Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spanked Birther

Anderson Cooper, God love him, performs journalism on a Republican Texas State Representative birther. Guys like this are either craven or moron -- or both:

The relentless lies of these people. I'm less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt of sincerity each successive time. They're a blight on society.

And, yes, I think if they're still doing this after so much public evidence to the contrary, they're implicitly racist.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leaky Ships

I'm concerned that the WikiLeaks diplomacy bomb released today will lead to some sort of crackdown on Internet freedom and provide misdirection in support of anti-Net Neutrality legislation. I'm worried that the sharing of information between government agencies that began after 9/11, which was in part allowed to happen by a lack of inter-agency information exchange, will be squelched.

On the other hand, I'm loving this:

According to Le Monde (in translation), a cable relayed to Washington a conversation between the emir of Qatar and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) last February: "Based on over 30 years of experience with the Iranians, the emir concluded the meeting by saying that we shouldn't believe but one word in a hundred that the Iranians say." The prime minister of Qatar told Kerry later that trip that Ahmadinejad told him: "we beat the Americans in Iraq, the final battle will be in Iran."

The president of the Upper House of the Jordanian Parliament, Zeid Rifai, was said in a cable (translated) to have told the U.S. that "the dialogue with Iran will go 'nowhere', adding: 'bomb Iran or live with a nuclear Iran: the sanctions, the carrots, the incentives, have no importance.'"

The Omanis were similarly concerned, according to cables relayed by the New York Times, as an Omani military official told officials that he could not decide which was worse: "a strike against Iran's nuclear capability and the resulting turmoil it would cause in the Gulf, or inaction and having to live with a nuclear-capable Iran."

The United Arab Emirates' deputy defense chief, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, called Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "Hitler" to U.S. officials, also "stressed 'that he wasn't suggesting that the first option was 'bombing' Iran,' but also warned, 'They have to be dealt with before they do something tragic.'"

The Saudis, the Bahrainis and even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were all similarly inclined, as has been widely reported -- El Pais reported that Mubarak's hatred for Iran was called "visceral" and the New York Times reported the existence of cables referring to the Saudi king's "frequent exhortations" to engage in military action against Iran. The Bahrainis, too, are said to be keen to see Iran's nuclear program halted, and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa is said to have blamed problems in Iraq and Afghanistan on the Iranian government -- and both Kuwaiti and Yemeni officials reportedly told U.S. diplomats similar things about Iranian involvement in fomenting dissent in their own countries.

For far too long the Arab countries in the Middle East have acted like it's Israel against Iran and "Not I! Not I!" What these leaks prove is that there is certainly reason for common ground between Israel and it's neighbors, that they are not afraid of Israel but, rather, Iran, and that their hypocrisy knows no bounds on this issue.

I'm also not against the reported (by Forbes) revelations to come from WikiLeaks regarding the evil at the high end of the contemporary banking industry:
“You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,” he says, refusing to characterize the coming release in more detail. “But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.”

Oh, and by the way, nobody knows what they hell is really going on in North Korea.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shirley, You Can't Be Serious

Leslie Neilsen, R.I.P.

Anyone else have such a complete 180 degree late career switcheroo (from unremarkably stolid dramatic to spoofy comedic actor) and have it last as long?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Haiku Week #6

Black Friday numbers
The best way to determine
Our nation's value?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Haiku Week #5

Tom Delay found guilty
Five to life imprisonment
Dancing Behind Bars?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Haiku Week #2

Divided nation
Will the Civil War not end
Until the South wins?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Haiku Week #1

At two months distance
Video of her on Skype
Who was this woman?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Just Patti

Patti Smith won a National Book Award. David Ulin writes smartly, and with feeling, about it.

She's an American treasure. Who'd have thought!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baggin' with the Stars

I'm not a fan of this show, so it's somewhat hilarious to me that their money-grubbing decision to enter the Palin Family Enterprise may backfire bigtime:
At first, having Bristol Palin participate in 'Dancing With The Stars' seemed like a brilliant idea. Just like Kate Gosselin before her, casting an admittedly bad dancer who was shrouded in controversy has raked in big ratings and tons of press. But now the joke is on the show's producers, as they fear Bristol is actually going to win this thing.

"This will be a disaster for the show if Bristol wins," one TV insider tells me. "Any creditability the show had will be over. It will go from being a dancing competition to a popularity competition where whoever has the most rabid fan base will always win no matter how little talent they have."

"Another problem the producers foresee is that after Bristol wins no one in Hollywood will ever want to be on the show again," a well-placed ABC source tells me. "Why would a real star want to compete and lose against someone like [former U.S. Senate candidate] Christine O'Donnell or Levi Johnston."

A friend of one of the judges tells me Bristol has made a fool out of all of them. It's now painfully obvious that the judge's scores and opinions mean nothing.

I'm sick of hearing people say that Palin is winning because people identify with her failings. This is the exact opposite of what Conservatives claim to believe, that it's all a meritocracy and we shouldn't be dumbing down classrooms to make it nicey-nice for the less talented. No, this is massive Tea Party drone voting, making their political point, whether or not they're using computerized means to generate "legitimate" email addresses and flood they system. Does anyone, anywhere, honestly doubt this is all about Sarah?

I'm starting to think that Palin's world and that of her drones is an even more self-aggrieved subset of the Glenn Beck audience, your true talent is, ostensibly, your adherence to the Sarah-approved ideology, no matter have provisional or acausal the selection. Because the apparatchik reason isn't even what it's all about; the only ideology that matters is that which reinforces the vanity production of Sarah Palin that is her politelebrity career.

And this is where Sarah Palin is, for once, a true pioneer. Her grifter roots are clearly Amy Semple McPherson, Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy but no one has ever done what she's doing before in world political history, mainly because there wasn't a mass media quite like this one before. With so many outlets, so much hunger for content, this rapacious time of widening rich-poor gaps as our corporate feudalistic solidifies for what may be centuries, with so many buyers out there, mass media networks of books, cable, digital, social, Sarah Palin has engineered the very first political campaign where the networks have paid candidate for the honor of creating their long-form campaign commercials and giving them huge hours of airtime, frosted with dominating amounts of free publicity

TLC has given Palin her biggest TV deal, paying her production company to make the shows, with their staged scenes and obvious cutaways, semiotics gone haywire in the ultimately lumpen service or reinforcing Palin's brand messaging and image, endlessly tiresome, endlessly smug, endlessly mean high school girl in the big leagues.

The Obama Family and the Democratic Party had better start adapting immediately. If you think this is polarized nation now, just wait until we're watching entirely separate television shows.

Wait, we already are:

I don't care how serious a candidate, politician or statesman you are. You have to at least acknowledge that this new evolution of bullshit is the most significant since Sen. John Fitzgerald Kennedy bested Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon in the first nationally televised Presidential debate.

One can only hope that, thanks to some combination of narcissistic ambition and aggrieved venality, just as Nixon ultimately lost control of his brand image Palin and her family will lose control of theirs. I mean, even the type of vile use of "gay" and "faggot" as a vicious insult by a teenager, the type of language parents are generally held responsible for teaching their children is wrong, hasn't led to a single admonition of Sarah Palin's mothering skills. Is this the kind of language Mama Grizzlies teach their little grizzlies? Grrr.

The fact is that Palin is media ascendant. There's a rule in Hollywood that you're only a superstar for three years, then the public moves on. You can still be in the firmament, even at your peak earning, but the audience for and against you is already formed, and you're not dominating their fantasy lives anymore.

So can we date Palin's superstardom from when she spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention? I think maybe from when her book came out last year, her first purely commercial endeavor (and a huge success -- her big step-up that caused her to ditch her elected office about halfway into her commitment). If that's the case, she'll peak next year, and start fading in 2012, just in time for the GOP Primaries.

But is the answer more ominous. Is the TLC show where she really starts, taking over the airwaves? Even on Fox, she's not in control, and you can see the short-circuits behind her eyes, her hard little smile growing tight or tipping downwards when O'Reilly catches her out as is his sport.

This is the playing field now. The killing field. The battleground. This is where political war is now being waged. Politicians on the Left may develop a different flavor, maybe one that doesn't seem so constructed, really candid and unedited as Obama can be in ways she never will. The key is to leverage your celebrity as a brand that attracts curious, interested and engagement-starved viewers. If you're not already a politelebrity you need to become one, and if you already are then you need to exploit it with speed and savvy to get control of your image and blast away with your messaging.

This will also become a new discipline in political consulting. I recommend the talent agencies getting their Blue and Red political teams on and integrated with production and network sales. I even mean Below the Line crew. Control everything.

It's post-1984. 1984 has nothing on this. Orwell meets McLuhan. Makes you want to burn the whole mother****ing thing down.

Vote Bristol.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Snap Judgements

F*** you.

Yeah, right.

Right on.

Brinksmanship, Please

I sense this decoupling of the tax cut for everyone from the tax cut just for the rich (they get their first $250k/year exempted with the general cut just like everybody else) is a threshold issue for core Dems, or should I say the kind of old loyal and new potentially loyal Democrats that Obama and Kaine forgot to market to this past election.

Here's what America's Republican Party leadership is planning:

The Republicans' top tax guy in the House threatened in the clearest possible terms today that he and the rest of the GOP would vote to block any tax cut for the middle class during the lame duck session unless tax cuts for the wealthy are extended for the same period of time.

In a policy speech at the business-friendly Tax Council today, incoming Ways and Means Committee chairman David Camp called the Democratic plan for tax cuts -- a permanent tax cut extension for all income up to $200,000, and a temporary extension for income above that level -- "a terrible idea and a total nonstarter."

"We would be foolish to fall for it," Camp said.

Of course not -- don't fall for helping all Americans when you can disproportionately help those billionaire Lords who fund your think tanks and your campaigns, your millionaire Dukes and your close-call wannabees. You know, the Top 2%. Instead of everyone.

They're even scared of meeting en masse with President Obama again, getting more time for preparation lest they endure another Baltimore:

The roots of the partisan standoff that led to the postponement of the bipartisan White House summit scheduled for Thursday date back to January, when President Barack Obama crashed a GOP meeting in Baltimore to deliver a humiliating rebuke of House Republicans.

Obama’s last-minute decision to address the House GOP retreat – and the one-sided televised presidential lecture many Republicans decried as a political ambush – has left a lingering distrust of Obama invitations and a wariness about accommodating every scheduling request emanating from the West Wing, aides tell POLITICO.


Stung by the Baltimore fiasco, Republican leaders carefully stage-managed a televised health care summit at Blair House in February, helping to choreograph every conceivable detail, from the order of speakers to the precise configuration of the horseshoe table occupied by Obama and Congressional leaders. Wary of what they perceive to be potential traps when it comes to appearing with Obama, that kind of precautionary behavior is likely to continue.

Which he kicked their asses in anyway. I say let them prepare, but more such meetings, please.

The GOP sense fold. Please don't reward them with it, Obama and even you most Blue Dog Dems. Not when you have a chance to win the Lame Duck session and slightly redeem yourselves.

Show me something.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Post-WWI Masks

I started my very first Facebook discussion thread here, on Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the mysterious and lethal disfigured WWI veteran taken in by Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) in the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire. We don't see much to Harrow even when he's in a scene, due to his habit of hiding in the shadows and, mainly, behind the mask that shields the world from the true horror of his injured face. If you can handle it, here's how Harrow looks on the show without his mask. And here's with the cover-up (and Jimmy):

Thanks to the Facebook discussion, I've been connect to this fascinating article, "Faces of War" (by Caroline Alexander in Smithsonian magazine 2007) on the origin of these masks in two studios, one in England and one in France (the latter run by an American sculpter, Anna Coleman Ladd), which went to painstaking ends to help make these wounded soldiers as whole as possible. It was the new technologies of the war which gave rise to this need:
The large-caliber guns of artillery warfare with their power to atomize bodies into unrecoverable fragments and the mangling, deadly fallout of shrapnel had made clear, at the war's outset, that mankind's military technology wildly outpaced its medical: "Every fracture in this war is a huge open wound," one American doctor reported, "with a not merely broken but shattered bone at the bottom of it." The very nature of trench warfare, moreover, proved diabolically conducive to facial injuries: "[T]he...soldiers failed to understand the menace of the machine gun," recalled Dr. Fred Albee, an American surgeon working in France. "They seemed to think they could pop their heads up over a trench and move quickly enough to dodge the hail of bullets."

The detail work of these studios were huge and actually took a lot longer than today's plastic surgery to achieve the desired results:

In Ladd's studio, which was credited with better artistic results, a single mask required a month of close attention. Once the patient was wholly healed from both the original injury and the restorative operations, plaster casts were taken of his face, in itself a suffocating ordeal, from which clay or plasticine squeezes were made. "The squeeze, as it stands, is a literal portrait of the patient, with his eyeless socket, his cheek partly gone, the bridge of the nose missing, and also with his good eye and a portion of his good cheek," wrote Ward Muir, a British journalist who had worked as an orderly with Wood. "The shut eye must be opened, so that the other eye, the eye-to-be, can be matched to it. With dexterous strokes the sculptor opens the eye. The squeeze, hitherto representing a face asleep, seems to awaken. The eye looks forth at the world with intelligence."

This plasticine likeness was the basis of all subsequent portraits. The mask itself would be fashioned of galvanized copper one thirty-second of an inch thick—or as a lady visitor to Ladd's studio remarked, "the thinness of a visiting card." Depending upon whether it covered the entire face, or as was often the case, only the upper or lower half, the mask weighed between four and nine ounces and was generally held on by spectacles. The greatest artistic challenge lay in painting the metallic surface the color of skin. After experiments with oil paint, which chipped, Ladd began using a hard enamel that was washable and had a dull, flesh-like finish. She painted the mask while the man himself was wearing it, so as to match as closely as possible his own coloring. "...Details such as eyebrows, eyelashes and mustaches were made from real hair, or, in Wood's studio, from slivered tinfoil, in the manner of ancient Greek statues.

Here's one of the before-and-after photos accompanying the article:

The success of these masks were huge, per this testimonial:
"Thanks to you, I will have a home," one soldier had written her. "...The woman I love no longer finds me repulsive, as she had a right to do."

Facial disfigurement is one of those topics that grows in the imagination. So much of how we communicated, how we recognize, how hold our self-image has to do with what's above the neck. Appearance seems to matter almost as much as functionality, as the loss of an eye may be hidden with a patch or prosthetic eyeball, but a severely disfigured face calls attention to itself, especially on first apprehension.

I wonder if this is one of those, "there but for the grace of God" type emotions it evokes. Dear Lord, please spare me in your mercy. In a certain way, aging disfigures us in slow motion. I recently looked at photos of myself from twenty-odd years ago, and wondered where that confident-looking young guy was when I was in my twenties.

As for the show, so far Richard Harrow has only killed someone who richly deserved it. We have yet to see him in actual rage, and perhaps he has none, just a technical approach to assassination. Perhaps the development of his character will lead to his disfigured face somehow becoming mirrored by a disfigured soul.

For now, Harrow is our angel, if an angel of death. We're in sympathy to him, and we like Jimmy more for bringing Harrow aboard, even if for self-serving purposes. Loyalty does count for something, after all.

I leave it to the creators of Boardwalk Empire to make the most of Harrow, and continue to surprise us.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Now Totally Psyched

Continuing with our Jeff Bridges theme, here's a contender for best movie 2010, if it's anything close to the trailer's impact:

Love the use of the late-career Johnny Cash number.

C'mon, Coens.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

GOP Conservative Tea Partying Hate Mongers

They love branding their Democratic and Liberal enemies as "Hitler" while acting like little Goebbels themselves. Hard to say who the worst is, but the current king seems to be Glenn "Protocols of Zion" Beck:
Nazi propaganda called Jews drahtzieher—wire-pullers. They constitute a power above and beyond ordinary government authority. “There is a super-government which is allied to no government, which is free from them all, and yet which has its hand in them all,” Henry Ford wrote in The International Jew.

If you know this history, you’ll understand why Glenn Beck’s two-part “exposé” on George Soros, whom Beck calls “The Puppet Master,” was so shocking, even by Beck’s degraded standards. The program, which aired Tuesday and Wednesday, was a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles. Nothing like it has ever been on American television before.


Beck’s implication is that there was something sinister in Soros’ support for anti-communist civil society organizations in the former Soviet Union. Further, he sees such support as evidence that Soros will engineer a communist coup here in the United States. This kind of thinking only makes sense within the conspiratorial mind-set of classic anti-Semitism, in which Jews threaten all governments equally. And as a wealthy Jew with a distinct Eastern European accent, Soros is a perfect target for such theories.

You can read The Daily Beast piece and see for yourself how Beck smears Soros. But he's not alone in his prejudiced hate mongering. There's a hate-spewing Jewish woman herself, from Florida, with a radio following, who was slated to be Chief of Staff for a newly-elected Representative - until her words sparked plans for violence:

As you might recall, someone emailed Kaufman's radio station, WFTL, declaring that he or she was planning a violent act against some kind of government building, possibly a school. A phone call to the station yesterday, from a woman identifying herself as the e-mailer's wife, later warned that this man could potentially commit a terrorist act against a public school. That prompted a countywide lock down of all public schools.

The local Fox affiliate since reported that the threat-maker had said he was inspired by none other than Joyce Kaufman, who had received publicity in the last few days for her previous calls for violent action against the government in order to protect citizens from the tyranny of the Obama administration.


The negative publicity had centered around video of comments that Kaufman had made at a Tea Party rally this past Independence Day, on how to change a government that has become destructive of the people's rights: "And then the Founding Fathers were ever so brilliant -- and I don't care how this gets painted by the mainstream media, I don't care if this shows up on YouTube, because I am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendment rights was they gave a Second Amendment. And if ballots don't work, bullets will."

Pure evil. She'll probably become a Fox commentator now that she gotten her publicity.

And, of course, there's Massa Limbaugh:

"We've got the Democrats worried that Clyburn's getting the shaft because he's not going to have a car, he's not going to have a driver, he's not going to have security, he's not going to have any of the stroke, or the perks," Limbaugh said. "A white, racist leadership of the Democrat party trying to ace out Clyburn." Limbaugh got his information on Clyburn's driver from Martin Frost, who appeared on MSNBC.


"Clyburn's new position: driving Ms. Nancy," Limbaugh said. "He's not in the back of the bus, he's in the driver's seat. And she's in the back of the car being chauffeured."

Racist fucks. Rabble-rousing hucksters all. The fact that mainstream media hasn't called them out, that their networks and stations haven't fired them, that the public outcry isn't huge, is what our times are all about. Fake news, faux controversies, Southern strategy in bloom.

Watch out, America. They're eating your soul.

My Pet Bush

Some-body has a new memoir out:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Decision Points
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Try this yourself.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Not So Tiny Bubbles

Nice to know there's still a little mystery left in the universe. I smell a sci-fi screenplay coming our way (if not an onslaught):

A group of scientists working with data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope said Tuesday that they had discovered two bubbles of energy erupting from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The bubbles, they said at a news conference and in a paper to be published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal, extend 25,000 light years up and down from each side of the galaxy and contain the energy equivalent to 100,000 supernova explosions.

“They’re big,” said Doug Finkbeiner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, leader of the team that discovered them.

The source of the bubbles is a mystery. One possibility is that they are fueled by a wave of star births and deaths at the center of the galaxy. Another option is a gigantic belch from the black hole known to reside, like Jabba the Hutt, at the center of the Milky Way. What it is apparently not is dark matter, the mysterious something that astronomers say makes up a quarter of the universe and holds galaxies together.

“Wow,” said David Spergel, an astrophysicist at Princeton who was not involved in the work.

Wow, indeed. Let me offer another theory: these bubbles are actually the product of alien technology, a planet that ran out of fossil fuels and has created a star-fueled power source to run their home planet.

Only problem with this theory: the stars can't last forever.

Then they'll be coming for ours!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Truth Will Out

So much for Tea Party principles. Rand Paul has flipped his flop for earmarks, as any politician interested in re-election will do from the day they're sworn in:

One Tea Party hero, Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY), jumped on the anti-earmark bandwagon early, making “a ban on wasteful earmark spending in Washington D.C. one of the key points of his campaign” in March. Lambasting lawmakers who opt for “photo-ops with oversized fake cardboard checks,” Paul vowed to “dismantle the culture of professional politicians” even if he “ruffled a lot of establishment feathers” while doing it.

But after joining the GOP flock on Election Day, Paul is singing a different tune. In a Wall Street Journal profile this weekend, Paul signaled an about-face on his earmark position, committing to “fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork.”

Truth will out: Texas conservatives suck at governing, and their state is about to feel massive, massive pain:

Texas faces a budget crisis of truly daunting proportions, with lawmakers likely to cut sacrosanct programs such as education for the first time in memory and to lay off hundreds if not thousands of state workers and public university employees.

Texas' GOP leaders, their eyes on the Nov. 2 election, have played down the problem's size, even as the hole in the next two-year cycle has grown in recent weeks to as much as $24 billion to $25 billion. That's about 25 percent of current spending.

The gap is now proportionately larger than the deficit California recently closed with cuts and fee increases, its fourth dose of budget misery since September 2008.

Maybe if Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) can somehow (as he's asking) succeed his state from Social Security and Medicare, he can finish turning it into a Third World state. The potential upside: illegal immigrants fleeing across the border back into Mexico. With plenty of Texans following.

The best thing may have happened -- best for President Obama and the future Democratic Majority. Now he can even get tough on Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal.

Now with an opposition force screwing up in the House daily, he's got everything he needs to run against in 2012.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Fighting Back

So nothing has changed. Anyone who thinks last week's election is some sort of cry to slash government spending is misreading the divided electorate. On the Left there's dissatisfaction that there hasn't been more audacious action, per Paul Krugman. In the Middle, everyone is frightened that the economy is not recovering fast enough. On the Right, there's the lies. Obama didn't raise taxes -- he lowered them. And he's not spending $200 million/day in India -- another GOP lie, he's opening up markets to bring more jobs to America.

Rachel breaks it down:

They lie about the growth of the public sector vs. private under Democrats -- when the evidence of the past year is that we've been shedding government jobs while (no thanks to the George W. Bush GOP tax cuts) we're growing the private sector -- under Obama. Their biggest lie is that now they've learned their lesson and will cut the government spending that ballooned under W. and his GOP Congress. Even Tea Leader Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) can't name specifics of what he'd cut, other than "entitlements." If this means privatizing Social Security or, as likely Presidential aspirant Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) would like to do, getting his state to opt out (stranding their needy seniors), good luck, boys.

Here's the truth: Obama has helped people in ways Bush never did. Read this post where a regular American enumerates the money his family has saved under Obama. Read this piece by William Saletan in Slate about how huge the wins of this past Democratic Congress has been. Who cares what the hell Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) thinks about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) staying on as House Minority Leader? And, per Rep. James Clyburn (D-NC), just let them try to kill healthcare reform now that it is already going into effect:
Clyburn said, "Let them try to prevent a family who has a child with diabetes from getting insurance. Let them tell a man that has paid his premiums on time for 30 years that his policy is canceled because he just got prostate cancer. Let them tell a woman who has breast cancer, sorry you're policy is cancelled."

So booyah, Rep. Clyburn, and keep on fighting, Speaker Pelosi. The lesson of this election for President Obama shouldn't be for Dems to go back to being Republican Lite and losing elections. The lesson should be, yes, bigger, better, clear and simple message, tout your accomplishments loudly and, most of all, fight. No boxer can expect to have the crowd on his side if he shrinks from a fight. Let your principles be known, stand your ground, offer the handshake and when it is refused, put up your dukes.

That's the guy we voted for, the candidate who fought tooth and nail through the primaries and then the general election, with skill, intelligence and determination. Who could take a punch (New Hampshire, anyone?), learn from it and come back stronger.

If this week's Presidential address is any indication, he's already moving in the right direction:

Now just stick to is, BaRocky, and we'll stick with you.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Jill Clayburgh

Always classy and working until nearly the end, actress Jill Clayburgh has passed at the relatively young age of 66, after a twenty-one year struggle with leukemia. She made her name as a new kind of archetype in the mid 1970's, every-woman feminist roles that emerged trailing the movement, neurotic and flawed and human, resistant to caricature, overdue to reach American screens. Her signature film, Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman (cheekily named in homage to Jean-Luc Godard's A Married Woman), for which she received an Oscar nomination, was important to women like my mother during that era of emerging/emerged liberation:


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Back to Jersey

Now that the midterm election is finally over, and as we wait for the inevitable GOP overreach, it's time to return to the arts, specifically the television arts, and a new show that, eight episodes in, has become an addiction for the past several weeks.

I speak, of course, of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, which takes place in Prohibition Era Atlantic City and follows the web of crime surrounding and often led by Enouch "Nucky" Thompson, County Treasurer and king of the town.

There's the noted pedigree, of course, of Creator and Executive Producer Terence Winter of The Sopranos fame, and no less than Martin Scorsese, Executive Producer and Director of the tone/look-setting first episode. Like many HBO shows (including The Wire and Six Feet Under) it took sticking to it through a number of episodes before the hooks caught. I trace my first perking up to episode four, when Michael Kenneth Williams (all hail Omar from The Wire) finally received a great monologue to deliver in his role of Chalky White:

The final hook was the end of the following episode, when Kelly MacDonald as Margaret Schroeder brings the FBI to raid lead character Nucky Thompson's (Steve Buscemi) big private event and he responds by showing up at her door and initiating their romance. Since then the intrigue has heightened, the violence and sex ramped up, and whether it's entirely accurate or not, they makers are doing a notable job of creating a 1920's atmosphere, if in a way we've never quite experienced before. I expect they looked at films like Scarface and The Roaring Twenties for inspiration, 1930's pictures that basically depicted the crime scene of that era. It's particularly strong in the grotesques, most notably a disfigured World War I veteran sharpshooter wearing the type of mask that had to do in that pre-plastic surgery era, just introduced (with a bang) this past week:

It doesn't hurt that the character, Richard Harrow, is played by Jack Huston, grandson of legendary Director-Writer-Actor John Huston, known for him crime films himself. The show may also be a turning point in respect for Gretchen Mol, who goes the distance and then some as a showgirl with loose morals. In movie-actor-studded cast, Michael Shannon is another standout, playing sexually repressed (or perhaps heavily sublimated into his work) FBI agent Nelson Van Alden. Michael Stuhlbarg, coming off his genius lead in the Coen Bros A Serious Man, plays legendary Jewish mobster and World Series fixer Arnold Rothstein. And English actor Stephen Graham (Public Enemies, Snatch, This is England, Band of Brothers) plays a convincingly insecure, unpredictable and violent young Al Capone.

But the guy you really can't take your eyes off is Michael Pitt as James "Jimmy" Darmody, Nucky's protege and maybe (it seems hinted at) his son by way of Gretchen Mol's Gillian. Pitt first received notice in sexually provocative material, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers. He's also worked with Gus Van Sant playing a Kurt Cobain-modeled character and has his own band, the Brooklyn-based Pagoda, where he leads as vocalist and guitarist. Not a typical career for a major leading man in the making, but that's what he feels like on this show.

Pitt's Jimmy is a war vet himself, carrying hidden wounds, having thrown away half a Princeton education and an out-of-wedlock child. His trajectory thus far has taken him from a backwoods booze hijacking gone wrong to Chicago where he's gotten in with Capone and his mob bosses, but it looks like he's headed back to A.C. soon (per this trailer for Episode 8):

Pitt is so period in his looks, the tempo of his movements, his voice and demeanor that you can easily imagine yourself watching this character, this actor in a silent movie from that era. His profile, in particular, seems straight out of the type of drawings found on magazine covers of that era. The perfect R-rated movie star -- every moment, you're wondering what he's going to do next.

If there's more to say about the show's themes or that of individual episodes, that'll have to be for another post. I'll just leave it that we're watching a world pretending to be on the up-and-up on the outside but drenched in corruption just through the door, where Prohibition is a public fig leaf but merely enables the powerful to dilute their liquor ten-fold and makes exponentially more money than they would have under full disclosure.

Come to think of it, sounds a little like post-Citizens United America. A little like the election that just kicked it off.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Here's some interesting writing on the mid-term election. First off, Jonathan Chait, on policy vs. politics (in response to Ross Douthat):
Which is to say, if Douthat is correct about his political premises, both parties had to choose between politics and policy. Democrats could have minimized their losses at the cost of sacrificing the health reform they wanted. Or Republicans could have minimized the scope of health care reform, at the cost of minimizing their potential wave. Democrats chose the best policy, and Republicans chose the best politics. I'm happy with the choice. Mitch McConnell won his election, and Democrats won health care reform. The latter is going to around a lot longer than the former.
And I would agree. However, I also agree with The New York Times that Obama needs to do more than legislate, he has to lead, and this is where he failed in the two years leading to yesterday's debacle:

Mr. Obama, and his party, have to do a far better job of explaining their vision and their policies. Mr. Obama needs to break his habits of neglecting his base voters and of sitting on the sidelines and allowing others to shape the debate. He needs to do a much better job of stiffening the spines of his own party’s leaders.

He has made it far too easy for his opponents to spin and distort what Americans should see as genuine progress in very tough times: a historic health care reform, a stimulus that headed off an even deeper recession, financial reform to avoid another meltdown.

Mr. Obama has a lot of difficult work ahead of him. The politics in Washington will likely get even nastier. Before he can hope to build the minimal bipartisan consensus needed to move ahead, Mr. Obama will have to rally more Americans to the logic of his policies.

Finally, the most brutal piece of all, from John Judis, on how Obama deserved the beating (for the reasons above) but the damage of the GOP tide to our economy could last decades:
The Republicans may not have a mandate to repeal health care, but they do have one to cut spending. Many voters have concluded that Obama’s stimulus program actually contributed to the rise in unemployment and that cutting public spending will speed a recovery. It’s complete nonsense, as the experience of the United States in 1937 or of Japan in the 1990s demonstrated, but it will guide Republican thinking in Congress, and prevent Obama and the Democrats from passing a new stimulus program. Republicans will accede to tax cuts, especially if they are skewed toward the wealthy, but tax cuts can be saved rather than spent. They won’t halt the slowdown. Which leads me to expect that the slowdown will continue—with disastrous results for the country.

And that’s only what one can expect over the next few years. Like the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, this slowdown was also precipitated by the exhaustion of opportunities for economic growth. America’s challenge over the next decade will be to develop new industries that can produce goods and services that can be sold on the world market. The United States has a head start in biotechnology and computer technology, but as the Obama administration recognized, much of the new demand will focus on the development of renewable energy and green technology. As the Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans understand, these kinds of industries require government coordination and subsidies. But the new generation of Republicans rejects this kind of industrial policy. They even oppose Obama’s obviously successful auto bailout.

Instead, when America finally recovers, it is likely to re-create the older economic structure that got the country in trouble in the first place: dependence on foreign oil to run cars; a bloated and unstable financial sector that primarily feeds upon itself and upon a credit-hungry public; boarded-up factories; and huge and growing trade deficits with Asia. These continuing trade deficits, combined with budget deficits, will finally reduce confidence in the dollar to the point where it ceases to be a viable international currency.

Buckle up, America. Because unless there's a potent political force either invigorated or reinvigorated to beat this back, the very citizens who voted this GOP wave to power will be recipients of an even greater wealth disparity that we've already achieved, as America drives towards Third World status. Because Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY), bless his Galtian heart, has made the Republican economic policy perfectly clear:

"We all either work for rich people, or sell things to rich people."

And the 21st Century New Feudalistic Era is hereby official.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


If the Dems want to win the next one, they have to start documenting the plutocratic legislative moves that will begin in the House in January from Day One, tie it to Citizens United, and not miss a beat. The foxes are coming back to the hen house.

Just like the GOTP built to this night step-by-step, beginning with the de-legitimization of the President via birther protests, Hitler mustaches and racist smears, to the point of brainwashing the willing and weak-minded alike, so must the Dems start immediately to battle this new beast, who's first act will be continuing the horrific tax cuts for the rich that fueled the current deficit they claim to be against.

Other than that, expect President Obama's popularity to rise as the new House overreaches. Expect various Tea Partiers to disgrace themselves in public scandal. But also expect that the corporate cash flood that fueled their win, including the millions given by Fox News to support the very candidates they claim to cover "Fair & Balanced" to grow. And possibly dominate for the rest of the American Experiment.

Other than that, I can only offer these musical words of wisdom from The Only Band That Matters, or maybe just the last one that really did:

I've been beat up, I've been thrown Out
But I'm not down, No I'm not down
I've been shown up, but I've grown up
And I'm not down, No I'm not down
Amen, bros.

Monday, November 01, 2010


I won't be surprised if the election turns into a rout of the Dems, possibly worse than predicted by Gallup, with even the Senate flipping Republican. We had whipsaw elections throughout the late 19th Century, so there is precedent. If the Dems lose the House but manage to hold onto the Senate, President Obama may end up with the best possible result for his re-election. The GOP has no new ideas, so he'll be seen as the defender of Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Education, sanity and, best of all, our hard-won rights under healthcare reform.

For the Tea Partiers who have provided the GOP with a fig leaf of populism, I think Frank Rich has it right:
Trent Lott, the former Senate leader and current top-dog lobbyist, gave away the game in July. “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” he said, referring to the South Carolina senator who is the Tea Party’s Capitol Hill patron saint. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.” It’s the players who wrote the checks for the G.O.P. surge, not those earnest folk in tri-corner hats, who plan to run the table in the next corporate takeover of Washington. Though Tom DeLay may now be on trial for corruption in Texas, the spirit of his K Street lives on in a Lott client list that includes Northrop Grumman and Goldman Sachs.


For sure, the Republican elites found the Tea Party invaluable on the way to this Election Day. And not merely, as Huckabee has it, because they wanted its foot soldiers. What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday.


But those Americans, like all the others on the short end of the 2008 crash, have reason to be mad as hell. And their numbers will surely grow once the Republican establishment’s panacea of tax cuts proves as ineffectual at creating jobs, saving homes and cutting deficits as the half-measures of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress. The tempest, however, will not be contained within the tiny Tea Party but will instead overrun the Republican Party itself, where Palin, with Murdoch and Beck at her back, waits in the wings to “take back America” not just from Obama but from the G.O.P. country club elites now mocking her. By then — after another two years of political gridlock and economic sclerosis — the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.

Hopefully the Dems will have replaced Chairman Tim Kaine with someone more in the Howard Dean mode, who actually knows how to strategize, fight and think on his feet, and who isn't afraid to run on his record. Skip the usual post-election circular firing squad -- that's all you need to know on how the Dems will have botched this one.

And re-elect the one sane, smart man standing astride this berserkoid nation of ours.