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From “Barack Hoover Obama: The best and the brightest blow it again” by Kevin Baker in the July 2009 Harper’s.
Three months into his presidency, Barack Obama has proven to be every bit as charismatic and intelligent as his most ardent supporters could have hoped. At home or abroad, he invariably appears to be the only adult in the room, the first American president in at least forty years to convey any gravitas. Even the most liberal of voters are finding it hard to believe they managed to elect this man to be their president.
It is impossible not to wish desperately for his success as he tries to grapple with all that confronts him: a worldwide depression, catastrophic climate change, an unjust and inadequate health-care system, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ongoing disgrace of Guant·namo, a floundering education system.
Obama’s failure would be unthinkable. And yet the best indications now are that he will fail, because he will be unable—indeed he will refuse—to seize the radical moment at hand.
Every instinct the president has honed, every voice he hears in Washington, every inclination of our political culture urges incrementalism, urges deliberation, if any significant change is to be brought about. The trouble is that we are at one of those rare moments in history when the radical becomes pragmatic, when deliberation and compromise foster disaster. The question is not what can be done but what must be done.
We have confronted such emergencies only a few times before in the history of the Republic: during the secession crisis of 1860–61, at the start of World War II, at the outset of the Cold War and the nuclear age. Probably the moment most comparable to the present was the start of the Great Depression, and for the scope and the quantity of the problems he is facing, Obama has frequently been compared with Franklin Roosevelt. So far, though, he most resembles the other president who had to confront that crisis, Herbert Hoover.
The comparison is not meant to be flippant. It has nothing to do with the received image of Hoover, the dour, round-collared, gerbil-cheeked technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces. To understand how dire our situation is now it is necessary to remember that when he was elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover was widely considered the most capable public figure in the country. Hoover—like Obama—was almost certainly someone gifted with more intelligence, a better education, and a greater range of life experience than FDR. And Hoover, through the first three years of the Depression, was also the man who comprehended better than anyone else what was happening and what needed to be done. And yet he failed.
In a nation packed with experts on how to keep cars running, the engine-killing powers of sodium silicate are a well-kept secret. “I, like, have so not even ever heard of this before,” said Robert Lutz, new marketing chief and renowned “car guy” at General Motors Co., in an email. Often called liquid glass, sodium-silicate solution has been better known for being used to save motors rather than killing them: It is used to stop leaks in the gaskets that seal cylinder heads to engine blocks. At dealerships across America, mechanics accustomed to fixing engines are battling for the chance to ruin them. “Everybody wants to go first, so I’m probably going to have to make them draw straws,” says Jim Burton of Randy Curnow Buick Pontiac GMC in Kansas City, Kan. As service manager, however, he might reserve that thrill for himself. “I can’t wait,” he says. –“The Killer App for Clunkers Breathes Fresh Life Into ‘Liquid Glass’,” Kevin Helliker, The Wall Street Journal
Forty-two people work here, nearly every one in a red Netflix T-shirt, nearly every one in constant motion. Indeed, I was asked not to disturb their groove and hit them up with questions. The busiest sat in wide rows, flanked with post office cartons stuffed with Netflix envelopes. Six nights a week, a truck leaves for the post office and picks up cartons full of these return-address envelopes; pickup is at 3 a.m. (It’s also the reason that the time of day you mail your DVD back has no effect on when you receive your next one.) Back at the 28,500-square-foot warehouse, from which more than 60,000 discs are shipped daily in the Chicago area alone, cartons are placed at the feet of employees, who glance in two directions — down (to pick up an envelope) and up (to look at the disc), and that’s about it. This is the first, and least automated, stage of the process, performed mainly by women, including a seemingly disproportionate number of local grandparents; they have full medical benefits and a 40-hour workweek. –“How Netflix Gets Your Movies to Your Mailbox So Fast,” Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune
Sixteen bottles of wine in four hours is a considerable feat, but it gets better. Andre proceeded straight to the ring and wrestled three matches, including a twenty-man battle royal. The 16 bottles of plum wine had no discernible effect on Andre’s in-ring ability. By the end of the evening, Andre had sweated off the wine and found himself growing cranky. He dispatched Hogan for a few cases of beer. Hogan hurried to do as Andre asked, knowing from painful experience that a drunken Giant was a happy Giant, and a happy Giant was less likely to fracture some vital part of an opponent’s anatomy in a fit of grumpiness. –“The Greatest Drunk on Earth,” Richard English, Modern Drunkard (2006)
Wait for the pinecone. (via)
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”