Archive

July 5th, 2016

'Hamilton' is better than its hype

            When singer/writer/rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda announced at a White House event five years ago that he was working on "a hip-hop album about somebody who I think embodies hip-hop -- Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton," everybody laughed.

            They're not laughing anymore.

            I was not laughing either, as I almost had to take out a second mortgage so my wife and I could sit wa-a-a-ay up in the back row of the balcony.

            Yes, "Hamilton" is a mega-hit, having won just about every honor it can. It has won eleven Tony Awards, a Grammy for best soundtrack album and a Pulitzer Prize -- one of only nine musicals to win in that award's century old history.

            We wanted to be, in the words of one of the musical's songs, "in the room where it happens" to see whether it earns the raves it has received -- and my ticket money, as one who is too impatient to wait for the movie version.

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The Utter Inconsequence of Hillary’s Veep

    I doubt that Hillary Clinton really wants to run with Elizabeth Warren — I doubt that she fully trusts her — but if that’s her calculated decision: mazel tov. They sure were fiery together last week, two blue devils raring to bedevil Donald Trump.

    Tim Kaine is totally sensible, mostly safe and a bit of a snooze: the aspirin of aspirants. But if Clinton is tugged in the Virginia senator’s direction, she should head there. I could certainly see him as the vice president.

    Then again I’ve seen Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the job, in HBO’s “Veep.” Clinton might as well pick her for all the difference it would make.

    Here’s what we journalists don’t like to tell you or even admit to ourselves as we furiously stir the speculation, breathlessly thicken the suspense and whet Americans’ appetites for the big reveal of who will round out the Democratic and Republican tickets: Its impact on the election is close to nonexistent.

    That’s particularly true this time around, and especially so with Clinton.

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In Paris With Boris, Donald and Lemon Tarts

            I did something in Paris last Saturday night that I’ve never done before.

            I went to a restaurant alone for dinner. I know, it’s lame that I’ve always been afraid to go out to public places at night on my own. I tried to get beyond this phobia by going to the movies by myself one Saturday night in Washington, many years ago, after a breakup. But when the lights came up, my ex was sitting in front of me with a pretty date. That cured me of the desire to venture forth solo for another couple of decades.

            But I was in France for work for the week and stopped in Paris on the way home. I spent Friday night eating the minibar — salt-and-vinegar potato chips, popcorn, nuts, chocolate and white wine. But by the second night, it seemed too sad to be cooped up in a dark room in the City of Light.

            So I worked up my nerve and made it as far as the hotel dining room. I was staying on the Left Bank at L’Hotel, where a depressed Oscar Wilde came to live in 1898, subsidized by the French government, after his release from Reading Gaol.

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A toxic meeting on the tarmac

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch's tarmac conversation with Bill Clinton wasn't just stupid, although it was certainly that. It was a colossal misjudgment on both sides, most especially hers.

    The encounter was toxic. It adds to the already settled conviction among too many voters that the system is, to use the essential word of the 2016 campaign, rigged. In this view, the fix -- political, financial and judicial -- is in, the playing field irrevocably tilted in favor of the powerful, the rich and the well-connected.

     Some of this cynicism may be justified, yet the end result is to further erode trust in public figures and their decisions. To those so inclined, the Lynch-Clinton tete-a-tete offers yet another example of this corrosive coziness.

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Your complete guide to the veepstakes

            Ah, the veepstakes, that time-honored tradition. Not to be confused with Trump Steaks. Trump Steaks are a form of bull with a fancy label; veepstakes are the process whereby you designate someone else to put a fancy label on your bull.

            The conventions are a mere two weeks away, and Donald Trump is just now getting around to naming his running mate - which, in Donald Trump's defense, is exactly when I would remember that I needed one, too.

            (Ted Cruz already has one, but this is the kind of weird, obnoxious forethought that has failed to endear Ted Cruz to people over the years, like showing up at your ailing mother's bedside with a shovel.)

            Word has leaked (someone ought to put word into a better container, as it seems to keep leaking) that both Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie are being vetted by the Trump campaign.

            It makes sense that Christie is on this list. To get on this list, he had to kill a man (Marco Rubio) on live television.

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Why secessionist nationalists want to stay in the European Union

            In several European countries, nationalist secession movements simultaneously seek independence from their countries' governments, but also want to remain part of the European Union. British political commentator Theodore Dalrymple argues that this combination of attitudes is a "glaring contradiction":

            "All the current nationalist parties of small nations in Europe-the Scots, the Welsh, the Basque, the Catalans, the Flemish-strongly support membership in the European Union, which is dedicated to, and even predicated upon, the extinction of national sovereignty. One would have thought that these parties wanted, at a minimum, national sovereignty. The contradiction is so glaring that it requires an explanation."

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We’re Better Than That

            More than a century ago, in the first attempts to shape the face of a nation open to people from all nations, the United States banned convicts, prostitutes and Chinese laborers from landing on our shores. Later, “idiots” were added to the list of forbidden immigrants. Alas, it was too early keep Donald Trump at bay.

            But on this upcoming Independence Day, at a time when Trump’s response to our better angels is to go small, mean and tribal, an American ideal is in peril. Not open borders, which is something the United States hasn’t had since 1875, but open minds.

            In committing economic suicide, Britain is trying to close the door and hide from the world. It felt good, no doubt, to tell those overbearing bureaucrats in Brussels to bugger off. We’ll stick with our bangers and mash without any interference from Europe! But the “Brexit” vote was also a drunken swing at those “others” remaking the image of a lost England. To hear the haters tell it, “Polish vermin” and brown-skinned hordes have overwhelmed the little island nation.

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July 4th

An environmental victory (and cautionary tale)

            For once, the news on the environmental front isn't just good, it could be taken as a point of pride.

            This week, scientists announced that the infamous ozone hole over Antarctica is starting to heal. In 1987, the world agreed to phase out chemicals that were destroying a layer of gas in the upper atmosphere that shields the planet from damaging ultraviolet light. This week, in the journal Science, researchers said they're finally starting to detect results. In September, the hole had shrunk by 1.5 million square miles from its peak in 2000.

            There is a sobering side to this story, though: The chemicals responsible for the ozone problem break down in the atmosphere much more quickly than carbon dioxide connected to global warming does. That's why the same MIT atmospheric chemist who announced the ozone improvement also argues that climate change caused by burning fossil fuels is essentially "irreversible." For scientists, optimism and pessimism have to be tempered by the realities of chemistry and reaction rates.

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The dorm room diversity fix

            Last month, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that universities can use race in making admissions decisions. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that "student body diversity" at the modern university was "central to its identity and educational mission."

            He's right. But it's also fair to question how well universities are fulfilling this mission, especially in light of the protests that swept U.S. campuses last year. Over the past 30 years, universities have become vastly more diverse. But students of color continue to denounce them as insensitive, inhospitable and hostile to nonwhites.

            What can we do about that? Most university administrations have responded to the diversity challenge in a predictable way: by hiring administrators. More than 100 institutions now employ "chief diversity officers," who oversee an army of staffers at multicultural centers, counseling offices and so on. Hundreds of schools offer diversity training and other programming, aimed at changing the overall racial climate on campus.

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Stop picking on the TSA. We're just doing our jobs.

            In 2001, I was working as an airport screener. When I woke up on 9/11 and saw the news, I said to myself, "Wow. I hope that didn't happen at my airport."

            I'm now a lead transportation security officer with the Transportation Security Administration. Ever since I've been here, my motto has been: This will never happen again, especially on my watch. I'm a former Marine, and I served in combat. I still have that sense of duty, like I did in Desert Storm.

            This might be surprising to some people who have decided that the TSA is the worst. Only half of Americans surveyed in a 2014 poll said that TSA screening is making air travel safer. Headlines regularly denigrate our agency. ("Why are we spending $7 billion on the TSA?" "TSA, I think we have a problem." "Abolish the TSA.") The TSA is often the butt of jokes, and news of long security lines have been everywhere this summer.

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