Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Sportsthink, Sarah, and life's other great mysteries.

Here we have another sterling example of the "you can do it all if you only put your mind to it!" lunacy that suffuses the sports world and has increasingly bled over into the mainstreamthe corporate realm in particular. (Regulars know that my umbrella terms for such garbage is "Sportsthink.") A USC running back, Stafon Johnson, dropped a barbell on his neck during a workout and almost died. Now he's in the process of making a step-by-step recovery. And so his doctor, when asked about the limits of that recovery, replies, "Those are only going to be set by Stafon." What nonsense! And how insensitive and insulting is it to the millions of victims of accident or illness who find that they simply can't regain full function, no matter how much they "want it." Folks, some things are just out of our hands.

Hence the artwork at top. Look at it this way: If Johnson had in fact died during that accident, would his doctor say that the only limits to his recovery are those he imposes on himself? It's almost the same thing, and it wouldn't be any sillier.


So I saw Sarah Palin stumping for her book on Oprah on Monday. And I realize that what I'm about to say won't be too popular with some of those (OK, many of those) who frequent this blog. Also, one must be cautious in evaluating Sarah Palin; there is ample evidence that she's not someone whose words (or motives) should be taken at face value. Levi Johnston, f'rinstance, ain't too fond of her at the moment. In fact, he says he looks at her "with disgust." But the skepticism of Palin extends far beyond 19-year-old amateur hockey players whose biggest achievements in life to date are (a) impregnating the daughter of a v.p. candidate and (b) landing a nude Playgirl photo spread. Palin's former colleagues at Team McCain dismiss her book as a work of fiction. And the
manager of that team, Steve Schmidt, says a Palin run in 2012 would be disastrous for the Republican Party, and has implied that it would be even more disastrous for America if she somehow won.

Nonetheless, I have to admit
that the woman acquitted herself nicely on Oprah. I found her likable and engaging. God help me, I didn't even think she sounded all that dumb.

Among other things, Palin gave me a new way of thinking about a number of elements of her life and outlook that received sound-bite-level treatment (and harsh, gut-level responses) back during Campaign '08. Notably, she gave me a new way of thinking about
the infamous and widely satirized Katie Couric interview(s). You will recall that Palin's sitdown with Couric was an early nail in her coffin as a viable candidate for v.p. Along with the rest of America, I'd watched with a combination of astonishment and cynicism* as this perky, pretty, constantly smiling unknownwho aspired to be just a heartbeat from the presidencyseemed unable to provide Couric with the name of a single book, newspaper or magazine she had read and learned from.

On Monday, though, Palin supplied a fresh spin for that contretemps. She said she'd sensed immediately that Couric was out to get her. (And let's face it: She was right. I say that as someone who staunchly supported Obama/Biden.) The vibe Palin got was that Couric saw her as some third-rate poseur/bimbo from that vast tundric wasteland to the north. So, Palin explained to Oprah, when Katie pressed her
about the books and magazines, she knew she was being patronized, and she wasn't about to play Katie's New York-journalist's game by dignifying the question with a straightforward answer. Palin claims that the rambling, wildly generic answer she did give was meant to say, more or less, "Yes, we even have newspapers and magazines up therejust like you have, Katie, here in New York. Imagine that! We have whole big bunches of magazines." In other words, Palin says she was being sarcastic, or passive-aggressive, or however you want to put it. She also points out that the handful of exchanges shown in that interviewalmost all of them embarrassing to her in some waywere just a small portion of the hours' worth of taping she did with Couric. And here again, I can't deny that we journalists do have a tendency to zero in on the quotes that make the case we're out to make in the first place.

Look, I know what many of you are thinking as you read this, and I'm not saying I buy what the woman's selling now, either. No one's gonna write a memoir whose takeaway reduces to, "Yeah, I'm a moron...and here's the evidence to prove it!" Obviously she's going to try to do major CYA in order to rehabilitate her image as much as possible. What's more, Winfrey isn't the tough, savvy interviewer that she clearly thinks she is, based on her self-satisfied demeanor during Monday's show; we'll see how Palin holds up as her book tour moves along and some of the questions get a bit less polite and more pointed.

Still,I do wonder if I, like much of the rest of America, was a bit quick to judge, and perhaps enjoyed myself a bit too much in doing it.


Oh...and about That Cover. There's a lot of outrage going around, and I can see arguments pro and con. You'll have no trouble Googling a representative sample of them, so I needn't repeat them here. But what gets me is a remark I've heard a few times now, most recently from someone on FOX. It's rooted in the familiar allegations of media pro-Left bias, and it goes, "The media would never depict Hillary Clinton like that!" I mean, OK, that may be true...but come on! That's a little bit like saying, "Jason Alexander never gets the leading-man roles that George Clooney gets!" Duh.

* meaning, at the time, cynicism over John McCain's real motives for choosing such a manifestly unqualified running mate.


Anonymous said...

Fallen victim to Sarah's charms, eh, Steve? Can't say I blame you. I have too. :)

Yes, she was surprisingly coherent during the Oprah's interview -- it helped that Oprah did not ask any tough questions. Like, for example, our strategy in Afghanistan. Or the disappeared TARP money. Or anything else, really, other than pre-digested, several times over, topics.

It is possible that Sarah got pigeonholed last year as a vapid, shallow and vindictive bimbo...

Oh, wait -- I got that wrong; this is what they are saying about her now, after her book came out. Back then, she was just considered vapid and shallow. Perhaps somewhat unfairly.

Then again, here is the text of her resignation speech to Alaskans and here is what she said in Hong Kong in September. You'll be the judge.

Either way, Sarah will have the last laugh, I'm certain of that. What some see as her unforgivable weaknesses are unique strengths and just the right assets to so many others. She is here to stay and sky is the limit to her ambition.

About that cover: please. The picture was already in a different magazine, and she was apparently happy with it then. Now, all of a sudden, it's sexist?

Methinks it's not the picture that bothers her so, but the two articles inside, by Hitchens and Thomas, both highly critical of her.

The woman has chutzpah. Wasn't she a beauty queen once, proudly parading on stage in a bikini? Wasn't she winking cocquettishly to the nation during her "debate" with Biden?

I'd tell her, you live by the sword (or bikini), you die by the sw... bikini, sista. You can't go through life winking, charming pants off neocons, and using your feminine wiles left and right (especially right), and then, when being called on it, complain about sexism.
But hey, that's Sarah's (and some right-wingers') (un)logic in action.

BTW, say what you want about Hillary, but the woman has substance. We don't see pics of her, even from her younger years, in cocquettish poses all over the media, nor have we witnessed her relying on feminine charms (and yes, she can be charming) to accomplish her tasks. In fact, this has been one of the greatest criticisms leveled at her -- that she is not feminine enough (whatever that means -- and apparently it means what Sarah does, and then screams sexism when caught doing it; go figure.)

Anonymous said...

Steve, you've touched a sore point with me here and I'm glad to see you're as willing to reexamine your own motives and biases as you are in skewering other people's.

Even as a Republican, I wasn't a big fan of Sarah Palin as a choice for v.p., but the treatment she got in the MSM from day 1 was deplorable. The media was graceless, tactless and treated her in a way totally unbecoming a major party candidate for the second highest elected office in America. I'm glad you brought up the Couric interview because I said at the time on this blog as I recall, and I say again here, can you even imagine a reporter asking Obama what books and magazines he can cite as the sources of his information? No one would *dare* do such a thing. It would be considered the height of insolence and you'd have all these cries of racism besides. ("They only ask him that because they think he's a dumb black guy.") It wasn't just that Couric thought she was a lightweight either, but that Palin represented everything Couric and her friends in liberal media hated: a working mom who still managed to be fully involved in her children's life, a woman of faith, a pro-lifer, and if you ask me I think Palin was just a little too young and pretty for Katie's tastes too. Katie probably looked in the mirror before the interview and said to herself, "My God, I'm really going to look like an old hag next to this one"!

As for the fuss over the Newsweek cover, that photo was originally taken for a sports magazine where it made complete sense in context. However to use it on a magazine of politics and national affairs is a clear way of marginalizing Palin and reducing her to caricature all over again. It's as if they ran a shot of Obama playing basketball. Yeah, the guy like his hoops but would they ever dare show him that way on the cover? They'd never even think of it to begin with.

What the media did and continues to do to Sarah Palin is unforgivable and I don't see how anyone can defend it no matter what you think of her personally.

Anonymous said...

Wow, two rather different opinions, huh. See Roger fell victim, too. ;)

Roger, sorry, but the fact that she a mother of five, pro-life, etc. has nothing to do with the "treatment" Palin has received.(If you recall, I defended her here, on SHAMblog, for about, what? five days? until she started to speak, unscripted.)

If she thinks being asked "tough" and/or very basic questions is sexist or prejudiced in any way, then she has no business in politics.

This is the same Sarah Palin, I should remind, who made fun of Hillary for "whining" about the unflattering coverage about her in the press. (And Hillary actually had the point.)

Now Sarah is caught with her glaring ignorance like a deer in the headlights -- and all of a sudden this is sexist and unfair?

She was asked basic questions not because anyone wanted to catch her sweat, but because she was a total unknown. People wanted to and needed to learn what she was about. The fallout from that was totally of her own making. And now she is complaining about mistreatment and pointing fingers at everyone, but never at herself. Ugh.

Gimme a break, is all I say. And to quote her back to herself, she should stop whining and start reading and learning. If she thinks she can wink her way to the Oval Office, she may actually be right (stranger things have happened), but she will not change people's and media's opinion about her as an incompetent lightweight; on the contrary, she will only solidify it.

BTW, if you think her poor image was only the result of the media's "gotcha!" treatment of her, look up her interview with Rush Limbaugh from yesterday. You can't find a friendlier, toward Sarah, interviewer. Yet even Rush made the "mistake" of asking her questions about politics and policy -- and yet again, Sarah gave the same disjointed, semi-nonsensical answers (apparently her approach to everything from foreign policy to finances and health care is to use "common sense;" this would not be bad if she could provide more details about what the common sense entails -- but there weren't any). She was as empty and clueless as she was a year ago.

A year ago. She's had a year to study and learn and show us all what she is capable of when the direct media and public focus is not stressing her out. She's apparently learned nothing. But, hey, she "wrote" a settle-the-scores book -- pardon me, a memoir -- quit her governorship of Alaska, and travelled abroad (yay!), to Hong Kong, where she delivered a nonsensical speech, astounding the audience with its incoherence and irrelevance. (And she had time to prepare the speech, mind you.)

Nope, there is no smarter, more competent Sarah hiding somewhere, deep down, under the charming exterior so maligned by the hostile elitist press. Sometimes what you see is what you get. And we have seen what we are getting. You betcha.

Steve Salerno said...

Hmm. Two very different--and very well-put--takes on our gal Sarah. Interesting to see what others might think.

Anonymous said...

BTW, what a role reversal -- for once, Roger says something positive about women (OK, one particular woman); and I harp on a sista like there is no tomorrow.

Goodness gracious, what's the world coming to... ;)

(I'm being somewhat facetious. Roger has been known to be not totally negative when it comes to women -- it's just feminists he dislikes, if I'm correct.

And Palin is no sista. Neither am I, for that matter.)

Anonymous said...

I want to know how the hell you justify using Levi asd Schmidt as examples of how we can't trust Palin. Levi has a definite personal ax to grind and Schmidt never liked the woman in the first place. Plus from what I hear she's pretty hard on him in the book, so what do you expect him to say? You start out saying you're going to be fair to her and then it's jsut more of the same.

Anonymous said...

OK, my last comment (or so I hope) on Palin: her assets -- good looks, charm and personable demeanor -- would make her a lovely talk show host. I say it without malice. I would watch her show.

But a possible presidential candidate? Uh-oh.

Then again, there was Ronald Reagan. And Dubya.

Steve Salerno said...

But you know--just to throw this in--the intellectuals haven't served us very well as presidents, either. Jimmy Carter was a disaster. It's way too soon to render a verdict on Barry O., but he shows early signs of the same analysis-paralysis that undid Carter and hampered other notorious "thinkers." I also believe it's possible to operate on a too high a plane for the average person, and thus to seem woefully detached and out of touch. In his favor, Obama seemed to have plenty of down-home empathy during his campaign, and I'm hoping that helps him rise above such afflictions. Because I have to tell you, I encountered plenty of super-geniuses when I was teaching...and God help any country they might ever attempt to run.

Anonymous said...

True, Steve. Intellectuals do not necessarily make good leaders. But a good leader should be intelligent, able to learn, and not so wedded to his/her ideology that it blinds him/her to reality.

We had eight years of Bush to show us what can happen when these criteria are not met.

Steve Salerno said...

Yes. But again, to be contentious, most people--even those who had serious reservations about some of his policies, as well as his intellect and single-mindedness--nonetheless concede that Ron Reagan was arguably the best president of our lifetime. Perhaps that's an argument for symbolism over substance?

Anonymous said...

Well, people believe all kinds of things that are not necessarily true, I'd say.

I would ask those who maintain that Reagan (or anyone) was "the best president" in their/our lifetime, what their arguments are for this opinion.

Liking someone is one thing, but appraising -- objectively, as much as it's possible -- their real accomplishments another. Their record usually, though not always, speaks for itself.

Sarsabu said...

On the sportsthink - I once again am reminded of a scene from that great work of art "Top Secret" - The East German Officer is on the telephone and says "Let me know if there is any change in his condition." He replaces the phone and says to the others in the room "He is dead!"
That movie is becoming closer to real life each and every day! Or vice versa?

Anonymous said...

Apparently I'm not done with the subject yet.

Palin is turning out to be not only vapid, shallow, petty, dim, dangerously ignorant and vindictive, but also a (pathological?) liar. Even McCain has weighed in trying to debunk her lies.

And Andrew Sullivan is fuming -- and promising a major scandal related to "her" book.

Anonymous said...

Just one more thing about that photo and I will try to curb my enthusiasm, I promise. (I think.)

I'm dumbfounded by the "sexist" accusation. First, Sarah was happy to take the picture to begin with, no one forced her. It's from August 2009. She definitely was in charge of her own choices at that time, including the type of publications she wanted to associate herself with and photos she wanted to take. No mean McCain's aides here to blame for this choice.

If one wants to be taken seriously as a politician of substance, one does not pose in shorts for a running magazine, in a rather cocquettish manner, with her elbow casually propped on the American flag (!).

Let's stop on this for a moment. Sarah is front and center here, the flag thrown in as a prop under her elbow.

Whether intended or not, this set-up speaks volumes. Sarah first, country second -- and under her elbow. She is using America to feed her ambition, instead of doing it the other way around. And she is telling us as much, intentionally or not (likely not).

Second, she's complained about her picture on the Newsweek cover before -- a too close close-up, which, allegedly, showed some imperfections in her face (I did not see any. Vanity, thy name is Sarah?)

Again, repeating my earlier opinion, it's not the pictures themselves that seem to be the problem, but their context. If the same photo appeared on the covers of conservative publications, accompanied by articles fawning about her, she would love it and see nothing sexist about it, you betcha. Then it'd be wholesome and patriotic, or whatever she'd like us to see in it.

The woman is a chronic complainer, habitually blaming others for her own mistakes and failures. Apparently nothing is her own responsibility. It's stunning to watch.

Third (and redundantly as well), her looks are her greatest asset and she willingly uses them as such. All that attention paid to her is certainly not because of her intellect or her grasp of politics and/or the world issues. To quote the anonymous commenter from another forum, we would not be having this discussion if she were 250 lbs and had acne, or did look like Katie Couric (ouch, but true).

Nobody would have noticed her and nobody would have taken her seriously (?), as much as she is taken seriously (and she should be, unfortunately). There would be no "Palin problem."

She must know it as well as everyone else -- she uses her looks to her full advantage, after all -- the picture on the cover of Newsweek a good example.

And for this reason, Newsweek made the perfect choice, showing us Sarah as she is, with her real priorities staring us in the face, and asking, in essence, Is this someone you would like to have as the America's leader?

Alright, my Palin drone off. (I think.)

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Your passion for the cause--specifically,for savaging Sarah--is by now clear. But for the sake of fairness (and perhaps even integrity), I must ask you to step back a moment and examine, say, a passage such as this one, from your most recent comment:

Her looks are her greatest asset and she willingly uses them as such. All that attention paid to her is certainly not because of her intellect or her grasp of politics and/or the world issues.

I think what you've voiced quite accurately here is the No. 1 putdown of Palin by her critics. However, I think you'd get an argument from her supporters. Do you really think that the legions of stay-at-home Christian Moms who are out there at her rallies, chanting "Sarah! Sarah!", are enamored of her looks? You think all of those who see her as a champion of true fiscal conservatism are lining up behind her just because she's got a cute ass?

It's been said before, but I think we underestimate this woman at our peril.

Anonymous said...

A good point, Steve. I should have said that her looks are among her greatest assets and she is not hesitant to use them as such.

But yes, of course there is that compelling narrative of her life story and her convictions, which appeal to a large segment of the population on the right.

And I completely agree that she should not be underestimated -- I have written as much on my blog.

Here is a very good commentary from a HuffPo blogger, William Astore, that sums up my sentiments about Palin as well. (I'm very critical of her, but I can see and understand her appeal. And on this thread, I'm in the polemical mode. In case it's not been obvious. ;))

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, you claim that Palin "acquitted" herself by saying that her answers to Couric were meant to be sarcastic/passive-aggressive... and you bought it? Fer crying out loud, the woman had a whole year to come up with some way of spinning her abysmal performance(s), and all she could come up with was that it was sarcasm that apparently went over the entire country's head. She's that smart? You betcha.

If she had faced the same kind of grilling and "investigative reporting" to which Hilary has been subjected ever since Bill was campaigning for his first term, one can only imagine the depth and breadth of the gaffes she would have spouted.

Bottom line is that anyone who contends she is a viable candidate for anything higher than mayor of a backwater town is either delusional or smitten with her appearance. She has proved repeatedly that she has neither the intellect nor the personality that is required for leadership or statesmanship. And if she does run in 2012, she WILL lose. Despite evidence to the contrary circa 2004, there just aren't that many Americans who are that stupid (or driven by adolescent fantasies centered upon someone they'll likely never meet, much less bed). And God help us if I'm wrong!

VW = flece. How apropos!

Anonymous said...

I would not worry about those Christian moms, Steve. The greatest support for Palin comes from Republican men. It is her base. The question "why?" is not difficult to answer.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron et al: Just to be clear, I quote the penultimate graph of the section on Palin's Oprah appearance:

Look, I know what many of you are thinking as you read this, and I'm not saying I buy what the woman's selling now, either.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - I get it. My incredulity was perhaps a bit overstated, at least where you're concerned.

I would ask of anyone who feels that Ms. Palin is equipped to handle such a high office, What is her stated recommendation as to the proper handling of the situation in Afghanistan? What is her stated assessment of our long-term goals in our relationship with Iran? How does she suggest we could best realize those goals? What specifically has she said she would do differently to restore this country's economic health and viability in the milieu of an interconnected and interdependent global economy?

I know... trick questions. But these are representative of the questions a national leader must answer every day, with the wrong answer holding the potential for a global calamity, and which beg significantly more detail than she has ever offered. "Use common sense" and "You betcha" just aren't good enough, and there won't always be a coach at her elbow, telling her what to think.

Anonymous said...

Ron, you are in luck today, because, as it turns out, Ms. Palin answered (well, kinda) those very questions during her interview with Rush Limbaugh:*

PALIN: Well, I think, domestically, a threat that we're facing right now is the dithering and hesitation in sending a message to the terrorists that we're gonna claim what Ronald Reagan claimed -- "Our motto's gonna be, we win, you lose." The way that we do that is allow McChrystal to have the reinforcements that he's asking for in Afghanistan. That sends that message to the terrorists over there that, now, we're going to end this thing with our victory.

We need to start facing Iran with tougher and tougher sanctions that need to be considered. We need to work with our allies and with the Iranian issues like Britain and France and not allow access to favorable international monetary bills. That's a great threat that I think would kind of shake up Ahmadinejad and get him to listen.

We need to look at halting Iran's imports of refined petroleum products -- they're quite reliant on imported gasoline. And we need to use that hammer to wake up the leadership there, too.

Those are two big challenges that we have right now. Domestically, and in naming those two countries, Afghanistan and Iran -- two big challenges there, too.

*Rush Limbaugh called Palin's memoir: one of the most substantive policy books (he has) read.

Anonymous said...

Steve, it's time somebody said already that Palin is an idiot. Argue with it if you want, call it elitist and whatnot, but it is obvious.

Anonymous said...

Quote from Palin's book 'Going Rogue' that demonstrates the breadth of her intellect:

"If God had not intended us to eat animals how come he made them out of meat?"

With regard to your point that intellectuals do not work too well in high office, we may not require an Einstein but we do need a thinker capable of a bit more precision and understanding of the complexity of thought than the above.
I thought the above quote a direct lift from Homer Simpson.

Anonymous said...

I have seen that quote too, Anon, and thought it was a joke at first. It wasn't.

By Sarah's logic, God wanted us to become cannibals, too -- after all, he also made us out of meat.

Steve, about Palin's (alleged) popularity with women: David Frum, who, I'm sure you know, is a conservative and a former speechwriter of G. W. Bush, commented last week that Sarah has risen to power thanks to her sexuality, therefore had no reason to complain about the allegedly "sexist" cover of Newsweek.

He got a lot of flak (from Republicans) for that, which prompted him to write a more detailed response on the subject.

Here is his conclusion (more data, including the demographic breakdown of Palin's support base, in the full text of his post on Frum Forum):

If you like Palin – well go ahead. It’s a free country. But quit saying that “the people” love Sarah Palin.

They don’t. Actually, they quite dislike her. The longer they know her, the more they dislike her. And even more than they dislike her, they do not respect her. That reaction of dislike and disrespect is most concentrated among American women.

Sarah’s constituency is a relatively small cohort of conservative men. I offended a lot of these people last week by suggesting that there was some sexual dynamic at work in the enthusiasm for the politician whom Rush Limbaugh used to describe as “Governor Babe.” So let’s put it this way: Whatever impulse it is that so excites Palin supporters, it is not shared by their wives.