Charlie Don't Surf

Friday, January 28, 2005

British rock report

from August '04, after we returned from Kilimanjaro:

Based my informal research methods (a cursory inspection of the "Mercury Award" CD shelf at the HMV store in Heathrow on the way back from Tanzania, plus a thorough read-through of two British music magazines, NME and Word), these are the bands that the Brits are currently obsessed with:

top tier:
* Franz Ferdinand (pretty much unavoidable... )
* Keane (called "the rightful successors to Coldplay" -- damn, we buried Coldplay already?)
* The Streets

2nd tier:
* The Killers (a Brit-friendly band from Las Vegas)
* Hope of the States
* The Libertines (they were on my screen from last year’s Pazz & Jop)
* Kings of Leon (mentioned endlessly)
* Muse (never heard of 'em but apparently I should have)

3rd tier:
* Snow Patrol (beloved by critics)
* Kasabian (north English louts, one of whom played with the Stone Roses)
* Scissor Sisters
* The Dears (from Montreal.. critics invoked the Smiths)
* The Polyphonic Spree
* The Bees
* Sons & Daughters (one writer called them "next year’s Franz Ferdinand!!," which made me laugh out loud)
* Sondra Lerche (just releasing his debut – praisedf or his songwriting and was intriguingly called "the Norwegian Roddy Frame")
* The Paddingtons

of course the mags were also deeply fixated on acts like the Strokes, Morrissey, the White Stripes and the Pixies reunion, but we knew them already.

'Hey I know -- let's force Social Security Administration employees to tell our lies for us!'

from Jan. 16 '05.... The White House applies its endlessly innovative PR toolkit to the Social Security In Crisis! effort.

"Hi there -- do you need a hand getting that lumber out to your car? No? Could I maybe just walk with you for a little bit? I'm an employee of the Social Security Administration, and I'd like to talk to you about how the program is teetering dangerously on the brink of total insolvency. Here's a drawing I did of a small child whose dad lost his benefits in the year 2043. You can have it. Hey wait. Slow down. Please don't run."

The [Social Security Administration's] strategic communications plan says the following message is to be disseminated to "all audiences" through speeches, seminars, public events, radio, television and newspapers: "Social Security's long-term financing problems are serious and need to be addressed soon," or else the program may not "be there for future generations."

The plan says that Social Security managers should "discuss solvency issues at staff meetings," "insert solvency messages in all Social Security publications" and spread the word at nontraditional sites like farmers' markets and "big box retail stores."

Monday, January 17, 2005

Politics as usual?

[From February 2004: A response to an email from my Democracy-minded friend Bill Shein. We were debating how rough-and-tough a Democrat's campaign should be. Looking back now, I don't think any Democrat henceforth will worry much about getting down in the dirt, given the utterly repulsive campaign against Kerry they launched a few weeks after I wrote this -- including the loathsome Swift Boat ads that falsely suggested Kerry had made up the incident reports for his medals.]

Well -- I don't know that I'm arguing for "politics as
usual" as in perpetuating more of the bitter
partisanship that exists in Congress or abhorrent ads
that use race or cynically manipulate people with
wedge issues and personal attacks. I'm all for raising
the level of debate. But nor do I think Democrats
should try to look beyond their opponents when GOP
operators score points with aggressive, ugly
campaigning, while we sort of look gauzily into a
better future and then get our asses kicked and trudge
back out into the wilderness feeling noble about ourselves.

I'm talking about the sort of rapid-response
operation that Clinton's campaign ran in '92 (see "The
War Room") that was smart and fast about anticipating
what the other side would do and didn't let it sit out
there for the echo chamber to amplify, un-addressed,
for days. You don't have to get into the dirt, you
just have to aggressively engage your opponent when he
slanders you or tries to define the terms of debate.
You answer a charge quickly. And yes, you run a tough
campaign and occasionally try to get your opponent on
the defensive. I think the difference between you and
me is that you believe candidates usually lose their
soul somehow in that process, and I don't -- or at
least, I believe you don't have to. There is a
principled way to run a presidential campaign that
doesn't allow your opponent to run the table.

I don't think I've scoffed at Democratic reforms, at
least I didn't mean to... I guess I would say somebody
who has to deal day to day with the realities of
Republican congressional majorities might have the
best idea of what we'll actually be able to do over
the next 5-10 years in this country, and I can't look
farther than that. I'm not a visionary. I think people
have to try to use the driving fuel of their ideals
and principles without falling into Ralph Nader's
"Let's lose the next five elections building our Third
Way so that by 2030, things are finally better in this
country." That's pretty much unilateral disarmament.

I served my country, Tim Russert!

[wrote this to some friends on Feb. 7, 2004, the night before President Bush had his "Meet the Press" interview, in which one could anticipate the answer to a certain question being robotically repeated over and that way he has. And the next day, it was -- though perhaps not as absurdly as I envisioned]

As we await the big Russert interview tomorrow, one
wonders: Will he ask the Big Question, the AWOL
question? Here's a prediction about how that one would
probably go:

TIM RUSSERT: So, Mr. President, last weekend Terry
McAuliffe, the DNC chairman, essentially accused you
of failing to serve your required time in the Air
National Guard. What about that year when you were in
Alabama? Can you clear this up for the record, once
and for all?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Tim, I served my country during the
Vietnam War. I flew in the National Guard. I was a
younger man then, and a little wild, but I did serve
my country, and I'm proud of that.

RUSSERT: Yes, Mr. President. The specific question is
whether you served the time you were required to serve
during the year you were sent to Alabama. You had been
assigned to a Senate campaign there. The allegation,
as you may know, is that you didn't show up. What
about that last year, sir.

BUSH: Tim, I'm proud of my service. I served my country.

RUSSERT: Yes sir. But about Alabama, that year in particular.

BUSH: Texas may not be as dangerous as Vietnam, but
somebody had to defend it. [Laughter]

RUSSERT: Yes sir. But..

BUSH: Is there another question?

RUSSERT: Your service during that year in Alabama?

BUSH: Tim, as I've said, I served my country. I
performed my service. I'm proud that I served. It's a
great thing, the military.

RUSSERT: Yes Mr. President. But what is the answer,
about Alabama. Is it your answer that you in fact
showed up for all your required service? One person
has gone as far as to call you a "deserter."

BUSH: Tim, I was proud to serve my country in the
Guard. The National Guard is a great institution, and
there's nothing wrong with that.

RUSSERT: Respectfully, sir, that was not...

BUSH: We're beating a dead horse, here, Tim.

RUSSERT: Alabama, sir? Just on this question,
explicitly, what is the answer?

BUSH: Tim, I served my country and was proud to do so.

RUSSERT: But did you finish your service as required?

BUSH: [Looking down at paper] I served my country in the National Guard.

RUSSERT: But what about Alabama.

BUSH: Tim, I served my country, and I'm proud of that.

RUSSERT: Give me that piece of paper you keep reading from. Give it to me.

BUSH: No. No, it's mine.

RUSSERT: Give it to me. Stop reading that phrase out over and over.

BUSH: I'm the president. I can read whatever.

RUSSERT: [Trying to take talking point] Give me that.
I'm going to take that paper.

BUSH: No. No. It's mine!

[Secret Service agents fall upon Russert in a pile]

BUSH: I served my country!

On Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant'

[from a January 2004 letter to Johnny S.]

I was surprised that Van Sant had a scene with them kissing, since he's gay and it seems like a cliche that weird, alienated boys who become killers must be gay too. Maybe for him it was more a measure of their loneliness and detachment -- the only people they could take a shower with were each other, but humans still crave intimacy, so...

I thought the three girls vomiting together in the bathroom was a bit of a cheap shot. Yeah, the shallow pretty girls are all bulimics. Just seems like a stereotype.

There was some style in all the tracking shots, the camera just following people around and alighting upon the same moments over and over again. Some decisions he made just seem inscrutable -- "Benny" gets a name card like the others but absolutely no other screen time, so we can see that he stalked them for a minute bravely before getting killed. The girl in the library -- wear your shorts tomorrow. Was it all one day or was he conflating several days? Did they skip school that day so they could receive the package and gear up etc., but wasn't he in school getting pelted in a classroom and then sketching out his "plan" in the cafeteria? Isn't he shown on the gun website at one point -- and then the M-16 arrives by UPS a few sequences later? (I find it hard to believe you can order an M-16 through the mail with no background check, but whatever. The Columbine killers got their weapons at a gun show, not the Internet. Same point I guess.)

I guess my feeling is that Van Sant is experimenting with narrative (the absence of narrative?) and the banality-of-evil theme of course, but also creating this delicate mood where we have the POV of a silent observer eavesdropping on these ordinary lives and this content-free dialogue, so that when the shootings come at the end they seem much more insane and horrifying than if they were part of a conventional story.

Because, otherwise, if the alienation of those two boys and the nightmarish ease with which they slaughter people is the bulk of what we're supposed to take away from the movie, then all the time he spends on the rest of the characters -- carefully delineated with name cards for no reason -- seems sort of wasted.

Saddam was thinking about perhaps launching a program to contemplate the possibility of someday building a deadly weapon of mass destruction! Maybe!

satire from October 2003:

From "Imminent threat" to "program to develop" to "ambitions to threaten"...

the way they constantly "defined down" the threat posed by Saddam Hussein -- after the fact of invading Iraq -- was comical.

"And let there be no mistake, right up to the end, Saddam Hussein continued to harbor ambitions to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction and to hide his illegal weapons activity,'' Rice told the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

writer's embellishment:

"...and lest there be any doubt, let me be very clear: Saddam Hussein often thought very seriously about beginning to form a plan to inquire into the possibility of developing the inclination to build a program that potentially could have a dual use as a weapon of mass destruction, or also a toaster, and thank God we have made the world safe from this monster," Rice said, pausing to take a breath.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

They put a purple ribbon on me. Posted by Hello