Wednesday, June 22, 2011
It was the fall of 1980, my first semester in college. There were 4 or 5 of us crowded into a friend’s dorm room (I don’t even remember whose room it was, but I do remember we were in Harrington E, 3rd floor), and we were listening to Philly’s rock station WMMR countdown of the Top 500 Rock Songs of All-Time. We were playing the radio way too loud, having fun predicting the final top 5, and arguing about the merits our selections. If you have ever listened to a Top 500 countdown, and who hasn’t, the final songs are fairly predictable. It’s the order that sometimes changes.
Stairway to Heaven was the popular bet. Anything by the Beatles was a logical guess (Twist and Shout or Yesterday?). The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again and The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction were locks to make the cut. The songs spun off the DJ’s turntable, one by one. A Day in the Life went by. The Who and Stones represented. Song Number 2 in the top 500 list was revealed - Stairway to Heaven. Wait a minute, what could possibly be left? What classic track had we missed? Did anyone hear an Elvis song yet? Then the chords blasted out of the multiplex stereo:
It was Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen. “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, jack.” We freaked out as only angst-ridden college boys can do. We jumped up and down on the beds and screamed out the secure tilt-in windows, “ARRGGHHH!!! Philadelphia sucks! Springsteen sucks! Not possible! Not possible! You idiots!!!” And then we got mad. We quickly turned the lyrics of Hungry Heart into Smelly Fart (“You spread your cheeks and it breaks apart, everybody’s got a sme-sme-smellyyyy fart.”). Hey, we were young.
Hungry Heart was a new song by Springsteen that year, and we viewed its’ selection as the Greatest Rock Song of All Time as an insult to rock musicians, and the ultimate triumph of homer-ism over accomplishment. The cult of local celebrity brainwashed away common sense. Hungry Heart wasn’t even Bruce’s best song. In fact, we believed that it was his worst song. Yet Philadelphia music fans voted that ridiculous ditty as their top choice, over the entire Pink Floyd catalog, over the master works of the Beatles, over all the AC/DC stadium anthems. We were disgusted. At that moment, I hated Bruce Springsteen.
My hate, and I recognize that is a strong word, was misplaced, and I have always known that deep down. My relationship with Bruce was complicated. Intellectually, I did not hate Springsteen. I owned several albums. Thunder Road has, from time to time, been my favorite song. I danced to Rosalita at many a party and knew all the words. In fact, it was gospel in New Jersey that you didn’t really have a party until you played Rosalita. I loved the music, mostly. What I really hated was the hype.
I liked Springsteen. What I hated was people thinking that I worshipped Springsteen. Where I am from, Bruce Worship was a sort of litmus test, much like the AIDS ribbon immortalized in a classic Seinfeld episode (“You must wear the ribbon. Everyone is wearing the ribbon.”). If you didn’t genuflect whenever the Boss was mentioned or heard on the radio, it was sacrilege against the Jersey Shore gods.
You see, I lived in Springsteen’s home town of Freehold, NJ, so there was an assumption on everyone’s part that because of my physical home address, I must be a religious fanatic for the Boss. My house backed up to Highway 9 (Born to Run: “Sprung from cages on Highway 9…”). More than anything, I guess I rebelled against being labeled, against being a lemming, against being predictable. I was a fan of New Wave, and Springsteen represented the Establishment. I had to be against him. Give me some Ramones and The Clash, and you can have your corporate lackey, Bruce Springsteen. Voting Hungry Heart Number One was the last straw.
That song sucked.
I recognize now that there was a tinge of jealousy in my position. I wasn’t a native Freehold boy. My family moved there when I was 16. Everyone around me had their Springsteen encounter stories, and I had nothing. All my friends it seemed had stumbled into a Springsteen surprise set at The Stone Pony. My brother saw him at the Stone Balloon in Delaware in 1973 (or so). I would always show up where he had just left. (“Hey, Bruce was just here. You missed him by 5 minutes.”). I was starting to think he was a superhero, and that I would never meet up with him on the streets, or if I did, I wouldn’t recognize him without his guitar.
I did see him from a distance a few times. I was there when he recorded the Devil With the Blue Dress medley at the No Nukes concerts in MSG (1979, thank you very much), and I did catch him at the Spectrum during the Born in the USA tour. We did drive up his driveway once at his Colts Neck house, and quickly slammed into reverse when we heard dogs barking as we approached. That is not the same as seeing him play at a local watering hole, or bumping into him at a bar mitvah at the American Hotel. When I told people I was from Freehold, but never met Bruce, you could see the disappointment in their eyes, and consequently, the shame in mine. I had let them down.
All these memories and feelings came rushing back when I heard the news that Clarence Clemons passed away this weekend. I did meet Clarence once, in a little bar in Rumson, NJ. He was a real celebrity to me, not a superhero illusion. He was awfully likable, even while he flirted with my girlfriend. His death made me think about his haunting sax solo in Jungleland, the times jumping up and down and damaging the floors in Paper Mill apartments to Rosalita playing at volume setting 11, but also the emasculating sound of him playing the tambourine or maracas or whatever it was in many a song. He was the Big Man, and yet sometimes he had to stand there and pretend he was part of the song if the sax wasn’t required.
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowin’
I took a wrong turn and I just kept goin’
I flipped through my guitar song book yesterday, a gift from my friend Tim a few years back. Sure enough, the chords and lyrics to Hungry Heart were in there. I had passed over this song many times in the book. On this day, for the first time, it looked interesting and easy to play:
C Am7 Dm7 G7sus
I can play Hungry Heart, and so I did. It sounded pretty good, too.
I have always been at peace with my central Jersey roots. Now I have made my peace with this Bruce and this song. Now rest in peace, Big Man. You will be missed. Thanks for the soundtrack.
(For the record, not much of a Bon Jovi fan, and I have never bumped into him at the shore)
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
It has among the lowest tax burdens of any major country: fewer than 2 percent of the people pay any taxes. Government is limited, so that burdensome regulations never kill jobs.
This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled.
The budget priority is a strong military, the nation’s most respected institution. When generals decide on a policy for, say, Afghanistan, politicians defer to them. Citizens are deeply patriotic, and nobody burns flags.
So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan.
Nicholas Kristof wrote this recently to illustrate an international example of what the GOP hopes to bring to the U.S. It’s scary to imagine, mostly because it rings true. Listen up, Michelle Bachmann – pretty sure Pakistan doesn’t have an Environmental Protection Agency, either. Would you like a tall glass of water from their municipal supply?
We love to compare the U.S. to other countries when it suits our agenda. To bring urgency to the national debt and the budget deficit, we are Greece. We never want to look to that failed Mediterranean nation state for guidance, unless we are looking for a heart healthy diet or a place to rest for 10 days after one full week of a grueling presidential campaign schedule (how’d that work out, Newt?). To support the expansion of nuclear power, we embrace the fine example of the Europeans. Now that Germany has announced that they will close all nuclear plants by 2013, we should never follow their lead. To illustrate how today’s foreign policy appeases and coddles our enemies, we are France in the 1930s, but when it comes to their leadership on digital medical records (every citizen’s medical records are digitized, creating huge savings and health care delivery efficiencies), we wish we were France in the 21st century.
When it comes to our health care system, we are like Cambodia, where only those with money can get high quality care and the state has no role. God forbid we become Canada, according to the Right. Wait a minute – Michelle Bachmann thinks we should be more like Canada when it comes to their fiscal prudence. She tweeted that Canada has a lower unemployment and had NO government stimulus. She was half right – Canada has a lower unemployment rate; however, it is false that Canada used no government stimulus money to jump start the economy of the Great White North. When you factor in the smaller national population and the currency conversion rate for a better comparison in real terms, they spent billions. Yes, they did not spend as much as the US, but their economic woes were not as dire, partly because their financial regulations are so strict, and the impact of the downturn was minimized. Maybe Michelle should have thought that one through.
Mitt Romney rails against Obama’s “European style” economic agenda, so called by Romney because he hopes it will conjure feelings of socialism and state-dependency, things that are anathema to the American spirit of self-reliance and rugged individualism. Romney said in his campaign announcement speech:
“When the Europeans were in trouble economically, they spent more money and they borrowed more money. That’s just what he did. He has been awfully European. You know what? European policies don’t work there. They sure as heck aren’t going to work here.”
Actually, Mitt, you are half right, just like Ms. Bachmann. You are correct; things did get worse. In Europe, however, they did the opposite of what you claim they did. They didn’t spend more; they slashed spending below the bone to the point of pain.
The current GOP austerity plan closely resembles what the Europeans are doing today (Ireland, England), but that comparison will not be made, at least not by the GOP or Mitt (are they mutually exclusive categories?). Austerity seems to be the flavor of the month in Europe, and so far, it’s been an abject failure in creating jobs or stimulating business.
We don’t want to organize our economy like the Chinese, with excessive government control and stagnant wages for the working class. Tim Pawlenty just envies the positive gross domestic product rates that such tactics have created. If you listen to Rick Santorum (and why would you?), we don’t even want to be like ourselves, unless we’re talking pre-1965 America.
There is a country whose history and policies can support any position we choose, and I laugh (and cry) when the same country is simultaneously an example of what is right and what is wrong.
Just like us.
Monday, June 20, 2011
I had the great fortune to be invited to attend Friday’s second round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in nearby Bethesda, MD. I had been to Congressional once before almost 15 years ago. Cherie and I were guests at a lavish wedding reception, complete with Congressional C.C. china settings and a 10 piece band. I remember standing out on the stone portico that evening overlooking the 10th hole, and hearing my friend Steve King’s philosophical words, “Today we’re guests. If we were to show up here tomorrow, they’d have our asses arrested.” That is exactly how I felt as I trampled the golf course with my buddy Matt for 9 hours. I did not belong. Fortunately, I was not at risk for being arrested, either, unless I sneezed during a backswing or innocently picked up a stray golf ball (“Hey, does this belong to anyone?”). I was safe for the day, and we made the most of it.
Television coverage of the event did not provide viewers with the full flavor of the day. Sights beyond the grass, the little white ball and the player’s colorful fashions were largely ignored. While golf was the main attraction, there were a number of other things to see, hear and experience, that perhaps the TV audience wouldn’t find as interesting as I did. I will do my best to share those with you, and hope that you find them somewhat interesting, or at least more interesting than watching golf on TV.
What am I missing?
The difference with watching golf live and being there is that while on the grounds, you are only watching one group play at a time on one hole. Often, you are only seeing one of their shots on the hole, either the tee shot, the approach, or the putts on the green, depending on the size of the entourage following and the length of the hole. There are 18 holes in play simultaneously on a Friday afternoon. At best, you are missing 94% of what is happening on the course at any one time. If you want to go to a golf tournament, prepare to be patient and prepare to relax. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to manage the disappointment when you are watching one hole and a crowd roar erupts at another.
I found that the instances of hearing the shout, “You da man!” increased proportionally as the day got longer and as Miller Lite sales eclipsed Heineken sales for the day. I also found that post-putt cries of “It’s in the hole!” were usually coming from individuals who were not alive when Bill Murray first made the phrase famous in Caddyshack. Hey, punk, I was shouting “It’s in the hole” at golfers before you were born, so shut up and get your own catch phrase.
It’s Not Fenway
Players no longer use wooden clubs, so isn’t it time to upgrade the scoreboards at these venues from the manual billboards with removable names and numbers to a jumbo HD screen with commercial messages running along the scroll? Let’s get with the times.
Cell phones and PDAs of any kind were banned from the course (although I did see approximately 4-5 people with contraband phones in use). It was nice to be disconnected for the day, but it was even more pleasant that everyone around me was disconnected from the outside world. There is nothing more frustrating at a live sporting event than seeing someone with their face buried in their phone while the action happens around them.
“It’s gotta be the shoes.”
I walked about 5 miles during the course of the day. Watching golf in person is an athletic event in and of itself. The course is not flat. There are hills and uneven terrain. To all those wearing flip-flops or high heels: the U.S. Open is not the Kentucky Derby. Dress for walking next time. My feet hurt just looking at you.
Welcome, Young and Old
While there were very few children under 7 (there were some), the age range of the spectators was impressive. I will chalk it up to the Tiger Effect. The man has his shortcomings, but he sure did make the sport accessible to a mass audience. Competitive golf now attracts an incredibly wide range of generations and income brackets.
I saw dozens of people wearing Boston Bruins hockey jerseys. Now, since the Bruins had just won the Cup, I could understand that, but I do wonder how many of those fans would have worn the jersey anyway as an homage to Happy Gilmore, failed hockey player turned golf sensation. I did not see anyone with a hook for a hand like Gilmore’s coach and inspiration, Chubbs Peterson, so maybe it was just about the Stanley Cup.
Even the golfers who sucked were great.
The Rory Story
I find it ironic that Rory McIlroy has a name so close to the fictional hero of Tin Cup, Roy MacAvoy, but regardless – it did take something out of watching the other groups play knowing that by midday Friday, second place was the only prize available. We watched Rory for a little while, but if you wanted to really see the players up close, you had to go to where the crowds were not. It was Rory’s group, Mickelson’s group, and the other guys. We mostly followed the other guys.
The obsession in the sporting world to anoint Rory as the Next Big Thing should be scary for the U.S. Open champion. Pumping up a rising star is the second most popular activity of the press. First is tearing someone down. Looks like the talking heads are finished with Tiger, and now it’s time for fresh meat. Rory, keep your eye on the little white ball.
You don’t want to get arrested. You belong.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
How Today's Conservatism Lost Touch with Reality
By Fareed Zakaria
"Conservatism is true." That's what George Will told me when I interviewed him as an eager student many years ago. His formulation might have been a touch arrogant, but Will's basic point was intelligent. Conservatism, he explained, was rooted in reality. Unlike the abstract theories of Marxism and socialism, it started not from an imagined society but from the world as it actually exists. From Aristotle to Edmund Burke, the greatest conservative thinkers have said that to change societies, one must understand them, accept them as they are and help them evolve.
Watching this election campaign, one wonders what has happened to that tradition. Conservatives now espouse ideas drawn from abstract principles with little regard to the realities of America's present or past. This is a tragedy, because conservatism has an important role to play in modernizing the U.S.
Consider the debates over the economy. The Republican prescription is to cut taxes and slash government spending — then things will bounce back. Now, I would like to see lower rates in the context of tax simplification and reform, but what is the evidence that tax cuts are the best path to revive the U.S. economy? Taxes — federal and state combined — as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest level since 1950. The U.S. is among the lowest taxed of the big industrial economies. So the case that America is grinding to a halt because of high taxation is not based on facts but is simply a theoretical assertion. The rich countries that are in the best shape right now, with strong growth and low unemployment, are ones like Germany and Denmark, neither one characterized by low taxes.
Many Republican businessmen have told me that the Obama Administration is the most hostile to business in 50 years. Really? More than that of Richard Nixon, who presided over tax rates that reached 70%, regulations that spanned whole industries, and who actually instituted price and wage controls?
In fact, right now any discussion of government involvement in the economy — even to build vital infrastructure — is impossible because it is a cardinal tenet of the new conservatism that such involvement is always and forever bad. Meanwhile, across the globe, the world's fastest-growing economy, China, has managed to use government involvement to create growth and jobs for three decades. From Singapore to South Korea to Germany to Canada, evidence abounds that some strategic actions by the government can act as catalysts for free-market growth.
Of course, American history suggests that as well. In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the U.S. government made massive investments in science and technology, in state universities and in infant industries. It built infrastructure that was the envy of the rest of the world. Those investments triggered two generations of economic growth and put the U.S. on top of the world of technology and innovation.
But that history has been forgotten. When considering health care, for example, Republicans confidently assert that their ideas will lower costs, when we simply do not have much evidence for this. What we do know is that of the world's richest countries, the U.S. has by far the greatest involvement of free markets and the private sector in health care. It also consumes the largest share of GDP, with no significant gains in health on any measurable outcome. We need more market mechanisms to cut medical costs, but Republicans don't bother to study existing health care systems anywhere else in the world. They resemble the old Marxists, who refused to look around at actual experience. "I know it works in practice," the old saw goes, "but does it work in theory?"
Conservatives used to be the ones with heads firmly based in reality. Their reforms were powerful because they used the market, streamlined government and empowered individuals. Their effects were large-scale and important: think of the reform of the tax code in the 1980s, for example, which was spearheaded by conservatives. Today conservatives shy away from the sensible ideas of the Bowles-Simpson commission on deficit reduction because those ideas are too deeply rooted in, well, reality. Does anyone think we are really going to get federal spending to the level it was at under Calvin Coolidge, as Paul Ryan's plan assumes? Does anyone think we will deport 11 million people?
We need conservative ideas to modernize the U.S. economy and reform American government. But what we have instead are policies that don't reform but just cut and starve government — a strategy that pays little attention to history or best practices from around the world and is based instead on a theory. It turns out that conservatives are the woolly-headed professors after all.
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2077943,00.html#ixzz1Pg42zs5h
Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Today I offer you a mixed bag of political, social and sports related observations and commentary. I guess this is my long form version of tweeting:
If his name were Mullins or Smith instead of Weiner, would this have been as big a story for as long? When a 4th grader can write the jokes, your days in office are numbered. (He certainly gave new meaning to the phrase “Member of Congress”, but I digress). Congratulations to Sen. David Vitter, who survived his scandal visiting prostitutes while a married man. Good thing he didn't tweet your junk, and instead chose to share it with others for money. Saved his job.
Who Will Wash the Invisible Hand?
It is a sad day when defunding and eliminating the EPA, as Michelle Bachmann calmly proposed during the CNN debate on Monday, isn’t viewed as radical and a recipe for a health disaster in America. Third World nations do not have independent oversight over public air, water and land usage, and she must view this as a positive. Market forces will not reduce toxins in the air; the profit motive will not encourage protection of the drinking supply by businesses; individual citizens cannot police the dumping of pollutants into waterways hundreds of miles away from their homes. By most any measure, our nation is cleaner and more livable since Nixon created the EPA in the 1970s. We don't need to recreate 1776 in every way. Some progress is good.
Southern Strategy Redux
According to a poll released today, Obama beats Romney in a head-to-head matchup in every part of the U.S., except the South. Hmmm, what is unique about the South? It was the last region to accept racial equality (some would argue within view of all the Confederate flags that it still hasn’t), and the states in the region consistently rank dead last in the quality of public education. This is the region producing the most opposition to the current President. Draw your own conclusions.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
At the same point in Reagan’s first term, Republican leadership was floating names of possible candidates to challenge the incumbent in the 1984 primaries. Howard Baker was being openly talked about as a viable alternative to the President who was presiding, after 2+ years in office, over an economy suffering with over 10% unemployment. This was largely forgotten after November 1984. Today’s headlines will be largely forgotten by November 2012. The difference is that the Democrats worked with Reagan. The current Congress learned that lesson, and will deny the economy improvement so Obama can't claim that it is Morning in America.
Cup Runeth Over
I thought that cities rioted after winning a championship. When did cities start to burn cars and loot after losing a championship? I wonder if these kinds of tragedies happened during the days of Prohibition…
I Was For It Before I Was Against It
On June 1st, Speaker of the House John Boehner said that Obama had met the legal requirements of the War Powers Act. Two weeks later, Boehner says Obama has not the legal requirements. The War Powers Act has been a lightning rod for both parties ever since it was enacted, with each side accusing the opposite side of circumventing or abusing its authority. I will say that it doesn’t help to have Obama state that what the US is doing in Libya doesn’t amount to “hostilities”. When a bomb lands on you, I think that meets the legal definition of “hostilities”. That said, renowned pacifist John McCain asked his colleagues in the Senate, “If this were a Republican President, would you be acting the same way?” That, I believe, is a rhetorical question.
I read that Al-Qaida has a new leader. His confirmation process looks challenging, however; seems he didn’t pay employer taxes for his in-cave nanny from 1998-2003.
I might be the last one to accept that the GOP wants the country to fail, but when they even reject tax cuts, I have no choice but to accept that their strategy for the next 18 months is to insure no economic recovery will derail their narrative that Obama is destroying America. The GOP has refused to consider a temporary payroll tax cut in order to provide some stimulus. How can they plausibly argue that government is ineffective if they allow government to be effective? Perhaps that was the genius of George Bush.
I Choose Option 2
In the political bible of the Far Right conservative movement, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand writes, "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." Wow. Is this rugged individualism and self-reliance, or greedy narcissism wrapped in isolationism?
FDR, hero of liberals and others everywhere said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Is this social engineering through government sponsored redistribution of wealth, or the best way to insure the long term social and economic stability of a nation that becomes greater than the sum of its parts?
UFC Combatant Wanted: Must Have Own Skates
After watching the Stanley Cup Finals, it is impossible for me to imagine the Washington Capitals winning the Cup with their current roster. Boston boosted about 12 ‘gritty’ players who could combine that grit with skillful play. The Caps have about 4 gritty players. Finesse will not win the Cup in the modern era of the NHL, and the Caps need an overhaul.
During the MTV Movie Awards, Justin Timberlake and Milo Kunis thought this was funny (sorry, couldn't get the video loaded but here's a link to see it):
Timberlake grabs Kunis breasts and holds on. Kunis grabs Timberlake's crotch and holds on. This show was targeted at teens and pre-teens. Go ahead and call me a prude, but when Bill Maher thinks this act is offensive, it must be pretty bad. This type of nationally televised behavior is my competition while I try to instill wholesome values in my children.
I’m not laughing, and you shouldn’t either.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
This is for all of my HTAC friends (and you know who you are), as well as any others interested in the theater, or laughing out loud. I have copied some brief snippets from David Sedaris, humorist extraordinaire, from his collection of short stories and essays, Holidays On Ice. I have no interest in being sued for transcribing his hilarious text here on this post, so I will state categorically that my sole intention in reprinting these excerpts is to drive sales of Mr. Sedaris’ books and related products. I expect and anticipate no personal financial gain.
In the following excerpts, Sedaris is reviewing local elementary school plays in the style of a snobby, unforgiving New York Times theater critic, and the results are nothing short of solid gold:
“The approach of Christmas signifies three things: Bad movies, unforgiveable television, and even worse theater. I’m talking bone-crushing theater, the type of our ancient ancestors used to oppress their enemies before the invention of the stretching rack. We’re talking torture on par with the Scottsfield Dinner Theater’s 1994 revival of Come Blow Your Horn, a production that violated every tenet of the Human Rights Accord. To those of you who enjoy the comfort of a nice set of thumbscrews, allow me to recommend any of the crucifying holiday plays and pageants currently eliciting screams of mercy from within the confines of our local elementary and middle schools…
“The Story of the First Christmas” is an overrated clunker of a holiday pageant, best left to those looking to cure their chronic insomnia. Although the program listed no director, the apathetic staging suggested the limp, partially paralyzed hand of Sister Mary Elizabeth Bronson, who should have been excommunicated after last season’s disastrous Thanksgiving program…
“In the role of Mary, six year old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin. A cloying, preening stage presence, her performance seemed based on nothing but an annoying proclivity toward lifting her skirt and, on rare occasions, opening her eyes. As Joseph, second grade student Douglas Trazzare needed to be reminded that, although his character did not technically impregnate the virgin mother, he should behave as though he were capable of doing so.”
“Once again the sadists at the Jane Snow-Hernandez Middle School have taken up their burring pokers in an attempt to prod “A Christmas Carol” into some form of submission. I might have overlooked the shoddy production values and dry, leaden pacing, but these are sixth graders we are talking about and they should have known better…
“Most of the blame goes to the director, eleven year old Becky Michaels, who seems to have picked up her staging secrets from the school’s crossing guard. She tends to clump her actors, moving them only in groups of five or more. A strong proponent of racially mixed casting, Michaels gives us a black Tiny Tim, leaving the audience to wonder, “What, is this kid adopted?” It’s a distracting move, pointless and wrongheaded.
“The set was not without its charm but Jodi Lennon’s abysmal costumes should hopefully mark the end of a short and unremarkable career. I was gagging from the smell of spray-painted sneakers and if I see one more top hat made from an oatmeal canister, I swear I’m going to pull out a gun.”
And finally, part of his analysis of the production, “A Reindeer’s Gift”:
“By the time the boy returns the reindeer (played by a lumbering, disobedient Great Dane the program lists as “Marmaduke II”) to Santa’s custody, we no longer care whether the animal lives or dies. I was just happy he was hustled off stage before his digestive system could process and void the eighteen pounds of popcorn it took to keep the great beast from wandering off before his cue…
“The only bright spot of the entire evening was the presence of Kevin “Tubby” Matchwell, the eleven year old porker who tackled the role of Santa with beguiling authenticity. The false beard tended to muffled his speech, but they could hear his chafing thighs all the way to the North Pole. Still, though, the overwrought production tended to mirror the typical holiday meal in that even the Butterball can’t save the day when it’s packed with too much stuffing.”
Special shout out to my sister for bringing this material to my attention.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I am closing in on the end of Obama’s Wars, the Bob Woodward account of the strategic review of Afghanistan strategy that took place in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. The book exposes for me how little we comprehend the complexities and interdependencies of geopolitical actions and decisions, and how one dimensional our TV and editorial debates can be. I would recommend the book (or any of Woodward’s books for that matter) to anyone who loves reading the newspaper and recognizes the names Mullins, McCrystal, Petraeus, and Gates. If you fall into those two groups, visit your local library and borrow a copy.
As a public service, here are some of my takeaways:
1. Stakeholders leak policy positions to political pundits to gain strategic advantage. Everyone in the White House organization and the Pentagon organization has an agenda, and these folks, with the best of intentions in many cases, will do whatever it takes to imprint their ideas on American foreign and military policy. One way in which these individuals accomplish this goal is to leak selected pieces of information to the Washington punditry. These pundits, puppets actually, print or report the one-sided content of internal discussions (on background, of course) in order to corner the President or other high level officials into making political decisions instead of decisions that may be more in line with the best interests of our country. Drive the news cycle and force your policy competitor to respond to the public to your slanted question. My healthy skepticism of the opinion press goes up geometrically with every passing page.
2. Pakistan can help the U.S., but must not be seen as helping the U.S. If the Pakistani government is viewed within its borders as helping the U.S. to fight terrorists inside the country, they risk being characterized as a U.S. puppet, and that is a recipe for inviting more jihadists into their space. Any Pakistani support must be keep low key, because that is in Pakistan’s vital interests. That is not to say that the Pakistani government isn’t playing both sides in this fight – they are. It is more an admission that to succeed in the region, we must take into account the strategic outlook of Pakistani leadership. We need each other to achieve our different objectives.
3. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are linked but not mutually dependent. If the Taliban regains control of Afghanistan, it is not a certainty that Al-Qaeda would be welcomed back with open arms to use the country as a sanctuary. Remember, the Taliban was ousted for playing nice with Al-Qaeda, so they may not be as accommodating this time. They don’t have to be. The Taliban is happy to accept Al-Qaeda’s help in fighting the infidels, but that might be the extent of their alliance right now. As a 3a, the Taliban is not a monolithic organization. They have their own internal factions and power centers struggling for dominance. Who is really in charge?
4. A timeline to withdraw troops is not an admission of surrender. Without a timeline, Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan would have no incentive to do anything to stabilize his own country. Karzai loves having the U.S. in Afghanistan, because it provides him protection to continue his corrupt style of governing. His bold words of rebuke to the U.S. after any bombing raids gone wrong are required for Afghan consumption. Bottom line, without a deadline, Karzai would just continue to ask for more help from us, and pound away at us in the world press as invaders.
5. Civilian leadership of the military in this country is a critical Constitutional check and balance. What becomes clear in the book is the momentum that military conflicts can gain without constant oversight and review. The military is built to fight, and they are very good at it. The military is trained to always say they can do anything, and they can win at all times. It is up to the civilian leadership to channel that instinct, and control that instinct, so that national interests are met. Left with any ambiguity, the military will redefine the mission to match their own comfort zone.
6. The mistrust between India and Pakistan plays an enormous role in the thinking of regional leaders. Americans can probably never fully grasp how that dynamic between these two nuclear powers affects every decision in Afghanistan and Asia, but it does. The paranoia these two nations feel about each other cannot be underestimated, and the impact of that paranoia on every action/reaction by the U.S. cannot be underestimated.
7. Biden is a very smart guy, and he’s been involved in international affairs for almost 40 years. I have supported him in the past, but after reading this book, God help us if he becomes President. Maybe he is playing the role Obama has asked of him, but does not come across well in the book.
What is clear from the account is that the art and science of war is a 3 dimensional chess match, and the list of things we don’t know when it comes to evaluating Afghan strategy could fill another book (or two). The number of variables that could turn the war in our favor, or destroy all of our progress to date, is infinite and mostly out of our control. Ultimately, everyone is making their best guess, and I hope they are right.
My final takeaway from the book could apply to many of the political debates I have had over the past several years. Very smart, very engaged, and very well informed individuals could look at the exact same set of facts and reach different conclusions. That doesn’t mean that I am not always right, though.
Monday, June 13, 2011
The long NHL season is coming to a close soon. Game 6 for the Stanley Cup Finals is being played tonight in Boston, with the Canucks looking to close out the series on enemy ice. It’s been a bloody battle, and the momentum shifts have made this a must-watch series for true fans of the game. Sadly, we are approaching the end of the series, but the outcome may not be decided this evening. I don’t know what will happen, but I can make one prediction – this series is going the distance. Game 7 will be Wednesday night from Vancouver, and the Sedin twins will drink the Cup.
I will not be watching the must-watch game live tonight. I will record it so I can watch the CNN GOP candidate debate live from Manchester, NH. The nomination contest will also be a bloody battle, with momentum shifts that will make this a must-watch series for true fans of the game. I don’t know what will happen during this pre-season match up tonight, but I can make predictions for each contestant:
Newt Gingrich will be ignored by the field. He is “dead man walking” in this campaign, and any lame attempt by Newt to blame his troubles on the pesky media bias of reporting factual information about his staff implosion will be brushed off with pity. Worse than that, his invisible performance tonight might even negatively impact his book and DVD sales.
Michelle Bachmann will not say anything substantive, and that will be a victory for her since expectations of coherence are so low. I expect a ‘liberal’ use of the words “constitutional”, “liberty”, “Obamacare”, and “freedom”, and I also expect the text of a future SNL skit to roll out of her mouth at some point.
Rick Santorum will not be asked if he considers himself the Sam Brownback of the 2012 nominating season. Brownback, as you all recall, was the 2008 staunch religious conservative driven to obscurity by the cruel winds of electoral politics (translation: no one voted for him). This will be Rick Santorum by mid-December 2011.
Tim Pawlenty will raise the stakes for all the contestants with his plan to reducing revenue by $11.6 trillion over the next 10 years through irresponsible tax cuts that he fantasizes will generate growth so profound that the Fed would never allow it to occur. He is practically double dog daring another candidate to one-up his proposal. Which candidate will profess his love for America by vowing to destroy it? Pawlenty will have visions of grandeur, pretend he is alone on stage with Romney, and attack him exclusively. If you want to make a name for yourself, pick on the lead dog.
Herman Cain will not (but should be) be asked to defend his statement this week that he would only hire Muslims into his administration if they sign a loyalty oath to the Constitution. That would be fun to hear, since the Constitution explicitly bans religious tests as a condition of serving within the U.S. government. Article VI, paragraph 3 states “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” By signing the oath to the Constitution, the signer would be violating the Constitution. Discuss.
Mr. Cain will definitely be asked about his statement that he would not sign any bill more than 3 pages long. He did not clarify the paper or font size of those pages, or define the width of the margins for each page. As any elementary student knows, the smaller the font size, the fewer the pages. Hopefully the questioner will point out that the Constitution is more than 3 pages (about 12 pages), and would not pass his new test. I would go further – unless you want the courts to decide the enforcement and enactment details of every law, you’ll need some bills to provide a little more detail than 3 pages will cover. If this is what passes for innovative thinking, Cain should stick with coming up with new places to hide more cheese on a pizza.
I predict that Gary Johnson will be ignored again. See, I am already ignoring him.
Ron Paul will not say anything new that he hasn’t said a hundred times already. If knowing where a candidate stands on the issues is important to you, Ron Paul is your guy. He hasn’t changed much in 30 years.
Mitt Romney will focus all his rhetoric on the President. He will attempt to rise above the fray and play the role of presumptive nominee. History is on his side. The Republicans love to nominate their past losers to the top of the ticket in future years (see Nixon (lost to Kennedy), Reagan (lost nomination to Ford), HW Bush (lost nomination to Reagan), and McCain (lost nomination to W)). George W was the exception, but you could argue that he was the make-up selection for his dad losing to Clinton.
I hope Romney is asked about the Vermont law signed May 26th that establishes a single payer system in Vermont effective 2014. As a supporter of state specific health care solutions, he should be on board, right? States rights! We will not hear, but I’d like to hear a discussion around the topic of deregulation – candidates, which is more costly to business and creates greater ‘uncertainty’ - 50 different state health plans or one unified national plan?
I predict that thousands of college students will become dangerously intoxicated playing the Romney drinking game (take a shot every time Romney uses the words “strong” or “strength”).
No one will be asked why they all support the economic policy of reducing taxes on the wealthy in the hope that this approach will actually increase revenue and create jobs, when the exact opposite occurred from 2001 through 2008. No one will be asked why they support policies that will increase unemployment in the short term (the Republican ‘European style’ austerity plans) with the hope that employment will increase in the long term. No one will be asked what specific policies they will push to encourage or incent businesses to spend the cash they are sitting on already (you know, the business cash reserves that have accumulated in spite of Obama being so ‘anti-business’).
I cannot predict whether or not there will be any Weiner questions, but I do predict that someone will make a poor attempt at Weiner humor. (Shouldn’t Schwarzenegger send Weiner a thank you card for getting him off the front pages?)
In the NBA, we have a winner, and thankfully it is the good guys from Dallas instead of those bad boys from South Beach. The long season of basketball is over, the NHL season will be over soon, but the political season hasn’t even opened the regular season. That happens in Iowa next January. It will be April before we have a nominee, and November before we know if he/she is a real winner.
It’s a long season.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
As an HR professional, I sometimes see articles that are especially relevant for our times. This one caught my eye, and we should all be educated on this serious workplace issue, especially before tonight’s Game 5:
Addressing Employee Behavior Changes
Everyone has a bad day at the office occasionally. Day to day work can admittedly be a grind at times, and some office environments can be highly competitive. Yet when an employee suddenly begins to have a lot of bad days, or he or she displays behavior that seems odd or even alarming, it’s time for HR to take action, experts say.
Professor Lane Violation, author of the new book (Rebound: Bouncing Back from a Loss) on identifying and addressing dramatic employee behavior changes, has seen some erratic employee actions over the years, and he detailed the warning signs for attendees at the NBA Cares Conference in Dallas, TX this week.
“If you have an employee who suddenly shrinks from the moment, or in clutch situations, doesn’t demand the ball, you could have an employee on your hands with personal issues,” he declared. Violation said that it is critical to notice employees who are normally active in the workplace who towards the end of the work day tend to stand in the corner, waiting for things to happen.
“If one of your co-workers can’t adjust to the pressures of their responsibilities, the whole team loses. Other team members may be inclined to avoid that person, and defer to others when the clock starts to run out, but long-term, you could be hurting both the individual and the team.”
It is a common misconception that shying away from the pressure and disappearing when the employee is needed most happens to average employees often. “It is the superstar in your midst that is the most likely candidate to choke when the expectations rise. In those moments, he becomes withdrawn and let’s others carry the load. It’s not fair, and left untreated, everyone’s performance will suffer. It’s only a matter of time before business revenues are impacted, too.”
Violation listed the consequences of not dealing with one of these usually great employees when he visibly checks out on the job.
“It’s a safety issue. If one employee will not or cannot participate fully at work, this could be a sign that they will be a danger to themselves or others in the future. In good conscience, the co-workers should take it upon themselves to notify HR, or the authorities if the situation warrants.”
Recent history backs up this concern for an employee who stands idly by while his teammates pick up all the slack. In the U.S. Senate report about the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas on Nov. 5. 2009, the assailant was described as “a ticking time bomb” and that his sometimes erratic behavior had been ignored by others.
“Passing the ball too quickly, not facing the basket, biting fingernails, avoiding contact in the lane – these can all be signs of a larger problem in the future,” said Ima Chucker, Cleveland-based workplace psychologist, and author of the best seller, Taking Your Talents Elsewhere: Why Your Former Employer May Secretly Be Happy You Quit.
So how can a co-worker offer help to the disengaged employee without being seen as a threat? Violation recommends professional interventions, such as the resources of the employer EAP (Employee Assistance Program). “Unless you think you can get the job done with one team member standing practically on the sidelines while deadlines to perform come and go, you are going to have to take steps to help the person,” Violation said. “Hoping that a replacement worker will rise to the occasion is too big a risk. You have to coax your best to act that way under pressure.”
Don't assume an employee has “turned bad” just because they have a sudden change in behavior, said Drew Afoul, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based employment attorney. “He may have a problem that is legally protected.”
“Sometimes, these situations involve a medical issue or disability,” Afoul argued. “In those instances, after any immediate safety risk is addressed—and that includes the safety of the employee acting strangely—management should ensure that it properly guards any medical information that has been shared on Twitter or otherwise, and should also watch for any issues that may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or similar state statutes.”
Employees should refrain from making such situations a matter for gossip. Medical privacy should be respected, although that can sometimes be difficult if not impossible. “The guy is standing there while everyone else is running around sweating, competing, doing whatever it takes to win. It’s impossible not to notice that something is wrong with that guy,“ said a co-worker of a certain employee who suffered from shrinkage in big moments at work. “I can’t give him the ball ‘cause he’s not looking for the ball.”
“When that happens, I ignore him and try to do everything myself. Hopefully, that will be enough.”
Professor Violation does not believe that a change of scenery is always the answer. “Just allowing the employee to relocate to, say, South Beach will not solve the underlying problem. The damage usually runs deeper than even a 5 year beach vacation can fix.”
“If you aren’t comfortable approaching a co-worker, express your concerns with your supervisor or someone in human resources,” Afoul said. “Before it’s too late, and the final buzzer sounds.”
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Hope and Change.
This is what we were promised. Frankly, we deserved it for our loyalty. After years of enduring failure, we could wait no longer. Things were not headed in the right direction, and no amount of positive press conferences or staff upgrades could change that fact. 2005, 2006, 2007 were disastrous, and leadership was making one bad decision after another. The future was slipping away, and we were being told to wait. “Stay the course” sounded like a recipe for years of futility.
Change was needed, so we went looking for hope. Finally, we drafted a young, can’t miss prospect, showered him with money, and expected him to perform beyond his years. He said all the right things. He performed well under pressure, albeit on a smaller stage. He kept the opposition off balance, and impressed crowds wherever he went. Some said that he was unproven; that he would wilt under the bright lights; that he was a flash in the pan, a celebrity without a resume; but we had hope. We would ride this phenom to the top.
When he finally arrived to lead us to the promised land, our level of anticipation was palpable. Change was here, and now the future was filled with infinite possibilities. The media swooned and covered his every move. We thought we were suddenly winners. We developed swagger overnight. Those were heady days in DC.
Then, as quickly as expectations rose, the bottom fell out. Just our luck. Our savior broke down and could no longer deliver as advertised. Some of the youth that supported him the most, the ones that bought hats and t-shirts with his name on it, cried. Most just shrugged, resigned to losing again. It looked as if we would have to wait a little longer for hope and change to materialize in Washington. Maybe it would never come.
Fortunately, there is good news on the horizon. Slowly and methodically, he is heeding the advice of his handlers, taking his time (some might say ‘dithering’), and he is getting better. He is retooling his game. He is working on his mechanics, fine tuning his stuff. By next April, he should be ready to again dazzle the crowds and confound the competition. 2012 is looking again like it will be an all-star season. No one will be able to touch him, and I for one will cheer for him and mock the competition all year long. By next November, we will look back without remembering these sad days of 2011.
Hurry back, Steven Strasburg. One year ago today, June 8, 2010, I was at Nationals Park to witness you strike out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in 7 innings during your major league debut. You represent the hope and change that we Nationals fans desperately need. Hurry back, before the crowds give up hope.
It’s the first anniversary of Stras-mas. Happy Stras-mas to all, and to all a good night.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
In 2011, Hollywood will be releasing a record of 27 sequels, the most in a single year in history. This includes Part IVs of Mission: Impossible and Pirates of the Caribbean; this includes 5 fifth sequels, like X-Men V; this includes 2 seventh sequels, like Planet of the Apes; and this includes 1 eighth sequel starring Harry Potter. It seems that no one like a sequel better than Hollywood, although our political ruling class enjoys re-running the same tired scandal script every few weeks.
The plot is always the same. Boy meets girl, boy wins an election, boy becomes drunk with power, boy suffers from ‘personal failings’, public scours Internet for lewd pictures of the women who tempted the weak politician. There are only 8 Harry Potter movies, but this political sex scandal movie has been retold hundreds of times. From Sally Hemings to Fannie Fox to Donna Rice to Monica, boys have been behaving badly for centuries in America, and Rep. Anthony Weiner’s most recent personal travails represent a shoddy remake of a storyline that should have run its course long ago.
Rep. Weiner’s troubles are damaging to be sure, but recent sequels to this age-old story have been much more salacious and frankly, much worse. At least Weiner didn’t father a child with his housekeeper and hide the facts for 10 years while allowing his wife to publicly defend him against charges that were actually true (like Arnold). At least Weiner didn’t hire prostitutes to satisfy his ‘failings’ (like Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Congressman David Vitter). At least Weiner didn’t solicit gay sex in a public restroom, and then blame the entire affair on his “wide stance” and involuntarily habit of tapping his foot under the stall wall (like Sen. Larry Craig). At least Weiner didn’t leave the country, and lie about his whereabouts for several days in order to be with his Argentinean soul mate (like Gov. Mark Sanford). At least Weiner didn’t cheat on his wife once she got sick (like current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and past presidential candidate Edwards), and at least he didn’t pay hush money to cover up the affair and the existence of the love child (Edwards).
At least Weiner’s indiscretion did not involve a cigar or lying during a disposition (like Bill). At least Weiner didn’t pretend to be someone else while trolling Craigslist for dates (like Rep. Chris Lee). At least Weiner didn’t commit adultery and pay off the family to keep things quiet (like Sen. John Ensign). At least Weiner didn’t go on public dates with his mistress while his wife was still living under his roof (like Mayor Giuliani). At least Weiner didn’t ask his wife to stand next to him at the podium while he confessed to a gay love affair (like Gov. Jim McGreevey). In fact, given the history of this sordid franchise, Weiner-gate is rated G in comparison…OK, PG-13.
His conduct, without question, is embarrassing and demeans the office he holds, not to mention his marital vows. At least Weiner was frank with the public after only a day or two (get it – ‘weiner’ and ‘frank’ in the same sentence? Clever.). At least Weiner never demagogued about family values, or used his religious faith to protect himself from reproach. At least this remake might be over quickly, before the empty popcorn bucket hits the floor. That would be a pleasant and welcome surprise.
Someday, Stallone will give up on the Rambo and the Rocky franchises, and Pixar will stop making Toy Story movies. Can’t we give up on these sex scandal sequels in American politics? I guess we won’t, as long as there is still an audience and willing cast members (and I use the word ‘members’, pun intended).
This season truly represents The Weiner of Our Discontent.