Friday, November 25, 2011

An antidote to Black Friday: Barry Levinson's Avalon (1990)

So it's Black Friday, the day, at least in the U.S., our consumer impulses are meant to run wild, the day the economy needs to get the holiday shopping season going lest it collapse in on itself, the day we see most clearly what modernity is really all about.

The desire to acquire, Machiavelli, the founder of modernity, called it. But instead of political acquisition, today is all about acquiring shit in one form or another.

Don't get me wrong. I like my stuff, my material goods. I like to acquire as well. But today is the day the lid comes off, the day humanity, or at least American humanity, turns wild again. If you're at a Wal-Mart or a Target today, or pretty much anywhere shit is sold, you and your fellow consumers might as well be wolves fighting over a scrap of meat. It may be a cheap blu-ray player or maybe even a Hyundai. It hardly matters. You have been programmed to shop, to consume, to acquire more and more and more, indeed to identify your very soul with your worldly possessions. It's your drug. And you're being drugged, willingly, by a society, nay, by a civilization, that requires you for its very survival to be thoughtless consumers of shit.

Sorry, is that a bit too negative? Hey, like I said, I like my stuff. I just think that Black Friday, and indeed the whole holiday shopping season, now a year of shopping seasons (Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, etc.) bleeding into one another, is our society at its most fucked up.

So today, why not do something else? Like watch a good Thanksgiving movie. (I assume you were just too busy yesterday with family and football.)

There's Plains, Trains and Automobiles, of course, the very funny (and very touching) "road" movie with Steve Martin and John Candy.

And Woody Allen's wonderful Hannah and Her Sisters, one of his truly best films, the story bookended by Thanksgiving dinners, the first bleak and depressing, the second warm and hopeful.

And then there's Barry Levinson's Avalon, the story of a Polish-Jewish immigrant family in Baltimore. It's an amazingly beautiful film with rich characterizations and a remarkable sense of time and place. It is indeed the story of America: "They shared a dream called America... in a place called Avalon." To me, it's simply one of the best films ever made about what it means to be American.

And, if you've seen it (and even if you haven't), you may recall its famous Thanksgiving scene, when Uncle Gabriel (Lou Jacobi) arrives late and says, enraged and bewildered, "You cut the turkey without me?" It's a funny scene, in a way, with this highly quotable line, but through the drama that unfolds, as well as through the context in which it takes place, we come to see the tension at the heart of the movie -- and at the heart of the American experience.

Gabriel is late because he had to drive out to new suburbs far from the urban core that had been the locus of immigrant life. Avalon, you see, is about family but also about the culture of change and dislocation, the culture of American modernity, that ultimately threatens family, or at least the extended family that is so important to the Krichinskys as to so many others.

In this sense, perhaps, there's a continuum from America's earliest European settlers through the waves of immigrants who were to one degree or another assimilated into modern American life to today's rampant consumer culture. It should be noted that the Krichinskys own a successful appliance store. I'm sure they had, or would have had, Thanksgiving sales. They, too, well removed from their less consumerist origins, would have partaken of Black Friday in one way or another.

But no matter. It's a great movie. I remember seeing it in the theaters in 1990. I was in high school in New Jersey. That opening scene, with Sam Krichinsky arriving in Baltimore to Fourth of July fireworks, pulled me in right away. It's one of the best opening scenes in any movie I've ever seen. And by the end I knew I'd seen something truly special.

If you've seen it, go back and watch it again, because you probably saw it a long, long time ago. And if you haven't, well, you simply must. Here's the trailer:

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

NFL 2011: Week 12 Thanksgiving football

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I had hoped to get this post up earlier in the day, but, well, work and a bad commute intervened. So here we are, at 9:22 pm, and it's 3-3 in the third game of the day, Niners at Ravens, the Harbowl, the Harbrawl -- the Harbrouhaha. Call it what you will. It's a solid defensive struggle, and I'm rooting 176% for San Fran.

There's the rivalry with the Steelers, of course, and we need the Ravens to lose (they're currently tied atop the AFC North at 7-3, but Baltimore holds the key head-to-head tiebreaker), but I also loathe this Ravens team, from the original owner, Art Modell, who moved the team from the great football city of Cleveland (and, yes, I realize that Baltimore lost the Colts to Indy in an even more indefensible move, but two wrongs don't make a right), to the arrogant, we-never-do-anything-wrong coach, John Harbaugh, to Flacco and Rice on offence, to pretty much the entire defence, especially Suggs and blowhard extraordinaire Ray Lewis. They're a good team, sure, and I respect them, but that's as far as I can go.

Anyway, as you may know, my associate editor Richard, a friend of ours nicknamed Comfortable Kid, and I are tracking our picks this year, with posts going up each Sunday at 11 am, as well as on Thursdays and later in the season on Saturdays. I'll provide the updated standings on Sunday. For now, here are (were) our picks for today's three games: Green Bay at Detroit, Miami at Dallas, and San Francisco at Baltimore.

Oh, it's now 6-3 Ravens. Ugh.


Green Bay, Dallas, Baltimore.

Well, I got the first two right, which is good start, particularly after sucking badly the last two weeks.

And the Ravens just picked off Alex Smith in the endzone. I just don't see how the 49ers put up points in this game. They have the D to keep it close, but Baltimore's just the better team, and being at home gives them the additional advantage.

Detroit was a tempting upset pick, but I just couldn't do it. And it's good I didn't. After a close first half, with Detroit hanging tough, Rodgers and the Pack blew it open in the second, and the final score, 27-15, doesn't reflect how dominant Green Bay was. Rodgers and that great passing game can turn it on when they need to, and Stafford, Megatron, and a really good Lions passing game in its own right just couldn't keep up.

Miami was also a tempting upset pick, as they've played really well of late, but I think it's reached the point where they're actually a bit overrated. In Week 6, they lost badly to the mediocre Jets. In Week 7, they got beaten by Tebow and looked absolutely awful. They kept it close in Week 8 against the up-and-down (and beatable) Giants and then won three straight, easily, over the Chiefs, Redskins, and Bills. But those are some terrible teams and Miami got each of them at just the right time. There was no way they were going to go into Cowboy Stadium and come out with a win.

After all, of the Cowboys' four losses, the only bad one was the Week 8 loss to Philly, 34-7. The other three were by 3 (Jets), 4 (Lions), and 4 (Patriots) points. The Jets, to repeat, are mediocre, but it was opening week and they're an experienced team that can play really well, and the other two are playoff teams. And two of those losses (Jets, Pats) were on the road. On the other hand, other than a Week 2 win over the Niners, a game they should have lost, Dallas hasn't beaten anyone good: Redskins twice, Rams, Seahawks, Bills, and now the Fins.

I had to go Dallas. They just have so much more talent than Miami, and they were playing at home on a day, Thanksgiving, that they seem to own. But credit Miami for keeping it so close, and even for being ahead. It took a FG with no time left on the clock for Dallas to take it 20-19.

As for the Harbrouhaha, well, I'm off to watch the second half. Enjoy. Tune in Sunday for more football talk, and of course keep checking back for our regular politics blogging, with a ton of music, which we're focusing on more and more, thrown in for good measure.

Happy (American) Thanksgiving! Go Niners!


Green Bay, Miami, San Francisco.

I'm on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday so don't have much time to write. A few thoughts: Dallas barely beat Washington and Miami was pretty impressive last week, so that's my upset.

Man, Green Bay looks beatable, and maybe this is the week against Detroit, who can sure put up points, but I'm still picking the Pack.

San Francisco vs. Baltimore should be a good game, but the Niners have been just a bit more consistent.

The Kid

Green Bay, Dallas, San Francisco.

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This day in music - November 24, 1987: Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley are at No. 1 on the U.S. Charts with "(I've Had) The Time of My Life"

Of course, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" is best known for its use in the movie Dirty Dancing. You'll recall the grand finale featuring the late Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (definitely a step up from Red Dawn).

But the song stood up pretty well on the pop charts, too.

In the U.S., the single topped the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1987 for one week and also reached number one on the Adult Contemporary charts for four weeks. In the United Kingdom, the song had two chart outings: in November 1987, after the film's initial release, the song peaked at No. 6; in January 1991, after the film was shown on mainstream television, the song reached No. 8.

Hey, nobody puts baby in a corner. 

First, the very talented singers who performed the song, Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley. But if you want to see the clip from the movie, you can get it here. It's one of those copyright things that won't allow it be posted separately. Oh, well. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Barry Levinson's Diner -- letting actors act

By Richard K. Barry

I'm not typically in the habit of recommending movies, but Barry Levinson's Diner, which is a comedy/drama done in 1982, is one of my favourites. I watched it again over the weekend on one of those "On Demand" channels.

If you're not familiar with it, it's set in 1959 Baltimore and revolves around a group of high school friends who have returned home a few years after graduation for the wedding of one of their group.

There's nothing particularly outstanding about the plot, which is structured around a fairly predictable series of vignettes. What makes the movie special is the acting. Levinson encouraged the actors to improvise freely, which makes the dialogue terrifically realistic. Because the actors are riffing, it sounds like the way people actually talk. That shouldn't be a rarity in movies, but it can be.

A friend, familiar with film technique, told me that this would have taken a lot of extra footage to get right, probably at significant cost. Good that they did that. Not to give short schrift to the plot, because it does capture a certain sadness and pathetic inevitability natural to all our lives, but it's the improv that stands out.

The cast includes Micky Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin, and Paul Reisser.

And here's an odd little fact: A Broadway musical version of Diner is set to open in the Fall of 2012. Levinson will write the book and Sheryl Crow the music. I really can't imagine it. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

The is the trailer for the 1982 movie. I have to say, if I saw the trailer first, I'd run screaming from the theatre. Don't know why they insisted on doing it this way, but they did. Great movie, though.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mitt Romney, political advertising, and bullshit

I'm sure many of you have heard about, if not already seen, the now-infamous Romney TV ad, the first TV ad of Romney's campaign, that features President Obama saying, "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." The ad attributes the line to Obama, and Obama did indeed say it, perhaps many times, but he was actually quoting a McCain strategist back during the '08 campaign. The ad implies that Obama actually thinks that he'll lose if he talks about the economy and that he said the line recently. The truth, of course, is nothing of the sort.

Politics of full of dishonesty and outright lying -- nothing new there -- but this takes that dirty game to a whole new level. And it does so not just because of the lie itself but because the Romney campaign is not just defending what it did but actually celebrating it:

The offending moment comes when Obama says "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." That was a quote from a way-too-honest McCain adviser that Obama loved to repeat on the trail. By evening, the ad had been attacked, derided, parodied, and ruled "pants on fire" worthy by Politifact. The Romney campaign could have cared less.

"We want to engage the president," explained Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom in the spin room. "We look at him as our rival. It's all deliberate; it was all very intentional."

Romney adviser Ron Kaufman, an RNC committee member and longtime operative, simply said that the ad "worked."

"They always squeal the most when you hold a mirror up to them," he said, "and they overreacted, clearly. All they did was make the ad more effective."

"There was a time when the Obama campaign had real discipline," joked Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney strategist. "Today was a total meltdown. You had the press secretary to the president of the United States talking about an ad that was running on one station in New Hampshire. There was a time when Jay [Carney, a former reporter for Time] wouldn't even have written about this. Total meltdown. It's as if you have somebody on a witness stand, accused of anger management issues, and he jumps off the stand and comes after you."

We all know that negative advertising works, but in what fucked up world is it a virtue to lie like this? And then to revel in it like a kid who just took a massive dump?

And how is it a "meltdown" to point out that the ad contains a massive lie, that the ad itself is an attempt to mislead people, as if that is somehow also a virtue?

Obviously, this is just spin. The Romney campaign wants you to believe that it did nothing wrong and that it's the White House that should be ridiculed. But this isn't just about the lie itself, it's about an attempt to abuse American democracy, that is, rule by the American people, through blatant dishonesty. We've seen it before, sure -- Kennedy misled people about the so-called "missile gap" in 1960 (he knew there wasn't one) and used it to hammer Nixon, to take but one prominent example -- but that doesn't excuse it. As far as I'm concerned, Romney and his campaign should be exposed to widespread media and public censure for this.

For more, I highly recommend this post by Steve Benen that riffs on Harry Frankfurt's famous essay "On Bullshit":

Just so we're clear, Romney and his team lied. Then they got caught. Then they were pleased.

I suppose one could make the case that the leading Republican presidential campaign has a vaguely sociopathic appreciation for the public discourse, but I think Frankfurt's "On Bullshit" tells us all we need to know. Truth, facts, evidence, reason, decency, fairness — for Romney and his team, none of this matters. It's not that they’re considering whether to be honorable; they've convinced themselves that the question itself is irrelevant.

What matters is what "works." And what "works" is what gets aired on television. Usually, professionals are slightly embarrassed when they get caught lying, but the embarrassment is motivated by a sense of shame — the truth is good, being good is worthwhile, deliberately ignoring the truth is bad, and no one wants to be bad.

But there is no embarrassment when such moral niceties are thrown out the window.

This is, by the way, the very first ad Romney chose to run, setting the bar for how he and his team will conduct themselves over the next year.

Be afraid.

We all know that Romney will say anything to get elected (and specifically to suck up to the right), that he'll flip and flop and be, in Jon Huntsman's description, "a perfectly lubricated weathervane," but it now appears that he will just blatantly lie and do so while giving the American people the middle finger.

If you want a president who says "fuck you, I don't give a shit about the truth," maybe Romney's your guy. If you prefer to be treated with respect, to be presented with the truth so as to be able to make an informed decision when you cast your ballot, I'd look elsewhere.


Below is the Romney ad, followed by an "ad" ThinkProgress put together of Romney in his own words -- doing to Romney just what Romney did to Obama. If he wants to be a bullshitter, if he wants to drag the political process, as well as the president, down into the muck of his own shameless dishonesty, if this is really how he wants the 2012 campaign to go, this might as well be the appropriate response to his every lie.

(Jon Chait makes a similar suggestion: "[I]t's worth noting that at one point during the debate, Romney declared, 'We want those brains.' That's a line that desperately needs to appear in an attack ad, juxtaposed against images of an army of moaning zombies that Romney may or may not plan to unleash on America if elected.)

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This day in music - November 23, 1975: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" begins a nine-week run at No. 1 on the UK singles charts

By Richard K. Barry 

"Bohemian Rhapsody" was written by Freddie Mercury for Queen's 1975 album A Night at the Opera. The song has no chorus, instead consisting of three main parts: a ballad segment ending with a guitar solo, an operatic passage, and a hard rock section.

By the end of January 1976, it had sold more than a million copies and reached number one again in 1991 for five weeks following Mercury's death, eventually becoming the UK's third best selling single of all time.

The promotional video that accompanied the song is considered groundbreaking as an early example of a music video. When the band wanted to release the single, some record executives suggested to them that, at 5 minutes and 55 seconds, it was too long and would never be a hit. Hah!

It's a classic rock tune. A great song. Just for the hell of it, I had to include the Wayne's World segment that makes use of it. I consider it a tribute.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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It was better when Republicans were capable of semi-rational conversation

By Richard K. Barry 

To be honest, I'm deliberately taking a comment made by Republican pundit David Frum out of context. The following appears in a recent New York Magazine feature titled: "When Did the GOP Lose Touch with Reality." As part of his introductory comments, Frum says this:

This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners.

But so as not misrepresent his true loyalties, he also says this:
I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John ­McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticized the major policy decisions of the Obama administration.
Okay, I would disagree with David Frum about many, perhaps most, possibly all (if that's possible) of the political/economic ideas he has ever held. But whatever one thinks of his ideas, they are ideas. They can be discussed, debated and examined rationally.

I don't care that this means he has been tossed to the curb by his own party. That's his problem for not being a better judge of the company he used to keep.

The point of his article, whiny though it is, is that his party has gone crazy and that he would like to pull it back from the brink. Yeah, well, good luck with that.

But it is worth reading his article to remind ourselves that there used to be a time, not that long ago, when people of differing political views could talk about things in good faith, and maybe occasionally work out a compromise. It's been a while, but that used to be possible.

Look, I'm not a naive little puppy. It's not like things have ever been easy when debating a side that thinks Social Darwinism is a blueprint for society. But, once upon a time, things used to be better, and this piece by Frum reminds us of that.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This day in music - November 22, 1957: Simon and Garfunkel appear as Tom and Jerry on American Bandstand

Well, everyone's got to start somewhere and Simon and Garfunkel started as Tom and Jerry in 1957. In that same year they were doing well enough to appear on American Bandstand. It seems they had a minor hit with a tune called "Hey, Schoolgirl," so they showed up to sing it for Dick Clark and the boys and girls, who probably gave it an 85 because it had a good beat and you could dance to it (man, I hope somebody gets that joke).

It's certainly nothing like the style they would later become famous for, but, hey, it was still the '50s and that's what the kids were into at the time, apparently. These guys could make anything sound good.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Can Newt win?

At The Daily Beast yesterday, Paul Begala wrote that "the Gingrich surge is just the latest Republican tulip craze... -- with Newt simply serving as the latest vessel for the ABR movement: Anybody But Romney."

Richard made that point last week, and it's more or less the conventional wisdom now. Ultimately, that wisdom goes, Romney will win, but his conservative rivals need to exhaust themselves first, one by one rising and falling.

And yet.

The question must be asked: Could Newt actually win?

At The Atlantic the other day, Molly Ball examined Newt's appeal: He is "an overwhelmingly charming figure," he has "a long list of crowd-pleasing accomplishments," and, in terms of the GOP presidential field, he "manages to embody the response to all the the flawed contenders who preceded him."

Which is to say, if I may broaden Ball's point, he isn't just the anti-Romney, he's also the anti-Bachmann (experienced and seemingly not crazy), the anti-Perry (articulate), and the anti-Cain (knowledgeable and with baggage already widely exposed).

Yes, conservatives have been going from one anti-Romney (or, more positively, right-wing standard-bearer) to another, but they're not doing this because they can't make their minds up but because each option has proven, in turn, to be inadequate. They want someone to get behind for the remainder of the campaign. If Perry had been up to it, it would have been Perry. But he wasn't and so it hasn't been. Same with Bachmann and Cain.

And so... Newt. Why not?

Like me (and, no doubt, many others). New York's Jon Chait can hardly believe Newt's sudden rise -- "The Newtening," he amusingly calls it. But, more and more, it seems to make sense. As he wrote last week:

The pattern of anti-Romneys rising and falling has naturally made the press corps suspicious of the latest version. But here's the thing. Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain didn't rise and fall because of some natural tidal forces. They fell out of favor because they did not know how to handle a national campaign. (Actually, Bachmann was just sort of swamped by the Perry wave.) Gingrich has tons of liabilities — non-orthodox positions, erratic behavior, little money or organization — but he does have experience in the national spotlight. It's not completely inevitable that he will implode.

And there's not much time left. The Iowa caucuses are less than two months away, with the holiday season in between, when public attention is low. Of course, Newt is "notoriously erratic," as Chait also wrote, but in terms of the horse race he's got a lot going for him right now: Romney stuck with what appears to be a low ceiling of support, Cain falling, Perry failing to get going again, no other viable conservative rival.

Meanwhile, whatever his plentiful baggage, he's adopted the tactic of attacking the media, an appeal right to the core of conservative Republican primary voters. Writes Chait, "Gingrich's incessant and often unprovoked media-bashing is one of the keys to his success. It converts every question about him into a tribal contest between conservatives and the hated Other." He's good at that, just as he's good at being in the national spotlight, where his mix of articulateness, quasi-intellectualism, and partisan extremism are what many Republicans are looking for to take down Obama.

Chait is right: Newt isn't exactly pure (his record includes support for cap and trade and various other currently heterodox positions in the GOP), but unlike Romney, that "perfectly lubricated weathervane," he isn't viewed with insurmountable suspicion by conservatives. He's flipped and flopped, but he isn't seen as an untrustworthy opportunist who will say anything to get elected but rather as a dedicated partisan. Sure, a lot of this has to do with the fact that his record hasn't been exposed the way Romney's has, given that he hasn't held elected office in some time and wasn't until just recently seen as a credible candidate, and it's possible that his current popularity won't hold up to scrutiny. But, again, there isn't much time left before it all gets going. Time is on his side.

I can't quite believe I'm writing this. Newt? Gingrich? Really?

Here's what I wrote earlier this year, just before he announced:

I can't see Gingrich pulling this off, but you never know, not with such a lackluster field. He may just be enough of everything, enough of the various constituencies of the GOP, to sneak through, and he certainly has the big name and media appeal to differentiate himself from the likes of those three governors. Conservatives like him more than Romney, who will never be able to escape his health-care reform in Massachusetts, not to mention his much-deserved reputation as a shamelessly opportunistic flip-flopper...
So, yes, we'll see, but I think Gingrich just has too much baggage to prevail. Under the sort of media scrutiny he'll face if he manages to rise to contender status and to carry that into the upcoming primary season (not just of his personal life but of his inconsistent policy positions over the years and poor record as speaker way back in the '90s, when Clinton trounced him), he may collapse, or rather his popularity may, and that, in that event, would be that. If he's serious about running, he'll no doubt be a stronger candidate than Giuliani and Fred Thompson, two high-profile Republican celebrities, were in 2008, but I suspect similar failure awaits him down the road.

Well, the 2012 Republican presidential field has been even more lackluster than expected and it may just be that Newt's in the right place at the right time.

Let's say he wins Iowa and keeps it close (or at least exceeds expectations) in New Hampshire. Then what? South Carolina? Sure, he can win there. And then... who knows? He could pick up support from, as well as the endorsements of, his conservative rivals (Cain, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum) and end up in holding the conservative flag against Romney (with Paul perhaps still in as well). The establishment backs Romney, it seems, but that may not matter. Besides, if Gingrich continues to look strong, and if he actually wins, say, in Iowa, the establishment (nowadays, Karl Rove et al.) may have no choice but to anoint him their choice even against their better judgement (as Romney would be the much stronger challenger to Obama).

Crazy? Sure. Who saw this coming?

But crazy is the norm in today's GOP -- and in that sense all of this makes perfect sense.

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Crazy, Stupid, Newt: Gingrich calls the CBO a "reactionary socialist institution"

Newt Gingrich may suddenly be ahead in the polls, but that sure ain't stopping him from saying crazy, stupid things.

For example, he referred yesterday to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, tasked with assessing the costs of budgetary and other legislation, as a "reactionary socialist institution."

Wow. Reactionary and socialist. That's pretty impressive. And, yes, pretty fucking stupid. (I guess it's reactionary or socialist or something to be objective, to be properly fair and balanced. Presumably he'd like the CBO to be merely a rubber-stamper for the GOP's far-right fiscal agenda.)

Republican Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former CBO head, called the accusation "ludicrous." "I think if you parse that phrase carefully, he got one out of three right," he said. "I do agree it is an institution. If you're playing baseball, that's a decent batting average." 

If you're in politics, though, and you're being judged on honesty and reasonableness, that's quite indecent, to say the least.

Whatever you call it, it's typical Newt.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

This day in music - November 21, 1972: Don Kirshner's In Concert debuts on ABC

Kirshner's In Concert was a precursor to the better known Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, which launched on September 27, 1973.

These shows were a part of the late night line-up of the time, going to air at 11:30 p.m. The first incarnation, In Concert, took the time slot usually featuring The Dick Cavett Show, and more than doubled the ratings that Cavett had been receiving. Gee, I can't imagine why.

These performance based formats, created and produced by Kirshner, were extremely popular in their day, with segments frequently introduced by the man himself, who had an unforgettable nasal twang and Bronx accent as he delivered the opening line "I'm Don Kirshner and welcome to Rock Concert." I guess you would had to have been there. If you know what I mean, the sound of that voice is already bouncing around in your head. If you loved the music that would follow, those were very exciting words indeed.

Kirshner, who just died earlier in 2011, was known in the music business as "The Man With the Golden Ear" for his success in managing songwriting talent and successful pop groups.

From 1971 to 1981, about the period consistent with my musical coming-of-age, the show featured the standout acts of the time, which would be way too many to mention. The wiki page link above has a partial list, if you're interested. Think 70s rock, and some 60s rock that hadn't yet faded, and they'll be on the list.

The first act to appear on the In Concert program was Poco, a Southern California country rock group formed by Richie Furay and Jim Messina after Buffalo Springfield broke up. They really helped to define the country rock genre, one of my personal favourite categories of music. If you like the Eagles, you'll like Poco.

Like a lot of bands, it went through many line-up changes. The version that appeared in 1972 probably consisted of Richie Furay (guitar, vocals); Paul Cotton (guitar, vocals); Rusty Young ( pedal steel guitar, banjo, Dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals); Timothy B. Schmidt (bass, harmonica, vocals); and George Graham (drums, vocals).

Two of their better known songs were "Heart of the Night" and "Crazy Love," which would have come latter (1979-ish?) with a modified line-up. Here's something I found from the early 70s, likely with the originals, called "Just for Me and You." Straight ahead country rock.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Newt Gingrich, hypocrite extraordinaire, blames secularism for "all the problems we have"

Appearing on Saturday at the extremist social conservative / theocratic "Thanksgiving Family Forum" in Iowa alongside Cain, Parry, Santorum, Bachmann, and Paul (but not Romney, who declined the invitation, and Huntsman, who wasn't invited (appearing on SNL instead, where he was quite funny), Newt Gingrich blamed secularism for America's problems:

A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn't be surprised at all the problems we have. Because we've in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare.

This is hardly new. Back in June 2009, Newt appeared with Mike Huckabee and Oliver North at the Rock Church in Hampton Roads, Virginia, to speak on "Rediscovering God in America." He had a different word for secularism then:

I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator... I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.

Here was my response then:

What the hell does "only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator" mean? That America is oh-so-special because it's fundamentally a Christian nation? Well, I suspect that Locke and Jefferson, among others, would take issue which such a ridiculous claim. America was built on a philosophical foundation of natural rights, not a theocratical foundation of Christian dogma.

And then there's the "surrounded by paganism" claim. Of course, it should go without saying that non-religiosity, including secular humanism, is not "paganism," which is, broadly speaking, a religion itself -- sorry, but I'm not a polytheist -- but such a simple truth just can't go without saying when it comes to the lies, deceptions, delusions, and ignorantly ideological utterances of Newt and his ilk.

Besides, I'm not sure Newt was being so Christian when he was getting blown by his various mistresses (but not, he claimed, committing adultery, because oral sex apparently doesn't count) -- or when he demanded a divorce from his first wife Jackie in her hospital room, where she was recovering from uterine cancer surgery -- or when he refused to pay alimony and child support after their divorce -- etc., etc., etc.

How all very... pagan of him.

And how all very typical.

He's still the same old Newt

Still a hypocrite, still pandering to the Christianist right, still making utterly ridiculous pronouncements based on ideology and opportunism, all while masquerading as a serious man of ideas.

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Romney's path to losing the GOP nomination

After months of saying that I could not see a path that would have Mitt Romney lose the GOP presidential nomination, I must say that the scales may be starting to fall from my eyes.

And what set of circumstances could lead to Romney's demise, you ask? Well, I guess it would all have to start with a loss in the New Hampshire primary, which until recently seemed unthinkable.

It is now thinkable.

As Ed Morrissey writes at Hot Air:

Yes, I think it's safe to say that the Newt Gingrich bubble has gotten serious. A new poll from Magellan Strategies in New Hampshire -- Mitt Romney's long-held redoubt -- shows Gingrich now in a virtual dead heat with the presumed Republican frontrunner.

As the New Hampshire Journal reports:

The latest NH Journal poll of likely Republican primary voters conducted by Magellan Strategies shows Romney and Gingrich in a statistical dead heat for the January 10th primary. If the election were held today, Romney would earn 29% of the vote and Gingrich would earn 27%. Texas Congressman Ron Paul continues to show resolve by earning 16%. Herman Cain gets 10%. No other candidate is in double digits.

This is the first time any of NH Journal’s polls have shown anyone candidate even close to Romney. It also shows tremendous movement for Gingrich since NH Journal’s October survey, in which Gingrich was in third place, but at only 10% versus Romney’s 41%...

A close look at the data shows Gingrich is actually leading Romney among certain important subgroups of the electorate. Among self-identified conservative voters, Gingrich beats Romney 34%-27%. Among self-identified tea party voters, he leads Romney 38%-21%.

However, Romney has a wide lead over Gingrich among undeclared voters, who give the former Massachusetts Governor 29% over Paul’s 19% and Gingrich’s 18%. There is also a significant gender gap for both Romney and Gingrich. Romney beats Gingrich 33%-22% among women while Gingrich defeats Romney 32%-24% among men.

And Morrissey's analysis, which could be bang on:

Romney doesn't need to win Iowa to garner the nomination; a strong second-place finish there could propel him quickly to the ticket -- but only if he wins New Hampshire. A loss in this state would be a body blow, especially if Gingrich wins Iowa ahead of New Hampshire and then takes aim at South Carolina and Florida. Even a win in Michigan and Nevada might not slow down Gingrich, and Romney could be looking at a second consecutive CPAC concession in his presidential-campaign career if he loses either or both of those.

Previously impossible to imagine, but we may now have an identified path for Romney to blow this thing.

Oh please, please, let it be Gingrich.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Sham? Wow!

By Carl
It seems clear that the SooperDooper Committee was set up as a delaying tactic by Republicans for one reason and one reason only: to salt the earth.

Talks in Washington aimed at cutting the US government's borrowing are on the verge of failure.

A special Congressional committee had been charged with finding $1.2tn (£762bn) in savings by Wednesday.

But the talks between Democrats and Republicans are widely reported in the US media to have collapsed, with a formal joint-statement to that effect expected later on Monday.

Meanwhile, the US national debt has just risen above $15tn (£9.5tn).

The "tell" in this is that there is a slate of automatic cuts to be made should the committee fail by Wednesday. Of course, no one expects those cuts to be made, and as Senator John McCain (R-AlZheimer's) said over the weekend, Congress made it, Congress can unmake it.

Along with the country, of course. Our debt ratings will collapse, and who will get the blame? Not Weaker Boener. Not Senator Mc-whatisface, but President Barack Obama. Anything to grab more power.

And there's the motive. It seems pretty clear that, based upon this story, as well as events at UC Davis over the weekend along with the memo revealed on UP with Chris Hayes on Saturday from John Boener's "personal" lobbying firm, there is a radical, concerted effort on the part of conservatives and their minions to tamp down any dissent from the corporate Republican line that everything is peachy keen except anything liberals have put their hands on, which is everything.


But hey, there's a clown car!

That's not to say this isn't a real terror plot, but note some curious things about this story:

1) It was broken by the NYPD, and not the FBI who presumably were apprised at SOME point in this "two year investigation" culminating with the arrest of Jose Pimentel.

2) A far more important terror story hit the airwaves today, but you might have missed it in all the hoopla from Mayor Mike's office: an actual, SUCCESSFUL terror attack against an American city on November 8. 

Mayor Mike, who has been front and center in America's War Against Its Children, managed to manipulate the timing of his story of a potential plot to hit the airwaves just in time to deflect at least some attention from the truly terrible doings in Davis and Illinois.  

But hey, much more important to pepper spray college kids, right?
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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NASCAR rednecks boo Michelle Obama

Classy. Very classy.

And why was the First Lady at the Homestead-Miami Speedway yesterday? As ABC News reports, she and Jill Biden, grand marshals for the race, were there "as part of their charitable campaign to support military veterans and their families":

The Associated Press reported that the two women received a standing ovation at the pre-race meeting with drivers, during which Obama said NASCAR was "amazing in terms of its support, not just today but every day, for military families."

Before the race, the first lady addressed a barbeque for military families that NASCAR had invited to the event.

"Everyone around the country is focused on you. And this isn't just an effort today," she said. "Jill and I through Joining Forces, we want to make this a part of the dialogue in this country forever. Whether Jill or I are here or not, whether this administration is here or not, this is about the way we want this country to talk about our troops, veterans and military families forever. We want you to feel that appreciation and that gratitude so that you know your sacrifice is not in vain."

A good cause, to be sure, though the drooling rednecks obviously didn't give a shit.

Mediaite has the clip:

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

This day in music - November 20, 1965: The Supremes go to #1 in the U.S. with "I Hear A Symphony"

This was The Supremes' sixth No. 1 single in the U.S. The group famously recorded for Berry Gordy's Motown label and had a string of hits in 1964 and 1965 that included "You Can't Hurry Love," "You Keep Me Hangin' On," "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone," and "The Happening."

In total, they had 12 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

"I Hear a Symphony" was written by Motown's main production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland.

After 1962, The Supremes were comprised of Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross as lead singer, reflected in the fact that, after 1967, and at Berry Gordy's direction, they become Diana Ross and The Supremes.

It is sometimes easy to forget how hugely popular they were in the 1960s, easily rivalling the biggest groups of the day.

The group disbanded in 1977 after a very successful 18-year run.

Couldn't find any information on this clip. No matter. It's very nice.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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NFL 2011: Week 11 picks

Oh, what's the point. After doing well at this pick'em all year, I was brought back to the reality of this year's frustratingly unpredictable NFL last week with a 7-9 stinker. I have little to no confidence that I have a clue going forward, and that includes this week. So much for my earlier success (e.g., 13-3 in Week 3, 12-4 in Week 4).

But that's just the NFL, right? Consider, as we take a quick look back over the season thus far:

-- Titans over Ravens (Week 2);
-- Bills over Patriots (Week 3);
-- Seahawks over Giants (Week 5);
-- Raiders over Texans (Week 5);
-- Bucs over Saints (Week 6);
-- Jaguars over Ravens (Week 7);
-- Rams over Saints (Week 8);
-- Cardinals over Eagles (Week 10); and
-- Seahawks over Ravens (Week 10).

Every NFL season has its upsets. And there are many more I could have included here. But these were truly stunning results. You could take the first two off the list, perhaps: The Titans have proven to be a surprisingly good team and the Ravens were coming off the high of beating the Steelers in Week 1, and the Bills were a surprisingly good team early in the year and capitalized on four Brady interceptions, as well as a lot of luck. But the rest of those games -- particularly the losses by the Ravens to the Jags and 'Hawks, along with the Saints' loss to the Rams and the Giants' loss (at home) to the 'Hawks? Crazy.

Richard and I were discussing this recently and neither one of us could remember a season with so many losses by supposedly elite teams to some of the supposedly worst teams in the league. I'm sure we're just making too much of the here and now, but this season does seem different, more unpredictable, with even the elite teams vulnerable, all perhaps except the Packers, who are in a super-elite tier of their own.

Don't even get me started on the AFC West, an awful and completely unpredictable division from week to week.

Does this explain my bad Week 10? No, not entirely. Most people got Ravens-Seahawks and Cardinals-Eagles wrong. And it was silly of me to pick the Jets as my upset of the week. Brady and Belichick don't lose three in a row. They just don't. Ever. (And the Jets suck, as we learned in their awful Thursday loss in Denver.) And, yes, I got the two AFC West games wrong, thinking that the Chargers would surely beat the Raiders and that the Chiefs (at home) couldn't possibly lose to Tebow. Whatever.

But it did seem to be an especially crazy week in an especially crazy season.

I would just add this...

Earlier in the season I sweated through a couple of narrow Steelers wins over bad teams, 23-20 over Indy in Week 3 and 17-13 over Jax in Week 6 (with me in attendance at Heinz Field). How could my beloved team be so embarrassingly bad? Well, I don't feel so bad now, not after the Ravens' losses to two terrible teams and the various struggles of the other supposedly elite teams -- again, excepting the Packers, and I suppose also the 49ers and possibly the Texans. Indeed, I take some comfort in the fact that the Steelers haven't lost to a bad team (two losses to the Ravens, one to the Texans)... yet. Now watch them come off the bye next week and lose to the Chiefs (and/or struggle in later weeks against the Browns and Rams). I don't want to think about it.

Why am I making myself sick even during a Steelers bye week? Let's move on. To the picks!

As you may know, my associate editor Richard, a friend of ours nicknamed Comfortable Kid, and I are tracking our picks this year, with posts going up each Sunday at 11 am. We get one point for each correct pick, along with two bonus points if we get our Upset of the Week right. If we get our Lock of the Week wrong, we lose two points as a penalty. Below you'll find our picks, plus comments. First, though, here's how we're doing so far (not counting this week's Thursday game):

Last week

RKB: 9-7 (plus upset) = 11 points
The Kid: 9-7 (plus upset) = 11 points
MJWS: 7-9 (minus lock) = 5 points

Damn Iggles! I loathe them, but when I need them to win, they lose.

And... Tebow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Dammit.)

Season to date

RKB: 97-49 (6 upsets right, 2 locks wrong) = 105 points
MJWS: 97-49 (4 upsets right, 3 locks wrong) = 99 points
The Kid: 86-60 (3 upsets right, 4 locks wrong) = 84 points

Here are this week's games (along with Thursday's N.Y. Jets at Denver):

Jacksonville at Cleveland
Carolina at Detroit
Tampa Bay at Green Bay
Buffalo at Miami
Oakland at Minnesota
Dallas at Washington
Cincinnati at Baltimore
Seattle at St. Louis
Arizona at San Francisco
Tennessee at Atlanta
San Diego at Chicago
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
Kansas City at New England

Stickings' Pickings

Picks: Jacksonville, Detroit, Green Bay, Buffalo, Minnesota, Dallas, Baltimore, St. Louis, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, N.Y. Giants, New England.

What can I say that I haven't said already? I could go 10-3 or I could go 3-10 (and I got the Thursday game wrong).

At least the Steelers aren't playing. I'm trying to take the week off from anxiety.

Lock of the Week: Green Bay.

What's the point messing around? It's got to be Green Bay, right? Right. Surely they won't lose this week at home to the floundering Bucs. I can see them losing at Detroit or at the Giants the next two weeks, but unless they're completely off their game today, perhaps looking ahead to the tougher schedule to come, Rodgers & Co. should win this one in a rout.

I'm tempted to take the 49ers, who should be beat the Cards easily, but they just don't scare me. Their D has been excellent (replacing the Steelers as the starting D on my fantasy team), but that offence doesn't put up enough points consistently to make them legitimately an elite team (that 48-3 crushing of the Bucs in Week 5 notwithstanding). I can't see the Cards putting up all that many points with Skelton QBing (even if he had a fine game last week against the apparently hapless Eagles) and an injured Wells carrying the ball against a stout run defence, but you never know.

Upset of the Week: Minnesota.

Miami? Maybe. They're not as bad as their 2-7 record (Matt Moore is proving to be an adequate QB while Reggie Bush is (shockingly) proving to be a decent RB, and their D is pretty solid) and the Bills are on the decline from early-season highs (with back-to-back bad losses to the Jets and Cowboys), but I just think Buffalo has more talent and can get back on track (even if the playoffs are now a longshot for them). And, lest we forget, the Bills did shut out the Redskins a few week ago, beating a much worse team but playing extremely well on both sides of the ball (the Fins beat the 'Skins 20-9 last week), while Miami's wins over a couple of weaker teams recently (Chiefs, Redskins) tend to mask some truly horrible play before that, notably in a Week 7 stinker against Denver (when they basically collapsed in the fourth quarter and OT to let Tebow beat them). 

I think Philly, even with Vince Young at QB, could beat the Giants, but I'm off the Eagles for good after last week. San Diego over Chicago? Maybe, if Rivers ever gets it going. Washington over Dallas? Hard to see, given the 'Skins' woes on offence, but the Cowboys aren't as good as they looked last week against the Bills and at some point the 'Skins are going to get it going on offence, even with Rex Grossman behind center... right? Well, okay, maybe not. Look for DeMarco Murry to rush for 423 yards and Grossman to get sacked nine times (six by DeMarcus Ware). I'm only slightly exaggerating.

No, I'll go with the Vikes at home against the Raiders. Christian Ponder isn't going to put up huge points in the passing game, of course, but AP could dominate the game (and in so doing would help my fantasy team immensely in a must-win week), and Minnesota (usually) has a really good pass rush, certainly enough of one to fluster Carson Palmer and force him into bad mistakes. The wild card is Michael Bush, starting for Oakland again in place of injured Darren McFadden. Like AP, he could be huge -- just like last week, when he ran for 157 and a TD and caught 3 for 85.

Barry's Tea Leaves:

Picks: Cleveland, Detroit, Green Bay, Miami, Oakland, Dallas, Baltimore, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, N.Y. Giants, New England.

Lock of the Week: Detroit.

Upset of the Week: Miami.

I really wanted to pick Denver over the Jets for last Thursday's game. I dislike the Jets so much and am intrigued by Tebow's success, much as I think it will be short-lived. Couldn't pull the trigger. Couldn't pick Denver. I guess I have to go with my gut more. A little less reason, a little more heart.

I'm picking Cleveland on the basis of pure sentimentality, and, against the Jags, they could win. This one is for my friend Donny who lives outside Binghamton, New York and has season tickets for the Browns. He invited me to a game a few years ago, and it was a great experience. Cleveland: nice city, wonderful people, lousy football team.

The Lions have to beat a team like Carolina, or what's the sense of predicting anything? Then again, Seattle beat Baltimore this year. C'mon, Lions.

Who's going to beat Green Bay? Not Tampa Bay.

I am picking Miami over the Bills. I think Miami is starting to do some things right. Their near-win against the Giants was no fluke. And the Bills are finally coming back to earth. I said earlier in the year, when Buffalo was flying high, that they would be lucky to go 8 and 8. I still think so.

Oakland over Minnesota. Palmer to Moore all day long.

Dallas is coming up. The Redskins are going the other way. I still can't believe the Giants lost to these guys in Week 1. But Rexy had a good day, and these things can happen.

Cincy has had their moments, And the Ravens have had some lapses. Nothing would surprise me in this one. Going Ravens.

Seattle is a much better team that St. Louis. I had such high hopes for Bradford this year. Maybe next year.

San Francisco will beat the Cards. What a funny team, Arizona. The Philly game was wild. Skelton has done well replacing Kolb. I wonder if Kolb will get his job back? It's a cold game. On the Niners, they looked good last week. Giants looked okay too, which means the one, two, three in the NFC is GB, SF, and NY. That's right. You heard me.

Falcons should take care of the Titans. Two 5-4 teams? Yeah, well. I expected more of Atlanta, but they should still win here.

The Bears: We thought they were done. They weren't. The Chargers: we thought they were for real. They're not. Da Bears!

And the Pats will make short work of the Chiefs.

Giants and Eagles. Wow, these guys have some history. I say Giants win. I guess if Vick can't play, that'll be a lot easier. Even if he did play, still the Giants.

Comfortable Kid

Picks: Jacksonville, Detroit, Green Bay, Miami, Oakland, Dallas, Baltimore, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, N.Y. Giants, New England.

Lock of the Week: Green Bay.

Won't waste your time anymore.

Upset of the Week: Miami.

Buffalo is looking a little soft and apparently Miami isn't terrible. Get at 'em, Dolphins. 

(Photos: DeMarco Murray proving he's much better than Felix Jones; Reggie Bush proving he's much more talented than Kim Kardashian; and Michael Bush proving he's a more-than-adequate replacement for Darren McFadden.)

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