Friday, August 29, 2008

Godspeed To You, Barack Obama

Given the historic vitriol of this presidential campaign, it has been pretty easy to overlook something else historic that makes my heart nearly burst with pride:

It was 53 years ago, six years before Barack Obama was born, that Rosa Parks was ordered to get out of her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, because of the color of her skin, and today a man of color -- the embodiment of Martin Luther King's dream -- stands on the threshold of the presidency.

This could have not happened in the so-called Party of Lincoln, which has become a lily-white canker on the body politic, but it could happen in America.

Godspeed to you, Mr. Obama.

Photograph by Rick Wilking/Reuters

'Thank You Miss Rosa, You Are The Spark. Thank You Sister Rosa Parks'

SISTER ROSA
December 1, 1955, our freedom movement came alive.
And because of Sister Rosa you know,
we don’t ride on the back of the bus no more.

Sister Rosa Parks was tired one day
after a hard day on her job.
When all she wanted was a well deserved rest
Not a scene from an angry mob.
A bus driver said, "Lady, you got to get up
cuz a white person wants that seat."
But Miss Rosa said, "No, not no more.
I’m gonna sit here and rest my feet."

(Chorus)
Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.
Thank you Miss Rosa you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.

Now, the police came without fail
And took Sister Rosa off to jail.
And 14 dollars was her fine,
Brother Martin Luther King
knew it was our time.
The people of Montgomery sit down to talk
It was decided all gods’ children should walk
Until segregation was brought to its knees
And we obtain freedom and equality, yeah

(Chorus)

So we dedicate this song to thee
for being the symbol of our dignity.
Thank Sister Rosa Parks.

(Chorus)

Joey Biden's Gone But Tradition Lives On

The University of Delaware, emblematic of small-college football at its finest, opens its 119th season tomorrow against the University of Maryland (3:45 p.m. EDT on ESPN-NU).

Gone this year will be record-smashing quarterback Joe Flacco (above), who was a first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens

But there are bound to be frequent reminders through the season of a long-gone player: Joey Biden, a self-admitted "mediocre" halfback on the Fighting Blue Hen's 1962 freshman team who has been much in the news lately and probably will be unable to attend the usual full compliment of games this fall at reliably sold-out Delaware Stadium.

I remember pointing him out to the DF&C at last year's season opener and confidently saying, "There's the next secretary of state." Ha!

* * * * *
Delaware, which wears the distinctive Michigan "Flying Wing" helmets, went 11-4 last season, falling to Appalachian State in the Football Championship Series national championship game.

About those helmets:

They date to the early 1930s and to Princeton and not Ann Arbor. Princeton was coached by the legendary Fritz Crisler, who seized on the helmet design, then in the school's black and orange colors, to enable his quarterbacks to better see downfield receivers.

When Crisler moved to Michigan in 1938, he took the helmet design and changed the colors to the Wolverines' maize and blue scheme. Enter Dave Nelson, who played for Crisler and adopted the design, now with blue and white colors, when he became head coach at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Nelson then brought the helmet with him to Harvard (in black and crimson), later to Maine (in blue and white) and finally to Delaware (in blue and gold).

My Delaware roots run deep. My Uncle Jim was captain of its undefeated 1942 team, a predecessor of the six national championship teams, while I attended Delaware (as did the managers of both the Obama and McCain campaigns), work in its internationally renowned rare book and manuscript library and am a season ticket holder.

We're On The Road Again

Commencing today I will be doing the four things I love most: Listening and dancing to great live music, swimming in the ocean and eating fresh seafood. Yeah, that's only three things, but the fourth isn't suitable to mention at a family blog. (Wink!)

The rat race will resume next Tuesday.

-- Love and Peace, SHAUN

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Republicans' Perfect Storm?

If the Bush Years were plotted on a fever chart, the key turning point triggering the descent to the Great Abyss of Unpopularity was Hurricane Katrina.

While the war in Iraq remained pretty much an abstraction, albeit an increasingly unpleasant one, when the Category 5 storm made landfall three year ago today, people were incredulous, incensed and finally angered that the White House's response was an indifference that put the final nail in the coffin of compassionate conservatism.

As a great believer in karma, it is difficult for me to not notice that the primary projected track of Tropical Storm Gustav is virtually identical to Katrina's. It is probable that Gustav will regain hurricane strength as it enters warmer Gulf of Mexico waters and possible that it will make landfall on Monday as the Republican National Convention opens.

I hope that I am wrong, and with Gustav still relatively far out, the tracking error can be upwards of 300 miles.

Bush diehards have not suffered in the least for their leader's dereliction and let's remember that Focus on the Family, that proudly Republican organization, has prayed to God that he rain on Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight.

As it is, the four-day circle jerk in St. Paul will be an exercise in unreality, while the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have had way too much of it.

The Turd In The Democrats' Punch Bowl

While I was effusive in my praise for Hillary Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention the other night and was willing to let pass the fact that she didn't give Barack Obama a big wet smooch in urging her supporters to get with the program, it was with trepidation that I surfed away from the Phillies-Mets post-game show to see what Bill "Famously Hurt Feelings" Clinton had to offer when it was his turn on the Denver dais.
In the run-up to the second most most anticipated speech of the convention, my snarky side whispered to my non-judgmental side (yes, I have one) that Bill would have no choice but to make nice or things would be mighy chilly in the old marital bed back home in Chappaqua. But then it occurred to both my sides that the Clintons' marriage has almost certianly been one of convenience -- call it power sharing -- for a good many years.

Anyhow, reading between Hillary's lines the other night I finally if belatedly understood why PUMAs and other aggrieved supporters still were unable to let go. It's a Republican dirty trick. (I'm joking. I think.)

More to the point is that these women felt a sense of entitlement, that this was the year one of their own would burst through the glass ceiling of American politics and make it to the Big Dance and beyond. As misplaced as focusing their feelings of betrayal on Obama may be, I can still relate. (For the record, note that Greek-Americans didn't seem to feel betrayed when Bill Clinton muscled aside Paul Tsongas in 1992 to grab the nomination.)

It's Bill's own sense of entitlement and feelings of betrayal that are less easy to understand, but after his speech I think I have a clue or two about a man whose ego is even bigger than his legendary libido.

I have heard Clinton give better speeches. This one was at least adequate if somewhat disjointed, and its greatest strength was linking John McCain to not just the failures of the Bush administration, but its ideology. That is the theme more than any other that will propel Obama to the White House.

So Clinton did what he had to do --but he should have did what he had to do weeks ago and not played paddy cake with the media and his wife's base through a series of deliberate leaks and non-denials concerning his aggrievement with Obama.


Okay, maybe it was a pretty good speech. But in the end it was more important for Clinton to feel high and mighty and try to leverage a process that he should have been no part of than go after McCain from the jump. That lost opportunity may not necessarily translate into lost votes for Obama, but Clinton's post-presidential legacy -- already tarnished because of his slash-and-burn conduct during the primaries -- was not rehabilitated with one sincere-sounding speech.

Photograph by J.L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

A Potpourri Of Convention Zingers

While no one would confuse the Democratic National Convention with "Comedy Central," there have been some boffo jibes and great lines:
"John McCain calls himself a maverick, but he votes with George Bush 90 percent of the time. That's not a maverick. That's a sidekick."

-- BOB CASEY Jr.
"I spent 20 years in business. If you ran a company whose only strategy was to tear down the competition, it wouldn't last long."

-- MARK WARNER

"You know, it was once said of the first George Bush that he was born on third base and thought he'd hit a triple. Well, with the 22 million new jobs and the budget surplus Bill Clinton left behind, George W. Bush came into office on third base, and then he stole second."

-- TED STRICKLAND

"These times require more than a good soldier. They require a wise leader."

-- JOE BIDEN

"We simply can't drill our way to energy independence. If you drilled everywhere, if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards, even the ones he doesn't know he has, that single proposition is a dry well."

-- BRIAN SCHWEITZER

"People who live in seven houses shouldn't throw stones."

-- AMY KLOBUCHAR

"With an agenda like that, it makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities. Because theyse days they're awfully hard to tell apart."

-- HILLARY CLINTON

"Sometimes loving your country demands that you must tell truth to power."

-- JOHN KERRY

"If I had beaten the old man you'd've never heard of the kid and you wouldn't be in this mess."

-- MICHAEL DUKAKIS

And finally, this gem was in the draft of a speech by Dennis Kucinich speech but was excised by Obama's people:
"They’re asking for another four years. In a just world, they’d get 10 to 20."
Photograph by Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press

Madonna's Carbon Thighprint

Madonna has been on the global warming awareness bandwagon since forever, or at least the Live Earth Concert, but Ecorazzi notes that environmental organizations aren't buying.

One notes that the resources going into her 45-day "Sticky and Sweet" concert tour are equivalent to the carbon output of about 160 Britons -- for an entire year.

More here.

Let The Fun Continue, Indeed

Just in time to not get trampled by the Olympics comes the saga of Jericho Scott, a just turned 10-year-old pitcher who throws so hard that he was kicked off his New Haven, Connecticut Little League team. Jericho's folks, in the finest tradition of American sportsmanship, are suing the league.

This prompted Rick Chandler to make a modest proposal:

"Lower a large tarp over all adults involved and airlift them deep into the Brazilian rainforest. I love a story where both sides are completely wrong. The league needs to grow a pair and let the kid finish the season, which by all accounts is almost over anyway. And the Scotts need to understand that suing a youth baseball league over something of this nature is just a big bowl of wrong. But hey, it's all out of our hands now; at some point this story took on a life of its own. Let the fun continue."

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

One thing I've come away from here in Denver, in talking to various people, is the sense that the Obama campaign has become consumed with its brand as an end in itself. They did such a good job of packaging hope, optimism, and change that they are now resistant to any campaign strategies or tactics that might, in the eyes of some people, damage the brand.

They remind me of the classic car aficionado who beautifully and meticulously restores a vintage sports car but can't bring himself to risk actually driving the thing.

In both cases you can sympathize. A lot of time and energy went into creating this special product. But at some point you have to let go and use the thing for its intended purpose. The sports car is made for driving, tight and fast. The candidate's positive reputation is intended to further political ends, which in the short term means winning election.

There are signs that the campaign has been slowly coming around in recent weeks to a more aggressive, combative approach to the general election. But I think its ambivalence about doing so is less a result of the Democrats' historical tendency to fritter away opportunities because of fear and trepidation, and more because the Obama campaign spent tens of millions over a year and a half to build Obama's sterling reputation and they are afraid of breaking it. It's different from what hobbled Dukakis and Kerry, but the outcome could be the same.

-- DAVID KURTZ

As Ta-Nehisi [Coates] succinctly put it earlier this month, "What really exposed Lieberman to the brunt of liberal outrage was the sense that Joe was, first and foremost, out to get his."

More than anything else, that explains Lieberman's apparent close friendship with John McCain. What we have is two men who share a massive sense of entitlement and who have both made a political career out of playing the courageous independent, especially to the media. Theirs is a mutual exploitation society, a cynical-even-by-Beltway-standards pairing in which both attempt to use the other as a platform to advance his own personal interests.

Lieberman is the weaker of the two, however. If he is actually offered a position on the GOP ticket and accepts, it's an acknowledgment that either McCain wins or Lieberman is out of politics forever. Depending on how things play out in Connecticut, he might not even manage to finish his term. If he stays off the ticket, his position in the Senate becomes very precarious.

-- STEPHEN SUH

McCain campaign airs provocatively misleading ads.

The press has a conundrum.

If we want to point out how misleading they are, we air the ad.

McCain’s campaign wins the point.

If refuse to point out how misleading they are, McCain’s campaign escapes criticism.

-- MARC AMBINDER

Two Republican losers are in Denver this week, jockeying for TV face time and puckering up to their new best friend, John McCain.

In the primaries, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney ran neck and neck for the title of Most Shameless, America's Mayor with his 9/11 posturing and the former Massachusetts governor setting world records for pandering to the Radical Right by flip-flopping on gays, abortion and other social issues.

Now they are gate-crashing the Democratic convention like clowns from "Comedy Central." Romney is angling for VP on the Republican ticket, accusing Democrats of playing "the politics of envy" by harping on McCain's multiple homes, while modestly pointing out he himself has only four.

Who knows what Giuliani wants in a McCain Administration? Attorney General? The six-figure lectures fees must be drying up.


Partly as a result of America's continued inability to create affordable childcare options for women, our parties have been unable to woo substantial numbers of women into running for higher office. . . .

This is a problem. And this, I suspect is why the Pumas are really angry. They saw Clinton as their only shot. But they've got their anger misplaced. They should be focused on nurturing other women, the next generation as well as Clinton's, so that they never again find the playing field so bleakly unequal, the future so blankly, uniformly male.


Cartoon by Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary To PUMAs: Get Off Your Asses

Hillary Clinton hit the ball out of the park last night in the most anticipated political speech in forever. I'll leave the deep analysis to others, but if you want to skip that, here's it in a bit, as the Aussies like to say:
"I am honored to be here tonight. I'm here tonight as a proud mother. As a proud Democrat. As a proud senator from New York. A proud American. And a proud supporter of Barack Obama.

"And whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team, and none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines.
While there will be some pre-menopausal PUMAs who would rather have four more years of Bush than vote for Barack Obama, their numbers are going to be miniscule. And they deserve each other.

Photograph by Ron Edmonds/The Associated Press

Review: 'The Star Machine,' Making A Product That Couldn't Even Be Defined

I'm no actor and I have sixty four films to prove it.
-- VICTOR MATURE
If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.
-- JOAN CRAWFORD
There is a marvelous scene in the 1956 hit High Society that distills the greatness of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby not as terrific singers, which they of course were, but as consummate movie stars.

It is their rendition of Cole Porter's swingingly whimsical "Did Ya Evah," which as film historian Jeanine Basinger writes, required Frankie and Der Bingles to sing, dance, hit their marks, not mangle the lyrics, deliver the scripted dialogue, stay within their characters, act slightly drunk, keep the beat of the orchestra playback, move around a tight set following a specific choreography and all the while appearing to be utterly at ease while never forgetting that they were rivals for the audience's affection.

This marvelous description of star power comes early in Basinger's The Star Machine, a thoroughly researched and delightfully written layer cake of a book about a business that Hollywood couldn't even define but almost always succeeded in through a combination of astute planning, brilliant marketing, understanding its audience better than the audience understood itself, as well as sheer dumb luck.

Basinger deftly and wittily elucidates the steps in making a star:

* The actor's name would be changed.

"There could be no believable glamor in an Irmagard Gluck or Percy Flutterman," she writes. "If by some lucky chance, your name was deemed 'bankable,' you could keep it. . . . Most potential stars, however, had to undergo the name change. This was imperative if your physical image and your name were at odds. For instance, strongman 'Duke' Wayne's name was the unacceptable Marion Michael Morrison. The tall and exotic beauty Cyd Charisse had the comedy handle of Tula Finklea. Cary Grant was Archibald Leach -- no elegant man of your dream there -- and Robert Taylor, a pretty man always striving to seem more masculine, carried the original name of Spangler Arlington Bruch -- a name that would not work on a marquee, or with his image."

* A fake biography would be created.

"The best part of the studio bio was that it could eliminate anything boring or unsavory about a star's past. It could also exaggerate small things, turning an actor who'd won a meaningless medal at a local swimming meet into a 'celebrated swimming champion.' Fathers who were plumbers became engineers or architects, and two years in reform school could be recast as 'continuing his education.' . . . The studio bio was all in a game, a storytelling game, a shrewd tool that helped suggest to fans how to see the star. Only what seemed right was used; the rest was thrown out."

* Photographs would be taken.

"No one became a star without posing for silly holiday promotions. In looking through old studio publicity shots, it's one thing to see Marilyn Monroe sitting on an exploding firecracker or Esther Williams on a diving board in a bathing suit, but quite another to come across Loretta Young dressed up as an Easter bunny, her ears all a-flop, her eyes a-twitter as she offers a gigantic Easter egg, or Susan Hayward, who later became an Oscar-winning actress, 'riding' a phallic Fourth of July rocket in shorts and high heels, a leering grin on her face. Even Greta Garbo had to pose with a lion (the MGM logo)."

* Planted stories and interviews would appear in fan magazines.

"My favorite plants are the whimsical ones that would run in the movie magazines' gossip columns just to get the name in print. For instance . . . George Brent left the Abbey Players in Dublin to become a secret agent in the Irish Republican Army. Olivia de Havilland could perfectly imitate a dog's bark, and frequently did so just to startle people (a no doubt successful maneuver). Ginger Rogers slept on her stomach and wouldn't be caught dead at a bridge table. Hedy Lamarr consulted the stars before making any decisions, and Errol Flynn 'likes pretty girls and they like him.' (That one, obviously, was true.)"

* The actor would (gasp!) learn to act.

"This was accomplished largely by working the star to death. . . . Casting Clark Gable in seventeen movies in a little over two years reveals the efficiency of the Hollywood factory. While Gable was being 'fixed up' by the studio, sold out on the streets, publicized by studio flacks, written about and photographed and shown off, he was also working at his craft, learning his trade. Since the old system could turn out a great many movies in a single year, Gable could be filming all day, six days a week, mastering the business of movie stardom. For him, the idea of 'movie star' was thus not a mystery. It was his job."

* After learning to act, the actor would be typecast.

"The final step was the one that put the name above the title and could even lead to legendary status: It was typecasting. If the star's special type hadn't already been locked firmly in place by the buildup, or if nature hadn't decreed it in the first place through exotic beauty (Hedy Lamarr) or specialized talent (Eleanor Powell), it had to happen now. Every top-of-the-line movie star had to find a type that he or she could play over and over. And over. That would keep the movies rolling and the money flowing in. The star had to become 'bankable,' which meant the star had to become a recognizable shelf product."

The star machine was never a secret and Hollywood wasn't concerned that stars were manufactured. In fact, the studios let audiences in on the mysteries of the star machine and even made movies about it.

So why didn't the stare machine, predominant for nearly three decades, survive the 1950s?

Because manufacturing stars was no longer a priority and making blockbuster hits became one.

Explains Basinger:

"The 'star' of a movie can be special effects, a big-name director, or controversial subject matter.

" . . . Pundits are now claiming that the time of the star has passed. Even people inside the film business are predicting the 'starless' movie of the future. Does that mean Tom Cruise will be the last of the red-hot movie star? It's doubtful. Probably all that will change, besides their salaries, is who they are, what they play in, and how the public wants to see them.

My only quibbles with The Star Machine are small: Basinger is overly found of italics for emphasis such as in the paragraph above, and her penchant for copious and distracting footnoting. I eventually read right past the italics and just ignored the footnotes because the rest of this book is a delight.

Glimpses Of Some Leading Men & Ladies

Clockwise from top: Cooper (with Kelly), Power, Turner, Monroe
Herewith some excerpts from The Star Machine on some of the most successful products to come off the Hollywood studio assembly line:

CHARLES BOYER
The horror of the star system -- and its power -- was that despite never giving himself over to it completely, Boyer was nevertheless defined by it. . . . The very things that made him a desirable leading man -- his Frenchness, his alluring accent -- might have doomed him to only a few years in support of big-name female stars or, worse yet, a longer career as a second banana, the guy who doesn't get the girl (a Gallic Ralph Bellamy). He might even have become no more than a stock villain (a Gallic Basis Rathbone). Instead, despite his independence, his ability to play both comedy and drama, his internationalism, his success in many areas, his brains, his form intentions not to let it happen, Hollywood found and typecast him.
GARY COOPER
. . . lasted for decades because he developed a type that incorporated its own opposite. His image today is sometimes defined as an actor whose dialogue was "yep" and "nope," but it's astonishing to review his filmography and see how often he played a sly con artist who could talk himself out of any jam (The Westerner) or a character who articulates the most important issues of a film (The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell). Cooper had impeccable comic timing, as well as the capacity to convey deeply felt pain. He could play a real kick -- shy and clumsy -- or the ultimate sophisticate.
BING CROSBY
Crosby's brand of warmth -- friendly, casual despite that underlying edge -- came across in anything: Movies, radio, recordings and television. In addition to his obvious musical talent, Crosby could act. . . . He could be cast comfortably with a variety of leading ladies, from Ingrid Bergman to Betty Hutton. . . . Whether he played opposite nuns, frowsy housewives, WAVEs, or movie stars, he paired easily and effectively with whomever he was assigned -- a major asset in the studio system. Just as important, Crosby was easily adaptable to another leading man. His confidence inside the frame allowed him to adjust his attitude and manner to any male co-star without fear of being upstaged.
MARILYN MONROE
. . . skyrocketed to spectacular fame. She was one of the last -- if not actually the last -- truly big female star to be "built up" by the star machine the old-fashioned way. . . . Allegedly, Monroe came out of nowhere, but "nowhere" was the usual time of development and growth, in her case a four-year apprenticeship in bit parts and walk-ons.
ELEANOR POWELL
Her movie career was mostly one long specialty number, with her plots and co-stars thrown in around her as an excuse for her dancing. In this regard, she was like a Sonja Henie or Esther Williams -- hired for the things she could do that were athletic and amazing -- and Powell's tap dancing was nothing short of amazing. . . . To watch her perform one of her own original signature steps -- she kicks her leg up in the air right alongside her chin, then bends backward all the way to the floor -- is to wonder if she's human.
TYRONE POWER
The career development of Tyrone Power illustrates how limiting the star machine process could become and how a great star could be both an asset and a problem. On the one hand, he was made into one of the most glamorous and successful movie stars of the studio era, a top-ranked box office bonanza with hordes of adoring fans, both male and female. On the other hand, being made into a glamour boy stifled him. The machine process glorified him and then stunted him. . . . Had he not been so beautiful, he might have been given more challenging parts, but Hollywood knew people would pay money to see Tyrone Power without his shirt on, whether he was acting or not. For someone without talent, it was the perfect job. For Tyrone Power, who actually could act, it had to have been some kind of hell.
LANA TURNER
. . . she is the epitome of Hollywood machine-made stardom. She got to the top at a time in movie history when there were many beautiful young hopefuls to triumph over, but she entered the system and rose up through it like a rocket. And then something went wrong. Although she was a top professional with an uncanny camera instinct, Turner's opportunity to develop as an actress passed after a series of sensational events in her private life. Her screen roles began to reflect these personal scandals, and, with three or four exceptions, the movies she played in were drivel. . . . Turner was not the first movie star to create romantic scandals. The difference for her was that she was never officially forgiven for her peccadilloes.
LORETTA YOUNG
. . . was a pioneer career woman who took charge of her own image. . . . She studied every aspect of filmmaking, asking serious questions about lighting and camera angles, making herself the master of her own makeup and costuming. She was stubborn -- never agreeing to any hat, outfit, or hairstyle she felt did not show her to her best advantage.

Erroll Flynn: Buckle My Swash, Matey

Looking back through the mists of movie history, it seems like the transition from saving the British Empire to saving the American West was a natural for Erroll Flynn.

But on closer examination, the legendary Aussie swashbuckler with his distinctive accent and mannerisms was anything but a natural for leading roles in classics like They Died With Their Boots On and Montana (photo).

That he succeeded so magnificently is a story in itself.

Cartoon du Jour

Michael Ramirez/Investor's Business Daily

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

VIEW FROM BOSCOBEL
(Hudson Valley, New York, 2000)
By Robert Weingarten

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Billboard on Interstate 94 near Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport

The reporters who think it's front page news that blacks disagree, or the blacks who think that the very existence of an Obama administration would be a setback for "The Black Agenda." There are many, many, many things wrong with this theory--the first of which being, from what I can tell, "The Black Agenda" is basically "A Black Middle Class College Professor Agenda." I've only seen one issue emerge from this debate--Affirmative Action. Nothing about the kids failing out of school. Nothing about the (slight) uptick in teen pregnancy. Nothing about wealth creation. Nothing about drug policy. I have no clue what makes these people so maniacally focused on this one issue, like the whole of black America hinges on their kids getting into Berkeley. Give me a break.

-- TA-NEHISI COATES

[Y]ou can't trust politicians, you can't wait for one guy to come and be your leader - you have to fight like hell to push the country in the right direction, and you can't just pretend that the fight is over at the election, or that you can break the work up into electoral cycles. You can't blame the older generation or the younger generation, you can't let people get divided up by race or sex or by whatever jobs they do or talismans they wear. You have to recognize that we're all in this fight, that we all have things to bring to the table and concerns that matter. We are not "special interests", we are We The People, and that matters more than any individual politician or any tribal signifiers that might, even for an instant, make you forget that your real enemy is someone who is not listening and will not be stung by your insults, although your potential allies will be.

-- AVEDON CAROL

Back in 2004 the media were obsessed with the idea that if the Dems showed any negativity about Bush they'd be doooooooooooooooomed.

Now they're obsessed with the idea that the Dems aren't showing enough negativity.

Whatever.

-- ATRIOS

People here complain that the polls are too close for comfort, forgetting that there is rarely anything comfortable about a presidential contest. When was the last time a non-incumbent Democrat cruised easily to the White House? Clinton, remember, won only a 43 percent plurality of the popular vote in 1992. You have to go all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Why would anyone think for a moment that Obama could win this without a fight?

-- EUGENE ROBINSON

Are the Denver Dems downing the stock market today? The Dow is off 230 points, starting right from the get-go. So-called market analysts are blaming financials and the credit crunch as they always do. But there's more.

Obama and Biden gave us plenty of class warfare in their Springfield, Ill., get together on Saturday. Tax the rich. Redistribute income and wealth. Go after all those corporate meanies. Trade protection. Card-check for the Unions to stop secret elections. . . . With the Denver Dems strutting their stuff, this could be a bumpy week for stocks.

-- LAWRENCE KUDLOW

I mean, I doubt if one American in 20 could correctly identify who the Weathermen were and what they did back in the '60s -- an era that, like McCain, is fading fast into the mists of pre-history (prehistory, in an American context, being anything that happened before last Tuesday). Unless the McCaniacs are going to spend a LOT of time filling in the back story, I wouldn't be surprised if voters think the message is that meteorologists, like hot chicks, dig Obama. Which doesn't seem like such a bad thing, even if the meteorologists are white.

What's next? Will some young speechwriter at the RNC come up with the bright idea of dubbing Obama the candidate of "acid, amnesty and abortion"?

-- BILLMON

Here's a development that really bears watching: In stark contrast to John Kerry's 2004 campaign, the Obama team has developed a very aggressive response to the growing Swift-Boating apparatus that is targeting the Illinois Senator -- but crucially, the Obama camp is striving to keep the counterattack as low key as possible.

. . . The Obama approach represents an effort to get around the conundrum that bedeviled Kerry and that such attacks present to campaigns. Rather than choose between doing nothing and launching a high-profile response that risks granting the attack national media attention, the Obama campaign is striving for a middle ground: Aggressive but localized and low-key responses that the campaign hopes won't drive the national dialog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why McCain's Veep Choice Is So Tough

While Joe Biden brings a fair amount of baggage to the Barack Obama ticket, in retrospect he was the best choice as a vice presidential running mate because of the balance he offers. Pity poor John McCain, because his choices will be exceedingly limited if he hopes to balance his ticket.

My tears are of the crocodile variety, of course, and McCain has no one to blame but that guy looking back at him from the mirrors in those how many homes.

He made the decision to market himself as a faux maverick but of course not say or do anything that would alienate a Republican base dominated by right wingers and religious zealots with those bulging culture war rule books proscribing who is the proper god to worship, what women cannot do with their bodies, who is truly an American, and so on and so forth.

While Obama had a zillion possible running mates because of the Democratic Party's diversity, or should I say notorious diversity considering how many bridesmaids and their supporters he left at the altar last week, McCain is in a fix.

If he truly was a maverick he would not be the presumptive GOP nominee. If we pretend that he is a maverick then he could balance his ticket with an un-maverick, of which he would have an inexhaustible supply to choose from.

So is McCain going to pick another old white guy?

He may have no choice, but think of the manna from one-liner heaven for late-night comedians if he chooses a Rudy Giuliani, who besides being a one-trick pony is like him a serial adulterer, or a Mitt Romney, who beyond his past as a flaming liberal governor before he saw the conservative light would give the ticket more wealth and kitchen tables than many African nations.

Is McCain going to pick a woman?

Carly Fiorina would seem at first blush to be a good choice because she could read McCain's email for him and might even bring him his slippers at night so as to not totally alienate the party's base. But the dear has feminist tendencies, so she's a non-starter. And about all that Sarah Palin would bring to the big dance is zero name recognition and some undrilled Alaska oil.

Tom Ridge and Joe Liberman are non starters for obvious reasons, so this pretty much narrows the attempt at a balancing act to semi-obscure and truly unknown party regulars for whom AARP membership is still a few years off.

But if anything should happen to McCain, who as a septuagenarian has about a 1 in 6 chance of packing in before his first term is over, do we really want a president like a Palin or Tim Pawlenty who hasn't had a whole lot of practice at anything beyond ribbon cuttings?

Thank You For Everything, Mr. Kennedy

For some people of a certain age, Ted Kennedy will always be the rich drunk who drove off the Chappaquidick Bridge and sent Mary Jo Kopechne to her watery death. For others like myself, he will always be the scandal tarnished baby brother who would never follow in the footsteps of Jack or Bobby but nevertheless did great good.

In fact, Kennedy's hands are all over virtually every major liberal Democratic legislative initiative of the past 45 years and a goodly number of bipartisan ones, as well. These include the 1980 Americans With Disabilities Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Most of us do not remember Kennedy for his accomplishments because he has been, in his own way self effacing, although there could be no more poignant a reminder of the greatness of this exemplar of noblesse oblige than when he received a sustained ovation and tears flowed copiously at the Pepsi Center last night -- and at my home.

Click here for the video and text of this imperfect but great man's valedictory.
Photograph by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Clinton Die Hards Still Kicking Sand

I have made my peace with Hillary Clinton, which was no easy task after the way she helped prime John McCain's pump, but her die hard supporters are nothing more than a bunch of sand kicking cry babies at this point. (Although not this one, thank dog.)

Hillary plans to release her delegates, but then there is Bubba and his famously hurt feelings, as well as John McCain's sophmoric chicken pranking.

The former president may well give the last high-profile speech of his checkered career tomorrow, and as Booman points out, all the talk of his grievances may have the perverse effect of raising the expectations bar.

It will for me, as in really high.

I for one will be bitterly disappointed if the greatest politician of my lifetime -- which is not to say that he was the greatest prezdent, which he wasn't -- doesn't go out in a blaze of glory and on a positive note that includes making it clear that he will bust his bruised butt for Barack Obama.

As Bob Stein notes and I well recall, the passions of 1968, the last truly strife-ridden Democratic National Convention, were political and all about an increasingly unpopular war. In 2008 they are personal and the first woman to make a serious run for the White House getting shafted.

I have no interest in kicking any sand of my own. Hillary Clinton lost fair and square with, as it turns out, an ample assist from her husband and others close to her. And in no small irony, her campaign and Obama's will make it easier for a woman to run and win in the future.

The big task now is not settling grudges. It is ending the Republican nightmare in Washington.

Photograph by Paul J. Richards/AFP-Getty Images

Plugs For Joe Biden

Meeting Again Under The Big Tree

I have come to view American music as one great big tree with many branches -- folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass, soul, zydeco, swing, and so on and so forth -- and in my experience there is no finer way to appreciate that than the Rhythm & Roots Festival.

The 11th annual edition will be held Friday through Sunday at Ninigret Park near Charlestown, Rhode Island, which is a mere octave or two from Interstate 95 at the Connecticut line and hard by the lovely Atlantic coast.

I've done a zillion music festivals over the years and none have the superb organization, great sound and laid back ambiance of the R&R. The food, drink and crafts are a cut above the norm and one of the small joys of these three-day extravaganzas is to see three generations of a family up and dancing.

This year's lineup is eclectic as usual and includes:
Marcia Ball & The LA/TX Revue
David Bromberg Quartet
The Robert Cray Band
Donna the Buffalo
Great American Taxi w/Vince Herman
Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks
Keb Mo
Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas
The Pine Leaf Boys
Ed Poullard, Preston Frank & Corey Ledet
Red Stick Ramblers
Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys
Incredible, no? Click here for more info. The DF&C and I would love to run into you there.

Jamaican-Style Black Beans To Die For

I'm told that my Jamaican-style black beans are to die for even though I haven't killed anyone in years of making them.

This recipe works on several levels. If you refrain from drinking the rum, the ingredients are inexpensive. It's easy to make. And the result freezes and thaws beautifully, which in my case means I can make a big batch and put most of it away for use weeks or months later.

INGREDIENTS
6 tablespoons cooking oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium red and green bell peppers, seeded and diced (*)
6 medium-sized celery stalked, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons crushed oregano
6 cups cooked black beans, drained
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons orange juice
4 tablespoons dark rum
Salt and pepper to taste

(*) If you like it hot, substitute one pepper with two to four green chilies
DIRECTIONS
In a large iron skillet or heavy saucepan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add peppers and celery, cook 3 minutes longer. Add cumin and oregano and cook briefly, stirring. Add beans, lemon juice, orange juice, rum and salt and pepper to taste and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add water to think the mixture as necessary to a desired consistency. Simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
SERVING SUGGESTIONS
On rice. As a stew. As a side dish with shrimp or for nachos. Wrapped in flour tortillas or a quesadilla filling, both with Monterey jack cheese. As a hors d'ouvre. And so on and so forth.