January 06, 2008

I accidentally listened to the radio the other day. In the middle of the day, our local hard rock station airs a talk show (why? I have no idea), and one of my co-workers was listening to it. I think the show is called something along the lines of "The Church of Laslo", and I'm guessing it's a tongue-in-cheek political commentary deal, with the occasional hard rock tune thrown in just to keep it's FM street cred.

The day in question was the day or two after the Iowa caucus, wherein candidate Obama scored slightly higher among the democrat contenders than candidates Edwards and Clinton. (Why are the news outlets reporting this as a decisive victory for Obama? I recall reading in an AP article that he netted 15 electoral delegates, while Hilary Clinton netted 14 delegates, and John Edwards, 13. This is hardly a winner-take-all situation.)

So, this Laslo fellow was playing clips from Barack Obama's "victory" speech and positively gushing about it, and taking phone calls from listeners who were also gushing about it.

Barack Obama is very well spoken, and he clearly has poise, charm, and charisma. But, then again, so does former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who captured the most Republican delegates at the Iowa caucuses. Huckabee is an interesting case. The first time I encountered him, he was a guest on The Daily Show (during a two-week period where I was catching the show on iTunes), and I was very impressed with his poise and common sensical style. I liked him instantly. Even at the time, it was clear he was planning to run for office in 2008.

But for me, charm and poise are not enough. I liked Huckabee until I noticed that he was spouting nonsense about science -- essentially claiming that scientists are idiots who believe that humming birds can't fly, even though they obviously do, so why should anyone take them seriously about evolution? Such blatant, obnoxious, willful ignorance being worn as a badge of honor automatically discredits him as a viable candidate for higher office. In our increasingly science and technology-based society, willful ignorance of reality and scorn for evidence-based thinking is a dangerous character flaw.

So if it's not just how you say it, but also what you say that matters, then what are we to make of this Barack Obama speech that radio guy Laslo was so effusive about? Candidate Obama talked about how "they" said "we" couldn't do it, but "you" (the people of Iowa) made it happen, that "you" showed the triumph of unity and coming together over the divisiveness of the past, blah, blah, blah. That Iowans have sent a very clear message "for change".

Now, the cynic in me says: wait a minute. Candidate Obama, dude, you only got 37.6% of the democrat vote in Iowa. Let me repeat that: 37.6% of the vote of one party. His two strongest rivals, Clinton and Edwards, each took in just under thirty percent of the democrat vote. This is unity? This is coming together? This is a mandate for change?

Read the text of Obama's speech here. Go ahead; it's a quick read. It was, after all, written for the masses.

Now, imagine that Hillary Clinton read this speech. Now imagine Edwards delivering this speech. Now Huckabee. McCain. Heck, even Mitt Romney recently (like, yesterday) called himself the "candidate of conservative change." (Doesn't our current President call himself a conservative?) So go ahead, imagine Mitt Romney giving this speech.

Is there a single item in this speech that is specific to Obama? Does he, in fact, say anything at all that wouldn't be, couldn't be, or hasn't already been said by any other candidate for this office in 2008? And, truly, does any of it make sense?

[Note: yes, there is a brief mention of having improved health care in Illinois, and I'm not sure why or how he can make such a claim, but substitute the name of the state with the home state of your candidate of choice. Likewise, he thanks his wife, the "rock" of his family. I suppose Clinton might not necessarily specifically call out her husband. But, that's just a quibble. And yes, there is a specific reference to the Iraq war that would be said by any Democrat, but that Republican candidates would likely leave out.]

You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington.
--Barack Obama

Really? How? By giving a slim lead in the vote to someone who has been using negative ad campaigns against his biggest rival?

While I mentioned being cynical about Obama's victory, I'm not being cynical at all about his speech. I have no complaints about his speech. It is as fine a speech-that-doesn't-say-anything as I've read or heard by any number of Presidential candidates. American history textbooks are packed with examples of this kind of rhetoric, of assuming victory when there isn't even a plurality; of lauding motherhood and apple pie even though "they" don't like motherhood and apple pie.

Rather, what concerns me is when people gobble up reheated french fries (or, if you're a neo-con, "freedom fries") and rave about it as if it were el Gaucho filet mignon. Pardon me for saying so, but where's the beef?

When all candidates claim to stand for "change", how are they not interchangeable?

Posted by at 07:59 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 January 07, 2008
A passing thought on writing for television

As regular readers of my little missives here are aware (both of you), I occasionally suffer from bouts of insomnia. There are other occasions, however, when I enjoy them, instead.

The insomnia that's been plaguing me since the beginning of the year has been more severe than usual, and I've given up trying to fight it. As is typical, I find it difficult to do productive work during these bouts, so in the wee hours of the morning I'm now catching up on my backlog of DVDs. These include the first couple of seasons of the new "Battlestar Galactica" television series.

The new incarnation of this series is clearly an effort of my generation to reinterpret the television sci-fi of our parents' generation. And allow me to say that when it comes to sci-fi dramas (like BSG, or Firefly, or Babylon 5, or Heroes) or, for that matter, even mainstream dramas or crime shows (such as Law & Order, or anything by David Kelley or Joss Whedon, and a few seasons of ER), my generation is *so* good when it comes to writing. The dialog, the pacing, the story, the character arcs -- the best of the current and recent crop of shows more than holds its own against the best of the past. The original Star Trek? The Fugitive? The Prisoner? Amateurs. The original Battlestar Galactica was hokey. The new version is a masterpiece.

(At least, so far. The finale of the first season is still fresh on my mind, and it was amazing. I'm almost halfway through season two, and the standards keep improving. Wow.)

Even shoot-em-up serials like "24" have a punch that at the very least matches the best of its predecessors. The tagline for "24" should be: "We've upped our stakes. Up yours."

And yet, as much as my generation has learned about telling a good tale and setting up a good crime scene, we apparently don't know shit about sit-coms. "Frasier" was the last sit-com to have any kind of even half-way decent writing and innovation, but when you get right down to it, the Bill Cosby Show and Cheers (both of which were modeled after previous sit-coms and neither of which were particularly innovative) were the last of the "great" traditional sit-coms.

Why is that? Why can't my generation write a compelling situation comedy? Or, perhaps, why can't my generation produce/finance one that's well written?

My thought for the day: if one wants to make a name as a television writer, re-visit the sit-com. Study up on the classics, like the Dick Van Dyke Show or Bob Newhart or Mary Tyler-Moore, and then open up a can of Generation X Whoop Ass on it. Snark fests are not comedy, and back-talking children are not interesting. Bring on the intelligent, thoughtful, poignant humor like the greats once did, and aim those guns at the twenty-first century.

I'm told that "Arrested Development" started to go down that path (I haven't seen it, yet, but I plan to -- and I worry that it may be a bit on the snarky side), and I'll point out that the writing on Bab5 is what paved the way for the even better writing of Firefly or the new BSG. I'm inclined to think that we're almost there; that my generation is ready for laughter that doesn't come from a can.

What do you think? Am I missing any truly great situation comedy that's being produced today?

Posted by at 04:50 AM in the following Department(s): Writing | Comments (4)
 January 31, 2008
My Mitt Romney Story

[Memory is fallible. I could have taken the time to look up the details below to be sure I had them right, but what the heck, the following is what I *remember*, whether it's a confabulation of disparate events or an accurate record of the election season(s) in question....]

I was recently asked for my thoughts about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. My response was:

Mitt Romney was not governor when I lived there, but he did run for Senate (against Ted Kennedy) while I lived in Massachusetts. I was somewhat active in the Republican party leadership at the time, and he phoned me once to ask for my endorsement leading up to the highly contested Republican primary (which he won).

Here's what I remember in talking with him: very little. He asked for my endorsement, I asked what made him a better candidate than the other republicans, and he gave me the standard pat answers that made absolutely no impression whatsoever. If I ended up endorsing him for the primaries, as I seem to recall, it was because, well, he was the only one who asked.

But once he won the primary and went after Kennedy, then I got to see him in action. There were several televised debates between the two, and I watched. Romney was the first challenger in a very long time who had a shot of beating Kennedy, which made it an exciting race.

The debates were a bit unsettling, however. Romney's message was, ultimately, this: I'll do everything that Kennedy would do, the only difference is, I'm not a Kennedy.

Keep in mind that Kennedy's politics still play very well in Massachusetts, even though they voted several Republican governors in a row following Bill Weld's taking the seat away from Democrat Michael Dukakis (remember him?). Romney essentially said, hey, I can champion those Massachusetts-y politics just as well as Kennedy can, but at least I'm not a bloated drunken embarrassment. Nationalized medicine? Sure, why not! (But no one will die in my car, wink, wink.) Etc., etc.

Kennedy was suffering from an image problem even worse that year than usual; he was involved in a rape trial (the alleged rape having taken place in his beach house in Florida, I think, and allegedly being perpetrated by his nephew) and did not look so good; and his nose was glowing even redder than usual in his television appearances for much of that year. But, as he always does for his campaigns, he cleaned up quite well during the debates.

Kennedy's message that year was: well, if there's no difference between Romney and me in terms of politics, you have to vote for me because I'm a senior ranking democrat, and we own the Senate! If you re-elect me, I'll continue to chair important committees, etc. Romney won't be able to do that.

Romney lost (obviously), and deservedly so. There were a few funny ironies that came out of this, however. The biggest irony was that this was the year that Newt Gingrich led the charge for Republicans to (successfully) re-take the House and the Senate, so that Kennedy was no longer a senior-ranking majority party Senator. He was a senior-ranking *minority* party Senator, which means no chairmanships, and his entire campaign was based upon a false premise. Likewise, Romney thought that all he had to do to win was not be Kennedy in name. It turns out, he also needed to not be Kennedy in his politics. He learned this lesson.

As you know, Romney was eventually elected Governor of Massachusetts, and from what I've heard, he did an okay job. As it turns out, he's not as liberal as Kennedy -- his message to that effect when he ran against Kennedy didn't play well enough to win that race, so he modified his positions to be less liberal -- but he wasn't necessarily as neo-conservative as George W. Bush, either. In pursuing the national nomination, he has further moved toward the neo-conservative camp, but that was not how things played during his governorship.

My opinion, having seen his career develop, is that he is more interested in holding the office than he is interested in what he can do with it. In this respect, he reminds me of Bill Clinton. He is pragmatic, which is good, and a competent administrator once elected, but he does not appear to me to be a man of strong conviction, so what you see in him may change as the political winds shift. He's more likely to keep his pants zipped; but otherwise, he strikes me as rather Clintonian in his opportunism.

This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but I tend to want my candidates to at least stand for *something*. I think that if he is elected, he'll likely be a competent caretaker of the office, but that's about the best I could hope for from him.

...and THAT is my Mitt Romney story. Let the incendiary comments begin!

Posted by at 12:30 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (1)

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