Thursday, December 31, 2009

Of Course

Most Admired.

And yes, his biggest rival and now top-level collaborator is the winner on the x-chrome side.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seriously: Dude

As tough as it was to forgo making the subject of this post the sucker-born-every-minute revelation that the Teabaggers of 2009 spent most of their political donations supporting -- what else but -- the very astroturfing, Dick Armey-led GOP organization that created them (and it appears to be a legal racket!), and as much as I wanted to tout, to my doubting friends on the left, that President Obama is moving to curb the very federal secrets policy that the secrecy-fetishizing Cheney (Bush) Administration overly strengthened, there's one story that just rises...or, shall I say, floats above the rest.

Per The New York Times, there's a new collection of erudite essays out called, I kid you not, The Year's Work in Lebowski Studies, all about, you guessed it, the Coen Brothers' cult film apex, The Big Lebowski.

Not much of a success when first released, this movie has grown in stature over the years, mainly due to how it increases in funniness over repeated viewings. (And as we know, most comedies do the reverse, disposable.) As a little background on the cult, from Wikipedia:

Steve Palopoli wrote about the film's emerging cult status in July 2002.[57] He first realized that the film had a cult following when he attended a midnight screening in 2000 at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. Palopoli and witnessed people quoting dialogue from the film to each other.[58] Soon after the article appeared, the programmer for local midnight film series in Santa Cruz decided to screen The Big Lebowski and on the first weekend they had to turn away several hundred people. The theater held the film over for six weeks which had never happened before.[59]

An annual festival, the Lebowski Fest, began in Louisville, Kentucky, United States in 2002 with 150 fans showing up, and has since expanded to several other cities.[60] The Festival's main event each year is a night of unlimited bowling with various contests including costume, trivia, hardest- and farthest-traveled contests. Held over a weekend, events typically include a pre-fest party with bands the night before the bowling event as well as a day-long outdoor party with bands, vendor booths and games. Various celebrities from the film have even attended some of the events, including Jeff Bridges who attended the Los Angeles event.[60] The British equivalent, inspired by Lebowski Fest, is known as The Dude Abides and is held in London.[61]

Dudeism, an online religion devoted largely to spreading the philosophy and lifestyle of the movie's main character was founded in 2005. Also known as The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, the organization has ordained over 50,000[62] "Dudeist Priests" all over the world via its website.

Info on the creation of this fine new scholarly tome:

Most of the essays in “The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies” began as papers presented at the 2006 Lebowski Fest in Louisville. Working at an unhurried, Dude-like crawl, it took the editors three years to wrap these papers up and usher them into print.

“When we first put out a call for papers, we received about 200 proposals,” said Mr. Comentale, an associate professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington, whose previous books include “Modernism, Cultural Production and the British Avant-Garde” and “T. E. Hulme and the Question of Modernism.”

The essays sound pretty great, both fun and illuminating, and the influence of Jeff Bridges' "Dude" are growing with the college students of today:

In another of this book’s essays, “Professor Dude: An Inquiry Into the Appeal of His Dudeness for Contemporary College Students,” a bearded, longhaired and rather Dude-like associate professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., named Richard Gaughran asks this question about his students: “What is it that they see in the Dude that they find so desirable?”

One of Mr. Gaughran’s students came up with this summary, and it’s somehow appropriate for an end-of-the-year reckoning: “He doesn’t stand for what everybody thinks he should stand for, but he has his values. He just does it. He lives in a very disjointed society, but he’s gonna take things as they come, he’s gonna care about his friends, he’s gonna go to somebody’s recital, and that’s it. That’s how you respond.”

I've always said that the strongest thing in the world is a philosophy, and in the post-Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe world, that pretty much means a code. It's not about governments or ideologies, it's how you see the big picture and apply it to the small. Maybe that's best represented by an academic collection. Or maybe by a 2010 wall calendar.

In any case, when they hand Jeff Bridges the statuette for Best Actor at this next Oscars ceremony, it may say it's for Crazy Heart but we'll know the truth. Sure, there's a lifetime achievement aspect. And sure, it looks like a potentially career-best performance for this new movie, but in our heart-of-hearts, for all of us rooting everso hard for him out here in Lebowskiland, it'll be The Dude that we'll be cheering for.

For as well all know, when all is said and done, the Dude abides.

As The Stranger says, it's good knowin' he's out there.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Typical Squawking

Love how the GOP are quick to turn any event partisan, somehow blaming Obama for the Nigerian bomber who flew in from Amsterdam -- where airport security is private rather than government run. Yet the lack of a leader at our own TSA is the direct fault of lead squawker Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who is blocking confirmation of President Obama's nominee as a wedge again TSA unionizing:
DeMint's objection creates a procedural hurdle that could take three days of debate and test votes to overcome, or could potentially be limited if Democrats offered DeMint a compromise. No one was taking conciliatory stance on Monday, however. Manley called DeMint's opposition "disgraceful."
What's more, Republicans cast the key votes against funding for protecting U.S. planes and lives:

Republicans have cast votes against the key TSA funding measure that the 2010 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security contained, which included funding for the TSA, including for explosives detection systems and other aviation security measures. In the June 24 vote in the House, leading Republicans including John Boehner, Pete Hoekstra, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan voted against the bill, amid a procedural dispute over the appropriations process, a Democrat points out. A full 108 Republicans voted against the conference version, including Boehner, Hoekstra, Pence, Michelle Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn, Darrell Issa and Joe Wilson.

The conference bill included more than $4 billion for "screening operations," including $1.1 billion in funding for explosives detection systems, with $778 million for buying and installing the systems.

Squawk squawk. As Mitchel Bard writes in HuffPo, the key story of the year should be how little the GOP care for the American people over their Party's own political fortunes:

It has been less than one year since President Obama was sworn in. When he sat behind the big desk in the Oval Office for the first time, he found himself responsible for a free-falling economy (and mounting staggering job losses), a massive deficit, the manpower and financial burden of hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq, a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and a militant Islamic movement looking to inflict damage on America and American interests, all of which came as a direct result of the failed policies of his predecessor. Obama also had a host of other problems to address, from global warming to energy dependence to a corrupt and dangerous Iranian government struggling to hold onto power and capable of real danger, just to name a few.

The president didn't create any of these problems. Not one of them. And it is completely unrealistic to think that any person or party could solve these issues in less than a year.


What have the Republicans offered aside from "no"?

To me, that should be the real story of the first year of the Obama administration. The discussion should be about the utter disdain the Republicans have shown for the American people, as the party has put political games and protecting its corporate interests in the first position on every issue. That, and the out-and-out lies that have become the go-to strategy of the party (death panels anyone?).

Baird goes on to list some of the most egregious blocking actions, thwarting attempts, anti-President actions on foreign soil and lies that have taken the place of real statesmanship in the GOP '09. Good reminders in case you've missed or forgotten some of the worst.

I honestly don't see a change ahead for 2010. In fact, with healthcare reform not quite over the finish line, the GOP is already lining up repeal of the reform as their key party message.

Here's hoping the Dems stick to their guns on this one -- the only way to lose is to fold under the noise.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

More Cable News FAIL

You wouldn't know it from the mainstream media, but there have been major developments in the Iran citizen uprising this weekend. The regime forces killed the nephew of the man likely robbed of electoral victory by the fascist regime earlier this year (which sparked the uprising to begin with) and citizens throughout the country are in the streets -- and getting beaten mercelessly by the brutal basji (paramilitary police).

I'm blogging on Blackberry tonight so you'll have to find your own way to Andrew Sullivan's blog or any other covering this ongoing and mounting civil disobedience, but while cable news remains mired in endless empty plane terrorist cycling, at least the White House is speaking out with a change in tone from earlier this year, coming down hard against the Iranian government for thie violent subjugation of their people.

The next few days will begin a cycle of mourning for Mousavi's nephew, who was an important man as in line for iman, and hardset against the current government. Fascists lose when they create the wrong martyrs. Here's to this one leading to their demise.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxers Day

So now that it has been revealed that the Xmas terrorist had the incendiary materials in his underwear, close to his genitals to avoid detection, essentially a six inch long envelope filled with powder and a syringe with some sort of fluid that, when mixed together, was supposed to make a bigger fire or boom than it did, will we be going the same way as post-shoe bomber and have to strip down to our underwear for TSA clearance to get on an airplane?

Will they make us put it in a grey bin, or just on the conveyor belt?

How many more ways will we allow the terrorists to win?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Cable Firehose

I spent the better part of an hour this afternoon in a small gym with three TVs, one of which had both the up and down channel buttons missing, which meant it was stuck on one channel, in this case CNN. While I certainly understand that today's attempted explosion of a Detroit-bound airplane is a newsworthy terrorist story, a big deal with what appears to be a happy ending - passengers and crew subduing the terrorist - I can't help but complain about the way I flipped CNN into worthless firehose mode.

What they ran without end was a shot of the plane in what I assume to be a remote corner of the Motor City airfield, hazmat guy or two lurching in an out like The Hurt Locker as reality show, some cops walking and talking near the wings, and on the other side of the split screen some CNN anchor or expert talking and taking calls from other experts, but none of them offering anything but firehose conjecture.

Is this really going to be the way it is forever on cable news?

Thank God and Santa for TCM, running Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles on the second TV in the gym.

My son had turned the third TV to Nick. And it wasn't Spongebob.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And to All a Good Night

Yeah, maybe it's not the Change You had somehow convinced yourself you could Believe In, but with the Xmas Eve Senate vote 60-39 for healthcare reform, imperfect as it may be and still to reconciled with the House and final passage, you have a super majority without, to their shame, I believe, a single Republican vote. So an overwhelming vote in favor, just pointing to a lack of participation in governance or legislation craftng to address real Americans' needs on the other side.

Maybe we got a better bill because of it?

If so, considering Kent Conrad, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman's fingerprints on the passed legislation, I shudder to think what a "bipartisan" bill would have looked like with this current crowd on the other side of the aisle.

Merrrry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 In Pictures

Movie love galore:

'Tis the season to catch up on everything missed this past year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On the Other Hand

A "Blue Dog" Democratic member of the House of Representatives just switched party affiliation today:

Rep. Parker Griffith, a freshman Blue Dog Democrat from Alabama, will announce Tuesday that he's switching parties to become a Republican.

House Republican leadership had been courting Griffith, who voted against the stimulus package, health care reform, the energy bill, equal pay for women, the 2010 budget resolution and financial regulatory reform. He said at a town hall in August that he would not vote for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as Speaker of the House again because of her "divisive and polarizing" image. He also told constituents at the time that only Blue Dog Democrats could prevent the health care bill from moving forward in the House.

The GOP are calling this a victory, naturally, although oddly still thinking of running someone against him in the primary. Politico, which loves to drum up a fight, says it's a warning to the Dems and portends losses next November. But a reader of Talking Points Memo feels Griffith's misread the tea leaves, so to speak:
As the TPM has already pointed out, establishment conservatives will not support a johnny-come-lately who is already vulnerable when they can elect their own to the seat. That's what I expect them to do. Griffith's decision is a blunder for this very reason. He just relinquished the support of the DCCC (which spent about $1.2 million on him last year) for the uncertain support of the RNCC (which, as NY-23 showed, has no sway over its electorate). In fact, the worst thing that Griffith could have done was to deflect. He just cost himself substantial support for reelection and is almost guaranteeing defeat.

Make no mistake about it, those GOPers are still tearing their own party apart. You've got Laura Ingraham inserting her voice in a primary battle in Virginia, and God bless the Florida GOP:
Greer, an ally of moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, has come under fire by intra-party critics who accuse him of mismanaging the state GOP's finances. For his part, Greer is putting the blame for this controversy on allies of former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, the more conservative challenger against Crist in the Senate primary. And Greer has accused these critics of "slander," "libel," and even "treason" against the Republican Party!


Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who are leading figures in the Cuban-American GOP political community, have rescinded their endorsements of Crist. Lincoln Diaz-Balart wouldn't elaborate on the reason, except to give this cryptic comment: "We take our endorsements seriously, but the governor knows why we withdrew and he left us with no alternative."

The Miami Herald speculates that this might have happened because Crist snubbed the Diaz-Balarts in their attempt to have a friend of Lincoln's son appointed as a judge, instead picking a different candidate. Could something this picayune have led to a retraction of a Senate campaign endorsement?

Guess it could.

Countdown to Charlie Christ jumping ship to the Democratic Party?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oscar Winning Predictions 2009

I haven't seen all these films, but here's what I'm expecting as winners:

Best Picture

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious

Best Director
Katherine Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Best Animated Feature

Best Actress is the only one where I have some conflicting thoughts. The play here would be Bullock in a new signature role, a la Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, rewarding both someone popular in town (helping with Crash etc.) who's had a great box office year for an older actress, and also giving a nod to those non-coastal states which came out in droves for this movie.

On the flip side, the picture is not seen as very sophisticated, and may not impress the Hollywood crowd, particularly actors. That opens it up for Carey Mulligan in An Education or Meryl Streep in Julia & Julie. While the Academy loves to reward ingenues, it is usually in the Supporting Actress category, and while Mulligan is certainly good, she doesn't give a real powerhouse performance and has zero track record besides this movie. Nor is her face as yet as memorable as, say, a young Audrey Hepburn to whom she has been compared. A few more good roles and she may win, but I'm doubtful this movie will be rewarded with such a big award.

As for Ms. Streep, she could win by default, sort of a late career achievement award for being a box office sensation at age 60. The role is Oscar bait inasmuch as she's playing a real life character, with bonus points for playing someone we've seen on TV so much (back then) so well that you forget the original. The strike against her is that since she's only half the movie, isn't it like giving the heftiest acting Oscar for half a performance?

Choosing Bullock solves a lot of problems. And Meryl may have another great one left in her. Who would doubt it? Or more than one great one -- half a dozen. And in more Oscar-worthy fare.

In any case, I always find it useful to make the picks long before the nominations are announced and my opinion can be swayed. The Oscars work by tried and true rules: Jeff Bridges wins in an underwatched picture because he's overdue and the only real competition, Clooney, has won recently, albeit in a Supporting role, but a weightier one. Waltz is the nod to Tarantino and the Weinsteins and is the way Oscar likes to dole out rewards to guests from around the world in witty, standout performances. Mo'Nique gives Precious it's gold, acknowledging the power and importance of that rather smaller picture, Bigelow wins the first female Directing Oscar for her profoundly suspenseful yet grounded in a big, salient reality work. Reitman's movie gets the indie attitude Best Picture consolation prize (as did his Juno), Boal gets the only other major double for his suspenseful yet grounded in a big, salient reality screenplay. Up beats Fantastic Mr. Fox because it's bigger of heart and more soaring of vision, and because it may get a Best Picture nomination (with 10 slots this weird year).

Which brings us to Avatar. As longtime readers of Nettertainment may recall, Best Picture is a misnomer, as the Academy instead bestows their top prize on "Most Picture" -- the movie that best combines huge spectacle with huge emotion. When there's no film that bridges that divide you find smaller movies winning, as Big Heart beats Big Empty Spectacle every time.

From what I hear about Avatar, it has a heart, kind of a liberal one as well, and since it's a game-changer on the technical/visionary front, it is now the front runner for Most Picture. The split with Best Director will come from the impression that it may be a bigger technical than emotional achievement -- i.e. just enough emotion to win the big prize, not enough to get the Directing award. In addition, you have a first-time-ever story of ex-spouses up against each other, with Cameron's ex-wife Bigelow a perfect choice to split producing (Best Picture) and directing honors with her ex-husband, everybody wins.

Plus it'd be nice to see a woman win that award FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OSCAR HISTORY.

There you have it; you read it here first.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


There's what appears to be a very good overview of positives/negatives in the Senate healthcare reform bill here, well worth reading, but what strikes me most today is the utter uselessness of The Party of No:
A day after Senate Democrats said that they had clinched an agreement on a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s health care system, Republicans vowed on Sunday to continue their fight while acknowledging that their chances of stopping Senate passage had faded.

Asked whether he and his fellow Republicans could yet block the bill, John McCain of Arizona seemed resigned to its passage.

“Probably not,” he replied on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ll fight the good fight, we‘ll fight until the last vote.”

This is actually the perfect cause for Sen. McCain to lead, as he has always had a predilection for lost causes, which fits into his internal system of "honor," i.e. Vietnam. It's also interesting that the Times article doesn't cite another Republican, as I'm sure whoever else might represent that party here is happy to have John be the face of their loss -- as he was last November.

It's just the state of things that The Party of No has nothing to be in favor of, their previous causes drained like pustules by eight years of Cheney/Bush and their twelve year dominance of the House of Representatives, four of the Senate. They are literally running on empty -- no one left to believe their self-proclamation as "the party of ideas." They have offered nothing but half-hearted or weirdly exacerbating ideas on healthcare, not firmly acknowledging a need for reform (but how could they if constantly crying that the U.S. somehow has the best health system in the world?), pingponging back-and-forth on Medicare depending on the needs of the news cycle, falling back on cries of "socialism" (and the final bill appears not even close), generally bringing nothing as a party or as individual legislators to the historic moment other than their blind opposition, which in turn has only allowed conservaDems and egomaniacs like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman to further nerf the legislation.

There was, of course, one individual Republican who appeared reaching for the old Howard Baker mantle of true moderation and bipartisanship, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. But her statement today confirms her as just as useless as the rest of her party, if not (after having voted the Senate bill out of committee with great drama) even more of a wanker:

Having been fully immersed in this issue for this entire year and as the only Republican to vote for health reform in the Finance Committee, I deeply regret that I cannot support the pending Senate legislation as it currently stands, given my continued concerns with the measure and an artificial and arbitrary deadline of completing the bill before Christmas that is shortchanging the process on this monumental and trans-generational effort.

Only three weeks ago the Senate received a more than 2,000 page bill on one of the most complex issues in our history, and we have since considered fewer than two dozen amendments out of more than 450 filed.

Two notes: the more than 450 amendments filed include all the slow-down amendments called for by the GOP in their leaked strategy guide to defeating the bill. As for the Xmas deadline, this reform has been brewing for decades and this round originally had an August deadline. The GOP would like nothing more than to delay a vote past Xmas in order to kill an momentum. It is disingenuous for Sen. Snowe not to acknowledge that.

Well, to her credit she may have found a way to vote against a bill that will still pass, thus helping fend off a teabagger attack come next primary season.

It's tough being one of two national-level Republicans remaining in elective office in New England.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cloture Time

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has filed for cloture on the healthcare reform bill. That means he firmly believes he has the sixty votes he needs to get past a filibuster and get to a majority-rule floor vote.

Vice President Joe Biden comes out swinging for the yes votes, noting a little history:
Most recently, in 1993, Democrats had a chance to forge a compromise with Senator John Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, on a health care reform bill. Congress’s failure to pass health care reform that year led to 16 years of inaction — and 16 years of exploding health care costs and rising numbers of uninsured Americans.


I share the frustration of other progressives that the Senate bill does not include a public option. But I’ve been around a long time, and I know that in Washington big changes never emerge in perfect form...

...Is America better off today because a chance at a compromise health bill was missed in 1993? For my friends on the left, the rising toll of the uninsured provides an emphatic no. For my friends on the right, the soaring share of federal spending on health care likewise provides a no. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

The widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) goes back even further:
In the early 1970s, Ted worked with the Nixon administration to find consensus on health-care reform. Those efforts broke down in part because the compromise wasn't ideologically pure enough for some constituency groups.

She goes on to list all the good stuff in the current bill, which is well worth reading.

There's one other simple reason to pass this healthcare reform legislation: because no matter how nerfed it might be, the GOP still hate it, oppose it unanimously in the Senate, and is the only political party that will benefit by its defeat.

Go team.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hypocrisy Follies

Here's Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) refusing to give Sen. Joe Lieberdouche (I-CT) an extension on his allotted ten minute speaking time in the Senate, followed by useless Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) standing up all righteous for his buddy, Joe:

McCain has kept up complaining about Franken to the press, including calling him "the newest member of the Senate" as if he's a brash young whippersnapper with no respect for his wise elders. I like how McCain claims he's never seen such lack of comnity (yes, sounds like comedy!) in the Senate before...and yet:
On October 10, 2002 — just ahead of the looming mid-term elections — the Senate rushed a debate on a war authorization giving President Bush the power to use force against Iraq. The resolution ultimately passed the Senate after midnight on an early Friday morning by a vote of 77-23.

During the course of the frenzied floor debate, then-Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN) spoke in favor of an amendment offered by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) that would have restricted Bush’s constitutional powers to wage war against Iraq. After a minute and a half, Dayton ran out of time, prompting this exchange:

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator’s time has expired.
Mr. DAYTON. I ask for unanimous consent that I have 30 seconds more to finish my remarks.
Mr. McCAIN. I object.

Byrd stepped in to grant Dayton time to finish his remarks. But just moments later, Byrd asked for more time to speak for himself. Again, McCain objected, prompting Byrd to chide him for doing so.

Dear Lord, with every new press moment it becomes increasingly clear how big a bullet we dodged by not electing McCain to the Presidency, and that's without even considering the Palin fusillade avoided.

Meanwhile, MoveOn is earning laughs and donations with their sock puppet dramatization of Holy Joe's hypocrisy:

PS: Paul Krugman say just pass it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Health Brawl

Chuck Norris proves that the stupidity, vapidity, and political charlatanism of his movies are all of a piece. As in piece of s***.

An unemployed worker asks for reform, even if imperfect.

The National Coalition on Health Care is well worth checking out -- they say vote "yes."

And Jane Hamsher takes it to shameless corporate shill Lanny Davis:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Will the President be able to hold the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to the Senate rewrite?

Danger Will Robinson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Bottom Line

Here it is: I believe the discussion on the public option and/all Medicare for all has been opened and can be returned to, especially if we elect more progressive candidates, i.e. to the Senate. I can live with the reform bill as small a loaf it might be -- but not if the individual mandate stays in and any public assistance is essentially government subsidies mandated to flow into private for-profit companies. (Would feel different if, like the Swiss system as I understand it, it must be non-profit).

It's one thing if there's a give and take ending within reason, but if it ends up just being the biggest win imaginable for the private insurance companies, the bill has to -- and I believe will -- go down.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Step back. Has their ever been a more vile, self-centered politician? What is it about his unique combination of sanctimoniousness, opportunism and obstructionism that makes him a leader in his category?

Sunday, December 13, 2009


At first glance Up in the Air appears to be about rootlessness, and that's certainly part of the mix. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, the peripatetic airline passenger pursuing a milestone number of frequent flier miles as he zigzags around the U.S. firing people who's bosses outsource the unpleasant task to his Omaha-based firm. Along the way he picks up a romance with the "female version of you, but with a vagina," played by the pitch-perfect Vera Farmiga, a young apprentice played by newcomer Anna Kendrick who is on the verge of bringing webcam layoffs to the firm and thus grounding Ryan short of his goal, and even his niece's wedding in upper Wisconsin. In the winter. In slush.

What makes Up in the Air (based on the book by Walter Kirn but considerably altered) resonant in our recessionary times are the real-person interviews, fitting right into the story but made up of recently laid-off workers who were given the chance by director Jason Reitman to say what they wish they had said at their own point of termination. (In the management-capitalism-speak of the movie, they are told that they job "is no longer available," as if the losing worker was expecting to purchase it, like an airline ticket or an a/v receiver.) And while the dialogue and scene changes are filled with wit that plays so well with Clooney in the lead -- his best performance since Syriana and much more of a play on his iconic charm -- the romance and the comedy are leavened with the pain that's happening on our nation's Main Streets (or Main Corporate Parks), and tinged with loneliness that follows you out of the theater.

The big theme of Up in the Air is actually proximity, an exploration of the choices we make as to how close we want to be with family, friends, lovers, as well as the ways in which both globalism and technology are collapsing distances which leaves us with a surfeit of proximity and a deficit of human warmth.

On one hand, Clooney is the perfect expression of his firm, which brings life-changing (often ruining) decisions made in the corner office by your cubicle to you from halfway across the country. The movie sides with Clooney's in-person approach against Kendrick's T-1 firings plan, but a step back and there's a cost anyway, to society and, in a certain way, to Clooney himself. He's inured himself to rich human emotion, distanced from his sister and her family, tripped up by his own inexperience when he actually tries to reach for real emotional closeness, a man who thinks his home is the network of modern airports and airplanes since his own home is barely a shoebox.

This is a modern movie where critical decisions are revealed by Blackberry Messenger and no one looks back. Where clothes are kept on open steel kitchen shelves for easy packing and survival skills include knowing which line to choose at TSA. Where major corporate moves are abstracted into the ether by contract and boarding pass.

While the movie leaves it up to us to come up with our own solutions, there is one moment where Clooney asks a firee to question why he dropped his dream career to pursue a corporate one, and proffers that he should return to that vocational path in order to earn back his own self-respect and that of his kids. Is that a glib feint on the part of the movie, the Hollywood idea that if you follow your dream, you'll be better for it in the end?

I have no idea the number of Americans who lost their job or their business in this recession that were indeed following that dream -- the bakery or graphics company or auto dealership that went out of business as the result of this year's round of nightmarish cutbacks, but I can't help wondering if there's not a new/old community-based economy on the way, or if that might not be the only solution. Cut the cable but keep the Web service, remove the main house phone line but keep the family cellphone plan, give the quick-service restaurants a run for their money.

Is there some way our new connectivity and recession-honed consciousness can lead to a new (Middle) American societal rebirth? Are the ruralpolitans signaling hope for the future?

Or are we just waiting for the next wave of the baton from our corporate overlords?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Speech

Interesting that there's love for Obama's speech from left and right, but with more members of the left falling out than the right, and more members of the right once again over-simplifying that the President somehow justified Bush-Cheneyism in his speech.

He didn't -- no preemptive war in the Iraq sense. No real American Exceptionalism to justify everything we do -- rule of law necessary here to keep us on the moral highground.

Here's Glenn Greenwald on the oddities of the (mostly) bipartisan phenomenon:

Indeed, Obama insisted upon what he called the "right" to wage wars "unilaterally"; articulated a wide array of circumstances in which war is supposedly "just" far beyond being attacked or facing imminent attack by another country; explicitly rejected the non-violence espoused by King and Gandhi as too narrow and insufficiently pragmatic for a Commander-in-Chief like Obama to embrace; endowed us with the mission to use war as a means of combating "evil"; and hailed the U.S. for underwriting global security for the last six decades (without mentioning how our heroic efforts affected, say, the people of Vietnam, or Iraq, or Central America, or Gaza, and so many other places where "security" is not exactly what our wars "underwrote"). So it's not difficult to see why Rovian conservatives are embracing his speech; so much of it was devoted to an affirmation of their core beliefs.

The more difficult question to answer is why -- given what Drum described -- so many liberals found the speech so inspiring and agreeable? Is that what liberals were hoping for when they elected Obama: someone who would march right into Oslo and proudly announce to the world that we have a unilateral right to wage war when we want and to sing the virtues of war as a key instrument for peace? As Tom Friedman put it on CNN yesterday: "He got into their faces . . . I'm for getting into the Europeans' face." Is that what we needed more of?

The New York Times is one of the speech supporters:
Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday, President Obama gave the speech he needed to give, but we suspect not precisely the one the Nobel committee wanted to hear...

...In a speech that was both somber and soaring, he returned again and again to Afghanistan, arguing that the war was morally just and strategically necessary to defend the United States and others from more terrorist attacks.

In a moving passage, he invoked the memories of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that without Dr. King’s vision, leadership and sacrifice, he never would have been standing at that lectern in Oslo.

But he said he could not be guided by their examples alone. “For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.”

I keep asking all of my friends who think Obama shouldn't have ordered the 30,000 additional troops to Afghanstan if they believe withdrawal was the answer. Otherwise, Obama chose the best option. But if you truly believe there is nothing more to be gained there, no threat now or future that we can stem by changing our strategy from the Bush-Cheney one (whatever it was -- belligerent neglect?), then fine, it's up to Obama (or Osama, with another 9/11-type attack, God forbid) to prove you wrong.

I'll end with a less sanguine quote from Professor Juan Cole's post on the speech, a different kind of warning:
Obama has yet to decide whether he is a visionary or a technocrat. The prize committee hoped for the former. In this speech they got the latter.

One month from now will be one year in with Obama, and State of the Union time.

And with it come the first legitimate judgments.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


It looks like England and France want their "master of the universe" bankers to pay for their crimes, by forking over 50% of their bonuses to the government:

On Friday, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France plans to announce a windfall tax “equivalent” to the 50 percent levy just unveiled in London by the Labour government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, in an interview Thursday in Paris.

“We have been advocating this for a long time, and we are delighted to see that Gordon Brown is taking that stand,” Ms. Lagarde said. “The president,” she added, “thinks he is brave to take on the City.”

Mr. Brown and Mr. Sarkozy — whose relations have been strained in recent weeks — held a 30-minute meeting at the start of the European Union summit meeting here Thursday and buried other differences to agree a joint approach over bonuses.

Both countries say their stand should increase pressure on other nations to follow suit.

Maybe that's why Goldman Sachs made this announcement:
Moving to quell the uproar over the return of big paydays on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs announced on Thursday that its top executives would forgo cash bonuses this year and that it would give shareholders a say in determining compensation.

With a resurgent Goldman set to award billions of dollars in bonuses — a trove that could rival the record payouts of the bubble years — the bank said that its 30 most-senior executives would be paid in the form of a special stock, rather than in cash. Goldman said that it would also let its shareholders vote on its executives’ pay, although the decision would be nonbinding.

Knowing these weaselly bankers, they're some way they're overcompensating themselves again, and here after we bailed their asses out.

Criticism still coming from Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, calling out the President as well:

What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.

How could Obama let this happen? Is he just a rookie in the political big leagues, hoodwinked by Beltway old-timers? Or is the vacillating, ineffectual servant of banking interests we've been seeing on TV this fall who Obama really is?

And it looks like the Dems are having trouble coming up with rules to keep the collapse from happening again:

As the House took up a sweeping measure that would put new controls on businesses and financial institutions, a bloc of business-oriented Democrats threatened to withhold support because of their concerns about its impact on financial institutions.

To address those concerns, Representative Melissa Bean, Democrat of Illinois, a leader of the group called the New Democrat Coalition, offered a proposal to limit a state’s ability to impose tougher rules on national banks already judged to meet federal standards.

But liberal lawmakers, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were not eager to make concessions to banks given their role at the center of the economic crisis. The dispute stalled the beginning of a debate scheduled to run through Friday.

Bean there, done that, Melissa.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I'm a sucker for well-presented info like this:

In case you missed it, here's the one from 2008 that seemed to get a lot of notice:

Yep, we live in the Exponential Age...but it surely can't be forever?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Big Moves

Senate Dem negotiations seem to be producing a health care compromise that doesn't completely suck, has some potentially very good features, has great potential to improve the current state, but does not contain a full-blown pubic option that kicks in immediately, or even the opt-out, which could be a dealbreaker for some on the left. Seems very hybrid, and I'll be listening to how Sen. Bernie Saunders goes on this one.

Here's the "Gang of Ten" Harry Reid threw together tonight to thrash it out:

On the progressive side:

Russ Feingold (WI)
Jay Rockefeller (WV)
Tom Harkin (IA)
Sherrod Brown (OH)
Chuck Schumer (NY)

On the conservative side:

Mark Pryor (AR)
Blanche Lincoln (AR)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Ben Nelson (NE)
Tom Carper (DE)

Sherrod Brown has also been very stand-up so far, so his opinion and, of course, Sen. Feingold's, will mean a lot to progressives on how they feel about the full compromise when revealed .

The White House is nodding its o.k.

How much of half a loaf will it be?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tiger's Wood

Nettertainment tries not to spend too much time covering scandal and for the early part of this latest one, I thought it was his own family business, who cares. But now the Tiger Woods story is exploding in so many ways, one must stand back in awe.

First there was the this-doesn't-add-up car accident two doors down from his house with his wife ventilating car windows with a golf club. Now I hear he hasn't shown himself in public since then because his tooth is chipped, maybe from a 5-iron assault that started in the house and sent him running and driving, barefoot.

We've also learned that his wife spoke with one of his girlfriends the day of the "accident" and heard the voice message of him asking the same girlfriend (or a different one?) to remove her i.d. from her phone. That woman had scheduled a press conference, but for a rumored $1,000,000 called it off. Meanwhile his wife was renegotiating their prenuptial agreement to the tune of $80,000,000 if she sticks with him for another eight years; not sure if she's still interested, having reportedly moved out of their home today. Not sure who's got the kids.

This was the climax of a day when a mistress or fling or whatever you want to call these ladies seemed to come out of the woodwork one an hour. The last number I heard was twelve. There's a waitress, a pornographic actress, lots of augmentation, bleached blondes, hair-pulled brunettes (Tiger reportedly likes it "rough," is well-endowed but doesn't bother with condoms), you name it. His wife looks augmented to me as well, and clearly has a strong swing.

Best of all, one of these high-moral women is in negotiations with Playgirl to publish nude photos of the golf champion. Assuming each of these ladies is raising their hand while the million dollar bills are being handed out, what would such photos be worth? Five million dollars? Wouldn't that be worth not having them plastered across the Internet, forever imprinting the image of nude Tiger in our collective consciousness so that every time we saw him teeing off, we'd be thinking him naked with a different club?

I don't expect every brilliant performer in the world to be a saint, nor is it much of a surprise that someone with such a squeaky clean reputation turns out to be a serial adulterer. It is, however, a real bummer for anyone with kids who looked up to Tiger and, here's the rub, a real bummer for his brand.

Clearly the payoffs to wife and mistress were Tiger Woods, Inc. springing into action. I find a fascination in imagining his agent(s) and lawyer(s) burning up the phone lines to corporate sponsors, desperate to reassure one and all that this was under control and would blow over. Heck, if it's worth $10MM/year to his wife to keep her aboard, then he must be raking in ten times that annually.

Maybe she's upset the apple cart for good, and maybe it will end up hurting her financially as much as it must be starting to hurt him. Maybe he's over-leveraged like all the all rich folks and this will send him tumbling. The first sponsor pull-outs (faster than Tiger ever did) have yet to be made public, but today was not a good day for that -- one assumes a morals clause in most of these contracts.

Even the EA Sports Tiger Woods Golf videogame franchise would not be immune. Won't there be jokes about the secret level where Tiger shags the comely caddy right there on the 18th hole green? Or maybe the cheat code Easter Egg where you get to play as his wife...only you tee off on his head!

The little car crash that started this all has turned into a much bigger can't-turn-away car crash, sometimes in slow motion, sometimes in a tumble like today. It's a perverse fascination to be sure, and at this stage in our culture where the line between public and private is so dissolved, our illusions about our heroes so shredded, it seems that moral judgment is almost beside the point. Make it if you like, but we're all sinners in our own way, so be it.

It hurts a little to see yet another good icon revealed as just another dumb dude, the man who had too much but was supposed to stand for something.What's more fascinating is watching the process, same as it ever was but maybe a bit more horrifying, humiliating and hilarious that usual, inadvertent bread and circuses for our entertainment.

The best move now is to take Oprah up on her reported offer of advice and an appearance. Confess to being a sex addict on her show and having entered a rehab program, take the public lashing and the eventual forgiveness, ideally within the same hour. Beg for your wife's forgiveness maybe there in public, maybe Oprah will even have her waiting in the wings and stage your reunion.

Either that or sign that reality show deal. Right now.

While you're hot.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Best New Trend

I'm betting some city folks who make the move to the country end up back in the cities, but I've thought for a while that not that there is connectivity to both non-farming work and cosmopolitan culture available in rural areas (and even Netflix for the types of movies that don't get a fair showing outside of urban centers), why wouldn't more people take advantage of the comparatively low property values, closeness to nature and terrific place to raise kids, and just head for the hills:
Sometimes dubbed "ruralpolitans," these city and town dwellers are looking at land as their new safe investment, one they hope could prove more stable than their jobs and 401(k)s—and provide a better lifestyle.

Motivations can vary, but typically there are three groups: young people buying land as an asset or investment, with vague hopes to live on it someday; exurban commuters who have jobs in big towns or cities but want to escape the sprawl; and back-to-the-land types who want to dabble in hobby farming. While the 76 million-strong baby boomers eyeing retirement represent the largest ruralpolitan segment, they're being joined by a growing contingent of 20-to-early-40-somethings freshly imprinted by this recession's pain.
Ruralpolitans -- nice moniker. The Wall Street Journal Article highlights some of the surprises that hit the "hobby farmers" et al who find it's not always the farm they imagined, but in general it seems like lessons get learned and people grow smarter.

Most of all, it's a break from the treadmill of work and fear:

For some people, the break to rural living is a hedge against an unpredictable future. Brandon Peak is a 36-year-old technician at Intel Corp. who works nights on the factory floor in Phoenix and rarely sees his wife and three children during the week. Mr. Peak's company laid off workers this year, and he's received no raise. So when his parents called recently to say they'd purchased 80 acres in Missouri, and asked if he and his family would join them to start a dairy farm, their son jumped at the chance. They're scheduled to move in March.
"I can't tell you how many people at work say, 'Man, I'd like to do that,' " Mr. Peak says. "Everybody is looking for the next opportunity for hope."

Just watch the hippies turn out to be right after all. In a yuppified kind of way.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

How He Works

There's no more revealing or, I have to add, reassuring story about how our current President works his way through the toughest of decisions than this page-turner (page-clicker?) of a story from The New York Times entitled, "How Obama Came to Plan for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan."

This is the plan developed as "Max Leverage," and God bless our young President for doing what one cannot imagine ol' John McCain would have in his place:

Now as his top military adviser ran through a slide show of options, Mr. Obama expressed frustration. He held up a chart showing how reinforcements would flow into Afghanistan over 18 months and eventually begin to pull out, a bell curve that meant American forces would be there for years to come.

“I want this pushed to the left,” he told advisers, pointing to the bell curve. In other words, the troops should be in sooner, then out sooner.

Good stuff includes the President and key staff members reading up on Vietnam so as to try and avoid those mistakes -- like not questioning the Domino Theory and avoiding open-ended engagement -- as well as massive consideration of Pakistan, which we should all be reminded has both Taliban and nuclear weapons, so far kept separate.

The depth of learning, questioning, openness to all opinions prior to decision-making, and the climax, where the President has revealed his decision to those working with him and goes around the room to ask if anyone disagrees, could not be more different from what we learned about the previous Administration.

However, it is interesting to note this key exchange on November 11th:

He turned to General Petraeus and asked him how long it took to get the so-called surge troops he commanded in Iraq in 2007. That was six months.

“What I’m looking for is a surge,” Mr. Obama said. “This has to be a surge.”

If one must fault El Presidente Bush for getting us into Iraq, I have to grudgingly credit him for the surge, which may become a staple of U.S. military policy against insurgencies going forward this century. The difference is that Bush's decision came in January 2007, over six years into his reign. That's a tragically long time for on-the-job learning.

Here's to our young President, moving quickly.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Health Care Follies

Love how the GOP, i.e. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. David "John" Vitter (R-LA) tr to trap the Dems with an amendment to the healthcare reform bill that would force everyone in Congress to join the public option if it were instituted...and instead of being cowed or hypocritical, four Democratic Senators ask to become co-sponsors of the amendment.

And today, as if to moronically underline the case for the public option the insurance industry so dramatically fears, Aetna gives 600,000 more reasons why a robust public option is critical for Americans.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Next Brave Man

Dr. LeRoy H. Carhart:

Dr. Carhart has also begun performing some abortions “past 24 weeks,” he said in an interview, and is prepared to perform them still later if they meet legal requirements and if he considers them medically necessary.

“There is a need, and I feel deeply about it,” said Dr. Carhart, visibly weary after a day when eight patients had appointments at his clinic here.

Another brave doctor clearly putting his life on the line not long after the brutal assassination of Dr. George R. Tiller.

Let's see if Bill O'Reilly points the crazy and homicidal towards this man as well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Zombie Option

The GOP has a new replacement for Chairman Michael Steele, according to The Onion:

Zombie Reagan Raised From Grave To Lead GOP

Heck, they all talk about him enough and claim to know what he'd agree with them on, it's about time he growled for himself.

Meanwhile, "still undead" Republican poster gal Sarah Palin is charging fans for taking pictures with her like she's at a comics convention.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Notes on the President's War Speech

It's as odd as can be to see the President I helped elect stand before an auditorium filled to the gills with West Point Cadets and lay out his strategy for adding 30,000 troops to our commitment in Afghanistan. Yet he ran on the platform that we needed to get our of Iraq and finish the job in Afghanistan, and he laid out information that the recently apprehended terrorists in the U.S. had come from the Afghan border region. And I believe in mentioning Pakistan over twenty times he did the most he could to hint that the mission is maybe more about that country.

Here's some interesting notes that had been embargoed until after the speech, from Marc Ambinder who attended the special journalists lunch with the President today (an hour long discussion). You see a President who could not be more different than the previous one (or two, if you count Cheney as well as Bush) in articulating a convincing rationale for his Commander-in-Chief decision. For example:
At one point in the session, Obama gave a thumbnail sketch of the three basic arguments he's heard about escalation.

"One argument is that this is Vietnam and we should just abandon the field completely. I don't know anybody who has looked at this very carefully who thinks that we are going to be as effective as we need to be in targeting Al Qaeda and other extremists if we simply allow Afghanistan to collapse. The other argument is that we can sort of stand pat, whether it's at 30,000 or 40,000 or 50,000, you have some platform there, you're basically pulled back and hunkered down but you're able to prevent Kabul from being overrun; you can still project some counterterrorism operations in the region. The problem there is whether that level is 50 or 60 ot 70, you have sort of a flatline, where there is no inflection point, there's no point at which, we can say conditions have changed conditionally sufficiently so that we can start bringing out troops home. The strategy that I'm pursuing is designed to say let's see if we can change the conditions on the ground in a time certain period. There are risks associated with that, but in the absence of that push, we are in a situation that doesn't change, and there are big costs associated to troop presence, to casualties, to a slowly deteriorating situation over a course of years that are at least comparable and probably worse than us going ahead and making this big push now."

Gotta give the guy credit: he even named the cost in his speech tonight. When did W. ever do that?

Meanwhile, the GOP/Foxers are still just trying to bring him down. Filthy.

Even Sen. John McCain, watching him on MSNBC right after the speech supporting the President but all up in arms about the time limit, it became comical at the end as he desperately tried to get back in that "I support the President!" as Brian Williams was movin' on.