Posts Categorized: Commentary

What if FDR had been like GWB?

Recently, one of President Bush’s few remaining supporters told me, “If the media had been as hard on FDR as they have been on President Bush, we would have lost World War II.”

I thought that was an intriguing analogy. And it started me thinking… What if FDR had been like George W. Bush?

Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of high-tech alternate historical analysis, I can give you the definitive answer to that question…

Living In A Fantasy World

As a White House spokesman recently put it, “”I don’t know if Sen. Leahy is also an [information technology] expert, but I can assure you that we are working very hard to make sure that we find the e-mails that were potentially lost and that we are responsive to the requests, if there are responses that need providing, on the U.S. attorneys matters. We’re being very honest and forthcoming.”
Tech-and-politics blogger Carpetblogger (also known as my brother-in-law Mike) has a straightforward reply to this:

Senator President

Somebody recently told me that Barack Obama can’t be elected president because in the past 100 years, only one sitting Senator has won a presidential campaign. Every year, I hear this argument advanced against one candidate or another, and it never makes any sense to me. This year it makes even less sense.

For one thing, 100 years is way too far to go back. In 1907, women couldn’t vote, TV hadn’t been invented yet, and nominees were actually chosen during the party convention. What does that have to do with modern-day America?

The Navy Way

If Phil Merrill is still alive–and I hope he is–I’m willing to bet he doesn’t remember me. But I remember him.

Phil was the publisher of Washingtonian Magazine. That’s where I got my first job out of college–first as an intern, and then as a Contributing Editor. Phil had a number of other business interests, and so wasn’t always around the office, but when he was, you’d know. At some point in the day, you’d hear a volcanic eruption of anger coming from his office, and if you happened to be passing by his door at the moment, you’d see Phil red-faced, shouting at somebody in person or over the phone.

The Charcoal Broiled Helicopter Bologna Sandwich

Although it can’t quite compete with America’s Best Burger in actual culinary excess, Buffalo, New York’s Charcoal Broiled Helicopter Bologna Sandwich certainly has it beat in the naming department.
I find the article a bit confusing, though. Is the bologna fried or merely broiled? Can any gourmands from the great city of Buffalo enlighten us?
(Thanks to expat Buffalonian Mitch Gerber for the tip.)

Favorite Rejected Onion Headlines

I am a freelance contributor to the Onion, meaning that I occasionally submit headlines to them. If they like ’em, they hang on to ’em, and some of them become Onion articles.
However, every time I submit, there are always a few I especially like that don’t make the cut. In order that they may have some sort of life, I’m occasionally going to post my favorite rejected Onion headlines.
The creme of this week’s rejected crop:
• Konami Unveils Video Game Controller Shaped Like Video Game Console
• Sims LARPer Just Living Normal Life
• Olympics Followup: Officials Admit First-Ever Winter Marathon Was Bad Idea; Search For Survivors Continues

Are videogames art?

Those of you who are (like me) fans of both Roger Ebert and videogames no doubt followed the debate ( part I; part II) that Ebert set off when he declared that videogames are not art.
My own take on it was–and is–that the video game is an artform, but it is one in its infancy. Yes, there is not yet a game as sublime as Bach’s English Suites, but, then, it’s only been 34 years since Pong. 35 years after the invention of music, I’m guessing we were still banging rocks against our cave walls. Videogames are evolving a lot faster, and I suspect the Bach of this art form will come along a lot more quickly than he did to music.
I’m revisiting this debate right now partly because of my recent PS2 purchase, of course, but mainly because Roger Ebert’s colleague at the Chicago Sun-Times Jim Emmerson recently featured a quote from Japanese videogame designer Hideo Kojima, creator of the “Metal Gear Solid” series, which some of Ebert’s readers cited as proof that videogames can indeed be art. Perhaps surprisingly, Kojima says he agrees with Ebert:

A Very Special Club

My US address seems to have gotten on some sort of odd mailing list. I received the following letter in the mail:

Dear Jacob,
This is a personal letter just to you. Notice: this is not a mass mailing; this letter came to you by first-class mail, not by third-class bulk mail. This is not a solicitation for money. In fact, you will get something of immense value from us absolutely free with no strings attached… Jacob, please keep what I tell you a secret, because this information is confidential. These words are meant for you only

The Bay of Pigs

I’m reading The Wisdom of Crowds, and I came across the following passage:

After a detailed study of American foreign-policy fiascos, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the failure to anticipate Pearl Harbor, [psychologist Irving] Janis argued that when the decision makers are too much alike — in worldview and mind-set– they easily fall prey to groupthink. Homogeneous groups become cohesive more easily than diverse groups, and as they become more cohesive they also become more dependent on the group, more insulated from outside opinions, and therefore more convinced that the group’s judgment on important issues must be right. These kinds of groups, Janis suggested, share an illusion of invulnerability, a willingness to rationalize away possible counterargument to the group’s position, and a conviction that dissent is not useful.
In the case of the Bay of Pigs invasion, for instance, the Kennedy administration planned and carried out its strategy without ever really talking to anyone who was skeptical of the prospects of success. The people who planned the operation were the same ones who were asked to judge whether it would be successful or not. The few people who voiced caution were quickly silenced. And, most remarkably, neither the intelligence branch of the CIA nor the Cuban desk of the State Department was consulted about the plan. The result was a bizarre neglect of some of the most elemental facts about Cuba in 1961, including the popularity of Fidel Castro, the strength of the Cuban army, and even the size of the island itself. (The invasion was predicated on the idea that 1,200 men could take over all of Cuba)