Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Know When to Fold 'Em

They play poker for keeps in Pakistan. A woman there was pressured to give up her daughter in marriage to pay her dead husband's poker debt. If I were any good at cards I would be inspired to devise a new brand of poker and call it Karachi Hold 'Em.

That Asshole Monahan

Whether you realized it on Sunday night or not, you saw a historic moment. No, not that Martin Scorsese finally won a couple of academy awards. The historic moment was Departed-related nevertheless. It was this: Almost everyone involved with the picture acknowledged Bill Monahan, the screenwriter, when they made their little speeches. In fact, I believe Monahan was thanked more often than God. (This may be untrue, but I'll eat a pail of gravel before I watch that show again to confirm or deny the impression.) Screenwriters are never acknowledged by the director, who usually claims authorship of the film, or the actors who typically don't know what to say unless someone gives them a line. So Good for Bill. He's come a long way, and he deserves all the praise he gets. Now go buy his book so his kids can eat.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Influence or Plagiarism

Jonathan Lethem wrote a long article about plagiarism for the most recent issue of Harpers. I have no idea whether or not he stole any insights from me.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two Americas vs 300 Million Kings = One Candidacy DOA

John Edwards has been giving a variaton on his "Two Americas" speech for several years. On the left, it's praised as brave truth-telling. On the right, it's ignored or derided as a call to class war while Edwards is mocked because he looks like a game-show host. It's a crappy speech. Too bad for Edwards that even if he bags it right now, the sentiment it embodies will shadow him for the rest of his political life

At the moment Edwards is a front-runner to become the Democratic nominee for President. He may yet earn the nomination. I don't think he will. I am sure that if he becomes the nominee he will lose the race for the White House.

Whether or not you agree with Edward's stated belief that there are two Americas, one that does the work and another that reaps the rewards of that work is immaterial. Whether or not it's the objective truth or a lie is immaterial. Edwards will lose because American's don't, despite everything you've ever heard, vote against anything. They vote for themselves.

I call it the Aspirational Voting tendency of Americans. It boils down to this. All Americans believe that they're middle class, no matter how rich or how poor they might be. They also believe that they will one day become rich, no matter how poor or already rich they are. Unless they are standing in line for food stamps when they hear the Two Americas speech, they hear a message that Edwards will either soak them for taxes, or toss up a road block to their otherwise inevitable wealth.

If Edwards wants to fight a war on poverty--and really, who does't?--he should look to the Huey Long play book. Sure, Long famously became the Governor of Louisiana on a "soak the rich" platform. But when he gave a speech analagous to "Two Americas" he titled it, "Every Man a King." His campaign song shared the title and repeated the line in the chorus. What American can argue with that sentiment? Isn't that the principle of Jeffersonian democracy? All men, kings and drunken bums, are created equal? Every man a king. I suppose the values equation also suggests that every king is a drunken bum, but that's fine with me.

While the underlying message Long conveyed is essentially the same as Edward's speech, the overarching theme that he hammered home is one of unity, not duality. This rhetoric wins elections. Remember, George Bush gained the White House by claiming to be a "uniter not a divider." Despite this fact, electorial politics 101 really, Edwards ignores the tactic. Right there in the title of his most famous speech he says implicitly that if you are not poor, then you subjugate the poor. You are a despot. Low-wage laborers who pay an elevated tax rate because they don't have the means to hire a clever accountant, because they have no way to shelter their earnings, or because you, high-wage earner, eviscerated the school system with your demands for low property taxes, carry you on their bowed backs. The hell of it is that Edwards is telling a species of truth here. But it is a truth that makes many people feel shitty about themselves. Only sick, self-loathing, people pull the voting lever for a guy who makes them feel like a greedy monster. The self-loathing block may represent a core constituency of the Democratic Party, but it won't provide enough votes to win the office

One the other end of it, he is saying that the poor have no pride or dignity of their own. Only John Edwards can bestow it on them. That's why he's making poorly considered speeches.

He's doomed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Color of Money

The U.S. Mint will now produce dollar coins that feature the faces of presidents. I support the idea of a dollar coin but this batch will fail to gain popularity, just like the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the Sacagawea dollar. Those coins failed because they too closely resembled the quarter in size and weight. The new presidential coins will be the same dimensions as the Susan B. and the Sacagawea.

But, like, since there's an old white dude stamped on the coin, people will finally use them, right?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

In Praise of Heelys

I see these kids in the subway sometimes. They're gliding, feet cocked back, slipping through space and time, as if frictionlessly propelled by a graceful and childish will. The first time I saw it, I stopped and blinked. I couldn't make out how the kid moved. I asked a friend about it later. The kid was wearing Heelys.

If you don't have kids and you don't live in the city, I'll explain. Heelys are a newish form of roller skates that look like regular sneakers. Embedded in the heel is a broad flat wheel. The wearer can walk normally. If he wants to roll, he cocks his heel back and rolls. It's beautiful to watch.

I grew up in an era when kids never wore helmets on their bikes. Our parents either overlooked danger or recognized its role in our development. We rode in the backs of our grandfather's pick-up trucks, on the highway. A three-meter high dive stood over the town pool. That's all gone now, too dangerous people said. Of course in most instances it's bullshit. The perception of danger is not danger. Still, most kids grow up today swaddled in protective gear and guarded from any peril or the grace and courage it inspires.

Someday soon a group of concerned parents or insurance company representatives will come together to ban Heelys. Their forces are already gathering. But for the time being you can go to Modell's and pick up a pair. Do it. Buy a pair of Heelys and give them to a poor kid. Or any kid. There's not enough beauty in the world.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Cat from Outer Space

Monday, February 05, 2007

Just Like You and Me

Astronauts fall in love. That should go without saying, though it's not something I think about a whole lot. Evidently they also don disguises, pick up a BB gun, snap on some adult diapers and drive across the country to confront romantic rivals in order to protect that love.

Giuliani Time!

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani reportedly edged closer to a presidential candidacy today. I am thrilled.

As a New Yorker I feel like I know Rudy. And I know him as a jerk. The rest of the country sees him as the wise man who stood up and behaved like a grown-up on September 11, 2001. I won't argue with that perception. While other politicians grandstanded or acted like fools, he comported himself like a man, and I appreciated it.

Rudy has an odd psychology though. In the face of a crisis, he is a calm, diffident force of personality. Faced with a non crisis, like the infamous Brooklyn Museum controversy or the legal status of ferrets as pets, he is a maniac, prone to overreaction and inappropriately violent rhetoric. He dislikes it when people doubt him. Generally, he dislikes anyone who disagrees with him.

This is a recipe for massive fun in the YouTube era. I guarantee you that his candidacy will implode within the next twelve months. It will go something like this:

Rudy will give a stump speech in Iowa or New Hampshire at some godforsaken gas station or state fair. A 22 year-old reporter for the Iowa Weekly Kernal Gazette or the Franconia Notch Maple Sugar Monthly will ask a question Rudy doesn't like. It will be a dumb, but essentially harmless question. Something like, "Why havent you addressed the issue of groundhog habitat?" At that moment Rudy will unleash a stream of acid invective that could sear the ears of an NFL assistant coach. The reporter will cry. Non-media members of the audience will gasp. Someone will post the footage to the Internet. At that moment the national cult of Rudy will die.