ZOO BE ZOO BE ZOO!

The fifth season of Mad Men got off to a fast start, and although a lot was happening, the episode will likely go down as the `Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo’ episode, after the song that Jessica, Don’s young wife, performed for him at the birthday party she threw for him.

As Lauren Streib reports in The Daily Beast, the song is actually called `Zou Bisou Bisou’. “The original version was recorded by Gillian Hills, a Brigitte Bardot lookalike who found fame as a French yé-yé girl—one of a handful of young, female European singers who catapulted yé-yé music into an international movement, popular among teens during the era. (“Yé-yé” refers to exclamations of “yeah yeah!” during rock and roll.) Roughly translated, “zou” is a casual exclamation and “bisou” is a sweet kiss—a peck on the cheek to say hello and goodbye. So the lyrics hash out to: Oh! Kiss kiss / My God, they are sweet! / …Oh! Kiss kiss / the sound of kisses /…Oh! Kiss kiss /…That means, I confess / But yes, I love only you!”

The song was performed by Sophia Loren in the 1960 film The Millionairess, co-starring Peter Sellers. “Loren sang an English version, Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo. Loren’s version uses the same tune, but the lyrics and delivery swell with a bit more sophistication. The movie was a hit in the U.K., though the American response was lukewarm.”

LEVON!

I was thrilled to once again catch The Levon Helm Band on Friday night at the Tarrytown Music Hall. I love this band. Larry Campbell sang “Wheels on ire” in his manly baritone, played the fiddle, and did an amazing guitar solo on “The Genetic Method” that led into “Chest Fever.” Very exciting. Teresa Williams and Brian Mitchell had amazing moments, as did Amy Helm, Jim Weider and of course, Levon Helm, a national treasure. I especially liked the way Teresa sang “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” “Ophelia,”and the way the band just killed on “Chest Fever.”

THE SEXIST HYPOCRISY OF BILL MAHER

I was sorry to see that on Wednesday The New York Times Op-Ed page turned over a third of its precious acreage to Bill Maher so that he could offer some self-serving drivel about how America needs to be more accepting of dumb, vaguely insulting jokes.

At least that what he seemed to be saying. He led off referring to a lame joke that Robert DeNiro made at an Obama fundraiser about whether America is ready for a white First Lady, which caused professional mischief-maker Newt Gingrich to pause in his brilliant parody of a political campaign to demand that President Obama offer an apology. DeNiro tugged his forelock and everything was set to be forgotten when Maher chose to spotlight the event as Exhibit A in his campaign against Excessive Touchiness.

“When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like? In the last year, we’ve been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliché for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up? ‘’

Surely I can’t; I wouldn’t pass the final if these questions were on Intro to Contretemps 101. But this appeal to reason was hardly Maher’s true agenda. Maher was camouflauing himself amid these minor offenders because just a couple of weeks ago, after Rush Limbaugh was roundly and soundly rebuked for his nasty and misogynistic vilification of the Georgetown Law school student Sandra Fluke, Maher found himself dragged up on similar charges. In the Daily Beast, Kirsten Powers cataloged the painfully large number of insults that supposedly liberal commentators used against women who happened to hold views different than their own. Among those she cited: Ed Schultz calling Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on MSNBC ; Keith Olbermann saying on MSNBC that Michelle Malkin was “a mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick’’; Chris Matthews, again on MSNBC, calling Hilary Clinton at various times a “she-devil,” “Nurse Ratched,” “Madame Defarge”, “witchy,” “anti-male,” and “uppity”; and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, who wrote in his blog, “When I read [Malkin’s] stuff, I imagine her narrating her text, book-on-tape style, with a big, hairy set of balls in her mouth.”

“But the grand pooh-bah of media misogyny,’’ wrote Powers, “is without a doubt Bill Maher—who also happens to be a favorite of liberals—who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. Maher has called Sarh Palin a “dumb twat” and “a cunt.’’ He called Palin and Michelle Bachmann “MILFs’’–“Morons I’d Like to Forget.’’

As is now all too obvious, Maher didn’t write the article because he was concerned about people being too insensitive; it’s because being a pig and a boor is a big part of his act, and he’s probably worried that if too many people start to call him on it, he’ll lose his HBO gig and find himself back in front of a brick wall at Mr. Laffs saying “Hey, tell me—what’s with chicks and shoes?’’

“I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone,’’ writes Maher. “If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything. . . ‘’

Is that what Maher is doing when he calls Palin a cunt? Being a little rough-edged? Supplying a little color? Emotion? I know it’s not spontaneity. Every one of those witless insults is measured for effect, calculated to get the meatheads in the audience to go “Woooooo!’’

These remarks are not clever, or witty, or even very entertaining, and certainly not brave. They’re just markers, a way Maher tells the audience that he and they are alike because none of them likes Palin, except that he’s a bigger truth-teller, because he’s willing to be bolder, more irreverent, and more obscene.

In fact, all he’s doing is being a pig. He may as well oink at his audience, and let them squeal at him in return. He may as well run as advertisement that says “I can’t help it if I’m not as smart as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.”

Maker may contend that he treats men just as harshly as women, but he’s smart enough to recognize the weakness of that argument. Men are not laboring under the effects of centuries of discrimination and worse. He wouldn’t use words like nigger and kike, and for the same reasons, he shouldn’t use cunt or slut or twat. These words cut more deeply than we can see. A 2010 study showed that calling a female candidate such sexist names as “ice queen” and “mean girl” significantly undercut her political standing, and did much more harm than gender-neutral criticism based solely on her policy positions and actions. “Harder-edged attacks, such as referring to her as a prostitute, were equally damaging among voters,’’ reported USA Today. “The female candidate lost twice as much support when even the mild sexist language was added to the attack. Support for her initially measured at 43% fell to 33% after the policy-based attacks but to 21% after the sexist taunts.’’ The study showed that the drop was significant among both men and women, those under 50 and over 50, and those with college educations and without. “The sexist language undermined favorable perceptions of the female candidate, leading voters to view her as less empathetic, trustworthy and effective.’’

Maher says he doesn’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. I don’t think he’s in any real danger of that. What I don’t want is to live in a country where my wife or my daughters or my friends could stand up and speak their minds, and be slagged as a slut or a cunt by nitwits like Limbaugh or Maher. This isn’t Afghanistan or Iran. Women shouldn’t be ridiculed and degraded for speaking their minds.

Maher’s on HBO, so his piggery can’t cost him advertisers. But what it ought to cost him is the approval of free-thinking people. So here’s my question. It’s for Charles Blow Arianna Huffington Alexandra Pelosi, Andrew Sullivan, Russ Feingold, James Carville, Ross Douthat, Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Heilemann ,Eliot Spitzer, Al Sharpton Bill Moyers, Jennifer Granholm, Chris Matthews and all the other leaders who have been on guests on Maher’s program. Is whatever you’re selling so important that you will perfume Maher’s stench with your presence on his stage?

MEANWHILE, IN SCHOOLS IN BEIJING. . .

In an amazing story in The Huffington Post the other day, Laura Hibbard reported that fourth graders at the James A. Jackson Elementary School in Jonesboro GA were assigned a math problem referencing slavery. “A plantation owner had 100 slaves,” the question read, according to the station. “If three-fifths of them are counted for representation, how many slaves will be counted?” Reports Hibbard, “A school spokesperson said the question was meant to educate students on both social studies and math, and that the teacher would not be punished.”

What’s astonishing is that in January, students at Beaver Ridge Elementary School in Norcross GA were assigned word problems referencing slavery.

“Each tree had 56 oranges,” one question read. “If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

A second question read “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

Georgia’s Schools: Preparing today’s youth for the challenges of tomorrow.

LUBRICATE YOURSELF, WEEKLY STANDARD!

A writer named Daniel Halper at the conservative Weekly Standard, a publication that brooks no impediment in its reflexive rush to insult the administration, has reported on the publication’s blog that earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden took the occasion of an official White House reception for the Irish Prime Minister Edna Kelly to publicly tell “a dirty joke.” Well, this seemed ridiculous on its face, since Joe is a 69 year-old Irish Catholic gentleman who generally knows how to behave in public. And sure enough, here is what Joe actually said:

“You know there’s and old Irish saying–there’s all kinds of old Irish sayings. (Laughter.) At least my Grandfather Finnegan, I think he made them up, but it says, may the hinges of our friendship never go rusty. Well, with these two folks that you’re about to meet, if you haven’t already, there’s no doubt about them staying oiled and lubricated here. Ladies and gentlemen — (laughter) — now, for you who are not full Irish in this room, lubricating has a different meaning for us all.”

There’s the line Halper thinks is a dirty joke: “Lubricating has a different meaning for us all.”

Well, lubricating may have a lot of meanings, but the Oxford English Dictionary offers only three. The first is to “apply a substance such as oil or grease to (an engine or component) to minimize friction and allow smooth movement: remove the nut and lubricate the thread.” The second is to “make (a process) run smoothly: the availability of credit lubricated the channels of trade.” The third is “informal, to make (someone) convivial, especially with alcohol: men lubricated with alcohol speak their true feelings.” Drinking. Biden was talking about drinking. He was meeting some Irish people, and he saw an opportunity to bring up a cliched and by now faintly insulting stereotype about the Irish and drinking. But to leap to the idea that he is referring to something sexual?

I think there are two ways to interpret this story. One is that Biden made a glancing sexual reference at a White House function for the female prime minister of Ireland. The other is that Daniel Halper has told us entirely too much about the contents of his night table.

THE MEAN MISTER RYAN

As Dana Milbank summarizes in today’s Washington Post, the proposed budget from Rep. Paul Ryan “would cut $770 billion over 10 years from Medicaid and other health programs for the poor, compared with President Obama’s budget. He takes an additional $205 billion from Medicare, $1.6 trillion from the Obama health-care legislation and $1.9 trillion from a category simply labeled “other mandatory.” Pressed to explain this magic asterisk, Ryan allowed that the bulk of those “other mandatory” cuts come from food stamps, welfare, federal employee pensions and support for farmers. Taken together, Ryan would cut spending on such programs by $5.3 trillion. . . .he would then give that money to America’s haves: some $4.3 trillion in tax cuts, compared with current policies, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.”

Ryan explained his approach at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday. The US is at an “insidious moral tipping point, and I think the president is accelerating this,” where too many Americans are receiving more from the government than they pay in taxes. He said that a generous safety net “lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives. It’s demeaning.” He expressed admiration for people who “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Poverty is a damned difficult problem, but any public official who diagnoses the problem by saying that the poor don’t have incentives to work is an ignoramus.

It’s going to be interesting to see if this proposal is embraced by Mitt “I Don’t Care About the Very Poor” Romney.

In the meantime, here are some stats that Steve Rattner discussed on Morning Joe last week. The first shows the percentage of added wealth–new income, increased wealth–went to the Top 1%:

1994-2000 45%
2001-2002 57%
2003-2007 65%
2008-2009 49%
2010 93%

And of that 93%, 37% of it went to the top .01%–approximately 15,000 households.

Rattner broke these numbers down further. In 2010, the bottom 99% had an average income of $41,777, and got a 2% increase in income, worth $80. The Top 1% had an average income of $1,019,089, and got an 11.6% raise, worth $105,637. The top .01% had an average income of $23,846,950, and received an increase of 21.5%, worth $4,215,743. Now that’s how to lift yourself up by your boot straps!

And Ryan wants to give these people a tax cut, and pay for it on the backs of the shiftless, lazy, complacent poor.

THERE OUGHTTA BE A LAW

“There has always been something uniquely brilliant about America,” said Mitt Romney at the University of Chicago yesterday. “I don’t believe this president understands this fundamental secret of America. And day by day, job-killing regulation by regulation, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, he is crushing the dream and the dreamers. If we continue along this path, our lives will be ruled by bureaucrats and boards, and commissions and czars.”

When I hear Romney and other Republicans and other businessmen complain about regulation, I am reminded of the first two minutes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. where the outlaw Butch Cassidy cases out a bank to rob, and finds, to his sorrow and dismay, that once vulnerable bank has become fortified with locks, vaults, alarms and a guard, who explains why he was hired by the bank. “People kept robbing it.” he tells the thief.

Think about that. Who complains about laws? Outlaws!

“Regulation erodes our freedom,” says Romney. Yes–our freedom to rob, steal, defraud and scam.

Now wonder people say that Romney is not a conservative. He’s not. He’s an anarchist.

It’s pretty rich for Romney to complain about how regulation hampers the economy. We have just finished more than three decades worth of financial deregulation, and as much as anything, it was the elimination of conservative regulations and business practices that led to the mortgage fraud, the over-leveraging, the hidden markets in derivatives and so on that brought on and accelerated the financial collapse. The problem that has hampered our economy for the last four-plus years is a function not of regulation, but specifically of deregulation.

At one point in his speech, Romney hearkened back to America’s innovative past. “A regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their ‘dust pollution.’ And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, they just did.” Here he was speaking of new regulations that mandating new minimum performance of light bulbs. Well, for one thing, I’m sorry if the Wright Brothers would have been shut down, but I thought we all kind of agreed that health and safety standards were a good thing for workers; if Romney wants to run on a pro-black lung, pro-brown platform, well, I think he will have at long last found a position Rick Santorum can’t get to the right of. For a second thing, I doubt any inspector would have banned Edison’s light bulb for failing to meet an efficiency standard, given that Edison was establishing the efficiency standard. But is he against efficiency standards? How competitive would America’s car companies be if they were still producing the eight miles-per-hour Oldsmobile Toranado?

Nobody likes regulation. Anyone who has stood in an airport security line since 9/11 and thrown away a shampoo bottle understands how annoying regulation can be. Anyone who has put an addition on his house and dealt with local planning boards knows about dictatorial bureaucrats. We absolutely should get rid of stupid regulations, and it should be mandated that at least once a decade, every agency should audit its regulations with an eye towards eliminating and streamlining rules and procedures . The problem is that Romney and his ilk seldom point to actual stupid regulations. In this speech, he named an Idaho couple named Mike and Chantell Sackett who have run afoul of the EPA after making good-faith efforts to comply with the law (see this article). Well, if the EPA is in the wrong, it needs to be stopped; agencies needs to live within the rules, too. My friend Joe Plumeri, the head of the international insurance brokerage Willis Holdings, has pointed out how much his company spends complying with fifty different state insurance regulators, instead of one set of national regulations. That seems to be an excellent example of the pointless cost of over-regulation.

You want to complain to me about a specific regulation and why it should be changed or repealed? I’m all ears. You want to complain about how regulation hurts the economy? I’ll tell you to go talk to the people who invested in or worked at Enron or AIG or Lehman Brothers. I wonder how they feel about regulation.

AND THE WAR CAME. . .TO PLEASANTVILLE

Many thanks to The Group, who invited me to come speak about And the War Came at their monthly meeting last Friday at the Mt. Pleasant library in Pleasantville. The very attentive audience asked a lot of good questions, and I am very grateful for the chance to come and talk about the origins of the Civil War. As usual, the anecdote about Lt. Greene stabbing John Brown with too small a sword got the biggest laugh, (If you don’t know this anecdote, you need to invite me to come speak about the origins of the Civil War before your group!) Many thanks to Peter Eschweiler, the Group’s program chairman, for inviting me.

A COUSIN AND CONEY ISLAND

I had a great time on Monday when I spent the day with my cousin Theresa Beckemeyer. Theresa is an artist who lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband Bob; their three sons are up and out, working in New York, San Francisco and Denver. Apart from a short visit after my Dad’s funeral, I hadn’t seen her since we were teenagers. However, a few years ago, we began an occasional correspondence, and last week she was thoughtful enough to let me know that she was coming to New York to visit her son, and so we got to spend some time together. Living in the high country, Theresa has missed the sea, so we spent part of a gorgeous day walking the waterline at Coney Island, and then later, strolling up and down Brighton Beach Avenue. It was a lot of fun to catch up. She has a pretty great smile, doesn’t she? I like her art, too; to check it out, click here.

“SINK THAT DAMN SHIP!”

Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack, the world’s first battle between ironclad ships. “You can see surprise in a ship just as you can see it in a man, and there was surprise all over the Merrimack,’’ one sailor said when the smaller Monitor emerged from behind a crippled frigate and prepared to take on the bigger, more heavily-gunned Merrimack. To read my article in today’s New York Times, click here.