Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"If I Rise" - A. R. Rahman and Dido

I've often run Dido's "Thank You" for Thanksgiving, so this pick is kind of appropriate. As the graphic shows, this is from Danny Boyle's new film 127 Hours, starring James Franco. I imagine most people know the story of Aron Ralston going in. The film's vibrant and very good, but a few scenes are not the squeamish.

Eclectic Jukebox

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Food Banks - November 2010

I'm donating to my local food bank again. Local NPR show Which Way L.A.? has more on the situation out here. The Feeding America site has a useful food bank locator for anyone seeking such information. Best wishes to all those in need.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Henryk Górecki

Polish composer Henryk Górecki died last week. He wrote one of my favorite pieces of music, the moving, powerful Symphony #3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). I've introduced it to a few dozen people over the years. I'd recommend the Zinman/Upshaw recording that's excerpted here. (I featured this clip before in a post about music and composers connected to the Holocaust.) RIP.

Eclectic Jukebox

The Debt and Its Origins

(Click for a larger view.)

The chart above comes from budget hawk Chuck Spinney, and was posted by James Falllows. Head over to his blog for a larger view and more explanation. (H/T to reader Ursus.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This Mortal Coil - "Song to the Siren"

This is a cover of a Tim Buckley song. For this song, the side project This Mortal Coil was essentially the band Cocteau Twins, produced by Ivo Watts-Russell.

Eclectic Jukebox

11/11 Armistice Day 2010

(Click on the comic strip for a larger view.)

In 1959, Pogo creator Walt Kelly wrote:

The eleventh day of the eleventh month has always seemed to me to be special. Even if the reason for it fell apart as the years went on, it was a symbol of something close to the high part of the heart. Perhaps a life that stretches through two or three wars takes its first war rather seriously, but I still think we should have kept the name "Armistice Day." Its implications were a little more profound, a little more hopeful.

You said it, brother.

Thanks to all who have served or are serving, on this Veterans' Day, or Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.

This post is mostly a repeat I run every year, since I find it hard to top Kelly.

Last year, I wrote a series of six related posts for Armistice Day (and as part of an ongoing series on war). The starred posts are the most important, but the list is:

"Élan in The Guns of August"

"Demonizing of the Enemy"

"The War Poetry of Wilfred Owen"

***"Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels"

"The Little Mother"

***"War and the Denial of Loss"

The most significant previous entries in the series are:

"How to Hear a True War Story"

"Day of Shame"

"The Poetry of War"

"Armistice Day 2008" (featuring the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon).

I'll update this post below the photo with links to other folks' pieces for 11/11 as I find them. If you've written one, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me. Thanks.

Here are some other posts for 11/11.

The Galloping Beaver, "11/11/10."

Newshoggers, "Poems for Remembrance Day."

The Reaction, Remembrance Day 2010"

Balloon Juice has several. Tom Levenson has provided "On the Eve of Veterans/Armistice Day," followed by "11h-11d-11m. Remember" and "One More Veterans/Armistice/Remembrance Day Post (the last, I promise): Concert Time." The threads on the last two are full of poetry, music and book selections and suggestions. Anne Laurie also posted about "Paws for Purple Hearts," a wonderful program we've covered here before that pairs service dogs with vets struggling with PTSD.

Cheyanne's Campsite, "The Fear Of War Breeds War."

I happened to catch Brian Turner on the radio today - he's a vet who's written some powerful war poetry.

Driftglass, "Happy Veterans Day" and the related "Losing His Religion."

While not for 11/11, Evil Slutopia's post "Are Female Soldiers in Iraq Dying of Dehydration and Fear?" is certainly pertinent.

Mister Tristan, "Armistice Day... Every Family Has a Story."

Obsidian Wings, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month..."

Minstrel Boy at Cogitamus, "11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month."


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Stupid-Evil-Crazy Vortex

It's a perennial question for those following American politics and movement conservatism specifically – is this or that political figure evil - or stupid? Maybe he or she's just crazy? Or is it some mix?

Sometimes the answer's moot, but it can be important to figure out for accurate political analysis - or at least on-target mockery. Roy Edroso included a stupid-evil ratio for all the conservatives in 2008's "Official Village Voice Election-Season Guide to the Right-Wing Blogosphere." I find myself returning to this question constantly, and probably looked at it in most depth in "Diagrams in Conservatism." Blue Gal and Driftglass delivered a great podcast playing the stupid, evil or crazy game for prominent conservatives (it's about an hour long, but it flies by). The Daily Show had a wonderful Team Evil versus Team Stupid bit on Fox News. And back in October, Rachel Maddow graphed the "kookiness-viability" scale of conservative candidates (with a shout-out to the "hot-crazy" scale to boot). It's both a game and a serious issue.

A stupid-evil or stupid-evil-crazy ratio is useful, but doesn't capture quantity, influence and other useful factors (the originality of someone's plot to destroy America, their favorite straw man opponent, the best form of medication for that person, and so on). Christine O'Donnell has said some shockingly stupid things, it's true, and beats even Sarah Palin in that category, but currently Palin has far more influence. Likewise, George W. Bush wielded far more power than either of them. Furthermore, while Bush's incurious nature remains legendary, and he was a piker compared to Cheney in the evil category, it would be a grave mistake to let Bush off the hook on the "evil" front. Clearly, we need better metrics here.

Wingnut trading cards with stats of some sort might work, but in the meantime, I wanted to try out a visual/graphic approach. The Stupid-Evil-Crazy graphic above relates to this model:

In this model (which riffs on an old Bruce Reed article, and is explained seriously in this long post, and more satirically here), "wonk" doesn't necessarily mean intellectual, it means anyone who's reality-based and interested in good governance:

The wonks aren't always right, and a great deal of them aren't ignorant about politics, although many wonks retain the capacity to be stunned by really atrocious hackdom. However, the wonks tend to arrive at good policy answers more often than hacks because that's their aim. Obviously some political power, whether through elected office or a citizen movement, is necessary to enact good policies. And sometimes, the smart political move is also good policy, hence the overlap between the circles in the diagram. Still, pure hacks see power and political gamesmanship as their own ends, and their efforts often oppose good policy. Meanwhile, the zealots occasionally stumble upon a good policy, but they're far more likely to take a side in a power struggle framed by the hacks.

Wonks of all stripes generally play fine together. Hacks are a necessary part of politics, and not all of them or the zealots are evil or destructive. The Dems have quite a few hacks, and some zealots as well. But the GOP is absolutely dominated by hacks and zealots, and it's a serious problem. Those few sane, honest, responsible conservatives left have been hunted near to extinction by the GOP, and the survivors wield little to no power or influence. Congressional Republicans have chosen obstructionism even on basic measures, and have refused to vote for bills even after getting concessions. Meanwhile, many Republicans say or actually believe things that simply aren't factually true.

Here's a more detailed version of the Stupid-Evil-Crazy graphic above:

(Click for a larger view.)

Let's break this down. This model doesn't apply exclusively to conservatives, of course, and can be used simply as a way to explore why bad decisions are made. Stupid covers problems centered on intelligence, most of all ignorance and lack of curiosity. No one can be an expert in everything, of course, and per the wonk description above, sometimes smart, well-intentioned people make mistakes. Some problems can only be solved through trial and error. However, wonks (reality-based people interested in competence) typically make different sorts of mistakes than do hacks or zealots, or in this model, make different decisions from the stupid, the evil and the crazy. The wonks may be unaware of something, but they're trying their best.

The bigger problem is when stupidity is a conscious choice or one made by default. For instance, both George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were/are proudly incurious. One of the most inexcusable things about Bush in terms of character was that he refused to grow into the role of President of the United States. Insecure and aggressively anti-intellectual, he used the notion of his "gut" to trump legitimate expertise. He was happy to stay in the bubble Cheney constructed, and regardless of any policy issues, Bush was an absolutely horrendous manager. Likewise, Sarah Palin wears her ignorance as a badge of honor, and her groupies adore her for it. To quote a friend: "I want a president who's smarter than me!" (Jay Smooth's got a great take on this, too.) Being competent, being qualified, and being reality-based is denounced as terribly elitist by movement conservatives. (Successful grifting shows a certain type of intelligence, but we're talking about the ability to understand the basics of important policies and to govern well.)

Crazy covers problems of emotion, whether an excess of negative feelings or a lack of basic positive ones. (We're using "crazy" in the colloquial sense, not in the "mentally ill" sense - although that may apply for some people.) While many right-wingers aren't that, um, well-informed, it's their craziness that really defines them. "Obama is a Muslim," "death panels," centrism is "socialism," you name it – the right-wing rank and file truly believes some crazy shit. They're largely impervious to facts because of their strong emotional attachment to their beliefs; challenging them actually tends to reinforce their convictions. It would be funny if the consequences weren't so dire. Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter and other social conservatives have long been waging a vicious war on compassion itself. From Nixon's Southern Strategy to Reagan's welfare queens to Bush's unnecessary war with Iraq, most of conservative politics over the past 50 years has depended on whipping up fear and spite.

Evil covers problems of morality. Choose another term if you like, but as I've written before, I don't think "evil" should be reserved only for fictional characters like Darth Vader. Acting in self-interest is fine, but evil is the willingness or eagerness to significantly hurt others in the process, or a general ethos of selfishness and recklessness. Providing for one's family isn't evil. Actively working to screw over the poor and middle class when you're rich and powerful is evil. So is simply not giving a damn when your actions (or clear inaction) will cause unnecessary suffering to one's fellow human beings. The evil tend to be focused on power - and powerful, destructive people tend to be more evil than stupid or crazy.

Let's apply the Stupid-Evil-Crazy Vortex to a specific issue, climate change (specifically, climate change caused by humans). The evil angle here is pretty obvious. The oil industry wants to monopolize the energy market and make obscene profits, and renewable energy threatens that. Thus, conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, funded by ExxonMobil, will do things like offering $10,000 to a scientist willing to challenge the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A recent To the Point episode focused on climate change and its deniers; the "evil" strategy is to sow doubt and impede environmental reforms as much as possible. Now, smart evil people might think, hmm, damaging the planet won't be good for my descendents, but "stupid-evil" is defined by its recklessness, as shown on the diagram. Climate change denial has also become a core part of conservative dogma – as Ron Brownstein has noted, "it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here."

Obviously not everyone can be an expert on climate science, but it's not difficult to grasp the general trends of global warming and the need for action. Citizens without much information or understanding of science, though, are more likely be fooled by global warming denial propaganda. And while some of those pushing climate change denial are evil, some are legitimately stupid. Even behind closed doors, some Republicans really don't believe in global warming. Senator James Inhofe apparently thought that photos of icicles in Buffalo, NY proved that global warming wasn't real, and has claimed that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” While Inhofe is certainly capable of being evil (and is a bit crazy), the icicle example earned him justified ridicule. He wouldn't have used it if he actually understood the issue. Stupidity might not be his driving force, but it's probably his defining characteristic on the issue.

Some people reject the idea of climate change because it's legitimately scary or because it threatens other beliefs they hold. I'm a bit sympathetic to that (if they're not obnoxious), but that would put them in the crazy portion of the graphic. For them, personal profit or lack of intelligence aren't as relevant as strong feelings or a cognitive dissonance. Bridging the stupid-crazy gap is Congressman John Shimkus, who argued that global warming couldn't destroy the Earth, because in the Bible God said he wouldn't inflict another Great Flood upon the Earth or otherwise destroy it. Of course, even if one shares Shimkus' religion, one doesn't need to take the Bible literally, and even if one took the Bible literally, the passage Shimkus cites still allows for human beings to destroy the planet all on their own. Regardless, the notion that we don't have any responsibility to reduce pollution because God will save us is both stupid and crazy. I'm assuming Shimkus was sincere, and that his strong personal, emotional attachment to his beliefs is the main reason he rejects empirical facts (or renders them irrelevant). Meanwhile, also in the crazy category are all those conservatives who brag about driving gas guzzlers or running up their energy bills just to piss off liberals. It's childish, spiteful, and a nutty approach to personal finances.

What about other issues? On health care reform, many Americans were unaware of how other countries handle health care more effectively, but that's not really their fault. Stupidity came in when anyone believed that insurance companies had their customers' best interests at heart and could be trusted, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Following a familiar script, conservative leaders invested heavily in "the crazy," concocting scary tales of death panels, and feeding spite over the notion of "other people" (typically poor and non-white folks) "freeloading" off of a new system. In the aughts as in the '90s, the Republican plan was to pursue power, even if it meant ignoring a serious problem, lying shamelessly, and screwing over their own constituents. That's pretty evil, and sadly, also nothing new. Almost all of the reality-based debates on health care reform were among liberals.

On economics and fiscal matters, unawareness yet again plays a major role, as most Americans have little idea about how unequal wealth is in the United States, or that it's grown to Gilded Age levels in the past 30 years. Stupidity arrives when people consistently vote against their own economic interests. Craziness comes in different flavors, but there's the spite factor of not wanting some other demographic group to do well, and the lottery mentality of opposing raising taxes on the rich because one day you might hit the jackpot. The evil angle is fairly clear – championing a system which makes a small group fabulously wealthy while leaving everyone else struggling is horrendous. Working to destroy any social safety net in addition to that is just unconscionable. (However, some of the sore winners really do believe what they're saying.)

Feel free to improve on this graphic or these divisions; I'll probably play with it more in future posts. If anyone wants to help develop more detailed stupid-evil-crazy stats, great. I do think most of the destructive figures in American politics have at least 10% in each category, though. For instance, while Christine O'Donnell is definitely stupid, some of her ideas are also genuinely crazy, and she's also a liar, so she doesn't get off scot-free on the evil front. Meanwhile, while Newt Gingrich is almost entirely evil, he's occasionally unwise (stupid) in his choice of evil remarks, and as a raging egomaniac, he's a bit crazy. Still, that only speaks to ratios, and not to power, influence and other important characteristics.

Hanlon's Razor is "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." It's funny and often true, at least when it comes to regular people. Plus, motivation can be moot sometimes. However, when it comes to the powerful - Don't Discount the Evil.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Secret Sisters - "Tennessee Me"

I'm a sucker for good vocal harmony, and the Secret Sisters delivered a great KCRW session recently. This one's an original, but they also do fantastic covers.

Eclectic Jukebox

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Marshall McLuhan and Socialist Teddy Bears

The only thing worse than inane political analysis and obtuse cultural criticism is combining the two. John Cole of Balloon Juice finds this stunning example of "Bad Punditry":

If indications hold true, voters Tuesday will deliver a powerful rebuke to the Obama administration and its plans to transform America. Also, “Toy Story 3” will come out on DVD. These two events are not unrelated.

The piece goes downhill from there, in a Dante's descent-into-the-Inferno sorta way. The author is Andrew Klavan, the same odious dipshit who tried to steal The Dark Knight's popularity to praise Bush and claim vindication for war, surveillance and torture. Backtrack through the Balloon Juice post and you can read the Klavan piece – then solace yourself with it being savagely mocked in the BJ thread. (Some of the commentators at the LA Times, where Klavan's piece appeared, also make short work of it.)

For his analysis of The Dark Knight, Klavan had to ignore key aspects of the actual movie, of course, but that's standard for "conservative" film reviewers these days. His Toy Story 3 piece does the same, but I'd say it's even worse for several reasons. The key one is that Pixar makes truly wonderful movies, and they deserve better than this hack and dolt trying to purloin their work, and crapping all over it in the process. Pixar also deliberately tries to avoid politics in their films (the subject has come up in interviews). This is in part because they're making films suitable for young kids (as well as adults), but also because good storytelling tends to be multifaceted in a way that agitprop isn't. And come on, if the Pixar crew were going to push a political message, it would tend to be liberal-minded, like their neighbors in San Francisco and Berkeley, or like most of the film industry in very liberal (and extremely capitalist) Hollywood. Does Klavan really think Pixar is run by closet right-wingers? Lastly, the analysis itself is extremely dumb, without even the saving grace of some wit or an all-in-good-fun wink for its ridiculously counterintuitive, counter-textual reading. Klavan's "analysis" is reductive, making the film less fun, less moving, less rich. You would have to be an ideological zealot, an inept propagandist or a fucking moron to write that piece. I leave it to discriminating readers to decide the exact nature and composition of Klavan's latest little turd.

This isn't the first time poor Pixar has suffered this sort of Konservetkult abuse. When the fantastic WALL-E came out, conservatives first strongly attacked it because of its environmental themes... but then later, some decided to try to appropriate it as a conservative indictment of the nanny-state. Oh, the humanity. It's a sad waste of life to approach the arts in this way, and I've got much more on this whole mindset in a long post on the most "conservative" films (which also covers Klavan's take on The Dark Knight in more depth). If, for instance, conservative Danielle Crittenden loves Pride and Prejudice, great, and perhaps we can have a pleasant conversation about it. But it's silly and pitiable to insist that Pride and Prejudice is a great "conservative" love story, as if it can only be safely enjoyed after being stamped with the conservative imprimatur, and certified free of thought-crime. Good art is often ambiguous and multilayered, and it's to be enjoyed, shared, reflected upon and discussed, not conquered and enslaved.

That said, I think we need one more response to Klavan, and I happen to have Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3, right here:

GOTV 2010

These are the most compelling Get Out the Vote ads I've seen so far. The first one comes from Steve Benen and Bill Simmon:

I actually saw this one, "I Remember," proliferate on one of them thar social media sites before the blogs really picked it up:

Digby passes on this cool one, "We Vote":

Lastly, here's a longer MoveOn ad with a sci-fi dystopian theme, and featuring Olivia Wilde. Apparently it's personalized for users who follow a Facebook-MoveOn log-in process:

More info about this ad is here and here. It's a bit creepy, and fairly clever and entertaining, including the little throwaway geek-out at the end about time travel theories.

I was working on a longer piece about the disappointing Democrats and third parties and all that, subjects of perennial discussion on some liberal blogs. But personally, when faced with an unabashedly reckless, nihilistic, plutocratic party, the party that's partially plutocratic-and-corrupt, and often gutless, but also has a few genuine liberals and hasn't completely abandoned the social contract, looks pretty good in comparison. And hey, the weekend after the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive," the "Not Insane" ticket may not always be inspiring, but it is nonetheless compelling.

Update: Roy Edroso sounds the trumpets:

Outside of that it's the straight Democratic ticket for me. Obama is a trimmer and a pudding, but the Republicans are Satan's emissaries on Earth, and if I have little hope of making a difference I can at least, at the Final Trump, answer my Maker that I spurted my spitball against the hull of the Dark Lord's deathship when duty called. Go thou and do likewise!

Brown in the Final Stretch

Jerry Brown didn't start running ads seriously until pretty late in the election - or maybe it just felt that way because Whitman spent so early and so heavily. Regardless, Brown's strategy seems to have worked. This one minute ad, "Echo," has been in heavy rotation on TV since mid-October. It's received a fair amount of national press as well. The concept is pretty simple, but the end result is devastating to Whitman. I think it's quite fair, exemplifies the Brown critique of Whitman, and is the most effective political ad in California this election cycle:

Brown has been pretty sharp in most of the debates, and his campaign cleverly seized on Whitman's own words to hurry out this ad – "Why I came to California":

This ad, "Positive Finish," is also quite savvy. This exchange definitely made the local news:

TPM has more on this ad. There's also a one minute version that's even more effective, with Brown coming off as upbeat and gracious while Whitman is left squirming. Brown even posted a five minute version to show the exchange in full context. Whitman appears more reasonable in it, I'd say, but Brown also comes off well by coming to her defense at the end, and seeming loose and confident.

Personally, I hate "pledges" sought by reporters, which are almost always inane and seem designed to make headlines and little else. This one is no exception. Who gives a damn about whether an ad is "negative" or not? What matters is whether it's accurate (and honest in terms of context). So while I think Whitman would be a terrible governor – Schwarzenegger without the schmoozing skills, probably – I'm a bit sympathetic to her here on the general issue. That's not to say all the ads from her and her allies have been accurate and honest, because they certainly haven't, and like Fiorina, Whitman has offered mostly sound bites versus good policies. Consequently, my sympathy only goes so far.

On the politics, realistically, being down in the polls as much as she has been, Whitman's only chance of closing the gap was probably to go negative, even though it was a long shot. So a "no negative ad" pledge worked to Brown's advantage. Plus, Brown sharply picked up on Whitman's hedging, and so his offer was smart, allowing him to come off looking as the more honorable person. Hey, maybe he meant it without much calculation, since Brown favors the disarmingly candid response at times. I'm guessing part of it was his natural personality, and some of it was political savvy. In any case, Brown has played things well in the final stretch.

No matter who's governor, the job is going to be very tough because of California's ridiculous structural problems (a 2/3rds majority needed to raise taxes and an obstructionist GOP). However, Schwarzenegger was rarely willing to push his own party much, and consistently worked to protect rich plutocrats. Whitman would have been exactly the same on that front. Although she campaigned as an outsider, like really all "responsible" Republican candidates, she's an eager class warrior for the establishment. I'm not sure how much Brown can actually get done, but at least he can try.

Rise (and Fall?) of the eMeg

At last report, Meg Whitman has spent an unprecedented 163 million on her campaign. Much of the first blast went to airing this one minute ad, "Confidence," starting in early April, as part of a juggernaut-momentum strategy. It seemed like it ran at least once per hour on TV:

It's a well made spot, it's positive, and a good "introduction to the candidate." For those seeking a change and not too picky about the standard plutocrat pabulum, I imagine it was pretty effective – and Whitman was doing well back then. Reuters reported back on 4/5/10:

Billionaire Republican Meg Whitman has built a slight lead in the California governor's race after contributing a record-breaking $39 million to her own campaign, a Los Angeles Times/USC poll showed on Monday.

The former CEO of online auction house eBay Inc., making her first bid for elected office, has 44 percent of the vote to Democratic candidate and former governor Jerry Brown's 41 percent, according to the poll for the November election.

The winner will succeed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

In what is expected to be the most expensive nonpresidential election in U.S. history, Whitman has spent millions on television ads ahead of the June primary and holds a 40-percentage point lead over Republican Steve Poizner.

"The story is the money. The amount of money and the level of advertising Whitman has run to date is not only unprecedented ... it has had a very clear marked effect on campaign," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

"Among people who have seen her ads, Whitman is beating (Brown) handily, but she's losing to those who have not seen them," Schnur said.

Whitman's $39 million contribution is a record in California for candidates donating to their own campaigns.

More than seven months ahead of the general election, she has spent $46 million, a record for a candidate in a California statewide election and more than Schwarzenegger spent in his entire 2006 campaign.

Anecdotally, some people got really sick of the constant Whitman ads, though, it seemed she was trying to "buy" the governorship, and growing familiarity did not seem to make her any more likable. In March, she called a press conference to make a speech and then refused to take questions. (This seemed to be the "command-and-control management style" a recent Mercury News described.) Her primary battle with Steve Poizner also hurt her. As Dave Dayen wrote back in May, after her sizable lead over Poizner shrunk dramatically:

What can account for this epic crash? First off, the Poizner ad tying eMeg to Goldman Sachs is, outside of the Joe Sestak’s closing ad against Arlen Specter, the best of the cycle.

Beyond that, Whitman just punched herself out. The massive pre-primary spending became the story more than her worth as a candidate, and when Poizner and his millions got competitive on air it became a race. Whitman’s been pretty terrible in the two debates thus far as well. Also, the CA Republican primary electorate is, shall we say, crazy, and Poizner has one of the staunchest conservatives, Tom McClintock, on his side. His personal testimonial ad for Poizner is pretty successful, as he’s the most high-profile conservative in the state.

Two other issues made her look very bad as well – her not voting for decades, and that her former housekeeper had been in the country illegally. Whitman began campaigning on being "tough" on illegal immigrants back during his primary race with Poizner, and when the housekeeper story broke, it made her look dishonest and hypocritical. (My favorite quip on the matter is: "In fairness to Whitman, she shouldn’t be criticized for this episode, because for the first nine years she employed the illegal alien she didn’t know that she would someday need to demagogue the illegal immigration issue.")

Some of Whitman's later ads seemed successful. I suspect this one, featuring Bill Clinton and airing starting in early September, was one of her most effective. I'm guessing they were targeting swing voters and disenchanted Democrats. (Perhaps it also served as red meat for the conservative base – even Bill Clinton doesn't like Jerry Brown!)

Finally, I'm not sure I ever saw this one air on TV – it's called "Strong Leadership," but I had to post it because I think "Douchebags" fits it better:

It seems this would only appeal to rich Republicans who would already be inclined to vote for Whitman anyway – and maybe that's why this one didn't air much, at least in Los Angeles. As Harold Meyerson's put it, Romney "approaches the Platonic Ideal of Inauthenticity." And while Condoleezza Rice's star probably shines brighter than that of the other disgraced Bushies, there's little good reason for that. She's a pretty despicable, craven human being, and should probably be on trial for war crimes (as should most of her former colleagues). Her approval ratings in the black community might exceed those of most conservatives, but aren't great. Overall, I don't think Romney, Rice and the Jarvis guy would help Whitman with swing or crossover voters. I don't think the Whitman ads attacking unions did much on that front, either.

In any case, the election starts shortly, and if Whitman loses, it's an important victory because of the money factor if nothing else. Money can definitely turn an election, but it can't buy it outright, especially if the candidate makes herself look bad all on her own.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Case Against Fiorina by Boxer – and Fiorina

Continuing our look at California political ads, here's two attack ads against Carly Fiorina aired by Barbara Boxer's campaign.

I've probably seen this Boxer ad, "Outsourcing," the most. Apparently it started running about mid-September, and it's run a lot since then.

I think it's pretty effective. (Update: Here's more on the ad.) So is this similar one, "Workers," which started running 'round the clock a couple of weeks ago:

Both these ads underscore a recurring theme - the best case against Fiorina has often been made by Fiorina herself. Here she is on what's normally conservative cheerleading territory, Fox News, struggling to evade a reality-based question by Chris Wallace:

Wallace can be pretty hackish, but he does have his moments, and this was one of them. Like many Republicans, Fiorina mainly trots out slogans, but there's no responsible policy behind them. TBogg expertly summarized this Fiorina performance in "Carly Fiorina’s Underpants Gnome Budget":

Short version:

1. Post every agency budget on the internet
2. ?
3. Balanced budget!

It appears that Carly Fiorina is Christine O’Donnell with less Jesus and more work history.

Fiorina's Demon Sheep Ad

I would be remiss if I didn't include this web-only Fiorina ad from the GOP primaries, the infamous "Demon Sheep" ad from early in the year. Political junkies will have already seen it, and perhaps a parody or two of it. But ya gotta see this one if you haven't. I dare you not to laugh – or think of Monty Python.

Ignore the Culprits, and Vote Non-Partisan – Republican!

Here's five more ads from Carly Fiorina and her allies. The first one is called "Day" and it started running heavily early in October:

The ad depends on voters not following the news and not knowing (or caring) which party is primarily responsible for their economic woes and running up wasteful spending (roughly five trillion added to the debt under Bush, for instance). My favorite part is probably the mournful strings.

Outside groups such as the Chamber of Commerce have been running ads against Boxer as well. This LA Times article details some of them, and some are targeted at specific regions in the vast state of California. This one, "Bad With Money," has aired in Los Angeles:

I've seen this other Chamber ad, "28 Years," much more, though - it's been running constantly:

You'll notice these ads are simpatico with Fiorina's. This one doesn't even make much of an argument - it just repeats "28 Years" as a mantra, and simplistically, deceptively pretends that economic and fiscal woes are all Boxer's fault. (It's sad that the Chamber pursues short-term gain over long-term gain, since GOP policies over the past 30 years have been disastrous.)

Next up is "Crushed," an official Fiorina ad that's playing a lot:

It's also simplistic, deceptive bullshit of course, but it's great voiceover work (by the same guy who did "Day"). The "Barbara Boxer is Satan" delivery makes me laugh, but of course I'm not the intended audience.

This one's called "Label," and has been running non-stop the past few weeks:

Party doesn't matter anymore – so vote for the Republican! Funny how that works. Never mind that overwhelmingly, Republicans are responsible for creating the mess.

I think "Andres from Long Beach" sounds a bit like Ed Norton. Meanwhile, I find Carly Fiorina's chirpy platitudes at the end shallow, hypocritical and off-putting, especially given the "petty bickering" shown in her campaign ads and public appearances. But I wonder how others react.

Fiorina has also bought time for ads on YouTube itself, that play before someone watches a video. User BloodRedChorizo commented on this ad: "I'm voting against you solely because I'm extremely annoyed with having to watch your fucking ad before every other video. Annoying as hell." Meg Whitman certainly seems to have suffered somewhat from over-exposure, and maybe that's hitting Fiorina, too. But we'll see what happens on Tuesday.

(As an aside, I also find it annoying that YouTube requires a log-in for the embed code for any video on an user's page. There are a workarounds, or one can log-in, but... you damn kids stop messing with those embed codes!)

Courting the Right-Wing

Continuing our look at Fiorina ads, this one is called "Sir," and started playing in late September. At this point, she'd ditched the tobacco/jaundice filter:

I think this was aimed mainly at right-wingers to prove her bona fides with them – and the community at conservative site Red State responded favorably. I wonder how effective this was with other people, though. This exchange (from June 2009) is well-known in right-wing circles, where it was the scandal du jour, and Boxer was denounced as arrogant, anti-military and all the usual BS. However, if you weren't familiar with the incident already, I'm not sure you'd know what the hell was going on from this clip. Boxer could have been edited to look worse, actually, and I think she sounds slightly weary but fairly polite. I would imagine many women would sympathize with her on the asking-for-a-little-respect front. Even for those who feel differently (apart from right-wingers, naturally), Boxer might come off as touchy, but was this ever really that big a deal? Meanwhile, yet again, Fiorina's delivery is "eager playground taunt." In fact, Fiorina brought this incident up during their debate, and Boxer said she actually called the general afterwards and said, "Do I owe you an apology?" and he said no. This always seemed like a "red meat for the base" or desperation attack to me, one to fire up the faithful but not likely to swing the undecided.

I'm always interested to hear how other California voters across the political spectrum react to individual ads, or the overall deluge. To my eyes, Fiorina has been pitching herself as the responsible adult, but many of her attack ads (and almost all of her ads have been negative) have been extremely shallow. The two images contradict, and often do so in the very same ad. And earlier in the election cycle she was pitching herself as a "conservative" Republican, while later she adopted a "transcend party" pitch. That's hardly unprecedented, but in both cases there's a contradiction. Her campaign has depended on voters not remembering and not paying attention – both to Fiorina's campaign ads, and to which party and policies caused the vast majority of damage to America over the past decade.