Archive for December, 2012

Republican/Crazy Watch

Posted on December 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Even as we pass through the end-of-year holidays, a time when we’re supposed to be disbursing good will to all, this country remains plagued by right-wing anger.

I was amazed when, before Christmas, GOP conservatives torpedoed House speaker John Boehner’s budget plan, a plan designed solely to score political points off President Obama. But because it included a tax increase for people making over $1,000,000 a year, conservative ideologues refused to support it.

That kind of dogmatic purism is bad for the country, I think; we have too many challenges not to compromise with those we don’t agree with.

But what really fascinated me was its implications for Boehner. Some years back, I wrote a long profile of House speaker Tom Foley, and as part of my research on the power of the speakership, I had a long talk with former speaker Jim Wright of Texas. Wright spent about two hours on the phone with me discussing the powers, both formal and informal, of the job.

And one thing I learned from that fantastic tutorial is that, if the Speaker puts his power behind something, and his caucus publicly and decisively rejects it, stick a fork in him, that Speaker is done.

Now, Boehner will likely retain the position, because no one else is crazy enough to want it; nobody can lead this pack of reckless brats. But he is effectively emasculated; the GOP is a leaderless party.

Here’s another example of GOP craziness.

A couple days ago, the White Plains (New York) Journal News published a map on which it showed the names and addresses of all the registered gun holders in surrounding Westchester and Rockland counties.

That’s public information, of course, and also in my opinion a public service; as a father, I’d want to know which of my neighbors—i.e., potential hosts of playdates—had guns. And if I had a neighbor who was acting a little crazy and I knew he was a gun owner….

Such lists have been published before, and conservatives have welcomed them because they show, in gun owner-theory, which houses are rob-able and which are not. (Burglars go to the houses without guns, right?)

But this time, the right-wingers went nuts. The Washington Post reports that right-wing blogs took up the story and responded by publishing the names and addresses of the paper’s publisher, editors and reporters, even down to the person who authors the crossword puzzle. Which of course has led to lots of death threats from anonymous commenters, such as…

“Nice house. Wooded lot, too. Lots of places to hide.”

Creepy—and cowardly.

I’ve written often on this blog about the possibility of violence from paranoid right-wingers who feel threatened by the positive course of change in this country, and I worry about that threat more than ever as Obama takes up the issue of gun control.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading William Manchester’s classic, The Death of a President—November 1963. Manchester writes eloquently and incisively about the mood of paranoia and hate in Dallas before John Kennedy’s arrival there on November 22nd of that year. I plan to blog more about this when I’ve finished the book, but much of what Manchester writes could be transposed onto the modern-day Tea Party/right wing without changing a word. The big difference: Now, it’s all too easy for hate to go national….

Thursday Afternoon Zen

Posted on December 20th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Sorry about the absence; I was in Belize reporting a story over the weekend, and just playing catch-up ever since.


And a Note of Appreciation

Posted on December 12th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

Around Thanksgiving I wanted to mention one thing for which I was particularly thankful, but then the time got away from me, so let me do it now.

I often write on this blog about frauds and charlatans and egoists of various types, because there are so many of them and they get away with so much, and because I am cranky that way. (For better or worse, I attribute this to my father, who was impatient with piffle and puffery.)

I also deplore these rogues, charming and not, because they often steal attention away from men and women of great accomplishment who are less good at self-promotion. I like to write about those folks as well. It is my theory that one of the keys to really enjoying life is recognizing the presence of brilliance in your midst, because it is so timeless but also so transient.

On that subject, I was delighted to read a couple of weeks ago that Bernard Bailyn has a new book out, The Barbarous Years—The People of North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675.

Had I stayed in graduate school to write my thesis instead of dropping out to rejoin the world, Bud Bailyn would have been my thesis adviser. He was certainly the most powerful and exciting intellectual presence I encountered at Harvard, and in a strange way, he’s the reason I dropped out: I knew I would never be half the historian that he is, and I didn’t want to study for years and years only to emerge as Salieri. But I never resented Bailyn for that; I admired him for the vast scope of his knowledge and the vigor of his insights. He could be a terrifying teacher—one did not want to walk into Bailyn’s seminar unprepared—but he was a deeply inspiring one.

And here’s another thing I always loved about Bailyn’s work, something that he doesn’t get sufficient credit for: He is an absolutely beautiful writer. One should read his books and essays not just for their intellectual content, but for the grace and clarity of his prose.

My favorite short piece of Bailyn’s is “The Index and Commentaries of Harbottle Dorr,” which is contained in his book Faces of Revolution. (You can start the essay by searching inside the book on Amazon, here.)

It is a gem of an essay about the principles and passions of an ordinary man in the years preceding the American Revolution, and I find it incredibly moving; this is a little embarrassing to admit, but the last sentence of that essay has moved me to tears on more than one occasion. Hundreds of years later, I feel some connection with Harbottle Dorr. Take away the WordPress, and my sputterings and ruminations are not so different from his.

Of course, not everyone will feel such a connection, but…read the first paragraph; it is a perfect paragraph. You simply can not write a better paragraph than that.

And that was another reason why I dropped out of graduate school; because such simple, straightforward, yet compelling writing was so out of academic vogue.

(I remember going to Skip Gates’ job talk in 1990, I think, and quickly dissolving into laughter—quickly muffled laughter—as Gates delivered sentence after sentence so freighted with academic jargon, nobody in the room had the slightest idea what he was talking about…but everyone was pretending to. I got the impression that even Gates didn’t know what he was saying, but was just playing a game of academic Mad Libs—and he was smart enough to know that it didn’t much matter.)

I couldn’t write the stuff that was trendy, had no interest in writing it, and so it seemed that my path to advancement was at least partially blocked.

So: This is a long way of saying what a pleasure it is to see that there is a new book from Bernard Bailyn and how excited I am to read it.

Suppose They Gave a Scandal…

Posted on December 12th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

…and nobody cared?

I’m surprised, though less than I might once have been, that the follow-up to the New York Times story on Sudhir Venkatesh has been virtually nonexistent. Some blog posts by yours truly and others, and, at least in public…that’s about it.

I guess it’s unlikely that people without a direct stake in the matter would somehow make an issue of this just as a point of principle. What do you gain?

But one might consider whether you still want to put Venkatesh out there as a trusted source…as MSNBC does in this bit of punditry.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It is a little awkward when, at about 1:30, host Melissa Harris-Perry describes Venkatesh as “one of [sociology’s] great pretenders.”

(Calling all Freudians: The New York Times piece was headlined “A Columbia Scholar Lives on the Edge.” Venkatesh describes Newark mayor Cory Booker as “known for being on the edge, as it were.” Connection?)

I am curious, though—if I had the time, I’d be looking at some of Venkatesh’s work to see if there’s a Stephen Glass/Jason Blair situation here. Which is really why I keep writing about someone I don’t know at a university I don’t care much about one way or the other: I do care about people posing as journalists making stuff up. And something doesn’t feel right here.

The $12 Million Man

Posted on December 12th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Yankees have signed Kevin Youkilis to a one-year, $12 million deal so that he can play third base for them until Alex Rodriguez recovers from his hip injury in, probably, July.

Nice work if you can get it!

This means that the Yankees are paying, what, $35 million to two third basemen whose average age is 36. Something is not right in Bronxland.

Of course much will be written about the trauma of a former Sox hero joining the evil Bombers, and of the Yankees signing the despised Youkilis. (It will be hard to imagine Yankee fans shouting “Youk!”)

But what I think is more relevant, and more deserving of attention, is the news that the Yankees are severing their relationship with the ticket reseller StubHub—even as most of baseball sticks with StubHub—because they think that StubHub is hurting their ticket sales.

As The [New York] Post first reported, the Yankees are miffed fans can buy tickets for a couple of bucks right up until game time because StubHub has refused to put a price floor for transactions on its site.

The Yankees are deluding themselves here. The reason that Yankee ticket sales are flat to down is because Yankee tickets cost more than the market can bear. That’s why, virtually every day during the baseball season, I get email offers from the Yankees for “ticket specials”—which is to say, tickets they can’t sell at face value.

Hardly competing in this year’s free agent market, the Yankees are obviously making moves to cut their budget, which feels a bit weird for Yankee fans but is ultimately a healthy thing. With that in mind…you couldn’t have signed a substitute third baseman for less than $12 million?

And the Latest from Worth

Posted on December 12th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »


While the Spelling Isn’t Ideal…

Posted on December 12th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

…and the card should be more inclusive…

…I do like the graphics. How come so few people make beautiful posters anymore?



Posted on December 10th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

On this version of Gimme Shelter, played next door to me at the Barclays Center on Saturday night, Mick Jagger is reduced to a backup singer—probably the right call when Mary J. Blige is belting it out—and Keith Richards and Ron Wood look like they need an adrenaline shot.

Still—it’s better than they were in London. (And the critics loved the show.)

One of These Papers is Owned by Rupert Murdoch

Posted on December 8th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

“Jobless Rate Edges to 4-Year Low

—The New York Times, 12/8

Labor Market Plods Forward

—The Wall Street Journal, reporting the same news.

Friday Afternoon Video

Posted on December 7th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

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