Monday, March 31, 2008

For Want of a Nail... and a Brain Cell

So Ed "We don't vote for blacks here" Rendell decides to play Utau (if the Watcher was a whiny white male) and gives us an issue of What-If... Obama Was the Poor Loser:

"Just flip it for a second," Mr. Rendell said. "Let’s say Senator Clinton was ahead by about 110 delegates and ahead by less than 1 percent of the vote cast, and she and her supporters started to call on Senator Obama to get out. Just picture what the media would be saying. They’d be saying you’re being racist, you’re being everything in the world. It’s nuts! It’s nuts!"

Forget the fact that the mainstream media, in all their racial sensitivity, has been using the Wright controversy to hammer Obama as a dangerous black man come to roost his chickens because whitey gave us all the AIDs. That alone makes me suspect they'd be less likely to call an Obama a consumate survivor and scared to declare his chances over, even if the math makes it so - which has been the MSM line on Clinton even in this late hour.

No, the most salient point here is that the right course for alt-Obama is the same one for the Clinton in our timeline: quit. Alt-Obama would be in the same position, whose only hope is that alt-Clinton stumbles into a scandal big enough to wreck their inevitable victory. And, presuming that alt-Michelle Obama doesn't engage in gender-baiting after their upset loss in South Carolina and alt-Samantha Power doesn't spew bigotry about how the only way alt-Clinton got her position was because she was a woman, alt-Obama would actually be in an even better position than actual-Clinton, because he'd still have enough goodwill to negotiate a vice-presidency.

Clinton is quickly waning as a threat to Obama, so whether she stays in or quits really only hurts her at this point. And it is hurting her - dirty politics has manuevered her out of the vice-president position on Obama's ticket (unless he seriously swallows his pride and offers it to shore up the base); she is quickly destroying her goodwill in Congress through hard-selling the superdelegates, which creates enemies that block her chances of eventually becoming Senate Majority Leader; and if Obama does go on to lose in November, she will be painted as the Democratic Nader, whose political ambition caused her to tear the party apart, so that she has no chance of coming back to win it in 2012. She might still salvage her career by going after the governorship in New York, but does a state that has now had one governor fall and another one tarnished by sex scandals really want to invite Slick Willie to Albany?

Thursday, March 27, 2008


So I've been on a real tear through Weird War Tales style movies as of late, the last being Deathwatch, a British horror flick set during the First World War. This follows R-Point, a K-Horror movie about Korean Marines in the Vietnam War, and Outpost, another British effort about modern-day PMC's in some unnamed Eastern European shit-hole. All three films share the same basic structure: isolated soldiers come upon some creepy place, are forced by orders to remain as the creepiness slowly turns into malevolent nastiness, and things end badly as a stark metaphor for the inhumanity of war and its warriors. Deathwatch, suprisingly, comes out as the least of the three.

Outpost has a really solid group of actors headlined by Ray Stevenson (Pullo from Rome) and Julian Wadham, neither of whom allow the silliness of the material (Nazi experiments in Einstein's Unified Field Theory create extradimensional zombie stormtroopers) to undermine their earnest performances, which bring a sense of gravitas to the B-movie proceedings. And Richard Brake adds the fun with his understated Southern psycho role, delivering the greatest quote of the film: "Fuck, we killed just about everyone else. I figured it's about time we touched gloves with some Nazis." Still the film never really escapes its inherent shlock, particularly once the main baddie starts vamping around in his SS uniform.

The actors of R-Point deliver lesser performances than those of Outpost, but the Korean film holds out its horror longer through its more subtle psychological terrors. The story is simple but well-executed: ROK Marines are dispatched to recon an area avoided by the Viet Cong in search of a missing patrol which was believed to be wiped out, and the Marines end up trapped there in a supernatural purgatory. Although the setting of Vietnam is not unique and the filmmakers' approach lifts brazenly from Apocalypse Now, using Korean characters instead of the usual American G.I. stereotypes makes it all seem more like a charming homage rather than a hackneyed rip-off. Of the three flicks, R-Point tries the hardest at making a statement about how war can make monsters of human beings, and while it never succeeds at making high art, the fact that it is trying to be more than the average Sci-Fi Pictures Original Film ultimately raises its stock from B-movie status to more of an A-minus.

Deathwatch is not a bad movie, but it lacks the strong acting of Outpost and the tight story of R-Point, and suffers in comparison. Here we see a bunch of WWI-era British soldiers go over the top during a harrowing nightime attack, which immediately cuts to them stumbling upon a near-deserted German trench in the midst of a thick daytime fog. The soldiers almost immediately start going nuts in response to a few (really too few) unnatural shocks, particularly one very religious type who abruptly goes from quoting Scripture to making crazed exposition that pretty much reveals the nature of the "horror" halfway into the movie. And once that secret is revealed, the threats (where in one case of an attack by barbed wire is quite frightening) take on much less terror. The acting is okay, but suffers from the fact that a lot of performers look alike and the characters have few differences in personality. The single exception is a blood-crazed nutjob hammed up by Andy Serkis, but all his scenery-chewing does less to inspire the tired cast than to exemplify how lackluster the whole proceedings are. Deathwatch is passable for those seeking a ghost story amid the madness of war, but if you haven't seen Outpost or R-Point, do catch either of those flicks first for a more satisfying experience.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mythbusting Clinton

So Politico, and at least one Clinton staffer, is admitting what anyone not sticking their head in the sand has realized since the Potomac primaries: "Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning." It has long been improbable that Clinton could make up her deficit in the popular vote with Obama (which would have illegitimate even if she had, considering that the caucuses, mostly won by Obama, don't calculate well for an honest popular tally), but with the failure of Michigan and Florida to create a re-vote those odds go from improbable to impossible. Barring video footage of Obama cooking a baby while fellating Osama bin Laden, he's going to win the popular vote, the delegates, and maybe, with his own set of political miracles, reach the magic number of 2025 before the August convention.

The only narrative for victory left for Clinton is that she will have momentum in the last rounds of this fight, that Obama is too flawed to win November and that the people who would have supported him now have buyers' remorse. The problem with this fantasy is, firstly, that the national polls show recent decline for Obama but nothing apocalyptic; so, barring another Wright-style scandal, Obama is still in control and his momentum will continue. Secondly, and more importantly, Pennsylvannia is going to be followed directly by Indiana and North Carolina on May 6th, states that Obama is still likely to carry. And if Obama does carry those major states in the same overwhelming manner he did before the Texas and Ohio votes, Clinton will not simply be done but will be crushed in a humiliating manner. West Virginia on May 13 will probably be a repeat of Pennsylvannia, but the real contests will be in Kentucky and Oregon on the 20th, a match-up that will, at worst, be a tie between them. Puerto Rico, Montana, and South Dakota end the primary season, and while Clinton can pick up a lot of delegates in Puerto Rico, it won't be enough to give her the lead (or probably even narrow the margins). Looking at these contests, even the most optimistic Clintonite has to admit that April and May will be, at best, see-saw battles, and certainly not the landscape by which Clinton will be able to claim signs of momentum in her favor.

All that she can hope for is that Obama will implode through some monkey business, but even there she is setting herself up for failure. The kitchen-sink attacks and negative campaigning by the Clintons, continued today by Bill's not-so-sly disparagement of Obama's patriotism, is putting HRC in the position, not of saviour of the Democratic Party, but as the lesser of two evils, unlikely to mobilize the base and quite possibly setting November as a massive failure when the African-American and youth vote simply stay home on Election Day. While I agree with Politico that Clinton has no chance to win this thing, rather than wanting to see her drop out of the race, I'd rather see her run a clean campaign that focuses on the issues, respects her Democratic opponents, and builds momentum by taking McCain, not Obama, to the woodshed. If she did that, then if the heavens part and her chances are saved by an Obamaplosion, she will be in the proper position to take advantage of it.

On a seperate matter, Richardson's endorsement of Obama has lead into some discussion on the blogosphere as to when John Edwards will finally endorse, one way or the other. Looking at the primary schedule, my gut is telling me that Edwards will endorse Obama after Pennsylvannia but before North Carolina. That's his home state, where he can have the most effect. And perhaps more importantly, I think both he and Obama realize that his endorsement is unlikely to change the outcome in Pennsylvannia, and don't want to repeat the media chattering that the Kennedy and Kerry endorsement failed because Clinton won in Massachusetts, ignoring the enormous deficit that Obama shrank, giving him significant delegates even when he didn't win - which was the real story of the Super Tuesday primaries.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jeremiah Wright - The Full Sermons

So yesterday my Mom (an alternate delegate for Clinton in the Nevada caucus) emailed me to ask how I, as an ardent Obama supporter, felt about the Reverend Wright speeches that are getting such play on cable news networks. I responded that Wright is speaking from the previous generation, one that suffered a level of discrimination and humiliation that we cannot imagine, and that while Obama states that he cannot discount the importance of the man to his own life, he shares neither those views nor that perspective.

Then I came across the following, the much-more complete versions of Wright's two controversial sermons. Having heard his words in context, I have changed my mind on Wright. This is not simply a man trapped in time and is certainly not the manic anti-American ogre depicted in the press; rather, he is a man of Christian values with a rational and reasoned message that speaks truth to power.

This is not an anti-American statement (and the most controversial part is actually the quotes of a white American Ambassador named Edward Peck, a Reagan appointee). Wright is simply warning the nation that "violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, terrorism begets terrorism", a sentiment that America needed to hear in the wake of 9/11 and one that, had it been heard, could have avoided our current predicaments. Wright justifies this with episodes from American history (slavery, the destruction of Native Americans, the Hiroshima bombings as well as Bill Clinton's own irresponsible bombing of a chemical factory in the Sudan), and his interpretation of those events are neither controversial nor untrue. Wright's point ultimately speaks not to the evil within the American nation but that which he believes resides in the hearts of all individuals. He does this to urge his congregation to examine their own relationship with God rather than simply and solely condemning the sin in others, a very common and completely uncontroversial sentiment in Christianity.

Wright's other speech infamously cries out "God damn America", and make no mistake that Wright is stating that God has damned America. Yet he is not stating that God has always and will always "damn" America, and the central point of the sermon is "but governments change" while God itself is immutable. Rather than a condemnation of America, what Wright is really asking us to do is recognize that our nation has committed acts in the past that, by scripture, are worthy of damnation, but it is likewise capable of blessing, by virtue of the fact that it can change, for better and for the worse. Unless we recognize when America has been "damned" - if we blasphemously exalt this flawed human construct that is America to the level of divine worship - how we will ever see our faults to change them, and bring our country to a state where we can say, not out of blind patriotism but in the bright light of truth, "God bless America."

And then there is this: Wright describes Bill Clinton as "an intelligent friend" that turned into "a dumb Dixiecrat, "a rich Republican who has never held a job in his life, against affirmative action, against education, against health care, against benefits for his own military, and gives tax breaks to the wealthiest contributors to his campaign." That is one part of the speech I've seen no play of, and that's a shame; because, Wright almost perfectly captures why I do not want to vote for another Clinton Administration.

So I was wrong about Wright. Reverend Wright is NOT a tragic figure locked in the past, a victim of the racism heaped upon his generation and unable to free his mind from that history. He is instead a Christian man who recognizes that his faith requires more than moral piety to "traditional family values" but also a commitment to social justice. As a lapsed Catholic, I may not share his faith but I do share his intent, that when faced with the deep and complicated problems that beset our great nation we cannot be as children lead by those hypocrites in both blue and red, those who would herd us by our irrational fears rather than lead us through our better reason. Instead we should stand as adults, fully-aware of our own faults - of when we have been damned, of when our wrong begets only more wrong - so that we might lead our nation ourselves, through reason and truth, into that which Obama describes as "a more perfect Union." That is at the heart of the speech that Obama gave on Monday, and that is at the heart of why I support him, not simply out of a hatred of Clinton's duplicity nor a fear of McCain's agenda; but rather out of the reasoned hope of where Obama might lead us, where ultimately we can lead ourselves.

UPDATE (06/11/09): Right... so, all that stuff about Jeremiah Wright not being a tragic figure locked by his own past unable to free himself of the racism that marks his history... turns out, that is exactly what he is. I stand by what I wrote, because the media at the time had a very limited focus on the subject and really should've broadcast the entire sermons; but, yeah Wright's a nutbag.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Once More Into the Breach...

So here is my second attempt at a personal blog. I first created one through Yahoo 360, but found the software far too wanting. Hopefully this one will go better.

The impetus behind this blog is the 2008 US primary election season. I have another blog on Livejournal, expressly created to track my work on Our Darkest Hour, the WWII sourcebook for the Delta Green role-playing game setting. Throughout the election season, I've been driven to express myself on topics that have little to do with Our Darkest Hour, but feel uncomfortable doing so when people probably aren't coming there to read such rants. So here we are, although I figure to get more of my geek on than my wonk off, blogging more about comics and games than about voting trends in Pennsylvania.