Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gimme fiction

For a while tonight, I watched home videos from the early to mid 1990s that my parents got somebody to burn onto a DVD.

Unlike my sister, who was all ham, I carefully avoided acknowledging the camera, ever. I think this has been my Personal Moral Code of the Camera: it is your duty to ignore them. They are documentary devices.

But here's the thing, Aiken: 15 years later, watching all these disembodied memories, I enjoyed watching my sister lope around for the lens. And it didn't take long for me to become utterly bored by my somber, quiet self. Fifteen years out, it's not actually accuracy that's revealing. It's performance.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

All my heroes

It's from the book that was six inches from my foot when I heard the news: Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace's wonderful 2005 collection of autobiographical, moral question marks.

I don't mean to impugn or co-opt. It just seems timely.

But if you, like poor old Rolling Stone, have come to a point on the Trail where you've started fearing your own cynicism almost as much as you fear your own credulity and the salesmen who feed on it, you may find your thoughts returning again and again to a certain dark and box-sized cell in a certain Hilton half a world and three careers away, to the torture and fear and offer of release and a certain Young Voter named McCain's refusal to violate a Code. There were no techs' cameras in that box, no aides or consultants, no paradoxes or gray areas; nothing to sell. There was just one guy and whatever in his character sustained him. This is a huge deal. In your mind, that Hoa Lo box becomes sort of a special dressing room with a star on the door, the private place behind the stage where one imagines "the real John McCain" still lives. And but now the paradox here is that this box that makes McCain "real" is, by definition, locked. Impenetrable. Nobody gets in or out. This is huge, too: you should keep it in mind. It is why, however many behind-the-scenes pencils get put on the case, a "profile" of John McCain is going to be just that: one side, exterior, split and diffracted by so many lenses there's way more than one man to see. Salesman or leader or neither or both, the final paradox -- the really tiny central one, way down deep inside all the other campaign puzzles' spinning boxes and squares that layer McCain -- is that whether he's truly "for real" now depends less on what is in his heart than on what might be in yours. Try to stay awake.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Self-serve politics

I make a lot of snap political judgments the same way investment bankers make stock picks.

The Andersen Principle: If a proposed political action -- rent control, offshore drilling -- has an obvious, powerful rationale, then it's a bad, overvalued idea and not worth investing in. If, on the other hand, a policy is complicated and hard to explain the benefits of -- cap-and-trade, the EITC -- it's undervalued and you should give it the benefit of the doubt.

First Corollary to the Andersen Principle (Also known as the Greater Wonk Theory): Policies that are hard to explain are also easy, once enacted, for highly motivated rich people to fuck with.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Darwinian socialism

The guy who sits next to me at work just stopped in for the first time after his son's birth, and looking at his familiar face I felt this sudden rush of warmth -- a desire to do favors for this friend and his family.

It's a gift from my ancestors, sowed in my heart: one, two, ten thousand moments of reciprocal kindness in a long, long line.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The blockbuster we deserve

Halfway through Dark Knight I actually thought: "I hope the war on terror ends soon, so every time I go to the movie show I don't have to do so much work." And then, right about the time Michelle Obama blew out her brains all over an early conference committee draft of FISA, the movie show reminded me -- for the first time in years -- that it's not going to end. Ever. It was a horrific realization, and I shook.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Leaving Flatland

I spend almost all my social life thinking fast, spinning, smashing into one face after another. Like a billiard ball. Clonk! Clack! Thud!

All abstraction; no time for anything more accurate.

Yesterday, on a hike, I lingered on the top of a hill while my friends walked away from me. They shrank to the size of my arm, then my hand, then my thumb, and then they were just a part of the forest that I happened to know very well -- bouncing hair, black coats, cocked elbows. They became concrete. I'd never felt so protective of them, or so proud.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Songs for getting laid off

Not me, but a friend, a colleague and a better reporter than I'm likely to become.

1. Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee, Canibus
2. Cotton, The Mountain Goats
3. Spanish Pipedream, John Prine
4. I Love My Boss, Moxy Fruvous
5. One-Trick Pony, Paul Simon
6. Love Love Love, The Mountain Goats
7. Barney's Epic Homer, Leon Rosselson and Roy Bailey
8. It's Not My Place (In the 9 to 5 World), The Ramones
9. Alienation's for the Rich, They Might Be Giants
10. To Beat the Devil, Kris Kristofferson
11. Everything is Free, Gillian Welch
12. The Mary Ellen Carter, Stan Rogers

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