Saturday, October 27, 2007

When no press come to your press conference

On the one hand, as an organizer, I know it's one of the worst possible nightmares. On the other hand, even those not in public affairs know to give more than 15 minutes' notice:
Fema sorry for 'fake' conference (BBC)

The US Federal Emergency Management Administration has apologised for having its employees pose as reporters at a hastily arranged news conference. No actual reporters were able to attend Fema's televised briefing on the fires in California on Tuesday because they were only given 15 minutes notice. . . .
Perhaps slightly understandable with small organizations, but completely unacceptable from a government agency...

Friday, October 26, 2007


Unfortunately, Season 4 of Six Feet Under is what I have at home from Netflix, and that'd just be depressing to watch right now. So I turned, as so often since I've gone TV-less, to the online selection.

Puccini for Beginners was exactly what I needed: an indy situational comedy with overtly intellectual references. I'm not an opera-goer, so I didn't get some the opera comments or analogies (except the obvious ones), but there were plenty of funny asides about Kant, philosophy, and sociology.

The basic plot is the transformation of commitmentphobe Allegra (and you don't need a music background to understand the name's significance), who breaks up with her girlfriend and starts seeing both a woman and a man who, of course, turn out to be exes themselves. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

I really loved the movie. The dialogue was smart, the characters had depth, and it was a perfect mix of tradition and modernity. I also liked the way the film addressed stereotypes, sexuality, and relationships of any kind: they were interesting and piquing conversations, but not the main drama. In all, a wonderful and short (82 minutes!) way to transition from pondering the Bhavacakra to writing the outline for the presentation on the role of postmodernism and linguistics in critical legal theory. . . .

Obla di obla da ...

One of these days I should write a soap opera inspired by real life. Actually, I believe my cousin in Santa Barbara had a one-woman play that ran for a while in LA, inspired in part by nuestra familia loca.

1. It's fun window-shopping for baby clothes. And it's fun not having to limit myself to the baby girls' or boys' section, since one sister just had a girl and the other one will be having a boy soon. These kids, I swear, will be uber-spoiled, if Auntie B has anything to do with it!

2. La Madre famously declared she didn't want to know the gender of her first grandchild until it was born, and we all managed to keep it a secret from her. She announced her intention to remain ignorant of her second grandchild's gender as well.

3. A few days ago, aforementioned cousin posts her Facebook "status" as wondering about the California wildfires. I post a comment on her wall, saying I hoped the fires weren't too close and that she was OK. Two hours later she sends me an FB message saying her father/my uncle just died in the hospital. Go Facebook, giving relatives 3000 miles apart another way to face their dysfunctional realities.

4. I call my brother-in-law and sister in Michigan, who have not heard the news. Except for emergencies like sudden deaths, we usually get family news via official memos, which attorney Grandpa would send routinely via USPS. However, since his recent demise, the family news circuit has experienced some missing links.

5. I call La Madre, who has not heard either. La Madre, as is Her way, immediately denies it ("What? No, she must've misunderstood." "What? The baby was born? No, they're just playing a joke on you.") La Madre calls Grandma, with whom the late uncle lived until his hospitalization, and receives confirmation of the details. Grandma was not doing well with the news, and had been a little slow in spreading it.

6. All of us had a very complicated relationship with the uncle, to severely understate the point. The cousins are flying in from LA and Madrid. Another cousin, who was apprehended a few months ago near the Mexico border as he attempted to escape parole, is currently awaiting arraignment for what I believe is his third strike (again, no update memos since Grandpa passed away); he used to call his father, at Grandma's, every day from the county jail. With the fourth sibling, they'll make the funeral arrangements, which is a horrible, horrible task for any child to do, no matter their relationship with their parent. It's unclear at this point what the service will be, if there will be one, but I will be unable to attend.

7. Grandma --who lost first her youngest son (my dad) six years ago while insanely driving across the country in an old '88 Toyota to attend her husband's 60th law school reunion in Connecticut, then lost her husband (Grandpa, the Talisker-swigging king) this past February after finally deciding not to drag his battle out any longer, and now has lost her second-youngest son-- is one of the strongest and bravest and smartest and sympathetic women I know.

8. Pregnant sister goes to check up on Grandma, and decides to let Grandma in on the secret of the baby's gender, unaware that Grandma had been understandably fixing herself some very, very strong martinis.

9. Grandma swears not to tell La Madre the gender.

10. Once Mi Hermana leaves, Grandma immediately calls La Madre to congratulate her on her forthcoming grandson.

Lala, how the life goes on...

The Fox!

This is only like the third Halloween that I've ever dressed up or done anything, so I'm still getting the hang of coming up with a costume. (An inexpensive costume is key... )

Year 1 I plunked on the cattle horn headband I got in Austin and was a very mild "cow" girl, and at a different party plunked on a beret and was Simone de Beauvoir. Fairly unoriginal. Year 2 I intended to be a skeletal flasher, but couldn't find an affordable skeleton, and since I found a funny shirt with a bikini-clad lady, used that instead and accidentally became a hooker.

Year 3: Soy Zorro! Because maybe Don Diego was just the front, and it was really his secret twin sister riding around California defeating tyranny. Nobody ever suspected a woman of doing anything cool...

Haven't decided whether to wear pants or a skirt yet, and I still have to make my tin foil sword.
Also, I briefly freaked out that I might accidentally be the McDonald's Hamburglar, until I realized he's in a striped outfit.

En garde!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bundles and bundles

The other sister had her ultrasound today, and they learned the baby's gender. So in addition to having the cutest niece in the world, born a mere 4 weeks ago, and for whom I will be the Cool Aunt, I'll also have a nephew come late February or early March, for whom I will probably end up being the Political and/or Heathen Aunt by default.

Apparently the doctor told them either the baby was really large for its stage, or they miscalculated the conception date. I'm a fan of the first explanation -- the kid is half Samoan, after all. And the groom's side of the family are all well over 6'3".

Meanwhile, I still have never changed a diaper in my life...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bronze is still a medal

Captain Blunder and the Awkward Silences finally had a trivia team, and we came in 3rd! The ol' Captain wasn't the team name, but still. Xtina, freshly licensed to perform marriages and funerals and other such official ministerial business, brought her sister and a friend, who both amazingly knew car logos and sports and pop culture stuff that have been bogging us down for eternity.

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams were all only one point apart. Which means if we'd bet just a few more points on one of our answers, we might have won. But I'm not complaining about 3rd! Or the fact that we had more than a 2-person, Humanities-heavy team!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What's it all about?

The other movie we didn't end up watching last weekend was the 2004 remake of Alfie. I've never seen the original with Michael Caine, but on a purely superficial note, I'd prefer to see Jude Law in the title role.

I expected to hate the movie. (I should stop with the expectations going into movies, they haven't tended to be right lately.) While I didn't love it, or even really like it, it was decent. I thought it was going to be the overdone and highly unrealistic cad-finds-right-woman-and-settles-down story, but it wasn't. Whatever the original was like, I'm sure this version altered some of the subplots substantially -- I doubt that erectile dysfunction, abortion, and interracial relationships were part of the original script. (Or maybe they were, but I really don't feel like watching Michael Caine play a womanizer to find out! Aauugghh.) At any rate, Law was a great Alfie. The style of the movie fit well, too -- he talks directly at the camera half the time. Aside from that, though, there was no real insight into his character or behavior.

There were also some really good black and white stills at the end of the movie.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Aaaaaand with two more outs left in the top of the 9th, I can already hear the cars, honks, and cheers from the bars on Comm Ave.

I still can't quite get used to how late baseball games are played on the east coast...

The First Rule of Fight Club

Regardless of who wins tonight...

Like any sports fanaticism, there is no real logic (except geography) to my postseason baseball rules.

These have been the rules for over ten years:

1. Root for the Mariners.
2. If the Mariners are not in it, root for the Western Division team that is.
3. If there's no Western Division team in the ALCS, root for whatever American League team's city is physically closest to the west coast, except the Rangers, Indians, or Yankees.
4. Root for the American League team in the World Series.

Park 'n Ride

I reordered my Netflix queue last weekend, moving to the top two movies both I and Lady Grace had on our lists. Turns out we didn't watch any TV in the evenings, we just sat around talking politics with her parents, which of course was awesome! However, it also left me with two movies I didn't really want to watch on my own but now have to, since I still have them.

Riding in Cars with Boys was one of those movies. First of all, there are very, very few Drew Barrymore movies I actually like. So that should have been a tip-off. Secondly, I didn't read Beverly D'Onofrio's memoir, so I don't know if the movie is very true to it or if I'd even like the book. Regardless, I think the girl-gets-pregnant-in-the-60s thing is overdone. The plot definitely addressed a lot of good issues, and portrayed what is probably real life for a lot of families struggling with addiction, poverty, and lost dreams.

The film had its moments. My favorite is the one where you realize the guy driving Beverly's car isn't her boyfriend but her son. And then, of course, you know where the flashbacks to her life as a 15-year-old are going to lead... There are a lot of other moments that are also so pathos-ridden that you can't help but empathize. Then again, there are also a lot of clichés. But in general, I felt like I knew where the plot was going the whole time, and I don't tend to like movies that I can predict.

Big Brother Wants YOU to...

The Actor's Gang came to campus, and since it was only $5 --$5!!!-- for students, it was a pretty good deal.

Michael Gene Sullivan's adaptation of 1984 was brilliant. Instead of telling the story in a linear fashion and having to change the sets or the scene every ten minutes, the entire story is told through acted-out flashbacks during Winston's interrogation and torture. It's pretty true to the subplots and general spirit of Orwell's classic, which I haven't read since sophomore year in high school.

There was a Q & A with the actors afterwards, and the biggest thing the obviously left-leaning audience kept returning to was the similarity to the certain current political realities. But somehow I think the fact that the play itself didn't try to make any allusions to Guantanamo or the PATRIOT Act was more powerful, because the audience could make those connections on its own. Orwell's scenario is such a scary dive into the nature of power, surveillance, manipulation, and fear that anyone in any audience can somehow relate to it.

The one scene in the book that I've vividly and traumatically remembered is the one with the rats. And throughout the play, I kept thinking "Oh hey, they cut out that scene!" But oh no. It's kind of a crucial scene. It's there.

Ironically, I passed tons of posters on campus advertising the play and the tour dates, but I never stopped to read the details. I accidentally read about it in the free newspaper over some stranger's on the T yesterday! And ended up running into some people I knew there. Small world.

Afterwards, the honking cars and whoops from bars told me who won Game 6 of the ALCS.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Captain Blunder and the Awkward Silences

Sigh. Xtina and I have been fated to sail alone from pub to pub in search of a good trivia place, bailed on by friends, relatives, coworkers, and fellow grad students alike, for ten weeks.

Okay, not really ten weeks, that was just for literary drama.

But we will reach Ithaca one day!

Marching towards Bethlehem

The other day a coworker and I had the age-old lunchtime debate: will a white woman or a black man become president of the U.S. first?

I tend to think the former; my coworker thought the latter. It was interesting, though, because our backgrounds naturally predisposed us to our answers. I have the resume filled with civil rights and multi-racial coalitions, and work with immigrant populations and communities of color, and I'm pretty pessimistic about progress in American attitudes about race. She on the other hand went to all-female schools her entire life and has been very involved in mainstream feminist groups and pro-choice organizations, and despite the huge gains for women in the past 40 years, is more cynical than anyone I've ever met about American perceptions of women as leaders.

The question might overly simplify the issue of social inequality by ignoring a hell of a lot of other groups, but in some ways it's more realistic and cuts straight to the chase. (I remember first having the debate during lunch in high school!) The issue isn't which oppressed group "trumps" another by becoming more assimilated or "accepted" or mainstream. The issue is more about achieving economic, social, and political equality, and the role of power, though the word "power" itself has certain meritocracy-crushing connotations.

It was a pretty interesting half-hour discussion.

This week's obsessions

My new sherpa-lined fleece hoodie, which I got at an outlet store in Kittery for an unbelievable price, is warmwarmwarmwarmwarm, and I don't want to ever take it off!!!!

Unfortunately, it's also SO warm that it's inducing a dormitive state as I am attempting to summarize the postmodern linguisitic theory in Critical Legal Studies. Or maybe it's the subject matter...

At any rate, this week's procrastination resources have been:

* "Hips Don't Lie," that great danceable song by Shakira. Can't get enough of it lately. Don't know why.
* Wonkette
* Visiting the websites of all the presidential candidates, from both parties. It's, uh, school-related. Okay, not really. But an unempirical eye can still make observations... and not do homework.

Fred Thompson on myspace. That is a scary, scary thing...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Esto Perpetua

From ME to ID...

The Larry Craig scandal is kind of old hat, but this video still cracked me up.


Spent three days up in Maine with Lady Grace, to:

1) Visit her host/adoptive parents on beautiful Orrs Island, near the quaint little quintessentially New England town of Brunswick. She hadn't been home since Easter --unacceptable, given that her parents rock! Had a dram (okay, several drams of Oban) with her dad, the one who got 8% as an Independent in the ’06 race for Congress. Nothing better than drinking whisky and talking politics into the wee hours of the morning. He’s also a Northeastern alum and so was curious to hear how my first few weeks in grad school have been. Of course, I raved about the recent poli sci prof we had lead a class discussion just this past Thursday, which led to more discussions about the current political and social climate. (I did keep returning, perhaps randomly and alarmingly, back to how excellent our speaker was – I feel that can’t get enough recognition, since I’m now the biggest worshipping fan….) Her parents are also huge peace activists and were telling us of all the events they’re planning, their latest arrests, their conversations with people, etc. Plus they just got back from a trip to Paris and had a lot of other great stories.

2) Go shopping in Freeport and Kittery. I have a new niece to buy cute stuff for, after all. Got quite a bit of my Christmas shopping already done! Woot woot.

3) Attend select Homecoming events on Mayflower Hill. We skipped the football game and stopped by the houses of some faculty and staff we've kept in touch with, who all decided to vent to us about all the latest shenanigans of the administration and spoiled students. Then we grabbed one drink at the pub. And damn, the place has changed! There are like four new buildings, everything else has been renovated, and the Student Union has been completely rearranged. The pub has been moved, so has the old concession-like area, and both have been uber-sterilized. We ordered cheese fries, and instead of using real cheese like they did six years ago, they used gross Cheez Whiz. It was odd walking around, and I felt like a ghost haunting a past life. I didn’t jettison any baggage into the pond or burn any incense on the quad to excorcize the bad chi, but I think overall the brief visit was good for the karma.

4) Get some allergic love from three cats. I had the foresight to bring both my pills and my inhaler, and both saved my life.

5) Re-catch the cold I just got over. Yay frigid northern temperatures.

The stars up north were phenomenally amazing, the shopping was good, and it was great to catch up with folks. But it was great to see city lights once we hit 95 South!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I hope Gore wins

(Of course, I'm sure it'll go to a deserving individual whether or not he does...)

Setting aside all debate about whether one organization or medal should hold so much social and political currency, or the fact that humanitarian efforts, human rights, and peace are inherently and undeniably political to begin with, the aftermath would play out so hilariously: "For his efforts to find policy solutions to the issue of global warming, which truly is a worldwide issue, and for the added burden of having to do this in America, which is not only one of the biggest environmental polluters but also home to most of the people who doubt the existence of the issue in the first place, the Prize goes to..." And then the predictable reaction: "This is a European, liberal, anti-American conspiracy! Partisanship! Biased political statement! Waaaaaa!" And the American President, who technically lost a past election to the prize recipient, would have to congratulate the recipient on becoming the fifth (I think) American ever to get the prize, on being recognized by the world's most prestigious award organization for crusading against fixing something said President doesn't believe exists in the first place.

You can't make this up!

Monday, October 08, 2007

As the World Turns

The Reverend X lent me her copy of The Better World Shopping Guide. It's a pocket guide to socially responsible companies, broken down by product (banks, bath, meat, shoes, etc). Each company in each area is given a grade, based on their environmental practices, human rights record, animal testing practices, community involvement, and a few other categories. It was short enough to read on the bus to work this morning.

I was curious about some of the rankings, and wanted to see some of the background research or even reasons some companies got better grades (they're not always given in the book), but either the Better World Shopper website has been having issues all day, or it's my unknown benevolent neighbor's wi-fi connection that is wonky. At any rate, I was unable to see why Chipotle was the only fast food chain given an A+. (The only time I ever ate there was about a year ago, in D.C., fleeing the aggressive HRC clipboard canvassers in Dupont Circle. It was about 5:55, and I thought their shift ended at 6, so that by the time I got out they'd be gone. Alas, their shift ended at 6:30, so they all converged on me. One even said "We saw you go in there. We were waiting." This is all the long, rambling way of saying I'm shocked that a company with incredibly, incredibly crappy burritos is apparently the most socially responsible. For some reason I thought they were owned by McDonald's. Now if only they could work on flavor....)

Good news: I'm doing great on food across the board (everything from meats to seafood to produce to juice to milk to booze), and bath/body products, and cleaning and laundry supplies. My record is fairly OK on financial institutions, mainly because La Madre has worked for credit unions for the past decade, so that's where all my meager savings are.

Bad news: Clothes and shoes. But I knew this. Sigh. I'm not giving up my Freeport stop this weekend....

Sunday, October 07, 2007

As I walk through the valley of the ...

I had the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot" stuck in my head the other day. Ever since it came out, I've been slightly conflicted about it. One the one hand, it's a super catchy song. On the other hand, the Zoot Suit Riots were not a happy chapter in America's racial history, and bopping happily without acknowledging that doesn't sit well with me. Then again, that whole album is brilliant in that it's all fairly subversive material; all the others songs are also about a darker side of reality, set to swing. With art, discomfort is usually a good sign. It spurs discussion.

I think I subconsciously got the tune stuck in my head because I've had American Me in my movie queue forever. Any movie about violence, prison, and prison gangs is not going to be a happy one, and American Me was no exception. It starts with the Zoot Suit Riots in 1943 and ends in the early 1990s, and traces the lives of three friends who form a street gang in East LA, get sent to juvenile hall, re-form their gang, get sent to state prison, re-establish their monopoly on the drug trade, then get out of prison and re-adjust to getting on top of the drug trade outside. It's a brutal, disturbing, uncomfortable tale that doesn't spare any details of the killings, rapes, drug overdoses, and racial and ethnic tensions it depicts.

Back in undergrad sociology classes, we had to do a lot of readings on gang formation, prison group dynamics, and "street" economics. It's possible to study and explain social structures without justifying them. But part of me, probably because I went to an urban public high school, albeit in a small wannabe city, finds it pretty scary. It wasn't some distant issue I can discuss from the "safety" of the suburbs and the supposedly "better" schools -- from grade 6 onwards we had speakers come and talk to us about the dangers of joining gangs, why we shouldn't join gangs, why we should turn in peers if we know they're bringing guns and knives to school. Most of it was adult paranoia., which is not to lesson the reality of the cycle of violence involving gangs or drugs and prison. But I do also know the colors of some local gangs, and have friends who were affected by family members who joined gangs.

However, most of me doesn't like the gang film genre. Because one, movies about gang wars highlight only the gang aspect of life in a particular locale, ignore everything else around it (the schools, the families, the churches, the positive stuff that goes on, etc), and present an image that "those people" in "those neighborhoods" live, breathe, and die only gang-related activity. And two, "those people" are usually Latino or black or Italian or Irish working class, and they're always, always, always men. And based on heavily prevalent cultural images like that, everyone "knows" (it's necessary to bust out the postmodern quotation marks) what life for "everyone" is like in Compton, East LA, South Chicago, the Bronx, or South Boston.

The movie is based on true stories, there's no denying that. It presents the reality, filled with drive-by shootings and gang retaliations and prison rape, for many, many people. But another part of me also wonders if movies like this one actually feed conservative policy stances. Lock them all up! Harsher sentences! Get them off the streets! Ignore the root causes of poverty and crime! Ignore why kids form gangs to begin with! More band-aid solutions! Keep standing downstream! It was the kind of shocking and tragic film with the statistics at the end and no concrete advocacy positions: "Last year, 3000 people died in gang-related activity. . ." leaving the viewer to infer their own course of action.

So THEN! I called up my bro-in-law, who hails from East LA, whose sister is a cop in an anti-gang unit there, who is getting his doctorate in American Ethnic Studies, and whose Netflix queue I stole the movie from, to rant about the movie. It turns out we have ...different views. One of the first things he said was, "Yeah, I grew up there," and then proceeded to say that the movie spurred a lot of dialogue and was one reason why neighborhoods got grants for community centers and other youth activities. Drawing from my own advocacy experience in getting federal afterschool funding, I know that the messages you spin to different partisan lawmakers in order to get an appropriations bill passed can sometimes be drawn from unhealthy stereotypes: "Look what these kids will do if they don't get a community center! They'll go out, get guns, and shoot innocent bystanders, possibly you!" Then he pointed out that the film is trying to highlight the cycle of violence (by starting in the '40s with the zoot suiters and pachucos, then ending in the 90s with the third generation of kids forming their own gang), and how it will continue to be a cycle unless something is done. He pointed out that the film came out about the time as Boyz n the Hood, and has a lot of similar elements, such as humanizing stories from the hood, and that these LA gang movies were from the era of Pete Wilson, who is not well loved in the non-affluent sections of California. But that brought me back to how the film doesn't suggest anything on its own, and the "solutions" a mainstream audience can draw are that kids in East LA are naturally prone to violence, will all drop out of school anyway, should all be locked up, more cops should patrol their neighborhoods, and again, root causes of violence and poverty and power can be ignored. I am definitely more cynical. But then, my city wasn't the one with the Zoot Suit Riots. Or the one where the Crips and Bloods began.

We reached a happy medium eventually, and agreed that the film can be interpreted in many ways, that we each had valid points, and that he was not as jaded as me.

The documentary in the Extra Features section of the DVD was actually better than the movie itself. I think the "Making of" section did more of the humanizing and explaining than the film's script -- they interviewed gang members and community members who'd been affected by gang violence, highlighted positive community activities, and put things into better social perspective.

And now, must find happiness and subliminal messages somewhere, to get my mind off the movie. Where's Winnie the Pooh????

Lesson Learned the Hard Way #1735

It is indeed possible to burn oatmeal (who knew?) and set off your smoke detector, all because you were practicing "Son of a Preacher Man" in the other room, in preparation for Tuesday or Wednesday's karaoke, while deciding whether or not to delete the never-used playlist you created for your sister's wedding dance that never happened.

On the plus side, it's good to know the smoke detector works, and that the playlist is worth keeping!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I'm in London Still...

Took a break from the paper on candidate blog analysis in the '04 presidential race to watch Eddie Izzard: Unrepeatable. I'd seen snippets of some of his other shows, but never one in its entirety. I'm trying to watch all of them in chronological order, for no other reason than to see if there's a progression in his routine. Actually, I tend to try and watch most things in chronological order....

Izzard is a great comedian. What I liked and really appreciated was that his act was intelligent -- he touched on everything from pets to medieval monks to the royal family to laundry. (Though in Unrepeatable he wasn't famously dressed in women's clothes, there's a point midway through where he talks about being a transvestite.) The style was very stream-of-consciousness, and it worked. I didn't laugh until my sides ached at any point, but I laughed smaller appreciative chuckles consistently throughout the act, which is waaaay more than I can say about other shows by other comedians.

Then, to further procrastinate, I opted for a Netflix online movie: Bright Young Things. It was directed by Stephen Fry and had a fairly impressive cast --everyone from Dan Akroyd to Stockard Channing to Peter O'Toole to Sir John Mills. It's apparently based on a book from the 1930s, so I don't know if it is true to its source material or not (actually, some of it can't be, because it goes a few years into the War).

The movie started off as both a glamorized glimpse into and an indictment of the Paris Hilton set of the 1930s -- rich, young, mainly aristocratic, hedonists. The main character is a writer struggling to make enough money to be able to marry the woman he loves; there's a minor subplot about an elusive alcoholic major who has the money he needs. Then they all slowly start to unravel, and a few come to tragic ends. Then World War II starts. By the end, it's a bit ironic and weird: the writer fellow who doesn't have the money to get the life he wants just simply purchases it. As in, a wife and kids. In some ways it's no less crude than his girlfriend choosing to marry someone else who is richer. It was just a little odd.

The film itself if good, even if some characters (like Peter O'Toole) just disappear inexplicably. Great visuals, especially the elaborate party scenes. Also, the soundtrack is killer.

And now, back to political blogs.

Ithaca is ...

This gorge was created five years ago in Texas. Totally cool. Geology rocks, har de har...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Vote or Die

Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? is a wonderful documentary that simultaneously boosted my faith in small grassroots campaigns and made me a little more cynical about national politics. The film follows the 2004 Democratic primary in Missouri's 3rd congressional district, in the wake of Dick Gephardt's retirement. About a dozen Democrats vied for Gephardt's seat, and teacher Jeff Smith was one of them. His main opponent was the Governor's son and a member of the Carnahan family, Missouri's own political dynasty.

Through the various stages of the campaign process, you learn more about Smith. He's my type of candidate. (Then again, haha, I've never picked a winner in a wide-open primary!) His campaign is like any underdog's: strong background in the community, long hours, heavy on the door-to-door, secondary reliance on phonebanking, run by volunteers (most of them college students with no campaign experience). I got a premature election day buzz watching it all.

The answer to the title question is no. Smith loses the primary. He comes in a close, close second, though, due to a lot of hard work, nonstop mobilizing and messaging, and a very personal campaign strategy. But ultimately, Carnahan's name recognition gets him to Congress, despite the fact he ran a crappy campaign. That's the demoralizing part, the idea that national politics isn't about ideas or policies or making a difference, and that the Jimmy Stewart role was just propaganda to make everyone wave the flag and yell "Rah rah democracy." Smith does, however, go on to win a seat in the state senate, and the film shows a bit of that in the end. So he still makes a difference, just at a more local level. Maybe that's the key. Because it sure as hell was the message of the film.

Watching the documentary was a little bittersweet -- I'll miss campaigns for two years, ironically while studying how law and policies affect society! I'll miss the initiatives, the local races, the bloodbath primaries (oh wait, that's redundant). This November will be the first election night I don't go to an election night party, unless an extreme, extreme miracle somehow inserts me into the Massachusetts political machine (highly unlikely).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The best-laid plans o' mice and two women

So apparently, no matter what we do, Xtina and I will always be only a 2-person trivia team. This time, we left the City, in an attempt to be closer to a sleep-deprived person on west coast time with evening work commitments. What that got us was a local bar on the edge of the commuter rail, with the trivia company that has the weird point ranking system, and two hours with a lot of ridiculously obscure questions about sports, music, and movies. The saving grace was that there was a Scottish beer on tap that was excellent.

But toujours l'espoir! There's always next week! A different pub, a different day.