Friday, October 26, 2012

Dan Buettner, the Johnny Appleseed of Long, Happy Lives

A wonderful story in the NYT magazine this weekend by my pal Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones.  Dan has identified the secrets to a long, happy life to be: friends, afternoon naps, a sense of belonging, belief (in one way or another), a Mediterranean diet, a bit of red wine, and a few other thing.  He explains the quest he's been on these last ten years:
For a decade, with support from the National Geographic Society, I’ve been organizing a study of the places where people live longest. The project grew out of studies by my partners, Dr. Gianni Pes of the University of Sassari in Italy and Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer. In 2000, they identified a region of Sardinia’s Nuoro province as the place with the highest concentration of male centenarians in the world. As they zeroed in on a cluster of villages high in Nuoro’s mountains, they drew a boundary in blue ink on a map and began referring to the area inside as the “blue zone.”
Danny, I can attest, doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk.  I first met him long ago when I was twenty-two and proof-reading, somewhat miserably, late into the night at the Paris Review office on 72nd St.  He came downstairs from a charity fundraising meeting, and introduced himself, saying, "You really ought to knock off and show us out-of-towners where to have a drink in this neighborhood."

He wasn't trying to teach me a lesson, per se, just being himself and a good guy. He added, "Your work will still be there in the morning, I'm sure."

Read the whole thing HERE.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Myth of the Myth of Voter Fraud


Do we now have, in Patrick Moran, a real-life "Great McGinty"?  An associate of James O'Keefe has caught Moran, the son of Virginia Congressman Jim Moran (and the Field Director for his father's campaign) on tape allegedly explaining how to cast ballots deceitfully for registered voters. 

Apropos... in this week's New Yorker magazine Jane Mayer poses the question, in her headline no less, "Who Created the Myth of Voter Fraud?"

I dunno... Tammany Hall?  Joseph P. Kennedy and Mayor Richard Daley (circa 1960)?  No, each of those would be a LEGEND, for voter fraud to a legendary degree, rather than a myth.

In any case, theirs is a headline of art in that like a prestidigitator she and The New Yorker direct the reader's attention to the question of "Who" supposedly created this myth, rather than the question of whether the occurrence of voter fraud is in fact a myth.

I will let talking heads debate whether voter fraud happens to a greater or lesser degree than voter suppression, and instead refer you to what may be the greatest movie about politics ever made, The Great McGinty, that tart, cynical film by Preston Sturges.  The film, from 1940, traces the rise of its hero from hobo to governor.  In the scene below, McGinty, having been cajoled into voting under a false name for a $2 fee, impresses the local political boss by voting thirty-seven times in an election the boss's machine is rigging.  The machine paymaster, who has seen it all, protests: "I don't believe a man CAN vote thirty-seven times!"  (Thirty-seven times?  It's a MYTH I suppose.)

The story, and video of Patrick Moran allegedly explaining how to commit voter fraud HERE.

Buy The Great McGinty as part of the Sturges collection, all of which are superb, here.

You can read Jane Mayer's New Yorker article here.

There is an excellent history of New York's legendary Tammany Hall machine inside this book. (More Tammany links will be added.)

Read about the PBS documentary tracing Richard Daley and the Chicago machine's work in the 1960 election here.  (Note to PBS: please re-release that doc!)

For more about Sturges, see his biography here, or read the wonderful, Academy Award-winning script for The Great McGinty in this collection

Monday, October 15, 2012

Camille Paglia on the Crisis in Art

A wonderful and important essay by Camille Paglia in today's Wall Street Journal.  I love that she addresses the matter of Art, with a capital "A," rather than "the arts."

Does art have a future? Performance genres like opera, theater, music and dance are thriving all over the world, but the visual arts have been in slow decline for nearly 40 years....

But there is a larger question: What do contemporary artists have to say, and to whom are they saying it? Unfortunately, too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber. The art world, like humanities faculties, suffers from a monolithic political orthodoxy—an upper-middle-class liberalism far from the fiery antiestablishment leftism of the 1960s. (I am speaking as a libertarian Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008.) Today's blasé liberal secularism also departs from the respectful exploration of world religions that characterized the 1960s. Artists can now win attention by imitating once-risky shock gestures of sexual exhibitionism or sacrilege....

We live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges possible. In the realm of arts and letters, religion is dismissed as reactionary and unhip. The spiritual language even of major abstract artists like Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko is ignored or suppressed.  Thus young artists have been betrayed and stunted by their elders before their careers have even begun. Is it any wonder that our fine arts have become a wasteland?

Read the whole thing HERE.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Some Very High-Level Fact-Checking... Not Yet on the Front Page

It's big news in Britain, and Jennifer Rubin references it as part of a larger Washington Post blog item, but it doesn't seem to have made any news in the US so far.  Perhaps this will be on the front pages tomorrow.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff have released this statement:

“During the Vice Presidential debate, we were disappointed to see Vice President Biden blame the intelligence community for the inconsistent and shifting response of the Obama Administration to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi. Given what has emerged publicly about the intelligence available before, during, and after the September 11 attack, it is clear that any failure was not on the part of the intelligence community, but on the part of White House decision-makers who should have listened to, and acted on, available intelligence. Blaming those who put their lives on the line is not the kind of leadership this country needs.” 

Hat-tip Jennifer Rubin, and thanks to MT for sending me her piece, which is well worth reading in its entirety, HERE.

UPDATE: yesterday Michael Walsh made a prescient point over at NOR:

It seems to me that the Obama administration has made a huge unforced error in trying to lay off blame for the Benghazi fiasco on the intelligence community. Because, wherever the buck stops when we get to end of this debacle, it’s not going to be in Langley, Va. (the CIA), Fort Meade, Md, (the National Security Agency), or any of the other centers of the American IC.

Read the entirety of Walsh's piece HERE.

Notes on the Vice Presidential Debate

I tried to stay awake here in the UK to watch the Biden-Ryan debate, but couldn't.  For those who like me missed it, Talking Point Memo offers this 100 second condensation.  It's strong on the gestures, cackles, eye rolls, while leaving out entirely all "content."

In a sense this reduces the event, I suppose, to a study in primatology.  Given that we're in a recession that's not inapposite. 

Last evening, in preparation, I also watched on youtube the first presidential debate.  Mitt Romney was excellent AND President Obama really was bad… and his performance played worse on TV, with sidelong and downward looks, than it would have if followed on the radio.  

Once Romney let drop, during his first two minutes, the phrase "trickle-down government" (a term of art) many of the president's points were ruined… they were simply going to sound illustrative of Romney's thesis.

The Republican platform, and Romney's move to the center aside, the strategic messaging the Republicans prepared for Romney were superb.  Whoever prepared President Obama's messaging anticipated none of Romney's points.  It was as if they believed their own truths were self-evident and didn't require arguing.  I suspect the American media may have too long convinced them that was the case. 

I do think President Obama has it in him next debate to walk that line being resolute while not seeming angry, angry as he did in the video dredged (or drudged) from years ago by the Daily Caller, nor indulging in the kind of antics that Vice President Biden did.

Post-Debate: We are Polarized and Partisan

The morning after the vice-presidential debate, and as always Walter Russell Mead as always looks at the big picture:

A rational person could vote for the Democrats on the grounds that the Republicans aren’t ready to govern until they can talk more credibly about what a new system would look like. And a rational person could vote for the Republicans on the grounds that the Democrats will simply make things worse by spending money we don’t have to prop up a system they can’t save.

In a perfect world, an impasse like that should lead to an era of modest politics and bipartisan goodwill. In the real world both Republicans and Democrats feel frustrated and angry.  We are polarized and partisan not because either party has a strong set of ideas but because neither party has solutions big enough for our problems and the sense that things aren’t right combined with a lack of solutions is making us all just a little bit cranky.

Read the whole thing, with its unfortunate title, HERE.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Lesson from the Master

Bill Clinton, love him or hate him, delivers a brilliant, and charming, response to Mitt Romney's performance in last week's debate with President Obama.

Can such skills be taught?  Perhaps, if a student is willing to listen.  But Clinton more than that has great political instincts and an easy rapport with the crowd and camera.

I only wish Romney had been there to respond, and that the two of them could have carried on all evening.  I'd have purchased on pay per view.

Worth noting: as usual, Clinton does an effective take down against the opponent, though not in a way one would much begrudge (that's his post-presidency mode); but he doesn't mention Barack Obama, and as usual I'm not entirely sure he does him much of a favor.  Clinton's mastery makes the President look like a student.

The President is just going to have to depend, come this Thursday, upon Joe Biden besting Paul Ryan.  (I was just reading in John Cassidy's New Yorker blog what a liability Ryan is... )