The power of satire

14 09 2008

Saturday Night Live may have its ups and downs, but there are those magical moments when you are watching and you know you’ve seen a comedic moment that will go down in history.  Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opening sketch portraying a press conference by Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton certainly qualified.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton

I also stumbled across this blog entry (with lots of pictures) about the large No Palin protest in Anchorage.


The Phelps formula

14 09 2008

(Note: This post was written on Friday, September 12 but published on Sunday, September 14 after Obama canceled his SNL appearance.)

Can I offer a few words of advice to Democrats that probably won’t be comforting?  Journalists have been attaching the word “fret” to Democrats, and frankly I’m hearing some of it among my Democratic friends.

My advice is: don’t panic! Stay focused, but don’t panic.  Watching the olympics this summer, I was fascinated not only by the amazing physical fitness and agility of these world class athletes, but the level of mental discipline that is required. It hardly mattered which sport you were watching. Each athlete was trying to get in and stay in his or her personal mental “zone.” It turns out that speed is a function of a fine balance of adrenaline and relaxation. Performing in front of millions of people supplies the adrenaline, but the athlete’s muscles also have to remain limber and loose before and during competition. In the heat of a tight race, the fight or flight response (either one) must be instructing muscles to tighten, but too much uncontrolled tension in the muscles cuts down on performance. I’m no sports psychologist, but I expect the champions are the ones with the mental discipline to stay loose and relaxed even as they are straining hard to catch up or win.

Democrats, sure, this should be an easy race, but we, the judges (to continue the Olympic metaphor), the American public, haven’t been at our best over the past decade.  So, you’re going to have to win this one in the home stretch, which is why Barack needs to have a little chat with Michael Phelps when they both appear on Saturday Night Live tomorrow night. Michael, remind him about how you stayed cool in that 100-meter butterfly event against Čavić and won by a fingernail.

This kind of advice is probably going to come as little comfort to Democrats, who have in recent years lost (in 2004, which was slightly different than the 2000 “selection”) when they were pitted against another under-prepared, over-confident, conservative evangelical, frontier-state governor (only that time the governor was running at the head of the ticket).

I don’t have a solution to the “Palin problem.” As long as we continue to select Presidents on the basis of their personality and our fears as opposed to candidates’ intelligence and expertise, it will always be possible to find ourselves in the same spot in which we find ourselves today.

Just remember, panic will just slow you down.

“Its a human drama thing.”

14 09 2008

Friends who have known me for at least the past ten years are already chuckling as they see the picture in this post. That’s because I’ve probably made them watch this gem of a documentary, Hands on a Hard Body. My birthday just passed, and my wonderful wife found a rare DVD copy on Ebay.

If I’m not mistaken, Matthew McConaughey, bankrolled this project for a long-time friend who set up his gear at a car dealership in Longview, TX to record the slowest gladitorial event in history. Twenty-five contestants place their hands on a customized Nissan Hard Body truck, and the last one standing with his/her hand on the truck wins it.

When you stand back from this documentary and get philosophical, there is plenty of opportunity for commentary on our car-centric culture. You only have to take note of the desperation for wheels that motivates many of the contestants. But, this isn’t about winning a flash sports car. The contestants rarely comment on how nice the truck looks or how they want to impress their friends. They want to sell the thing and pay their bills or use it to move hay to the horses out in the pasture. This is Texas after all. As one of the contestants says, “A truck is a force. A truck makes money.”

From an artistic standpoint, it is hard to imagine a script that is more poignant and funny than what these very real and ordinary people in an extraordinary situation offer us off the tip of their tongues. There is a genuine earnestness that actors could never achieve as they share their faith, hopes, desires, and frustrations. Studio interviews with the contestants are masterfully edited throughout, and the makers of the film deserve enormous credit for their storytelling skills. They had a rich and motley cast to work with.

My father has often said, in partial jest, that one of the reasons Dr. Zhivago is a great film lies in the fact that, like much great art, “it’s wall to wall human suffering.” That’s pretty much true of “Hands” from the opening to the closing credits, but with one or two exceptions, the contestants are models of good sportsmanship regardless.

“Hands” is so dang compelling because it somehow manages to capture so many dramatic, narrative, and social features in one low-budget package: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the struggle of the every man, the jester who actually dispenses the wisdom (it will be obvious when you see it, though this jester seems humbly unaware of his profundity), youthful enthusiasm vs. maturity and experience, sportsmanship, the beautiful awkwardness of religious fervor, and the love of a man for his … wife (you thought I was going to say truck, didn’t you).

At one point early in the film, the jester figure describes the contest as a kind of gladatorial event at which the crowd wants to see contestants fail. “Don’t they realize that we’re suffering, that we’re hurting, and you know, you feel like they’re kind of blood-thirsty, in a way. And I mean, they’re there to see the spectacle, and it seems so absurd, very absurd, and you have to realize later, hey, you know, its a human drama thing, and its more than just a contest, and its more than just winning a truck.” It is indeed.

Name that country

6 09 2008
Amy Goodman on PBS Now

Amy Goodman on PBS' Now

In contrast to my last post, its worth noting that independent media have been covering Americans on the outside of the conventions. But, several of those accredited journalists have been attacked and arrested while working to report on a legitimate new story.

Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, and two of her producers were arrested this week.  You can find coverage on today’s Democracy Now broadcast, but I would recommend tonight’s broadcast of Now on PBS, which contains an interview and footage of Goodman’s arrest.

What liberal media?

5 09 2008

I’ve been following the DNC and RNC conventions fairly closely, and Paul Krugman’s op-ed today about “The Resentment Strategy” is as astute an analysis as I’ve seen regarding the RNC convention.

Republicans spent a lot of time railing against the liberal media from their platform in the Excel Center in St. Paul this week, which seems a little odd if one examines today’s New York Times. The paper devotes over three full pages to covering the convention and practically ignores the repression of anti-war protests going on outside.  They only offer one picture with the subtitle:  “Herding Protestors: Officers wearing riot gear fired tear gas and flash grenades to try to control antiwar demonstrators on Thursday at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Some demonstrators were arrested after they refused to leave the area.” One would think that the use of preventive strikes and  flash grenades on U.S. citizens expressing their free speech rights would be worthy of coverage. It’s quite reminiscent of the way important stories were buried during the lead-up to the latest war in Iraq. What liberal media?

Can’t do?

14 08 2008

While I’m on this topic of alternative energy, or rather, non-fossil-based energy, the New York Times on July 19 contained a bittersweet op-ed by Bob Herbert about Al Gore’s call for 100% renewable energy in the next decade. Bob Herbert asks the question, “when did the U.S. become a can’t-do society?” in which the things that clearly need done are habitually neglected because they are not “cost-effective”.

I say “bittersweet” because it does seem that we long since decided to trade long term visions of the public good for short-term profits that increasingly accumulate to the super-rich.

Herbert also quotes a recent survey in which most people between the ages of 18 and 29 believe that the US best days are behind us. That’s pretty bitter too, but as Herbert also points out, this is the perfect time for radical proposals. The survey results could be a sign of mind-numbing apathy or a generation itching for a challenge.

(The next day, July 20, a story ran in the NYT about villages in the UK that are becoming flagships for saving energy.)

Go Electric

19 07 2008

Welcome to Glad River Dispatches. I’d like to say that this blog has a specific purpose which I can eloquently describe, but really its more of an experiment. I have thought of keeping a

blog for a long time, but time rarely allows, and that may not change soon. Nonetheless, I thought I would create the space … we’ll see what happens.

For kicks, I can share the latest modification to my electric scooter. Since the batteries

are best maintained with frequent charging, I devised a way to mount four chargers (one for each battery) so that

I can simply park the bike, plug it in, and charge it when I arrive at work.

It makes the bike look a little spacey, but hey, it’s electric to begin with.