Category Archives: politics

Michael and Me

It looks like I’ll get an early view of Michael Moore’s new film Sicko. The man is no stranger to controversy. I first heard of the rotund champion of the Left during his stint with TV Nation. I liked his style. Later, he gave a speech during my undergraduate days at Florida State University. It was 2000 and the main thrust of his speech was that if we didn’t keep Bush out of the White House, it would usher in the dark days of the apocalypse. No comment. I like watching his documentaries even if I don’t always agree 100% with the politics he’s pushing. He makes some interesting points, but I do sometimes get annoyed with his constant antics as showy provocateur. It comes off a grating and over the top, and sometimes it feels a trifle staged and over-edited. (and perhaps with good reason)

I saw his most confrontational film, Fahrenheit 9/11 while I was in South Africa, where his grudge match with the Bush administration seemed to play well with the crowd who were not fans of our Commander in Chief. I liked him better when he was in his more grassroots mode, ala Roger & Me, or the more philosophical as in Bowling for Columbine.

I’m interested to see what he has to say with Sicko, as I think the health care industry makes a good target for him to snipe at. Is there anybody out there who actually likes the state of health care in America? I think people everywhere and on both sides of the aisle have serious issues with the way the system stands. Michael Moore is a muckraker, pure and simple. Sometimes that gets on my nerves. Sometimes, it works. We’ll see how this plays out.

Some thoughts on e-1337-ism

Bill Maher has an article up on Salon going over one of his “New Rules” in which he mentions that 150 graduates of Regent University have been hired by the Bush administration. For those of you who don’t know, Regent is the oh-so-prestigious law school run by funda-nut Pat Robertson. Maher goes on to attack the school as being on the lowest rung of the ranking ladder, a law school for people “who couldn’t get into the University of Phoenix.” and then attacks the way in which the concept of elitism has come to be demonized.

He makes some good points. Chief among them, that in most areas we want the elite, from sports to warfare we admire those who have the natural talent and discipline to drive themselves to excel in their chosen fields. But not in politics. For some reason, we have a tendency to want our leaders to be folksy and accessible instead of smart and competent. Now I’m not saying that people who have the word “State” on their diplomas are incapable of leadership, or that only the wealthiest of wasps understand the needs of the country. But I like the idea that of the philosopher king even if it doesn’t always turn out for the best. I want the geekiest of the geeks to fix my computer when it is broken, I want the greasiest of wrench monkeys to fix my car, I want the tweediest of coats to teach me in school and I want the smartest people in the world working on the problems of how to govern.

I agree with Maher that there is nothing wrong with looking to the elite, and I’m pretty sure you won’t find very many of them under the tutelage of Robertson who functions as a kind of caricature of fundamentalism gone awry. But I don’t think we necessarily need to keep the justice department staffed with the top 1% of Harvard and Yale. The real problem I have with the fact that this administration recruits so heavily from Regent is that it yet another mowing down of the church-state barrier in favor of a fundamentalist Christianist agenda. If Regent were a place of serious academic chops instead of a bible-thumping diploma mill, there might be more justification. It seems clear to me that the primary reason for hiring so many Regent alumni has far less to do with their legal acumen than their religious convictions.

I’ll get back to talking about comic books and mixed martial arts later…

20/20 Hindsight

I’ve been maintaining radio silence on the whole Virginia Tech tragedy, and there hasn’t been too much else to talk about. The tragedy is still fresh in everyone’s mind and I haven’t had anything to say about it that wasn’t painfully obvious. But Salon has an article up about how teachers of creative writing deal with disturbing and violent images in student work. Many out there hold the teachers who read Cho Seung-Hui’s work and didn’t see this coming responsible. It turns out that more than a few of his instructors had been concerned, more from his demeanor and behavior than from his actual writing. I read his plays that have been flying through the ether since they came to light. While not good by any stretch of the imagination, I don’t see them as the stark cries for help that many do. Richard Beefheart in particular is certainly no more violent than, say Hamlet. Fiction is fiction, and as a long-standing veteran of creative writing classes I can say that I have seen some seriously twisted stuff come from the meekest and most sane of students. I’ve personally been in student workshops on stories with rape, torture via piano wire, and people having their eyes gouged out with crucifixes. None of them were particularly pleasant, and they were of varying levels of quality but not one of those students ever hurt a soul, much less went on a two-gun kill spree. It is the exception far more than it is the norm. I think, and the Salon writer seems to agree, that Cho Seung-Hui’s behavior was far more telling and it was that that drove his instructors to try to get him help. People can read, watch, and yes, write violent things without being violent.
This article also caught my eye because they mentioned several Bay Area schools. Of the ones they brought up, I work at one and attend another. Small world.

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yeah pretty much

Throughout this whole Imus kerfluffle, I’ve had a hard time reconciling why the mummified provacatuer had caused such an outrage. Besides it being a slow news week, I don’t see why his (admittedly in poor taste) was so central in the public discourse when other media personalities say much more bigoted and potentially offensive things on a daily basis. Radio personalities and others routinely move along the border of the things we can and cannot say in public. I think part of it has to do with the so-called serious guests Imus books- senators, authors, etc,). Andrew Sullivan suggests that it might also have something to do with a lack of ironic distance between what Imus the man may or may not believe and what Imus the character says to be controversial. He also mentions South Park, which I always appreciate.

Radio Free Racism? Imus Makes an ASS

Imus-t say,(that probably qualifies as the lamest thing I have ever written) that I’m not really feeling the sense of outrage that everyone else seems to be feeling about this whole thing. I have listened to maybe three minutes of Imus in my entire life. I’m not a fan and I know very little about him or his show, but judging from this transcript (via Eschaton) his remarks just don’t seem that incendiary to me. With the possible exception of using the word “Jigaboos” (although it wasn’t Imus who said it, and it was in reference to a Spike Lee joint) there’s nothing all that salacious going on here. Is “nappy headed Hos” really that offensive? I mean it’s not dinner party conversation, but in the realm of talk radio that barely scratches the surface of offensive speech that Howard Stern and others clawed into the meaty bowels of even before he moved to satellite. So why is Imus being suspended and having to abase himself before Sharpton and the American public? Is it because he is an unfunny blow hard?
I think not. He is popular with advertisers, and as torturous as I find him, he has a following. I’m not gonna come at this from a Free Speech angle, since his bosses are as free to take him off the air as he was to make his dickish remarks. He’s not being shut down, he’s just being attacked. And these attacks fall well within the spectrum of free speech, hence the beauty of the system. And I’m not defending his statements because they were in poor taste, but because they are milder than what gets said elsewhere on a daily basis. If he really wants to push the envelope and keep a running commentary on the relative ho-ishness of multiple female sports teams he is free to take his show elsewhere. The fact that he seems contrite and willingly accepting his suspension suggests that he won’t. And the fact that he apparently gets big time politicians on his show is a strong incentive for him to make his show palatable to enough people so that he can continue to book guests like John McCain.
But the heart of the issue here is not whether he will reign in his antiquated quasi-racist remarks, but on whether he will stop wearing that stupid cowboy hat.

John Bolton on the Daily Show

Anybody else catch this last night? I really like it when conservatives go on the show. I think Jon Stewart does an admirable job of interviewing those with an opposing point of view without getting abrasive and staying (relatively) respectful. Bolton was our erstwhile ambassador to the UN, an organization that he had little respect for. During his time in the UN, he did some things right and some things wrong but I could never fully fathom the sheer gall required to make him our ambassador to the world in an organization which he famously said could lose its top ten stories without anyone noticing. While I agree that the United Nations is grossly inefficient and frequently accomplishes nothing, I am a strong believer in its potential for good and I don’t thing he had the right attitude to be our player there. He tended to personify the American arrogance that other countries perceive and get rubbed the wrong way by.

Last night he handled Stewart’s ribbing in fairly good humor, although he disagreed on just about every point. Stewart wanted to get into the Gonzalez kerflaffle, pointing out the parallels with Bolton’s ousting but fittingly for a diplomat, Bolton failed to engage. He stuck to his idea (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it is the duty of the President to fill as many positions as possible with like-minded people. Not because they are personal supporters, per se, but because they would naturally be ideological boosters and further the administration’s point of view. He further pointed out that transparency in government is only good up to a point, and that there has to be some freedom for the administration to discuss and decide policy without having to worry about public accountability.

I don’t hate Bolton, although I think he was the wrong man for the job, but I just can’t get behind any of the points he was making here. The whole point of democratic governance is to allow disagreement. Bolton seemed to be saying that the American people made their choice when they elected W. and nobody has any further say in his actions or the policies of his administration. He went on to defend this as the very model of democratic theory. To my mind it couldn’t be further from it.

On Political Authoritah…

I am a fan of South Park. My opinions on this are well documented. One of the things I like about the show is how it plays with politics and lampoons serious issues without ever descending into partisan nastiness. While I think it’s pretty safe to say that most people watch the show for fart jokes and the storylines that border on the obscene and blasphemous (and I mean that in a good way), there is an underlying political ethos, but you have to wade through the malicious and hilarious skewering of all players on the political scene to get there. There’s definitely a general trend toward conservatism, which may seem odd for such a socially liberal show. I mean between Big Gay Al, Cartman’s crusade for stem cell research so that he could clone a pizzeria, and the episode where euthanasia was the only way to let Kenny save all of creation, the South Park guys probably aren’t on the RNC’s speed dial. But I’m not talking about the typically Christian, moral majority brand of conservatism. Among others, Nick Gillespie over at Hit & Run seems to read Trey Parker and Matt Stone as Libertarians (even if they wouldn’t say so themselves) and I tend to agree.

I also like that he acknowledges the show’s ambiguity. It refuses to pin itself down to any one ideological framework and rakes muck at everybody. They are also unwilling to sacrifice fetus jokes and swear words to become some sort of crudely animated Doonesbury, so I’ll keep tuning in.

Just For the Record

<rant>

I do not care about Anna Nicole. I did not care about her when she was in movies. I did not care about her when she had her own reality show. I did not care when she got married, or went to court about the dead billionaire’s billions. I did not care when her son died. I certainly did not care when she died, and I think you can guess whether or not I care about this paternity froo-fra.

Apparently CNN, MSNBC, and the last bastion of decency that is FoxNews disagree and think I should care very much about Anna Nicole. That is the reason why they have been giving round-the-clock coverage of this nonsense. I know there isn’t 24 hours worth of real news every day, but is it really serving the public good to give constant live coverage of the paternity trial of a dead stripper while we are:

1. Enmeshed in a problematic occupation (with Iraq)

2. Almost starting a second war (with Iran)

3. Brokering a nuclear disarmament deal (with North Korea)

4. Exchanging harsh words (with Russia)

5. In the early stages of a presidential election (at home)

6. In the middle of a divided government

7. Deciding the future of how we legislate information monopolies (Sirius/XM)

8. Etc. Etc. Etc.

</rant>

Encouraging Ennui

I’m as glad as the next guy that people are getting excited about politics. Presidential elections are always a sight to behold, and the next one promises to be a real horse race as opposed to the 2004 debacle. The fieldf is wide open on both sides of the aisle and everybody seems to be getting pumped for their favorite frontrunners. And that is great. But the thing to remember is that the election is almost two years away. The first primary is (probably) a full year away.

I know the American people have to poked and prodded into elctoral action and the infusion of relatively new and exciting figures like Obama as well as popular old school possibilities like McCain and Clinton has got the hoi polloi actually getting psyched about politics. This is generally a good thing, but I am wary of electoral burnout. Americans are not known for their long attention spans and the glut of media coverage of these candidates is likely to stretch beyond it. I don’t know if I have the stomach for the intensive coverage of every step on the electoral trail. From the exploratory committees to the the fundraising trips, in the struggle to fill 24 hours, the news networks have given us story after story about the minutiae of everything. Even the most wired of CNN-junkies will start tuning out and stop checking the blogs if they have to keep this intensity for another 20 months. The people will get bored and then excitement they feel now will wilt slowly away and we’ll end up with another apathetic turnout in November 2008. Mark my words. Throttle down, CNN. Throw the brakes on, Fox News. Surely there is other stuff you could be reporting on.

On the Politics of 24

I’m just starting to get into 24. I’ve always been leery of jumping on board because I’ve never been able to consistently watch it, and I figured it had to be too intricately plotted for the casual viewer. But the advent of DVR in the household has made it possible to get on board for the new season even though I won’t always be home at 9:00 on Mondays. My old friend Netflix is helping me catch up on the previous five worst days in Jack Bauer’s life.

I’m enjoying it immensely. From the rapid-fire plot to the well-shot (if ludicrous) action scenes, 24 is good TV. I can’t get over the sheer Bad-Ass-itude of Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. I don’t know everything the character has ever done, but within the first few hours of season six, he goes from being a horrifically scarred and fragile prisoner of war to actually killing a man with both hands tied behind his back. That’s right. Jack Bauer is so determined and hardcore that he will RIP OUT A DUDE’S THROAT!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd_Aotvwkms

WITH HIS TEETH!

Yowzah. But as impressive and awesome as I think the show is, I can’t help but feel a little queasy about its politics. As some would have it, 24 is a conservative version of The West Wing. Both shows operate as a kind of mythical fantasy world where everything is taken to extremes, and Straw Men abound. Except in 24, instead of a liberal dream of idealistic social justice we find a world where torture is often necessary, racial profiling is encouraged, and intensive government surveillance is the only thing standing between the civilized world and the viscous dogs that want to bring it all down.

I like both shows, even if I can’t fully get behind the politics of either one. But there is something about 24 that makes me a little uneasy. It does border on propaganda. Whether a recently (and apparently extensively) tortured Jack Bauer can get over his squeamish inability to Interrogate with Extreme Prejudice in time to save us all is a key plot point. (He does.) It seems to be taking its toll on the old man, and only time will tell if this is a completely one-dimensional story, or of we will get even an echo of the moral and ethical questions Jack has to face in the course of his job as a Counter Terrorist Unit agent.

More problematic is plot thread with a character who is the head of an Islamic advocacy group. He was rounded up with several other American Muslims and sent to a detention facility. Initially, it seemed as though the show might be looking at the problems associated with racial profiling, and the difficulties of respecting civil liberties while safeguarding against threats. As far as we know, Walid is innocent of any crime. But some of the detainees aren’t, and Walid is able to eavesdrop on their plans. The moral of the story: Its okay to round up “dangerous” ethnic groups into detention camps, because chances are some of them will be guilty.

Granted, the season has only just begun. I don’t know how the rest of the day is going to play out. And I’m not condemning the show either. I like it and will continue to watch. I just wish the writers would pay more attention to the moral ambiguities inherent in the situations in the show. As it stands, 24 doesn’t ignore these ambiguities exactly. It just portrays them as less than ambiguous.

And just a side note: 24 airs on Fox. All the anti-terrorist heroes of CTU watch Fox News. The nuclear terrorists watch CNN. Huh.