "Michelle Obama's Oscar presentation raises questions about the role of a first lady." Um, really? Yeah, really. And it's the "most popular" story on the newspaper's website, too. Just when I thought the national press corps has graduated high school, I wake up at the back of the classroom and realize it didn't. Technically, this is known as a "temporal causality loop," a phenomenon whereby a specific moment in time repeats itself continually inside an independent fragment of time. Say what? Ok, Ok -- think of it as the Hotel California: You can check out anytime you wish, but you can never leave. Either way, Washington journos remain 20 credits shy of maturity. Please leave the First Lady (who did graduate) alone.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Emancipation of Barack Obama

HISTORY HAS NOT yet rendered its verdict on President Barack Obama. But we know now that he was no fluke of history. In 2008, Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates notes, Obama was a talented rookie -- but arguably very, very lucky. By 2012, however, he "was the captain of the football team" with a formidable record. Coates thoughtfully  writes: "The second chapter of the Obama presidency begins exactly a century and a half after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect" and that "Lincoln’s [Emancipation Proclamation] order transformed a war for union into a war for abolition, and in so doing put the country on a road to broad citizenship ..." I would add that Obama's reelection put the country -- kicking and screaming (see the dying GOP of angry old white men), messily (see Congress) but irrevocably -- on the road toward the Framers' dream of "a more perfect union." It's rarely pretty, but that's how American history is made.

NASCAR, c'est la même chose ...

And you thought Coliseum-style death-sports died when Rome fell.

Kyle Larson’s car (32) goes airborne during a multi-car wreck on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. -- sending car parts and other debris flying into the stands, injuring spectators. Geez. (Photo: David Graham / AP)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Analyzing Vader's generalship

IT SEEMS Wired is hosting a military strategy symposium that analyzes the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. You know, the movie. Spencer Ackerman (apparently straight-facedly) writes: "How did the Galactic Empire ever cement its hold on the Star Wars Universe? The war machine built by Emperor Palpatine and run by Darth Vader is a spectacularly bad fighting force, as evidenced by all of the pieces of Death Star littering space. But of all the Empire’s failures, none is a more spectacular military fiasco than the Battle of Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. From a military perspective ..." Well, you get the picture. Granted, the symposium is utterly harmless (albeit preposterous). But hey, whatever flies your Rebel Alliance Starfighter (and may the Force be with you). But it's a classic example of what happens when us boys have way too much time on own hands.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Life is tough on the Vatican beat

I SIMPLY MARVEL at how the press loves to cover itself. From CNN, we get this fraught report from Italy: "Opaque, hierarchical and arcane, the Vatican is a tough beat even for seasoned reporters. It involves paying punctilious attention to papal routine -- never missing the often dreary papal audiences on a Wednesday and the uneventful address from the Vatican on Sunday." Surely you can feel their pain. The "Vaticanisti" (what the reporters call themselves) in Rome are forced to toil in the 11th-most-visited city in the world and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy. And, oh my god, they have to dine on real Italian food in all of its sumptuous magnificence -- you know, frequently. How on earth do these lowly scribes manage to survive at all on this beat? Having spent some time amid the beauty and glories of "Roma," all I can say is: Give me a break, CNN.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rubio's 'Watergate'

Never, ever, volunteer to give the Republican Response after the President's State of the Union Address -- especially if that president is named Obama. No good will come of it. Just ask Bobby Jindal. Marco Rubio -- the new GOP "Savior" according to Time magazine -- did it anyway. Well, it turns out that Marco Aurelius can't walk on water after all. Talk about not being ready for prime time. Enjoy:

Coup de grâce

Ted Nugent, 64, is an aging "rock star" from the now distant 70s. If you were a young person then, you probably rocked out to his "Cat Scratch Fever" occasionally. But Jim Morrison (of "The Doors") he wasn't. His other "hits" appealed mostly to his dedicated fans/groupies. Musically, he went the way of the dinosaurs. Then, he returned from the dead - sort of. Today, Nugent is "famous" for being a crazy-white-guy-conservative who desperately craves the limelight and won't shut up about his politics. Somehow, he has become an uber Republican and a Tea Party poster boy. Wrapping himself in the American flag, Nugent claims to speak for the average Joe, the cop, and especially our troops. Never mind that he dodged the draft to avoid going to Vietnam. Anyway, Nugent was at the SOTU last night as a guest of a publicity-seeking congressman. Apparently, he behaved himself. Afterward, he mingled with the press, according to Slate. “If you walk the halls with me,” he told a National Review writer, “every military guy, every cop, has an Uncle Ted story. See the smile on my face? These are my buddies here. I’m surrounded by working hard, playing hard Americans.” Right. Slate then reported this sequence of events: Nugent was shepherded over to a standing MSNBC camera. Two police officers looked on, confused by the mobile media herd. “Who’s that?” asked one cop. “It’s Ted Nugent,” said the other cop. “He’s a rock star, he talks about guns.” “Really? Never heard of him.” Priceless.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

'Fair and balanced' and untrusted

Poor Fox News. It seems, as Falstaff told his mistress in Henry IV, there's no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune. According to Public Policy Polling's latest annual survey on TV news: "There's only one source more Americans trust than distrust: PBS. 52% of voters say they trust PBS to only 29% who don't trust it. The other seven outlets we polled on are all distrusted by a plurality of voters. Just like its actual ratings, Fox News has hit a record low in the four years that we've been doing this poll. 41% of voters trust it to 46% who do not." Andrew Sullivan, of course, couldn't resist: PBS, "That alleged bastion of liberal bias – which Mitt Romney wanted to defund – is now trusted more than any other media source. Congrats, Roger Ailes. You’re doing for the liberal media what Karl Rove did for the Democratic party."

What would Jesus pack?

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition? Yes, pious folks in Arkansas may soon be able to pack heat in church. According to a CNN report, the Arkansas state legislature passed a measure that would allow concealed guns to be carried in houses of worship. It passed overwhelmingly. And the governor, a Democrat, apparently plans to sign the bill. Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri weighs in with this perspective: "Is this really the world we want to live in, where we are not just fearing the worst but expecting it, all the time? To me, at least, that misses the point." Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Go ahead, make my day

POTUS shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David on Aug. 4, 2012.

The hype is the point

Finally, a clear-eyed writer speaks truth to the Super Bowl. The Atlantic's Hampton Stevens observes that the "spectacle has eclipsed the game." So why fight it? He rightly concludes that the "Super Bowl is our National Day of Capitalism—a feast and party that's mercifully without the least bit of spiritual underpinning. It's a celebration of commercialism and consumerism, and consumption for consumptions' sake. ... If you are a serious, hardcore NFL fan—the sort who is deep into fantasy draft prep by June—try not to get too upset about all the silliness today." Good advice. For sanity's sake, this is one of those times when it really is better to simply bow to the absurd and pass the popcorn.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Another inconvenient truth

WEIGHING IN on the gun control debate, writer Sam Harris goes to the heart of the matter and asks: "How is it that we live in a society in which one of the most compelling interests is gun ownership? Where is the science lobby? The safe food lobby? Where is the get-the-Chinese-lead-paint-out-of-our-kids’-toys lobby? When viewed from any other civilized society on earth, the primacy of guns in American life seems to be a symptom of collective psychosis."

OMG: God is a NFL fan?

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, a quarter of Americans say God influences sporting events. Political comedian Dean Obeidallah helpfully notes: "That means about 80 million Americans believe that God will help one of the teams in this Sunday's Super Bowl." Oh my god. I better call my bookie. Per CNN, when asked if they believe God plays a role in who wins, 27% of Americans said yes. Poll results varied among regions and religions: 36% said yes in the South, 28% in the Midwest, 20% in the Northeast and 15% in the West. Do I have a problem with this? Not at all. I'm a committed whatever-floats-your-boat kind of guy as long as your boat doesn't unduly rock mine. Still, the very idea that God might give the Baltimore Ravens a divine assist is difficult to fathom. I mean, how could He not be a 49ers fan in the first place? After all, they are 4-point favorites. This, of course, is the sort of twaddle we get into when ye of too much faith (the pious 27%) try to bring the Lord down to our level. There's a reason we were made in God's image, not the other way around.