The meeting of two larger-than-life mayors

London mayor Boris Johnson describes meeting New York mayor Michael Bloomberg:

When the mayors met for the first time, Mr. Johnson recalled, Mr. Bloomberg kept talking about trans fats.

“I didn’t know what trans fats were,” Mr. Johnson said, a glint in his eye. “I thought it had something to do with transsexuals, obese transsexuals, or something. Anyway, he made a great deal about that.”

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Obama hearts guns

From New York Magazine:

Ever since President Obama awkwardly insisted to The New Republic last weekend that, “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” media fact-checkers (including our own DI Dan) combed through every bit of White House photographic evidence for even a single snapshot of the president in the gun-toting act. Sensing that the ensuing SkeeterGate was getting out of hand, White House officials released the above photo to theofficial White House Flickr stream this morning. “For all the ‘skeeters’,” tweeted White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, “POTUS shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David on Aug. 4, 2012.” Yet we can already predict the obligatory conspiracy theory backlash, noting that there’s not a clay pigeon in sight. Apparently we’re not the only ones thinking this. As newly-departed White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe tweeted soon after: “Attn skeet birthers. Make our day – let the photoshop conspiracies begin!”

Perhaps this is actually a brilliant strategy: depicting Obama shooting a gun is probably the only way to get Republicans to start banning them.

Just say no to drugs

Jerry Saltz was taken aback by the new Henri Matisse exhibit at the Met:

Midway through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Matisse: In Search of True Painting,” I ran into the painter Alex Katz. He looked at me, agog, and said, “I thought I was going to faint when I saw these paintings.” He gestured at two Matisse still lifes from 1946. Already in a stunned state of my own, I followed his lead and gulped at the revolutionary pictorial power and radical color radiating off these two powerhouses, one dominated by a celestial red and an arrangement on a table. In the foreground were either a dog and cat chasing each other or a pair of animal-skin rugs.

Then I looked at the painting next to it. I saw the same still life depicted on the same table with the same vase, goblet, and fruit. But this version was totally different. Where the dog and cat were, there’s an ultraflat still life within the still life. It’s so categorically compressed that it looks less than two-­dimensional — maybe one-half-­dimensional. I thought I, like Katz, might pass out.

“A personable middle-aged man.”

That’s the sensible description of Barack Obama, as written by China’s state-run Xinhua:

Barack Obama, a personable middle-aged man, inaugurated as the first African-American president of the United States four years ago with an ambitious oath — “Yes, we can.”

However, when Obama swore in for a second term as the country’s top leader on Monday, a man with eyebags, black spots and white hair stepped on the stage.

The article ends on a gloomy note:

Apparently, sad moments overwhelmed happy ones in Obama’s first term, as the number of things he can’t do is far beyond those he can. Even his own doctor admitted that President Obama now looks eight years older than four years ago.

Whether the next four years could be easier for him remains a mystery, but it is for sure that Obama, buried in unstopping affairs at home and abroad, could never be any younger.

In which I (utterly fail to) conquer my flying anxiety

My latest post for Full Stop is now online. An excerpt here:

It is probably most accurate to characterize my flying preparations as a mutual fund of sorts, constituted of various types of investments all designed to hedge against utter desolation (a fiery nosedive into a mountainside) and achieve modest returns (a safe landing). Recently, for example, I put off watching The Wire mid-flight in favor of lighter fare to calm my frayed nerves, and I swear Sebastian Edwards’ book on Latin American populists spawned vicious air pockets every time I opened its pages.

Small decisions, too, attain cosmic significance when followed seconds later by a slight shudder of the cabin. Was the weather better when I’d paused Bridesmaids, or is the only way to ensure smooth sailing to watch the entire film at 4x speed? These are not questions to be taken lightly, for upon their successful resolution rests the fate of hundreds of passengers, as well as the ability to understand a damn thing Kristen Wiig is saying at that rate. And no matter which airline I fly, I continue to cringe at the deliberately ominous abstraction of the announcement, “We’ll be on the ground shortly.”

Dan Amira to Howard Schultz: Run for President

The Starbucks CEO, having become quite the nonpartisan activist, needs to put up or shut up, says the New York Magazine writer in a hilarious little bit:

This isn’t an endorsement. We’re just letting you know that it’s gotten to that point. Run as a Democrat if Hillary Clinton hangs up the pantsuits for good. Or run as an independent. You’re worth $1.5 billion — put in $500 million and let your business friends and Tom Friedman cover the rest. Running without a party will be tough but so is convincing someone to pay $8 for a cup of coffee.

The other, better TED Talks

Disclaimer: I have never been to a TED Talk. In fact, I believe I’ve only watched one or two complete sessions (although I’ve seen clips of several more). Nevertheless, these Onion spoofs say pretty much all I’ve ever thought about the series, from what little I’ve seen myself and from much of what I’ve read by others who’ve seen more.

Open to having my mind changed, though.

On Canada’s (non)existence

Crooked Timber delivers a Christmas sermon on the reality, or otherwise, of our northern neighbor. As one might surmise, that’s not really the main point:

As far as I can tell, the concept of “Canada” dates back to the early 1950s. A confident new postwar generation of Americans were beginning to enjoy the privileges of mass market air travel. However, to their dismay, some of them began to discover that they weren’t universally welcome in the damaged postwar states of Europe, particularly in the more bohemian quarters where socialism was beginning to take hold. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth had just happened, pushing the British Crown into the public eye, and so a sort of urban myth was constructed about a part of America that was also ruled part of the Commonwealth.

Over time, all sorts of supporting myths and rationalizations grew up to support the “Canadian” faith. Apparently they fought a war against America in 1812, although not one with any noticeable or measurable political consequences. They don’t have a football team because they play “hockey on ice” (really!), a sport at which they are world champions (naturally, because it is a fictitious sport). They have all the nice characteristics of America, but have a healthcare system rather suspiciously similar to the British one, and so forth, and so on.

As anyone can see, this isn’t a country – it’s far too perfect to be convincing. It’s a fantasy roleplaying character invented by a kid who goes to mock United Nations camps instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally this is recognized in little cultural hints – a “girlfriend in Canada” is American slang for “an imaginary girlfriend”. But in general, people humour them – these days, if you want to make it in Hollywood, you’ve got to be either a Canadian or a Scientologist. Then the concept was discovered by that sizeable contingent of French people who always want to pretend to be Americans, and the Canadian faith had to pick up yet another massive and glaring inconsistency in the shape of a massive linguistic minority who lived in a state of peace and friendship with the rest of the country. Do I have to mention that they struck oil and invented the Blackberry?