Sunday, August 31, 2008

Che sera, Sarah?

OK, so all the good titles have been used ("Run Silent, Run Veep" is my favorite, Mr. Wolcott). Only three days ago I had no idea who the governor of Alaska was. And now I do. Apparently those people will elect anything. I used to think I was cynical, but I can't play in a league with Karl Rove and John McCain.

Major miscalculation. First of all, when you're running a sick old man for president, you make sure to give him a running mate who doesn't scare people. This is why in 1944 the Democrats quietly replaced Henry Wallace with Harry Truman. Wallace was a socialist, which was fine as long as we were pretending to be friends with the Soviet Union, but otherwise not so much. Most people knew little about Truman, and what they knew was mostly wrong. In any case, he didn't worry the voters; and anyone who cared to look could see that Roosevelt was dying.

John McCain is 72. His medical record resembles the federal budget. He can only manage one campaign event a day (to Obama's four or five), and yet he seeks the most stressful job in the world. If he took as many naps as Reagan, as many pills as Nixon and as many vacations as Bush, he might last two years. This necessarily casts a stronger spotlight on his running mate; and this is the best he can do? How many big flat rocks did Rove turn over before settling on Sarah Palin? Of course she can round up the evangelicals like Little Bo-Peep, but where were they going? She's really supposed to attract all those disaffected Hillaristas the media keeps assuring us are out there, seething at their candidate's failure to win the nomination. Do the Republicans really imagine that the millions of men and women who supported Clinton through the primaries will turn to an anti-choice, anti-environment gun nut just because she's female? Can they be hypnotized by the mantra of "glass ceiling, glass ceiling" alongside "POW, POW" until they forget that Geraldine Ferraro broke that barrier twenty-four years ago? Clinton supporters may not be crazy about Barack Obama, but they're not crazy.

Or does John McCain believe all women are dumb cunts who will vote for anything in a skirt?

The Republicans have a tradition of keeping the presidential candidate's coattails clean by giving him a running mate who will get down in the gutter and bite ankles. Eisenhower had Nixon, Nixon had Agnew, and Bush has Cheney. After eight years of viciously faithful service, the nomination should have been Cheney's for the asking, yet he never even formed an "exploratory" committee. Why? Because Cheney is so detested even by his own party that there was no point. (You don't maintain an 18% approval rating unless you're loathed by Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.) The GOP could have a junkyard dog like Cheney on the ticket because Bush's health was never in question. They can't afford Palin. Neither, it goes without saying, can the rest of us.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bah. Humbug. The Final Chapter

Balance was restored to the universe sometime on Sunday when the US men reclaimed the gold medal for basketball. A few hours later, history was made when Samy Wanjiru became the first Kenyan to win the marathon. It was odd to watch this race, old but certainly not older than Beijing, run through wide, spotless streets lined with trees that seemed to have been ordered for the occasion from Maybe it's just that I'm accustomed to seeing marathons in grungy cities like Boston and New York where the officials drive around the night before and remove some of the homeless humans and other flotsam from the route. Nothing of the Beijing we were permitted to see looked like a city where real people live. It looked like a more colorful version of Washington, with wide open spaces and ceremonial buildings, its eyes as dead as Condoleezza Rice's.

The closing ceremony was curiously dull, and not just compared with the opening. There was none of the throat-catching emotion that usually accompanies the lowering of flags and dimming of the flame. The London segment was particularly squirm-making, all that miming and opening of brollies. When the red bus appeared I thought, for one wild moment, "They're going to blow it up and inject some reality into this orgy of fixed grins," but no. And then, by the miracle of satellites, we were whisked off to London itself and the ubiquitous Michael Phelps, who is already a brand and a bore. It's one thing to go home with more gold medals than Canada; it's quite another to hold the attention of this fickle planet, which has mechanisms designed to produce a new celebrity every 2.4 days. Phelps needs to broker a peace settlement in Darfur, or star in an internet sex video, or revive the Esther Williams-type musical, before somebody says, "So Michael...what can you do besides swim?" Many are called, but few are Elvis.

I liked the Memory Tower of Babel, with dancers crawling over it like ants, and grudgingly concede it was probably better than my pyramid idea. Not as impressed with the pyrotechnics. "The Chinese not only invented fireworks, they own them!" said Bob Costas, or words to that effect. Maybe, but the Grucci family do this every July Fourth in New York Harbor, and they do it without the help of the armed forces.

After that, the show slid into a kind of Sinovision Song Contest. The British entry was Jimmy Page (apparently Sir Paul McCartney was unavailable) and an "international recording star" I never heard of called Lewis, whose screeching must be what Simon Cowell thinks of when he thinks of singing. The Sino-Spanish contestants were Placido Domingo and a Chinese girl crooning a forgettable duet. They hadn't a thing on opening night in Turin two years ago when Luciano Pavarotti, his beard, eyebrows and toupee dyed a gleaming black and wearing a suit and cape from the Orson Welles Collection, belted out you-know-what with a full orchestra. If "I Love Beijing" is anything to go by, there is an enormous audience yearning for crap Western music. The producers of "Mamma Mia!" should rush a company to China at once; it will run longer than the Han Dynasty.

This is what Franco Zeffirelli would have done at the Met, if Sybil Harrington's checkbook had been deep enough. And now, back to baseball.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bah. Humbug. Part 3

So I put on the television today and there's women's volleyball. My throat tightens. For one moment I think I'm back in gym class, and I'm half-blind because I left my glasses in my locker, and it's almost my turn to serve, and then I'll have maybe seven minutes to shower, dress, and arrive, dripping, in Spanish. (Yes, Spanish. I went to school so long ago than we all studied languages and nobody suggested it was unpatriotic.) Look, I'm still shaking.

Fortunately, there were other diversions. Like the rowing, or kayaking, or whatever it's called. Clearly a European thing, with medals for Spain, Hungary, etc., although two Chinese women won gold in one of the races. I was even more impressed by the officials, who had to bicycle along the side of the lake keeping an eye on the competitors without crashing into one another or falling in the water. This is an event by itself. After the Spaniards won their race they jumped in the lake to celebrate, and at least two boats marked RESCUE were on them within seconds. If only FEMA were this efficient.

Then the gymnastics free-style floor-exercise-with-music thing. Part ballet, part Cirque du Soleil, part baton twirling, with just a touch of Vegas showgirl about the costumes and makeup. Even the ones who dropped their tools were dazzling, although I believe all competitors in any event whatsoever anywhere should lose points if they employ "Nessun dorma." We're all just very tired of it. I especially enjoyed the lingering closeup of the Russian woman who finished out of the medals, watching her countrywoman take a bow. What's the Russian for "gut her like a sturgeon"?

"Swimming is not a sport," said the greatly-missed George Carlin. "Swimming is a way to keep from drowning." What, then, is diving? A show-offy way to get in the pool and just as promptly climb out again? An excuse to take showers in front of four billion people? Something that Africans refuse to waste their time on? For me, fifteen minutes of this stuff goes a long way, all the way to London. I'm checking out, goom-bye. So when are the marathons? Do we get to see those turbo-charged Jamaican sprinters again? Will the Chinese surpass the opening ceremony with tomorrow's closing? I hear the populations of two provinces will converge on the stadium in a re-enactment of Mao's Long March, then form a pyramid larger than the one in Giza, Egypt. In green catsuits. Singing. Could be worth a blank videotape.

NBC interrupted the fun and games to advise that Barack Obama has decided to go with Hair Plug Guy instead of Chunky Latino or Bland Hoosier or Hillary. Bah. Humbug.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where do you live-a, John?

I haven't been able to put my finger on the passage, but I'm sure it was Machiavelli who said, "If the enemy has determined to tread upon his own salami, refrain from all interference." It took John McCain exactly thirty seconds to go from plausible president to confused old man who can't remember how many dwellings he owns. At least he has a full-time driver, so there won't be any of those embarrassing where-did-I-park who-took-my-keys episodes.

Of course, it's not strictly speaking an Important Political Issue, like the economy, the war, the other war, the price of gas, global climate change, immigration, unemployment, Russian acts of aggression, public schools, poverty, are you as bored as I am? But it's just the kind of thing to galvanize a fickle, largely apolitical electorate with the attention span of a baby squirrel, and it won't go quietly. Some day they'll turn out the lights in Beijing and Jay Leno will be back, and he'll need something to make fairly obvious jokes about. The Democrats are being a lot more proactive than they were in the past, with a commercial already on the air. And the foreclosures grind on, and several million people aren't sure where they'll be getting their Christmas cards. Eventually yelping "arugula" and "Vietnam" will have the same effect on the voters that Giuliani's endlessly repeated "911" had. Remember Giuliani? He's a private citizen in the security business today. When people face the ballot the big issues fade from their minds like last year's Academy Award winners, and they remember the trivia: Dukakis in the tank, Poppy Doc Bush at the supermarket, Sargent Shriver impressing Brooklyn by consuming a kosher hot dog with a glass of milk. (Not that McCain is likely to commit that faux pas -- he carries Joe Lieberman around in his pocket in case he finds himself in a room with voters who speak only Yiddish.)

There is a way out. McCain needs to drop dead.

Let me finish. Eight years ago Mel Carnahan died, and went on to win a Senate seat from John Ashcroft. (The people of Missouri were wiser than the Cheney-Bush regime, which promptly hired Ashcroft as the first of its many miserable attorneys general.) Dying could be the ultimate service McCain can do for his country. He has as good as acknowledged he probably wouldn't live long enough for a second term. His medical records couldn't be examined in full by a team of reporters in the three hours they were allotted. All he has to do now is stop availing himself of the free medical care enjoyed by the princes and princesses of the Senate (which they evidently do not believe should be available to their subjects). And if I may again cite Machiavelli (who, by the way, was imprisoned and tortured but didn't whine about it): "Screw 'em. What can they do to you when you're dead?"


Bah. Humbug. Part 2

Watching the divers in their disturbingly tiny Speedos and the endless beach volleyball, I have concluded that it's only a matter of time before masturbation becomes an Olympic sport. Officially.
Competitors (men only, sorry, ladies) will be grouped in size classes, as in boxing and wrestling, and will be judged on the basis of speed, distance, accuracy and something ineffable called style. (If you think 13-year-old girl gymnasts are amazing, wait until you see what 13-year-old boys can accomplish.) This could occur as early as 2012 in London, since the British will be eager to defend their reputation as the world's biggest wankers. But after Ernest Borgnine (91!) revealed the secret of his vitality to Fox News last week, I hope he'll be around to guide the USA to victory.

According to NBC, the world is agog over the question: Who's greater, Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt? Since one of them swims and the other runs, it seems like asking whether Mozart was better than Shakespeare. Tonight we can see some of what every commentator calls the "decathalon," which is some athletes being very good but not all that great at ten different things. So it's a kind of international reality show, and now we're in NBC's ballpark. By the way, just a great idea to have Tiki Barber as a commentator, bringing his years of experience as a football player to a sportfest that seems to include every sport except football. Still, he's cute as hell.

Now that we've come a long way, baby, and have female weightlifters, it's time for the IOC to give the announcers a break and come up with a new name for the snatch. These guys were sweating more than the athletes trying not to get their words in a tangle. ("And now here's Yakushova, whose snatch is just amazing!") I nominate the bumps-a-daisy. It's copyright, so e-mail me, OK?

"One world, one dream." Anybody else got the jeebies from that slogan? Presumably the world is this one, the third planet from the sun, but what is the dream? A gold medal? To paraphrase Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane, it's no trick to win a lot of gold medals if all you want is to win a lot of gold medals. You start with a billion people, identify the potentially talented athletes as soon as they can walk unassisted, and spend the next fifteen years training the hell out of them. Some dream. I suppose it was inevitable that that dopey Cold War our-system-is-better-than-your-system childishness would reawaken in China, a country with a chip on its shoulder the size of the Great Wall. Their scientists are probably reverse-engineering one of Phelps's bathing suits to see what makes him so shark-like; if they could, they'd vivisect Phelps himself.

Where's the fun?

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another lone nut

Bill Gwatney, the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, was murdered in his office last week. Police chased the probable gunman across the state and killed him, too. Since there was no manifesto in his pickup truck, we are still waiting to learn if he had a personal problem with Gwatney, or was a disgruntled customer (Gwatney was also an auto dealer), or if he was obeying the voices planted in his head by Rupert & Rush. I'm sure he bought the truck from Gwatney just before gas prices went insane, and when he tried to trade it in for a Prius he couldn't get what he'd paid, and it just escalated from there. Yeah, that's probably it. Republican businessmen get shot all the time. Don't they?

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bah. Humbug. Part 1

The Olympics: people from countries you never heard of competing in sports you never heard of. Amateurs who will make more money if they win a medal than all the nurses in your local hospital put together.

Already the Opening Ceremonies have produced their first scandal: It seems the little girl who sang "The People Hail the Rice Harvest" or whatever it's called wasn't really singing. She mouthed the words while the world heard the voice of another little girl who wasn't cute enough to represent the People's Republic. Not since Milli Vanilli have I been so disillusioned.

I guess it's early days, but beach volleyball is not a sport, it's a beer-fueled spring break activity. Swimming, on the other hand, is just plain scary. The suits are scary. The reptilian goggles are scary. The female swimmers are especially scary, with their Schwarzenegger shoulders and their weirdly square faces. I guess if you follow competitive swimming, Michael Phelps is as well know to you as Tom Cruise is to the rest of the world. Phelps is attempting to win more gold medals than Mark Spitz (seven), so this is really really exciting. And in case you think all he does is dress up scary and splash about in chlorinated water, NBC keeps posting his grueling daily schedule: breakfast, workout, team meeting, press conference, workout, take bus to pool, etc. In other words, it's just like having a job. Speaking of jobs, Mark Spitz is now a dentist. So there's a swimmer for you.

I'll be posting updates whenever I can be bothered to. Don't expect anything over the weekend, when Turner Classic has back-to-back Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly days.

Question: If the air in Beijing is so foul, and the heat and humidity so punishing, and money was clearly no object, why didn't they build a roof on the Bird's Nest?


Monday, August 11, 2008

You take the low road...

We had a little theological dispute over to Knoxville the other day, left two folks dead and seven injured. This old boy named Jim David Adkisson took a notion to shoot up the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on a Sunday morning while the children's choir was performing. In his Ford Escape (what hollow mockery, as Groucho would say) was a manifesto outlining his hostility to "Liberals in general, as well as gays," and complaining of his inability to find work. Also in the car was a selection of his favorite reading matter by Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.

I have never accepted the argument that reading material correlates with horrific crime. Millions of people look at pornography without ever committing rape, and millions of people watch Fox without ever murdering a liberal. The unbalanced -- or the fair and balanced, if you like -- are going to do what they're going to do. So blaming these three stooges for Adkisson's shotgun spree is like blaming Wagner for the Holocaust. No, I won't do it. It's the high road for me.

They don't make it easy, though. Here's Joseph Epstein reviewing For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz, an account of the Leopold and Loeb case, in the Wall Street Journal:

"Like their victim, Leopold and Loeb were the sons of wealthy families. All three lived in the southside neighborhood known as Kenwood, where Barack Obama now has his house and Louis Farrakhan his." (italics mine)

What? I can't imagine what point Epstein is making with that sly dependent clause. That Obama and Farrakhan are neighbors? That they live in a neighborhood that used to be an enclave of wealthy Jews? That they would have been arrested (and very probably charged with killing Bobby Franks) had they dared walk through Kenwood in 1924 unless wearing chauffeur uniforms? Epstein's review is called "Low Deeds and High IQ," a reference to the two teenage killers, but his gratuitous reference to Obama reminds us, subliminally, that real Americans are suspicious of elitist smarties who can't bowl and won't eat donuts and who just might be capable of killing for the thrill of it! It's a Britney-and-Nicole slur for people who read book reviews, so it doesn't have to make sense.

Brace for it:

"Leaving two young men dead and one wounded, the shooters sped away in a Chevy Malibu, the same make and model that Michelle Obama drove while in college."

"The Senator spent the afternoon signing copies of The Audacity of Hope at Barnes & Noble on Union Square, which also carries the works of Mao Zedong and Robert Mapplethorpe."

"Obama's favorite Dylan album is Blood On the Tracks, which was also the favorite album of World Trade Center mastermind Mohammed Atta."

If only it didn't matter so damn much, it would be funny.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Everything you know is wrong

My hands are tingling. I've never started a conspiracy theory before, and I want to do well. Sing, O Muses Garrison and Lane...

We learned today of the suicide -- or "suicide" -- of Dr. Bruce Ivins, who was about to be indicted for mailing anthrax to a number of parties in 2001. Ivins worked for the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. In spite of a long history of emotional instability and megalomania (according to his brother), he must have had some wicked top security clearance to work with the deadliest forms of anthrax. According to his lawyer, Paul Kemp, he was persecuted into ingesting an overdose of painkillers, leading to his death. The neighbors speak of a nice man who volunteered with the Red Cross. His social worker uses the words "homicidal" and "sociopathic," and was seeking a restraining order against him.

Five people died, postal workers and office clerks, and seventeen others were sickened in the second terrorist incident of 2001. Significantly, the anthrax was mailed to senators like Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, and journalists like Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, a group rightly or wrongly labeled as liberals. This is where it gets tricky. Who stood to benefit from this troubled man's death? Was he silenced like Oswald before he got near a courtroom? How hard is it to make an overdose look like suicide? Am I serious about any of this?

Well, am I?

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