Blog Posts by Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News

  • Legitimate takedown: Todd Akin meets the women of the Internet

    You gotta hand it to a guy who wakes up, checks the weather and decides, Today’s the day to opine about rape! Last month, the comedian Daniel Tosh attempted to silence a heckler at the Laugh Factory, saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

    Five weeks and one Twitterstürm later, put “Daniel Tosh” into Google. Suggested searches are “rape joke” and “Daniel Tosh gay.”

    Over the weekend, Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri saw a chance to follow suit and bullocks up his own Google standing on the eve of an election. Pregnancies from rape, Akin said, are scarce because if “it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

    “Rep. Akin Must Resign” says a paid anti-Akin ad on Google today. That’s the first return on an “Akin” search. Feminists decried the comment. Democrats did, and Barack Obama. Then Republicans, then Mitt Romney. Now almost everybody wants Akin out of the Missouri Senate race.

    Not long ago

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  • Talking ’bout my Generation X: Paul Ryan can’t be old enough to run for vice president. Can he?

    There have been plenty of vice-presidents under 45. Theodore Roosevelt was only 42 when he ascended to the vice-presidency. Al Gore was 44. John C. Breckinridge, the vice president under James Buchanan and the youngest ever, was a mere lad of 36 when he was elected to the second highest office in the land.

    These men, in my memory—or in their portraits, anyway—don’t lack dignity and authority. You’d want these middle-aged troupers in the oval foxhole with you, had you been Presidents William McKinley, Bill Clinton or James Buchanan. Voters, too, were content to have them a heartbeat away from the top job. And when McKinley’s heart was stopped by a bullet, Roosevelt, still 42, stepped in and handily outdid him as a leader.

    So why is there something disturbing to me in the relative youth of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s 42-year-old running mate? Maybe it’s his birth year that strikes an upsetting chord: 1970. A Generation X birthday. Nixon, the Soviet Union, Alvin Toffler’s blockbuster

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  • Does Olympics #NBCfail herald a media apocalypse?

    The idea that NBC is stiffing Olympics fans just won’t let go.

    A Gallup poll now suggests that most Americans hate NBC’s practice of airing popular events only at night, taped—and not as they happen. In fact, 59 percent want the Games live and on tape delay.
    For shorthand, let’s keep calling that pissed-offness #nbcfail, following Steven Marx, the stay-at-home-dad who coined that hashtag on Twitter two weeks ago. Marx watched his tag go gold as Twitterers use it to bash NBC for tape-delayed coverage they consider partial, condescending, incomplete and just generally jacked.

    Sure, the lumbering fatcat network (anyone out there old enough to call it “the peacock”?) is winning a jaw-dropping 33.6 million viewers a night with its exclusive stateside coverage of the London Olympics.

    So, at 30 Rock, they’re crying all the way to the bank. But evidently some portion of those zillions now tune in largely to hate on NBC. These NBC-haters are like opera-goers who turn up at the Met just to boo the

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  • Gore Vidal: Analog troll

    The kitchen-sink correction that ran with the obituary for Gore Vidal in The New York Times may be the best commentary yet on the life of Vidal, the larger-than-life writer and TV personality who died on July 31 at 86.

    In 1968, Gore Vidal, it seems, had savaged a prominent right-winger as a “crypto-Nazi”—not, as his obituarist had erroneously reported, a “crypto-fascist.”

    Vidal was not a cousin to Al Gore, though he often liked to dilate on their kinship. And although Vidal publicly credited the longevity of his relationship with his companion Howard Austen to their practice of never having sex, the couple did copulate, at least once, on the night they met. That encounter was robustly described in Vidal’s memoir, “Palimpsest.”

    Taken together, these earnest Times-style corrections suggest that Gore Vidal led a rich, florid and glorious life being Gore Vidal—advertising himself and dismantling others and then fleeing into umbrage, smugness, pedantry, fake innocence or actual exile when his Read More »from Gore Vidal: Analog troll
  • There’s a nap for that: Romney’s snoozy 'Mitt’s VP' iPhone app

    Two mobile apps released this week offer insight into the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. “Mitt’s VP” has some intelligent design behind it, but it ends up a riot of styles and is ultimately ungenerous in the extreme. At the same time, “Obama for America” is clean, Appley-looking and unconfusing. But what the two campaign apps really shed light on is what apps—anyone’s app—ought to be in 2012.

    At first glance, “Mitt’s VP” uses rustic, Americana lettering as if it were a haberdashery window in the age of Grover Cleveland. That’s pretty great. Any hint of Barnumism in a campaign seems like a healthy sign that someone is not taking the venture too seriously.

    But that vibe turns out to be only pixel-deep. The app is quickly revealed as a banal, noxiously safe, wavy-bunting-on-the-dais bit of silliness, like a campaign website from the ’90s. The nineteen-nineties. The collision of this nervous patriotism with the sheen of steampunk irony in the design is

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  • Bringing Up Baby: Marissa Mayer and demystifying CEO pregnancies

    Soon after Steven R. Appleton, the CEO of Micron, died in a single-engine plane crash this past spring, there was some impolitic grumbling. Should top executives have to disclose risky pastimes like amateur aviation? Don’t shareholders deserve to know when they’re staking their trust—and 747-sized salaries—in people who harbor the curious “urge to fly their own planes,” as Jacob Weisberg once described the dangerous brain condition that’s almost epidemic in some superrich quarters?

    Maybe. After all, CEOs are said to be indispensable. That’s how they amass their nine figures. Their bodies become, in some sense, the corporate body. Donald Trump’s company is tied to his pompous comportment and gilded hair. The same is true for Ted Turner’s robust outdoorsiness or Richard Branson’s ambitious athleticism. Shareholders may be within their right to know if that body is in a precarious position.

    After initially dissembling, Steve Jobs in 2004 finally disclosed to Apple employees that he was

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  • Why leaving Tom Cruise makes Katie Holmes a feminist hero

    For all the disdain aimed at them, the popsicle-colored celebrity tabloids—online and on newsstands—periodically throw up timely parables that readers ignore at their peril.

    I met my best-loved pop parable in 2007, a few years after Us went Weekly. Out of nowhere, it seemed, Britney Spears appeared in story after shocking story, channeling a British alter ego, rolling with two-bit grifters and shaving her head like a shrieking 19th-century madwoman. How had the high-fructose Louisiana mouseketeer tapped this particular vein of punk-gonzo performance art—so much more muscular than the entropic, wasted tantrums of Courtney Love or Charlie Sheen? The lessons lay too deep for words.

    [Slideshow: TomKat in happier days]

    But even then an even more powerful celebrity parable was underway; it too had Victorian coloring. It concerned Katie Holmes, that self-serious tomboy from “Dawson’s Creek,” and her peculiar liaison with Tom Cruise. From the start, the queer TomKat romance had a gross fame-

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  • In his Obamacare ruling, John Roberts called the president a tax-and-spend liberal

    There were pixilated tea leaves. There were fantasy-football-style predictions. There was bluster and filibuster and Talmudic analysis in the SCOTUS blogosphere.

    And then there was a decision. At 10:06 a.m. EDT Thursday morning, the dapper and erudite John Roberts, the George W. Bush-appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, announced the court's decision to uphold President Barack Obama's health care law. Roberts broke ranks with the other Republican-appointed justices and voted against invalidating the individual insurance mandate.

    So it was a double negative: The court would not deem Obamacare not constitutional.

    Come on: Who can quarrel with that, unless they've got a weird jones for 17th-century tax-law arcana? Yes, by 2014 everyone will have to buy health insurancesome kinds will be newly subsidizedor pay at least 1 percent of their income in a tax penalty, rising to 2.5 percent in 2016. But also, adults and children with preexisting health problems will no longer be

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  • Why Nora Ephron gave us heartburn

    The first day we didn’t think it was funny.

    That the great Nora Ephron died last night at 71. That it was sudden—a vigil on Twitter, a flurry of worried texts from friends, and then Tuesday night the bell tolled. Ephron, the legendary writer and director, had died of pneumonia, a complication of myeloid leukemia.

    What was least funny of all was how many of us obsessive fans who dreamed of meeting the cool, hilarious and incomparable Nora—and striking up a fast friendship—never will.

    I never got to be Nora’s friend,” wrote the great Joan Juliet Buck, in seeming disbelief, today.

    I know just how she feels. How is that possible? I was going to ask Nora Ephron if a starstruck outsider could ever understand her Upper West Side, or if we should quit trying. I was going to ask her about working with Dave Chappelle in "You’ve Got Mail." I was going to praise her essays from the 1970s on Pat Loud and Linda Lovelace. I was going to be quiet so she could make jokes I’d never forget.

    I was going to

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  • Mitt Romney, Internet buzzkill: Why you won’t click on this article

    [NAME REDACTED]: The kiss-of-death topic on the Web.

    Political websites that are inundated with traffic right now ought to consider an astoundingly effective app for turning readers away. It’s free. It’s the phrase “Mitt Romney.”

    Put that buzzkill phrase in a headline and watch readers scram.

    That’s according to Buzzfeed, the site that chronicles the vagaries of the viral web, where the news of the Romney reader curse was first reported. Many editors have shared their disappointment with the appetite for Romney stories, but Buzzfeed conducted an actual experiment.

    The site ran two sets of posts about the early lives of President Obama and Mitt Romney, and promoted them in the same way. One was about their childhoods; the other showed them as young men. The Obama posts attracted vastly more attention, with more than 130,000 views in total. The Romney posts drew fewer than 20,000.

    Even what Buzzfeed called “dreamy pictures” of Romney drew ho-hum numbers.  Online readers simply don’t click on

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