Wednesday, December 30, 2009

CORRECTION- Political Campaign Docs

In my search for a conservative Congressional Campaign documentary I happened to come across So Goes the Nation. This film follows the 2004 presidential election in Ohio. What is unique about this film is that is features input from people at every level of the campaign on both sides. I highly recommend this film to politcos out there. Interesting to see where Dem's improved and the GOP dropped the ball from 2004-2008.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Political Campaign Documentaries

As a Poli Sci maor studying in Washington, D.C. (soon to be London for a bit) my Netflix queue has of late been dominated by political documentaries following candidates for office. Two of the best films were Street Fight, which focused on the 2002 Mayoral Candidacy of Cory Booker in Newark, NJ, and Can Mr. Smith Still Go to Washington. The latter of these films focused on the 2006 candidacy of Jeff Smith in the Democratic Primacy for the St. Louis Congressional Seat vacated by the retiring Dick Gephardt. These films provide an inside look at the upper level organization of campaigns that most political volunteers and even operatives at higher levels have little access too. The chance to gain an inside look at the decision making process behind how a candidate operates their campaign is invaluable in examining the positive and negative aspect to a given campaign.

Street Fight focused on Newark City councilman Cory Booker. A Stanford educated attorney turned politician whose focus on improving the living conditions in Newark brought him into contention with six term incumbent Mayor Sharpe James and the Democratic machine of New Jersey. Booker, a fellow Democrat, challenged what he say as the perpetual poverty in Newark, the inaction of Mayor James, and the cut throat nature of Newark Politics. Running on the change platform that would later form the basis of Barack Obama's historic Presidential Campaign, Booker ran into unexpected issues with race. Although both candidates were African American James attempted to portray Booker as a "race traitor" who was taking money for Republican donors. In the end Cory Booker came up just three thousand votes short of overthrowing the dominion of Sharpe James. James utilized thousands of imported campaign volunteers, racial tensions, and outright intimidation to beat Booker. In 2006 Booker chose to run again and James opted out of re-election, Councilman Booker carried the election with nearly 70% of the vote. Booker later became famous due to his feud with Conan O'Brien that resulted in Conan being banned from entering Newark City Limits.

Can Mr. Smith Go to Washington Anymore is a modern nonfiction play on the classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring James Stewart. The documentary aims to examine whether or not a political outsider can realistically run for Congress. Attempting to claim to seat held by the retiring Rep. Dick Gephardt. charter school founder Jeff Smith is seeking the Democratic nomination for this Congressional seat. An educational profession who has charted a number of schools targeted at improving the quality of minority education. Going up against the Missouri Carnahan dynasty Smith places meeting as many of the people in the district as possible. Despite raising a large amount of money and building up quite a bit of momentum Smith was unable to wrest the Democratic nomination from Russ Carnahan. Smith, although he was not unable to win the nomination, has not retreated from the public sphere. Instead he made an unsuccessful bid for the State Senate and plans another Congressional run.

In addition to being fascinating looks at the political process in the United States, these two films have a few other things in common. Both campaigns were unsuccessful and both candidates were democrats. Unsuccessful campaigns are actually better case studies for modern American politics as they show the level of devotion it requires to come even moderately close to winning a major election today. Furthermore inside information within the campaign is not at a premium in a losing effort as it will not be necessarily employed in a reelection bid in two or four years. As for the focus on Democrats I am at a bit of a loss. You could argue that film makers are more likely to be Democrats and that the use of documentary film is a progressive technique. I think however, that the main reason Republicans have been reluctant to adopt this technique is chronic short sightedness. By not seeing that even in defeat a campaign can result in a positive outcome republicans have compounded their mistakes.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


So earlier this week I took the plunge and went to see James Cameron's Avatar. Cameron has quietly been working on this project, and more importantly the technology required to produce a 3-D epic. The result is stunning from a production point of view. By far the most compelling 3-D film I have ever seen, Avatar delivers where all other films utilizing this technology have fallen short, instead of appearing cheesy the use of 3-D enhances the things that we already love about epic blockbusters. The colors are more vivid, the exotic creatures of the planet Pandora more lifelike, and the battle scenes more intense.

The technology works so well in this film because it is effectively coupled with an incredible story. Avatar tells the story of Jake Sully a parapelgic former marine who is sent to the planet in place of his twin brother to serve as an "Avatar Driver" a human being whose consciousness is transferred to a genetically modified body created from a mix of human DNA and that of the Native Navi. I was blown away. This film was a tremendous ride and I literally was speechless for the duration. What makes this film especially poignant was the fact that it raised a number of prominent issues well above the pay grade of your typical sci-fi action adventure story. Specifically, the film challenges the relationship between the earth and humanity, consumerism, the god of the profit margin, and most importantly Avatar questioned what we deem important in our every day lives.

Without giving anything away I will simply say GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Hill

Today is my last day in Congresswoman Mary Fallin's Office. Can't believe how fast this internship went. Its pretty cool walking past the Capitol on your way into work each day. More than that however I really lucked out. Having the opportunity to get a first hand look at the operation of the legislative branch of the United States government was incredible. Matching the concepts I was learning in my Congressional Studies course to the practical realities of the House of Representatives was invaluable to my overall understanding of how Congress works. Moreover it is always nice to be able to match faces to nameless terms and job descriptions. Although I am not sure if I will ever work on the Hill after graduation, it is definitely an option I will consider. Essentially a blend of public policy and legislative knowledge staff work on the Hill can be fascinating. However, just like all jobs it can also be slightly monotonous. For me I think I would try to find a candidate to work for and then ultimately serve as staff for their DC office. I can imagine the work becoming a bit tedious if you fail to connect that work with the overall mission of the Congressperson or ideology.

Regardless, I will certainly miss coming to work each Tuesday and Thursday in Longworth 1432 and all the people there. I wish Congresswoman Fallin the best of luck in her gubernatorial bid and thank her for the opportunity.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pictures for Last Post

Finals, Resignations, and an Impending Hop Across the Pond

So truth be told I starting this blogging project as I knew I would be going overseas to study and participate in an internship in London. I will taking classes through the University of Leeds and working for MP Nigel Waterson ( in the House of Commons. Waterson represents Eastbourne, Willingdon, and East Dean and also serves as Shadow Minister for Pensions and Older People. Right off the bat the term Shadow Minister is much cooler than Ranking Member, the typical designation for minority committee leads, and I think we in the former colonies should put some consideration into this. Also "Older People" instead of Senior Citizens is incredibly British and I like it nonetheless.

In preparation for this I have decided to step down from the positions I hold on campus because I would not be able to properly execute the duties of these offices from overseas. Resigning from College Republicans was bittersweet. Although I am incredibly excited to go abroad this is something I have put alot of time into and something that is near and dear to my heart. CR's was the first thing I got involved in upon arriving at CUA, and truth be told the first thing that made me realize I made the right choice of schools. I know they will continue to do a great job and I can't wait to get back and help them take back PA from Paul Kanjorski and Arlen Specter. We worked PA-11 two years ago for Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazelton, PA and came up just three points short. I'd like to graduate knowing we sent him to Congress.

Last night I stepped down as Student Life Chair for CUA's Student Government. I have held this post since the General Assembly was founded in the Spring of 2008. Although I wish I had more time this year to continue to work towards the betterment of the student experience I am pleased to know that they are in excellent hands and are all capable of doing great things. Tonight I will be stepping down from the General Assembly as a Delegate for the class of 2011. I have truly appreciated the confidence my class has placed in me and I promise to remain involved while away.

The backdrop for all this resignation drama is finals week at The Catholic University of America and me feverishly packing my stuff to fly home on the 19th (I should get on finding a flight about now).........Ok flight taken care of. I guess the reason I am blogging this out right now is that this is all happening very quickly. I am so excited to go to the United Kingdom but still I can't help but realize I am gonna miss this stuff that I have been doing for the last two and a half years. Some people may not get it but these campaign trips, late night meetings, running around frantically to set events up, dueling with the administrations, have been some of the highlights of my collegiate career.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pirate Radio

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a special preview screen of Director Richard Curtis' Pirate Radio which is due out on November 13th with my girlfriend. The screening was organized by the District of Columbia Film Society and was held at the Regal Cinemas at Gallery Place. A few weeks prior I has preview for the movie and was pretty excited for it to come out. Essentially the movie tells the tale of the pirate radio stations in the United Kingdom that took the to ocean in the 1960's after the British Broadcasting Network refused to play pop music. In order to keep this music alive and well these renegades played non-stop rock music for modified fishing vessels 24 hours a day. The films story follows the Karl, the Godson of the Radio Rock Boat's owner as he joins the DJ's as a full time inhabitant on the boat as well as the British government's desperate attempt to shut down pop music in the United Kingdom.

One of the first things you realize watching this film is how incredibly well cast it truly is. In addition to the always great Phillip Seymour Hoffman are Curtis' standby's from his other films Love Actually as well as one of the main players in my second favorite zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead. Everyone is believable and more importantly likely as a renegade rock DJ who loves the music above all else.

The use of music in this film to both introduce characters, lighten a mood, and show why the these men (and one lesbian) did what they did was incredible and I can't wait to buy the soundtrack. The greatest irony in the British Government's attempt to shut down pop music in the UK was the fact that the UK at this time was producing some of the world's best music. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, as well as numerous others all were barred from being played on their native airways and may not have been as influential on the development of music. Pirate radio such as the Radio Rock displayed in the film had a listenership of nearly 25 million people, almost half of the United Kingdom.

Today pop music is played around the world on thousands of radio stations each day. The availability of these stations can lead us to take for granted the incredible access we have to music. Oftentimes it takes a period of scarcity in order to remind us of the importance of music to our daily lives.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hypnosis: Fact or Fiction?

Tonight the Program Board from Catholic hosted a hypnotist for a program entitled "Hypnotic Intoxication." Aside from the irony within the title because Hypnotiq is in fact a variety of alcohol, the performance was incredible. People were completely under the sway of this hypnotists, they were convinced that the person next to them smelled, that they were certain teenage pop sensations, and one girl was extremely close to removing far more clothing than The Catholic University of America would appreciate.

Normally I am extremely skeptical about hypnosis and the programs colleges across the country bring every year. How is it possible. While I admit that I surely don't know everything about the dark recesses of the human mind but I am not inclined to believe that people can be so easily manipulated. I find it far more likely that the "randomly" chosen audience members are playing along, as is human nature.

The event tonight however has me questioning my position though. People who I know extremely well were doing ridiculous things onstage in front of a large audience. During one driving exercise the people looked as if they were about to be sick every time they hit a simulated bump in the road. Furthermore, people were throwing sweatshirts, Moulin Rouging on the audience members, and breaking out N'Sync style dance moves. More convincing however was there behavior when not the focus of the program. These individuals were truly dazed, and seemed to be wholly consumed with the presenter's voice.

Although this event has far from settled my opinion on this issue but it does deserve further inquiry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Zombies, Zombies Everywhere

So the worlds obsession with the undead has long been a cult phenomenon attracting hordes (living hordes that is) of dedicated fans who mirror the ghouls they pine after in their in consistent pursuit of more zombie materials. Recently I went to see Zombieland and was blown away with how much the people I dragged along with me enjoyed it. Solid acting, a lively script, of course masses of the undead coupled with arguably the greatest cameo in film history made the movie a fun experience even for those outside of the zombie subculture. For the purposes of this piece that subculture will refer to anyone who has attended or contemplated attending a zombie march like the one held in Chinatown over the summer. Seriously though Zombieland was a reminder to a zombie fan like myself that this genre and the concept of the reanimated undead had gone mainstream and likely was not leaving anytime soon. In a sense Zombieland went where Shaun of the Dead never could, it made an American variation on Shaun of the Dead that could not be chalked up to British quirk on its own.

While the concept of the zombie goes back to Caribbean voodoo the modern understanding was developed by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead and his subsequent films. Romero's zombies were the classic ideal of zombiness: slow moving, sluggish, partially decomposed creatures with a taste for human flesh and human flesh alone. Cult filmmakers as well as B movie directors adopted the zombie as a both a means for cheap thrills and a play upon one of humanities most basic fears. Essentially that human beings, especially those that we know could be reduced to little more than ravenous stomachs. These implications were over time expanded to question what the world would look like in the event of a mutation within the human species that caused the reanimation of corpses. The question of such a genetic mutation is interesting as mankind expands the role of nuclear technologies in society and open ourselfs to the possibility of dramatic mutation. The mental state of those survivors became a major focus, their battle with the isolation and constant threat of being killed or worse turned by the zombies outside of their hideouts.

If Romero were to view some of the films being produced today it is likely that he would recognize more in the themes and feelings evoked by the films than in their specific depictions of the zombies themselves. In general the zombies of today fall into two general classes the classic slow moving zombie and the fast zombies introduced into the zombie vernacular by the 2006 era Dawn of the Dead. These distinctions are not the sole dividers within zombie lore. Other works such as Robert Matheson's I Am Legend (the vampire film version with Will Smith aside) in which the zombies retain some of their faculties. However it seems that the emerging Horror-Comedy genre has contributed the most to the canon of zombie film.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the incredible impact that Zombie literature has had on popularizing and modernizing the zombie genre. Specifically the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z provide the mockumentary look at the importance of preparing for the coming zombie incursion as well as a collection of 1st person accounts as to the reality of a Zombie War. The latter of these was more striking in that it exposed the weaknesses of mankind manifested in the zombies. It is not the zombies that pose the greatest threat to humanity but the divisions amongst men that prevent us from responding to such a major threat. By focusing oin timely human issues zombies provide an opportunity to evaluate what is truly important and what things we simply believe to be.

Ryan in the House

This semester I am working in the House of Representatives for Congresswoman Mary Fallin of the 5th district of Oklahoma. I know it seems like a random state because I am a proud New Englander but the Congresswoman is a solid conservative and a pretty great person to work for. Although I have only been working for a little over a month I have found it to be a really interesting experience, and it definitely provides a nice change of scenery on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the building was the amount of people glued to their Blackberries. Although I too am guilty of sometimes walking and bbming I have never seen a place where this was the norm and not the exception. Walking around Longworth is really an education in dodging staffers who are responding to e-mail.

Something else that surprised me was the average age of the people working in the Members Offices. I could not believe that the vast majority of Rep. Fallin's staff is under twenty-six and even the DC Chief of Staff couldn't be more than thirty-five. As, arguably, the seat of power for the free world the United States Capitol is not on first glance a workplace where young professionals straight out of college would go for a first job. However, the Hill is an attractive option for recent college graduates with an interest in public policy. Where better to gain first hand experience about how the law is made in the United States of America? In addition to the obvious educational and networking benefits the House of Representatives also has an aggressive loan repayment program. The 9-5 work hours also allow for further educational opportunities at night. As a result of the large proportion of young people the House Office Buildings (Longworth, Cannon, Rayburn) are really lively places with people enjoying their time on and off the clock.

So what exactly does an intern do? Well helping the office is the main tast and this often entails running errands, sorting the mail, responding to constituents, and picking up any additional jobs that the staff has. I know it doesn't sound glamourous but working on Capitol Hill seems to elevate even the most mundane tasks (well maybe not all of them), regardless it is undeniable that working in the shadow of the Capitol dome has a rejuvenating effect upon the day-to-day routine. I will admit when I am giving a tour I really step it up if a Congressional power player happens to be passing by(for the record I am working until Dec. let me know if you need a tour!).

One of the most pleasant surprises I have found in my five or so weeks in the Congresswoman's Office is the quality of the food in the cafeterias. Granted it is slightly expensive, but I have yet to have a bad meal in the Longworth Caf. This food court style dining is located in the basement of the Longworth House Office Building along with a bank, a FEDEX, and pretty much every other amenity you could possibly need. The basement of Longworth is connected to both the other House Office Buildings and the US Capitol Visitor Center. The underground network is massive in scope and I have seen most of it while wandering around lost.

I am really looking forward to continuing my work with Rep. Fallin and maybe even imparting some New Media knowledge on them.


So this is going to be my first attempt to regularly maintain a blog. In the past I have tried to keep this up and fallen tragically short. I think the major issue was that I was writing about a narrow set of topics and attempting to stretch them. Regardless of the topic you can only write so much whether your talking politics, religion, sports, etc. So I am hoping that this will be a far more organic exercise and one that provides a record of whatever is going on in my slice of the world. Thanks for checking out my blog and if you like what you see I hope you come back.