Going Nuclear

November 22, 2013

nukeI believe it was Bill Frist, that ol’ Tennessee sawbones notorious for basically Skyping a misdiagnosis of poor Terry Schiavo, who first threatened to “go nuclear” over stalled George W. Bush appointees. That was back in 2005, when he was Senate Majority Leader, and he was so pissed that he proposed changing the Senate rules to require a simple majority vote on Presidential appointments, rather than the 60-vote threshold needed to bust a filibuster.

The “nuclear option” is actually more like a tactical strike. You, Mr. Senator, can still filibuster any bill you want, or any Supreme Court nominee, and folks, get ready for some doozies. But if the President’s party has a Senate majority, he’s going to get his federal-judge nominees and executive-office appointments, as he needs to for the government to function. The key advantage Senate Pubs held over President Obama until yesterday was, they don’t care if the government can’t function. They actually hate their President more than they love their country. To them, any Democrat in the White House is by definition illegitimate, but this particular one just drives them crazy.

If they don’t like a Federal agency, Senate Pubs simply refuse to staff it. They stand in the way of perfectly qualified judges, approved out of committee, because they don’t like the President who appointed them. They let other superb executive candidates twist in the wind, putting their lives on hold and upending their families, hoping they’ll finally just remove their names in disgust (this slimy, cowardly tactic has actually worked several times) and vital agencies will remain leaderless. Earlier this month, they made dubious history by filibustering the first sitting member of Congress since the 1840s: Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The Senate minority has committed sabotage against its nation, time and time again. The former World’s Greatest Deliberative Body has become a sumphole where good Presidential appointments go to die. But this time the Pubs have pushed too far – and finally, finally, we’ve called in a plumber to snake the place clean.

The last straw was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a body where federal regulations often come up for review, second in influence only to the Supremes. It has three vacancies, and the Pubs have filibustered every one of the President’s nominees. The problem isn’t qualifications, as they freely admit. It’s that Obama appointees can be expected to be sterner about regulations than Pubs would like. But that’s not what they say in public. The first complaint was that the President was “packing the court,” as if any of his predecessors had failed to choose their own like-minded nominees. Their current howler is even better: the court has a light caseload and can do without three expensive judgeships. (A dozen state Attorneys General joined in decrying the Pub plan to shrink the “vital, understaffed” court, yet the Wall Street Journal editorial page signed on with the same “taxpayer-saving” bilge only yesterday.) This was simply ridiculous; at last, the Pubs had overstepped. The Senate went nuclear – and moments after changing the rules, Democrats voted to advance the first judge, Patricia Millett. The other two will follow shortly, and the Obama administration will finally be able to deploy the executive-branch public servants our country so desperately needs.

“If the Democrats proceed to use the nuclear option in this way, it will be Obamacare II,” snarled Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) before Thursday’s vote. “It will be the raw exercise of political power to say, ‘We can do whatever we want to do.’ ” Really? The right-wing megaphone bleated quite differently during the Frist days. Read this blast from the past, courtesy of Media Matters.

Yes, Democrats employed this same filibuster when they were the Senate minority. But before you declare a false equivalency – “they all do it” – have a peek at this chart of recent Senate cloture votes. You’ll see which side has abused this rule so egregiously that it had to change, and change now. And here’s a dirty little secret: few doubt that, should Pubs take control of the Senate in 2015 with fewer than 60 votes, they would go nuclear. Go back and look at all that cheerleading in 2005, and remember that nobody presses an advantage or dives through a loophole like a Pub, especially an angry one. “There are so many ways you can delay, obstruct, and poison the well to keep legislation you’re opposed to from moving forward,” offered former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, the man who actually coined the term “nuclear option.”

“Now, Republicans say, ‘What goes around comes around. Wait ’til we’re in charge,’” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “I can’t wait until they’re in charge. I mean, the moment is now. We’re here for now.” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) double-dared the Dems: “All I can say is this — be careful what you wish for. There are a lot more Scalias and [Clarence] Thomases that we’d love to put on the bench.” Do you really think that wouldn’t happen anyway? Elections have consequences, even if the Pubs have been acting as if Mitt Romney won last year, and if they can grasp ahold of the Senate and put another plutocrat in the White House, progressives may indeed rue this day. But what would be worse is another one, maybe three years of inaction while the Pubs, who have no interest in governing, run out the clock. Going nuclear is indeed dangerous. But continuing to allow the nation to limp when it should be sprinting is far, far worse.


100 That Rock When They Roll

November 15, 2013

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We’ve been having some fun over at the Four Word Film Review comparing top-100 movie lists. Some call their lists the “greatest,” I simply call them “my favorites.” The first lister specified that the cutoff should be 2003, so that each film is at least ten years old and you’re not still under the spell of the brand new. (Howdy there, AMERICAN BEAUTY and A BEAUTIFUL MIND!)

These lists serve two purposes: they give us something neat to discuss, and they allow us to catch up on flicks we’ve missed. So here’s my pre-2004 hundred. Some are related, but I consider them separate movies, with one exception.

My Favorite 100 Films That Are At Least Ten Years Old (alpha)

  1. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
  2. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
  3. THE 400 BLOWS (1959)
  4. ALIEN (1979)
  5. ALIENS (1986)
  6. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)
  7. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)
  8. ANNIE HALL (1976)
  9. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
  10. ARTHUR (1981)
  11. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925)
  12. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946)
  13. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
  14. BLADE RUNNER (1982)
  15. BLAZING SADDLES (1974)
  16. BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)
  17. BODY HEAT (1981)
  18. BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
  19. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919)
  20. CASABLANCA (1942)
  21. CHINATOWN (1974)
  22. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
  23. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
  24. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1979)
  25. COOL HAND LUKE (1967)
  26. CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972)
  27. DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959)
  28. A DAY AT THE RACES (1937)
  29. DAY FOR NIGHT (1973)
  30. THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967)
  31. DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
  32. DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)
  33. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
  34. AKIRA KUROSAWA’S DREAMS (1990)
  35. FANTASIA (1940)
  36. FARGO (1996)
  37. FITZCARRALDO (1982)
  38. FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
  39. THE GAME (1997)
  40. THE GODFATHER (1972)
  41. THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)
  42. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
  43. THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (1966)
  44. GOODFELLAS (1990)
  45. GRAND ILLUSION (1937)
  46. HALLOWEEN (1978)
  47. THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE (1971)
  48. INTOLERANCE (1916)
  49. JAWS (1976)
  50. LA JETEE (1962)
  51. JURASSIC PARK (1993)
  52. KING KONG (1933)
  53. KOYAANISQATSI (1982)
  54. LADY & THE TRAMP (1955)
  55. THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)
  56. THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003) The director sez it’s one long movie, so do I.
  57. M (1931)
  58. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)
  59. MANHATTAN (1979)
  60. MARY POPPINS (1964)
  61. M*A*S*H (1970)
  62. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)
  63. MOBY DICK (1956)
  64. MODERN TIMES (1936)
  65. MY FAVORITE YEAR (1982)
  66. NASHVILLE (1976)
  67. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)
  68. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
  69. PATTON (1970)
  70. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
  71. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
  72. THE PRODUCERS (1968)
  73. PSYCHO (1960)
  74. PULP FICTION (1994)
  75. RASHOMON (1950)
  76. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
  77. ROGER & ME (1989)
  78. ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
  79. THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939)
  80. SAFETY LAST! (1923)
  81. THE SEARCHERS (1956)
  82. THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957)
  83. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
  84. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
  85. THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1969)
  86. THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
  87. SPARTACUS (1960)
  88. STAR WARS (1977)
  89. LA STRADA (1954)
  90. SUNRISE (1927)
  91. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
  92. SUPERMAN (1978)
  93. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)
  94. TOY STORY (1995)
  95. A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902)
  96. UNFORGIVEN (1992)
  97. WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957)
  98. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
  99. YOJIMBO (1961)
  100. SPACE RESERVED FOR THE ONE I FORGOT

Now, how about you?


Blockbuster Video, 1985-2013

November 7, 2013

BlockbusterI missed Blockbuster, by and large, so I won’t really miss it. But millions of others won’t miss it for an entirely different set of reasons.

In 1980, while waiting for the result of the home video format war (ask your parents), I became one of the first kids on my block to own a VHS videocassette recorder/player. I guessed right; though VHS was technologically inferior to Betamax, its cassettes held more stuff, and that was enough for me and the non-Sony world. This machine changed my life – and, as it turned out, the entire culture’s. Not only could I record ordinary tv programs to watch later (the eggheads instantly gave that phenomenon a fancy name: “time shifting”), but they also included, if I so chose, uncut and uninterrupted movies off HBO, or classic flicks that aired at 3 in the morning: I could set the thing like an alarm clock! How useful this would have been while I was struggling through my Master’s thesis on Fifties monster movies. They’ve gone about as fer as they kin go, said I.

As with television a generation prior, Hollywood had no vision of the future and its knee-jerk reaction was to fight home video tooth and nail. In 1976, Universal and Disney brought suit against poor Sony, alleging that home video recording amounted to piracy; by the time the matter finally reached the Supreme Court eight years later and time-shifting off the air was judged to be fair use, the practice had grown so widespread that the legal action was basically moot, now enriching only lawyers.

In the meantime, of course, the studios were taking big chomps of the new home video pie themselves. They began to issue official, “studio-struck” versions of their most popular movies. Fox Home Video was a pioneer: I remember being astonished to see PLANET OF THE APES, PATTON and M*A*S*H shown at people’s homes during parties (the serious film and tv production guys all had Betamaxes early on). At one such bash at my friend Dave Adcock’s, 2001 played with the sound off, and you could see people taking quick glances over your shoulder. Far from ruining the movie business, home video revenue came to carry the biz on its back – you made more money on home entertainment than on the theatrical release – and continued to do so until very recently.

Renting videocassettes, in both Beta and VHS formats, was the next logical step – after all, most adults only want to see a movie once – and it sprang up in thousands of mom-and-pop stores, located in strip malls and lesser venues, DIY-shabby but cute, like independent comics stores. Mine was called Video Station, owned by a wonderful movie fan named Curtis. The first time I walked in, I was gobsmacked at the choices I had, for movies I could see tonight. I simply must share this with others, I said.

So, every Friday night for several years, I screened a movie at my house. Ten or fifteen friends came over to watch – the audience was constantly changing and self-regenerating – and we loved having our own private movie theater. After the first few weeks, one of my neighbors timidly came to the door and said, “Sorry, but we just have to know what you do on Friday nights. All these cars pull up in your driveway and on the street. Then you turn off all the lights, and we can’t hear a thing!” (Remember, VCRs weren’t very common back then. Once I explained that we were all watching a movie, it made sense. Hope nobody thought I was hosting the world’s most boring coven.)

I was such a reliable customer that Curtis would give me a peek at release schedules and let me have pre-dibs on new movies, which were appearing on tape even before their pay-cable runs. One Friday his delivery ran late and he personally drove the cassette over to my house just as people were beginning to arrive for the movie. (He declined a beer, but accepted our warm applause.) This was the state of home video rental in the early Eighties: warm, personal service, hand-selling (Curtis recommended most of the lesser-known films we screened, just as Quentin Tarantino did at his video store out in California), the same qualities you want in a good independent bookseller. Video life was sweet.

Then, in 1985, a Dallas businessman named David Cook decided to take the concept wide. Mom-and-pop video stores were starting to add locations and develop into local and regional “chains,” but Cook’s eyes were bigger, and Blockbuster was born. Wayne Huizenga executed its national rollout: it quickly added videogames, swallowed up smaller companies and opened new stores aggressively, aided by a virtuous circle in which floods of new customers were entering the movie-rental market every week. Less than ten years after its founding, the now-ubiquitous Blockbuster was big enough to seriously propose a merger with Viacom.

Now all the homegrown Video Stations were out of business, and everybody was dealing with Blockbuster (there were 9,000 stores at its peak in 2004) or a franchise just like it. Oligopoly bred complacency as video rental became a typical weekend’s afterthought. Blockbuster customers were treated to a shelf full of thirty display cases of that weekend’s new release, all of them already rented. There was little quality control over returned rentals; you wondered exactly what some people had been doing with them. And then there were the late fees. You couldn’t ignore them like some did with their library books, because Blockbuster had your credit card. Grumbling about Blockbuster became a national pastime (especially when it appeared that late fees constituted a profit center), but its business model was already mortally wounded.

Those late fees inspired a Blockbuster customer named Reed Hastings to think of a new business model, and what he came up with was Netflix, which opened in 1997, concentrating on the new DVD format. There was no store; you ordered your movies via the Internet and got them through the mail. And – here’s the master stroke – you paid a monthly fee to have a certain number of disks at your house for as long as you wanted. The company got a reliable stream of revenue without having to charge late fees! Netflix subsisted on mail-order while it quietly broadened its “streaming” capability, and lately has even moved into original programming, the very thing which has kept HBO afloat all these years. Fun fact: in 2000, Netflix offered itself to Blockbuster for $50 million, and was turned down.

So why do you need Blockbuster anymore? Hmmm: you don’t. Yesterday the company’s current owners announced that it will close its remaining 300 company-owned stores by early January. That will leave only about fifty franchisee-run stores, and they’d better watch their backs, because the brand name’s “goodwill” has long since been used up. Entertainment is still big business, but the way it’s delivered to our eyeballs is constantly mutating and adapting to fit new technology. Blockbuster controlled the golden goose for 25 years, but these days it’s about as relevant as a Commodore 64 – and I know plenty of former customers who are just fine with that.

11/9/13: Variety reports, “Blockbuster has sent out tweets over the last several days alerting customers it will stop renting movies on Nov. 9, with most stores starting to liquidate inventory on Nov. 14.” (Note to Rand Paul: this is how you quote somebody without plagiarizing them.)

11/11/13: The funnest fact of all: Variety reports that the last movie rented from a company-owned Blockbuster store was THIS IS THE END. (First half: amusing. Last half: embarrassing. Kind of like Blockbuster itself!)


Hip-pocrates And Me

October 24, 2013

tagWhen you have hip trouble due to the normal arthritis of advancing years (as opposed to a collision or other violent trauma), no doctor is going to tell you, “My advice is to have a Total Hip Replacement.” They won’t let you defer the decision to somebody else, not even an authority figure wearing a lab coat. What you get instead is, “When your hip adversely affects your quality of life, that’s when you should consider a THR.”

I’ve suffered from intense discomfort – it didn’t actually rise to pain unless I stepped on a cobblestone wrong with my right leg – since spending a month in Phoenix with my father-in-law after his wife passed away four years ago. Each day I squeezed into and out of her little car for two short trips. By the time I got back home, my right hip had started aching – and it never really stopped.

After I postponed a trip to the chiropractor for about a year (hey: I’m a guy), x-rays revealed that both my hips were arthritic, and, in fact, the left one was technically even worse. But because I hadn’t been using it to corkscrew into a car seat, I never felt any discomfort on the left side, and I still don’t. What, doc, I need a new hip? “When your hip adversely affects your quality of life…”

My malady was intermittent. Some days going up a flight of stairs was agony. (Anybody who’s ever ridden New York express-line subways will immediately apprehend my problem.) Some days I’d limp noticeably, other times I looked just fine. My quality of life sure as hell deteriorated, but it was gradual, like that frog in the slowly heating pan. I could still walk a long way, but not as fast as everybody else. I couldn’t sprint or stop on a dime; no more tennis. I had to use a “recumbent” bike at the gym to keep the load off my hip. I haven’t attempted a golf swing since this thing really got serious, but just the thought of it brings on some imaginary owies. I can’t take a stress test on a treadmill because I can’t walk fast enough to rev my ticker. (The solution is a “nuclear” IV that races your heart while you’re just lying there, which is far creepier than being winded fair and square.)

Finally I gathered up the courage to ask my friend Josh Chasin, who’d just had a successful THR, for the name of his surgeon. I checked with my own M.D., Jeff Buckner, and a few other health care people I knew, and all thumbs were raised. Not only was Dr. Amar Ranawat one of the leading sawbones around (his pop and brother are also in the family business), but the Hospital for Special Surgery was about the top place in the country to host the procedure. So I found myself in his office with a few staff on September 9, after undergoing a battery of preliminary x-rays and tests. I kept waiting for somebody to say you can’t do it because of your blahblahosis, but everybody kept staring at me. Dr. Ranawat said, “You might think you just wasted four years suffering. You didn’t. That’s what gave you the guts to come in today. But first, you had to decide that you’d finally had enough.” He sent me to his scheduler, who would not let me leave the office until we set a date. I’ve heard this is SOP for crybabies like me. I bluffed: “I have to check with my wife.” She called: “What’s her number? Let’s do it right now.” When I walked out (without checking), I was on the docket for Tuesday, October 15.

Thus began a full month of utter scared-shitlessness.

First, I’m squeamish to a significant but not quite neurotic degree. I have never, ever, ever wanted to be a doctor: can’t take the ick. Several physicians are among the finest people I’ve ever known: caustic, playful, tolerant, skeptical – you guys (and gals) take that vital profession and enjoy; enjoy. But now we’re talking about cutting on me? This would be my very first time under the knife: I’ve never so much as broken a bone. It would be lots easier if, oh, I’d smashed my hip in Woodstock riding bitch behind Bob Dylan; then it wouldn’t be up to me. But no, I’m bringing this on myself, by choice. As they say, there’s no such thing as “minor surgery” when it’s on you. I guess it requires a smidge of fortitude, but bravery? That’s the infantryman in Walter Reed who charged into a free-fire zone because his captain told him to and is still fighting for his life nine months later. All I could summon up for “bravery” was to resist the operating-table urge to blubber like Daffy Duck. (“Is this it, Doc?…I think I see <kaff, kaff> that old wagon comin <kaff> round the bend…”)

As with all things, the anticipation is far worse than the actuality. Dread wins every time. Creators of horror stories and movies have been dining out on this phenomenon for years: the less you show, the more the audience will fill in for itself, and who knows what gruesome little beasties live inside those innocent psyches. Let them invent their own terrors. To you this was just some routine hip surgery; to me it was time for the Five Stages Of Grief, beginning with Denial: as long as it was still September, I had nuthin to worry about! Then Father Time dragged his raggedy ass into October, and a week out from renewed hipness I went over to HSS and spent most of the day there. I took a class on what to expect and how to rehab, got blood work and an EKG, and met Dr. Joseph Markenson, the on-site M.D. who would be looking out for me. When I left the Doc’s office, it had become real real. Three days later I had to take one last stress test, and when that failed to wave it away, there was nothing else between me and the slab.

You have to show up three hours before surgery, so you can (a) fill out a shitload of admission forms and (b) lie around in a hospital gown on a gurney, waiting for this or that person to deliver their own personal forms and ask you the same questions over and over. Even at the world’s greatest medical centers, the various departments don’t coordinate with each other, and there’s no Permanent Record like your grade-school teachers threatened you with (well, mine did). I presume the thinking is to get it right by redundancy and eliminate the possibility of a data-entry error that sticks around (though see Pastoral Care below). Before my orientation class, the teacher had asked me to list all the prescription drugs I was taking, the dosage, frequency, etc. I had brought the info as instructed and transferred it to a sheet of paper. She left and came back with 10 photocopies. “You’re going to need these. Make sure you take them everywhere.” It was the single best piece of advice I got. Sure enough, every sumbitch I saw, beginning with Dr. Markenson that day and ending with a gas-passer while I was lying on the gurney a week later, asked me for a list of my scrips. From my point of view, why not just enter them into The System? Accuracy through redundancy. (We’ll pass over the possibility that I myself might have made a data-entry error on that handwritten sheet so as not to frighten ourselves any further.)

Have you heard stories about mistaken operations on the wrong hip? At HSS, that’s impossible – at least, I can’t come up with a scenario in which it happens by accident. First, you get an ID band which goes on the opposite wrist from the operating area and never comes off till you’re back home. You have to state the name and birthdate on that band from memory before anybody will do anything for you. (That’s mine in the photo up top, instants after I grabbed a pair of scissors from my beloved desk drawer and liberated the frackin mammajamma from my wrist.) Second, the parade of people with clipboards each asks you exactly what you’re here for (after glomming your page of scrips), along with an identical list of health history questions – the anesthesiologist needs his, the pharmacist needs his, the surgeon needs his, etc. Finally the great man comes in to wish you well, and signs the correct surgical location with a Sharpie. To foil this system, Al Qaeda would have to sneak in, cut the ID band and clip a phony copy onto the other wrist, stain off the Sharpie and replace it with a perfect forgery, re-prep the wrong side, and never be seen by the dietician who’s been standing there waiting to get another goddam health history and list of scrips. And all the terrorists would have for this prodigious effort is a USA patriot who limps on the left side.

Those pre-op hours were the most nerve-wracking of all. By now I just wanted to get it over with. I’d invented a Zen thought to help me through recovery: when I wake up after surgery, I’ve already started healing. Om, right? Fortunately I had my trusty Kindle and a really lightweight, easily interruptible book, the Johnny Carson revenge tell-all by his former lawyer Henry Bushkin. I finished it in-hospital and moved on to my first post-film reading of David Mitchell’s CLOUD ATLAS. Avid readers make their own sort of anesthetic; within moments we can render ourselves oblivious. A medicine for monotony.

Finally came high noon. Actually, about four o‘clock; I’d been on-site since high noon and on-slab (comfy, with my Kindle) since maybe two. No more clipboards, just a gang of big burly masked men who rolled me through the halls. This trip is almost a relief, but they know you’re still scared. I said, “Too late to back out now?” One puckish guy said, “You have about thirty seconds, but I wouldn’t make the surgeon mad right now.” The point-of-view seemed like Rock Hudson’s in SECONDS; that’s how shallow I am. (I wanted some fuzzy focus and goofy zooms, as if Al Qaeda had drugged me after sabotaging my surgery.) Now into the operating room itself, and enough lights to perform “Swanee.”

A veteran colonoscopy patient, I knew this would be my last memory of the actual procedure. As is my custom, I asked the anesthesiologist for “the full monty,” s’il vous plaît. He said, “think of a really nice place.” Annnd…cut.

# # # # #

Weirdest thing? When you wake up, it doesn’t hurt. Second weirdest thing? It doesn’t hurt because you’re doped out of your mind. Linda had planned to come visit me at about 8:30 (they call your loved one directly afterwards to tell them the surgery went fine), which would have been perfect, but a bureaucratic blood-test snafu held up the start time. So I was still in Oz when she got there. I remember waking up, lying on my non-operated side, looking at a chair, and mumbling to the docs. I must have fallen asleep again, because Linda appeared in the chair, POP!, like a Méliès effect. I spoke to the ghostly figure. I remember cogent sentences being formed in my mind, but even I couldn’t understand the gibberish coming out of my mouth. “I’ve already started healing” might turn into “I red sharty hee.” G’night, honey!

bedEverything up to now, everything that really counted, had been buttoned-down and by the book. Everybody had been superb. But now that we’d crossed a certain summit of physical danger and were headed downhill again, the place reverted, in some aspects, to the clutter and bustle of a normal hospital, complete with tardiness, dietetic errors and lots of mole-whacking by the overworked staff. I only found out upon leaving that the upcoming weekend would be one of HSS’s infrequent “Surgical Saturdays,” devised to let patients complete their work weeks. The in- and outflow at the dropoff point was amazing, like Grand Central. The orderly who helped me out said, “your bed was filled again in about thirty seconds.” The place was packed, and would remain so through the weekend. That explained a lot of confused service, and a constant shuffling of personnel: “my night nurse” might not still be mine by the end of her shift.

My teacher at the orientation said she’d been in this line of work for thirty years, and back then, THR patients stayed in the hospital for a whole month. I spent three nights there, and the third was my choice; I wanted just a little more physical therapy practice before I went home. As I was enjoying my final lunch, a nice woman from Pastoral Care came in and said she was sorry for the mistake because I had requested some spiritual care and they’d just gotten to it now. I said, (1) I didn’t request any spiritual care, and (2) anyhow, another nice lady with a clipboard bearing the same erroneous info had come to visit the previous day. Somebody must have made a data entry error, and two different departments got the same wild goose to chase. I’m going to call that progress.

I came home last Friday, almost a week ago, and began the process of rehab. And that is the point on the road to recovery where I’m sitting right now.


Spaced In

October 13, 2013

GRAVITYGRAVITY is every bit as good as you’ve heard. It’s not just a nail-biting thriller, not just far and away the best cinematic depiction of what it’s like to be in space, not just the finest performance ever from Sandra Bullock. Even more important, it introduces new concepts to the language of film: swirling, swooping, gyroscopic curvatures that observe no earthbound rules, that can take you inside a space helmet and out again without cuts or dissolves; the opening shot alone lasts for nearly 13 minutes. They’ll have to invent a new term to describe this constantly malleable point of view. But the story doesn’t stop long enough to let you ponder “how’d they do that?”* For all I know, they built some rockets and shot two game movie stars into Earth orbit. You’ve never seen anything like this. Nobody has.

It’s a howling, crowd-pleasing, eye-popping triumph for director/co-writer Alfonso Cuaron. His resume is already impressive: besides directing the best Harry Potter film (PRISONER OF AZKABAN), there’s also CHILDREN OF MEN (he tops the opening shot here) and the delightful Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. His friend Guillermo del Toro, also a fan of the fantastique, must be bursting with pride. But Cuaron leads an army of technical wizards so state-of-the-art that I didn’t recognize several of the jobs listed in the end credits.

The story, by the director and his son Jonas, is simplicity itself. Two astronauts are on a space walk as the film begins. Something bad happens, and now it’s all about survival. Playing opposite Bullock is George Clooney, who knows more about this mission than her medical officer does, and delivers perfectly timed moments of lightness (he listens to Hank Williams in space and tells “Houston” – the unseen Ed Harris – “it’s not rocket science”). That’s your entire on-camera cast.

The space effects are beyond disbelief, and so is the sound design. You never hear “sync” sound unless it would be physically possible, and space is by and large silent, emphasized by an opening fanfare under the title card that gets louder and louder and louder…until we cut to space and utter silence for the beginning of that first magnificent, marathon, multigravitational, POV-shifting, “single shot.” But there’s a top-notch music score by Steven Price which ratchets up the tension almost unbearably.

GRAVITY set an October-opening box-office record here in the States, and continued its financial rampage in the second weekend, which is when I saw it, earlier today. I attended a regular-screen 3-D performance, and though the 3-D effects were leagues better than those in the trailer for THE HOBBIT 2 which preceded it, GRAVITY is probably just as enjoyable flat. But real thrill-seekers will go me one better and screen it in IMAX.

Do not miss this one. See it in a theater if you can. “Amazing” isn’t strong enough. Maybe the word we want is “GRAVITY-like.”

*3/1/14: On Oscar Eve (I doubt GRAVITY will win Best Picture, but any Best Director who beats Alfonso Cuaron will always, in his heart of hearts, wonder why), I recommend the just-released DVD version of this film, especially the backstage “special features.” These things are usually fluff, but here you really do get a good look at how the stunning effects were achieved. Another nice bonus is a lovely short by Jonas, showing you the Earthbound side of Bullock’s frustrating radio conversation near the end.

3/3/14: GRAVITY topped the 2014 Oscar list with seven awards, including a well-deserved Best Director statue for Sr. Cuaron.


Inside The Pubble

September 30, 2013

CruzLast week, in the well of the United States Senate, a man began talking, he announced, on the subject of freedom, specifically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare.” He said he intended to keep talking for as long as he could stand, which was the first lie of his speech: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had already scheduled a vote for debate on the bill in question the next afternoon, whether the orator was finished or not. The speechmaker likened Obamacare to life in Nazi Germany and the Bataan Death March; attacked members of his own party as Chamberlain-like appeasers, a “surrender caucus”; quoted author Ayn Rand, actor Ashton Kutcher, country singer Toby Keith, and the father of conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh; shared how much he enjoyed White Castle hamburgers; imitated Darth Vader; and read an entire children’s book, Dr. Seuss’s GREEN EGGS & HAM, to his young daughters, since he couldn’t read it to them in person because he was otherwise engaged in delivering this puzzling address. More than 21 hours later, he finally relinquished the podium, declining Leader Reid’s offer of an additional hour in which to dig his bizarre hole just a bit deeper. The garish display wasn’t even a true filibuster, since the babbler was only forestalling debate on a piece of legislation he didn’t like, but when the time came at last, he switched the position he had been putatively arguing and the action was carried on a unanimous voice vote, officially recorded as 100-0. This whole maniacal publicity stunt had been an utter and abject waste of time, a fleabag circus sullying what was once considered the world’s greatest deliberative body, where ten or so supportive members in attendance were reduced to a group of groundlings forced to binge-watch The Ted Cruz Show.

The Texas senator, who had been in office for only nine months, frequently complained about how Obamacare was harming the economy, costing jobs, destroying freedom. An amazing swath of destruction, that, considering that the core provisions of the law hadn’t even gone into effect; the part that did simply allowed young people to remain covered by their parents’ health care plans until age 26. Americans will be able to sign up for health care “exchanges” beginning tomorrow, and they can receive services under Obamacare starting on Jan. 1, 2014. Furthermore, this learned solon rose to demand that other Senators stand with him to either defund Obamacare – a law duly passed by Congress and affirmed by the Supreme Court – or refuse to pass a budget at all, thus shutting down the entire federal government, an action that would not only destroy jobs (800,000 immediate furloughs), but also delay or eliminate payments to millions more, including soldiers and retirees. His marathon rant was nominally before a Senate controlled by Democrats: even if they decided to pass such a measure – fully as improbable as replicating cold fusion – it would then be up to President Obama to decide whether or not to gut his most significant legislative achievement, one that will finally bring health care to millions of uninsured Americans. A veto would be all but certain, a simple layup for the Hoopster-In-Chief. Even Sen. Cruz’s silly choice of literature, GREEN EGGS & HAM, was baffling: the whole point of the story is that you shouldn’t criticize something new before you’ve even tried it! But irony escapes this Harvard Law graduate and Princeton debating champion. To call Ted Cruz’s excruciating performance “Quixotic” is to insult Cervantes.

As expected, the Senate amended the budget bill after first restoring funding for Obamacare (specifically, a 2.3% surcharge on medical equipment intended to help finance the program) and sent it back to the House, with these words from Leader Reid: “Here’s a president who less than a year ago won the election by five million votes, five million votes. Obamacare has been the law for four years. Why don’t they get a life and talk about something else? People deserve better.” House Republicans originally demanded the following “concessions” (the list is incomplete because more demands were constantly being added) in exchange for permitting the government to continue functioning past midnight tonight: increase oil drilling on federal lands, roll back regulations on greenhouse gases, construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline immediately, defund the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, make it more difficult to sue for medical malpractice, and one last item: postpone the Obamacare rollout by one year. It’s a colicky tantrum from an infant, or maybe a ransom note from hapless C-movie gangsters: nice country you got here…be a real shame if something happened to it. Barring an eleventh-hour miracle, some federal kneecaps are going to get broken on the same day Obamacare exchanges (the ones controlled by individual states, that is) begin accepting members. This from the party that lost the 2012 elections, except for its intractable gerrymandered majority in the House – which, as we will see, actually represents fewer voters than does the “minority.”

Are these people crazy? It’s as if they actually want the country to fall back into recession!

Where did this topsy-turvy world come from, a land where the defeated minority in a democracy can grip the nation by the throat and seriously threaten to reverse its limping recovery from the worst recession in half a century? Why would anyone who truly cares for our country even consider doing damage like that? In fairness, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), no friend to health care reform, did seize the Senate floor to denounce the Cruz debacle – it only took him ten minutes – but by then the Texan’s tired tonsils were already, incredibly, being lionized by his party’s extreme right wing, the daffy tri-cornered-hat crowd, starting with a fawning interview on Limbaugh’s own radio show.

What in the name of the Founding Fathers is going on?

Despite all propaganda to the contrary, America is not a right-wing nation. An interesting piece by Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books doesn’t really cover any new ground regarding what she calls the Republican “stranglehold on our politics,” but it sure does connect lots of dots. In her view, Pubs have paid better attention to elections in off-years (the next midterm election’s only a year from now; usually about half as many voters turn out than in Presidential years, but nearly all the fanatics do, giving them outsized influence through apathy) and at the state and local level (there will be 36 governorships at stake next year, several of them in key swing states whose guvs, as Pubs have long understood, control everything else). But when more people are more engaged, it suddenly doesn’t look so hot. Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six Presidential elections; the sole exception was 2004, when Dick Cheney played the fear card so clumsily that he nearly gave up the game. “If we make the wrong choice,” he warned, “then the danger is that we’ll get hit again – that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.” In other words, vote for me or die. That’s desperation, friends. The Republicans are the party of rich white men and those it can persuade to help them become richer. Its base is already outnumbered, and it’s getting weaker every year as the Reaper continues to chip away at the diehards. (Hard they may be, but they die nonetheless.) The GOP’s natural hegemony is over.

Now, if you can no longer win elections on the issues, you have two simple alternatives: rig the game so you can’t lose, or if that’s too tough (as in statewide races), then prevent your opponents from voting. The right wing has found ways to do both, and their methods are based in what was formerly progressive territory: the grass roots.

Ms. Drew points out that though President Obama won the 2012 election with 51.1% of the vote, due to redistricting in key states after the 2010 census (you may recall that Tom DeLay in Texas couldn’t even wait that long to redraw his state and add five shoo-in Republican seats to the delegation; he did this just before the 2004 election), House Republicans represent only 47.5% of the 2012 electorate. The Democratic “minority” represents 48.8%. Put another way, well over a million more Americans elected Democratic House members in 2012 than voted for victorious Republicans. But the current Congress is 234-201 Republican.

Four examples of gerrymandered Congressional districts. Computer analysis has this sort of election-fixing down to a science.

Four examples of gerrymandered Congressional districts. Computer analysis has this sort of election-fixing down to a science.

How in the world does that work? Let’s look with Ms. Drew at Ohio, a state the President won with 51% of the vote. Because of redistricting – heck, let’s call it by its proper name, gerrymandering, or deliberately (1) lumping likeminded voters together, no matter where they live, or (2) splitting the enemy among several districts, a bit of power dilution known as “cracking,” which, for example, has emasculated “liberal” Columbus – today’s Ohio House delegation is three-quarters Republican. It doesn’t represent the general Ohio electorate at all, only the guys who did the redistricting. Now, in fairness, both parties press their advantage through gerrymandering. There are some funky-looking districts in Maryland, for example, that were drawn up by Democrats. But if this “false equivalency” – an argument that claims it’s OK because the other guys act exactly the same, featured nightly on Faux News – were genuine, we’d have a more closely divided Congress. The fact is, Pubs have simply been better at this for at least twenty years. It’s not equivalent. They’ve gamed the system. But, as we will see, they should have been careful what they wished for, because they got it. (In code for evangelical Christians: I’m saying thou hath reaped the whirlwind.)

The other significant tactic which keeps a minority in power is voter suppression. Whenever you see the term “voter ID law,” you’re looking at a baby step toward the heinous poll-tax laws which threatened true freedom for most of the 20th century. Pubs will tell you that they’re trying to defeat the scourge of rampant “voter fraud,” a malady they’ve never been able to demonstrate. That’s their moral cover for what’s turned out to be a 21st-century version of Jim Crow – only this time, it includes those seditious traitors, college students. In our ole pal Texas, for example, a gun license is acceptable ID for voting, but not a student ID, presumably because gun owners tip Pub, and college kids think too much. The law went into effect instants after the Supreme Court recently invalidated the critical portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the one that made partisan horseshit like this subject to prior federal approval in the several states with long histories of voter suppression.

Why not show ID at the polls? You have to do it for almost anything else: to get a bank loan, to get a driver’s license, etc. But what about people who don’t have bank loans, credit cards, driver’s licenses, or any kind of photo ID? What about voters who are temporarily away from home because they’re in college, or who don’t have the means to drive across town, or who live out in the country? What about people who can’t afford photo IDs? Wait: they get to vote too? We can’t have that: poor people tend to vote for the only folks who know they’re alive! Yet simply having lawfully voted in every election since LBJ isn’t enough these days. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) ticked off part of a laundry list before a group of Pubs in summer 2012: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” (Fun fact: The President won Pennsylvania, 52% to 47%, but he had to fight uphill over voter ID, not to mention rich-guy super-PACs.)

What would a Pub America really look like? To observe a conservative wonderland first-hand, a place where the right-wing id is suddenly leading a joyous ideological slamdance, to see what unfettered Teabag rule would actually produce, simply turn to poor North Carolina. Once it was the jewel of the Deep South, its Research Triangle a glittering star that attracted bright people from around the world. As Ms. Drew recounts, President Obama won the state in 2008. But the Pubs took over the legislature in the decennial year of 2010 (immediately redistricting the state in their favor) and the governorship in 2012, attaining unassailable “supermajorities” that could pass anything they liked without even consulting the other side. Now they wasted no time in cutting unemployment insurance and tax credits for low-income workers, banning Sharia law (whew, just in time!), restricting abortion and voting rights (their war on student voting borders on the laughable, but it’s the frickin state law), and transforming a once beautiful state into North Pubistan in only three years. Nancy McFarlane, the horrified mayor of Raleigh, could barely get a sentence out: “It’s hard to get people to understand the impact of what they’re doing is going to be.” Thinking people are going to think twice about moving to the Tarheel State, and there goes your Research Triangle. Sorry, Ms. Mayor.

Why would well-intentioned people subscribe to such madness? It’s because they talk to each other, and only to each other. They live in a different world, a right-wing echo chamber, the Republican bubble: the Pubble. Ms. Drew cites the tumultuous 1994 midterms, which restored Pub House control after forty years and handed Prof. Newt Gingrich the tiller, but I would suggest an earlier flash point: 1987, when the Reagan-era FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine, which held that opposing views should be granted equal time on the public airwaves. In that instant, baldly partisan broadcasting, immune to any “equivalency” whatsoever, was born. Anybody in radio will tell you that Rush Limbaugh saved the AM dial when he went on the air in 1988, and back then there probably was a progressive bias in mass media. (Although news organizations did strive for objectivity.) But Limbaugh’s immediate sensational success spawned dozens of radio imitators, and, in 1996, the Fox News Channel on television. Nowadays “the liberal media” is a fictional construct that preserves conservatives’ ability to paint themselves as victims, or to “work the refs” so that actual news organizations fall all over themselves to present the right-wing point of view even when they know the earth is more than six thousand years old and that man did not coexist with dinosaurs. El Rushbo is still the hottest thing on radio, and Fox News tops the cable ratings. When I lived in Georgia in the early Seventies, I loved Atlanta’s WRNG, “Ring Radio,” which was 24-hour call-ins; the station would entertain me during long drives. Their best “jock” was a guy named Neal Boortz, a Colbert-like improvver, you loved his quick mind. Post-Rushbo, Boortz re-invented himself as a conservative raver, and now he’s a syndicated big-shot; his verbal effluvia sometimes make their way to THE DAILY SHOW. Based on long stints spent inside Boortz’s radio-expressed mind, I know this particular guy is now only acting, but he heard the trumpets sound. If anything, the loudest megaphone these days belongs to the conservative media.

I used to think that Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly and the others were, like Boortz, just entertainers, performers; they couldn’t possibly believe half the stuff they were spouting. But now I honestly wonder. The Pubble is opaque and soundproof. Barack Obama is the worst president in history, a Kenya-born socialist who hates America. If government would just get out of the way, the invisible hand of the market would regulate itself – except for the military, which merits ever-rising budgets. America is the greatest country in the world in all respects, and those who don’t think so should leave. Other nations hate us because we’re so free. Poverty is caused by laziness, and people lounge on their welfare payments rather than looking for work — but raising the minimum wage to subsistence level will destroy small businesses. Immigrants are stealing our jobs. Evolution and climate change are only theories, therefore we should disregard them. Health care is a privilege for those who can afford it. Any limitation on a private citizen’s firearms will turn us into a police state. CEOs deserve to make hundreds of times what their employees do because of competition for top talent. Tax cuts stimulate growth; spending dampens it. We should keep our hands off the big banks: they know what they’re doing. This is and always has been a Christian nation, with instructions for righteous living found in the Bible. The Israelis are freedom fighters; the Palestinians are terrorists. The government should lay off our personal liberties, unless it involves abortion or our sex lives. There is, of course, an opposing view on each of these issues, but inside the Pubble it’s all received wisdom.

Nothing illustrated the Pubble’s sturdiness more starkly than Election Night 2012. I have a friend in Mississippi who had laid in a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate Mitt Romney’s victory, and he wasn’t alone. Though statistician Nate Silver had been warning for weeks that the President was likely to earn re-election, the Pubble dismissed it as rubbish from the “liberal media.” The greatest moment of the night was watching an exasperated Karl Rove, once the Sultan of Stats, dispute the numbers coming in from his own network, Fox News Channel. To her credit Megyn Kelly, the anchor, defended her statisticians, at one point even acknowledging the Pubble’s existence. “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better,” she asked Rove, “or is this real?” The Pubble was flabbergasted, like Pauline Kael in 1972: she only knew one person who’d voted for Nixon! Rove’s confused bluster provided welcome schadenfreude for those who remembered the catastrophic Bush years. (A few days later he had the gall to blame voter suppression, but by then nobody was listening, because his American Crossroads Super PAC had infamously blown through $100 million that we know of on the 2012 election cycle, only to lose 10 of its 13 targeted races. Oh yeah, and the White House too.)

If you don’t think there’s room inside the Pubble for racism – “we’re not racists, we just think Obama is un-American!” – consider the amount of disrespect and sheer hate this President has been forced to endure, more than any other in my lifetime, more than Bill Clinton, more than Dubya. After all, nobody screamed “YOU LIE!” at 42 or 43 during a speech to a joint session, like the oafish Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). Nobody held up huge signs saying WHAT PLAN? like the pathologically dim Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). You don’t see others angrily pointing fingers in POTUS’s face like Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ). And just consider what happened when someone observed that Sen. Cruz was not born in this country, but in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to a Cuban father and American mother. The Constitution states that a Presidential candidate must be “native-born,” but it doesn’t define the term. Cruz’s response? My mother was American, therefore I am too, and by the way, I’m renouncing my Canadian citizenship. The accompanying sound? Crickets. Now compare that to the President, who actually is native-born, also to an American mother, but was still being visited by annoying unhinged “birthers” well into his second term. What could possibly account for the difference? When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, just after the 2008 election, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he was acknowledging that there was something wrong that needed to be set aright, and inside the Pubble the dog-whistle message was quite clear. Of course the legislative minority is expected to loyally oppose the majority – but to call deposing Obama “the single most important thing”? Jobs? Infrastructure? Health? Here, now, was the Pubble’s ultimate Other, that literal dark force that threatened the American way of life. We will now, McConnell said, foreshorten his presidency by denying him any achievement whatsoever, and Pubs have done their worst ever since to do just that: the current 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive in recent history. That’s why such events as the passage of Obamacare and the killing of Osama bin Laden — any achievements at all — are so disturbing inside the Pubble.

The “Tea Party” was nowhere to be seen when George W. Bush spent eight years busting the budget. It emerged almost instantly to bedevil the Obama administration. (I’m only half joking when I tag the origin of the Tea Party at about, oh, noonish on Jan. 20, 2009.) But a funny thing happened on the way to “liberty.” Egged on by Fox News and the rest of now-mighty conservative media, plus PACs and “think tanks” financed by the likes of the Koch brothers, the tri-cornered set crashed “town meetings” of legislators, following carefully scripted orders to assemble way down front so it would look like they represented the whole room, and thus, the whole country. Old pros like Dick Armey and Jim DeMint helped fan the flames and work the grassroots to produce actual candidates – the only surefire way to seize power. But they ran into an unintended consequence. They’d intended Tea Partiers to be rabble-rousers and not much else. But the radical right hunkered down deeper inside the Pubble, and before you knew it, the liberty baby was being thrown out with the freedom bathwater.

The Tea Party concluded that we had mistakenly elected a socialist Kenyan president not because Pub candidates were too conservative, but because they were not conservative enough. So you had the spectacle of thinking senators like Bob Bennett of Utah, as right-wing as they come but still earthbound, tossed over the side for Tea Party candidates, while others simply quit in disgust. That chilled Pub incumbents in both Houses: if you didn’t hew to the tri-corner gang’s extremism, if you didn’t keep the customer satisfied, even if you were in a district that was super-safe in any general election, you could still be “primaried” from the right! This wave of zealot candidates, and intensified zealotry among fearful incumbents, has had two deleterious effects.

First, it turned away reliable Pub Senatorial candidates, some of them incumbents, for the likes of Sharron Angle in Nevada (“People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out!”), Christine O’Donnell in Delaware (“I am not a witch”), Richard Mourdock in Indiana (“Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that…is something that God intended to happen”), and Todd Akin in Missouri (“From what I understand from doctors…if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”). Each of these candidates proved too icky for the electorate, but each of the Senate seats they sought had been eminently winnable by more sensible Pub candidates. The wacko-birds simply threw those opportunities away, and thus potential control of the Senate for at least two election cycles.

Second, yo-yos like this actually started to win House races in districts so tightly gerrymandered that you could wear a tinfoil hat to your own fundraiser and feel right at home. John Boehner, the most ineffective Speaker of the House of modern times, has lost control over his caucus because so many of them are newly elected Tea-Party bombthrowers who see nothing wrong with bringing government to its knees, or failing to make good on obligations the country has already made (that’s what “raising the debt ceiling” means). They literally don’t know any better. Dr. Frankenstein’s monster has broken loose, and not even Dick Armey knows what to do now.

Why all the hue and cry, the garment-rending, the Cruz clowning, over Obamacare just this minute? Simple. It’s because inside the Pubble, folks never expected to be sitting here right now. Romney would stomp the Kenyan, Pubs would retake the Senate, and Anycare would be D.O.A. It’s not that Pubs actually fear the country will be wrecked by the ACA (a term many of them have now gone back to employing; ever since the President shrewdly embraced the term “Obamacare,” the “person-you-don’t-like-care” usage, which dates back to Hillary Clinton’s efforts twenty years ago, has lost most of its fizz). If that were so, then why not just let it happen and preside over the post-apocalypse? No, to the contrary: they’re afraid the country will like having affordable health care. This is why they continue kicking and screaming, now urging young people in TV spots to “burn your [nonexistent] health care cards” (isn’t that rich, Pubs invoking draft-card burning? Younger folk have noticed too) and doing everything possible to scuttle health care reform by any means necessary. They’re afraid it will work, that Big Medicine will be reined in just a tad, and universal health care will become yet another “entitlement” for the “takers.” They should be afraid.

Deep down in Karl Rove’s mind has to be a thought that would torture him to madness if he actually cared, and boy, I wish he really did. It’s this. If the fear-fueled Tea Party had never emerged, Republicans would have long since controlled the Senate, and today there would be no such thing as Obamacare – and, just possibly, as a little sweetener, no such thing as Senator Ted Cruz.

Ah, Senator Cruz. Back to our star of the moment. It doesn’t take an Ivy League degree to understand why he staged his narcissistic spectacle: he was only trying to attract cameras. (The biggest whopper of his entire blabathon came in Hour 18: “I would be perfectly happy if not a single story coming out of this mentioned my name.”) On March 6, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) unwound a 12-hour corker on unmanned drone strikes that actually stalled an Obama nomination – and people started taking him seriously as a Presidential candidate. Then, in June, Democratic Texas state senator Wendy Davis successfully ran out the clock on the legislative session with a 13-hour speech against an omnibus abortion bill – and unlike the two gentlemen, she was required by Texas law to remain on topic the whole time, and she could not be “spelled” for a break, as Cruz himself did for Paul. She became not only a statewide but a national sensation, and in a few days she’s expected to announce her candidacy for governor; if elected she would be the first woman, and first Democrat, to hold that position in twenty years. Well, Sen. Cruz thinks he is also fit for higher office. And that alone is why he embarked on his pathetic fauxlibuster. But, as with his tin-eared choice of Seussian morality lessons, he had no actual substance to offer, only windbaggery on which he even turned his back himself. He claims he’s “listening to the American people,” but all he can really hear are the people on his own Twitter feed. He’s affected nothing, proved nothing, and achieved nothing more than the winner of a beard-growing contest. It makes perverse sense that they love such a man inside the Pubble.


Marketing For (And Perhaps By) Dummies, Part 2

September 21, 2013

MilleniumThe Millenium Hilton is in New York City, not far from Ground Zero. The Millenium Hilton. Millenium, did you hear? When I was an independent copywriter/producer long ago, I learned how to spell the word “millennium.” It was the name of my company, after all. It derives from “mille” and “annus.” There are two frickin Ns, homey.

This joint has been around — and bugging me — since 1992, but according to Wikipedia, “the hotel’s builder chose to intentionally misspell the name with one ‘n’ on the outdoor signage and official literature…in order to make the name more distinctive.” Nope, I call that backpedaling B.S., my friends. Much more plausible is abject dumminess – but by the time anyone realized the mistake, it was too late to change. If it’s really so “distinctive,” why does almost nobody notice?

Photo by Parker Johnson.

More dummy marketing.


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