The problem with this column is that it is written a week or so before press time, so if I want to discuss something contemporary and cutting edge, chances are it’s going to be staler than a week-old pizza by press time. This is particularly true when it comes to the world of politics, where things can change by the minute.

So what good is a column concerning the first presidential debate, now that the vice presidential and second presidential debate are already history? A rhetorical question, since the answer is obvious. But since I can’t comment on the latter two, I’m stuck with asking more questions.

Is the political universe this week completely different than last week’s? During the first debate, President Barack Obama seemed out of it, maybe believing at first that he could laugh and shrug his way through a 90-minute interview and still dominate former Gov. Mitt Romney. In reality, the president was completely caught off guard by Romney’s fiery new competitive spirit and debating skills and, for whatever reason, just wasn’t able to counter. He appeared disinclined to try and defend his own record or throw any witty, deflating zingers at Romney, who had recently made himself an inviting target. Not only that, his hangdog, slumping body language was completely uncharacteristic and suggested that he would have rather been anywhere else in the world than behind that podium.

In short, it was a bad evening for the president and perhaps the worst debate performance on the national stage since Adm. James Stockdale’s disastrous 1992 vice presidential debate against Vice President Dan Quayle and then-Sen. Al Gore. (In all fairness, the admiral was no politician and didn’t even know he’d be participating in the debate until a week before the event.)

I can only assume that the president will have done a lot better in the second debate — the town hall format perhaps more suitable to his style — and that the vice presidential debate produced something memorable. (Doesn’t anything involving Joe Biden produce something memorable?) And with less than three weeks to go, it’s still probably anybody’s race.

And speaking of being behind the curve in terms of getting a column out, my columnist at large, Walter Duane, who has made numerous welcome contributions to this space over the years, says, “I just renewed my prescription to the P & C.” (Ed. comment: As have all eligible, intelligent, good-looking, articulate and well-informed people throughout the Greater Charleston area.) “Still enjoy it with my cup of coffee. However, newspapers will have to become more literary and humorous if they are to survive.

“Accordingly, I enjoyed the column on my favorite poet, John Keats, who was also the favorite poet of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who named my favorite novel, ‘Tender is the Night,’ after a line in ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’

“As you know, Keats studied to be a surgeon. Medicine was primitive in those days. Bleeding a patient was still in vogue and practiced by, among other people, barbers, who were also known to practice dentistry.

“Lest someone should say, ‘Let the cobbler stick to his last,’ I have no academic degrees and was lucky enough to get an understanding of poetry and literature at Bishop England High School. But I do know enough to recommend ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ ‘Sonnet to Sleep’ and ‘On the Sea.’ All worthwhile.

“As a footnote I might add that The News and Courier used to have a poetry section on Sundays. Bring it back!”

Pun master Jim Augustin sends me his monthly installment. A few tidbits:

Snoring may be related to sawing wood because ... it’s related to sLUMBER.

Mixt Meta4 = Taking a bull by the horns before it gets into the china shop.

Window-shopping is to buying as fishing is to catching.

Hair dye = To go against the grayin.

Everybody talks about the Global Economy. It’s gotten to the point where if your hotel serves a continental breakfast, ask which one.

And speaking of the world economy, it’s been a pretty good year so far in the U.S. with improved sales of new and existing homes, persistently low mortgage rates, a burgeoning stock market, and certain elements of American industry doing well, but many people don’t realize that China has had a big slowdown.

Since China has been one of U.S.’ big lenders, it’s enough to make the casual observer (like me) wonder about the possible implications. My friends at Kiplinger say to expect the Chinese government to backslide on market reforms, resorting to higher subsidies for Chinese exporters and state-owned companies. Also, expect stiffer constraints on foreign firms in China and tougher regulations on imports.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@