Thursday, January 29, 2009

Going to the Snow

Tomorrow I'm going to the snow. When I tell people I'm going to the snow they say, What are you going to do there? Are you going to ski? No. Skis scare me. Snowboards even more so. Looks like a double-leg mangling waiting to happen. I'm not going to do anything. I'm just going to the snow.

Those who grow up around snow don't have a strong concept of snow tourism. I grew up where it was a hundred-and-ten degrees in the summer and seventy in the winter and my concept of snow tourism is sterling. For Inland Empire dwellers, going to the snow is a standard outing like going to the beach. Drive an hour, get someplace nicer. Just instead of fleeing for the more glamorous part of Southern California on the coast, it's fleeing for the more glamorous part in the mountains. (And if you don't find Arrowhead glamorous, you are not from Riverside County.)

The romance of snow will never be marred for me by the mundanities of shoveling, or long, icy melts, or yellowing by dogs. (Nor enhanced by the providential magic of a Snow Day, but still.) I find it so exciting to step on snow and handle snow and--thrill of thrills--be snowed upon. I get a kick out of just being very cold and needing cocoa. Zooming across great mountains of the stuff is probably better suited to people who readily accept water in its solid state.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

OBAMA: The 'Means to Me' Inaugural Essay

Since Obama won election, I have not been able to think about him. I had never hoped so hard and so outlandishly. To have those hopes realized was jarring, and caused some sort of processing error.

Through the year, the crazy dream became an ever greater possibility. What if it became absolute reality? All the heartwrenching suspense, a year of thrill mixed with angst, would be over. The effect, I thought, would be calming. I would walk out into the sunshine with open arms. But instead: system overload. I could not think about Obama as president. If I did, my head would explode.

The thing to do was shut down and restart. For me, as for any ardent supporter, the intensity was a sickness and it overwhelmed everything. The Obama-ascent-to-the-presidency narrative inevitably overpowered that of my own piddling life. In the election's aftermath I sought to correct the balance; I made Barack Obama a minor character. The transition seemed like a good time to leave him the hell alone, anyway. Give the guy some space to figure out the eight million problems of the world without us clinging to or picking at him. I would save the hot stone massage of thinking about him as president for later.

But the inauguration is now. And I haven't thought about it.

So what's so great about him becoming president? Attempts to sum up the answer objectively tend to fall back on "first black president." That is a huge, wonderful part, but not the whole. For most of us, he's also our first awesome president. (The meaning of "president" has been diminished lately, and I'm not just talking about Bush.)

No use trying to coldly analyze his greatness, right here in the moment. Instead, we should each write a fifth grade-style essay called "What Obama Means to Me." Mine goes a little something like this. (Hit it.)

I grew
up in a lefty household and I thought of politics like cultish religion or hard core sports fandom. Something where you're really into your team and the other team is affiliated with the devil. You love to win and hate to lose, but like to moan about losing (and lefties have long been proud, moaning losers.) But belief in the
team is what matters. Anyone on your team is instant kin; members of other teams are aliens. Your entire worldview is team-filtered, and capped off by belief in a messianic age when lefty politics will dictate reality. This stale perspective did not, for me, include any notion of government policy as a means to practical ends. Sure, I knew that was technically possible. But I took for granted that politics was far too arcane and antiquey for actual use.

And the teamthink I imbibed as a red diaper baby is probably not unlike that of, say, a right-wing evangelical. Obama is right to say we've been a divided nation. We all have our teams, be they political, religious, cultural, regional. It's a big country and it's easy to slip into lazy disunity. But Obama has given 83% of us something to agree on: we like him.

Our president (you can say that now) insists that we shake up the whole league. He is not a teamthink type himself, which pisses off everyone on whose team he might otherwise be. He doesn't like to win and gloat or lose and rant. He doesn't care to have enemies. His political views basically jibe with mine and I don't fret over discrepancies because I trust his when judgment is called for. When he says "pragmatic," I swoon.

Obama is very modern in the way he is reflective, a man of emotional intelligence. He made a campaign appeal based on politics, but he also made an appeal to individuals as an individual, which is fitting for our open, hyper-communicative age. In the FDR era the president was a crackling voice coming through the radio, and a leader could present himself in broad strokes. (Roosevelt even hid his paralysis from polio.) Today we get such an intimate, high def picture, and slathering on the PR won't help. We can see the pancake makeup and what's underneath.

Obama is healthy and unwrinkled. He doesn't have much to hide and he knows how to artfully maintain boundaries of privacy while giving us a peek at his soul. He lets us look at--or up to--him, but he doesn't fiend for attention like a typical narcissistic pol.

Surely it is unprecedented for Americans to know their president so well. We know him from his writing (we maniacs do, anyway), but also from his open speaking habits. In both, he takes care to express himself with precision. The fact that this person whose insides we roughly understand is also our president, our representative in the world, is both confusing and exhilarating. It can be a little mindfuck, like: Barack? Don't I know that guy? What's he doing with all these big people? Oh yeah, he's

To the extent I feel like I know him myself, it's also because he seems so plausibly like a part of my world. His multiculti sensibilities, his cool/nerd dichotomy, his penchant for self-improvement, the rigor of his relationship with Michelle, the kinds of jokes he makes (
"My greatest strength I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome") all make him seem like someone I might know if I was just two tads cooler myself. He's aspirational that way. I want to be awesome too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Mad Men" and Asshole By Proxy Syndrome

Award-season hype may lead to a swarming of "Mad Men" dvds in mailboxes. Please be aware that prolonged and/or enthusiastic viewing of this program is associated with Asshole By Proxy Syndrome. Symptoms include painful guilt over neglected household chores, fear of committing adultery not commensurate with actual propensity to cheat, spontaneous desire to apologize to women in general and, in advanced cases, paranoid delusions of growing a curly pig tail and soft, felty pig ears. Researchers believe that watching the sexist behavior of the program's archetypal fifties males can cause enlightened, twenty-first century men to believe they themselves are the assholes.

If you must watch, preventive measures are recommended. Plan "Mad Men" viewing dates in advance and offer to both make dinner and do dishes on that night. Also note that women may take advantage of your ABPS by assuming a victim stance and initiating post-show arguments. Should this occur, politely remind your mate that you are not the asshole by scurrying off to the kitchen to wax the linoleum.

This has been a message from the Sanjay Gupta.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cable News Staggers Back to Work Hungover

POOR cable news. They thought the ratings could go up and up and never come down. The election ratings orgy is over and Keith Olbermann (who bragged his numbers throughout) faces a self-esteem crash. It's heartbreaking to see CNN and MSNBC running Change ads, wishing the magic could never die, vying to be The Official Network of the Obama Presidency.

There have been some happenings besides Rachel Maddow's endless nationwide quinceaƱera. David Gregory's "Race to the White House" show has sunsetted, and the resulting vacuum has mercifully not been filled with some sad new iteration of a Dan Abrams show. As Gregory heads off to meet some press, the open time slot goes to...

id Shuster! Despite the yowwing mouth movements and extreme enunciation that sometimes make him seem like a hamming "Daily Show" correspondent, Shuster appears to be a competent journalist. It was a shame when he got bludgeoned for remarking that Chelsea Clinton was being pimped by the Clinton campaign. I feel more sorry for Chelsea Clinton than just about anybody (them? as parents? deargod), and she didn't deserve to be likened to a streetwalker, certainly not by a serious reporter. But all the same, she was, in fact, being pimped by the Clinton campaign.

FROM the ongoing reality show that is "Cable News Anchors: Race to the Bottom," I give you: Rick Sanchez. Wow this guy's a douche. Giant-headed, charming douche, but an incontrovertible douche nonetheless. He's like the high school math teacher slash wrestling coach who desperately needs the kids to think he's down. ("I'm on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter...")

In an impassioned onscreen and online commentary this week about the war in Gaza, Sanchez decried the use of religion as cover for violence. Except he said it like this: "You know who else thought it was cool to torture and kill because it was God’s will? Hitler."

Dag, Rick. You blew my mind.

CNN is resting assured that the whole "unbiased" brand looks good on them, as confirmed by Campbell Brown's new show "No Bias, No Bull." (Isn't that like an implied cussword right in the title?) I don't understand how Brown got the reputation for being the tough bitch interviewer. I've mostly seen her being bland and smiley. Here's how I would be:

Clebbie Polwick: Why does Anderson Cooper need to anchor "360" from disaster zones?
What CNN Would Say: To lend him gravitas?

CP: But does he really contribute any reporting? Nic Robertson and Christiane Amanpour and the Scottish-sounding dude have it covered, right? So he just seems like a lightweight deadweight then. And he fucks up his teleprompter reading more than usual.
WCNNWS: He's, like, in the thick of things. He's a Reporter.

CP: Okay, fine. Have him on the Gaza border. But then for the love of Christ, can't somebody else be at the anchor desk in the studio?
WCNNWS: But what would AC do from the Gaza border if not moderate discussions about Roland Burris? He can't just stand there with his hand.

CP: So you think it makes sense for him to be asking Gloria Borger and Joe Johns asinine time-delayed questions via satellite about matters whose pettiness stands in stark relief to the bloody crisis going on right behind him?
WCNNWS: Look at you! I'm gonna start calling you Little Campbell!

CP: You know he said John Podesta when he meant Leon Panetta, right? He asked Gloria Borger about John Podesta being named head of the CIA.
WCNNS: Do not take Levitra if you take nitrates for chest pain.

WELL it's going to be lonesome out on the Perilous Planet trail for AC Slater if Gupta becomes surgeon general. Like that guy needed a resume-booster. ("Yeah, investigative journalist, neurosurgeon...did I mention I can bench two thirty-five?") Okay, my secret theory? Obama is having to think up like a LOT a lot of people to name for administration jobs. So picture him and Rahmbo, up late, getting a little punchy, and Rahm's like, oh shit, who for SG? And Barack's like: SG! Sanjay Gupta! And Rahm's like: that's hilarious! Let's fuckin do it!

Friday, January 2, 2009

HOT IN '09: Five Trends to Hope to Watch

"African African Americans"

Immigrants from the Motherland! Debra Dickerson cumbersomely calls them "African African Americans" (or "not black" for short) but I call them just the Rx for America's endlessly smoldering racial problems! When Akon sang, We takin over, that was literal. Blurring racial lines, confusing our stereotypes, staking their claim to hip hop, keeping those parking garages humming (advanced stereotype alert), bumping Asian-Americans for the model minority title, growing their numbers by the day and, now--in their ultimate triumph--ruling our nation, "African African Americans" are poised to have the Best Year Ever. Which city boasts most of them? See below.


Keynes is back and multiplyinger than ever. While a boon to the nation, this is rather a shame for me personally, having sent my econ degree to the shredder for the sake of my "dreams" of *writing*. Fortunately, the president-elect has more love for the Evans building at Cal than I could ever muster, tapping ShawtyLo Tyson, Xtina Romer and Elfconomists cliquemember Robert Reich as advisers. Expect bearded ones Ben Bernanke, Dean Baker and Paul Krugman to play the swashbuckling heroes as we ford the recession rapids.

The Female Gaze

2008's "Sexiest Man Alive" had to earn it like women do: by submitting to relentless, humiliating objectification. The movie Australia was one big advertisement for Hugh Jackman's ass, culminating in an oiled-chest camera pan for the ages. Here's hoping it's a trend. The way Robin Thicke tweezes eyebrows and Game cultivates biceps and Andy Samberg bares flesh (the lovable/fuckable way, not Chris Farley gross-for-laughs style) it may well be. Americans don't really have the will to neuter popular culture, even if we complain it's oversexed. The alternative remedy is to flip the script and let women in on the ogling. Men may end up deciding that being an object can kind of suck and we'll all reach some happy compromise. At any rate, the terribly unfair slob husband:hot wife nineties sitcom construct is dead and Seth Rogen must hit the gym before he's assed out.


The recent rise in gay activism and acceptance is sure to bring more folks bounding out of the closet in 2009. LiLo and Wanda Sykes? Missy, Anderson: it's time! This is a gay-in-the-sense-of-joyous shift for all, as it increases the homosexual dating pools and excises closeted gays from the straight dating pool. Healthy housekeeping for both populations. A nationwide upsurge in happy relationships is sure to result.

DC: The Place to Be

Don't just think of the Obamas. Think of the small army of smart-but-cool young people moving in to staff the guvment. New York is so inhumane; LA: so superficial. In 2009, DC is The Capital. And if we can't be in DC, we'll try to be DC. Picture celebs at red carpets with fake Secret Service escorts and politics bars playing nonstop CSPAN. We're all going to be calling our transit systems the Metro and clamoring for taxation without representation. Cherry blossoms are the it flower this spring, so order your bareroot saplings now. And get ready for more of the Backyard Band rapper who played Slim Charles on The Wire, because in aught-nine we're hearing nothing but go-go.