Friday, February 29, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Leap-Day Random Ten

Two things that should not be applied to the face.

Okay, so it's Leap Day, and we all know what that means: Happy birthday to motivational weirdo Tony Robbins (12), actor Antonio Sabato, Jr. (9), rapper Ja Rule (8), and Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (6). It also means that it's the day for women to nut up and make their move; legend tells us that back in 5th-century Ireland, St. Brigit griped to St. Patrick about women having to wait for men to propose and was given a one-day window of opportunity every four years. Legend also tells us that in 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland established a fine for men who refused Leap Day proposals that included a kiss and enough money to buy a new silk gown, gloves, and shoes.

Dearest male readers of Practically Harmless, we've been together for going four years now, and I've never felt closer to each and every one of you. Would any one of you do me the honor of being my husband? I'm a dress size 8 Tall, shoe size 9, or just send the money to my PayPal account.

What's good (for the week ending 2/29):

- um, getting free stuff on Leap Day. Like, obvy.
- Gilbert and Sullivan. I know I'm outing myself as a complete geek here, but I sat in on dress rehearsals for UAB's production of The Pirates of Penzance the other day, and it was just hilarious. My favorite has to be The Mikado, but I'll take Pirates in a pinch.
- "nutscrub." My brother and I were, for some reason, trying to find a male-based alternative to the classic, offensive-to-some "douchebag," and that's what we came up with. Say it. Say it like you're angry. Pretty satisfying, yes?
- Starburst Sour Fruit Chews
- thing Rick Astley would never do (h/t Amanda at Pandagon)

What's bad:

- Tim Russert. Okay, Tim, we get it; Barack Obama = Louis Farrakan. Thanks for saying it out loud instead of circulating it in an anonymous chain e-mail. You're a for-real journalist. Nutscrub.
- Prince Harry getting outed by the Drudge Report. Willing troops are in short supply in war zones right now (go figure), and now they're going to be O-N-E L-E-S-S because Matt Drudge couldn't keep his mouth shut and put Prince Harry, and his troops, in danger. Why do you hate America, nutscrub?

And I just had to mention:

- whatever the crap Mary Kate Olsen is doing with those sunglasses. Seriously, she looks like a bizarro version of Carrie Donovan. And if you're bizarro-ing the Old Navy Lady, you're bizarre indeed.

The Ten:

1. Cypress Hill, "How I Could Just Kill a Man"
2. Lenny Kravitz, "Bank Robber Man"
3. Pet Shop Boys, "Miserablism"
4. Billy Stewart, "Summertime"
5. Ella Fitzgerald, "Wait Till You See Him (De-Phazz remix)"
6. Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On"
7. Oasis, "F***in' in the Bushes"*
8. Wu-Tang Clan, "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F*** Wit"*
9. Goo Goo Dolls, "Iris"
10. Cibo Matto, "King of Silence"

*I'd considered giving up alcohol, swearing, and chocolate for Lent; I ended up going with all three. Mistake. At least I didn't try for caffeine, which I've done in the past; my coworkers protested. Vigorously.

So, what's good for you this week?

Monday, February 25, 2008

On a well-deserved apology

Okay, so the mom was in town last night, and as she and Doug and I sat at Jim 'n Nick's eating way too much barbecue and reminiscing about the good old days, I realized that I owe someone an apology, and it's way, way overdue. So here's an open letter to accomplish just that.

Dear everyone I encountered between the ages of 11 and 15,

Boy, am I ever sorry. I really am. I'm so sorry you had to meet me/talk with me/fit me for running shoes/try to teach me something/make fleeting eye contact with me during that part of my life. That was more than should be reasonably expected of anyone, and I couldn't feel worse about it.

You see, Everyone (can I call you Everyone?), that stretch of years was a really tough one for me. I was awash in unfamiliar hormones, living in a new town, trying to make friends, trying to establish some sense of self. That's not an excuse, I realize, but I hope it at least serves as an explanation. So if at any point during that time I might have, say, snapped at you, or sassed back, or screamed at you, or hit you upside the head, or belittled you, or hurt your feelings on purpose, or poked you in the ribs over and over and over again until you wanted to break all of my fingers off, or burst into tears without provocation, or pretended I couldn't hear you, or rolled my eyes, or slammed my bedroom door, or slammed someone else's bedroom door, or stormed/flounced off in the middle of a conversation/argument, you have my sincerest apology.

And for what it's worth, I'm sure that if 11-to-15-year-old ACG were here today, she'd probably say, "What have I done that's wrong, huh? Huh? What did I do wrong? God, maybe if you people knew what you wanted, I'd be able to give it to you. But noooo, instead I get to figure this out all on my damn own. Oh, yeah, I said it. I said a cuss word. What are you going to do, ground me? Oh, please, please don't ground me, I didn't mean -- I'll load the dishwasher, I'll wash your car, I'll -- That is so totally unfair! You're such a jerk! I -- Oh, no, I didn't mean that, I -- But -- But -- I am so totally running away from home."



Friday, February 22, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Okay, so in the interest of my continuing education, I've decided to dive right into my list with both feet. To that end, I've started... well, okay, listening to French cabaret jazz is about it. So more dipping a couple of toesies than actually diving at all. But toes are important. They're going to have to get wet eventually. And I can already do a pretty sweet rendition of Carla Bruni's "Le Plus Beau du Quartier."

What's good (for the week ending 2/22):

- Nutter Butter cookies
- The Prestige. I picked this up on my last Costco run, sight unseen, because I knew it couldn't suck. And it delivered. I was much pleased. And of the following, whose baby would I be willing to have? a) Hugh Jackman, b) Christian Bale, or c) Scarlett Johansson? The answer is actually d) any of the above. Fooled you there. That was, what, the "turn"? I think that was the turn.
- the end of the writers strike. I miss my 30 Rock, and I hate -- HATE -- reality TV.
- Natalie Portman. Can I somehow be her when I grow up? Can that be arranged?
- rain. Even when I don't happen to have an umbrella handy, the fact that 37 percent of the state is still under extreme drought conditions means that rain is a good thing.

What's bad:

- a return to civil-rights-era voter suppression tactics. Two voting machines parked miles away from where any particularly tan voter could easily get to them? Stealthy.
- evil sentient robots

The Ten:

1. Paul Oakenfold, "Hypnotized"
2. Kraftwerk, "The Telephone Call"
3. Ella Fitzgerald, "This Time the Dream's On Me"
4. Diana Krall, "Pick Yourself Up"
5. Frank Sinatra, "All Of Me"
6. Arlington Priest, "This Is For Melody"
7. Diana Krall, "Popsicle Toes"
8. Kay Starr, "Nevertheless (I'm In Love With You)"
9. 311, "Livin' & Rockin'"
10. Pet Shop Boys, "Forever In Love"

If we're going by Josh's theory that one's Random Ten can predict the success of one's weekend, I know exactly what this (inexplicably jazz-heavy) Ten means for me. And I'm not telling. So there.

But it's good.

What's good for you this week?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

On that Finding Nemo feeling

Essay portion: These college students are marching for the right to vote. Q1. What year was this picture taken?

Okay, so there's this feeling you get (well, I get) that's kind of happy and sad at the same time. It's the kind of feeling you get watching a family-friendly film where circumstances are really crappy and the underdog endeavors to persevere anyway. It's the reason I cried at Finding Nemo (well, that, and some unexamined daddy issues), and it's the reason I almost teared up to read this:
Unfortunately, it appears that the BRACKETTexas early votingBRACKET system is rigged so that convenient polling places are only available to some people, which changes the demographics of who actually votes. Surprise surprise, one of the targets of such abuse is a historically black university outside of Houston called Prairie View A&M. Their county is only providing two voting machines, and they are located away from the university, so voting is convenient for townies, but not the students. The students, who have been victimized by this sort of disenfranchisement tactic before, decided to stage a protest.

1,000 student voters with 1,000 friends and allies walked the 7 and a half miles from the school to the voting booth and stood in line. And they will vote two at a time this way until they all vote or until the county gives them more machines.

Obviously, it's really inspiring to see students unite like that, especially when I grumble through the two-block meander to my polling place if it's raining out. I can't think of the last time anything impassioned me enough that I would have walked seven miles to make my point, and if ever there was a worthy cause, this one would be it. My heart swells in a Rudy-as-directed-by-Spielberg-and-scored-by-Williams sort of way.

But at the same time, at what point in the twenty-first century should any group of students be compelled to march in order to preserve their right to vote? Sure, they still do have the right to vote, presuming they can find transportation to the distant polling station and the time to stand in line to use the two voting machines available to the entire county. At the library where I vote (remember, the one two blocks from my apartment?), there are four stand-up voting booths and another two roll-in booths for the physically impaired, and I've never, even in the busiest times, had to wait in line at all to use one. I have three times the opportunity to vote just in my district as these people do in their entire county, and then they went and put both machines where only the townies could get to them.

I want to cry because people still believe that racism doesn't exist. I want to cry because it's so freaking unfair. I want to cry because seven miles is a freaking long distance to walk, and you can tell that some of those folks have real shoes on, and that had to have been really uncomfortable. I want to cry because there should have been more than 1,000 friends and allies marching with them. But mostly, I want to cry because a bunch of students marched a cumulative total of 14,000 miles because voting was that important to them and they weren't going to be denied the right to make their voices heard. And that's worthy of a John Williams score.

On welcoming our new robot overlords

Did somebody say "evil robots"?

Okay, so we should probably start being afraid.
Robots can evolve to communicate with each other, to help, and even to deceive each other, according to Dario Floreano of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

In the interest of science, Floreano and his team equipped a bunch of robots with lights, light sensors, and 30 simple software "genes" and sent them on their merry way in habitats with glowing "food sources" that recharged their batteries and "poison" that sapped them. The team started with robots that lit up and moved randomly, and at the end of the exercise, they took the robots that had found the most "food," recombined their "genes," created a bunch of better robots, and repeated. What did they discover?

That some robots like to screw each other over:
By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to communicate—lighting up, in three out of four colonies, to alert the others when they’d found food or poison. The fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots instead, which would light up to tell the others that the poison was food, while they themselves rolled over to the food source and chowed down without emitting so much as a blink.

There were, of course, "hero" robots that lit up in warning upon discovering poison while they themselves got drained. But the question is, when our Roombas evolve enough to overpower and enslave us, will our Aibos be loyal enough to give their circuitry in our defense?

Reminds me of a joke:

A robot walks into a bar and orders a drink. "Sorry, we don't serve robots," the bartender says. The robot just nods knowingly. "Someday," he says, "you will."

On nineteen

Okay, so 19.

Didja catch it?

Huh. It seems that that should have been more fun than it was. Go figure.

I think we can all rest assured, though, that history will prove us wrong and reveal Bush to be great president indeed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

On skills for life

I actually do understand the jokes here, thank you, Mme. Mion.

Okay, so a bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in advertising takes four years, two of which consist of prerequisites and general electives and the other two of which consist of classes in advertising message strategy, execution, and management and internships. All of that comes after twelve years of education in literature, social sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, humanities, and sadistic unmarried women in knee-length shorts who make you play volleyball even when it's obvious you have no aptitude whatsoever for volleyball.

And what have those sixteen uninterrupted years of concerted educational pursuit gained for me now that I have a real job in the real world? Slightly more than jack, because although they did qualify me for the degree that qualified me for the job, they didn't teach me how to deal with political hirings and firings, overly attentive micromanagers, unstructured command structures, and the basic day-to-day dealings of office life. And it's more than that. Which class taught me how to make a much-needed breakup stick when the truth is I really liked the guy and didn't want to break up with him? Which lab did I miss that explored the difference between venting, complaining, and problem-solving? Did I miss ENGL 4440: Finishing That Damn Novel Already Before Books Are Replaced by Microchips Implanted Directly into the Brain, and if so, was I mistakenly given credit for it?

I just feel like I've been cheated out of a lot of the things I should know for a fulfilled and fulfilling life. And that's why I've decided to devote the rest of this year to, well, finishing that damn novel already, to start with, but also to learning things that were mysteriously omitted from my early education. There are a lot of gaps that need filling, and by New Year's Eve 2008, I fully intend to be fully capable of:

1. Carrying on a coherent conversation in French. One might think that six straight years (four in high school, two in college) of French study would leave me reasonably proficient in the language, but my last attempt at conversation with an actual Frenchman went something like this:

Me: Excusez-moi, où est la métro?
Frenchman: [unintelligble]
Me: Ah. Excellent. Merci beaucoup. [to mother] I have no freaking idea. Somewhere that way, apparently.

So that could probably use a refresher.

2. Making good pancakes. I'm a decent cook in my own right and a hell of a baker, but I've never even attempted pancakes. Part of it is simply that it seems a waste to make that much of a mess for a single-person breakfast, but I think it's also that, judging from the amount of experimenting my dad does when he's behind the griddle, there seems to be rather an effort differential between lousy/marginal/decent pancakes and really good pancakes. And I want to make really good ones.

3. Changing my own oil. This is a skill I'm not likely to use all that much; I'm pretty sure that pulling my car to the side of the road and throwing it up on an Alabama jack stand would get me raised eyebrows from my landlord, the church next door, and the swank French restaurant across the street. Still, self-oil-changing seems like a good skill to have tucked away, and it doesn't seem that much of a stretch from changing my own spark plugs to changing my own oil, right? Right?

4. Playing blues piano. This is another thing that one might assume I should be able to do already -- on the surface, it's mostly just a bunch of repetitive chords and some noodling, after all -- but more than a decade of classical training in piano and voice has completely obliterated my capacity to noodle. I just can't do it. My mom is a champion noodler, can play anything by ear, and I'm ridiculously jealous of that fact. It seems counterintuitive to study how to improvise musically, but I can't think of any other way to learn how to do something I don't currently know how to do.

5. Beatboxing.

What complicates these goals is the fact that I don't have an awful lot of money to spare. I could probably knock Skill 1 out rather quickly with a few free Monday evenings and some Rosetta Stone software, but I'm kind of short the $500 necessary to get me through levels 1, 2, and 3. Similarly, beatboxing is only offered at UAB at the graduate level, meaning I'd have to work through several semesters of prerequisites before I could even register for BEAT 5410: Introduction to Mouth Percussion. So if anyone can suggest affordable ways to pick up the life-enhancing skills I'm looking for, by all means let me know. I've got several months yet before running up on my December 31 deadline, but some of them (apprendre à faire des crêpes, par exemple) look kind of time-consuming.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the double-your-fun Friday Random Ten

Okay, so I went out of town last weekend -- home to visit the family -- and didn't manage to get in a Friday Random Ten. That's why this week, you get a super TGTBATFRT, with double the goodness and the badness and twenty random tracks to choose from! Don't you feel lucky? Pretend you do.

The good (for the two-week period ending 2/15):

- warm weather. On Tuesday, I walked around in a short dress with short sleeves, and I had to dump my sweater at lunchtime because it was just too darn hot. The sun was shining, it was kind of windy, just beautiful.
- cold weather. On Wednesday, the day after Tuesday, I walked to work in the snow. It wasn't enough to stick, but it was enough to see and to feel, and that was kind of awesome, too. I suspect that, since Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and General Beauregard didn't, we're in for a steel-cage weather death match for the next six weeks.
- the grilled cheese and chili special at Becky's
- mark's Self Sanctuary line in White Tea-Vanilla
- single-girl dates (even if not all of you are technically single, Katie)
- International Kilt Day. I had no idea, but I'm all for it.
- TurboTax
- "douchenozzle." If you can't, for whatever reason, say truly, appropriately naughty words, this is a satisfyingly vulgar alternative.
- good listeners
- peanut butter cookies

The bad:

- Valentine's Day. I know it's such a cliche to be single and bitter about V-Day, but come on. There was a couple at Chez Fonfon last night who were feeding each other at the table. Do not try to tell me they think that stuff's acceptable on a regular basis; it's entirely because Hallmark has told them they have to be disgusting every February 14th.
- congressional hearings on steroid use. I will grant you that steroids are a bad thing and that use thereof throws the future history of sports into considerable disarray, but are we really devoting extensive government resources to determine whether or not Barry Bonds really deserves the title of Home-Run King? Seriously?
- downsizing
- nostalgia for the good old days, when rape actually meant something. Really, Doug Henry? Seriously? Are we really going there?

The Ten Twenty:

1. Lenny Kravitz, "Battlefield of Love"
2. Prince, "Raspberry Beret"
3. Carl Orff, "Estuans Interius" from Carmina Burana
4. Pet Shop Boys, "Why Don't We Live Together"
5. Faithless, "If Lovin' You Is Wrong"
6. Howie Day, "Sorry So Sorry" (featuring John Mayer)
7. Abbey Lincoln, "You Made Me Funny" (featuring Stan Getz)
8. Amy Winehouse, "Tears Dry On Their Own"
9. Guster, "Barrel of a Gun"
10. Evanescence, "Lies"
11. Johnny Cash, "I Still Miss Someone"
12. Simon & Garfunkel, "The Sound of Silence"
13. Gioacchino Rossini, "Gloria in excelsis Deo" from Petite messe solennelle
14. Devo, "Whip It"

Let's just take a minute to savor that juxtaposition. Savoring... and moving on:

15. Public Enemy, "Fear of a Black Planet"
16. Shakira, "Underneath Your Clothes"
17. Serge Gainsbourg, "Bonnie and Clyde" (with Brigitte Bardot)
18. Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl"
19. Limah, "The Neverending Story"
20. Pet Shop Boys, "New York City Boy"

Random Twenties are always a bit of a nail-biter, because there's twice the chance that something truly embarrassing is going to crop up. I think this one turned out rather well. What's good for you this week?

On being a Boston fan

Okay, so I've always been a bit of a Boston fan. When I was looking at schools, I poked around up there and really liked the town; liked the trees, liked the bars, liked the universities, even liked the accent. A friend of mine is from Boston, and when he's tired or drunk, the accent comes out full force, and I think it's awesome. (Incidentally, his fiancee happens to despise his accent, which I just can't understand. How do you marry a man when the most offensive thing that comes out of his mouth in the morning isn't morning breath? If "Oh, Gad, baby, fastah, hahdah. Oh, Jesus, that's wicked pissah" doesn't turn you on, maybe you shouldn't be marrying a Bostonian.) I like baked beans. I like seafood. I like, on occasion, the Red Sox. I like Matt Damon (a lot). I like Boston cream pies. I like Boston terriers (okay, I love Boston terriers). And now, I like Boston, the band.

And it's not that I have anything against Mike Huckabee personally. Well, that's not entirely true. I haven't made a secret of the fact that I vehemently oppose his concept of a Constitution amended to adhere to Biblical standards and all of the quasi-theocratic rule that would be sure to follow. His views on gay marriage and reproductive freedom run diametrically opposed to my own, and while I try not to take that sort of thing personally, it is just the tiniest bit galling to think that a person would find me incapable of making my own health decisions without the interference of his personal savior. So, yeah, he's not my favorite guy, but not really more or less so than any of the other uber-fundies on the Right.

Still, I got a chuckle at this:
THE founder of the rock band Boston is enraged that Mike Huckabee is using his band's hit "More Than a Feeling" on the campaign trail. He's written a letter to Huckabee demanding the GOP candidate stop using it. "Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for," wrote Tom Scholz. "In fact, although I'm impressed you learned my bass guitar part on 'More Than a Feeling,' I am an Obama supporter."

Sorry, Mikey. I'd still love to hear you rocking out on the bass, though. Maybe you could sit in with these guys.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On Be a Dick Day 2008

Okay, so this is just a reminder that tomorrow, February 14, is the third annual observance of Be a Dick Day. This is the day for everyone who's spent the past year being thoughtful, considerate, sensitive, and occasionally romantic to cash in their saved-up karma points and act like an utter douchenozzle. Instead of taking her out to dinner, order in--and only order enough for yourself. Instead of shaving your legs and putting on that perfume you like, put on those footie flannel pajamas that make you desirable to no man and eat an entire plate of onion fritters for dinner. Me, I spent 2007 being a good and sympathetic listener and wearing flats so as not to tower over the 5'6" guy I was seeing, so I'm going to spend the entire night griping to whoever'll listen, and every time my feet touch the ground, they're going to be in three-and-a-half-inch stilettos.

Haven't been generous and considerate this past year? Sorry, you're on the hook. But I'll certainly think of you fondly as I whine my way through The Bourne Ultimatum and teeter around Southside in my towering pumps.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

On Super Bowl ads: the worst of the blechh

Okay, so I've mentioned the Super Bowl ads that really gave me a chuckle, and those were great, but there were a few groaners and more than I really expected that were stupid or offensive or just plain bad. And that's no good. If you're spending that kind of dough on thirty seconds of national ad space, you might want to make sure you're not actively offending people, Salesgenie.

The worst offenders:

No, for serious, are we actually doing this? Really, Salesgenie? Really? We're doing pandas with broken English and broad, exaggerated, Star-Wars-prequels quality fake Chinese accents? And then eating the furniture? This is really how we're promoting our business, Salesgenie?

Bud Light

Ha, ha, foreigners are funny! Hee! And Carlos Mencia is for reals funny. Heh. Budweiser hit it out of the park with just about every other ad they ran during the Super Bowl (see Will Ferrell as Jackie Moon and the Bud Light cavemen), but this one just struck me as a real boner. So to speak.


Yeah, I know it's Naomi Campbell. Yeah, I know they're doing the "Thriller" dance. I still don't get it.

Under Armor

Again, I find myself just not getting it. I mean, "Click Clack" and the whole thing about protecting this house were kind of obscure, but this "the future is ours" thing just strikes me as kind of, I don't know, dumb? Is that the word? Dumb? We'll go with that one.

So that's it for the best and worst of the Super Bowl ads. I guess that takes care of--what? Game? You mean all those guys in tight pants running around between the ads? Was that---oh. Right. Yeah, that was, like, okay, I guess. Whatever.

It was no ferocious badgers Corolla ad, anyway.

On Super Bowl ads: the best of the best

Okay, so I watch all ads, whether they're during the Super Bowl or not. I'm in advertising. It's my business and my hobby. It's kind of an annoying hobby, as they go, because for every really great, inspired ad you see, there are twelve local car dealership ads with men named Bubba in brightly-colored pleather suits screaming at you that you can own a new Suzuki for ONLY ZERO DOWN NINETY-NINE A MONTH OH MY GOD SQUEEEE!!111!!!one!!

And in theory, Super Bowl Sunday should be awesome, because the sheer cost of ad space during the Super Bowl should be so prohibitively high as to scare off crappy advertisers, but that's not always the case. And when bad ads appear during the Super Bowl, they fall far shorter of particularly high expectations than they would any other weekend, and the disappointment is all the worse.

This isn't about those ads. This is about the ones that jumped off the screen and made me laugh, cry, and/or go online to see them again. I'd love to get all philosophical and/or technical about these and expound upon what aspects of the ads really speak to my consumer brain and what subtleties amused and intrigued me, but the fact is, the barfing baby was, like, totally funny, and stuff, so there.

In no particular order, for no particular reason, with no particular agenda, my faves:

Bridgestone Tires

NFL - Chester Pitts


Talking, barfing baby both amusing and disturbing? Right on.


Gawker didn't really like this one because of the creepy imagery of the heart leaping bodily from the woman's chest; I'll admit to being somewhat concerned that her boss would eat it once it was on his desk, but when the (admittedly obvious) punchline came up, I was right amused.


I can't help but have some affection for Carville, and I had to laugh watching Bill Frist invoke the rules of "jinx."

Honorable Mentions
- Audi. I liked the Godfather reference, and if that weren't enough, the car is simply dead sexy. Dead. Freaking. Sexy.
- Pepsi Stuff. This one is really, really hard for me to admit, because I have significant feminist objections to Justin Timberlake (ask me about the ways his videos objectify women. Wait, just for the sake of time, don't), but I thought this one was cute and funny. For all his faults, the man seems to have a good sense of humor and doesn't seem to mind looking silly. And, yeah, I wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers.
- Fed Ex. Even if that last shot was eerily reminiscent of the mass-slaughter scene toward the end of Dogma.

ETA: A hilarious one that completely slipped my mind? This one:

Pepsi was three for three in value for their Super Bowl ad dollars. Pepsi wins at Super Bowl advertising.

Friday, February 01, 2008

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Two worthy causes (and I volunteer to personally help Clive Owen kick the nic, even if that means spending every single day with him)

Okay, so I'm ashamed to admit that I completely forgot that Ash Wednesday, the kickoff to Lent, is next week. If it hadn't been for Doug's reminder, I might have missed it entirely and been condemned to whatever circle of hell hosts Lenten-sacrifice-non-giver-uppers. The fifth circle? Isn't that the one where you have to wax Adnan Ghalib's chin-landing-strip constantly and it keeps growing back? Anyway, since I certainly don't want to end up there, I'll have to get busy coming up with a Lenten sacrifice. In the past, I've given up swearing, alcohol, and/or caffeine; I may choose any or all of those. Just as long as I can keep my cocaine habit.

What's good (for the week ending 2/1):

- speed dating. No, seriously, it's fun. I did the Ronald Single Mingle at the Barking Kudu (benefiting the Ronald McDonald House; great charity, that) last night, and having the opportunity to talk to about twenty different -- very different -- guys for three minutes apiece was a unique and enjoyable experience. I think the trick is to have a friend or three with you and drink more than is generally advisable. And a note to the guy in the Cookie Monster costume: I was #8, in the gray top and jeans, and you need to call me.
- tunics. I'm so glad that tunics have been big this season, because I'm ridiculously, unnaturally long-waisted and I can go months without finding a shirt that doesn't fit like a crop top. Big ups to whichever writer at WWD decided that hip-length tops would be all the rage (in my former life, that writer would have been yours truly).
- Monopoly
- umbrellas. Would have been nice to have one on Tuesday. Or yesterday.
- Dubya's last SOTU ever

What's bad:

- political infighting. Come on, folks, I realize that the primaries are a competition of sorts, but we have to be careful not to slam our primary opponents so hard that, come general-election time, we don't have any electable candidates left in the party.
- cigarette smoke. I'm so allergic, it's not even funny.

The Ten:

1. Kenny Neal, "She Ain't Happy Unless She's Sad"
2. Green Day, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"
3. Donny Hathaway, "She Is My Lady"
4. Enya, "Deora Ar Mo Chroi"
5. Kid Rock, "Cowboy"
6. Wolfgang Mozart, "Il Catalogo e Questo" from Don Giovanni
6. The Fugees, "The Score"
7. Pet Shop Boys, "Minimal"
8. Tina Turner, "Steamy Windows"
9. Gioacchino Rossini, "Cum Sancto Spiritu" from Petite Messe Solennelle
10. Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire"

If this Random Ten is making predictions for the success of the coming weekend, I'm sure it's saying that I should expect a call from Cookie Monster. What was good for you this week?

On Barack Obama (it was bound to come up eventually)

Okay, so outside of the occasional oblique reference in the midst of some political to-do, I haven't really discussed my support for Obama; I've probably devoted more election-related blog inches to Hillary Clinton than I have to Barack Obama. Doug has made several great posts on the subject of late, and I more or less agree with everything he says there; probably a large part of my reticence on the subject so far has been the fact that he just puts it better than I ever could.

But I'm going to be taking my shift (wo)manning the phones at the Birmingham Obama HQ this weekend, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to really gather my thoughts on why I'm an Obama supporter. Most of my friends also support him, and generally for the same reasons, so our conversations generally end up devolving into, "Ohmygod, Obama's so awesome." "Yeah, he's totally cool." "I've got a hetero man-crush on him." "I think I've got a regular one." Fun, certainly, but not terribly likely to sway any undecided voters to our side of the fence.

I think it can be hard to really define the nature of your support for a candidate at the primary stage because most people within the party have basically similar priorities. It's not the general election, where Club Red goes up against Club Blue and the voting public gets to choose between two fairly different political philosophies; it's the intra-party competition where each candidate has to present him- or herself as the best example of the ideals of that philosophy. Which Democrat is more Democrat-y than the other Democrats? Who better embodies the principles of the party?

And I'm not going to pretend that it's a platform issue for me. Something we frequently forget during elections is that the promises the candidate is making now will be limited by the willingness of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the voting public to make them a reality. Running on a platform of rainbows and free puppies doesn't guarantee wet-but-sunny weather or an unlimited supply of cuddly canines. I like Obama's approach to education, but if he'd have to accomplish it through unilateral executive orders, I want no part; I didn't like it with Bush, and I wouldn't like it with a Democrat. The issues listed on Obama's Web site are useful as a rundown of his personal priorities, and that's important to me, but what's more important is his philosophy on leading the country -- where it needs to go and how it needs to get there.

That's a more nebulous subject, and a lot more sensitive than supporting educational success and opposing terrorism in Iraq ("I'm for good things and against bad things! Vote for me!"). Is the job of the president to make life easier for Americans or to make life better? Is it more important to support the efforts of the party whose ideals he represents (which ideals he believes to be the general good) or to unite the entire country in support of the generally accepted good? Is it better to reach your goals by overpowering the opposition or by drawing them over to your side?

And I guess that, in the end, is the difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, for me. It's not individual policy points, which we could debate at great length and detail for months; it's leadership and service philosophy. Obama has gotten some criticism within the party for his contention that creating bipartisan consensus should be a priority; there's a feeling that promoting progressive goals is more important than uniting Congress, and by extension the country, behind a common goal. I wonder why he couldn't do both? The Democratic party stands by its platform because of the belief that that kind of progressivism will benefit the country as a whole, not just the blue half. Transcending partisanship doesn't mean abandoning principles and giving in to the Republicans so they'll like us; it means finding the things that we already agree on -- and there are lots of them -- and starting from there. One of my favorite quotes from the short-lived but funny show That's My Bush was from Laura Bush when she said, "Now, maybe you can't unite pro-choice and pro-life activists because, in a way, they're both right." Transcending partisanship just means finding a way to do that anyway, and I don't know exactly how Obama intends to do it, but I'm not going to criticize him for having that goal.

I don't like the way the government runs right now. I don't like the way the members of Congress, within and between parties, interact with each other. I don't like the way business is accomplished. And Clinton is very experienced with that process. She knows it, she probably knows how to game it, and I have no doubt that, as president, she'd be able to get things done within it. But that's not a plus for me, because that means it's still there. It means that your average American isn’t getting proper representation unless he’s got a personal lobbyist; it means that little porky projects are piling up until significant portions of the budget are taken up with projects that don’t benefit the vast majority of the country; it means that our elected representatives spend more time trying to get re-elected than they do trying to represent us; it means that a legislator who believes that something other than the party line might better benefit the country will get shouted down before he has a chance to voice his opinion; and I don’t like those things.

Can Obama change that? I have no idea, honestly. He wants to, though, and that’s one up on Clinton; he recognizes that being able to work within the system is of no benefit to anyone when the system itself is fatally flawed, and he wants to change it. For me, his inexperience is a plus simply because he doesn’t yet know what he can and can’t do. And it’s sappy, I know, but sometimes the greatest things are accomplished when you just haven’t been told that they’re impossible. My sole contribution to the field of philosophy is the concept that it’s better for things to suck differently than for things to suck the same way they were sucking before, and I stand behind it because it’s true. Obama’s inexperience may end up presenting the country with a few problems, but if it does, at least they’ll be different problems than we’ve been facing for the past decade or so.

He wants to hold Americans responsible for contributing to the success of our own country. He wants to give Republicans and Democrats the benefit of the doubt that we can put aside partisan differences and find some common ground in deciding what’s best for the country. That’s where the “hope” thing comes in, and the “change” thing. Is it a naïve pipe dream? Very possibly. But I’m guessing that if you don’t tell him that, he won’t stop trying to get there until he’s pretty damn close. And pretty damn close is a damn sight better than we’ve been doing.