Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
December 17, 2010 - December 10, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Toys R'n't Us

I had to go elsewhere to find this.

WHEN KIDS WERE JUST KIDS, NOT EFFING WUNDERKIND. I'm old. I admit it. I have a grandson, though. And so I went to Toys'R'Us last weekend looking for something specific: slot cars. Every young boy deserves that smell of ozone and the controller in his hand that makes an actual racecar speed around the track, succeeding or failing based on his throttle decisions.

Problem? Toys'R'Us doesn't have slot cars. Doesn't have trains. Doesn't have anything but plasticky junk.

So I'm telling all you dads out there that you can still find the real stuff. I failed at the slot cars, but I found a real electric train for my grandson. Yet I'm thinking, maybe even you dads haven't had this experience or know how important it is. I'm going to risk offending you anyway. Slot cars and trains are about imagination, scale, and a kind of physicality no video game can provide.

I had Lionel trains and Lionel slot cars. There were slot car tracks with train crossing tracks embedded. I had an attic to build a layout in. I felt compelled to provide a landscape for them. I learned about Plaster of Paris, I turned cedar cuttings into forests eternalized by Krylon spray, I made lakes out of tinfoil, mountains out of mud, and buildings out of boxes, paper, and paint. I assembled model cars into props, learning about scale, and I wound up constructing a world, my own world, in the attic Not as good as this, but I was just a kid...

I've played my share of video games, but they're a cheat. They play to only two of the senses, and there's no act of creation involved.

My point is a small one. It's only for those of you who have young sons. Think about giving them a gift of electricity rather than electronics. There are wonderful worlds awaiting them here and here. The great romance of trains may be over in reality, but it can still live in a boy's mind, where the future grows.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Censure and Recantation:

Don't Get a Deerhound.

Classic mistake. Add a Celtic soundtrack and they're suddenly mythic.

TROUBLE, THY NAME IS HICKORY. Yeah, I'd do news commentary if there were any news, but there isn't. The Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a game of Spit, with all our money for the rest of our lives as table stakes. Enough said? I think so.

Meanwhile I have some personal business to attend to. A few weeks ago, I received the following letter from the World Deerhound Association (WDA) in Edinburgh:

Dear Sir:

It has come to our attention that you have written, in your (what do you daft Yank bastards call it?) BLOG a series of sentimental essays making ownership of a Scottish deerhound seem feasible and in some respects attractive. As a dues-paying member of our organisation, you cannot but be aware that our mission is to prevent this pestilential animal from becoming more populous and widely owned than it is at present. It is therefore our official obligation to inform you that unless you publicly undo the damage you've already done with respect to the deerhound image, we will be compelled to do stern things to you and your family. Are we making ourselves clear? We have seen your claims that you are of Scottish descent. We are a global organisation, but we are also headquartered in Scotland and staffed exclusively by Scots. For this reason, we can only suppose you know that the popular definition of haggis as being composed of the bladder and intestines of sheep is incorrect.

We await your prompt correction of the misapprehensions of the deerhound breed you have propagated so carelessly. There can be nothing worse for this breed, and the human race, than deerhound popularity.

Sincerely yours,

Angus MacBeth

Chairman, The Board of Trustees

What with one thing and another, I didn't get around to responding right away. My mistake. As it happens, I am of Scottish descent, so I didn't take their intimations lightly; I was just a mite slow in responding. But the time has come to pay the piper. If I ever gave anyone the idea that owning a Scottish deerhound was a good idea, I apologize. I misspoke. My recollections were faulty. I was also misquoted and there's no truth to the rumor I deliberately perpetuated the notion that deerhounds improve the quality of human life, even Scottish human life if that isn't a hopeless oxymoron.

That's why I'm determined to walk back any false impressions I may have inadvertently conveyed by discussing my own two deerhounds, Psmith and Raebert. I would have thought that regular readers at this site would know without being constantly reminded of it that Scots do not live for happiness. Unlike most people, particularly Americans, Scots live chiefly for the experience of irritation, conflict, excuses for blind rage, and inconsolable despair. But having been upbraided so Scottishly, I now recognize the need to go the extra mile and explain just how awful a breed of dog the deerhound is, so there can be no remaining doubt as to how unsuitable it would be for any of you to acquire one.

I'm going to be specific and I'm going to document the case with video evidence. In some instances, like this first one, I'm sparing you the goriest parts. I'm aware that children may be watching.

Deerhounds are Destructive

Especially during the puppy phase, which lasts about three to six years. To date, Raebert (10 months old) has eaten or destroyed:

Three upholstered chairs
Two comforters
ALL of his toys
A whole bunch of shirts. socks, and underwear
A 500-page Harley Davidson catalog (the remains had to be raked up)
The only extant photo of the original TBB manuscript, as framed by the publisher (He ate the frame and the glass too.)
The dog coats belonging to his well behaved greyhound friends
Two stainless steel dogfood bowls
My battery-powered, crank-equipped survival radio
Half the remote controls in the house (which is, trust me, a lot of remote controls)
Our pug Eloise
My dear, departed mother's favorite Victorian armoire (I'm not talking 'gnawed.' I'm talking pile of woodchips spilling into the hallway.)
And... well, memory fails me. Believe me, there's a lot more, and Mrs. CP will back me up.

Besides, Eloise wasn't that annoying.

They Bully Greyhounds...

The only dog that's slightly faster than a deerhound. But they can't get away.
Imagine Ali against Sugar Ray. Sooner or later, Ray's helpless in the corner.

...and Everyone Else, Too, Even Wolfhounds

Irish Wolfhounds are the tallest of all dogs. But they're Irish.
Deerhounds are Scottish and they just never ever stop. Evil.

They All Look (Exactly) Alike

Yeah, I know they're all flowy and elegant. But you don't want a dog
you couldn't possibly identify if you had to find him at a breed party.

Unlike Most Celts, They Can't Carry a Tune

And if you like Irish tenors, forget it. You can see how out of the question that is.

They're Not What You'd Call Obedient

We used to think it was because they were dumb. Now we know better.

They Think Ve-e-e-ry Slowly.

Again, not that they're dumb. It's the disparity. The body's a rocket. The mind a turtle.

They're Creepily Drawn to Human Females

The whole reincarnation muddle. Is there a horny old Scottish lord alive in there?

They're Hunter-Killers & They're Not Kidding

Deerhound is a euphemism for deer-killer. They can actually do that.

The Worse the Weather, the
More Fun They Have

We're being kind. They'd be even happier if the snow were mud.

They also fart ferociously. But there's no video showing their room-clearing skills. Trust me, though. It's yet one more of their anti-social talents. And like all Scottish dogs, they poop for spite. But Scottie poop is one thing, and deerhound poop something altogether else. Do I have to draw you a picture?

All right. I've done what was asked. Deerhounds are no damned good, and nobody should ever own one. Okay? I'm still stationed here at the phone and all I'm asking is that you relent and return Raebert unharmed. He's never done anything to you pricksofficials at the WDA, He's only a baby for God's sake. Let him go. Please.

My last pacific request. If he's not home by dinnertime, I'm turning Mrs. CP loose on you. You don't fear the Irish? Then God help you. If He can. I, personally, doubt it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

***** S P O I L E R S *****


Christopher Nolan and Leonardo di Caprio.
Anything to think about here, kemo sabe?

***** S P O I L E R S *****

. In the previous post about this movie, I made some big claims without substantiating them. Now I'm going to back up my claims. If you haven't seen the movie yet, don't read this post. I'm serious.

That was your last warning. I'm now going to tell you what I think, which could easily prejudice what you think.

There's absolutely no question that the whole movie is a dream. Which is a hilariously snide reversal of the old truism that one of the hallmarks of a bad story is the ending, "It was all just a dream." Christiopher Nolan is a sly, deep, and deeply clever man. He took that cliche as a challenge and bounced it into the upper deck.

He's also willing to strip himself naked in his work. In Inception, he's showing us the inside of a human mind, probably his own, in all its glory, creativity and terror. It's not a sci-fi movie. It's a psychological allegory. Why it's okay that the dreams depicted do not strictly adhere to the rules of dreaming (More about that later). The linear narrative that seems to belie dream states is a conscious recollection of the meaning of dreams, the inferences we draw from them. We narratize and interpret them after the fact, upon waking. I'm not saying Inception is autobiography; like the protagonist (Nolan/di Caprio) explains early on to his new dreamscape "architect," there's no need to use actual memories. Details are sufficient. And, what's left unsaid, themes persist even in the absence of specific memories.

I don't feel any need to synopsize the plot. I'm trusting that everyone who reads this has seen the movie at least once. Otherwise, you don't belong here. Instead, I'm going straight to the spoilers and consequent conclusions.

Why the movie is a dream. We are told several times that the signpost of a dream is that it doesn't quite make sense after the fact. The whole movie is like that. The ending in particular. We move directly from customs to the paradise of "home" with absolutely no transition. The totem spins without stopping on the table as Cobb goes to see his children. We are reminded of the early question, "How did we get here?" If there's no good answer, it's a dream.

The important thing is that everything in the movie reinforces this interpretation. There are vivid scenes of transportation in what's supposed to be dreaming, but none in what's supposed to be waking. There are scenes involving helicopters and planes, but no actual transportation transactions -- ticketing, embarkation or disembarkation, luggage, none of the physical details of human movement from place to place. When Paris or Mombasa is mentioned, we are simply there in the next scene. Dream logic. In point of fact, the dream sequences cohere better and use more traditional editing techniques than what we are supposed to see as live action.

Nolan is questioning the validity of physical reality as we think we perceive it. He is positing that the reality of the mind is indeed more real than what we routinely accept as fact. Because in the dream world, absolutely everything has meaning and purpose and it alone contains the narrative of our lives.

So what is he up to, and how is he doing what he's doing? The symbolic touchstone is that he's making a movie about the mind of a moviemaker. An inspiration -- an inception? -- of genius. Intense, internal personal conflicts are translated into action movie fare: gunfire, chase scenes, computer graphic effects, and a ticking clock countdown. But inside the slam-bang action, there's also a meticulous, highly intellectualized synthesis of symbols in conflict: the physiological understanding of the mind, the psychological (nee Freudian) understanding of the mind, and the way these two theories interact with fundamental human experience.

Confusing enough? I'm not trying to confuse. It's just that it's all this complex. Cobb's team is the human mind as contemporary science sees it. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is the analytical left brain. Tom Hardy is the creative, intuitive right brain. Ellen Page ("Ariadne") is the limbic system, repository of emotions. Dileep Rao, the "chemist," is the autonomic brain, master of all things purely physical. And Ken Watanabe is the joker in the deck, the mysterious "God principle" who holds the power of absolution, the ability to make things right as a "tourist" in an otherwise closed system.

What's the team up to? They're up against the more metaphorical concept of mind represented by human psychology. Their target for "inception" is one Robert Fischer, the ego they seek to liberate from the controlling influence of the superego (Tom Berenger) and the mute, impenetrable darkness of the id (the tycoon Maurice Fischer, Robert's father.).

 But it's not an abstract battle at all. The plight of Robert Fischer is precisely mirrored by Cobb's own history. His father Michael Caine is just as "disappointed" with Cobb as Fischer's dad is with him. (Cobb speaks of 'cathedrals,' but when we see his constructed world in Limbo, it consists of sterile brutalist skyscrapers. He's not really about beauty or understanding; he's about ego and scale.)

Which leads us to a key insight. All the talk about subconscious projections. Every single character in the movie is a projection of Cobb, the di Caprio character, the Nolan character.

There is only one character in this movie: Cobb. a.k.a. di Caprio. a.k.a. Nolan.

Ariadne is also the wife "Mal," (see the lyrics and translation of "Je Ne Regrette Rien" for an understanding of the name) intervening in his dream to save him from a destructive obsession with guilt. Oh yeah. I forgot. There's a third layer of symbolism at work. (Hmmm. Three layers.) Roman Catholic. We learn that the lowest level of the dream world is "Limbo," from which there is no escape, say, to Heaven or Hell. Now we have three different cosmologies at work and in conflict. And each of them is its own kind of dream.

Have I complicated things and confused you enough? Here's what I take from the movie.

Nolan is suggesting -- not lecturing -- that life is a series of inexplicable accidents but that human meaning is a movie, which is to say the narrative we create for ourselves that sustains and revivifies us. It's okay for us to see ourselves as Batman or James Bond. Because Edgar Allan Poe was right. All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. And if the murdered God figure is resurrected, that's something we do, with our uniquely human power to believe in ourselves and the meaning of our lives. He frequently references the "leap of faith" but that leap is always rendered as a falling, a surrender to mortality in the faith that falling is frightening but not actually death.

Most interesting of all, the Cobb character doesn't really learn the lesson. His wife and her shade, however you assign those roles, both fail in their mission to teach him that falling, death, is not to be feared but accepted as the next step. For Cobb, the falling has to be always a death-defying trick. Note that the image which 'liberates' Robert Fischer is a child's pinwheel -- permission to remain a child in a world of men.

The old man Cobb meets at the beginning and end of the movie is Ken Watanabe, the God Principle, but also himself. Truth is, Cobb is an old old man afraid of dying. He did not kill his wife. She died after a long life with him. (Scene of old hands intertwined.) His guilt is that he's afraid to follow her into the next world. But mercy is shown. He is permitted to continue in his dreams. Because the God who can be brought back to life is merciful and understands us better than we understand ourselves.

P.S. As to dream accuracy, check this against your own dreams. You can feel fear in dreams but not physical pain. Just like nothing has any taste or smell in a dream. Dreams are mental phenomena. All the senses are reduced. Vision tends to be tunnel with no peripheral perspective. Color can be spectacular, but it's very hard to read anything, sounds are flat, and taste, smell, and touch are but shadows of their waking counterparts. And logic goes right out the window. What does it mean? Maybe all these inputs and 'abilities' are mere distractions. You tell me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hell Freezing Over, World Coming to End...

The Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse

OMG: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

GLOWING AGAIN. I admit it. After last season, I was beginning to accept that the Phillies' day in the sun was coming to an end. A great hitting team had become average at the plate, or less, and even having three of the best pitchers in baseball couldn't get them to the World Series. Last night, Mrs. CP told me she was seeing rumors on the Internet that suddenly the Phils were being mentioned in the negotiations for Cliff Lee. I just laughed. The Yankees and the Rangers had a couple hundred million on the table, and whenever the Phillies are said to be in talks for a huge free agent, the odds are ten to one that nothing will come of it. They certainly don't have the bucks to compete with the Steinbrenner cartel in New York. End of story.

Except she woke me up this morning to tell me that the Phillies had signed Cliff Lee. She was giddy. So am I. MY TEAM HAS THE BEST STARTING ROTATION IN BASEBALL IN AT LEAST A DECADE. Four aces in a sport where most teams have only one, and two is the stuff of legend (Who pitched days 3 and 4 after Koufax and Drysdale?). Four stoppers. Two righties and two lefties who can pitch seven, eight, or nine innings with ERAs averaging under 3.00. Two Cy Young winners, a World Series MVP who got 20 percent better just by watching the incomparable Roy Halladay last year, and a warrior named Oswalt who pitched brilliantly in the darkness of Houston until the Phillies freed him a year ago.

So many delicious tidbits:

The ESPN lead this morning was essentially, "Yankees lose Cliff Lee." Ha.

Lee signed with Philly for less money; in fact, much less money than the Rangers and Yanks were offering. Why? More tastycake for our much libeled city. It was Mrs. Lee who vetoed New York. At the playoffs in NYC, a Yankee fan spit on her. Bad move, Big Apple-Holes. She also loved being in Philadelphia, as did her husband. Because we're the best and most supportive fans, and the Phillies organization goes out of its way to make the wives and families of players feel appreciated and taken care of. The word is now leaking out that Cliff Lee was heartbroken when he was traded a year ago and remained in email contact with his old teammates, telling them often he wished he could come back to... Philadelphia.

Even the New York-centric sports press is now conceding that it was Cliff Lee who approached the Phillies, encouraging them to make an offer, any offer, despite the mega-bucks he was being tempted with.

This morning, Mrs. Cliff Lee is the most popular woman in the Delaware Valley. The SportsTalk guys have already awarded her the Grand Marshal spot in the 2011 World Championship parade on Broad Street. (They're also talking , eerily, about alternate dream realities, because this particular reality is too good to be true.)

This morning, every Phillies fan is in a state of deliriously happy shock.

This morning, in Philadelphia, no one is talking about Michael Vick.

Is anything else happening anywhere? Never mind. It doesn't matter even if it is. For this to be happening in Philadelphia, the End Days are upon us for sure. But WE have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. On OUR side for a change.

UPDATE. Hilarious. ESPN is now running a funereal segment called "Yankees Plan B." The poor dears don't know what to do. They still have all the money they wanted to give Cliff Lee, but there's no one really good left to buy. Awww. Lee's decision to accept less money is also reportedly regarded as a blow to the players' union, which is always in favor of free agents going after the biggest jackpot offered. Ha. Again.

Speaking of jackpots, the WIP SportsTalk guys had a pretty objective on-air discussion last week about the Jason Werth contract with the Nationals. They didn't begrudge him his big pay day and readily conceded there was no way the Phillies would or could have matched the offer he accepted. But they wondered, with genuine concern, what this well liked (in some quarters beloved) Phillie was trading away for the extra $30 million he scored. The tone of the discussion approached, well, sorrow. The Phillies clubhouse is one of the very best in baseball. The manager honors and protects his players through thick and thin. The Philadelphia fans are without peer; every game is sold out, and the boo-birds who used to harass Pat Burrell and even Mike Schmidt back in the day are a thing of the past.

For most players, Philly has become a kind of major league heaven. So what is Jason Werth giving up for the extra $30 million he'll be putting in the bank? He'll be playing for a last place team, and the weight of the world will be on his shoulders, with no Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, or Chase Utley to pick up the slack. The Nationals draw an average of 9,000 fans per game compared to the 50,000-plus in Philadelphia. Truth is, Werth gained less monetarily than Cliff Lee -- an inarguably greater star -- gave up to return to a team that may be the happiest home a player could have in major league baseball. It makes one wonder. Which is what the talk was in Philly long before the Cliff Lee deal. Why would you leave this? When you have $90 million, what's the cost in personal happiness you're willing to pay for another $30 million? As I said, they weren't mad. Nobody in Philly was mad at Werth. I think they're actually kind of sorry for him. The Cliff Lee deal seems to kind of drive that sadness home. Poor Jason. All alone in Palookaville with all that money and torrents of abuse and/or indifference to come. Sigh.

The Phillies do know how to fill a hole in right field without breaking the bank. It's called platooning. I remember a free spirit named Jay Johnstone (whom Werth always reminded me of) and a sometime slugger known as "Downtown Ollie Brown." They alternated righty and lefty in right field on the great Phillies teams of the seventies. Johnstone hit for average, usually .330 or better, and Ollie hit homeruns on his shift. The fans loved Werth a lot and wanted him to stay. What will it be like for him to be loved less and resented more, by far fewer fannies in the seats? Money isn't everything, as every wise man will insist. Another lesson of the Cliff Lee deal.

Like it or not, sports does say something about what we value and why. Sometimes the news is more good than bad. Here in Philadelphia, anyway.

P.S. btw, guys. You don't have to be a big baseball expert to come in and congratulate Mrs. CP and her lesser half on this day of all days. Especially you (er, us) Michael Vick antagonists. Mrs. CP's first message to me after telling me the glorious news was, "Thank God. Something to talk about besides Michael Vick. I'm so happy about it all."

I'm as happy for her as I am for the Phillies. How about you?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Belated Movie Reviews:

Poem as Actioner-Blockbuster

DREAM TIME. I want you all to watch  Inception. It's the most remarkably brilliant -- in the true sense of the word -- movie I've seen in many and many a year. I've been wondering how to review it without including spoilers, because I don't want you to approach it with my imposed interpretations (multiple) in mind. My answer to myself is that this post won't be a classical review or code-breaking explication. It will be a free-association of provocative teasers, a seeming succession of non sequiturs. What, after all, is a dream?

You sci-fi buffs. Most of what you obsess about isn't worth talking about, let alone thinking about. This one is.

Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 87 percent "fresh" rating, remarkable in that none of the reviews I read came very close to understanding it, although a few assured us we ordinary moviegoers weren't smart enough to understand it.

Writer-Director Christopher Nolan is an artist (yes!) obsessed with the nature of reality, the human mind, and -- dare I say it? -- the meaning of life. He has done four other movies I've seen that stayed with me afterwards (a personal record), invited rewatching, and much thinking about afterwards, as if the surface cinema layer were the looking glass that had to be penetrated by subsequent viewings and creative questioning: Insomnia, Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight. Not all of them equally ambitious or effective, but all of them, in their way, haunting.

Remember this old puzzler?

If you have 9 dots, like this...
.    .    .
.    .    .
.    .    . can you connect them with only 4 lines without picking up your pencil or going through a dot more than once?

Some dots I noticed in Inception: Leonardo di Caprio's recent performances in The Aviator and Shutter Island; the use of Piaf's signature song "Je Ne Regrette Rien" in a movie also featuring the actress who played Piaf in La Vie en Rose; a scene that recalled both Batman Begins (or was it The Shadow?) and Her Majesty's Secret Service; the uncanny-but-off resemblance between Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Keanu Reeves, both visually and vocally; a scene of a man in a bed in a vault that evinced one of the climactic moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey; sand on a surf tormented shore; and, uh, others you can find for yourselves.

Some reviewers compare Nolan to Lynch. It's not a fair comparison. Why? Because Lynch is nuts and never plays fair with the audience. Nolan is exponentially more ambitious, and he is playing fair. The script itself is not a series of non sequiturs. The movie is explicable in its own terms. It's just that its themes and meanings have at least as many layers as the architecture of the plot.

One reviewer criticized di Caprio's performance. He said di Caprio wasn't empathic, couldn't make us feel or care enough about him. He didn't wholly blame di Caprio. Something about character sacrificed to and short-changed by the puzzle aspect of the movie. Milestone: the single most wrongheaded understanding of a movie I've ever come across in a review (apart from every Roger Ebert review ever written). There is no movie that has ever provided more information and context for a protagonist than this one. I haven't always been a fan, but this time Leonardo di Caprio hit it out of the park. (A propos of nothing, here's a pic of Christopher Nolan.)

Everything matters in this movie. The extraordinary cast and what that entails, the moments that confuse or drag or seem like plot holes or errors, the astonishing visuals that remind you of something specific or just seem to remind you of something you can't put your finger on. The editing, including both traditional and unexpected transitions from scene to scene. The whole thing is its own kind of test of the audience, an interrogation we can respond to or ignore. But even the default is superficially acceptable -- a thrill ride that's incredibly absorbing and suspenseful, even if you can't follow all the twists and turns of a plot that just might be too complicated to be truly satisfying. Which is its own kind of statement and meaning. You have every right to walk out of the theater and forget it forever. You really do.

One personal anecdote. I watched it On-Demand through Comcast. When I bailed out part way through the closing credits, I returned to the main On-Demand screen, where the ongoing promotional PIP video was pitching... Inception.

Here at InstaPunk we have a couple of words for that. One is 'serendicity.' The other involves an inference: masterpiece.

If some of you care enough to watch and comment, I am willing to share what I think I see about how the thing is put together and why it's so great... but I'll wait for your cues and questions. Experience it for yourselves first. What it isn't: pretentious, muddled, or diffuse.

ADDENDUM: More serendicity. Happened on an old IP post called Punk Paradox that included the following:

I wouldn't care at all except that Jeff Buckley was also a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and Edith Piaf.

Love, action, heartbreak, paradox, and poetry. How do these things coincide? The whole world lives in an intricate dream of mine. But you're all welcome, and please sit down. A waitress will be with you shortly.

P.S. In case you don't take links... and in case your dreams aren't like the one of mine you're in now, better watch this:

It's Paris. It's a clue. How did we get here? Do you remember? I do:

Dream within a dream? Rien de rien. Tout pour l'amour. A jamais.

El Favre y La Streako

He's gonna start the game. Dead or alive.
It's that important. ESPN depends on it.

WHEN YOU'RE DEAD, IT'S OVER ALREADY. Talk about fatigue. No, don't talk about fatigue. Don't talk about anything Favre ever again.

An observation, though. This whole multi-year "Will he, won't he?" saga is nothing but old white guy soap opera. It makes me embarrassed to be an old white guy. He was a very good quarterback but never a great quarterback. Too many dumb decisions and too many interceptions. He was an indestructible quarterback. That's something very different.

Kind of like Susan Lucci, the perennial soap opera villainess who couldn't really act but got nominated for an Emmy every year.

The Brett Favre of actressing talent.

The appeal is the same. Such people get adopted by other over-the-hill members of their sex and rooted for regardless of the facts.

I want to hear about Favre's Wrangler jeans the same way I want to hear about Susan Lucci's WonderBra or fourth facelift. Meaning not at all.

GO AWAY. If I want to fantasize about an ancient femme fatale, I'll rent a Greta Garbo movie. If I want to idolize an ancient hero quarterback, I'll go look at the statue of Johnny Unitas in the Hall of Fame. What I will not do is celebrate a washed-up old soap-opera diva in shoulderpads who proceeds onto the field with a stick up his butt to keep him upright in a game he can no longer play.

All you old jocks at ESPN and the NFL Network:    S   T   O   P      I   T   !

Please. The rest of us don't care. (More specifically, all 300 million of us who never sexted a pic of our QB private parts to a cheerleader don't give a shit.) Honestly.

Quit annoying us with the streak. Go home, old man. Forty-one is an age at which you really should start acting like a grownup. (Unless you're Susan Lucci.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Passive-Aggressive One

Is it just me, or does he have that sweaty Nixon look? But forget that...

WHEN THE WORSHIP ENDS... Policy is one thing. Personality is another. Obama may realize intellectually that he has to make a Clintonian move toward the center if he's going to have a chance at reelection. But he can't change how he reacts emotionally to the kind of pushback Clinton figured out how to absorb and turn to his own advantage.

The recent press conference in which he announced the Tax Compromise is indicative. Remember his reputation for being cool and above it all, even to a fault? There was nothing cool about his performance at the press conference. The even modulation of his delivery shouldn't fool anyone. He was hot under the collar. Having made the deal in the first place, he found himself unable to resist the temptation to counterattack. He attacked Republicans for having wrong-headed ideas about the economy and the disposition of the American people. He attacked his own base for not understanding that he'd made the deal at all only because he had a gun to his head. And he attacked the American people -- via his over-long series of kindergarten-simple sentences about "doing what's right," as if none of us has ever had to make a choice between imperfect alternatives. He didn't seem presidential. He seemed put-upon. And petulant.

He's had two years of being the placid gray eminence whose entitlement it is to step forward and explain why everyone but him is wrong or stupid or both. The impact of the November election is that he lost that entitlement. He's been hauled out of the imperial box into the arena, where it looks very much as if he can't take a punch without losing his temper.

There's the difference between policy and personality. He initiated and agreed to the compromise, a policy decision that was prudent and necessary. And then he couldn't stop himself from insisting on having the last word, and damn the political cost. That's the passive-aggressive template: 'I'm reasonable, I'm listening, I'm cooperative, I accept the terms of our agreement -- and now I'm going to make you pay.' In political terms it's a recipe for escalating distrust, partisan warfare, and eventual defeat.

Importantly, the lame duck session of congress is the easy part. He's managed to tick off everybody, including his own vassals, while he still has an overwhelming majority in both houses of congress. It will only get worse when the new congress convenes. If he thinks he's taken a right-cross or two since November, it's nothing compared to the body blows and uppercuts he can expect over the next two years. If he continues to emit steam from his ears after evey forced compromise, either vetoing or gracelessly condemning the ignorance and corrupt motives of the opposition, he won't be able to take credit for anything that finally emerges from the process. He'll just be the pouty obstructionist, and whether subsequent economic news is good or bad, his long cultivated celebrity will be inverted into the image of a spoiled, bitchy starlet.

We don't elect people like that president of the United States.

Triangulation is the word on every beltway insider's lips right now, the most common word in all the headlines about the Tax-Cut Compromise and the coming Republican-dominated house. But triangulation is not a push-button panacea for chastened presidents. It's a kind of political chess whose first requirement is a cool head and patient maneuvering. Clinton was never smarter than Gingrich. He was simply a better chess player on the four-dimensional board where knights and bishops and rooks are real people with brains, voices, ears, and individual motives of their own. The president who can play that game to win is the real gray eminence. He sits on his King square with half his pieces lost, aware that he can move only one careful step in any direction, cannot fancy himself as the pulverizing, board-covering queen taken down in the last gambit, and yet quietly orchestrates all the moves of all the other players. Until he wins.

Never a chess player myself, I was nevertheless curious about how Napoleon Bonaparte approached the game. I eventually found the answer in a memoir of one of his intimates: He cheated. When his opponent wasn't looking, Bonaparte sneaked pieces off the board. How Clinton beat Gingrich.

I'm thinking Paris Hilton is no Clinton. Upending the board and huffing away doesn't quite cut it. And it doesn't look to me as if Obama can quite cut it, either.

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