Monthly Archives: December 2012

My Christmas List for President Obama’s Second Term.

My first Christmas memory – at least I think it was Christmas – is of my sisters and I playing Nintendo (just plain old Nintendo). I was so young that for all I know it could have just been some random day, but anytime I think about it I get that sort of rush that you only feel on Christmas morning. It’s a level of excitement that can’t be replicated by any other event – save for (maybe) a really awesome birthday present, or being totally surprised by an engagement proposal. Christmas morning, when you’re young, is just about the coolest day of the year; Christmas morning, when you’re an adult, however, is a little less glorious. It’s most likely spent recovering from a Christmas Eve spent drinking too much eggnog or too many vodka-tonics. Christmas, as a kid, was so great because it was the one time every year where we basically get to tell our parents our wildest wishes, and tell them to buy us whatever the fuck we want. In my family that didn’t necessarily mean much – I’m pretty sure I asked for a pair of Jordans every Christmas and never once got a pair, same goes for dogs. But looking at those big ass boxes under the tree you get your hopes up that maybe there were a pair of Jordan XI’s or a Nintendo 64 in one of them. And when you finally tore off that corny looking gift wrap and found that Nintendo 64/Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time bundle pack, it was the greatest fucking thing ever.

Christmas sucks now, though. It’s not because there’s some insane War on Christmas that Fox News keeps babbling about, but it’s because that Christmas euphoria is gone. When you’re twenty-five, you don’t have any Christmas lists filled with the latest video games, or whatever the cool shit is at the time. Christmas presents, when you’re a kid, are a bunch of things that you want; Christmas presents, as an adult, are just practical things that you need. I once, recently, received a fogless shower mirror for Christmas. Seriously. I’m not hating on the fogless shower mirror (okay, yes I am), it’s just that tearing open gift wrap and finding a mirror, or sweatpants, or socks, isn’t a particularly exhilarating experience – I’ve had more excitement watching You’ve Got Mail. As much as I would love a maxed out 13-inch MacBook Air, I know it’s not happening – not that it would have happened as a kid – because it’s not a practical purchase. Instead, I’ll probably open my Christmas present – or presents, but likely the former – and find a sweater, or an iTunes gift card (which I actually wouldn’t mind), or a book that I probably already own.

Below is a copy of my Christmas List. For the sake of practicality, though, there’s nothing on the list which is a tangible item that I want or need. What you’ll find, instead, are things which are far more important, not just to me, but to everyone in our country. Since we all know Barack Obama won re-election by giving away “gifts” to young people, women, and minorities, I’ve decided to cash in. What you’ll find below is my Christmas List for President Obama’s second term: things that I – a two time Obama voter, donor and campaign volunteer – believe our president must accomplish over these next four years.

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Shit That I Liked in 2012: Books, Music, Movies and Everything Else.

I’m an unabashed fan of end-of-year lists of the best shit of any given year, and of holiday gift guides. As such, I’ve decided to create my own, not because you care (because you definitely don’t), but because I think it’s important to support excellent work.

Books:

Fiction:

  1. This is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz: A collection of nine short stories (similar to Drown) focused on everyone’s favorite chauvinist, Yunior, whom you should know by now if you’ve ever read anything from Diaz. Also of note, Junot Diaz’ skills in describing the female body are unparalleled.
  2. Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil: A really beautifully written, and smart, novel about drug addiction, vice and life in Mumbai.
  3. The Twelve – Justin Cronin: The second book in Cronin’s dystopic The Passage trilogy. It’s just good.

Sports/Entertainment:

  1. Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles and the Greatest Basketball Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever – Jack McCallum: Okay, yeah, that’s a really, really long subtitle, but it’s also the definitive book on the greatest collection of stars in the history of professional sports. An absolute must read for any basketball fan.
  2. Out of My League: A Rookie’s Survival in the Bigs – Dirk Hayhurst: Anyone who follows Hay on Twitter knows that he’s both smart and funny, but anyone who has read his first book The Bullpen Gospels can also tell you that he’s one hell of a writer. While The Bullpen Gospels focuses on life in the minor leagues, its follow-up, Out of My League, shows the struggle of balancing a playing career with a personal life and the difficulties of getting to, and staying in, the Major Leagues.
  3. The Hall of Nearly Great – eds. Sky Kalkman and Marc Normandin:A collection of essays about your favorite baseball players, by your favorite baseball writers. The essays feature a motley crew of players who have been overlooked by the Hall of Fame, and have retired into relative obscurity, but who were too good to have been forgotten. (Players include: David Cone, Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez, Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Lenny Dykstra, and Dale Murphy, among so many more. Writers include: Joe Posnanski, Will Leitch, Jonah Keri, Jeff Passan, Jay Jaffe, Emma Span, Rob Neyer, Jonathan Bernhardt, Carson Cistulli, Old Hoss Radbourn, and many, many, many more talented individuals. You can also find my name in there as one of Sky and Marc’s original Kickstarter backers.) [e-book only.]
  4. Paterno – Joe Posnanski: I’m not sure any biographer had a more difficult task than Posnanski as the Sandusky scandal and Paterno’s death occurred as he was writing the book. All things considered, Posnanski still wrote an incredible account of the life of the one time saint, and now controversial figure.
  5. The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever – Alan Sepinwall: If you’re familiar with the author’s name, then you know he’s one of the best TV writers around right now. His self-published book on the revolution of TV drama (centered around twelve specific dramas, including The Wire, The Sopranos, 24, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men and Breaking Bad) is an entertaining read. It’s also nice to support someone self-publishing something which is actually good.

Biographies/Memoirs/Essay Collections:

  1. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace – D.T. Max: Max has written some of the best pieces on David Foster Wallace since his death, so it was only proper that he write the definitive biography on, perhaps, the most tragic figure in modern literature. (You’ll also sense a recurring DFW theme in this section.)
  2. Mortality – Christopher Hitchens: A brutally honest and incredibly poignant collection of essays (previously published in Vanity Fair) from the late Christopher Hitchens as he was dying of cancer. A short and quick read (only a little over 100 pages), but excellent, nonetheless.
  3. Farther Away – Jonathan Franzen: Father Away is a collection of essays on a wide range of topics from bird watching in Cyprus, to environmentalism and economics in modern China, to Franzen’s beautiful struggle in accepting his friend David Foster Wallace’s suicide.
  4. My Heart is an Idiot – Davy Rothbart: Yes, another collection of essays, but, this time, on love. Like Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”), Rothbart consistently finds himself falling helplessly in love, over and over again.
  5. Paterno – Joe Posnanski: See above.
  6. Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 – Moshe Kasher: A fast-paced and well written memoir from comedian (and co-host of the hilarious Champs podcast) Moshe Kasher. As the title would suggest, Kasher lived a more ridiculous life by the age of 16 than anyone could imagine. Just a really good, really funny memoir.
  7. Both Flesh and Not – David Foster Wallace: A posthumous collection of previously published DFW essays on topics ranging from tennis, to writing, to Terminator 2. It’s safe to say it’s not the greatest collection of his works, but Wallace on his worst day is better than 99.99% of the world.
  8. Diaries – George Orwell:A publication of George Orwell’s personal diaries. Maybe not the most fascinating thing you’ll read all year (he really, really loved gardening), but if you believe that Orwell was ahead of his time, quotes such the following will provide you with confirmation: “Apparently nothing will ever teach these people [the rich] that the other 99 percent of the population exist.”

Non-Fiction/History/Politics/News:

  1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo: A tragic and affecting, and beautifully written, story about the families struggling in the slums of Mumbai. It was easily my favorite book of the year, and is a must read for everyone, but especially for Indian-Americans.
  2. Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy – Chris Hayes: Much like his Saturday/Sunday morning show, Up with Chris Hayes, is the smartest show on television, this is probably the smartest book you’ll read all year. Hayes provides an interesting, thought provoking takedown of the American meritocratic structure, and how we can fix it.
  3. The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity – Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy: A fascinating history of the relationships forged between American presidents – past, present, and (sometimes) future – and the support they provided one another through decades of American crises.
  4. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t – Nate Silver: Nobody had a better election night than Nate Silver. This is why. Silver’s manifesto doesn’t just analyze politics and baseball, but also economics, natural disasters, poker and other institutions in which proper predictive and projective abilities could have significant consequences.
  5. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power – Rachel Maddow: A smart and detailed review of the expansion of the American Military Industrial Complex, and how the American people – aided by their growing distance from the front lines of war – have become somewhat anesthetized to our state of perpetual war.
  6. 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars – Kurt Eichenwald: A well researched, well written account of the failures, lies, and deceptions of the Bush administration in the first 18 months of the post-9/11 era.
  7. Why Romney Lost (And What the GOP Can Do About It)– David Frum: Somehow published just two days after the election (which makes you wonder how early he actually started writing it). Frum remains one of the few conservative talking heads with a shred a credibility, and provides and interesting read if you’re curious as to what lies ahead for the Republican Party (and you should be). [e-book only.]

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Maybe it’s time to re-think the constitution, guys.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. – Second Amendment, US Constitution

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. – Thomas Jefferson

Two-hundred and twenty-one years ago – to the day – the US Bill of Rights was adopted, having been largely written by James Madison, and ratified by the vote of white men – the men whom we now refer to as our “founding fathers” – who owned slaves, who believed blacks were equal to three-fifths of one white person, and who actively worked to disenfranchise not just blacks, but women and the poor as well.

What we seem to forget when we (all too often) cite these founding fathers in our political discourse, is that these founders were nothing if not flawed men. There is no greater proof of this than our nation’s history – the landmark amendments of the post-Constitutional era are all amendments which explicitly overrule their judgments. Seventy-four years after the Bill of Rights was enacted (in 1865), the thirteenth amendment emancipated the slaves; five years after that (1870), the fifteenth amendment prohibited the denial of suffrage based on race or color; fifty years after that (1920), the nineteenth amendment finally afforded women the franchise.

The question I have to ask, then, is why do we seem unwilling to compromise the language found in those twenty-seven words above? If we – through ratification of the thirteenth, fifteenth, and nineteenth amendments – are willing to admit that these founding fathers were incorrect in their assessments of women and minorities, why are we similarly unwilling to admit that, maybe, the founding fathers were incorrect about guns? After all, if George Washington saw the Bushmaster .223 that Adam Lanza used to murder more than two dozen people, mostly children, he’d shit his pants. Advanced firearms in 1789 (when the second amendment was written) were fucking muskets; are we really this dumb, as a society, that we believe that a twenty-seven word piece of legislation, written (poetically) 223 years ago, envisioned a nation filled with automatic and semi-automatic weapons? Of course not. But our ability to harness this simple fact for meaningful change is dependent on our answers to the two previous questions, which, in turn, are dependent on numerous outside factors – none of which are common sense.

The gun control debate is – by all accounts – a fairly nuanced one. There are issues of constitutional law, existing gun laws and states’ rights, mental healthcare and healthcare in general, campaign finance, and the separation of powers. Any measure of comprehensive gun control requires compliance from a wide range of people and institutions.

Missing from all of this, however, is the moral imperative: on 9/11 terrorists murdered 3,000 innocent civilians and we entered two wars; drugs have historically led to gang violence, so we’ve entered a war on drugs; 10,000 people have been killed in gun-related deaths over the last year, and we, apparently, have done nothing.* How can we live in a society where we not just allow, but codify and protect one’s abilities to purchase firearms? These are firearms, which, in the hands of civilians, are only used for two purposes: to kill people and animals, and to practice killing people and animals. Purchasing a firearm is nothing more than one’s implicit declaration of his or her willingness to not just fire this weapon, but to kill – even if only in self-defense.

*I’m not advocating for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, nor the war on drugs, but, rather, that proportionate measures must be taken.

There’s always the libertarian argument of the inverse relationship between guns and violence – that more guns lead to less violence. This is not just patently false, but ridiculous to its core. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center, in fact, found that there is overwhelming evidence that in states and countries where there are more guns, there are more homicides.* Still, somehow, this seems to be an argument which fills our political discourse – whether made by congressmen, or by Ann Coulter. We know better than this, and yet, somehow, we allow this argument to be perpetuated, from ignorant generation to ignorant generation. So how can we, as a people, as a government, and as a nation, live with ourselves when we legally sanction one’s ability to purchase a weapon that’s only purpose – even if used in self-defense – is for killing other living beings?

*Also false is the argument that guns are essential to our right to overthrow the government, considering that Tunisia – the birthplace of the Arab Spring – had the lowest rate of gun ownership in the world prior to their revolution.

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