Friday, April 11, 2008
Aussie sent home and other Idolatry
Of course, the entire group of singers presented nothing but bland performances this week so sending any of them home this week wouldn't have shocked me. "Idol Gives Back" week was a dud (and I am NOT referring to the Idol-Aid show on Wednesday night).
As for the remaining singers:
Cook is the clear frontrunner at this point, thanks to several weeks of kickass performances, not the least of which was his innovative take on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", which is already being lauded as one of the greatest Idol performances in the history of the show.
On the downside, he has set the bar pretty high.
Watching Castro, and the judges' glowing assessments of him, and the fact he has only made the bottom three once that I can recall, makes me feel like I am not from this universe. This guy is LAME!
Take his ukelele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow from Tuesday night. The judges, including Simon Cowell, gushed over him for it. Taking one of the most beautiful slow songs of all time, increasing the tempo, and adding a ukelele, is NOT a great idea, and Castro's performance showed it. No one can come close to Judy Garland's version of it.
As for Castro, all I can figure is that he is a pretty boy with decent vocal abilities. Simon described my feelings about Castro best earlier this season: If I heard him on the radio, I would change the station.
KRISTY LEE COOK
Kristy is no Carrie Underwood. However, as the only remaining country presence in the show, Kristy could go far if she doesn't stumble.
David could sing the phone book and it would sound good. But Idol's wunderkind is not flawless.
In recent weeks, I have noticed him singing more than enunciating song words. That's wonderful if you're doing opera, where no one expects to understand the words. Not so good for American Idol.
That said, his version of John Lennon's Imagine earlier this season still stands out for me as the best version of the song ever done, including Lennon's version.
But David has had trouble with uptempo songs after his disastrous version of Shop Around earlier this season.
Whether Carly wins or not, I am a fan. She had me when she did Shadow of Your Smile back in the beginning. That is one of my favorite songs, and she nailed it.
She has done some good songs since then, although this week's rendition of Queen's The Show Must Go On was a bit of a head scratcher for me. Undoubtedly it was the reason she ended up in the bottom three in the voting.
I still believe she is capable of winning the whole contest, but she will need a huge performance next week.
One thing I have to give Syesha credit for is guts. She doesn't back down from any challenging song. Some people think she is too cocky, but I find her to be refreshing, especially because she has the pipes to take on just about any song.
Two songs she's done this season stand out for me: The Beatles Yesterday, which she performed flawlessly, and Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You, which I absolutely despise, but she nailed it.
But she is in the same boat as Carly Smithson. She will need a strong performance next week to stick around. This week, Syesha's performance of Fantasia's I Believe was forgettable, mostly because the song itself is forgettable. Her bottom three finish was testament to that.
Brooke can be very good, and she tends to be consistent, but she never quite outshines her competition.
Take her rendition of The Beatle's Let It Be. While it was outstanding, David Archuleta's Imagine outshines it. That's basically her story: Every week a bridesmaid, never the bride.
She is the only Idol contestant I can look at and say she will definitely not win.
Labels: American Idol
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Colin Out Obama
It's not quite an electoral endorsement, but it is a rather striking political-cultural one.
Boulder Day Two (Torture, Reunions & Jazz)
This was the day I was dreading. The early panel was fine. Titled "Loyalties or Issues: What Counts In The Voting Booth," a rather polite topic that touched on questions of race, gender, "gut feelings" in voting decisions, etc. I did a spot survey of people in the audience -- just women -- as to whom they were supporting, Hillary or Barack. Given that this was Boulder, I wasn't surprised to find that most supported Obama. I asked the Hillary supporters if they were supporting her because of gender or where she was on the issues. Nearly all said because of the issues. I then said, "I was also going to ask the same question of all African-Americans in the room. But, since that would only be the young lady in the front row, I'll ask her which way she is leaning." She says, "Actually, I'm a Republican!" The entire place cracked up. The moment couldn't have been better had it been planned.
The afternoon panel though was something else -- "Torture: When the Unthinkable Becomes Acceptable." It featured actor-activist Mike Farrell (yes, the M*A*S*H* guy), Mother Jones publisher Jay Harris (who was also on the earlier panel) and Texas writer Lou Dubose who has worked with the late Molly Ivins (and shares her politics). As I expressed in my opening remarks, given those resumes, I was there to deliver the, ahem, "minority perspective." Well, I didn't give a full-throated "defense" of torture. However, I did pose the question as to whether there couldn't be circumstances where it might be justifiable. That got some grumbles. Later, a woman (psychologist, I believe) asked about the "strategic" reason behind torture -- i.e., if it doesn't "work," why do operatives engage in it? I said, well, perhaps that suggests that the broad consensus that "torture doesn't work" isn't universally shared. Obviously, some people feel that it does work. Otherwise, why bother using a tactic that isn't effective?
That observation didn't go too well. Grumbles became outright boos. The moderator (the head of the local ACLU) requested quiet and said that boos weren't acceptable. Someone yelled out, "We applaud when we like something; we can boo when we don't." The moderator said, no, please...
I said, no, let them go ahead if they want. I reiterated the point that I wasn't making a moral justification, but responding to the audience member's question about the perceived strategic benefit of torture. They may not like it, but I wasn't going to back down from it.
Anyway, I feel like I'd finally arrived: I'd been booed at a CWA panel! (On the other hand, a number of people came up to say that, though they don't agree with me on everything -- or anything -- they are glad that the conference has some panels that have clear differences of opinion.)
The upside of the torture panel, however, was that I was pleasantly surprised to find an old friend who now a CU professor. Someone came up to the participant table as the event was breaking up and, said something like, "Didn't I know you at St. John's College once upon a time?" I looked up and there was Leland Giovanelli, a former SJC tutor, who I hadn't seen in several years. Leland also came to my rescue: One audience member didn't want to let me go (perpetual torture?), insisting on telling me that there was no proof to an observation I made that one of the individuals the government admitted to waterboarding may actually have produced intelligence that prevented several terrorist incidents. After I politely responded to him for several minutes, Leland stepped in and adopted an authoritative voice and said, "Robert, I'm sorry, but we're running late. We've got to go."
After getting out of there, Leland and I caught up. She invited me out to dinner with her and her husband. We dined at Turley's, a Boulder version of TGIFridays. Go for the buffalo burgers -- avoid the scrambled tofu. They then dropped me back at campus where a fantastic jazz concert was held, featuring musicians from around the world -- including regular CWA participants such as Don and Dave Grusin, saxophonist Derek Nash, percussionist Rony Barrak, New Orleans vocalist Lillian Boute, guitarist Frank Quintero and the remarkable Shodekeh, a hip-hopper who channels all sorts of sounds and instrument tonations through his voice.
After the concert, many of us decamped to the Red Fish for the afterparty, where many of the musicians jammed with the in-house band. I also had a rather nice chat with Air America's Rachel Maddow, who's here for the entire week.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
My Obama Envy
Let me start off by saying that I don't agree with Barack Obama on pretty much any issue of substance. Not only do I find him far to the Left on almost everything; even on those issues where we are in general agreement (say, immigration) I think he veers into near extremism.
And yet ... I, like many folks, find him strangely compelling. And it's not just because we're fellow "mixed-race Americans", although that is certainly part of it -- I mean, I never expected to see a presidential candidate who shared both my skin tone and my haircut -- but the touch of Obamamania I feel at times goes beyond mere ethnic association.
So what is it? I think it comes from the dreams I have had that, sometime in my lifetime, we would actually live in a post-racial society -- that skin color would matter no more (and hopefully less) than other attributes when measuring the status and character of individuals. I used to write about this regularly in the early 90s; I even published a magazine called Diversity & Division based on the premise of post-racialism way back then.
And here's the kicker. I always assumed that the first successful post-racial politician would be a conservative. Liberals, and partisan Democrats in particular, are so caught up in race that it just didn't seem possible for them to get behind a candidate of color who wasn't a Sharpton-esque loudmouth or some slick machine pol deftly practiced at playing on white guilt.
Obama, whatever else you say about him, doesn't ask for white guilt. I love him for that, and so do many other conservatives of a certain age. And I, like all the cute young college girls at an Obama rally, got caught up in the possibilities, in symbolism that his candidacy represents -- of a new America where a mulatto guy named Barack could get elected president based on his ideas and personality, not on some fouled up racial dynamic.
It's no accident that what support Obama was getting from Republicans in the polls disappeared immediately when the Jeremiah Wright stuff hit the airwaves. Here was our post-racial champion, exposed as just another lefty America-hater; the nerdy brother who sits in African-American studies class taking copious notes, then quoting from "The Mis-Education of the Negro" in the dining hall for the benefit of his less erudite friends. What a letdown.
Of course, nothing else we know about Obama seems to fit this profile (his wife, on the other hand ... oy!) so deep down I will continue to maintain my hope that he is, indeed, the great brown hope that many of us have been pining for. He's not getting my vote, but I sure do envy those folks who can vote for him.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
First Day in Boulder
My couple of panels at the University of Colorado's Conference on World Affairs were interesting -- to say the least. The first one was entitled "Bush Legacy: Too Early To Tell or Too Late to Matter." In my opening remarks, I suggested that it was slightly more the former. Despite Bush's low standing in the polls -- and the criticisms of his administration that I could catalogue myself -- the fact remained that much of his legacy hinged on Iraq's ultimate resolution. Furthermore, a president's legacy often can be influenced on the decisions of presidents who follow. For example, George H.W. Bush's legacy has, ironically, been enhanced by his son's decisions in Iraq (that observation drew chuckles from the audience, though I stressed I wasn't saying this as a joke). After my comments, the next three panelists -- Vanity Fair's David Margolick, the Financial Times' Caroline Daniels, and historian Michael Stoff -- lit into a list of everything awful about the Bush administration. Stoff, particularly, went into a list of "Bush, in his own words" statements -- nearly all of which had been made during the 2000 campaign.
Before the moderator opened it up for questions from the audience, I took the microphone again. I prefaced my comments by saying that I'm hardly a Bush apologist, but I had to make the observation that it was rather remarkable that not one panelist had used the words "9/11" or "al Qaeda" in looking at the Bush legacy. Sure, there's lots to criticize about Bush -- including whether invading Iraq was good or bad -- but not mentioning the seminal even that occurred during his first year in office (and how that influenced America's perception of him for the next several years), is missing a major part of the story.
My second panel was entitled "Keep Your Grubby Mitts Off My Constitution." It featured NPR's Margot Adler, the Heritage Foundation's Mike Franc (who encouraged me to come to CWA) -- and erstwhile punk rocker Jello Biafra. While the discussion was far-reaching -- all of us assessing our concerns where either the executive, legislative or judicial branches had overstepped (or abandoned) their constitutional prerogatives -- my exchanges with Jello Biafra were rather intriguing.
I introduced my remarks by saying that I was happy to be on a panel with Biafra given that I once owned one of his albums 20 years ago. I added, "See, you can listen to the Dead Kennedys and still grow up to be a Republican!" Biafra looked horrified and pretended to bang his head against the table. I looked down the panel to him and said, "Jello, you're surprised that a Republican would like a band called 'Dead Kennedys'?" The audience chuckled.
Later though, Jello went into a rant on the Supreme Court where he decided to make a passing reference to "Clarence 'Uncle' Thomas". Just before the moderator opened up the event for audience questions (yeah, a pattern was developing), I went to my mic and turned to Biafra to say that I thought calling the Justice an "Uncle Tom" was out of bounds. I said call him a right-wing fascist all you want -- as he was suggesting the other Justices were -- but throwing out what is a racial slur just seemed out of place.
He responded that he had heard former Clintonite Joycelyn Elders use the word in reference to Thomas -- "and she's African-American." I said, well, many African Americans are comfortable using the N-word. I don't and I didn't think the "Uncle Tom" was appropriate here. Interestingly, there was hesitant mild applause at my statements, as if the very liberal audience wasn't sure what their response should be.
After the panel was over, Biafra and I talked more. He asked whether this is just one of those things where blacks can use a word or phrase, but whites can't. I said, not exactly. The N-word has many connotations, depending on context -- some positive, some negative, some neutral. It's not a word I use because I don't like it. However, "Uncle Tom" has only one connotation -- negative. It's to describe someone the speaker believes is servile and acquiescent to a "white power structure" -- in the lefty/Marxist sense. It's only a slur. Some people may believe that of Thomas, but they had better follow and defend that assertion -- not just throw the phrase out there.
Anyway, he said he would have to "think about that."
An interesting first day.
Labels: Conference on World Affairs
Comparing the Candidates Part 1: Energy/Environment
The first issue covered will be Global Warming, arguably the greatest scam of our time. Let's see how much damage the candidates will do in order to save our country (and the world) from nothing (all quotes are from the candidates' websites linked to their names below):
To take the steps necessary to transition to a clean and renewable energy future, Hillary will urge all of the nation's stakeholders to contribute to the effort. Automakers will be asked to make more efficient vehicles; oil and energy companies to invest in cleaner, renewable technologies; utilities to ramp up use of renewables and modernize the grid; coal companies to implement clean coal technology; government to establish a cap and trade carbon emissions system and renew its leadership in energy efficient buildings and services; individuals to conserve energy and utilize efficient light bulbs and appliances in their homes; and industry to build energy efficient homes and buildings.Sounds lovely, doesn't it? But as usual with anything Clintonian, the devil is in the details:
An aggressive comprehensive energy efficiency agenda to reduce electricity consumption 20 percent from projected levels by 2020 by changing the way utilities do business, catalyzing a green building industry, enacting strict appliance efficiency standards, and phasing out incandescent light bulbsRead: more government regulation, which you will pay for at the pump and in your electricity bills.
A $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, paid for in part by oil companies, to fund investments in alternative energy.Read: more oil company taxes, which you will pay for at the pump.
An increase in fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030, and $20 billion of "Green Vehicle Bonds" to help U.S. automakers retool their plants to meet the standardsOnce the automakers retool their plants, how is this investment paid back? If this operates as a loan to the automakers, what if they don't take the loan? It is still an intriguing idea, but I am not sure how it will work, or if it can work.
A new "Connie Mae" program to make it easier for low and middle-income Americans to buy green homes and invest in green home improvementsFreddie Mac and Fannie Mae work so well, why not do the same thing for green houses? In the middle of a housing crisis which was brought on by loans to people who shouldn't have been buying houses in the first place, is adding more government loans a good idea?
A requirement that all publicly traded companies report financial risks due to climate change in annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange CommissionA new reporting requirement for ALL public companies which we can all pay for in the higher cost of goods! I can't wait!
What does she think companies do when they are impacted by "climate change"? They increase their prices to cover their costs. So we need companies to comply with a new government regulation for what reason?
Creation of a "National Energy Council" within the White House to ensure implementation of the plan across the Executive Branch.A new government agency! Woohoo!
Seriously, there isn't an existing government agency to handle whatever it is she wants the NEC to do?
One thing I like about McCain's issues statement on the environment is that it is light on details. He basically says we have to maintain a strong economy first, which I agree with 100%. He also mentions using more nuclear power, with which I also agree.
A speech he made on April 23rd of last year provides a lot of the details his issue statement is missing:
Alcohol fuels made from corn, sugar, switch grass and many other sources, fuel cells, biodiesel derived from waste products, natural gas, and other technologies are all promising and available alternatives to oil. I won't support subsidizing every alternative or tariffs that restrict the healthy competition that stimulates innovation and lower costs. But I'll encourage the development of infrastructure and market growth necessary for these products to compete, and let consumers choose the winners. I've never known an American entrepreneur worthy of the name who wouldn't rather compete for sales than subsidies.It is safe to say he plans to leave it up to the free markets to decide how we handle this problem, with a little bit of help from tax breaks.
...I want to improve and make permanent the research and development tax credit. I want to spend less money on government bureaucracies, and, where the private sector isn't moving out of regulatory fear, to form the partnerships necessary to build demonstration models of promising new technologies such as advanced nuclear power plants, coal gasification, carbon capture and storage, and renewable power so we can take maximum advantage of our most abundant resources.
The barriers to nuclear energy are political not technological. We've let the fears of thirty years ago, and an endless political squabble over the storage of nuclear spent fuel make it virtually impossible to build a single new plant that produces a form of energy that is safe and non-polluting.Cutting BACK on government regulation? Can he do that?
Probably not, but it is refreshing to hear a politician say it.
All three candidates promote "cap and trade" systems. Obama's is a little different:
Some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances will be used to support the development of clean energy, to invest in energy efficiency improvements, and to address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition.In other words, a tax on companies which sell their allowances. It is unclear how much the tax will be.
Obama will invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, invest in low-emissions coal plants, and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid. A principal focus of this fund will be devoted to ensuring that technologies that are developed in the U.S. are rapidly commercialized in the U.S. and deployed around the globe.
...Obama will double science and research funding for clean energy projects including those that make use of our biomass, solar and wind resources.
...Obama will also create an energy-focused Green Jobs Corps to connect disconnected and disadvantaged youth with job skills for a high-growth industry.
...Obama will establish a federal investment program to help manufacturing centers modernize and Americans learn the new skills they need to produce green products.
More government spending. He has more ideas of different ways to spend government money in a lot of different areas, but no specific energy direction. From biofuels to solar to wind to others, he hits all of them with our tax dollars.
Obama will create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to fill a critical gap in U.S. technology development. Obama will invest $10 billion per year into this fund for five years. The fund will partner with existing investment funds and our National Laboratories to ensure that promising technologies move beyond the lab and are commercialized in the U.SAside from the spending aspect of this, is he SURE we can get this done in 5 years?
Obama will establish a 25 percent federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require that 25 percent of electricity consumed in the U.S. is derived from clean, sustainable energy sources, like solar, wind and geothermal by 2025.I will give Obama some credit for mentioning geothermal as a possibility. Of all possible energy sources, we really don't hear much about geothermal.
Obama will significantly increase the resources devoted to the commercialization and deployment of low-carbon coal technologies. Obama will consider whatever policy tools are necessary, including standards that ban new traditional coal facilities, to ensure that we move quickly to commercialize and deploy low carbon coal technology.This sounds good on the surface, but is a lot more difficult in practice.
Coal energy is derived from the carbon in coal. Low carbon coal provides less energy. Therefore, you have to burn more low carbon coal in order to get the same amount of energy as you would from high carbon coal.
The problem is NOT the coal, but HOW we burn it to produce energy.
The three candidates show some marked contrasts in energy/environmental policies. As expected, McCain is the farthest from the other two, in that he plans to leave most of it to the free market. Obama wants to spend, spend, spend. Clinton wants to spend too, but she seems to rely on government regulation a bit more than Obama.
Bus Blogging Part Deux
The summarize (and perhaps clarify) the points I was making in Sunday's entry, I believe that 1) we are a very economically diverse country, with people all over the map in terms of assets, cash on hand, job status, etc.; and 2) that in spite of these differences, most of us share an aspirational approach to our economic futures -- that is, we all want more than we have now (or at least better value). In the comments, some referred to this as crass consumerism, although in my opinion consumerism is just one manifestation of an aspirational economy. It can also take the form of record applications to colleges, increased spending on lower priced goods that model higher priced items, and smarter consumption in terms of comparison shopping or understanding the long term versus short term costs of ownership -- all of which I would argue are important components of our modern economy.
I promised I would talk next about what this means for the election in December, so here it goes. First, let's do a quick recap of where each party is on the economy. The Democrats say that most people are suffering from a brutal economy that is destroying jobs, forcing people to forgo healthcare, making it impossible for them to send their kids to college, and generally widening the gap between rich and poor. The solution? The government must Do Something -- actually, dozens of somethings from raising taxes to repealing Nafta to nationalizing healthcare -- in order to increase economic security and protect 95% of us from the depredations of 5%.
The Republicans say we live in a dynamic economy that is still creating jobs, new businesses, and wealth at a huge pace. They dismiss fears of economic insecurity as creations of a hysterical, liberal biased media, or temporary effects of what is, in the aggregate, a growing nation. Any economic problems we do have can easily be alleviated by more tax reductions, fewer regulations, and stimulus of local economies by Federal seed money. You know, Pork.
Listen to how simplistic these arguments are, compared to reality of a complex, diverse nation with 300 million people. Parts of both party's lines will resonate with general public, but at the end of the day neither is particularly satisfying to most of us, because we know in our guts that they both present incomplete, politically self-serving visions of the country.
Now if any of the three remaining candidates can break out of the confining mold of this stale left-right dialog, they will find a very receptive audience among the public. I think this is particularly important for McCain, who needs to break from the GOP aversion to admitting that there is anything wrong with the economy besides high taxes, and start to explain to average people that yeah, we politicians do understand that not all is rosy out there -- and that $600 tax breaks to buy new iPhones ain't gonna cut it as an governing agenda.
Obama and Hillary, while just as moldy as the Republicans, at least have this going for them -- most people really do feel economically insecure, and it is not a media-created myth that things are going badly for many folks. So if McCain simply cedes them this ground and doesn't come with his own "I feel your pain" moment, there is little chance he can win in November.
Monday, April 07, 2008
R.I.P. Charlton Heston
1. The Ten Commandments(1956): I don't know if it still does, but this movie used to air every year around Easter. And I remember watching it every year as a kid. And it never got old.
Incredibly, Cecil B. DeMille made a silent version of The Ten Commandments back in 1923. But the 1956 version is the one everyone remembers, for good reason: It was a lavish spectacle. This movie was the definition of the phrase "Hollywood epic". DeMille took some liberties with the historical accuracy, even the Biblical accuracy, but he was true to the intent of the story.
Of course, Heston's Moses was the rock-jawed hero at the center of the story. But the rest of the cast reads like a "who's who" of mid-20th century Hollywood: Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, John Derek, Vincent Price, and John Carradine.
I won't call The Ten Commandments Heston's finest work as an actor. But taken as a whole, this movie was the best he did, simply because the film has become a cultural icon.
2. Ben Hur(1959): This movie did for Ancient Rome what The Ten Commandments did for Ancient Egypt. I can almost picture the executive in the movie studio: "Ok, we're making a movie about a guy who goes through a deep religious struggle, set against the backdrop of an ancient period. Now who would be a good actor for the lead? Hmmm..."
Seriously, Heston was a little better in this role, but the movie as a whole pales next to The Ten Commandments, simply because the supporting cast wasn't as good.
3. The Agony and the Ecstasy(1965): This one is my personal favorite of Heston's films. One of the few films where Heston wasn't the big-chested, rock-jawed hero. Instead, Heston played the artist Michelangelo, offset by Rex Harrison's Pope Julius, as Julius gets Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.
Heston's character struggles in this film aren't quite so "over the top" as in his more famous films. This was Heston at his finest.
4. Planet of the Apes(1968): "Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!"
Everyone remembers that line, but what they forget about this film is that it was made during the peak of the Civil Rights movement. Science fiction, at it's best, gives us a mirror to the human condition. Planet of the Apes looked at racism.
In the movie, you can hear apes justify their own superiority to humans, such as humans aren't smart enough, and you are reminded of the old racist arguments against blacks.
The great irony of Heston's most famous line from the film is that it shows our own prejudices when it comes to apes. Within the framework of a planet where apes rule over humans, it becomes an example of reverse racism.
Even more ironic is that Heston's most important film is considered just another science fiction film today.
5. The Omega Man(1971): I was so proud of myself when I saw an ad for Will Smith's I Am Legend and thought, "Boy, that sounds like The Omega Man." It should, since it's based on the same novel (I Am Legend, written in 1954 by Richard Matheson).
The point of The Omega Man is that the same science which can destroy mankind can also be used to save it.
Heston's character, as "the last man on earth", would be an unusual role for any actor, and still stands out among his many movies.
-El Cid(1961): It has been a long time since I have seen this one, and it doesn't really stand out for me, but most critics rate it as one of his best.
-The Three Musketeers(1973) and The Four Musketeers(1974): Heston was deliciously evil in a supporting role as Cardinal Richelieu.
-Airport 1975(1974): In my opinion, this one was better than the original Airport. Also, it is a classic example of the 1970's disaster films genre.
-Midway(1976): One of the greatest WWII movies, but Heston almost gets lost in the all-star cast (Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Wagner).
Labels: Charlton Heston
Sunday, April 06, 2008
I'm writing this entry from a remarkable place -- a WiFi enabled luxury bus, running express from NYC to DC. I popped out my laptop, turned on the wireless, and voila! Mobile Blogging on the Jersey Turnpike.
What's particularly interesting about this trip is that it costs a mere fraction of Amtrak or the airlines. I am paying a discounted introductory rate of $26 round trip. And sitting in a damn comfortable seat as well.
My intention today is to blog a little about the economy (which RG studiously avoids, since he can't even balance his checkbook). Discount luxury buses are, I think, a sign of some interesting economic trends, ones that will have a real bearing on the November election. Stay with me here for a moment...
Despite the John Edwardsian rhetoric that spills forth from Democratic pols these days, there are not two Americas -- economically speaking, there are many, many Americas. As I scan the bus ridership, I see mostly college students or recent graduates, a few elderly folks, a mother and 20-something daughter traveling together. It looks like the split is 50-50 white and Asian Oh, and one middle-aged entrepreneur hammering away on his laptop.
Two observations from this: One: while we can safely assume that everyone on here is suitably cash-strapped to be enticed by the cheap fares, beyond that it's virtually impossible to generalize anything about their true economic condition. And two, enough Americans are feeling the economic squeeze that new businesses like this are springing up to cater to us. Like designer label items sold at Target, we can keep up the trappings of modern American luxury at a fraction of the cost.
In my view, this paints a far more complex economic picture than the Democratic caricature of haves versus have nots, but also reveals the reality behind the GOP's simplistic "opportunity society" creed. In today's New York Times, there is a special magazine section with real estate articles and ads. Next to an interesting piece on first-time home buyers around the country, I spied an ad for new $4.5 million condo's near my old apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side -- until a few years ago considered largely a middle class neighborhood. And at the same time people are building and buying grand apartments, new companies are offering $26 luxury buses. What gives?
I think what we're seeing is that for most Americans, this remains an aspirational economy. In other words, people have hopes for their own economic improvement; they still desire top quality goods and amenities; and they are willing to seek these out for a price which they can afford -- even while watching the super-rich continue to prosper.
I'll weigh in with a follow up post of what this means for November 2008.