This is the second part of the Half Year In Review. See the first part here, 2010 Half Year In Review.
LeLoser Of The Half-Year, LeBron James: You had it all. You were the hometown boy bringing the local team to the cusp of NBA glory and immortality. You were so beloved even President Obama said he was you: “I’m LeBron, baby! I got this.”
But then you quit. You bailed on your Cleveland Cavaliers when the going got tough against the Celtics in the playoffs. Then you deserted them for good in free agency a few weeks later. The irony is your Cavaliers were arguably the best team in the league last year. Everyone just got hurt, including your own elbow—now closing in on 17,000 followers on Twitter. (http://twitter.com/lebronselbow) But you didn’t just bail on your home-state, you opted to dump Ohio on the grandest stage possible. You arranged an ESPN made-for-TV event dubbed “The Decision” to announce you would be “taking [your] talents to the South Beach”.
Admit it. You were afraid you’d be another Kevin Garnett. A.k.a. a freakish, high-school-straight-to-the-pros prodigy who let his prime years go to waste for an also-ran team in the Midwest. You panicked about the rings. Jordan won 6. Kobe now has 5. DWade, 1. You have 0.
And LeBacklash began. You, with the Akron area code inked on your arm had to flee your own state. Cleveland fans are burning your jersey. There’s now even a beer named after you. Great Lakes Brewing Co. created “Quitness”, a dry hopped India pale ale that leaves an appropriately bitter aftertaste. The most recent batch sold out in three hours—almost as quickly as LeBron did.
#5: Snoop Dogg: To film your latest music video, you just tried to rent Liechtenstein. () As in an entire sovereign country. Smoke more weed, Snoop Dogg. Seriously. Smoke more weed.
#6 Glenn Beck: You’ve cried away 50% your audience. News Corp. Inc has had to buy up over half of your ad spots after you called President Obama a Nazi. And Jon Stewart skewered you in one of the most pitch-perfect impersonations ever.
#7 President Obama: The man heralded as the most promising politician since Robert F. Kennedy is starting to look a lot like… Black Cinderella.
The President misread his sweeping 2008 election as a mandate for federal activism. Except Americans didn’t want a more involved government. They just didn’t want George W. Bush, or 95% of him in John McCain. And yes, Obama got a little caught up in the “Change” election fever. Lobbyists not only stock his administration, but remember the iconic Hope poster than captured the nation’s imagination in 2008? It was sold to a museum by two lobbyists and is now a work of satire.
Yes, Obama dithers. Save for health-care reform, the cerebral Professor-In-Chief doesn’t have his Cheerleader-In-Chief predecessor’s brazen gung ho to just ram legislation through. Obama holds office hours, not pep rallies. Obama’s Afghanistan decision took painfully long and isn’t working. His response to the Gulf Oil Leak has been judged worse than President George “Brownie’s doing a heckuva job” W. Bush’s to Hurricane Katrina. For the first time, less than half the country approves of President Obama. But the clock hasn’t struck midnight on Black Cinderella.
Don’t tell the former half-term-Governor-from-Alaska-turned-Wannabe-White-Oprah but President Obama’s tanking approval ratings mirror those of her idol—Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, President Obama is an outside-the-Beltway, eloquent President who inherited the office in a time of dire economic conditions and war. Like Reagan, President Obama is liked more for his personality than his actual policies.
Spoiler Alert I: Reagan’s popularity plummeted to a low of 42 percent in 1982, and Republicans lost 26 seats in the House of Representatives in the mid-term election. Spoiler Alert II: The economy recovered. President Reagan went on to land-slide the 1984 re-election bid and became one of the most popular presidents in recent memory.
Dishonorable Mention: Baltimore Orioles, Europe, The French World Cup Team, “Girls Busch Girls” (The ladies’ ridiculously lame rebuttal to “Bros Icing Bros”), “Jersey Shore 2” (I’m calling it now), Jesse James (REAAALLY? You’re married to Sandra Bullock!), Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus (The tail-spin Britney Spears trajectory begins), and Tiger Woods.
And Finally The Getting Beer Fail Of The Half-Year: True, this incident occurred last October, but something tells me this fella still can’t tell the difference:
Republished from ProseBeforeHos: The 7 Biggest Losers Of The Half-Year
Looks like Amazon took the other products from the Jon and Kate Plus Ei8ht: The Complete Season 4 page. But what might be even better are the customer tags on the product page for Season 4: Volume 1:
I don’t disagree with one of those tags.
We threw everything at it. Trash, dog hair, “containment domes.” We even called in Kevin Costner’s goofy ping-pong ball machine. But the oil kept on gushing. Only BP’s lies could keep up. BP first reported 210,000 gallons were spurting out a day, if that. The latest estimate is between 1.5 and 2.5 million gallons were leaking into the Gulf. (Or one 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe every 4-7 days.) We are holding our breath that BP finally capped the leak last Thursday, but you’ll understand if we’re still a tad skeptical.
“The Half-Yearish In Review: Part 2” premieres Thursday, featuring The Biggest Losers Of 2010. (NBC, take a bow.)
A Marine scribbled the following on a whiteboard at the US military base in Ramadi, Iraq:
We almost don’t deserve our troops. As audaciously as they have served our country, we are nearly as oblivious to their sacrifice. Two-thirds of Americans cannot find Afghanistan or Iraq on a map. Much of the insulation is by government design. There is no draft today. The press was banned from covering incoming coffin ceremonies.
Unfortunately, war has become ambient noise for many Americans. It’s on in the background. A marketplace bombing in Baghdad. A suicide bomber in Peshawar. Quick clips delivered by solemn CNN or Fox News anchors before getting back to the “real news”: Octomom or Miley Cyrus’ Britney Spears-like trajectory. It’s a media Catch 22 of sorts. Call it escapist, but the networks only broadcast what the viewers want to see. And this summer, viewers want sneak-peeks for “Predators”, the movie, not the unmanned drones errantly gunning down Afghan civilians. The networks couldn’t force viewers to watch and, with Great Recession-induced shrinking bottom lines, they largely stopped trying.
The War on Terror is still too close for comfort for Hollywood. “Jarhead” and Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” came the closest in depicting the realities of modern war. The films depict testosterone-laden twenty-something males enduring weeks of stifling boredom, depression, and themselves for split seconds of combat. Perhaps the War On Terror’s most iconic satire will be the South Park Guys’ “Team America: World Police” anthem “America F— Yeah!”, lampooning the Bush Era’s rock ‘em sock ‘em, in-your-face war patriotism:
Thanks, in part, to American public apathy, Afghanistan will be the longest war in American history. Iraq, the 3rd longest. This is not a tribute to the resolve of our foes, but their cowardice. The Taliban slink back to their caves or schools to escape head-to-head battle with the most valiant, best-trained fighting force of all time. Historians point out its an insurgency 360 degrees since American Revolutionaries gunned down British Redcoats behind rocks walls at Concord and Lexington. The difference is two-fold: 1) The American Revolutionaries never used innocent women and children as human shields. 2) America fought to escape despotism in the name of Enlightenment, not to restore it and the Dark Ages. The British formations were an anachronism in the face of America’s guerrilla warfare. 230 years later, America’s massive M1 Abrams tanks are of little use in the snow-capped peaks of eastern Afghanistan and Waziristan.
The Twilight Of The American Empire
The longevity of Empires is declining. The Roman Empire spanned 1200 years. The British Empire is eking out a half millennium. America turned 234 years old this July, and the cracks are showing. Rome turned the Mediterranean into its own lake. The sun never set on the British Empire. And America turned the world into its TV room.
Alexander the Great’s dad King Philip II of Macedon conquered Greece. Rome was done in by a) Christianity, if you ask Edward Gibbons; b) lead pipes poisoning Rome’s aristocracy; c) and/or imperial overreach and Nero-esque decadence. World War II bankrupted the British Empire of her war chest and colonies. I know not how the American Empire will end. I don’t know whether our demise will be by mushroom cloud, asteroid, or the Red Army. But I know one day our day will inevitably come. I simply hope when all is said and done, history will remember America as a Superpower that used its right to make might. Not the other way around.
The great American inventor Thomas Edison brought light to the world, literally. And America tried its best (however imperfectly) to bring light to the world, figuratively as well. Modern human history has been paved by the upward-trending path to equality and tolerance. The United State has borne this load on her broad shoulders over much of the last century, in the face of some of the fiercest dictators and loathsome weapons the world has ever seen.
Ancient Greece’s philosophy and drama laid the bedrock for Western humanities and thought. Ancient Rome cobbled together the Known World with its engineering prowess. America will be remembered for her technological ingenuity. From electricity to putting a man on the moon, America, more than any other power, enjoyed the fruits and Apple of the exponential part of humanity’s technology curve. Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs will be her answer to Greece’s Archimedes and Aristotle. Martin Luther King Jr., our oratorical rebuttal to Cicero.
No matter how the dust settles, America’s unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will stand the test of time as unconscionably right and just. Now, the American Empire wasn’t the most progressive of global powers. Winston Churchill once teased, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else. “ She lagged generations behind her older European siblings on social issues (see: Slavery, Universal Suffrage, Civil Rights, and now Gay Marriage). But when she made up her mind, America knew with such a conviction and bulldog tenacity the world had never seen before.
If a serviceman didn’t see my grandfather in the engine room at exactly that moment, he would have sealed the hatch. Fred didn’t know who pulled him out, but he was the last man out of the engine room. He spent three days alone in a life raft under the blistering South Pacific sun with a gashed neck. Tiger sharks circled below, Japanese Zero planes, above. But Fred had a dream. He would get off that life raft. He would get back to Western Massachusetts, marry his sweet-heart, and build a big family house with his own bare hands. A big comfy one for kids and, later on, maybe their kids, too.
And that’s exactly what my Grandfather did.
For the previous entry, please see War & Pizza Hut: Volume 1
My “uncle” would not go to Vietnam. Some of his friends fled to Canada. Others loped off part of their trigger fingers. He settled on a less permanent escape. The night before his Army evaluation he chugged coffee and pounded bars of butter. When he showed up the next morning, the tester gasped at his blood pressure readings. Normal blood pressure is 120/80, but he racked up 100/150. He was a miracle to be alive, let alone fight in a war half across the globe.
Vietnam was the ignominious chapter when the American Empire got its dark streak. Man fought machine and man, unfortunately, won. If JFK’s assassination was when America lost its innocence at home, Vietnam was when America lost its innocence abroad. (see: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964). Now, it wasn’t the first time the U.S. started a war under false pretenses (American Indian Wars, Mexican War, Spanish-American War) or the last (Iraq), but it was the first time America picked a fight and lost. And 58,159 of America’s finest paid the ultimate sacrifice. 58,159 sons, brothers, and fathers died because President Johnson couldn’t admit he was wrong.
American artists painted some of the country’s most vivid artwork against this murky canvas of imperialism and government deceit. Filmmakers and musicians fearlessly plunged into America’s throbbing wound and plucked out some of the rawest artwork the nation has ever seen it. Vietnam inspired the greatest war soundtrack (“American Woman” by The Guess Who, “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen, alluding to The Siege of Khe Sanh, “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Revolution” by The Beatles, “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane, and “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath). Jaded disillusionment imbued some of the finest masterpieces for print (“The Things They Carried”) and the screen (“Full Metal Jacket”, “The Deer Hunter”, “Platoon”, “Born On The Fourth Of July”).
Vietnam cast a tall shadow over American psyche ever since. We have whispered whether each subsequent war would be the next Vietnam. America held her breath when she invaded the tiny island-nation of Grenada in 1983. Maybe it’s for this reason we never gave our Vietnam War heroes-turned-politicians a fair shake. Serviceman John Kerry was a true American war hero. He earned two Purple Hearts for his valor in saving the lives of his crew. But when he returned home he was America’s most hardened war critic. He tossed his medals onto the White House lawn in disgust. He was the first Vietnam solider to testify against the war. There was nary a dry eye in Congress in 1974 when Kerry asked, “How can you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?”
Thirty years later though, Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry was painted as the effete, flip-flopping elitist who lied about his war record in the Swift Boats imbroglio. Never mind that President Bush spent the war defending South Texas from the impending Vietnam air menace (when he showed up at all). No, it was John Kerry who was vilified as the most glaring reminder of our most chronicled defeat. Four years later, pundits openly discussed how John McCain’s Vietnam selfless imprisonment rendered him mentally unsound for Presidency.
It’s tragic that America looked the other way so quickly. Our Vietnam heroes have offered some of the sagest advice for the War on Terror. John McCain was one of the earliest and adamant proponents of the Surge, which—in tandem with the Anbar Awakening—pulled Iraq back from the precipice. We need John Kerry, now on the other side of the Congressional tables, asking: How can you ask a man to be the last to die for Hamid Karzai?
The War On Terror
I accidentally did my part for the War on Terror propaganda effort. And it’s all thanks to this YouTube video.
Bush made the world pick sides: “You’re either with us or against us.” And the world didn’t pick Saddam, but the world didn’t exactly pick Bush either. The War on Terror polarized into us vs. them, black vs. white absolutes. But what followed was a slippery slope decent into the seedy underworld of secret CIA prisons and the grayish nether reaches of legality and morality. Water-boarding, suspending habeas corpus, Abu Ghraib, torture—the lasting buzz words of the War on Terror smacked more of the Medieval Ages than the world’s lone Superpower in the early 21st century.
The mission was never accomplished, and we never found Iraq’s connection to 9/11 or the WMDs. Americans still don’t know the details, and more troublesome, they just don’t care. 1/3 of FOX News viewers polled believe we really did find WMDs in Iraq (compared to 5% of NPR listeners). Ironic because everything Iraq was supposed to be—an Islamic threat to regional stability, bent on nuclear power—Iran is. The CIA learned Saddam Hussein made up his weapon of mass destruction bluster because he was so scared of Iran. But Second Term President Bush was chastened. His political capital spent. W listened to Condoleezza, fired Rummy, and the centrifuges in Nawaz kept on spinning…
My Grandfather was in the engine room when the kamikaze began. Zero plane shrapnel sheered through the destroyer. South Pacific waters gushed inside. Naval protocol was to close the engine room hatch immediately to keep the ship from sinking more quickly, leaving other men trapped in the engine room. Fred should have been one of the other men. He was unconscious after an engine safety valve exploded into his neck.
World War II was the coming out party for the United States of America upon the world stage. America was a mere upstart (albeit a very productive one) in the eyes of Europe on the eve of the continent’s Civil War. Some European historians sniff that America was simply fresh legs at the tail end of a marathon war. That nearly 70% of Nazi fatalities came at the hands of the Soviets and Russian Winter. They are forgetful. Before D-Day, America kept the Allies afloat with its unprecedented manufacturing in the European theater, while withstanding the Pearl Harbor ambush and the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. Sixty million deaths, and two atomic bombs later, the world was split between America and the Soviet Union.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki irrevocably changed the world. Humanity now had the weapon to destroy itself within hours. It paved the way for an arsenal you wish mankind could un-invent. But let history bear witness. During the four-year stretch before the Soviet Union joined America in the Nuclear Club, the U.S. rained down not missiles and mortar, but Hershey chocolate bars and dollars to rebuild Europe.
Winston Churchill memorialized our WWII veterans most aptly when he said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Today, World War II is best remembered by the director of “Jaws”. Steven Spielberg immortalized U.S. soldiers in all their gritty realism for the screen. First in “Empire Of The Sun” before teaming up Tom Hanks in “Saving Private Ryan”, and two HBO ten-part miniseries: “Band of Brothers”, and “The Pacific” (a.k.a. Band of Brothers On Water).
NBC’s grandfather Tom Brokaw throatily hails our grandparents, our parents’ parents, as the “Greatest Generation”. Us Millenials tend to admire our grandparents the most. It’s not hard to see why. Our grandparents were born into the Roaring 1920s. They languished through the Great Depression before years of war overseas battling Jew-hating madmen. Sound vaguely familiar?
The Cold War
Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev was probably staring at a box of Corn Flakes when he realized the Cold War was lost. Then a box of Cheerios. Then Wheaties. If the U.S. could produce fifty different cereals and still manufacture hundreds of nukes, Khrushchev mused his Soviets didn’t stand a chance. Khrushchev didn’t say this at the time, of course. He smiled for the cameras with President Eisenhower. He wolfed down his first American hot dog and quipped, “We have beaten you to the moon, but you have beaten us in sausage making.” But deep down Khrushchev knew.
The 1959 grocery store visit came nine years after the Soviets detonated an atomic bomb of their own. Since then major wars between the two Superpowers had truly become MAD (mutually assured destruction). As much as the White House loathed the Kremlin, and vice versa, the twin Superpowers enjoyed human existence more. Both sides remembered Albert Einstein’s line all too well, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
But this didn’t make the specter of nuclear apocalypse any less terrifying. Some of our parents had nuclear bomb drills in elementary school. In the “Duck and Cover” drill, Bert the Turtle and teachers instructed my mom she could take shelter from a Manhattan atomic blast under her wooden desk. (Today, NYPD police officers sometimes check my backpack before I take the Subway.)
The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States became a war fought by a) proxy and b) consumer standard of living. T’was the rapid rise and fall of oil prices—not Rocky or Ronald Reagan’s bravado—that truly felled the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the United States was cursed with thousands of gratuitous nuclear missiles and the shadow of Vietnam.
The one reassuring real-politik since the Soviet blast was mass world war became too destructive and expensive. The bottom line… was the bottom line. Pulitzer Prize winning Thomas Friedman served up the Golden Arches Theory: no two countries with a McDonald’s have ever been at war with each other.
The Cold War was the first and longest (1945-1989) economic war. But it wasn’t the last. There have actually been numerous wars fought on the economic battlefield since 1945. Bankers and lawyers are these wars’ foot-soldiers. Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good”, not “Be all you can be” is the creed. Japan and the United States waged war during the 1980s and 1990s. The prized jewels this time were not Pacific islands or commonwealths but billion dollar corporations (Toyota, Coca Cola). A real estate bubble left-hook and crony capitalism haymaker KO’d Japan into a Lost Decade. And a larger foe entered the ring: China.
It is a battle of the titans. East versus West. A resurgent ancient power pitted against a fading prodigy. Dueling ideologies of Communism-Capitalism versus Capitalism-Capitalism. Timothy Geithner and Fred Bernanke are our generals, by day. Chinese hackers break into Google accounts and both sides scan for national electric grid weak-points, by night. The monthly China-USA trade deficit demarcates our ever-changing tide of war. We bombarded China in recent years by manufacturing—not bullets—but trillions of dollars out of thin air. Meanwhile, the floating yuan tick-tocks as China’s time bomb.
The irony is we can’t afford any outcome but a split-decision. On the American side, the WMDs did go off — in New York City. But they were the ones Warren Buffett warned us about, not President George W. Bush. They were the ones concocted, not in bunkers outside Baghdad, but in AIG and Citi boardrooms throughout midtown Manhattan. Built not out of yellow cake but of junky CDOs, unbridled derivatives, and money our homes weren’t worth. America is still digging out and cannot survive a Chinese economic Winter. We cannot afford for China to stop hoarding our greatly devalued dollar (See: TARP, Stimulus Package, Health Care Reform). On the other side, China has a rapidly aging population the government will not able to support if American consumers stop buying beyond their means. Economists watch with baited breathe as China tries to gently squeeze out its real estate bubble.
Internationally, China has quietly bought up vast swathes of Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, the U.S. commits its blood and treasure to rebuild oil-rich nations like Iraq and ponders how to extricate itself from the Gordian knot of imperial overreach in Afghanistan, a.k.a. “The Graveyard of Empires”, a.k.a. our Vietnam. And Taiwan is the 21st Century’s answer to Cuba.