29 June 2011

The Perpetual Campaign.

I was listening to NPR this morning as they covered the potential Presidential candidates' descent on Iowa. First there was Michele "John Wayne Gacy" Bachmann, who sounded as if she were speaking to a crowd of about ten based on the background clapping, but I think it was probably hundreds.

However, that crowd will have to be entertained by someone other than Tom Petty, who has told Bachmann to stop using his song "American Girl" in her campaign promos. It's an interesting song for a fear-mongering hate-filled xenophobe to use, since the song's lyrics basically depict a young woman trying to figure things out and looking for new experiences. Interestingly, Republicans have historically been tone deaf to a song's lyrical content, as when Reagan tried to use Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A" during his campaign, until the Boss told him to knock it off. As jingoistic as some Republicans may have thought the song was -- and the steady strong beat certainly adds to this sense -- the lyrics are anything but upbeat, even from the first line of "born down in a dead man's town."

Bachmann might want to find an artist more in tune with her politics, perhaps Ted Nugent. Or if she wants a song that's more a statement of her politics, she could try to call up the people at Resistance Records for a suitable act (OK, that might be going a bit too far, but I could seriously see her using some white supremacist record because it's "pro USA" and not understand the larger connections).

But wait, there's more! Bachmann wasn't the only hopeful in Iowa. Current President and 2012 hopeful Barack Obama was also out on the stump, although as President he can pass off certain visits as "part of his President business" and not as direct campaign stops. On the bits I heard from the NPR report, you can see why he'll be a tougher candidate to beat than the poll numbers might indicate right now: he knows how to connect to people (he's not as good as Bill Clinton, though: Clinton remains for me the top campaigner in the personal meet and greet in my lifetime). Marion Barry was also a hell of a campaigner. A shit executive, but a hell of a campaigner. Hmm.

And lest I forget, Sarah Palin, the undecided non-candidate whose on-and-off bus tour may be on again, was also in Iowa. Her ship has sailed, to bring in another transport metaphor, although I can only imagine Democrats salivating over their dream ticket of Palin-Bachmann.

But it's Iowa and it's June 2011. That's close to a year and a half from the election, and it's a sad thing when political campaigns have to start so early, because then we have to hear about political candidates for so long. I pity the fools. In the 24 hour news cycle, the media have nothing better to do than spend time trying to think of something new to say (or some new way to say something old) about the candidates.

In the age of the perpetual campaign, I suppose you could argue we're only six months and some spare change away from the start of the primaries, but what is Bachmann's shelf life on the national stage? I don't think the US has moved far enough right for her to win a general election, and I don't even think the Republican Party has moved far enough right for her to win the nomination.

The media.

What the hell is the Media anyway?

The most obvious answer is that it's anything the speaker wants it to be. The Pew Research Center released a report in fall 2010 on media consumption among Americans. I think it's important to talk about the survey in terms of consumption, even if the report is titled "Americans Spending More Time Following the News: Ideological News Sources: Who Watches and Why."

As I read the report (it's eight long internet pages with all sorts of charts), I started thinking that it really revealed the way in which the media has become an ideological sparring ground. News outlets have never been clear of ideology, but what gets me is the question of "news organization believability." Pew asked respondents to rate news organizations on a scale of 1-4, with 4 labeled "Believe all or most" and 1 labeled "Believe almost nothing."

I want to see the people who scored anything a 4. I want to do business with them.

Now if you asked me if I believed "all or most" of something a pundit said, like a Bill O'Reilly or a Keith Olbermann, I'd be a moron to say yes. If I had to believe "all or most" of what was printed in the Post, then I'd have to believe crap-dealers like Krauthammer, Gerson, Will, etc. Sorry.

Besides, "belief" is hardly the right word. The question itself is too cut and dry. Do I "believe" there's been a tsunami that caused a nuclear accident? Do I "believe" the Congressperson/President talking points from a press conference reported in the paper? These are very different things.

28 June 2011

Perhaps the nearest sign that I'm growing crotchety and old.

I like newspapers.

I like holding one and reading the columns. I think there's an entire ritual that's passing away centered around sofas, coffee tables, and bulky Sunday papers with all those sections and circulars and supplements.

I don't know the economics of it, but I wonder if -- counter to all our amazement at the joys of the internet and the economic engine we believe it to be -- the internet hasn't killed not only the newspapers but also the entire economic system around it, from advertising artists and salespeople to printers and shippers and paper suppliers. Like I said, I don't know if there's a net gain or loss economically, and since I'm not Michael Gerson, I'm not going to write some utterly uninformed piece about it.

Besides, I like the internet, too.

Now it used to be that if I wanted a copy of the Post, I plunked down my coins and picked up the daily (OK, I actually subscribed when I lived in DC, and would be subscribing still if I weren't in PA). You paid for it. And advertisers paid for it. Then the internet came along and we all thought news was free. Newspapers were caught in a bind: they had to get onto the internet or become irrelevant, but the moment they got on the internet they undercut their print editions. People won't pay for internet content...or so the theory goes.

Even papers you never had to pay for are struggling in the internet age.

One of my particular joys in living in DC, especially when I was in my twenties, was reading the CityPaper's matches section. I especially liked the "none of the above" category, because it had the potential to supply in three or four very short lines astounding humor. Pair those ads with the ludicrous porn shop ads and there was great clipping material to send to friends in faraway places.

Then Craigslist came along.

I like Craigslist, too, but it's too easy. The trolls aren't terribly inventive, and the potential for surprising humor just isn't there, except in the area where musicians try to form bands...that can still be comedy gold.

Ben Franklin got his start printing papers. When papers close, old Ben sheds a tear.

13 June 2011


This weekend was extremely busy. I was meeting up with friends I hadn't seen in over a year and trying to pack so many activities into the two and a half days that I really didn't have much of a weekend. I was at the museums a little bit on Saturday (NatHist) and a lot bit on Sunday (NMAI and NGA and, briefly, Air and Space). The museums have to be one of the greatest things about the District, especially in the off-season when you aren't competing with busloads of school kids.

For some reason Natural History wasn't as crowded as I expected for a Saturday in June. I was very efficiently able to steer my daughter around the dinosaurs, the Hope Diamond, the Hall of Mammals, and the insect exhibit. She loves the bugs. She especially liked the honey bees and was fascinated by the fact that they could get outside the museum through a little access tube. She decided to tell everyone who came near about the guard bees and that the bees were going out to get nectar and pollen and that they'd come back to make honey.

On Sunday, we ate lunch at the NMAI. The food there is easily the best, but prices have always been high and they seem to be even higher than I remember. It's absolutely criminal to charge $3.15 for a fountain drink.

We had four adults and four kids dining and the bill came to $99. I think MoMA is cheaper.

I love the design of the NMAI, but I find the exhibition space really minimal. There's not much there -- a lot of empty space. That's a design choice, of course, and the immense central atrium is wonderful when there's a live demonstration occurring, but when you look at the first floor, there's very little on it beside the cafeteria and the atrium -- they've even taken out the little shop they had and consolidated everything in the second floor shop (which we didn't visit).

Between the NMAI and the NGA, we lingered a long while in the shade of the trees lining the mall and watched the young adults sweat away at their kickball games in the unshaded heat of Sunday afternoon. I don't know if the ball is really deflated or what, but it seemed to me that none of the players could kick it ten feet beyond the infield. And seriously, how the hell do you miss a huge blue ball with your foot?

And to top it all off, I missed the Gauguin show.

02 June 2011

It's all about the Benjamin.

My summer reading has hit a major snag.

I am currently teaching one summer class and I am swamped. Swamped in work to grade. Apparently, when you assign work for students, you also have to grade it. OK, I knew that, and I knew I would lose my leisure reading time, but seriously, I didn't expect to lose it so quickly.

Let's look at the assigned reading so far: Ben Franklin's Autobiography, Paine's Common Sense, Winthrop's Model of Christian Charity, and Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer. I've read them all, so a little light re-reading was in order. However, I got sucked in to the Autobiography again. Franklin is a very seductive writer. And fascinating on so many levels.

Part One of the Autobiography is addressed to his son, William, and is written prior to the American Revolution. Franklin is already 65 years old at this point. Then comes the Revolution, William remains loyal to the British, and Franklin basically cuts all ties. However, he never bothers revising Part One to eliminate the few pages that cast the Autobiography as a letter to his son.

At the close of the Revolution, Franklin returns to writing the Autobiography and he's still working on it when he dies in 1790 at the age of 84.

A self-promoter, a businessman with sometimes shady practices, a thoroughly creative inventor, and a tremendous diplomat. We could do worse for a founding father.