Saturday, June 27, 2009

 

Open Thread

Looking back on a week where America lost Ed, Farrah and Michael. We can only hope the future is brighter. Though, given the odds, other people will probably die in the future too.

Oh well, have at it.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

 

End Of The Seventies

Yeah, I'm going to be little maudlin here tonight.

But for the generation born in the 1960s and '70s, a large piece of our childhood died today.

While many of us certainly grew up with recently-departed Ed McMahon as Johnny Carson's sidekick, he definitely "belonged" to the boomer's cultural experience more than our own. Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson? Now that's something else. They were as different from each other as any could be and their deaths were as dramatically different too. Regardless, they "belonged" to us in a unique way. And, their deaths within hours of each other forces certain thoughts of mortality.

Farrah's death was not unexpected. She'd been ill for some time. Her last TV appearance was in, of course, a reality TV show where she plaintively prayed for a miracle from the anal cancer that was destroying her.

Her career was a rather strange one, blasting into the cultural consciousness (as Farrah Fawcett-Majors) like a comet. In one season of "Charlies Angels", she became the "It" pin-up girl of every pubescent and post-pubescent male. Even after she made an ill-advised career choice to split the show after one season (except for a few guest appearances over the next few seasons), she managed to stay linked with the culture. Eventually, she even showed that, amazingly, she wasn't just a pretty face, but could act too doing Emmy-nominated work in made-for-TV movies in the '80s like "The Burning Bed" and "Small Sacrifices."

In short, she proved that she could be something more than just a pin-up girl. The culture captured her at her most radiant -- in a snap-shot, but the lesson she told the post-boomers is that life is a motion picture. She chose to keep moving and reinventing herself.

Those two words sum up Michael Jackson -- "moving" and "reinvention." Even with all the strangeness of his later years, he's not supposed to be still so soon. Boomers can lay claim to the Jackson 5 part of his story -- the last great group to come out of the original Motown empire. At 11 years old, Michael was this incandescent ball of energy -- a miniature James Brown with a scary emotional vocal range. His solo early-70s songs were nice and sweet pop extensions on what he had been doing with the J5.

But it wasn't until he released Off The Wall in 1979, with a new, vibrant sound, that the world noticed that there was something really special in its midst. The album arrived at just the right moment. Rock was in a drudgy period; disco was on its last legs, the economy was a shambles (and, hey! there was a revolution going on in Iran)!! But Jackson produced an album that mixed R&B, disco and rock. It was of the moment while sounding like nothing else in the moment. (The nervous mumbling that builds into an exuberant yelp to kick off album-starter "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" is pure magic.) It was music that insisted that black and white kids could still listen to the same sounds -- despite what the rest of the culture seemed to be saying. (And, yeah, the "new" Michael had a new nose as well -- presaging the type of perpetual physical transformation would make him a tragic figure as the years elapsed).

Jackson took that sound and musical philosophy and launched it into the stratosphere with Thriller.

At the same time, he single-handedly turned music video into an art form all its own. He became the Rosa Parks of MTV -- forcing the then-new music channel to play videos by black performers. MTV insisted that it was a "rock" station, and "black" music didn't fit the format. But Michael Jackson was a product of a generation that grew up with both "black" and "white" music. Having Eddie Van Halen play the guitar sol on "Beat It," may have been a gimmick, but it was one that worked and "fit. As a result, Jackson ended up leading an early-'80s pantheon that appealed to a broader cross-section of music fans than any before or since: Jackson, Prince (my personal favorite), Madonna, Bruce Springsteen all could be heard on Top 40 radio, the last moment before the industry began to segregate itself again.

In 1983, with Thriller selling well, Jackson appeared on a Motown 25th Anniversary TV special. After much debate with the producers, he agreed to play a couple of Jackson 5 songs, but insisted on playing one of his current hits. It was on that show that he sang "Billie Jean" and performed the moonwalk for the first time. In that one show and moment, Michael Jackson told the world that the boomer's "Big Chill" era was over. He inherited it, but was not going to be bound by it. He moon-walked pop music into a different era.

Jackson released Bad in 1987 and it produced five Number One singles, but the magic culture-commanding moment had passed. The tours were immense, but already the "weirdness" had begun, as his face seemed to be something new and strange every time he appeared.

The tragedy of his child molestation charges (which were never proven) is that, even if he were truly innocent, his bizarre personal behavior/facial refigurations soured so much of the benefit of the doubt out of the minds of too many.

That said, Michael Jackson musically bridged the boomer soul-pop of the '60s, stood as a solitary shining light in the '70s and created the musical goulash of the early '80s. At his peak, no one worked harder to create musical perfection. He wanted a sound that had no defining color, appealed to the masses but was dynamic in a way that "pop" music traditionally wasn't perceived. His multiple plastic surgeries suggested he didn't like his own looks, and so was driven to produce outer aural beauty. For the generation that grew up in the shadow of the boomers, he was the perfect soundtrack and antidote to a chaotic childhood, a light in an at-times dark period.

That light has dimmed much earlier than it was supposed to. And a generation realizes that it's older than it thought it was.

UPDATE: The Motown 25 performance that put him and Thriller in a different orbit.



UPDATE II: Ta-Nehesi Coates has some great thoughts (and, d'oh! -- almost the exact same title as I used for a slightly different version of this I did for NBC's web-sites).

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Southern Discomfort

Has a rising star ever flamed out so quickly?

It was just a few months ago, that many Republicans were looking to pin their fortunes to South Carolina's Gov. Mark Sanford. The fact that he was defiantly rejecting the federal stimulus money pegged him exactly as the bold, defiant individual that a beleaguered and dispirited party needed to counter the Obama phenomenon.

Yet, in barely a week, Sanford's future has evaporated. It began Monday with a bizarre, "Where's Gov. Waldo?" storyline that had everyone trying to figure out exactly where the governor had gone for the weekend -- and then culminating Wednesday in a stunning news conference where the governor admitted to having a long affair with a woman in Argentina.

Cue up the jokes: "Apparently, Sanford wasn't against all stimulus!"

Or: "South Carolinians are most upset not that Sanford strayed, but where: Apparently "mistress" is one more job the state is now outsourcing to South America! Damn that NAFTA!"

While in many ways it couldn't be considered a surprise (what is, these days?), as Sanford's press conference unfolded, it still came as a bit of a shock. Not quite up there with Eliot Spitzer-involved-with-prostitution-ring shock, but still something that came nearly out of the blue. That said, as such "I have sinned" announcements go, this could be considered one of the "better" ones. The Times called it a "rambling" performance, which it was. However, that fact humanized Sanford. This was no slick statement clearly written by committee. On the contrary, he sounded like a truly remorseful man -- as opposed to a "politician." He apologized to his wife, family as well as advisers and the public.

But, especially notable, Sanford stood there alone. Unlike, the Eliot Spitzer debacle, Jenny Sanford wasn't there by his side, enduring the humiliation of a husband admitting his infidelity in public. Who's idea that was is unclear. However, Mrs. Sanford's own released statement made one thing quite clear: She had kicked him out of the house two weeks ago, in what she referred to as a "trial separation."

Whether Sanford pays a larger price than merely stepping down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association remains to be seen. He may have attracted a certain sympathy factor based on the press conference. However, the release of e-mails between the governor and "Maria from Argentina" -- and whether state resources were used for his affair could cause him serious political complications for some time. And, don't forget, many South Carolina Republicans couldn't stand their governor before this. It's not like he has a lot of political goodwill upon which he can fall back.

As much as this is a personal tragedy for the governor, his wife and their four sons, the national Republican Party has to wonder if it's snakebit. Over the last two weeks, it would be fair to ask, what Republican politicians are NOT cheating on their wives (well, except for Sarah Palin)? Sanford's announcement came one day after Nevada Sen. John Ensign apologized to his GOP colleagues for the affair that he admitted to last week. Sanford followed Ensign also in resigning his GOP leadership position (Ensign was head of the Senate Republican Study Committee, the fourth-highest ranking member).

It's always difficult for a party out of power to compete with the megaphone of the White House. However, during a two-week period when Barack Obama is beginning to show some political bruises, sex scandals involving possible up-and-coming (no pun intended) party leaders are getting in the way of Republicans producing a clear-cut opposition message.

Pretty soon the party might start requiring chastity belts be worn by any other candidates considering throwing their hats in the ring.

Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

 

Marked Man

Has a rising star ever flamed out so quickly?

It was just a few months ago, that many Republicans were looking to pin their fortunes to South Carolina's Gov. Mark Sanford. The fact that he was defiantly rejecting the federal stimulus money pegged him as the exactly the bold, defiant individual that a beleaguered and dispirited party needed to counter the Obama phenomenon.

Yet, in barely a week, Sanford's future has seemingly evaporated. It began earlier this week with a bizarre, "Where's Gov. Waldo?" storyline that had everyone trying to figure out exactly where the governor had gone for weekend -- and then culminating today in a stunning news conference where the governor admitted to having a long affair with a woman in Argentina.

Cue up the jokes: "Apparently, Sanford wasn't against all stimulus!"

"South Carolinians most upset not that Sanford strayed, but where: Apparently "mistress" is one more job the state is now outsourcing to South America! Damn that NAFTA!"

While in many ways, it couldn't be considered a surprise (what is, these days), as Sanford's press conference unfolded, it still came as a bit of a shock. Not quite up there with Eliot Spitzer-involved-with-prostitution-ring shock, but still something that came nearly out of the blue. That said, as these "I have sinned" announcements go, this could be considered one of the "better" ones. The New York Times called it a "rambling" performance, which it was. However, that fact humanized Sanford. This was no slick statement clearly written by committee. On the contrary, he sounded like a truly remorseful man -- as opposed to "politician." He apologized to his wife, family as well as advisers and the public.

But, especially notable, Sanford stood there alone. Unlike, the Eliot Spitzer debacle, Jenny Sanford wasn't there by his side, enduring the humiliation of a husband admitting his infidelity in public. Who's idea that was is unclear. However, Mrs. Sanford's own released statement made one thing quite clear: She had kicked him out of the house two weeks ago, in what she referred to as a "trial separation."

Whether Sanford pays a larger price than merely stepping down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association remains to be seen. He may have attracted a certain sympathy factor based on the press conference. However, the release of e-mails between the governor and "Maria from Argentina" -- and whether state resources were used for his affair could cause him serious political complications for some time. And, don't forget that a lot of South Carolina Republicans couldn't stand the governor before this. It's not like he has a lot of political goodwill upon which he can fall back.

As much as this is a personal tragedy for the governor, his wife and their four sons, the national Republican Party has to wonder if it's snakebit. Over the last two weeks, it would be fair to ask, what Republican politicians are NOT cheating on their wives (well, except for Sarah Palin)? Sanford's announcement came one day after Nevada Sen. John Ensign apologized to his GOP colleagues for the affair that he admitted to last week. Sanford followed Ensign also in resigning his GOP leadership position (Ensign was head of the Senate Republican Study Committee, the fourth-highest ranking member).

It's always difficult for a party out of power to compete with the megaphone of the White House. However, during a two-week period when Barack Obama is beginning to show some political bruises, sex scandals involving possible up-and-coming party leaders are getting in the way of Republicans producing a clear-cut opposition message.

Pretty soon the party might start requiring chastity belts be worn by any other candidates considering throwng their hats in the ring.

Stay tuned.

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The "Warm" has turned

Robert Tracinski and Tom Minchin point out how it looks like Australia might have finally come to its' senses regarding the whole Global Warming scam:
As the US Congress considers the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, the Australian Senate is on the verge of rejecting its own version of cap-and-trade. The story of this legislation's collapse offers advance notice for what might happen to similar legislation in the US—and to the whole global warming hysteria.

Since the Australian government first introduced its Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) legislation—the Australian version of cap-and-trade energy rationing—there has been a sharp shift in public opinion and political momentum against the global warming crusade. This is a story that offers hope to defenders of industrial civilization—and a warning to American environmentalists that the climate change they should be afraid of just might be a shift in the intellectual climate.
Tracinski and Minchin continue by pointing to that rarest of events. The conversion of a Global Warming advocate:
One of the most remarkable changes occurred on April 13, when leading global warming hysteric Paul Sheehan—who writes for the main Sydney newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, which has done as much to hype the threat of global warming as any Australian newspaper—reviewed Plimer's book and admitted he was taken aback. He describes Plimer, correctly, as "one of Australia's foremost Earth scientists," and praised the book as "brilliantly argued" and "the product of 40 years' research and breadth of scholarship."

What does Plimer's book say? Here is
Sheehan's summary:

Much of what we have read about climate change, [Plimer] argues, is rubbish, especially the computer modeling on which much current scientific opinion is based, which he describes as "primitive."…

The Earth's climate is driven by the receipt and redistribution of solar energy. Despite this crucial relationship, the sun tends to be brushed aside as the most important driver of climate. Calculations on supercomputers are primitive compared with the complex dynamism of the Earth's climate and ignore the crucial relationship between climate and solar energy.

To reduce modern climate change to one variable, CO2, or a small proportion of one variable—human-induced CO2—is not science. To try to predict the future based on just one variable (CO2) in extraordinarily complex natural systems is folly.

I put in bold the part above, which is what I have been saying for years, yet the Religion of Global Warming parishioners cannot seem to refute it.

But I digress. Back to Tracinski and Minchin's story about how cap-and-trade is doing in the Australian Senate:
There are 7 other votes in the Senate: five Greens who say the scheme doesn't go far enough but who could be induced to go along; one independent, Nick Xenophon, who has pledged to vote against the bill unless the government waits till after Copenhagen; and one other, Senator Steve Fielding of the Family First Party, who has decided to investigate the whole thing first hand. Fielding could turn out to be the single deciding vote.

...Fielding went to the US to assess the American evidence for global warming at close quarters. As Melbourne's Age
reported on June 4:

Senator Fielding said he was impressed by some of the data presented at the [US Heartland Institute's] climate change skeptics' conference: namely that, although carbon emissions had increased in the last 10 years, global temperature had not.

He said scientists at the conference had advanced other explanations, such as the relationship between solar activity and solar energy hitting the Earth to explain climate change.

Fielding has issued a challenge to the Obama White House to rebut the data. It will be a novel experience for them, as Fielding is an engineer and has an Australian's disregard for self-important government officials. Here is how The Age described his challenge:

Senator Fielding emailed graphs that claim the globe had not warmed for a decade to Joseph Aldy, US President Barack Obama's special assistant on energy and the environment, after a meeting on Thursday…. Senator Fielding said he found that Dr. Aldy and other Obama administration officials were not interested in discussing the legitimacy of climate science.

Telling an Australian you're not interested in the legitimacy of your position is a red rag to a bull. So here is what Fielding concluded:

Until recently I, like most Australians, simply accepted without question the notion that global warming was a result of increased carbon emissions. However, after speaking to a cross-section of noted scientists, including Ian Plimer, a professor at the University of Adelaide and author of Heaven and Earth, I quickly began to understand that the science on this issue was by no means conclusive….

As a federal senator, I would be derelict in my duty to the Australian people if I did not even consider whether or not the scientific assumptions underpinning this debate were in fact correct.
At least the Australians seem to be smart enough to recognize bull when they hear it, even if it took them awhile. In the meantime, the U.S. is stuck with Obama's Global Warming cultists running the show, who make policy on faith, not science. All we can do is hope the American people come to their senses before the fools in Washington throw another log on the true "warming" problem: the economic meltdown.

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Sanford & Sun

Okay, you know when a political story just seems odd, you know it is.

But who could have thought the story of the wandering South Carolina guv could have been this weird? The man said to be "missing" since last Thursday, who his wife didn't know where he was and his staff said was hiking the Appalachian Trail -- has revealed that actually he was on a cruise.

In Argentina!

Now, in fairness to Gov. Sanford's staff (ahem! his congressional staff), Appalachian Trail and Argentina do both begin with the letter "A."

A word to the wise to some conservatives: Just because the mainstream media -- and political opponents start asking questions -- it doesn't mean that a given story is "overhyped."

If something doesn't add up, the media had damn well better ask questions. And this story was strange from day one: The staff gave conflicting stories, for one. Most significantly, his wife had no idea where he was. And, the fact that a conservative Republican politician took off without his family for a week -- over Father's Day sends all sorts of red flags.

Conservatives should get over the knee-jerk need to "defend" a Republican just because he's a Republican.
We don't need to. It is very clear (as it has from the start) that Sanford, AT BEST, lied to his staff which was then forced to lie to the public. I don't care if (as the case may be) he and his wife have "an agreement" where he gets to go and do his own thing. If so, then get the story straight with everyone.

But, beyond that, sorry, once you're elected to an executive office, you don't get to "disappear" for a week. Unlike being a senator or member of the House, chief executives have to be "on-call" 24/7. There are any sort of possible emergencies that could develop (hurricane season, anyone?) requiring the governor's immediate
presence.

Sadly, as a NRO reader asserts, some on the right want to push against the argument that "government has to constantly be on call to tell the proles what to do or that the 'right' person in charge in a crisis can make everything better; enough with the political cult of personality."

Really? That's what conservatives should defend now?

Ultimately, Mark Sanford is being brought down by the same thing that brought down Eliot Spitzer. No, it's not the sex (bet your bottom dollar that that will come out before this is over); it's the arrogance. The idea that the rules don't apply to him.

Cross Gov. Sanford off the 2012 list.

UPDATE: I've been since reminded that it's actually late fall in Argentina, so the "Sanford & Sun" header doesn't completely work. Okay, you will have to forgive me my poetic license. Oh well. In the meantime, here are a few people's thoughts as to what Sanford was doing in Buenes Aires. The site is a liberal one, so there's lots of Republican bashing, but there are some objectively funny lines mixed in too.

UPDATE II: Sinking ship? Rats deserting there.

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Ed McMahon, RIP

A Johnny and Ed "Carnac" skit from 1974. What's amazing is how many of these jokes hold up -- especially those about NBC and ABC prime-time schedules!

The more things change...

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Monday, June 22, 2009

 

Missing Their Mark

If South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford plans on running for president in 2012, he's already shown how he will distinguish himself from Barack Obama.

In contrast to Obama who is in danger of getting a wee bit overexposed with all sorts of television specials on NBC, ABC and CBS, Sanford is apparently in favor of taking the occasional "time out" where no one knows exactly where he is -- including his wife.

But she's not too worried. She knows he's off "writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids." On Father's Day weekend. Right.

Sanford did give his staff a heads-up to let them know where he was, but that he wouldn't be easily found. Oh, and his police detail wasn't with him.

Ooookay.

Now, it's usually a little bit difficult for elected officials to just step out for a few days -- away even from your family members. It opens up room for, shall we say, speculation that the politician is doing more than just, ahem, fishing.

That's especially true when another Republican looking at 2012 has recently been caught admitting to engaging in certain activities with a woman not his wife.

That's also especially true when you are the governor of a state with a former governor/senator well-known for having a wandering eye.

Let's be clear: No one is saying that Sanford is doing anything either morally or ethically wrong. It's just somewhat, well, unusual, for a politician to just up and disappear.

Furthermore, Sanford's former House colleague, Steve Largent (R-OK) might give some advice about not disappearing without letting staff know where to find you: Largent went hunting for a few days in September 2001. His staff couldn't locate him and he didn't learn about the 9/11 attacks until a couple of days later. Oops.

Oh, well, perhaps Sanford decided to take a page out of the book of this guy from Oregon:

A man reported missing by his wife last week was located Saturday. But he says he wasn't missing -- just following his wife's wishes to go away.

William Peterson told police he and his wife had an argument and she told him to get out. So, Peterson spent the week fishing and camping in Bend.

As things go, that's a slightly better explanation.

Not by much, but it is up there.

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