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Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

Programming Note.

In Television on November 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I’ve been following the program Homeland on Showtime closely. It came out of nowhere last year and floored me with its first season. It provokes the audience with its takes on terrorism, surveillance, mental health, political expediency, and national loyalty, to name a few. Its second season is well underway, and has taken some unexpected turns.

The awesome and erudite June Thomas graciously invited me to join her for a discussion of last night’s episode on Slate. It’s obviously more engrossing if you’ve been watching the show, but hopefully there are some nuggets worth extracting even if you haven’t. If you’re up for it, check it out here.


Party Afoul.

In Politics on November 19, 2012 at 9:45 am

In case you didn’t hear, Barack Obama was reelected as president. (I’m not sure how I would feel if you actually hadn’t heard until now. Simultaneously flattered and abhorred that Brief Wit is your only source of news?)

The postmortems have come hard and fast since Obama’s victory, like that scene in The Avengers where the Hulk punches Thor in Grand Central.

In his own dissection of the loss, Romney inelegantly echoed the “47 percent” version of himself by saying Obama bestowed “gifts” on demographic groups. What you call “gifts,” I might call “rights” or “decencies,” but hey, let’s not parse. (Even Newt gave him grief for it.)

In the end, what looked to be the case became the reality.

Yes, Mitt Romney was so obviously and easily cast as a tone-deaf robber baron at possibly the worst time in 80 years to be labeled that way. But Romney was not just a bad candidate for his own message, he was a bad candidate for the GOP’s message. And, like a riesling paired with a ribeye, the GOP’s message was not very palatable to begin with.

Indeed, the predominant feature of these campaign postscripts has been clear-eyed criticism of the Republican party, chiefly its issue stances and waning appeal to a changing population. The takeaway: the GOP has run afoul of the electorate.

As the analyses have fluttered out, one of the earliest and most succinct was also probably the most palpable portrait, from former Bush reelection adviser Matthew Dowd on Good Morning America. He said that the GOP had become a “ ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America.”

(I’m not saying it’s all over, but Sean Hannity’s already applied for Food Stamps.) Read the rest of this entry »

Inconsistent, But Insistent.

In Government on November 1, 2012 at 10:44 pm

It’s been bizarre, as Will Saletan said this week, to see Republican governors in New Jersey, Virginia, and Louisiana chew out their most stubborn citizens for refusing to evacuate, and yet eschew government for asking its citizens to buy health insurance. In either case, whether it is the stranded woman on the roof of her flooded house or the guy who rolls into the ER with a busted pelvis, our common humanity, government, and social contract impels us to try and save them:

“What’s odd about Christie and other Republican governors is that they recognize this principle only when a hurricane hits. When it comes to injury or disease, which we know will strike everyone on this planet, the Republican governors defend your right to ride it out. They oppose any requirement to buy health insurance. If you get sick, the rest of us will shell out to rescue you.

“Hurricanes and health care are different in many ways, of course. Buying health insurance is more expensive than evacuating for a natural disaster. But in both cases, the question is whether you should be allowed to make your own choices when the cost of bailing you out will fall on others. If the state has no business forcing you to buy health insurance, even when the premiums are subsidized, why should it be empowered to order you out of your home in a storm, just to save your skin? Why do Republican governors think they can have it both ways?”

It’s difficult to swallow your pride, and all the more agonizing to have to leave your home. I hope I’m never put in that position. If I was, I’m not sure making the right call would be easy. Lately, I’ve tended to think most people are bad at solving their own problems and better at solving other people’s.

After the poor decision to stay in their inundated town is laid bare for them by events, who knows better than the pig-headed couple who had to be rescued, that maybe the choice to “opt-in” shouldn’t have been left to them?

The Upside Of Big Brother.

In Government, Nature on October 31, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Sandy swept up the East Coast with reckless abandon. A hybrid hurricane-blizzard superstorm, she gives new meaning to the term crazy spinster. Who could possibly help us get back to our feet after such a destructive force of nature? Turns out it’s actually Big Brother.

Most of the time, we think of Big Brother as an overreaching, freedom-squeezing, privacy-seizing government, à la 1984. That’s the know-it-all older brother, the bullying one. And we should be concerned about him. (For instance, he got into warrantless wiretapping.)

It turns out there’s this other side to him though, one we see again and again in times like these, when a natural disaster threatens huge swaths of the population. That’s the rescuing, resource-sharing, crisis-managing Big Brother. The brother you could talk to about stuff, whose know-how and eagerness to help was a lifesaver, who figured out a way to solve problems when you couldn’t. (I have one, and he’s been both at points, but much more often the latter.)

Unless you’re a person of interest in a plot to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank, that’s the Big Brother you’re more likely to encounter in your lifetime.

And we need that one. Desperately. Otherwise, we won’t be ready for or able to recover after the increasingly common roadblocks from nature and God, forces that Paul Ryan has so dutifully touted this campaign season, albeit for different reasons. Read the rest of this entry »

The Other Debates.

In Media, Politics on October 24, 2012 at 9:45 am

The presidential campaign is firing on all cylinders. If it were a Chevy Volt, it might actually have to stop for gas. President Obama and Mitt Romney will hold events in battleground states for the next 13 days, now that that their final debate is complete. But Monday’s wasn’t the final debate of the 2012 campaign.

There was another debate Tuesday night. No Obama, no Romney. No Biden, no Ryan.

CBS didn’t preempt NCIS (way too big a ratings winner) to show it to you. MSNBC didn’t offer special coverage in lieu of The Ed Show (if only) to bring it to you. And Fox News didn’t give The O’Reilly Factor a night off (and not simply because we all know Bill likes to do it live).

Instead, third party candidates for the presidency held a debate in Chicago. The only way to see it was to stream it online at

Four candidates from outside of the two dominant outfits attended: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson. The discussion was moderated by Larry King, who despite being irresistibly easy to make fun of, is credible.

King’s rationale for putting on his suspenders Tuesday was simple: “It’s a two-party system, but not a two-party system by law.”

While none of the candidates in Tuesday’s debate is a threat to win the election, that doesn’t mean they don’t pose a threat, per the AP: “Democrats and Republicans are keeping tabs on Johnson and Goode, two ex-Republicans who could be factors in key battleground states.” The New York Times also reported recently on how Johnson, who is on the ballot in 48 of 50 states, may affect the results in some of the battlegrounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Biz Prez.

In Government on September 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

One of the chief questions being posed in this year’s presidential campaign is: would a businessman make a good president?

A definitive “Yes” is the central declaration of Mitt Romney’s campaign.

He has “an abiding belief that corporate methods can be applied to the political sphere.” It’s up for debate, but hey, if corporate influence is already being applied to the political sphere (and then some), why not?

This approach is of course to the chagrin of some and pride of others, but it is assuredly what Romney wants to do.

And yet, “The relationship between a nation and its leader is far more complex than the relationship between shareholders and a CEO,” as David Von Drehle said in Time.

I’ve been ruminating on the same question, of what I’ll call the Biz Prez.

The problem at the core of this premise is that the premise itself is overly simplistic and reductive. It assumes that all businessmen and businesswomen are the same, when in fact, there is no such thing as a typical business or businessperson.

(Disclosure: I would have voted for H. Ross Perot in ’92 if I were of age. If someone shares your name, you fall in line, doubly so when he prefers it over his first name. That’s why the tens of Mitts and Baracks in this country have already chosen sides, but perhaps not the Willards and Husseins.)

Business is far too wide of a term. Are we talking finance or food service? Car manufacturing or couture? Health care or hotels? Is there a difference between a 35,000+ person corporation or a small business that’s had great success? These issues have received sparse attention. Read the rest of this entry »

Ensconcing The Gentleman From Wisconsin.

In Politics on August 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Did anyone tell Paul Ryan’s congressional staff that he has been selected as the vice presidential candidate for the Republican party?

Mitt Romney made it official six days ago, but there is still no mention of this pretty major development to his constituents in Wisconsin on his official Congress homepage, as you can see here, or in the screenshot above.

There is no word of it anywhere I can see, including on the “Newsroom” page, something that would otherwise seem to be a good fit for that section:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Hunt For Red November.

In Politics on August 11, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Early Saturday morning, Mitt Romney announced his pick of Paul Ryan to be his running mate.

Seriously Roms, the way into journalists’ hearts is not to make them get up early on a Saturday or cut off their vacations:

Besides, supposedly, the Congressman from Wisconsin needs his beauty sleep to boot:

And sorry Paulie, but as I recently learned, your new boss’s religion forbids drinking coffee! (Romney might lose the election on that issue alone if word got out.) So, good luck perking up on those 18-hour campaign days ahead. Read the rest of this entry »

Irony Curtain.

In Economy on July 18, 2012 at 11:55 am

Around the world, economies remain on shaky ground. Even the BRICs are breaking. Brazil, Russia, India, and China are all reporting slower growth or swallowing diluted forecasts from analysts.

Of course, nowhere has the situation been more dire, tenuous, or fraught than in Europe, where the insolvency of banks and governments inside the eurozone is more than enough to make you skip ordering that soufflé. Finance ministers from across the continent have basically been in a six-month long meeting working to address it, and it feels like they may just be up to the task after all. Then again, who knows.

Nonetheless, in most articles I read that reference the economy in the context of the presidential election, President Obama is handicapped for the state of the European economy, because its turmoil affects us.

A weak American economy is never going to aid an incumbent, no matter what causes it. But shouldn’t the fiscal crisis in Europe actually be something that makes Obama look more favorable? Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Not TV. It’s Aaron Sorkin.

In Television on June 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Aaron Sorkin hasn’t had a show on television in five years. Now, his latest project, The Newsroom, is premiering on HBO. It’s Sorkin’s corrective to cable news.

There’s been plenty of writing about it, from all angles: character studies, accuracy studiesinterviews, grating interviews. Oh yeah, there are even some reviews.

Journalists love writing about Sorkin. He is arguably the best-known screenwriter in America. He has a distinct style. He is talented, opinionated and loquacious. There is a lot to agree or disagree with in his comments and work.

He also chooses his projects carefully: he only has ten writing credits on IMDb. It appears his eleventh will be adapting Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. (Sorry Ashton, you picked the wrong script.)

I’ve actually written something about Aaron Sorkin, as well. But, like his last work on TV, mine is also from 2007.

This was before Brief Wit, before I began writing on an ongoing basis.

I wrote this piece five years ago and couldn’t get it published.

I think it’s relevant to share now…

Read the rest of this entry »