The Bookworm Beat — trying to be upbeat and failing edition (and Open Thread)

Woman writingThe last few days have been perfectly nice, but without repose. My brain churns frantically, but I don’t get the time to process the information through my keyboard. My apologies.

I think things will even out a little in the next few days (although that may just be wishful thinking on my part). Still, as frantic as the last few days have been, I actually have something to show for my efforts, right down to my dogs’ unusually fresh breath (I added carrots and yogurt to the usual routine of brushing their teeth).

On that happy note, to the news!

Another dissatisfied Obamacare customer

My son spent some quality time with our neighbors who are just about the loveliest people you could ever hope to find. They’re also ardent Democrats and Obama supporters. Or at least, they were ardent supporters. My son told me that one of the parents was grousing furiously about Obamacare, which is costing their family an extra $4,000 this year — and that’s $4,000 that they don’t have.

Add their personal tale to the long list of Obamacare woes, including the fact that Obamacare is not generally a hit, with enrollment numbers coming in far below administration projections.  I only wish, as I always do, that people would have realized that it’s all a con before the 2012 elections, not after.

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it

Lots of my Leftist Facebook friends recently ran a poster showing that George Bush actually took more vacations than Barack Obama. I’m sure this is true. The problem, though, is that Obama and his family vacation like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, something taxpayers find tacky. No quiet time at their own remote property or at Camp David for the Obamas.  Instead, they’re jaunting off to multimillion-dollar hotels and estates all over the world. Even worse, when it comes to Obama himself (not his family), Obama is heading off for ostentatious vacations just when he should be looking busy. Jonathan Tobin sums it up nicely:

While no one can say that Obama—or any president for that matter—doesn’t work hard, he has a habit of acting as if the normal rules of political behavior don’t apply to him. This president has spent more days golfing than any of his recent predecessors. While George W. Bush spent more days away from the White House—principally at his Texas ranch or at the family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, both of which functioned routinely as little White Houses—Obama has never shown he cares much about the optics of being seen recreating while terrible things are happening. Bush stopped playing golf in 2003 after the war in Iraq began principally because he believed it didn’t look right for the president to be strolling the links while Americans faced death abroad. Obama has no such compunctions.

The timing is also a problem. It can be argued that there is something bad happening somewhere on the globe every day of the year. But there is something particularly egregious about Obama loafing around while the successful outcome in the Iraq War that he inherited from Bush is transformed into a victory for Islamist terrorists.

As I’m constantly saying to the kids, it’s not always what you do, it’s also how you do it.

Is Obama bringing identity politics to the Middle East?

Maybe Paul Mirengoff is being picky . . . and maybe he’s not. He’s wondering why, with ISIS slaughtering everyone in its path, Obama was moved to act mercifully only towards the Yazidi. Mirengoff’s conclusion: identity politics strikes Iraq. The Yazidi are more “genuine” and “ethnic” than run-of-the-mill Christians and “apostate” Muslims caught in the maw of the ISIS killing machine.

Yes, ISIS looks bad in its PR, but that’s its point

Ian Tuttle is correct that ISIS is not doing itself any publicity favors by boastfully publishing pictures of its horrible depredations, everything from mass slaughter, to crucifixions, to small children proudly portraying severed heads. I’m less sanguine than he, though, that these pictures will help defeat ISIS. In the theater of battle, the images are doing a good job of making opponents run away. Moreover, here in the West, we’ve already proven that, if Islamists threaten and protest, we will instantly back down. These pictures are only going to increase our spinelessness.

Can you compromise with religious absolutists?

I’ve tried as hard as possible to ignore the appallingly vapid, self-serving, viciously partisan interview Barack Obama had with Tom Friedman, a sycophant in chief. What I couldn’t ignore, though, was the terrible agreement between the two about victory, or its absence. Friedman summed up Obama’s view as follows:

Obama made clear that he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished. (Emphasis added.)

That’s an accurate summary. What Obama, always yeasty and puffy in his wording, said was this (and I’ve included the preceding self-serving Friedman riff):

The only states doing well, like Tunisia, I’ve argued [says Friedman], have done so because their factions adopted the principle of no victor, no vanquished. Once they did, they didn’t need outside help.

“We cannot do for them what they are unwilling to do for themselves,” said the president of the factions in Iraq. “Our military is so capable, that if we put everything we have into it, we can keep a lid on a problem for a time. But for a society to function long term, the people themselves have to make decisions about how they are going to live together, how they are going to accommodate each other’s interests, how they are going to compromise. When it comes to things like corruption, the people and their leaders have to hold themselves accountable for changing those cultures…. … We can help them and partner with them every step of the way. But we can’t do it for them.”

Obama seems unable to contemplate an absolute ideology that doesn’t believe in compromise. For him, the only allowable absolutist ideology is his own, which sees a supine West yielding gracefully to the “reasonable” demands of an ascendant Third World.  For radical Islamists, however, the only game in town is total military victory. To them, compromise is weakness, inviting more attacks. It’s very frightening to have a president who is so rigid in his belief system that he’s unable to acknowledge that there’s an enemy out there even worse than the Republicans.

Is it real or is it satire?  Only the Obama administration knows for sure

With a president such as ours, one who has a State Department that believes that hashtags actually accomplish something, it’s often hard to separate satire from real news. I think that if you go to this link regarding the prayer campaign the administration is starting, you’ll be able to determine whether it’s satire or not but, nowadays, maybe I’m wrong in that supposition.

The very real power of prayer

Still, prayer can have quite a power beyond anything we can imagine. In a report about the attack that killed Lt. Hadar Goldin in Israel’s war with Hamas, comes this most amazing and moving story:

In the midst of this attack, a second force of IDF soldiers–which had gone into a mosque looking for weapons, explosives, and rockets– encountered a female suicide bomber who was about to detonate the belt she wore, which would have resulted in the deaths of the soldiers. One of the soldiers instinctively recited the opening words of the holiest Jewish prayer “Shema Yisrael”. The female suicide bomber hesitated and began trembling, giving the soldiers a chance to grab her and disable the device.

The soldiers then took her prisoner and turned her over to a counter-intelligence unit. Their investigation uncovered that the female suicide bomber’s mother was a Jew who had married a Palestinian in Israel and, after the wedding, was smuggled against her will into Gaza. There she lived a life filled with abuse and humiliation, and was basically a captive. In addition to the female suicide bomber, there were two smaller children as well. An armored force went in and rescued the two small children.

For more on the Shema, go here.

Hillary Clinton would have been different, but probably just as bad

Megan McArdle thinks Hillary Clinton would have been a better president than Obama simply because she’s more willing to play with the other kids on the playground. That is, says McArdle, she wouldn’t have been as dismissive of Republican and Tea Party concerns. I often agree with McArdle but in this case I wonder. After all, it was Hillary who thought up the whole “vast right wing conspiracy.” The Clintons are just as corrupt and paranoid as Obama. Certainly Hillary would have made different decisions, and these might have been less doctrinaire and more intelligent, but she’s not any more interested in true partisanship than Obama is.

Shovel — or spoon — ready jobs

Milton Friedman, when asked about “shovel ready jobs,” famously said if the point is just to keep people busy, the government should be handing out spoons, not shovels. The Welsh were apparently listening closely, since they’ve created make-work jobs that are the functional equivalent of tiny little teaspoons to dig big holes.

Incidentally, if that image seems familiar to you, think back to Norton Juster’s wonderful The Phantom Tollbooth. There, our intrepid heroes, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug, meet the Terrible Trivium, who wastes their precious time having them do such meaningless tasks as filling buckets with eye-droppers or digging holes with needles. As he says, “If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You simply won’t have the time, for there is always something to do to keep you from what you should really be doing.”

The terrible trivium

Robin Williams never let politics blind him to our common humanity

John Nolte almost gets it right:

Williams was political — a heavy donor to Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Al Franken, but never offensive. Politics would sometimes rear its head in his stand-ups, but the jibes at Republicans were good-natured, not caustic; the kind of jokes Johnny Carson told.

In fact, when I last saw Williams on stage here in Marin (he showed up unexpectedly at a local comedy club), his anti-Bush and anti-Cheney jokes were just as nasty as any other Leftist comedian’s. Even worse, they weren’t funny.

What made this mindless political attack almost irrelevant I thought was that Williams never let his politics prevent him from seeing the troops as people in need of laughter, rather than monsters in the Bush war machine.  Nolte has a lovely quotation to support this principle:

When the wars came in 2002, without seeking personal attention or publicity, he was overseas with The Boys. Over the course of the decade he would visit 13 countries and entertain 90,000 service men and women. A retired General told ABC News:

After his shows, he’d stick around, making personal connections with service members. Retired Gen. Carter Ham respected Williams’ character.

“He would go to the guard towers, he’d got the dining facilities, he’d got the security police who couldn’t come to the shows because they were on duty. And he would spend time with them individually. That was very moving,” Ham said.

The Bookworm Beat — A little of this and a little of that (and an Open Thread)

Woman writingWe are at sixes and sevens today. Our house guest arrives and my twice monthly cleaning service. Between the two, we’ve purged the house of as much extraneous material as possible. I swear that, if you could put my house on a scale, it would weigh substantially less. There’s still much more I’d like to get rid of, but I’m happy for now.

Even rich people can be broke

I’m still reeling a bit from Robin Williams’ death. I didn’t know him, of course, but I saw him so often, including several live appearances, that he seemed much more real to me than the average Hollywood star. I also found exceptionally sad that money woes worsened his depression. It’s a reminder that, even if you have a $35 million dollar ranch, as long as your debts exceed your assets, you’re still poor. There’s a lesson there for individuals and nations. My great-grandfather, a banker, was wont to say “the man without debts is the richest man of all.”

Will anyone prosecute Hamas for war crimes

William Levinson has decided to stop waiting for others to act and has acted himself. He is filing a formal complaint against Hamas for war crimes.

Hillary’s posturing on Iraq shouldn’t feel fool anyone (but probably will anyway)

Too lazy and too rushed to look up links, but I find it hard to take Hillary seriously as a hard-liner against ISIS. She, after all, was the Secretary of State when the Obama administration pulled all troops out of Iraq. Pulling troops out, obviously, was mechanically a Department of Defense operation, but our relationship with other nations was Hillary’s responsibility. Her record as Secretary of State is a series of useless photo ops punctuated intermittently by appalling mistakes, ranging from the “reset” with Russia; to her criminal and moral negligence regarding Benghazi; to her willingness to preside over America’s abandonment of Iraq.

The only thing that worries me is that the American people will give her a pass. Yes, I know the media will, but really! How dumb do Americans have to be to forget history that happened in just the past few years? As Andrew Klavan wrote, it’s the American people who first elected Obama and then re-elected Obama. As a nation, you tend to get what you deserve.

Farewell, Robin Williams!

Robin Williams 1“Why are all those helicopters flying over Tiburon?” asked Mr. Bookworm.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe there’s a fire or an accident. I’ll check.”

I turned on my internet and immediately discovered why helicopters are circling Tiburon like vultures: Robin Williams was found dead at his home in Tiburon today, a probable suicide.

To say I was shocked is an understatement. When I told Mr. Bookworm the news, he physically recoiled, like a cartoon character . . . and I totally understood. That was exactly how I felt.

Robin Williams emerged on the scene when I was in high school. The morning after Mork and Mindy played, all of us would gather in the hall before band (our first class), and dissect all the funny jokes, and riffs, and quotable material. His manic energy and improvisation utterly charmed us.

Then, in 1979 or 1980, I saw him perform live at a “Bread and Roses” concert in the Greek Theater at Berkeley. It was a packed show, with appearances by the Smothers Brothers; Hoyt Axton; Peter, Paul & Mary; Father Guido Sarducci; and a host of other extremely well-known figures from the 1970s world of comedy and music. Robin Williams left them all in the dust.

Practically vibrating with energy (and, probably, cocaine), Williams walked through the audience, riffing off of clothes, hair, and anything else that caught his fancy. His persona changed from second to second, as he transformed himself, just through voice and mannerism, into a small child, a Texan, a sassy black woman, a Yiddishe mama, and anything else that seemed appropriate at the time. I don’t really remember Peter, Paul & Mary, but I’ve never forgotten Robin Williams.

As the years went by, Williams outgrew both television and the small screen, and headed to Hollywood, where he did very well. With the exception of his role as Genie in Aladdin, which I thought was brilliant, I never much liked his movies. He had a terribly tendency to go for bathos, which is my least favorite form of entertainment. Even disliking the movies, though, didn’t blind me to his talent.

Williams’ personal life became the stuff of soap operas. The newspaper (yes, back in newspaper days) reported that he infected someone with Herpes, that he was cheating on his wife, that he left his wife for his nanny, that he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and that his heart was a mess, requiring surgery. He endlessly cycled through rehab, always trying to beat back his demons.

It all seemed so sad and sordid, but Williams never let it slow him down. He appeared on television and I kept an eye out for him whenever he appeared on Johnny Carson or Jay Leno. I’d even make an exception for him and watch the Letterman show, if Williams was on. As the years went by, some of his shtick went stale, but there was always something worth waiting for.

Living in Marin, I saw Williams periodically over the years. The photo above was taken at our local Barnes & Noble a few years ago, when he was kind enough to pose with one of the little Bookworms. I also saw him a couple of times when he made surprise appearances at the local comedy club. I actually wasn’t impressed with him the last time I saw him, in early 2010. He appeared tired and, far into Obama’s administration, was still making tired jokes about Bush and Cheney.

Still, he had that Williams charm, which reached out and embraced the audience. Even though I wasn’t inclined to laugh at retread Bush jokes, I still enjoyed watching him. More than that, I remembered that, while Williams didn’t agree with Bush’s policies, he more than once flew to Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain the troops.

And now all that manic, innovative comedic energy is gone, apparently snuffed out by Williams’ own hand. Rest in peace, Robin Williams, and thank you for the laughter.

When “little jokes” became real life tyrannies *UPDATED*

Robin Williams Johnny CarsonLast night, I spent a few minutes watching Robin Williams’ 1981 appearance (his first) on Johnny Carson’s tonight show.  It was very weird to look at it over a distance of 33 years.  I remember watching it in real-time back in 1981, and thinking Williams was the funniest man I’d ever seen.  This time, while still admiring his great talent, my knowledge about the past few decades got in my way and prevented me from laughing very much.

There were several creepy things about the appearance (creepy in retrospect, I mean).  Despite Williams’ ostentatious riff about the fact that he didn’t do drugs, it was clear that Williams was coked up to the gills.  Knowing that he was chemically augmented made the laughter come less easily this time around.  He also made a joke about being herpes free, which was ironic given that, in 1986, a woman sued him because, in 1984, he infected her with herpes — while cheating on his wife.  Whoops!

What struck me most, though, was that Williams made a little joke about Ronald Reagan.  (That wasn’t the surprising thing.  Robins has made jokes about Republican presidents since 1981.  Indeed, when I saw him some years into the Obama administration, he was still making Bush jokes.)  Then, immediately after his very little joke, he made another joke about the fact that he was now worried that the IRS would be knocking on his door.  Indeed, he made that little IRS joke twice.  As far as I know, the IRS never did knock on Williams’ door during those administrations in which he slammed Republican presidents.

Things are different now.  In 2009, it was the President himself, not a comedian, who made a joke about the IRS stifling dissent.  And voila!the IRS goes after dissenters in a brutal way that would have delighted any head of a modern bureaucratic tyranny.  Suddenly, Williams’ little IRS joke isn’t so funny anymore.

UPDATE:  And in the same vein, Tom Elia asks if there’s even more administration thuggery going on than the headlines would suggest.

If you find the subject interesting, you can also check out two Noisy Room posts, since Terresa is masterful at gathering data:

The persecution of conservatives in Hollywood

The new Progressive McCarthyism