Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Impossible Dream

LAST spring, in an attempt to be prophetic and pundit-like, I boldly stated that Republican presidential wanna-be Newt Gingrich had stepped on a political banana peel and fallen flat on his aspirations.

He had, I wrote, "struck out" with the voters.

Why? He kicked off his campaign by apologizing to the religious right for his dubious personal life. He followed that up by denouncing a plan offered by House GOP budget guru Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that would reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion over 10 years by repealing the Democrat's health care bill and reforming entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.

Republicans embraced the plan as holy writ. Gingrich called it "right-wing social engineering."

He then engaged in a number of verbal blunders and other assorted personal embarrassments, all within a couple of weeks of his announced candidacy.

He was, it seemed to me, toast.

Now, to my astonishment, I find that a new USA Today/Gallup Poll shows Newt leading the pack of Republican presidential aspirants.

I guess I should retire to the Home for Bewildered Columnists. Except for this:

It's not exactly a runaway. Gingrich is the favorite of 22 percent of the Republicans while Mitt Romney nips at his heels with 21 percent. Herman Cain is still on the leader board with 16 percent. Rick Perry polls at 8 percent.

His numbers appear to be fueled by a large infusion of cash. According to CNN, Gingrich raised more than $3 million since Oct. 1, with most of the money coming from online donations.

That's more than three times the amount Gingrich raised in the entire third fundraising quarter of 2011, when he pulled in just over $800,000. But it's pocket change compared to Romney's war chest of $32 million.

Nonetheless, I'll admit it's quite a comeback.

And what has Newt done to celebrate his return to celebrity status?

At a recent event at Harvard University, Gingrich offered a unique plan to fight poverty: fire school janitors (at least those who belong to a union) and hire children to clean the schools. He then proceeded to explain that child labor laws are "truly stupid" and blamed "the core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization" for "crippling" children. He did not announce a plan to reemploy the fired janitors.

This past week he advocated allowing younger workers still decades away from retirement to bypass Social Security and instead choose private investment accounts. His announcement came on a day the stock market plunged nearly 250 points.

He characterized the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan entity that provides Congress with information on budgets and the impact that legislation will have on government finances, as a "reactionary socialist institution." Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director and Republican, called the Gingrich allegation "ludicrous."

And just this past week, Gingrich said he thinks the collapse of the Congressional super committee "is good for America," and that the country's debt problem can be solved through the regular work of Congress.

He was apparently unaware of a new Quinnipiac University poll that found voters would blame the Republicans more than the Democrats for the committee impasse.

So Newt is doing it again, shooting himself in the foot with goofy political talk. But don't do what I did. Don't write him off quite so fast.

Gingrich could very well find himself as the Republican who challenges President Obama next year simply because his opponents are proving themselves unworthy and falling like so many autumn leaves.

Michele Bachman, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, at one time darlings of the GOP, are fast becoming yesterday's news. Newt, with his congressional experience and tenure as speaker of the House, appears downright statesmanlike compared to the rest of the GOP contenders, who sound like a pack of angry birds.

It's still too early to declare a winner in the GOP selection process.

But if Gingrich can crank up the cash machine and cool the inflammatory and often bizarre rhetoric, he could make the improbable come true.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011, A Sex Oddity

Don’t look now, but 2011 is rapidly coming to a close.

Historians will remember it as a year of economic chaos, of tragic
natural disasters worldwide, of the violent deaths of Islamic
terrorist leaders, of revolution for better for worse in the Middle
East, of the passings of Andy Rooney, Al Davis, Steve Jobs, Betty
Ford, Sidney Lumet, Elizabeth Taylor.

It will be recalled as the year of grassroots political muscle,
witness the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

It was the year wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords showed the
world the meaning of courage and tenacity. And the year that the rest
of our elected officials showed a lack of same.

But above all else, 2011 was the Year of Sexual Scandal. Consider:

--- Penn State, whose football program under Joe Paterno has been a
bedrock of integrity for some 46 years, appears to have had a dirty
little secret. Jerry Sandusky, the team’s defensive coordinator for
40 years, is arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of
young boys over a period of 15 years and the school is accused of
covering up the alleged crimes. In the wake of the scandal, Paterno,
who has more wins than any other coach in history, and college
president Graham Spanier are fired. Athletic director Tim Curley and
school vice president Gary Schultz are charged with failing to report
suspected child-sexual abuse by Sandusky and committing perjury in
their related grand jury testimony.

---Herman Cain, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential
nomination, is accused by several women of sexual harassment while he
was president of the National Restaurant Association, charges that he
denies. But damage has been done and the accusations appear to have
hurt his candidacy, according to polls.

---Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilder turned actor turned governor,
admits to fathering a child with the family housekeeper. He thus
becomes termed out as governor and husband in the same year.

---Anthony Weiner, a New York congressman, is exposed, so to speak,
for sending a a sexually suggestive photograph of himself via his
public Twitter account to an adult woman. After denying he had posted
the image, Weiner admits he had "exchanged messages and photos of an
explicit nature with about six women over the last three years". He
then resigns from Congress.

---David Wu, an Oregon Congressman, resigns his office following
allegations he engaged in “aggressive and unwanted” sexual behavior
with a young woman who is the daughter of a longtime friend and
campaign donor.

---Chris Lee, a New York congressman, is forced to resign his office
when it was disclosed that he has been soliciting at least one
male-to-female transsexual on Craigslist. Claiming to be a
39-year-old divorced lobbyist but using his real name, he uses a
Google Gmail account to send her a shirtless photo taken with his
BlackBerry phone.

---Allison Meyers, who headed a group called the Young Eagles, a GOP
program aimed at cultivating major donors under the age of 45, is
fired by the Republican National Committee for authorizing a $2,000
payment for a night out at the Voyeur, a West Hollywood club that
featured female dancers wearing bondage gear and simulating sex acts.

Throw in the cases of Domonique Straus-Kahn, managing director of the
International Monetary Fund, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel
maid (the case was later dropped) and Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi, charged with paying for sex with a 17-year-old belly
dancer called “Ruby the Heart Stealer,” and it seems like a week
didn’t pass without some sort of tawdry revelation.

This has to be some sort of record, although I’m not sure anyone
keeps records on this sort of thing. There must have been something
in the water supply.

Two things we know for sure: (1) This kind of behavior is certainly
nothing new but (2) there’s a lot more “media” out there now with the
advent of cable news, bloggers and so-called citizen journalists.
They all have an insatiable appetite for gossip. And our politicians
and jocks and actors are serial transgressors and thus easy targets.

As a result, we’ve heard a lot this year about high-profile
narcissists who believe the rules don’t apply to them. When they get
caught with their pants down, the story is front page news. People
love to see the mighty take a tumble.

The downside of all this is that with each story, the shock value
diminishes. We have already forgiven President Clinton for the most
egregious sexual scandal in U.S. political history. He is now one of
the most popular people on earth.

Sure, people were stunned by the Penn State scandal, but not because
a coach was accused of molesting children. It was primarily because
Joe Paterno had reached deity status in the sports world.

We may grow weary of scandal. But we must not become immune to it. It
is troubling and it should remain so. We are and should remain angry
and disgusted.

All the people mentioned above left their jobs in disgrace. Let’s see
if our would-be philanderers get the message in 2012.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Job Gibberish

I used to think the aerospace industry was the repository for exotic
and mystifying job titles.

Entities such as NASA were frequently looking for a few good men (and
women) to work as biocomputation engineers, cognizant engineers,
hazardous robotics specialists, space farming experts, stuff like

Little did I know that my own profession would soon be creating jobs
whose titles defy understanding.

It used to be when you went to work in print journalism you had three
options: reporter, photographer or editor. Or some hybrid thereof.

As an editor I used to jokingly try to humble byline-hungry reporters
by referring to them as “news gathering units.” Little did I know
that description might become reality in the 21st century.

The newsbiz now features positions such as “vice president for
audience,” an “experience editor,” an editor in charge of
“collaboration, transparency and crowdsourcing” and a “video
curator,” according to several journalism trade publications.
Not to mention “headline optimizers” and “story scientists.”
Welcome to the new newsroom.

I’m not sure what these people do. I suspect they hold meetings.
Afterwards, they issue a memo.

Of course, this isn’t the exclusive domain of one profession or

Title hyping is a trend that has been ongoing for some time. Nobody
wants a one-word job any more so employers think up elaborate
descriptions. More often than not, they take the place of a raise.

Thus, lifeguards become “wet leisure assistants” and cooks become
“food expediters.”

My personal favorite is the title used by cemetery
plot salespeople: “Prior need specialists.”

In corporate American, title enhancement runs the gamut from clever
to silly. Receptionists are now “Directors of First Impressions.” The
person in charge of customer relations is now “Chief Excellence

One CEO now calls himself “Founder and Difference Maker.” Another
calls herself “Chief Troublemaker” because “she stirs the pot and
asks if we can do better.”

The spokesperson for Yahoo is titled “Yahoo! Evangelist.” The person
who organizes the annual meeting for Berkshire Hathaway is called
“Director of Chaos.”

According to an article in The Economist, “paper boys are ‘media
distribution officers,’ lavatory cleaners are ‘sanitation
consultants,’ sandwich-makers at Subway have the phrase ‘sandwich
artist’ emblazoned on their lapels.

“Even the normally linguistically pure French have got in on the act:
cleaning ladies are becoming ‘techniciennes de surface’ (surface

Some titles won’t even fit on a business card. The BBC has a “vision
controller of multiplatform and portfolio” while the American Cancer
Society features a “manager of futuring and innovation-based
Get high enough up on the food chain and titles follow you from

Great Britain’s recently married Prince William is His Royal Highness
Prince William Arthur Philip Louis, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of
Strathearn, Baron Carrickfergus and Royal Knight Companion of the
Most Noble Order of the Garter. His wife, the former Kate Middleton, is now simply Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.

When it comes to titles, nobody can top North Korea’s Kim Jong-iL. We
may know him as a member in good standing of the Axis of Evil.
But back home in Pyongyang, he is known as Supreme Commander at the
Forefront of the Struggle Against Imperialism and the United States,
Greatest Saint Who Rules with Extensive Magnanimity, Lode Star of the
Twenty-First Century, Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness, Eternal
Bosom of Hot Love, Master of Literature, Arts, and Architecture,
Humankind’s Greatest Musical Genius, Guardian Deity of the Planet,
Heaven-Sent Hero and the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. Among other

I can’t match that. I’m just a Written Word Crafting Engineer.