Sunday, August 31, 2008

Another Storm Cloud

Earlier this week I attended a lecture by the author Chuck Klosterman
in Iowa City, Iowa. Mr. Klosterman described something I’ve been fixating upon post-DNC--enthusiastic political groupies--you know, the ones who wave signs jumping up and down in front of the camera. He explained his inability to understand how people feel so sure and so excited about something that, at this point, is only speculative—that Barack Obama will make a good president. I agree, and up the ante. How can we be excited about any of this? About anything?

The bread and circus is replete with Eisenhowers, Clintons, and The Boss blaring…

[The baggage of the old guard]
[Being bombarded with images of the electorate, our fellow human beings, decked out in Old Glory, jumping around madly, waving signs]

= About as alienating a formula as I can think of.

Although much of the population participates in some ritualistic form of “woohoo”-behavior, be it at church, sporting events, or political rallies; this brand is particularly hard to swallow. How do intelligent people keep the faith? How does General Lloyd "Fig" Newton stay optimistic? The remarkably endearing Barney Smith from the Indiana Heartland believe someone is going to help him out? How does one quell the cynicism?

Down in New Orleans as people batten down the hatches and seek refuge from Gustav, the press buzzes, and the buzz-machine generates new concoctions. Not unlike the old concoctions, mind you, they use the same recipes. The GOP can use this opportunity to broadcast their oft-missing humanity. Heroic gestures and convention sacrifices will melt the icy image of The Party. And, the poor get screwed again. This time the storm not only means risks to the lives and homes of the people of greater NOLA, it may also mean more votes for “maverick” McBush and thus, another four years of suffering for those who are already suffering the most.

This is why the daily disappointments of politics hurt so much. “Lock, stock, and barrel after barrel” we get the same formulaic answers and the same vague plans for reform.

The mortifying media spectacle isn’t to blame; it’s symptomatic of the same old…
There is a little hope for change here though, a little. But, you don’t see Dennis Kucinich or the like up there, do you? We still demand the pomp and circumstance, still allow the mirage of excitement and camaraderie to cloud our political vision. Traditions run deep in the land of fundamentalist Christianity, waste, greed, patriarchy, and colonialist privilege.

Sure, I vote. I want you to vote. In fact, rock the vote-- or whatever the slogan du jour—but really, the vote? The politicians? The Government?

I think it’s time to figure out how to look each other in the eye.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

2008 GOP Convention tune-up at the Xcel Center

Two views of the hall of the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota on the Saturday before the scheduled start of the Republican National Convention, as work crews from the trades and media made final preparations for the event.

Earlier this evening the New York Times issued the following news alert:


Mandatory Hurricane Evacuation Is Ordered in New Orleans"

City officials ordered everyone to leave New Orleans beginning Sunday morning -- the first mandatory evacuation since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city three years ago -- as Hurricane Gustav grew into what the city's mayor called "the storm of the century" and moved toward the Louisiana coast.


Gustav may well delay the beginning of the convention.

Saturday, August 30, 23:45 CDT

Mile High Flickr Album

Flickr Photo Archive

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dispatch 4

Dispatch 4
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
David Levi Strauss

Being inside Mile High stadium tonight was a very different experience than being in the Pepsi Center last night. The machine did move, lock, stock, and confetti, but was entirely transformed. Since the main substantive difference between the two was the addition of 50,000 Regular People (civilians) into the mix, I can only attribute the change to them. The music was better, the dancing was much, much better, and the security was more laidback. When I plowed into a black woman guard at a checkpoint with my camera bag, she turned and said, "Oh, my new bump brother," and made me give her a fist-bump before she'd let me pass.

Three moments stand out. The first occurred at 5:30 pm, when took the stage to do "Yes We Can," and the crowd (some of whom had walked hours to get here) came together around it and became a unified force. The second came when the film about Barack Obama's life was shown, and the by-then capacity crowd of 75,000 fell absolutely silent. And the third came halfway through Obama's speech, when he said of the last eight years of American politics, "We are better than this. Enough!" and the crowd pushed out the walls.

At those three points, the machine became irrelevant.

Filed in early morning hours on Friday, August 29, 2008, following the final night of the convention.


Thursday, August 28, 2008



Dispatch 3
Bill Clinton: "I Love This"
David Levi Strauss

I'm writing to you from inside a machine for producing words and images. If anything happens here at the Pepsi Center that is not recorded, it is a wasted act, a kind of sin. Everyone here is divided into use-groups, indicated by the colored tags hanging from their necks. Security forces check the tags constantly to insure compliance.

First, there are the Politicians, the stars, the reason we're all here. Some of them are so important that they don't even wear tags. Their images are so ubiquitous and recognizable that they transcend the need for secondary identification.

Next comes the Designated Crowd, also called delegates. Their job is to dress extravagantly and react enthusiastically to everything the Politicians do. They must act as if they're on-camera at all times, even in the most supposedly private of moments, because when you become part of the Designated Crowd, you sacrifice your identity and image to the greater Image.

The Press is here to record and interpret every act and gesture of the Politicians and the Designated Crowd. The Press is divided into Word People and Image People, and in this setting, the Image People have the upper hand. The Press is also divided into the Mainstream Media and the Bloggers. The MSM have whole buildings (called Media Pavilions) dedicated to their every need or want. They have lounges and cafes and bars. And they have degrees of unlimited access. Some of them have such recognizable images that they have themselves become stars: Wolf, Anderson, Katie, Cokie, Matt. One sees them on the Floor, perfect and motionless, until the cameras roll and they spring to life.

The lowest caste of all is the Bloggers. They are image-less drones, crammed into crowded warrens in tents, outbuildings, and basements, plugged into their pitiful terminals, eating scraps falling from above. They exist at the outer edges of the Machine for Producing Words & Images, closest to the Unwashed, the Irrelevant.

Tonight, the Machine moves.

Filed on Thursday, August 28, 2008, following the previous, third night of the convention.


Denver - Democratic Convention Day 3 [August 27

Flickr* has experienced a technical glitch with their upload system -- we're among dozens to report this bug, and we are assured they are 'on the case.' In the meantime, we offer up a few teaser images from Day 3 of the convention.

* Our site remains up but without new additions.

red white blue 2

Wait, someone told me Bill Clinton arrived in a hybrid rocket chariot from the heavens made out of recycled satin sheets and Safeway bags and granted wishes to the first 2008 conventioneers to line up and rub his tummy? Is that true? He's like the new Santa? I didn't get home from dog agility class in time to actually see what happened on tv. I sort of just pick this stuff up on the internet I guess.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We Are Family

Quite an interesting spectacle from here in the heartland: the mediated message almost embarrassingly transparent; the Clintons, the old masters of politics, with carefully chosen words that place Hillary in a good strategic position whichever way the die should fall ("vote your conscience, delegates" sounds so Democratic and so self-serving in the same breath); Obama's televised visage looming over his children in a vaguely threatening big-brotherish way--oh wait, I get it, that was god talking--(but why is it that a smart woman has to spend so much time convincing us that she is a good mom when it is self-evident anyway); the appearance two days later (no wait, they just messed up, that should have been three days) in real life--or to be more accurate, in first level mediation--of the chosen one, whom it turns out is just hawking tickets to the next show. "And now for the historical perspective we turn to..." and you know that Jim Lehrer is my chauffeur ("Gwen Ifill" -- I need say no more).

But I am loving it. It would be my choice, right now, to be mingling with the delegates shouting "Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!" I am a sucker for sappiness and emotional appeal; I love being pandered to. I feel latent tears well up in my eyes as Beau-boy Walton talks, addressing us before he goes off to fight the good American fight in foreign lands. I read mom Biden's lips saying "that's true" to her neighbor in affirmation of a story Joe is relating that is much too good and too heroic and too American to be true. Tonight, I am willing to accept the story. I am caught up in the tide washing from Denver through my television set and spilling out in my living room (and you DO realize that we Iowans gave Obama his start, don't you). In my own private war between hope and cynicism, hope seems to have slight edge right now. Perhaps it is not the hope that the organizers envision--I am hoping that the Democrats can hold this constructed image together for 69 more days. Nonetheless it is hope.

outside the convention hall

Where is today's Senator Ribicoff?
Somebody tell the media to look outside the convention hall:

Dispatch 2

Dispatch 2
The Fallen
David Levi Strauss

The principle drama of the conventions is the relation between the press (now, the MSM) and the politicians. This entire spectacle is built for and caters to the media and the media cannot get enough of it. This year Wolf Blitzer and CNN have set themselves up in the middle of everything, right down on the floor rather than suspended above it. CNN pundits James Carville, et al. wear black Madonna headpiece mics so that they can hear themselves and each other above the din. They look like astronauts in New Guinea.

After eight years of Bush/Cheney-style bunker mentality and press blackout, the conventions are orgies of access, and the MSM is bleary-eyed and gooey with the surfeit.

Last night, the stage belonged to the Clintons, and they showed (if anyone remained unconvinced) how masterful they are at this kind of stagecraft. Chelsea introduced her mother with a film that almost managed to make Hillary look hip, and Hillary gave the best televised speech of her life, artfully intercut with close-ups of weeping women delegates and extreme close-ups and reaction shots of Bill Clinton (often even in splitscreen) laughing, loving, earnestly rapt, and tearful. The words said “Vote for Obama,” but the images said “Look you now upon the President and First Gentleman who could and should have been, and weep.”

Filed on Wednesday, August 27, 2008, after the second night of the convention.


red white blue

My favorite part was where the whole army came out in dresses and was banging the drums with Lightsabers under the roof designed by Suede from Project Runway of the Chicken Basket Stadium. Every time we get a medal, I like to stand up on a chair and sing along.

Oh wait. What week is this? No one up there is wearing ANYTHING by Ralph Lauren. Just Hillary buttons.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dispatch 1

Dispatch 1
Isn’t She Lovely?
David Levi Strauss

For a mere voter, it was frustrating to watch the overdetermined and utterly predictable Spectacle that is the party’s nominating convention lumber to life tonight in Denver. Our excitement at Barack Obama’s rise, from his incandescent keynote speech at this convention four years ago, to his unlikely early victories and impossible triumph in the primary, led us to believe that something, everything, had changed, and
that perhaps even this hapless ritual might be transformed into a better version of itself. But it was not to be, at least not yet. Just as the opening ceremonies of the Bejing Olympics went all North Korea on us despite extraordinary individual feats, the first night of the Democratic National Convention insisted on Ken Burns without realizing that it had everything it needed in Malia and Sasha Obama.

Something felt wrong from the beginning; not just the self-conscious mawkishness, but something deeper, lurking under the deadend of identity politics. It was as if the worst tendencies of 1980s had come out to make one last attempt to stifle the future. Race vs. gender. And the hall was haunted by other spectres of past failures: Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Howard Dean. I’m sure we’ll see Al Gore soon. There is something inside American liberalism that forgives too much and gives up too soon. A compensatory, defensive liberalism that refuses to win. Is the Obama campaign a real political movement, or just another empty promise? Having gotten our attention, will Obama Democrats, like their predecessors over the last 30 years, find a way to lose?

This time, the stakes are just too high. Barack and Michelle Obama realize this. They are real leaders, not empty vessels that must be filled up with platitudes, and tonight showed that the Democratic establishment hasn’t yet figured that out. Watching Michelle Obama give that speech was like watching a great miler run through tapioca. I think she came through anyway, but why put your best through that?

If American voters again decide that they want someone in the White House who appeals to their worst selves, who they can feel “comfortable” with, the Obamas will lose. But if they agree with Michelle Obama that “the world as it is just won’t do,” then this spectacle is just a distraction. In his speech at the convention in 2004, Barack Obama invoked “the true genius of America” without irony or cant. If that genius survives, it needs to rise now, and push aside the party faithful. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Filed Monday, August 25, 2008, after the first night of the Democratic National Convention.