And Then, Really, There Was Only One

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The Old Yorker recently sat down with Owen “Ken” Kennedy, the last surviving brother of the storied clan, to talk about legacy, Camelot, grace, and what it was like to be part of the American Century’s greatest political dynasty. Despite being overshadowed by brothers older, bolder, slimmer and more energetic, powerful, charismatic and libidinous, Ken has spent a life quite literally at the center of Camelot, as a member of an Arthurian reenactment troupe.

TOY: The rest of your family is so prominent, why have you been so under the radar?
KK: Ah, I was ah, plumper and, ah, shorter, and hence less possibly suited for public life in the conventional sense and also I had less aptitude for looking at the world and seeing things that never were and saying “why not” than, say, Bobby, who was, ah, very good at that.

TOY: You’ve devoted a significant portion of your life to rendering a replica of the city of Boston, entirely in chocolate. Why?
KK: All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Boston and to my mind, love confections.

TOY: How important has faith been in your life?
KK: Look, let me make this rather, ah, simple. I am not a Catholic Reenactment King Arthur, I am a member of the Democratic party who is a Reenactment King Arthur who happens to be Catholic.

TOY:What is your most distinctive characteristic?
KK: A craving to be loved, or, to be more precise, to be caressed and spoiled rather than to be admired. Or, uh, to be rolled in marzipan dough, oiled and sprinkled with confectionary suger and tickled by my grammy. It was said by some that this was done to me too often as a child and that my brothers were aghast and repulsed as they stood, glistening in their sweatshirts slowly lateralling a football between them but I couldn’t…can’t get enough of it.

TOY:What’s quality you most like in a man?
KK: Feminine charm. (Chuckles. Then, serious) High, wide hips and the ability to promise and deliver on sending a man to the moon within ten years time!

TOY: The quality you most like in a woman?
KK: I just don’t want to be pushed in the pool by them. I grew up with a bunch of lantern-jawed sisters and sisters-in-law who thought it was sporting to push a chubby youngster in a pool and then throw a cocktail glass at him. I also don’t appreciate women who will swaddle a boy of more than ten years; in a gingham tablecloth diaper and call all the servants over to laugh and look at the worlds largest baby…Ethel!

TOY: What do you most value in your friends?
KK: Look, I want to let every one of my supposed “friends” know, whether he wishes me well or ill, that I shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe to assure that I’m not treated like a some kind of town pump!

TOY:What is your principal defect?
KK I was born in this century, tempered by war, and disciplined by a hard and bitter peace. But the worst thing that happened was my hair was cut like the actress Louise Brooks in sort of a flapper style and I was made to hand out cigars in the Merchandise Mart for father’s amusement. That was many years ago now.

TOY: What is your favorite occupation?
KK:To repair the roof when the sun is shining if you know what I mean…you don’t? Could I have five dollars for a bullshot?

TOY: What is your dream of happiness?
KK: To be thirty-five again, having just gotten my drivers’ license and with an associate’s degree under my belt and an opportunity to… (Grabs his sides and weeps)

(Five minutes later) TOY: In what country would you like to live?
KK: In a country of freedom and dignity where one can fly and be invisible.

TOY: Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
KK: Any hero from any work of fiction who honors legacy, family, has grace, and is a pig lost in a city.

TOY:What is it you most dislike?
KK: People who believe that just because you are rich and from a famous, storied family with a hammerlock on flattering coverage in the newspapers and a generous dispensation of well, grace, that you’ve somehow started life in a position of advantage.

TOY: What event in military history do you most admire?
KK: My own merit badges in the cub scouts which were earned with little influence by father who famously said “I don’t want to pay for one single badge more than you need because I’m not paying for a landslide…of badges… (Fake laughter and then a coughing fit)

TOY:Um. Okay, what is your motto?
KK: Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate… for anything, I mean, everything is negotiable, health care for all Americans, a living wage, parking tickets, the cable bill, footrubs, dessert portions, a tip when you’ve done something special for a relative who has more money than you…

List continues – Recorder off

The King and Me: Memories of Michael Jackson

The thing is, you see, I knew him.

I know, I know. Now that he’s gone, all kinds of people are going to be coming out of the woodwork and claiming that they were best friends with Michael Jackson.

So, just for the record, I wasn’t as good a friend of Michael’s as, say, Elizabeth Taylor. But I think I knew him better than some of the people Larry King had on. In terms of actual familiarity with the King of Pop, I’d put myself in between Donna Summer and former M-TV VJ John Norris.

I knew Mike Jackson, as I always called him, for more than 30 years. We met at the U.S. Naval Base in Subic Bay, Philippines while we were both serving with the United States Marine Corps.

Let me explain: 1978 was kind of an odd time to be in the military. The Vietnam War was over, the draft had ended, and the Cold War was heating up again, though that seemed more likely to be fought with missiles than with Marines. Enlisting in the service was like joining the Foreign Legion. You didn’t ask a lot of questions about why someone was there.

But after we got to be friends, Mike told me he joined up to get away from his dad and Berry Gordy, who had, between the two of them, tried to control every aspect of his life since he first began performing at age 5. I’d been to a good college and seemed headed for law school but I guess I still had something to prove, too. In a way, we were both misfits.

The first time I saw Mike I was on the losing side of a bar fight in Olongapo, the garrison town across the bay, with a big Okie farmboy called Howser. He’d called me “professor” once too often and I’d hauled off and slugged him. Big mistake.

Howser had already broken one of my teeth and busted my nose. He might have killed me if Mike hadn’t stepped in between us and started dancing. He swiveled his hips, moonwalked, and did that point-first-one-way-and-then-the-other move that became so famous. Poor Howser couldn’t figure out what was going on. He tried to hit Mike, too, but Mike was too fast and finally Howser just left. Michael kept dancing for a bit. He was wily.

Afterwards, he told me that he respected me for sticking up for myself. I guess he saw me as a big brother, even though I could hardly sing and couldn’t dance at all.

After I left the fleet, Mike and I went our separate ways. I went to law school like I was supposed to, got married, and had a couple of kids whose musical tastes didn’t include Michael Jackson. Telling them we’d been together in the Marines was like saying I’d been in the Army with Fred Astaire or the Coast Guard with Rudy Vallee. They couldn’t have cared less. Mike stayed in for another 6 months or so and then mustered out to begin the solo career that everyone knows about.

At first, we tried to get together regularly (in those days, I was doing a fair amount of business with a client in Reseda, not far from Jackson’s Encino home.) We’d spend an afternoon at the local Olive Garden talking about the usual things old friends talk about when they get together: work, family, hobbies. One year, I’d made partner, the next, he’d sold 750 millions copies of “Thriller;” Gretchen and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, Mike got involved in a relationship with a gal he met at the dermatologist’s; I had a mid-life crisis and bought a sports car, Mike had decided to live forever and was sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. And so it went. Year after year.

(My wife, I have to admit, never really warmed up to Mike. I think Gretchen was a little ticked off when Mike made Madonna, Uri Geller, and the Sultan of Brunei the godparents of his son Blanket instead of us. She just didn’t understand show business.)

After a while, as is so often the case, our friendship dwindled down to just an annual exchange of Christmas cards. Still, Mike’s card did help us keep up with the changes in his life: Mike with Emmanuel Lewis, Mike with Brooke Shields, Mike with Lisa Marie Presley, Mike with a dancing clown robot, Mike with Bubbles the Chimp…

My motto is “Live and Let Live.” Maybe that’s why Mike and I got along so well. But I have to admit that last one threw me for a loop, so much so that I called him up. “Mike,” I said, “What’s the deal with Bubbles?” You see, back in the Philippines, Mike was always terrified of the monkeys that would hang around the base eating garbage. Anyway, he laughed and said that Bubbles was different. Bubbles was as high above those monkeys in the Philippines on the evolutionary ladder as you or I.

Of course, the years took their toll. My midsection got a little fatter and Mike’s nose got thinner. We both started wearing clothes with a lot of zippers. Somehow they’re just easier to get on and off. And even some things that seemed permanent proved transient. Gretchen and I split up after the kids went off to college. Mike’s “Invincible” album was a critical and commercial failure.

The last time I heard from Mike was late last year. He’d seen in a Marine Corps newsletter that Howser, the Okie who gave me a hard time back in Subic Bay, had died. There weren’t a lot of details just something about a tractor and a downed power line and a drainage ditch and tornado. And, yes, alcohol was involved. Anyway, Mike said that’s not how he wanted to go. I won’t tell you what he said after that. One of the lessons of Michael Jackson’s life is that some things should probably stay private.

Semper Fi, Mike.

A Letter from the Headmaster

Dear Prospective Parents,

On behalf of the students, faculty, and entire community of St. Bartholomew’s school, welcome! We are very pleased and flattered by your interest in our historic institution.

For more than 200 years, St. Bart’s, as it is affectionately known, has nurtured generations of American leaders in business, religion, finance, government, business finance, and the arts.

Since the founding of the school by Christian missionaries seeking to civilize the untamed Connecticut frontier, our motto has been “Prepario ad vivum” which we believe means something like “Prepare for Life” or “Preparation for Life.” And we have never wavered from that lofty goal (except during the Civil War when the high mortality rate among our graduates caused the school to briefly adopt the motto “Carpe Diem.”)

In order to prepare our boys (and, since 1987, girls) for life, we begin by acknowledging that life itself is a struggle. Neither material wealth, privileged social station, nor all the advances of modern technology can ever fully insulate one from the random cruelties of fate. Either Winston Churchill or the Duke of Wellington once said something along the lines of “all battles are won on the playing fields of some English school.” In that spirit, if our graduates learn nothing else (and many don’t) we hope they will learn that good sportsmanship is the key to overcoming any obstacle in later life, be it a drunk driving arrest, an unwarranted firing for violating your company’s preposterous sexual harassment policy, or something embarrassing involving the Internet.

Numbered among our distinguished alumni are no less than an American president, Warren Harding Class of 1880*, who briefly attended the school after an outbreak of infectious diphtheria at nearby Groton. In the Twentieth Century, St. Bart’s graduates have included a Thai military strongman, the leader of a Zimbabwean death squad, a prince from a cadet branch of the Royal Family of Liechtenstein, and any number of Third World dictators and tyrants and their offspring.

Very little needs to be said about the outsized role played by the “Old Boys” of St. Bart’s in the markets for capital. As several recent incidents have shown, if you cast a stone at any crowd on Wall Street, you are almost certain to strike a graduate of St. Bart’s. In good times and not-so-good times, you will find our alumni leading the pack by creating innovative new uses for idle collateral. It has been a rare morning lately when a prestigious publication such as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal did not feature a familiar name and sometimes even familiar face peeking out from under a raincoat thrown hastily over the head.

Beyond the political and financial spheres, countless St. Bart’s alumni have distinguished themselves in the sciences and the arts. To name but two, Col. Burton Holloway ’72 (USAF Ret.) would have been the 26th man to walk on the moon if the Apollo program had not been curtailed at an inopportune moment and Allan Dunlap ’46 received the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel about his years at St. Bartholomew’s entitled “For Fear of the Showers.” The prize was awarded posthumously after Dunlap’s suicide.

Preparation for life, indeed!

The question I am most often asked by prospective parents is “what does it take to succeed at St. Bart’s?” Although we hope our students will be well-rounded, I believe that the key to success here is wiliness. It is not enough to be merely clever. The ideal St. Bart’s boy or girl must possess the sort of creative intelligence that allows them not simply to evade an unwanted sexual overture from a faculty member when it occurs but to actually anticipate it before it occurs. Our faculty prides itself on being one-step ahead of the student body. The student body, in turn, must be ever-vigilant. Something which on the surface seems entirely innocent such as an invitation to tea with Mr. Pierce, the beloved head of our Classics Department or an Sunday evening charades party at the home of Danielle and Charles McLean, the popular young couple who teach drama and coach swimming, respectively, can quickly take an unexpected turn, as many recent graduates can attest. By some estimates, our more attractive students will have received as many as a hundred unwholesome advances in their four years here. We firmly believe that this experience will prepare them for almost anything that might encounter in later life, at least if it is of a sexual nature.

There are schools, we are told, that seek to insulate their students in a sort of Ivory Tower; we are proud to say that St. Bart’s is not one of those. Our relations with the nearby town of Lansburgh are famously strained by, among many other things, a legacy of lawsuits and countersuits stretching back to our earliest days. I can say without fear of contradiction that the citizenry of Lansburgh (and, indeed, the entire Greater Lansburgh Area) is almost uniformly hostile to St. Bart’s and those who teach and learn here. For our part, I must admit that the feeling is entirely mutual! It is worth mentioning that the century-long decline in the watch-case making industry which employed so many in the town has only exacerbated matters along with the usual collateral problems like alcoholism and bastardy. While some might regard the situation as a negative, we view it is a plus. As part of our commitment to community outreach, each class of sophomores spends considerable time in Lansburgh doing field study on the question of “Who is to blame for Lansburgh’s many problems?” You’d be amazed at the stories they come back with.

After more than a century of single-sex education, girls were admitted to St. Bart’s for the first time in 1987 as a result of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court, United States v. St. Bartholomew’s School (St. Bart’s makes history yet again!) Since then we have been all but deluged with comely representatives of the fairer sex. There were two girls in that first coeducational class, there was another one in the 1993 class, and two more (the twin daughters of our esteemed chaplain, Rev. David Gray) in 2003. Perhaps your daughter will be the next girl to carry on this burgeoning tradition.

It’s no secret that St. Bart’s has something of a reputation for bullying, hazing, and other forms of physical intimidation. In an effort to address this issue, the Joint Faculty-Student Task Force on Bullying was formed five years ago. Since then, all on-campus bullying has been conducted by members of the Task Force with the result that “rogue bullying” has been sharply curtailed. I am immensely grateful to Deputy Headmaster Roy T. Wickershaft who leads the Task Force and who was a world class bully himself during his school days at Dunwich Abbey in Great Britain. Whichever path our boys and girls choose in years to come, be it bully or victim, their days at St. Bart’s will always stand them in good stead.

Though we revere our traditions, we would not have you think that St. Bart’s has not kept pace with the times. We are currently in the midst of a phased mascot transition from the beloved but sadly out-of-date Mongo the Mongoose to a cyber-friendly symbol appropriate to our information age: Mike the Microchip. (The interim transitional mascot, Terry the Toadstool, will also be phased out once Mike the Microchip becomes fully operational in 2011.) We have been assisted throughout our challenging 7-year mascot search by the nationally known educational branding firm of Dillard and Fleishman. Though this change has proved controversial among the senior alumni, we feel very confident in saying that, with Mike the Microchip to lead us, a solid finish in the Southwestern New England Prep Athletic Conference seems well within our grasp.

In closing, allow me to offer a brief word about our application process, which many consider the most streamlined in the entire world of secondary education. Because we believe that any young person can succeed here, we do not prejudge applicants. There is no interview or application per se. We are not interested in your child’s transcripts or letters of recommendation or disrecommendation from his previous teachers. Your son or daughter will enter our portals with not just a clean slate but an entirely blank one. They are, to borrow a phrase from the credit card industry, pre-approved for admission here. A certified check, valid Visa or MasterCard, and a copy of your latest Equifax credit score is all that is necessary to secure a place for your child in our hallowed halls and, because we guarantee a 100% graduation rate, in time among the serried ranks of the alumni of St. Bartholomew’s School.

With warmest wishes,

Dr. Albert G. Caldecott, PhD
Headmaster

Published in: on June 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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John Cheever Achieves Total Media Domination

With Sunday’s New York Times review of Blake Bailey’s new biography of John Cheever, the reconsideration of John Cheever’s oeuvre has officially reached a crescendo.

In the last month alone, Bailey’s tome on Mr. Cheever’s life and work (which this publication has always ignored as an obsolete cultural oddity akin to Esperanto or penile-enlargement pumps) has been the subject of lengthy reviews in the New Yorker, Harpers, The Onion, Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly to name just a few.

Overkill?

Perhaps…but those outside the print, or “smudgecore,” media should be warned that there is a passel of upcoming Cheever-related articles from a wide variety of publications. Willful ignorance may no longer be an option. Consider:

Popular Mechanics: “Cheever’s Backyard Distillery: Shocking New Blueprints”

W Magazine: “Mario Testino Shoots Cheever’s Yaddo Sex Dungeon”

Prison Living: “Sing-Sing Master Class: Cheever-ize Your Parole Board Letter Today!”

Good Housekeeping: “StainBusters: Remove Shame and/or Spunk from that Favorite Cardigan”

American Journal of Psychiatry: “Freak! The Definitive John Cheever Case Study”

Falconer & Raptor Conservationist: “Cheever Reconsidered: Honestly, We Hoped For A Little More Falconing.”

Hot Rod: “Merritt Pkwy Showdown: John Cheever’s ’55 Bel Air Hemi Vs. Rick Moody’s SS 454″

Juggs: “The Wapshot Chronicle”

Variety: “Cheever Pic Loses Dix: Straitharn, Franco Ankle Schnabel Oater”

inTouch Weekly: “Angie To Brad: ‘Finish Cheever Bio or I’m Leaving’”

Highlights For Children: “Cheever’s Earliest Work: Surprisingly Lucid, Insecure”

Fangoria: “Horror Show: Impotent Zombie Cheever Haunts Westchester Co.”

Cosmopolitan: “Dad’s Diary: Read It And Weep (Silently, Please)”

Tiger Beat: “Special Fold-Out Section: Rate Cheever’s Twinks!”

The New England Journal of Medicine: “FDA Approves Glaxo’s Anti-Cheever Fatigue Drug”

Obit: One who Broke the Mold

The Old Yorker mourns one of its own today, a remarkable, longtime senior editor whose distinctive vision and eccentric style distinguished him as “one of a kind.”

In accordance with our “uncommon” colleague’s wishes (and in keeping with an Old Yorker tradition of long standing,) he’ll go unnamed in this tribute, but those who knew and worked with our extraordinary friend have no doubt recognized this beloved oddball by now.

Of the many unique traits which made him such an unforgettable character, what should one single out for special mention to evoke him once again from beyond the grave? Would it be his idiosyncratic love of the English language, his mother tongue, which was evident the moment one spoke to him and his fluency in which was unparalleled? Or would it be his peculiar love of good weather, his unpredictable taste for certain foods, and his twisted penchant for an amusing joke? Aside from our friend’s unusual love for his family, other antics we oft chuckled at included a bizarre appreciation for sports on television, a, dare we say, “abnormal” interest in the news, and an affinity for shopping for necessary items that was nothing if not strange.

We will miss you, singular friend. You marched to your own drummer. After you, they truly broke the mold.

Published in: on February 6, 2009 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Obama Delivers Inaugural Address via Text Message

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In a startling move that delighted some but frustrated many, Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address by text message today rather than speaking it aloud as has been the custom for more than 200 years.

Shortly after noon, President Obama, wearing a dark suit and red tie, walked to the podium and asked the crowd, estimated by the United States Park Police at more than 2 million, to “take out their cell phones, pagers, or PDAs.” He then took a step back and remained standing silently on the dais for the next 25 minutes as his speech was transmitted in short bursts to the crowd and anyone elsewhere who was capable of receiving text messages.

The move, which seemed calculated to underscore claims of a generational shift, was a closely held secret among the president’s inner circle. There was considerable confusion on the Mall as on-lookers struggled to dig their phones and BlackBerrys out of purses and pockets or to read the speech over a neighbor’s shoulder.

Mr. Obama’s fondness for digital communication was a recurrent theme on the campaign trail. While his technophobic opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain, boasted at one point of not knowing how to use e-mail, Obama is very comfortable with the staccato rhythms and abrupt, nuance-free style of electronic media. His speech was littered with the sort of abbreviations (“u” for “you,” for example, and “h8trd” for “hatred”) and lingo (replacing plural “s”s with “z”s as in “biznizz” for “business”) that are a distinctive feature of cyberspeak

After starting off with the customary inquiry “hw r u?” the president texted his “fllw citznz” on a variety of issues of immediate concern to the nation including “d dire st8 of d econmy,” the fact that “r schls fail 2 mnE,” and “also r collective failure 2 mke hrd choices n prep d n8tN 4 a nu age.”

Although he generally steered clear of criticizing his predecessor outright, Obama said that other nations were “lol” at the United States for our failures to secure peace in the Middle East, our lack of clear progress in Iraq and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, as well as our unpopular strategies of unilateral “ngagemnt.”

(Former President Bush sat impassively throughout the speech without appearing to consult any sort of digital device. At one point, outgoing Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao leaned forward and seemed to explain what was going on, after which Mr. Bush pursed his lips and smiled slightly.)

Because of the lag in both download speeds and reading skills, bursts of applause seemed to come more or less at random, though a steady murmur of approval was sustained throughout the speech. And although Obama’s remarks were generally serious and sober, there were flashes of humor such as a flurry of winking emoticons which followed a passage on the “nd 2 put an Nd 2 partisan bickering.”

Although the text format denied Mr. Obama the use of some of the rhetorical gifts for which he is famous, by repeatedly sending the message “y, we cn!,” he was able to get the crowd chanting and finish strongly after a downbeat warning to the country about the hard road that lay ahead and the need for “shrd sacrifice ☹”

A source close to the new president said that if the texted inaugural address is deemed a success, Obama may deliver the State of the Union address, which will be given in just a few weeks’ time, via the Twitter service which limits messages to just 140 characters. “In this time of mounting crisis,” the source said, “The American people demand simple plain speaking. There is nothing clearer, simpler, and less subject to misinterpretation than a Twitter Tweet.”

In Farewell to Nation, Bush Condemns Last 8 Years of Tim Robbins’ Career

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On the eve of his departure from the White House, President George W. Bush delivered a scathing attack on some of his harshest critics including actors Tim Robbins, John Cusack, and singer Barbra Streisand.

Speaking in terms usually reserved for the perpetrators of terrorist acts, Bush, who had requested an unprecedented 45 minutes of network airtime, went through a detailed review of the accomplishments of Robbins, Cusack, Streisand, and others since 2000.

Saying that “the record must speak for itself,” the president showed clips from several films including Robbins “Antitrust” and “Zathura,” Cusack’s “Serendipity” and “Must Love Dogs” and Streisand’s nails-on-a-chalkboard performance in “Meet the Fockers.” Bush described these films as “despicable” and “an affront to decent people everywhere, regardless of their political persuasion.”

To emphasize the point, he then read from negative reviews of the actors’ work from critics he said were “Democrats, every one of them.”

Repeating the famous quote of Edmund Burke that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” Bush said that now that he was “no longer constrained by the traditions of his office” which “bar a serving president from responding to personal attacks,” the time had come to speak out against “these evildoers.”

“I have often said that I will await the verdict of history on my term in office. But I am certain that history would judge me very harshly indeed if I did not alert the American people to the threat posed by performers who speak with undiminished authority to a vulnerable portion of the public despite having not made a decent movie in more than a decade,” he said.

After acknowledging that some of his Hollywood opponents had, in the past, done occasional good work (he cited Cusack’s 2000 film “High Fidelity” as an “underrated charmer”), the president suggested that fading movie stars sometimes attack him “in order to further their own careers and remain in the public eye just it is turning its gaze to younger stars like Shia Leboeuf and Katherine Heigl.”

Of Streisand, who has come to personify Hollywood’s liberal establishment, Bush simply shook his head and chuckled, then held up both hands facing outward and said, “I’m a gentleman” several times, as though restraining himself from saying something deeply insulting.

Robbins, though, was not afforded similarly gentle treatment. The actor’s penchant for satirical one man shows was, in turn, satirized by Bush who performed what he said was a brief excerpt from an upcoming Robbins show, “Colonel Bloodmoney’s Bad Day.” Wearing a soldier’s helmet with a dollar sign on it, Bush gave a profane pep talk to an unseen platoon of raw recruits during which he encouraged them to kill any Iraqis who weren’t consuming enough American products.

“And that’s the sort of sophisticated political engagement you can expect from Tim Robbins and his kind, “ Bush said, taking off the helmet, as several aides applauded off-camera.

The soon-to-be-former president concluded his remarks with a ringing call to action, asking Americans “regardless of their party or faction” and “people of goodwill across the globe” to be “ever vigilant to the very real possibility” that since these actors have made so many bad films in the past eight years, “it is very likely that any new movies of theirs will be lousy, as well.”

Big Three Automakers to Give Every American a Free Car

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Facing stubborn resistance from some Senate Republicans to a bailout for the ailing auto industry, the three major carmakers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, have reportedly decided to sweeten the deal by offering every American household a free car if the bailout goes through.

A version of the emergency rescue package passed the House on Wednesday night but is expected to encounter serious opposition in the Senate.

The plan to give away the free cars, which is intended to ratchet up support from the public for Federal assistance for the auto companies, was first reported on the website of the Financial Times on Wednesday morning and has since been confirmed by senior executives. The plan, dubbed the “Unprecedented Winter Sales Event” in internal company documents, was reportedly the brainchild of a marketing team at Chrysler, the most beleaguered of the Big Three.

Details of the giveaway are sketchy but it seemed likely that, initially, the free cars would come from unsold inventory and from brands which will be phased out in a restructuring. But, because there are currently approximately 120 million American households and less than 6 million cars sitting in dealers’ lots, eventually new cars would have to be manufactured to close the gap. Detroit currently produces about 8 million cars annually. The automakers are expected to argue that the size of the bailout package, currently about $14 billion in short term financing, needs to be increased exponentially in order to assist the companies in making good on their pledge.

In a draft document that was widely circulated after the Financial Times story broke, David McCabe, president of marketing at Chrysler, wrote that “giving every American family a free car is a great way to build good will for our companies, to promote our brands, and to reintroduce many Americans to domestic automobiles. Not only that, in order to meet the demand for the free cars, we will have to open new plants, restart idled assembly lines, and hire approximately 230,000 new unionized workers.”

A spokesman for the United Auto Workers said that the proposal had the union’s “unqualified support.”

Rick Wagoner, the embattled head of GM, whose ouster has been called for by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, responded to a request for comment with an email message saying that “Detroit understands incentives. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 90 years of selling cars, it’s how to seal the deal.”

Opponents of the bailout were incensed by the move. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told reporters gathered outside his office, “This will be the biggest single disposal of lemons since Paul Bunyan set up his lemonade stand.” He repeated the line four more times to insure that it was heard by everyone present and then passed through the group asking if everyone had “gotten the Bunyan line down” and if they wanted him to repeat it a sixth time.

Experts were divided on the possibility of success for the plan.

Shirley Rubin, an economist with the American Competitiveness Institute who follows the auto industry, said the giveaway was “sheer genius” and “an act of exceptional bravado and political brinksmanship which proves that the entrepreneurial swagger of Henry Ford, Walter Chrysler, and old Chief Pontiac is alive and well.” Asked if she thought the plan would break the ice in the Senate, Ms. Rubin said, “Once their constituents start calling and demanding their free car, there will be no stopping it. The car companies will get whatever they want.”

However, others thought the plan was extremely risky, especially in the long term. “Let’s say you’re hoping for a minivan,” said Barney Corbin, a veteran reporter for the Detroit Free Press, “and instead you get a crappy mustard yellow Saturn Ion. Or you do get a minivan but it’s an unsold 2006 Buick Terraza, possibly the worst American car ever made. Or maybe you want a Cadillac and you get the Ion or the Terraza. There’s no way to avoid a backlash once you circumvent the market to dump these lousy cars on consumers with unrealistic expectations.”

The carmakers may also have some unrealistic expectations when it comes to the public.

“I’d be willing to give them maybe $1 or $2 billion in exchange for a free car but $14 billion? No way!” said Paul Piasecki, a veterinarian from Piedmont, California. And what does he drive? “A ten-year-old Honda Accord. It still runs great.”

Barack Obama Insults Dog, Jumps Shark

Reasonable people may differ as to when exactly the bloom came off the rose for Barack Obama. Of course, hopes fulfilled inevitably bring anti-climax, so it’s possible that much of the general public is now predisposed to find fault even where none exists. But surely few of his supporters, and I count myself among them, will deny that there has been much to deplore about Mr. Obama’s post-election conduct.

For some, the most dispiriting event was the unwelcome reappearance of the Clintonistas, returning through the revolving door that separates the public and private sectors for a last hurrah, a stale Hollywood plot line instead of the “Change from Beyond-the-Beltway” we were promised.

For others, Obama jumped the shark when he continued to send solicitous e-mail (still signed “Barack”), raising money almost as if by reflex, weeks after the election. (Allow me a quick “reply all.” Barack, if I may call you that, people don’t really want to be on a first name basis with their president even if they say they do. Being a young president does not mean you have to behave like a childish one.)

But, for me, the honeymoon ended when Barack Obama insulted my dog on national television.

The “Kimball Corollary” to “O’Neill’s Law,” which states that “All politics are local,” is that “All politics is personal.” (I prefer to regard “politics” as singular rather than plural – let the debate begin.) Last week, during an interview with Barbara Walters (another deplorable move), President-Elect Obama made cruel fun of my dog, gratuitously and without any sort of provocation. That’s when the sad fact I have somehow known all along really hit home: the Barack Obama who will sit in the Oval Office is not and cannot be the same man who ran for that office.

<a href=”The exchange in question took place as Ms. Walters attempted to sell the First Couple on her own preferred breed, a Havanese.

Obama: “Cha Cha?”

Barbara: “It’s short for Cha Cha Cha.”
O: “What is a Havanese?”
B: “It’s like a little terrier and they’re non-allergenic and they’re the sweetest dogs..”
O: [Face suddenly changes.] “It’s like a little yappy dog?”
Michelle: “Don’t criticize.”
O: “It, like, sits in your lap and things?”
M: “It’s a cute dog.”
O: “It sounds kinda like a girly dog.”
M: “We’re girls. We have a houseful of girls.”
O [with hand gestures]: “We’re going to have a big rambunctious dog, of some sort.”

Like Barbara Walters (which is something we are going to have to come to terms with at a later time), my wife and I have a Havanese. Manuel has all the classic dog virtues: he is loyal and affectionate, brave and (somewhat) obedient, and, if anyone tried to take him away from me, they’d have to pry him from my cold, dead hands.

The creation myths of the Havanese breed are various. As their name suggests, they are Cuban, but whether they came there first as the playthings of Spanish aristocrats or to bring joy to the laboring masses as circus dogs is debated. Some say they made landfall in the New World having crossed as shipboard sentinels watching for men overboard, a legacy that would make them unusually beloved among the non-swimming sailors of the day. Our dog still gives the alarm when anyone in our neighborhood dives into a pool or when, at the beach, anyone in his quarter-mile patrol zone is foolish enough to brave the waves.

By immemorial custom, the First Family must be dog owners just as they must be churchgoers and sportsfans. For Barack Obama to promise his daughters a new puppy if he were elected was a no-brainer, like promising them their own airplane or a new house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Once Wolf Blitzer called it on Election Night, the Obama family was getting a dog whether the kids wanted one or not.

The semiotics of dog ownership, for presidents and paupers alike, are equally well established. By saying that he wanted a “big, rambunctious dog,” Obama was trying to don the mantle of the “guy’s guy.” Big rambunctious dogs, through their genetic link to working and hunting breeds, establish one’s bona fides with the masses. Those toy breeds who don’t have to work for living probably belong to people who don’t either – or so the conventional wisdom would have it.

Of course, big, rambunctious dogs also imply that the owner is not gay which is important for Obama as he considers a politically radioactive repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rules which stuck like flypaper to Bill Clinton during his first year in office. For what it’s worth, Barack Obama has risen very high in American life without, as far as I can tell, anyone suggesting he’s gay. I really think ghettoizing an entire species of dog is unnecessary overcompensation in that regard.

(By the way, the days of swishy interior decorators with a Teacup Maltese under their arm seem to me to have gone with the wind. Check out the Big Dog Run in Washington Square Park if you don’t believe me.)

To give Michelle Obama credit, she attempted to give her husband some cover by suggesting that a “girly dog” would be entirely appropriate for “a houseful of girls.” It was a nice try, but clearly Mr. Obama meant “girly” in the pejorative sense, not as an adjective denoting “nice for girls,” but rather to suggest a dog that lives in conflict with its own manly nature or the manly nature of dogs in general.

The focus group that sits inside Barack Obama’s head has mostly served him well. It has enabled him to take terrifying political risks with that icy cool that we all love and fear. But in this case, his inner focus group has steered him wrong. Making distinctions about dogs based on breed is nothing less than a form of canine racism and exactly the sort of thing many of us had hoped we were leaving behind on Nov. 3. Is a Newfoundland who tongue kisses his male owner and hides under the bed during a thunderstorm any less girly than a Chihuahua who barks at trucks and has the guts to try to mate with a throw pillow more than twice his size?

And, after setting a fine example by declaring that he would adopt (or “rescue” in current parlance) a dog rather than buy one, Obama is acting irresponsibly by getting a dog much larger than is practical for people in his zip code who don’t have a Rose Garden and South Lawn for it to run around on. Inevitably, one wonders who is going to clean up after the big, rambunctious dog leaves his big, rambunctious bowel movements scattered about the White House grounds? I suspect our new Commander-in-Chief will be commanding someone to do that job for him.

In the four years since he came into our lives, Manuel has watched over our baby, protected our family, comforted us in times of trouble, given us unconditional love, forgiven us our occasional negligence, entertained us, encouraged us to exercise, and provided us with a middle class tax cut. If President-Elect Obama can say all that at the end of his first term, then I’ll be interested to hear his opinion about my dog. But until then, Mr. President-Elect, how about a little less time disparaging dogs because of their breed and a little more time explaining why you voted for that $700 billion bail-out that didn’t work?

Thanks in advance.

Some Democrats Still Rankled at “Unpunished” Lieberman

***Exclusive to The Old Yorker***

***Must Credit The Old Yorker in All Media***

Days after a majority of Democrats chose forgiveness for a repentant Joe Lieberman, some remain angry that the renegade Independent from Connecticut wasn’t punished more severely for his disloyalty.

The Democratic caucus, including members elected earlier this month, voted 42-13 in favor of a resolution condemning Lieberman’s campaign actions while letting him keep his committee post.
In addition to opposing former colleagues with his vigorous support of the war in Iraq, he appeared frequently with the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) at rallies and criticized Democratic candidate, now president-elect, Barack Obama.

Other acts which offended various members of the caucus include forging documents to implicate fellow party members in financial malfeasance, using a fake voice to call and threaten the children of the Democratic leadership, and poisoning and skinning pets belonging to senators and congressmen on the left side of the aisle, including one of the dogs of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) with whom Lieberman has had a long-running dispute about whether animals should be permitted on the Senate floor.

“It’s merely a sanction and not a punishment,” noted an angry Chris Dodd, (D-CT.) “It’s far too light for what Joe did to us”.

Other bitter Democrats like Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went further in condemning Leiberman. “The brutal sexual attacks on my and Nancy Pelosi’s male pages represents an egregious breach of trust. Though the distinguished Senator has served the people for more than thirty years, his judgment, not just his loyalty is in question.”

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters that the party wishes to leave Lieberman’s actions in the presidential campaign in the past.

“We are not looking back; we are looking forward,” said Reid. “While the sale of methamphetamine and scalding of elders is indeed unconscionable, Lieberman is part of this caucus and will remain chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee,” he said.

In a carefully crafted response, Lieberman suggested some of his actions may have been misunderstood and others were intemperate. “In the heat of the campaign, that happens to all of us and I regret that,” he said.

Newly elected members of the Senate Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Udall of Colorado held a press conference today to call for further consideration of Lieberman’s censure. “This is a man who not only broke ranks with our party, but doctored the medical charts of the ailing Senator Kennedy, causing a nearly fatal overdose of medication. And I don’t even want to get into what he did to Ted’s dog.”

During the briefing, well within view of the press corps on the Capitol steps, Lieberman could be seen slashing the tires and throwing a trashcan through the windshield of fellow Independent Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) yellow Smart Car.

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