Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hard Drives are Mortal

We are taught in Bram Stoker's Dracula that "love never dies." Perhaps it doesn't. But hard drives occasionally do.

As faithful readers will know, I switched to Macintosh over the summer and have been very much in love with the new machine, just as Vlad the Impaler was in love with his Princess Elisabeta. But last weekend, the Mac's hard drive seized up. I got a flashing folder with a question mark on the screen, and no troubleshooting would help. (This did not cause me to renounce God and swear vengeance while drinking the blood flowing from a cross, although the thought crossed my mind.)

I brought the Mac to the Genius Bar at my local Mac store and was told that the hard drive just up and died. It happens. The guy at the bar told me, "When you've been behind this counter as long as I have, you realize that hard drives are miserable." They just have too many moving parts and will eventually fail. Mine failed earlier than most, but failure was inevitable.

Let this be a reminder to back up your work regularly! I didn't lose too many documents, since I'd backed up within the past two weeks, but I lost about three months worth of e-mail and calendar appointments. I could have saved the calendar appointments if I'd occasionally synced with my PDA, which I've been lazy about doing lately.

I would be grateful for any suggestions readers have about good backup systems, ones that will function almost automatically and not require me to be constantly vigilant. I'd also appreciate suggestions for naming my Mac once it comes back from the store with its new, very empty hard drive. Maybe Elisabeta. Or Mina, since it's been reborn.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bionic Ever After

I watched the premier of the new "Bionic Woman" last night. (Amazon is currently offering it for free.) Let me just say right off the bat that David Eick is a bit of a freak. He's the producer of this new show and also of "Battlestar Galactica." Eick's specialty seems to be taking my favorite shows from when I was nine and making them really, really dark.

So the new "Bionic Woman" starts off in standard Eick form by introducing us to an earlier prototype of bionic woman, played by none other than Katee "Starbuck" Sackhoff. (Yeah, she's hot, bionic, and a Cylon. My inner nine-year-old just went through retroactive early puberty, if that's possible.) And she's a complete mess - part of a secret government (?) operation that went awry. As it turns out, this secret organization, headed by Miguel Ferrer (still a hero of mine from his work on "Twin Peaks"), tries to turn people into super-strong cyborgs and makes them engage in some sort of paramilitary activity. Unfortunately, these cyborgs soon realize that they're stronger than their captors, so they kill people and escape.

The secret team is hoping that their new subject, Jamie Sommers (played by Michelle Ryan), will be different. She's smart, decent, and emotionally stable, despite being a bartender and the legal guardian of her little sister, who has been ordered by a judge not to use a computer. (This is not the easygoing Ojai tennis instructor that Lindsay Wagner played in the 1970s.) But she's sucked into the world of bionics by her professor boyfriend after a car "accident."

There's a lot of cool scenes with Jamie discovering her new powers and developing a weird relationship with the earlier prototype, who is simultaneously her archenemy and the only other person in the world who knows what she's going through. I'll probably watch another episode, but at this point I'm not hooked. It's interesting, but not in the same way "Galactica" is. Mostly, I'm curious to see how they'll keep tweaking the 1970s version.

And then I can't wait to see if Eick will remake "Dukes of Hazzard," only with the Dukes as oxycontin dealers and Roscoe P. Coltraine as a compromised cop and Boss Hogg as some sort of anal-rape fetishist. And Edward James Olmos will play Uncle Jesse.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Clinton theory of partisan polarization

There are plenty of theories floating around to explain why Congress is so much more partisan today than it was a few decades ago. In this Daily Show interview, Bill Clinton offers his own: the burdens of 24-hour fundraising have caused an epidemic of sleep deprivation among members of Congress, which makes them more irritable and less likely to compromise. Seriously.

Huckabee Fever - Catch It!

Mike Huckabee won the Palmetto Family Council Straw Poll yesterday in South Carolina. And just last week we learned that he might get to debate Fred Thompson mano a mano in New Hampshire.

Yes, on their own, these are minor, symbolic events. But they reveal a candidate who is surprisingly well organized and appreciated among Evangelical Republicans.

Don't count him out.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A few things I learned today...

Paul Krugman has a new blog and it's really good.

The second season premier for Friday Night Lights, one of the best shows on TV, can be seen now on-line. It won't air on TV for another two weeks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's looking like Hillary

It seems like there's been a slew of insider endorsements for Hillary Clinton lately. Here in Colorado, Wellington Webb, Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, and House Majority Leader Alice Madden just announced for Hillary. Out in California, Hillary picked up the endorsement of Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. These are major players, and she's doing notably well at courting prominent African American leaders.

The big one for her still to land is Maxine Waters. Waters would probably prefer not to endorse the same way as Dymally. On the other hand, Hillary did just pick up the endorsement of Rep. Laura Richardson, who just won her seat with Waters' help. I'm guessing that Richardson wouldn't have gone that way if Waters hadn't said it was okay. So that's something.

Although he's getting less press, John Edwards has been amassing his own impressive collection of endorsements over the past year, mainly from unions. But Edwards hit a stumble today when the SEIU decided to postpone its endorsement. That endorsement should be his. Maybe it'll come tomorrow, maybe not, but that's still not a good sign for Edwards.

Obama is still quite popular, but he just isn't getting much in the way of endorsements. Probably his best shot would be with the prominent African American politicos, but Hillary is doing very well among that set. So if you believe the Cohen/Karol/Noel/Zaller argument that primaries go to the candidate with the prominent endorsements (rather than the cash or the popularity), things are definitely leaning Hillary's way lately.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The anti-democratic strain of political films

I just finished watching and discussing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) with my students today. Man, what a rich film. It really captures machine politics so much better than just about any other film I've seen. What really caught me was this quote from Sen. Paine, as he's explaining to Smith the harsh realities of political life:

I compromised—yes. So that all those years, I could sit in that Senate and serve the people in a thousand honest ways…. I've served our state well, haven't I? We have the lowest unemployment and the highest federal grants. But, well, I've had to compromise, had to play ball. You can't count on people voting, half the time they don't vote, anyway. That's how states and empires have been built since time began.

Doesn't that just nail it? Bosses don't need to control their politicians all or even most of the time. Machine politicians are free to represent their constituents on all but just a few key bills, and then they have to do as they're told. And the machine politicians can rationalize it because, most of the time, they're giving the people what they want, even though they're counting on people not to notice the graft they're enabling. Man, I spent four years figuring this out during my dissertation research. I should have just watched this movie.

Okay, so that's great. But I couldn't help noticing that Sen. Smith was basically the one honest guy in the Senate, and, not coincidentally, he was the only one that hadn't been elected. Apparently, the electoral system taints anyone who goes through it. I noticed the same thing in The Candidate (1972), which I'm showing my students next week. In that one, McKay starts out as a passionate, liberal anti-poverty lawyer. Then he runs for office and is told to stifle his true passions. By the time he wins, he has no idea what he stands for. Elections have ruined a decent man.

And isn't it the same thing with Dave (1993)? In that one, a cynical president who has worked his way up the political chain to the highest office in the land is struck down by illness and is replaced by a guy who looks just like him but, thanks to his lack of electoral experience, isn't jaded. So basically you just get a de-electorized version of the same president, and it turns out he's much better.

Look, I recognize that there's plenty in elections to be cynical about. But it really annoys me when filmmakers - and political pundits - speak about elections as though they were a distraction from good government instead of the cause of it. We heard that from the Baker-Hamilton commission last year when they insisted on releasing their Iraq report after the 2006 elections so as not to inject politics into it, as though the war weren't the crucial issue in the elections.

Jacobs and Shapiro summed it up best in their book Politicians Don't Pander:
Why has the derogatory term "pander" been pinned on politicians who respond to public opinion? The answer is revealing: the term is deliberately deployed by politicians, pundits, and other elites to belittle government responsiveness to public opinion and reflects a long-standing fear, uneasiness, and hostility among elites toward popular consent and influence over the affairs of government.

This can't be right

From Giglio's Reel Politicians (1995, p. 130), which I've assigned to my students:
While much of the action in the film [No Way Out] takes place inside the Pentagon, the audience receives virtually no information about this octagonal building or the workings of the defense department....
Octagonal building?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Historical precedents for the 2008 election

Actually, there aren't that many. What are the odds that the incumbent party will hold onto the White House when its deeply unpopular incumbent isn't on the ticket? The two main precedents that jump to mind are 1952 and 1968. In both examples, however, the president declined to run for an additional term, largely because he realized he would have lost. (Bush isn't running next year because he's termed out.) But both examples include presidents who served more than one term (Truman took over when FDR died; LBJ took over when JFK was shot) and had started - and failed to end - unpopular wars. And even though the incumbents weren't on the ticket, their party still lost the presidential election. Possibly, 1920 could fall into this category. WWI was over, of course, and we don't have reliable numbers on Wilson's popularity, but it seems safe to assume that the League of Nations fight and his stroke took a toll on his approval ratings. And his party lost in the election, as well.

The Republicans will, of course, be in this same situation next November. I'm guessing the Republican nominee will eventually try to distance himself from the war, but none of the frontrunners have remotely done that yet. Quite the contrary. So the Republicans will be at a real disadvantage. That doesn't guarantee a Democratic victory. Remember that the Republican victories in 1952 and 1968 were hardly blowouts. But the wind is against the Republicans.

No, seriously...

Thanks to the wild success of the surge, we'll be able to pull out the 30,000 surge troops by next summer. So, in July of 2008, after a year and a half of surging, we'll be exactly where we were in January of 2007. How does this help anything?