Monday, June 29, 2009
Just your typical bourgeois midlife crisis, right? Not exactly. Consider who Hill is—an influential member of the U.S. House of Representatives, co-chairman of the Blue Dog Democrats. Consider too that the court he's on isn't at a local Y. He's in Room SB-322 of the Rayburn House Office Building: the famous House gym.
Outside D.C., Hill's new regimen would seem absurd. In D.C., it's just doing business. Getting his basketball game up to speed isn't about him. Well, that's not entirely true. It's somewhat about him, about his own political future. But it's also for the 675,000 citizens of his Indiana district, the people he has been sent here to serve. The reason he's playing basketball isn't because he wants to be, but because the president of the United States plays basketball.
"It's because of him," the five-term Democrat admits. "If I ever have an opportunity to play with him, I want to be able to halfway get around that court well enough."
At the end of his workout, just like when he was a kid, Hill won't allow himself to leave until he has made 10 straight free throws.
A clarification: Washington actually is two cities. In one Washington, regular people do things like eat at a restaurant because they like the food. In the other, citizenship isn't defined by street address but by connections. Live next to a powerful senator? It means nothing. Know a powerful senator? You're in.
The latter D.C. is a lot like junior high: The student body waits to see what the cool kids do, and the president—no matter who—is the coolest kid. People eat where he eats; Obama went to a local burger joint, and now you can't get a table there. People scheme for the opportunity of a chance encounter. Parents push their own children to befriend his kids. They adopt his mannerisms, his catchphrases, even his sports. Especially his sports. Clinton played golf, so everyone in D.C. played golf, working angles to share a tee time with him.
Obama, of course, loves all things hoops. By executive fiat, the White House tennis court is being retrofitted for basketball. He mentions the game every other speech, including his controversial commencement address at Notre Dame. There's a blog devoted to his on-court exploits called Baller-in-Chief. His brother-in-law is the coach at Oregon State University. His friends hoop. His personal aide, Reggie Love, hooped his way to a college national title at Duke and is the gatekeeper for the presidential game. The senior staff hoops. The junior staff hoops. Four members of the Cabinet hoop. Wanna guess what comes next? There's a new prize to be won. "What's the hottest invite in Washington?" former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers asks. "Yeah, it's great to go to White House state dinners or Stevie Wonder kinds of events. But what's the sine qua non? It's a pickup game with Obama. That's the inner, inner, inner sanctum. Proximity is everything in this town. How close are you to the epicenter?"
No one ever feels close enough, so all over town, people are playing hoops, in newly started leagues, in pickup games at private schools, even in Congress.
For people who don't spend much time in Washington, the line that most of us would draw between networking and hanging out can be confusing. The city doesn't really make sense until you understand that a moment there almost always exists on two levels. There is the moment itself, not unlike a moment anywhere else in the world. Then there is its political shadow, which is far more significant.
Here's an example.
This is the moment: A spring Sunday on the leafy campus of Sidwell Friends School. In the school's gym, a group of middle-aged men—most of whom have been friends for decades—get ready to play basketball. It's Mother's Day, so a few regulars are missing, and some guys brought the kids to give Mom a chance to sleep in. One boy spreads out Legos in the corner. It's a chance for everyone to unwind away from work. "Nobody ever talks about what they do," Julius Genachowski says.
Who is Julius? Exactly.
Julius plays with his son Jake, who'll be a senior in high school, and there's chemistry between father and son. On a fast break with the two Genachowskis out in front, Julius passes the ball to Jake, who, being the best player on the floor, easily lays it in.
This is the same moment's political shadow: At the main campus of the exclusive Sidwell Friends School, where Malia Obama is a fifth-grader, a group of Washington's political elite gathers. Some of the usual suspects are missing, including the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and the vice president for research at the National Defense University, but the game is still overbooked. Since the election, so many more people want to play with them that they've added a second weekly game.
In addition to running fast breaks, Julius Genachowski is the nominee to head the Federal Communications Commission. He clerked for two Supreme Court justices and has been friends with the president since they both were students at Harvard Law School.
Off to the side, reading a children's book to a small girl to occupy her while her father is in the game, is Richard Danzig, a former secretary of the Navy who some thought would be Obama's secretary of defense. Some think he still will be.
Ken Salazar is secretary of the interior, which means he's in charge of a whole bunch of cool stuff, like Yellowstone Park's Old Faithful, Lincoln's birthplace in Illinois, and the indoor basketball court closest to the White House. It's Tuesday night, and the pickup run is in full swing when he finally gets to the basement of his building. He has been to three or four states today, so there's a bit of stress to burn off.
These games happen twice a week, and because the gym is just four blocks from the White House, folks from there play here, too. In late February, Obama came over one Saturday morning for a game, taking on Salazar and some of his staff. Obama & Co. won. "We've been asking for a rematch for months," says Ray Rivera, head of external and intergovernmental affairs for Interior.
The games are fluid. There's a good energy on the court. People talk on defense. When Salazar finally gets in, it's obvious he is actually pretty athletic. He's not easy to cover. Someone yells, "Who's got Secretary?" Other than being addressed by his title, Salazar is treated like everyone else. Look around at the court right now. Don Gips, the director of personnel at the White House, is in the game, too, setting devastating picks. Then another regular, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., joins in. So now, on the court at the same time, are a Cabinet secretary, the guy in charge of administration hiring, a U.S. senator … and a bunch of staff members, some of them very junior. This is the dramatic difference between basketball and golf. Nobody's taking an intern to play golf at Congressional Country Club. Basketball is much more democratic. During a break, Casey is talking to scheduler Courtenay Lewis, explaining that she should treat him like anyone else.
"I fouled you, and you didn't call it on me," he says.
"You should have," he says.
Everybody in D.C. has got the fever. Last December, there wasn't a regular pickup game in the House gym. By February, lots of congressmen had rediscovered their love for the sport. Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, D-N.C., is the game's "commish," or organizer, and he gets the game rolling almost every morning at 6:30. "Everybody wants to get in on the first administration versus Congress basketball game," says Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. Not long ago, Shuler was at the White House. The first words out of the president's mouth, Shuler remembers, weren't about health care or foreign policy. No, Obama led with a question: "How's the pickup basketball coming over there?"
But the invites to play with the Baller-in-Chief have been scarce. Mostly friends and staff—the old Chicago crew. "The only thing that's changed is we're playing at Camp David," cracks Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has known the president for years.
The secretary and some staff at Interior got a run, as did some old buddies of Love's. Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner got an invitation, as did the mayor of Washington. Just about everyone else is angling. Love apparently keeps a list of names in case he needs extras.
If you don't have Love's extension, there's another, more circuitous road. Play with an Obama confidant—and play really well. The best baller in Obama's Cabinet, without question, is Duncan, who got a tryout with the Boston Celtics and played professionally in Australia. Duncan plays a lot, but his regular game is on Saturday mornings at the Lab School of Washington. "That's gotta be the screening game," says Matt Laczkowski, a former University of North Carolina walk-on who runs hoops at a swanky D.C. health club. "It's gotta be."
Arthur Jackson, president of a company that runs local youth training camps, is the commish of the Lab School run. On Thursdays, he sends out an e-mail to a tightly controlled group that includes NFL wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and John Rice, brother of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The first 15 to reply are in.
Recently, Jackson was approached by the CEO of a nonprofit company, a man who does work on the Hill. "I have a business idea," he said.
Then the acquaintance laid it all out: The president and his confidants play hoops, which put people you could never get on the phone in regular games, which made others play hoops, which made the ability to play basketball a legitimate club in the bag of Washington power. Would Jackson be interested in giving basketball lessons on Capitol Hill?
"I think there's a big market," Jackson now says. "The law firms, the lobbyists are gonna want to be able to get into these games. And they won't want to embarrass themselves once they get out there."
The image of a wing-tipped brown-noser learning to execute a crossover is hilarious, of course. But a lot of people around town, when they stop laughing, say it won't ever happen.
Why? If the lessons weren't totally secret, it would defeat the purpose. In the Washington where regular people are scarce, the only thing worse than not operating is being caught operating.
Jackson gets that, so he's figuring out a way to offer classes firm by firm in a private gym. He hopes to start executive training in the fall.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
"Gang Leader for a Day is not another voyeuristic look into the supposedly tawdry, disorganized life of the black poor. Venkatesh entered the Chicago gang world at the height of the crack epidemic and what he found was a tightly organized community, held together by friendship and compassion as well as force. I couldn't stop reading, and ended up loving this brave, reckless young scholar, as well as the gang leader J.T., who has to be one of the greatest characters ever to emerge from something that could be called sociological research."
-- Barbara Ehrenreich
"Gang Leader for a Day is an absolutely incredible book. Sudhir Venkatesh's memoir of his years observing life in Chicago's inner city is a book unlike any other I have read, equal parts comedy and tragedy. How is it that a na•ve suburban kid ends up running a crack gang (if only for a day) on his way to becoming one of the world's leading scholars? You have to read it to find out, but heed this warning: don't pick up the book unless you have a few hours to spare because I promise you will not be able to put it down once you start."
--Steven D. Levitt, co-author, Freakonomics
"This extraordinary book features the fascinating research of a brilliant young sociologist. Sudhir Venkatesh spent several years closely interacting with crack-selling gang members and struggling poor residents in a large and very dangerous public housing project in Chicago. His riveting portrait of day-to-day life in this poor community, including the challenges confronting parents in a drug-infested and violent social environment, is disturbing. But, Gang Leader for a Day is rich with original information and insights on poor families, drug dealers and even the police. It will leave an indelible impression on readers."
---William Julius Wilson, Harvard University Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser Professor
"Whether you enjoy fiction, history, or biography you'll be drawn to Venkatesh's gripping retelling of his experiences in the Robert Taylor Homes. Gang Leader for a Day poignantly reminds us that there continue to be separate and unequal Americas that ultimately impact us all."
--Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)
Saturday, June 27, 2009
The buzz over the summer blockbuster "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" only grew Wednesday as some said two jive-talking Chevy characters were racial caricatures.
Skids and Mudflap, twin robots disguised as compact hatchbacks, constantly brawl and bicker in rap-inspired street slang. They're forced to acknowledge that they can't read. One has a gold tooth.
As good guys, they fight alongside the Autobots and are intended to provide comic relief. But their traits raise the specter of stereotypes most notably seen when Jar Jar Binks, the clumsy, broken-English speaking alien from "Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace," was criticized as a caricature.
One fan called the Transformers twins "Jar Jar Bots" in a blog post online.
Todd Herrold, who watched the movie in New York City, called the characters "outrageous."
"It's one thing when robot cars are racial stereotypes," he said, "but the movie also had a bucktoothed black guy who is briefly in one scene who's also a stereotype."
"They're like the fools," said 18-year-old Nicholas Govede, also of New York City. "The comic relief in a degrading way."
Not all fans were offended. Twin brothers Jason and William Garcia, 18, who saw the movie in Miami, said they related to the characters—not their illiteracy, but their bickering.
"They were hilarious," Jason said. "Every movie has their standout character, and I think they were the ones for this movie."
That was the aim, director Michael Bay said in an interview.
"It's done in fun," he said. "I don't know if it's stereotypes—they are robots, by the way. These are the voice actors. This is kind of the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it."
Bay said the twins' parts "were kind of written but not really written, so the voice actors is when we started to really kind of come up with their characters."
Actor Reno Wilson, who is black, voices Mudflap. Tom Kenny, the white actor behind SpongeBob SquarePants, voices Skids.
Wilson said Wednesday that he never imagined viewers might consider the twins to be racial caricatures. When he took the role, he was told that the alien robots learned about human culture through the Web and that the twins were "wannabe gangster types."
"It's an alien who uploaded information from the Internet and put together the conglomeration and formed this cadence, way of speaking and body language that was accumulated over X amount of years of information and that's what came out," the 40-year-old actor said. "If he had uploaded country music, he would have come out like that."
Friday, June 26, 2009
Speaking with the Associated Press, Rev. Patricia McKinneystated, "We believe a man should be with a woman and a woman should be with a man. We have nothing against homosexuals. I just don't agree with their lifestyle." McKinney also stated the teen came to them for the casting out services, they didn't approach him. In the video you can see the boy thrashing around, and at one point he vomits. For those who believe in deliverance ministry, these manifestations are attributed to the expelling of demons.
However, the debate between those who believe that homosexuality is caused by demons and those who believe you are born that way has come full swing, as the video makes its way across the net. The question is whether freedom of religion allows for deliverance or ‘exorcism’ practices to occur, and if so, should they occur without the oversight of the government. If freedom of religion does allow churches to practice exorcisms, should there be a waiver or signature required? Should children be involved in exorcisms according to the faith of their parents? What age should one be to give legal consent to an exorcism?
The practice of exorcism or casting out demons is prevalent throughout the New Testament. Jesus cast demons out of a man referred to as “Legion” due to the fact that he was possessed with a “legion or more” demons. The Bible also teaches that true believers in Christ will cast out demons. If the teaching of exorcism and deliverance is protected by the freedom of religion, then when, and under what circumstances does it become abusive?
Robin McHaelen, director of Truce Colors stated to the Associated Press, "I think it's horrifying. What saddens me is the people that are doing this think they are doing something in the kid's best interests, when in fact they're murdering his spirit."
When one group is advocating the acceptance of gay youth, and the other end of the spectrum refers to homosexuality as the work of demons, there is sure to be extreme conflict across the divide.
If teens are allowed the freedom to choose the gay or lesbian lifestyle, then aren’t those same teens allowed the freedom of religion to engage in an exorcism? If that teen believes that he or she is possessed, wouldn’t freedom of religion allow that teen to enter into an exorcism if he or she chooses to? And if so, at what age would be appropriate for a child or teen to exercise their free will and engage in an exorcism?
Exorcism continues throughout many churches world wide. It is a practice that is in many faiths across the globe. If one person believes that the gay and lesbian lifestyle is biological, does that negate another person’s right to believe that it is a choice, or demonically inspired? Does freedom of religion allow a church the right to conduct exorcisms in the way they see fit, provided the participants are willing and no physical harm comes to the person? According to documented cases of exorcisms, mainly through the Catholic church, exorcism is not a pretty sight.
It will be interesting to see how this case plays out. Mainly because the person being exorcised was a teen. If the Connecticut Department of Children and Families comes to the aid of a child being persecuted for openly displaying their gay or lesbian belief, should they come to the rescue of a child who is trying to change his or her behavior? Can a child participate in a 'casting out of spirits service' if they choose? Does a child have a right to pursue a homosexual or lesbian path, but not one that tries to change that behavior, and if not, who decides?
If the exorcism was performed against the teen’s will, or wishes, it would be an obvious sign of abuse. Until we hear from the teen himself, and see if the Connecticut Department of Childrens and Families follows up with the case, we might not know the full scale of the story.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Forget the "predicable cries of 'hypocrisy' from leftists," said the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an editorial. In fact, Ensign was probably pushed to go public by opposition "bloodhounds" who got wind of the affair. But "it's worth pointing out that this is a personal matter," so Ensign should stand firm as "one of the more principled spokesmen" in Washington for keeping big government out of our lives—that's what Nevada voters elected him to do, "no matter what his personal imperfections."
Don't worry, John Ensign is unlikely to resign over an extramarital affair, said Nate Silver in FiveThirtyEight. "This will make for plenty of interesting water-cooler gossip, particularly since Ensign has a penchant for calling on people to resign for various and sundry moral and ethical lapses—notably Larry Craig, Bill Clinton, and Ted Stevens (but not David Vitter)." More significantly, it "certainly would seem to give the Democrats a leg up" when Ensign's term is up in 2012.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Don’t be so quick to yell fraud, said Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty in The Washington Post. The Western media portrayed Iranians as “enthusiastic” about Mousavi, but our “scientific sampling” of voters across Iran showed Ahmadinejad leading by more than 2 to 1. Mousavi, in fact, was more popular only among university students, graduates, and the wealthy. So the election results may actually “reflect the will of the Iranian people.”
Iran is at best a “managed democracy,” so the people’s will is heavily filtered, when solicited at all, said Anne Applebaum in Slate. But even the most heavily managed election is “ultimately uncontrollable,” and the “whiff of fraud” opened a new crack in Iran’s “passive society,” leading to the biggest wave of protests in a decade. Even if the election results are “farcical,” they show that “a bad election is better than none at all.”
Monday, June 15, 2009
The “business backlash” was inevitable, said Theo Francis in BusinessWeek, and in fact there are “real dangers” in the Obama team’s “activist investor” approach to fixing the economy: taxpayers hopelessly locked in “lost corporate causes,” pay caps prompting top talent to abandon a company. But business “grousing” about the government could also be seen as a positive sign that we’ve moved from crisis to “something approaching normalcy.”
The “hopeful signs” of recovery should be tempered by concerns about “huge budget deficits,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned, the government now needs to shift from “stimulus to restraint,” and the efforts by Obama and Congress so far “just aren’t credible.”
Fiscal restraint is the worst thing we could do, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. The “predictable yet ominous” calls to abandon the Obama rescue efforts might make sense in a normal recession, but the U.S. is in a dangerous “liquidity trap,” and if the government reins in spending now, we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of Japan in the 1990s and the U.S. in the 1930s.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
If you followed the campaign closely and think you know all there is to know about his campaign, pick up this book. There are plenty of funny and insightful details that were overlooked by the 24/7 coverage. That this book examines in a way regular news media didn't have the inclination to explore. This book is for an audience that cares about politics. This books is for people who want a better understanding of who the President is want a window into his thinking on issues that go beyond sound bites and digs deep into his political philosophy. It's a book that will remind you of things you thought you'd forgotten about and shows you new details you never knew you missed. Quite frankly it's one of the best books about modern politics I've read.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
- Seth MacFarlane
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Kurt Vonnegut
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Monday, June 08, 2009
- Margaret Mitchell
- George Bernard Shaw
- Oscar Wilde