THE TOP TEN OF AN ANNUS HORRIBILIS

londonA wholly personal and entirely idiosyncratic ranking of the what were the very best elements of what, apart from these and a few other gems, was a beast of year:

1.) London. A full week living the life of a roving journalist, enjoying posh circumsances, a limitless credit line, and the company of smart, thoughtful people.
in the loopwolf-halldamonsteal2bases2.) In the Loop, Armando Iannucci‘s scathing political satire
3.) Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantei‘s impressively realized reimagining of Henry VIII‘s divorce crisis, and the role of the worldy, modern Thomas Cromwell
4.) Johnny Damon‘s ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, in which he singled after a nine-pitch at bat, stole two bases on one play, scored the go-ahead run, and effectively expunged hope from Phillie hearts
carey_mulligan_an_education_movie_imagecramerlords5.) An Education, Lone Schefrig‘s tart, gimlet-eyed coming-of-age story set in London just before the sixties began swinging, with an excellent cast featuring Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, and, in a career-establishing performance, Carey Mulligan
6.) Jon Stewart‘s astonishing smackdown of Jim Cramer and CNBC’s slobbering market boosterism
7.) Liaquat Ahamed‘s majesterial Lords of Finance
obama-inauguration-no-creamharrisonsully_plane_hudson8.) The audacity of hope: the Inauguration of Barack Obama
9.) James Harrison‘s amazing, huffing puffing 100 yard interception return as time expired before halftime in the Super Bowl, nearly thwarted by Larry Fitzgerald‘s tackle after a desperate field-long pursuit
10.) Chesley Sullenberger lands his plane in the Hudson, a feat brilliantly captioned by a New York cop: “What’s there to say? A bird–a plane–super man.”

Honorable mention, in no particular order: Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, Go Like Hell, by A.J. Baime; Rachel Getting Married, Jonathan Demme‘s poignant, gallant family drama, with really wonderful work by Anne Hathaway, Rosemary DeWitt and Debra Winger; Quentin Tarantino‘s rollicking, unhistorical Inglorious Basterds, with a whole raft of thrilling, scenery-chewing performances; Joseph “You Lie!” Wilson; Glover’s Mistake, by Nick Laird; Battlestar Galactica; Mad Men; Closing Time, by Joe Queenan; teaching Cara to drive; “You and I and Love”, by the Avnet Brothers; and “Sometime Around Midnight,” by The Airborne Toxic Event

LOOKING BACK ON 2010

On thenation.com, we wonder: how well do you remember the year to come?

BACHMANN-large1. 2010’s highest-rated TV program was:
A. The Apprentice Gets a Shot at Love, in which the member of a talk show’s production staff vie to be selected as the host’s mistress.
B. American Death Panel, in which judges Simon Cowell, Michelle Bachmann, and Dr. Conrad Murray audition ailing contestants competing for the right to extend their treatment.
C. The Balloonies, a television show in which families who have been on television compete to come up with stunts that will get covered on television in hopes of getting them back on television.

2. The highest-grossing touring attraction of 2010 was:
A. Paint the Ice Rouge: The Sarah Palin Skating Experience.sarah-palin-todd-palin1
B. Tango Appalachia, the Tony-winning musical about a lonesome governor and his romance with a woman hot from Buenos Aires.
C. The Budweiser Rockin’ Beer Summit Concert Series, featuring Weezer, Daughtry, Pat Buchanan and Cornel West.

kanye_west3. The year’s most-talked about news from the Supreme Court was:
A.The landmark free speech decision that allows Kanye West to shout loudly in a crowded theater.
B. When the Commerce Clause ruled to uphold the right of the Google to do, quote, “whatever”.
C. Sonia Sotomayor‘s resignation. An anonymous source quoted her as saying, “If I’d wanted to sit in a room with conservative white men all day, I’d just go back to Princeton. Or Yale.”

4. The year’s top-selling National Enquirer cover was headlined:miley_cyrus-5331
A. Miley: Billy Ray Made Me Sell My Soul to Disney (Exclusive Contract Photos Inside!)
B. Ashton: Demi Left Me For Patrick’s Ghost!
C. Finally, an American: Brad and Angelina to Adopt Jen!

carrie-prejean515. The most disappointing celebrity memoir was:
A. Wait, I’m Supposed to Be More Famous By Now, by Carrie Prejean
B. Second Wind: Making the Most Out of Retirement, by Brett Favre
C. “You Lie!”, And Other Great Stuff I’m Known For, by Joe Wilson

6. The year’s most embarrassing scandal was:
A. Captain Chesley Sullenberger tweets photos of himself rescuing a baby panda from drowning, later admits they were Photoshopped.
B. Wired editor Chris Andersen, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, caught at Borders removing “Sale” sticker from his own books.
C. Birther investigation reveals Lou Dobbs originally born in Guatemala.

7. The top sports story of 2010:Elizabeth Lambert Video
A. Soccer roughneck Elizabeth Lambert leaves University of New Mexico, becomes headliner in the WWE.
B. Hoping to capture some of the Kate Hudson magic, the Mets sign Tara Reid to a three year deal to serve as the team’s utility good luck charm.
C. Tiger Woods returns to golf and wins The Masters, but grows surly when faced with reporters’ questions about “playing all 72 holes” and “maintaining his stroke on the back nine.”

8. The summer movie box office champion was
A. Prime Crime, the horror/thriller about a once popular late night talk show host who gets shunted into prime time and wreaks his vengeance by killing the entire network.
B. Twitterformers, Michael Bay‘s 144-character masterpiece that lasted three-hours and took $225 million to make.
C. The Gate Crashers, the comedy about a ditsy blonde and her bumbling escort who crash a state dinner but end up joining the cabinet after brokering a deal to get the president’s healthcare reform bill passed.

BeckCrying_1f6ab9. The most popular iPhone app was:
A. Humidity Report, which tells you the dew point, barometric pressure, and when Glenn Beck is about to cry.
B. Goldslice, which tells you how much of any transaction would end up as part of a Goldman Sachs’ banker’s bonus.
C. Google Hookup, the new service that tracks who has ever slept with whom.

10. The public’s favorite new Federal initiative is:
A. Cash for Freeloaders, in which no-longer productive family members can be traded-in for hard-working, appreciative, apparently legal immigrants
B. The deficit-conscious second phases of the Stimulus/Healthcare Reform Programs, in which every American received a tube of lip balm and three free iTune downloads
C. Sin-o-mite! Bilingual translation of street signs, government forms and financial documents into Chinese eased America’s return to colonial status.

DAVID LEVINE, 1926-2009

levlbj levKissinger_David_LevineDavid Levine, the peerless caricaturist, died yesterday at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Here’s Bruce Weber, writing in the Times:

levbuckDavid Levine, whose macro-headed, somberly expressive, astringently probing and hardly ever flattering caricatures of intellectuals and athletes, politicians and potentates were the visual trademark of The New York Review of Books for nearly half a century, died Tuesday in Manhattan. . . . Mr. Levine’s drawings never seemed whimsical, like those of Al Hirschfeld. They didn’t celebrate neurotic self-consciousness, like Jules Feiffer’s. He wasn’t attracted to the macabre, the way Edward Gorey was. His work didn’t possess the arch social consciousness of Edward Sorel’s. Nor was he interested, as Roz Chast is, in the levupdike3humorous absurdity of quotidian modern life. But in both style and mood, Mr. Levine was as distinct an artist and commentator as any of his well-known contemporaries. His work was not only witty but serious, not only biting but deeply informed, and artful in a painterly sense as well as a literate one; he was, in fact, beyond his pen and ink drawings, an accomplished painter. Those qualities led many to suggest that he was the heir of the 19th-century masters of the illustration, Honoré Daumier and Thomas Nast.

Especially in his political work, his portraits betrayed the mind of an artist concerned, worriedly concerned, about the world in which he lived. Among his most famous images were those of Levinenix2President Lyndon B. Johnson pulling up his shirt to reveal that the scar from his gallbladder operation was in the precise shape of the boundaries of Vietnam, and of Henry Kissinger having sex on the couch with a female body whose head was in the shape of a globe, depicting, Mr. Levine explained later, what Mr. Kissinger had done to the world. He drew Richard M. Nixon, his favorite subject, 66 times. . . .With those images and others — Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon in a David-and-Goliath parable; or Alan Greenspan, with scales of justice, balancing people and dollar bills, hanging from his downturned lips; or Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. carrying a gavel the size of a sledgehammer — Mr. Levine’s drawings sent out angry distress signals that the world was too much a puppet in the hands of too few puppeteers. “I would say that political satire saved the nation from going to hell,” he said in an interview in 2008. . . . Even when he wasn’t out to make a political point, however, his portraits — often densely inked, heavy in shadows cast by outsize noses on enormous,levObama y McCain, vistos por David Levine eccentrically shaped heads, and replete with exaggeratedly bad haircuts, 5 o’clock shadows, ill-conceived mustaches and other grooming foibles — tended to make the famous seem peculiar-looking in order to take them down a peg. “They were extraordinary drawings with extraordinary perception,” Jules Feiffer said in a recent interview about the work of Mr. Levine, who was his friend. He added: “In the second half of the 20th century he was the most important political caricaturist. When he began, there was very little political caricature, very little literary caricature. He revived the art.”

AVATAR! IMAX! 3D!

DSCN1213Yesterday my sister Rose Marie drove up from Maryland for a post-Christmas visit. We had a very fine time, playing Guitar Hero, looking at some of dad’s old slides, continuing our holiday of overeating at Mughal Palace in Hawthorne, and going to the late show of Avatar in 3D at the City Center Imax in White Plains. I don’t know what this visually and aurally stunning film would be like on an ordinary big screen or in two mere Ds, but I’m awfully glad to have seen it with all bells and whistles attached and deployed.

DOMINICK’S

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We had a swell time the day after Christmas by hydroplaning down to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and joining the gang for dinner at Dominick’s. The always-crowded family style restaurant DSCN1202DSCN1203DSCN1205DSCN1207DSCN1208DSCN1209had long been one of favorite haunts, and though Ginny and I had not eaten there for ten years or so, we had spent many a happy evening there in the company of Anni and Greg Montaneno, Jim Noonan, Tom Manning, Mary McCartney, Holly Brubach and other friends. It was still fun. I had baked clams oregenata and flounder francese, but I should have had the veal.

PT 1-0-WHOA!

1227_jfk_boat_tmz_01_lrg_ex

TMZ has posted this photo purportedly showing JFK on a boat full of naked women. The article details how TMZ received verification from photo experts who conformed that the print was made on paper consistent with the late fifties, that the damage to the print was consistent with processes of the day, that there are no signs of fabrication; and that the likeness of Kennedy, such as it is, is quite consistent with known images. I am not an expert, but I simply don’t believe it. It’s too perfect. No signs of blur in the girl jumping overboard? Kennedy in a swimsuit, while all the girls are nude? It’s just too perfect.

CHRISTMAS CHARADE-A-BRATION

The usual Christmas Eve gang evidenced some new tricks the home of Cathy Gallagher and Tim Hart, pulling out the old chestnut, charades. Smooth Criminal. Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb. Avatar. The Audacity of Hope. Going Rogue. Tiger Woods. Up. Smiles all around.
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UP: Greg and Susan; Jo and Ginny; DOWN: elements of the Top Hat team; the Santa Hats plot
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UP: Will and Greg, distracted; all eyes fixed; DOWN: Tim and Cathy celebrate; Cara is amused
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UP: Top Hats transfixed; Cathy and Marly; DOWN: Greg: Little word; Ginny: Two words
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UP: Dave has the floor; Jo’s game face; DOWN: Molly delivers; Margaret presides
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UP: Happy Cara; Susan rules; DOWN: Looking feztive; the youth of America
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MERRY CHRISTMAS, TO AND FROM HANK STUEVER

Stuever.TinselShowing how sometimes shockingly ignorant I am, I had never heard of Hank Stuever until The Washington Monthly asked me to review his new book, Tinsel. It turns out that Stuever is a very popular writer for The Washington Post, and that Tinsel is, and here I quote myself, “a stylishly written and often delightful book.” You can read the entire review here; Stuever did, and he had this nice thing to say about the review on his blog: “Jamie Malanowski has this hilarious and intelligent review . . . .He thinks I pulled back where the book most needed more knife. I go back and forth on that, but my favorite reviews are the ones that make me think, doubt, reconsider.” Here’s to Hank, a good writer who takes his criticisms like a man! Now that I’ve caught up to the rest of the world about the talented Stuever, here’s hoping that one day we cross paths.

DID OSAMA TRY TO KILL BILL CLINTON?

bill-clintonAccording to a new book by a professor at Duquesne University Law School, Osama bin Laden tried to assassinate President Bill Clinton during a 1996 visit to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the Philippines. This is something of a scoop, for although Ramzi Yousef confessed to plotting the assassination of Clinton in the Philippines in 1994–a plot that he said he abandoned because of tight security–and although Khalid Sheik Muhammed included a plot to kill Clinton during the 1996 visit among his confessions, this is the first published account that makes it seem that Clinton had something of a narrow escape.

The story appears in The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr, by Ken Gormley, a thoroughly researched retelling of the investigations into Clinton’s finances and sexual habits Osama bin Laden.jpg-for-web-largethat will be published in February. In the book, Gormley recounts a story told to him by Louis Merletti, the former director of the Secret Service. During the 1996 visit, Clinton was scheduled to visit a Filipino politician. The route he was to take required him to cross a bridge in downtown Manila. As the motorcade was about to depart, Merletti received “a crackly message in one earpiece” informing him that intelligence operatives had picked up a transmission that used the words ‘bridge’ and ‘wedding’ in the same sentence. Since ‘wedding’ was known to be a code word for assassination, Merletti ordered that the motorcade be re-routed. An intelligence team then discovered that a bomb had been planted under the bridge. No estimate is given in the passage for how soon the motorcade would have crossed the bridge, but the implication is that the bridge was not far away. (Oddly, David Sanger, covering the trip for The New York Times, wrote in almost as an afterthought to a dispatch that authorities had uncovered two bombs– “one in the passenger terminal of Manila’s airport and another at Subic deathvirtueBay, the former American naval base where the 18 leaders will meet on Monday.” Could this have been the bomb at the bridge? If not, it’s wild to think that three bombs had been planted. Sanger mentioned the bombs within the context of a still-active communist insurgency in the Philippines, and said that authorities were investigating.

“The thwarted assassination attempt was never made public,” writes Gormley. “It remained top secret except to select members of the U.S. intelligence community. The American government’s subsequent investigation of this plot to kill Clinton, however, revealed that it had been masterminded by a Saudi terrorist living in Afghanistan–a man named Osama bin Laden.”

If Merletti’s account is correct, this raises a number of interesting questions:

Why is this the first time we are hearing of this?

Why did Clinton not reveal that he was a target of this attack? Surely the incident, in combination with the embassy bombings and other attacks, could have helped create the basis for a vigorous response. In particular, why was this plot still a secret as late as 1998, when Clinton’s presidency was in jeopardy, and especially in August 1998, when the missile attacks he ordered on al Qaeda training bases were suspected of being a Wag the Dog-type ploy designed to deflect attention from his legal problems?

Most importantly, how does this change our view of the low priority the Bush administration placed on responding to the al Qaeda threat prior to September 11, 2001? After all, the Bush administration has been largely been given a pass for its failure to thwart the attacks, for after all, no one could have predicted that terrorists would hijack planes and fly them into buildings. But now we see al Qaeda, in addition to the embassy bombings, the attack on the Cole, and the thwarted airport plot in 2000, had actually attempted to assassinate an American president. “Chatter,” we’ve been told, was high throughout the month of August; shouldn’t security apparatus been placed on a higher level of alert?

THE LAUGHABLE, TRAGIC HOWARD DEAN

howard-deanAnd so now, after months of tedious, tendentious argument, after riotous town meetings and the hysteria over non-existent death squads, after the Palin moment and the Lieberman moment, passage of historic legislation a hair’s breadth away, and here comes Howard Dean to say that the whole thing isn’t worth a damn thing. Bag it, says Governor Doctor Chairman Dean on every cable news program that will have him. Let’s start the whole thing over.

This raises an interesting question: is Howard Dean a comic figure or a tragic figure? Certainly it’s easy to see the comedy: imagine National Lampoon’s Washington Vacation, with Barack Obama in the role of Clark Griswold. Clark has, after hilariously strenuous effort, packed up the car, the kids, the dog, and is about to back out of the driveway when along comes the well-meaning neighbor Howard, to tell Clark how he’s packed the car all wrong, how he should have used a slipknot instead of a granny knot to tie up the bags, how putting the American Tourister on top of the wife’s overnight bag is going to squash everything, and how giving the kids a snack of pretzels is just going to make them thirsty and that’s eventually going to pay off in more time-wasting rest stops. And what makes him sonational_lampoon infuriating is that he’s right. Or rightish. Or only possibly right. Or he’s wrong, but now the wife has doubts.

So we have to say that Howard Dean is good for a laugh. But Dean is also a tragic figure, too, because he’s one of those seriously brilliant men with seriously limited political skills. These are men who always have an answer and who are positive not just of its correctness but of its absolute brilliance, and who cannot help themselves from letting you know that no answer is better than theirs. These are men (and I don’t know why, but we seem to get more versions of this man from New England than from anywhere else–Tsongas, Dukakis, Kerrey, Dean) who lack basic political intelligence. They cannot see that half a loaf is better than none, or that the best is the enemy of the good, or that you can accomplish a lot if you don’t mind who gets the credit.

Or that Rome wasn’t built in a day. None of the great federal programs arrived fully formed. They all had holes and contradictions, and they were all amended and expanded and modified and improved. Somehow that’s not good enough for the smartest guy in the room.

Want to know how dumb the smartest guy in the room is? Today on Morning Joe, he said that the administration should bag this proposal and start over. Imagine–the administration that has taken health care reform deeper though the process than any predecessor since Truman should bag it and start over. Scarborough doubted that the adminstration could go back to the issue. “Sure they will,” Dean said. “It’s a crisis.”

Yes, Mr. Governor Doctor Chairman, it’s a crisis. Which is why someone who is truly smart and not just egotistical would shut up and get with the program.