Archives for January 2009
I love Richard Rogers’ music. Slaughter on 10th Avenue comes from the musical On Your Toes, which opened in 1936, starring Ray Bolger and Tamara Geva. Slaughter is a show within the show, telling the tale of a dance hall girl, a hoofer, and a fatal love triangle. Gene Kelly and Vera Ellen did a rather overwrought version for the incredibly cheesy Lorenz Hart biopic Words and Music. I just like the music, though, and pass on to you this very good version, sans dancing:
After noting Pelosi’s assurance that millions for STD treatment will help stimulate the economy (or, I might add, at least stimulate some libidos), Mark Steyn has this to say:
The more interviews Speaker Pelosi gives explaining how vital the STD industry is to restarting the U.S. economy, the more I find myself hearing “syphilis” every time she says “stimulus.” In late September, America was showing the first signs of “primary stimulus”—a few billion lesions popping up on the rarely glimpsed naughty bits of the economy: the subprime mortgage racket, the leverage kings. Now, the condition has metastasized in a mere four months into the advanced stages of “tertiary stimulus,” with trillions of hideous, ever more inflamed pustules sprouting in every nook and cranny as the central nervous system of the body politic crumbles into total insanity—until it seems entirely normal for the second-in-line of presidential succession to be on TV gibbering away about how vital the federalization of condom distribution is to economic recovery.
That is some mighty fine political writing.
Are you getting the feeling that Obama, contrary to the hope hype, is a very grim, depressed man? Since the precise moment of his inauguration, his every pronouncement has been redolent of hopelessness and anger.
My feeling is that, if Obama is going to style himself the second Roosevelt when it comes to American economics, he needs to focus not just on Roosevelt’s economic policies, but also on his style. After all, the economic policies were a disaster, and almost certainly extended the Great Depression by years. Rather than getting angered by Roosevelt’s perpetual failures to repair the economy, though, the American people were endlessly forgiving. Why? Because the public Roosevelt was perpetually jaunty and optimistic. Even as his policies dragged the economy down, down, down, his personality lifted the American people up.
Just think about one of the most iconic images to emerge from the Roosevelt presidency:
Could anything be more cheerful and energized than that uptilted chin and cheerful grin? The cigarette was an exclamation point to the happiness and energy he radiated.
Compare the ebullience of Roosevelt to the now famous picture of Obama smoking:
The two picture are like mirror images of each other. Everything about Obama droops — his eyes, the angle of his head, his shoulders. He looks grim, drab and depressed.
Now, I appreciate that these two photographs reflect milliseconds in time and that within milliseconds after the camera flashed, Roosevelt’s face could have turned down and Obama’s brightened up. But the fact is that those two pictures are of a piece with what we know about those men’s personalities. In speech after speech, Roosevelt heartened the American people:
“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”
“First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”
“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
And then there are Obama’s statements, now that he’s no longer in hope-filled campaign mode and actually has to govern this messing, sprawling, vital country:
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
Wow. That’s just from one speech (his inaugural), and came about 30 seconds into the speech. Pardon me while I stick my head in the nearest gas oven. Nor did it get better afterwards, as he wallowed in a muddle of cliches, wonkish proposals, slightly twisted historical references, and periodic strained attempts at uplift.
Nor have his speeches been better since then. We’ve had threatening anger (as well as a stupid insistence on the end of business profitability):
There will be time for them [Wall Street Bankers] to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses,” Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the Oval Office with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. “Now’s not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them, I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them.
We’ve had unrelievedly grim economic forecasts:
President Barack Obama said the economy is “a continuing disaster” for families as he signed executive orders to strengthen unions and put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of a task force on the middle class.
“The recession is deepening and the urgency of our economic crisis is growing,” Obama said at a White House ceremony, citing Commerce Department figures showing the economy shrank 3.8 percent at an annual pace in the last three months of 2008.
And we’ve had self-abasement and recrimination purportedly on behalf of all Americans:
And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.
And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved.
No wonder the Iranians are crowing about American weakness and passivity. Obama embodies these failings, and promises to impose them on our nation.
In other words, everything that we see in that picture of Obama and his cigarette, we see in his speeches, predictions, threats and apologies. He’s got all of Roosevelt’s vices (economic insanity) and none of his virtues (good cheer and optimism). Americans like optimism, because they are essentially an optimistic people. It is our national nature, and I do wonder how long it will be before they turn against this man, just as they turned against Carter, the last president to try to drag the American people into his own personal depression.
UPDATE: Bob Parks has yet another example of Obama’s grim rhetorical style. Giving people reality checks is one thing. Creating a sense of crisis to enhance the ability to carry out an agenda is also one thing. But this unrelenting negativity is pathological and I think it transcends any agenda (although I don’t deny that the agenda is there).
UPDATE II: I have learned since writing the above post that the picture of Obama was almost certainly photoshopped to add in a cigarette. I don’t think that changes the substance of my post at all, which is about Obama’s negativity versus Roosevelt’s buoyancy, but it’s important to be accurate about things.
I never thought I’d find myself in agreement with the Iranian government, but pigs are flying, and wisdom emanates from Tehran:
US President Barack Obama’s offer to talk to Iran shows that America’s policy of “domination” has failed, the government spokesman said on Saturday.
“This request means Western ideology has become passive, that capitalist thought and the system of domination have failed,” Gholam Hossein Elham was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
“Negotiation is secondary, the main issue is that there is no way but for (the United States) to change,” he added.
Actually, I don’t need to impute too much wisdom to the Iranian government. The slightly less than half of the nation that hadn’t let Obama worship rot its brain had figured this one out too. I hope Israel still retains some cojones (and that the citizens elect Bibi), because Israel is all we’ve got left between us and a nuclear Iran. Which reminds me of a bumpersticker I saw on a car a few months ago: “Don’t worry, America. Israel will protect you.”
Second, read Eric Cantor’s fact-filled statement about his no-vote on the power grab laboring under the name of a “stimulus bill.”
Third, think about getting yourself a copy of Threats in the Age of Obama, a collection of essays about the terrorism threats to the US that Obama will have to address, whether the Obamessiah wants to or not. The Threats Watch guys are heavily involved in this book, and they explain a little bit about it here.
James Taranto had a great deal of fun last year with Obama’s promise to do away with cynicism, even as he engaged in one of the most cynical campaigns ever. But he was right in one way. Cynicism is dead on the left, especially in the media. Herewith a couple of rather striking examples.
Example number one is San Francisco magazine, which was prominently displayed at the liberal shopping shrine, Whole Foods. (As an aside, while I think Whole Foods has some excellent products, I find creepy the air of reverence people bring to it. Come on, guys. You’re consumers, not worshipers. But I digress….) If you hurry over to the magazine’s website, you can see (in the lower right hand corner) a picture of this month’s cover. The entire image is Obama’s smiling, big-eared head (and is it me, or does that picture look remarkably like this picture, big ears and all?). Emblazoned over Obama’s headshot are these words: “Democracy: The Upgrade.” Talk about “journalists” (a term I use advisedly) wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
You see the same juvenile infatuation in my second example, Maira Kalman’s picture/text love letter to Obama, published in the New York Times as a form of journalism. In this blushing ode to the new era of wonderfulness, an ode Kalman entitles “Hallelujah,” she rhapsodizes about the exquisite pleasures of Washington, D.C. now that the pall of the Bush years has ended and the magic of Obama has begun. Even the plastic flowers in the restroom have taken on a new glow. D.C. — nay, the whole world, politics, everything — is once more “smart again. And sexy again. And optimistic again.” After eight years of darkness, Kalman is can freely enjoy the little things in life: ladies’ hats, pretty dresses, the aforementioned bathroom flowers. The Messiah is here.
If you read the comments to this bizarre bit of art journalism, comments that at least have the virtue of coming from non-journalists, you see the same tone, with people waking from the endless nightmare of the Bush years. Some examples:
You are so beautifully right about this–it was a day for angel song. In fact we had all become beautiful like angels, and had grown angel wings and could not, could not keep our feet from floating above the ground. Margaret
Watching on television, I felt a palpable lifting of a weight (yes, that’s a cliche, but I really felt it all day) that we now had an elected President. In your word: Hallelujah!
The Constitution is the hope of the United States and Obama is the hope of the Constitution.
Your images and words perfectly capture our rediscovery of hope and color. Thank you Maira.
the brillant [sic] colors and cool words give me a chance to relive and relive again this wonderful day – since i wasn’t there. hopefully this spirit of goodwill will be contagious thruout [sic] the world. the obamas [sic] have already wrought change!!
It’s one thing for ordinary, vapid newspaper readers to see in this goofy looking, cold-hearted guy a new Messiah who makes flowers bloom again, but it’s appalling that members of the media have voluntarily transformed themselves into quivering, bodice-heaving wenches drooling at the sight of the large-eared squire’s son, riding down the lane in his powerful, gas-guzzling SUV, as he races to his hot-house heated home, while they stand outside in the cold, gazing longingly at him through the glass.
No matter the president, no matter the policies, no matter the journalist’s personal political preferences, the only media that can function well is a cynical media, one that views with suspicion, at least on first pass, anything that emanates from the government. As it is, just as with the rapturous virgin the media is now imitating, the media (and we Americans along with it) is going to find out that, once the wooing is over, we are all well and truly . . . plucked.
UPDATE: Charles Martel is right. “Skepticism” is a much better word than cynicism. After the first paragraph, every time you see the word “cynical” or some variation, substitute “skeptical” or some variation.
It’s lovely to find that there are still stories about American self-sufficiency. The following story comes from a community in the Sierra foothills, one that is becoming a bit more gentrified, but that is still solid America, especially if you hang out at Hog shops:
A Placer County inmate is back in custody after several people chased him and tackled him to the ground until police arrived.
Forty-nine-year-old David Todd had emerged from a field with his orange jumpsuit drenched in water, arousing the suspicion of customers and staff at a Harley-Davidson shop.
According to one of the people who pursued Todd, one man had a pair of handcuffs, which were used to restrain the inmate.
Please note, too, that there was no ugly vigilantism here. Just citizens being aware and taking responsibility.
I still remember back in the 1970s when the news was filled with stories about a $50,000 study to prove the breast milk was good for babies. For those of you too young to remember, back in those days, $50,000 was a lot of money. Also, back in those days, there remained a few old-style media men who weren’t completely in thrall to the wonders of academics and experts and who could laugh at their excesses — and expect us to laugh as well. As it was, though, I’m beginning to think that one of the great virtues of that study was that it was obvious from beginning, to middle, to end that the expert prediction was going to be right: Mom’s milk was predicted to be good for babies and, by gum!, it was.
Maybe all these experts should stick to costly lactation studies because they seem to be wrong about every other damn thing they stick their noses into. I won’t rehash global warming with you, but I will point out it came from the same expert line of thought that predicted global freezing in the 1970s. I’ll also be polite enough to mention only in passing all those experts who assured us right up until the end of 1989 that the Soviet Union was monstrously strong and unlikely to collapse for any reason. And we’ll just pretend it was a little mistake when foreign policy experts opined heavily that Iraq could not be won and that the Surge would be a disaster.
Today’s news again forces us to face just how inexpert those so-called experts are. Given that the world is in a economic down-spiral because of the gloom-and-doom predictions emanating from experts, those same “experts” deserve to be slapped silly for overstating economic problems, thereby giving rise to even worse financial panic:
Steep slide in U.S. Economy, but Not as Dire as Forecast
The United States economy shrank at its fastest pace in a quarter century from October through December, the government reported on Friday, in the broadest accounting yet of the toll of the credit crisis. Consumer spending and business investment all but disappeared, and economists said the painful contraction was likely to continue at an alarming pace well into the summer.
The gross domestic product — a crucial measure of economic performance — shrank at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. The decline would have been much steeper — more than 5 percent — if shipments of goods had fallen as sharply as orders did.
What’s amusing is that at least one expert is spinning the story again (and I say this without any personal animus to the named expert, since I have no idea who he is, what he knows, or how prescient he has been):
“The difference between 3.8 and 5.1 percent is the inventory buildup,” Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight, said. “My only explanation is that companies could not cut production fast enough.”
With inventory accumulation gone, the economy will contract in first quarter at more than a 5 percent annual rate, Mr. Gault predicted.
I know I’ll forget to do so in three months, but it would be interesting to see whether Mr. Gault’s prediction proves right this time around.
As I grow older, I become less enamored of Franklin D. Roosevelt, since I’ve come to understand how disastrous his financial policies were. Nevertheless, he was a great leader, a true statesman, and he understood one of the key tenets of a stable society: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Panic and despair are bad government
The comment Lulu1 left here is too good to be buried. It deserves a post all its own, and this is that post. Herewith, Lulu’s wonderful investigative research:
Through painstaking research I have managed to obtain a copy of Pres. Obama’s letter to Mahmoud.
Dear Mr. Ahmadinijad, or may I call you Mahmoud?,
I write to you as a very important man. I am, as we might say, the most important man. If I wanted, I could have your butt on a platter, but I am not a man of violence, Mr. A. I am a man of words. People swoon for me. Do they swoon for you, Mr. A? No, they do not. You may think you bear a prophetic message. I AM a prophetic message. Soon I will heal the oceans. Hear me.
I say this. You’re gonna lay down that sword and shield- down by the riverside. Down by the riverside. Down by the riverside. You’re gonna lay down those nuclear aspirations, down by the riverside. Dowwwn by the ri-ver-side, and you aint gonna study war no more. You’re gonna walk with that Prince of peace (that would be me) down by the riv-ver-side. (I used aint to be folksy, Mr. A. As a Harvard grad, I certainly know the correct grammar).
I know that I, as the leader of the free world, and you as the leader of the unfree world have much in common. We both dislike the US military. We both question Israel’s legitimacy. But it is all a matter of nuance. Bakshi, Mr. A. Imsha Allah, Mr. A, we will unite our great peoples and work together to make the world a safer and better place ( I say “imsha Allah” not because I have any connection to Islam but because of respect for your culture and traditions).
We here are a land of Christians and Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Confucionists, Atheists and Agnostics, Greek Orthodox and Episcopalian, 7th Day Adventist and Mormon, Sikh and Quaker, Catholic and Ba-hai, Nature worshiping and uh, Jewish- and we are stronger than you.
Let me warn you now, if you don’t immediately abandon your nuclear work and threats to wipe Israel off the map I’ll be forced to get tough. My ambassador at the UN will make sure that you become unpopular! We’ll make it unpleasant. You’ll see. But we won’t topple you like my pushy Texan, uncouth predecessor did with Saddam Hussein. So don’t worry about that. Even if the people of Iran want you out, we’ll support your right to repress freedoms and imprison and torture your citizens but I really wish you’d stop building weapons of mass destruction. Let’s work together to face a real threat. Let’s go tackle global warming together. Let’s talk. I can be verrry persuasive.
Do I have the best readers, or what?
UPDATE: In the comment line, you can see that I made a Freudian slip when I originally mis-named this post “Barack’s letter to Obama.” In keeping with the concept of Freudian slips, here is the esteemed Obama, wordsmith extraordinaire, who never says a word that isn’t perfect and gem-like, urging American businesses to fail as part of their duty during the recession.
Last week, I blogged briefly about how cold I am all the time now that I’ve (finally) substituted muscle for some of the post-baby weight that was insulating me. I’m also cold because I keep my house at 65 or below. That’s not because I’m green crazy — you know I’m not — but because heating is expensive.
For that reason, it’s all the more galling to read about Obama’s despicable, but entirely unsurprising (given that he is, in his own mind, the Messiah) hypocrisy. What a grotesque personality he is proving to be (although that’s again unsurprising to me, since I saw it coming a long time ago and from far away).