Thursday, January 31, 2008

Presidential field further contracts

Another horse pulled up lame and is now out of the race. With the departure of JohnEdwards, from the presidential race, the field of 16 has been winnowed down to six (with four having legitimate chances of gaining the crown)—two on the left side of the partisan fence and four on the right (although does Ron Paul really count?).

John Edwards ran a heroic race. It’s not everyday that a candidate, with a wife battling cancer, dons the weighty mantle of presidential candidate. His announcement, back in December of 2006, elicited whispers from many and had the tongues of America’s talk radio magpies clacking, questioning his motives and even his manhood, for having the audacity to run, when his wife was ill.

Obviously, John and Elizabeth Edwards had numerous conversations about this and I have no doubt that it was ultimately Elizabeth that convinced him to take the bold step of running. I also am sure that they talked about what would end up being said about him and her, for their decision. You can’t be married 30 years and do otherwise.

In 2004, when he was forced to be the well-coifed and telegenic waterboy, toting around the message baggage for John Kerry, Edwards was a loyal vice-presidential sidepiece, for the senior senator. He served Kerry ably, paying his dues, but anyone that saw Edwards in person, out on the stump, knew that one day, he’d be out on his own, his own front man, with his own message.

It had to be major blow to Edwards when, on January 10th, two days after enduring another third place finish, this time in New Hampshire, Kerry came out for Edwards’ rival, Barack Obama. It was a blow that Edwards ultimately wouldn’t recover from. I’m sure it was also a deeply personal disappointment to him.

It is always enlightening to see what message a candidate builds their candidacy around. For Edwards, it was a brand of old-fashioned, economic populism. While there were some who questioned his sincerity, after the $400 haircut flap, but I think the message was part and parcel of who John Edwards is and where he comes from.

Edwards epitomizes the Horatio Alger myth. A small town boy, from Robbins, South Carolina, with a father that worked in the local textile factory and a mother that was a postal carrier, he became the first one in his family that went to college. Growing up in a small, close-knit community made an impression on young Edwards. He saw firsthand the struggles of working class people and it deeply affected him. While Edwards has the good looks and social graces to hobnob in the world of John Kerry, I don’t think he was ever entirely comfortable in that world. The John Edwards of 2008, railing against corporate malfeasance and what it has been visiting on the people that he grew up with and many others like them, was a man at home with his message.

When you craft a message for a campaign, there is some calculation involved. In today’s world of sound bite journalism and remote-control channel-surfing, the tendency is towards slickness, simplicity and even, vacuity. Edwards ultimate choice for his campaign theme was an interesting one.

Over the course of nearly 14 months of campaigning, hammering away on the stump, you become your message—at least if you have any measure of sincerity in you. Edwards became a populist preacher, even more fiery and impassioned at the end, than I think he was in the beginning.

During the time he was out on the campaign trail, he was representing the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the people of Robbins and even those of South Carolina with him. Once more, like Kerry’s failure to endorse him, being abandoned by the people of his home state had to be another body blow to him, this one especially personal. He finished third in his home state to a man with no substance behind his message and his other opponent, the Lady MacBeth of 2008, altering her message and inflection of speech to whatever area that she was campaigning in.

Economic populism doesn’t play well anymore. Its truisms are still relevant for today. Just like in the days of Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette and his Progressive contemporaries, corporations ruled the land. Back then, a candidate preaching a populist message got a hearing and certainly got coverage from the newspapers of the day. All too often, Edwards’ message got lost on reporters who lacked historical context, or economic understanding of that message.

For many Americans, they know that something’s not right and economically off-kilter. They are seeing gas prices topping $3/gallon, bread and milk prices going up weekly and their paychecks staying the same. Houses nearby are vacant and the grass is not mowed, meaning another home has been seized by foreclosure. Many others have seen firsthand what the global economy looks like, when they got their pink slip after finding out their firm was moving where they could find cheap labor. A $300 tax rebate check won’t help them.

All of these things are real and Edwards stayed on message, trying to pull the working class over to his side. Sadly, many of these folks, about to be run over by the corporate bus, opted for one of the two candidates that represent the interests driving the bus. Like the consumer that philosophically supports the local hardware store, but drive past it on the way to Wal-Mart, to get that length of kitchen pipe he needs to fix the sink, voters bypassed the one candidate in John Edwards, that cared about their plight.

I admire John Edwards. Visibly fatigued and clad in blue jeans, he stood with Elizabeth and his children on Wednesday and said he was dropping out of the race. I was pleased that he withheld endorsing any candidate, before he spoke with them. My hope is that he’ll forego an endorsement, but he’s earned the right to endorse whoever he sees fit.

Sadly for me and any other voter who cares about the issues that Edwards campaigned vigorously on, we no longer have a candidate that we can wholeheartedly support.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Be all you can be

War is hell—at least what I’m told, in books and Hollywood films. I’m one of the lucky ones in that I’ve never had to face combat. While I’ve offered my opinions about war and how I’m personally opposed to all the horrors that accompany it, once again, I’ve viewed them from safety.

Most of the men I’ve known who’ve faced battle, whether during WWII, Korea, Vietnam and now, Gulf Wars I & II, are reticent to talk about it. It’s something that they did and most prefer to leave it at that. I can respect that.

This morning, while readying to head out the door to go to work, I caught a strange story on NPR’s Morning Edition. Ari Shapiro’s feature highlighted the Army’s attempts at preventing disabled American veterans from receiving help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, with their disability paperwork. I thought, why would the U.S. Army not want to make sure that men that wore the uniform and were injured in battle, receive the proper follow-up for their injuries?

It was sad to hear a former soldier say that his treatment made him feel like “a worn-out pair of boots.” Disabled from injuries received serving his country and honoring its flag, this ex-GI was forced to speak on the condition of anonymity, because he “feared retaliation.” You can read the full story here.

I’m glad I’ve never had to serve my country, as there’s no telling what I might be going through, if like the men in this story, I had suffered serious injuries and needed my country to take care of me.

So, if you wonder why I'm a bit tired of all the flag-waving and chest-thumping about our troops, this story will clue you in. If you really want to support the troops, support the fair treatment of them after they've been shot at, blown up by roadside bombs and left to wonder where all the crowds that saw them off to battle, went.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

4 hours difference

[Mike's City Diner-Boston-]
[-The famous Citgo sign-]
[-Madison, Maine and the Madison Mill in the background-]
[-Madison's Carnegie Library-]

I had an interesting week and travelled to Boston, Wednesday, to celebrate my birthday.

I was able to spend the day with Mr. Everyday Yeah and we checked out some of The Hub's varied sites, including a classic diner, special screening of the new Rambo movie and Kenmore Square.

On Thursday, I was in Madison, Maine, where I had a tour of an intriguing indoor greenhouse, owned by Backyard Farms.

I didn't have a chance to visit the library in Madison, but it's on my list of things to do, should I make it back, in the near future.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Additional thoughts; BTK

I just wanted to tie up a few thoughts I have related to Billy the Kid, the documentary I saw on Saturday night.

I’ve been doing some reading and research about how Jennifer Venditti came to make the movie and how she “discovered” Billy Page, the star of the movie. Interestingly, there has been some criticism of Venditti, for supposedly “staging” aspects of the filming. She alluded to his on Saturday night, during her Q & A session.

As a filmmaker, it’s easy to arrive on location and film something that isn’t true to the culture of the place. As I’ve stated before, you can have all your facts straight and still miss the story, because you miss the culture of the place. That seems to be a common theme when urban journalists and other chroniclers of events, arrive in rural parts of the country and try to tell a story that they don’t really understand.

To Venditti’s credit, she was very respectful, in my opinion, of the local culture. Since the filming took place in Lisbon Falls, I was paying particularly attention to how she represented the people she was filming. I think she was sympathetic, both as a fellow human being and as a filmmaker, to Billy and his family.

I found a few comments on Venditti’s blog about her being exploitive of her subject, Billy, in order to promote the film.

That’s always going to be a dilemma for documentary filmmakers, doing films like this one. You get close to your subject and how do you make the process as “natural” as possible? When does the camera “go away,” or does it at all?

I’m not a filmmaker, so I really appreciated having Venditti at the screening in Brunswick to talk to us about the process.

This film is special on so many levels and Billy is truly a unique and compelling figure and Venditti, to her credit, allowed him to have a voice for the first time in his life, as well as an audience to speak to.

Thank you, Jennifer.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Billy the Kid

The high school years, even for the most popular students, are filled with social awkwardness and rarely prepare you for life afterwards. For those students who lack certain undefined skills, look or act differently and find themselves on the outside of the bubble, looking in, this four year period takes on a hellish quality.

Director, Jennifer Venditti’s documentary, Billy the Kidd takes us inside the life of 15-year-old Billy, a high school “outsider,” growing up in a small Maine town. We witness what it’s like for someone like Billy, navigating high school’s many social landmines and diffiicult encounters, trying to keep it all together and intact.

Venditti, who discovered the main character, while conducting casting calls for another film she was working on in Maine, becomes captivated by Billy and decides to devote eight days of filming and following the young man around. The end result is a masterful, human portrait of a teenager, struggling to cope with a myriad of issues and someone we can all draw inspiration from.

What I think are the strongest qualities of the film are the questions it forces us to ask ourselves about the Billys we know, or meet, in our own lives. In a society that operates on mass conformity, what does Billy teach us about those who won’t, or more importantly, can't conform to standard cultural mores?

The film had an additional attraction for me, as it was shot in the town where I grew up and continue to be attracted to, Lisbon Falls. Much of the filming takes place in the town’s small downtown and centers on a local eatery, the former Mario’s Restaurant. It’s a rare person in town who hasn’t had at least one meal, or takeout dinner, from this local landmark.

During the filming of Billy the Kid, the unexpected happens. Billy meets a 16-year-old girl, Heather, who works as a waitress at the eatery, now called, Little Lisa’s. This chance happening builds an extra dimension of first love into an already compelling story and thoroughly pulls at the audience’s heartstrings.

Venditti’s film has been screened at numerous festivals around the world and was voted Best Documentary at the 2007, SXSW Film Festival and won Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The Melbourne Film Festival resulted in the Audience Award and an additional Best Documentary Award came courtesy of the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Currently being screened in major cities around the country, Brunswick was fortunate to be one of the stops. Frontier Cafe/Cinema, at Fort Andross was the venue for two sold out showings on Friday and four packed screenings on Saturday. The film moves on to Washington, DC and Boston, next.

What was great about the Saturday screenings of the film, was Vendetti’s presence and post-film Q & A with the audience. Vendetti spoke warmly and eloquently about the filming, her process and some of the underlying themes of the film, during the supper showing that my wife and I attended.

One particular exchange with the audience was informing and helped put the character of Billy and the film, into context, for me. When Venditti was asked how she came to choose Billy as her character study, she talked about working in the local high school (Mt. Ararat, where Billy attends school) and talking with students in the lunch room. She was struck by the cliquishness of the school and the daily experience during the lunch hour (saying it hadn't seemed to have changed much in 20 years, since she was in school). Asking students if they always ate with the same people, the students said "yeah." The one time someone tried to break down some of the walls, they all told about an event that happened with a kid who "freaked out;" the student's name was Billy.

Venditti said she found Billy, sitting alone. After speaking with him, finding him to be an intelligent, uniquely insightful young man, she couldn't understand why everyone wasn't sitting at his table. After watching the film, I was left with similar sentiments.

Frontier continues its quest to become a cultural hub, combining food, film and art, reclaiming the former mill space and a real destination for something unique and uncommon for our area.

With events like Saturday's and other food related endeavors, it is succeeding.

Monday, January 14, 2008

No focus on the workforce

[I know most of my posting, of late, has been centered on the political. What can I say? I’m a “junkie” when it comes to politics, particularly pertaining to policy, which has been sorely lacking in substance, IMHO. For those needing a break from politics, you can read an essay that I wrote that leaves politics aside and is a perfect read for this snowy day, in Maine (and elsewhere). For those who haven’t grown tired of the horserace, read on.—JB]

The skills required to succeed in the 21st century have dramatically changed. No longer is merely having a strong back, able to sustain long hours of manual labor, enough to guarantee a foothold on the socio-economic ladder reserved for the middle class.

As Alvin Toffler has said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Unfortunately, more and more American workers are being left behind, because they lack those requisite skills. Unless the U.S. makes critical investments in education and more specifically, skills-specific training, our national workforce will no longer be competitive and in my opinion, this will dramatically hamper any hopes we have for economic growth that benefits most Americans, not just the wealthy.

Demographic trends are driving the changes that need to happen. While the U.S. labor force doubled during the previous 40 years, it will grow very slowly over the next several decades. No longer do we have the luxury of baby boomer population growth, meaning an available pool of labor, with the required skills that employers want.

Currently, we are finding that the younger workforce, the ones that we’ll require to replace the aging baby boomers, lack the educational attainment of these same boomers. This does not bode well for the future.

Sadly, I’ve heard very little coming from any of the candidates, about workforce specific initiatives that will be required to support any of the new jobs being promised by the likes of McCain, Romney and others. Obviously, when you are campaigning in Michigan, you better talk about job creation, even though you know it will be forgotten once you leave the state.

The U.S. lacks an effective system for adults already in working, but who want to increase their educational attainment and job skills. What I’d love to hear from politicians is that they support a federal policy that supports the education of working adults, including basic education for those hampered by low literacy. We also need English instruction for those who are not proficient and some meaningful funding for postsecondary education/training for those needing educational and occupational credentials for job advancement and increased productivity.

In Maine, there is a tremendous opportunity for those willing to pursue skilled trades. The Cianbro Corporation, Maine’s largest construction firm, has a need for upwards of 200 welders and over 400 skilled trades people. Rather than rely on state and federal monies, Cianbro is doing much of their own training, out of necessity. I commend them for that. However, there should be programs in place that could direct those receiving public assistance and who were physically able, to access these employment opportunities, which by the way, pay living wages.

The only stump speech that I’ve heard that dealt with this with any kind of specificity, was about two weeks ago, when Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife, rattled off some key points and offered tangible solutions to some of these issues. Unfortunately, Hillary’s website is a bit thin on specifics about this. Obama’s is no better.

Personally, I’m growing tired, as we enter the home stretch for the presidency, to have so many so-called viable candidates offering little, or no meat, on issues so crucial to our nation’s economic health. Furthermore, for Republican candidates, to try to outflank each other on the right and continuing to go to that tired trough of trickle-down economics, while waging war in Iraq and god knows where else, is intellectually vacuous at best, and I would argue, immoral. Adding to my consternation is the gaggle of talk-radio cheerleaders, trying to coax some higher meaning from policies that will cripple us.

We’re now ramping up to the final stages of the horserace and still, nary a candidate that the thought of pulling the lever for, elicits enthusiasm, or rather, even seems tolerable, for that matter.

Despite claims that voters are jazzed and engaged, my sense it that America’s voters are dumber than ever and new media, or not, few writers, bloggers, or anyone else, is holding candidates to any kind of meaningful standard.

Note: I want to credit the Center for American Progress and in particular, Brian Bosworth's report, Lifelong Learning-New Strategies for the Education of Working Adults, for helping me coalesce my thoughts on this topic. This has been a big part of my life for the past 18 months. I've acquired a "crash course" on workforce issues and how they parallel effective strategies for growing the U.S. economy. Sadly, most politicians remain ignorant of their importance, preferring instead, to talk in platitudes that do little to push necessary policies forward.

If you'd like to read more about what political leaders should be focusing on, please visit the website for The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The straitjacket of ideology

The straitjacket of political ideology forces many to contort and make choices that are uncomfortable and many times, regrettable.

Given President Bush’s current poll numbers in the 20s and about half the country split on the Iraq War, I’m sure many conservatives feel like veritable pretzels. It’s got to be tough forcing issue-oriented decision-making into a field of candidates, vetted by talk radio’s pantheon of punditry.

Over on the left side of the field of candidates, a choice between Hilary and "the black JFK," Obama, is also an exercise in double-speak and values abandonment. Nothing validates the thought that “politics is an exercise in pragmatism,” like this season’s horserace.

One of the strange things about this election cycle is that there is no real consensus on what the big issues are. Rather than the focus being on the war, or immigration, we’re treated to a new “flavor of the week,” determined by who is deemed that week’s Republican/Democrat front runner.

The diversity of dialogue among candidates has rarely ever been so sophomoric. When Obama’s theme of “change” propelled him to victory in “corn country,” the other candidates were quick to seize that mantra.

While many will justify this strategy by saying that today’s voters have the attention span of gnats, I think it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to believe that all Americans are morons, when it comes to choosing their leader. My message to both the candidates and the “drive-by” media—try focusing on the real issues. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Not surprisingly, the sycophantic press has gone all “ga-ga” over their favorite sons (and daughters), falling all over themselves to push their candidates forward. Networks, like Fox, have done their damned-well best to spin their coverage favorably for this moment’s conservative champion, the Mittster. For a network that wears a perpetual hard-on for the military, they seem to have an issue with the only real military hero in the Republican field, John McCain.

Now I’m not an idiot. I know where dear old Fox is coming from. Sir McCain can’t receive their support (unless he’s the only thing standing between another Clinton presidency) because he committed the unpardonable sin of not hating Mexicans enough. Poor old John McCain. All he’d have to do is say he wants to kill all the “illegals,” or at least build a wall 100 miles high and 1,000 miles wide and he’d have all the hairstyle boys and augmented bimbos of Fox, swooning. Instead, he tries to run as a moderate to the rest of a field that’s running a typical post-Reagan campaign foisting xenophobia, tax cuts and family values.

Personally, I don’t think McCain will make it. It’s tough to combat 24/7 talk, designed to counter his message and remember, McCain’s war chest isn’t very deep. We’ll know better after South Carolina, whether McCain can go deep in this race.

Sunday, Hillary has an hour-long campaign commercial, courtesy of MSNBC and Tim Russert. The “iron lady” will hold court with “pumpkinhead” and she’ll have the chance to counter charges that her performance in New Hampshire was anything, but staged.

Speaking of Mrs. Clinton, Camile Paglia, a writer I enjoy reading and really admire, has an interesting piece written for Salon, on the wife of Bill.

Paglia, who’s made a career of being bombastic and for a Democrat, she’s an amazingly original thinker. Her article at Salon begins thus;

"A swarm of biographers in miners' gear has tried to plumb the inky depths of Hillary Rodham Clinton's warren-riddled psyche. My metaphor is drawn (as Oscar Wilde's prim Miss Prism would say) from the Scranton coalfields, to which came the Welsh family that produced Hillary's harsh, domineering father.

Hillary's feckless, loutish brothers (who are kept at arm's length by her operation) took the brunt of Hugh Rodham's abuse in their genteel but claustrophobic home. Hillary is the barracuda who fought for dominance at their expense. Flashes of that ruthless old family drama have come out repeatedly in this campaign, as when Hillary could barely conceal her sneers at her fellow debaters onstage -- the wimpy, cringing brothers at the dinner table.

Hillary's willingness to tolerate Bill's compulsive philandering is a function of her general contempt for men. She distrusts them and feels morally superior to them. Following the pattern of her long-suffering mother, she thinks it is her mission to endure every insult and personal degradation for a higher cause -- which, unlike her self-sacrificing mother, she identifies with her near-messianic personal ambition."

It gets even better. Paglia, who regularly goads the “liberal establishment” and in particular, “feminazis” (she borrows the term from Limbaugh in her article) like Gloria Steinem, makes the case that Mrs. Clinton is a man-hating, member of an old-school feminism, lost in the 60s, that Paglia and many other forward-looking women (and men, for that matter) have little use for, in the 21st century.

Read her article. It’s original and thought-provoking. It’s also timely for our political times.

Interestingly, Paglia, who is supporting Obama, writes that she sees him as representing the future, not the past, like the Clintons. However, she will vote for Hillary, if she is the party’s nominee. In my opinion, this is strange thinking and even an original-thinker, like Paglia, refuses to shed her ideological straitjacket. Her rationale is that she wants Democrats appointed to the Cabinet and Supreme Court.

I can respect her choices and freedom to make them. Yet, it disappoints me because there is little difference between Paglia’s pragmatism towards Democrats and that same sentiment and practice of those on the right, who will ultimately suck it up and vote for whoever their nominee ends up being.

This is the challenge of where we are at in 2008. How do we break the nearly 50/50 logjam of partisanship that paralyzes us? Is it possible for a candidate to draw voters across the ideological divide, to the promised land of political partnership?

In my opinion, that’s where Americans need to head, if there is hope of leaving our current political ghetto. Can Obama deliver the goods, or must we wait for a true independent candidate?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Is Ron Paul for real?

Until his 2008 run for the White House, Ron Paul was an obscure (some would say, obscurantist) politician from Texas, who regularly voted against spending measures and was a throwback to the days when a member of the Senate might actually have read the Constitution and was guided by its timeless principles.

While the Republican Party had long ago pissed on writings of the Founding Fathers, becoming just another face on America’s two-headed beast of oligopoly, Paul was a principled holdover from a time long past; a time when there were members of Congress who stood for something and took their oath of office seriously.

It’s obvious to anyone that’s spent anytime investigating a Libertarian reading of the Constitution that Paul is firmly in that camp. Influenced by Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand and Ludwig Von Mises, Paul supports classical liberalism and free market capitalism. It’s a telling indicator that holding these positions in 2008, gets one branded as an anachronism and finds his followers labeled as “kooks.”

This isn’t Paul’s first run for the office of president. In 1988, he was the Libertarian candidate for president. His run was more symbolic than anything and he captured fewer than 500,000 ballots, or 0.5 percent of the popular vote. In 2001, a movement among Libertarians and Constitutionalists couldn’t convince Paul to make another run for the nation’s highest office. Meanwhile, in 2007, Paul was elected to Congress for his 10th term, not bad for the man who refused to bend his firm convictions.

From Wikipedia:

Paul has been described as conservative, Constitutionalist, and libertarian. He advocates a non-interventionist foreign policy having voted against actions such as the Iraq War Resolution, but in favor of force against terrorists in Afghanistan. He favors withdrawal from NATO and the United Nations, instead supporting the idea of strong national sovereignty. Having pledged never to raise taxes, he has long advocated ending the federal income tax and reducing government spending by abolishing most federal agencies; he favors hard money and opposes the Federal Reserve. He also opposes the Patriot Act, the federal War on Drugs, and gun control. Paul is pro-life, but opposes a Federal ban on abortion, advocating overturning Roe v. Wade to let states determine the legality of abortion.

Paul’s 2008 run seems to be a different type of campaign, than his inaugural run, 20 years ago. For one thing, the campaign is much better financed. In fact, on November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, Paul’s campaign raised over $4 million in one day, mostly from private citizens. The campaign raised nearly $7 million in the last quarter of 2007. Indications are that funds continue to pour in, at the start of 2008, fueled primarily by working class supporters, making Paul’s campaign a true grassroots movement.

Running on a platform that seeks an immediate end to the war in Iraq (unlike other politicians, like John McCain, who indicates we might be there for another century), reestablish fiscal sanity (tied to the gold standard) and restore lost civil liberties to the American people, Paul is the true conservative. Instead, his rock-ribbed ideals find him ridiculed by the faux conservative blowhards, from Limbaugh, to O’Reilly.

Interestingly, while Paul’s fundraising rivals all other challengers, except Hillary Clinton and with a very respectable finish in Iowa, he was strangely absent in discussions on Sunday’s news programs. Obama this and Hillary that, “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, they said.

Surprisingly, Paul made the cut for Saturday night’s ABC/Facebook debate. On the other hand, Fox (fair and balanced, my ass) snubbed Paul, by excluding him from their Sunday night GOP gathering of dunces.

Appearing on CNN's American Morning program, the internet fundraising phenom said voters had been cheated by Fox's debate protocol, which required participating candidates to notch at least 10 percent support in national polling.

"I think this is an awful embarrassment for Fox to do something like this," said Paul. "We got 10 percent in Iowa, raised more money than any other candidate in the Republican side in the last quarter, and our polls in New Hampshire are much better than Giuliani."

None of this has deterred his rabid band of followers. It’s difficult to get a read just how strong Paul’s support might be. While the media and those wedded to the usual political status quo do all they can to marginalize Paul, he continues to garner new supporters, once they begin to understand that, unlike the glib Obama, who talks about change, Paul actually holds positions that would truly turn politics as usual, on its head.

It's obvious to me that Paul has no home in what passes for today's Republican Party. While he won't get the GOP nod for president, he might go the Indendent, or possibly Libertarian route. If Bloomburg got into the race, these two indies could cause serious havoc and upset the political apple cart and really make voting in November fun again.

Viva la revolution!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Getting the story wrong every time

The elite media, more times than not, get their stories wrong.. In the area of religious faith, or more specifically, evangelical Christianity, they may as well have landed in a foreign country where they don’t know the language, customs, or culture and then, portray themselves as experts on the subject.

Tonight’s apparent Huckabee win in the Iowa caucuses, as projected by CNN, has set off another typical round of hand ringing and analysis of a subject that the media is ill-equipped to report on. For whatever reason, when it comes to the area of faith, journalists seem to get all soft in the head. Case in point is somehow being unable to differentiate between the populist Baptist evangelicalism of Mike Huckabee and the Salt Lake Mormonism of Mitt Romney.

Every born-again Baptist armed with a rudimentary understanding instilled by weekly Sunday School lessons knows that Mormonism is not compatible with a conservative reading of Christian theology. Yet, article, after article penned by journalists who supposedly make their living by providing factual information, fail cub reporting 101, by being unable to get the “what” of the story, when it comes to understanding the Huckabee phenomenon.

The elite media, based in urban centers, like Washington and New York, tends to discount the mindset of rural America. Their cynical, condescending attitude towards the “rubes” living in “flyover country” clouds and obscures their ability to get the story right. You can have all your facts right, but if you don’t get the culture of your subjects—and the elite media never get the culture right, when reporting on rural America—the story will be wrong every time.

Getting back to Huckabee vs. Romney and the subject of their faith. Huckabee, as an evangelical, holds to an essential doctrine that there is only one true God. That God is revealed in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mormons, on the other hand, believe that there are many Gods (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163). They believe that the Trinity is three separate Gods, not that God is a Triune being. (Anyone reading this, that doesn’t have a grounding in basic Christian theology is already scratching their heads, yet, to Christians, this matters. The media, on the other hand, just slough it off as unimportant). Christians, therefore, will always be doubtful about Romney, the Mormon, because they believe that his religious faith, while sincere, is diametrically opposed to their won faith. This isn’t bigotry, or intolerance, but part of their Christian worldview.

Despite the hoopla related to various blogs, websites and new media outposts, when all is said and done, this supposed “new” mode of reporting, more times than not, mirrors the shoddy journalism of the old paradigm media, rooted in the world of print. A case in point is Purple States TV, which has been given primetime positioning courtesy of the New York Times. Going to great lengths to legitimize the “citizen journalism” practiced by five ordinary folks, taking “a journey together through the presidential primary contests,” unfortunately, the end result is just more ill-informed reporting, lacking in context and nuance.

Their stories are neither interesting, nor particularly compelling. While one, or two of the five appear to have some basic understanding and historical grounding in American politics, this experiment in journalism would have been just as effective, if not more so, if they had gone out and found five new arrivals, or even illegal immigrants and paid their way around the country, following the candidates and asking them questions. This type of reality political TV is no more interesting than former mainstream brand, delivered by blow-dried talking heads ala CNN, Fox, or the big three of ABC, NBC, or CBS. In fact, it’s even less informed.

Politics matters and the candidate that ultimately triumphs will move our country further down the path to perdition, or, possibly, make some substantive changes in our energy policy and where we allocate our resources. Do we continue to invest our tax dollars in industries, like defense, which breed death and destruction? Will we continue to pursue prison building as a model for economic development in rural areas of the U.S.? Or, could a candidate, like Ron Paul, or even a Michael Bloomburg, who with his billions, might be able to resist the temptation to pander to corporate interests, make investments in the infrastructure of our own country and its citizens and actually develop a new, more sustainable brand of government?

Iowa may not ultimately determine who becomes our next president, but this rural state, nestled in our country’s heartland, does give us our first glimpse into what real Amercans might be thinking about who they want their next leader to be.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Old-time hockey

"Boys; were' going to play old-time hockey, eh?"

-The Buffalo Crowd cheering on the hometown Sabres-

-I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out-

Given the paltry interest that professional hockey currently generates in the United States, one could be forgiven with the usual New Year’s glut of second rate college football, for missing one of the more intriguing sporting events I’ve witnessed in awhile.

The National Hockey League, hoping to do something to stop its downward slide in popularity, decided to stage an outdoor game on New Year’s Day, in snowy Buffalo, New York. Featuring the hometown Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the club that boasts the league’s top young superstar, Sidney Crosby, the league is pinning faint hopes that the second ever outdoor professional hockey game helps generate new interest in a sport that now lags NASCAR, nationally.

The game is being held on a specially constructed rink, built in the middle of Rich Stadium, the home field of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. This is an interesting venue, given that the stadium resides near Lake Erie and is prone to bursts of lake effect snow. Billed as the Winter Classic and televised by NBC, it’s one of the television events that if you happened to be channel surfing and saw the rink, snow banks flanking the boards and snow and sleet obscuring the usually graphic-driven visuals of modern televised sports, you thought, “what the heck? Did I fall into a time hole and get transported back to 1965?”

You ‘gotta give the NHL credit. This format was fraught with a variety of obstacles and a potential nightmare scenario of being snowed out and having to be replayed. Instead, it was one of the most intriguing televised sporting events I’ve ever witnessed in awhile. The announcers, including longtime NHL play-by-play man, Mike Emrick, are being stationed out in the elements, on one of the camera stands. Several times you heard the banter about the cold and the sleet that was blowing sideways and hitting them in the face. Watching the players trying to deal with snow building up on the ice, some uneven ice and at times, near blizzard conditions during the third period, I think this was a real win for the league and the sport. Certainly the fact that 73,000 fans turned out, many beginning the day with a parking lot tailgate, shows that there are still pockets of fervor for the game imported from north of the border.

One of the best aspects of the game, for me, was the between period interplay between Bob Costas, one of my favorite sports announcers and former NHL tough guy and coach, Mike Milbury, who is well-known to Boston hockey fans. Costas talked a lot about “old-time hockey” with Milbury, who was known more for his fighting than anything else. Costas’ bit about the real life Ogie Oglethorpe, from Slapshot fame, was a classic.

Apparently the character from the movie, was closely based on the exploits of a former rough-and-tumble player for the Syracuse Blazers, Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe, back in the days of the old North American Hockey League. Costas talked about being the Blazers’ play-by-play man, during the 73-74 season, when he had a run-in, or two with Goldthorpe, just as surly off the ice, as was his reported on-ice demeanor. Costas related a story about reading the New York Times on the team bus (the NAHL was known for its long bus rides from outposts like Johnstown, PA, to Lewiston, ME, home of the old Maine Nordiques) and Oglethorpe apparently took offence. According to Costas, after Goldthorpe made a comment about Costas’ reading material, he said to Goldthorpe, “it’s ok Goldie, I’ll help you learn to read, if you’d like.” That was the wrong thing to say to a guy who is purported to have registered 25 fights before Christmas, during his rookie season. As Costas told the story, Goldthorpe ripped up the newspaper and let it fall like confetti on Costas’ head and then made some menacing gestures and threats toward Costas and it required the coach and several Blazer players to intervene, rescuing him from immediate harm. Some classic stuff and the kind of history that professional sports was known for, when it was played by men, more out of love, or even desperation, rather than the size of their paycheck.

Actually, the concept probably wasn’t that foreign to many of the Canadian players and possibly some of the others, who undoubtedly learned the game, playing a version of “shinny,” or pond hockey, on cold outdoor rinks, in their hometowns. I’m sure many of the fans, either at the game, or those watching on television remember skating on an outdoor rink, either under the lights, on a weeknight, or a weekend afternoon.

Growing up in Lisbon Falls, I remember Saturday and Sunday afternoon outdoor grudge matches, behind the late Dr. Mendes’ house, on Pleasant Street. This was a rite of winter for many of us, as we’d congregate in Doc’s breezeway, to put on our skate and hit the ice. I remember the teams to be made up of a diverse mix of younger players, as young as eight, or nine, older players in their teens, as well as a handful of parents. It wasn’t uncommon for one of the dads, to get a little too aggressive and knock one of the younger players on their backside with an errant elbow. True to the nature of our games, that same dad might find himself the object of a cross-check from behind, or a well-placed hip check courtesy of one of the youngsters.

The current professional sports landscape tends to make me cynical and more likely to avoid the hype and hoopla altogether. On the other hand, NBC’s coverage and the drama of a sporting event that was a nod to the past and some of the best things about the sport might make me come back and watch NBC’s weekly, nationally-televised games during January.

[Postscript-Sydney Crosby, the young man with the weight of the NHL on his young shoulders, scored a shootout goal, shoveling the puck past Sabres goalie, Ryan Miller, with snow swirling, to lift his Pittsburgh Penguins past hometown Buffalo, 2-1. Here's a good article capturing the spectacle that was the Ice Bowl, in Buffalo, from Bucky Gleason, of the Buffalo News. --JB]