Blue Becomes You

it’s all over ‘cept the shouting in Republican circles and I would love to be a fly on the wall for some of those internal debates in coming weeks. Amazingly, Tea Party faithful are already saying that Romney just wasn’t conservative enough for the country (“strictly conservative” having vanished with the Hula Hoop, if not the Etch-a-Sketch, over the months between the primaries and the general election) and standard bearers like Ryan and Rand Paul are being touted as the future of the GOP.

At the risk of being redundant, maybe Obama won because the coalition he put together four years ago was real after all. Sure, the belief some had in him then as a transitional, transcendent figure was tarnished over time — he seemed to spend a lot of the first term just fighting to stay in place. But looking at the faces at the rallies in the last weeks, and those at the victory celebration in Chicago last night, was a good reminder that the Dems are still the party of the young and the non-white — the party of the future, that is.

Our daughter, who was adopted in South America, voted for the first time yesterday, and while she sympathized with my efforts to elect Obama four years ago, the whole thing was a little abstract to her 14-year-old self. Now, with issues like women’s reproductive rights and climate change a little more pressing for this college sophomore, she was all over the returns. She texted us screen grabs or Romney’s Titanic party and Obama’s victory bash and the contrast was clear; one looked like her and her friends, the other looked like… the Lawrence Welk Show.

Oh, sorry. Lawrence Welk is dead. They just keep showing his old shows on television. Kind of like the GOP.

Run Nola Run

Today Mayor Bloomberg is taking a lot of flack for canceling the New York City Marathon, yesterday he was getting a lot of grief for not canceling. Sometimes it is all about timing, I guess; just as runners were arriving from as far away as Europe and Africa they discovered their reason for being here was gone. “If only he had made the call Wednesday,” was the common complaint.

The fact that Mike waited so long says more about his decision-making style — don’t say yes until I’ve finished talking — than the actual politics of the call. According to the Times, people inside City Hall had been urging him to call it off since the hurricane blew through but he was not to be persuaded. He knows what is right for the city, and sometimes — as in the matters of bike lanes and soda size — it is an admirable stance.

But here he called on none other than Rudy Giuliani for back-up and Rudy (who famously ran the marathon two months after 9.11) said stay the course. True, Rudy was filling a leadership void left by GWB in those days after the terrorist attacks and his stay-strong attitude was just the tonic a lot of New Yorkers wanted. And it was part of that “if we don’t the terrorists win” mentality of the day.

But in retrospect, Rudy was also the guy who insisted that it was safe to live and work downtown right away, when there was still pieces of buildings in the air, and the health problems of so many first responders and reconstructors since have called that decision into question. This was the guy who chose to run for president by just running in Florida. Maybe Mike needs to get a few more people on his speed dial at times like this.

Mayor Nagin did not have a party right after Katrina hit New Orleans, for instance; he waited at least six months. I recall the Big Brother like images of his face, hovering on billboards over the abandoned cars and shuttered buildings at the time of JazzFest. He still managed to get re-elected but NOLA was always a special kind of crazy. And even Bloomberg won’t try for a fourth time. He’ll retire to Bermuda perhaps.

Talk dirty to me

There must be some silver lining to this nasty storm which has befouled so much of the TriState area, and I mean more than the Stan-and-Ollie sight of President Obama and NJ Governor Christ Christie strolling the shores of the Atlantic together like old mates, the Walrus and the Carpenter.

The initial we-can-do-this vibe of downtown Manhattan has given way to a more fatigued sense of “Does no one see this is happening to us?” anger among many who find themselves, perhaps for the first time, truly powerless. Yesterday I sent a story (beating my deadline by a day) to the editor of well-regarded national magazine published downtown, assuming their offices were closed. To my surprise the editor wrote me back immediately — to say he had no power in the office of his apartment and I just happened to catch him charging his laptop at a friend’s house uptown…

This is New York’s Katrina moment, with Anderson Cooper trawling the streets of Hoboken as if it was the Ninth Ward, albeit with more hipsters. (Though really, is there anyone hipper than Fats Domino, whose house was destroyed when the levee broke in NOLA?) What can such a disaster, guaranteed to recur in the next year or two, get the well-educated young professionals of water-level NYC to do that they haven’t done before?

Talk about infrastructure and climate change, maybe. Three cheers for NY Governor Andrew Cuomo for leading the charge in the wake of the hurricane. “Part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality,” he said between visiting disaster sites Wednesday. “Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable… “There’s only so long you can say, ‘This is once in a lifetime, and it’s not going to happen again.’ ”

That the topic has gotten no mention in the presidential debates, and less and less in the media in general, is shameful. But political attention is paid when people demand it. For all those who decided that the topic was passe after Al Gore won an Oscar, think again. The dirt words are less filthy than what’s floating in the water of the playground where you toddler used to swing. Tweet about it. Start a flash mob after the next flash flood.


Lots of luck, Lance-a-lot

One of my favorite openings, of one of my favorite books, is in Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. A ridiculously popular TV host awakens to find, after a fight with a former lover, that he no longer exists. He’s real enough — except now he is living in a seedy hotel room with no form of ID, which in Dick’s dystopian future means a trip to the work camps…

Don’t know why that made me think of Lance Armstrong (did I mention that Dick’s hero is part of an elite group of genetically engineered individuals who have greater privileges than the ordinary person?). One day he has seven Tour de France trophies and the next day…

Not that Armstrong’s world disappeared; Nike, Anheuser-Busch and others companies who use him as a spokesman are standing strong. “Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position,” a Nike spokeswoman told the New York Times, and that is not just a river in Egypt talking. By their lights, Lance is an icon of survival and endurance and perhaps his battles with the US Anti-Doping Agency will just be perceived as another obstacle to overcome. Those yellow Livestrong bracelets are still out there, and when my son had testicular cancer I used the man as an example of life after treatment: “Seven Tour de France titles and he’s banging Sheryl Crow like a rented tambourine!” I believe were my exact words.

I met Armstrong for a nano second years ago. Nike was filming an ad that showed great athletes in their own alternate realities, ones in which they were equally great: Randy Johnson as a pro-bowler, Marion Jones as a gymnast, Michael Vick playing hockey (what, no Huskies?) — and Lance was world title boxer. “This guy can do anything!” the announcer proclaims at the end, as they put the championship belt around the “Texas Tickler.”

I was doing a story about sports and advertising for SI and wanted just a moment of his time, but a nod and a handshake was all I got: After a morning’s ride and a day of filming Lance was “cooked” his handler told me. Stewing in his own juices, I guess.

Shoot out the lights

Anyone else reading of the Colorado shootings (and sorry that “shootings” are starting to go so well with “Colorado”) thinking of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 movie Targets? That film, the director’s first (and like nothing he’s done since) ends with a sniper behind the screen shooting people in a drive-in as they watch a horror film, Roger Corman’s epically bad 1963 The Terror,  starring Boris Karloff.

There were many differences; Bogdanovich based his unhinged killer on famous sniper shootings of the time, most notably Charles Whitman, who killed 16 people (and wounded 32 others) at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966. Whtiman stood on the observation deck of the campus’s clock tower and picked off most of his victims as they ran around on the grounds below.

Whitman was the perfect bogeyman for the time: a buttoned-down student with a crewcut and a genius IQ, a former Marine. His journal, discovered after he was killed by police officers, finds him questioning his building obsession to kill and he complains of “tremendous” headaches (an autopsy revealed an undiagnosed brain tumor). Reporters parsed his record afterwards: he had an abusive father, a problem with authority, marital issues. Of modern mass murderers he was one of the first postmortem celebrities.

As of this writing, not much is known of the Colorado shooter, James Holmes. He was a Phi Betta Kappa graduate student in neuroscience, kind of a loner, if you can imagine. “He was a little bit of a weird guy,” one former colleague of his told NBC News, “but we were honors students, so weird people were kind of common.” And he didn’t need marksman’s training: he was armed with two Glocks, a shotgun and an assault rifle (a Smith & Wesson AR-15) that could fire 50-60 rounds in a minute. And he had 3000 rounds.

With that kind of firepower, anyone could hit the side of a barn — hell, you shoot the whole barn down. And he had full body armor, just in case anyone in the theater fired back. (Colorado allows concealed weapons, though the theater had a policy banning them. Hard to imagine anyone checking their weapons at the counter, while buying popcorn.) And unlike most recent mass shooters, he allowed himself to be taken alive.

Now survivors are saying Holmes said he was the Joker, and had dyed his hair red. This makes you wonder how much of a fan the killer really was since any schoolboy knows the Joker’s hair is green. Still, the chaos the Joker embodies (especially in Heath Ledger’s gas-sniffing interpretation of the villain) may have spoken to Holmes. He certainly unleashed chaos.

Whitman’s killings were precise, if apocalyptic; they took place in a public space in the bright Texas sun. The Colorado shootings were confined, claustrophobic, people could not escape. A cellphone video of the theater lobby after the shooting shows one person coming out in a full Batman costume (it was a midnight premier, remember); pity the real thing wasn’t there to confront the real bad guy. That’s one difference between art and reality: in Targets the real Boris Karloff, at the drive-in for a promo, disarms the shooter. “I knew this would happen,” he says.