The Nation’s Pulse

The Nation's Pulse

Misdirected Fire

By 2.18.14

When Paul Chesser turned a spotlight on “Blueprint NC” in this space last month, he did his homework, which is more than can be said for some of the local columnists now arguing about whether Reverend William Barber II, the best-known supporter of Blueprint NC, is a political asset or a political liability. At the Raleigh-based News & Observer, one J. Peder Zane, an opinion writer in the “Barber is a liability” camp, declared that “Religion can be a vital force in our personal lives, but it has no place in politics.” Zane then went on to suggest that morality has “almost no place in our politics,” either.

Fish, meet barrel. The problem from Zane’s point of view is that morality is inflexible, which puts it at odds with anything that relies on “adaptation and change” to the extent that democratic politics must.

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Nice Guys Finish Last

By 2.14.14

In watching both the recently released Netflix documentary Mitt, as well as NBC’s putting out to pasture of Jay Leno (again), I was struck by the current cultural attitudes toward those generally perceived as “nice” people. Apart from the hackneyed “If it bleeds, it leads” response you’ll get from most people when the topic of how we treat household names in the media comes up, there is a real (and I would add sick) pleasure Americans experience when nice guys finish last.

We like jerks. And if someone isn’t a jerk, but we don’t like their politics or street-cred as a performer, we call them jerks louder and longer than the actual ones all around us.

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Big Waistlines, Big Government

By 2.14.14

Beware Cap’n Crunch, Hamburglar, and Aunt Jemima. Atticus Finch and Perry Mason, or at least their less scrupulous peers, come for their cut.

“It’s not a matter of casting the food industry as villains,” Paul McDonald, a Chicago lawyer, explained to Politico of his plea to more than a dozen state attorneys general that they sue for obesity-related health-care expenses. “There’s a cost of what they’re doing that they’re not internalizing, and the taxpayers are paying for it. The states don’t have many choices.”

The fatsos surely do: Corndog or carrots? Gumbo or granola? Slurpee or seltzer? Sometimes the fatty, sugary deliciousness makes it as though the choice makes itself. Americans are fat, and it’s not their fault. Just ask them — or Paul McDonald. They want to have their cake and eat it two, three, four pieces over.

Our national gluttony is written on our waists. But it more dangerously influences our government and courtrooms. Attorneys and politicians, like a Mr. Limbkins-sized Oliver, forever cry, “I want some more.”

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Philip Seymour Hoffman, Our Imaginary Friend

By 2.7.14

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who overdosed over the weekend on a drug that knows no correct dosage, exhibited extraordinary gifts in Capote, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Doubt, Boogie Nights, and The Master. But his on-screen persona convincing people who never met him that they knew him well stems less from his theatrical capabilities than the capabilities of the theater.

“At my office today everyone is talking about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and how great of an actor he was,” a letter writer to Dear Prudence explains. “I made the comment that while he was talented, he was also a junkie who just left three children without a father. I am now getting the cold shoulder from many colleagues.”

CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield floated the idea of charging the people who sold him heroin with “felony murder.” The bespectacled host told viewers that “the guy who gave an addict the drug that killed him deserves to go away for life.”

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A Really Big Show

By 2.5.14

Fifty years ago this week, the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, giving America its first taste of what became known as The British Invasion. As a little girl, I remember the excitement surrounding this appearance; in fact, my parents let my five brothers and sisters and me stay up “late” to watch the show.

Coming from a big family, I used those older than me as sounding boards and the verdict was in: my older female cousins were originally unimpressed by the Fab Four, preferring instead to continue to imitate the dance steps and hairstyles of girl groups like Martha and the Vandellas and the Shirelles, while the boys, especially my brother Marc, loved the Beatles instantly and within months he and all his friends were playing guitars and forming their own groups. Beatlemania was here and spreading, and would leave the American music industry in its wake.

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Like a Boy, Like a Man

By 1.31.14

“I’ll break you in half,” Congressman Michael Grimm informed a startled reporter. “Like a boy.”

That addendum seemed redundant. The former Marine and FBI agent appeared capable of the feat; the milksop reporter appeared capable of imitating a wishbone with the application of slight pressure.

The post-State of the Union temper tantrum, over something as petty as a question about alleged campaign finance violations, reveals an anger issue in Congressman Grimm. Our reaction to it reveals something worse in us.

We are weak. There are many males, few men.

So, a former FBI agent and Marine whose presence reminds us of this softness quite naturally provokes our enmity. If you don’t believe that we’re drifting to become a nation of cowards, ask yourself what figure we revile most? It’s the schoolyard bully, a character who all but those suffering from a stunted maturation eventually get over. But America can’t seem to transcend its fixation with Buddy Hinton, the Gooch, Moody, and other imaginary bullies.

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Pro-Life Optimism

By 1.23.14

Yesterday was one of the coldest Washington days in recent memory, with wind chills below zero and the city crushed under a blanket of snow (only four inches, but that’s an ice age by D.C. standards). Yet the demonstrators at the annual March for Life did what they do every year: woke up early, braved the elements, and trekked to the Supreme Court in somber remembrance. “We march,” declared the event’s official Twitter account, “because 56 million Americans never had the chance to experience snow.”

Fifty-six million killed in abortions—it's a horrific milestone, a malevolent ticker for those of us who remember when it was 50 million, 45 million, 40 million. Roe v. Wade was decided 41 years ago yesterday; those who fight it tend to be optimistic types, but the numbers increasingly cast a pall. And the media coverage of the March makes it worse. News editors apparently engaged in a contest this year to see who could pointlessly mention Todd Akin and the “Republican war on women” the most times.

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Get Married, Young Woman (and Man)

By 1.20.14

It’s an argument that shouldn’t be controversial, but is: Marriage breakdown is a major cause of modern poverty. So writes former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer in a Wall Street Journal column that has sent anti-traditional family liberals into a tizzy.

Given the sociological evidence, Fleischer’s conclusion should surprise no one. Social scientists, of both liberal and conservative stripes, have long maintained that stable marriages and families increase economic prosperity, particularly for women and the poor. Too often, those results are suppressed or ignored.

But as Fleischer argues, if we’re truly interested in reducing poverty and increasing incomes, we should be interested in marriage. More often than not, the difference between rich and poor in America boils down to the matrimony question:

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Welfare for Snowbirds

By 1.16.14

Today is our lucky day, the day each year my wife and I get to be on the receiving end of multiple doses of federal welfare — gratis money we didn’t ask for and don’t need that will be picked from taxpayers’ pockets in order to lower the price of our breakfast, dinner, travel, and unlimited pours of pinot noir and chardonnay.

As I’m writing this, an Amtrak attendant is driving our ruby red Lexus ES350 up the ramp onto Amtrak's Auto Train in Lorton, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.) for our overnight train excursion to Sanford, Fla. (near Orlando).

Before it headed off to the loading area, another Amtrak attendant slowly circled our car with a video camera, carefully filming the condition of every panel so there’ll be clear evidence when we arrive in Florida whether a scratch or dent was a preexisting condition.

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Jerry Brown’s Transgender Bathrooms

By 1.15.14

The late Chicago columnist Mike Royko nicknamed Jerry Brown “Governor Moonbeam” for his flaky politics. Brown’s 1980 campaign slogan was: “protect the earth, serve the people and explore the universe.” But perhaps even Royko didn’t foresee the eccentric politics of 2014 California under Jerry Brown, which could feature, among other oddities, a referendum on whether or not to keep transgender bathrooms in public schools.

Brown signed the transgender-bathroom legislation, authored by the San Francisco radical Tom Ammiano, last fall. The legislation stipulates that students, based on nothing more than their “gender” self-perception, may choose the bathroom, locker facility, and sports team of their choice. (Brown has also signed legislation allowing people to alter birth certificates based on their self-perception.)

“Now, every transgender student in California will be able to get up in the morning knowing that when they go to school as their authentic self they will have the same fair chance at success as their classmates,” Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, told the press.

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