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Can She See Or Is She Blind?

Saturday, March 01, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Tonight the Iron Man trailer ran on TV. My wife was watching with me. When it was over, we had this conversation:

Her: "Is that some sort of reference I should get?"
Me: Long, puzzled silence.

Me: Slow dawning. Horror.

Me: "A reference? You mean . . . you mean, Iron Man?"

Her: "Is that something I should know?"

You think you know a person. 28 years, and it never occurred to me that the poor woman didn't know who Iron Man was.

Iron Man, for God's sake. It's not like we were talking Namor.

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Atheist Dad

Friday, February 29, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

One of the reasons I can make a living writing kids books is that I don't sentimentalize kids. They're not little puff-balls to me. They're not noble savages. They're like adults who've downed a pint of bourbon and twenty-five espressos: kinda drunk, and very, very alert. So very much more capable than our coddling society believes. There were twelve year-olds commanding guns at Trafalgar.

Their brains are lit up, exploding, incandescent. Passions you and I, half-comatose adults, can't even recall, because to remember them in detail would be to experience them all over again and our brains won't hold that much pressure anymore. That boiler would blow. We'd scare ourselves if we started to feel the world the way a middle-school kid feels it.

Savages. Not in a bad way, really, but not noble, either. A ten year-old is ten years away from his first glimmer of moral sensibility. (Fourteen years in my case, but then I was . . . what's the opposite of precocious?)

Have you ever, in the last 20 years, wanted a woman the way you did when you were fourteen or fifteen? Hell, have you wanted a candy bar the way you did then? If you say yes, then you are either young or have a very poor memory. From about age 10 to about age 19, you're gripping a stripped power line in either hand. The condom full of cocaine in your stomach has just popped and the customs agent is looking at you funny. A little unstable? A little shaky? A little bipolar? Crazy much?

Be all of that, and add 50% to the IQ. Like you're already driving a Ferrarri, pedal to the metal, but now you're burning nitrous. Remember the scene in 2001 when Dave is going through the wormhole and you keep getting flashes of his face and his wide-scared eye and he's shaking and turning colors? Like that.

My son, poor kid. Toss in obsessive-compulsive disorder, not really funny, but kind of. I have a bit. My wife has more. Kid was doomed by DNA.

He suffers the curse of sentience: the awareness of his own mortality. He's been on the death watch for years now. What if you die? What if I die? Every night when he goes to sleep. Just like I've done every night of my life. Like I'll do a few minutes from now. What if this, what if that? And we don't let the kid drink, (we're kind of conservative that way) so it's harder for him.

Ah, for God and heaven. Damn, that must be a nice dodge. Not that it works for long, I've never noticed that Christians are particularly blase about the Big D. But it must be nice for the believers to be able to poo-pooh the whole death thing, pretend it away. "Actually, son, it will be a happy time: you'll be with Jesus. Like visiting Grandpa's house, but Jesus will have better cookies." Like my kid would ever fall for that.

As I am a practicing heathen, I'm stuck with the phenomenologists' answer: you don't experience death. By definition, you don't ever experience your own death. You experience the whole play, all three acts, but for the final curtain you are, sadly, absent. This sophistry is wonderfully comforting to a ten year-old, as I'm sure you can imagine.

I explain that the thing to fear is not your own death but the death of someone you love, because that is not a bullet you can dodge with a philosophical sleight-of-hand. (Some reason I feel the need to paint that happy picture?) I admit under questioning that I seldom fall to sleep without worrying. Usually about the kids. Occasionally about the "check engine" light on my dashboard. Damn, parenthood is fun. Every fucking night. What if? What if?

I tell him the only thing that really helps when contemplating something awful, is to walk it through, imagine it in detail, make it real, and then see how you would survive. Absorb it. Face it. See how you would go on. Imagine your survival in as much detail as you imagined the tragedy.

Lovely conversation to be having with a little boy, don't you think?

But of course the flaw in the logic comes when he asks you whether you could imagine losing him. Whether you could imagine surviving that. And right there is where it sticks. Because now you either have to lie or tell the truth. And both answers, all possible answers, are betrayals.

You want to keep your kids not just safe from pain, but safe from the knowledge of the inevitability of pain. You want to rewrite the laws of the universe to make it a bit kinder for them. But when the little genius is cross-examining you, you realize you're trapped, and in the end you can't change the facts, and can't even put much of a coat of paint on them.

The smart blows away the camouflage. The OCD grabs the facts and works them like a guilty nun with a rosary. You're ten and know absolutely everything about Apple and Google and dick-all about life. Yeah, you could die, Your mom could die. Your dad has nothing to offer by way of amelioration but technicalities and evasions and some weak macho bullshit.

All sorts of pain will come your way during your lifetime, kid. That's the deal. You're going to live a life, not a fairy-tale. And there's not a hell of a lot Dad can do about that.

It would be so much better if kids could start figuring this out later. You know, when they'll have the advantage of philosophy, declining hormone levels and Scotch.

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None Dare Call Me Nerd.

by Michael Reynolds

I'm so there.

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The Kid's All Right

Thursday, February 28, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

LONDON -- The secret is out: Prince Harry has been serving on the front line with his British army unit in one of Afghanistan's most lawless and barren provinces.

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The Armchair's Worth a Couple Stars

Wednesday, February 27, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

So, Obama says:

"You know, I've heard from an Army captain who was the head of a rifle platoon — supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon. Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq," Obama told CNN moderator Campbell Brown.

"And as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough Humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief," he added.
And portions of the Right-o-sphere opens the spigots of ridicule:

Joshuapundit snarks: People get the kind of government they deserve. If we elect this charlatan, we'll deserve what we get.

NRO's The Corner: It's the kind of ludicrous claim one expects to hear from a caller on late night talk radio, not from a potential president of the US. Does Sen. Obama have ANYTHING to back this up?

Blackfive: Commander in Chief is a vital role and for his entire campaign staff to have missed the glaringly foolish errors in his sad vignette about starving, unarmed troops in Afghanistan.

Blogs 4 McCain: Does this sound like the man our armed forces deserve to have as Commander-in-Chief? While he attempts to attack the President here, he is in fact attacking commanders on the ground. He is using their service in a dangerous area as a political catchphrase, full rhetoric but not substance.

Now, ABC's Jake Tapper has already fact-checked this, and supports Obama's anecdote. But how's a chin-jutting chest-thumper gonna believe a mere member of the MSM? Come on, now.

Well, how about believing Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey:

"I have no reason to doubt what it is the captain said," Casey said. "This was 2003 and 2004, almost four and a half years ago. We acknowledge and all worked together to correct the deficiencies that we saw in that period, not only in Afghanistan but in Iraq. It was a period that we worked our way through."
Who you going to believe? An armchair general? Or a real one?

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The Emptiness of the Obamabashers

Monday, February 25, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Reverend Shaw Moore: I think it's Hadyn, a chamber piece.
Ariel: And that kind of music's ok?
Reverend Shaw Moore: It doesn't confuse people's minds and bodies.

On a couple of occasions, people in crowded Obama meetings, have passed out. On numerous occasions, Obama supporters, when interviewed, have said giddy, silly things. Sometimes when Obama supporters talk about their candidate they do so with . . . enthusiasm. Obama's wife, it seems, has a very high opinion of her husband's abilities.

All of which, when taken together, clearly reveals Obama to be the Antichrist and shows his voters to be devil-worshippers. Or Obama may be Mussolini and his supporters fascists. Or Obama is pretending to be Robert Kennedy and his fans are, um, baby boomers? Or maybe, just maybe, Obama is Mylie Cyrus in her alter-ego guise of Hannah Montana, and his (her) fans are squealing teeny-boppers.

One thing is for sure: there is no dancing in politics. There will be no rock and roll, not in Washington. Expressions of optimism are to be ruthlessly discouraged.

You're playing so cool
Obeying every rule
Dig a way down in your heart
You're burning, yearning for songs
Somebody to tell you
That life ain't passing you by
I'm trying to tell you
It will if you don't even try
You can fly if you'd only cut

Loose, footloose
Kick off your Sunday shoes
Stop it! Stop it! Stop having fun with politics! Don't you know that politics is a grim march from low expectations to grimmer acceptance?

What is that music? Why, it seems to be causing my foot to . . . to move . . . to tap! As though some demon issuing forth from that jungle beat has taken control of my very body! Quick, tie me to the mast and refuse my orders to steer closer to that irresistable siren song.

Reverend Shaw Moore: If our Lord wasn't testing us, how would you account for the proliferation, these days, of this obscene rock and roll music, with its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality?

Excellent question, reverend, and so true. We are being tested by this . . . this . . . Obama. Some say he is an empty suit. Others say he is a full suit, but that the suit is a Muslim one. Some believe he is a charming, Muslim-suited, snake-oil salesman who will . . . gasp . . . extend health insurance to more people. If he can get Congress to enact the legislation. Oh woe!

But all that we can know for sure about this Obama, is that he gives good speeches. Flee! Flee the speech-giver!

Be warned, people, here's how this goes: first comes the great speeches. Then comes people getting excited. Then you have your giddy fans. And before you know it, Obama is sporting a little brush mustache, invading Canada and forcing hockey fans into concentration camps. One thing leads inevitably to another. Have you ever, ever in your life seen a good speaker who wasn't secretly the Nazi Anti-Christ?

I warn you. I warn you all. Obama will release our passions. He will unchain the demons within us with his feel-good, loin-pumping, reason-clouding rhetoric. And once those inner demons are released who knows what horrors my follow? Universal health care! Higher taxes on the rich!

Oh wrack and ruin!

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Jet-lagged Ramble

Sunday, February 24, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Back from Italy. Back in the US of A after a flight that lasted roughly as long as the Inquisition.

Confess your heresy! Or face . . . the coach seat!

For the love of Christ, not Delta! Not Deltaaaaaa!

4,570 miles. That's the distance from Florence, Italy to Chapel Hill, NC, if you believe Google Earth. I left to go to the Firenze airport (Bruschetta Internazionale) at 5:30 am. I arrived at RDU at 11:30 pm. Adjust for the time zones and that's 24 hours. (Disclaimer: me and the math, caveat emptor.) That's an average speed of 190 mph. Better than a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, but not exactly orbital speed.

Do you watch the little flight progress screen when you fly? You know, it tells you your airspeed, how much longer you have to go, and then fades to a map with a superimposed airplane showing your position? Do you find yourself breathing a sigh of relief as you get close to Newfoundland because you figure hey, worse comes to worse you can swim that last 100 miles to shore? A thousand miles out, that would be bad, but hell, who can't swim 100 miles through the North Atlantic? I'd make a raft of seat cushions. No problem.

Important Update: I found the Nutella waffle mentioned here. I ate it while watching the sun set from the Ponte Vecchio. And, as always, I tell you this only to irritate you.

You know what's mostly bullshit? The idea that Italians all dress like runway models and Americans dress like Mike Huckabee out mowing his lawn. Florentines were looking kind of scruffy, really, which is weird given that a Euro should be able to buy a lot more slave labor-produced Chinese clothing than you can get with a dollar. It was unpolished shoes and black down jackets. If there was a sense of style it was limited mostly to exotic Paul Shaffer glasses.

In part that cliche -- fat, dowdy, stupid Americans moving like water buffalo through crowds of fleet, expensively-shod and fabulously dressed Italians -- is based on a rural vs. urban thing. Tourists come from all over the US, from savage Tennessee to the wilds of Nebraska, and then funnel into Euro-cities. They look as hillbillyesque as they do when they travel to New York. Stack a New Yorker up against a Roman and you'd have style parity. (And a black hole of self-regard.)

In any event, the cliche, which certainly used to be true, is less and less true every time I go over. Americans are less slovenly, Europeans are more so. We're still fatter, God knows, but even that gap is narrowing. I don't think it's that Americans are losing weight, I think it's that they can no longer fit into airline seats.

However, fear of that Ugly American cliche invariably pressures me into dressing up rather than down, when I go. I realized after I'd been there a couple of days that I was wearing Italian shoes, Italian slacks, and an Italian topcoat, and as far as I could tell, I was the only one. The best thing -- aside from the loving family deal -- about getting back home? Sneakers.

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Why Obama Will Win: Part 1

by Michael Reynolds

John McCain's website on the number one or two (depending on your poll) issue troubling Americans:

Families should be in charge of their health care dollars and have more control over their care. We can improve health and spend less, while promoting competition on the cost and quality of care, taking better care of our citizens with chronic illness, and promoting prevention that will keep millions of others from ever developing deadly and debilitating disease.

Um. What? Does that mean anything to you? How about this:

Make patients the center of care and give them a larger role in both prevention and care, putting more decisions and responsibility in their hands.

And that means what, exactly? Anyone? How about:

We must do more to take care of ourselves to prevent chronic diseases when possible, and do more to adhere to treatment after we are diagnosed with an illness.

Childhood obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are all on the rise. We must again teach our children about health, nutrition and exercise - vital life information.

Public health initiatives must be undertaken with all our citizens to stem the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes, and to deter smoking.

So the federal government's going after fat kids? The federal government's going to make sure you take your pills? The Republicans will foster a nanny state attack on lifestyle issues like smoking? Everyone who believes that, raise your hand. What? No one?

Support innovative delivery systems, such as clinics in retail outlets and other ways that provide greater market flexibility in permitting appropriate roles for nurse practitioners, nurses, and doctors.

Where cost-effective, employ telemedicine, and community and mental health clinics in areas where services and providers are limited.

And in what way do either of those have to do with the federal government? Is the federal government outlawing clinics in malls? I must have missed that. Kinda think that's all at the state and local level.

Protect the health care consumer through vigorous enforcement of federal protections against collusion, unfair business actions, and deceptive consumer practices.

Yes, because when you think "vigorous enforcement" of regulations on industry, you think GOP.

I'm being a little unfair. There are one or two substantive suggestions. Here's the one a Republican would actually try to pass:

Pass tort reform to eliminate frivolous lawsuits and excessive damage awards. Provide a safe harbor for doctors that follow clinical guidelines and adhere to patient safety protocols.

In other words, if your doctor kills you, he shouldn't have to worry about being sued.

Here's my personal favorite:

Promote competition throughout the health care system - between providers and among alternative treatments.

Exsqueeze me? Alternative treatments? Are we talking crystals here?

Read McCain on health care and health insurance and you get bromides and bullshit, with the only honest portions having to do with more tax cuts to help people who don't particularly need the help, and of course protection for incompetent doctors.

Here's a portion of the health care section on the Obama site:

Obama will make available a new national health plan to all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, to buy affordable health coverage that is similar to the plan available to members of Congress. The Obama plan will have the following features:

Guaranteed eligibility. No American will be turned away from any insurance plan because of illness or pre-existing conditions.

Affordable premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

Subsidies. Individuals and families who do not qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP but still need financial assistance will receive an income-related federal subsidy to buy into the new public plan or purchase a private health care plan.

Whether you like the McCain approach, or the Obama approach, I think it's hard to dispute the fact that McCain's high-school-kid-stretching-to-reach-a
-thousand-words-for-the-term-paper approach to health care is at least 90% straight-talk-free. It means, in effect, nothing. Nothing substantive will be done to deal with this most pressing of issues. If you're one of those people having a hard time keeping up on your medical bills, worried you'll lose your insurance, McCain isn't too reassuring, is he? Especially in a shaky economy?

You may not like Obama's approach, but it is something. It is not nothing. It is a change. It is not the same old same old. If you're worried about going bankrupt when your kid gets asthma, or your wife gets breast cancer, or you suffer a stroke, Obama has an actual, substantive solution. Whereas McCain limits his reassurance to doctors.

So, Obama is the "empty suit" and McCain's the serious thinker. Yeah?

Let's put the respective plans before middle class, $60,000 a year, working families in Pennyslvania, Ohio and Florida. (Just to pick three, um, random states.) Who do you think they'll consider the more serious, substantive candidate? Which plan do you think they'll like better? The one where they are allowed to save some tax free money they don't have, in a special savings account that's already available, so that they can use the 3 or 4 grand they might manage to scrape together over a decade of scrimping, to marginally slow their descent into medically-induced bankruptcy? Or the one where no matter what happens, their kids get in to a see a doctor?

McCain supporters need to realize something: it's not 1993 anymore. Harry and Louise and hysterical accusations about socialized medicine aren't going to work this time around. Fifteen years have passed, and we've had medical savings accounts, and we've had 8 years of GOP dominance, and guess what? People are less likely to have adequate health insurance now than they did then. Obama proposes, in effect, extending the Congressional system to regular Americans. Let's hear John McCain explain why it's good for him and the millionaires in Congress, but wouldn't be good for a working mother in New Jersey.

McCain on health care? Empty rhetoric. Obama on health care? An actual plan. An actual plan that actual people can actually understand.

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