The Radical Middle

(District 12) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 29 July 2011 02:06 PM Written by
(throwing out the bums of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

• My DC family member emailed again this morning: I have too much to say. This is absolute madness. John Boehner deserves to lose his job. To which I replied: All of them need to lose their jobs. Every single [bleeping] one of them. Right now. Just for getting us this close.

hunger-games-ew-cover• If they go past the deadline, and we do indeed default, they all — Republicans and Democrats, Congresspersons and President alike — deserve to be hunted down by angry mobs with pitchforks and torches. (And I’m not so sure they won’t be.)

• Maureen Dowd got it just about right earlier this week when she described modern-day DC as a shrieking, destructive, primal, feudal, apocalyptic wasteland of partisan banshees.

Or, now that I think about it, she might have been much too kind.

• Speaking of shrieking, destructive, primal, partisan banshees... Did you see that erstwhile Pennsylvania Senator and Quixotic Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum this week told diners at an Iowa café that advances in modern human life expectancy are products of American freedom? We created a society that changed the world, Santorum said. Life expectancy was the same: 40... Didn’t change for thousands of years. Until America... Why? Because for the first time we let people be free. No king, no monarch, no emperor, no big government telling people how to run their lives.

Mr. Santorum also declared that the American government guarantee of freedom... will be lost if Barack Obama is re-elected. Which, according to the transitive postulate, means that Mr. Santorum must believe that if we re-elect Barack Obama, average American life expectancy will revert to just 40 years of age.

• At least we wouldn’t have to worry about Death Panels then. But Mr. Obama would, alas, be the Death President!

This past Tuesday in Pocatello, Idaho, some parents saw an old man taking pictures of children in a public park. They approached him, yelled at him to stop, and immediately called the police. When officers arrived, they discovered the man had been taking pictures of his grandson, whom he had brought to the park to play. An updated media report — that’s right; a local television station ran a story about a suspicious man before anything had been confirmed or investigated — later declared that police [were] no longer worried about the man, and he is not suspicious. Which is doubtless a relief to grandfathers, aged uncles, and prematurely gray-haired men everywhere.

Forget that none of those paranoiacs bothered to talk to the old man before verbally assautling him and calling the cops, and just ask yourself: what was the more likely outcome there? That the man was related to one of the children? Or that he was some sort of stark-raving, playground-stalking, interloping pedophile?

• It’s a wonder I allow any of my male friends or relatives near my sons. For that matter, it’s a wonder I allow myself near my sons.  

Hot-Wheels-10-SetR.I.P., Elliot Handler — Co-Founder of Mattel and Inventor of Hot Wheels. Thank you, sir, for bringing so much joy to so many children (and their parents).

• Mr. Handler’s wife, Ruth, who passed in 2002, invented the Barbie Doll. What an amazing and creative couple they must have been.

• Let’s hope that Mr. Handler never tried to sit down and play with any children who were enjoying his or his wife's creations. Think how suspicious that would have looked to the folks in Pocatello.

• Next in the long list of things to which I am arriving late this summer: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. I'm almost finished with the first book and enjoying it immensely. A great read — which is not the same, of course, as great writing — and a rip-snorting page-turner. It's been a while since I read a novel this well and briskly (and relentlessly) plotted. And so blessedly free of the kind of pompous, ponderous pretensions that make something like Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom a must-read, but also a can’t-enjoy.

• If Congress and the President don’t resolve these debt ceiling issues by the deadline, I’m in favor of launching The Debtor Games. That’s the only way, it seems, the odds will ever again be in our favor...   

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Rite Aid, Wrong Time

Thursday, 28 July 2011 07:45 PM Written by

(out of time)

You've heard —  and read —  of Christmas in July. I give you, courtesy of the Rite Aid at Forbes and Murray in Squirrel Hill, Halloween in July:


Only 94 days left. Get your scarecows and pumpkins while they're hot!

And humid.

And stupid. 

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Right Place, Wrong Time

Thursday, 28 July 2011 06:30 PM Written by

(all the time)

About an hour ago, I got an email from a family member in DC.

The subject line: Watching C-SPAN. 

The body text: Aaaand the House is naming post offices right now.

Which is just fine with me. I mean, it's not as if they have anything more pressing to do at the moment.

I'm just hoping they named one after Alfred E. Neuman.

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The Agenda Agenda

Wednesday, 27 July 2011 07:18 PM Written by
(in which one finally, and hilariously, presents itself)

Almost seven years ago now, in the early days of my last blog, I began to worry that I was, for some inexplicable and surely unjust reason, missing out on a critical part of what should have been my American cultural and political experience:

I keep reading, in the work of crazy conservative columnists and especially in lunatic letters to the editor, about THE LIBERAL AGENDA. And I'm starting to get a little concerned about it. I’ve been a registered Democrat since age 18, a faculty-ID-card-carrying member of the Ivory Tower University Elite since age 24, a Bruce Springsteen fan since age 7. I married the daughter of a labor-union worker. I've even had a lesbian babysit my son. But I've never, not even once behind locked doors, seen a copy of the AGENDA. Should I be concerned? Is there somewhere I can go to get one? Is this all because I keep voting for Arlen Specter?

About two years later, I thought I might have finally figured out where it was hiding:

After reading so many boilerplate, lock-step, no-logic letters to the editor and hearing so many hysterical, nonsensical, irrational calls to talk radio that sound so damned much alike, I'm beginning to think that the neo-cons aren’t making it up after all. I still don't think THE LIBERAL AGENDA exists — it’s just a popular myth, like Bigfoot and South Dakota and accurate weather forecasting — but I do think they're engaging in a bit of Freudian projection, endlessly venting and whining about THE LIBERAL AGENDA as a way to express their own, smoldering, deep-seated unease with THE CONSERVATIVE EFFLUVIA, a compendium of stock phrases, knee-jerk complaints, and tiresome talking points that, Little-Red-Book-like, must make their way into all hardcore Republican rhetoric. How else to explain — I mean, besides intellectual dishonesty — how so many people from so many different walks of life can say and write so many things that sound so much alike yet make so little sense?

In the five years since, I’ve pretty much stuck to that theory. No matter how many times I hear about them, I remain unconvinced that THE LIBERAL AGENDA, THE SOCIALIST AGENDA, THE RADICAL AGENDA (but not, sadly, The Radical Middle Agenda), THE HOLLYWOOD AGENDA, THE CONSERVATIVE AGENDA and even THE ISLAMOFASCIST AGENDA do not exist.

And yet, today, I finally have iron-clad proof, straight from a web site that chronicles protest signs in support of gay marriage, that there is, in fact, THE GAY AGENDA:


To hell with marriage; now that they know this, the far right needs to figure out a way to protect the sanctity of the dairy aisle. 

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The Wall (7/17/11-7/23/11)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011 03:10 PM Written by
(they gave the last full measure of devotion)

Sergeant Mark A. Cofield. *

Private 1st Class Tyler M. Springman.

Sergeant 1st Class Kenneth B. Elwell.

Lance Corporal Jabari N. Thompson.

Sergeant Edward W. Koehler.

Staff Sergeant Kenneth R. VanGiesen.

Sergeant Brian K. Mowery.

Sergeant Omar A. Jones.

Sergeant Jacob Molina.

Staff Sergeant James M. Christen.

Master Sergeant Benjamin A. Stevenson.

* Sergeant Cofield as killed in Baghdad, Iraq, 328 days after headlines declared that the last U.S. combat troops had left Iraq. The War in Iraq may be over for the media and for the President, but for the men and women on the ground, still in harm's way every day, it goes on.  

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Quick Observation From a Monday Night

Monday, 25 July 2011 10:47 PM Written by
(of which you likely do not want to hear)

Tonight, on their 10 o'clock newscast (on Pittsburgh's CW!), KDKA devoted 50 seconds to the President's address to the nation, the Speaker's response to it, and the rest of the day's reaction to the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations.

That piece aired at 10:29. The piece that aired immediately before it, on the other side of the broadcast's second-to-last commercial break, was a 2-minute, 43-second piece on the idiotic prayer a Baptist preacher delivered before this past weekend's NASCAR race.

If that's not an indication of just about everything wrong with this country, local news, and the people seemingly determined to destroy them both, I don't know what is.

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Quick Question for a Monday Afternoon

Monday, 25 July 2011 04:33 PM Written by
(to which i likely do not want an answer)

The NFL lockout is over. The debt ceiling negotiations excruciate onward.

What percentage of America, do you think, wishes it were the other way around? 

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(Bookend) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 22 July 2011 12:00 PM Written by
(capping the night of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

UPMCDeathStar• Can we please stop pretending that, in the current face-off between UPMC and Highmark, the two sides share a moral equivalency? I’m no fan of either behemoth, and it pains me to defend a rate-hiking non-profit with billions of dollars in reserves and little interest in contributing even a microscopic portion of thoem to the tax base of the city it calls home, but Highmark is unquestionably the good guy here. It’s not doing anything that UPMC didn’t already do a decade ago, while also saving jobs and hospitals and the faint hope of a monopoly-free local hospital market. UPMC has declared an immovable course of action that will fundamentally disrupt health care quality and delivery for tens of thousands of people in this region. Every single piece of collateral human damage in this “war” will be done by the cold and bloody hands of UPMC.    

• Every new, smug, UPMC-penned op-ed that runs in the PG only makes the contrast clearer. And more despicable. (That’s right, Dr. Fran Solano, I’m looking at you.) 

• The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein posted a great chart a couple of weeks ago that compares Reagan, (H.W.) Bush and Clinton budget deals to the one proposed by President Obama. It takes a while to comprehend what you're seeing, but once you do, it’s pretty great. By which I mean, pretty ironic. And, pretty head-shakingly hilarious. Mr. Obama, the reputed Socialist, comes off looking like the Legend of Reagan. While the Reality of Reagan, the reputed Conservative Standard Bearer, comes off looking like Tax-and-Spend liberalism. It’s all further proof that in politics, memories are short and facts will never, ever get in the way of some good demagoguing.

• Yeah. Okay. It’s hot. That’s the weather, not the news.

• On June 27th, 1982, thanks to a VIP access pass secured by my retired-Air-Force-Major great uncle, I watched the Space Shuttle Columbia lift off from as close to the launch pad as civilians were ever allowed to be. It was, short of the birth of my children, the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life. When I think about it, I can still feel the ground rumbling beneath my feet, still feel my chest cavity shaking and rattling as if it might explode at any moment, still see that great ship rising into an impossibly blue Sunday morning Florida sky. I thought of that day a lot this week. Every time I see a clip of Atlantis touching down, the 13-year-old boy who watched that lift-off feels a little older, and sadder, than before.

• I’m late to this by a little less than a month, but TRM-favorite Farhad Manjoo’s Slate piece on Google+ More Like Google Minus is great reading. There’s the media hype. The fanboy (and, at this point, it’s almost all boy) reaction. And Manjoo’s clear-eyed, spot-on assessment: Google+ is several different social products rolled into one, an amalgam that currently lacks much coherence or any compelling reason for participation.

• Note to Rashard Mendenhall: the First Amendment does not guarantee you the right to responsibility-free million-dollar endorsement deals. It guarantees you the right — one you’ve exercised all-too-vigorously — to say and Tweet things so stupid that your corporate sponsor decides to terminate your deal. So wise up, or shut up. And stop paying your lawyers to bring a suit you will never, ever win

source-code-movie• The self-righteous posturing of the NFL players and their union reps grows more offensive by the day. They would do well to remember that they are football players fighting for a tenth billion dollars, not Homestead Strikers fighting for their lives.

• Album I Can’t Stop Listening To the past two weeks: Kasey Chambers’ Little Bird. The Australian roots/rock/folk/bluegrass/blues/country/can’t-quite-contain-her artists’ first two albums were classics that rightly drew comparisons to the work of Lucinda Williams. But this one (her fifth) may be her best, most consistent work yet.

• Movie I Liked Even More Than I Thought I Would this week: Duncan Jones’ Source Code. I expected a smart, efficient little thriller and certainly got that. But Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan, working from an unexpectedly subtle (if still preposterous) script, give it a surprising emotional heft. It’s not great cinema, but it is a pretty great, tremendously entertaining, character-driven thrill ride.

• And, finally, on a day when I am thrilled beyond compare to see my boys for the first time in two weeks, here’s a  lovely little thought from William D. Tammeus upon which I stumbled a few weeks ago, and of which my little sister reminded me today: You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around, and why his parents will always wave back. 

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