Thursday, October 30, 2008

Buckshot: War of the Worlds

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars.

Seventy years ago tonight, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air scared the living crap out of a good portion of the country with their adaptaton of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. In honor of that anniversary, I've compiled some interesting links to help celebrate the night Welles & Co. "...annihilated the world before your very ears..."


I have an unabashed love for this radio drama, and have it on a CD I managed to find for $5 when I was in junior high. I listened to it again while working the other day and damned if it doesn't hold up seven decades later. It's easy to see how the public was fooled. If you listened from the very beginning, you knew it was a regular radio play, and there's a break at the halfway point that reminds you you're listening to the Mercury Theatre. But let's be honest. If you tuned in late and only heard the horrified words of Carl Phillips as the Martians unleashed their heat ray, you wouldn't be sticking around to hear that reminder that it's not real. You were packing up Mabel and the kids, loading your shotgun, and heading for a safe haven.

I took a science fiction course last spring as part of my graduate studies, and the professor played roughly the first half of the recording. I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) by how many giggles I heard. Then I realized that these kids weren't listening to it simply to enjoy it; they were looking for signs that it was all a hoax. And yes, if you listen and pay attention to the timeline, it's pretty obvious that things, while chaotic, were happening almost too fast. Nevertheless, Welles and his troupe made radio history that night, and I never get tired of listening to "the Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo!"

Oh, but The War of the Worlds didn't end in 1938...

1949: Quito, Ecuador

Eleven years after the Welles broadcast, the staff of Radio Quito decided to try their hand at re-creating the famous invasion. Was it a success? Well…sort of. It was a success in that it scared people; probably scared them a little too much though. People bought into the broadcast so heavily that they were running to the churches to confess their sins before the Martians arrived to kill them, and a local military unit was seen racing through town to fight off the invaders.

When the station realized the panic they had wrought, they came clean that it was a dramatization and issued a plea for calm. Unfortunately, the citizens of Quito didn’t see it that way and a large mob stormed the radio station. In the ensuing chaos, six people died and the station itself burned to the ground. Radio Quito’s art director (and architect of the event) Leonardo Paez allegedly fled the country never to return.

Sadly, no audio recording of this infamous broadcast survived.


1968: Buffalo, New York

For the 30th anniversary of the Mercury Theatre’s broadcast, WKBW in Buffalo decided to do a modern version of the invasion, with more of a newsroom feel to it. And you’d think that people would have realized it was a hoax…but no. Local police and other authorities were flooded with calls, and there are reports that Canada sent military units to border bridges to repel any Martians that set their eyes on our neighbors to the north. To its credit, WKBW did mention several times during the broadcast that it was a dramatization.

In 1971, they did a revised version that cut the length from 90 minutes to roughly an hour. This is the version that’s most readily available online. I’m not sure a copy of the 1968 broadcast has survived to this day, at least not in a wide circulation.

So how is it? Well…if you can get past the God-awful DJ at the beginning who interrupts his rockin’ Halloween night broadcast to bring you news of explosions on Mars, it’s not too bad. In particular, there are a couple of sequences where they’re supposed to be broadcasting directly from the newsroom that are very well-done, as you hear the chaos of phones ringing and people shouting to each other in the background trying to figure out just what’s going on. I like the structure, and the fact that you see it solely through the eyes of the broadcasters; they don’t hand control of the station over to the National Guard like the 1938 version did. But in my opinion, the original by Welles and Co. is simply a better performance.

War of the Worlds in other mediums:

H.G. Wells' story also inspired many film adaptations. The best of those is probably still the 1953 version by producer George Pal, if only because you get the amazing bit where a priest approaches a Martian war machine, bible raised in his hand, and gets atomized. (I imagine that was a little edgy for the 1950s.) But I think the Spielberg/Cruise joint from 2005 is pretty good, if not great. If nothing else, you have to respect how good it looks for being completed in less than a year, considering all the visual effects work.

Not to be outdone, in 1978, there was even a musical version produced by Jeff Wayne. It's supposed to be great, though I haven't had a chance to get my hands on it yet.

Downloads

The Mercury Theatre on the Air (Here you can download the entire broadcast as an mp3.)

Daevid MacKenzie does something interesting here: He attempts to re-create what many people actually heard on the night of October 30, 1938. A large portion of the audience was actually tuned in to The Chase and Sanborn Hour, only to switch over to the Mercury Theatre broadcast right around the time the Martian cylinder opens. MacKenzie blends audio of both shows to give you an idea of how it might have sounded to suddenly tune into a Martian invasion.

The Glowing Dial is an Old-Time Radio podcast, and this entry from 2003 has it all. Not only do you get the 1938 broadcast, but there’s a snippet from the press conference Orson Welles gave the next day, a brief interview between Orson Welles and H.G. Wells from 1940, and the 1971 WKBW broadcast. The hosts have kind of a groan-inducing sense of humor, but the amount of material they put together is very impressive.

Radiolab is a show broadcast on NPR that featured War of the Worlds this past March. They discuss the 1938 broadcast, as well as the subsequent versions. It’s a bit better analysis of the phenomenon than you get from The Glowing Dial.

Here you can listen to the 1938 and 1971 broadcasts in-browser if you don’t want to download them.

More War of the Worlds links:

War of the Worlds: The Complete War of the Worlds Website This site has everything you could ask for. Information on every incarnation of WotW from the original novel to radio and film adaptations and beyond.

Wikipedia entry on the broadcast.

Another comprehensive WotW website.

Wars of the Worlds - A load of links and chronology of other WotW broadcasts.

The full transcript of the 1938 broadcast can be found here or here.

And to close, I can't think of any words better than those spoken by Welles himself at the conclusion of the broadcast:

So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian. . .it's Halloween.


-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Buckshot: Eye of the Tiger


This popped up as a surprise outtake following this past Thursday's episode of Supernatural. It is without a doubt some of the most hysterical 76 seconds you'll ever see.



-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TPH: Make Your Case (Part 1) & The Hoedown Moves!


The Political Hoedown

Some of you might have noticed the Hoedown hasn't been posted in a few days. Well, it's leaving these shores, though I'm not leaving the Den. I'm proud to present the all-new, yet-still-the-same Political Hoedown. With its own site, I can post daily without clogging up the Den's main page. There will still be TPH posts here, important ones, but the bulk won't be linked directly.

So add
The Political Hoedown to your bookmarks. It's all the same exemplary political coverage, but now even moreso.

Onward! The following are the first of six posts aiming to convince you to vote one way or another. Following this round, we'll have another case for each candidate, as well as one against McCain.

Serving Democracy: The Case for Barack Obama by the Carolinian

Spelling Disaster: The Case Against Barack Obama by L.O.G.

The Limitless American Dream: The Case for John McCain by Erik M. Held


Be sure to check out all of the Political Hoedown's new site. There have been posts you may no nothing about! As usual, no registration is required to comment, and we appreciated any and all feedback.

Thanks for your continued support!


-Hooper

Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

TPH: The Final Debate (Dun dun duuuuuun!!!)


The Political Hoedown
The Sit-Down Debate (#3)


Forced to share the a table, John McCain and Barack Obama faced off in an uncaged verbal death match last night at Hofstra University. Moderating was the elderly, but deft Bob Schieffer of CBS, probably the best moderator we've seen this political season. The questions cut to the quick on many issues, were not softballs and prompted intense back-and-forths unlike anything we've seen in the previous 2008 Presidential debates.

Not that it was really that exciting.


***

Obama still monotoned his way through most answers, sticking to the stump speech talking points, using the phrase "middle class" about as often as he could and, if the opportunity arose, getting in some quick jabs or "nuh uhs!" to block McCain's attacks. On the issues, he was able to give a broad, appealing answer for any Health Care questions without really getting into the nuts and bolts of the matter. It was probably his best response, but certainly he did not show a complete mastery of all domestic matters.

On education, a key issue for any parent or potential parent, he said nothing. Oh, he said a lot of words, but they boiled down to an ignorance of the underlying problems and a desire to increase funding at a federal level without holding states at all accountable for the money they currently spend from their own coffers, much less the federal dollars. When the talk turned to vouchers in District of Columbia public schools, he agreed with McCain that they worked, then said he wanted to move away from them because there weren't enough available.

If something works in a pilot program, you usually expand, rather than eliminate, the specifics of the program. That leap in logic, pretty small, eluded Obama and I'm sure McCain is hoping this resonates particularly with urban parents who see their schools deteriorating and want another option.

Taken overall, it was another bland performance, or as the punditry says, "reassuring." He might be black, in other words, but he's not gonna steal your Jeep's spare tire. Smooth move, media.

But this wasn't about Obama. The last two debates haven't been. He has proven that he can give reasoned answers to questions, regardless of their origin (read: stump speeches), and that he can "look" presidential. It is known he is a good speaker, able to portray his ideas in a way that most can understand, even if nuts-and-bolts workings aren't overtly discussed. He has done very well in these debates, because there wasn't a very high standard he had to reach. Provided he didn't ramble like Kerry or act peevish like Gore or wild-eyed and hostile like Hillary, he had it in the bag.

Could you sit for 90 minutes and act respectable? Exactly. Not a lot of pressure was placed on him to present specifics on all of his plans, how they differ from McCain's (they are both very close on education and energy with only a few, though key, differences), how bipartisan they are or can be. Nor was he really pressed about his past legislative experience. He had to show up, not look like a clown and, three even-if-unexciting debates later, no big shoes or red, honking nose.

***

For all he was expected to do, McCain both hit the mark and wildly missed it. His two biggest missteps were Health Care and Obama's associations. There are enough circumstantial links between ACORN, Ayers and Obama to keep the latter flummoxed and without enough time to answer everything, but McCain only scratched the surface, trying to keep things above board (as his was considered the more negative campaign going into the debate).

On Health Care, his plan looks more complicated, but below the surface turns out to be a savings for the regular consumer and a "hand up" type proposal; he did not let people know Obama's was more hand out than not, and that simple in appearance, it was a mess when you get into it (a little partisan, I apologize, but I'm very concerned about health care costs long-term). Another prime opportunity to back Obama against the wall and he didn't take it.

True, the format - only 90 minutes with supposedly only 10 minutes per topic - limits the sort of true back-and-forth we need on these issues. For a candidate coming from behind, they either need a stellar quip that rocks their opponent back on their heels, or a mini-speech that effectively outlines a proposal while showing its merits versus the other guy's. McCain constantly needed more time to make his case now that he's realized there are three weeks left, his campaign staff led him astray for months and if he wants to even lose with dignity, he needs to make up at least four points in the polls and about fifty electoral college votes.

Sounds pessimistic, but as I mentioned when talking about Obama, McCain scored big on education. In the past, he's talked about the Department of Education in less-than-fond terms, even supporting its elimination. Right now, states provide the bulk of education funding for their states, though the Federal Government also chips in. A lot of money is thrown at education, but it's inexpertly applied. We're lagging in worldwide education standing because we can't add up the numbers we're spending on it, to paraphrase a joke my wife told me. McCain made it clear that he would aggressively attack education funding to cut the wheat from the chaff, make schools accountable, increase charter schools (which work) and vouchers (which also work, but aren't out of test districts yet). It's classic conservative policy - lean, efficient funding that gets the job done right, instead of a bloated budget (to be increased more under Obama) so big it's bound to hit the right beat every now and again.

And that leads in to McCain's key - and potentially game-changing - victory for the night. Spending & the Government. He emphasized time and again that he was for reduced government spending, spending freezes coupled with a "scrubbing" of every department of government to rid them of waste and lower taxes for everyone. Saying the corporate tax should be lowered was a gamble, and an open invitation to Obama to bring up Exxon and other oil companies that would benefit (McCain never in the debates reminded Americans that more than oil companies are corporations and will benefit from such a cut, as will your pocketbook), but it got the idea out there and gave him another stump speech talking point. Obama repeatedly mentioned that we needed to invest in this or that program, code for increased government spending.

By reigniting, even at this stage, the idea of a tax-and-spend Democrat running deficits up and mortgaging our children's future, McCain can avoid character assassination as the driving strategy. Here, domestically, is where they differ. Can McCain drive that stake into the Obama's campaign and make it stick? That's the big question.

***

The line that sticks in everyone's mind? John McCain said, "I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." It effectively stopped the "Bush III" or Bush/McCain bit Obama's been throwing around, and opened the door for McCain to attack Obama on never opposing his party (to which Barack failed utterly to present a time he did think for himself. The tort reform bill? 40% of Senate Democrats supported it. Hardly breaking with your party).

Does the winning sound bite mean he won? For that accurate hit that line landed, it did not make up for Obama's measured, cool, almost detached approach to answering questions. McCain was hopped up on crack for most of last night, full of energy, overflowing with talking points, righteous indignation and hope for victory. It, unfortunately, did not come through that way in the split screen, the big judge of debater's success, i.e. reaction shots.

So I can't say that McCain won based on his performance. Reading the transcript, I can't honestly say Obama won, since he repeated himself for the third time in a row. No change, no deviation, no off-the-cuff explanations of programs. Even McCain's answers seem run through with too much excitement, throwing him off track at times. He dominated for a third, went off the rails and missed opportunities, but then came back to finish strong. I think it was his best showing. Obama's best was last week, and here he appeared peevish, annoyed that he had to sit next to this old coot, and uninterested in really diving into the discussion. But he also appeared more focused for the balance of the night, and that might have won him the election right there.

***

Obama and McCain have been campaigning since early 2007 at this point. We know where they stand and the depth of their stances. By now, if you don't know a particular policy - unrelated to the bailout or economic correction/crisis/collapse - that's not the candidate's fault. Through writing, speeches, debates and surrogate interviews they have articulated exactly what they think about taxes, health care, Iraq, Iran, education, abortion, etc.

Last night's debate reminded us that for the first half of 2007 and 2008, John McCain led in national head-to-head polls. He's passionate, driven, focused on reform in government and changing course from what was promised in the Bush Administration to what we ended up with. Yesterday we also understood, yet again, why Barack Obama is a Democratic golden child, a leader and mouthpiece for his party, the true victor of the primaries and the driving force behind every political discussion in the latter half of the year.

Who is John McCain? Who is Barack Obama? What do they stand for and do I know more last night than I did yesterday morning?

I hope the debate came close to answering those questions. It was important, somewhat boring at times yet crackling with electricity at others.

***

We vote two weeks from next Tuesday. Not much time to make up your minds. We will be presenting cases for and against each candidates to help you if you're on the fence or give you talking points if you're not.

If you want to participate, send me an e-mail at denofmystery@gmail.com or, if you're on the distribution list, reply and let me know what you think.

A bit of humor: when interacting with the crowd at the end, McCain sort of waved his hands at one guy and did a little Gene Simmons' impression, over and done in a second. Well, someone had their camera ready:



God bless him, but that is not a flattering picture.

But Obama has looked...goofy, to say the least, including in this shot, at the first really featuring Joe Biden:



I don't know what to say that wouldn't be offensive. I...guess that means I'm going to hell.

-Hooper

Read on, faithful few!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Buckshot: Through the Lens of Nostalgia

Sometimes I read comments on the interwebs wherein a person watched a film they loved in their youth, only to realize in hindsight that it's not very good. Well, it's happened to me. On Sunday afternoon, I popped this in, thinking I was about to dazzle Mrs. Buck with my taste in films, and shine a light on one of those forgotten gems of the '80s: Red Dawn.


Man. That film has not aged well. Don't get me wrong, I'll always love the hell out of this movie, but for all the wrong reasons. It's definitely a guilty pleasure, and I'm kind of glad I don't have it in the collection. It's better-suited as one to rent and revisit every few years.

PROS:
Powers Boothe's much-needed gravitas
Harry Dean Stanton's melodramatic cameo ("Avenge me, boys! Aveeeeeeeenge meeeeee!")
C. Thomas Howell's goofy, Lord of the Flies-esque transformation

CONS:
Most of the line deliveries from the kids (although Swayze and Sheen come out all right for the most part)
The Yakov Smirnoff look-alike Soviet commander
The...ah, screw it. It's still a great movie!


Wolverines!


-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Meet the Press: January 22, 2006


Tim Russert interviewed Barack Obama in January 2006, covering a variety of subjects including 2008 campaign possibilities.

***

MR. RUSSERT: But there seems to be an evolution in your thinking. This is what you told the Chicago Tribune last month: “Have you ruled out running for another office before your term is up?” Obama answer: “It’s not something I anticipate doing.” But when we talked back in November of ‘04 after your election I said, “There’s been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your six-year term as United States senator from Illinois?” Obama: “Absolutely.”

SEN. OBAMA: I will serve out my full six-year term. You know, Tim, if you get asked enough, sooner or later you get weary and you start looking for new ways of saying things. But my thinking has not changed.

MR. RUSSERT: So you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?

SEN. OBAMA: I will not.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, thank you very much for your candor and for joining us and sharing your views.


***

Read the full interview here.

-Hooper

Read on, faithful few!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TPH: Can I respond? Pleeeaase?!? (Debate #2)


The Political Hoedown
The Town Hall Presidential Debate

Wouldn't it have been neat if they could've actually done the town hall debate in a town hall instead of another cheaply built, blue felt stage? I think so.

I also think it's very hard to watch these two debate. McCain obviously dislikes Obama, finds him repellent on a number of issues and morally questionable. Obama, on the other hand, thinks McCain = Bush and that Bush = Misguided and Evil so....

Tom Brokaw moderated at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Could've been worse, but it wasn't terrific, let me tell you.

Deep breath, people. Here we go. I promise to be quick.


***

The night started very well for John McCain, since Barack Obama didn't even thank him for being there, a standard courtesy. In their first economic go around, McCain had decidedly more "original" content in his answer than Obama's bland stump speech cannibalization. In fact, we were introduced to what could have been (and sort of was) a too-repeated Obama phrase, like McCain with maverick: middle class.

That's right, Obama let you know, America, then he believes there is such a thing as the "middle class." Class. McCain referred to this strata of citizens as "middle income," a key distinction. Republicans start culture wars, but Democrats thrive on class warfare. This set the tone for much of the economic and domestic back-and-forth. While McCain hammered down his various tax and health care policies (on the latter, not as effectively as he might've), Obama insisted it was all to benefit the upper class in the country, not you, the...middle class.

It doesn't matter than 2/3 of corporate tax cuts benefit the workers directly in bonus, incentive and wage increases, or that the last President to raise taxes on anyone during a recession-leading-to-depression was Herbert Hoover. But it's hard to say that (and McCain tried with the latter) without sounding angry and crotchety, and McCain already has enough issues with that. Obama had to rest on his laurels last night, his staid, tried and true method of cheerleading his tax policy, and that's tying the cuts under the Bush Administration to McCain (though he voted against them).

***

Let's be quick about Tom Brokaw. He wasn't a bad moderator, and would've been decent for a standard debate, but he put too many of his own questions in the mix. What he was good at was slapping Obama down each time he ran over his limit or tried to get the last word in after good McCain jabs. It was inappropriate for Obama to, acting like a brat, interrupt Brokaw or McCain (Can I respond? Can I? I need to!) just because he felt he'd gotten the bad end of a question.

!!Commentary!! The media won't pick up on it or criticize him for this, because it'd show he isn't cool under pressure, can't practice proper decorum and just doesn't look presidential at all times. !!Commentary!!

***

*Bush + McCain = Answer for Obama
*Obama's Inexperience + My Record = McCain's Responses
*Fannie Mae + Obama = McCain Attack Strategy
*Deregulation + McCain = Obama's Sharp Retorts

There are many formulas like those, used broadly over the last and this debate. Obama really went after every economic turn by McCain as an attack on the middle class by dint of being pro-business and pro-across-the-board tax cuts. On foreign policy, McCain is hammering the line that Obama doesn't have the wherewithal to be commander-in-chief, the experience, the judgement. Their attacks against the other weren't as pointed as their VPs made in their debate, as the mood of the country has turned from that thinking and what's less hostility and more solutions.

The one spot where McCain came out clearly ahead and didn't lose even after Obama spoke was on energy and climate change. He made the case that he stood against Bush, that he toured the world seeing the effects of global warming and that he had a solution - which he spelled out - for what to do. Obama agreed with McCain and restated McCain's solution in his own words, to sound different, added a few canned points as an afterthought. In a time-tested method, Obama used bigger numbers (5 million new jobs with green tech, he said, vs. McCain's hundreds of thousands) to try and seem like his version of the same was shinier, better. But it was the same answer.

To be perfectly fair, the biggest score for Obama came when he brought up the "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" jingle McCain sang with a group of vet buddies (to the tune of the Beach Boys' Barbara Ann) and talked about McCain's "annihilate North Korea" comment (I can't find a direct quote). It started with a compliment to McCain, to which McCain laughed and said "Thank you," but turned on a dime into a direct attack. Obama knew he had the Arizonan by the short ones, McCain knew it and probably anyone who reads an editorial by a center/center-left writer knows it, too. The purpose is clear: McCain is hardly even-tempered or a cool hand at the tiller, but a reckless man. Will it work, or do people want a little saltiness in their commander-in-chief and President?

To ramble on about each topic would take up too much of your time. Find the transcript if you want fuller quotes. I will talk briefly about health care and what was left unsaid.

***

Health care is a huge issue, one that will be at the centerpiece of the next debate. McCain can turn opinion toward him if he drives home a broad, solid domestic agenda that touches on health care, entitlement spending and education, coupled with an economic life preserver. But last night, that first issue wasn't really handled all that well - by either.

Obama spoke about his plan, which includes you keeping your policy if you like it, going after insurance giants to lower premiums and offering a buy-in to the federal insurance package government employees get for the uninsured, though he didn't mention any of his penalties or mandates, which do exist, and how this would increase the government's participation in the process.

At his turn, McCain glossed over any tax on employers' health care plans, a key attack-point by Obama, but did stress the $5,000 deductible credit offered towards insurance, allowing people to supplement, compliment or replace their current coverage. He also talked about state insurance regulation and how he'd do away with it so insurance companies will be forced to compete across state lines, something controversial, but theoretically promising.

So what's the net gain here? Both have policies that read very well for the average income American, but each has hidden clauses, and we're left until next week (or a search on Wikipedia) to find out what they are. I wasn't satisfied with Obama's answer, because he denied what he was offering was really a massive expansion of government spending and insurance interaction, and when has increased government in our personal lives every been that good? God love him, but McCain didn't defend the tax portion of his plan, which is a new revenue stream, and why it netted out ahead for the consumer (if it did).

So that was a failing that needs to be addressed next week.

***

Where do they turn now?

According to Gallup, McCain is down 11 points (52 vs 41). Look at Rasmussen, and the situation is a little better (51 v 45) and Zogby is even rosier (47 v 45), but RCP's average has Obama up well over five points.

"Despair" is the word I use when talking to McCain supporters. Obama has a dozen days of positive polling numbers and a terrific spread for most of that. Coming back, it's climbing uphill while greased up, drunk and chained to a few ranting partisans.

McCain didn't mention William Ayres, unrepentant radical/domestic terrorist, radical Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Tony Rezko, the unholy trinity in Obama's past. If he is sincere about winning, he has to swallow his ethical objections and start telling America that not only is Obama inexperienced, he has past associations (not including the Fannie Mae tie) that should preclude him from the Oval Office, dangerous associations with people whose views are not only out-of-step with "middle America," but even most liberals.

Sarah Palin has been going after the Obama-Ayers connection, and the media is slowly picking up on it. Watch this topic.

Comfortably in the lead, at least a few points outside the margin of error in polls, Obama needs to play defense and limit his negativity. Barring any "October surprise" regarding terrorism (or massive, Republican-backed economic recovery), Obama can rest easily knowing that he doesn't have anything to do him active damage beyond his control. Bringing up the Keating Five scandal won't help him, because McCain has been relatively forthwith about it. With the proper ad campaign, tailored to link Bush and McCain even more, while stressing his economic plan, the odds are stacked for him to walk away with a bigger victory than Bush in 2004.

***

Next Wednesday is the final debate, another standard podium affair. It'll cover domestic issues and the economy, so look for fireworks and hard proposals.

I'll be back before then if there's a reason.

By the by, if anyone out there wants to write "The Case for Obama," let me know. I'd like a last-week binge of opinion, including pieces pro-Obama as well as McCain.

-Hooper

Read on, faithful few!

Buckshot: Weekend in Review

Ideally, this would have been posted Sunday night, or sometime Monday. Why wasn't it? Shut up! That's why.

But do click through for some pretty pictures, if nothing else.

***************************************

Friday
Friday night saw Mrs. Buck and I making the trek to the annual Loudonville Street Fair.

Loudonville is a small town south of the not-much-larger town of Ashland, which we used to call home. So the Street Fair is something of a tradition for us. We indulged in fair food, and I maintained my streak of not visiting an event in that area without partaking of the delectable fried Swiss cheese on a stick (trust me, it's even better than it sounds). But what did mine eyes behold as we wandered amongst the food vendors?


That's right, dear readers. Gator on a stick. I was skeptical at first, especially of the price: $8.00. But a friend offered to go halvsies on the basis of when are we going to run across another opportunity to eat gator on a stick? I could not pass it up.


And there it is, in all its glory. (Sorry for the blurriness.) The verdict? Tastes like chicken, except it was a little gamey. But the cajun spices it was deep-fried in made up for it. We declared the experiment a resounding success.

A few more pictures from the evening:


Again, the new camera phone, while very nice, does not take excellent night-time pictures. (That's a street lined with old tractors.)

This was on the "doodle board" in the building that was showcasing 4-H artwork. C'mon, conservatives! Sarah's a biblical name, for crying out loud! You're embarrassing the baby Jesus. (Oddly enough, Barack Obama's name was spelled correctly in the two places it appeared on the board.)

***************************************

Saturday

Saturday morning, I visited two local libraries for book sales, which were very productive. I picked up 9 books and a DVD for $5.50.

Beyond that, we didn't do much besides hitting up the new Sonic drive-in in Streetsboro for lunch. And Saturday evening, at Mrs. Buck's request, we watched this:


Verdict: Not nearly as bad as I'd expected. Not that I plan to run out and watch the entire series, but it certainly wasn't the 2.5 hours of Hell I'd anticipated.

***************************************

Sunday

Sunday we drove up to the Bedford Reservation in the Cleveland Metroparks for a walk around the Bridal Veil Falls. Some photos for your enjoyment:

Tinkers Creek Road is one of my favorites among the interesting road names you stumble upon in Northeast Ohio. Other favorites include Gore Orphanage Road and Lost Nation Road.



-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Monday, October 6, 2008

TPH: The Most Gracious and Engaging VP Debate

The Political Hoedown
VP Debate/Smackdown

Last Thursday night's Vice-Presidential Debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin was nothing short of historic, and at the least, entertaining. Much like with the first Presidential debate, there's an argument over who one or if you could say either did. As with that debate, where the tie is given to the rookie, so must it be here. Sarah Palin did not stumble over herself, contradict basic sentence structure or blow-up; her performance, judged impartially, was very good. Point to her.

But let's examine the meat-and-potatoes of what is the only contest between these two engaging opponents before getting into the whys and wherefores of Palin's "victory."


***

Last time we met about a debate, I looked at each candidate separately. That won't be the case today. These two played off each other in a congenial, yet sparring manner that exemplified what civil debate could be. I would be remiss if separated them, especially since this is their only time together. They must be weighed side by side.

Hosted at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, by Gwen Ifill, the debate began promptly and ended on time. No surprises in format, and the blatant partisanship of the moderator, who has a book coming out called "The Breakthrough: ...and Race in the Age of Obama," wasn't an issue. She did interrupt Palin to say her time was up, forcefully, but let Biden talk over her a few minutes later when she tried the same. Granted, he was worked up and not listening to anyone, but "fair play" isn't just a phrase.

One of the first attacks levied against Palin (McCain) was the "fundamentals" line the Arizona Senator has bandied about the last few wees ("The fundamentals of our economy are strong."). The attack was rejoined by Palin and they were off, rarely letting up in intensity or personality over the next ninety minutes.

Though it sounds cynical, or demeaning, there was a palpable relief that Gov. Palin used numbers in her answers, not relying on soft economic statements by hard facts. It's a sort of criticism Bush received in years past, that Palin had fallen victim to and needed to correct. On the other side of things, Biden remained on an even keel for the most part, not rambling, as he can, into barely related armchair tangents that have stunted his ability as a campaigner the last year.

But his verbosity wasn't a handicap here, and he used his honed speaking ability to sound less like a windbag than ever, but he couldn't resist referring to himself in the third person a few times.

Palin, needed every word to count, did repeat a few. If you were playing a drinking game to the number of times she said "maverick" (6; Biden said it 9 times), you'd have had a good buzz going by the end.

Ah, but seriously.

Biden did a superior job than Obama. The ticket should be flipped, by all rights. He made a better case for linking Bush and McCain and utilizing the under-referenced Cheney (McCain and Palin are in "lock-step with Dick Cheney), even if many of the votes he criticizes McCain for, he supported. That is a big weakness with a long record, supporting the same thing as your opponents, and trying to talk around that (I/he was for it before I/he was against it). Biden isn't exactly liberal, either. He's a relatively conservative Democrat by Obama's standards, and that might be why he performed so poorly in the primaries, because he couldn't radicalize the base like Obama was able to, couldn't present a clear, defined alternative to conservative politics.

To be fair, Palin is built up as the paragon of conservativeness, but she's hardly Jerry Falwell. Interesting that she admitted, slightly grudgingly, that she supports equal civil, contractual rights for gay couples, same as Biden and Obama. More interesting, how vigorous Biden's denunciation of gay marriage was, and how he went out of his way to remind "middle America" that marriage, as defined in popular and historic opinion, is between a man and a woman. I'd be surprised if the SanFran Dem set was happy with such a response. To Palin again, her "conservative" credentials are clear, but she's hardly the arch-conservative the media has painted her to be. I think the same-sex answer, and her reluctance to admit that she sympathizes more than Redneck Joe Six-pack with the plight of gays and lesbians, underscores progressive thinking. Not entirely, no no no, but to a degree.

And speaking of Joe Six-pack, she sure did her level-best to link herself to middle America, rightly so. She is relatable, with a story that mirrors many families', and her "Aw shucks" demeanor, so much a detriment in urban and East Coast districts, rings a little true out beyond the city limits. Is that who we want as Number 2 in the White House? Debatable, but she isn't fighting alone to be seen as the middle-class candidate.

Biden schmalzed around too, lots of small town Pennsylvania lines, lots of Scranton and calling his sons "champ." He claimed he hangs around Home Depot a lot (you're kidding, right?) and often talks issues at the "local gas station." His community in Delaware, he claims, is also small-town, middle class America and we should know he still lives among the grunts and peons and laborers, etc...though it's safe to say his secluded home at the end of a long-drive, replete with pool, few neighbors and miles of road before he approaches the sprawl of Wilmington isn't exactly "roughing it."

In a shock to me, Biden's weaknesses were in appearing older than McCain and not offering a defense of his anti-Obama statements (and ideas) from the primaries ("He's not ready to be commander-in-chief."). I don't want to spend a lot of time on appearance, but he didn't always look good. There were throbbing veings at his temples when Palin really riled him up, his eyes took on that small, glassy stare of the elderly and his voice! This isn't a weak-voiced man, but too often it faded to a husky fraction of what it could be. Remember, he is the guy who had brain aneurysms in the early 90s - a far more difficult thing to actively survive than skin cancer.

More damning than any health perception could be was his refusal to address his barbs against Obama spoken during late 2007 and early 2008, essentially saying he was wildly inexperienced and not ready to lead, domestically or militarily. It almost seems like Biden has sacrificed many of his positions to accommodate himself to Obama's worldview, a point Palin bitingly made (and again, went unanswered). Further aggravating the ticket, Biden pointed out the sort of role he'd play as VP.

In pretty bald terms, Biden's opinion of his role as Obama's VP was as point-man for legislation, in on all decisions and a partner in executive matters. He uses kinder, gentler wording, but it's the same post as Cheney holds now: the voice behind the throne, the puppet master. The one who has the knowledge to make the decisions and the experience and contacts to get the policies pushed through. It was a stunning attack on Obama, that his running mate so vocally stated he wasn't able to make decisions, to promote policy or effectively govern without him. How this hasn't gotten more play is beyond me, as it is a repudiation of Obama and Biden and the Democratic Party's stance against Cheney and his abuse of power.

VP as an advisory position is also great, and it's that role that Biden will take - possibly more so than any other VP since, well...Cheney. Admit he has more experience than Barack and is needed to help with complicated issues.

It was his bold wording, not his intent, that I thought alarming for Obama's credibility as a leader. Because in the end, the President has to stand alone when he goes to the country and says, "We need to do this, and it might sting a little."

Don't think I'll spare the rod when it comes to Palin (minds out of gutters). She has no capacity to dovetail thoughts. When moving from one topic to another, she shifted without a clutch and it showed in awkward wording and delivery. No more was this more apparent than when trying to defend the "finger-pointing backwards" of Biden, when the Senator repeatedly tried to tie McCain to every Bush/bad decision in the last eight years.

A suggestion I'd have for her: go to a few catch-all news websites to read stories of the day so you can merge breaking stories with canned and studied responses. You can read editorials written by your supporters that offer those segues you need between telling Biden he's wrong to look back and confirming that McCain has broken with Bush on key points and will break further with over the next four years. Her vulnerability is in her very small town-ness that defines her to so many, a narrow worldview that hinders broad discussion of the spectrum of issues.

Energy was her bailiwick Thursday, foreign policy more Biden's. But both have a clear and firm grasp on their strong suits. An argument could be made that Obama is a domestic policy generalist and a foreign policy absentee voter - he has lots of plans for the former without much more than rhetoric on the latter. Biden focuses foreign policy to real terms, nailing responses sure to please a lot of average households. Palin, understanding McCain's aversion to energy and "down home" politics in favor of foreign and military policy, unleashed a salvo of pro-energy answers that, while not always related to the question, boldly underlined her credentials where gas, heating oil and dollars headed abroad are concerned.

She slammed the media, looked a little annoyed and spoke wearily at times (We've been here before, Joe...) but never lost that spark.

Joe Biden channeled Ed Asner a few times, coming off temperamental at times, especially when he laid into the "maverick" status McCain touts.

One final bit on Biden, and this is more commentary: in talking about opinions he's changed his mind about, he addressed judicial appointees. His answer might be the most dangerous thing said this election. He advocated political ideology as a determinant of a judge's worth on the bench, not their interpretation of the Constitution, not their scholarly past or prior cases. This is, in essence, a clear desire on Biden's (and Obama's) part to stack the Supreme Court with justices who will legislate from the bench, talking away Congress' power - with no oversight - and remanding their true judicial authority to the back-burner.

From an e-mail to some friends:

It would be enlightening, someday, to read and see the prep notes both had for the debate, and to see what they were jotting away about during their opponent's turn. How much did each have prepared going in, by the way of "canned" answers? We know, in the first debate, that Obama had more than McCain, but that was in his favor, keeping a clearer message and not getting caught in the morass of his own inexperience. Certainly Palin had more pre-written, or memorized, lines about certain topics and a strategy to bring things back to her strengths - middle class, energy, reform.

By any measure this debate was a referendum on Palin, her ability to think on her feet, frame original responses - all candidates have cobbled some answers from stump speeches and none of the four this year are any different - around core principles and policy. She knows energy better than Biden, but that comes from her experience in the sector. He knows constitutional law. Yes, he has more experience than she does; by being alive some two decades more, I'd hope so. But it wasn't a negative for her, as she got him to mumble responses, fall back on stump positions and admit that the two of them see eye to eye on a lot of issues.

Their back-and-forths were far more revealing about either candidate than expected, showing progressivism on both sides, as well as a tendency towards conservatism. Biden is no bleeding-heart liberal, like Obama. Palin might not like gay "marriage" but when it comes to civil contracts, her state supports them for all couples, as does she.

I thought it was a terrific debate, perhaps showing us the real ticket this year should be the bi-partisan Biden/Palin. Similar stances, similar backgrounds, middle-class, family-oriented, not high-falluting intellectuals but still crisp on the issues and policies. It would have been the perfect Progressive ticket.

No serious gaffes, a few pronunciation errors on both parts, some padding of records and distorting of opponents - in all, a better, cleaner debate than last Friday's.

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin were, despite the hostile waters they navigated, friendly to the last, getting their whole families on stage in a big group hug. It was heartening to see, and made me wonder what a Biden/Palin ticket would be like. These two really did agree on a number of issues throughout the night and but their principles to shame when it came to cordiality.

***

The next debate is tomorrow, a town hall style Q & A that promises...what? Quick wit? Gotcha questions? That sledgehammer moment when one candidate verbally slaps the other into place?

I look for honesty in the answers, and decency when at all possible. The mud that each candidate is slogging through doesn't look pretty on them, nor do I like to be slathered with it when they pontificate and gesticulate madly about the other running a negative campaign. I hope that tomorrow brings some uplift, some positive rejoinders.

They damn well better learn a lesson from Joe and Sarah Middle-America, that you can disagree without losing your humanity.

-Hooper

Read on, faithful few!

Friday, October 3, 2008

TPH Op-Ed: Dining with Doubt


The following is a piece by Matthew H. Griffin about local politics in suburban Chicago. It also touches on voters' economic uncertainty and the desire to be reassured, or at least talked to like adults. Enjoy.

-The Management


For reasons still unknown to me, I found myself invited to a campaign dinner in a posh home in Hinsdale. It was a hard decision: dance class or political dinner.

I can see and feel change I like at one of those places, but I steeled myself and my resolve to hear if IL-13 opposition candidate Scott Harper (D) had anything productive to add to the dialogue about the economy. It sticks in my craw that my one and only financial instrument is worth 70% of what I paid for it.

With Senator Obama's choice to frame the crisis in bleakly populist terms like "When will Wall Street get that the crisis has already hit Main Street?", I have increasingly been dismayed by the lack of gumption our progressive politicians have demonstrated when speaking on this crisis. We're quick to solutions like a $700 billion bailout but slow on providing context for this crisis.

Upon hearing the news that I was going to a tony reception, a friend who has a son involved in the campaign business exclaimed, "My son has been to tons of those in New York, and he says that we have more erudite conversation around the dinner table." High dissatisfaction coupled with low expectations is not a very promising situation. I am reminded of the young dancers playing – well - young people in David Dorfman's Underground pumping their fists in the air chanting, "We're apathetic!"

At the party, I found that I was surrounded by deliciously informed voters. One voter knew the roll-call of Northeast Illinois' Congressional delegation on today's failed financial bailout. Another voter explained the credit crisis to me in great detail. I told this man that I expected our elected officials to be able to articulate the roots of the crisis, to which he responded that most people do not follow the crisis in as much depth as he does. I conceded this pointed and countered that it's important that elected officials have really sharp staff!

He sighed and said, "Ah well, it's the American 'S' factor."

"'S' factor?" I said.

"S for stupid," said he. "No one would understand the explanation. What did Churchill say, 'Five minutes with any voter is enough to discourage any politician!'"

Five minutes with this informed voter was very heartening to me, but would I be able to say the same after hearing Harper speak? After Harper did speak, a high school pal's father listened to me pining for specifics. He reminded me, "Politicians aren't anybody's friend."

To Mr. Harper's credit, he respectfully took his potential constituents' questions with an openness of spirit. I was reminded of a teacher who said that the Dali Lama is always smiling. We're dealing with big amounts of money here and serious issues and we are looking for the candidate who makes the well-timed joke that gets to the heart of the matter. It's the better person who does. "Will she debate you?" asked a local politician referring to Scott's incumbent opponent Judy Biggert (R).

"We'll make something of it if she does not," replied Harper with a smile.


-Matthew H. Griffin

Read on, faithful few!

Buckshot: My First Cosplay Sighting


Location: Borders Books and Music, Fairlawn, Ohio
Date and Time: October 2, 2008, 8:55 P.M.
Comments: No - no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should've sent a poet.

-Buck

(Hooper, this is why you and I must visit the San Diego Comic-Con one day. This type of thing is too amazing to only witness in such isolated cases.)

Read on, faithful few!