Nov 022008

Not sure if this isn’t a double bluff. But here we go. Let’s play ball.

Definitely sounds like something out of Monty Python, anyhow:

In an over-the-top French accent, a member of the Quebec comedy duo “The Masked Avengers,” famous for tricking celebrities and politicians including Sarkozy himself, asked if Palin would take him on a hunting trip by helicopter, and then in French said they could also go kill baby seals.

An apparently oblivious Palin said she thought that would be fun. “We could have a lot of fun together as we’re getting work done. We could kill two birds with one stone that way.”

The prankster also got Palin, Republican John McCain’s running mate in Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election, to reveal a potential ambition for the top job in Washington.

Asked if she would like to eventually become president, the Alaska governor responded, “Well, maybe in eight years.”

The full background here. Why they did it here. More below.

Nov 022008

Stuart White has an interesting piece on the subversiveness of civility at the Fabian Society’s Next Left blog and makes the following comment:

[…] the Ross/Brand antics have a very different flavour. This wasn’t the act of subversives assaulting complacency in the face of the powers that be. It was two very powerful media personalities using their power to play rather cruel jokes on those with much less power. They were celebrating their power, rather like a playground bully.

A kind of war, if you like. The imposition of the strong over the weak.

Not that Jonathan Ross hasn’t fought his corner in the past. A good interviewer will often toy with his or her subject – it’s often a constant battle of wills we willingly choose to watch with considerable morbidity. Appealing so dramatically as it does to our voyeuristic side is just one part of why we find television such a powerful medium.

We want to watch above all.

We want to watch and not be watched.

Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC itself, has this to say on the affair in the Observer today:

Our role is to identify comedy talent, writers, producers and presenters, and provide an environment and, most important, an editorial framework in which they can deliver programmes for different segments of our audiences. Not a rule-book that ensures that all programmes are risk and creativity free, but a commitment to back real originality and talent in a context of responsibility and common sense. And a commitment to our different audiences to signpost the output and to schedule and position it in ways which help them to find programmes they will value and enjoy, and avoid those that they won’t. […]

This is the eternal problem at the heart of art: how to invent something new which properly shakes the foundations of the poorly-imagined, both politically and culturally, without hurting the hard-fought certainties of the defenceless and impoverished; that is to say, the weakest in society – those who, most precisely, do not deserve to be shaken.

Should art also – in some way – be war? I don’t know if I know the answer to that one. But sometimes art finds itself placed at the service of war. As, on occasions, war – and perhaps even bullying – is the very stuff of art.

Further reading: on marching into eternity

Nov 022008

You can find a summary of the latest US presidential election polls here. The Guardian has a widget from the same source which at the time of writing shows the following information for the different battlegrounds:

Latest Presidential Polls

Election 2008 Obama McCain RCP Average
National 50.5 44.2 Obama +6.3
Battlegrounds Obama McCain RCP Average
Florida 50.0 45.8 Obama +4.2
Pennsylvania 51.2 44.2 Obama +7.0
Ohio 48.8 44.6 Obama +4.2
North Carolina 47.8 47.5 Obama +0.3
Virginia 49.8 46.0 Obama +3.8
Indiana 46.8 47.3 McCain +0.5
Minnesota 52.3 40.8 Obama +11.5
Colorado 50.5 45.0 Obama +5.5
Iowa 54.0 38.7 Obama +15.3
Nevada 49.3 43.5 Obama +5.8
New Mexico 50.3 43.0 Obama +7.3
New Hampshire 52.7 42.0 Obama +10.7

Battleground States | Latest Polls | RCP Electoral Map
RealClearPolitics produces a comprehensive average of recent presidential election polls.

The same newspaper reports the final hours in the following terms:
Barack Obama entered the final hours of the longest and most expensive election campaign in American history in an upbeat mood today, voicing Democratic confidence when he said the party has a “righteous wind at our back”.

Obama’s campaign team predicted he would break the traditional pattern of US politics to take long-established Republican states. The RealClearPolitics average put Obama on 50% to rival John McCain’s 43%, a lead that, if replicated in Tuesday’s election, would produce a landslide.

The McCain camp came out in force too today to argue that the Republican was still in contention, and that it would be a mistake to write him off. “What we are in for is a slam bang finish,” McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, predicted.

Whilst Karl Rove is quoted as having said the following:

Karl Rove, who masterminded Bush’s campaign in 2000 and 2004, was less optimistic than the McCain team’s public pronouncements. McCain has “a very steep hill to climb”, Rove told Fox.

More from the Guardian here, whilst a partial transcript of Rove’s interview with Fox – which actually dates back to October 26th – can be found here.

Nov 022008

A good article to read from the New York Times yesterday about Americans wrestling with their vote. The undecided. After 36 debates, maybe as many as four percent.

Maybe a deciding number.

Maybe Obama – and McCain also, to give him his due – have both made of this election a different, more reflective, beast.

We need more reflection in politics, not less. We need to share a culture of reflection more than we do. It’s fine to be tribal, if that’s what you’re looking to be. But tribalism leads to exacerbated division. It makes inevitable division wider. And we live in a world where our natural and intellectual resources are too finite for us to want to waste them on squabbling where squabbling should be a luxury.

Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we must fight because there is an opposition too awful to reason with.

But then we all fail dismally to achieve what politics should always be about: substituting war (whether literal or figurative) with democratic conflict.

I am not undecided myself but I would prefer elections where wrestling with one’s vote was the rule rather than the exception.

I know there is an underbelly of unpleasant society and behaviours which can be found almost anywhere, at any level, in any company, in any organisation. But we should not run our society on the understanding that this underbelly exists. We should attempt to survive it as we perpetually fight to recover our sense of humanity and equanimity.

If the war on terror has shown us anything, it is not that war is futile but, rather, that war destroys the very fabric of the life we treasure – that fabric we went to war on behalf of.

The very fighting of war leads us to give up on what made us go off to fight in the first place.

This election should, in part, be about a nation coming to terms with one of the worst presidents in history.

It should also be about a nation coming to terms with the fact that its political system depends too highly on the skills of a single individual to lead an entire nation. If I could vote in these elections, and I would feel privileged to do so, I would vote for Obama. His is a vote for the future. A vote for an alternative. A vote for a perspicacious intelligence. A vote – in a prosaic and down-to-earth kind of way – for salvation from a life under the yoke of indifference and even disrespect.

But as I voted for all those things and more, I would find myself wondering why I needed to think as I did. Why I thought it necessary to offload onto one man all these aspirations and hopes that were drawing me to him and his party.

Our education and health systems function and outlive our politicians. They stand as institutions which function in the background, which evolve without incessant chatter, which support and sustain. Why not our political systems and structures? Why do we need such grand events as presidential and general elections? Why can’t everything be smaller and more regular? What is this fascination with giganticism in politics?

Why can’t our politics be more like a village?

Can it be?

Through the Internet can we make it so?

Further reading: the social movement that is Barack Obama

Yet from that humble beginning sprang one of the largest political movements since the Civil Rights era. It has been a triumph of organisation in the technology age. Utilising the internet and driven by tech-savvy young staffers, it has changed the face of American political campaigning. It has 3.1 million financial contributors. The campaign’s Facebook page has 2.2 million supporters. It is set up in cyberspace and in more than 700 campaign offices in every state in America, including ones where Obama has no chance of winning.

Nov 022008

The British Times has ranked US Presidents as follows:

Perhaps a more democratic exercise might be to compare entire political parties. Or even political movements.

Which would be first on your list of best and worst and why?

Nov 022008

I’m not sure if we should heed the calls of Michael Portillo (more here from the original Times article) to do anything. Surely the situation we find ourselves in – as a planetary economy – is serious enough to warrant us focussing on the job in hand rather than planning a cut-and-run election.

But maybe private sector politics is like that.

George F Will would have us believe otherwise:

Tuesday night might be chaotic: Elections are government undertakings, so they are not expected to be well run, and judging by the multiplying warnings that voting arrangements might buckle under the weight of large turnouts, Election Day seems to have taken many state and local governments by surprise, yet again. Such dreary developments, anticipated with certainty, must be borne philosophically.

Nevertheless, many interesting statistics from today’s column can be found here.

Meanwhile, the Observer reports that the US presidentials are not over until they’re over. The Times, however, is optimistic.