Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mid-Morning Mental Health Break: So, Panic

I've pretty much had this tune on repeat for the last three weeks, courtesy of the fantastic Phantom Planet:

I also love the near-Bunuelian zombie band imagery in the video.

Thursday Music Flashback: Miracles Will Happen As We Dream

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Swing Time

Living in a swing state like Ohio means I get to see ads like the one below, which just aired during Sportscenter:

Where to begin? Set aside the fear-mongering, the race-baiting and the taking of Biden's remarks out of context. Instead, ponder the central argument: that McCain, because of his supposed 'wealth of experience,' is more ready to lead on Day One than Barack Obama. Then, ponder how reality (as it does so often to poor John McCain) spoils all of the fun.

We already had an international crisis, John (it was all over the news, you might have heard about it), and your response was an epic fail (Obama, meanwhile, was seen as steady, calm and assured in the middle of the panic-- one might even call his resolve "steely" if one lusted after that word as much as McCain seems to). We had another crisis before that one, and your response was read as saber-rattling (that is, when questions weren't being asked about your ties to many of the crisis's participants). Finally, we've been in the midst of a much larger crisis for five years, and Iraqi leaders, foreign policy mavens and U.S. military leaders have all sided with Obama's policies rather than yours.

All of that makes John McCain 0-3 on crisis-handling in recent years, but by all means, let's let McCain-Palin be the ones to face the looming head of Putin in the future.

Please come, November 4th, please come...

Drill Baby Drill

Not at all work-friendly, but often funny:

Wednesday Music Flashback: Search Your Heart

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tony Hillerman, R.I.P.

Tony Hillerman, who died Sunday of pulmonary failure, was the keynote speaker at a Popular Culture Association conference I attended in Albuquerque in 2002. He was a very kind, gracious man who patiently responded to the comments, questions and praise of academics with dry, bemused humor. He spoke, as I recall, about the importance of place to his work, and as his talk unfurled, you could imagine the landscapes he was describing, feel the sun on your neck, taste the dust and the wind in your mouth. He was also quietly, humbly, but forcefully articulate about the role that race played in his books, the importance to him of using popular genres to explore Native American culture and cross-cultural exchange.

I liked him a lot, and regretted I'd never read one of his novels. Maybe now is a good time to start.

17 Days

New Bond movie opening in British theaters this week, and coming to America November 14:

For more excellent 007 fun, click here.

War Rooms

For all the comparisons of Barack Obama to seventh season West Wing Democratic candidate Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), I always thought a better fictional comparison was with the show's first President, Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen).

Both were brainy-but-charismatic former academics with a gift for rhetorical flourish; both were written off as underdogs against a well-financed Establishment machine that got behind a centrist DLC Democratic Senator; both overcame initial funding deficits by organizing a crack team of professionals to invent new ways of playing old games; and like the fictional Bartlet, Obama now stands on the verge of history.

Bartlet (from the second season "In The Shadow Of Two Gunmen"):
What began at the Commons in Concord, Massachusetts as an alliance of farmers and workers, of cobblers and kinsmiths, of statesmen and students, of mothers and wives, of men and boys lives two centuries later as America...

Obama (Monday):
In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. The stakes are too high to divide us by class and region and background; by who we are or what we believe. "Because despite what our opponents may claim, there are no real or fake parts of this country. There is no city or town that is more pro-America than anywhere else -- we are one nation, all of us proud, all of us patriots. There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq and patriots who opposed it; patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America-- they have served the United States of America.

Enjoy this moment. For all the anxiety swirling around this election, I more and more think we should, per this graphic, chill out and not miss the opportunities unfolding before our eyes: to watch the neocons go crazy; to observe four decades of corrupt discourse unravel; and above all, to enjoy the rise of a once-in-a-lifetime political figure, to watch the audacity of hope become a real and palpable thing.

Obama is a confirmed Trekkie, so I don't think he'd mind an allusion to Star Trek II, and Kirk's remembrance of Spock's favorite line: "There are always possibilities." The great gift of this campaign-- a gift spearheaded by the candidate, but shared by everyone-- is to remind us of this, to offer imaginative possibility at a moment when the future feels closed off, and therefore to dream up the idea of America all over again.

UPDATE (1:58 a.m.): One of my favorite moments on The West Wing, from "Noel": Josh is recovering from being shot, dealing with his post-traumatic stress. It's Christmas, and he has recently freaked out at a Yo-Yo Ma concert, and smashed his hand through a window in his apartment. A psychologist played by Adam Arkin is called in to treat him, and at the end of their session reveals to Josh what set him off: the music a brass quintet that was playing in the White House lobby. "At this moment, in your head, music is the same as--." "--As sirens," Josh finishes for him.

"So that's gonna be my reaction every time I hear music?," Josh asks. "No," says Arkin's psychologist, shaking his head.

"Why not," Josh asks.

"Because," Arkin responds, "we get better".

Tuesday Music Flashback: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This To Sing Abut

Monday, October 27, 2008

Doll Revolutions

Concerned about the rumors swirling around tee-vee mastermind Joss Whedon's new show? Worried that the architecture of the Dollhouse might be shaky? Need a break from planning your Sarah Palin and/or Ted Stevens Halloween costume?

As my blog pal John might say, go, read. I guarantee Mr. Whedon's words will make Eliza Dushku's show sound more exciting than ever.

Note: Given what Whedon says in the post about re-shoots, some or all of the clip above may no longer be relevant. But it's just too cool not to post again.


Andrew Sullivan continues, as he has for months, to make the conservative case for Obama, and recently linked to this odious Weekly Standard editorial by William Kristol.

However, he was kind enough not to show you the cover of the magazine it's in:

Hmmm...Yes, because running against Barack Obama is exactly like this:

November 4th really can't get here fast enough, you know?

Monday Music Flashback: When I Do, I'm A Fool

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Childhood's End

I was eleven the first time I'd ever heard of a "comics shop." As I wrote here a year ago, I'd read comics in a sort of piecemeal fashion through much of my childhood-- in the late '70s/early '80s days of spinner racks and grocery story magazine sections, one's selection of monthly titles came haphazardly, driven more by brand-name characters like Batman or Spider-Man, by the alluring cover imagery, and by the mysterious wonders of the "three-pack" (that cheap plastic bag of goodness that held three issues, only two of which could be seen, so you had to discreetly, er, bend the pack (out of range of the storekeeper's eye) to catch a glimpse of what was in the middle), than by any organized "collector" mentality.

Then a friend mentioned a place in Portage, MI, called Fanfare Comics and Games. I believe this store still exists-- I saw it the last time I was home, but it had moved into a strip mall, and seemed to cater more to card fans and gamers than comics readers-- but there's no way it could hold the same mystery and wonder for an eleven-year old today that it did for me 24 years ago. Like all good super-heroes, it hid its strength behind a nondescript secret identity, housing itself in a small, coverted house on a relatively unimpressive ground near the intersection (it might have even shared that space with a radio station, I know there was one next door, at least). But walk through the doors, and...


It was a small space, but that only added to its allure. Boxes upon boxes of back issues, Silver and Golden Age issues framed like fine art on the walls, and multiple racks of new comics on display on two different walls...It was a geek nirvana. Wait, you mean people collect these? They have a history? There are "direct issue" comics you can only get in this shop? There are magazines about comics? I already felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory, and sensing the long, vast history to these four-colored wonders also played on my deep fascination with history overall-- I could read about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in the same way one read about Washington, or Jefferson (and c'mon-- for a nerdy eleven-year old boy, which set of historical figures was really more important?).

It was a good time to read mainstream comics-- John Byrne was writing and drawing the Fantastic Four, Roger Stern held court in the pages of the Avengers, Chris Claremont and John Romita, Jr. were enriching the mythology of the X-Men, Spidey had just gotten his symbiote suit, strange doings were occuring in the pages of Iron Man...I suppose there were things occurring in DC Comics, too, but aside from Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans, I didn't care too much about the Distinguished Competition (as Stan Lee mockingly referred to them on Marvel's "Bullpen Bulletins" page): a child of the 80s, I was very much a Marvel fan, as they seemed to have the best writers and artists, the most interesting characters, the most far-reaching sorts of mythologies, spaces that were both epic and deeply human, thus touching both the insecurity and grandiosity of their adolescent readers' imaginations. By the time 1985 rolled around, I was very much the four-colored addict, and the adventures of the Marvel Universe seemed vivid, real and essential.

When I read that Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards were going to do a six-issue miniseries called 1985, it set off these associations for me, and I knew I had to read it. I had mixed feelings about Millar's work on Civil War (which always felt like an under-baked version of an interesting idea), but the notion of going back to a less convoluted time in Marvel's history, and linking the characters to the real world of the period, sounded like it might be an interesting exercise in nostalgia and fan critique.

They're five issues into their run, and it's an interesting, conflicted beast. One of Marvel's trump cards has always been that they are set in the "real world," having their characters roam around highly stylized versions of New York L.A., London, instead of "Gotham" or "Metropolis." 1985 takes that one step further by setting itself in the actual real world, one devoid of Marvel heroes and villains, but full of young and old readers that devour their comics. One of those readers is Toby, an angry and introverted thirteen-year old whose parents are divorced, and who shows little interest in much beyond the next issue of Secret Wars. One day, out for a walk with his father, they go to the old Wyncham home, where a childhood friend of Toby's father used to live. There are new residents moving in, and they offer father and son a trunk of vintage sixties Marvels (there's one wonderfully cartoonish reproduction of Avengers #1 that we catch a glimpse of in the corner of the panel).

Heroism is defined differently in a world without super-heroes, and here it's represented by Toby's father, a loser with a sense of ethics: he refuses the free gift (despite its artistic and monetary worth) and suggests they sell it to the local comics shop instead. That would be the end of the interaction, except that Toby thinks he sees a shadowy figure in the window that looks a little like Doctor Octopus...

Toby's concerns are dismissed, but he is (of course) correct: a rift in time and space has transported Doc Ock, Dr. Doom, and other Marvel villains into our world, where they are free to roam without the interference of Captain America or The Thing. The next three issues toggle between their increasing violence on this small town, Toby's Twilight Zone-like attempts to convince skeptics of what he's seen, and the everyday family problems Toby and his mother and father face. It's a lot to juggle-- and I haven't even mentioned the various comic book in-jokes-- and it often feels like Millar and Edwards have bitten off more than they can chew: especially in the "decompressed" landscape of contemporary comics, there's too little forward momentum in each issue, given how much ground they want to cover in six issues. By the time Toby finds the portal to the Marvel world inside the Wyncham house (a lovely metaphor for the kind of comics shop I mentioned above) and literally falls into the Marvel NYC, it begins to feel like we're getting the Cliffs Notes version of Millar and Edwards' tale, instead of the rich weave of the personal and the super-heroic that a twelve-issue run might allow for.

That said, there's a lot that's pleasurable here. The fetishist in me loves the glimpses of old Marvel comics that dot the pages, and the 80s cultural references and jokes that are often perfectly placed (a good Masters of the Universe joke, for instance). I like Millar's use of flashback, and the smaller moments of character development and observation he provides. Although it's a bit heavy-handed, the use of comics and comics characters as metaphors for Toby's emotional problems feels right: the super-heroic villains are larger than life and mysterious, just as they were to me when I was a young reader. Edwards' art is a great help in this: he tosses Doom, Modok and the others into shadowy spaces, and panel frames that often cut off parts of their faces or bodies, so we see only glimpses instead of the full-bodied shots we might get in a regular Marvel book. Edwards' inking style is dark, murky, almost chiaroscuro, and it's one of the few times the muted Marvel color palette works for the story: when Toby falls from our world into Marvel's, the colors go from drab (brown and blue and orange) to effervescent (yellow, red and white), a cartoonish space that evokes Dorothy stepping from Kansas into Oz (or a reader suddenly shoving her nose into a four-colored pamphlet).

Do I wish it was longer? Do I wish he'd get to the point(s) a bit quicker? Do I think he could mine and mimic more of that Mighty Marvel '80s Style in his storytelling? Yes, yes, and yes. But I am glad 1985 exists, and I'm curious to see how it ends: in setting themselves the task of evoking the past in a contemporary frame, Millar and Edwards do a nice job of suggesting just how much has changed in the comics themselves, how much remains the same in our intense attachments to them, and how such attachments can be both problematic and the source of imaginative possibility.

One Last Swing On The Tire?

Since the primaries, Josh Marshall has been tracking the "tire swing" effect among media pundits, their tendency to continue carrying McCain's water, and to hold to the myth of "maverickyness" that for so long made McCain the political equivalent of Brett Favre.

I thought of the tire swing when I opened my AOL mail this afternoon and saw this headline: "Presidential Race Tightens, AP Says." Now, as Sarah Vowell noted in her wonderful book, Radio On, AOL headlines have long been a source of humor, due to their surreal mixture of the newsy, the trashy, and the banal (for instance, as the server moved through the day's news, the headline above was quickly replaced with "Remember Daisy Duke?" and "Gifts That Say, 'I'm So Sorry'"). And many of the poltical headlines since the summer have shown an almost comically blatant tendency to spin for the GOP.

But this headline particularly puzzled me because, as I scanned through other news sites, I couldn't find other stories verifying its suggestion that McCain had pulled to within a point (44%-43%) of Obama. Indeed, most of the headlines were suggesting that the national numbers had remained more or less as they'd been for a week, and that Obama had surged in several key battleground states. Even the AOL/AP story questioned its own headline:

Polls are snapshots of highly fluid campaigns. In this case, there is a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; that means Obama could be ahead by as many as 8 points or down by as many as 6. There are many reasons why polls differ, including methods of estimating likely voters and the wording of questions.

Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor and polling authority, said variation between polls occurs, in part, because pollsters interview random samples of people.

"If they all agree, somebody would be doing something terribly wrong," he said of polls. But he also said that surveys generally fall within a few points of each other, adding, "When you get much beyond that, there's something to explain."

The AP-GfK survey included interviews with a large sample of adults including 800 deemed likely to vote. Among all 1,101 adults interviewed, the survey showed Obama ahead 47 percent to 37 percent. He was up by five points among registered voters.

Now, I'll be the first to admit my PoliSci training was more in qualitative, theoretical analysis (philosophy, theory, history, trends) than it was in quantitative work, and I've always found abstracting out poll numbers to be a maddening job. So I toss it out to you all: is there something I'm missing here? Or is this just one more ride on the tire swing by a news organization already called out this year for its McCain bias?

Happy Days Are Here Again

As a child, I was often compared to The Andy Griffith Show's Opie, so this warms my heart:

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

It's easily Howard's finest work since Arrested Development. And it's a reminder that his best work is still done in a comedic mode: while the endorsement seems sincere, the reason I love it is because that doesn't prevent him from gently poking fun at Hollywood artifice (love the use of the nose-hair tweezers), and from having fun with the pitfalls of celebrity pomposity by staging the re-shoots of his old shows in clearly fake ways. Kudos, too, to the good sport participation of Griffith and Henry Winkler. You are officially forgiven for Cinderella Man, Opie.

(h/t to Oliver Willis' site for the link).

Thursday Music Flashback: Just Wait For Tomorrow

Monday, October 20, 2008

You Know You Want One

Obies of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your caffeine jitters!

Click here for more information.

Let Them Eat Moose

On April 17, 1976, in the run-up to that year's Presidential campaign, Ford administration press secretary Ron Nessen hosted Saturday Night Live. According to Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad's definitive history of the show, Saturday Night, the Ford administration thought it would be smart politics to play along with Chevy Chase's withering satire of Ford as a bumbling idiot, in order to prove to swing voters that the President had a good sense of humor about himself.

In retrospect, Ford's administration was the last gasp of moderate Republicanism (and as a fellow Michigander, I've always had a soft spot for him). At the time, though, in the wake of Watergate and Ford's pardon of the odious Richard Nixon, the administration's lobbying to get a spot on the show caused some controversy among the show's liberal cast and writing staff. Eventually, it was arranged to have Nessen on the show, and it was this group's job to figure out how to do so while still not making it a 90-minute campaign ad for a President many of them didn't like.

The answer was to generally avoid direct comment on politics, but to turn every other potentially offensive hot button up to "11." After Ford himself said, via video, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!," the show showcased Ackroyd's disgusting "Bass-o-matic '76,"; played a sketch with advertisers imagining product names like "mangled baby ducks" and "painful rectal itch"; ran a film in which mock garbagemen talked about finding dead bodies in the trash; and hosted punk legend Patti Smith, whose scathing rock was clearly not a campaign jingle for Gerald. After displaying himself in the midst of this funny-yet-scatological hot house, Nessen found himself taken to task by Ford campaign operatives, who thought it didn't show their team in the best light.

I thought of that earlier moment watching the "Sarah Palin Rap" from this week's SNL. Again, a Republican finds herself running in the midst of what looks like a landslide year for Democrats, thanks to the corruption and ineptitude of the previous Republican president, and also finds her public image shaped more by a devastating SNL impersonation than by anything she herself says. Again, in order to counter the bad publicity, she chooses to go on the show to show how 'funny' she is, and again, finds herself swamped by the madness that the cast has framed around her.

Really, my one impression of Palin as Poehler rapped was not, "what a good sport!," but "does she even have any idea that they're mocking her?" It might not have been mangled baby ducks and dead people in the New York City garbage, but from the chants of "Obama-Ayers," to the finger guns and deadpan "bang bang" sound effects, to the dancing moose, it's a very sharp takedown of Palin's weird hockey mom/pit-bull public image; Palin's "what, me worry?" face doesn't so much signal self-deprecation as it does clueless self-aggrandizement. Along with her mean-spirited bigotry and utter corruption, a chief reason to vote against Palin is her completely deluded, God-chose-me-for-this-worldview, one that (like that of the current occupant), seems unwilling or unable to acknowledge that she might not be the Chosen One (and we all know there's only one Chosen One). Compared to Poehler's energy and go-for-broke determination, Palin came across as a zoned-out Marie Antoinette who seemed to think she was at another one of her foam-mouthed campaign rallies. Do you think she'll even register that it didn't work out two weeks from now, when Obama makes his victory speech?

Monday Music Flashback: All The Vampires Walkin' Through The Valley

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thursday Music Flashback: Make Me Feel Tongue-Tied

My Senator

Ohio's own Sherrod Brown shares my schadenfreude.

Drop That "Zero??," Get With The Hero

Since one of my teams did well this week when I didn't watch, I thought I'd continue my trend of skipping the debate/catching up on the responses afterwards. And it seems like Obama did well again. This might be my favorite moment of all the clips I've seen:

(h/t to Oliver Willis's site for the YouTube link).

I don't know what I enjoy more about this-- the fact that, as Willis puts it, McCain gets "pwned" on the issue, or the bulging eyes and rising, surprised voice that respond to Obama's description of his health care plan. At this point, McCain stops being a war hero, or a Senator, or even the most inept Republican Presidential candidate of my lifetime, and he becomes an infomercial host. That's what I thought of as I watched it: McCain resembles nothing so much as those obsequious D-Listers you can catch at 2 a.m. on local TV, excitedly watching as the chef explains the wonders of the Ginsu knife: "Zero?? Really, Barack?? That's a-MAY-zing! Tell me more!" I expect Team McCain to release an ad this week: "Obama's Health Care Plan: Better than our German knives??"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Too Late

Joe Klein wants to climb back on the tire swing and praise McCain for 'civility,' but I think OneRepublic and Timbaland have the right idea:

Tuesday Music Flashback: Just One Gulp Away From Empty

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Divine Decadence

All images from Pandora's Box, 1929.

Tearing Him Apart

John McCain magnanimously 'criticized' a campaign supporter who attacked Barack Obama on Friday, and was feted for doing so by some of the more gullible members of the press, who are still hoping they weren't wrong to call him a "maverick" eight years ago. (Memo to donut-providing reporters: You were).

Of course, even as he mumbles his mea culpas into a microphone, this ad keeps playing on televisions across the country (I saw it at least three times during Saturday's Rays-Sox game). And this ad just debuted on the web. And even if they think Obama is an honorable guy, they're not above going after his wife.

And certainly Sarah Palin is certainly not above such attacks, perhaps hoping they'll distract us from her minor legal problems. Luckily, those discriminating sports fans in Philadelphia weren't buying it. Hey there, Governor-- they booed Santa; did you really think they wouldn't boo your mythical ass, too?

UPDATE (10/12): Aaand...the "detente" meme lasts about 24 hours for the McCain campaign, as they choose to call the more hateful supporters at rallies "hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track." What a Maverick.

Sunday Music Flashback: The Coastal Town That They Forgot To Close Down

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Four-Colored Campaigning








Wednesday Music Flashback: In The Quiet Silent Seconds

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hands Off

I only caught bits and pieces of the debate tonight (with the sound off and the closed captioning on), correctly thinking that my time would be better spent talking on the phone with my girlfriend, rather than letting my blood pressure potentially skyrocket if Tom "I Make Up Facts So the GOP Doesn't Have To" Brokaw did something particularly stupid. As we head into the home stretch, I find myself strangely divided in my responses to the campaign, at once obsessed and also exhausted by the whole thing, so taking breaks from the debates has been helpful.

I've been catching up on what happened through blog and news reports, and it sounds like Obama did well. It might be tiny, compared to their answers on entitlements or health care or Iran (I imagine that self-appointed scold Bob Somerby would attack it as so on his Mao-jacket-gray website), but this is the YouTube moment I keep watching:

Why does the lack of a handshake from McCain bug me? Because it comes after he said this:

And that comes just a day after this happened:

Worse, Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

Even PUMA-happy Salon is able to recognize the McCain campaign's slow descent, not just into eventual irrelevance, but into a truly ugly racial cesspool, and the combined effect of the three events noted above suggests to me that they're not even trying to hide their unearned sense of entitlement anymore.

UPDATE (11:41pm): Talking Points Memo and Andrew Sullivan are now reporting that McCain shook Obama's hand in an earlier moment as the debate ended. If that's true (as I said, I only saw bits and pieces), then fair is fair and it should be noted. That said, it still looks to me like McCain is ignoring Obama's hand in this clip, and I'm not sure it changes the wider point about the McCain campaign running on racially-fueled entitlement and contempt, which their behavior earlier in the evening and over the last few days continues to suggest.

Tuesday Evening Bad Movie Club: Ribbit

When I was in graduate school, we had something called "The Bad Movie Club." Participants would gather once a month to inflict the worst films they could find on each other, bringing the movie in a brown envelope, and not revealing the title until the "Play" button was pressed. Thus, did we see such classics as Uncle Sam, Swept Away (the Madonna version) and From Justin 2 Kelly.

In honor of that long-ago group, I'd like to begin a new recurring, weekly feature here at Bubblegum Aesthethics: The Evening Bad Movie Club, where I bring you trailers and clips from the strangest, most egregious films I can find. And since it's October, and since Jonathan and Bill are both doing horror blogathons this month, I thought I'd offer up this gem: Hell Comes To Frogtown.

The title alone makes you curious, right?

There are horror films, you see, and then there are horror films.

John McCain Thinks You're A Moron

(h/t to Oliver Willis' site for the video link).

John McCain thinks you'll fall for racist imagery. John McCain assumes you won't notice the blatant projection in yesterday's speech. John McCain believes that his surrogate can get away with lies and easily fact-checked misrepresentations of news reports. John McCain is desperately rewriting the past. John McCain's not really worried if his ads take quotes out of context. John McCain is too busy rallying his base to keep tabs on his staff. John McCain will do anything to keep from talking about issues.

In the end, it's not Barack Obama who is truly insulted by the incalculable levels of slime that emanate from the McCain campaign-- it's the American voter. And as the smears inevitably get worse over the next 28 days, keep in mind that "The Maverick" thinks that you'll fall for this stuff. It's called "the bigotry of low expectations," and for a man who's styled himself on a rhetoric of "honor" and "Country First," such a smearing of the American people is pretty damn unpatriotic. For all the wrong turns of the last eight years, I still believe that deep down we're a better country than that, don't you?

Oh, and if anyone still uses the term "Maverick" around you with a straight face, send them this devastating piece, which takes apart the McCain myth with an Errol Flynn-like rapier quickness.

Tuesday Music Flashback: You Had A Temper Like My Jealousy

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Happy (Belated) Peanuts Day!

Snoopy, proto-blogger?

Via Jeff, I found out that Friday was "Peanuts Day," a holiday I did not even know existed, but which I am happy to celebrate, and which should certainly displace Arbor Day and May Day on our nation's calendars.

I urge everyone to go to Jeff's site and read his wonderful thoughts on Charles Schultz's strip. I have nothing to add to his excellent piece, except to say that Schultz had, hands down, the best comic timing in the history of American comic strips:

Oh, if only the Cubs had Linus on their team!

Bubble Boy

All six of my longtime readers know that I admire Frank Rich a lot. His theater criticism was wonderful; his memoir Ghost Light is a deeply moving study of adolescent insecurity set against a crumbling family life and a geeky love of the theater; and when he came to Oberlin last month and interviewed Stephen Sondheim, he was a witty and sympathetic interlocutor.

Normally, his Sunday columns are a cornucopia of sharp-edged pithiness, but he swings and whiffs with today's piece, which tries all too hard to paint Sarah Palin as the future of the Republican Party. I don't doubt that Rich is well-intentioned in his Cassandra wail, nor do I doubt the accuracy of the picture he paints of the hard right gathering behind their heroine. Does she want to be President? Probably, or why else would she have leaped at the offer of a VP slot for which she's absurdly unqualified? Will she be President? Not a chance.

Rich gives her too much credit in this piece, reading her as the avant-garde of the GOP, but that's a position that's tenable only if you are trapped in a Beltway mentality; Rich grew up in DC and wisely fled for New York as he got older, but his column today represents the viewpoint of a Washington Bubble Boy, trapped within the mechanics of conventional wisdom that The New York Times propogates, and that only the most tenacious and talented scribes can escape (Paul Krugman is the op-ed page's sole Houdini). Certainly, Buchanan and Co. were spinning wildly yesterday, trying to pump up the barracuda myth-- but was anyone listening outside the studio?

Outside of the bubble, voters overwhelmingly gave Biden the win. Palin scored points with her folksiness, but drew mixed reviews for her literally wink-wink persona (devastatingly parodied again by Tina Fey on tonight's SNL, where, just as with last week's parody of the Couric interview, they barely had to tweak her answers to create the dialogue and get laughs). Just before the debate, McCain pulled his troops out of the bellweather state of Michigan, and unlike his fake suspension, this move seems like the real deal. He's fallen behind in several normally red (or at least purple) states like Florida and Virginia, and has even seen North Carolina's poll numbers oscillate wildly. With his numbers in free-fall across the country, one might ask-- what good has Sarah Palin done him, exactly?

As Troopergate becomes an even bigger problem for Palin, as her tax records show discrepencies, and as her actual words (and not just the "starbursts" she lands on Rich Lowry's crotch) get analyzed, it shouldn't be surprising if her favorability numbers return to their pre-debate, -10 levels. Perhaps sensing this, Palin herself went on the attack the other day, throwing overboard her debate persona of supposed "kindness" and falsely re-spreading the disproven rumor that Obama "pals around" with terrorists. This will all appeal to the base, and maybe that's all she needs to be seen as the future of the party, but that's considerably different from being President, for which she'll need the very swing voters that she's been alienating for the last three weeks.

In spreading scandal, Palin not alone-- Frank Rich's own paper trumpeted a silly story on their front page Saturday re-opening stories about Obama's connections to William Ayers. As Steve Benen points out here, much ink is expended, but the conclusion is the one everyone already knew-- there's not really a story here. That didn't stop them from putting it on the front page, though-- between the front-page narratives of Adam Nagourney and Elizabeth Bullimer and the back page musings of Dowd and Rich, it seems safe to say that the Beltway bubble is still trying to make it a horserace, even as Obama pulls ten points into the lead, and breaks the 50% mark in recent polling. Crafting such narratives is, after all, what self-proclaimed Mavericks do. For the rest of us, it seems more and more likely that this will be the future (h/t to Oliver Willis for the link):

Sunday Music Flashback: Fly, Great Big Sky

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Backhanded Compliment Of The Day

From Time's Joe Klein, on Palin's debate performance:

"Her relentless opacity was impressive."

I'm glad Biden did well, but boy am I glad I skipped that thing last night.

UPDATE (4:33pm): Not to sound all Glenn Greenwald, but does anything sum up the idiocy of Washington pundits better than this passage from Roger Simon's debate analysis? (h/t to Talking Points Memo for the link):

She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like “I betcha” and “We have a heckuva opportunity to learn” and “Darn right we need tax relief.”

Biden was somber, serious and knowledgeable. And he seemed to think that debates are about facts. He had a ton of them.

Criticizing John McCain’s health care plan, Biden said that McCain would tax health care and “then you’re going to have to replace a $12,000 — that’s the average cost of the plan you get through your employer; it costs $12,000 — you’re going to have to pay — replace a $12,000 plan, because 20 million of you are going to be dropped. So you’re going to have to place — replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you’ve just given to the insurance company.”

Got that?

Palin was a lot more direct in her attacks on Obama and a lot more simple. Criticizing Obama for saying he would meet with some foreign leaders who are hostile to the United States, Palin said: “Some of these dictators hate America and what we stand for. They cannot be met with. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous.”

She also said: “An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment.”

Sarah Palin accusing Barack Obama of being naive? Yep. And she was unabashed about it. And so what if Joe Biden has been in the Senate approximately forever and knows a lot more about a lot more stuff than she does? She doesn’t care.

“You recently said paying taxes is patriotic,” she said to Biden. “In middle-class America, where I have been all my life, that is not considered patriotic.”

True, a lot of her statements were of the fortune cookie variety. “At end of day,” she said, “if we are all working together for the greater good, it is going to be OK.”

But a lot of people like fortune cookies....
Should all that down-home talk and body language really count? Joe Biden doesn’t think so.

“Facts matter,” Biden said.

Yeah? In politics? Since when?

"Facts are stupid things," Ronald Reagan famously intoned, and that seems to be the slant of a lot of post-debate Beltway spinning (which suggests they are already writing off McCain's next debate, and pinning all their hopes for a polling surge on propping up Palin's performance). This happens even though post-debate polling suggests that the broader public clearly saw Biden as last night's winner, leading to this wonderful graphic that Josh Marshall has up at TPM, showing the audience's snarking just at the moment when Simon was giving a version of the above to Chris Matthews:

Friday Music Flashback: Cherokee

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tone Poem

She hurries out of the crowded Underground at the Charing Cross Station, the crowds of people bustling through the fog and smoke, the strap of her knapsack cutting a bright line across the pitch black of her uniform overcoat. The black of her coat, her cap and the inky night make the porcelain white of her eager face stand out even more. She's coming to meet her lover, the man she'd only met a few weeks earlier, the man who has asked her to marry him. He only has this one night before he must go away, so she leaves her army camp and comes to the city, to sit in the Charing Cross Station ("below the big clock," she says excitedly on the phone, repeating his directions back to him). She waits, an expectant look on her face, as the camera dollies in for a soft-focus close-up. Waiting for a man who will not come...

I skipped the Veep debate tonight and instead watched This Above All (1942), and boy, did I make the right choice. Anatole Litvak's wartime melodrama, starring Joan Fontaine and Tyrone Power, is spectacular-- the actors are superb, and Litvak's shadowy mise-en-scene and poetic mobile framings make the movie unfold like a tone poem, or a Surrealist vision of wartime love.

More later (I'm still processing it), but for now, I'll leave you with the haunting image of the woman on the train station bench...

I Don't Know What It Means, But I Still Bop My Head To It

What can I say? As the weather turns cold in Cineville, the Manchester groove of the Stone Roses warms my i-tuned soul.

I don't have to sell my soul/He's already in me/I don't need to sell my soul/He's already in me/I wanna be adored...


Of note:

--Blog pals Jonathan and Bill are devoting October to horror blogging. This is not one of my favorite genres, but when Bill tackles horror literature like Turn of the Screw, and Jonathan draws deep into his well of screen grabs, video clips and scanned images, the results are shivering good fun. Head over to their blogs and get bloody, baby.

--Wasn't it just yesterday that the McCain campaign was airing an ad about Barack Obama's supposed 'sexism,' with a condescending female voice saying of his supposed treatment of Sarah Palin, "How disrespectful!"? Now that they are down by nine in the latest polls, it seems the ever-flailing McCain groupies are tossing their chivalry aside and going after Gwen Ifilll. Steve Benen has the ugly details of Day Two of Ifill-palooza, but it's notable to me that they're not even trying to hide the racism anymore. How disrespectful.

I myself already have Palin burnout, and with B&W DVD delights like Pandora's Box and This Above All arriving from Netflix today, I will be skipping the madness and luxuriating in my cinephilia. Please feel free to post your thoughts about the debates in the comments section, though.

-- Speaking of debating, Roger Ebert smacks John McCain for bad manners here. This follows up on last month's exquisite smack of Jay Mariotti, so it's been a good period for Mr. Ebert's always-valuable critical voice.

--Covering the election is one thing, but the blogger known as Wanders has set himself a more difficult task: blogging about Mary Worth. It's a thankless task, but Wanders handles the adventures of America's favorite meddler with aplomb at Mary Worth & Me. Head over and read his witty takes on the day's events.

--When I heard Paul Newman died, one of the first places I went was to Self-Styled Siren's blog. As morbid as it might sound, I knew that Campaspe would have something smart, moving and gorgeously phrased to say about this sad event. And I was right.

--Baseball playoffs are here (go Cubs!), and Fire Joe Morgan is on the case, already finding early evidence of media coverage idiocy. Head on over for a few laughs in this season of "gritty little guy" hagiography.

--Over at Some Came Running, Glenn Kenny is using the New York Film Festival as a jumping-off point for interesting musings on audiences, critics, and cinephiliac expectations. Mosey on over and jump into the debate.

The Hum of Teenage Angst

Jason Robert Brown is arguably the most interesting Broadway composer under 40 working today. His breakthrough show, Parade, musicalized the real-life tale of Leo Frank, a Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a young woman in 1913 Atlanta, and its haunting, dream-like structure and rich evocation of American folk music won Brown a Tony award in 1999. His follow-up, the off-Broadway cult success The Last Five Years, was to my mind even better. It took the standard boy-meets-girl romantic comedy structure and turned it inside out-- as the man and woman trade songs, you realize that they are moving in opposite directions through the narrative, as he looks ahead to what he knows will be a bright future, and she looks back from the perspective of a failed marriage (the gorgeous pop ballad "The Next Ten Minutes" is the one moment in the show where they occupy the same temporal space, and the ironies the narrative structure creates makes the already melancholy tune that much more heartbreaking, as the minor chords of the violins darken the brightness of the voices). The show would win Brown 2001 Drama Desk awards for music and lyrics.

With this interest in offbeat subject matter and innovative structures, the obvious comparison is with Stephen Sondheim (enhanced by the fact that longtime Sondheim collaborator Harold Prince directed the original production of Parade). Brown has cited him as a huge influence (and one of his early professional jobs was crafting the orchestration for a number at Sondheim's Carnegie Hall tribute in 1992). But he blends that with a strong interest in contemporary music, and the result is the kind of complex pop sheen that hasn't been heard on Broadway since Burt Bacharach wrote Promises, Promises: it's at once harmonically subtle and completely hummable, melodically rich and lyrically rueful.

Brown is back on Broadway this week with a new show, the junior high school musical 13. The show plays with both the title number-- there are 13 characters, all 13 years old-- and in its casting (it uses actual teenagers, and a teenage pit band). The Sondheim influence lurks here, too-- it sounds a lot like conceits behind Merrily We Roll Along, which also did the casting-teens-as-teens thing, but all signs point toward a happier ending than that which Sondheim's musically brilliant flop faced (13 already garnered strong reviews in its initial L.A. production). The score has just been released to I-tunes, and it's fun-- given its narrower subject range, it isn't as musically adventurous as Brown's other work, but its pop-rock rhythms are infectious, and its self-aware pastiches of genres are a delight (Brown's lyrics are as sharp as ever-- his eye somehow balances between witty critical distance on adolescent travails and almost painful sympathy with teen lust's up-and-downs).

There's a good interview with Brown in today's New York Times. He comes off as both ambitious and remarkably insecure (keeping in mind that the Times is often condescending to anyone with a pop bent, or an interest in blending the disparate genres that their live arts coverage is so intent on keeping stratified), but that makes a certain amount of sense: his songs often explore such emotional mixtures, and the fault lines in-between, where seeming paradoxes suddenly seem utterly clear.


All images from Rules of the Game, 1939.


All images from Rules of the Game, 1939.

Thursday Music Flashback: This Here's A Government Experiment

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Quote of the Day

On Sarah Palin:

My initial reaction to the “in what respect, Charlie?” moment was that it was like watching a student try to fake a term paper in real time: “well, the Bush Doctrine, Charlie, is a doctrine developed by George Bush. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘doctrine’ as ‘a: something that is taught; b: a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief,’ and the Bush Doctrine has taught us much about the body of principles in George Bush’s system of belief, which is to defend America and never blink, Charlie.”
--Michael Berube

(h/t to Digby for the article link).

They Create Their Own Reality

(h/t to Talking Points Memo for the link.)

Wednesday Music Flashback: You Better Get Ready To Be Confused