Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Inception, The Silver Lining to a Summer of Crappy Movies

I am a huge fan of going to movies. Normally during the summer I go at least twice a month and usually more often. I rotate between the four cinemas in my area with stadium seating so that the employees don't think I am casing the joint. So how many trips have I made this summer, at almost the halfway point of the season? One, one disappointing trip to see the Iron Man franchise dumbed down to the point that I felt as if I had paid ten dollars to simply watch a long trailer for the Avenger's movie. So what gives this year. Well to start people are sick and tired of remakes, gratuitious sequels (excusing Toy Story 3 here because I heard it was great), and reboots of franchises. It seems as if Hollywood as run out of ideas and instead is simply replaying the highlight reel.

Now for those of you nodding your heads our there the main question may be what have we done to deserve this? Well, we went to a lot of shitty movies thats what. Each time we buy a ticket to a movie we are giving an implicit endorsement that we agree with the content, tone, and level of brain activity required by the production. Movies won't get any better until we demand a better class of films to take the place of the fluffy nonsense that currently dominates the box office.

Now to my main point. From early reviews as well as a gut instinct I think the notable exception of the summer is going to be Christopher Nolan's Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Departed, duh), Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (500 Days of Summer), and Ellen Page (Juno). Basically about thieves who utilize dreams to extract information this film looks to be the smartest movie of the summer. Our jobs as movie goers is to make it a success. By rewarding films that require more thinking than an afternoon nap we can give studios an incentive to green-light similarly intelligent projects. Now I am not saying to get rid of every stupid movie, far from it. Those movies have a crucial role to play and they can quite a bit of fun. I am concerned that these films have become the industry standard instead of simply a part of a larger pool of viewing options.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2008 Campaign Books

The 2008 election cycle was one of the most significant in American history. The election of the first African-American President of the United States as well as large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have prompted a nearly absurd amount of authors to try and cash in with books about the events leading up to November 4th 2008. As a politics major I have read five or six of these books and three entries stand head and shoulders above the rest.

The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe- Written by Barack Obama's campaign manager The Audacity to Win presents an inside look into the campaign of the man who is now the President. From the first meeting to election night this book is a compelling and generally honest account of the going on within Obama for America. I was surprised to see that most of the book was dedicated not to the General Election but instead to the Democratic Primary against Senator (now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). In Plouffe's own words this breakdown was simply because "the team we beat (Clinton) was better than the team the Republicans nominated." I was also fascinated with Plouffe's treatment of the introduction of Sarah Palin as McCain's VP selection. It turns out this choice was as much a shock to Obama's camp as it was to the American public. Despite it's positive qualities and must read status for anyone interested in learning more about how Barack Obama scored his decisive victory over John McCain there are one or two aspects of this book that did turn me off. Naturally when being presented with only one side of the narrative Plouffe tends to sugarcoat several of the less savory aspects of the Obama campaign and chooses not to discuss controversies such as ACORN. What bothered me the most though was his final chapter in which he transitions from narrative to political commentary on how evil Republicans are destroying the country. More cheap shot than astute analysis, this chapter really undermines both Obama's message of bridging the partisan divide and the validity of his book as a faithful retelling of the events that occurred between late 2006 and November 2008.

Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin- For those who always wondered what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall of the most important happenings of the 2008 election this book satisfies in a big way. Covering the Democratic Primary, the Republican Primary (albeit slightly), and the General Election Game Change reads more like a novel than a nonfiction on American politics. A thorough examination of the behind the scenes for Obama, Hillary, McCain, Biden, Edwards, and Palin this book shows the candidates warts and all. One of the most unique aspects of this particular publication is the choice to begin with Hillary's decision not to make a last minute entry into the 2004 Democratic Primary. I would have to say that this is my personal favorite as it presents a non-biased account and information that others simply don't have.

The Politician by Andrew Young- One of the great political scandals of our time the collapse of John Edwards served as the main political sideshow the of the 2008 cycle. What is most compelling about this particular book is the author's background. In place of your typical pundit The Politician is written by longtime Edwards aide Andrew Young and the man who claimed to sire Rielle Hunter's child as cover for John Edwards. Truly a scenario you couldn't come up with if you tried this book tells the complete story of Edwards' senate run, his participation in the 2004 veepstakes, the run up to the 2008 election, the affair with Hunter, and the eventual fall of a one time promising presidential hopeful. Edwards is a truly tragic figure in modern politics with Macbeth like ambition, the poisinous advice he received from his terminally ill wife (who morgaged sympathy in an attempt to put her husband in the White House), his grotesque infidelity, and the gall to make a run for the Presidency despite it all. At the end of the day though Edwards is remarkable only because he is the realization of every negative stereotype about politics in America. The effects of his near obsession with the White House however have affected no one more than Andrew Young and watching the destruction of this young man is terrible, although he clearly has made some terrible decisions along the way. Akin to a train wreck, The Politician is the type of book you simply cannot look away from.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Netflix Dilemma

Last summer while I was living with in a cramped apartment in DC and working for slave wages I decided to join Netflix because it came with a three month free trial and was cheaper than going out. Turns out this is one of the best decisions I have made. I was always skeptical about why this service was so appealing. Well...I get it now. I am a certifiable Netflix addict. Its gotten to the point that I now have a strict system for returning movies ASAP so I can get the next movie from my queue faster. The problem I am running into is that I am running out of movies that I actually want to see on both the DVD and the watch at home collections. This problem is further compounded by the recent deal with movie studios which make new releases exclusive to Blockbuster for 28 days prior to their release on Netflix. This seems to be a bizarre arrangement as Netflix is poised to topple the former video rental giant at the very field it invented. The only silver lining I can see to this development is that it will keep the price of Netflix down as it still (at least on paper) must compete with Blockbuster. Only time will tell if this new deal will prop us Blockbuster's falling revenues, but I honestly see this as a last desperation move on their part.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why In The Loop Is a Must See

So after weeks of prodding I reluctantly placed the 2009 British Comedy "In The Loop" on my netflix queue. Honestly my expectations for this film were almost non-existent, the only thing I was sure of was that I would be sending it back as soon as possible so that I could get the next movie on my list. Yet, the movie still sits in my DVD player, and it arrived in the mail over a week ago. Simply put I was blown away by this high quality, intelligent, and irrevently funny examination of the events leading up to a joint US - British invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern Country (*hint *hint).

In the Loop follows the series of missteps that lead bumbling British Minister for International Development Simon Foster and his aide Toby to the foreground of the international debate on whether or not to invade Ira....I mean the country in question. Pawns in a much larger game between elements within the US State Department, the film provides a refreshing, if unsettling look, at how the decision to use military force is made.

As someone who has spent time working in the UK political system this movie provides a frightenly accurate picture of how underqualified government ministers often are as well as the realities of what being a constituency MP is all about. In one scene in particular Minister Foster is attending a town meeting and a constituents refusing to stop talking about a wall that is falling over into his property. The contrast between the debate on the war and the debate over what to do about this wall is hysterical. Further it is often largely true! More than once I had to calm constituents down who were enraged about seemingly simple things like tree branches extending into their gardens, people parking on the street near there home, and most memorably the woman who told me that she saw kids planting weeds in her garden. Unlike in the United States British Cabinet Ministers are also full time members of the House of Commons. This duality is expertly portrayed and creates the most inconic scenes of the film.

Another aspect of this movie I personally identified with was the role that interns and recent college graduates play in the realm of government. At one point a British govt. employee remarks that "its all kids in Washington" after she meets her American counterpart (who is a good ten years younger than her). The phenomenon she refers to however is not strictly limited to the US. During my time interning in the House of Commons I found that the vast majority of the people I interacted with were under the age of thirty, with the notable exception of most Member's Personal Assistants who were often older. A few poorly timed comments and being in the wrong place at the wrong time by Foster's aide shows just how quickly interns can leave their mark on an office (and not in a good way).

All in all I highly recommend "In The Loop" to any viewer who has ever interned, has an interest in politics, or those just willing to spend an hour and a half laughing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Summer Job

This summer I am leaving the world of political internships temporarily for a postion with Fidelity Investments in Boston.

David Cameron, The Post Political Prime Minister?

As the dust finally settled following Britain's 2010 General Election Conservative Party leader David Cameron was invited by the Queen to become Prime Minister and form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. In the spirit of full disclosure this was not the move I was hoping for on the part of the Conservative Party. I was a fan of a Conservative minority government in which Cameron's message to the Lib Dems and to Labour was "try to stop us from governing." However, I can't help but be impressed with how effective Cameron has been at creating a government that better reflects the voters wishes and insulates the Conservative Party partially from blame. To elaborate on the latter point I found it interesting that the areas of compromise (many of which Lib Dems will head as ministers) were already included in the Conservative Manifesto.

From a political point of view the coalition may turn off Labour voters who tactically voted Lib Dem in order to keep the Tories out of government. Further I believe the coalition puts Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems in a terrible spot in terms of campaigning. First they will not be able to profess a new politics and instead will be inevitably wedded to the role of third party. No longer can they claim to blow the wheels off of the two party system as was there rallying cry in 2010. A cycle in which the Liberal Democrats lost nine seats and there share of the popular vote dropped two percent.

While the Lib Dems will have to create a new electoral narrative when the next election is called, the Conservatives have a huge opportunity to build upon one they have already established. Assuming the economy improves David Cameron and the Conservatives will have the chance to argue that "Conservative-Lite" has saved the UK just wait until you see a full fledged Conservative Government can do. Lastly, the Conservatives are the only party in British politics with the money on hand to run an effective campaign anytime soon. Both the Lib Dems and the Labour Party are cash poor and this provides further incentive for the Lib Dems to make the coalition work and possibly make concessions they otherwise would not.

Post UK Update

So I haven't updated this in quite some time and I am sure the masses have been waiting singularly for the return of this site. I am officially back from the UK, finished interning in Parliament, fought a British General Election Campaign, lost a British General Election Campaign, lived with my boss, got a new internship for the summer in Boston, and just started work last week.

In February I discontinued my blogging efforts temporarily because the Member of Parliament I was working for was a little paranoid about the idea of me blasting out potenitally sensitive information across the internet. As a concession though I was allowed to give his internet outreach a much needed update. In order to bring new media up to date in Eastbourne the campaign overhauled my MP's(Nigel Waterson) facebook, started managing press hits, as well as a number of tools tied in with the Conservative Party's voter identification software called Merlin. Despite coming up 3,500 votes short working the 2010 General Election was an incredible experience and one that has made me reevaluate some of the camapaigning techniques I have previously advocated. There truly is something electric about working a marginal seat in any country. Watching Nigel and his local team (supplemented of course with a bevy of past and present interns from London) pound the pavement to get out the vote and combat the most negative campaign I have ever seen on the part of his Liberal Democrat opponent Stephen Lloyd was truly inspiring. Combining the best and worst aspects of politics this race was (to paraphrase Cory Bookers 2004 Mayoral bid) a "Street Fight."

Although very different from working in Nigel's Westminister Parliamentary office I found the campaign trail to be a place of great opportunity for someone like myself. More specifically a willingness to work hard and quick thinking were valued over age and how long you had known the Boss. Although the first weeks were stressful as Nigel's Researcher Joel and I established the basic practices of the campaign and divided our duties. We did not overcome the administrative challenges we were faced with until about halfway through the campaign. However, with two weeks to go the campaign hit its stride and began playing offense instead of responding to the lies and smear tactics utilized by the Eastbourne Liberal Democrats. One major issues we were confronted with was getting campaign posters up and keeping them up. Within a day of putting posters up they were quickly torn down by our opponents (a practice Nigel forbade anyone in the campaign from taking part in). This issues got so bad that a former Lib Dem Councillor (local official)was arrested for harrasing our volunteers, attempting to bribe our volunteers, and destroying dozens of Conservative Party signs.

Polling day in the UK is just as hectic here in the States. The major difference I found was the emphasis on the ground game. The size of the modern American Congressional District makes door knocking extremely difficult and usually not terribly effective. Being a tenth of the size makes a Parliamentary Constituency not only walkable, but allows for micro targeting. Based upon returns from our representatives at each of the polling places Conservative Party Software generates "knock up lists" that give specific addresses for us to get out the pledged Conservative Vote. Despite losing Nigel earned 21,223, an INCREASE of 190 votes from 2005. With this in mind I would have to attribute Lloyd's increase of nearly 5000 votes to winning the youth vote as well as tactical voting on the part of Labour Party supports (with a 50% drop in support from 2005).

One of the most surreal experiences of the campaign was being present at the election night count, a process by which all of the votes are manually counted. Further building the tension, packets of 1000 votes are clothespinned together and placed on tables. The way the tables were arranged gave the impression that Nigel had not only won, but possibly increased his majority. However when the votes were tabulated it was clear we had been defeated. Each of the candidates stands on stage alongside their opponents and gives final remarks.

Just one day later I packed my Flat in Maida Vale off of the Warwick Avenue Tube Stop and headed to Heathrow for the long flight home. Volcanic ash extended my trip by a few hours but in the end I made it back to Boston. After a week in DC for CUA's graduation I was back in MA and ready to start my summer job as an Administrative Intern with Fidelity Investments in Boston.