Archive for January, 2008

“Who are you going to support?” I asked a prominent Democratic friend who had been backing the recently departed John Edwards. “God only knows,” he replied. “I’ve got a week until the primaries to think about it.”

“Who are you going to support?” I asked a prominent Republican friend of mine who had been backing the soon-to-be departed Rudy Giuliani. “I’m really undecided,” she responded. “I’ll spend this week trying to decide.”

Now it gets interesting. Watch the polls and the pols but whatever you do, VOTE!

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Damn! January is almost gone and I haven’t come up with any grand schemes for making this year bigger, better, more exciting, inspirational, transformational, something.  I’d like to see some major changes in my career and (god knows) my social life but I haven’t quite resolved to do anything about either of those things except put in more effort.

Starting a new year is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of pressure to pull it together; January is national “Get Organized” month. Trapped at the beginning of the year by the bills or the blues, we feel we must be resolute. Resolutions are the means by which we commit to improving our lives. They represent the ultimate mulligan, the renewable do-over.  Okay kiddo, here’s your chance (again) to drop ten pounds/quit smoking/quit the job/find the job/spend more time with your spouse/ditch your spouse/fulfill your dreams/follow your bliss.  If we just promise to try to commit to something,  an entire set of industries stands ready to help, promoting and promulgating from the pages of women’s and the sets of morning talk shows. The advice is geared primarily to women, which is odd. It appears someone thinks men don’t make promises they can’t keep. Although maybe that just applies to New Year’s resolutions.

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It’s normal to be disheartened by the death of someone young or in the prime of life. It’s also “normal” these days to be especially affected when the person in question is a star or public persona. These are people whose faces we see regularly, whose lives we scrutinize and who we feel we know. For younger people who are just one video clip away from YouTube celebrity themselves, the death of Heath Ledger a few days ago was on the order of the loss of a family member or close friend. In any instance, it’s major news.

The death of a twenty-eight-year-old actor who had also demonstrated  prodigious talent and heart seems like a terrible waste. Whatever might have caused lethal harm, he apparently felt the need to have anti-anxiety medicine and sleep medicine at the ready. “I can’t understand how stressed out he must have been,” commented a young friend of mine earlier today, “although I guess that being a celebrity sucks.” Well let’s put it this way; it doesn’t always help.

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So many things seem to be in the toilet I don’t know where to begin.  Take the economy – please, take it and fix it, something neither the President or his Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke seem to be able to do. Bush’s recently announced $145 billion tax relief package only seemed to grease the Dow’s slide. Talk about instilling confidence. The world continues to offer its share of troubled spots: Kenya and Gaza are the current headliners along with Pakistan, of course.

For rock bottom, you can’t beat the innuendos, rumors and just plain ugly comments the candidates and especially their surrogates seem unable to resist. Barak Obama and his surrogates absolutely elevated Hillary’s comments about LBJ’s putting King’s dreams into actions (ungainly but understandable on some level) practically into a race war of words. Bill Clinton’s temper is showing with his attacks on Obama, who has enough problems with  the e-mail chain letter insisting the Senator is a Muslim. He isn’t, but why he has to waste energy refuting that claim goes to a different discussion about the role religion is playing in this Presidential contest – and trust me, I have lots to say on the subject. On the Republican side, the ghost of Lee Atwater seemed to chase McCain all over South Carolina but he persevered, thanks to his Truth Squad; now he just has to deal with Huckabee celebrity supporter Chuck Norris claiming that McCain is too old.

I know conventional wisdom suggests that rumor-monging can be effective if it plants the seeds of doubt in some voters but I think it’s more likely such tactics would keep many away from the polls altogether. I sometimes wonder if those who are invested in spreading personal and political falsehoods about the candidates they are so desperate to see defeated think about such things. The cost of this race is already embarrssingly high – the GNP of many countries, no doubt. But cost also refers to other less tangible things like prestige. The whole world really is watching. True, we aren’t likely to experience riots following our elections as in Kenya or other parts of the world. On the other hand, we might want to put the bar a great deal higher than that, at least if we’re going to promote ourselves as the best entity to promote democracy.

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A friend and faithful reader (hopefully I don’t have any faithless readers) has asked me to say something about the Writers Guild of America strike. Fair enough. I admit that the quality of TV, which I keep on in the background, has seemed to me to be sinking for some time. I tend to multi-task. Still I’d kind of enjoyed watching Christine Applegate’s marvelous comic turn in “Samantha Who?” and the addition of Joe Mantegna to the “Criminal Minds” cast.  So yeah, I could say I have a personal interest.

Actually, I know writers on the picket lines and it’s no laughing matter to them – or to the hundreds of boutique businesses, from caterers to hair stylists to limo drivers whose livelihood is taking a serious hit while the studio heads apparently tough it out in their second homes or on the golf course. My rudimentary understanding of the arguments is that they relate to DVD residuals, animation and future revenue from the Internet, among other issues. I don’t know why the producers don’t just make a deal, although I’ve heard stories about how disrespectfully writers are treated.  Maybe that’s the game in Hollywood. Maybe the producers are figuring they can ride out the strike and make a buck on tenth-rate reality shows.  Maybe they think the viewers won’t notice the dip in quality, which is pretty disrespectful too.

Hopefully at some point, Los Angeles officials will feel the pinch, via their constituents and someone will step in and get this thing settled, maybe even the Gubenator. In the meantime, I thought I heard on TV (I wasn’t paying attention) someone mention George Clooney as the guy who could get both sides to the table. What a great idea.  Who’s gonna say no to George Clooney?

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I was amused to see a new Rambo movie on the horizon (less than two weeks). After all, Sylvester Stallone has always been a kind of loveable lunk, even as he took out the bad guys with as few words and as much hardware as possible. He’s not nearly as much fun to watch as Bruce Willis but he’s nothing if not sincere.  But an article in the paper today suggests that aging eighties heroes are making a comback because we (well maybe the male version of “we”) yearn for iconic heroic types in this uncertain world. Thus we have Stallone stomping, Chuck Norris stumping (for Mike Huckabee) and Hulk Hogan hosting a new version of American Gladiator. Is this cause for proto-feminists to panic? After all, in the coming election, gender seems linked to the issue of toughness in a less than enlightened way.

It’s not that women don’t get to kick their share of tail nowadays, at least in the fantasy world. There are plenty of video examples, although how those gals work around their Barby-like curves is beyond me. Fox’s new show, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” features a very tough-love heroine and “Live Free or Die Hard” showcases a throughly lethal villainess who almost gets the upper hand until Willis’ character realizes it’s okay to punch a woman if she’s trying to kill you. These ladies strike me as a lot more dangerous than the pumped-up young studs who seem to have acquired their muscles for the purpose of snagging babes at the beach (e.g. Matthew McConaughey). In general, though, the young guys don’t make much more headway than the women for the legions of mostly male fans who apparently like their testosterone delivered with an air of world-weary authority. I don’t know if this signals a yearning for the good old eighties, although it’s true that half our candidates seem to think the Reagan years represent the last time America had it all figured out. I prefer to think of this mini-phenomina as a way for aging baby boomers to prove they can still bring it to the table – well, in entertainment, if not in politics.

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Change Is Loose

Change is good, especially if you get it back after laying out for gas or groceries, an increasingly unlikely proposition these days. It’s also good if it means you’ll get up off your couch and engage in some positive activity to improve your life or the lives of your loved ones or even complete strangers. True, the prospect of change can weigh you down, both literally and figuratively. So what does change mean in this volatile election season, what with the politicians presenting themselves as change agents and pundits scrambling to decipher the effectiveness of the word on various voting segments?

My favorite commentary on the “change” issue so far comes from Michael Kinsley, formerly from “Crossfire” (in its earlier, more civilized incarnation) and founding editor of Slate Magazine and  now a columnist for Time Magazine. He questions, in a recent Op-ed piece, what the candidates are actually promising but also asks us to consider how much change we really want.  If it means we pay more, involve the government more, find ourselves more restricted in order to accomplish some big-picture goals, or if it turns out some of us make less, keep less or do with less, is change good?

Polls show a majority of the American public want at the very least an attitude change at the White House; that is an Administration that practices diplomacy, respects our civil liberties, protects our environment, does not serve special interests, gets its priorities straight when it comes the economy, education and yes, how best to make America secure, and one that operates with as much candor and openess as possible. With most of feeling as if anything will be an improvement, we have a number of candidates who ought to be able to create the feeling of a fresh start. How they’ll translate goodwill into policy decisions  will depend not only on the vagaries of Washington politics but also on how much change we really want.

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As I watch Obama glow and Clinton tear up, McCain expound and Romney stumble, Edwards lecture and Giuliani skulk and Huckabee appear momentarily irrelevant, I find myself squirming a little bit. I just can’t figure out whether I’m getting too much information or too little. I can certainly tell you who’s losing his or her voice but I still can’t comfortably parse the various front-runners’ decision-making processes and I don’t know if my fellow Americans can either. I could take a cue from the competitors’ ads – just assume the opposite of whatever the candidate is asserting about his rival, although  sometimes the ads at least alert us to discrepancies in statements made by the other candidates. I get that electing a President is about that elusive thing called popularity but I want to believe we’re going to make our choices based on more than reports about who’s laughing, who’s crying or who’s croaking, figuratively speaking. To do that, we could probably use a little less cuteness or cleverness from our friends in the media and a little more substance.

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Iowa, as everyone not living under a rock knows, is just the beginning of the long primary season that now starts in the dead of winter. The results are in and Barak Obama and Mike Huckabee seem to have captured the imaginations of a handful of a handful of voters nationwide in what has got to be one of the more arcane voting systems in the country. CNN has a succinct explanation of the difference between primaries and caucuses, but essentially we’re talking not about voting booths but about meetings in which the party faithful show up to help select delegates favoring this or that candidate to show up at the convention.  Throw in the fact that, notwithstanding its leap to the head of the pack, the Iowa caucuses can’t be described as a surefire predictor of our next President and you could question the fuss.

Nevertheless, we live in a brave new world where well-paid political analysts on mainstream media and their underpaid (or unpaid) counterparts in the blogosphere have endless opportunities to analyse, editorialize and generally opine about what it means for a bunch of mostly white folks in a predominantly rural state to lean towards a folksy preacher from Arkansas or a bi-racial newcomer preaching change and hope.  It’s worth noting that the coveted demographic of traditionally disenfranchised voters under thirty appeared to turn out for Obama. At least Rudy was a no-show, which gave us a break from hearing 24/7 about 9/11. Anyway, Dodd and Biden are out and Richardson and Thompson are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. One can never underestimate the strength of the Clinton or Romney money machines, nor for that matter, Edwards’ or McCain’s determination. Besides, New Hampshire isn’t Iowa. Then there’s Ron Paul. Saddle up, y’all. It’s gonna be quite a ride.

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