6.11.08

Announcing

A new affiliated blog!

The Obama White House Chronicle

Check it out.

3.11.08

My Map

Here's how I see it playing out tomorrow:

<p><strong>><a href='http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008/pick-your-president/'>2008 Election Contest: Pick Your President</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the 2008 presidential election.</p>

Obama will win Ohio and Florida. It may take a while to find this out, Ohio will be very close, Florida may be easier to tell. But it won't matter, those won't be the results we need to determine the election. Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia will all go Obama.

Virginia: Has been solidly in Obama's column for about a month now.

Georgia: 31% of voters in Georgia cast early ballots by the close of early voting - that's 1.7 million out of 5.6 million voters. Obama will get a big boost from a large black turnout and depressed Republican base.

North Carolina: Also recorded enormous early voting turnout - 40% of voters voted early and 52% of those people were registered Democrats; 32%, registered Republicans. Unreliable numbers? Yes. But at that scale, I think they're good guides.

The Rest of the Map

McCain won't pick up Pennsylvania. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the state 4.4 million to 3.2 million. Most polls still have Obama in the +5% to 7% range in PA and I think that sounds about right. Without PA, McCain is lost.

The other big win for Obama - more psychologically than anything else, its electoral votes wont count for much - will be Montana where Ron Paul is on the ballot, and John McCain is not well-liked. Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, and Paul will peel off 7-8% of the vote and that will be enough for Obama to make a blue mark in Big Sky Country.

Arizona, I think, will go McCain.

When You Can Call the Race


Well, this is a little iffy. It really depends. Here are a couple thoughts:

The first polls close at 6pm; for the eastern portions of Kentucky and Indiana who splice themselves up for poll closings (this, btw, will be news to the fucktards at CNN who list the earliest poll-closings at 7pm on their website, which is wrong). Indiana could go Democrat, but I don't think it would be that portion of the state that closes at 6pm that would give the state to Obama, I think it's the portions in the West, that close at 7pm.

We could feel confident about calling the race by 7pm, though, if Virginia (likely to be known immediately after polls close), Georgia (I think we could know this quickly which would be a huge surprise but I think this goes Dem by a couple points), and Florida (unlikely that we know the results with any certainty at 7pm, but huge early voting turnout might help? tough to say) all post results within the first few minutes after polls close.

If not 7pm, then all eyes on Pennsylvania at 8pm. If Obama wins this, then the big push from McCain has failed and probably ended his shot. He still has other ways to win, but losing PA would be a huge, and hugely expected, hit.

But the possibility exists that this will be a very long night, again. Voter turnout will be enormous. North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri... all these states are keys to victory either way and they could all be close and/or have results delayed by massive voting lines. It could take a while to sort out.

But it'll be worth it in the end.

Krugman's On The Same Page

Paul knows the GOP goes postal after this thing, too.

30.10.08

The Moon Under Water

4th Avenue is a wide thruway for Brooklyn that will take you, start to finish, from Fort Hamilton, Bay Ridge, to Sunset Park, past Greenwood Cemetary, Park Slope, and Gowanus where it ends at the frantic intersection of 4th, Atlantic, and Flatbush Avenues. Up at the Gowanus portion, 4th Avenue sits between the self-congratulatory perambulator-pushers of 5th Avenue and neglected 3rd Avenue.

Near its terminus at the Williamsburg Savings Bank Clocktower and the big intersection, 4th Avenue is a throwback to the Gowanus that Jonathan Lethem's Dylan Ebdus, from "Fortress of Solitude," grew up in. Gentrification drips on 4th Ave, from the exorbitant antique shops on Atlantic and the patioed restaurants on 5th, but mostly 4th Ave is bodegas and incense pushers. Drug addicts and wanderers. Double-XL T-shirt salesmen and halal hole-in-the-wall restaurants with no seating. It's not Boerum Hill, Fort Greene, or Park Slope. As Dylan's mother tells him in "Fortress": "'If someone asks you say you live in Gowanus,' she said. 'Don't be ashamed. Boerum Hill is pretentious bullshit.'"

Between Bergen Street and St. Marks on 4th Avenue, is the 4th Avenue Pub. I found it, I'm somewhat embarassed to say, by going to Yelp.com and sorting the city's bars by highest rank. 4th Avenue came up first, not because it was the highest rated bar (it's a 5-star system - lots of bars had 5-star ratings), but because its name started with a number and the sorting was alphabetical. My roommates and I met there for a drink and began a pub night on Wednesdays.
In 1946, George Orwell published a piece in The Evening Standard called "The Moon Under Water" about his favorite city pub:
"My favourite public-house, the Moon Under Water, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights. Its clientele, though fairly large, consists mostly of 'regulars' who occupy the same chair every evening and go there for conversation as much as for the beer. If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its 'atmosphere.'"
Orwell goes on to describe the qualities that make him frequent Moon Under Water before revealing at the end that there is no such pub as the Moon Under Water; he made it up to describe what his ideal pub would look like and bemoan the fact that one with those qualities does not exist. But I could do no better than George Orwell's opening paragraph above to begin a description of the 4th Avenue Pub.
I can't say whether I put the atmosphere of the 4th Ave Pub ahead of its beer. I think they run equal. I can say that I've not encountered a bar with a better selection of beer in the city. 4th Ave has about twenty beers on tap, another thirty or so bottled, and the menu changes weekly. Terrific stuff. Unfiltered Belgian lager; dark, Gulden Draak Belgian Triple; Sixpoint cask ales; Youngs Double Chocolate Stout; Maudite... It is difficult to exhaust the menu before a new set of kegs arrive.
I've not encountered a bar with a better atmosphere either. This starts with the bartenders and then the regulars. I think a good bartender attracts good regulars. Atmosphere is also setting. 4th Ave is dark, unglamorous with floors sticky from the free popcorn and booths that are worn, dark. A painting, a portrait of a fat man with a glass of beer and a fine suit, is the only art I can recall on the pub's walls. It is back by the bathroom door. The garden in back is more spacious than the indoor space and a good option when the weather is clear.
Usually I wind up at 4th Ave with friends, but I sometimes prefer to go alone and have time to talk with the bartenders* and patrons. Of the bartenders, Mel is young, 24-ish, and lives on the LES. She is slight and warm, with an easy smile, and engaging eyes. Frank knows good music and what beer you want, or should be trying for the first time, before you do. Sarah is funny and a little awkward, she runs the bar like a champ and is unflappable on the busiest nights. These are the three who I see most often. There are two others who seem like good guys but I've only just started to get to know them. The proprietor has sharp features and an offbeat wit. Frank told me he ran out of change one day and called Mike, the owner, to let him know he needed more. Mike called back a while later and asked if Frank still needed change. Frank said yes, he did. Mike said, "Oh yeah? Then vote Obama."
A few doors down from the 4th Avenue Pub is another bar, Pacific Standard. I've gone there a couple times and find it the antithesis of 4th Ave. The clientele is older, mid 30's, with strollers. The interior is bright and crisp with a large room in the back with a projection screen for sports events and political speeches. The atmosphere is sterile, the bartenders are fine, but seem removed, the beer is good with some interesting variety but everytime I've gotten one, I've only aimed to finish it quickly and return to the 4th Ave Pub.
The idea of being a regular at someplace in a big city, it goes, is to make the city manageable; to create a community of your own when the one presented by the city is too large for the individual. Certainly being a regular at 4th Ave has this effect. But becoming a regular at a good pub is, I think, important for another reason.

There is an insularity that exists in this city. I mean this on the individual level. When we are around other people, how often do we go to lengths to separate ourselves from them and contain ourself within our own bubble with space for only one person? We wear headphones on subways and buses to block out the crowd; attach ourselves to cellphones in stores and ignore the clerk; we whip out our laptops on trains and planes and forget our seat-mate. In the past, we might have had a book instead. In which case the person to my left on the G-Train could say, "how do you like that book?" But the earphone, the cellphone, are a sort of statement: I will not speak to you, and you will not speak to me.

As David Foster Wallace said in his commencement speech to Kenyon College grads a couple years ago: "There is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real."
But the 4th Avenue Pub is not a place for an I-pod. There is no wireless service. When it's quiet, a person on a cellphone would seem out of place and rude. So instead you talk. To the bartenders, to the regulars, to the irregulars. I've met a Sarah Palin fan from Jackson, Mississippi (both the only person from Mississippi I've met, and the only Sarah Palin fan); an Australian living in New York and soon to move to Kyrgyzstan to work for an emerging markets firm; a pair of sisters, Brazilian, who work as lawyers in Sao Paulo; a French DJ living in Fort Greene with whom I discussed... whatever, with, until 3am.
People who live in New York like to talk about its multiculturalism. The boiling pot. But we go to such lengths to shut it out when we're around each other. And when we take our headphones off, too often it's only to talk to who we know or people we don't know in a place where the chances of variety aren't great to begin with. Our default setting when we're in the small spaces of the city crushed up against its multicultural inhabitants is frustration and a thought along the lines of, what makes these dirty animals think they've got the right to cohabit MY space.
So you go to a pub with great beer, bartenders, regulars, and atmosphere and you meet the other people that live in this city and visit here. I can see George Orwell liking the 4th Ave Pub. They've got plenty of those stout beers he liked.

*(Names changed to protect the innocent - I didn't ask their permission to use their names)

29.10.08

The Permanent Republican Majority

When Karl Rove settled in the White House in 2000, he aimed to foment a permanent Republican majority in the United States. Rove believed the United States was a conservative nation and that with the right policies a Republican machine would develop over Bush's tenure and last a generation. It was V.O. Key's "realignment theory" that allowed Rove this vision. In a 1955 article, "A Theory of Critical Elections," Key proposed that American politics and political allegiances of the electorate change dramatically and, if conditions are right, in a single election.

In a 2007 article in The Atlantic, "The Rove Presidency," Joshua Green wrote of the theory of realignment elections:

"Historians have shown that two major preconditions typically must be in place for realignment to occur. First, party loyalty must be sufficiently weak to allow for a major shift—the electorate, as the political scientist Paul Allen Beck has put it, must be “ripe for realignment.” The other condition is that the nation must undergo some sort of triggering event, often what Beck calls a “societal trauma”—the ravaging depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, for instance, or the North-South conflict of the 1850s and ’60s that ended in civil war. It’s important to have both."

When Bush took office in 2000, those conditions hardly existed. The economy was strong and no societal trauma had occured yet. But Rove thought he could game the system. As Green wrote, "[Rove thought] if you could recast major government programs to make them more susceptible to market forces, broader support for the Republican Party would ensue." What ensued, of course, was a societal trauma in 9/11 that threw considerable support behind the Republican party in the 2002 and 2004 elections. After '04, Rove thought he had his majority sealed.

But through another societal trauma, Katrina, a disastrous push for the privitization of Social Security, and utter disdain for Congress, Rove spent all his political capital in a very short time and only two years later, voters threw the bums out of Washington. Rove tried to bend the system but when his grip slipped, it snapped back into place.

Today, it seems that the conditions Rove tried, initially, to manufacture to create a series of realignment elections have developed organically: Party identification, according to a recent Pew survey, among Republicans is down 6% from 2004 - from 44% to 38% - and up for Democrats to 51% from 47% four years ago; we're in the midst of about our fourth or fifth societal trauma since 2000 with the collapse of the financial institutions and instruments which ran the world's economy for the past 20 or so years; and the current presidential election offers one candidate who would certainly "realign" the image of an American president.

Things in 2008 seem ripe for a realignment election. Obama is leading in the polls and in states that Rove must cringe to see shaded blue. The Democrats seem likely to take even more of a lead in the House of Representatives, and will likely wind up with a defacto filibuster-proof 60 seats (even if they don't hit 60, they're likely to get 57 or 58, and at that point, it's not so hard to strip away a couple Republicans for, essentially, a filibuster-proof majority). Rove's been foisted by his own petard; he tried his best to force realignment, and the reaction against his manipulation is an apparent realignment election in the opposite direction. For every action...

But really, this is the simple outlook. What's far more interesting and unpredictable is how the conservative, evangelical, ardently anti-Obama right wing "base" will react in the face of this realignment election, should the Democrats pull it off.
After this election, assuming it goes the Democrats' way, there will be a sizeable portion of the electorate that will not have any of the Obama Administration, and will feel sold out by the Republicans they supported and who failed to deliver on their conservative social agenda.

The fact is, and it Rove knew this, to create a permanent majority, there must be a steady stream of issues that will reliably get your voters, your base, to the polls. Gay marriage and abortion have been stalwarts for the Republicans (though they're falling flat this year). But while Rove used those issues as bait, there are people in the United States who actually want action on overturning Roe v. Wade. Or a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

If the Bush Administration and its brain trust - such as it was - really wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, don't you think it would have by now? Or at least put forth a serious effort? From 2002 - 2006 they ran the Democrats out of Washington and had quite the grip on the governing of this country. But to overturn Roe v. Wade, to really push for that, as the "base" wants, would cede a gold-mine of Republican support. While conservative representatives might truly want abortion overturned, the higher you go up the political ladder, the more dangerous it must seem to overturn a major source of voter enthusiasm for Republicans.

Enter Sarah Palin.

It's hard to believe, now, that Palin could wind up president by winning an election on her own. She can't shield herself from the press in a 16-month election process and she's not smart enough to actually learn how the world works in the next four years and debate Obama on the issues. That said, if McCain loses this election Palin will come out the other side having inherited the far-right Republican base.

Even though this base does not come close to 50% of the voting public, more like 20% maybe, they are vocal, active, and emotional. They know how to organize. The LA Times published an article just today about the future of the social conservatives in the Republican Party. The opening two paragraphs:

"The social conservatives and moderates who together boosted the Republican Party to dominance have begun a tense battle over the future of the GOP, with social conservatives already moving to seize control of the party's machinery and some vowing to limit John McCain's influence, even if he wins the presidency.

In skirmishes around the country in recent months, evangelicals and others who believe Republicans have been too timid in fighting abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration have won election to the party's national committee, in preparation for a fight over the direction and leadership of the party."

This group of conservatives and its far right social agenda does not have the broad appeal to win national elections without a seeming-moderate like George Bush (at least in 2000). Perhaps Mike Huckabee could do it, but Sarah Palin doesn't fill the moderate facade. If these conservatives take over the Republican Party's organizational apparatus, where does it lead?

While a moderate Republican might appreciate the wisdom in an Obama line like "we may not all agree on the right to abortion, but we can certainly all agree that we should cut down on the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies," a social conservative evangelical likely would not. After all, teenage pregnancy rates amongst evengalical christians are the second highest by religious association in the country after protestant blacks. This is a coalition that, under the reckless stewardship of Sarah Palin, who holds the potential to be far more dangerous than George Bush, could be a fanatically religious, violent, radical group within our own country.

The realignment, if it happens, in this election is not the story. The social conservatives who feel sold out by the Republican establishment, and utter disdain for democrats and their black president, will not go quiet into the night. Their numbers are dwindling as America becomes more multicultural and their inability to gain the numbers to win an election in the future will force this dangerous wild animal into a corner.

10.10.08

The Correction

How wrong Jonathan Franzen turned out to be. The little rubber squares protecting our economy were just a cruel ruse. Our world is still fully capable of calamitous collapse. We may have had safety features, but the seatbelt only works if you buckle it.

Who to blame? Well you can say Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, the Democratic Congress, the Republican Congress, the Chinese, the Europeans, Dick Fuld, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Republicans, Democrats, Alan Greenspan, and Ayn Rand, and you wouldn't be wrong. They can all share. But equally culpable is just about every American who has lived during the past twenty years. I thought Gawker actually put the list quite nicely. In fact, the regular citizens' portion of the blame doesn't have to stop at our borders. I would say the only people on the planet who don't deserve any blame for the financial crisis are the very young, and most Sub-Saharan Africans.

The rest of us have benefitted somehow. Everyone's gotten a credit card, a car loan, a student loan, a mortgage, 2nd mortgage, 3rd mortgage, refinanced mortgage... whatever, that was enabled by the byzantine financial web of subprime loans, credit default swaps, and/or the $531 trillion global derivatives market. Unfortunately, pleading ignorance doesn't cut it. If you, Mr. Subprime Predatory Lender Victim Homeowner, want to plead ignorance, then you gotta let Dick Fuld do the same.
The fact is no one really knows how exposed anyone is to these markets or where the next bank collapse will occur. When I cite the $65 trillion credit default swap market or the $531 trillion derivatives market, don't take those numbers at face value. The numbers are not indication of the value of those markets, but rather the impossibility of determining, in an unregulated system, whose money is whose. Especially when it changed hands a half-dozen times on the way there.

Is Dick Fuld more culpable than Mr. Subprime Predatory Lender Victim Homeowner? Absolutely. And I fully support anyone else who decides to knock him the fuck out, as he was at the Lehman Bros. corporate gym the day of their collapse. I've always been a fan of China's system for dealing with massively corrupt businessmen (although they hardly apply it equitably, just every once in a while to get headlines) in which they are put on trial one day and, if convicted, executed pretty much the next day.

But blame is for another day. Blame is a luxury we should hope we have the opportunity to explore. If there is no country or judicial system left in a few months, then the only justice we'll have to meet out will be tawdry mob-vengeance. I doubt it's as satisfying as it may sound.

Here's how I see where we stand now: The country, and you might be able to say the whole world, is basically without any leadership. George Bush mails it in everyday. He just wants to run out the clock and dump this in someone else's lap. That's what the hopes were for the $700 billion bailout - it didn't even get him through a day. The economists who know what's going on, who aren't still insisting that liquidity is the root of the problem (a la Bush and Paulson) and have stated since the beginning that lack of capital is the root of the problem, have been ignored. Their ranks, to me at least, are led by Paul Krugman who I read religiously for his political and foreign affairs analysis before the crisis - even though he's an economist - and then tuned in closely to his economics work as the crisis unwound.

Thankfully, when British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, injected £50 billion of capital into British banks yesterday, the US took notice and Paulson is considering using the authority that Congressional Democrats insisted he be granted in the bailout, which Paulson declared he did not want (because it's SOCIALISM!), to do the same with the bailout money for US banks. That would be a good step towards loosening the credit market, lowering the TED spread, if it's not already too late.

The dangers we face in the future are a McCain presidency and a loss of financing from foreign states. Right now gross US liabilities to foreign states exceeds $16 trillion; that is more than our annual GDP. If China gets pissed off enough by Bush's recent sale of $6.5 billion in arms to Taiwan (they're mad already) to yank out its support on the dollar, we're sunk. This is from a recent report by Brad Setser from the Center for Geoeconomic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations titled "Sovereign Wealth and Sovereign Power":

"A debtor’s ability to project military power hinges on the support of its creditors….In some ways, the United States’ current financial position is more precarious than Britain’s position in the 1950s…Britain’s main source of financing was a close political ally [- the United States]. The United States’ main sources of funding are not allies. Without financing from China, Russia, and the Gulf states, the dollar would fall sharply, U.S. interest rates would rise, and the U.S. government would find it far more difficult to sustain its global role at an acceptable domestic cost."

The more pressing concern is a McCain presidency. McCain and his campaign - it is unclear how this dynamic works, it appears the campaign surrogates (Palin et al.) aim to project this image and leave McCain with plausible deniability - are in such a desperate position that their strategy is to incite the most racist and vile portions of their base to assassinate Barack Obama. If that happens, the United States will no longer exist the next morning. Riots would be the most benign term for what would ensue. Neither would the United States survive a John McCain presidency. His utter disdain for all policy that doesn't include the word "defense" will ultimately break the bank and we'll either end up a most dramatic anarchy or a brutal dictatorship by his term's end.
Would Barack be able to turn this place around? On the economic side, it's impossible to say simply because there's no way to predict what the situation will be when he would take the reins. It may already be too late by then. Unemployment might be at 15% and China may have yanked its lifeline to the dollar. If that's the case, then good luck. If we can ride things out until January, the immediate benefit of Barack in office will be a return of goodwill from the rest of the world towards the United States. Foreign leaders will be more willing to work with us, and there will be a period of international support from the people of the world who would love to see America as a force for good, on their side. John McCain couldn't inspire ice to melt on a boiling tarmac in Houston.

The only things to do now: your reading on the economy, your poll work for Barack, and every American ought to go up to the attic and dust off their long-lost sense of humility. Pride is what got us here and, if we stay hopped up on it, it will be the end of this country.

9.10.08

Videogames, Comic Books, Literature, and American Mythology

My buddy, Michael Highland, has a great videogame blog that should be checked out. Michael made a movie a while back called "As Real As Your Life" about his addiction to videogames that's very insightful and you can check out on the site. Recently, there was some activity on a comment board talking about his movie and Michael got into a good discussion of videogames as a form of mythology and hero-worship. Below, reposted, is my response to his comments and here is the link to the post on his blog with the aformentioned comments. D-bow, when you get your head outta the Honeyplex and finish designing your follow up on "Mail Goggles," I expect to hear from you on this...

Hey man,

Couple thoughts on this post... First, I want to look at this statement: "A book never asks you, the reader, to participate; video games demand action and establish a direct causal link between the player and the virtual world." Though I understand what you're saying to an extent, I disagree with you on this. A writer has already written the book I'm reading. My picking it up and reading it does not change the symbols on the page. In a videogame, though, my input dictates the activities of my avatar. Fair enough.

My first response to your statement is, on a very basic level, a videogame will not really play itself, nor will a book read itself. Both require some basic level of participation.To go a little deeper, I think sophisticated books - like sophisticated videogames - demand (but do not require) a deep level of participation. In fact, I think you could argue the relationship is causal.

To explain this, let me start by addressing participation in videogames. In a videogame, the player does not really "create" each set of actions. The possibilities of what one can do are defined by the game's code. Someone before you has defined the parameters of your action, and you function within those parameters. The possibilities are, to some extent, prescripted.In a book, I think there is an analogous situation. While James Joyce has put the symbols on the pages of "Ulysses" what you make of the meanings of the symbols requires your participation. The reader has the ability to create and define meaning.

Now, one can read "Ulysses" as just a good beach read if you care to try, just as one can approach MGS4:GOP as an FPS and run around mindlessly blasting everything in sight like it was a Resident Evil arcade game at a movie theatre with the red plastic shotgun. But both the sophisticated book and the sophisticated videogame demand participation in order to "get the most out of" the game or book.

But this analysis is structural. The more important point addresses the "value" of videogames versus books.

David McCullough put this point succinctly and I sort of agree with him. "Learning is not to be found on a printout. It's not on call at the touch of a finger. Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books."

Now, I agree with McCullough in the sense that there is something that great books offer that nothing else ever will in the same way. There are simply essential truths that the written word can convey and I think a videogame cannot. The medium for the videogame does not allow for it. It clouds out the message of the game.

However. Your really great point is about the mythology of videogames and in that context I think it may be unfair to discuss videogames alongside great books or novels. I think the more appropriate analogue is comic books.

I have a friend whose father has a giant comic book collection that's like the third largest in the country or something. I remember him saying a couple years ago that when you read comic books you're reading "American mythology." Maybe that wasn't an original thought, but it was the first time I'd heard it and it stuck.

I would adjust his statement, perhaps, by saying that comic books were the 20th century's incarnation of American mythology. I expect videogames will be the 21st century's.Now, if we think about videogames from that perspective, maybe we can engage them alongside books and literature.

Are 20th century American comic books and 20th century American literature "equals"? Is that not a fair question? My feeling is they are not equals, that the 20th century tradition of American literature far surpasses in scope, seriousness, depth, and effect, that of comic books. I don't like this comparison, and don't mean to diminish comic books' importance. But the question may be valuable. Literature will not die off in the 21st century, but I would think that there will be far more serious "gamers" in the 21st century than serious "readers." If this is so, then can videogames rise to the occasion? Can they take the mantle that 20th century American literature held? I would seem to have already answered my own question with a "no," but maybe I'm wrong.

My issue with videogames is their medium - the television (or computer) screen. But Greek mythology, The Odyssey, say, began as a strictly oral tradition and was later written down and is now read in book form. The message adapted to a new medium. Was something lost in that transition? Probably. But I think we're better off for having The Odyssey in a book than having lost it in the ephemerality of speech. Likewise, can videogames take part in literary tradition? I don't mean by simply putting symbols and words on the screen, something else would have to happen.

That, I think, is the real challenge of videogames in the 21st century. To go from oral to written tradition seems a fairly obvious step, perhaps: Hear the word, write it down. But how to go from literary to videogame? It cannot simply adopt the tenets of moviemaking, or it will simply parrot another artistic tradition. Videogames have to create a unique language. That hasn't happened yet. But that's the fundamental question to me; will videogames be the next iteration of comic books and the American (or global) mythology of the 21st century? Or can videogames expand the territory of comic books and find someway to combine and expand the literary tradition as well?

8.10.08

Cornering A Wild Animal

Things are going well for the Obama campaign; John McCain revealed his true ornery and reckless self, Sarah Palin serves only to inject vitriol into a base that was never going to vote for a black man anyway, and much of the conservative media is moving on to 2012 and a serious period of introspection to redefine American conservatism. Obama leads in the polls in Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia, and McCain has given up on Michigan. The global economy smells worse than my gym shoes and we're losing a war in Afghanistan to what conservatives once considered primarily a pile of dirt. So fine, all signs reasonably point to a democratic victory across the boards and a landslide doesn't seem to be out of the question.

The problem is, I just don't believe the GOP is just going to roll over on this election. I used to joke, when asked what life would be like after Bush was out of office, that I didn't understand what made anyone think he'd leave willingly. He, Cheney, Addington, Yoo, etc. have obliterated most aspects of a constitutional democracy, why stop because of "term limits"? I don't really think that idea is so funny anymore. Here are the two things that worry me:

1.) The Polls - Notoriously bullshit. Especially bullshit this time around because Obama is black. Back in the primaries, each time Obama seemed about to close out Hillary, some working class white state (like NH and OH) stood up and shouted Obama to the back of the line. The New Yorker had a good piece on that dynamic this week called "The Hardest Vote". An excerpt:


"...during the long Democratic primary fight it was precisely the white working class that kept denying Obama a lock on the nomination. The problem first became manifest in New Hampshire, a state that much of the media declared in advance to be the end of the road for Clinton. Two days after her victory, Andrew Kohut, of the Pew Research Center, published an Op-Ed in the Times about the failure of polls to predict the outcome. He had a theory: undetected racism among working-class whites. Clinton, he noted, beat Obama among whites with family incomes under fifty thousand dollars and also among those who hadn’t attended college. “Poorer, less well-educated white people refuse surveys more often than affluent, better-educated whites,” Kohut wrote. 'Polls generally adjust their samples for this tendency. But here’s the problem: these whites who do not respond to surveys tend to have more unfavorable views of blacks than respondents who do the interviews.'.... a black candidate is likely to fare worse than preëlection polls would suggest."

The context was vastly different during the primaries, to be sure. But I wouldn't put it past Americans to vote McCain into office just to satisfy an old racist ache.

2.) The Wild Card - This has to do with what I mentioned earlier about Bush-Cheney et al. blowing up the constitution. It's fairytale-ish, but, who knows. I don't think she's smart enough to realize it - I think she's just doing it because it's comfortable and gets a good reaction - but Sarah Palin's fascistic addresses to McCain supporters appeal to the dark sides of American voters. Familiar strains; xenophobia, racism, terrorism... She whips up the crowd like an oratorical incarnation of Leni Riefenstahl and incites her supporters to yell, "Kill him" and "terrorist" in reference to Obama.

McCain, on the other hand, condescends when he addresses the American people. He did so last night in the town-hall style debate all night, treating the audience to meaningless stock phrases like he was a grandfather talking to a five year old grandchild about the evils of Communism in Detroit in 1950. McCain walks the walk, Palin talks the talk - as our precious simpleton from Alaska is fond of saying.

What could they do? Who knows. Palin has secessionist tendencies. There's got to be a page on in-house hostile takeovers in the GOP handbook. Hell, they've already pulled off two in the past two elections, but those were easy because they were close. What will they pull in a potential landslide? These people are dangerous. They know better than you, and they don't even have to convince Americans of that, they just have to keep their base of racist trash whipped up into enough of a furor that there are ten or twenty million voting Americans who refuse to put a black man in the White House and will go to the mattresses behind McCain-Palin-Bush-Cheney to keep it from happening. Is that absurd and out of the question? I'd like to think so, but really most of what happened in the past eight years seemed absurd and out of the question to consider eight years ago.

I would guess that our one saving grace in all of this is that any sort of power coup would require consent of the armed forces. But they've been so mistreated and poorly cared for over the past seven years by the Bush administration that I can't imagine them signing on for more. Plus, David Petraeus has his eyes set on the White House in 2012 or 2016 and that's really where the buck stops these days.

I've mentioned this before, but I know a kid who was a big Hillary Clinton supporter and said a couple times that if Obama won the primary he'd, "never vote for that terrorist." There are clearly a lot of people with that sentiment out there. If it comes to blows, I'm fine with leaving the red states to rename themselves Palinville and we'll take the blue. It'll be fun. Care to guess which one will end up looking like Somalia first?

3.10.08

Post-Debanalysis

Most media outlets - from the Times, The Post, Daily News, CNN, Daily Dish, Drudge, cable pundits, etc. - have settled on a consensus; Sarah Palin at least met the abismally low expectations the media had set for her, thus she is able to claim some victory.

Well, ok, the talking heads on ESPN can say "The Lions will get blown out by the Packers this Sunday," and then Vegas can give the Lions +20.5 points on the spread. But when the Lions lose the game by 20, covering the spread don't mean squat in the standings - they still got blown the fuck out.

The difference between ESPN's reporters and those from the vast array of news media outlets across the United States is that after a football game, ESPN reporters don't talk about the result of the game from the perspective of spread-coverage - they talk about who won and lost. The news media in our country cares only about the results in the context of their artificial spread.

Take, for example, this from the News Analysis of the New York Times this morning: "Ms. Palin can presumably claim two victories, though modest ones. She did not offer a reprise of the unsteady responses that marked her interviews with Katie Couric on CBS News, even if many of her answers were not always responsive to the question, particularly when contrasted with Mr. Biden. Her performance — feisty and spirited — also might have heartened conservatives, many of whom had gone from ecstasy to despair in the period from when she was named until this week."

If by "feisty and spirited" you mean "flustered and contrived," then, yes. Palin puts on the folksy a lot better in her speeches than she did in the debate where it seemed like someone prepping her beforehand told her to make sure every fifteenth word was "darn right" or "gosh."

As for this little tidbit from the NY Times piece: "her answers were not always responsive to the question..." How does that entitle you to a partial victory? How do you score points like that? "They kept the game close by scoring touchdowns in areas other than the endzone."

It's true, questions she didn't want to deal with, she made up her own question and said she wouldn't answer the one that was asked. When asked if there was any project a McCain administration would have to scale back because of the financial crisis, she repeated some unrelated nonsense about an energy plan from 2005 and blessed the hearts of ConocoPhillips and Exxon.

On subprime mortgage lending, Palin blamed predator lenders and said American citizens needed to be protected from them, then went on, in the next sentence, to say Americans needed to be sure they didn't live outside their means. Well, a subprime mortgage would certainly be living outside ones means, so what's the call Guv?

My favorite double-talk came on government intervention in economic matters. Speaking on tax issues and economic stimulus Palin said, "Now, as for John McCain's adherence to rules and regulations and pushing for even harder and tougher regulations, that is another thing that he is known for though. Look at the tobacco industry. Look at campaign finance reform." In her very next response, on the same subject, she responded, "Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper." Um, these are contradictory thoughts.

Biden, on the other hand, was lucid and forceful. He was didactic and laid out his objections and his ticket's positions; one, two, three. His best exchange came after Ifill asked the candidates about the use of nuclear weapons. Palin spouted off some trite bullshit about "nuke-you-lerr" weapons being the "be-all, end-all of just too many people," and then shifted the question to Afghanistan - because she had nothing informed to say about nuclear weapons - and said we should have a "surge" in Afghanistan, too.

Ifill then turned to Biden and said he could speak to either topic Palin addressed. He said, "I'll talk about both" - a theme he pounded throughout the night, tacitly proving that he could address multiple issues and categorically reject his opponents claims while Palin had trouble with basic sentence construction.

Biden responded to Palin's uninformed nonsense about the "surge" in Afghanistan by saying, "The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge -- the surge principles used in Iraq will not -- well, let me say this again now -- our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan." Then he spoke to Barack's leadership on a piece of legislation securing nuclear materials. Palin parried Biden's devastating attack by calling the commander of forces in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, "McClellan."

The narrative that will emerge from this debate will be similar to the one that came out of the first debate between Obama and McCain. At first, there was a lot of disappointment on the left that Obama didn't hit McCain harder and most pundits and analysts called the debate a tie. Then it turned out that people watching chalked up a big win to Obama.

What Obama did was tell you exactly what you needed to hear. Biden did the same thing, but was even better at it. He had more leeway to deal with Palin and was able to throw, and land, quite a few haymakers in the debate. In a couple of days the better performance in this debate will shine through the shit-cycle of spin and it will be the same result as we saw in Obama-McCain: Joe Biden destroyed her.

And if Sarah Palin, that dumb lump of pitbull turd smudged with lipstick, winks at me one more goddamn time or shouts out to a class of third graders again like she's on some radio-fucking-talk show call-in program, I will send Michael "I'm-In-Prison-And-This-VP-Joke-Is-Killing-Moose??" Vick after her ass.

1.10.08

How Biden Wins the VP Debate

There's only one way he can. It's obvious, and I've got to think he's figured it out on his own and there won't be any hubris that gets in the way of him executing the strategy, or wait, is it a tactic? Ah dammit, where's Johnny Mac to clear that up for me when I need him? Anyway, the debate stractic for Joe:

1.) Answer every question with no more than seven words each consisting of no more than two syllables.

2.) End every response with, "... and I'd love to hear Governor Palin's thoughts on this important issue."

She'll take care of the rest.


23.9.08

Patty-Patty Buke-Buke! WRONG!

Our Nation's Magnum Opus

A professor of mine told me once that it takes seven years for a tragic event to settle into peoples’ minds, the collective consciousness, before any art can come of it. So I started looking this past September 11th, the seventh anniversary of the attacks. I didn’t have to wait long. The American requiem for the attacks – penned by several hundred million authors – even took more than just those seven years to build tension, crescendo, and then collapse with bated-breath intensity of the towers. Our masterpiece came in the world financial markets, instead of in a libretto, or on a canvas, or a novel.

Briefly, we lived in a time after the end of history. During this time Jonathan Franzen wrote “The Corrections” – which a friend of mine considers the first post-9/11 novel. A prescient novel, as it was published about a year before 9/11. The final chapter of Franzen’s novel begins with this passage:

“The correction, when it finally came, was not an overnight bursting of a bubble but a much more gentle letdown, a year-long leakage of value from key financial markets, a contraction too gradual to generate headlines and too predictable to seriously hurt anybody but fools and the working poor.

It seemed to Enid that current events in general were more muted or insipid nowadays than they’d been in her youth. She had memories of the 1930’s, she’d seen firsthand what could happen to a country when the world economy took its gloves off; she’d helped her mother pass out leftovers to homeless men in the alley behind their roominghouse. But disasters of this magnitude no longer seemed to befall the United States. Safety features had been put in place, like the squares of rubber that every modern playground was paved with, to soften impacts.”

From the shadow of 9/11, this sentiment seems quaint. But we grasp for it at this moment as our legislators in Washington huddle together and try to figure out how to wedge those squares of rubber beneath the financial asteroid that has already struck the planet. Herein lies the beauty of our work of art: It is at once absurd, hilarious to watch these buffoonish Faustus’ try to renege on their pact with Mephistopheles, tragic for the lives they’ll put on the line to do it, and sobering to admit that we all knew it would come to this and avoided every Delphic warning along the way. The complicity for this disaster runs far and deep and the vicious circle of blame, from the proverbial “fat cats on Wall Street” to the “minorities and risky people who can’t pay their mortgages,” is ouroborotic; the snake eating its own tail.

Franzen also said, in an essay in Harper’s Magazine several years before the publication of “The Corrections”: “Tragic realism preserves the recognition that improvement always comes at a cost; that nothing lasts forever; that if the good in the world outweighs the bad, it’s by the slimmest of margins. I suspect that art has always had a particularly tenuous purchase on the American imagination because ours is a country to which hardly anything really terrible has ever happened."

Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that we would commemorate our first great national tragedy since slavery and the Civil War in the language this country has always spoken most fluently; commerce.

In his book “Studies in Classic American Literature” D.H. Lawrence famously wrote, “the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” After 9/11 that stoicism melted. Whatever we had left of a British stiff upper lip, fully curled into an American snarl. Vengeance would be our balm. They’d caught us off guard this time, but the next one we would take care of ourselves. We would will calamity upon ourselves to prove our mettle (by 2001 we were already well on our way to this present disaster).

Friedrich Nietzsche asked, in his introduction to “The Birth of Tragedy”:

“Is there a pessimism of strength? An intellectual inclination for what in existence is hard, dreadful, evil, problematic, emerging from what is healthy, from overflowing well being, from living existence to the full? Is there perhaps a way of suffering from the very fullness of life? A tempting courage of the keenest sight which demands what is terrible as the enemy, the worthy enemy, against which it can test its power, from which it wants to learn what ‘to fear’ means?"

Perhaps you’ll say it was 9/11 and Al-Qaeda which we invited to test our power. But I disagree. We have never considered the ragtag rebels and the “holes they live in” in Afghanistan as worthy adversaries. We sent fewer troops to demolish their safe-haven of a nation than there are police on the streets of New York City. Our emperor said of their Visigoth leader, “I don’t really think much about him anymore.” We had a hand in bringing on 9/11, of course, but to really see what we were made of, we needed a far more worthy adversary. We needed ourselves as our enemy.

We turned our homes against us. Every night men returned not to their castles, but to a hand grenade in which they slept. We put much of the world’s money on the backs of our homes to up the stakes and then faced down the plunging red arrows to see who would blink first. Our president – like our potential soon-to-be vice-president – if you didn’t know, does not blink. Ever. Well, this time, he blinked. Everyone blinked. It turned out that stoicism we’d traded for vengeance; we missed having it.

About a year before he killed himself, David Foster Wallace asked this question in The Atlantic as part of the magazine’s 75th anniversary “Year in Ideas” feature: “What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, ‘sacrifices on the altar of freedom’? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?”

We’ve failed the trial with which we were confronted, and the one with which we confronted ourselves. The red arrows plunged too quickly, too far and we wondered where our guts had gone. Now we’re trying to make use of those squares of rubber retroactively.

Is it too late to try Foster Wallace’s thought experiment? Can we remove the “Power of Pride” bumper stickers from the backs of our Chevy’s and admit that our hubris, as it was for many a Greek, is not our great strength but our far-too-predictable Achilles’ heel? Can we make a hundred million “Power of Stoicism” bumper stickers instead? And if we do, will anyone be able to recall that strength for themselves? The alternative is probably close and it will not be the dramatic denouement to this work we want to leave in the historical record.

“To be so enormous. Then to die.”

18.9.08

The Warrantless Snag of Sarah Palin's E-mail

Today, an American citizen's privacy is something worth fighting for. That, of course, stands in opposition to the past eight years of official government policy towards citizens' privacy which was essentially, "bend over and spread those cheeks." After several years of government probing-devices that reached deep into the rectal recesses of American libraries and personal telephone calls, Pitbull/Mom of the Century, Sarah Palin, has had her e-mail hacked and turned public sentiment permanently against invasions of elected officials' privacy.

Palin had nothing to do with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping, of course. But she does sit on a ticket with John McCain who, as a part of his ongoing surrendering-of-all-previously-morally-defensable-positions, reneged on his objection to Bush's illegal surveillance of private American citizens and decided:

"[N]either the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001... John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution."

This is a change from McCain's prior feelings on the subject. When asked in a prior interview whether federal statutes against wiretapping provisions trumped the Article II "inherent power" argument, McCain said, "I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law." A slimey answer from a now-slippery man, no doubt, but still it doesn't quite have the ring of "I will wiretap you."

But wiretapping is done by the government, not hackers. So maybe it's illegal and wrong, but they're still the government; we don't get to monitor them, they get to monitor us. Right?

Sarah Palin is in a bit of a mess back in Alaska over that whole Troopergate thing. I don't really find the Troopergate "scandal" evil or despicable, just mildly amusing and soap-opera-ish, a quality which is pervasive in Palin's life. Part of the Troopergate story is a question of whether government business concerning the firing, or any other state business the public should know about, was conducted through Palin's personal e-mail account in order to avoid culpability should any scrutiny, such as the current investigation, befall the governor at a later date. The McCain campaign decided to employ Bush tactics in protecting Palin from the investigation, detailed below via Harper's:

"First, Palin has asserted that her records and communications are protected by executive privilege. Second, her senior assistants have been instructed not to cooperate with the probe. Third, the Alaska attorney general (a Palin appointee and confidant who faces conflict-of-interest charges himself) has issued a series of opinions designed to bar the way for the probe. So how does the McCain team deal with accusations that it is attempting a cover-up of Palin’s involvement in a matter which, at the very least, raises severe questions about Palin’s credibility? They argue that the inquiry should be handled by the Alaska Personnel Board, not by the legislature. The Personnel Board, of course, is dominated by Palin’s cronies and reports to her."

You've learned well, young paduan.

We already know government business (not necessarily the firing, but government business) was conducted on Palin's personal Yahoo account because of state business e-mails sent accidentally to her government account, whose sender was reprimanded and told to keep such issues confined to Palin's personal e-mail. Turd Blosson, aka Karl Rove, and 80 other members of Bush's team executed a similar strategy articulated by TB in which personal e-mail accounts were used to conduct government business in order to avoid public scrutiny.

I say those e-mails are ours. We own them, the people. If Sarah Palin and Karl Rove want to pull the bullshit they have, and continue to, in order to prevent us from getting at their e-mails discussing how they govern our country, I say fuck them. Hack their accounts, take their family photos along with their e-mails concerning official state business, and post them all over the web. They are not entitled to our deference.

As Mark Slouka wrote in a brilliant essay in Harper's in June this year about the difference between American and British attitudes toward government: "In general, the Brits act as though the government is their business and they have every right to meddle in it. Americans, by and large, display no such self-assurance. To the contrary, we seem to believe, deep in our hearts, that the business of government is beyond our provenance."

For our part, we take our cues from the hypocritical talking-head class who deplore the "despicable, slimey, scummy, websites, that, in a free society, we have to tolerate," as said Bill O'Reilly on Gawker's posting of the Sarah Palin e-mails. Now Gawker is no anti-establishment, WTO bashing, anarchist hang-out, but kudos on splaying out Palin's e-mails, even if you were just looking for clicks past the jump.

We listen to Turd Blossom who has so little self-respect - even George W. Bush knows how thickly swaddled in shit is Rove, and bestowed the "Turd Blossom" moniker upon him - that he appeared on television yesterday and said, "We saw this celebrity private investigator in L.A., he's going to jail for having listened in on peoples' phone conversations. This is someone listening in on your personal e-mail, uh, this is really bad... We should throw 'em under the bus," showing no regard for the fact that he could have easily replaced "private investigator" with "my former employer, George Bush" and, except for the going to jail part, the statement would have still been accurate.

Thomas Jefferson said the tree of liberty had to be refreshed every once in a while with the blood of patriots and tyrants. No reason not to start spilling some 1's and 0's along the way, too.

16.9.08

Oops, There Goes $4 Trillion...

No one had lost their jobs, yet, by yesterday, but I'd never seen the Financial District's streets so empty on a Monday morning.

I work about five blocks away from AIG's big downtown offices on Water Street in lower Manhattan. I pass their offices everyday on the way to the New York Sports Club opposite their building. On the way to the gym last night after work I passed two people crying in each others' arms outside the big Chase building. In front of AIG, a fit young man with a smooth, clean head, sat on a flower pot and held his head and sobbed. Maybe their fantasy football teams hadn't performed well on Sunday, or maybe their portfolios had been wiped out in the last eight hours.

Just down the street from AIG, an electric-violin player twitched absurdly before the new "Dwell 95" uber-luxury apartment building that opened its doors yesterday at 95 "Wall Street" (its not on Wall Street, it is most definitely on Water Street, in the middle of the block, not on the corner where you can fudge it, but someone paid somebody for that address...). He stomped around on a blood red velvet carpet and spun out some Richard-Wagner-on-amphetamines music while the dazed suits and IB's stumbled past. A couple photographers snapped photos of oddly placed beautiful people standing in front of the building who-knows-why.
For months designer Philippe Starck's mug stood on a billboard over the building site wearing a moronic Toby Keith beard and a cowboy hat with "yoo" printed on it in big orange letters that had me thinking the place was a new Vonage store, not high rise luxury apartments. The grotesque, impromptu fete for Dwell 95 begged the question, who is going to buy those apartments now - advertised as residing in "the energetic Financial District" (I guess... as long as you don't step outside after 6pm on Friday) - and with what money?

The Financial District suddenly looks very old. Its big stone buildings are heavy and tired. They fit more comfortably with the relic-block of early 19th century NYC preserved for posterity at the corner of Broad Street and Water Street, than they probably should.

In the past year, some of the biggest Wall Street firms have experienced combined losses of about $4 trillion. I'd be fine with that if I wasn't so sure that it's not the dipshit IB's - who'd previously spent their Friday nights at Myst on 28th Street pouring booze on hookers - who will take it in the nuts as much as it is the people in the cafeterias, office services, and maintenance departments. The world loves an overpaid dipshit.

Furthermore, I wonder what this will do to New York City/State. David Paterson, who is a sharp guy as far as I can tell, went on CNBC today and basically said it's killing us to have these firms go belly up. He said that the State Assembly, in a special session recently, cut a billion dollars from the state budget and then had that basically wiped out yesterday when the lost about a billion dollars on the rest of the year with the Lehman collapse/Merrill almost-collapse.

Oh, but at least that fucking asshole, Dick Fuld, will get to leave Lehman with $65 million even with his shitty stock at $3/share. Yeah, Dick, you go break the legs of anyone who shorts that stock.

8.9.08

A Reasonable Succession of If/Then Statements

I heard Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" played for the 96,347th time in the past month at the New York Sports Club the other day. Apparently this pastor from Ohio is as fed up with it as I am. He says you should stick to kissing boys and liking it, I suppose, or else you go to hell. Abide the church of Blacklick, Ohio, Americans.

This'll Help

MSNBC Election Coverage - Olbermann = Mega-Suck

I'm with Gawker on this: Phil Griffin is a gutless slug and the only thing MSNBC has going for it is the Matthews-Olbermann-Maddow trifecta with the occasional Scarborough darkhorse quip. I mean, David Gregory? Come on!

Gawker calls Gregory "the guy who became famous for abusing Bush spokespeople," but that's a crock. He's a shitty journalist and he asked stupid questions to those spokespeople. You want to see how you abuse Bush's spokespeople? Watch Jeremy Paxman intellectu-ass-whip candidate for Dipshit of the Decade, former UN Ambassador, John Bolton, on Newsnight. Coronary country.

I had an enounter with Gregory in October of '03 when I was studying abroad in London. I was at Trafalgar Square the day of Bush's first visit to the UK and there were huge protests, something like 200,000 people. About 8pm I see the NBC news-crew making its way towards me and David Gregory's 6' 5" silver -do sticking out above all the Brits. I end up standing next to him and he says, "Hey, what's going on here, what's the story, I just got in," like I'm his press attache and he's been searching for me the whole time to get the scoop. What the fuck is he asking me for? I just drank a 2 liter bottle of Strongbow Cider. I am ill-equipped to answer this, or any other, question, and, in addition, a) you're the million-dollar a year "journalist," b) you're 6' 5" and you can see over everyone. You tell ME what's going on, buck-o!

Anyway, get rid of Gregory. Olbermann or bust. We don't need another Blitzer-styled starch-injection. Thanks, but no thanks, NBC. You guys suck.

Degrees of Separation

I found this portion of Sarah Palin's Wikipedia entry notable:

"Palin spent her first college semester at Hawaii Pacific College, transferring in 1983 to North Idaho College and then to the University of Idaho. She attended Matanuska-Susitna College in Alaska for one term, returning to the University of Idaho to complete her Bachelor of Science degree in communications-journalism, graduating in 1987."

Ok, nevermind the fact that she graduated from college after attending four colleges, one of them twice on separate occasions. She also graduated with a degree in communications. As you might recall from Episode 237 of The Simpsons, "Faith Off," this is the same degree held by Springfield University's famed place-kicker, Anton Lubchenko. Lubchenko is kicking in the championship game when a drunken Homer drives over Lubchenko's kicking leg with his parade-float-mobile. His career ruined, Dr. Hibbard is tending to Lubchenko and says, "Oh, don't worry about the end of your football career son, you can always fall back on your degree in..... communications??!?!?!??!?"
Yeah, anyway, "McCain-Palin '08: A-durrrr"

27.8.08

...And I Stop Acting Like Such A Bitch



I was hanging out with a guy a while back who said, when talk of the election came up, "Barack Obama? I'll never vote for that terrorist." I found it a constructive comment from the liberally educated, clean, articulate young man. Like him, the Clinton supporters above have taken such logical steps as creating Hillary Clinton Supporters for John McCain websites and also not eating their brussel sprouts and throwing even their chocolate pudding desserts on the ground at dinner.

As I said to my friend, of the clean, articulate young man as he walked away from our Socratic discussion, "I was just gonna hit him, but I'm gonna kill him now."

26.8.08

Christopher Long v. NYPD

Bikers

To bike or not to bike. I've been trying to figure this out. I feel something that makes me not want to be a bicyclist in New York City, but I haven't been able to articulate it. Just some general sense, beyond how many people I know who've been in shitty accidents, that there's a question to ask before I become a city-rider. I can't figure out what it is though. Just a nagging feeling I can't quite get at.

On n+1's website right now, there is an article by Dan Albert, "Take It to the Street: Class Clash on Seventh Avenue," that presents an explanation of the above footage from a Critical Mass event in which rookie officer Patrick Pogan leveled bicyclist Christopher Long.

Hooray for YouTube Justice, but Albert's article, as much as I like the narrative he crafts, leaves me unsatisfied. Here's the thesis:

"Fighting over street space is nothing new. Before the Model T made driving an everyman's game, New York police had little tolerance for the automobile crowd, viewing them as arrogant, wealthy scofflaws who treated the city like their private playground. Now we've entered a different era—a neo-Gilded one in which the wealthy scofflaws ride road bikes, and working-class cops are willing to go outside the law to protect the working-class driver's exclusive ownership of the right of way."

Problem is, Albert goes back and forth as to whether or not class is the issue or not and ends up, I think, undermining everything he says by writing, "The motorless commuter, regardless of his actual class position, has become a symbol of the privilege that comes with prime real estate."

There are problems with this piece. Also Albert never addresses the Brooklyn species of biker who is not a "wealthy scofflaw" but more likely a grungy twenty-something from Williamsburg.

Check out the video and the article. I'll keep thinking on this, maybe I'll come up with something. Until then, I'm staying on my Segway.

20.8.08

Settle For Less

I often encounter a curious subway ad for the law services of Trolman, Glaser & Lichtman PC. There are two versions; one in English, one in Spanish. The English version tells me, if I don't want to settle for less, I should call 1-888-484-5529. The Spanish version tells me for more than 40 years of experience, call 1-888-MARGARITA. My first thought was the same as yours; that's some racist shit. Anglos can remember numbers, but Latinos require a liquor-based-mnemonic to keep important stuff in their skulls?

There are a couple blogs that picked up on this as well, but appear not to have done their research. In this NY Times article from February 2001, Seth Kugel reports that the firm has no Latino lawyers nor does it have an employee named "Margarita," but...

"'Margarita' is actually 23-year-old Chastity Gutierrez, a receptionist who became the 'chief Margarita' four years ago. (Backup Margaritas serve when she is not available.) She is the latest in a line of Margaritas dating back to the late 1970's, when the first ads went on the air. The first one actually was named Margarita, but by the time she moved on, Mr. Glaser said, 'The name had become bigger than us.' The distinctly Jewish-sounding firm, he said, 'needed a name that said to people, when you call, you're not going to have to speak Yiddish.'"

If you read the NY Times article, you'll see that the number has taken on a peculiar quality amongst at least some of the New York Latino community. People call the number looking for advice and to vent frustration - the article, at least, makes it seem as though the Latino community calling the number think of "Margarita" only as a person's name, not a drink.

So I suppose there are two ways to approach this matter. Either the double entendre in the name "Margarita" is exploitative, racist regardless of these old white mens' intentions. This would put you in the Derrida school of deconstructivist "Death of the (Subway ad) Author" school of advertising theory. Or you take a more traditional approach and demand, no!, you cannot divorce the ad from the context in which it was created and the fact that the original receptionist's name was Margarita and that many people who call still refer to the receptionist as Margarita.

Me? I'm reminded, again, of the Graham Greene quote from the last post. Say the lawyers' intentions were purely honorable, good, innocent... that just reminds me of the "dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." Then again, part of the harm that leprous ad inflicts is due to the lack of investigatorial prowess displayed by the bloggers who've spiked the ad as straight racism. As much as I may be inclined to agree with them to an extent, their failure to do research pisses me off.

Distill it, and maybe the issue is simply that us Anglos think of Margarita as "one of the most common tequila-based cocktails, made with tequila mixed with triple sec and lime or lemon juice, often served with salt on the glass rim," while most Latinos think of a person named Margarita. But maybe that's wrong too. Someone get the census bureau on it.

As for Latino reaction to the ad on the web? All I could find was this post on a NYC Latino blog (Google translated from Spanish):

"We love SPEAKING of publicity for the metro and its terrible translations. Those who advertise there know that many Hispanics come and go in the subway every day, is a clear target. Obviously directed at them in Spanish (of dubious quality) and use tricks to the phone numbers or websites to stay in the memory. The advertising Trolman Glaser & Lichtman Attorneys is one of my 'favorite.' The slogan hurts: 'Lawyers for Hispanics Number One Injured in Accident,' my grammar teacher would shout at the sky. But the best thing is the phone number: 1.888.MARGARITA…"

Followed by this reader comment:

"Worst of all is that from time to time their advertising appears on this page. It is an honour for us to have a Margarita in Nuyorker…"

18.8.08

The Quiet American

"Death was the only absolute value in my world. Lose life and one would lose nothing again for ever. I envied those who could believe in a God and I distrusted them. I felt they were keeping their courage up with a fable of the changeless and the permanent. Death was far more certain than God, and with death there would be no longer the daily possibility of love dying. The nightmare of a future of boredom and indifference would lift. I could never have been a pacifist. To kill a man was surely to grant him an immeasurable benefit. Oh yes, people always, everywhere, loved their enemies. It was their friends they preserved for pain and vacuity." - The Quiet American, Graham Greene.

What will we do in a few months when our great enemies are gone? Perhaps we'll have John McCain, but hardly will he be as suitable an enemy as our current Jacobean characters. Just a silly man with a flimsy grip on matters of life and death. At least Bush's assuredness of the just nature of his cause will make good fodder for literature someday (and make prescient older literature such as the above).

Also from The Quiet American:

"Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm."

6.8.08

Obama and the Black Historical Narrative

James Baldwin wrote: "...it is part of the business of the writer--as I see it--to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source. From this point of view the Negro problem is nearly inaccessible. It is not only written about so widely; it is written about so badly. It is quite possible to say that the price a Negro pays for becoming articulate is to find himself, at length, with nothing to be articulate about. ('You taught me language,' says Caliban to Prospero, 'and my profit on't is I know how to curse.')"

Maybe you find Baldwin's criticism antiquated, and point to Barack Obama's "Dreams From My Father" as evidence that contradicts Baldwin's point. But, I'll say, that's just the issue.

The New York Times Magazine’s cover story this weekend is titled "Is Obama the End of Black Politics?" and written by Matt Bai. The Times, and Matt Bai, are off the mark when they address the end of "black politics," which I find a loaded term that obfuscates the writing that follows it. The question that should have been asked has to do with the African-American voice. What is at stake with Barack Obama's ascendance and this new generation of black politicians, is the black historical narrative in America and the way that narrative is shaped and told.

Glenn Loury, in an essay "Losing the Narrative," wrote: "My fear is that, should Obama succeed with his effort to renegotiate the implicit American racial contract, then the prophetic African American voice – which is occasionally strident and necessarily a dissident, outsider's voice – could be lost to us forever."

Unlike Loury, I think the dissident's voice is always destined to run out of steam. Unless it is purely satirical, the lampooning of power for the sake of it being power (and this is a much different voice), all dissident voices eventually join the mainstream. This is not a bad thing necessarily. It can be an indication of success. A dissident voice loses its raison d'etre the moment the political system, religion, whatever, that it opposes disappears.

Bai notes in his Times Magazine piece: "For a lot of younger African-Americans, the resistance of the civil rights generation to Obama’s candidacy signified the failure of their parents to come to terms, at the dusk of their lives, with the success of their own struggle — to embrace the idea that black politics might now be disappearing into American politics in the same way that the Irish and Italian machines long ago joined the political mainstream."

With Obama's rise, the dissident black voice those aging civil-rights era politicians crafted for the past 40 years is on the way out. This is an existential threat to such politicians; their reward for the success of their life's work is a page in the history books. A nice plaque on the wall commemorating their achievements and a Ken Burns documentary, to be sure, but the struggle moves into a new phase and they will have little role in defining the new narrative. Perhaps it is not so easy as knowing you’ve improved the lives of millions.

For a while, the black American voice sketched out a new narrative that seemed to follow two paths, in the post-civil-rights era, simultaneously; there was a new dissident voice – represented most prominently in American culture by hip-hop – that continued to chronicle a sense of no-exit desperation, and a second voice that was an economically empowered, upwardly mobile one that was/is working its way into the faceless mass of the mainstream.

But hip-hop found financial success, too, and now the norm for that artform is “microwave rap.” Music that is just a vehicle for a paycheck and no longer the gritty urban poetry written on the border of life and death by people like Nas. The dissident path that prospered artistically during the 1980’s and 1990’s came into some money and joined up with the mainstream as well. Although this occurred on a relatively small scale, not every impoverished black child has the opportunity to rap to financial freedom, the change of tack in the musical philosophy was significant, and debilitating, to the dissent of the genre.

Loury’s concern that the dissident black voice may be lost is probably passe. That voice has been lost. Part of the credentials of the dissident black voice was its “otherness” from mainstream American society (enforced, of course, by white mainstream America). But Obama’s personal narrative brings a distinctly untraditional black American history crashing into the mainstream. We all know the biography. By bringing the other so into the mainstream, Obama explodes the space for otherness in which the dissident black voice resided.

In the same Baldwin piece quoted above, Baldwin wrote that, “what was the most difficult was the fact that I was forced to admit something I had always hidden from myself, which the American Negro has had to hide from himself as the price of his public progress; that I hated and feared white people. This did not mean that I loved black people; on the contrary, I despised them, possibly because they failed to produce Rembrandt.”

Baldwin, here, addresses black provincialism. Furthermore, Thomas Williams, in a piece in n+1, wrote in February of this year; “Anyone willing to spend an hour in the company of Black Entertainment Television or to venture into the ‘Urban’ section of the bookstore could argue that today black culture has lapsed into a greater provincialism than ever before. It would not be hard to argue that.”

The question, for me, concerning the black American narrative and the future of a dissident black voice hinges on a difficult Catch-22. If black America is able to overcome the still significant socio-economic issues that plague a portion of its population and join the mainstream fully, then I’m not sure a distinctly black “Rembrandt,” a cultural, artistic force that overthrows a history of provincialism, can be created from the nest of the faceless mainstream where money, more than race, defines your place. On the other hand, the black American narrative has long been defined, as Loury states, by a dissident voice, and that voice has yet to find Baldwin’s Rembrandt, despite having produced some of the greatest cultural products in America’s history. Furthermore, I don't think a dissident voice can produce a Rembrandt as the dissident voice depends on some other agent (oppression, injustice) to provide the fuel for its work. I don't think a Rembrandt can come out of a system like that.

And no, Obama’s no Rembrandt.