Whose Day Did Clint Eastwood Make?

Once again, Mitt Romney was not the story at the 2012 Republican National Convention and it was HIS night.  The highlight, or more appropriately, the low light, which has everyone talking is Clint Eastwood’s one man act with an empty chair who was supposed to be an invisible President Obama. Eastwood talked to the chair periodically, and heard the President tell him to shut up: “I am not going to shut up, it is my turn.” I think some of the GOP operatives were probably wondering why they gave him a turn at all, especially in prime time. At one point when talking about Romney, he told the invisible President, “I can’t tell him to do that to himself…you’re crazy…you’re getting as bad as Biden”.  No, actually, it was Clint who was getting about as bad as it can get.  He was grumpy and unfocused; a real train wreck.  He rambled about Gitmo and Afghanistan, as if he were giving a foreign policy speech and then bashed Obama for being a lawyer.

The whole performance was bizarre.  The audience of course loved it, or seemed to anyway.  Maybe they were starstruck, but they laughed and I’m sure some of the operatives were laughing nervously, because clearly Clint was not scripted; his remarks seemed to be delivered extemporaneously like a jazz soloist.  And he is a jazz fan.

My question is why they allowed him a prime time spot?  I actually thought it was a joke initially.  I didn’t even know Eastwood was conservative, and thought he may have crashed the convention, or paid some money to promote his latest movie.

He ended with “ok, you want to make my day?” and the crowd yelled “make my day”.  It’s not clear how he meant the line from the movie Dirty Harry.  Was he daring Independents to vote for the President, or was it just a cheap line for a laugh? However it was intended, it appears that he actually did the Democrats a favor by overshadowing Mitt on Mitt’s night.  Quite literally, he made Team Obama’s day.

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Paul Ryan’s Music References Fall Short

The “young gun” and Wisconsin cheesehead who deserted the state to attend college in neighboring Ohio, walked onto the stage at the RNC  to accept the VP nomination accompanied by music that I swear sounded like the tune, “The Boys Are Back In Town” by the Irish band, Thin Lizzy.  Have you ever heard the lyrics to that song? The boys in the song are not exactly respectful of women and the band romanticizes drunken bar fights.  And speaking of bars, wasn’t it Boehner who threatened to throw Obama out of “the bar” in his speech? Anyway, I suppose the song is fitting for a man anointed as the leader of the “young guns”, who has a hawkish voting record and supports policies that are anti-women.  I am not saying that he doesn’t like women – he has a family and children.  What I am saying is that his record speaks for itself.  He voted to defund planned parenthood and has consistently voted to make it more difficult for women to exercise the right to control their own bodies.  And it’s not just those votes.  Ryan also voted against a bill that would require women to be paid the same as men for equal work.  As to his hawkishness, he’s voted for all the wars, big defense and get this – he voted yes on a bill to allow loaded guns in National Parks.  This makes me think of Yosemite Sam.

And for all this talk about how great America is, Ryan’s record shows a real distaste for two of the things Americans do best – science and the arts – he voted to end NPR, not to be confused with the NRA. And for a man who would be the first to hold the “Country First” sign, his taste in music is curious.  American music is one of our national treasures, yet when his big moment came where he had the chance to tip his cap to Americana, he instead walked onto the stage to the music of the Irish band Thin Lizzy, and later bragged of his A to Z ipod tunes beginning with the Aussie band AC/DC and ending with the British band Led Zeppelin, which would probably have been in the L, not the Z position.  Not that these aren’t good bands, or that I’m xenophobic or anything, it’s just that that Ryan completely disrespected one of America’s greatest exports.  He could have at least mentioned the band America in the A position (maybe that was on Mitt’s ipod) and ended with some ZZ Top, a nod to the Texas contingency.  To impress the more cultured Independents out there, he could have thrown in a Coltrane, Duke Ellington or say an Aaron Copland reference.  And what about some of the greats in his own backyard of Wisconsin like Woody Herman, Les Paul and the hip Bon Iver? What a missed opportunity!

Republican National Convention Day 1 or was it 2?

Did you see the Republican National Convention Convention speeches last night?  BORING.  I don’t know how I hung in there as long as I did for the late night Ann Romney and Chris Christie speeches, but I did, well almost.  The next day, today, I tuned into the Martin Bashir show on MSNBC and he pointed out the contrast between the two speeches and it was something that as I listened last night also struck me as odd, if not bizarre.  Ann said she wanted to talk about love and Christie who followed her speech contradicted this theme by saying we spend too much time as a country wanting to be loved.

It also struck me as quite odd that most of the speakers on day 1, or was it 2, who knows, simply talked about their own records as governors – how they balanced budgets, cut taxes, busted unions, took immigration into their own hands and so forth.  Rick “Saint”orum literally took the hand metaphor to the extreme, if you were listening closely, you’d have thought it sounded as creepy as I did.  You know for a minute there, I thought he was going to explode or spontaneously combust on stage.

Strangely, there was hardly a whisper about what Mitt had done as governor of Massachusetts.  Granted, there’s not much there for a Republican to champion, especially Romneycare, Mitt’s signature health care legislation, which is the model for Obamacare and I might add as a Massachusetts resident working quite well for Baystaters.  Nor was there much talk about Romney’s days at Bain Capital, and you would think this would have been a rallying cry for the GOP who believe in unfettered Ayn Randian capitalism.  And barely a peep about Mitt’s Olympic “turnaround” which was due in large part to government support – oops, can’t let that get out!  We did learn one thing we might not have know about Mitt and that was that he took Ann to a dance and got her home ok some 40 years ago, or whatever it was.

It was almost as if Mitt were an afterthought on a night devoted to celebrating republican leadership, a style characterized by the slogan – The Grand Old Party of No – no to reproductive rights, no to help for the poor, no to public assistance, no to unions, no to marriage equality, no to jobs, no to voting rights, no to the middle class, no to immigrants, no to the separation of church and state, no to NPR, no to regulations, no to science, no to darn near everything except more tax cuts for the wealthy (so much for the debt clock) and so on, and trust me, I could go on.  The Do Nothing congress dominated by republican obstructionism, rather than celebrating successes should be apologizing to the American people and begging for another chance to serve.

And the smug governors who want less government, and would have you believe they’d cede from the United States and form their own country, jump at the chance to get any and all the assistance available from the federal government for clean energy projects, disaster assistance, education grants and the like. I could go on here and expose more of the hypocrisy, but I don’t have the stomach for it.

1969, A Hurricane Vacation To Remember

Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon in July of 1969.  I was 6.  My parents had been planning a family vacation to Biloxi, Mississippi.  We were headed for the beach, which was going to be my first ocean experience.  Somewhere between July and August, the plans changed.  Our mailman, Mr. Dombroksi, suggested that we go to Ft. Walton Beach, FL instead, claiming that the beaches there were much nicer and less crowded.  Having never been to Florida, and really trusting the neighborly wisdom of our postman, my parents plotted a new course for a week long stay in Ft. Walton Beach, the crown jewel of the emerald coast on the Florida panhandle.

Around mid August, we packed our 4 door 1966 Chevrolet Impala and off we went.  Little did we know that we were headed directly into the 15th deadliest U.S. hurricane of all time, and one of the first named hurricanes on record, Hurricane Camille.  Ironically, the hurricane made landfall very near Ft. Walton Beach just as we rolled out of our driveway.  As we headed southeast from our home in North Little Rock, AR, we were on a collision course with the westerly tracking Camille.  We stopped in Biloxi, got evacuated from our motel, and drove on to Mobile where we hankered down until the morning and drove straight on to Ft. Walton Beach against traffic in the driving rain with turbulent cross winds rocking our Impala. My dad seemed to know what he was doing.

We finally made it to Ft. Walton Beach, which had been rocked pretty hard by Camille.  The aqua blue Islander with boarded up glass sliding doors facing the beach looked deserted.  The owners were truly shocked to see us and wondered how on earth we managed to survive driving through the path of a Hurricane.  I think my dad said something like, “ah, it wasn’t so bad”.   We were the only guests – many had cancelled though a few were due to arrive later in the week as Camille weakened and vacationers from Dixieland and environs recovered from the historic storm.

As Hurricane Isaac makes a similar path through Florida, disrupting the Republican National Convention in Tampa, literally raining like hell on the GOP parade, I am reminded of just how dangerous the Gulf Coast is for U.S. residents and vacationers alike.  And it makes me wonder whether the Obama administration is up to the task of responding to the destruction from high winds, and flooding caused by tidal wave storm surges and relentless amounts of rain.  New Orleans, despite billions in new pumps, is still highly vulnerable. In 2005, Bush the Younger responded so late to Katrina that the Canadian Mounties arrived first,  followed closely by Harry Connick, Jr., who couldn’t believe that there was not a single American agency or boot on the ground to help.  No boots on the ground, just some horse hoofs.  It was chaos as the walking wounded wandered around looking for help, any help.

Let’s hope Isaac is no Katrina and that President Obama effectively manages the aftermath.  Although hurricanes should not be politicized, in this campaign season with the superpacs and all, anything goes, so the Team Obama and Team Romney responses will be captured and packaged to lure Independent voters.  One will claim the GOP was insensitive to the plight of the hurricane victims and should have cancelled the convention.  The other will argue that the President caused the hurricane, that it is proof that he is soft on the cloud seeding Iranians.  The Dem. Superpac could counter that Hurricane Isaac is a message that global warming is for real and here to stay, thanks to the science deniers in the GOP.

One thing I remember about my 1969 vacation brush with Camille was getting a free week by the owners of the Islander; after all, it was good for business to have a few guests to create the illusion of normalcy.  And also, it was the least they could do to make amends for the condition of the motel and the beach that was crawling with the nastiest and smelliest Sea Slugs you have ever seen in your life which had been washed ashore as a parting gift from Camille.  I also remember some kid, younger than me, running through a sliding glass door and getting all cut up.  He was ok in the end, just a little stunned. I think that family got a free week too.  And the other thing that stuck in my brain for all these years was seeing all the destruction of Camille on the ride back.  At the tender age of 6, it was all very exciting and terrifying.

Red Bull Cliff Diving, Boston

I witnessed a Cliff Diving Event in Boston yesterday.  Where are the cliffs you ask? At the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) on the Boston Harbor.  For real!  The cliff was a specially constructed platform atop the ICA some 92 feet high that jutted out into the Boston Harbor.  The ICA hosted the 2nd annual Red Bull International Cliff Diving Competition, the only U.S. stop on the circuit.  And what an experience!

Olympic diver Greg Louganis served as one of the judges, one of the greatest Olympic divers of all-time and an accomplished platform diver.  Platform cliff diving is no easy feat.  92 feet is equivalent to 28 meters.  As you may know, the Olympic diving platform goes only up to 10 meters.  That’s it.  Anything over that would not be survivable head first, which is why the cliff divers land feet first.   As the divers plunge at 55 miles per hour, there’s no margin for error, none whatever. A belly flop might prove deadly; head first, a loss of consciousness and likely death from blunt trauma.

The crowd some 20,000 strong watched these divers perform amazing feats of gymnastics from triple twisting doubles to the handstand inward twisting free fall in the pike position, or whatever it’s called; I mean I don’t even know the names of these dives but it was all bordering on Circ Du Soleil acrobatic  insanity.

For me, a successful dive was one in which the diver survived.  But I was also thinking to myself, they may have survived the dive, but what are the long term effects of exposure to Boston Harbor water, which is not known to be the most pristine.  I hope the guys took a decontamination dip immediately following the event.  Maybe all that Red Bull they’ve ingested over the course of the competition boosted their immune system.  One thing was clear: Red Bull did seem to give them all wings.

Diving Highlights

Ikea Hospitality

photo by Joseaperez

Ikea, the Swedish based furniture chain that sells cheap but “stylish” kit furniture plans to start a chain of budget hotels in Europe.  I don’t know if you have an Ikea in your area, but if you do and have been there, you know that all the furniture sold requires assembly, or most of it anyway.  And you probably also know that Swedish names adorn the labels of their products which often sound quite silly to a monolingual English only ear.   The Raskog kitchen trolley, bedroom furniture by Rast and Odda, and of course the Skruvsta swivel chair.  I recently bought an Orgel floor lamp and some frozen Swedish meatballs with gravy.

I’m not very good at assembling things actually, and find the illustrations make the task even more confusing.  I just look at the finished product on the box and try to reconstruct it as best I can.  Now this new hotel chain launch intrigues me.  I wonder if the pricing structure will be based on assembled and unassembled rooms?  Imagine checking into your room to find a stack of plywood on the floor with a hex key and some nuts and bolts.  I’d be ok as long as  my room came with complimentary bags of Swedish meatballs, Swedish fish and Anna’s ginger thins.  Ah, Swedish hospitality.

Who Scares You the Most?

Here’s the thing: as the conventions near, there’s very little that either party can do to persuade a Republican or a Democrat to vote for the other side.  The parties are entrenched.

And here’s the other thing: Independents are notoriously unreliable as a voting block. This is just my opinion.  I have not done any research on the subject.  I will not site any statistics or quote some expert.  I will just say that an Independent is likely to be fed up with both parties and vote for the lesser of two evils. If they care about the rights of workers, immigrants, women and gays, they’ll vote Dem. If they care more about the deficit, taxes, getting even richer, preserving a comfortable lifestyle, digging, drilling and fracking to extract every drop of fossil fuels mother earth has to give, well, they’ll vote for the GOP.

Honestly, this time around, I don’t even think the Independents will make the difference.  The difference maker will be turnout. Whichever party turns out the most voters on election day will win. This is why the GOP has pandered to the vocal and reactionary Christian fundamentalist Tea Party base. If they don’t turn out, President Obama wins in a landslide. The GOP also knows that if the Dems have a high turnout on election day, it’s all over which is why they have done everything possible to make voting more difficult for poorer urban voters who are more likely to vote Democrat are not likely to have a government approved ID, don’t drive and won’t be able to get one in time to vote. They claim voter ID laws are necessary despite the fact that there has been a very low instance of voter fraud in the history of elections.  To make it harder to vote is criminal and the biggest fraud of all.  No, it won’t be the Independents who will swing the election, it’ll be the party turnouts in the swing states that will make the difference.

And here’s the last thing: I predict the campaigns and the superpacs will get uglier and uglier as we draw near to election day. It’s already pretty bad on both sides.  It won’t be “vote for me because I am great and America deserves greatness” or “my jobs plan will get the economy moving”.  Unfortunately, negative message will dominate.  Scare tactics will prevail.  We are going to hear more hate and vitriol on both sides.  Stuff like: “he’s going to end medicare, roll granny off the cliff and bring in death panels”, or “the President will take away and redistribute your small business because you didn’t make that”  or “Mitt’ll melt the polar ice-caps in his first 100 days” (he just might!)  The idea is to scare you to vote.  So the question becomes, who scares you the most?

Paul Ryan Parts Ways with Ayn Rand

Let me say up front that I’m not a fan of Ayn Rand, although I did read and quite liked the Fountainhead when I was in my 20’s.  For the record, I was an English major, so I read a lot and I can assure that Ayn Rand is not required reading for English majors on most campuses.  When I was in college, I knew a lot of non-English majors who proudly avoided classes in which reading would be required, well, reading a novel anyway.  An engineer friend of mine said he’d never read a book in his life.  Others sparked noted their way through required college reading.  Not me – after books, albums were my number one priority which left no money for Cliff Notes.

I can tell you this, Paul Ryan did not read Ayn Rand’s “masterpiece” Atlas Shrugged.  At 1,088 pages, Paul Ryan would have started it as a young man and still be reading it, unless he had taken Evelyn Woods speed reading course.  And speed reading a novel, that’s just wrong.   I don’t begrudge Ryan or any politician for not having time or interest in reading.  President Kennedy confessed to never reading a novel, although he was a prolific reader of books on history.

If I were a reporter, I’d ask Ryan to name all the Ayn Rand books he has read and to give his takeaway from each.  And I would quiz him too.  For example, name the main character and his profession in the Fountainhead.  But I believe he would give a Sarah Palin like response and say that he had read “all of them” and that he would rather talk about the deficit or medicare vouchers.

Here’s the thing:  conservatives have championed Ayn Rand as their intellectual and ideological leader without having read her work and without knowing or understanding much about her philosophy on life.  If they knew some of her views, they would quickly distance themselves from her, as Paul Ryan now has.  It is a matter of public record that she was an atheist, ambivalent toward gun rights, had issues with the death penalty, and was pro-choice.  And she hated the National Review, the conservative periodical and was no fan of William F. Buckley.  In fact, she hated political parties!

The GOP likes Ayn Rand because she was a rugged individualist who believed in reason, meritocracy, unfettered capitalism and limited government.  This is of course no surprise coming from a Russian who lived her formative years in Stalinist Russia.  She was suspicious of faith, arguing that it limited thought and was antithetical to reason. Her social positions don’t square with the social conservative base of the GOP.  Ryan, who said he grew up reading Ayn Rand and credited her as one of his main influences who inspired him to enter politics, has finally rejected her philosophy.  My takeaway from this is 1) Ryan is not a very good reader and 2)  he felt the need to show that he too can flip-flop with the best of them.

Most Memorable 2012 London Olympic Moments

I love the Olympics and have faithfully watched the broadcasts every 2 years for as long as I can remember.  This go round, I watched as much as I could, but unfortunately was not able to catch all of the events.  I didn’t see a wrestling match, or do they call it grappling?  I am sick to death that I did not see the ping pong and badminton matches – strange name for a sport, isn’t it, badminton –  but I hear there was some cheating going on.  No, not doping allegations, just strategic losing to gain an advantage – this is like anti-doping. I didn’t see the dodge ball and handball competitions.  Wait, isn’t a handball a penalty in soccer?  Excuse me, I meant to say football, ok, futbol. I didn’t see any boxing and weightlifting, which, to my knowledge, didn’t make the prime time broadcasts, but they may have had their own channels.  And whatever happened to Olympic Cliff diving?  GB has some great cliffs.  But I digress.  Here are the moments in my view for which the 2012 London Olympics will be remembered:

  • Usain Bolt:  Still the fastest human alive and 3 Golds richer.
  • Aliyson Felix:  Finally got her Gold in the 200 and 2 more in relays, including a world record in the 4 x100.
  • Gabby Douglas: World’s best female gymnast.
  • Manteo Mitchell:  Broke his leg on a leg of the 4×400 relay, but managed to finish helping the US qualify for the finals.
  • Oscar Pistorius: Ran competitively on carbon fiber blades
  • Mo Farah the British runner of Samali origin did the impossible winning the 5 and 10,000 meter runs.
  • 10 meter platform finals:  What a finish – USA, China, Great Britain.  David Boudia won the Gold, ending a 24 year medal drought in individual events by American male divers.  The favorite, Qui Bo, finished a very close second and crowd favorite Brit Thomas Daley finished strong and took bronze and a celebratory pool plunge with team GB.
  • Michael Phelps:  Still the world’s fastest swimmer and arguably the greatest Olympian of all-time.
  • The golden women of team USA:   swimming and track relays, basketball, water (marco) polo, gymnastics, beach volleyball, rowing and soccer.  Domination.
  • Events that should be in the X Games, not the Olympics:  BMX bike racing and beach volleyball.  You know it’s X gamey when an athlete gives an interview wearing a Red Bull cap.
  • Picnic and arcade games that are not sports:  If badminton and ping pong are allowable, why not frisbee golf, fooseball, pinball, dodgeball, kick-the-can, twister and croquet in Rio.  In fact, I demand it!
  • An explosion of athletes wearing kinesio tape: The stuff looks like leaches from the Thames or British sea slugs from the Isles of Man or Wight, one.
  • Edible Medals: All the athletes were eating their medals which I believe were actually foil wrapped chocolates.
  • The Brits:  The host country won 65 medals, 4th best and with 29 Golds, 3rd behind China and the U.S.  Down under in 2008, team GB won 47 medals, 19 Golds.

Congratulations London and team GB on a job well done!  Cheers!

To Podium, A New Olympic Verb

Hey NBC, stop with the medal ceremony.  Focus on the games and the performances, but don’t expect a performance on the medal stand.  Enough of the creepy zoom ins to check for patriotic tears and vocals.  Clearly, and I think unfairly so, the hope and expectation of the photographer is for the gold medal winner to be overcome with joy, emotion and patriotism.  The camera wants tears, and a believable attempt at the national anthem, or at least a convincing lip synch with hand over heart. The stoic gold medalist may be accused of ambivalence or apathy, even selfishness. The other medalists are expected to look humbled, not pissed or disappointed, as they often do, and the journalist secretly wants their “poor sportsmanship” to become the story.  Sour grapes sell.

And speaking of podium, what’s with using podium as a verb? I keep hearing athletes and commentators mention “to podium” as a goal.  “She just hopes to podium”, or “I’m just happy to podium”. Do you suppose the athletes say to themselves when on the podium that they can’t believe they podiumed or that they are podiuming at the very moment.  Try saying podiuming quickly three times or just once.

If I were a sports consultant, and I am not, but if I were and I just might become one, but I won’t, but I could, I would write a book called:  How To Podium and Not Look Bad Doing It. I’m sure it would be a bestseller.  Here are some excerpts:

  • If you don’t know the words to your country’s national anthem, don’t try to sing it.
  • If you can’t cry, smile.  If you can’t smile, cry. Don’t look serious.
  • If you didn’t win the gold, look proud anyway, no pouting.
  • If you won gold, don’t tell your podium mates sorry that it didn’t work out.
  • Don’t pretend to eat the medal.
  • Don’t ask your podium mates if they would like to touch your gold.
  • Don’t crack up laughing.
  • Take off your shades.
  • Try not to trip over the podium or fall off it.
  • Don’t insist that the others join you on the gold medal platform.
  • Do not attempt to autograph your competitors’ warmups.
  • No Hang Ten gestures. That’s for the X games.