Today Is Hungarian Goulash Day
In other words, I have a bunch of disconnected items that I think merit your attention. So strap on your helmets, and away we go...
A Hint of Things to Come for Print Columnists? You probably know humorist Dave Barry as one of America's most popular, most successful newspaper columnists (nominally housed at the Miami Herald, he's also been nationally syndicated for years). He's also somehow managed to dash off several equally popular books while becoming something of a multimedia franchise. But what I didn't know until quite recently is that he's discontinued his print column, and now only writes his shorter, intermittent stuff on his blog. That's an experiment that others may well be watching closely.
Hats Off to the Boston Globe...For an imaginative bit of packaging on this compelling web presentation about the spending for the Iraq war. It nicely dramatizes all the potential alternate uses of the nearly half-trillion dollars we will have spent on that sinkhole by September. It's an ancient journalistic mandate to find imaginative methods for bringing otherwise inert numbers to life, but the Globe did a way-above-average job here.
An Obama Profile That Deserves Your Attention. The New Yorker might have suffered a rare drought at the recent annual National Magazine awards, winning precisely none, but don't let that fool you. It continues to be easily the best magazine in America (I welcome comments, disputatious and otherwise, on this point). For my part, I get a reminder in nearly every issue. But some pieces rise even above that lofty perch. They include this brilliant profile of Barack Obama a couple of weeks ago. It's mostly admiring of its subject, but I admired the careful, precise language in which he was rendered, after the writer, Larissa MacFarquhar, spent enough time carefully observing him. Despite being currently among the most sought-out humans on the planet, she found him "tranquil and relaxed, as though on a power-conserve setting." The heart of the story, for me at least, was this passage:
No, Obama’s detachment, his calm, in such small venues, is less professorial than medical—like that of a doctor who, by listening to a patient’s story without emotional reaction, reassures the patient that the symptoms are familiar to him. It is also doctorly in the sense that Obama thinks about the body politic as a whole thing. If you are presenting a problem as something that they have perpetrated on us, then whipping up outrage is natural enough; but if you take unity seriously, as Obama does, then outrage does not make sense, any more than it would make sense for a doctor to express outrage that a patient’s kidney is causing pain in his back. There is also, of course, a racial aspect to this. “If you’re a black male, you don’t have to try hard to impress people with your aggression,” Haywood says. “There was a period when black politicians started to be successful, and it was understood that if you wanted to be mainstream you’d better have gray hair. Doug Wilder was an example. David Dinkins. Mayor Bradley in L.A. To be popular with the broader white electorate, you’d better look safe, you’d better not look angry. Now, I don’t think Barack made a conscious decision to come across this way, but it is a happy accident. Some people may have seen his speech at the Democratic Convention, or heard that he rocked the house, and they may be disappointed, but the mainstream is not ready for a fire-breathing black man.” (It seems likely that, consciously or not, Obama has learned from these examples, and knows that the election of a President Obama wouldn’t mean a revolution in race relations, any more than women prime ministers were a sign of flourishing feminism in South Asia. Bigotry has always made exceptions.)
Finally, We Come to William F. Buckley. In his autumn years, he's being treated as an elder statesman, perhaps the reigning elder statesman, of the Republican conservative movement. That's because his pioneering National Review magazine is considered one of the chief building blocks of the Goldwater candidacy of '64 and later the Reagan Revolution itself. All of this background is also why I took special notice of his recent scathing attack on the party, in a column in the magazine which he founded a half century ago. While he's sounded pessimistic about his party and the conservative movement in recent years, this column is perhaps a new high water mark for him (he's certainly not alone in this view: his fellow conservative, columnist Bob Novak, recently wrote that Bush is more isolated from his party than any he's seen in 50 years reporting in Washington, including Nixon during Watergate!) In a skillfully rendered passage that proves he's still got a sharp pen, Buckley even likens the hopelessness of the current Iraq war "surge" tactic to the inevitable collapse of Prohibition. He ominously concludes: "There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemna."