In a fit of pique that appears not unlike flipping over a board game when it becomes apparent that defeat is imminent, House Republicans have prevented the passage of a routine government spending bill for several weeks, demanding in exchange that President Obama dismantle or defund his signature legislative achievement: the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”). In the absence of funding, the Federal government has shut down, and at the time of this writing shows no sign of reopening.
Despite the fact that it has no bargaining power (other than holding the government for ransom), and that public opinion is solidly against it, the Republican Party is sticking to its demand, while the president, realizing that he is obviously going to win this fight in the end, is holding firm in his refusal. Except for the hysterical shrieking of the GOP’s army of dead-end pundits trying to blame the whole thing on Obama, the press is calling the Republican gambit a colossal mistake, a political blunder of the highest order, the last gasps of a dying party.
To the contrary, I think it’s the most brilliant political strategy I’ve ever witnessed.
Even with two episodes left before it signs off for good and puts high school science teacher-turned-drug kingpin Walter White in prison, in the morgue, or on a spaceship (if anyone could make that work, it would be Vince Gilligan), Breaking Bad‘s final run of episodes has been so strong, so tightly plotted, so full of tension and panic, so artful in making inevitable events feel totally surprising, that people are already calling it the best show of all time, with the best ending of all time. As a huge fan of the show, I am feeling confident that, based on the last few episodes, the latter is likely and the former is more than up for discussion.
But it’s easy to forget, now that everyone is on board with this show, how unlikely it seemed to succeed back in 2008, when it premiered. I didn’t start watching it until the chorus of critical valentines reached a fever pitch, between the second and third season. I resisted it at first because it seemed to me that its premise — a law-abiding suburbanite is forced by dire circumstances to get into the drug business in order to provide for the family — had been done before.
As everyone is surely aware, the United States has been perched on the precipice of yet another war for the last few weeks, as our foreign policy apparatus wrestles with itself over whether to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons against the rebels seeking to overthrow the present regime.
The whole thing has been kind of confusing, as President Obama was first being condemned (by the opposition party) for not bombing, then condemned (by the opposition party) for suggesting that he would.
The most strident advocate for a military strike has been Secretary of State John Kerry. (Yes, it’s certainly strange to see Republicans opposing a military action, particularly one against a foe of Israel — until you remember that the military action was proposed by Barack Obama.) Kerry has been on television more over the last few weeks than at any time since he lost the 2004 presidential election, and I understand that he (accidentally?) found a possible diplomatic solution to the problem the other day, but I don’t quite understand what he said, because every time I watch the clips I’m too busy staring at his weird, bloated, misshapen face.
After twelve years and three increasingly contentious terms as mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg will soon be replaced. The election is in November, but it’s generally assumed that since New York is full of liberals, queers, communists, and (worst of all) union labor, that the mayor will be chosen in next week’s Democratic primary.
Who’s going to win? I have no idea. It looked like Carlos Danger Anthony Weiner was going to make an unlikely comeback before he whipped it out again, and now the 29 candidates are scrapping it out for a plurality in the polls. As I write this, it looks like public advocate and beanstalk resident Bill De Blasio may not just come out ahead in the primary, but reach the 40% plurality that would allow him to avoid a runoff election with the runner-up.
Who am I going to vote for? I confess, I haven’t followed the election very closely, so I’m undecided. There are a few big issues at stake here: should Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” police policy continue, and if not, who best to stop it? Who will best clean up the mess the public schools have become as Bloomberg has slashed their budgets? How best to address the city’s worsening fiscal crisis?
Those are all big issues. My wife, like a lot of people, is guided by one issue in particular: she’s for anyone but Council Speaker Christine Quinn, widely seen as Bloomberg’s enabler in his largely disastrous shakeup of the school system. (As she’s a high-school science teacher, it’s easy to understand why she feels this way.)
I am also a single-issue voter, and the fact that none of the candidates has mentioned that issue is the reason I haven’t committed to vote for any of them.
Audience video, recorded 8/26/13 at Jimmy’s no. 43, NYC, courtesy of Rick Rocker.
Last week poop pop singer Robin Thicke (son of Growing Pains‘ Alan) filed a very strange lawsuit: facing an imminent legal claim by Marvin Gaye’s family that Thicke’s song-of-the-summer smash “Blurred Lines” infringed on the copyright of Gaye’s disco classic “Got To Give It Up,” Thicke and his co-writers requested a preemptive ruling to the contrary: that Thicke’s song does not infringe upon Gaye’s. It was reported that Thicke offered the Gaye heirs a six-figure settlement in hopes of making the whole thing go away, but the offer was rejected and the whole thing appears to be headed for court.
Despite the fact that it seems to have supplanted “Get Lucky” as the biggest song of the year, I’m not a huge fan of “Blurred Lines.” I first heard it in a commercial for a portable speaker that ran ad nauseam during the NBA playoffs, and what got my attention was not the song but Thicke’s absurdly sexy co-stars in the ad, cavorting about in their underwear against an all-white background. (Those ladies appeared nude in the official video for the song, but I guess they shot some alternate footage with the portable speaker in which they kept their clothes on and made a commercial out of it.)
Like everyone, the first thing I noticed about the commercial (after the girls) was the song’s similarity to “Got To Give It Up.” The second thing I noticed was the girls again. The third thing I noticed was Robin Thicke’s singular lack of chemistry with either his costars or the camera. Then the girls again. Then the portable speaker. (Great job, ad guys.)
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart with John Oliver
I have been a big fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart since before it was The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Even back in the late ’90s, when Craig Kilborn was applying his (in my opinion, underrated) fratboy enthusiasm to what then billed itself as “the most important television program ever,” I was a loyal near-nightly viewer, and though I liked Kilborn’s version just fine, the show clearly improved when Stewart took the helm.
The political commentary got sharper, the show got funnier, the correspondents were nearly all replaced with better correspondents, and just when it seemed to have hit top gear in its coverage of the 2000 election, the Florida recounts, followed by the second Bush administration, made the show absolutely essential for the next — get ready to feel old — 13 years (!!!!!).
Or, To Russia With Love
It’s been hard for me to really feel much outrage about the data-gathering and surveillance programs brought to light by Edward Snowden, the NSA-contracted intelligence analyst-turned-international fugitive recently granted a year’s asylum in Russia — probably because, like everyone who ever had this conversation on the phone…
“…yeah, so, do you still have that book about, ah, Sacajawea…? Could I stop by later and get that from you? It’s just, ’cause I have this paper due… on the EIGHTH…”
..I’ve always operated under the assumption that these things were at least maybe already happening.
As I understand it (and it’s entirely possible that I have this wrong), the PRISM data-collection program that Snowden exposed gathers and stores metadata from telecom companies — who called who, how long they talked, and when — but that it’s such a massive amount of information that it can only be practically useful in hindsight. As in, “Looks like Arturo was behind this bombing. So let’s tap his phone going forward, and while we’re at it, pull up his records for the last six weeks and lets see if we can figure out who helped him.” That doesn’t really bother me.
And, let’s face it: thanks to social media, privacy is quickly going out of style:
It seems that former Congressman and current New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has once again been caught engaging in the very behavior that led him to resign from Congress two years ago. Weiner has refused to drop out of the mayor’s race, his wife is once again standing by him; it’s now up to the voters of New York City, of whom I am one, to decide Weiner’s fate.
This feels more appropriate than how it went down last time, when Weiner immediately resigned on the assumption (most likely on the part of his handlers) that he would not be re-elected; I’m not so sure that’s true, and by re-entering politics so quickly after the his resignation, Weiner clearly feels what he did was not so awful that it couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be forgiven. This time, since Weiner enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls just before this second scandal broke, there will literally be a referendum on the relevance of a politician’s peccadilloes on his fitness for office.
I will not be voting for him.
I have no objection, on a moral level, to his habit of sending south-of-the-border selfies and extra-forward text messages to women not his wife. It’s an old saw by now, ever since the Clinton-Lewinsky contratemps, that nobody knows the true parameters of a marriage except the people in it, but it’s an old saw because it’s true.
My Twitter feed today has been chock full of outrage. Not outrage about the Zimmerman verdict — Zimmerman verdict outrage is sooo three days ago. Today everyone’s outraged because Rolling Stone magazine, which is apparently still a thing, put (alleged) Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev on its cover.
How can Rolling Stone treat a terrorist like a rock star? Doesn’t this send an awful message to people, like all they have to do to get on the cover of Rolling Stone is plan and execute a bombing in a highly populated public place? Why did they have to use such a dreamy picture of the guy?
These are the kinds of questions people are asking about this cover. I have some pretty strong feelings about it myself, if total indifference can be described as a strong feeling.