How to Sound Smart at Thanksgiving Dinner
From Kate Middleton to Ireland’s economy, your all-ages conversational guide to impressing your friends and loved ones.
There are two things you need to get through Thanksgiving. Both require a good sense of timing: a well-made drink and a well-delivered insight. The Daily Beast can’t help you with the former but when it comes to the latter, we’ve got your back. Here’s some diversionary banter to keep Aunt Gloria at bay when she asks, yet again, why you’re still living at home. Try one of these lines out on Cousin Tim to get him to stop yammering about the wonders of his new girlfriend Katie. You don’t need to know much to fake your way through Thanksgiving banter—just more than that wisecracking uncle sitting next to you.
1. Politics: President Obama is trying to emerge from his midterm doldrums. He’s back from two big-time trips abroad. But the Republicans are feeling their oats in D.C., making noise over tax cuts and the White House’s economic plan.
Read: Peter Beinart, The Great GOP Wimp Out
Say: Obama is just like Bush—no, not that one.
We know the rule: You’re supposed to keep politics and religion as far from the dinner table as possible. But faster than Uncle Everett can say, “Obamacare,” you’re going to need the proper riposte to keep a Tea Party from breaking out in the kitchen. Try this: Did you ever realize how much Barack Obama is like George H.W. Bush? Now, the presidential matchmaking is an old media pastime. But here’s a curveball: Recently, journalist James Verini pulled off a neat trick by laying out how Obama is actually most like Bush senior. They faced similar crises early in their administrations, Verini says. They both field charges from the right of being anti-free market. They even share a cerebral approach to speaking. Democratic relatives will find you thoughtful. Republicans will be encouraged: Remember H.W. didn’t make it out of his first term.
2. Royals: Prince William just proposed to his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton.
Read: Tina Brown, Kate’s Obstacle Course
Say: Kate Middleton is the new Angelina Jolie.
Last we heard from the Hollywood queen, she was being chased from Bosnia, where her new film was stirring up ethnic strife. But Angelina is about to get chased off far more familiar territory: the cover of U.S. magazines. According to one People magazine editor, Britain’s possibly future queen is destined to become a supermarket aisle star. Her engagement to Prince William, the editor says, is so picture-book perfect that we can expect plenty of snapshots of Waity Katie shelved between gum and Tic Tacs all the way until next spring’s wedding ceremony.
• 10 Unhealthiest Turkey Dishes• Awkward Family Thanksgiving Photos• More Holiday 2010 News3. TSA: The traveling public is on edge over the introduction of screening devices and heavy petting by TSA agents. Sometime before dessert, someone will groan that we are giving up our freedoms for security.
Read: Howard Kurtz, The Media’s Pat-Down Frenzy
Say: Our greatest safety threat is snarge.
When a Moscow-bound plane (with Leo DiCaprio on board!) had to do a U-turn back to New York City last week, we learned that the cause of the plane’s malfunction was a certain kind of engine failure, normally created by snarge, which the New York Daily News described succinctly. You’re sure to impress Grandpa when you tell him that snarge is “the technical term for the bits of feathers, beaks and feet that remain after a bird is sucked into a jet engine.” Be warned: Snarge talk can put you off any desire for seconds of turkey.
4. Afghanistan: Next month, the president’s annual review of Afghanistan strategy will be released and he recently met with NATO allies to try to hash out a plan which would see a drawdown of troops by 2014.
Read: Leslie H. Gelb, Surprise! A Pentagon Spending Hike
Say: I told you we couldn’t trust the Taliban.
John Le Carré, call your publisher. The U.S. is stranded in the muck of a decade-long war in Afghanistan. Local leaders and military officers said that the Taliban was willing to come to the table, offering hopes that the conflict could be resolved peacefully. But the Taliban fellow flying into Kabul to visit Hamid Karzai; the one who General David Petraeus was betting his stars on? It turns out he was a fraud, an impostor. The guy who said he was Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour—the Taliban’s No. 2—was no Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour at all! And so, the American military leadership is left holding the bag, wondering how they got so lost in Hindu Kush.
5. Music: Miley Cyrus just celebrated her 18th birthday. Canadian brat Justin Bieber triumphed at the American Music Awards. Dad can finally find “Can’t Buy Me Love” on iTunes—2 million old fogies bought Beatles songs through the Apple service last week.
Read: Peter Lauria, Kanye Inc.
Say: Kanye West is unstoppable.
Twitter impresario, president-level apologist, Taylor Swift bully: It’s easy to forget that Mr. West is a musician rather than just some cultural artifact. The reviews are in for Kanye’s newest album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and they are breathless. Rolling Stone says the record “makes everybody else on the radio sound laughably meek.” Entertainment Weekly calls Fantasy “a fever dream with a crescendo around every corner.” Pitchfork upped the ante by scoring the effort a perfect “10.”
6. Trends: News that the FDA is about to yank Four Loko, the carbonated alcoholic potion driving college coeds wild, caused shortages of the drink, and dizzy nights throughout the land this week.
Read: Washington Post, Four Loko Ban Fuels Buying Binge
Say: Fiji Water is the next Four Loko.
It’s possible that artesian water may be about to vamoose from its isolated home. The luxe beverage has always had a somewhat troubled existence—it’s from an island home to both pristine streams and regular military coups. According to Mother Jones, the top official still on the island bolted following the sudden resignation of the country’s current leader, Ratu Ganilau. Fiji Water could easily become the next bottle causing fights in your local bodega.
7. Economy: The biggest story this week is happening across the pond where the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have pledged to rescue Ireland’s debt.
Read: Niall Stanage, The Men Who Killed the Economy.
Nothing like a little world economy knowingness to silence the in-laws. Here’s some wisdom via a couple of minds who know far more about the markets than we do. Felix Salmon says there isn’t enough money being thrown at the problem for starters. Only €15 billion ($20 billion) is being set aside to back up the country’s banks, a system that has half a trillion euros in assets. Dean Baker says that the conditions being placed on Ireland’s rescue will lead to increased taxes and increased unemployment (now at 14.1 percent), leaving the Irish wondering “what their economy would look like if they had not been rescued.”
8. Sports: Any conversation on the NBA is likely to turn to the Miami Heat, who—to the delight of the nation—are struggling despite the presence of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and even losing regularly at home.
Read: Los Angeles Times, Blake Griffin Is Giving the Clippers Hope
Say: Have you seen that Blake Griffin kid?
If you really want to show off some advanced knowledge, turn the conversation to the obscure Los Angeles Clippers, where rookie Blake Griffin is fast becoming the most explosive player in all of sports. Ask if they saw his dunk on the Knicks last week, in which he nearly jumped over New York's seven-foot Russian center, Timofey Mozgov, then insist they watch it on YouTube in between courses.
9. Television: This is Oprah Winfey’s 25th and final season hosting her daytime television juggernaut.
Watch: Oprah’s 5 Biggest Giveaways
Say: The best sign that the recession is over: Oprah Winfrey.
Back in the austere days of 2009, Oprah Winfrey decided to shutter her “Favorite Things”—giving out ridiculously expensive tchotchkes to members of her audience. Instead the Queen of Daytime opted for sharing recipes for the Thanksgiving season. Now in the final year of her show, Oprah returned to her flashy self last week, spoiling members of her audience with a new car (the as-yet unreleased Volkswagen Beetle), a new gadget (Apple’s iPad), and diamond earrings, plus a haul of other goodies.
10. Books: Punk heroine Patti Smith took home the National Book Award for her memoir, Just Kids, which depicts her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Read: Alice Gregory, A Big Night for Books
Say: Rock stars will save publishing.
While the bookish set frets about the iPad, Kindle, and the future of publishing, the cool kids are eating their lunch. Smith’s notable contribution to the book world wasn’t the only one from a musician. Rolling Stone Keith Richards earned boffo reviews for his own life story called, well, Life. And then there’s Jay-Z. Decoded—the rapper’s sorta-autobiography—is making a splash with an unprecedented advertising campaign. The hip-hop mogul even won over The New York Times’ notoriously icy Michiko Kakutani with his virgin book effort.
Got something else that you think will roast the competition on Turkey Day? Leave it in the comments.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.