Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How Big will the Tent be?

By ned * Other ned Posts

Since the election season in November, pundits have been forecasting how the Republican Party will alter itself to avoid the results of the last balloting session. Will Palin populism mark the route of the future, is Huckabee or Romney the new Reagan, or will moderates of the Grand Old Party broaden the discourse? The topic has played out to the point where the word “rebranding” became passé in a nanosecond. Despite this amount discourse, it is certainly the case that those in the party are still not comfortable with the status quo.

From dinner tables to K Street, discussions of where to go next for the GOP have been occurring. In recent months some of those disagreements have been aired publicly. Perhaps most interestingly were the sound clip jabs thrown between heavyweights Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Colin Powell, Tom Ridge and Newt Gingrich in late May. At the peak of the ugliness of that discussion, Cheney went so far as to say that Powell "had already left the party” and that he “didn't know he [Powell] was still a Republican."

Addressing the remarks directly in a Face the Nation interview, Powell validated his Republican credentials and also eloquently rephrased his point of view regarding what this particular disagreement had revolved around. On one side Cheney and Limbaugh have been pushing for the party to remain true to the core, right-of-center principles of the past. They raised concerns that Powell and others might be suggesting throwing out the Conservative playbook. Critiquing Powell directly, Limbaugh pushed Cheney’s support for a right-leaning ideology to an extreme by stating "people in the middle of the road get run over."

On the other side, Powell, Tom Ridge and Gingrich have articulated a need for a big tent approach that engages centrists as well as conservatives in forming the party's direction. Powell feels the party should reach out and build on the base to remain relevant. In order to accomplish this Powell is pushing for dialogue where different sides of the party – especially those in the middle – help to shape its future. He is concerned that the party is moving to the right and therefore becoming representative of too narrow a slice of the population to remain a presence. Part of challenge to having this broad based dialogue as he sees it is that those who vocally oppose that right of center status quo are pushed out or quieted.

As Gingrich highlighted in his public statements, I am not sure these Cheney-Powell frames of mind are mutually exclusive. Conservative tenets can be molded to today’s perspectives. Moreover, I for one tend to favor a big tent approach. Democracy’s strength is in the power of a multitude of viewpoints forming a sophisticated direction known as the will of the people. The basis for strength in party ideals is no different. But, this open dialogue and Powell’s push for centrist inclusion might be problematic with the current party chemistry. Perhaps, embracing discourse runs against some of the fibers that make the Republican Party.

One of the many studies I read for my political science degree reviewed the internal cultures of the modern Republican and Democrat parties. In essence, the authors hypothesized that the Republican Party is top-down culture while the Democratic culture is one that operates more bottom-up. The authors cite institutional dynamics. But largely they point out how these characteristics are a factor of the backgrounds of the constituencies and leaders. To frame it one way that may oversimplify the argument, those with military and business backgrounds tend to lean Republican. In general, they are more familiar with hierarchical operations within an organization and Republican operations reflect these qualities. In other words, whether from a General, CEO, or pulpit, Republicans are used to orders coming from the top and their organizations and administrations operate more along those lines. Democrats on the other hand tend to be made up of more people brought up with a counter-cultural mindset. Consequently, Republican administrations tend to question authority and directions less and Democratic administrations house more dissent.

One might cite some of the recent discourse over health care as evidence of fragmented Democratic rule as compared to the top-down nature of the right side of the aisle. David Brooks recently highlighted in both the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and a recent New York Times column how moderate Democrats are calling into question the health care policies of Pelosi and Obama. He even makes the connection that the Blue Dog Democrats are potentially doing what moderate Republicans had trouble with during the Bush administration by thwarting a Presidential plan.

If this dynamic is the case of how the parties operate, it may seem to imply that the future of the Republican party lies either further to the right or in a place that continues the emphasize the talking points of the past as supported by Cheney and Limbaugh. However, I am not so sure that the outcome of the Cheney-Powell discussion is a done deal. If Powell is evidence, there are individuals who are willing to engage in discourse and question the status quo. So, as always, it’s a choice. The choice is for other moderate-friendly conservatives to question and shift the debate or let the top-down culture play out as it will.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Analysis on Aaron Carter’s “How I Beat Shaq”

By Doug Lieblich * Other Doug Lieblich Posts

Sigmund Freud

In Aaron Carter’s hit single, “How I Beat Shaq,” Carter’s repressed subconscious presents itself within a one-on-one basketball game between Carter’s protagonist, Aaron Carter, and Shaq. This match up is more than a basketball game. It is the eternal struggle between Carter’s imagined self, the ego, and his domineering sexual urges, manifested as well-known celebrity NBA star, Shaquille O’Neal. Carter begins with narcissism “I heard the fans screaming / I thought it was for me,” and crescendos as he confronts his id: “but then I saw a shadow / It was 12 foot 3 / It was Shaquille O’Neal. The disparity between Carter’s expected opponent (another twelve year old boy) and his actual opponent (the center for the Los Angeles Lakers) reflects Carter’s loss of innocence. It also represents the fear of losing his penis.

The final chorus reveals that Carter’s victory over Shaq was actually a dream. Carter is awakened by his mother, skeptical of Carter’s story: How could you be playing if you’re still in bed/ Are you gettin sick, did you hit your head?” This revelation is a projection of Carter’s Oedipal complex, and perhaps a regression to the infantile state. I believe Carter’s conflicted self-image, his fixation on his mother, and his incessant dreams of defeating Shaq in a basketball game derive from the universal fear of death’s cold embrace. Also, he’s afraid of losing his penis. I would prescribe him 6 months of psychoanalytical therapy and 300 milligrams of cocaine.

Karl Marx

Aaron Carter’s triumph over Shaq is a victory of the proletariat over the bourgeois. Carter struggled “throwing brick after brick…dunk after dunk…jam after jam” as an honest serf toiling for his oppressive master. Social class is a lie, religion is a lie, Shaquille O’Neal’s athletic superiority is a lie! Carter’s treatise is a bold call to revolution. Whether it be candy, parties, Shaq, or simply “The Clapping Song,” Mr. Carter is not afraid to tackle the difficult subjects of our generation.

But perhaps it’s all a dream. Perhaps a worker’s state is a fantasy, as Carter’s bourgeois mother would have us believe. This is mere deception, comrades. Remember the words of comrade Carter: If it was a dream and it wasn’t real / How’d I get a jersey with the name O’Neal?” How did he get that jersey indeed?

You may believe in First Citizen Carter or you may oppose him. Either way, you cannot deny him—just has Shaq could not deny his final three point shot to win the match.

Harold Bloom

Comparisons between Aaron Carter and Shakespeare are as enduring as the legacies of their respective works. Both reinvented modern literature, and both are masterful writers of mysterious origins. The only knowledge of Shakespeare we have is a marriage license and the deed to his house. While for Carter, the only clues to his existence are his Myspace page and an old love-note to Hillary Duff. For nearly a decade Aaron Carter has been the dominant sage of the American imagination. His command of the English language borders on the sublime, and surely rhymes such as “Sorry Shaq, I should’ve let you win / You’re good too / And we can still be friends,” will reside in our memory for a lifetime.

The presence of Shaquille O’Neal, a foreboding doppelganger of Carter himself, is a brilliant use of the “magical negro” device. Carter’s strategy to tell Shaq that he didn’t “tie his shoelace” in order to gain a competitive advantage reveals cognitive dissonance within the Shaq character. It also reveals that Shaq is a moron. A stronger correlation, however, is the magical negro role played both by Shaq and Shakespeare’s Othello. A simple reading of the two passages proves that they are nearly identical:

Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace,

Shall ne’er look back, ne’er ebb to humble love,

Till that a capable and wide revenge
. Swallow them up.

Now, by yond marble heaven,

(Othello, III.iii.458-462)

[Shaq] looked down, I stole the ball

I’m taking him to school now, watch me all

A 3-pointer, nothing but net

Come on Shaq, had enough yet?

(Carter, lines 35-39)

Betty Freidan

The duel between Carter and Shaq perpetuates the phallus-centric patriarchal confines of basketball. Carter’s winning shot: “I put the ball up / I put him to shame,” reminds us that male genitalia lie at the center of athletics. Why must we always handle balls. Is it a “shame” to not have the ball? Why are there three major sports that revolve around a testicular object (one even uses a puck), and not one sport in which players compete over a vagina?

James Joyce

Carter, basketball, pig intestines, Dublin, eyeball, slam-dunks, sex at 3 o clock, father’s funeral, the menstrual cycle, Mickey Mouse Club. Irish independence, jews, jews, jews. Shaq, nationalism, Gaelic poetry, shoelaces…Shaq forgot to tie them. I’m a woman in a man’s body. I Want Candy? Double-dribble. Proteus, Telemachus, Aeolus, Polyphemus, the Backstreet Boys. Masturbating damns me to Hell. Potato talisman…my potato talisman. Shaq is number 34 for the Lakers.

Aaron Carter

I just really like basketball.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Banana Fanna Foe

By ned * Other ned Posts

In middle school, I was often referred to by the name “Sned.” After it caught on, I embraced it but that was not initially the case. My friend Pat created the name using logic that a 12 year old would embrace and I, the worldlier young adult, feel embarrassed to admit.

“You see if you put an ‘S’ in front of the name, it is your gay name … isn’t that right, Sned?”

We chuckled about it and, of course, created a variety of alternative names: Swill, Stim, and Smeera were particular favorites. But then, as any friend would, he began to call me Sned in front of everybody. Our secret code became public and I was the butt of our inside joke. Because he was a persistent and gregarious person, much to my chagrin, it caught on. For the next three years, I was Sned.

Nicknames are easily associated with different social circles and periods in my life. Distinct groups of people call me certain things because that is when they knew me and what they called me. In middle school I was Sned, high school Nedinator, my college fraternity Flandizzle, New York Nedders … to name a few. I generally avoid bringing up nicknames from Elementary school. On that note, I caution all future parents to avoid naming your child something that rhymes with “ed” as it can lead to such wonderful poems such as “Ned, Ned, he wets the bed and then his face turns red and he has a big head …” But, I digress. Despite the wide variety of results coming from the base of nuh, eh, and duh, there are common trends in how my new names were established that I feel are pretty universal.

The “Sned” example highlights two potential catalysts for a nickname. First of all, there was a charismatic personality. Without Pat beating people over the head with the name to his own amusement and being a dynamic person, the herd probably would never have followed. Secondly, there was a sophomoric or mildly offensive joke involved that was at the expense of the one who bears the name. But what if the name does not make someone blush? How else can it catch on?

When I mention that one nickname I have been blessed with is “Flanders” to anyone of my generation, it usually met with nods of unspoken understanding. Ned Flanders is just that recognizable of pop culture character for anyone born after 1975. Therefore the step to call me "Flanders" is not a stretch beyond anyone’s imagination. Same thing might go for someone named Xena being introduced as "Warrior Princess." To some who love late night reruns of 90's TV classics, its so obvious and, my goodness, it divinely rolls from the tongue. For me, the simple call-someone-by-their-last-name nickname catches on for much the same reason. Some people have straightforward, hard hitting last names that are just too easy to then translate into their known name. For all of these reasons, easy derivation from the base name is one more reactant that can help make a nickname rocket take off.

Through these means my nicknames have developed despite a natural redundancy - Ned is actually a nickname in the first place. Moreover, the sum of the parts tells a story. To leverage a High Fidelity concept, the “autobiographical” sequence of my nicknames are representative of the times and stages of my life. "Nedinator" came into play at a point when Schwarzenegger's nostalgia cool was at its peak. Flanders only caught on because of the popularity of the Simpsons circa 1988 to the present. It was appropriately adjusted to “Flandizzle” at the height of Snoopisms as demonstrated by brief life of that hit MTV2 series Doggy Fizzle Televizzle. Similarly, the use of my formal nickname in potty mouth poetry in lower school was just friends using what tools second graders have available: rhyming, colors and tinkle.

As a last characteristic, nicknames are rarely your choice. Although that can sometimes cause laughter to be directed at you, what this means is that nicknames signify the number of deep connections that you have made. Nicknames are born out of moments and a level of comfort that can only come with large amounts of time spent with another individual and group. That is one reason why the Feets, Taters, Wallys, Balls, Martinis, and I of this world should all feel blessed.


Do you have any good nickname stories? I encourage you to share them in the comments section below.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Atomic Balm

By Doug Lieblich * Other Doug Lieblich Posts

Atomic Balm


Top Secret Code Cable: US472-110-2XIZ- Date: 11/23/06

Subject: Atomic Balm Ready for Commercial Use!!!

An Urgent Message from The Pentagon:

Since the age of the atom, scientists have thirsted to harness the awesome power of nuclear energy for a cause that could truly help mankind: lip balm. First created in a secret conference in 1941 called the Epidermal Project, the Atomic Balm was used to prevent a long war over supple skin, a war which may have cost many lives due to the most nefarious scourge, dryness.

The Atomic Balm is an FDA-approved method of fighting Communism. In 1956, we lost the Balm monopoly; moisturizing tests in the Ural Mountains indicated that the Soviets did indeed get their hands (and lips) on the Balm—soon a race for international supremacy in kiss-ability and poutiness was in full swing.

For decades, it seemed that the public would be deprived of the awesome power of the world’s most potent lip balm…UNTIL NOW!

With the fall of the Kremlin and a tragic toxic spill off the Pacific coast resulting in a glut of Nuclear Jelly (delicious Nuclear Jelly), our loss is your gain!

That’s right! The commercial Atomic Balm designed for civilian use is dropping on unsuspecting shelves in a store near you! It’s the military-industrial-cosmetic complex at its best!

We’re liquidating all of our Atomic Balms, nuclear, thermonuclear, blue raspberry, and hydrogen: EVERYTHING MUST GO!

Aside from containing irritable, red, Commie lips, Atomic Balm is an effective moisturizer for even the flakiest face. Just apply a liberal dab of the cream and rub vigorously onto the face until the milky fluid congeals into a glittering gel. Now that’s radioactively clear.

Tired of getting cracked lips in winter, dry scalp from low humidity, or damaged skin from raccoon fights? Well with Atomic Balm’s patented radioactive technology you’ll now be shouting, “My blood hurts, but my skin is so eerily smooth!” Straight from the think tanks in the Pentagon, we guarantee that the Atomic Balm will leave you glowing!

Note: Atomic Balm may cause a popping sensation in your ears and leave a residue with a texture similar to that of old yogurt. Do not be alarmed. President Eisenhower requested this effect.


“At first, I was concerned with Atomic Balm’s handwritten label and a little put off that it came in a lead jar, but when I realized that the Pentagon did not test on animals I was S-O-L-D. After 9 years, 5 months, and 41 days of mashing my face into that delicious “God-cream,” I am A-D-D-I-C-T-E-D!” –John Grover, 45

“$19.95 a bottle? That’s only 8000 rubles! These prices are so outrageously low, I almost wish I were still able to deploy some of them in Cuba! Damn you, you capitalist dogs.”- Ghost of Nikita Kruschev

Possible side effects of the Atomic Balm include eczema, headache, stomach ache, back ache, achy break heart, belly ache, leg ache, Mutually Assured Destruction, red eyes, and dry mouth

Atomic Balm: “It’s The Balm!”

My First Time Getting Drunk

By Josh Cain * Other Josh Cain Posts

Like many Americans youths, I first got drunk in a college dorm. Unlike most, it happened at Harvard University, a school I did not attend. I was playing a rugby match against Harvard but, being a freshman and the littlest Rugger, I was excluded from the social events attended by the big, strong guys who didn’t have their playing time defined by the requirement that everyone get to play for a few minutes. After an unusually good game for me (my highlight reel included missing a catch and slipping on some mud), I ended up going out on the town with my roommate, Evan, and a rag-tag band that included Evan’s nerdy friend Iggy, Christian farmboy and fellow bench-warmer Gabe, and Terry, a hallmate and rugger who should have been out with the cool kids but for some reason wasn’t.

Our team thus assembled, we set out to enjoy our weekend in Cambridge at a Harvard room party. Up to this point I had never been drunk, as my high school social life of playing video games and being afraid of girls would not have been greatly improved by alcohol. On this special night, though, the combination of an exotic location, relative safety of a dorm, and encouragement of my friends had created a perfect storm that promised to soon see me washed up on the sandy shores of Drunktown.

My mental image of the festivities - hot chicks lounging on expensive furniture sipping brightly colored drinks with umbrellas and/or sparklers - was savagely dashed by a room full of average looking individuals clutching forties. When I announced that I was intending to get drunk, a tweed-clad Harvardian thrust a bottle of cheap vodka at me and attempted to engage me in the group’s discourse on the philosophy of Kant. I responded by loudly exclaiming, “You know what movie was awesome? Rush Hour 2!” There was an awkward silence and I was left to enjoy my beverage in peace.

My first sip was predictably heinous, but I managed to soldier on and consume enough booze such that my walking was impaired by the time my friends announced that the party was moving. Our host’s promises of “awesome ragers” resulted in a series of treks to increasingly uninteresting room parties. During our pilgrimage, Evan, a strapping young man, announced that he needed to pee and immediately undid his pants in the middle of the street. Terry and Iggy quickly followed suit, and thus the public urination commenced. I stood nervously at a distance, planning to dash at the first sign of trouble. So concerned with being brought up on the permanent record besmirching charges of public urination and underage drunkenness, I failed to notice our hosts receding in the distance. By the time it was concluded, we were alone. Our Harvard friends either didn’t realize we had stopped or had seized on the opportunity to finally be rid of us.

Isolated and inebriated, we stood in a befuddled daze until Gabe came to the rescue. “I heard them say they were going to a party on the 3rd floor of that building over there! Or maybe it was the 4th… Whatever, Let’s go!”

Shambling our way up the stairs, we arrived on the 3rd floor and began knocking on doors. The first few yielded no response and, as our hopes of continued mediocre parties faded, we reached the last door on the floor. I politely knocked and the door creaked open. Looking back at us were a trio of attractive girls with confused expressions on their faces. “Um…is the party in here?” one of us asked. “It is now!” they replied, throwing the door open wide.

We entered and were greeted with a fairly typical college suite. There was a decently sized common room with a couple couches, lightly strewn with empty beer bottles and pizza boxes, a door that led to what I assumed was a bedroom, and a bathroom. Despite my inebriation, I was able to notice and comment on the fact that most of the girls seemed to be wearing some form of Penn State apparel. “Oh we’re just visiting,” one of them said, “we don’t go to Harvard.” Within minutes we were playing a make-out game.

My adolescent fear of the opposite gender had managed to conquer the effects of the alcohol, so rather than participate I instead began talking to the anemic guy sitting in the corner, so thin and pale I had not noticed him upon my first survey of the room. At just barely over 110 lbs, he told me in a high-pitched, wraith-like voice that he was a security guard. I stifled laughter and asked him why he was there. “Oh, one of those girls is my sister,” he said, indicating one the people engaged in a round of “Suck and Blow”. The temptation to guffaw was again resisted.

During this brief distraction there was a whirlwind of activity that settled into the following scene: Terry and Iggy vanished into the bedroom along with two of the girls; Gabe standing around looking troubled and clearly thinking of his hometown girlfriend; Evan on the other couch, flagrantly making out with the remaining girl. As Gabe and I stood agape at his activities in the only common room in the place, Evan turned to us with a look of disgust, and said, “A little privacy, guys?”

Always an obliging individual, I walked through the open door of the bedroom that my friends had disappeared through moments before to see what Terry and Iggy were up to. It took me a second to identify the pink, writhing mass on the bed: my friends and the two ladies I had just met, all four of them topless. Terry and Iggy were each making out with a different girl, side-by-side. Before I could fully appreciate this feat, Terry disentangled himself, slapped Iggy on the back, and said “Yo, switch it up,” at which point they elegantly exchanged partners. I began to laugh, but realized I had a much more pressing concern as I dashed to the bathroom to vomit.

Unprepared for the explosive nature of my expulsion, I managed to soak a large portion of the room in the remains of my Chinese dinner. Luckily I had enough presence of mind to find the paper towels and begin cleaning. During my cleansing of the bathroom, Evan began banging on the door telling me how he “really had to go.” I finally got rid of the evidence and allowed him to burst through the door and commence befouling the bathroom in much the way I had done moments before. Unlike me, however, he remained clutching the toilet bowl, whimpering incoherently. Terry seemed the most at home in the chaos, so I politely interrupted his orgy and requested his assistance. Terry came to the bathroom and began giving Evan water and generally nursing him back to health. I contributed by saying things like, “Hahah…look at Evan! He sure can’t hold his liquor!” as I discreetly hid the paper towels I’d used earlier. My running commentary was cut short when I was told I was “not helping” and was sent away.

As I re-entered the common room, the sounds echoing from the bedroom reminded me that, with the subtraction of Terry, the gawky, bespectacled Iggy had been left in the bedroom with two very excited females. Not knowing what to do, I sat next to the security guard and engaged him in conversation. “So…your sister’s pretty loud, huh?” Another awkward silence ensued.

Eventually Evan regained the ability to walk and, with our hosts concerned about his health and threatening to call an ambulance, we retrieved Iggy from his male fantasy and lumbered out into the hall, still somewhat delirious from all that had happened. As we walked out, I timidly spoke up. “So...uhm…is it always like that when people drink?”