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The Eighties

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Ready Player One.

“Dig Dug, Berzerk, Frogger, Tetris, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter II — they are all there.” In the spirit of preservation, killing productivity, and saving me trips to, and quarters spent, at the Columbia Heights laundromat, the Internet Archive — keepers of the always useful Wayback Machine — now offers 900 old-school, browser-ready arcade games for your nostalgic pleasure. “Firefox [is] best optimized to run these free games.”

“Ronald Reagan’s Benghazi.”

“Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. Marine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen…Six months earlier, militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, too, killing sixty-three more people, including seventeen Americans…In September of 1984, for the third time in eighteen months, jihadists bombed a U.S. government outpost in Beirut yet again. President Reagan acknowledged that the new security precautions that had been advocated by Congress hadn’t yet been implemented at the U.S. embassy annex that had been hit.”

As Republicans continue to lose their minds over Benghazi, to the detriment of all, The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer puts things in perspective by going back to Beirut ’83. “If you compare the costs of the Reagan Administration’s serial security lapses in Beirut to the costs of Benghazi, it’s clear what has really deteriorated in the intervening three decades. It’s not the security of American government personnel working abroad. It’s the behavior of American congressmen at home.”

See also: the Dubya record on diplomatic attacks — there were over a dozen of ’em. I know complaining about GOP hypocrisy these days is like complaining about the weather. But honestly, what an egregious waste of time this is.

Reign of Yoho.

“The power rests with Ted Yoho because the American political system has tolerated carefully cultivated ignorance and carefully tailored bigotry for far too long. Ted Yoho has been coming for years…The Republican party reveled in all the forces that are now tearing it apart. The Democratic party was criminally negligent and abdicated its profound responsibility to fight against those forces; indeed, it spent the better part of the 1980’s and 1990’s trying to surf the wave itself…”

“A great portion of the courtier press that now expresses horror at what is going on now went gleefully along for the ride as it became inevitable…This means all of you who went along for the ride on torture, and on Iraq, and who hid under the bed after 9/11. This is how the power came to rest with Ted Yoho, who is a fool and a know-nothing. This is how historical inevitability is created. This is how its momentum becomes unstoppable. This is how the wreckage piles up.”

With the government shutdown and threat of default receding — until January — Charlie Pierce names names for how we got to this sorry point. “‘Government is the problem,’ said Saint Reagan in his first inaugural. And everybody, all of you sorry bastards, cheered, and made completely predictable the moment in which the power of the government would come to reside in…Ted fking Yoho.”

What he said. I’d only add that, while the media moves on to other things (until we lurch into the next crisis a few months hence), all the GOP crazies who sent us over the cliff three weeks ago are still here. They’re still in power. They’re still making mischief. The budget is still underfunded. And this administration still seems all-too-inclined to give them a social insurance-slashing “Grand Bargain” for their troubles. This is not over.

Keep Calm and…Oh, Never Mind.

“We all know that the dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history. The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology. But whatever terrors lie in wait for us, all the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength.”

Along the lines of Richard Nixon’s paean to the fallen Apollo 11 astronauts, a draft, circa 1983, is unearthed of Queen Elizabeth’s potential remarks on the start of World War III. “The moving words were written by an imaginative speech writer taking part in a disaster planning exercise.”

Don Headroom.


“People want a dance that makes them feel safe. They’ll do anything for it, even leave their friends behind.” Also by way of The Late Adopter, Buzzfeed collects some of the best hits of 80’s Don Draper. “Imagine this: not just one Corey, but two.” For more fun, read the very funny Twitter feed. “Simon isn’t about remembering a bunch of colors and sounds. It’s about remembering who we are.”

Speaking of Mad Men, I liked Forrest Wickman’s Chevy-is-Vietnam reading of last week’s strange, Dr. Feelgood-enhanced episode. That being said, the agency is starting to lose me — Don’s been spinning his wheels all season, and while it may be true-to-life, it’s not all that compelling to watch the main character become ever more repugnant and self-pitying while making the same mistakes, over and over and over again. (With that in mind, it’s become especially clear this season that Matt Weiner cut his teeth on The Sopranos.)

Also, nothing on the show is dumber or more show-stopping than 30’s whorehouse Dick Whitman. Every time we flash back to that ridiculous thicket of hyper-Freudian backstory, I’m reminded of nothing so much as Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel.

Better Off Sith.

Haverchuck and Schweiber? Sorry, those aren’t the nerds you’re looking for. The Mary Sue points the way to Star Wars re-envisioned as an 80’s teen comedy.

The Nuclear Option: Ignorance.

If there were any doubts that Sarah Palin is a total idiot, she settled them with that single statement….Tip to Sarah Palin: Obama may have some vulnerabilities, and you may have some strengths, but command of the issues doesn’t fall in either category.” As the up traffic here in DC, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan beats back some of the dumber GOP attacks on Obama’s nuclear policy, while Joe Conason tries to explain what Ronald Reagan really thought about nukes.

Sigh…Pick any issue these days, and for far too many of the GOP opposition, the question seems to come down to whether they’re out-and-out venal or just incompetent. Sadly, the answer seems to be yes.

Frat to the Future.


To get in the proper mood for Steve Pink’s ’80s throwback (in more ways than one) Hot Tub Time Machine after a long week at work, I made sure to sidle up to the bar just beforehand — conveniently located, at my “local” (Regal Gallery Place in DC’s Chinatown), just below the theater — and knock down a shot-and-pint (of Jamesons and Guinness respectively, of course.) And my best advice for those of you still thinking about testing these bubbling, lurid, time-traveling waters: Better make that a double.

My feelings about Hot Tub Time Machine are pretty close to how I came down on The Hangover last summer. It’s got some funny moments, sure, and I admire its throw-everything-and-see-what-sticks, Anchorman-y approach to humor. (This is vastly preferable to the “let’s make the audience better people in three acts” schtick that was in comedy vogue for awhile — See, for example, Anger Management.) It’s also sort of a kick to see John Cusack, after fighting it for decades, willingly slumming back to his Savage Steve Holland years, and, I’ll concede, the “I want my two dollars” joke made me smile.

At the same time, and maybe even more than The Hangover (which is no small feat), Hot Tub Time Machine feels like it was penned by and for the Bill “Sportsguy” Simmons nation. You could argue its casual misogyny, homophobia, and dumb raunchiness-for-the-sake-of-it is all part of the return-to-the-’80’s experience, but my guess is it’s really all about catering to the army of 21st century mooks that enlist under the Sportsguy’s standard. I mean, do you know the street value of that mountain? (As an aside, I actually think Simmons is a decent writer, and am crawling through his Book of Basketball at the moment. The problem isn’t his talent or his bball savvy, but his judgment and his (lack of) taste. Nor do I blame him for creating mook culture — he’s just one of its clearest expressions.)

More on the mookness of it all in a bit, but, first, the high-concept gist: Just like The Hangover, we have three friends (Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson) and a hanger-on (Clark Duke) trying to find themselves by taking a memorable, life-altering Lost Weekend — only this time, it’s in The Past. Adam (Cusack) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has his Second Life-addicted nephew (Duke) living in the basement. Nick (Robinson) is a once-promising singer who gave up his dreams for a girl and now spends his day as a personal trainer for dogs. (He touches poo. Ha. That’s funny. Poo.) And Lou (Corddry), the Galifianakis of the bunch, is a perennial loser who may or may not have recently tried to kill himself. (A wasted Corddry plunking out ’80’s power-chords on his dashboard is funny, and one of the many ways he often rises above the material here.)

So, because of Lou’s maybe-meltdown, this ungainly foursome head back to the ski resort idyll of their youth for some manly bonding. Problem is, the Great Recession has hit hard and the place has gone to hell — there’ll be no skiing the K-12 here. And, just when the weekend seems like a total wash, our heroes stumble into the hot tub in question and stumble out 24 years earlier, in the year of our lord 1986 — Adam is still with the “Great White Buffalo” he never should’ve dumped, Nick is still rocking the Kid-‘n’-Play-style hi-top, Lou is…well, still a loser, and Jacob the nephew shouldn’t even exist, and thus has a phasing-in-and-out, Marty McFly in Back to the Future II problem. (And speaking of the McFlys, Crispin “George McFly” Glover is skulking around too, as is Chevy Chase.) Fire up the day-glo and the hair metal, y’all, ’cause it’s time to partay like it’s the MTV era…

And so they do, meaning all the fashion faux-pas and Wang Chung-ish blasts from the past you might imagine from living in the Eighties. But, while there are still a few funny moments here and there, this Hot Tub loses steam and falls ever more flat the longer they spend in the Me Decade. I find legwarmers and Members Only jackets as ridiculous as the next guy, but there are only so many “lordy, the sartorial sense was terrible back then” jokes you can make over the course of two hours. And, other than that, the movie just meanders through its second half without much purpose, or even much sense. Cusack ingests enough shrooms to give the good doctor pause, and is playing Sixteen Candles kissy-face with Lizzy Caplan half an hour later.

And then there’re all the fratboyisms and mookish behavior. To be clear, I wasn’t offended by Hot Tub, per se. (Case in point: I put Jackass in my top 100 films of last decade.) And, to be sure, the sensibilities were different back then in Ronald Reagan’s America — just look at much of Police Academy or Revenge of the Nerds, or even the aforementioned Back to the Future, where, as @kellyoxford recently noted, George wins Marty’s future mom’s heart basically by stopping her from being date raped.

Still, by too often resorting in puerile shenanigans — look, Rob Corddry just got pee on his face! — and particularly in portraying every gal that comes along (Caplan aside) as a dim-witted sex toy, the movie just feels lazy, half-assed, and, well, mook. I don’t want to be the Billy Zabka of this tale, but, while I’m all for nostalgifying the ’80s for a few laughs, at some point, quite frankly, it’s time to grow up.

The Old School Dealmakers.

[L]ong before Hollywood discovered the Texan, he cut a wide swath through the House, always playing the roguish ladies’ man and macho militarist…[His] frequent, much more sober-styled partner was Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania powerhouse who chaired the defense subcommittee so important to CIA funding for the Afghan cause. And the fact that both have died now within days of each other punctuates the end of a major chapter for the House left behind.

Charlie Wilson, 1933-2010, and John Murtha, 1932-2010.

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