HEY JOE–WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE

Since the summer, I’ve pretty regularly been watching Joe Scarborough and his crew on Morning Joe on MSNBC. He’s pretty good–a middle-of-the-road, non-doctrinaire conservative–although he does have a tendency to overtalk his guests and especially his co-host, the long-suffering Mika Brzensinski. Joe has been pretty hard to take the last couple of weeks, as though he feels a particular burden to maintain some drama in an election that pretty nearly flatlined after the final debate, and a particular obligation to land some punches on Barack Obama, who is proving to be as Teflon-coated as Ronald Reagan ever was. This morning Scarborough nearly cross-examined Chuck Todd until he finally got NBC’s numbers cruncher to admit that yes, there was a way that McCain could still win the election. Todd then leveled Scarborough with the the offhand observation that, of course, the chances of McCain getting 270 electoral votes were just about the same as Obama’s chances of getting 370. And if that’s my choice, I’ll bet the rent on Obama getting 370. This election is going to be a repudiation–a repudiation of Bush and Cheney, of a free market arrogance and greed, of McCain’s mismanagement, of his cynical choie of Palin, of all kinds of nasty business. On Tuesday, the American people are going to clean house, Joe Scarborough’s fantasies notwithstanding.

PROFILED IN PIF

“No editor or publisher ever wakes up in the morning, looks out his window, and scans the landscape for a brilliant writer who’s just too shy to put himself or herself forward. It’s a put yourself forward business, at every level.” Hey–that’s me talking, in an interview with Derek Alger in pif magazine, a very entertaining and informative magazine for writers, especially young ones. Derek saw me speak at the Marymount Manhattan Writers Conference in June, and I’m flattererd that he thought of asking me to sit for an interview in his magazine.

WATCH ON THE RYAN

Lunch yesterday was provided by my pal Ryan D’Agostino, one of the stalwarts at Esquire. We ate in the Hearst employees’ cafeteria, which is located in the very cool atrium of the newish Hearst Building on Eighth Avenue. An excellent amenity. Ryan is excited about his new book, Rich Like Them, which will be published in January. Ryan interviewed a bunch of rich people about how they became wealthy. Do you think people will want to hear about this topic, this being the midst of a financial crisis and all? Here’s a clue: Oprah has called him. More on this later.

AMERICAN FERVOUR

At the Burns Center Monday night, Ginny and I were part of an audience that premiered American Fervour, one of a four-part BBC series by Professor Simon Schama called American History: The Future that will debut in January. Monday’s episode was about the intersection of religion and politics in America, and would probably be a revelation mostly to those who think of religion in America as consistently a force for conservative politics. Not so, of course; religion was the backbone of the abolition and civil rights movement. Nothing particularly new to chew on, but it’s always enjoyable to hear the erudite and charming Schama talk about whatever he’s thinking about.

NO FOOL LIKE A MIDDLE-AGED FOOL

Finally got around to reading Jane Mayer‘s excellent article in the October 27th issue of The New Yorker in which she reports on how Sarah Palin came to be selected as John McCain‘s running mate. She says that one of the key moments came when one of her backers realized that The Weekly Standard and National Review had scheduled cruises along the Alaska coast, cruises that would bring some of the top conservative pundits to her door (a good offer–as NR‘s publisher noted, “There’s only so much you can do in Juneau.”) Mayer reports that many of the writers got all swoony over her, in their goofy, wonkish way. Writes Mayer, “Fred Barnes recalled being `struck by how smart Palin was, and how unusually confident’. . . .It didn’t escape his notice that she was `exceptionally pretty.”’ Mayer says her `most ardent promoter” became William Kristol, who predicted on Fox News on June 29th that McCain would pick her, describing Palin as `fantastic’, and capable of going one-on-one against Obama in basketball as well as siphoning off Hillary supporters (which seems to illustrate his ignorance of both basketball and Hillary’s appeal.) He said she’d be an “effective president,” called her “my heartthrob”, and said “I don’t know if I can make it through the enxt three months without her on the ticket.” After the Biden-Palin debate, Kristol called it “a liberating experience,” and volunteered to moderate a rematch. I wonder what other fantasies he has about her.

A FAN’S NOTE

If you’ve never received a note that begins “You have never stopped being brilliant,” let me tell you, I recommend it. The other day, the writer Lynn Phillips sent me note saying “You have never stopped being brilliant, but I’m still haunted by your June 91 Spy piece, `When Disney Ran America,’ and keep wanting to quote from it, refer to it, etc. but can’t find it. You nailed the Imagineering of American life better than anyone before or since. If you can find me a copy, I promise to vote for the presidential candidate of your choice. ” Thanks, Lynn, and I’m sure Wendel Wilkie will be thanking you as well. Lynn, by the way, was once a writer for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, wrote pieces for The Realist and Nerve.com, and now has out a book with the hilarious title “Self-Loathing for Beginners.” I’m curious to hear if, seventeen years after publication, she thinks the article holds up.

A MESMERIZING ATHEIST

A stranger comes up to you at a bar or in a train station and starts to tell you a story. How long do you last? Five minutes? Could you tolerate him for ten minutes without looking at your watch? How about ninety?

Impossible. And yet seven times a week at Greenwich Village’s Barrow Street Theater, Campbell Scott accomplishes the feat of standing alone on a stage and absolutely captivating an audience. Scott, one of his generation’s very best (and yet, oddly, in an industry where the fortyish leading man is an endangered species, least famous) actors, plays Augustine Early in a play called The Atheist by the Irish playwright Ronan Noone. Early is a reporter for a newspaper in a small town in Kansas, and he brings to his job far more ambition than scruples. One night he rolls into bed with a pretty girl, and the next morning rolls out of it, and into his main chance. Scott is incredible as he discloses to his increasingly fascinated audience how he manipulates the subject of his investigation. He is, by turns, funny, appalling, sympathetic, repugnant, clever, nasty, deceitful and brutally honest. One of the evening’s best moments comes after the play ends and Scott takes his bows. After holding us in the palm of his hand for an hour and half, we expect him to say more, but Scott just looks at us, and then walks away.We have forgotten that Scott is an actor, and that Augustine Early is not real. How often does that happen any more?