Tuesday, October 14, 2008

So much for great debates (Daily Northwestern 10/10/08)

I clearly need to apologize. I promised to write about the best moments in this endless presidential campaign. That was youthful na'veté. I'm pretty optimistic for a cynic, but there have been no best moments. There have been few good moments. There have been, by and large, only bad moments and worse moments. Maybe next week will be better, but this past week was the worst.

We got a heartbreaking debate, one so boring that Politico hailed it as the worst debate of all time. The campaigns promised us a shootout with .357 magnums, but the boys showed up with slingshots. Given the state of things right now, with two ongoing wars and a financial crisis, we deserve a debate more sophisticated than watching Dennis the Menace and Wilson bicker. The impish, wandering McCain gave us the "that one!" moment. Some have called it racially charged. I do not think it was. It was just bizarre and creepy. Obama, on the other hand, gave us no moments; he simply sat there looking more bored than Paris Hilton. Meanwhile, the rest of the world entered fiscal cardiac arrest. Loves it.

We saw the McCain campaign vomit a new wave of desperate, negative attacks. They have again attempted to turn Obama's middle name Hussein into an epithet. They have rattled on for days about his tenuous connections to Bill Ayers. They have slyly mentioned Obama receiving donations from abroad - as if McCain hasn't. They have allowed threats - calls for Obama's life - from their audiences go unanswered, "condemning" them only after the fact. These are the dots they want us to connect, and the many lines will spell "danger." Given the magnitude of this moment in history, these attacks sound not just small but insulting.

And we saw Obama do very little for fear of looking like the "angry black man," as Ben Stein called him. When the other team nearly accuses you of treason, you do not need to sound measured. You hit McCain harder on corruption involving the 1989 Keating Five scandal, not just with an online documentary nobody will watch. You list the names of every lobbyist working for McCain. You recount every nasty Chelsea Clinton and "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" joke that compromises not only his judgment but also his decency. You nail him on only knowing one thing about money: Yes, sometimes earmarks are silly. Then you call him on trying to spin all of this into his baseless maverick image. And when you're done and you've won, you render him obsolete, a tired relic, a has-been hero who will be remembered only for discovering FOX News's most successful anchor - Sarah Palin.

Maybe he shouldn't do all of this. Obviously he should leave it to his surrogates and spokesmen. McCain is too far beneath him right now. But I can't be the only one who wants to see Obama himself reach down there and turn the lights out. This is getting old.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Photo finish

As you can see, Sarah Palin has graced the most recent edition of Newsweek's cover. Predictably, FOX News has gotten all bent out of shape over the wrong thing. The headline reads "She's One of The Folks (And that's the problem)," but that is in fact not the only problem. Apparently, they have beef with the picture: an extremely close-up shot of Palin without airbrushing or Photoshopping. As one girl said (whose name I don't even care to learn), "This photo is a clear slap in the face of Sarah Palin. Why? Because it's unretouched."

I am in awe. First, and I mean no disrespect, they find the most airbrushed, retouched, stitched-up, chin-tucked, lip-plumped witches on television to criticize the cover. Then they get an average woman named Julia Piscitelli to defend it, and she does well when she's not getting screeched at by the Queen of the Damned. But this is a tried-and-true FOX News tactic so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Second, how can we move beyond this culture of plasticine, android standards of beauty when we deem the alternative "unfair" and have a hissy fit about it? Third, she looks fantastic. I can't quite peg what Newsweek is doing here--are they trying to make her look ugly by magnifying her imperfections or proving that "one of the folks" can be beautiful too?--but it plays in Palin's favor.

Know how she can pick up a heap of undecided women? By decrying these comments, by calling them sexist and backwards, by distancing herself from the FOX News fog machine, by demanding a more honest and realistic portrayal of beauty, by saying enough is enough and actually standing up for something important to women. That's a grand slam. This would work so well it almost seems staged, but that's a bit too conspiracy-theory for my taste. Either way, it's a valuable statement that ought to be made. (On the off-chance this is staged, it's one of the best alley oops I've seen.)

About time

According to The Inquisitr, Apple will (probably, assuredly, maybe) launch a line of laptops priced below $1,000. Check out the link above for the details.

All I can say is it's about fucking time. With the financial clusterfuck in full swing, what better time to price products more aggressively? And now that 90% of college students own Apple, they should broaden their horizons--the real world.

I look forward to the new "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" ads:
PC: Hi, I'm a PC, and I'm cheaper than a crack whore.
Mac: And now I am too!
PC: Really?
Mac: Yup! I'm also prettier, simpler and more accessible than a crack whore.
PC: Well, uh...at least I'm not Justin Long.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Putin's manifesto

All I could talk about over the summer was what a BAMF Putin is. This man gives Teddy Roosevelt a run for his money. First a picture of a him fishing shirtless surfaces.

Then we hear a tale of him rescuing a camera crew from a charging tiger by grabbing a rifle and firing a tranq into him. A tiger running at full tilt!

Next, responding to a question regarding his reaction to Georgia's provocations, he says: "What did you want us to do? Wave our penknives in the air and wipe the bloody snot from our noses?" He's such a badass even his pens have knives. Pictures also have shown him aboard a submarine, operating a train, co-piloting a fighter jet, at the wheel of a racing truck, shooting his standard-issued KGB handgun, and sparring Jack Bauer. (Only one of those is not true.)

And now we have this: "Let's learn judo with Vladimir Putin," an instructional martial arts DVD.

I no longer wonder why Time named him Man of the Year. There is no doubt in my mind he is the manliest man alive.

You betcha I can read

At a California rally on Saturday, Sarah Palin proposed an interesting reason to support the Republican ticket. She's not known for speaking her own thoughts, preferring to recite talking points and rattle off Ronald Reagan lines punctuated with a red-light district wink. But she has taken it to a new level: misquoting Starbucks cups, perhaps the only source of news she will confess to reading. She said, "I'm reading on my Starbucks mocha cup, okay? The quote of the day... It was Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State [crowd boos] and UN ambassador. ... Now she said it, I didn't. She said, 'There's a special place in hell reserved for women who do not support other women.'" [My emphasis.]

Given the popularity of Starbucks and the fame of the quote's source, it didn't take long for someone to call foul. Turns out the quote actually goes like this: "There's a special place in hell reserved for women who do not help other women." [Again my emphasis.] Now, I'm not surprised to find the Republican ticket misquoting and twisting facts--or quite simply pulling them out of their ass--for their own political gain. That's not even news anymore.

What strikes me most is the irony. Has there ever been a mainstream platform more anti-woman? A woman who vehemently defends the sanctity of marriage and then forces two teenagers into loveless wedlock? A man who does not believe in equal pay for working women? A woman who can speak knowledgeably only about repealing Roe v. Wade? A man who voted against protecting women from terrorists who target abortion clinics?

Maybe there is a special place in hell reserved for women who do not help other women. If there is, Palin better start praying for salvation right now.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Buy this man a beer

After the announcement of the Lehman's Bros. bankruptcy last month, Lehman CEO Richard Fuld decided to go sweat out some stress at the gym. There a man punched the CEO in the face. CNBC confirms.

It's a start. Where can you buy tar and feathers these days?

[from HBO series miniseries John Adams]

Celestial navigation

First, it snowed on Mars - an event so majestic you can almost hear Jed Barlet wax poetic about it. Then scientists discovered a planet denser than lead. (Reports suggest they intend to name it Palin.) But it gets better: Tomorrow night an asteroid will streak across the sky and explode in a 1 kiloton blast! I don't know what that means but it sounds dangerous and cool.

Paris Hilton might say the stars are blind, but they've really never been more prescient. This is the kind of stuff that happens in Greek mythology before something awesome or awful happens. Needless to say I'm psyched.

[Mars sunset via Wikimedia]

The monomyth and the Obamamyth (The Daily Northwestern 10/3/08)

I would have never guessed a class I took called "The Hero's Journey: Jesus, Star Wars and the American Dream" would prove useful in a political column four years later. Bear with me.

The teacher, Doc Failla, wanted to explain two things: the relationship between Luke Skywalker and the obsession Americans have with stories. We are addicted to them. We are chemically, emotionally, historically and even politically dependent upon them. Not just Americans of course - civilizations throughout time relied upon stories to understand themselves and one another. But in the home of Hollywood, Americans just want to hear your story.

Doc Failla structured his class around Star Wars because it approaches narrative perfection. Back when George Lucas had a clue, he brilliantly structured Luke's story around the writings of Joseph Campbell. Campbell pioneered the theory of the hero's journey, what he termed the monomyth. He explains that all great stories feature a hero who "ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

With a little imagination, we can find this structure in every great story - from Star Wars to Jesus to Batman. And this is where it gets political: John McCain has this kind of story. He constantly tells his POW stories for this reason. Those years not only play up his patriotism but also root his story in the hero's journey. Vietnam was his Dagobah, so to speak, his "region of supernatural wonder." For all the criticism he receives for telling this story ad nauseum, it works on a fundamental level with voters. It is a phenomenal and heroic story, and it mirrors the structure of the hero's journey.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, sucks at telling his story. I've studied both of his books, read almost all of his speeches and yet I still struggle to recount his convoluted biography. It's not that he doesn't have a good story; he has an inspiring and distinctly American story. He's just not a good storyteller. He is without a doubt the greatest orator our generation has seen. Yet time and time again he fails to connect on an emotional level, not just with the average voter, but often with his most fervent supporters.

His will be a hard story to tell. "Community organizer" and "Chicago" don't instantly conjure the image that "POW" and "Vietnam" do. But before he can rewrite history, he needs to rewrite his story. He needs to stop talking about the future all the time - the audacity of hope - and start talking about his past - the improbability of hope.

We need to know that he earned this. He needs to explain the improbability of his life in a way that echoes the hero's journey. Obama too often sounds like a messiah who has descended from heaven to save us from the flood. That b-movie plot teaches us nothing. And what is a story but teaching in a way that everybody can understand? So before he hires his next speechwriter, he better hire his first screenwriter.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Channel 73: The Obama Channel

Check this out.

UPDATE: Although it began running only 2-minute ads, it now runs his convention speech. Needless to say, this sounds like an interesting but underdeveloped idea. 

Game over

I'm going to call it a night, but here's my final thought: In a vacuum, Biden wins. But this isn't a vacuum. I think Palin performed far above expectations, but I hope we don't judge her relative to how much she previously sucked. Let me say this, though: I think Palin did well no matter how you cut it -- all personal disagreements aside.

I do think, however, Biden hit his stride at the end. And that won't go unnoticed.

A few things Palin will answer for: her comment about not wanting a media filter and another about wanting to increase the power of the VP. I also think she sounded incredibly rehearsed. I think that's lame, but I doubt anybody else does.

In the mean time, though, that's all folks. Thanks for joining. (Or, if you're reading this tomorrow or over the weekend, good luck making sense of what I was saying!)

Unable to name a single compromise

Palin just failed to name a single instance of compromise. She tried to chalk it up to Alaska being just adorable -- thanks, but no thanks. That won't fly tonight. This reflects poorly on her for two possible reasons, big ones: she is either unable to compromise, or has so little experience she's never had an opportunity. Maybe she doesn't know it, but compromise is the lifeblood of this republic. It's the only thing that makes a two-party system (a virtual duopoly) feasible. When you take compromise off the table, gridlock or something far more dangerous occurs: the tyranny of the majority.

Biden takes it home

Where has that Biden been? The one just discussing his life at home, his family, the tragic death of his wife and baby daughter, the difficulties of being a father, and what it's like to have one house -- not seven -- and for that home to be your one investment. That's the Biden who will take this home -- in every meaning of the word.

Soundbite of the night

It doesn't have anything to do with the issues, because soundbites rarely do, but I predict their little "didn't get our jokes" moment will get the most airtime. It plays in Palin's favor since she cracked the joke, but I think it humanized both of them. It was a good a moment, and I tip my hat to Palin for that.

Now, Palin's "her reward is in heaven" phrase -- wag of the finger, I think. But that's a subject for another time.

Couric, Palin's kryptonite?

What is it about Katie Couric that made Palin such a jiggling mass of Jell-O ignorance?

Could it be that all those conspiracy theories were true? That Palin intentionally bombed interviews for two weeks? Did she want to send expectations so low that comparing her to Dan Quayle seemed offensive--to Dan Quayle?

We'll just have to see.

The view from her house

After her mediocre performance during the second half of this debate (focusing on foreign policy), I have a couple predictions:

  1. Her success during the first half will be tempered but not at all forgotten because she sounds kind of silly talking about the rest of the world.
  2. Katie Couric will no longer be the first thing she attacks if McCain/Palin win this election. Couric will be second.
  3. Russia will be the first thing she attacks--for obstructing her view of America.

I'm bored

Are you bored? If so, enjoy this...


The white flag of surrender

Ironically, the Palin/McCain ticket gets closer and closer to defeat every time they mention victory in Iraq. It is toxic to them, so I can't quite place why Palin is lingering on this.

I'm curious to see how this second half of the debate unfolds. Biden, above all else, knows foreign policy. Palin, on the other hand, can--well, you know. I'm not sure the view from her kitchen will fly as foreign policy experience tonight. But I'm also not sure she'll even mention that tonight. She's on message. She's charming. She's easy to understand without sounding like she has sacrificed substance. This is Biden's debate to lose right now.

If you're watching CNN

If you're watching CNN, you can see their live focus group of uncommitted Ohio voters responding to the debate. Right now, they're liking Palin. But more interestingly is how they're divided: There's an orange line for women and a green line for men. During the presidential debate last night, it was divided by party affiliation. But here it's divided by gender. What does that mean? I dunno. Somebody smarter should tell me. But I do know whenever Palin mentions men, the line goes up. I guess that's just how us guys think.

Lapel pins

Biden: tiny

If I had known about their lapel sizes before the debate, I could have told you who would win hours ago. Those things are hotter than Lil Wayne right now.

BREAKING: Biden gets first laugh from audience with "ultimate bridge to nowhere."

Her pin doesn't look so big now does it?!

"And can I just call you Joe?"

And with that, Palin sets the tone of the debate. "And can I just call you Joe?"

This is the first time they've met, and the first laugh line of the debate.

Biden's face

I love two-shots in debates. Watching somebody talk is as interesting as watching somebody listen. And the face Biden just had while listening to Palin says a lot: slight smirk, narrow eyes, absolute game face, but maybe a little apprehension. She's not doing badly. She sounds like the Palin I've seen in archived debate footage. This is uncanny. It's like when you see footage of George W. Bush speaking as governor of Texas--witty, knowledgable and coherent. The contrast is a little striking and a little confusing.

Good use of fear

As per usual, "fear" appears as quickly as possible. But that aside, Palin's first shot over the bow is surprisingly coherent and...good. Although her unblinking gaze into the camera is a bit off-putting.

Oh my god, Sarah Palin just winked at me! I'm smitten.

I wish I had thought of this

via http://palinbingo.com/

Rules of the debate

Unlike last week, the debate tonight will not have the same free-flowing format. Responses must be limited to 90 seconds (for Palin's sake), and the candidates cannot directly address one another (for Biden's sake). One can only imagine the number of feet Biden could put in his mouth if he could ask questions of Palin.

So here are some more rules I thought of:
  1. Answers that do not contain anecdotes of single mothers from Michigan who only work two jobs because they got laid off from their third will not be counted
  2. All questions directed towards Gov. Sarah Palin must contain the answer within the question itself.
  3. All questions directred towards Sen. Joe Biden must contain at least three, but no more than five, double-negatives.
  4. Each candidate has three lifelines: Poll Ohio and/or Florida; eliminate two possible answers; and phone the ghosts of Ronald Reagan and/or John F. Kennedy.
  5. Each candidate may take 5 minutes of maternity/paternity leave.
  6. Every mention of "God's will" results in 20 extra seconds of response time.
  7. Neither candidate can roll Gwen Ifill's wheelchair off the stage.
  8. If Gwen Ifill cannot attend, the host will be decided by coin toss. The back-up hosts are David Letterman and Katie Couric.
  9. The first candidate to reach 10 "that's what she said" jokes wins.
  10. In the event of one candidate Rick Rolling another, the Rick Rollee must automatically forfeit.

What exactly is an easy question for Palin?

Here are some softball questions: What Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with? What newspapers do you read? What do you know about our current VP?

Palin's answers to these questions have been off the wall absurd. She can't name a single newspaper. She can't name a single Supreme Court case (beyond Roe v. Wade, perhaps the only thing she can discuss coherently if not reasonably). All she could muster about Cheney is the infamous duck hunting incident, where -- you kn0w -- he shot somebody in the face. She appeared positively ecstatic to follow in his footsteps.

I have never met anybody in my life unable to name a single newspaper. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. She can't even name her kids. (Just ask Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper or Trig.)

This all begs the question, is there such a thing as an easy question for Sarah Palin?

Live blogging the VP Debate

The question on everybody's mind concerning tonight's VP debates: What does a Palin failure look like? What does winning look like? The nature of this debate is so unpredictable, so unfathomable that we need to talk about it like we do the Iraq frickin' War.

I do know this: It's not about brains. When has it been? This is true of all modern debates, dating all the way back to the famous 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate. Debates these days are no different than the rest of the campaign. They're measures of character -- not qualifications, but who appeals, who relates, who looks and sounds and thinks like you.

The problem is, what does "you" mean? It's hard to tell, but I'll tell you what I think tonight -- live and in HD. So grab some moose jerky and let's watch them get scrappy. Quite frankly, I'll be surprised if Palin's been prepped to the level of mediocrity.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lies, damn lies, and elitists

With the bailout defeated Monday, WTF is as common an acronym as S&P. Is it good the bill went south? Unlike the people on TV, I won’t pretend to understand our country’s complex financial clusterfuck, so I’m going to have to say “not sure.” From what I can tell, there was too much pretend money. I remember learning about imaginary numbers in high school and permanently retiring from math later that day. I assume that’s why I don’t get this.

Clearly, this is all above my pay grade, so I wish it weren’t above McCain and Obama’s pay grade too. While it does make me feel less inferior, it’s not exactly comforting. I don’t want a president who’s just like me--nasty, brutish and short. We’ve tried that for four years now and we’re unimpressed.

No, I want my president to be the opposite of me, the anti-average American. I want him to move mountains with his mind and control the thoughts of foreign leaders with his brilliance. I want him to be heroic, fight evil and carry a laser sword. I want a Jedi president, a goddamn Jedi master, because elite is a good thing.

So I have to ask, on whose watch did being the best become bad? Which “culture warrior” do we blame for this embarrassment? I said I don’t know much about math, but I’ve become all too familiar with the lowest common denominator.

Obama needs to ask McCain if he has always envied--so violently and so smugly--the smartest kid in the room. When did intelligence become unpatriotic? When did it become dangerous?

And who let patriotism and liberalism become mutually exclusive? Patriots don’t pick running mates who thought Jesus rode a dinosaur, who will start a war with Russia because it obstructs the view of Europe from her kitchen--countries she of course has never visited and whose names she can hardly spell. Patriots don’t lie through their yellow teeth whenever the truth becomes too hard, too insurmountable, too damning.

Patriots are what McCain once was. I remember vividly McCain winning New Hampshire. I was elated. That McCain was a statesman, a real champ, even a maverick. It made me think an Obama/McCain face-off would be the best thing to happen to this country in years: It would raise the level of debate and bring two of the brightest, most admirable, most elite politicians together. This is not the McCain who blew bricks off buildings in New Hampshire.

And Obama’s guilty too of the wrong kind of change. Obama once spoke his mind and stood up for his convictions. He defused his opponents not just with intellect but also humor. He needs to stop acting like attention will be paid, praise will granted to him regardless. That 10 percent of the electorate they’re fighting for right now? They’re not unengaged. They’re not uninformed. They’re not uneducated, unsuccessful or unaware. They’re unimpressed.