Thursday, February 28, 2008

Movie Review: The Rare Breed (1966)... John Brown loves westerns...

The Rare Breed (1966)

Jimmy Stewart. Maureen O'Hara. Brian Keith. A Technnicolor western. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. Almost.

Stewart is too old, thin, lanky and personable for the role of Bulldog. I mean, really, can you even imagine calling James Stewart "Bulldog" if you weren't being ironic? Ohara's part is severely limited by the script and after the first ten minutes, she is more prop than person. Brian Keith? When you hear the Scottish accent and witness the giant fake red beard he sports, you'll be forever scarred. Oh, and the unbilled co-star is a hornless Hereford bull named Vindicator who settles down and behaves when you whistle "God Save the Queen".

The plot? O'Hara is an English widow who goes to the livestock show in St. Louis to sell the family's prized Hereford bull, which she believes will successfully mate with longhorn stock. A bidding war ensues and vindicator is eventually purchased by an agent of a Texas cattleman (Keith). The agent is more interested in getting under O'Hara's petticoats than he is in the bull. Jimmy Stewart is hired to escort the bull to Texas. He makes an underhanded deal with the losing bidder to "lose" the bull, which is foiled when O'Hara and her daughter decide to tag along for the ride. Eventually, the double-cross is resolved, everyone ends up in Texas, Keith tries to romance O'Hara, but she eventually falls for Stewart who has fallen in love with her and the potential for better livestock offered by Vindicator.

Does that sound bad? It is. And I'm leaving a lot of other really bad parts out of the story. The movie is part western and part unaware parody of western. It's almost a complete disaster. Almost.

I keep saying "almost" for a reason. The movie has a saving grace. Her name is Juliet Mills and she plays Hilary Price, daughter of Maureen O'Hara. She's blond, beautiful, and utterly unforgettable.

Here's what I know about Juliet Mills. She's not as famous as her sister, Hayley. Her movie career hasn't been tht extensive, although she's made a name for herself on television. Apparently, she's still working, playing the role of an older "good witch" in some magic-related series. I'll be honest, though, I intentionally cut my research on Juliet Mills short. I realized I didn't want to know too much about her. I wanted to keep her, in my mind, as Hilary Price.

If you're looking for passionate scenes, revealing outfits, raw sexuality, or a series of opportunities to ogle a young blond, The Rare Breed will disappoint you. The Rare Breed is more Disney than Cinemax late night and Juliet Mills, if I remember correctly, is always wearing an ankle-length skirt. Her dress may actually be consistent with Sharia in that she's usually wearing a hat, too.

Her light English accent is entrancing. Her charm is irresistible. She plays a loyal daughter, an able cattlewoman, and a smarter-than-she-should-be young lady with an earnestness and honesty that deserves a much better movie.

It's hard to steal a movie from James Stewart, but somehow, Mills does it for me. She became every young woman with whom I fell in love. I can't explain it and I'm willing to bet that most viewers of The Rare Breed won't even feel the same way.

Nonetheless, Juliet Mills increases the John Brown rating for The Rare Breed from 1/2 singing cowboy to a solid 2.

FINAL RATING:





(2/5 Singing Cowboys)

P.S. Juliet Mills did get a TV show about 5 years after The Rare Breed. I don't think The Nanny & the Professor was a hit, but this little clip of the opening credits gives you a picture of Juliet Mills, although her look here just isn't the same as in The Rare Breed.




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Obama, McCain, optimism about politics and 8-track tapes...

I'm sort of optimistic about the direction of American politics. It seems as though the campaign of Barack Obama and, to a lesser extent, that of John McCain, are moving away from the kind of no-bullshit-barred smear-fests I've watched for the past sixteen years. I'm beginning to see a chance for a more civil and reasoned process in the future.

I don't think we're there yet. We have a ways to go. That's obvious when you read the papers, watch the tube, or peruse even my own blog posts (which, I must admit, can be tinged with a little too much vitriol from time to time). We all need to continue to grow and to continue to work toward a process that really engages important considerations without quite as much snark and malice. Almost all of us have plenty of room for improvement.

The nastier era may not come to an end with this Presidential election cycle. Things could get ugly. The candidate I see as the chief representative of a better politics, Barack Obama, may not even get his party's nomination when all is said and done. Even if he does, there's reason to think that McCain and his crew might decide to go ugly in order to seal up a win. I hope those things don't happen, but they could.

Either way, though, I'm hopeful. The Democratic primary process has given me reason to think that we're moving in the right direction. John Edwards' angrier version of traditional anti-corporate populism didn't last and the Clinton campaign continues to demonstrate the eroding effectiveness of slash and burn campaigning.

If Obama doesn't beat Clinton, Hillary will just be the last of a breed. Whatever comes next, whether it be Obama again or someone else we don't even know right now, won't come from that old school. The screaming Carvilles, the plotting Penns, the wily Wolfsons and the repugnant Roves might still find a little face time on TV, but they'll be relics on their way out. I'm hopeful about that, I really am.

If Hillary wins, she'll just be the political equivalent of 8-track tapes. They had their place, they did their thing, now they're gone. The same will be true of serious candidates. The outmoded strategies to which a few still cling today will be the worn 8-tracks you can find on yard sale tables. A funny, laughable, inconceivable technology with which no one is enamored.

Oh, and here's something sort of ironic/funny. I took a moment to find out about the last major release on 8-track tape actually was. You won't believe it. In 1988, Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits was offered on 8-track tape cartridges. It's recognized as the last big release of the format.

Track #2: Don't Stop. Bill Clinton's campaign theme song.

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William F. Buckley dies... Reflections on what Bill Buckley meant to me...

I have a personal history with Buckley, and I'm willing to guess that it's one shared by many people.

I found his work (and that of other libertarians and conservatives) in my teens and I was enamored with his ability to tie his positions consistently and directly to the core principle he espoused. I appreciated his intellectual consistency and his ability to construct strong arguments with clear and honestly-believed underpinnings.

Growing up in the waning days of the Cold War, I found comfort in his anti-communist statements. I also loved the way his brand of economic and social libertarianism made neat and clear sense of matters. The perspective of others seemed muddy and confused by comparison.

I went to college. I explored other ideas. I found truth in Marcuse, Chomsky, Zinn, critical race theorists, critical legal scholars, ecofeminists, deep ecologists, and others who certainly wouldn't see eye to eye with Buckley's conservatism. I still appreciated the intellectual honesty of Buckley and his ilk, but I began to question some of the very values and principles that supported their worldview. My personal politics shifted leftward.

It's been fifteen years since I left college and about seven since aborting my last stab in a graduate degree program. All of those ideas--the conservative and the liberal--have been slow-cooking in the crockpot that is my brain for a very long time.

The resulting stew contains a variety of flavors--some of which undoubtedly contradict. Somehow, though, I've learned that I don't have to make either/or choices. I don't need to embrace Buckley or Chomsky. I don't need to choose between the invisible hand's infallibility and the inevitability of socialism. I can find truths in mish-mash and if I'm willing to consider, reconsider and test them, I might eventually find a way to transform those truths into something approximating The Truth.

Buckley's death inspired me to think a little bit about him and his role in history (and more particularly, in my history). He delivered important messages to me in a way that resonated. His arguments were reasoned and expressed with a certain gravitas and ethos that made me take them seriously. He seemed more interested in getting the correct answers than in having those answers as weapons to wield. That doesn't mean he refused to argue and he wasn't reluctant to use his sharp wit to attack an ideological foe, but he was serious and persuasive in a real way. He was secure in his perspective. He didn't seem threatened. He wasn't merely grinding axes. He wasn't screaming for attention and he didn't feel the need to bully his opponents.

When thinking about this reflection, I found another by my friend Ben. He's a little more pro-Buckley in perspective than I am, but I think we'd agree that one of the reasons people from "all sides" are thinking about him is because he offered a higher-level discussion than your average rabble-rouser.

Ben embedded a YouTube video of Buckley and Noam Chomsky arguing about the motivations behind military interventions. Chomsky is making his arguments about the ills of imperialism and the underlying capitalist agendas of military actions. Buckley is arguing that motivations may have more to do with sparing friends and self from future problems than Chomsky would like to admit. The argument is offered in the context of Viet Nam, but functions on a bigger and more historical level.

I just watched the entire video. I won't tell you with whom I agree more and why. That's a different topic for another day. I will tell you the biggest message I took from the exchange. It is possible for people of diametrically opposed perspectives to meet and to talk like rational people about issues in which they have a great deal invested. The argument is sharp, relatively smart, and more substantive than most we have today. Buckley and Chomsky argue at length and both are willing to engage the issue at hand cooperatively. They intentionally avoid getting sidetracked in "digressions", as Buckley terms them. They stay on point, argue their positions, and offer something meaningful.

To me, that's the Buckley legacy. It's something everyone might want to think about right now, too. Today's trumpeters of Buckley's fusionism are angry, loud, and shrill. They'll betray their positions and their principles to score short-term televised victories. They're driven by ratings and by vanity. They want to make it to the top by securing notoriety instead of respect. They've abandoned meaningful persuasion and have instead opted to fulfill the Postman prophecy that we'll amuse ourselves to death--and that's not funny.

Please understand that I'm not just bashing the conservatives of the world for their coarseness relative to Bill Buckley. The same arguments apply to many on the left side of the political divide, as well. Everyone has guilt to share.

Watch a little bit of the Buckley/Chomsky video and to then watch this excerpt from Hannity & Colmes with Bill Cunningham back to back. The feeling you'll have afterwards will be a fitting tribute to William F. Buckley.





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Why does the media HATE Hillary Clinton? Is it bias...

Maybe, just maybe, the media isn't unfair to Hillary Clinton. Maybe it's as fair as it ever is to anybody. Perhaps the reason she receives more criticism doesn't have anything to do with bias. It could be that she gets more roasting because she deserves it.

The media is tougher on Hillary Clinton than it is on Barack Obama.

Let's pretend for a moment that the statement is 100%, undeniable fact. It probably isn't, but for our purposes let's assume it is. Let's hypothetically embrace the notion that the media is constantly trying to beat the crap out of Hillary and that its members want to give Barack a backrub.

If the media is tougher on Hillary, the next question should be "why". Why might reporters and commentators shower affection on Obama while hurling insults at Clinton? What are the motivations? Here's a list of potential explanations with which we can play.

1. Hillary is a woman and the media is a sexist tool of the patriarchy.
2. Barack is black and the media is either super pro-black or has tons of white guilt.
3. Hillary can't shake her connection with Bill Clinton and lingering animosities toward the ex-POTUS.
4. Barack gives better speeches and is more television-friendly.
5. The media has an unnatural hatred of Hillary Clinton that defies rational explanation.

Let's consider these in isolation.

THE MEDIA IS SEXIST

That's probably true, at least to some extent. I think it's relatively safe to say that our society is still sexist. I'd stop short of saying that the media wants to maintain a phallocentric culture in which women only exist as sub-human servants to man, but there probably is some sexism out there.

Overall, however, I'd also tend to believe that the alleged liberal bias of the mainstream media mitigates the potential for sledgehammer sexism. If anything, the folks on cable news and who write for the papers are probably more acutely aware of sexism in society and probably make a much more substantial effort to avoid sexist bias than do most groups. Your average press gathering probably contains fewer outright sexists and misogynists than a randomly selected factory, office or bar in the USA.

We might be able to blame some of the hypothetical Hillary hatred on the basis of media sexism, but it seems unlikely to be a major cause.

THE MEDIA LOVES THE BLACK MAN

This one seems a little weaker than the sexism charge. Although the media, again, tends to be more liberal than other groups, it seems unlikely that its liberalism on issues of race somehow swamp its liberalism with respect to sexism. One would tend to believe that if the media was sexist enough to hate Hillary on the basis of her gender, it would be just as likely to be bigoted enough to reject Obama based on skin tone.

But let's be generous with respect to the argument. Let's say there is some of that so-called white guilt out there and that all of the media types have a soft spot for the black dude. Even if we make that rather substantial concession, it seems unlikely that would lead to anti-Hillary coverage. The impact would be slight at best.

HILLARY AND BILL, SITTING IN A TREE

Sure, some people have grudges against Bill. No doubt about it. Overall, though, the media was pretty friendly during Bill's presidency. Even when they went on various infidelity-related feeding frenzies, they tended to back his more substantive postions as president. Bill was pretty damn popular, folks.

It would stand to reason that an affiliation with the reigning poster boy of the Democratic Party would help Hillary more than it would hurt her. Being Bill's wife should be a positive with respect to press treatment.

Even if we're generous on this one, it seems unlikely to think that the Bill Factor is causing the press to rabidly attack Hillary Clinton.

BARACK IS READY FOR PRIME TIME

Obama does give good speeches. He is, relative to other pols, photogenic and camera-friendly. Overall, though, his campaign isn't the greatest thing in the world to cover. It lacks the sneak attacks and snarky outbursts that usually provide grist for the media mill. Instead of throwing "red meat" to the press personally and via surrogates, he seems to be sticking with that incessantly positive thing. From a press perspective, that isn't really all that great.

Hillary's campaign, on the other hand, is all about having daily conference calls in which it brings up new reasons to attack Obama. It's a journalist's dream. Need a story? Wait for Howard Wolfson to explain how Barack Obama plagiarized part of his 5th grade social studies paper from Encyclopedia Brittanica. Wait for someone who'll be fired the next day to accuse Obama of selling PCP to children on the playground.

Plus, Hillary isn't a slouch when it comes to televised excitement. Although it's currently cool to claim that she's a bore compared to Barack, most people considered her a pretty damn persuasive person up until a few months ago.

Oh, and it is worth noting that there might actually be a shred of actual importance to the ability to communicate effectively. You know, a substantive reason to appreciate rhetorical skills. But let's leave that alone. We're trying to figure out why the press is UNFAIR to Clinton, after all.

Anyway, the idea that Barack gets a free pass because he gives a good speech isn't that strong. Bill Clinton is widely recognized as a master of presentation. Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, they say. I don't remember opponents of those two guys noting a media bias because of that. Hillary's getting coverage. She's not ignored. If she calls a press conference, the cameras are there.

I can't imagine that even the most ardent supporter of the "media hates Hillary" argument could believe that this rationale explains the bias.

THE HATE THAT CANNOT BE EXPLAINED

Obviously, the media is tougher on Hillary just because. There is no cogent explanation. There is no primary cause. It just is. The media is unfair. Don't bother searching for causes, just look at the evidence: she's losing. That explains it in a nutshell, right?

Okay, she also gets the first question and a milllion different people have been on TV claiming that Barack Obama hasn't been grilled enough. Yeah, getting the first question is generally considered a good thing. True, the fact that million different people claim Obama needs grilling indicates that the media is on Barack's case, too. But you get the idea.

For some unknown reason, the media just hates Hillary. The end.

AN ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE

Maybe the media has been, overall, pretty fair to Hillary. Maybe this whole "media hates Hillary" thing is nonsense. We played with the concept for awhile, and it doesn't look like its holding up, so let's consider a few reasons why Hillary might be receiving critical attention that have nothing to do with bias. You know, negative comments that she might actually DESERVE.

Could it be the fact that she's surrounded by old school political advisors who've constructed a naughty little campaign fueled by "attacks of the day", innuendo, and cheap shot silliness? Is it possible that when that kind of campaign is contrasted against a relatively positive one, like Obama's, that she looks like shit?

Could it be that Hillary's frequently self-referenced record contains some ugly chapters? Maybe confused positions on NAFTA, that annoying little Iraq vote, and assorted other faux pas make it easy to be critical of her when she backtracks, loops around, and comes out with a deeply-held position that contradicts her earlier stances?

Maybe the media is critical of Hillary because she somehow managed to miss a slam dunk and has since gone on to make what should have been a one-sided crush of a victory into a nailbiter she'll probably lose? That's a pretty good story, after all.

Maybe, just maybe, the media isn't unfair to Hillary Clinton. Maybe it's as fair as it ever is to anybody. Perhaps the reason she receives more criticism doesn't have anything to do with bias. It could be that she gets more roasting because she deserves it. She may be on the receiving end of more criticism because she's a divisive, sneaky, cheap-shotting relic of an uglier partisan past who just keeps on slinging bullshit in the face of reality every single day. Personally, I find that argument far more compelling than I do believing that the fourth estate hates her for no reason at all.

If someone doesn't seem to like you, it might be because they're being unfair or have a secret agenda that doesn't involve you. Or, it might be because you're an asshole.

With respect to Hillary Clinton and the media, I vote asshole.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama vs. Clinton... The Ohio debate and predictions...

Obama and Clinton will show up for another "debate" tonight. I have five questions in anticipation of the Ohio Battle Royale. Here they are, along with my predictions about the answers...

QUESTIONS

1. Will Barack Obama find a way to stay "on message" or will we lose discipline and sink into the slime pit of petty attacks and smarmy reactions?

2. Will Hillary Clinton have the guts to say "shame on you" to Obama's face and to mock his hopeful message while he's only a few feet away, or is that just the kind of thing she does when he's not in the immediate vicinity?

3. Will Hillary Clinton find a way to explain why she's allowed to keep the mojo of White House experience based on her time as first lady while simultaneously disclaiming responsibility for the parts of Bill's legacy that don't play well in Ohio?

4. Will Barack Obama lazily continue to allow the "35 years of experience" and "ready on day one" bullshit to continue unabated or will he finally provide the obvious and substantive response to Clinton's most beloved meme?

5. Will we be forced to listen to bullshit about turban pictures, Muslim rumors, missteps on the part of low-level campaign staffers, foolish accusations about plagiarism, and assorted other superficialities or will Russert & Williams manage to conduct a meaningful discussion?

PREDICTIONS

1. He'll basically stay on message but will find it impossible not to (errantly) sling a little slime here and there. Nobody's perfect.

2. No. She might come out with a toned down version of her recent attacks, but she lacks the courage to make those tougher pronouncements personally. Whether because of cowardice or strategy, she won't wag a finger of shame at Barack.

3. No. She wants to have her cake and eat it, too. If the matter is addressed, she'll duck, juke, deflect and change the subject. She needs that experience to maintain her current strategy and she needs to avoid the negatives associated with it. Her position is untenable under scrutiny, but she'll avoid scrutiny by whatever means necessary.

4. Obama will again fail to take the "experience" argument on in a meaningful way. He'll hope that the combination of people who don't give a shit and those who are able to figure it out for themselves will be enough to continue beating it without meaningfully engaging it. Sometimes, unfortunately, it seems as though Obama mistakenly thinks substantive argument and disagreement are at odds with his "higher purpose" message. It doesn't have to be that way.

5. Absolutely. This one is a lock. Russert is a tool and even the Giant Head of Brian Williams cannot contain Timmy's uselessness. Look for Russert, guided by his desire for moron-ready arguments about useless things, and utilizing his "gotcha" skill set, will find a way to drag down the quality of the discussion.


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Monday, February 25, 2008

Robed Obama picture proves SOMETHING... Barack's Muslim garb is evidence...

The fact that people are currently discussing a 2 year-old picture of Barack Obama in traditional African (Muslim) attire proves something about our nation and you (if you came here in search of more information).

The controversy over the Obama Muslim garb snapshot is proof of something both unsettling and disappointing...

Here's what the whole dust-up proves...

(1) Some people are complete ass-hats who don't understand the difference between important and NOTHING.

(2) Some people are calculating fucks who don't care about intellectual honesty and whose sense of decency is directly related to their own quest for power and/or attention.

(3) The USA has handled the post 9/11 world so incompetently that anything even remotely associated with Islam is suddenly a political talking point, a reason to fear, a justification for hate, or another example of why a permanent state of war is (ostensibly) necessary.

If you came here searching for more gossip about an old snapshot of a traveling dignitary acting the way traveling dignitaries do because of ANY of those 3 things, you're a cog in the machine called Fucked Up.


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Dummies and Eggheads... Why Obama is winning...

Are you puzzled about Barack Obama's popularity? Are you scratching your head, befuddled about his rock star status? Do you find yourself seeing the massive gatherings of supporters and wondering "why, why why?"

This post will explain exactly why Barack Obama is riding a wave of unprecedented (in my lifetime, anyway) political popularity. Maybe not. I could be very wrong.


Why is it happening? Simple. Barack Obama has a message that appeals to most of the voters. How so? Dumb people love him. So do smart folk.

Here's why it's perfect: It appeals to the two most important groups of people in the electorate. Barack Obama is loved by the idiots and the intellectuals--for two very different reasons. The Obama campaign may have a reasonable level of support in the middle of the bell curve, but the outliers represent his rabid fan base.

DUMB PEOPLE LOVE OBAMA

Dumb people love Barack Obama. The simple version of his message and dominant theme of his campaign appeals to them. Hope and Change. Those are nice, warm, fuzzy concepts and people love them. Those ideas work really well with dumb people who are incapable of considering how one goes from concept to implementation. People who don't understand the difference between the legislative branch and the executive branch of government adore these messages.

They want change because things could and/or should be better. They want hope because it gives them a reason to get up in the morning. The actual dirty work of getting creating change and fulfilling hope, however, is too complicated for them. They don't want to dissect the pros and cons of mortgage freezes. They don't want to spend a lot of time discussing the proper role of diplomacy in the conduct of foreign policy.

They want to kick the bums out and get the good guys in. They want change and they want a reason to believe things will get better. If you serve up a dish based on those two ingredients, you're halfway home with the dumb.

And don't be fooled, the dumb vote. They vote in droves. The other night, I was watching that annoying pollster Frank Luntz. You know the guy. He has these little focus groups that he babysits during the debates. He gives them all paddles from old Atari 2600's and records their reactions to what the candidates say, giving us an idea of what "works" and what "fails".

Luntz is an aggravation for 200 different reasons and may be the subject of a later post. That isn't important with regard to this conversation, however. The actual members of his focus group are. These are undecided voters. They may lean toward one candidate, but they haven't expressed outright support for either. They watch the debates and Luntz is then given an opportunity to quiz the shit out of them on a series of cable networks after the top-level spinners do their things.

These focus group members are dumb. Plain old stupid. I'm not talking about "I can't read and I speak like a character from some hillbilly-bashing movie" dumb. I'm talking about "I look like a normal person and I am, which means I'm also stupid as shit" dumb.

You see, most people are sort of dim-witted when it comes the whole governance thing. They spent civics and government classes checking out the ass on the girl sitting in front of them. They worried about the prom committee. They sketched pictures of hot rods or wrote notes to friends during class.

Their intellectual curiosity may have been sufficient for them to limp through college in a similar fashion. Now, if they do any investigation of anything, it's usually because their stuck in a doctor's waiting room with nothing but an old Golf Digest and a 1998 Newsweek at their disposal. If they read, they read horrible Mitch Albom shit or mystery novels. If they watch the news, they go local in hopes of finding out how lousy the weather is going to be be or they seek out the more "exciting" form of television news--shows where people yell at each other in a constant partisan circle jerk. They're dumb.

OK, they might not be clinically stupid. In terms of selecting quality leadership, however, they are dunces. They are stupid, naive, and easily swayed by Hope and Change.

Luntz's focus group participants--people who are sufficiently engaged to participate in a debate-watching and analysis session--are evidence of this. These morons inevitably reference whatever has been the prevailing headline of the last 96 hours and/or incredibly easy-to-understand but amazingly trivial arguments about the not-so-important when they're quizzed. They can get downright heated about the Obama "plagiarism" bullshit, but they're completely baffled by the difference in Barack's and Hillary's health insurance schemes.

They WANT to be involved and they WANT to "get it", but they're unequipped. They don't have the background. They don't do the reading. They haven't been bit by the policy or politics bugs like the people who are probably reading this blog. They can't. They fall into the diversionary traps of campaigns and they fall in love with the simplistic and positive.

Dumb people are a core constituency for Barack Obama right now.

Don't read that as a criticism of Barack. That's not my intent. The winner of a Presidential election probably always gets the stupid vote majority. I'm sure Bill Clinton cleaned up with the dummies. GW Bush probably did, too. The stupid outnumber the bright, and if you can get the not-so-with-it crowd on your side, you're in damn good shape.

Note that I'm exaggerating a bit for effect. I'm not really saying that these folks are "dumb" in a traditional sense. They're just, shall we say, political ignorant? You know what I mean, wink-wink.

SMART PEOPLE LOVE OBAMA

Smart people adore Barack Obama. That's because the sentiments and analyses underlying his simple Hope/Change message form an a priori critique of American politics. Obama's articles about the nature of political discourse, the divisiveness of standard partisan politics and the need to redefine both technique and goal in order to better govern the USA are just what the PhD in poli sci ordered.

Have you ever actually read the kind of stuff really smart people tend to write? I'm not talking about run-of-the-mill smarties. I'm talking about PhD candidates and those who make a living out of intellectualism. They're writing and reading articles that apply history to theory, that test core concepts of democracy and governance, and that question things the rest of the world takes for granted.

In the rarified air of the ivory tower, the day-to-day stuff doesn't matter all that much. An academic may be interested in what a grocery bagger's motivations are and whether her job in a supermarket represents a multi-level subjugation of woman via simultaneous commodification of the the Goddess Earth and the gum-chewing teenager. An academic probably isn't that interested in how the bagger pulls the paper sacks out of the rack or figures out how many cans of vegetables to put in a single sack.

The academic is interested in concept and theory, not in the purely pragmatic. The technocratic concerns of actual operation and policy take a backseat to the critique and the construction of intriguing meta-arguments.

The intellectual Obama supporter is enamored with his meta-critique of the process and doesn't have a really good idea of what difference the presence or absence of mandates in a healthcare policy will make.

Like the dummy, the scholar will fall in love with Hope/Change. Oh, some of it is a matter of the concepts tugging the right heartstrings, but it's mainly about the theoretical aspects of those ideas. "The power of ideas". You hear phrases like that from smart people all the time. They believe it and they think about it--a lot. The nuts and bolts, however, aren't all that interesting.

WHAT ABOUT THE MIDDLE

In Democratic circles, it seems like the middle is voting for Hillary. We're talking about people who aren't necessarily dummies but who don't spend hour upon hour reflecting on the meaning of liberal democracy. Nuts and bolts people. Technocrats and their ilk. The hands-on folk who have some understanding of the machine called government are probably leaning toward Hillary.

Hillary speaks to them. She codes her campaign in vague-as-hope notions like "Solutions" and talks about "readiness", but those keywords are a wink to those who put political nuts and bolts above ruminations on the theoretical.

Hillary fans like to talk about policy differences more than do Obama buffs. Clinton's backers have concerns about experience, just like a prospective employer might prefer and experienced machine operator over a novice.

The middle understands Clinton and her concerns with the question of "how" while the intellectuals ruminate on "why". The dumb? They're still back in the world of simple appeals.

DOING THE MATH

Dumb + Smart > In the Middle

Thus, Obama wins.

That's simple. If you look at in those terms, you'll also find a theory that fits the overall narrative of this campaign. Hillary's supporters grow increasingly frustrated at their inability to win over voters even though they believe they are winning policy debates. Obama isn't having a policy debate. He's having a mindset debate. He's talking about paradigm shifts while Clinton talks about policy construction. The intellectuals chuckle at her for not understanding that you can't answer the Obama critique with discussions of policy mechanics. The eyes of the dumb glaze over and they reach for the positive antidote to boring old political arguments they think they've heard a million times. Hillary loses.

FULL DISCLOSURE

I fall into the intellectual crowd. My (somewhat reluctant) support of Obama is based less upon my assessment of his abilities as an administrator and is premised on the ideas he represents and his apparent dedication to altering the perspective and priority of governance on a "higher" level than that of "mere" policy.

You'll notice I'm sort of hard on the smarty-pants crowd in this post, even though I'm in the club. That's because I recognize the tendency among those who think my way to be self-important and wrapped up in the abstract instead of rolling up our sleeves and actual DOING something. At the same time, I thoroughly believe that smart critique and a recognition of its message are essential to creating paradigmatic changes that are a prerequisite to serious positive change.

(LIMITED) SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL

As this campaign pushes forward, I'm beginning to have a little sympathy for Clinton supporters. Not for the weak-ass "let's say he plagiarized and that's why Hillary should win" bullshitters, but for the ones who think she really is the better candidate in terms of getting things done. I see them struggling to understand why others aren't getting their message. I can sense their frustration. They just aren't keying into the idea that many of the smarter folks believe there are prerequisite issues at play that prevent any real policy success until they are addressed. They don't understand how powerful simple, positive concepts are with those who don't spend all day reflecting upon the theoretical.

Clinton is winning her arguments, on some level. The problem is that the debate itself has already been redefined and she didn't get the memo. HOW you do it is of secondary importance to WHY you are doing it right now. The debate is more about IF anything big can happen if monsters far larger than any policy proposal aren't first slain.

Hillary isn't talking to me right now. She's not talking to the disaffected and frustrated, either. They're with me. They might be with me for different reasons, but they're here. That leaves Hillary with the "pretty smart but not academic/intellectually-oriented" crowd of can-do action people. They're a minority.

My sympathy for Hillary is limited, however. Instead of debating on the more theoretical level and engaging the reservations of those who believe that more than clever policy is necessary, she's decided to take the low road way too often. Her campaign seems to live and die by one-day mini-issues that do little more than distract from the meta AND from her own more policy-oriented positions. She's running a down and dirty old school campaign in a setting where that doesn't resonate with ANYONE. Whoops. That's why March 4 is looking more and more like her Alamo.



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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Change You Can Xerox!

"Change you can Xerox."

Were those boos I heard over the death rattle of the Clinton campaign?

Give me a break, Hillary. You are getting an ass-kicking in state after state because people are NOT responding to the "zingers" and "gotcha" point-scoring techniques. That shit won't work this time. It's producing blowback.

"Change you can Xerox."

It's definitely silly season for at least one political campaign, isn't it?

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Movie Review: Gun Street (1961)... John Brown loves westerns...

The sheriff is pissed off at the town. Years ago, he apprehended a killer. The jury of locals handed down a prison sentence instead of an invitation to the gallows. Now, the bad guy is on the loose and headed back to town for more. The lawman wishes they would've killed the criminal when they had a chance.

The people are terrified. They don't seem interested in taking responsibility for letting the bad man live. They don't seem excited at the prospect of helping the sheriff and his loyal deputy this time around, either. They expect the lawmen to handle the problem. They just want to be safe.

Most of Gun Street involves the sheriff, played by James Brown, doing western detective work. We get to meet the various county cowards as he tries to find the killer. Gun Street devolves into a B-grade High Noon rip-off wherein Brown eventually gets a posse put together to handle the killer.

Gun Street was one of over 100 movies directed by Eddie Cahn. Cahn was a B-movie king, known for producing better-than-average second-rate flicks in an era where a constant stream of low-dollar features were needed to feed an insatiable public appetite. He handled everything from sci-fi to early rock 'n' roll exploitation topics with what's been described as a "hyper-efficient" hand.

Cahn made passable movies in 10 days or less. It kept him busy and it kept matinee-goers occupied. Some of the work, like Gun Street, doesn't hold up very well. Gun Street doesn't look dirt cheap, but it certainly isn't textured. Gun Street doesn't feature bottom-of-the-barrel talent, but James Brown and Jean Willes aren't what you'd call "engaging on-screen presences" in this one. Gun Street is a quick-fix western with a shitty ending that will leave you emptier than expected.

Three more reasons not to watch Gun Street:

1. THE TELEPHONE

The Sheriff has a phone in his office. So do some of the townspeople. Look, I understand that there was a period in history where people still got around on horseback AND had phones, but it's really creepy to see people dialing each other up in a western.

It makes Gun Street look and feel more like a gangster flick than a western to me. Some people might not have a problem with old west telephony, but it's a distraction for me.

2. THE DEATH PENALTY

The movie feels like a macho advertisement for capital punishment. Now, I understand that left-wing politics and old westerns are unlikely to be a good match, but Gun Street is a little over the top. James Brown is downright pissed off that the bad guy didn't get the necktie of doom and he spouts off about it a few times. The movie itself seems to reinforce the notion that all these people had to do was hang the guy in the first place and everything would be alright. The argument is too simplistic and subtle like a sledgehammer. Another issue for me, a guy who doesn't dig capital punishment, that might not bother you, I suppose.

3. THE ENDING

There are rules within genres. You can break those rules, but only if you have a good reason to do. Good reasons include (a) making a damn good movie, (b) making a movie more interesting or rewarding and (c) intentionally testing the limits of genre and expectation for effect or principle. You don't get to fuck with the rules if you're filming a short, B-grade matinee western. The ending of Gun Street doesn't offer the expected payoff.

I can tolerate a bad western because it creates a comfort zone of expectation. I can appreciate a good western that changes the contours of that zone. I can't abide by a piece of crap western that breaks the rules. This one does and that's a major problem. SPOILER (just in case you might be thinking about watching this on On-Demand in a few minutes no matter what I say): The bad guy dies, but no one involved in the movie is responsible. No shootout. No sheriff. No nothing. It's bullshit.

I'm giving Gun Street 1.5 singing cowboys. I would've given it a mere 1/2 Autry, but I realize that some of my criticism isn't universal in nature.

FINAL RATING:





(1.5/5 Singing Cowboys)


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