Category Archives: politics

Three Things That Realigned My Electoral Demographics Last Week

X-Com: Four to Six Alien-killn' dudes.

1. XCOM Enemy Unknown

This game dug it’s hooks into me in a way that few games in recent memory have. I’m talking “stay up until 5:00 am because I need to play just one more mission and then I’m back at base and maybe I should just finish researching that one weapon tech, but oh no the global satellite alert just kicked in and sectoids are attacking Sao Paolo so maybe I should just real quick play that one too, only I have to restart that mission because my support dude from South Africa walked face first into a thin man ambush….” The turn-based nature of the game makes you feel like a tactical genius as you lay your forces out in an unstoppable line of crossfires and over-watching ambushers. That feeling lasts about as long as you go without encountering the enemy, as the game is intensely punishing at the harder difficulties and losing even one man can make it impossible to finish the mission. Things spiral out of control quickly and the wrong placement of a heavy gunner can mean the difference between victory and six dead dudes. That’s not even getting into the long term strategy of building out your base, researching alien technology, and training soldiers. You have a finite amount of resources and failure to use them wisely means that the countries that bankroll your alien-fighting unit will pull their funding. Launch more satellites!

2. Cloud Atlas

This movie is an adaptation of an unadaptable book. Love it or hate it, you have to admire the sheer craft that went in to creating such a dense narrative that interweaves six completely different narratives. The result is something that you can definitely see the seams on, but the fact that it holds together at all is amazing. From the creepy buck-toothed grin of Tom Hanks’ 18th-Century poisoner to the just-a-little-too-much patois of his post-apocalyptic shepherd every inch of the film is imbued with a stark attention to detail that honors David Mitchell’s novel even while it completely reworks the structure. Clocking in at three hours, the film does challenge you to keep all the separate threads straight but it is worth the effort.

3. The U.S. Presidential Election

It’s been a long, long, long slog to the finish line and it is finally over. Whether the outcome had you dancing in the streets with joy at the thought of four more years of glorious progressivism or rending your garments and gnashing your teeth as you booked your flight to Canada to avoid the soul-crushing slide into a socialist hell, I think we can all agree that we are glad to be off the electoral roller coaster at long last. People who paid attention to the raw numbers weren’t terribly surprised by the re-election of President Obama, but election night was still a fun chance to watch CNN’s Minority Report-esque holographic projections and touchscreen number crunching. Donald Trump’s massive meltdown on twitter following the election results was my personal highlight but the best thing about the election is that (after about 3-4 days to let the anger and resentment bubble out) it will be safe to go on Facebook again.

Three Things That Rocked Me Like A Hurricane Last Week

Charming Young Billionaire

The Social Network. I am an unabashed fan of Aaron Sorkin, from the  heights rapid-fire walking and talking he reached with The West Wing to the swiftly forgotten self-aggrandizement of Studio 60 One the Sunset Strip, I have enjoyed them all. I’m also partial to David Fincher. Trent Reznor’s instrumental work basically got me through studying for law school finals with its dark ominous tones. So why did I avoid a movie that puts all three together while it was in theaters? I have no idea. Something about The Social Network failed to grab my interest. I thought it looked good and made vague plans to Netflix it eventually, but I never worked up the energy to see it during its theatrical run. Not even the Oscar buzz for the film could get my ass in the seat. Something about the subject matter just didn’t appeal to me. But having finally watched it, I have to ask myself: What took so long? This movie was awesome. Well written, directed, and acted. The most compelling part of Facebook’s  creation myth was the portrait it paints of Zuckerberg: ruthless genius and profoundly sad dude, a Charles Foster Kane for the Internet age. I especially loved the framing device of present-day depositions taking us back to the early Harvard days of the social networking behemoth.

A different sort of Office

Portal 2. This game makes my head hurt. In a good way. I’m still puzzling my way through the single player campaign, but I can already tell that Valve have hit this one out of the park. I’m almost completely desensitized to the simulated sensations of video games. Rarely do I get a visceral thrill. But the dizzying possibilities set up by the simple mechanic of creating a portal between two points in space often leaves me feeling slightly breathless. The voice acting is great as well. I could listen to Steven Merchant read the phone book, but the voice of the robot Wheatley is hilarious.

How's it hanging?

The Economist. I am a long time subscriber to the best weekly magazine in the history of the printed word, and their recent release of the iPad app has opened the magazine up for me in new and more convenient ways. My chief issue with the paper is the sheer deluge of information it rains down on my every week. Classically liberal, but intensely focused on taking the long view of the weeks news stories The Economist delves deeper and takes a wider scope than any other paper. This week’s edition goes deep into the dysfunctional workings of Californian politics with a special report on the failings of “extreme democracy”. It’s more riveting than it sounds. Plus, infographics!

Shrill

Bill O'Reilly

I like politics. I hate punditry. I’m interested in the way public policy is conceived, debated,  and implemented. The ins and outs of political sausage-making fascinate me. Theoretically, at least. In practice, the problem is that the only way to keep up with the K Street wheeling and dealing of our elected representatives is to consume some manner of (and I use the term loosely) news. And right now, there’s no such thing.

The tenor of the national conversation tends to be such that reasoned debate or thorough reporting never actually happens. The television replaces it with shrill, shrieking talking heads who take turns yelling at each other and making disingenuous attempts at “balance” by having shrill, shrieking talking heads from the opposing political party yell at them. And then they cry. I’m not calling out for some standard of objectivity, or news outlets. A certain amount of lean or bias is an inescapable aspect of the human condition, and as long as they own up to it I’m fine with that aspect of the media. I know that in the early days,  political reporting was done by the most viscious of partisan hacks and I don’t see a big gap between the libelous pamphleteers of the 1700s and Fox news, say. And that doesn’t bother me

Bias is fine, but at least give us some reporting somewhere in between the shouting and bullying. Even if it’s biased reporting, give us some facts and some depth not just regurgitated talking points and press releases. Whether its the conspiracy theories and calculated histrionics of the Glenn Becks, the aggressively dismissive shouting of the Chris Mathews,  or the smarmy condescension of the Rachel Maddows, watchers of news get nothing but punditry. Blogs are even more brazenly partisan, and the echo chamber effect means that links and links give lots of cross-pollination but outside of a few serious outlets there is even less room for actual reporting. Newspapers. meanwhile are heaving the last choking sobs of their death spasms.

As fake news becomes the only palatable outlet for keeping up with the day-to-day political landscape, Americans lose something important. As much as I love the Stewarts, Colberts, and (to a lesser degree) Mahers of the world they are a poor substitute for substantive news reporting, told in manner meant to educate more than it entertains.

Brand New Day

3212554290_a8fff2b73e

On my way to school this morning I passed a crowd gathered in the Civic Center park to watch President Obama’s inauguration. Hundreds of people huddled close leaving no gaps in the crowd. They all faced the giant screens set up in the center of the field to broadcast the swearing in of our nation’s 44th President. I watched the ceremony and subsequent speech at school, soaking in the rhetoric with fellow future lawyers and the professors who teach us. There were few dry eyes and several people wept openly.

I wouldn’t begrudge anyone an upwelling of emotion. It was a great speech from a great speaker and he gave it on what is undeniably one of the most historic days of recent memory. People will be talking about Obama’s presidency for years to come and it all started today.

But underneath my joy at the dawning of a new day in America with its unwritten pages (and other hackneyed metaphors for hope, renewal, and promise) I can’t help but feel a little tickle of apprehension. To be clear, I supported Barack Obama from the first primary. I even involved myself in his campaign above and beyond buying a t-shirt and casting my vote by working for his campaigns voter protection effort in my native Florida. I am happy that he won and hopeful for our future.

But.

But despite the strength of his rhetorical abilities I still feel the pull of the cynicism he has campaigned so strongly against. As inspired as his speeches are and as much as they evoke the feeling of change and progressive action for a beleaguered country, I still feel like Charlie Brown. I am afraid that the change in administration is a new football Lucy sets upon the tee and we the people are lining up our kick because this time, this time it is for real. She won’t pull it out from under us and send us toppling ass over our collective elbows. The challenges are many. The obstacles are high on several fronts. I worry about blowback from President Obama’s messianic reputation and whether that will prove to be more of a hindrance than a help.

But.

But despite my own clinging mistrust of the ability of our leaders to lead us effectively I will place my trust that we get the government we deserve and that we desperately deserve someone who can nudge us toward fixing the problems we created and give us the tools to do so.  I truly believe that President Obama is capable of providing the leadership we need and that he will help us overcome the obstacles in our path. So I for one am more than willing to really step into this kick and whether we end up falling flat, splitting the uprights or bobbling the whole thing it feels good to dig in and have something to look forward to.

But someone said it better:

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world. Duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

We all have to work in the garden.

(photo by Vanessa Naylon, via Laughing Squid)

A Documentarian In Search of a Terrorist Mastermind (and a Thesis Statement)

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? is Morgan Spurlock’s follow up to Supersize Me. It first came out  back in April, and I meant to see it at the time but I think I was too busy shaking with pre-exam anxiety to get out to the theaters. It just opened here in Australia, so I thought I’d take the second chance to see it on the big screen. I do love documentaries.  Generally, I like Morgan Spurlock. I enjoyed both his previous feature and his FX series 30 Days, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into when I bought my ticket.

The conceit of this latest documentary is that Spurlock’s partner is pregnant, and his impending paternity inspires him to make the world a safer place for his child. In order to accomplish this, he sets out to find the most dangerous man in the world: Osama bin Laden. It’s pretty thin as inciting incidents go, but Spurlock plays it straight by focusing more on his travels than his actual goal. In order to find the Al-Quaeda mastermind, Spurlock traces a path through the Middle Eastern world.

This is the core of the film. He starts in Egypt, and his quest takes him to Isreal, Suadi Arabia, Afghanistan, and finally to Pakistan. The destinations are set up with interstitial animations that look like the pre-level cut-scenes froma video game. Indeed, after Spurlock establishes his goal, there’s a mildly amusing videogame sequence where he fights a CG avatar of Bin Laden, utilizing special moves like the “Redneck Rage” and the “Mustache Ride.” Heh.

Morgan Spurlock

Morgan Spurlock

The animated aside to explain or illustrate a point is a common Spurlockian trope, which he actually uses less than I was expecting. The bulk of the picture consists of Spurlock visiting different locales and talking to the locals. He starts by asking them if they know where bin Laden is, which usually elicits a laugh. Then he goes on to interview the subjects on what they think of American foreign policy.

As much as I like Spurlock, his work does tend to suffer from what I like to call the “No shit?” factor. Supersize me and most episodes of 30 Days offer a useful look at some aspect of American culture, but obviousness of the positions undercuts the point that Spurlock makes. For example: Supersize Me.

“Really? Eating nothing but McDonald’s for a month straight is bad forr you and fattens your ass while clogging your arteries? No shit. I had no idea.”

Or the episode of 30 Days where he and his partner decided to live on minimum wage for the eponymous time period. His earth-shattering conclusion: living on $5.50 an hour is really hard, almost impossible in the modern economy. Stop the presses!

What makes his work worthwhile is the way he uses these stunts to explore the edges of the issue. Supersize Me touched on the way the food industry as a whole works, and the ways in which agribusiness has affected the American diet. In the minimum wage episode of 30 Days, he explored the deeper economic forces behind income inequality. The “No Shit?” Factor is a tool he uses to flesh out his theses.

At least that is the way it usually works. I was a little disappointed by Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?preciesly because Spurlock wasn’t pursuing a specific point of view. If he had a thesis, it would have to be that many citizens and average people in the Middle East are critical of the way America pursues its interests on the world stage. Welll, there’s your “No shit?” moment, but the incidental details are absent this time around. There were fewer graphs and asides that articulated subtleties. There wasn’t much in the way o sutblety at all. Instead, Spurlock opted to usethe human element.

The weight of the film comes from the earnestness with which his interview subjects articulate their thoughts and fears. There’s more of an emotional punch, but less overall depth. His focus is on the everyday citizens (when he can get to talk with them openly. There is an extended sequence where he is run out of an Israeli neghborhood by some very angry Hasidic dudes, and one where his interview with some Saudi youths is carefully overseen by some officials, who the boys keep looking at as they answer). He speaks with everyone from radical clerics to University students and poor farmers. He covers all his bases. To his credit, the film never devolves into blatant America-bashing. There are moments when the repeated refrain of “I have nothing against the American people, but their government is a real problem” gets old. Spurlock could also do more to present the view of the American foreign policy establishment. If for no other reason than for valid contrast. But he keeps it at the man on the street level.

He doesn’t really offer any grand conclusions, aside from the fact that men like Osama bin Laden don’t just spring fully formed from some malevolent spring of pure evil. They are created by their times and shaped by the religious, social, and economic forces of the world in which they live. Understanding this is important, to be sure. But I can’t help but feel that Spurlock is better when he has a clearer axe to grind and a more specific enemy to assault. American hegemony is too broad and the social factors he examines to varied. He needs someone even more evil to go up against. Like McDonald’s. The film is interesting and Spurlock is an engaging presence, but his point would have been stronger with a clearer purpose. As it is, it serves as a fine survey. But in order to reveal more, he needs a more clearly articulated thesis.

Adam and Steve?

gay marriage

photo by Jim Herd

On my way to school this morning I passed through a crowd of protesters outside the California Supreme Court. It seems that California is considering the issue of same-sex marriage today, and these folks have a problem with it. When I got to school, I found that Hastings is running live footage of the arguments in the student lounge, to be followed by a panel discussion on the constitutionality of people with the same configuration of X and Y chromosomes marrying. This is San Francisco, so I can pretty well imagine the general reaction locals have to the debate. That made the protesters stand out all the more. Despite their placards warning of the spiritual perils filing joint tax returns with someone who wears the same kind of underwear as you do, I don’t think they’ll be changing too many minds. One well-meaning protester dropped some mathematics on passers by with the helpfully simplistic slogan “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman.” I can’t fault him on his arithmetic, but he forgot to show his work so he can only receive partial credit.

Gay marriage is an issue that is hard for me to get worked up about, despite my zip code. On the one hand, of course homosexuals couples should enjoy all the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as other citizens. It offends my notion of justice and fair play to suggest homosexuals don’t deserve to receive tax breaks, insurance benefits, or any other freedom guaranteed to every other American. Civil Unions may grant all those same rights. Is that enough? Is marriage by another name just as good? I don’t know.

For many people in this country (though not me personally) “Marriage” means something very specific, as the arithmetical picketer I spotted this morning demonstrates. Not all of them are closed-minded assholes of Phelps-ian proportions. Marriage is a social construct, and it operates in both a secular sense and religious sense. Why not let these people (of which there are many) reserve the language of marriage for a church-sanctioned act and let homosexuals enjoy the same benefits through a secular civil union? Let marriage be the province of the church if that’s what it takes to appease the minds that differ.

Such a compromise reeks of the separate but equal doctrine, which was neither. The idea retarded the civil rights of blacks in this country for too long a time and it seems like an overly restrictive way to approach a personal freedom. And what could be more personal than deciding who you want to spend your life with? But it may be a necessary semantic concession to the more stringent conservative elements that also make up American society. It may be the cost of doing business in a pluralistic society, as it were. California voters approved a ballot initiative eight years ago that put the kibosh on any gay marriage, and the electorate has not reversed its position.

The whole froofera has never sat particularly close to my heart, since I am both heterosexual and pathologically afraid of commitment. I think though, if I were an Adam wanting to commit to my Steve I would be more concerned with getting the same rights than getting to use the same word.

UPDATE:

Here’s some footage of the douchebags in question:

via SFist (where I also found the above photo)

At the Intersection of Politics and Geekery, A Duel Between Obama and Clinton

Morpheus on Politics

This is the coolest political ad I have ever seen. It repurposes the dialogue from an old issue of The Sandman (Season of Mists, I believe) . The words are a magical duel that plays out exactly as above, with Barack taking the role of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams and Hillary as a demon. Awesome.

Even if I don’t totally agree with the sentiment, I think it encapsulates the message well and I think I’ve been waiting my whole life to see comic books appropriated into  the political discourse.

via The Seminal

What Happens in the Men’s Room Stays in the Men’s Room, Unless You are Senator Craig

It seems everyone has something to say about the most recent congressional sex scandal, in which Idaho senator Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting some hot man on man lovin’ in the men’s room of the Minneapolis airport. Why is it that the dog days of August always seem to bring out the sexual peccadilloes of the high and mighty? Last year we had the fun and games surrounding the Mark Foley sex scandal, and then there was the great Condit affair which broke in August of 2001 and involved not only sex but murder as well. Not to mention the Long Dong Silvering of Clarence Thomas (Summer 1991) and the granddaddy of them all, the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal. Is there something in the air that makes those who walk the halls of power into horny bastards in the summertime? Or is there something about the news cycles that makes this kind of thing more likely to break at the end of summer?

Toilet Stall

I don’t know. But as far as the most recent example of political perversion, I understand the impulse to come down on Craig for being a hypocritical asshole. He did plead guilty to soliciting sex from a man after having voting for the Defense of Marriage Act and otherwise acting as a family values type while cruising the crappers of our nations capital in search of man-love. It’s always fun to watch hypocrites get outed for their hypocrisy, especially when they are conservative and the scandal that brings them down involves toilet trysts. But have you looked at the actual complaint?

It’s ridiculous. The officers state that he tried to solicit sex by means of salacious foot-signaling.

At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.

Now even if it is true that the reason Craig tapped his foot so saucily was not, as he claimed, because he “ has a wide stance when going to the bathroom” but rather to indicate that he wanted to get it on with the guy one stall over, what’s so wrong with that? It is now a crime in this country to indicate to another adult that you are willing to have sex with them? I’m not saying that we should turn our nation’s restrooms into bathhouses or advocating that we give the larger handicap stalls at airports over to gay orgies but where is the harm in tapping one’s foot? The whole thing is just ridiculous. Is Senator Craig an asshole and a hypocrite? Almost certainly. But that doesn’t mean that Minneapolis should be wasting valuable police resources in elaborate bathroom sting operations in the hopes of exposing hypocritical congressmen.

Senator Larry Craig

Hypocrisy is bad. Cheating on your wife is bad. Tapping your foot in a bathroom stall is a ludicrous charge. There’s no real sex scandal here. How could there be? There was no sex to call scandalous. Which is not to say there isn’t something fishy about Senator Larry Craig…

Nevertheless, we heterosexual men should take care lest we send the wrong signals to rabid homosexuals and find ourselves embroiled in a similar scandalous debacle as Senator Craig. I used to keep a grey rag in my pockets because the job I worked meant my hands got dirty. If the signals are this subtle, what are we telling others? It turns out that I had inadvertently been telling the world that I am into bondage by waving my (unknown) freak flag. I shall have to be more careful in the future.