‘Network’ redux, starring Bernie and Barack


Bernie Sanders met with Barack Obama at the White House today. I’m picturing the scene in Network (only slightly altered here) where Mr. Jensen lectures Howard Beale on how the real world works:

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars… rubles, rin, pounds and shekels.

It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today.

There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and A T and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today… We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Sanders. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Sanders!

Bernie, thunderstruck by Obama’s eloquence, will look up at him and say, “I have seen the face of God.” Obama, smiling from on high, will reply, “You just might be right, Mr. Sanders.”

P.S. Just joking, Bernie will never be a neolib convert. But he will hold his nose and back Hillary, if only because the Republican alternative might be even scarier.

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Hillary’s incremental con game


Who says the system isn’t rigged?

Today, with the primaries still going on and the Democratic convention more than a month away, the Associated Press anointed Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominee.

In fact, AP and other mainstream media organizations have treated Hillary as the presumptive Democratic nominee from the start, even though millions of Bernie Sanders fans are appalled by the idea of a ticket headed by a woman who, along with Barack Obama, embodies everything that has gone wrong with the Democratic Party since good old boy Bill Clinton took office in the  1990s.

It’s no accident that Hillary’s defenders already sound like Obama apologists. They say she’ll work to reverse income inequality, fight for workers’ rights, rein in Wall Street’s greedy boys, bolster Social Security, reform campaign financing, make health care for all a priority, avert environmental disaster, and so on, but in an incremental fashion, unlike that fire-breathing socialist Bernie Sanders, who would make progress impossible by scaring away the non-existent Republican moderates needed to push progressive legislation through Congress.

Look at how well the incremental approach worked under Obama, a guy who never picked a fight with Republicans without making major concessions before the first shot was fired. A guy who “reached across the aisle” so often he might as well have got up and taken a seat among the Republicans. Who swears the economy is recovering even as fewer and fewer people  earn a living wage. Who chose Timothy Geithner for Secretary of the Treasury in 2009, signaling his support for the Wall Street crooks who had recently destroyed the economy. Who expressed solidarity with organized labor while campaigning but turned his back when google-eyed Gov. Scott Walker was crushing private-sector unions in Wisconsin.

And so on. For me, the most egregious example of Obama’s incremental — i.e., do-nothing — approach to reform was health care. He never considered pushing for a single-payer health care option, even at a time when Democrats held the majority of seats in both houses of Congress. As a result, most of us in what used to be called the working class are still stuck with paying way too much for too little coverage from the  corrupt and inefficient private insurance companies at the heart of the need for reform.

Incrementally, many well-meaning people will realize they voted against the party of the working class, Bernie’s party, forged during the New Deal years. But by then it might be too late to stop Hillary and her masters from destroying what’s left of that party — incrementally, of course.

P.S. As Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over till it’s over. Maybe Bernie can at least force a platform fight at the convention and start a movement to abolish superdelegates and other undemocratic features of the nominating process.

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Cynical coda of ‘Mad Men’ finale: Coke is the real thing


An acquaintance of mine posted this question on Facebook last week: “Does anybody else find Mad Men‘s writing to be vapid, direction glacial, acting somnambulatory, and the cultural references boring?”

I asked my friend Swamp Rabbit if he’d like to respond, knowing he’d had plenty of time to watch TV while in rehab these past few months. “You jokin’ me?” he said. “I got a life, Odd Man. Got no time for TV.”

So I posted an answer of my own: Yes, I suspect most discerning viewers who followed Mad Men noticed that the writing sagged a bit near the end of the series, that the writers’ depiction of the cultural milieu of the 1960s was sometimes laughably superficial.

So what? TV is a diversion. The most you can hope for in a TV series — in this case, a TV serial — is writing that’s good enough to occasionally generate scenes that illuminate the human condition. The same is true of most long novels. Viewers will encounter a lot of filler, no matter how good the writing, but they continue watching a serial for the same reason readers persevere with a long novel. They become emotionally invested. They stick around for the story-telling and, in particular, to witness how their favorite characters behave at critical moments.

I didn’t watch all of Mad Men, but I was a fan. The show had an unusually charismatic lead character — Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm — a quirky supporting cast, and a thoughtful head writer, Matthew Weiner, who focused on the world of commercial advertising to dramatize the socio-economic forces that metastasized into contemporary American culture, such as it is.

Weiner and his co-writers juggled a lot of sub-plots, some compelling and some not so much, and they seemed in early episodes of the final season to not know how to successfully resolve most of them. But give Weiner a lot of credit for how he handled what looked like the total crackup of his enigmatic anti-hero. In the final show’s final scene, Don Draper, after hitting bottom, is shown having an epiphany while chanting “Om” in a meditation group at some New Age-y spiritual retreat. His epiphany involves conceiving what will become a famously insipid TV commercial (circa 1971) that uses touchy-feely cliches to sell Coca-Cola, “the real thing.” Mad Men ends with the showing of the actual TV commercial.

I’d thought Don might kill himself or be killed in some sordid way, or maybe even find redemption in a good cause. Instead, he apparently is reborn as a sleazier version of his former self, selling a nutritionally empty icon of a spiritually bankrupt culture. The real thing.

Not bad for a TV show.

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Happy Ides of March, and watch your back!


ides

If you want to get into the spirit of the occasion, give your friend a big smile and a high-five as you cross paths, right before you sneak up on him with knife in hand. Works even better when you conspire with your friend’s other friends and take turns stabbing. An individual backstabber is likely to be perceived as selfish, not to mention treacherous, but a group of backstabbers seems purposeful and, well, group-minded.

And keep in mind that backstabbing is only fun when the victim seems genuinely surprised by the first knife thrust. That’s why Julius Caesar is such a great role for certain actors. It calls for magnanimity as well as arrogance. And gravitas, of course. Louis Calhern is well-cast in the old film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the one with Brando as Antony. Rex Harrison is a grand Caesar in the movie Cleopatra, but he sometimes seems on the verge of belting out “Talk to the Animals.” The best Caesar on film is Ciaran Hinds in the HBO series Rome. The man has gravitas and is too sure of himself to heed warnings. He looks convincingly shocked that his friend and protege Brutus is among the conspirators. And the writers were smart enough to leave out the unnecessary et tu.

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Let’s rate news analysts on their track records


Too late, Friedman. You scored Minus 15 on Iraq alone. You're fired.

Friedman, you scored Minus 15 on Iraq. You’re fired.

The New York Times recently issued a “Libya is falling apart” editorial. As Glenn Greenwald noted, The Times failed to mention it was an enthusiastic supporter of U.S. air strikes that helped topple Moammar Ghadafi and destabilize Libya to the point where ISIS now has a foothold there. In fact, after Ghadafi fled, The Times went so far as to publish a front-page news analysis headlined “U.S. Tactics in Libya May be a Model for Other Efforts.”

Swamp Rabbit read Greenwald’s story and chuckled. “Glad them Times analysts are on the case. Without ’em, we might know what’s really goin’ on in the world.”

He scratched his mangy hide and added, “‘Scuse me fer bein’ so dumb, but how come they don’t just own up when they’s wrong?”

Good question. You would think The Times would not only own up to colossal errors of judgment but also fire the people responsible for such judgments, or at least demote them to the SundayStyles beat. But you would be wrong. Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman, the editorial board and so on are still going strong.

It seems the only real sin you can commit on the news side at The Times — at least when it comes to U.S. foreign policy — is to refuse to blindly accept the government’s version of events leading to military actions. Inaccuracies are acceptable, especially when a story is breaking. Corrections are made later, sometimes, after the bombs are dropped and thousands are dead and the government’s rationale for its large-scale act of destruction has been exposed as fraudulent. This is true not only at The Times, but at all mainstream news outlets.

We talked solutions. The rabbit proposed a self-policing system for the media run by some more-or-less reputable rag, maybe the Columbia Journalism Review. Stories written by Times staffers would automatically link to their other stories on the same subjects. Staffers would gain or lose points according to how accurate their stories turned out to be. Their ratings would be listed next to their bylines. For example, a reporter or pundit who was wrong on WMD in Iraq and U.S. tactics in Libya would merit a Minus 2. He or she could gain back points by admitting, in print, to their errors. Anyone who fell to Minus 10 would be fired.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Who’s going to stick his neck out writing a report that might get him fired?”

The rabbit spit on the frozen swamp and said, “That’s the point, Odd Man. How else you gonna keep liars and fools out of the news business?”

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Friday the 13th begets Valentine’s Day


mirror

The early morning sun glared through leafless trees and into my shack, urging me to action. “Go out and slay dragons,” Swamp Rabbit said. He was hungry and out of bourbon, and not getting along with his girlfriend. At such times, he counted on me to make money by selling subscriptions for magic electricity, or to at least go out and shoplift.

“It’s Friday the 13th, I should stay home,” I told him. “But I feel like I’m stagnating here.”

He said, “Of course you stagnatin’, you live in a swamp. Only cure for what ails you is to do something.”

So I jumped into my rusty Honda and hit the road. A black cat crossed my path before I was even out of the swamp. Then I sideswiped a parked car on Chemical Road, snapping off its side mirror. But I figured my luck might change if I soldiered on. I set up my table at a chain drug store on the Main Line, where the buildings are much less tacky than in southwest Philly and the people more hip to the eco-benefits of magic electricity.

Or so I thought. The shoppers were grumpy old men and housewives seeking air freshener and hipsters staring at their phones as they walked, as if taking directions from unseen taskmasters. Everyone who entered the store had to run a gauntlet of heart-shaped holiday balloons and sappy greeting cards and was in no mood to listen to a sales pitch for magic electricity.

After a few hours I folded my table and drove west on City Avenue into the sinking sun, squinting as I looked for a SuperFridge and a liquor store. I hit the latter first and then found a Shop-Rate, which is easier to shoplift from than a SuperFridge. You can usually count on Shop-Rates to have in-store cameras so old they don’t work anymore.

Back at the shack I unloaded fruits and greens and canned beans from the inside and outside pockets of my overcoat. The rabbit was happy when I pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey, but then he twitched his whiskers and made a face.

“Mary Jo will think I forgot her,” he said. “Please, Odd Man, can you go out one more time and lift some flowers or candy?”

I thought of my former valentines and shivered. “I don’t steal for Valentine’s Day, especially when it falls on Friday the 13th,” I said. “That would be pushing my luck too far.”

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If you can’t do this exercise, you will die!


blonde exercising

You gotta love online news features, especially when they come from TV. This is from Fox 8 News in Cleveland:

It’s being called the exercise test that can predict your death. A physician in Brazil used something called the sit/rise test to show his aging patients the risk of losing strength and flexibility. The study found strength and balance are pretty good indicators of longevity.
Dr. Marc Gillinov, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist, said the sit/rise test is a simple way to measure your overall health. “This is what we call an observation study, which means it’s not of highest level of medical evidence, but I believe it to be true…”

A scoring system for the sit/rise exercise indicates how fit you are. If you do the exercise and score 8-10 points, you’re in great shape. If you score 0-3, “you’re 6.5 times more likely to die than those who scored high.”

I asked Swamp Rabbit what the latter statistic means. He said, “It means what it says, I guess. If you score high, you ain’t likely to die.”

“That’s a relief,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to be immortal.”

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