Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Reading

Did You Hear the One About the North Korean…? Why do we mock North Korea but take Iran’s threats seriously?  Julian Hattem at The Atlantic looks into it.

A man starves his own people and threatens to start a nuclear war, and Americans laugh. What a bizarre thing to do.

Meanwhile, we shirk in fear at the unhinged other leg of former President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” tripod: Iran. Unlike North Korea, we treat Iran as a legitimate threat. In Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s full-day confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the word “Iran” was mentioned more than 170 times. “North Korea” was mentioned 10. During the foreign policy-focused debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney last October, Iran came up nearly 50 times, and was the subject of multiple questions. North Korea was mentioned just once, as part of a series of other challenges facing the U.S., in the same breath as the trade deficit with China.

It’s not that Americans like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or don’t actively consider the hermit state a threat. It’s actually the country’s second least-favored , right after Iran, and equal numbers call North Korean and Iranian developments of nuclear weapons a “critical threat.” Of course, North Korea already has nuclear weapons, and Iran doesn’t. One might think that the country with a bomb – with whom we are still technically at war, no less — would be more of a threat than the country without one, but at least judging by the way we talk about them, that’s not the case. Why do we consider North Korea to be such a joke?

Partly it’s the way they present themselves. North Korea is a relatively small nation with leaders who come across as stereotypically incompetent Bond villains: uniformly dressed, tasteless but expensive cliché obsessions, physically unintimidating, with every major attack blowing up in their face like Wile E. Coyote. The Kim family does not produce tall or physically gifted men, nor exceptionally handsome ones. They are also Asian, which connotes a whole set of racist stereotypes, none of them necessarily terror-inspiring. Iran, meanwhile, is a Muslim nation, and for obvious but unfortunate reasons it’s easier to stoke public fears of Muslim fanaticism than Northeast Asian nationalism.

We also know less about the D.P.R.K. and Kim Jong Un. Basic details about his age (probably 30), marital status (he’s been seen around with a pretty girl , probably his wife) and children (he may have just had a kid) have only recently become clear. His nuclear policy is even murkier. When the senior Kim died in late 2011, Korea-watchers were hopeful that the country might be entering a new age of governance, maybe under a coalition of leaders who would exert unseen pressure on Kim to open the country more. That didn’t happen, obviously. Still, though, we don’t quite know what to expect from Kim, who has at least inherited his father’s inscrutability. “Nobody knows what he has planned, what he is thinking or contemplating doing or why the North Koreans are tripling down on their rhetoric,” an unnamed senior administration official told CNN last month.

The Pecker Contest — Adam Gopnik looks into our gun fetish.

And so the real argument about guns, and about assault weapons in particular, is becoming not primarily an argument about public safety or public health but an argument about cultural symbols. It has to do, really, with the illusions that guns provide, particularly the illusion of power. The attempts to use the sort of logic that helped end cigarette smoking don’t quite work, because the “smokers” in this case feel something less tangible and yet more valued than their own health is at stake. As my friend and colleague Alec Wilkinson wrote, with the wisdom of a long-ago cop, “Nobody really believes it’s about maintaining a militia. It’s about having possession of a tool that makes a person feel powerful nearly to the point of exaltation. …I am not saying that people who love guns inordinately are unstable; I am saying that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.”

It’s true. Everyone, men especially, needs ego-accessories, and they are most often irrationally chosen. Middle-aged stockbrokers in New York collect Stratocasters and Telecasters they’ll never play; Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld own more cars than they can drive. Wine cellars fill up with wine that will never be drunk. The propaganda for guns and the identification of gun violence with masculinity is so overpoweringly strong in our culture that it is indeed hard to ask those who already feel disempowered to resist their allure. If we asked all those middle-aged bankers to put away their Strats—an activity that their next-door neighbors would bless—they would be indignant. It’s not about music; it’s about me, they would say, and my right to own a thing that makes me happy. And so with guns. Dan Baum, for instance, has an interesting new book out, “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.” His subjects, those gun guys, are portrayed sympathetically—they are sympathetic—and one gets their indignation at what they see as their “warrior ethic” being treated with contempt by non-gun guys. (That’s, at least, how they experience it, though where it matters, in Congressional votes, there is little but deference.) As Baum points out, gun laws are loose in America because that’s the way most Americans want it, or them.

But though you’ve got to empathize before you can understand, understanding doesn’t entail acceptance. Slavery, polygamy, female circumcision—all these things played a vital role at one time or another in somebody’s sense of the full expression of who they are. We struggle to understand our own behavior in order to alter it: everything evil that has ever been done on earth was once a precious part of somebody’s culture, including our own.

Travels with Sadie — Joan Walsh channels John Steinbeck.

I reached a new level of eccentricity this year, though, when I decided to move to New York for a few months when my book came out. After United’s poorly named PetSafe program screwed up every aspect of ferrying Sadie from San Francisco to New York (you can read the details here; I never got a reply from United — classy, huh?), I realized I would never put her in cargo again. I paid some wonderful people to drive her back to San Francisco when I came home at Christmas time (yes, I’m aware of how crazy that sounds as I type it.) So when I decided to return to New York and spend a few more months there this spring, timed to when my paperback comes out from Touchstone/Simon and Schuster April 16, I saw only one choice: I would drive, with Sadie, myself.

So I’m getting in my little Honda this morning with a dog bed in the back with a new safety-belt harness that she’ll probably wear only a few hundred miles. I’m reversing a journey I made 28 years ago, a young person, moving from Chicago to Oakland to become the California Bureau chief of In These Times, a job I made up and sold to my boss. I was pretty pleased with myself zooming across Interstate 80. Now I’m a not-young person figuring out what comes next, shuttling between coasts.

It will also be the first time in 28 years I’ll visit some of the bright red states I write about with disappointment, but have no real experience of. I’ve lived in only blue states with a purplish tinge: New York, California, Wisconsin, Illinois. I’m not going to pretend I’ll understand exactly why Nevada Sen. Harry Reid is still so beholden to the NRA by getting outside Clark County; or why there’s only one abortion clinic in Wyoming by driving through the bottom of the state; or why Nebraska replaced the most conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson with conservative Republican Deb Fischer. But I’ll talk to people and read local papers and listen to local radio and I’m sure to learn something I don’t know as I sit writing this morning. There is nothing more American than driving across country and having to take in how big this land is, how diverse it is, in every way.

And I wouldn’t be doing it, in all likelihood, if not for Sadie. Talk about being tethered: No take-off, no suspension of disbelief, no floating in the air and trying to sleep while a pilot does all the work. I’m doing the work, with Sadie’s help. She’s my road dog.

Doonesbury — Free at last.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Road Trip – Update

As promised, here’s some pictures from the show yesterday in Melbourne, Florida, at the AACA National Winter Meet sponsored by the Cape Canaveral Region.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette

1954 Ford Country Sedan

1953 Nash

1953 Pontiac

1932 Chevrolet

1937 Alvis

1934 Plymouth hood ornament

1925 Hispano-Suiza limousine

1925 Hispano-Suiza hood ornament

1909 Ford Model T

These were just some of the beauties; there were over 200 cars from all over the world, including some makes and models I’d never heard of.

I checked the gas mileage on my 2007 Mustang yesterday. It was over 400 miles, and the calculation came to 26 mpg. Not bad for a V-6 averaging between 60 to 75 mph…. I was just keeping up with the traffic on I-95.

Road Trip – Update

As promised, here’s some pictures from the show yesterday in Melbourne, Florida, at the AACA National Winter Meet sponsored by the Cape Canaveral Region.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette

1954 Ford Country Sedan

1953 Nash

1953 Pontiac

1932 Chevrolet

1937 Alvis

1934 Plymouth hood ornament

1925 Hispano-Suiza limousine

1925 Hispano-Suiza hood ornament

1909 Ford Model T

These were just some of the beauties; there were over 200 cars from all over the world, including some makes and models I’d never heard of.

I checked the gas mileage on my 2007 Mustang yesterday. It was over 400 miles, and the calculation came to 26 mpg. Not bad for a V-6 averaging between 60 to 75 mph…. I was just keeping up with the traffic on I-95.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Little Night Music

Allen called to remind me of the last time I saw Paris — on this date in 1985. We were spending a few days there before going on to Italy for ten days in a villa in Castelfranco di Sopra, a tiny Tuscan village near Florence.

On this particular day, we strolled around the city, and Allen bought a set of rosary beads for his mom at Notre Dame. We then did a tour of the Louvre, and discovered, much to our chagrin, that we were out of money and the travelers’ checks were safely locked in our hotel room, which was up near the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t even have enough for a taxi, so we walked from the Louvre all the way back to the hotel. It’s a lovely walk… if it’s springtime. But this was deep and dark December, and by the time we got back, were glace. For years it was one of our fondest memories… and still is.

Bon voyage, Allen and Terry.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Short Takes

At least Pakistani 25 soldiers were killed in an attack by NATO helicopters.

Occupy L.A. faces eviction on Monday.

Shipping out — A record number of passengers are expected to board cruise ships in Fort Lauderdale today.

South Florida — Tired Black Friday worker drives into a canal.

R.I.P. Tom Wicker, 85, journalist and columnist for The New York Times.

NBA owners and players have reached a tentative deal to end the lockout.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Short Takes

Third Time’s the Charm — It looks like former Gov. Gary Locke of Washington is the choice for Commerce.

No Show — Karl Rove stiffed Congress again.

We’ll Take It — If Gov. Jindal doesn’t want stimulus money, other states are willing to take it off his hands.

Once You’re There…
The White House sides with the Bush administration on e-mails.

We Like Him — Obama’s popularity is broad and strong.

Island banking isn’t what it used to be after the Stanford scandal.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Short Takes

As pressure mounts on Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) to resign, his acting chief of staff gets the hint.

Spend it wisely is the message the president has for mayors and the stimulus money.

Richard Perle
is not a neo-con, and other myths.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political ambitions are more important than 25,000 unemployed people in Louisiana.

Graffiti can be dangerous.

R.I.P. — Socks, the Clinton’s White House cat, dies.

Oscar winners… or hoax…? We’ll find out Sunday night.

In honor of the Downtown Miami Classic Car Show, part of the Bike Miami Days, today on Flagler Street…

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Short Takes

Housing Help — President Obama puts forth a plan to help 9 million homeowners.

It’s Worse — The Fed issues a gloomy financial forecast.

Losing Friends — Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) is changing stories and losing allies.

Sebelius Top HHS Pick — Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius is Obama’s choice to fill Health and Human Services cabinet post.

No Fairness — President Obama reiterates that he is opposed to the revival of the Fairness Doctrine.

Minnesota Senate Saga — Norm Coleman’s lawyers aren’t happy after losing two crucial arguments.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Short Takes

Plane Crash — 49 killed in Buffalo, New York, area when a Continental Express plane went down.

It’s All About Him: Judd Gregg explains why he couldn’t be Commerce Secretary — “I couldn’t be Judd Gregg.”

More Help
— banks may need more help than what’s been proposed so far.

Suspect Charged in Australian wildfires.

Panetta Confirmed for CIA post.

Stimulating — what’s in it for us?

Homeless Students — living on the streets, going to school.

Stadium or Not? — The Marlins want it; can we afford it?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poor Judd

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) has withdrawn his name for nomination as Secretary of Commerce:

[I]t has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.

Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.

I greatly admire President Obama and know our country will benefit from his leadership, but at this time I must withdraw my name from consideration for this position.

I’ll give him half a point for being gracious, but I can’t help but think there’s more to this than just “a different set of views.” After all, if the White House is to be believed, it was Sen. Gregg who reached out to the Obama administration to replace Bill Richardson:

“Senator Gregg reached out to the President and offered his name for Secretary of Commerce. He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President’s agenda. Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways. We regret that he has had a change of heart”.

The White House sounds cranky, and they have a right to be. It’s not like Mr. Gregg didn’t know what he was getting into; that he walked into the West Wing and was shocked, shocked! to find liberals there. Not to mention the timing was coincidental with the president making an appearance in Peoria, Illinois, promoting the the stimulus bill. That’s just Bush-league.

Based on the chortling reaction from the right wing, they see this as a double-word score; they were chonked off at Mr. Gregg for daring to work with the Great Satan, and they are delighted at the deliberate slap in the face to the president. Josh Marshall speculates that Mr. Gregg caved in to the pressure from what’s left of the New Hampshire GOP.

The punditocracy will declare this yet another sign of the struggles of the amateurish Obama administration, but if you’re keeping score, it’s not as embarrassing as the debacle of John Tower’s nomination by George H.W. Bush, and so far it looks like the egg is on Mr. Gregg’s face, not the president’s.

But what the hell is it about getting a Commerce Secretary?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sebelius for HHS?

CNN is reporting that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is under consideration to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Sebelius has a good personal relationship with the President and remained in the running for the vice presidential slot until near the end of the process, the officials also told CNN.

But the officials cautioned that President Obama is considering others for HHS as well. Those getting a look include Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden and Tennessee’s Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, according to the officials.

White House spokesman Reid Cherlin stressed to CNN that “no decision has been made.” But Cherlin added the President “is moving quickly in filling this critical role.”

As Michael notes at The Reaction, Gov. Sebelius has the background for the job as well, not to mention the fact that she’s had some experience working with Republicans and managing to keep even the looniest in check in Topeka.

(It’s also interesting — at least to me — to note that Ms. Sebelius is the daughter of former Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan, who served from 1971-1975. I worked on the Gilligan campaign in high school and hung out with the Gilligan kids during the summers in northern Michigan, where they had a summer place near ours.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Short Takes

S-CHIP passes and the president signs it.

Let’s Talk Real Estate — Republicans add a home-buyer tax break to the stimulus package.

Digital TV delayed until June 12.

Labor Pains — Hilda Solis’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor is being held up by right-wingers. An acting secretary has been appointed.

Daschle’s Replacement? — Ezra Klein reports that Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is under consideration.

Obstruction Probe — Former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici is being investigated by a grand jury for trying to block a look into his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys.

Antonin the Touchy — Supreme Court Justice Scalia gets cranky when a student asks him a question.

Really Cool — It’s 38 here in Miami and below freezing in other parts of the state. I brought in the orchids.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Short Takes

Daschle Out — HHS nominee Tom Daschle withdraws his name. Mike Madden and Hilzoy discuss what happened and why.

Taking the Rap — President Obama says he screwed up.

Gregg Takes Commerce — NH Sen. Judd Gregg will run the department he once voted to abolish.

It’s Our Money Now — Top bank execs would face salary caps if they get bailout funds.

Republican Governors Want It — The GOP in the House and Senate may be against the stimulus plan because… well, because they are, but at the state level they’re all for it.

Senate Shuffle — Florida’s Mel Martinez may be mulling an early exit, and Gov. Charlie Crist might run for the seat.

Perpetual Motions — Minnesota’s Senate race is taking on the aspects of a Minnesota winter. (Psst; hauling out Bush v. Gore doesn’t help, Norm.)

Another cold front heads for South Florida. We count our blessings; it could be this.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Short Takes

Eric Holder Confirmed — The Senate votes 75-21 to make Mr. Holder the first African-American Attorney General.

NH Sen. Judd Gregg will accept the nomination to be Secretary of Commerce. This has pissed off both the left and the right, so he’s probably what the president wants. And John Lynch, the governor of NH, promised to appoint a Republican to replace Mr. Gregg.

Tom Daschle explains his taxes and deeply apologizes.

Do Over? Norm Coleman wants a mulligan on the Minnesota Senate race.

Rendering — Hilzoy explains exactly what “rendition” is.

No Miracle on Flagler Street — Macy’s lays off 600 in their Florida operations.

Victory — Treasure hunters find a ship that sank in 1744 carrying four tons of gold coins. That should help the stimulus.

On This Date — February 3, 1959; the day the music died. Cue up another playing of American Pie.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Gregg for Commerce?

Via TPM, The Hill is reporting that Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) is being considered for the position of Secretary of Commerce to replace New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson who withdrew his name earlier this month.

That would accomplish a few things: it would complete the Obama cabinet, it would put another Republican in there to show more “team of rivals” spirit, and it would mean that Mr. Gregg’s replacement would be appointed by Gov. John Lynch, who is a Democrat. Chances are he would appoint a Democrat to the post, and — oh, by the way — it would increase the number of Democrats in the Senate to 60, if you count Al Franken of Minnesota.

I’m sure that last thought never occurred to anyone.

Short Takes

Patrick Quinn starts his new job as governor of Illinois.

SCHIP, the childrens health care bill vetoed twice by President Bush, passes the Senate 66-32.

The first bill signed by President Obama is the Lily Ledbetter Fair Play Act, guaranteeing people the right to sue for equal pay for equal work.

“Shameful” is what President Obama called bonuses for Wall Street execs last year that amounted to over $18 billion at the same time they were begging for a bailout. I’d call it “chutzpah.”

True Test — Iraqi elections this weekend will be a sign of the future.

Army suicides are on the rise.

No-Man’s Land — Nate Silver looks at the method and madness behind the Republicans’ recalcitrance.

“Comeback!” — Meanwhile, the RNC thinks everything’s groovy as they plan to rebuild their party.

Quick Chill — South Florida braces for another night or two in the 40’s.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Short Takes

Eric Holder is confirmed by Senate Judiciary Committee 17-2 to be Attorney General.

CIA Station Chief accused of rape in Algeria.

No more Saturday mail delivery? It might happen.

Iced Up — Storm closes highways, downs trees, cuts power, kills people.

The Switch is still on — House kills bill to delay digital switch on February 17. And a lot of people still aren’t ready.

Crisis? What Crisis? Wall Street bonuses are all the rage.

Not Such a Good Neighbor — Homeowners look for new insurance carriers after State Farm announces it’s getting out of the business in Florida.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Short Takes

Geithner Sworn In — Senate votes 60-34 to confirm Treasury secretary.

Direct Contact — President Obama gives his first live interview as president to al-Arabiya, a network based in Dubai aimed to an Arab audience.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was everywhere yesterday except at this own impeachment trial.

More than 75,000 jobs cut at places like Home Depot, Sprint/Nextel, Caterpillar.

Don’t Touch That Dial — Senate extends digital TV switchover to June.

White House Loses E-mail — The West Wing was without its e-mail yesterday for eight hours. Panic ensued.

Another Cold Shot — South Florida will get another cold weekend with lows in the 40’s. Just in time for the Super Bowl in Tampa.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Short Takes

Gag Rule Lifted — “President Obama yesterday lifted a ban on U.S. funding for international health groups that perform abortions, promote legalizing the procedure or provide counseling about terminating pregnancies.”

Get Frank Capra — Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich compares himself to an embattled movie hero.

Getting to Know Her — We are learning who Kirsten Gillibrand, the new Senator from New York, is and what she believes in.

Still Evolving — Texas state board of education is still trying to figure out a way to keep mythology out of the science books…or shoehorn it in.

That’ll Teach ‘Em — George F. Will comes out against SCHIP because it will teach sick children that they can rely on the government to help them when they need it.

Dancing with the Stars — Miami City Ballet is a hit in the Big Apple.

History Flights — “A group searching for missing WWII soldiers is raising money with rides in vintage planes.” They are based out of the Kendall-Tamiami Airport in Miami.

Saturday Morning Cartoon — Yakky Doodle