Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dissecting the Immigration Debate

To me the immigration issue is both fascinating and extremely important for this country, and really for everyone in the world. The widespread immigration of people coming from lower-income areas to higher-income areas affects the entire world whether this be country to country immigration or rural to urban immigration within countries. So what the US is dealing with is just one of the many expressions of this that are going on everywhere, which to me makes it even more interesting.

But I want to look specifically at the debate on this issue, and the arguments used both by Democrats and Republicans, and I want to think specifically about the voters rather than the politicians - incidentally I am not sure which is more difficult - understanding the opinion of millions of Democrats and Republican voters, or understanding the opinion of a single Democrat or Republican candidate.

What is so fascinating about this debate is that it has layers that transcend party lines. For Democratic voters, the party is sympathetic to the most recent addition to our diverse "nation of immigrants." This would favor less detention and deportation and less crack-downs given the sympathy for the predicament that illegals are in. On the other hand they are a party that represents workers, and thus may have constituents that are worried about job security in light of a large increase in the labor supply - and an increase of workers who are more eager to work for lower wages. Speaking of wages, Democratic voters might not be as upset about the employment of illegal workers per se, but would be very upset if that employment means that the employer is paying less than minimum wage. This would favor more crackdowns on employers and may or may not lead to more detention and deportation.

Republicans I think are the opposite of the above. They are less sympathetic to illegals since they are not playing by the rules. I see Republican voters as highly respectful of the law and the rules of the game, moreso than Democrats. So this would favor more crackdowns, detentions etc. However Republicans are also the party of business and of employers, which means a reluctance to crack down on employers to root out illegals. This might apply more to the politicians than the voters however.

I am not sure whether the debate and the arguments thrown around are dictated by the media or by the presidential candidates, theoretically the media and the candidates are supposed to represent the views of the voters and advocate them, although it's hard to know who is influencing who. Take people like Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo. Democrats see these guys and then assume that all Republicans are alarmist about terrorism, the deterioration of American culture, and American workers losing their jobs to illegal and legal immigrants alike. Actually I would like to hear from a conservative or a Republican on this one. Do you agree with or identify with the arguments made by Lou Dobbs? Or is it more the respect for the law and the rules of the game that is behind most Republicans' "tougher" stance on the immigration issue?

Hopefully this post served to bring out only some of the nuances, maybe the surface nuances on this debate, and also served to illustrate why it is so hard to make progress on this front.

Don't Get Your Neurons in a Bunch

For some reason or accumulation of coincidences, I have been hearing a lot about scientific studies that attempt to explain individual behavior and predilections at the atomic level. The NYTimes reported a study on undecided voters and how their brains were stimulated by photos and videos of the candidates. And apparently there is a growing concern, now that we've mapped the Human Genome (a project which initially hoped to show how similar we all are), there are reports which prove that different races and ethnic groups are, in fact, not created equal. I tend to shrug these findings off. They are intriguing studies, to say the least, but they remain lacking, in my eyes -- for in science's desire to master the inner cosmos of our minds, it blinds itself to the actuality that in the end, we still reserve the power to lead ourselves to our fates, or at least be led by the world around us.

Hamlet once said, "There is a divinity that doth shape our ends/Rough hew them as we will." Now Hamlet, unfortunately was a character in a play and subject to the whims of his author/creator -- or in his words -- "a divinity". Luckily for us non-fictional heroes and heroins, we remain to a degree the authors of our own narratives. This is not to disregard the lot we are born into or the trials we face along the way through no fault of our own. What I'm trying to say is that our genetic makeup is not to us what Hamlet's "divinity" was to him. Each of us can overachieve or fall short of expectations (based on looks, intelligence, wealth, etc.); identical twins have free will to be a odds with one another. Or, in other words, a clone by any other name could turn out to be a completely different me. In fact, I might not like the guy altogether (personal note: my clone's a real jerk).

So, whether the controversial arguments in a book like The Bell Curve prove true -- and it turns out that East Asians are smarter than the rest of us, from a genetic standpoint -- it will end up being because they have a much better education system that they will bump us out of the number one slot. Whether I'm supposed to be attracted to a certain type of woman, I might end up with what could only objectively be called a dog, because the woman might be hilarious, or maybe I was just really vulnerable when we first met and my standards had gone way way down and I hadn't had steady work for a while and didn't feel good about that...

Basically, I don't like people telling me how it is, or worse, how I am supposed to be. And no matter what geographical and ethnic backgrounds we come from, or genetic schisms that divide us, we still retain the right to choose to be our own selves, each trying to shape our own ends together.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Top Ten Campaign Slogans John Edwards Would Go To Hell For

10. Vote Edwards- I'm not your daughter and I didn't rape her
9. John Edwards- For Democrats who hate whores
8. Vote Edwards- If anything, just to piss off your hippy liberal girlfriend
7. White men's brains are bigger- it's science. Vote Edwards.
6. Vote Edwards- Lets keep this thing respectable
5. Vote Edwards- That's what you're going to tell your friends at the club anyway
4. Vote Edwards- They're already voting, isn't that enough?
3. John Edwards- Against universal suffrage
2. John Edwards- No perm needed
1. John Edwards- Are you kidding me?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Beer Me

This video sings for itself:

Also this one, hilarious:

And two clips of the show that started it all - these two are a little long and there is some overlap but I am a big fan:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Oh Yeah, You Blend

I have just returned from a three weeks of Pan-African travel -- jarring, unpaved roads, hellaciously vivid dreams from my anti-malaria pills, more than a dozen planes, some new cuisine and some old favorites in surprising places.

It began with a jaunt up to Uganda, known to some as "The Pearl of Africa" -- a former British colony, landlocked in a collar-tugging position -- South of Sudan, East of the D.R.C. and North of Rwanda. Eeeeyikes! My travel buddy and I had not planned second one of our trip since purchasing our plane tickets a week prior. We figured English was the national language (gotta give the British Empire some credit on that one) and how hard could it be to find some mountain gorillas without a travel book, map, game plan, or a gorilla of our own, who by virtue of its ability to converse in both sign language and gorillaspeak could bridge the interspecies gap.

A few things became clear very quickly. We needed bug spray something awful; the Chinese food in Kampala is amazing; and the distance from Entebbe (where we landed) to The Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest (where the gorillas and their concomitant mist reside) gets a lot longer once you find out that the term "roads" required much exaggerated quote fingers.

No regrets, cause the endless expanse of lushly verdant hills and (hidden) valleys out our windows made up for the ass pains from the bumpy ride. I have no pictures, but the landscape made me wish that I could go back in time (Bill and Ted style) round up Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, et al., and set them up with an all expenses paid trip to sunny Uganda and all the Absinthe they can drink on me.

Driving through the many farming villages that line these "roads" was like being trapped inside a moving zoo. I guess I take for granted the fact that I'm white. I mean, my Mom and Dad are white, my sisters and brothers are white. Come to think of it, my whole family is white. See, I didn't even think of it til now. But staring out my window with increasing mortification I watched jaws drop, women and children stopping dead in their tracks, conversations halted in mid-sentence, the sounds of juke boxes scratching off, all because they don't see too many (dragons or) white people around.

On a side note to this, the often invoked notion that white people think all black people look alike, well I know what people mean now. We were the only two white people that we saw the whole time, blending in like My Cousin Vinny. We would go some place for a bite to eat, laugh and drink with the waiter for hours, and then come in the next day as total strangers to this man.

US: Hey, Johnny. How's it going?
John Bosco: Ahhhhhhhhh?

Because of our poor planning, we were unable to go gorilla tracking, but you can't win 'em all, as they (gorillas) say (in sign language).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Modest Proposal

I've never supported genocide. Like the bleary-eyed law student who on the first day discussing Brown V. Board raises his hand and prefaces his comment with "I'd just like everyone to know that I'm against slavery," I would like to put on record that I am, in a general sense, against the systematic murder of a group of people. Especially since they outlawed it in the Geneva Convention. Or some convention. I don't remember, but I'm sure someone made it illegal at sometime. Nevertheless, I've concocted a judicious proposal to address one of the most crippling plagues ever to afflict New York City.

Let's kill all the real estate brokers. Think about it. These people are completely useless. Why keep them alive? They're just dragging the rest of us hard-working Americans down. Rents would drop immediately-no one would ever have to pay that stupid 15% broker's fee anymore. Craigslist adds would be pruned of deceitful advertisements. There would be less foot-traffic in the cities most desirable locations, as there'd no longer be anyone to meet you at a random street corner and take you to the apartment that you could have just gone to yourself if the brokers did not deliberately keep the location of their apartments from you. Instead of meeting that goofy-looking twenty something who could have learned a valuable trade but for some reason went into being slimy for a living, you could just go straight to the apartment, talk to the owner, and strike an honest deal between respectable people. I see no reason not to run the streets red with the blood of real estate brokers.

And another thing: these people have apartments themselves. Did you think of that? If we killed all the brokers, there would be a massive jump in supply. Now, they probably don't live anyplace that you or I would want to rent. But any supply shift will effect the entire market. Brutally maiming all real estate brokers in New York and leaving their bloodied, mutilated corpses in the streets for ravens to scour would be the best thing to happen to rental prices since the stock market crash of 1929.

I know there will be some resistance to my proposal. You can't just kill tens of thousands of people because they are useless and annoying and it would be great for the rental market and the morale of the city and pretty much what everyone wants to do anyways. It would be expensive. To that I say "Come on- live a little. You've gotta spend money to make money. Lets forget about the budget just once and do what we know is in the best interest of the city. Lets just get out there and start killing brokers. Expenses, and obnoxious people, be hanged."

Plus, think about the job creation, people. Someone would have to actually butcher the brokers- hey, that's a catchy slogan: Butcher the Brokers, a 2007 initiative for the city. Anyway, genocide doesn't happen by itself. Someone would be collecting a pay check after this thing, and that's what we call economic stimulus.

But of course, its a slippery slope. Today we're killing real estate brokers, tomorrow we could be killing stock brokers. Before you know it, there's not a single over-paid middle-man left in New York and there's perfect information and transparency in every transaction. Wait, maybe I've been narrow-minded about this. I'd like to amend the proposal. Kill ALL brokers. Now we're talking.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mostly Lounging on Denali

Last month I took a long walk in the snow and reached the highest point in North America, but, lest I be accused of productivity, I’ll have you know that I abandoned neither my tranquil constitution nor my taste in leisure to do so. The story I would like to recount now is how I, in true Brooklyn fashion, passed an entire day lounging in a café at 14,000 feet.

On June 1st I traveled from New York to Alaska to take a guided trip up Mt McKinley, or Denali, as it is sometimes called. This story of “Café 14” took place three weeks into the trip. I had reached camp IV (elevation 14,600 ft) on the north side of Denali, late on June 21st, though you’d never know it from the Alaskan sun. I was tired and hungry and the weather was moving in. I rested the next day to acclimatize in preparation for the move to high camp. On June 23rd, I awoke early to check the weather and found the skies clear. After a quick consultation with the guides and my fellow climbers, we decided to ferry a load of food and fuel up to high camp and return to sleep at camp IV. As I readied myself for the move, a paralyzing bout of mountain sickness knocked me on my haunches. At extreme altitudes, lower atmospheric pressure inhibits air intake, depriving the brain of oxygen. The effect is similar to a hangover and can be quite debilitating. I had it bad that morning, and knowing the results of working through hangovers, I opted out of the move.

One other climber stayed down with mountain sickness that day and one guide. We all retired to our tents to “hunker,” the honored climbing pastime of killing time in tents, and none too pleased about it. We had been moving quite well up to 14,600 and were all excited to be moving higher. The idea of a second consecutive day hunkering in stale-smelling tents was as unappetizing as the left-over beans from dinner. Then a miracle happened: “I was getting signal on my radio last night,” the guide explained. “Why don’t you two come to my tent and we’ll see what we can get.”

Amazing. Deep in the Alaskan wilderness, on one of the most remote climbing routes in the world, we were able to get radio signal all the way from New York. At such high altitudes there were no intervening land masses to disrupt the signal. Our spirits were rescued from despair. We packed into the tent, lit some incense; brewed some coffee. The guide and I began a game of cribbage. I joked that life in the tent was not so different from my life at home in Brooklyn. To call it an oasis in a desert would not be far from the truth. We played cards and listened to music for several hours until we all fell into a luxurious sleep.

We joked and called it Café 14, after the elevation. It was a momentary reprieve from the ardors of climbing a treacherous and vindictive mountain. A small taste of home’s civility, carried three weeks over glacier and rock, to be unpacked there in the harsh environs at 14,600 feet, on the side of Mt. McKinley. I was very happy for it.

I awoke the next day and my mountain sickness was gone. So was the other climber’s. Three days later we both reached the summit at 20,320 feet and began the happy descent back towards thicker air and an easier way of life, having had our fun- lounging on Denali.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Nursery Rhymes

Ricky Gervais from the original British office, doing stand-up. Hilarious.

Sunday, July 1, 2007


The funny thing is that I know Virginia Dissentator is still reading this, silently. Yeah that's right. I'm lookin at you, fella.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Flight of the Conchords

For those of you who have or haven't seen Flight of the Conchords, it is amazing. Kind of reminds me of Arrested Development where a lot of people probably won't think it's funny and will think it's too weird, and then other people will think it's the funniest thing since probably Arrested Development.

But FOTC is definitely its own show and what a show it is. Most of it is just like a regular comedy but then a few times per episode they do songs since the two main characters are in a band.

A band called Flight of the Conchords.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Time, And the Blogging's Infrequent

Sometimes it's rough to come home from work and see this guy sitting contentedly in the same spot he was in when you left for work that morning, but it's hard to stay mad at a lemor, so...

Yeah so I don't know if anyone has noticed cuase we don't seem to get that many comments in general so I don't really know if anyone was ever reading this in the first place, but now we don't even seem to have writers anymore.

Well I noticed.

I have to admit I am not Pope Innocent in all of this.
But who is really?
Any of you Pope Innocent?
That's what I thought.

So after keeping it afloat single keyboardedly CapeTown Dissentator has probably been busy interacting with some of the humans that they got down there in Capetown so I thought I'd try to give him a break and post for once. As for Brooklyn Dissentator I believe he is somewhere in Alaska enjoying the 20 hours of sunlight in a day that they have there over the summer, Virginia Dissentator is probably sitting on his laurels after putting up that picture of a litter box and figuring no one's gonna top that, and the new guy? "La Dissentator"? Apart from being Spanish for "The Dissentator" I don't know what she/he is doing as opposed to writing to us.

Me personally, I have been searching for a cure for the summer time blues, trying to prove wrong the old adage that there ain't no such thing as that. The closest I have come so far are dumplings. A few weeks ago I heard about soup dumplings for the first time. Yeah that's right, dumplings with soup in them. I know you might be thinking it's kinda hot out for soup but I am still feeling kinda cold from the Boston winter, it normally takes me right until the next winter begins to recover from the previous one. So I can drink soup year round. What.

If you guys and girls can think of something better let me know. And I don't mean year-round soup (I can think of lots of things better than that, like year-round French onion soup, or year-round Christmas vacation, or year round European Vacation, in France perhaps, with year-round onion soup, or maybe even year round Thanksgiving). But I am saying if you can come up with a better cure for the summer time blues let me know and I will tell you what I think of it.

You might be thinking you don't know where to begin, which is why I have offered some cure for the summer time blues clues:

1. Water
2. Broth
3. A microwave
4. A bowl
5. A soup spoon
6. Crap sorry I got distracted by the thought of soup again
7. Swans a-swimming
8. Footprints
9. Fingerprints (remember in Ace Ventura 2 where he dusts for fingerprints?)
10. Soup Dumplings

So take that as a start and just run with it, but you should probably wait at least an hour after eating year-round soup if you are going to start running. Of course what do I know I'm only a dissentator.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fathers and Sons

As it is Father's Day, I thought a relevant post couldn't hurt. The complex dynamic between a father and son has been written about before this present attempt -- with more sagacious insight, with more stunning prose, and evoking a greater degree of pathos and emotion. Ancient Greek mythology is inundated with this theme -- i.e. Zeus's father, Chronos, on a hunch from an oracle who warned him that one of his children will overthrow him, ate all of his sons and daughters; Zeus escaped and killed his father. The Bible offers a few stories of its own: the tale of Isaac trip up the mountain with dear old Dad, Abraham; Isaac's sons fighting over his birthright; Judah Macabee had a few sons of his own; and let's not forget God had a kid of his own in there as well (I think they wrote a Testament about [H]im).

More recently, Russian novelist, Turgenev, offers us Fathers and Sons (though this is more of a generational critique); and in the 20th Century, James Joyce complicates it all for us as only he can in Ulysses, while Freud provided us with his pervasive take on the myth of Oedipus. Clearly there have been milennia of examples that point to the darker side of the paternal/filial relationship, but I'm assuming that none of these were considered when Hallmark or whoever created Father's Day.

So, might I suggest some more uplifting reads, music, and movies that may lead us to some more positive ruminations about our Dads.

1. "Indian Camp" by Earnest Hemmingway. A short story about a son who follows his father and uncle who are sent to help deliver a baby at a nearby Native American village.

2. "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens. Most people hit up the cliched "Cats and the Cradle" when thinking of "Dad" songs, but this one far outshines it. The Johnny Cash/Fionna Apple cover isn't bad either. And if you're looking for more of a downer song, then Credance Clearwater's "Somedays Never Come" ain't too bad.

3. Field of Dreams - In my life, no work of art, be it film, novel, poem, or song, has better incapsulated the often traumatic and strained relationship between an American father and his son.

For each of us, the film opens a different wound or inspires a unique set of memories. For me, the images of James Earl Jones, Moonlight Graham, and Shoeless Joe Jackson are inextricably bound with countless hours in my yard, when I was a little guy playing catch with my Dad. Once we hung up the gloves, and my hero worship turned to adolescent, misguided angst, the movie would serve as a topic of debate -- my Dad futilely explaining to me that it was a film about fathers and sons, while I stubbornly contended that it was just a movie about baseball. Throughout these discussions, we shared the unspoken knowledge that we both understood the true meaning of the film, and, more precisely, we both knew that this ongoing debate was just our own way of keeping the lines of communication open as our relationship grew more strained.

I've heard several confessions from friends who say that while watching Field of Dreams with their Dad was also the first time they saw their fathers cry. The moment that a son witnesses this rare expression of vulnerability from their father is one not soon forgotten, for in it is revealed the possibility of a father's weaknesses and what could be a vast sea of inner turmoil usually concealed beneath a stoic facade. Even more, the moment reminds you -- maybe for the first time -- that your Dad is a son, himself, and knows all too well of the lovely and timeless struggle between a father and his boy.

Just to conclude and to point out the obvious, Field of Dreams is about fathers and sons. It's about the strained and broken relationship between a kid and his Dad and their chance at redemption. For many of us, our reconciliation is more easily attained than it was for Ray Kinsella. We don't have to build a baseball diamond or go on a road trip with James Earl Jones. We just need to give the old man a call today, Father's Day, and let him know that we love him and that many more things in our lives, besides that movie from 1989, turned out to be about fathers and sons.

Love ya, Pop.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wanda Psych

The "Tonight Show" that I watched tonight may have been an old one, but I go to bed early during the school year, so I'm not sure. The first guest was Wanda Sykes. Her introduction discussed numerous television shows and movies that she stars in. To be perfectly honest, I don't get it.

I love "Curb your Enthusiasm." I picture Larry David as the type of person who tells douchebags that they are, in fact, douchebags, and moves on without a second thought. So how did Wanda Sykes end up in this show? The only idea that makes sense is that they (in the Howard Stern method of hiring one female minority to make the racist jokes "okay") needed a specific character.

That said, how many movies and television shows think to themselves, "We need an indignant black woman?" I imagine if I were a casting agent thinking this, Wanda Sykes would be the first person I thought of. But to me that's like answering the question of "who can we use as an angry german?" There might be a first response answer, but really, it's not going to work. There's no humor there.

The previews for Evan Almighty, a movie that I actually think will be harmlessly entertaining, show this prominently. Noah makes some monkeys help build an ark, and Wanda yells out the following (put this in the "indignant black woman" voice,) "I can't even get my cat to use the litter box." Ha.

Is there a reason for her success that I'm missing?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Bill O'Reilly: Ecce Homo, an SOB Who Thinks He's a BFD

Over here in South Africa, Oprah ranks up there with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Her show, which I had never (not kidding) seen before, comes on during prime time hours each night, and when you have four channels it's pretty much all you have to watch. They're reruns, of course, from about nine months ago, but I'm sure most people don't notice, because let's face it -- Oprah is timeless.

The other night (or 9 months ago) she had Bill O'Reilly on. The man is breathtaking -- a vortex of animosity wherever he goes. The usually female dominated audience was uncharacteristically comprised of some men, and all of them -- male and female, old and middle-aged -- had a strong opinion one way or the other. Literally, one way or the other. That there appeared no middle ground on any issue, no grey area on any point of view, is a symptom of the O'Reilly phenomenon, and this strict dichotomy was enforced by the man himself.

He was, admittedly, peddling his book "Culture Warrior" in which he postulates that America is in the midst of a culture war between the Traditional Warriors and the Secular Progressives. When someone from the audience would ask a question or make a point he would immediately label them one or the other, buttering up the each "T Warrior" and dismissing condescendingly all those "SPs" (If the VP ordered B.O. to speak in only acronyms ASAP, he would have NP). I was reminded of a quote I first heard from Gloria Steinem, but may also appear in Freud's Wit and It's Relation to the Unconscious: "There are two types of people in this world -- those who divide the world into two types of people and those who don't."

I enjoy watching O'Reilly outside of his setting, especially when he is sitting with the most powerful woman in the world. I couldn't read Oprah very well, but if I could describe the expression on her face when listening to her guest, I would say it was polite disgust. There were some interesting points, like when Bill came right out and said that he was purposefully being argumentative "cause I'm up here selling books, lady". But most of the time, for me at least, he inspired not animosity but pity -- the kind you reserve for a drunk widower Uncle at a family reunion.

I did wish to contend him on his main thesis though -- that T Warriors, who he believes are a silent majority, will win the culture war because they outnumber those SPs. Every generation needs its Philistines, though we sometimes call them by other names: American Firsters, Segregationists, Pro-lifers, and in this case, T Warriors. What these groups share is their vocal presence during times of progress and change; they organize themselves when the world they live in starts to move a little too fast for their comfort. Their's is always a losing battle, or as Kennedy would say, a "long twilight struggle".
As a nation we always progress, we always move in some forward direction no matter how heavy the Philistines hang on the debate. Abolitionist's cause eventually helped free the slaves; Brown v. The Board of Education got rid of sanctioned segregation; the Suffragettes, the black civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's, the feminist struggle in the 1970's -- all progressive movements that made our culture the way it is and all were held up by older and more conservative segments of the population.

The funny thing about all this progress is that those who couldn't imagine a world with freed slaves or a woman's right to vote eventually learned to live with them and the generation that followed couldn't imagine a world without such basic principles. Just as I can't imagine living in an era during which black citizens could not drink from the same fountains or sit towards the front of the bus, my children will not understand how it ever happened that homosexual couples could not enjoy the protections and rights provided by state sanctioned marriages. That's right, all you conservatives, it may not happen in this election cycle or the following one, or even the one after that, but soon enough marriage rights will be enjoyed by all citizens, gay and straight (the majority of the population over 60 oppose "gay marriage", yet it is favored by those under 30. So it's just a matter of time.)

While I reject O'Reilly's basic dichotomy of SP and TWarrior, even within his deranged, paranoid framework he is wrong. The progressives have history and the human instinct to progress on their side. We appreciate you Philistines coming out, to strut and fret your hour upon Oprah's stage, but soon enough we will see your sound and fury for the nothing that it signifies.

Friday, June 8, 2007

You Best Start Believin in Spoilers, You're Readin One

Saw the third Pirates of the Caribbean tonight and here is my review:

I don't get it. And I don't mean "I don't get it" like I'm too stupid to get it -- like the time in 9th grade before Geometry class, when we were talking about The Usual Suspects and a kid said, "I didn't get it" (to which I starred at him and replied, "I don't get it."). I think David Lynch and Michael Bay had gotten together at some point to throw some ideas out there and whatever they didn't use ended up in this movie. Let me try to sum up the plot a little. (Honestly, I won't give anything away, not that that would be possible to do.) putting beginning with a lot of unkempt people being hanged, then signing, then more hanging (I have never seen Les Miserable, but I was reminded of it)...Then some familiar faces return, but now in Singapore?...Everyone seems to be double crossing one another (couldn't keep track or understand anyone's motive at any one point), then swords, fireworks and guns...then I guess they reached "World's End"...Then a David Lynch sequence of Davy Jones's locker(side note: Turns out that this doesn't refer to Davy Jones from the Monkees. It would have made about as much sense as the rest of the movie and I was kinda hoping for a cameo, but got none. Call me a "day dream believer" I guess.)...Then I think they spliced in some scenes from The Adventures of Baron Muchausen...then something about the ancient Greek goddess, Calypso (which they made a lot of fuss over, but didn't pan out to anything...I think?)...Then I guess the good guys win after a bizarre and interminable battle...

Okay, first point is that unlike some other sequels, this movie couldn't give a shit about you if you've never seen the first two movies 1000 times. Luckily I had recently rented the 2nd Pirates movie, but I still didn't understand that, so I was shit outta luck as well. They just jump right in, introducing old character in one fell swoop and then about 2-300 more.
Point two: While I do like animals and sorta like to think of myself as a feminist, I had my fill of cute monkeys at precious moments and girl power. When did Kiera Knightley get so fierce? Her character would give the Spice Girls boners.
You know when you were little and you had to go play with the kid in your class with no friends, cause your Mom thought it would be a nice thing to do. So, you suck it up and when you get there you realize why this kid has no friends -- cause he's a son of a bitch to play games with. He keeps changing all the rules as the game goes on. You remember that? Well replace that kid with this movie and those rules to an endless litany of maritime lore and "Pirate Codes". It's the third movie in this series based on a ride at Disney World and it has more back story and exposition than The Iliad.
Basically, the whole thing lost me at "hello." I wanted there to be question and answer when the lights turned on, but nothing. If I were forced to give a one word review of the movie, any word I chose would have to be in question form -- exciting? funny? And why should I be able to tell you one definitive thing about the movie, I'm just a guy who saw it?
Also, is it Care-RI-be-in or Care-a-BE-an?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The New Guy Takes On Introductions

Aside from terrorism and poorly built sandwiches there really is nothing I hate more than introducing myself to other people. I once thought this only held true in person or on the phone, but no, it's not very fun to do in the blogosphere either. To be honest, I was hoping one of the other dissentators would introduce me, ideally in a flattering light (not so flattering that I couldn't meet expectations, but just enough to feel like I belonged). But, I've been a dissentator for about an hour or so now and it's becoming quite clear that I'm on my own on this one. We better just plow on then. I'm ladissentator, "la" as in los angeles, which is where I've been living for about two years now. Besides living in los angeles, I'm pretty much like the rest of these guys. I went to Columbia University, I'm an American-born caucasian man, and I fucking (we can swear on this shit right?) hate the Eagles man.

The plus side of introducing yourself on the blogosphere is that you could make up just about anything about yourself and people would have no reason not to believe you. For example, I could've told you I was Charles Barkley back there and you might've believed me. But, since I already told you I was an "American-born caucasian man" now I'm branded for life. Unless, of course, I was lying earlier, then I could still be Sir Charles. Well, now you don't know what to believe. For all you know I'm not the white, Eagles-hating Columbia grad or Charles Barkley. Maybe I'm David Robinson. Or forget former NBA stars altogether, maybe I'm Wolf Blitzer or someone you've never even heard of like, I don't know, Doug Patterson from Duluth. The point is I could be anybody, so why not let me be Charles Barkley? It probably wouldn't hurt traffic to the site, and you can't honestly tell me you wouldn't read daily musings by the former Dream Team power forward. What the hey, Charles Barkley it is!

Wouldn't it be crazy if I was really Doug Patterson!?

Movies Today: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

For those of you who know me personally, this will undoubtedly come off as a biased diatribe against the current state of cinema. For those of you who don't know me personally, here is the reason that they will think this: I am biased. I lived in Los Angeles for about 15 months recently, working a number of unrelated jobs with some vague and ambivalent goal to write screenplays. Throughout this period, those around me didn't have to be too keen to notice that I was miserable to be in L.A.(note the difference. I wasn't miserable, just miserable to be there). Having grown up in Boston, a boy who worshiped Larry Bird and the Celtics beyond reason and statistics and vilified their west coast rivals, I arrived in L.A. with what you could call a skewed, somewhat myopic expectation of a city built (not with bullets or rock and roll) for the sole purpose of frivolity all in the name of entertainment, money and the pursuit of vanity. To the city's credit, it did not disappoint in any degree.
Now, you're asking yourself, what does this have to do with movies? Nothing really, but we need to understand that, while there is a burgeoning independent film market that churns out some good films each years, the majority of movies today are produced in the location I mentioned above, the city of Angles.
Just for the simplification of this post, I'll use the Academy Awards as a measurement for accomplishment in film. I don't actually believe that the Oscar goes to.......the best in each category every year -- or even the best in cinema -- but generally the nominees paint a decent cross-section of that year's better films. At the very least one could argue that the type of film that wins and the subsequent advertising and attention given to Oscar winners feed future projects (trends like Biopics, Epics, etc. arguably arise from previous Oscar attention paid to earlier films in these categories). So in 1994, the year Forrest Gump took home the golden boy, it was a pretty stellar year for American film. It went up against Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, and Pulp Fiction. If even one of those movies came out today, I would think we had a pretty good year, but from my subjective view, the actors today are great, some of the writing is very good, but you don't get that feeling when you walk out of a theater like you used to. That voice inside your head after you saw Pulp Fiction or Goodfellas that recognized that you had just watched something of timeless quality.

Last year The Departed won. As we've noted earlier on here, The Departed kinda sucked ass. I don't think I'll ever rent it and in 20 years it won't be on any of your shelves. Honestly, check your shelves that you'll have 20 years from now....On there?....Didn't think so.
The average films are still pretty much on par with those of 10 and 20 years ago, and I would argue -- even though the worst movie I've ever scene, Tomcats, came out in the last 5 years -- that the worst movies each year have gotten better. So, pretty much, what I'm saying is that we got a whole lot more decent films, but rarely does anyone in the city that should have been left a desert produce something great or transcendent, and here is why.
It's not the worry that a film will lose money (though this factors in), and it's certainly not that the actors or writers or directors are worse. It's that a broad majority of movies go through so many hands between the arbitrary decision to "greelight" a script and when it appears on screen -- screenwriter, agents, managers, consultants, rewriters, directors, executives, producers, more executives, last minute rewrites, actors who want to try something, and then some more executives, director and editors, producers (aka executives), PR peeps, testing audiences (40% executives), and then hopefully you'll have a final cut, which will then become the director's cut once it becomes a dvd. If Shakespeare passed Hamlet through this many hands, the best someone would say after walking out of The Globe theater would be, "I don't know. It was pretty good. I liked the acting. Cool scene at the end." (side note: nothing I wrote got past the "showing it to buddies" stage)
It's the too many chefs spoil the soup problem in Hollywood. Everyone there and the movie industry (don't call it the industry) itself exists entirely for the purpose of proving its existence. By this I mean that if they shut down all the major studios tonight, we would all wake up and nothing would change -- there wouldn't be panic in the streets and we'd learn to live with the movies we already have. Deep down, Hollywood understands this and has to shell out a lot of money on its support mechanisms -- advertising, PR, magazines, etc.
The result of this is that everyone there, whether working at a talent agency or studio or on the "creative" side, is instilled with the need to put in their two cents. They need to claim credit and latch onto things, so they can justify to themselves -- and to the world -- the fact that they have made a lot of money without serving a necessary role in society. So they set up meetings to discuss the script, and then the writer or whomever has to change this or that, the actors get changed cause an agent fights hard. All moves in this game appear and most likely are arbitrary, but the end results are the same: mediocrity.
To be fair to my friends who are still in L.A., my time there and the time I spent trying to write scripts was more fun than miserable. Even though what I wrote will not be made into a film, I had a blast writing each page. I met a ton of gifted and talented people. I met young, ambitious, brilliant people, but at times this reality only intensified my distaste for a city overflowing with the talent it summons, but ultimately inept at utilizing it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What's the Matter with Massachusetts?

Why is it when I watch political news, the conservative guy usually finds a way to make some passing and sarcastic reference to my home state of Massachusetts? Why is it that my former governor, now presidential candidate, Mitt Romney doesn't like to actually say the name of the state that elected him to office? We're always "where I served as Governor" or "back where I was in office", as if it was such a shitty post to be the governor of Massachusetts. Poor Mitt, had to slum it with those horrible liberals. Eat me. Conservative politicians and the parasitic, political pundits like their straw men and scapegoats. They like to have an neat, little, packaged focal point to scorn for them to malign -- Lou Dobbs has immigrants; Falwell had gays; and conservatives of any stripe have their beloved Massachusetts. In fact they may appreciate my home state even more than I do, but just in case some of you are undecided, here's a few choice facts for any of you out there who somehow are under the impression that Massachusetts is something distinct from the America you love:

Hmmmm, where to start? Maybe with the fact that the damn Pilgrims landed the Mayflower on Plymouth rock (note: it did not land on them). And since the establishment of Massachusetts Bay Colony, I think there have been a few other mentionables. Let's you like seafood? How 'bout lobster? Or Clam Chowder? You like those too? You're welcome.

Not patriotic enough yet? Well we also have a stellar line up of patriots: Benjamin Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Norman Rockwell (did you hear that. Norman friggen Rockwell. How much more American does it get?), Eli Whitney (try ginning cotton without Massachusetts.), W.E.B. DuBois, the J. Geils Band, Horatio Alger (this is getting unfair), and the "Block" where the "New Kids" were from is sitting nice and pretty in Massachusetts. Oh, I could keep going, but we "Massholes" were raised better than to brag. Oh wait, I forgot about some other patriots, The New England Patriots.

But what are these conservatives really scoffing at, it's our politics right? One would be led to believe that Massachusetts, overrun with liberals and progressives as we are, must be some lawless wasteland of vice and Un-American activity. I mean, we're the first state to provide marriage rights to homosexual couples, as we did in 2004; we just elected the 2nd black Governor in U.S. history; our U.S. Senators are John "hates the troops" Kerry and Ted Kennedy; and the man who has been my congressman all my life is none other than my favorite Barney Frank -- he's homosexual, Jewish, and went to one of those elite schools called Harvard! How do people living in Massachusetts make it through the day alive?

Well it helps that we're 2nd in the country for per capita income, home to some of the top ranked public schools in the nation, and remain a bastion for people around the world seeking the best in education from the esteemed private schools and the over 40 universities in the Boston area. But, just in case you don't make it through the day in one piece, we are also the first and only state to mandate health care coverage for it's citizens. Doesn't really seem like such a bad place to live, considering the state legislative branch is made up of less than 13% Republicans.

So, the next time you put your John Hancock on something or hang a lantern in a church tower or dump a whole mess of tea in a harbor, show a little respect to my home state. And if someone asks you, "What's the matter with Massachusetts?", you tell them, "Absolutely nothing!". Say it again.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Things That've Been Bugging Me: Some Reader Thoughts Would Be Nice

Not sure how you guys like to work. Maybe you're an early riser, like to get up early and enjoy some quiet time before work -- read the paper, do a little yoga, what-have-you. My inclination is to use the post-midnight hours for my me time, and this tendency is only increased when I'm living in a country 5-7 hours ahead of good old East Coast Time, when my friends and family are awake and online. So, typically once Sunday rolls around, I'm pretty out of it, and tonight is very much a typical Sunday -- a weeks worth of news starts to curdle a bit in my mind as I'm planning out the week ahead, and certain things pop out at me. Here are some of this weeks:

1. Apparently, according to an Editorial from NYTimes, there do I say this?...anti-dancing laws in New York City and in other cities across the country:

"New York’s cabaret laws limit dancing to licensed venues. They date back to the Harlem Renaissance, which had created the unsettling prospect of interracial dancing.
For decades, no one paid much attention to the laws until Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, bent on turning Manhattan into a giant mall/food court, decided to get tough. Today, the city far more famous for its night life than its Sunday services has only about 170 venues where it is legal to get up and dance — hence last month’s danced protest, as well as an earlier one in February."

I don't get it. I don't get the fact that these cabaret laws still exist. I don't get why and how exactly they are enforced. And I'm having a hell of a time trying to picture "last month's danced protest". Then I found this video:

2. There has been an article or two recently that seem to be laying the ground work for our administration to tell us outright that we're pretty much sticking around in Iraq -- or using the "Korea Model" as they have said. It has seemed increasingly clear to me that the administration never really had intentions otherwise, considering we're constructing the world's largest embassy in the heart of Baghdad, and have discussed and/or begun building "three or four major bases in the country". So doesn't this make all the debate about troop withdrawals and timelines sort of moot. It doesn't appear as though we'll ever really pull out entirely, and even if we did allow all of our troops to return safely to their homes, we would still have a presence of tens of thousands of "defense contractors" there, who have been and will continue to act effectively as a mercenary army. And, as far as an Iraqi is concerned, I'm not sure it makes much of a difference if the patch on the arm reads "US ARMY" or "HALLIBURTON".

3. I have a great respect for Al Gore, and I think jokes about his weight are tasteless and facile humor (though Bill Maher managed to make me laugh when he commented on the nonsense about the large electricity bill at Gore's Tennessee estate, saying "It's not his carbon footprint that I'm worried about; it's his carbon ASS print." Well played, Bill), but whenever I see Al Gore appear on tv, I can't shake this overwhelming urge to stare at his very very shiny face. It's just very very shiny and sort of mesmeric. Doesn't make me like the guy any less or think that he isn't doing a lot of good work. In fact, it's kinda cool. Go ahead, Mr. Gore, shine on you crazy diamond.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Empathy Part I: Summer of George

After our leaders had decided to continue funding the our occupation in Iraq with no time line for withdrawal, President Bush held a press conference in the rose garden to discuss our future in Iraq. Much attention was given to a reporter asking if the president had any credibility left on the subject. Whether this was an appropriate question or not, I can't imagine what the reporter expected to get for an answer, since this president and his administration have demonstrated time and again their lack of objectivity or self-criticism with regards to our occupation of Iraq. What stood out for me was the president's comments concerning the increase in violence predicted for this Summer:

"Mr Bush said he expected 'heavy fighting in the weeks and months' ahead. 'What they're going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home,' he said. 'They recognise that the death of innocent people could shake our will . . . So, yes, it could be a bloody - it could be a very difficult August'."

To take a cynical approach, it would appear that President Bush is attempting
to frame the debate that will inevitably resume in September, when General
Patraeus will make his progress report and our legislators will decide how
to proceed with the occupation. By offering this perspective, Bush may
somehow attempt to argue that the surge is not failing because of us but
because of the insurgent violence. But, even if he were to form the argument
in this way, it would be like a coach at halftime telling the losing team
that "we're not scoring as many points as we should because the other team
wants to rattle us and make us rethink our strategy."

Whether this is indeed an attempt by Bush to frame the debate or not, it exposes a lack of objectivity from an increasingly unpopular and defensive president that must realize at some level his administration's many failures in Iraq. This myopic, obdurate mindset is what former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, refers to with the title of his documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. As McNamara argues, the insulating mechanisms of power make the uncanny realities of war incomprehensible even for those in command -- and this is coming from one of the "best and the brightest" -- but after 40 years he offers some sagacious lessons; the first of which is to "Empathize with your enemy": "We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions."

This point is expounded in both the film and in McNamara's 1995 book, In Retrospect: The Tragedies and Lessons of Vietnam, in which McNamara lists the failures of our leadership in during the Vietnam War:
  1. We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.
  2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience … We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.
  3. We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.
  4. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.
Anything sound familiar? I have only listed a few of McNamara's forthright points, but it is plain to see how today's leaders approach to our present military conflict are strikingly similar to what was happening in Washington in the 1960's and early 70's. Our current administration has time and again displayed this lack of empathy and understanding for both Islamic terrorists and the insurgencies in Iraq. There remains a fundamental misunderstanding of how to engage in "The War on Terror" against an amorphous and stateless enemy whose numbers and resolve are only bolstered by our military actions, as political scientists, James Bill and Rebecca Bill Chavez wrote in 2002: "By dropping bombs and firing missiles, the United States only spreads these festering problems. Violence can be likened to a virus; the more you bombard it, the more it spreads." And specifically in regards to Iraq insurgencies, our empathy is equally lacking, as conservative columnist David Brooks recently wrote after discussing Iraq with John Robb, author of Brave New War:
"It's pointless to decapitate the head of the insurgency or disrupt its command structure, because the insurgency doesn't have these things. Instead, it is a swarm of disparate companies that share information, learn from each other's experiments and respond quickly to environmental signals."
For we Americans to view the struggle in Iraq as insurgents vs. the U.S., or even as Sunni vs. Shiite, is a blatant misreading of the reality on the ground where "there are between 70 and 100 groups that make up the Iraq insurgency". Furthermore, for our president to claim that insurgents are ratcheting up the violence in Iraq this Summer to influence the debate at home -- as if they're all gathered around watching C-SPAN together -- is not only solipsistic, but deleterious to our national debate surrounding our complex and difficult decision on how to proceed. Empathy is not sympathy -- it's not feeling their anger but understanding the motivations behind it -- and when faced with a violent and open-ended conflict, with no definition of victory, it may be a good idea to deploy some.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Little Nonsense Now and Then is Relished by the Wisest Men

Much of what we have written thus far on The Dissentators concerns our troubling public discourse -- one mangled and rotted from the inside, bereft of reason and, perhaps most troubling, our inability to summon synthesis from the warring factions. Many factors, of course, feed these pernicious roots -- the partisian politics of Washington, the Manaechian world view of our administration, the talking heads of 24 hour news networks -- and we who write for free on the internet are not without blame. There is a theme to much of the hot air hanging over our debates, and that was pointed out in a recent article on the Huffington Post that examines what its author calls, SPIRD or Smartest Person in the Room Disorder:

"SPIRD symptoms include, but are not limited to: thinking you should know all the answers, thinking you have all the answers, bulging forehead blood vessels, shouting down the opposition and an impulsive need to demonize or ruin your adversary."

I will be the first to admit that I have suffered lapses of this not so rare condition. Sometimes, I get riled up (Johnny Mac knows all about this) and don't have all the fact on hand, so, flailing desperately to prove my point (which I truly do believe in and want to convince someone else of) I may make a broad generalization or snobily delve into the swirling eddy that is my memory of our college core curriculum. This does not mean that if you allude to Hume's position on utilitarianism or some other big name, that you are just posturing. Many people really do remember that stuff. I just want to get this out of the way so as to avoid any overarching hypocrisy to this post.

As I have been out of America for a few months now, I am able to dodge much of the SPIRD bombardment that I would get back home. I don't have television, or more precisely I do, but it's three fuzzy channels, one of which plays Cricket nonstop (speaking of bullshit). So, the easiest things to watch over the internet are old Charlie Rose shows and Real Time with Bill Maher, once someone has kindly uploaded it onto YouTube over the weekend. What I've noticed is that not only have we really begun to rely on celebrities for their opinions on serious issues (i.e. Tom Cruise's expertise with the History of Psychology, which HE'S READ!) but that most of the talking heads are more personality than substance. What I'm getting at is the lack of rhetorical whimsy from learned men of letters who once populated American televisions.

What happened to them? They're either gone or close too it, and those Baby Boomers didn't supply us with much in the way of replacements.

George Plimpton: Founder of the Paris Review, who wrote with equally loving prose about Dick Butkiss and Muhamid Ali as well as world figures. Now, he's gone. So it goes.

Gone too are the days when pre-election coverage had relatively high minded debate, between such figures as Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, as they had in 1968. Hell, even such scornful figures like Joseph McCarthy quoted poetry throughout his witch hunt; take that for what you will, but at least it reveals an interest and respect for finely crafted language. I don't mean to say that all of it was great back then(certainly 1968 is a year more famous for its tragedies and turmoil than for its rhetoric), as Kurt Vonnegut said, "There weren't good old days. There were just days." But at least these eruidite public figures, as full of snobbery and pomp as anyone, had a shot at being the smartest person in the room.

This is not to say that there aren't a few public intellectuals out there, but their presense is so mired in controversy or silenced by the dismissing and loud mouthed men and women who share the screen that their status is dimished and their rhetoric dimsissed as snobbery -- intellectuals such as the much maligned Christopher Hitchens or Tony Kushner. And from our political figures we find no source of linguistic redemption. Even someone like John Kerry, who in 1971 gave a unabashedly eloquent speech in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had over the course of 33 years lost even a hint of his prior flair for oratory. And I don't need to get into examples when it comes to presidential oration.

I cannot say for sure whether anything would be different today if the airwaves were once again populated with public intellectuals, but at the very least we wouldn't have to suffer the societal symptoms that spread from contemporary SPIRD. I do believe that there was an era when eriudition and intellectualism were sought after ideals -- when Charles Van Doren graced the cover of Time Magazine and we rooted for a team of scientists and brave pilots to race to the moon. We could have it again, and I hope that our politics have not breeched the event horizon of cynicism, so that our hopes for a truly collective effort (possibly our global environmentalist cause), founded on reason and pushed forward by rhetoric, may be made manifest.

Maybe I should just let them speak for themselves. Here is a clip from Buckley's old show, Firing Line, when he debates a young Noam Chomsky.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Something That Made Me Laugh

Also, I had to put something up so I didn't have that off-putting photo of Meatloaf cum moster makeup staring at me. Gave me the creeps. Without further ado, here's something from the Daily Show. Love Modvi. Love 'im.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

It Depends on What the Definition of "That" Is

Just to keep it light on a Saturday...

Now, some of you may be thinking, "This guy is really gonna dedicate a post to a cheesy song from 15 years ago? Is it 1993?". And I say to you that blogs weren't around back then, I was like 11 years old, so I don't see this as being an outdated topic, but one way overdue.

For those of you who weren't "with it" back when Meatloaf recessitated his career, reunited with his song writer and prophet of goth nerds everywhere, Jim Steinman, and started winning grammies for what was the #1 song in America, "I'd Do Anything for Love." I was there, man, and my 11 year old self ate up every note of the operatic melodrama that is Meatloaf. Now let's get to the "meat" of this post, which are the lyrics to this epic song that beg the question: What won't this guy do for love?

The basic narrative of this song, like many Meatloaf classics (including BostonD's favorite, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light") is as follows -- lovelorn loser tries to convince a girl to "go all the way" tonight and in order to accomplish his aims must engage in a melodramatic dialogue with said girl, and a litany of mixed metaphores and other assortments of cheese ensues. Just as Bruce Springsteen was able to summon transcendent themes from cars and manual labor, Meat and Steinman return again and again to those days of hormones and unrequited love, channeling adolescent desires through soaring sentimentality and ultimately through Meat's powerful vocals.

Rather than disect the logic of the lyrics, I invite you to check them out on your own, download the song or dust off the cassette tape and have a listen. Here are a few gems and there's a pound of cheese in each bite:

Some days it don't come easy, and some days it don't come hard
Some days it don't come at all, and these are the days that never end
Some nights you're breathing fire, and some nights you're carved in iceSome nights you're like nothing I've ever seen before or will again


[Girl:] Will you make me some magic, with your own two hands?Can you build an emerald city with these grains of sand?Can you give me something I can take home?

[Boy:] I can do that! Oh oh now, I can do that!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Why Only Half of Our Country Votes

In the Bush-Kerry election of 2004, which was supposed to be one of the most heated and divisive elections in recent history, only 55% of eligible voters cared enough to go to the polls, and this was up from 51% in 2000, where W's election arguable made some kind of a big difference on the country and the world.

I would argue that this points to an extremely urgent problem with our country, despite its receiving very little attention from any of us. In a country where our leaders stress teh importance of democracy and a government that is accountable to its people, it should be unacceptable to us that only half of eligible voters chose to participate in this process.

What does it mean that only half of our country cares enough to participate in chosing our government's leader? Well, first off, it is debatable how much of this is a "choice," since some eligible voters may be deterred from voting for socioeconomic reasons, but that is a more complicated issue that I will steer clear of in order to focus on those eligible voters who could easily vote and choose not to.

Those that chose not to vote presumably don't care who wins. Now, we can't say for sure that they don't care who is in charge of our government, but rather that they don't care who is in charge if their only options are the Democratic and Republican nominees (ie the choice between W versus Kerry or Gore).

This indifference between Dem & Repub nominees suggests that people don't see the candidates that our two parties produce each year as all that different. This seems accurate. In hindsight, it looks like a President Gore would have done things much differently than W, but during the 2000 campaign both campaigned as moderates, the Saturday Night Live skit where both candidates answered "agree" to everything the other said during the debates comes to mind. Bush-Kerry was essentailly the same - after giving some attention to Dean, the Democratic party scrapped him for Kerry-Edwards, who both campaigned (during the primaries) as in favor of the Iraq war.

Why did the Democrats choose John Kerry? Well experience was important, but grey-haired politicians are a dime a dozen, so what else was decisive? I would say that Kerry got the nomination because he was dubbed, by his campaign and by the American media as the most "electable" of the Democratic candidates.

Say it with me: e-lect-a-ble. I heard the word "electable" being tossed around at the start of the primary "season" in 2003, while I was an undergrad. Dean was the frontrunner at the time, and I remember asking one of my political science professors what he thought about the buzz about Kerry being more electable than Dean. He said: "electable is as electable does," which, apart from making us think of Forrest Gump, means that you can't judge someone's electability until after the election, and any branding of someone as "electable" before the election is a speculative statement, but nonetheless a good campaign strategy if the branding is convincing to the voters.

Now the big question is this: since Kerry didn't turn out to be so "electable" in the general election, how did the Kerry campaign and the national media convince everyone what he was?

My answer is that there are two kinds of "electable" when we are speaking of candidates. In our national discourse (candidates and the media), "electable" means someone who appeals to the other party. A moderate in the sense of a Democrat that appeals to Republicans, or a Republican who appeals to Democrats. Dean was too Democratic and not Republican enough to get elected, the Democrats decided, but Kerry was just republican enough that enough voters would vote to get him elected. The result, of course, is that two candidates emerge who are not so different from one another (again I am talking about what we know about them pre-election), as we have seen in 2000 and 2004, IE two candidates who embrace a mix of Dem & Repub policies, to appeal to the 50% of the country who votes for either a Dem or a Repub in each election.

This seems like a sensible strategy but I would argue that it is extremely unproductive for our country, because it completely ignores the other 50% of the country who doesn't see any difference in the candidates and thus doesn't care enough to vote. We have defined "electable" as "electable by the 50% of the country that votes," and we have completely disregarded the other 50% who may not be so interested in a candidate who embraces a mix of Dem & Repub policies.

Now, should we care about the fact that 50% of Americans are indifferent? Well, maybe. If we believe that half the country is indifferent because the like everything about the Dem & Repub nominees, so either way they are happy (ie: Bush and Gore or Bush and Kerry are both so great, how can you choose), then we shouldn't have a big problem with this. However, if half of the country has decided that they don't like either candidate, then we have a big problem. I would argue that the state of our politics reflects the latter: half of the country is so disappointed with the Dem & Repub nominees that they choose not to vote for either: because they don't believe that either candidate adequately represents their interests and cares about the issues that they care about.

So if this is accurate, and I do not see why it shouldn't be, 50% of Americans feel that the nominees put fourth each election cycle don't represent or care about the things that they care about, so they don't vote. This in itself should be disturbing. However, I would argue that the problem is actually much worse than it looks, because I would bet that many people in the 50% of eligible voters that DO vote think of it as choosing "the lesser of two evils," so many voters are actually voting for candidates that they don't even like so much themselves.

The result? The two parties put fourth candidates that most of the country is not crazy about, and one of these candidates gets to be in charge of our government. This seems like a big problem to me.

So how do we solve the problem? My opinion is as follows.

The first step is redefining how we think of "electable," in fact we urgently need to do this. Again, we can see the 2008 race starting to look like 2004: right now, Obama is just like Dean and Edwards in 2004 - young, fresh, inspirational, and doesn't stick to the same-old, unambitious, "play it safe" political rhetoric. Now the paradox is that so many people like this guy and so few are excited about the other candidates, yet everyone is questioning whether the guy is "electable," and OF COURSE, what they mean by "electable," is: WILL REPUBLICANS VOTE FOR HIM? The same exact thing is going on with Hillary. Now this is totally bogus, because only about 25% of eligible voters are Republicans - why should the Democrats decide their nominee for President based so heavily on what 25% of the country thinks? Nevermind why this is even an issue because I don't want to digress, my point is that we should not just be asking whether Republicans will vote for Obama or Hillary, but we should be asking whether the 50% of the country who continually chooses not to vote for anyone, we should be asking whether they would come to the polls for someone like Obama or Hillary.

Now I am not advocating Obama or Hillary (although I would vote for either if they were the nominee), all I am saying is that we need to redifine our concept of "electable," since our present concept is inaccurate, and it is this inaccurate idea that is being used to discredit not just Obama and Hillary, but perhaps a great majority of politicians in general (a great majority if you see them as potentially appealing to 75% of the vote).

So if we want to get more eligible voters to the polls, and in turn, if we want to send candidates to the general election and in turn elect presidents that truly represent the issues that majority of our democracy cares about, let's rethink our currently narrow concept of who is "electable" and broaden it to someone that is in touch with the interests of as much of our country as possible.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Commence and Commence Again

Just to piggy back BostonD's post, I will use this one to promote what was, for me (and I know VAD may not agree), one of the more inspiring speeches I have come across. What BostonD said is true, I'm a sucker for a good commencement ceremony, and what's makes the following speech even better is that it was given at our graduation.

Just to lay the scene a little bit. After a week of beatiful New York in Spring weather, during which we spent in a constant state of celebration with family and friends, we staggered down in a lackluster procession to sit for two hours in the sun, drenched in our own sweat. We hadn't discussed the day or the chosen speaker much -- perhaps a minor grumble about how we had lost out on Jon Stewart to Princeton and we would be subjected to some friggen playwrite instead.

So we sat, and I sweated profusly, looking forward more to a nap than this Tony Kushner guy. But, after some Dean introduced his impressive achievments (Pulitzer Prize, Tony awards, etc.) I figured I'd lend him an ear or two. His delivery was fast and I couldn't shake the similarities between his voice and that of John Tuturro's in Quiz Show -- a sort of nasaly, at times grating manner of speech. Nothing -- not the heat, the tanline of my mortarboard, or my hangover -- could detract from what was to follow, a speech that has lifted my spirits with countless rereadings and endeared me to its author, who I believe is one of the greatest American authors of the past 50 years:

..."I’m not entirely sure what goes on at Class Day. I missed mine, I was on a picket line, so I’m sort of guessing as to what it is you want me to do this morning, apart from saying mazel tov, mazel tov, to all of you, and I do say it, mazel tov, mazel tov, it’s very exciting, a whole new bunch of Columbia College grads ready for the world, for the public conversation, for the work of repairing the world and repairing the public conversation, ready and able and, dare I say, eager to elevate the terms of the vast public debate in which you, American citizens, have a place prepared if you will claim it, you with your heads and hearts as full of fierce and fiery ideas fresh as they are ever likely to be, you who are not, by virtue of the superlative education you have received and its concomitant openness, engaged skepticism and reckless curiosity, you who are not the sort of grim careerists and ideologues and boodle-minded misadventurers who have seized the public debate and garbled it and reduced it to babble and run with it straight to the ninth circle of hell, dragging behind them the glory of our republic — you will rescue us from these dreadful, dreadful people, and we who are old are deeply grateful, and deeply proud, and, well, scared shitless, so mazel tov and get busy, your work awaits you, the world awaits you, the world is impatient for you, it made you for this purpose — and I don’t want to usurp the role your parents had in you, in getting you to this day, they too made you, the world made them so they could make you, and make the sacrifices they’ve made to get you to this point — my cherished B.A. in English literature from Columbia College, the entirety of the four most valuable and profitable years of my intellectual life, cost my parents less than one year of your time here, and I’m still paying student loans! — mazel tov to your parents, too, and by the way, if you haven’t gotten a graduation present yet, I have a musical running on Broadway and the number is 1-800-telecharge.

I really was more excited than honored to speak to you today, thrilled to get to meet you, you redeemers and rescuers, because this spring, unlike, let’s say, the past spring, or the spring before that, or the spring before that, this May I sense hope in the air, and urgency, and as has so often been the recent case, terrible danger, and so the urgent need of the world is about to snatch you, ready or not, from this most beautiful brick and stony womb and begin its demanding: HELP! HELP! HELP! The world is melting, the world is darkening, there is injustice everywhere, there is artificial scarcity everywhere, there is desperate human need, poverty and untreated illness and exploitation everywhere, there is ignorance everywhere, not native to the species but cruelly enforced, there is joylessness and hatred of the body and slavery masked as freedom and community disintegrating, everywhere, racism, everywhere, sexism, everywhere, homophobia, everywhere (though a little better for the moment in Massachusetts!), everywhere the world is in need of repair. Fix it, solve these things, you need only the tools you have learned here, even if you didn’t pay as much attention as you should, even if you’re a mess and broke and facing a future of economic terror — who isn’t, who doesn’t? HELP! HELP! HELP! The world is calling, heal the world and in the process heal yourself, find the human in yourself by finding the citizen, the activist, the hero. Down with the boodle-minded misadventurers, after them, you know where they are, I figured this speech should be nonpartisan in case there are any, you know, Republicans in the audience but even if you are Republican, after them, down with the boodle-minded misadventurers, up with the Republic. Duty calls, the world calls, get active! No summer vacation, no rest for you, we have been waiting too long for you, we need your contribution too desperately, and if they tell you your contribution is meaningless, if they tell you the fix is in and there’s no contribution to be made, if they tell you to contribute by shopping your credit card into exhaustion, if they tell you to surrender the brilliant, dazzling confusion your education should have engendered in you, to exchange that quicksilver polyphony for dull monotone certainties, productive only of aggression borne of boredom and violence borne of fear borne of stupidity, they’re lying, don’t trust them, get rid of them, you know who they are and where they are to be found and they’ll all be happier back on the ranch in Crawfordsville.

Eight minutes doesn’t intimidate me, I just ignore it. I’m almost done.

This is the Columbia dialectic, the New York City dialectic, all this spectacular symmetry, all this Euclidean geometry, all this rational griddage is a lattice entwined with floribund, uncontrolled and uncontrollable vines, shoots, roots, fruits, leaves, bees, busily cross-pollinating. This box, this machine, this is a crystal incubatory whence comes the fluid, the protean, the revolutionary, the non-mechanical, the non-commodified, the non-fetishized, the human. The air this morning is electric. You have fed, you have sated, you’re ready; and every step you take from this point on counts. This is your Code Orange: Life and its terrors, terrible and splendid, awaits. I know I speak for Jon, Warren and Justice Ruth — seek the truth; when you find it, speak the truth; interrogate mercilessly the truth you’ve found; and act, act, act. The world is hungry for you, the world has waited for you, the world has a place for you. Take it. Mazel tov. Change the world."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pomp? Or Circumstance?

As it's that time of year, I've been thinking and having some conversations about university commencement speeches. Now I know this is normally CapeTown's department (the man loves commencement speeches), but I watched these two videos the other day and I thought I should throw them up here, if for nothing else than for the entertainment value of listening to two fascinating people and excellent speakers talk about life to a bunch of graduating students, but also to present two, at least partly, distinct approaches on advice to young people about how to live, and see if anyone had any reactions about what people especially liked about either of these speeches. I personally found both of them deeply moving and inspirational, and also interesting for the different things they focus on.

Oh and also if you are graduating soon and if one of these guys is speaking at your school (wishful thinking about readership on my part but you can't be too careful (that would be careless)), then you might want to hold off on watching these as they could give it away (give it away now).

Steve Jobs:

Bill Clinton (part 1/1):

Bill Clinton (part 2/2):

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mission Accomplished: Now Let's Write Us Some History

Throughout a standard education in U.S. History, one is undoubtably to hear the phrase -- or cliche -- "History is written by the winners." I don't know who coined it, but I remember, when I first heard it in those halcyon days of High School, it was easy enough to absorb its obvious truths and then, like most people, quickly dismiss it. When you're a student and just trying to get through those traumatic years of adolescence, there is no real reason to question further -- If History is written by "the winners" then what part of the picture is missing? Also, we won, right?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have only recently discovered the scholarship of Noam Chomsky. I was 15 when Good Will Hunting came out and it was the first time I ever heard a reference to Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, and in the same scene, Will makes reference to Howard Zinn's People's History of The United States. Both books and, indeed, both authors are usually stigmatized as "radicals" and shoved neatly to the side of more conventional approaches to U.S. History. Both these professors hold mirrors up to American life and history and by marginalizing their voices, we have lost something invaluable: a sense of who we are and the country in which we live.

I admit, that if only for literary purposes, I much prefer reading the standard version of American history. I marvel at our relatively young nation's ability to have so quickly embraced an almost mythical creation narrative -- great men, in defiance of the tyrannical ruler from a distant land, established what is in my opinion one of the great works of art in history. For many, including myself, this myth is enough to embolden endless patriotism, but our understanding of our "Founding Fathers" and this period of our history must delve further if we are to truly grasp the nature of their intentions and the limitations of our country.

We hold the Bill of Rights today as an almost sacred document, yet there remain glaring anachronisms within its text (the whole thing about quartering a British soldier). We often overlook the plight of the Native Americans involved in America's "Manifest Destiny" expansion. The truth is that the founding fathers were not perfect men -- they understood all too well their own limitations -- and it took decades of atrocities and the Civil War for us to finally get rid of one of America's most relied upon institutions, slavery. There are endless examples of haineous and absure acts committed by past leaders, not the least of which is the duel pictured above between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

I don't need to go through all the nonsense etched on the underbelly of U.S. History, for that you can read Zinn. The process that those of us interested in America -- and who claim devout patriotism -- must undertake is akin to those moments of our youth which sparked our adolescent angst -- when you first see your father cry or the epiphanies that lead you to the fact that your parents are not the embodiment of perfection. Just as it became clear that your parents were human, so it must be revealed that your homeland is deeply flawed. While at first this may be tough to accept (hence those years of adolescence), it is a necessary step towards self-realization and maturity. As we come to discover, those prelapsarian versions of your parents weren't true and that the love you have for them after the fall is that much deeper because of it. Realizing your parents are imperfect brings them down to you, painfully exposing what is also flawed in you, but the end result is an understanding that leads to empowerment.

It is the same with our relationship to American history and to our current government. When we place our officials on untouchable pedastols, we strip them of their human qualities and, by doing so, we blind ourselves to the plain reality of their faults. (Side note: It is almost paradoxical Americans liked Bush cause he was just a regular guy, and many of those who elected him for this reason refuse to accept the limitations and faults that their "regular guy" president has.) Accepting the defects of our govenment and the human frailties of our leaders is not unpatriotic; in fact, it can deepen ones patriotism, for if our leaders are flawed like we are then what is stopping us from becoming leaders ourselves. We each hold a stake in this country and it's future narrative, but before we work together towards a "more perfect union", we must first embrace its past and present imperfections. Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government..." at face value a cynical take, but then he added, "...except for all those others that have been tried." So we must first admit that we were dealt a less than great hand, but it's the best out there and it remains encumbant upon us to improve upon it.

Voices of dissent or criticism are not "radical"; they are necessary. If Chomsky and Zinn are "radical" it is only because they wish to provide us with an alternative (and extremely necessary) lens through which to view ourselves -- as lens usually omitted from standard education. The real truism is that when our History is syphoned through the winners' pens, we all lose something.