FUBAR

The big three stooges

What are we to think of the Big Three automakers plea to Congress (and each of us) for a $25 billion bailout, euphemistically known as a bridge loan or rescue package?

During the disastrous trip to Washington by the auto companies’ three CEOs (stupidly arriving on private luxury jets), the three men were unable to say exactly how much they need and how it would be spent, provide assurance they wouldn’t be back in a few months demanding more money and, finally, explain why Americans won’t buy their products.

You don’t give your last tourniquet to a dead man, said one lawmaker. What is at the end of the bridge, another demanded. Why are Toyota’s U.S. operations able to sell its cars, and you can’t sell yours, another congressman asked.

Feds ante up another bailout

Rushing to rescue Citigroup, the government agreed to shoulder hundreds of billions of possible losses at the stricken bank and to plow a fresh $20 billion into the company.

Regulators hope the dramatic action will bolster badly shaken confidence in the once mighty banking giant as well as the nation’s financial system, a goal that so far has been elusive despite a flurry of government interventions to battle the worst global crisis since the 1930s.

An economy and nation in crisis

A global economy in free fall, banking giants like Citigroup tetering on the precipice of collapse, auto giants like General Motors facing insolvency, faltering wars on two fronts: No President-elect in modern times has faced so much crisis as he approached inauguration day.

The question of whether or not Barack Obama is up to the job is no longer relevant. He has the job and the question now is what he will, or can, do with it. Obama says his top priority is the economy but he will face equally daunting problems on almost every front.

So much for Obama’s promise of change

Barack Obama’s apparent decision to ask Eric Holder to be his attorney general is not without peril for a young president-elect who has repeatedly promised to clean up the scandal polluted, partisan atmosphere of Washington.

Senate Republicans will lack the strength to deny confirmation to Holder, the former deputy U.S. attorney general under Bill Clinton. But they certainly can make his nomination their first big challenge of the new administration and in the process give Obama some very bad moments by resurrecting one of the more questionable last minute actions by an outgoing president in recent history.

Bailout lag

Auto executives flew into Washington in private jets, and before long there was congressional stalemate on what they wanted, not just because of the unfortunate symbolism, but because widespread discussion had successfully blunted sharp assertions.

Despite what some contended, it became ever less certain that the $25 billion federal bailout sought by the executives would save the auto industry, that a declaration of bankruptcy would kill it or that industry demise would wound the country grievously.

What’s gone wrong with our language?

Meh. Feh. Heh. Wha …?

New words enter the language all the time, but not all of them warrant a mention in the dictionary. "Meh," say the word mavens at the Collins English Dictionary, means "an expression of indifference or boredom." The word’s inclusion in the dictionary, however, is anything but boring.

Meh is a pop culture creation — the word turned up in a 2001 episode of "The Simpsons" — that has exploded on the Internet. TV, text messaging, blogging, chat rooms and message boards are changing the way Americans read, speak and think.

Redefining religion

How well I remember a dear Roman Catholic friend of mine saying to me, "you evangelicals are so caught up in your ‘personal relationship with Christ’ that sometimes you forget it’s not all about you!"

I’m guessing Michael Horton would agree. He’s the author of the new book, "Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church." (Baker books.) Horton, a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California, has written a distinctive critique of the American church ( the protestant church is his focus, but he suggests says much of what he writes would apply to the Catholic church as well.).

A bailout here, a bailout there…

The midst of a recession is no time to let a major component of the manufacturing sector, one with a large workforce, go under. Thus the consensus in Washington seems to be that Detroit’s Big Three will get some kind of bailout. But there is an impasse over how best to do it.

The Bush administration and a number of congressional Republicans want to allow the automakers to divert a previously approved $25 billion loan program to tide them over until car sales pick up.

Attack of the food fascists

Last week I gave a talk before a local theatre’s production of Neil LaBute’s play "Fat Pig." The play revolves around a workplace romance between a conventionally attractive (read: slim) man and a fat woman.

In today’s society this plot represents an informal taboo vaguely similar to that explored 40 years ago in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, when the suave but very black Sidney Poitier shocked the very white Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn by showing up as their daughter’s dinner date.

My talk involved points I’ve made hundreds times over the past few years, to audiences ranging in size from a dozen high school students to a few million TV viewers.

Advice from the vampire expert

When I was kid, many TV shows and films at the cinema were Westerns, and to this day I cannot think of family entertainment without thinking of horses and cattle. Sometimes I moo just to get into a G-rated frame of mind.

These were fine shows featuring good, clean violence in between shots of cows and sagebrush. They were based on the premise that Americans looked back fondly on an era when shooting people was a popular pastime and did not involve the ACLU afterward.