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Showing posts from July, 2015

Throwing Softballs

For the past two decades, MSNBC has played off Fox News with a decidedly liberal format.  Yes, they've had Joe Scarborough ever since 2003, but he was often critical of his fellow Republicans as well, jibing them for their slip-ups and pitfalls.  Unfortunately, he has become every bit as dogmatic as his conservative brethren in recent years, especially now that he contemplates running for Marco Rubio's vacated Senate seat.  For that matter, so has MSNBC.  Watching Chris Matthews become increasingly conservative in his opinions is a very sad indicator of this network, which has long relied on him as its anchor.

Recently, Matthews had Ted Cruz on his show, and pitched nothing but softballs, allowing Cruz free reign to peddle his book with nary a challenge.  Last night, Chris asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz to explain the difference between a Democrat and Socialist, placing Bernie Sanders into the socialist camp.  The conservative media has run with this interview as they have ma…

Go Team USA

American students typically stumble in math and science, with the United States ranked a pitiful 36 in math proficiency worldwide, but don't tell that to the US Math Team, who took home the gold medal in this year's International Math Olympiad.  The event was held in Thailand.  In recent years, it has been dominated by China and other Asian countries.  The US team generally holds its own, but hadn't won the event since 1994.

Not surprisingly, there has been little coverage.  The International Math Olympiad is a seated competition and doesn't have the same drama as the Scripps National Spelling Bee.  The students are given six tough questions and graded by judges.  The best overall team performance takes home top honors, but gold medals are also awarded individually.

As you can see from the above photo, the American team is a diverse group, which also is indicative of the nature of American education, which ranges dramatically from one school district to the next.  Th…

O Israel, My Israel

It seems we have a bunch of Old Testament Christians, as Israel has become the shining light of the Republican Party, the beacon by which they are guided in all things domestic and foreign.  How else to explain this great love for Israel, which has really only sprung up in the last two decades?

Mike Huckabee was so upset over the new Iranian nuclear deal that he felt Obama was marching Israel to the "door of the oven."  I suppose if Donald Trump can get away with such hyperbolic remarks why can't he, but here was not only the President but just about every Jewish league in America chastising Huck for such obscene references on the campaign trail.

For many Republicans Israel represents our only ally, as right wing conservatives seem to have missed the part that virtually the whole world approves of this international agreement, as it was ratified unanimously by the United Nations.  Netanyahu has been one of the few world leaders to speak out against the agreement.  The …

Summertime Blues

There doesn't seem to be a cure for these "Summertime Blues" as the Donald continues to hog the television limelight.  While he may be a gift for comics like Jon Stewart, one can only ask how long can you ride this "rollercoaster of blow jobs," as Stewart described it.  Trump is even trolling CNN now, calling in on Jake Tapper's State of the Union and launching broadsides at Hillary Clinton.  This gave Republicans a bit of a reprieve, as the Donald had been blasting them right and left on the campaign trail.

More interesting was Bernie Sanders on Meet the Press, as he refused to let himself be pigeon-holed by Chuck Todd, who was anxious to portray Sanders as a gun nut.  Todd also tried to turn Sanders "confrontation" with Black Lives Matter into an issue, but here again Sanders cut him off before the host had a chance to set the narrative.

While Trump has been America's Id the past few weeks, Sanders has been America's conscience, but unf…

The Politics of Star Trek

In an effort to further divide Trekkies, Ted Cruz opined on rival Captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, considering the former a working-class Republican and the latter an effete Democrat.  It was one of those free-flow interviews that Cruz relishes, able to sound off on anything and everything, but the actor who played Captain Kirk had a bone to pick with Ted.  William Shatner is a Canadian citizen and considers himself politically independent, as he says was the same for the character he played so many stardates ago.  Not that it really matters other than to show that Ted is not a Gen X hipster but rather a traditionalist when it comes to his pop culture icons.

Ted seems to enjoy playing the clown, even mimicking all the main characters of The Simpsons.  It wasn't very successful, but heh anything to identify with the masses.  It's a far cry from the Donald, who gets so easily offended that he resorts to name calling and giving out personal phone numbers whenever some…

Old School

At 55 bucks, I guess you could still consider the "Chucky T" a bargain in today's world of high-priced tennis shoes, but for what you get you would probably be better off with a pair of Keds, although I don't imagine they come cheap anymore either.  The Converse All-Star is an iconic brand, made so when Chuck Taylor endorsed the shoe in 1923.  It was worn by all the NBA greats well into the 1970s, including Wilt Chamberlain who scored his legendary 100 points against the New York Knicks in 1962.

You could get blue or white high-tops.  Our coach went with blue to match our uniforms.  Chucky T high tops cost $12 as I recall, which adjusted for inflation would be about $50, so I can't complain too much about the price today.  My daughter badly wanted a pair of white low-tops.  The shoes provide very little support, but when you're young it doesn't really matter.  However, no serious basketball player today would wear these shoes on the court unless it was i…

Welcome to the Big Top

The Republicans have raised a big tent but it isn't the tent they had imagined.  What they have now is a big circus tent with Donald Trump as its Ringmaster.  Only problem is that he wants confusion to reign and not order, lashing out at his rivals, pundits and perceived nemeses alike.  The latest stop on his whirlwind tour of the country is the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas, where he fired up small crowds with his overused invectives, as if his mere presence alone brought down the number of illegals crossing the border.

To read this WP article, he didn't make that much of a "splash," as many border officials chose not to attend his rally, and the Laredo mayor appeared overly cautious in regard to the Trumpster's statements.  No problemo, The Donald rattled on just the same because he knew his message wasn't for local consumption but rather for national consumption, showing that he isn't afraid of El Chapo or any notorious Mexican who may be thinking …

The Longest Yard

Obama has always been about the long game, which has left Congress scratching its collective head as its members typically play for short term games.  In part that is because they are always having to think about re-election every two years.  There rarely appears to be any overall strategy from either Democrats or Republicans, but rather an attempt to steamroll bills through Congress when one party or the other believes they have the numbers to do so.

In Obama's first two years, the Dems had the number to push through a Stimulus Bill and Affordable Care Act that became the defining issues in the 2010 midterms when the Republicans recaptured the House.  They couldn't very well overturn the Stimulus Bill, since it was only designed to last 3 years, but they made the ACA their pet issues, trying in vain to override it 50 times.  The Obama administration has made it an imperative to carry through on the ACA, and survived state and Supreme Court challenges in getting the long anti…

El Comandante

Has the Trumpster gone too far this time in besmirching the character of Senator John McCain?  It remains to be seen, but Mackie is not a favorite among the Teabaggers, so I'm sure Donald's words resonated with his Iowa audience.

The Bush campaign similarly discredited McCain's and Kerry's war records in 2000 and 2004.  For Rove, the mastermind behind these two campaigns, it was a desperate gesture to keep Mackie at bay in 2000, and undermine Kerry's Vietnam War record in 2004.  For Trump it all seems to be part of a game he is playing, stirring unrest among the "crazies," as Mackie called a Phoenix audience that vociferously supported the Donald in one of his campaign speeches.

The Human Hair Piece has gone after McCain on numerous occasions.  It seems part of a strategy to play off all the frustration and anger in the base of the GOP, which feels it has been shortchanged by its leaders.  There was a failed attempt to "teabag" McCain in 2010 …

Closely watched trains

Go Set a Watchman is flying off the bookshelves as many persons are dying to find out what happened to Scout.  However, some credits are a skeptical of this "sequel," which was apparently written a year before To Kill a Mockingbird.

It wouldn't be the first time an author wrote a prequel to a previous book, but for whatever reason Go Set a Watchman wasn't published in its day and we were given the young Scout instead.  I doubt Harper Lee or her publisher could have imagined the power this book would have, bolstered by a movie two years later that featured Gregory Peck as the much revered Atticus Finch.  The book is one of the most recognized American novels, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide.

Mockingbird was set in the 1930s.  Scout was a precocious young girl who idolized her father, narrating the trial in which Atticus defended a young black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.  Scout sneaks into the "coloured gallery" to witness the e…

The Search for Good Nature

I used to watch David Brooks and Mark Shields debate the issues on PBS.  It was a much more thoughtful and nuanced exchange than you would find on any of the other networks.  They didn't shout each other down or cast ad hominems at each other.  Unfortunately, it got boring after a while as you knew where each person stood on an issue so you pretty much knew what to expect.

Over the years, Brooks has tried to present himself as the conscience of social conservatism, a kind of "middle way" that is appealing to both Democrats and Republicans alike, at least those who consider themselves "moderate."  He is critical of Democratic leaders, but at the same time gives praise where he considers praise is due, such as applauding Obama for what he regards as a relatively "scandal-free administration."  No faint praise for a man who regards Reagan as one of the leading lights of conservative politics.

You won't see him jumping ship to Fox News as Juan Willia…

Failure to Launch

The Hillary campaign seems to be languishing here in the early going largely because of her unwillingness to stake out any position on the pressing issues of this election cycle.  She was met with skepticism and eventually derision in New Hampshire as she tried to lay out her position on climate change.  She may be able to get away with this "neutrality" in the general election, but she still has a set of primaries to face and Bernie Sanders is from Vermont and should do quite well in the Granite State, especially since he is not afraid to stake out his position on climate change and other key issues.

Once again, we see Hillary acting like the primaries are hers for the taking.  Granted, Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina are still a long way away, but with Bernie building momentum each week on the campaign trail, he could have a very healthy head of steam come next January and very easily overtake her in the initial primaries.

The other big problem is Bill.  This g…

A Clearing in the Distance

Over the years I've found myself drifting more toward landscape architecture, as my wife and I do more projects in this regard.  Slowly, I've been learning about plants and trees and how best to come up with a garden that reflects the seasons of the year.  I've given up straight lines for winding paths as I search for curves that best reflect the nature they are set in.  For this reason, I've become a big fan of Frederick Law Olmsted and Edouard Andre, the respective American and European masters in modern landscape architecture.

There really wasn't landscape architecture in America until Olmsted appeared on the scene in the second half of the 19th century.  Witold Rybczinski reflects on how Olmsted was able to seamlessly blend nature and the manmade in A Clearing in the Distance, his biography of the American master.  Olmsted's works ranged far and wide, including Montreal, which Rybczinski had made his home for many years.  He had always assumed the Mount Ro…

Ted Cruz's America

Ted Cruz desperately wants to get his book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, so much so that the NY Times detecting block buying and chose not to list his book at all.  This practice has been going on for quite some time.  Conservative groups buy these books in bulk creating the illusion of bestsellers, they then distribute them through various outlets second hand.  To be fair this isn't much different than the various book clubs that promote history or mystery or whatever genre of fiction or non-fiction, but they aren't necessarily trying to make a book a bestseller, which is the case with much of the conservative block buying we see today.

These political candidates and pundits believe that being on the NY Times bestseller list give their books legitimacy.  It moves their thoughts beyond the conservative parlors and onto the national stage.  They will do just about anything to promote these books, even going on The Daily Show to pitch them, even if it means …

The Party Crasher

If you remember from a few years ago, Borat toured America, stoking racist sentiments wherever he went.  One of the most memorable scenes was when Borat led a country bar room in a bawdy rendition of "Throw the Jew Down the Well."  Not too many Americans knew of Sacha Baron Cohen at that point or that Borat was one of his characters on the Ali G Show in Great Britain.  As a result, Borat took America by surprise, even doing rodeos with his unique interpretation of the national anthem, which was met with confusion and eventually boos as I don't think the audience caught the lyrics.

Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo thinks that Donald Trump is a similar plant meant to stir unrest in the GOP.  He even goes so far as to suggest the Democrats planted him, specifically the Clintons.   It may be that Curbelo's thoughts are not as absurd as some people think, as the Donald is a showman first and foremost and he may very well be doing his own version of Borat in America.

Trump is …

It's a Brand New Day!

It will probably fall on deaf ears in Congress but this "historic deal" with Iran has sent oil prices plummeting as it looks like a whole new source will open up to oil production.  For weeks now we've been hearing from Republican candidates how the Obama administration sold out its allies, yet this deal was reached through six countries, including Russia, and the EU.  The negotiations also had the full sanction of the UN, which will be administering the inspection of Iranian domestic nuclear and military sites for the next ten years.

Of course this isn't good enough for our conservative friends in Washington, or the Donald, who believes that the duplicitous Iranians got the better of the US on this deal.  The foreign allies they refer to are Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are likewise not too happy about this nuclear deal as it brings Iran back onto the international scene, as most economic sanctions would be lifted if Congress approves the deal.  A military embarg…

Atlas Shrugged: The Soap Opera

Seeing Ann Coulter extol the virtues of Donald Trump reminds me of Dagny Taggart lavishing praise on Henry Rearden, the steel magnate, in Atlas Shrugged.  But, whereas Rearden decided to pull out all his money from a Depression-era America and hide out in the Rocky Mountains, Donald Trump is actually running for President and Ann Coulter believes he can win.

I don't think we can underestimate just how dumb the base of the Republican electorate is.  The Donald played to a packed hall in Phoenix this weekend, offering up even more red meat to his GOP opponents, saying he couldn't believe he was tied with someone as stupid as Jeb Bush.  If you recall, he became a Tea Party darling four years ago when he took up their birther cause, and similarly ridiculed Mitt Romney as he shot up in the early straw polls.  As Yogi Berra would say, it's deja vu all over again.

The man who considers himself a self-made billionaire and no doubt has much of his money hidden away in offshore ban…

Here's to you Mrs. Robinson

You know Dustin Hoffman has become an old man when he says they don't make movies like The Graduate anymore.  While it is true the late 60s and early 70s saw a wonderful resurgence of the American melodrama, it's not like you can't make those kind of movies these days.  They are just not done in Hollywood studios, as the fascination with Marvel and DC superheros tends to take top billing.  I suppose you can blame Christopher Reeve for that, as he was the one who brought Superman back in vogue in the late 70's.

Richard Brody considers it a "misplaced nostalgia" to put too much stock in The Graduate.  The studios still turn these types of melodramas out from time to time, usually at the end of the year in the lead up to the Oscars, as this is prime material for best actor and actress nominations, as well as supporting roles.  It's also a sure bet for screenwriting.  The bigger problem, as Brody points out, is that these movies rarely provide a return on th…