Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The BBC has a new (kinda) mini-series about average people surviving a global pandemic that leaves them virtually alone in a depopulated Britain, forced to recreate society in the face of their own human foibles. I say kinda because Survivors is a remake of a 1970's BBC series, created by Terry Nation (who created many of the best bits of Doctor Who). I only saw the first episode of the original series, but I did read Terry Nation's novelization of the first season (his only season with the show) completely by accident, and didn't realize that it was based on a TV show until well after watching that sole episode. The novelization was as good (if not better) than The Stand, The Day of the Triffids, and similar post-apocalyptic treatments, with its violent and downbeat climax (which diverges sharply from the TV series) remaining particularly haunting. The TV series also seemed like good stuff, but, having missed the second episode in the days before DVRs, Hulu, and Netflix, I didn't bother to keep up. So I am really comparing this modern remake to Nation's novel, if anything.

And, after watching the first two episodes, it doesn't really measure up. Having decided to avoid the "dreary" pessimism of the original series, the producers of today's Survivors plan to focus on the hope and triumph of plucky Brits retaining their values and humanity in the face of civilization's collapse. A noble thought, but the truth is that half the "fun" of post-apocalyptic fiction is watching average folks survive through grim efficiency, often requiring them to compromise those modern values to live through the day. Case in point is the second episode, where the survivors are kept from foraging the local supermarket by a tiny gang because their leader is armed with a double-barreled shotgun. Now my first thought would be to find the nearest TA depot or an abandoned Armed Response Vehicle and get something like this or this and take out the wannabe warlord with his Elmer Fudd gun. But then I'm an American, and I can't help but think that the Brit creators of this show would see that resolution as some kind of horrifying failure rather than the upliftingly human "solution" where the survivors flee the scene back to their cozy cottage in the woods, leaving the yobs in charge of the town and the threat unresolved. When much of the attraction is to see how characters use their intelligence to survive, Survivors knee-caps itself by forcing the characters to behave by the same moral sensibilities they owned before the collapse.

It also doesn't help that the lead character has been turned from the "hausfrau turned coldly-efficient tribal leader" of the original series and novel into a shrill soccer mom obsessed with finding her lost child. The original character had the same goal, but the creators there had the good sense to see that it was dramatically uninteresting to have her do this same act every damn episode, and gave her the larger motivation of creating a community in which to raise her child when the kid was found. That said, the other characters of the new series - an escaped convict who is either sociopathic or grimly realistic about the situation (or maybe both); an Arabic playboy forced into caring for a Muslim fundie kid; a lesbian (maybe?) doctor; and the next Doctor Who - are all improvements on the otherwise vanilla characters of the original series.

All in all, Survivors feels a lot like Jericho, another show where the creators thought it should be about something (the strength and spirit of hometown America) when the viewers wanted something else (radioactive zombies snacking on Kansan brains). It's not awful, but it's already so veered itself off the path of "reasonable response to this situation" that I'm strictly hanging on because it'll be over soon (there's only six episodes in this season) and because I'm a sucker for anything with a British accent.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quantum of Solace

It was good. Not as great as Casino Royale, but only in the sense that it isn't as full-fledged a film in its own right as its predecessor. You'll probably be completely lost in Quantum without having seen Casino Royale, and will surely be missing whatever emotional power the film tugs at with its constant references to Bond's ill-fated love for Vesper Lynd. It exists mostly as the epilogue to Casino Royale, but I still found it fun, exciting, and deep enough (in a rather disposable pop culture sort of way) to sustain itself.

While I very much liked Casino Royale, I remained concerned that this reboot of the Bond franchise had yet to deal with the central problem afflicting most spy thrillers these days: the Cold War is over and ignorant religious nutjobs in caves don't make nearly as interesting devious masterminds as our mythical versions of the KGB did back when Bond had a Scottish accent. So, taking its cues from Jason Bourne, Quantum pits Bond as much against the Americans and his own government as it does against a not-too-original alliance of a tinpot dictator and an omnipotent secret cabal, finally making a Bond film whose subtext doesn't play as an anti-Communist screed but as something matching modern-day concerns. Indeed, if Quantum is anti- anything, it's anti-globalization, with the real villain being the influence of amoral corporate interests on government intelligence policy.

Yet Quantum of Solace is still a Bond film, and is really about an ultra-cool badass playing the "kiss-kiss, bang-bang" game. Lacking a new Vesper for James, there is less "kiss-kiss" than in Casino Royale, but the more "realistic" subtext saves the film from being less human because of it. The film is also tighter (though just slightly) than Casino Royale, with nary a breathless moment between it's numerous fight scenes, yet more than enough plot (it starts to feel like Syriana at times) that it doesn't feel like one damn battle after another (i.e. The Matrix sequels).

If there is any real criticism, it's that Quantum ends too abruptly. Having set up so many plotlines, many are left to be tied up unsatisfactorily in dialogue exposition after all the explosions have burned themselves out. While it makes a nice coda to Casino Royale, it's nothing more than that, but it does a very good job of laying the groundwork for where this new Bond is headed.

Friday, November 7, 2008

"Some Kind of Special Mustache?"

Get Your War On by way of Wonkette:

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at 236.com.

Some Final Thoughts on Prop 8

I've spent way too much time today reading through various progressive blogs gauging the reaction to the passage of Proposition 8, and the postmortem that is developing leaves me cold. My thoughts:

Blacks are not to blame for Prop 8 passing: It's disturbing that 70% of African-Americans would vote Yes on 8, while whites and Hispanics averaged out to around 50-55%. This does not change the fact that the vast majority of voters who voted for 8 were the same majority of voters who vote in anything in California: whites. It would be just as easy (and equally fruitless) to blame the over-65 voters for the proposition. This sentiment that it was the blacks that sold out the gays in California seems based more on hurt feelings over the huge positive outcry forthe Obama win in the midst of the hurt over Prop 8 passing. I can understand that sentiment, but it serves no purpose.

Mormons and their out-of-state money are not to blame for Prop 8 passing: The Mormon money that poured into California from Utah was sickening, not simply because the church has a long history of institutionalized bigotry against minorities but also due to their own history of discrimination based on "traditional marriage". Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the No on 8 group had more money in its coffers than Yes on 8, and more of that money came from out-of-state as well. To claim that it was Utah that caused Prop 8 is simply hypocritical.

Californians are to blame for Prop 8 passing: Prop 8 ultimately had majority support (albeit marginal) among a wide variety of ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds. Claiming it was Blacks or Mormons or some other small portion of the state population is both ill-reasoned and serves no purpose in future action for gay rights. We needed a widespread, grassroots movement, backed by solid canvassing action at the field level to sway undecided voters, rather than fruitless visibility efforts in solidly liberal areas and wasting gobs of money on television commercials that never defined the issue in anything other than a reactive manner. We had the volunteers, we had the money, we simply lacked the leadership.

And ultimately, it was that lack of leadership that resulted in failing to get out the vote, to making certain that progressive voters understand the magnitude of the proposition and remained at the polls even when Obama's victory was certain. Only 49% of San Francisco came out to vote on Tuesday, which is simply inexcusable when the No on 8 leadership was already myopically focusing on GOTV efforts in liberal bastions like SF. If their best effort at GOTV garners only 49% of voters in San Francisco County, then something really stinks at the top of this movement.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why Prop 8 Lost

There's a really good article on Calitics on why Proposition 8 lost this morning, and I gotta agree with most of its conclusions. While I don't fault those progressives who concentrated on the Obama campaign rather than work for No on Prop 8 (I think it's wrong to assume that the Obama supporters were necessarily No on 8'rs, much less that they were enthusiastic enough to work for the cause), I definitely agree that the movement's emphasis on preaching to the choir in liberal areas and failing to define the argument before the Yes on 8 folks could bring in the "What about the children?!!" shit was a significant mistake.

There should have been no money and effort put into preventing Prop 8 from getting on the ballot, as it's far too easy to get anything on the ballot in California through the referendum process and this issue has too much support on both sides to really hope that it could be marginalized into non-existence. Though Prop 8 may get struck down by the California Supreme Court, we need to get a "repeal Prop 8" proposition out there for 2010, despite fears that it could turn the gubernatorial election for the Republican candidate, and get out the vote in what should be a simpler message to voters than it was this election cycle.

Big Fat Change Day: A Long Way Left To Go

According to the LA Time's nifty gadget, Proposition 8 now sits at 52.4% Yes vs. 47.6% No, with 62.8% of the precincts reporting. There's no true comfort in believing that most of the No on 8 leaning precincts have votes left to report, as the real hope there was LA County, which, at halfway reported, is actually trending towards Yes. My county in Contra Costa, where I put in the work this morning, is admirably trending No and is only half reported; still, my gut tells me that this won't be enough and the writing is on the wall: Prop 8 is going to pass.

This is shameful, but it would've been so much worse if not for Obama's victory tonight. There is some relief now that, if and when the issue of gay marriage does make its inevitable way to the Supreme Court, there will be Obama-appointed justices to see that this kind of hate legislation is overturned and expunged in the manner of Loving v. Virginia. And there is a deeper resolve, engendered by the Speech, that, though this is a setback, we can and will overcome it simply by the consistency of our effort.

This is not over. There will be a day when all Americans will share the same freedoms, the same rights, and bear the same respect. There will come a day when America will live up to its own ideals.

Yes we can.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Big Fat Change Day: Yes We Can

It's not yet up on the Barack Obama Youtube channel or I'd embed the Speech. There is nothing that I could say that could anyway express what I'm feeling after I heard Obama's first speech as the President-Elect of the United States of America. I just wish I could embed it here and simply post "Listen".

Jeannine and I donated, we pamphleteered, we phonebanked, we wrote postcards, and we voted for him. We didn't always do these things together - sometimes it was me on the cellphone and Jeannine writing the postcard - but I couldn't have done any of that without her and she without me. We did this together.

And we did not do this alone. Obama is a good man, and I believe he will be a great President, but this movement was always more than one man, more than one party, more than one color, maybe even more than one nation. I trust that Obama will lead us to a more perfect union, to the America that we have so long been promised but never deserved, not because I believe him to be better than us, but because I believe him to be one of us. We did this, and my heart sings for what we might do tomorrow.

Big Fat Change Day: Much Ado About Nothing

So all my worries about Yes on 8 ugliness turned out to be unfounded. My day working the polls for No on 8 turned out to be remarkably civil, rather hopeful, but ultimately sedate. I got up way too fucking early this morning, and me and my poll partner headed out to Antioch, the ass-end of Pittsburg, the ass-end of Concord. This place is seriously gangsta, and I expected a heavy turnout of religiously-oriented minorities backed by the occasional Central Valley redneck. There was more than a little of that, but in truth, it felt like more than 50-50 between the No vs Yes on 8 supporters. And as for those Yes on 8 supporters, when the banner-wavers figured out what we were doing, they quickly brought some folks over to wave their signs beside us and not do to much else. While I often left my perch to approach folks, hand out pamphlets, and engage them in conversation on Prop 8, the Yes'rs were very docile, doing nothing more than waving their signs and not really stepping forward to hand out materials to voters (we suspected they didn't have enough literature on them to share it). We had conversations together, mostly on non-Prop 8 stuff because whenever they tried to convince us that disallowing gay marriage was somehow not discrimination, I only had to bring up all the joy and love I witnessed in City Hall, and how Prop 8 would ruin that for people, to render them dumbfounded.

About the only bit of ugliness was a man, driving out of the polling place, yelled out to Yes on 8'rs that what they were doing was bigotry and that it paralleled the hateful legislation that banned interracial marriage before activist judges struck those laws down with Loving v. Virginia. I agreed with the man, but there was no reason to scream it from a moving truck to people that were behaving civilly up to that point.

There was an early morning rush, but by the time my shift ended at 2pm, the polling site was virtually deserted. So, with my legs utterly ruined from standing for so long (these legs of mine are meant to sit on an ottoman, not stand), I bowed out for the day. Due to the heavy number of people that confirmed they were voting No on 8 in what should be a relatively conservative part of the Bay Area, I felt optimistic if not convinced that we might win the day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Big Fat Change Day: Yes on 8 Invades My Home

On Sunday, I underwent training to work the polls for the No on Prop 8 effort, which will have me and others handing out pamphlets and offering quick information to voters as they head to the polls. I was feeling comfortable with this until this evening, when Jeannine and I headed out for our usual Monday restaurant dinner with her family, and saw, amidst a very cold and soggy evening here in Concord, a horde - literally dozens - of Yes on Prop 8 supporters crowding the streets, waving signs and jeering at passer-bys.

This is going to be ugly.

I know an awful lot of the Yes on 8 folks are actually out-of-staters. Most of the money funding Yes on 8 has come from non-Californian conservatives and religious groups, and more than one church has bussed their faithful to the Golden State. The presence of so many of these folks in my city does not fill me with dread: the fight on Prop 8 is tight, both sides are strongly-motivated, and while many Obama supporters are voting Yes on 8, his impending victory is more likely to suppress Republican turnout (certainly enough to offset those Democrats shunning the polls under the false assumption that their man has it in the bag) which make up the core support for Prop 8. Nor do I think this turnout of Yes on 8'rs on Concord's streets is troubling for the state on the whole: Concord is not nearly the paragon of liberalism that exists west of the Caldecott Tunnel, and for every hatemonger on my city's streets tonight there are many more lovemongers that will turn out tomorrow in San Francisco and Berkeley.

No, what is troubling is that these people are likely going to be my problem. The prevailing mood during my training session Sunday was that No on 8 would be focusing their efforts on getting out the vote in areas where they expect heavy support, California precints so blue they look black. Most folks are going to preach to the choir in the progressive heartlands beyond the Caldecott and in the limousine liberal suburbs in my county. I however will be in Concord - heavily Hispanic (and thus Catholic), utterly blue-collar, gloomily regressive Concord. There's always been a part of me that's hated this place, and I think I may hate it no more than I do tomorrow.

Those Yes on 8 bigots I saw tonight are likely to stay here, to work the same polling locations I will. Not only might they outnumber us, but, while my fellows seem well-organized and disciplined, these folks are very much a rabble, and will likely have little respect for common decency. I expect us to be manhandled, our pamphlets taken out of our hands, epithets screamed into our faces, and so on. This won't hurt the No on 8 effort, and might in fact turn some voters, having seen the hate blatantly up close, to vote against Prop 8. And I am not concerned for myself: I was raised by an ex-Marine who believed in corporal punishment and a law enforcement officer whose toughness garnered her the nickname "Sergeant" amongst her fellow feds. This will be a cakewalk compared to coming home to those folks with a report card marked up with D-minuses.

That said, I am worried about what will happen to my fellow No on 8'rs, who, from that training session, seem like a bunch of kind, emotionally-stable, well-raised and well-educated, plain-old-decent people who are absolutely unprepared to be screamed at for hours by a bunch of hate-filled rednecks. So yeah... it may end up getting ugly in my neck of the woods.

We'll see what happens...

Big Fat Change Day: Phonebanking for Obama

You're wasting your time, brother. You can't tell me nothing that'll make me vote for that son-of-a-bitch.
That quote, from an old angry Iowa man, and the one Pennsylvannia woman who, when I called for her much younger son, stated with quiet desperation that "no one in this house is voting for Obama," amounts to the full amount of NObama response I received when I phonebanked for Obama this morning. I went through many sheets of phone numbers from Iowa and Pennsylvannia, and while I mostly talked to answering machines, a surprising percentage of the human beings I did connect with happily passed on that they had either already voted for Obama or were planning to do so tomorrow.

What brought on this last-minute scramble to do something for Obama was a poll I read on FiveThirtyEight.com on Sunday evening, which, for the first time in weeks, gave McCain more than 200 electoral votes in their projection. This ended up being an outlier, as Monday's polls have pushed those projections back down, and once I learned that most of the polls that give Obama only slight leads in the battleground states don't use voters with cellular lines, it's become certain to me that the only question for Tuesday is whether Obama will enjoy a landslide or just a simple victory. Nevertheless, by then I had already signed up for a full 8 hours of phonebanking on Monday.

It wasn't fun, although it was so very encouraging. In the middle of a workday in Walnut Creek - rich, white, and as close to Republican as it gets in the Bay Area - the phonebanking room was filled wall-to-wall with folks of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, so many that people ended up being forced outside to phone under tarps in the rain. If re-evaluating the polls had not encouraged me, that turnout finished the job. That said, it was really tiring work, and when my fully-charged phone finally died out, I was kind of relieved. I can't say I feel satisfied that I did everything I could in this election cycle - either for Obama or for No on Prop 8 - but it was nice to get in a little more activism before this all ends on Tuesday.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The End of Cynicism?

There's a great article this morning by Joe Klein (he of Primary Colors infamy) on Time's Swampland blog. First he discusses how Obama's early days might parallel the rookie mess of the Kennedy Administration (probably wrongly*), but he then goes into how, as it did with JFK, such calamities might not change the national mood, which will brighten and become less cynical about its institutions:
Why? Because Kennedy changed the American zeitgeist. He was a rebirth of American youth and vigor--or, as he pronounced, vigah--after a very hard midcentury slog. His arrival announced the coming of age of a new America: where most people owned their own homes, where a much larger number of people went to college, where the prejudices of the past regarding race and sex--and eventually sexual orientation--had no future. He embodied the return of prosperity, optimism and idealism (a bit too idealistic and optimistic, in fact--in Vietnam). He changed the way the world looked at America, and changed the way we looked at ourselves. He inspired my generation to join the Peace Corps, march for civil rights, get involved in politics. The nation became more adventurous, bolder, sexier, more prosperous and more powerful.
Klein expects Obama will engender much the same cultural changes as JFK, and I agree. My generation has been defined by a cynicism that has been toxic, both culturally and politically. We expect our politicians to be frauds, and thereby wallow in an apathy that self-confirms our worst fears. As for our postmodern culture, irony has replaced insight, leaving us satisfyingly hollow but with little human feeling. When was the last time you saw a film or read a book that presented a vision of the world that was neither depressingly cynical nor some by-the-numbers manufactured pablum? When was the last time we had a political campaign that was any different?

I realize that hope and change might be too ephemeral to truly put a stake in the cynicism that has marked my generation. We have been indoctrinated that all politicians are used-car salesmen, that nothing really changes except to get worse, that everything exists in shades of gray and that "good" and "evil" only exist for the blind fanatics of intolerance and ignorance. Now we accept these cynical tenets as facts, as "common sense", without realizing that they are as much based on faith as hope and change are.

Obama might not live up to the faith people like me are putting in him, but that's not entirely the point: that I have hope for the future gives me peace in the present. On Friday, for the first time in the six presidential elections I've been allowed to vote, I (early) voted for a candidate that wasn't the lesser of two evils, wasn't the one I felt the least cynical about, but for someone that I truly believe in, both out Faith and Reason. Win or lose, succeed or fail, Obama and the rest of us who have created this movement gave me that moment, and that is the kind of change that I believe in.

* History is not cyclical - historians are, because comparative analysis is always the easiest available tool. It's a common but lazy effort to equate our current leaders with those of the past, one that I am definitely guilty of, but the truth is that Obama will be, like those before him, something completely different. I don't expect him to be as radical as FDR, though I expect he will supercede JFK in many substantive ways (LBJ was responsible for much more policy action - both good and bad). We are heading into dark times full of peril but thereby offering much opportunity, and no one can really say how Obama will react, except, IMHO, with significantly greater competence and ethics than anything we've seen in the past 16 years. He is his own man, and will be his own President.

Saturday, November 1, 2008