Archive for January 2012

Tell Me Baby…*

January 11, 2012

…but is it only me or does it seem that every time Mitt Romney manages to (a) move into a statistically meaningless “lead” over President Obama in head to head surveys and/or (b) manages to persuade the Villagers that he’s actually a reasonable human being, he blurts out stuff like this (via TPM):

When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.

I’ll leave aside the incoherent “wave of approach” — lapses like this are best taken as the inevitable byproduct of the exhaustion and sheer addling tedium of the campaign trail.  (I assume Romney meant “wave of reproach” or simply “approach.”)

But for the love of pasta, in Romneyland pointing out the competing interests of plutocrats vs. the rest of us cats is a religious sin! There are sins aplenty in the religion of money…

…but I don’t think we can locate them in the tack taken by President Obama.

There’s something so tone-deaf about this, the claim that one can’t argue over, say, trickle-down vs. broad based tax policy, because that would violate God’s plan for a unitary (theocratic?) state. Even folks inside the Village can’t be comfortable with what amounts to the statement that it is impossible in politics to argue about, you know, politics!

In fact, so egregious was Romney’s obtuseness here that even Romney’s interviewer committed an act of journalism, following up this first statement with what most people would think of as a second softball across the middle of the plate:

QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

You’d think someone running for President for the second time, someone who knows his major vulnerability is his wealth and the way he acquired it, would have figure out by now some soft answer to turneth away our wrath.  You know, something like “the issue isn’t any individual’s wealth — it’s the jobs we need to create…” or some such.

But no.  Not the RomneyBot.  Here’s what he actually said:

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.

Quiet rooms? Don’ trouble your pretty little heads, Americans.  Me and the boys will straighten all this out in private.  We’ll have “discussions about tax policy” that will lead to tax hikes on the bottom (based on current tax policy), and yet more cash delivered to my Malibu mansion by the bucket load.

Which, of course, is why Romney went on to complain that

…the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street.

Well, yeah.  Back room deals haven’t worked out so well, and the President is willing to say so…which is why the last thought out of W. Mitt’s mouth is better read as a pious hope than as reasoned expectation:

It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

Snark aside.  Does anyone outside the Romneyverse think that suggesting that Wall St.’s wise men figure out what to do with the money is not exactly a winning message?  All I can say is that I hope this is the candidate we get for the next ten months.  It’s going to be a brutal campaign, and I, for one, will take every own goal I can get.

(PS:  I note that as I was writing this, Steve Benen got in there first with much the same thought, only more so — not to mention video of the exchange.)

*With apologies for putting such a fine song to so base a use.

Image:  Hans Holbein the Younger, Danse Macabre. XXVIII. The Miser, before 1543.



In Praise of Footnotes (Polar Bear Cub/Anything But The Republicans Dept.)

January 11, 2012

Because more or less anything is better than contemplating ten more months of Romney’s self-congratulatory predation of the electorate, I thought I’d try to counter (in some minor way, a jot or a tittle)  the quadrennial sense of despair that comes with the mention of Dixville Notch.

My antidote?

The treasures to be found in those pre-digitized lodes of easter eggs, footnotes in books written by generous minds.

In today’s case, that would be what I found as I finally got my crack at a book I had given my wife this Chanukah, Verdi’s Shakespeare, by one of our national treasures, Garry Wills.  There, in the first chapter, Wills made mention of Winter’s Tale, and its alpha and omega of stage directions: “Exit, pursued by bear.”

That’s one of those bits of theatrical trivia that I can’t remember learning. I think my father was the first person I heard say it, misquoting to “exit hurridly,” whenever he wanted to be gone from something dull — or to get his wild and wired son to bed.  And like most folks (I guess) I always assumed (at least from the time I realized it had something to do with a play, and not a playacting dad) that any action on stage would have been between an actor and some guy in a bear suit.

But no, Wills tells me — laconically, first, in the body of his text, writing that “when it [Shakespeare’s troupe] had a  young polar bear on hand, he wrote a scene stopper…”

That was curious enough.  A polar bear?  In London.  In 1610?

Dive into the footnotes, and it gets better:

It used to be thought that the “bear’ was a man in costume.  But scholars have now focused on the fact that two polar bear cubs were brought back from the waters off Greenland in 1609, that they were turned over to Philip Henslowe’s bear collection (hard by the Globe theater), and that polar bears show up in three productions of the 1610-1611 theatrical season….Polar bears become fierce at pubescence and were relegated to bear baiting, but the cubs were apparently still trainable in their  young state.”

Well, that explains that.  But Wills is a kind and giving writer…and so there’s more:

Since polar bears are such good swimmers, the king even turned them loose in the Thames to have aquatic bear baitings.*

Oh, joy! So much out of so little — and what a reward for the virtuous act of actually looking at the endnotes!**  There’s threads of all kinds of historical ideas to pull there — everything from thoughts about the extended pre- or early history of globalizing media to the power of spectacle as social glue, then as now — and much more, of course.  But what pleased me more, I think, as I retold this factoid to the unwary all day, is simply the images that Wills evoked, playing across my mind’s eye.

Which is to say that nothing here has much to do with the price of eggs. But my brain and my world are enriched, just a little, by the thought of a shambling cub, coat too big for its limbs, rising up on its hind legs to glare at the squealing, hooting, transfixed and terrified audience clamoring just beyond the edge of the stage.

Just thought I’d share…

*Wills directs those with yet more interest in the performing beast of Winter’s Tale to Barbara Ravelhofer, “‘Beasts of Recreacion’ Henslowe’s White Bears,” ELR 32 (2202), pp. 287-323 and Teresa Grant, “Polar Performances, The King’s Bear Cubs on the Jacobean Stage,” Times Literary Supplement, June 14, 2002.

**To declare what is, I hope, obvious:  I’m no fan of bear baiting.  Torturing animals for sport is not my idea of a good time or a good act.  But I dearly love gaining glimpses into the past, and it is always important to remember:  that’s a different country, and they do things differently there.

Image:  Albert Bierstadt, Bears in the Wilderness, c. 1870.

Popcorn For Everyone

January 9, 2012

I’m “working” on a couple of more substantive posts (look for them sometime in the next Mayan long calendar) and I’m at least trying to work on what they actually pay me for, so blogging is a notional activity right now…

But by every pasta tendril undulating off the blessed FSM, how in the name of strozzapretti can one pass up this (via TPM):

“You have to ask the question, is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of people and then walk off with the money?”

Damn good question, actually, and even better when asked by one Newton Leroy Gingrich of the current GOP frontrunner-by-default, the Hon. (sic!) Willard Mitt Romney.

Combine that with the “documentary” Newt’s people are putting out there (well, a  Super PAC that, of course, has no actual contact with the Gingrich campaign, but sure as hell knows what to do), and  Rick Perry’s quotable quote from the campaign trail South Carolina — and what you have is our friends across the aisle working on their own damn circular firing squad for once.

Popcorn, aged tequila, and Republicans going all “we are the 99%” on each other.  What more could this city boy desire?

Image: Nicolas Colombel Christ Expelling the Money-Changers From the Temple, 1682.

Dear Grey Lady? A Request…

January 8, 2012

…Please, oh please, do not let the Style section editor assign or publish anything to do with politics.

Consider the latest atrocity.  In it, a group profile of four out of the five Romney sons, we learn that:

They stump for him across the country as surrogates; they offer a square-jawed, Christmas-card-ready backdrop for him onstage; and they telling humanizing “Dad” stories, as well as recite his basic talking points. The Romney boys: charming, amusing and relentlessly on message.

“I think one thing we offer is a perspective on his character,” Matt said.

And there’s more:

They have developed a set of habits and rituals to tolerate life on the campaign trail. The ultrafit brothers work out together, sometimes swimming in the hotel pool. On primary nights or after debates, they often split chocolate shakes with their parents as they await the returns.

You can shoot me any time now.

This is the worst kind of  “journalism” — a piece based on interviews only with the principals, presenting an “as told to” portrait of people trying to persuade American voters to trust their family enterprise with enormous power.  If children are relevant to the potential presidency of Romney or anyone else, then something much more is needed; if they are not, then this is at once free advertising for one candidate…plus a pure distraction from the real question: is that self-made-son serving as the representative from Plutocracy, M. Willard Romney, fit to be president?

Oh — and you’d have thought that this might have sparked something like a reporter’s (or, really, an editor’s) news sense:

Though the sons say that they’re only focused on helping their father win the presidency, politics may be in their future. In 2008, Josh considered a Congressional run in his home state, Utah, and Mr. Romney introduced him at his campaign headquarters in December by saying, “He really should be the politician in the family, not me.”

Friends and aides, as well as Mr. Romney himself, say that Tagg, who now manages a hedge fund, also has the interest and the talent for public office.

Given the Bush experience, and the news that Joseph Kennedy III is considering a run in the Congressional district now represented by Barney Frank,  you’d think there’s your lede.  What makes a forty-something hedge fund (sic!) operator a potential political leader?  His dad and grand dad, of course, combined with a mountain of wealth his father’s candidacy aims to protect at all costs.  You’d have thought a piece on the resurgence of the phenomenon of hereditary political dynasties in American politics might be worth a look – and the Romney clan makes that an easy story to develop.  At worst, you’d get more out of such a piece than the revelation that “everyone is afraid to fall asleep on the bus right now, because everyone knows Josh has smelling salts, just waiting for someone to doze off.”

Did I mention you can shoot me now?

The selection of a president is a real challenge; this article, (and, to be fair to its, to my eyes, feckless reporter, many others) frames it with all the gravitas of the old Family Feud game show.  Which, of course, is a feature not a bug, if the goal is to let Romney’s fellow class warriors make their choice, unencumbered by interference from those inconvenient upstarts —  you know, American citizens.

To channel my inner Brad DeLong:  Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

Image: Paul Cézanne, Bathers, 1890-92

Things You Think About <7 Hours Out From Gum Surgery*

January 6, 2012

Like, what would actually be the theme song that captures  the geist of the Romney campaign.

He’s tried stuff like “Eye of the Tiger” — which is exactly the kind of cliché you’d expect a never-hip cyborg to seize upon.  It instantly dates/ages anyone whose neural circuits flare even momentarily, and it has all the motivational draw of a stack of green stamps.

No…especially after the descriptions of the Mittens/McCain event crater described here, I think that pain and a swollen gum have led me to the perfect Romney signature tune.  What could be better than this:

After all:  no one could deny that the tune delivers precisely the kind of uplifting message any candidate would want to deliver, right?  This version, though, is perfectly adapted for use in the RomneyVerse.   As performed (by soshalist Swedes!), it precisely evokes the feeling induced by any amount of time spent  too close to the RomneyBot:  the nearly uncontrollable urge to gnaw one’s own arm off at the shoulder if that’s what it takes to escape the room.

So here’s the challenge for anyone choosing to comment:  give us your choice tracks (for all the candidates).  And/or consider this an open thread.

*Aging Deteriorating, though better than the alternative, sucks rocks.

Image:  Samuel Coleman, The Edge of Doom, between 1836 and 1838.

Another Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us…

January 5, 2012

….this, presented without further comment, via TPM:

Former New Life Church pastor and self-described “bisexual” Ted Haggard swapped wives with actor and self-described “church” Gary Busey for the ABC reality show Celebrity Wife Swap.



Speechless, me.

Really.  The Mayans might just have bee on to something. 2012 could be it for our species, or at least for any culture that could spawn Celebrity Wife Swap. (Which is, I suppose, perhaps the perfect habitat for the guests mentioned above.)

I say we throw in the trowel and await our Vogon overlords.

Image:  Lovis Corinth, In Max Halbes’ Garden, 1899


I Am Never Going To Be A Steelers Fan But…

January 4, 2012

…this is how a class (and smart) act behaves:

Ryan Clark sat down in Mike Tomlin’s office and did something a little out of character for the normally verbose Pittsburgh Steelerssafety. He listened.

And when Tomlin told Clark he couldn’t play in Sunday’s wild card game at Denver because of a sickle-cell trait that becomes aggravated when playing at higher elevations, Clark just shrugged his shoulders and nodded.

“I said `OK coach,”‘ Clark said Wednesday. “It wasn’t any fight … does he seem like a man who changes his mind anyway? I knew there wasn’t going to be any changing in that.”

And for that, Clark is grateful. If given the choice, Clark would give it a shot even when faced with potentially dire consequences.

“Y’all have seen me play, I run into people all the time, so clearly I’m not that bright,” Clark told reporters with a laugh.

Tomlin told Clark that if Tomlin’s son Dino was in the same situation, he wouldn’t let him play, the kind of blunt assessment that Clark has grown to appreciate during Tomlin’s five years on the job. (via Sports Illustrated)

I’ve been watching football for a long time now.  I enjoy doing so, though I find myself taking less and less pleasure in it over time, the more I learn about the way the game — played as directed — eats up and spits out young men.

(Alas, for the viewer, consider the alternatives):

Nothing in this story changes that essential dynamic, of course.  But at least Tomlin — and the Steelers organization — get one key fact right.  The game (even a playoff game, forsooth!) is not life.

Ordinarily, in a Denver v. Pittsburgh matchup, I’d be struggling to decide who to hate more. (Born in Raider country, spent more than half my life in the land of the Pats.)  Not this weekend.

Though I struggle to type it:

Go Stillers!

Image: Winslow Homer, The Croquet Game, 1864