Washington, D.C. is a company town, and the company is politics. Even if you're like me and don't work for the company, it's always there. You can't ignore it. You get into a cab and you and the cabby talk about the company.
When you live in a company town, the company's news saturates everything. In Washington, D.C., national news is really local news. The perfect example is one of the biggest political events of the year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which finished this weekend. CPAC features speeches by all the Republican stars, including those considering presidential runs. And here, it's covered like the Super Bowl.
All that coverage makes you notice things. And one thing I've noticed is that every — and I mean every — bit of coverage about CPAC describes speakers throwing political "red meat" to the audience, as if they were satisfying a pack of hungry dogs.
If you Google "CPAC red meat," you get 18.1 million hits.
The networks report CPAC red meat:
"Conservatives descended on Washington D.C. Thursday for an annual gathering replete with ideological red meat."
"[Senator Mitch] McConnell delivered a red meat speech to the conservative activists."
The big newspapers report CPAC red meat:
"The audience [at CPAC] was hungry for red meat."
The Wall Street Journal
"McConnell's speech at CPAC focused on 'red meat' conservative issues."
"CPAC applause lines: Red meat for the faithful"
Christian Science Monitor headline
The Hispanic media report CPAC red meat:
"Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R, served up a familiar portion of conservative red meat."
At least one African-American blogger reported CPAC red meat:
"It’s probably got something to do with the conservative red-meat diet ’cause these girls have way more junk in the trunk than your average kale-chomping liberal."
The Washington Post can't get enough CPAC red meat:
"[Texas Governor Rick Perry] kicked off Friday with a red-meat speech that received enthusiastic applause from the audience."
"McConnell ... filled his speech with red meat rhetoric."
"New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie [gave] plenty of red meat and conservative lines to the crowd."
"... heaping chunks of red meat."
The Beltway political industrial complex loves CPAC red meat:
"Chris Christie’s red-meat speech scores at CPAC"
"[McConnell delivered] a speech full of conservative red meat."
"And that’s red meat for [Senator Rand] Paul’s followers."
A bunch of publications I'm not familiar with also love CPAC red meat:
"[CPAC] is a multi-day festival of dogmatic red meat."
"Watch Ann Coulter Serve Up Jokes And ‘Red Meat’ During Her CPAC Speech"
The liberal and public media cover CPAC red meat:
"Anti-Obama red meat expected from conservatives."
"Top conservative event opens with big names, red meat, and fun"
"Highlights from Reince Priebus's CPAC 2013 red meat speech"
Daily Kos headline
But the conservatives do too:
"GOP hopefuls serve red meat, audience eats it up"
Fox News headline
"CPAC Red Meat: Perry, Trump, LaPierre"
"[Senator Ted Cruz] launches CPAC political convention with a "RED MEAT" crowd-pleasing demand to abolish Barry's IRS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Patriot Action Network headline
"McConnell's speech was packed with red meat ..."
"Former Arkansas governor ... Mike Huckabee threw out red meat to social conservatives."
"[Texas Governor Rick] Perry’s remarks were full of red meat."
"Serving Up Red Meat at CPAC"
Food metaphor lovers love CPAC red meat:
"Christie’s address here was a heaping serving of red meat."
"At [CPAC], the red meat was served as the second course."
The Fiscal Times
"The special served all day on day one of [CPAC] was red meat."
WSB.com [Atlanta] headline
"[CPAC] afforded an opportunity to feed conservative Republicans the red meat they craved and expected."
The Washington Examiner
"'Mama Grizzly' Sarah Palin dishes red meat to CPAC conservative activists"
Christian Science Monitor headline
Every region of the country covered CPAC red meat. Ohio:
"And so the corruption-filled, jelly-roll of a big man [Christie] included just the right amount of fictitious red meat."
Akron Beacon Journal
"Former Governor Mike Huckabee offered plenty of red meat at [CPAC]"
Salem radio headline
"[Cruz] tossed red meat to cheering activists."
Dallas Morning News
"Christie ditched his purple-state prose for red meat."
California Political Review
The media love CPAC red meat so much they mix it with other metaphors:
"But even that red meat came off as a bit flat."
The New Republic
"You can’t ... expect people not to notice all the chewed-up red meat and low-hanging fruit on the floor."
"You can't put lipstick on red meat."
And they love CPAC red meat when it's not even there:
"[Mitt] Romney didn’t exactly throw red meat to the crowd of conservatives."
"By the standards of recent Republican rhetoric, [Senator Marco Rubio's] speech was no red-meat stem-winder."
New York Times
Since my search, I've become a vegetarian.
In sympathy, many reporters write with a deadline, so they probably can't help but use clichés like "red meat." The problem is that "red meat" start outs not meaning anything to anybody but eventually becomes a caricature that means everything to everybody. It means that CPAC attendees are a bunch of slobbering idiots. Maybe they are, but they deserve a broader variety of clichés.
I don't have to use clichés like that. The advantage of an occasional blog is the time to think carefully about what I write. You wouldn't catching me using a cliché like that, even if my life depended on it.
One of the blessings of our time is never having to choose what to watch. You can see shows during their original airing or you can store them up and watch an entire series over a binge weekend.
But what if you had to choose? I was thinking about that last night when Downton Abbey and the premiere of the latest Walking Dead season aired head to head. What if it were the 1970s and I only had one chance at either? I thought about it a bit, and it was a little troubling to realize that I'd go with the zombie apocalypse show.
I've never been the kind of guys who likes zombie movies. So what is it about The Walking Dead that's sucked me in? It's hard to explain. There's a lot going against it.
For one thing, it's filled with gore and violence, usually close-ups of one of the few human pandemic survivors sticking a sword or a knife or a shovel into a zombie's head (it's the only way the Walking Dead zombies can be killed). Or going through the intestines of a dead zombie to see if it's eaten one of the young members of their group. Or turning a corner and seeing a zombie with the entrails of a victim hanging from its mouth.
And I don't particularly like the characters or their development, which many critics and fans have praised about the show. The humans can be unlikable and unbelievable. Like the Governor, a loathsome sociopath who for the past couple seasons has been a regular fixture, commanding a small group barricaded against zombie invaders. He's crazy. He keeps his young daughter, who was bitten by a zombie and therefore become a zombie herself, in a closet in his apartment. He dresses her as his little girl and brushes her hair while black goo oozes out her mouth and onto his shoulder. It's all pretty gross.
But once you start, you can't stop watching the thing. I think what makes The Walking Dead is not the zombie scenes (which I admit are pretty fun), but the survivors' facing the devastation of the almost total annihilation of the human race. The buildings of Atlanta, around which much of the story takes place, still stand, but the city is dead. Thousands of zombies stagger through the streets, looking for stray dogs or human cadavers (apparently zombies don't eat other zombies).
One brilliant part of the show is that it only hints about the pandemic that killed most of humanity. They show a freeway leaving Atlanta bumper-to-bumper with cars trying to escape. They are now parked there forever, filled with bodies and essential belongings. Meanwhile, the freeway into the city is empty. You never really know why. You have to use your imagination. As gratuitous as the violence can be, there is also a captivating restraint about how they got in that situation in the first place.
The few survivors, which the series revolves around, roam around the area on a constant hunt for food and water and shelter against the zombies. I think that's what keeps me watching. They have to pilfer from the remaining canned goods at a grocery store that was raided long ago, or look through the suitcases and coolers of cars stuck on the Interstate, their dead drivers still at the wheel. They go back to their towns to get pictures of family members who died long ago, trying to capture happier days that they'll never have again. They have to scrounge gas. They have to steal books from kids' bookshelves. Nothing is owned anymore.
The opening scene of a season three is a perfect example. There's no dialogue. The characters barge into an abandoned home and kill off a few zombies camping there. They raid the cupboards, and one of the boys finds only dog food. As he opens a can, his father looks at the others, embarrassed and resigned. Is this what we've come to? Is this our existence now? You can't help but wonder what you'd do in that situation, and that's what sucks you in more than anything else.
The scene ends as more zombies are approaching and the survivors have to escape, blending into the opening song and credits, which are the most terrifying 25 seconds on television.
I suppose it's a little twisted to choose The Walking Dead, with all its gore, over Downton Abbey, with its beautiful scenery, wardrobe, excellent story lines, acting, and writing. But is it any more twisted than Downton Abbey, which tells the story of coddled nobility who spend their days commanding second-class-citizen servants, who help their employers get dressed for six-course dinners while they live in attic dorm rooms and work six and a half days a week? It reflects a hierarchy and time that really existed. The Walking Dead is all a work of the imagination — a warped imagination, but a pretty good one.
That dress looks really sharp. That's a really nice twisty thing on the side.
Woah, look at her! If two trucks hauling nothing but organza crashed head-on in the middle of the night, that’s what the wreckage would look like.
There’s only one word to describe that gown: really sharp.
As I watch the guys walk the red carpet, I wonder what happened to cummerbunds. None of the guys are wearing them. I always thought that they looked sharp. I will admit that at prom I had a hard time figuring out which end went up. And then it kept poofing up my stomach. Plus, it really didn’t secure my pants. So now that I think about it, never mind about cummerbunds.
I like how that poofy sash hides the midriff.
What do you think they do with these gowns when the night is over? Do they wear them to the next wedding? You know what I think would be a good idea? They should donate them to people who have been through a tornado. It would give them something to wear.
That dress gives off the feeling you get when you find the surprise money in your pants while doing laundry. And not just a one dollar bill, but more like a five.
The Downton Abbey girls look better in their 1920s English gear. I can’t put my finger on it. Without the costumes, they just look like American chicks who are faking an English accent. And faking is unattractive.
You know what I like about tuxedo pants? There’s a belt that you can expand a little bit if you’ve put on some weight. And when you take them off, you can wad them up and kick them around and then throw them in the corner, but when you put them on the next day they don’t look any different. Like you just got them back from the dry cleaners. Really crisp.
His outfit is okay, but he worked too hard on getting the right amount of facial stubble. You know what guys think of a guy who spends too much time trying to get his stubble right? Well, they’d like to kick his ass is what they think.
He should have asked his wife if that tuxedo made him look fat. Women always tell the truth and then everybody wins.
That’s what Mother Teresa would have worn on the red carpet. The difference is that Mother Teresa would have pulled it off.
That outfit reminds me of the story of the two hoboes who were walking down the road. The first hobo says, “I really like your suit. Can I try it on?” And the second hobo says, “Sure, if I can try on your suit.” So they switch suits. They both like their new outfits and feel great, so they keep them on and continue walking. The moral of the story is that she may feel great in that outfit, but it looks like two hoboes who switched suits.
Just an aside: These awards shows offer a really nice opportunity to acknowledge people who don’t get enough recognition.
You'd think a famous actor would work harder to look like he has a six-pack. But that suit makes him look like he just had a six-pack.
Colonel Sanders just called. He wants his tie back. And his bucket of chicken too.
Colonel Von Trapp called. He wants his lederhosen back.
Colonel Klink called. He wants his Sergeant Schultz back.
I've just been informed that Von Trapp was actually a captain. But she still needs to give the lederhosen back.
Imagine a kid who is trying to make the varsity baseball team. He works his heart out, sweats by the gallon, grinds in the dirt and dust day after day. When the tryouts are over, the coach calls him into his office. I’m sorry son, he says, it just isn’t in the cards for you. I have to let you go. The kid returns to his locker in tears and stuffs his sweaty, dirty, blood-stained clothes into a duffel bag, and walks out alone and brokenhearted. The dress she’s wearing looks like that duffel bag.
One more great thing about renting a tuxedo: the shoes. They are not very comfortable, I’ll admit that. But boy do they hold their shine. You can walk home in a blizzard, shuffle through mud, but do you think it makes those shoes any less shiny? Not a chance. I think more guys should have rented those shoes. They’re sharp.
The texture on that gown is just fabulous. It's like a warm bowl of Rice-a-Roni.
This is a pretty amazing story. In 1942, Hiroo Onoda, who died yesterday at age 91, joined the Imperial Japanese Army and became an intelligence officer, mastering guerilla warfare, philosophy, history, martial arts, and — important to the rest of the story — propaganda.
In December 1944, when the war in the Pacific had turned against Japan, Onoda was sent to the strategic site of Lubang in the Philippines with orders to sabotage American installations in advance of an expected invasion. He never got the chance. U.S. forces landed two months later, and what remained of the Japanese defenses had to evacuate.
As they were bailing out, a superior officer commanded Onoda to stay in Lubang and fight under all circumstances. "It may take three years, it may take five," the major told him, "but whatever happens we'll come back for you."
Onoda, who had been taught that death was preferable to surrender, took the order seriously even as everything was crumbling around him. That August, Japan surrendered. The war in the Pacific was over, and Onoda's duty was too.
But Onoda and a few men under his command didn't accept it. He thought that leaflets announcing the war's end were just enemy propaganda. They kept fighting, hiding from search parties and attacking Filipino islanders they thought were guerillas. They built bamboo huts and survived on bananas, coconuts, and food stolen in raids of nearby villages. Over the years, he kept cleaning his gun and stitching his frayed uniform together.
The handful of enlisted men under his command hung with him for years but gradually disappeared. His last colleague was shot in 1972 by Filipino police. Onoda made it two more years by himself, but in 1974 the Japanese government finally sent a delegation to instruct him to surrender. The major who had given him the original command to stay and fight told Onoda that the war was over, and that he was relieved of command.
Onoda was 52 years old, thin after living in a time warp and fighting a fictitious war that had been over for three decades. Still wearing the same patched-up uniform from 1945, Onoda presented his sword to Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, who returned it to him and pardoned him immediately.
When he returned to Japan, Onoda was greeted as a national hero, with big parades and speeches.
And he probably should have been. A country couldn't ask any more of somebody. He'd given up the best years of his life, serving in almost complete isolation and in constant danger. God alone knows how he survived all those decades of rats and mosquitoes and boredom and hunger. It was admirable.
But there were costs. He'd missed all those years with his parents, who were very old by the time he returned and died soon after. His irrelevant defense of the Japanese position at Lubang cost the lives of 30 Filipinos and two men under his command, for no purpose at all. Wouldn't everybody have been better off if he'd given up in the 1940s?
You should never give up. A lot has been accomplished when somebody refused to, either in their personal or public life. George Washington. Abraham Lincoln. Winston Churchill. Albert Einstein. Rosa Parks. The Wright brothers. Michael Jordan. Beethoven.
But sometimes you should give up. Recognizing when and under what circumstances is the hard part. Walt Disney gave up on a journalism career because, as he was told, "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Elvis Costello gave up his career as a computer programmer. Even Japan gave up. Now they have the third-largest economy in the world and we're bringing in their baseball players. What you give up and what you don't make you who you are. So choose well.
Peyton Manning is so good, it's almost boring to watch him. During the regular season, he threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, both NFL records. Yesterday, he threw two more touchdown passes and led his team, the Denver Broncos, to the AFC championship and a chance at the Super Bowl. He was Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. He's one of the best quarterbacks in history.
To top it off, he seems like a very good guy. He sponsors a terrific charity. And he's no prima donna. He's tough. His most recent triumphs have come after he suffered a neck injury and then the cruel abandonment by his long-time team, the Indianapolis Colts, which he had helped win a Super Bowl. Even after his injury, he graciously offered to stay with Colts and help train his heir apparent, Andrew Luck, but the Colts rejected him. He rebounded in Denver, without a cruel word said about anyone. (I haven't seen it, but everybody raves about ESPN 30 for 30's documentary on the Manning family.)
There's every reason to love Peyton Manning. And yet even though I've hung around a lot of football fans in my life, I've never heard one of them say they love him. They may have evolved from not liking him much to kind of liking him, but I've never heard anyone say, "Man, I just love Peyton Manning!"
People will tell you how much they love Joe Montana. Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, and all the rest who would probably make anybody's top list of NFL quarterbacks. A lot of people might even tell you they love Peyton Manning's dad, Archie, who, as the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints in the 1970s was sacked 340 times and only had one team over .500.
But even though they might rank Peyton Manning among the best quarterbacks ever, I don't think many NFL fans would say they love him. I don't love him. I like him. I can't put my finger on it. Is he too perfect? Is it because he's led so many teams to great regular seasons, only to get bounced in the playoffs? The cheesy commercials? You could say that about a lot of players.
After seeing yesterday's playoff game, I think I've hit on at least part of the reason: He's annoying to watch.
More precisely, he's annoying to watch before the football is snapped. It's hard to recognize after all these years, but part of Manning's genius is the no-huddle offense, which he helped introduce and which has changed the game at all levels. For decades, football revolved around the offense pausing in the huddle to discuss the next play. The old play was over, time to huddle up and plan the next one. Time went by. That only changed if the end of the game was approaching and teams were behind. Then offenses skipped the huddle and snapped the ball as quickly as possible.
Around 2000, Manning and his coaches threw out the old rules and began running the no-huddle offense from the kickoff. It worked. Opposing defenses had to be on their toes the entire time the Colts had the ball. They became winded and couldn't substitute players easily. Running the no-huddle like a bunch of civil engineers, Manning and the Colts won eight division championships, two conference championships, and a Super Bowl. Now everybody runs the no-huddle offense, probably down to Pop Warner teams.
But it's messy to watch, especially the way Manning does it. From the end of the last play to the snap of the ball, Manning is directing traffic, waving his arms and yelling. Barking. Scooting back and forth. Quarterbacks are always the focus of attention, but even by those standards Manning seems to hog the spotlight even more, waving at his receivers, his backs, his lineman, pointing at linebackers and defensive backs. He's like the older cousin who says he's the boss of you.
During yesterday's game it was even worse since CBS had a microphone on Manning during every play. It became unbearable. All you could hear was Manning's hollering and shouting, his complaining, and then his finger pointing and waving and moving back and forth. Omaha! Omaha! Omaha! He kept hollering it. Omaha!
What did it mean? Why can't he just be quiet, stay still, and take a snap like every other quarterback who has ever played the game? Why does he have to be so bossy all the time?
After all he's been through, Peyton Manning deserves another Super Bowl ring, and I hope he gets it. On the other hand, if it happens I'd rather just read about it and not watch it.
He's finally reached the peak of his profession. All those years recruiting in nameless places, moving his family around to the ends of the earth, always facing the chopping block, listening to the monosyllabic sports radio callers crucifying him Monday through Friday, nibbling on dozens or maybe hundreds of the same stale sandwiches in the film room.
All of that is behind him. He's about to win the big one. This is why he became a football coach. The last seconds are ticking down. His headset is off and he's hugging his assistants. Everyone's on the verge of tears. He's thinking of the sacrifices of his wife and his children. It might be the moment of his life.
But since the mid-1980s, thanks to the New York Giants and thousands of successors, most of those golden moments have been extinguished by a container of Gatorade and ice dumped over an unsuspecting, innocent body.
The networks love the whole sordid affair. They show it again in slow motion. The color guy diagrams it with his telestrater pen.
Years ago, a victorious coach might have been carried off the field by his players, like the Roman gladiators carried their leader in the Coliseum. I'm not sure if the Romans really did that, but they might have, and anyway it it's a much nicer tradition.
Sometimes, players still carry their coach off the field. But now it usually happens after he's received a freezing cold bath of sweat-replicating liquid on his head, down his back, into his trousers. All of it congeals into a sappy pus that he's still sitting on an hour later at the post-game press conference.
Would the legendary Green Bay Packer teams of the 1960s have treated Vince Lombardi to a Gatorade shower? Hardly. He would have evaporated them with the laser beams that came out of those glasses.
Somewhere, football lost its way. The Gatorade shower would have been fine once or twice, a funny little joke for one team and one coach. We might have said: Remember when the Giants showered Bill Parcells with Gatorade through the playoffs? That was cute.
But it became routine, year after year, game after game, not just after the Super Bowl or even the conference championship, but after every game. It's a fraternity prank that nobody really likes except the tortured pledges out for revenge, and everybody else just has to suffer through it. There has to be something else they could do.
Earlier this year, Mississippi upset sixth-ranked LSU. It was a signature win for Ole Miss. Of course, that meant it was time for the Gatorade bath. But the two guys in charge of it got a late start and, unable to find their coach (who was where he was supposed to be, shaking hands with the other team), they ran aimlessly around the field with the big tub. The Gatorade never reached its target, and the video of the hapless players went viral. Maybe it was the start of a new tradition.