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Ed Driscoll

The Substance of Style

“Swedish man buys army tank ‘on impulse,’” because hey, a bitchin’ ride is a bitchin’ ride, even in the land of Volvos. And kudos to mom for being pretty laid back about junior’s new purchase:

Jimmy Johansson, a 23-year-old from Borlänge in central Sweden, can now add tank to his list of possessions. But the 76,000 kronor ($11,700) purchase wasn’t something he planned.

“It was just an impulse buy from beginning… I went to look at a motor and my eyes were drawn to this instead,” he told The Local.

The PBV 401, a Soviet-built fully amphibious tank that weighs around 12 tonnes and travels at a top speed of 80 kilometres per hour, is parked out the front of his grandfather’s house while Johansson decides what to do with it.

The purchase was encouraged by Johansson’s mother.

“When I was about to buy it I called my mother and she just started laughing. She said ‘Just get it’ so I did. And because I can’t take it out on the streets we had to take it on the back of a truck to get it home… people couldn’t help but stare.”

Piers Morgan could not be reached for table-banging puritanical indignation.

(Via Maetenloch at Ace of Spades.)

“L.A. Street Artist Behind the Ted Cruz Bad Boy Posters Speaks Out” to PJM’s Paula Bolyard:

After attending art school, Sabo worked in advertising but didn’t find the work to be a good fit. When George W. Bush became president, Sabo says life became difficult for Republicans in Hollywood. He was frustrated by the onslaught of messages from the left. “Where were the voices on my side? I just felt like the left was defining who I was. I didn’t see anyone on the right setting them straight,” Sabo said. “I just said, screw it, man. I’m going to do my part.”

“My aim as an artist is to be as dirty, ground level, and mean as any Liberal artist out there, more so if I can,” he boasts on his website. “Use their tactics, their methods, appeal to their audience, the young, urban, street urchins with a message they never hear in a style they own.”

Sabo’s work is controversial, intended to shock and provoke thought. “Politically incorrect” does not begin to describe it: Nazi flags with the Obama symbol. “Hillary 2016″ on a flying monkey from Wizard of Oz. Beyonce with a Burka. A sign that says, “Fags the New Nig**rs.”

A quick check of Google makes it obvious that that last slogan unnerved the left — which seems rather odd, considering that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were each given a pass decades ago by the left for saying (and singing) virtually the same thing.

Gotta Demonize Something

March 18th, 2014 - 3:25 pm

“White House pastry chef resigns: ‘I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs,’” as spotted by Patrick Howley of the Daily Caller:

White House executive pastry chef Bill Yosses is resigning after First Lady Michelle Obama fundamentally changed his job duties to focus on healthier food.

Yosses is leaving the White House in June to work on a new project focusing on “food literacy” and The New York Times says Michelle is “partly to blame.” The openly gay chef was hired by Laura Bush in 2007 to make his trademark cookie plates and sugar sculptures. Mrs. Obama took over in 2009 and ordered Yosses to make healthier plates in smaller portions.

Yosses began replacing butter with fruit puree and sugar with honey and agave. But Yosses was never fully committed to the new policy.

“I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs,” Yosses said, noting that his departure from the White House is a “bittersweet decision.”

Wouldn’t the list of what this administration hasn’t demonized be a much easier to compile at this point? Speaking of our food-obsessed First Lady, “Oh Boy: Big Decline In Childhood Obesity, Lauded By Michelle Obama As Proof of Efficacy of Let’s Move Campaign, May Have Just Been… A Statistical Error.”

Unexpectedly, of course. Fortunately, Michelle is off to China, where she’s poised to do to our relations with the totalitarian state…well, pretty much what the rest of the Obama administration has done to our relations with Russia, the Middle East, and the rest of the world.

The New Tribalism

February 21st, 2014 - 12:45 pm


In-between countersuing Michael Mann for $20 million,  Mark Steyn writes:

Julie Burchill, my old boss at The Modern Review many years ago, has a bracing column in this week’s Speccie on the difference between the left she grew up with and the left today:

While working-class left-wing political activism was always about fighting the powerful, treating people how you would wish to be treated and believing that we’re all basically the same, modern, non-working-class left-wing politics is about… other stuff. Class guilt, sexual kinks, personal prejudice and repressed lust for power.

That’s why, as Kathy Shaidle observes here, the concept of free speech is no longer widely accepted. If you believe in “treating people how you would wish to be treated”, then it’s natural to accord them the same rights of freedom of expression that you yourself wish to exercise. But, if you believe (as I discussed with Steve Madely on the radio yesterday) that what matters is what identity group you belong to (the New Tribalism), then it’s natural to demand that members of non-approved groups should not be permitted to make their case.

Consider, for example, Brad Johnson – “Climate Brad”, who’s something to do with that group that wanted you to send Valentine cards* and “carbon-offset roses” to Michael Mann. Yesterday, Climate Brad Tweeted:

Today, 110,000 citizens told @washingtonpost to stop publishing climate lies like today’s @krauthammer oped

I’m so bored by people whose only reaction to a difference of opinion is to demand you be banned. Do please click over to Brad Johnson’s accompanying photograph. It shows the fetching young pajama boy clutching what appears to be a giant eco-condom made for First Grade Show-&-Tell using only eight cereal boxes, some Scotch tape and a bright red marker. Look, it’s even got a hashtag! Even though it’s not a Tweet but a prop he made to stand outside his office and be photographed with!

Washington Post: #Don’tPublishLies

Because everyone knows The Washington Post is just another right-wing Koch-funded denialist operation.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to sit down and demolish Krauthammer’s “lies”? An ideology that can only scream “Shut up!” sounds a wee bit insecure, don’t you think? That’s true for firebreathing mullahs whose reaction to a cartoon is to demand your beheading as it is for firebreathing climate mullahs whose reaction to a column is to demand your lifetime publication ban.

And speaking of the New Tribalism, David Thompson spots a doozy from the UK Guardian, basking in the warm embers of what Thompson dubs “Lovely, Lovely Guilt:”

The Guardian’s Natalie Hanman — who edits Comment Is Free, where the party never stops – urges us to cultivate some pretentious guilt. Boldly, she asks:

Should Benedict Cumberbatch say sorry for the slave owners in his family?

Not current family members, you understand. So far as I’m aware, Mr Cumberbatch doesn’t have some weird cousin with strangers chained up in the cellar. No, we have to project our agonising backwards in time, past parents and grandparents, and great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents – past centuries of people who are themselves strangers:

A newly appointed city commissioner in New York, Stacey Cumberbatch, told the New York Times last week that she believed British actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s fifth great-grandfather owned her ancestors on an 18th-century sugar plantation in Barbados. They “are related,” the newspaper noted, “if not by blood, then by geography and the complicated history of the slave trade.”

Which is to say, actually, not related at all.

The Cumberbatch case involves two high-profile individuals and so has had media attention, but these questions concern us all.

I suspect opinions on that point may differ.

For as long as structural inequalities persist, we cannot overlook how far the tentacles of history might reach into the present. The real challenge is to recognise, and address, how much the privileges of the past continue to benefit some, and wrong others, today.

We “cannot overlook” these things, you see; we must “address” them and weigh our privilege. Some more than others, it seems. So says the woman who gets paid to invent esoteric problems and then fret at length in print. But those “tentacles of history,” through which our “collective responsibility” is supposedly transmitted – and with it, lots of lovely, lovely guilt – reach an awfully long way, across continents, cultures and all manner of events.

I usually reflexively type something like “the far left UK Guardian,” when referencing the venerable British socialist house organ, but that phrase doesn’t quite cut it: with the notion of past guilt, they’ve gone so far left, they’ve bypassed Hillary and Barack and the EU, and driven straight into Pyongyang:

The most striking feature of the gulag system is the philosophy of “guilt by familial association” or “collective responsibility” whereby whole families within three generations are imprisoned. This policy has been practiced since 1972 when Kim Il Sung, the founder of communist North Korea, stated “Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations.”

Actually, three generations sounds rather modest compared to how far back the Guardian wishes to aim its collective guilt, as the new tribalism continues to advance “Progressivism” even further into the past. Tom Wolfe has written about the leftwing revolutionary urge to “Start From Zero” — even without an armed revolution, the left seems determined to get to Year Zero one way or another.

Update: How far back to Year Zero does the left wish to aim for? The Wall Street Journal reminds Al Gore-wannabe John Kerry, ” who as Ed Morrissey notes, “burned 12 tons of carbon to travel to Indonesia and declare global warming as the biggest WMD of all,” that Flat Earthers were the consensus, science-is-settled, the discussion is over position. Speaking of Kerry, as Virginia Postrel once told Brian Lamb of C-Span:

The Khmer Rouge sought to start over at year zero, and to sort of create the kind of society that very civilized, humane greens write about as though it were an ideal. I mean, people who would never consider genocide. But I argue that if you want to know what that would take, look at Cambodia–to empty the cities and turn everyone into peasants again. Even in a less developed country, let alone in someplace like the United States, that these sort of static utopian fantasies are just that.

As long as Kerry can keep his yacht, presumably, that all sounds fine with him.

* Sending Valentine’s Day cards? Don’t let the enviro-obsessed New Republic hear about that.

‘Best Commercial Ever!’

February 13th, 2014 - 4:12 pm

“Cadillac tells lazy French leftists to get stuffed! Love it!” Like Andrew Klavan, I also got a capitalist kick out of message of this Cadillac commercial — if you’re going to sell a hybrid that isn’t a Prius, make its commercial the most pro-American ad you can write. I’m only half surprised that GM didn’t cast Michael Douglas dressed up in one of his Gordon Gekko suits, a power tie, and trademark horizontal-striped shirt. But no need — as left-leaning Jalopnik quips, “This Cadillac ELR Ad Will Make You Hate Electric Car Buyers.”

I only wish General Motors walked the walk as well as their pitchmen talk it. As Jonah Goldberg said in 2009, the period in which General Motors transformed itself — at least for a time — into Government Motors, “the old adage ‘Everyone’s a capitalist on the way up and a socialist on the way down’ is kicking in. The thing is, if you’re a socialist on the way down, you were never really a capitalist on the way up. Capitalism requires putting your own capital at risk.”

But then, this isn’t the first time the message from General Motors diverged from the corporation’s actual practices. Shortly after World War II, GM was at least enough of a capitalist on the way up that it distributed copies of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Only to eventually gun the motor so hard down that very same road to serfdom that by the start of the 21st century, as Jonah wrote in 2008′s Liberal Fascism, “There’s a reason liberal economists joke that General Motors is a health-care provider that makes cars as an industrial by-product,” foreshadowing GM’s bailout by the Obama administration the following year.

On the other hand, this new ad could foreshadow events this fall, as we’ll explore right after the page break.

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‘The Bob Marley Has Begun!’

February 1st, 2014 - 10:34 am

Gavin McInnes explores “10 Reasons Old Punks Make Great Dads:”

8. YOU UNDERSTAND TOTALLY INSANE IDEAS A lot of the punk ethos was about rejecting authority and thinking for yourself, which is very healthy. However, the “anything goes” philosophy often drifts into WTF territory. They passionately sing about how awesome it is to be on welfare, insist Jesus is dead, and tell you that shaved women are collaborators (whatever that means). Being bombarded with such intense levels of ridiculosity your whole life prepares you for the incredibly weird shit kids say. About once a day my son informs me that “The Bob Marley has begun” and he will usually add, “Scientists say, when you read a book to love, you just fall apart.” I totally get both concepts.

And then there’s number five: “You Understand Being Obsessed With Pants.” Read the whole thing.

(Via Kathy Shaidle, who also reminds us that none of us are getting any younger, by noting, “Never Mind The Beatles: America Met The Clash 35 Years Ago This Week.”)

And Thus, the American Experiment Concludes

January 14th, 2014 - 5:05 pm

Change! “Jim Beam Acquired by Japanese Company Along With Maker’s Mark,” Newsmax reports:

Beam Inc., the classic American whiskey distiller that produces Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark bourbon, agreed this week to be acquired by Japanese beverage company Suntory Holdings Ltd. in a massive $13.62 billion deal, The Associated Press reported.

The deal was Beam’s answer to the growing demand of its bourbon — a type of American whisky that is made primarily of corn and typically distilled in Kentucky — and will help Suntory expand globally. The new partnership raised some concerns, however, about Beam remaining an American company, but execs assured customers that they are not likely to even notice the new ownership.

Though most of the country’s major bourbon brands like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and Maker’s Mark are owned by foreign companies, the caramel-colored liquor is made almost exclusively in the Bluegrass state, and some master distillers have family ties going as far back as the state’s pioneer whiskey-making days. Jim Beam’s master distiller, Fred Noe, is a descendant of Jacob Beam, who set up his first Kentucky still in 1795.

In a booming industry that swears by tradition, that history is a valuable commodity, and reassures aficionados that while the mailing address for some corporate headquarters may change, the taste of the bourbon won’t.

“Ultimately, what the consumer should be interested in is the product,” said Chuck Cowdery, an American whiskey writer and author of “Bourbon, Straight.” “There’s absolutely no reason that the product should change. So the consumer really doesn’t have anything to be concerned about.”

Well, that’s what they want to you to think. But there’s something rather unsettling about Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark no longer being American owned. On the plus side, now that Suntory owns these lines, perhaps Americans will be graced by Lost In Translation-style ads for these products. Over to you, Sammy!

It’s 5:00 somewhere — including right here. I need a drink; at least while there’s still some American hooch left.

Are You an iPhone Zombie?

December 26th, 2013 - 1:38 pm

“Apple knows it has turned us into iZombies, and has become defensive about it, releasing its own little movie arguing that there’s some upside to this depressing new reality,” Kyle Smith wrote this past weekend at the New York Post:

Its new 90-second commercial, “Misunderstood,” centers on a teenaged lost soul who refuses to take part in a Yuletide family reunion. As family members build snowmen and exchange hugs, he hangs off to the side by himself, forever sulking into his iPhone.

It turns, though, that he’s not only aware of the festivities around him but he’s been carefully filming and editing the sweetest moments into a home movie that he climactically debuts on the living room TV, to general merriment and wonder. At the end of the home movie, he includes a shot of himself doing something we haven’t seen him do before: He smiles.

Now they get it: The weird loner, the emotionless little gadget monkey who never talks to anyone, is actually a proto-Spielberg who loves his family and is destined to warm hearts by the millions.

Apple’s intended message is that if you get an iPhone, you’ll be more in the moment, more in harmony with your surroundings, more lovingly connected than ever before.

In the history of nice tries, this one has to rank just below the mid-century effort by the tobacco industry to assuage fears about the safety of its products: One ad declared, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” Another: “Tests showed 3 out of every 4 cases of smoker’s cough cleared on changing to Philip Morris.”

As pitches go, “Buy an iPhone in order to get in touch with loved ones sitting on the couch next to you” makes about as much sense as teaching the world to sing by buying it a Coke.

We’re supposed to forgive the “Misunderstood” kid because he’s a talented filmmaker, but he is still missing out on the game by turning himself into a sideline cameraman. Everybody loves the end result because people like to look at images of themselves, but that doesn’t excuse the creepiness of his technologically-aided self-alienation. Picture a teen novelist who does nothing at your family gathering but stand by silently and take notes. Pretty irritating, no?

Moreover, the “Misunderstood” spot is a nonsequitur: Chances are the kid at your family gathering who is fixated on his iPhone is watching a video or texting peers about how lame you are or playing Candy Crush Saga, not making a movie about his vast love for family.

There is no twist in real life: Most iZombies actually are oblivious to their surroundings.

Kyle’s new article dovetails remarkably well with another piece on the perils of ubiquitous smart phone usage, from Eric Gibson at the New Criterion this month on “The Overexposed Museum” — overexposed, Gibson writes, because so many museum patrons are taking “selfies” alongside of great works of art:

The new culture of museum photography banishes the art experience. It transforms the work of art from something to pause before, explore, admire, and reflect upon, into a “sight,” like the Eiffel Tower or the White House. A fascinating, complex, multi-faceted product of the creative imagination becomes just a piece of scenery, one worth lingering in front of just long enough to have one’s picture taken with it, either just standing and smiling or by making a face or playing up to the object in other ways, like those tourists who pose beside the Leaning Tower of Pisa so that in the finished photograph they appear to be propping it up.

Non-photographing visitors aren’t immune from the effects of these new attitudes. Coming upon someone posing in a gallery, your impulse is to turn away; you feel like a voyeur. In front of the Mona Lisa the day I was there, the profusion of smartphones and tablets being held aloft created a strange meta experience. To see the picture, you had to look past a bobbing frieze of digital reproductions competing with the original. I have had similar experiences with works of art in American museums, albeit with smaller numbers of people.

This transformation—one might better say evisceration—of the work of art has wide implications for the museum and its mission. If visitors now regard a museum’s treasures as mere “sights,” they might come to regard the institution itself in a similar vein—not as a place offering a unique, one-of-a-kind experience but just another “stop” on a crowded itinerary, and as such interchangeable with any other. At the very least, it’s hard to see how this new culture of museum photography can fail to undermine the kind of long-term visitor loyalty to museums toward which so many of their public engagement efforts are directed. On the one hand, the visitor who makes an emotional connection with a work of art is likely to return. On the other hand, I can’t imagine there are many tourists who, having once had themselves snapped propping up the Leaning Tower, feel compelled to do so again.

All this is, admittedly, so much speculation. One thing that isn’t is the very real threat these new attitudes pose to the safety of the museum’s collections. A visitor conditioned to regard a painting or sculpture as but a prop in a personal drama isn’t likely to demonstrate due regard for its welfare as an irreplaceable work of art. In one of the galleries on my way to the Mona Lisa, I and others nearby watched in horror as one visitor reached across the low barrier separating the art from the public to grasp the gilt frame of a Renaissance masterpiece, then turn to strike a pose for a companion with a smartphone. This was the propped-up-Leaning-Tower shot moved into the museum. It only ended when a guard came barreling through crowd shouting at her to step away. Even then, the visitor seemed to have no idea what all the fuss had been about.

One of happiest moments during the otherwise grim couple of weeks my wife and I spent cleaning out my mom’s house in South Jersey after she died last year was discovering a huge cache of photos I took in the mid-to-late 1980s. Back then, I was at the peak of my 35mm hobbyist phase with the then-new and cutting edge Minolta Maxxum camera and lenses I purchased around 1985 or so. (The photos and negatives I stumbled upon had been stored in a large Barton & Donaldson custom shirt box, because, well, I’m me.) Suddenly, a lot of happy memories from that period that I had forgotten came flooding back, and I plan to digitize those photos next year to archive them and have them for easy viewing anytime I’m nostalgic. And it was a reminder that I really need to take more photos of current travels, to help avoid memory loss. But I also see plenty of people today who seem to be more absorbed by their iPhones than the current moment. (There seems to be less cell phones ringing in restaurants these days, but a lot more smart phones glowing; will fine restaurants with darkened mood lighting have to start warning their patrons to dial their usage back, if you’ll pardon the pun?)

I’m sympathetic to both sides of the argument. How do you take advantage of today’s ubiquitous camera-equipped smart phones and tablets, without becoming an iPhone Zombie in the process?

Related: Of Course: Photographer Who Took POTUS Selfie Photo Ashamed He Broke News.

Update: Merry Me-mas from President Selfie!


Why Christmas = KFC in Japan

December 24th, 2013 - 6:47 pm

Danny is answering the important questions:

The Turkey does not breed naturally in Japan and is rarely cultivated. Apparently the taste is not of such a popularity to warrant large amounts of it to be imported into Japan either. Thus, many Japanese have not tried turkey.

Another reason why turkey didn’t catch on as a popular dish during Christmas is the fact that most Japanese folks don’t have ovens – or an oven big enough to roast an entire turkey.

One day at KFC’s Aoyama branch, a foreigner went to buy some chicken at KFC and said “I’m having a party but because there is no turkey, I’ve come to get some fried chicken instead.”

In 1974, KFC then started promoting the catchphrase “Christmas = Kentucky” and poured a load of yen into the marketing effort. The catchphrase soon caught on and together with the commercials on TV, the Japanese then started to consume a load of Chicken during the festive season.

In other fast food news, “McDonald’s website advises staff NOT to eat fast food.”

Which is crazy — why that would be the equivalent of Wal-Mart selling Occupy Wall Street merchandise or Exxon advertising on the Rachel Maddow Show

– Sorry, I just been handed a bulletin by my staff that confirms that those stories are all apparently true.

Allow me to revise and extend my previous remarks. This just in: Robert Conquest’s Third of Law of Politics, which posits that “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies,” is alive and well.

(Via Ace of Spades, which has plenty of additional extra crispy Kentucky Fried Christmas-themed items for your dancing and dining yuletide pleasure.)

NBC Takes One Yet Again for the (Obama) Team

December 23rd, 2013 - 12:20 pm

Informing us that “You are not supposed to like Pajama Boy” (link safe, goes to Hot Air), NBC attempts to nuance the latest Obamacare messaging debacle:

The White House, before the website rollout debacle, stressed that it needed a three-to-one ratio of older-and-sicker versus young-and-healthy people to sign up for the law.

And the underlying message in this tweet — part of a light-hearted campaign that included the same model with his feet up on a coffee table smiling in a Christmas sweater — in many ways, is: “DON’T be like this guy. Get health care.”

“Don’t be this guy sitting around in his pajamas,” a Democratic official told First Read said of the message, who requested anonymity to talk freely. “Have a conversation, and get health care. And it’s poking fun at that” idea of doing nothing.

The official added that this is a way to try and reach a demographic that can be “hard to break through” with.

This is far from the first — or last — time that NBC will take one for the Obama team, but to understand why all of the above is bad spin — even by NBC’s pathetic standards — let’s flash back to 2007, when hopenchange was shiny and new, and all things seemed possible to Mr. Obama and his election campaign team. Beyond their mastery (and/or gamesmanship) of the convoluted Democrat primary system, the Obama campaign bested Hillary and the other Democrat presidential candidate through a handful of very simple messages:

1. Their logo, which merged traditional American red, white, and blue colors into a circle symbolic of the sun rising, which dovetailed into…

2. Their simple and repeated buzz words, hope and change, which dovetailed with…

3. The cool and enigmatic Che-style Shepard Fairey Hope poster the campaign commissioned.

4. Their Apple Macintosh 1984 Super Bowl ad mashup clip, which simultaneously shifted the first viable female presidential candidate into the role of Big Brother, and Obama into the equivalent of a hip new product from Apple, and which they first attempted to pass off as a viral video — something that just happened to emerge from a random supporter — for added cachet.

5. Obama’s cool good looks and mysterious, exotic, multicultural background.

That’s all very simple and easy to understand stuff, and the cool competency of its rollout added to the “hop on the winning team” vibe that Obama built in 2007, and made Hillary and the other candidates seem remarkably clunky by comparison.

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And You Thought Flying Today was a Grim Slog

December 17th, 2013 - 1:18 pm

Click on screen cap to watch video at the Star-Tribune’s Website.

At the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, James Lileks has a 10-minute video interview with author Jack El-Hai regarding his new book, Non-Stop, A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines, which I’m highlighting, if only for the striking image early on in the video, and captured above. You thought taking off your shoes at the TSA line sucks? Well yeah, it does. But how would you like to be a harried businessman, who needed to get somewhere fast enough in the 1930s that you’re willing to eschew the nice, safe, reliable train, and hop onto a DC-3-sized aircraft…and don an oxygen mask for a large portion of the flight? As the grim faces of the men in the above illustrate, that had to be one long, nervous white-knuckle flight, knowing that blackouts and potential death are just a slip of the oxygen mask away.

On the other hand, I hope no modern cost-conscious airline CEO sees the above photo and says at the next board meeting, “Pressurized cabins…do our passengers really need them, gentlemen?”

Watch the whole thing; it’s a fun video for anyone interested in American aviation from the 1920s through the 1970s.

News You Can Use

December 12th, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Drink 60 units of alcohol a day if you want to paint really well,” Sean Thomas of the London Telegraph advises. For those tipplers tuning in from America, explains that “One unit of alcohol is usually measured as about 8-10 grams. This equals about one half pint of beer with 3.5% alcohol by volume, about 1 half of a standard glass of wine, or one shot or pub measure of spirits.” Now that we have that out of the way, get drinking:

However, in this season of all seasons, I have good news for me. I’ve been reading a book called Daily Rituals, which describes the work regimes (and drink and drug regimes) of some of the most accomplished artists in history. And it turns out half of them are – or were – total soaks. And when they weren’t downwind of a gallon of Macallan by elevenses they were doped, kinky, or mad, as well.

Here’s an aperitif. For W H Auden, the famed English poet, the day started with a dose of Benzedrine; that is to say: speed. He then fuelled himself to work with coffee and cigs, before starting on the martinis at 6, following on with litres of vino, then popping a Seconal (a downer) at about 11, so he could sleep. Fitfully.

The painter Francis Bacon would have laughed at Auden’s puritan sobriety. He commenced work at the crack of dawn (and he worked hard) but by 11am he was ready to “socialise”. First a friend came over to splice a bottle of wine. Then he repaired to a Soho restaurant for a long boozy lunch, drank through the afternoon, before dining out, going to a nightclub, necking some more wine, moving onto spirits, then visiting a casino, then having another liquor-fuelled meal at a bistro, then popping some sleepers to help him snore away the grog.

It is reliably estimated Francis Bacon drank six bottles of wine a day. He also died at the age of 83, and created some of the most valuable paintings in history.

Read the whole thing — it gets zanier from there, until Thomas gets to Patricia Highsmith, the author of the novels Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, whose eccentricities make all of the above look like teetotaling model citizens.

Hipster President Turns Square

December 5th, 2013 - 7:57 pm


“As if President Obama didn’t have enough trouble this week with all the news about how he has lost the youth vote. Wait until the cool kids get a load of this,” Tommy De Seno writes at Ricochet:

As if President Obama didn’t have enough trouble this week with all the news about how he has lost the youth vote. Wait until the cool kids get a load of this.

It seems our government ran a contest for young people to submit videos to HHS to convince other young people to buy into Obamacare. Populist propaganda. Amateur government porn.

It was called the “Healthy Young America Video Contest” and the winners were announced on the White House website Tuesday.  The overall winner was submitted by a lovely girl named Erin McDonald.

The name of her video to convince young people to buy an Obamacare policy……… is………wait for it……….drum roll……….I’m not kidding about this………..


If a Freudian slip could have a Freudian slip it wouldn’t be as revealing as the White House telling young people to not look at what all of this is going to cost them. Or the rest of us for that matter.

Yes, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and how expensive the ticket the carnival barker sold you will ultimately be:

As original Saturday Night Live writer Ann Beatts once said about the increasingly bourgeois show whose initial scripts she helped draft, you can only be avant-garde for so long, before you become garde. And the president’s shopworn rhetoric and socialized medicine shtick is making the once faux-glamorous president seem like an ancient Foghat 8-track from 1975.

Fortunately though, the president has a plan to improve our economy — and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs! A three step plan in fact, that’s so gnomic in its simplicity, it will knock your underwear off!

 (Artwork created using multiple images.)

RIP, Burlington NJ’s Cafe Gallery Restaurant

November 29th, 2013 - 2:16 pm

While the Onion once goofed on the “Insidious Worm [that] Makes Unauthorized Purchases When Computer User Is Drunk,” (a parody that anticipated the 2011 Anthony Weiner sexting scandal by a year), one late night Internet vice for me is to occasionally hit Google maps and check out the photos of my haunts growing up in South Jersey. Unfortunately, from time to time, the warm glow of nostalgia can transform itself into bad news – the other night, I discovered that Burlington’s Café Gallery restaurant closed late last month after a three decade run.

The restaurant took its name, and its concept, from having fine art from local painters (which could be purchased, of course) alongside its tables. And via its huge expanses of plate glass, offered diners an expansive view of the Delaware River. When my parents owned their retail store from 1977 through the late 1980s, they typically put in 13 hour days from Monday through Saturday, and then went out to dinner on Sunday night, alternating between several upscale local restaurants. Some of the fondest memories I have of dining at Café Gallery on Sunday nights was during the period in the late 1980s, I attended NYU; afterwards, my parents would drive me to the Clinton Ave. railroad station in Trenton, and I’d take Amtrak to Penn Station in New York to begin another week at NYU.

After I moved to California, and flew back to New Jersey several times a year starting in the late 1990s to visit my parents, Café Gallery served two purposes: Since it was only a few minutes from my parents’ home, Nina and I would often drive my parents there for dinner, until my father died in 2006, and I would have a certain amount of fun ordering something like escargot, just to get a rise out of my mom. (Snails? Yuck!) And when we needed to play hooky from visiting my parents, Nina and I would go there solo for a more relaxing meal.

In retrospect, the restaurant’s slightly steep entry steps from the sidewalk to its front door served as a marker for my parents’ aging – each time we went, it was always a little tougher for them to climb. In late 2011, when we last went there with my mother, then age 87, she climbed those steps exceedingly slowly and ponderously; not surprisingly, it was a fall down a short flight of steps from her living room to the garage that led to her being placed into hospice care in February of last year.  And during that grim period, Nina and I had a few dinners there to collect our thoughts and take a welcome break for the horrors each day brought.

Throughout out it all, Barbara Fisher, the co-owner of the restaurant was a warm and gracious hostess, in later years always welcoming Nina and I back from California. And since it was always one of my parents’ favorite restaurants, at the beginning of March of last year, we had a party at Café Gallery with about 30 of her closest friends to celebrate her life; I’m kicking myself in retrospect for not taking any photographs of the event. If I’m remembering correctly, Nina and I went back one last time during that trip for lunch before driving to the airport to return to California.

I’m not all that surprised that the restaurant ultimately closed, both because of the sluggish economy, and because it seemed like an increasingly sophisticated anachronism in a town that’s always been fairly blue collar, and always seems to be descending incrementally another notch into the cultural abyss each time I return. (Which isn’t to say where I live now is an improvement in that department. I knew I’d be the only person outside of the wait staff wearing a tie (let alone a suit), but last night while dining at the Left Bank in San Jose for Thanksgiving dinner, we were surprised at how slovenly most of the patrons there dressed for a holiday; the death of the grownup, indeed.)

James Lileks often tracks the descent from mid-century swank to the collapse of culture at the end of the 1960s; Café Gallery, which opened in 1979, was a welcome relief from that trend.

Thanks for sharing this personal reminiscence with us. We now return you to the cultural collapse, already in progress.

David Bernstein of The Volokh Conspiracy spots some remarkable magical thinking at work on both ends of the Northeast Corridor:

This is really amazing to me. The New York Times and the Washington Post each manages to publish a piece on the Kennedy assassination, by two different authors, focusing on what they see as the right-wing extremist environment in Dallas in 1963, and while never saying so directly, implicitly blaming Kennedy’s assassination on that environment. [UPDATE: The Washingtonian magazine is more explicit: "The city of hate had, in fact, killed the President."]

Look, guys. Lee Harvey Oswald murdered JFK. Oswald was a Communist. Not a small c, “all we are saying is give peace a chance and let’s support Negro civil rights” kind of Communist, but someone so committed to the cause (and so blind to the nature of the USSR) that he actually went to live in the Soviet Union. And when that didn’t work out, Oswald became a great admirer of Castro. He apparently would have gone to live in Cuba before the assassination if the Cubans would have had him. Before assassinating Kennedy, Oswald tried to kill a retired right-wing general. As near as we can tell, he targeted Kennedy in revenge for Kennedy’s anti-Castro actions.

The attempt to at best distract us from who the killer was and why he killed JFK, and at worst to pin the blame on entirely innocent people for inciting Dallas opinion against JFK (or perhaps to imply that the right-wingers plotted the assassination), even though those innocents were exactly the type of people Oswald hated, is just pathetic, and the Times and Post should be embarrassed for publishing these pieces. The Post piece is especially embarrassing because it explicitly links Dallas “right-wing extremism” circa 1963 to the modern “Tea Party,” as if to say, “if the Tea Party had been around in 1963, one of its members would have killed Kennedy.”

These articles seem to imply that Dallas was some sort of early-style giant Transformer robot, that could morph from sprawling city to tightly-coiled gunman at a moment’s notice. Using the Times article as a springboard, Sunny Bunch of the Washington Free Beacon was spot-on earlier this week when he described these columns as “Op-Eds as Social Positioning: or, I’m Better than Those Hicks!”

As Christopher Caldwell noted a decade ago in the Weekly Standard, even otherwise thoughtful liberals who hail originally from flyover country are driven kind of nutty by their ignorant kin when it comes to politics. You should really read the whole thing—it’s extremely brief, and the bile so-called liberals direct at their families is something to behold—but here are Caldwell’s concluding paragraphs:

At some point, Democrats became the party of small-town people who think they’re too big for their small towns. It is hard to say how it happened: Perhaps it is that Republicans’ primary appeal is to something small-towners take for granted (tradition), while Democrats’ is to something that small-towners are condemned for lacking (diversity). Both appeals can be effective, but it is only the latter that incites people to repudiate the culture in which they grew up. Perhaps it is that at universities–through which pass all small-town people aiming to climb to a higher social class–Democratic party affiliation is the sine qua non of being taken for a serious, non-hayseed human being.

For these people, liberalism is not a belief at all. No, it’s something more important: a badge of certain social aspirations. That is why the laments of the small-town leftists get voiced with such intemperance and desperation. As if those who voice them are fighting off the nagging thought: If the Republicans aren’t particularly evil, then maybe I’m not particularly special.

“A badge of certain social aspirations,” yes, but something else too. Liberalism and affiliation with the Democratic Party, for these people, is less a series of policy ideas than an almost-religious belief system. Distancing oneself from heretics thus takes on special importance. And how better to show your fellow believers that you are Good than to use the most important news outlet in the entire world to run down your relatives who believed Bad things?

The Left will get another shot at this style of trolling their relatives next week, at a Thanksgiving table near you. President Obama may have preferred skipping Gettysburg for a Wall Street fundraiser in Manhattan, but in Soviet America, president delivers Civil War to you:


As Troy Senik recently noted at Ricochet, our president is “Kind of a Jag” to pull these sorts of fratboy pranks on his supporters:

This sort of boxes in those young, hip Obama voters doesn’t it? I mean, you can either be a paragon of cool, detached sophistication or you can lobby your aunt about the importance of community rating over the cranberry sauce. You can’t really do both.

And by the way, if you try to pull this crap at my table, you better pray to whatever gender-neutral deity your side worships that all the utensils on the table are plastic. Otherwise, you’re going to be doing field research on the state of the American health care system in short order.

Heh. On the other hand, perhaps Roger L. Simon, our Maximum Pajamahadeen Emeritus (and happy 70th, Roger!) is right that Barack Obama is the ultimate “Libertarian Manufacturing Machine.” If kids have to listen to their parents expound the joys of socialized medicine as short term, they watch their beer fund and long term, their retirements go up in smoke, it could be the greatest recruiting drive ever for a new generation of young conservatives and libertarians.

…But His Fonts Were Perfect

November 20th, 2013 - 12:36 pm

helveticaYou may know graphic designer Michael Bierut from the above scene in the 2007 documentary Helvetica, which explored how a mid-century European font became the face of corporatist America, private enterprise yoked increasingly under the command of government. Or as I dubbed it back in 2010, after watching the film on a flight back from New York, “Liberal Fascism: The Font.” As I wrote back then, Bierut’s statement in the above clip is a dual-edged sword. Yes, there was a revolution in graphic design in the 1960s. The problem, as Bierut tacitly announces above, is that everything looked the same afterwards, just as the influence of the Weimar-era socialist Bauhaus made every skyscraper in America looked like “socialist worker housing pitched high,” to borrow from Tom Wolfe’s lingo in From Bauhaus to Our House.  In the 1950s, every behemoth corporation in America dumped their original offices for Mies van der Rohe-inspired buildings; in terms of graphic design,  every behemoth corporation the following decade dumped their individual graphic design, often built up over decades, for a Saul Bass-style corporate logo and their name spelled out in Helvetica. As Frank Burns, the token conservative and — not coincidentally — locus of hate on TV’s M*A*S*H once said, in a quote that would come to define the M.O. of the modern left, “Individuality is fine, as long as we all do it together.”

Deep down, Barack Obama would absolutely agree with Frank’s comment; as his former secretary of state infamously said, “We’re going to take things away from you for the common good.” In the late 1990s, when asked about a possible tax cut, her husband, then president, looked at the surplus generated by the Republican Congress and commented, well, we could give you the money back, but you might spend it on the wrong things. And at the 2012 Democrat convention, aka, Obama’s second coronation, the narrator on the video famously said, “Government is the only thing that we all belong to.”

But back to Bierut. Here’s a telling observation from Rich Lowry of National Review, who notes that “Obama Loses His Cool,” or as the blurb on the NRO homepage linking to it adds, “Only the trouser crease remains:”

Barack Obama is the coolest president we’ve had since John F. Kennedy, at least according to conventional standards for such things. Obama has always been a brand as much as a politician, one that has been perceived as sleek, smart, and up to date.

Then along came Its failure to launch is a signal event in the long political battle over Obamacare and perhaps an inflection point in the president’s image. It’s hard to maintain a sense of truly being on the cutting edge of change when you can’t build a website.

Obama’s cool was, in part, an artifact of world-class marketing. Graphic designer Michael Bierut writes in the book Designing Obama (yes, there’s such a book) of how impressed he was watching Obama rallies in 2008: “The awe-inspiring part was the way all the signs were faithfully, and beautifully, set in Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s typeface Gotham.” If only the folks at Health and Human Services were consumed with such attention to detail.

But that’s just it — the graphic design of the Website looks fine; the “vaguely ethnic smiling woman,” on its homepage, as Viacom’s Stephen Colbert dubbed her, was a fine choice as the site’s first icon. It’s what’s going on behind the scenes that counts. And from all accounts, while its fonts are perfect, the actual back-end coding is a mess — it crashed today in front of legendary Internet maestro Kathleen Sebelius with reporters and video cameras present, leading Glenn Reynolds to Insta-quip, “Have we reached ‘peak schadenfreude’ yet?”

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How Glamour Shapes Our Lives

November 17th, 2013 - 7:43 pm

On Thursday, I attended the San Francisco launch party for Virginia Postrel’s new book, The Power of Glamour; the following day, Reason TV released their latest video, an hour-long video featuring past and current Reason magazine editors, as Postrel was interviewed by Nick Gillespie:

Gillespie and Postrel discuss the glamour of the Tuskegee airmen (6:45); the glamour of California (9:30); the distinction between glamour and charisma (14:45); Obama’s glamour vs. Bill Clinton’s charisma (16:45); Marxist art critic John Berger’s “desiccated” take on glamour (20:30); Joan Crawford role in “defining the modern woman to the general public” (25:20); how a “ridiculously glamorous” image inspired dancer Michaela DePrince (27:30); how Naomi Wolfe’s projected her “single mother chic” image on Angelina Jolie (30:45); Oprah Winfrey’s infatuation with the Mary Tyler Moore Show (32:15); David Bowie’s ever-changing personas (36:30); how glamour “tells the truth about desire” (38:45); the democratization of glamour (40:45); the proliferation of glamour in a capitalist society (45:20); how Postrel’s libertarianism informs her work (48:30); the “intense glamour” of planning in the early twentieth century (51:20); how understanding glamour provides insights into human behavior (56:15); and how the breast cancer drug Herceptin saved Postrel’s life (57:30).

For my own interview with Postrel on the Power of Glamour, click here to listen.

While it ranks pretty low on the list of the many mistakes made during my misspent youth, more and more I regret being a part of the “disco sucks” movement of the late 1970s. Back then, I was an aficionado of the Beatles and their various British spawn — the Stones, the Who, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, honorary-Brit Jimi Hendrix, et al. And a lot of the new wave music of the era, such as the Cars and the Pretenders. In contrast, a lot of disco music did sound awfully slick and plastic. On the dance floor, I’ve always had Stephen Hawkings’ moves, and that’s putting it charitably. So it was easy to hop on the bandwagon and attack disco. But had I known that disco’s successor would be atonal rap music that replaced real musicianship with drum machines, samples, grunting vocals, and scratching turntables, I would have luxuriated in the disco era forever. Come back Tony Manero, all is forgiven!

In 1998, Whit Stillman directed a film brilliantly titled The Last Days of Disco. At first glance, the director, invariably described as the WASP Woody Allen, seems to be an odd choice to direct such a movie. But while I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, Stillman’s films invariably end up documenting the transition between one era of American pop culture and the next. His first film, Metropolitan, made on a shoestring, funded in part by Stillman selling his apartment for $50,000, and released in 1990, documented the last days of the preppie era (or “the urban haute bourgeoisie,” as a character in the film refers to his caste) and debutante balls, and the transition into the multicultural, politically correct “America-Lite” Clinton-era 1990s.

His next film, arguably his best and most popular, was 1994′s Barcelona, which focused on the hatred of the European left of American servicemen and business executives shortly before the end of the Cold War. His most recent film, 2012’s whimsical Damsels in Distress, featured as its subplot the last college in America to go co-ed. (I interviewed Stillman back then; click here to listen.)

But in between those two films was 1998’s  Last Days of Disco, set at the dawn of the 1980s, which featured Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale as a pair of up-and-coming junior editors at a fictional Manhattan publishing house who spend their nights at a disco inspired by a combination of the anecdotes described in Anthony Haden-Guest’s 1997 book The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night, and Stillman’s own disco nights during that period. (Haden-Guest appears in a cameo, along with the ubiquitous late George Plimpton, as one of the nightclub guests in The Last Days of Disco.)

Non-Charismatic Leads Hamstring Film, Though Not Fatally

On the commentary track for the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray edition of The Last Days of Disco, Stillman says he prefers writing roles for women over men. However, compared to Taylor Nichols and frequent Stillman stand-in Chris Eigeman in Barcelona, Sevigny and Beckinsale lack their chemistry and charisma. As physically attractive as they are, at least in The Last Days of Disco, they’re simply not all that exciting as leads to front a comedy-drama.

Perhaps Stillman knew it — Damsels in Distress, his most recent film, which also ends with a big dance number, appears to function on one level as a knowing pastiche of the two leads in The Last Days of Disco. Greta Gerwig seems to be a more charismatic version of Chloë Sevigny, and Megalyn Echikunwoke reverses the formula of Kate Beckinsale — she’s an American actress affecting a posh British accent.

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Poirot’s Last Case

November 13th, 2013 - 7:14 pm

“So it’s official: the finest walk in modern television is no more. David Suchet as Hercule Poirot has waddled his last,” the London Telegraph reports:

 Admittedly, Agatha Christie’s Poirot (ITV) had carefully prepared us for the worst. The final series began with the news that the great man had already gone to that great country house in the sky — although, as it turned out, he was only faking it. There was also an obvious warning sign last week, when Poirot was allowed to reveal new depths by hinting, like James Bond and Doctor Who before him, at the human cost of his own heroism. When he told Countess Rossakoff that “I am not your love, I am Hercule Poirot”, we got an unmistakeable glimpse of the price he’d paid for dedicating his life to the cause of crying out “Of course! How could Poirot have been so stupeed?” and gathering all the suspects in a room.

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case took place, like his first, at Styles, once a grand family house, now — in keeping with the melancholy mood — a rather seedy hotel. It also reunited Poirot with Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) who after 11 years proved as adept as ever at looking on with exasperated admiration and saying “I’m afraid you’ve lost me there, old chap”. Yet, anybody who feared that we were in for a back-slapping celebration of past triumphs needn’t have worried. After 24 years, 70 programmes and the triumphant realisation of David Suchets dream of covering every Poirot novel and short story, the series could certainly have been forgiven for bowing out in a burst of self-congratulatory glory. That, however, has never been its style — or the secret of its success. While its main character has happily blown away on his own trumpet, the show itself has always gone about its business with a quiet, bravely unhurried and wholly effective commitment to Christie’s story-telling.

So it was that playing croquet in their evening dress were such familiar figures as a mousy woman with a terrible past; a caddish ladies’ man; and a pipe-smoking toff. More alarmingly, there was also a modern young woman — in this case, Hastings’s daughter Judith (Alice Orr-Ewing), whose dad, oddly enough, seemed more concerned about her falling for the cad than the fact she’d become a Nazi. “Unfit lives, useless lives, they should be got out of the way,” she explained over dinner.

So early death panels, then. (Actually, not all that early; as with many elements of National Socialism, they were present in the Weimar Republic.)

Suchet’s performance was hypnotic to watch — perhaps because he was largely unknown in the US before the series debuted, it seemed like he was Poirot; this strange, yet brilliant foppish little man beamed in fin de siècle Belgium. (Anybody who wears a homburg, spats and wing collars to work is OK in my book.) and And the show’s producers surrounded the cast, particularly in the early Poirot episodes, with exquisite mid-’30s production design, frequently highlighting (and likely in some cases largely creating from scratch) Bauhaus-style modernism in the 1930s — if I’m remembering correctly, Poirot even had a Mies van der Rohe chair or two in his office. British modernism after the war would turn out far differently — and much more disastrously — than the handsome forms on display during the early run of ITV’s series; but then, that’s not just true of Britain’s architecture.


Whenever Jimmy Page is interviewed about how he produced Led Zeppelin’s albums in the 1970s, he’s inevitably asked about the huge booming drum sounds he recorded. And he always tells the interviewer that he created that sound by moving the studio microphones away from the drum kit rather than having the mics right on top of the instruments as was the accepted practice at the time, and that it’s a recording studio axiom that “distance makes depth.”

One of the leitmotifs in Virginia Postrel’s gorgeous new book is that distance plays quite a role in creating glamour as well. In The Power of Glamour, the former Reason editor, who now writes for, notes that glamour hides the flaws of its subject, hides the difficulties in creating the photographs that give them such atmosphere. And that glamour can be a powerful tool for selling products and ideas as disparate as fashion, movies, politics, the future, and even negative subjects such as war and terrorism.

See also: the ubiquitous image of terrorist and mass murder Che Guevara, the crafting of which Virginia discusses in The Power of Glamour, along with the distance between Barack Obama, cool, distant, glamorous and exotic presidential candidate in 2008, and the bumbling wannabe technocrat of 2013.

During our 20 minute interview, we’ll explore:

● The source and meaning of The Power of Glamour’s iconic cover photograph.

● How does glamour focus its audience’s inchoate longing for transformation?

● What is the difference between glamour and charisma?

● Why does the future, particularly the technological future, seem both glamorous and terrifying?

● In the 21st century, is the role of glamour diminishing, or changing into new forms?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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