Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

The undecided voter

October 21, 2008

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama is being given a lot of attention as a powerful move, a thoughtful speech, and a painful jab to the right wing. But one thing that struck me about it was the fact that Powell basically admitted to being one of those many undecided voters the media has been chastising and the comedy shows have been mocking. He said on Meet the Press that he’d been watching carefully these last few weeks and finally chose Obama. But he apparently wasn’t sure until just over two weeks to the election, when voting has already begun in some states. Yet the press still respected and adored him.

He didn’t say he had to decide whether to come out and state publicly that he would vote for Obama; he said he had to decide for himself whether to vote for Obama. He personally just wasn’t sure what to do until he had had time to watch them in action this fall. Does that mean we should think less of Powell or more of undecided voters? Well – that’s up to you. I’m just pointing out the overlap.



October 20, 2008

The times talks about Palin’s future in show biz, which is what I thought of too, after watching her appearance on SNL… She can draw a crowd in politics, but it’s limited, and she seemed more relaxed in the non-political world, or at very least in non-political politics…

Rachel Maddow addressed this charm offensive approach of the McCain campaign; very smart breakdown. Perhaps it won’t work, especially since McCain’s money is so limited and the two level attack is so hard to maintain in such an information-heavy society. This week’s shifts on election projection are minimal but a bit more friendly to McCain than the last few weeks have been…

what you never know

October 19, 2008

I always try to keep in mind that life in the real world is hard to predict, but like everyone I also find myself turning to previous cases that are similar enough to this one, to try to predict anyway. Six months ago I thought McCain had a real chance, and after the RNC I was sure it would be a close race. It was only last week when the polls seemed to just keep getting tougher for him, and Obama just kept cruising along, that I finally felt like maybe we didn’t have to worry that much. But after that last debate and a few positive pop culture appearances for McCain and Palin (Letterman, the Alfred E Smith show, SNL) I could see McCain just being the easy going nice guy underdog, not worrying about it, and Obama trying too hard and irritating everyone with his constant barrage of boring politician-ads. I’m reminded that it doesn’t matter what happened last time or how things go in what percentage of times. All that matters is what is happening right now and how things are going this time.

So it’s a false sense of security to look at 95% likelihood of winning… That site is based on a baseball stat model, which is hardly based on beliefs and psychology at all, and mostly on facts and abilities. BUt politics is all about opinions and group tendencies. It’s a whole different ball game, so to speak. Also, teams actually win and lose multiple times a week, whereas in politics it’s just polls multiple times a week that are providing numbers – the actual “game” only happens once, and could be totally misrepresented by polls the whole time, for a whole host of reasons.

I know the Tribune endorsed him, and that overall more newspapers have gone with Obama. Plus today Colin Powell endorsed Obama. But this is all for people who are following politics on purpose, not for people who just catch sight of things here or there. And Colin is sort of part of the old school anyway. So even with all this I feel like things are less secure now than they were, that McCain has found more of his groove, talking anti-socialism and being a fun guy. Not that it will work, but I think it will be closer.


October 18, 2008

Oliver Stone’s new movie might have made a better mini-series – it was really long, but felt like it could have been much longer; it didn’t really have much of a plot; and except for Josh Brolin, who was excellent, and Cromwell & Burstyn, who were realistic as people but don’t really bother with the details in their portrayal of the senior Bushes, most of the cast feel a bit like caricatures (especially thandie newton as Rice, who is just awful – I don’t know if that’s the fault of the script, which didn’t leave much room for a character to develop, or if they cut the part down because her portrayal belonged on SNL). It seems like in order to try to make it fit into a movie, it focuses around Iraq and the father-son relation – Junior goes in to finish what Daddy never did, in order to get approval/ one up his stand-offish but never far away father.

It’s an interesting and I think well balanced story – it’s not told harshly, but reminds you of the amount of psychology and insider string-pulling and so forth that actually ends up running our government – how so much of what happens is built on just as emotional or shakespearian ‘reasoning’ as the statesmen of the past… we imagine it’s rational democracy now, but it’s not nearly that different… sure, we have more safeguards, but the impulses, the underlying motivations of the people in charge, haven’t changed much. We just have slightly better ways to keep them in check.

Overall, Bush comes across as a nice enough guy who doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, but has a motivation to show his dad he can do it. He isn’t malicious; he’d just rather be a center fielder. But as the continual sports day dreams show, he is never very good there either… he can’t box his father, and he can’t keep his eye on the ball in the stadium. The movie ends before the ball drops for sure, with just the dazed and confused GWB looking around him, which does seem appropriate. You almost feel sorry for him. But… not really.

the right / responsibility of voting

October 9, 2008

I mentioned that Rich Lowry piece the other day about Sarah Palin’s winks knocking his socks off, and came across this possibly comparable piece by a female writer the other day, about how pictures of male candidates holding babies just makes her melt. She admits pretty much without hesitation that her rational concerns are no longer the point; it’s the look on the little boy’s face.

I tend to be a somewhat overly analytic person. To me, Sarah Palin’s winks were kinda cute in a funny way, but completely inappropriate to the context, so sort of surreal and hilarious and just bizarre. They did not make me like her more, though they didn’t necessarily make me dislike her more. They just made me feel like “what the fuck is going on in this ridiculous country?”

As for that picture of Obama and the gleeful little boy, to me it is very sweet, but that’s the end of it – if not for all the commentary, it would have been an “aww” moment, and then I’d forget about it. I guess if you are already really into Obama it is probably more deeply affecting, but even so, I’m surprised how intensely people seemed to react to it (though I wonder if that’s just the immediacy of the internet, and if they’d even remember it the next day).

All of this reminds me a bit of an article that was in the New Yorker this week; only the abstract is online, but Jill Lepore wrote a piece about the history of voting in America, and how much it has changed in the last couple centuries. In the first election, only 6% of the US population had voting rights – only property-owning men were entrusted with not voting for their own personal gain, but only for the common good – and the entire population of the country was smaller than a lot of contemporary cities. They voted in public, by raising hands or saying names in the town hall, and later by handing in hand-written ballots. This ended up being dangerous as people would attempt to stop each other from getting to polling places, so in the mid-late 19th century, after the vote had been widened to those without property and the freed slaves, we switched to secret ballots…

But things still went through the Electoral College, which was a safety measure that kept the polloi from directly choosing the president. Now we still have the EC but it’s not really meaningful anymore, as we are trying to encourage the polloi to please choose the president. Unfortunately we aren’t encouraging them to become more interested or more educated or more thoughtful when making the choice, and it seems as if a lot of candidates are all too aware of how to use various gimmicks to manipulate them.

Consider how upset FOX news was when an unretouched close-up of Sarah Palin was published by Newsweek: if Ms Palin became Ms Plain, she’d lose her whole draw. But it’s not as if the same thing isn’t going on on Obama’s side… Image is … well, a lot.

NYC map of awkward social interactions

October 7, 2008

Just what I said above. This creation (of someone I knew in high school) reflects the juxtaposition of our need to catalogue and track everything like good rational vulcans, with the ever present and inescapable aspect of human experience, our very real inability to figure out what the hell is going on and how to deal. It’s a lovely little observation.

Plus, it’s interactive! go wild! (if you’ve ever been to New York and are a little emotionally exhibitionistic).

palin culture

October 3, 2008

It seems like the afterglow of Sarah Palin’s performance wore off pretty quickly – the pundits may have liked it, but the bloggers didn’t; the polls were against her and the internet quickly pointed out her weaknesses – the Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart started making the rounds right off the bat – I must have seen it in half a dozen places, including facebook, my mailbox and the comments section here. Sure, that doesn’t mean it reflects everyone’s opinion, but at least, plenty of people were Not Impressed.

The other thing I found weird, though, was the way she didn’t seem to be all that conservative. She was weak to me for being incompetent, but I wonder if she will still seem strong to the base, considering that she hasn’t fired up the god-talk or the pro-life talk or much else to really get them going, and it seems as if she’s given a few to the lefties. I mean, ok, she did a little “drill baby drill” talk, but it wasn’t all that convincing without a room full of followers to chant with her, especially when Biden had the numbers to back up why the whole idea was stupid. (speaking of, the Economist has a funny moment in this trying to parse that interchange in the debate..)

But she agreed with Obama/Biden on the rights of gay couples to have basic recognition as legitimate civil unions, even if not passing that religious barrier of “marriage” (but that just shows it’s a question of social evolution – who can imagine either party even mentioning gay rights so straightforwardly 20 years ago?).

And as I said below, in the Couric interview, she talked a lot about “choice” when it came to abortion, about the importance of “choosing life”: but not the legal necessity of barring people from having the option of murdering their unborn child or anything like that. She was pretty soft on abortion, it seemed to me, if it’s gonna be a one-issue thing. Maybe that’s what contemporary conservatives are like, but I wondered if she satisfied the base.

And on banking, she seemed to be pretty pro-regulation, and on global warming she seemed ok with stopping emissions, at least in theory, so where was the conservative base stuff? Just the same as McCain, it seemed – the differences were the war, taxes, energy policy, and budget stuff (education, health care)… not the social issues or religious stuff. Or perhaps it’s just having the fake smile and the wink, in the end – Reagan never did anything in particular for the base either, I guess… hmm. I still feel like he was better at dressing up his answers, but I was too young to be paying close attention so I’m just making assumptions.


September 27, 2008

I don’t think anyone really won any votes with that debate. It seemed to me that the best anyone could have done was retain votes – swing voters who were considering switching sides might have been convinced to stay with the guy they were leaning toward, because both guys sort of did well enough if you were sort of inclined toward them to start with. But I don’t think either side did well enough to reach out to pull someone across from the opposing side, to swing voters who really didn’t know which side they were going for, or swing voters leaning one way to switch to the other way. So I think it was a wash, ultimately.

Basically, no one was inspiring. I thought Obama was marginally better, but I’m biased toward Obama’s views to begin with, so I can hardly count that as an objective perspective. His manner was still a bit too Gore-bot, and somehow he didn’t seem to really get into the material, excited or interested in explaining it, but rather just listed answers and told tired stories (that bracelet war was pathetic). McCain was meaner and generally more simplistic, which didn’t win any points with me, and his repetition of the “maverick” and “miss congeniality” stuff was stupid. His condescending attitude and refusal to even look at Obama bothered me, but could be a useful strategy among some voters, I suppose.

But it seems as if Obama could have responded a little more sharply and energetically at times – like, McCain used Madelaine Albright as an example of how we send the Secretary of State to negotiate with axis of evil states – that’s the Clinton administration, pre-no-tolerance position – the question is whether Colin or Condoleeza has met with these guys. Or on the economy and overspending, why did Obama not bring up how much the war has cost us, and how much bad strategy and poor military planning have cost us overall? He could have framed that in a way that wouldn’t just have been “liberal peacenik”, if that’s what he was trying to avoid. It seemed like he wasn’t in the moment, but just turning to parts of his speeches. I liked that Jim Lehrer tried to get them to go at it, but overall the whole thing felt tired… It got a little better toward the end, and it did seem as if they were sort of warming up, so maybe future debates will be more interesting, but I’m not impressed.

You want an energetic debate, by the way: check out NYPL: Zizek v Levy, e.g., reminds you of what it’s like when people who actually care about topics, and think deeply about them, talk to people they disagree with. What a completely different world that is from presidential debates…

un connected

September 14, 2008

I heard this on the radio and was interested as it was something I have thought about, the changing landscape of fiction as technology alters the world. It traces the place of cell phones in movies: how once, screenwriters would sometimes have to come up with bizarre scenarios to allow a character to be believably locateable while travelling – a timing of clocks and placement of various phones, sort of thing, complex machinery that simply disappears once the cell phone comes on the scene. Then, in the early days of cell phones, the enormous bulking boxes are symbols of huge extravagance – only the super-rich and probably evil have them.

But the interesting part is that now, we’re stuck with them. Far too often, a plot can’t move forward because what would have been the conflict or problem or beginning of the story could be simply and easily resolved or never entered if someone just made a quick phone call. And doesn’t basically everyone have a phone in their pocket? So the author has to have cell phones die or get lost or the area not get service… which will surely get old.

I had thought about this because I had been working on a piece of novel-type-scenario set in the late ’90s (only because I started writing it in the late ’90s) and I noticed that the technology of the time was semi-internet but only in a very occasional, ‘it exists’ sort of way, while real newspapers & zines & CDs were still prominent and cell phones were basically not a factor. When I went back to work on it in the aughties or whatever this decade is, I kept not being sure what to do about the technology stuff, whether to have them use real phones, or was that weird? whether to have them read real papers, or go online? to keep it in the 90s where it was originally, or move it closer to the present… and how strange that so few years made so much of a difference. Then i wondered if I’d have to address political stuff too, so sort of decided to just leave it in the 90s… (well, eventually I just stopped working on it, so, whatever…) I was still surprised how much technological shift occurred over a decade though.

On the other hand – that much technological shift occurred for me. John McCain, for instance, still doesn’t use email. And I still have one friend with a landline and no cell phone (Hi S!). And I have other friends who haven’t given up their landlines, I think. Plenty of people read real papers instead of stuff online; I still get a couple magazines myself… There is a shift, but it might not be fair to say when exactly it has taken / takes place…

david foster wallace

September 14, 2008

Apparently he hanged himself. Reading this made me cry. I have had trouble eating this morning, and it’s even possible I am premenstrual so we can blame this on various physical weaknesses, but nonetheless, I … This is really hard for me.

I feel like this is my Nirvana moment, the way my musician friends felt when Kurt Cobain killed himself. For me, that was sad, but nirvana wasn’t really my thing anyway… But I remember stopping by the guitar shop where my friend Jason worked that day, and seeing him near tears. DFW isn’t so much one of my favorite authors as just a voice of a generation, one of the original definers of the meta-ironic overly-self-conscious intellectually wittily effusive, that others have tried to copy but few have really achieved.

God. Maybe I’ll try to clarify what I’m thinking later… [1]

[1] RIP