Entertainment

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…

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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.

W.

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.

last debate

October 16, 2008

Finally, a little action! Was that the demur Mr Schieffer directing conversation, a roundtable creating the right environment, or just some form of repressed campaign energy necessarily finding its release? Whatever it was, the third debate was certainly the best of the three (go NYC?). From my perspective, McCain started off stronger, but wandered into points of confusion along the way, and by the end seemed to have failed to present a fully coherent picture of his vision. However, he did manage to throw some doubts about Obama out there, especially regarding taxes and health care. On the other hand, in a time of economic crisis, I don’t know if people will care as much about the fears of ‘great society’ governing.

For his part, Obama seemed tired and even a little bored to start with. He managed to be clear and deflect things and sound smart, but he sounded like he was going to go back into talking points at the start, and I never saw the spark in the eye the way you used to see with Bill Clinton when he’d do these things, that showed he loved explaining it. Near the end, when the issues turned to more personal things and he could talk about common ground and what we’re all looking for, I felt like I could see a little bit of hope in him. I think it’s just he doesn’t like arguments and debates that much; he’d rather do speeches and orations where he can talk about shared humanity… A lover not a fighter, sort of thing.

… Not to say he’s not a fighter, by the way. If you haven’t seen the Frontline special on Obama & McCain you really should watch it, as it gives a good & I think very fair background on both of them – it’s a bit brief once the campaigns get going but useful to get a feel for their lives leading up the 2008 run. Both are cast in quite favorable lights, I would say, although one diluted scandal each is discussed. But I do think it’s the sort of thing where you can draw your own conclusion.

Anyway, 538 is saying the post-debate numbers are giving it to Obama once again, which I’m relieved to hear as I wouldn’t have been surprised this time to see a shift. But it really just looks like America has made up its mind. Yes, McCain is not BUsh, but Bush is only getting like 25% approval right now, so McCain’s doing a lot better than that! Reagan changed things at the last moment, but he didn’t get his debate until the last moment – it seemed like the voters wanted change but were hesitant to trust the new guy until they’d seen him in action, which is the same thing that’s happened this time, except that we had three debates and they happened earlier in the cycle. But Obama got thumbs up from every debate, even when the media thought the performance was basically even, and I think it’s because the citizenry just wants confirmation that he can handle it.

McCain did his best yet last night, and we’ll see if it has any effect on polls – it might close the gap a little here or there, just to make things interesting.

And keep trackof the facts.

MccAin’t Happening

October 13, 2008

Election Projection shows Obama up by 200 electoral votes, and all the changes this week in Obama’s favor. 538 has slightly less on the electoral numbers, but still says an almost 94% likelihood of an Obama win. According to electoral-vote, on this day in ’04, Bush was already ahead by more than 50 electoral votes. Yes, there’s one more debate, and yes anything could happen. But it sure ain’t happening for him now, and it would take a dramatic turn of events.

A few days ago, Pat Buchanan apparently thought the problem was McCain was being too soft on Obama, and the commenters there, unsurprisingly, agreed – probably the same sort of supporters seen here
But McCain backed down, trying to appear at least somewhat respectable, rather than rile up the mob.
But can he change the tone? Even his own find it hard to see how this could turn around.

There are conspiracy theories, of course, and I will admit to being prone to taking these perhaps a little too seriously. I think it’s because I grew up in a NY, lefty household and so basically have never trusted the government – they are always a bunch of crooks and liars, by definition. Sooo, watching this video did get me a little paranoid.

But I thought she was really vague about the election stuff: did she think Bush was going to claim a third term / dictatorial powers? Did she think McCain was going to somehow steal the election and continue Bush’s policies? Or did she think it simply didn’t matter who went into office next, that Obama too would turn into the next fascist leader?

I think that’s how she gets away with getting people paranoid and riled up in unison, because people can project their own fantasy of what dystopia would come about: right wing paranoid freaks would imagine evil Obama, left wing super-paranoid freaks would imagine evil Bush becoming Hitler, and left wing moderate-paranoid freaks would imagine Bush helping McCain steal the election through some kind of last minute terrorism scare. Sells more books, anyway.

I will say, though, that if McCain were to somehow win at this point, it would definitely raise questions about racism or corruption.

modern living

October 10, 2008

The market is falling and Bush is doing his best to be the calm guide, as are most leaders. I remember 1987, but as a young teenager not for global traumas but just personal / family problems that seemed global at the time… But the radio says it was just as bad then, and we seem to have recovered pretty completely from that, so perhaps this isn’t the 1930s all over again.

Still, what it makes me think of is reflections on consumer capitalism as a way of life, and the question of whether our very method of living is sustainable. This is a cartoon presentation that gives an overview of the issue. It’s a little oversimplified sometimes – the idea of “toxins in, toxins out,” for instance, doesn’t really explain how toxins get out there to begin with, though it does give one example of how it’s often to do with making products flame retardant (and it would make the video even longer to explain the entire history). Likewise it doesn’t get into the story of why a system like this would become entrenched to start with if it has so many negatives, or about the positive aspects this culture might provide. But that’s because we see that constantly, so this is an alternative view, which I think is important to think about.

As a rebuttal to the whole “consumer cog in the machine” idea, I was sent this story of a pencil, which attempts to claim that the fact that no one individual can make a pencil, but instead it’s the product of dozens of bored workers who don’t understand or care how it works, is a beautiful thing – we’re working together! whee! I don’t find it inspiring. It highlights the meaninglessness and wastefulness of the consumer culture – who even needs pencils anymore? The only reason I can think to have them is for those auto-graded tests… In a craft economy, a person’s identity is wrapped up with their profession, but when you work on an assembly line pulling a lever to insert graphite or whatever, you don’t give enough of a shit about it to even know the rest of the process: your identity is wrapped up with getting the paycheck and spending it to prove your worth… to become part of that consumer culture again.

I don’t know if there is a better way, or if that last section is sort of overly hopeful and naive, but I certainly like the idea that we can collectively try to back away from the rat race and try to regain some humanity. Money isn’t everything. We can pursue technology smartly, not dangerously or greedily… at least, I’d like to think we could. Maybe it’s too much to ask of us at this stage of history, but at least the poets and the comedians can drop to the sidelines and watch: Andrei Codrescu offers a nice little tale in that vein.

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.

debate #2

October 8, 2008

I found the debate last night pretty boring. It seemed like pretty much standard talking points the whole way through, and even when questions were mildly interesting, the candidates managed to ignore them and just deliver their stump speeches, which if you’ve been paying any attention, you’ve heard a hundred times already.

I was surprised this morning to find that a bunch of people found Obama’s answer to the question on health care to be one of the best parts because that was one part that I found extremely irritating, since I actually thought the question was interesting and he skipped it to give his standard spiel. The question was about whether it’s okay for health care to be a commodity but he didn’t even acknowledge that he was going to ignore it or anything, just went into robot mode and described his health care plan (which of course still allows health care to be a commodity, not to say that’s wrong, but he never took up that aspect of the question – do we want competition or security & care in our health care – it’s a tough area, really…)

Basically, what came across to me is that undecideds are just people who don’t care about the election. This has been going on two years already; if you don’t already know Obama’s health care plan, you obviously don’t care about the election. This should be a time when we get to ask about details, like, for instance, why have a commodity based health care plan instead of one like Clinton proposed that was government backed? That could have been an interesting discussion about how industry affects medicine, treatment, preventative care; about if government slows things down and gets red tape in the way; about where in the scheme of infrastructure health care belongs. But Americans are just too stupid for that high level of a debate. Instead, it was back to a talking point he’s been repeating since 2006, a little spiel about “this is what I’d do”, and on to the next one.

For me, this is like Al Gore vs. Bob Dole. How can either of them win? I mean, yeah, I’ll take Al Gore and I’m pretty sure America will too but god is it boring to watch. I liked Tom Brokaw’s little slip-up, “If either of you win the presidency…”

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).

ok, one last Palin comment…

October 7, 2008

Finally someone in the media describes the debate the way it seemed to me, instead of soft-pedaling to avoid seeming sexist or biased. I guess only female writers in the foreign press, or independent bloggers, can really be critical without looking suspect.*

And it’s not as if the right denies that it’s “the politics of flirting” – it’s just they like it like that

I mean, Kathleen Parker said she should bow out after the Couric interviews… but somehow was supposedly won back by the debate (I have to believe it was some kind of back room, lookbitchyoubetterstop, or, I dunno… I mean, those starbursts can’t have got to her too)

*(e.g., notice how careful Hillary Clinton has been – every time she comments, she switches it to “the McCain-Palin ticket” and how it affects issues)