Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goldwater

I just finished reading A Glorious Disaster by J. Middendorf II, which chronicles his involvement in the 1964 presidential election, where Lyndon Johnson absolutely crushed Barry Goldwater. I'm an electoral junkie by heart, of course, so hearing the inside story of one of the worst Presidential campaigns in recent memory was quite interesting.

Although as an aside--and a review, I guess--the book doesn't nearly go into as much depth as an "insider" book should. There is very little new information aside from some tales of absolutely laughable disorganization, such as booking two Goldwater half-hour televised spots against each other. A few nuggets were interesting, which we'll get to in a second, but I was disappointed that this really wasn't the good, solid authoritative electoral history of the contest I have yet to find. The usually reliable Theodore White wrote The Making of the President: 1964, but his shockingly biased sympathy after the death of Jack Kennedy spoils the entire book's use as a decent bystander's account. (The other elections he wrote about--1960, 1968, and 1972--are all reasonably well-balanced.)

Of course, the conventional wisdom is that, while it was a crushing blow to the conservative right, it set the stage for the ascendency of a valid right wing block of the electorate, with the final product of one Ronald Reagan. Less acknowledged was that Goldwater's loss need not have happened. But so many factors unrelated to his stance as the far-right standard bearer were in the mix that a simple rejection of his extremism is not what the electorate was looking for. There was the citizens' still-lingering emotional state after the assassination of JFK--it's easy to forget the election was barely over a year away, and had Goldwater been elected there would have been three different presidents in 14 months. There was LBJ's unrepentant use of illegal tactics to disrupt the campaign (but, just like Nixon after him, there really wasn't much need.) And the Goldwater camp couldn't shake a few so-called "truths" from the minds of the electorate, namely that he was going to gut Social Security and that he was careless in the treatment of nuclear weapons. Despite repeated assurances to the contrary and simple semantic mistakes (he accidentally said "a NATO commander" instead of the NATO commander regarding the use of tactical nukes, making it sound like any low-level button-pusher had the authority to launch a nuclear strike), the population had it set in their mind that Goldwater was a trigger-happy zealot ready to kick the elderly onto the cold streets.

Anyway, one of the most surprising points in the book is that the Goldwater campaign was very well-funded, and in fact towards the end of the race they had around a million dollars left. The staff wanted to try a full-on advertising blitz the last two weeks of the election. Goldwater pulled them aside and told them not to do it; rather, save the money and try and rebuild the party after the election. To have a candidate of a major political party effectively give up about a month before the election is just so strange as to be fictitious, but given subsequent events it's exactly what happened. Partly, the election was a huge disaster at the time, but it had the benefit of launching a few careers (see: Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton), culling the old-guard incumbents and allowing fresh new talent in; and, most importantly, creating a vast, grass-roots network of localized support that was used for the next two or three election cycles. 

It also reminds me that it's possible that the days of the landslide are over. Sure, pundits stated that the elections in 1996 and 2008 were landslides, but that's just ludicrous. Landslides are what we saw in 1964, 1972, and 1984, where one candidate is getting in the 400s. Even our latest elections, 2008, where it was plainly clear that Obama was going to win, I would hardly consider it a landslide from an electoral standpoint. (Decisive victory, yes, but it was hardly lop-sided.) Now that forms of communication and the professionalism of mailing lists and organizations have improved dramatically, I find it hard that, barring a very unlikely disclosure or event*, candidates and spin doctors will let an election spiral that far out of control.

Anyway, if you are like me and enjoy electoral history, I suggest taking a look at the book. You probably won't learn much new, but it will grant you some insight into a reasonably neglected election. It's a fast, quick read and I wouldn't consider it essential, but it works as a valid supplement.

*About the closest thing I can think of in recent times is John Edwards. It was probably a near miss that he lost as the vice presidential candidate in 2004, because had he won--or won the nomination outright in 2008--the disclosure of his horrible actions could have caused an electoral landslide. Politics will have little to do with such things anymore; even far-right or far-left candidates will manage to pull in more than six states like Goldwater did.

Monday, August 22, 2011

#Libya

It appears that, according to various news reports, the government of Libya is mere minutes away from collapsing. If Kad'dafy (hey, if the media can spell it 100 different ways, I can spell it with as many Ks, Qs, apostrophes, and silent Xs I so desire) reads like the Russian novel of tinpot Middle Eastern dictators, his regime is mere Tweets away from crumbling.

Wow, Prince has certainly let himself go.

I'll admit to being amazed how big a part social media has been in toppling these Middle Eastern and African authoritative governments. It harkens back to the heady days of the "fax revolution," notably during the Tienanmen Square rebellion in China; new yet cheap technology has always been adopted easier by the cash-strapped rebels who tend to be younger and headed by firebrand intellectuals, positive breeding grounds for audio cassette tapes, text messaging, and Facebook, all of which are said to have helped the rebels in Iran, the Philippines, and Egypt, respectively.

Still, let the social media elites beware. The power you harness can spark domestic criminal flash mobs, just as the government can find ways to completely block out your signal. Quardafff'ffi probably has to worry more about anti-aircraft fire than BART, but the next despot may be restocking his toolbox.

And it makes me a little sad. When I was in college, I was always slightly sad that I was born to late--oh, how I would have loved to have been in Germany in 1989, helping the tear down the Berlin Wall. Or visit one of the "safe" commie countries, to provide a wink and a nod as an American Capitalism Ambassador of Everything Is Going To Be OK-Ness. Sure, hindsight is useful--I probably would have shit my pants mercilessly had I walked within the firing range of a Pershing missile while in heathen mainland Europe in 1986--but I always had romantic thoughts of being even a tiny part in the destruction of Soviet communism. Instead, I was watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon while snacking on a Lunchable while better men than me saw to it that the Russkies ended up in the dustbin.

And so it is today. Now, of course, I'm too old; the revolutionaries had Twitter and Facebook well in hand well before I used it to complain about how long KFC was taking to get my order ready. And more power to them, quite literally.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Badges? BADGES?

I watched the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre this afternoon. Aside from starring Humphrey Bogart and being the source of the now-iconic and often-mangled quote ("Badges? We ain't got no badges..."), I knew a lot less about this film than I thought. My original plan was to live-blog while watching the movie (remember live blogging? Which was Twitter before twitter existed?) but I just couldn't quite both pay attention and do it proper justice. (Plus I had to spend every thirty seconds on Wikipedia looking up to confirm whether That One Actor was in That One Film I Can't Remember the Name Of. Answer: No. And I also didn't want to clog up my twitter feed to boot.)  

 

I am a sucker for treasure-hunter stories, though I tend to prefer books over the film. (Most treasure hunting stories are made in the journey, and most movies just want to get to the exciting part where treasures of glistening gold are found in remarkably well-preserved chambers. Books take their time getting to the goods.) Still, good ones that aren't horrid action films disguised as treasure films are fairly rare, so I grab onto them when I can.

Anyway, a few thoughts.

  • Humphrey Bogart is not a pretty man. Standards must have been much lower back then.
  • I apparently was under the impression that this movie was more modern. I wasn't expecting a black and white movie. Not sure why I thought differently.
  • Surprisingly for an older movie, it does not rely on a huge number of treasure-hunting cliches. In fact, this is less a treasure-hunting movie than a western gold-prospecting movie. They make the prospecting out to be exactly how it is--boring and uninteresting. They have plenty of gold dust, but no shiny coins or sparkly nuggets to hold up to the camera: it's just the slow drudgery of slopping through mud and mind-numbing routine. 
  • One thing I don't know is exactly how this movie handles the standard formula for this sort of thing. I've seen enough westerns to know how Mexicans and Indians get portrayed, and this movie is no exception: the Mexicans are either authoritative Federalis or bandits, while the Indians are still playing the part of the easily-impressed welcomer of the great white hope. Still, the fact that significant parts of the movie are shot in Spanish with no subtitles, and aside from the cartoonish bandit leader most of these characters are played reasonably sympathetically seems very refreshing. Still, I don't know how often Hollywood did this sort of thing vs. the noble savage and poor bandit stereotypes that were typified in most popular westerns.
  • About the only true cliche is the "old prospector" of Walter Huston, who while being exactly the elderly, toothless, jig-dancing coot we expect old prospectors to be, he also manages to make the character deep and compelling. He won an Oscar, deservedly so.
  • Speaking of, that picture of Walter Huston on the poster above makes him look like he's about to attend the governor's ball. Place him in a heat lamp for six hours and hide all his razors, and you're about a tenth of the way to making him as grizzly as he is in the film. He dances a jig.
  • Robert Blake's performance as a small lottery-schilling child is simply to die for.
  • Of course, the end of the movie provides us with a fairly comprehensive study in life and philosophy. It represents the three ways anyone on this earth can end up: dead from your own greed and paranoia, living it up under false pretenses and blind luck; or off to make sweet love to a widow while you grow peaches.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Static And Noise: "Boomstick" Was Taken

Baron My Heart: If I were the type to have a self-imposed pretentious nickname, it would be "The Baron." No one really knows what a baron is, outside of it being some arcane title of nobility. And, yeah, you have the Red Baron--frozen pizza magnate and nemesis of Snoopy--but besides that existence of some obscure musicians or racehorses no one is really known as the Baron. As far as I know, anyway--there may be some wayward pro wrestler or Gilded Age fat cat that's co-opted the name, but if there is I can't find it. But since I'm not the type to affect a self-imposed pretentious nickname (cough, cough), the point is moot.

America Frist: I had this idea of starting to draft Bill Frist for president. He's a solid conservative, but not eye-poppingly-crazy so, he has plenty of political contacts from being majority leader in the Senate, and he's been out of politics for a while (but not too long) so he can't accept blame for current issues. And you know what he has been doing? Helping starving children in Africa. A Republican. Helping starving children. Alas, a helpful Twitter follower reminded me about the whole Terry Schiavo fiasco, which calls his judgement into question and provides plenty of ammunition for opponents. No one politician is perfect, but this is a pretty big blot on his history. Since I can't bring myself to really like anyone else that is running, I thought I had found a decent candidate. Oh well.

Full Service: The gas station chain choice around here is a franchise called Sheetz, which in addition to gas sells awful food that tastes delicious. So here is my million dollar idea to improve their business: when someone is out pumping gas, there is the same touch screen menu as in the store for ordering food. Then, by the time you are done pumping gas, the food is ready and you can just walk in and grab it. Since they already have your credit card, no need to wait in line to pay. If they really want to get all fancy, they can have one of the clerks take your food out for you--they already have the pump number and it's already paid for. It may be just enough to push that recalcitrant GetGo out of business.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Are You Ready For Some...Um, Football?

I may not have been a pro sports fan all my life, but I certainly have in the last few years. It's hard not to be when you're born and raised in the Pittsburgh area.

And yet, a heretical notion here in Western PA: Football is coming soon, and for the first time in years, I just can't bring myself to get too excited about it.

I don't know why. Aside from all of the dramatics produced by the lockout, there isn't anything that has happened that's any different this year than in the past--in fact, if nothing else, the pre-season prospects are brighter. But my interest is alarmingly flat. Not wholly disinterested, of course; I'm going to start watching the games when they come on, and I'll follow as I always have. But in the past, I have actively waited for games to get going. I used to get legitimately excited; I used to watch the moves of our division rivals; and (so help me, so help us all) I would voluntarily listen to sports talk radio.

This year, I really couldn't be bothered.

It's possible that the Steelers--my team of choice--have just gotten too vulgar for my tastes. Maybe all of the off-field antics and personal justifications I had of Ben Roethlisberger finally caught up with me. Maybe Hines Ward's obnoxious excuses after getting a DUI turned me off of his always-smiling, always-dancing personality. Perhaps the woefully ignorant tweets of people such as Rashard Mendendall embarrassed me. Perhaps the Superbowl loss jerked me back from being spoiled to the drab and unexciting reality of not winning every game that matters. Maybe the statements of key players last year finally changed from noble defiance to outright whining.


I'm looking at you, James Harrison--wait! No I'm not! I'm not! Get away from me! HELP!

Last season, when the theme was Steelers vs. the World and rival players could openly punch our quarterback in the face with no flags in sight, I was openly rooting for the black and gold to demolish our opponents, which they did with alarming regularity. Their trash talk and vague, fine-avoiding potshots at the refs made me want to go spend three hundred bucks on a jersey of someone who would get traded on the off season and still smile about it afterwards.

It's the most illogical thing in the world to get so wrapped up in something that has very little to do with your own financial and emotional well-being, but that's hardly something unique to American culture (see also: soccer). I loved it when somehow the players' PR had made it look like the entire football establishment was out to kick the Steelers when they were up, and latched on to every shred of evidence, from borderline calls to fuzzily-interpreted statements by the commissioner, as ironclad proof. Because that is what sports fans do: build up artificial challenges, and then beat them down and declare victory within the confines of their self-created rules. And yet I was invested, just like everyone else in Western Pennsylvania every season, including the lean years (see also: Brister, Bubby).

Of course, the logical part of my brain is peering deep into the reality of the modern NFL: Last year, the Steelers did a lot of things right, and a lot of very lucky things happened. It's a very cliche thing to say, but it's true: opportunities are scarce to win it all in competitive sports, so you have to win the championships while you can. (Just ask Sidney Crosby.) It's not a huge leap of faith to think that the Steelers were handed a pretty good opportunity, they blew it, and now the chances of it happening again anytime soon are rapidly disappearing. (It doesn't help that the structure of the parity system the NFL has created effectively encourages this to happen, which sucks when you're on top but is a lifesaver when you are down.) It's hard to get excited when it's likely that the odds are against you. (Wait a minute...that means...Steelers vs the World! Sweet!)

I'm not a fool. I will probably look back at this post in a month or so and laugh. When I see a lot of overpaid crybabies in clown-college uniforms step onto a painted lawn filled with already-drunk jackasses who skipped a mortgage payment to be there, I'll be hooked just like I am every other year. And I'll probably be watching the M&T Bank Stadium the second week of September in eager anticipation of a much-needed division victory. But right now, I'm more interested in the new season of Modern Family than anything the NFL will produce this year.

I'm still a burgher, though. Honest!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ames Straw Poll: A Voter's Guide


Why, hello, there, resident of Ames, IA or a bused-in functional equivalent thereof! Are you having difficulty deciding what Republican candidate to support in this historic fake vote? To help guide you through this important moment, we here at C2R have put together a helpful voter's guide to help you in finding out the best person to cast your vote for.




The Ugly Future of Social Media

Like most new innovations that encompass both social constructs and technology, social media is finally under attack by governments and organizations, above and beyond taking your money so that you can grow fake crops.

This happens every so often; we can see it in the "violent video game" controversy last decade, and we see it on a regular basis when it comes to movies, television, comic books, and--often overlooked--computerized workplace culture changes. It's not always entertainment that gets overly scrutinized, though it is often the easiest target.

It was bound to happen with social media, and it looks like traction has been made for governments to start assessing blame. Sure, social media has long been criticized for privacy concerns and--in the criminal sphere--online predators. While it certainly made things a lot easier, it isn't new, and so while a lot of bluster has been expelled over it, there really hasn't been much by way of government-mandated change.

It looks like it will start, now.

The first warning rocket was the decision by the Philadelphia mayor to institute a curfew to stave off flash mobs. Of course, these aren't flash mobs in the sense that people will be dancing to some shitty 80's song and someone gets proposed to at the end. The media has simply latched on to the phrase "flash mob" because it just sounds violent. The attacks in Philadelphia, alas, do resemble the flash mobs in their formation: social media is used to alert all participants to gather in one place, where they gang up on people in grand acts of violence. Thankfully, the mayor is resorting to using the usual (if ineffective) means of combating mob violence, and while he mentioned social media as a tool, he didn't outright ban anything--nor, really, could he.

Not so much with David Cameron, who recently called Twitter, Facebook, and (for some reason) Research In Motion (i.e., Blackberry) in to discuss how to curb the use of their services for the purposes of violence.* (This was, of course, prompted by the riots in north London.) The intention is to stop people intending to start violence from organizing via these avenues, presumably by tagging keywords or profiles and prevent the communications from going through.

The issue--as most issues--is sticky, complication, and fraught with emotion and bad ideas. Should social media be set under the same standards as, say, a newspaper, or newsletter? It's fundamentally the same thing, even though Facebook statuses and tweets are free and aren't vetted by professionals. Do such things act the same as shouting "fire!" in a theater? Our gut reaction is to say no, since there is no immediate compelling sense of emergency when such is uttered, and yet the attacks in Philadelphia occurred so quickly and with such numbers as to send chills down through the police force ranks. Better luck may be made with the "fighting words" constitutional concept, but that leads to its own loopholes and problems. We also open up the arguments about profiling and civil rights.

So far, no one has given any credence to actually regulating social media. It is one of the few, pure forms of free expression that is accessible to the masses, which leads to its great success and why social media is an integral part of modern society after only a few short years. The way we communicate, express ourselves, and form legitimate bonds with friends, clients, and organizations has forever changed. And, just like any other such major overhaul in society, such as the telephone, the internet, and mass media, some people will use it for horrible purposes instead of its intended use. Curbing such excesses has always been the unenviable obligation of society, which often farms it out to the government. And as we have seen in the past, abdicating such responsibilities to someone that has the force of law on their hands can lead to some quite unfortunate outcomes.

While I'm more or less a standard libertarian free-speech zealot, I think the word "censorship" is thrown around too much--mostly, it's used by people who want a private corporation to do what they want. Only the government can censor anyone. In this case, of course, that is precisely the road we are headed down. I don't have any solutions, nor do I envy those that have to cook them up. Hopefully, we will all proceed with caution and prudence; two qualities, sad to say, not often found in the halls of our government.

*I'm aware free speech law is handled differently in the UK versus here (and, of course, to all other nations as well). It's the principle of the thing I'm discussing here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

She's Got...Michele Bachmann's Eyes

It's gearing up for another presidential election, and it's time to start noticing all of those small, insignificant details that creep up on everyone's memory--remember George Bush Sr's amazement of a checkout scanner, or the subliminal rats in GOP ads?--which may or may not be true, but will forever stick with a public figure regardless. We're starting early this time, and this time we're going to gaze deeply into Michele Bachmann's crazy eyes.

Look deep into my hypnotic eyes. You will stop smoking, lose weight, and vote for the balanced budget amendment.

Many outlets--including some surprisingly liberal ones--are calling the cover in poor taste. It may be that it's a deliberately unflattering picture, or that it's sexist, or that it's unnecessarily provocative (although "The Queen of Rage" was obviously done on purpose). And since Newsweek has been known to poke the bear on occasion--see Sarah Palin's (again) sexist cover from a few years ago, or the digitally-aged Princess Diana at her son's wedding, which to be fair is not sexist but certainly is creeeeepy.

I am not a fan of current Newsweek editor Tina Brown. I think that even though she was the uptight New York intellectuals' wunderkind back in the 80's, she has legitimized monthly magazine journalism into something more celebrity-driven and unnecessarily craven to ideology. Even after only a few months as editor, her gimmicks have trumped the journalism, and while she may, indeed, jump-start the newsweekly, one wonders if it will be cheapened enough to count as a victory. (Granted, quality journalism didn't stop Newsweek from getting sold for a dollar, so perhaps she is, indeed, on to something.)

All that said--I'll be honest, I don't see the big deal with the Bachmann photo. I mean, I get that she looks slightly wild-eyed, but nothing particularly alarming. Given the state of her smile--or half-smile--it seems apparent that this was not a posed picture, and that the profile was therefore selected specifically because it was unflattering. But I don't think it's as unfair (for conservatives) or sexist (for liberals, killing themselves over defending Ms. Bachmann) as anyone really believes.

Any thoughts? Is this an apparent attempt to paint the representative from Minnesota as a wild-eyed crackpot? Or just a standard unflattering photo? Or is everyone just reading too much into it?