Unimpressive

Regarding the demands for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the presidential contest:

Can someone explain to me exactly what Barack Obama’s campaign has done to give Hillary any incentive to drop out? Unless you think a stream of insults, threats, impatient whining (e.g. Obama’s ‘movie…too long’ comment) and finger-pointing is what you think would motivate someone with the ego to fancy themselves a president.

Is this how he plans to handle diplomacy when he’s in the White House?  He’s managing to look arrogant and weak at the same time, quite a trick.

Maybe they could bring in Al Gore to sigh at her.

Look, I’m aware that Obama hasn’t, directly, in his own words, called on Clinton to quit.  But his surrogates have done so, presumably with the blessing of his campaign gurus.  Let’s just say, he could stop the talk and he hasn’t. 

Like Bill Press says:

It’s not over yet. Until it is, we can’t be sure of the outcome. And it would be a big mistake to end it prematurely. There’s been many a boxing match where one fighter won 14 rounds, only to get knocked out in the 15th.

All these Obama supporters calling on Clinton to drop out aren’t helping their candidate, either. They make Obama look like he’s afraid of a fight. And they themselves look like a stereotypical bunch of men telling a woman she can’t hack it in politics, so she might as well get back in the kitchen…. If Obama ends up the nominee, I’ll do handstands on the White House lawn. But only if he wins it, fair and square.

I probably find it a bit more troubling in what it says about Obama than Press does.  The Obama campaign, which looked so savvy and professional for all of 2007 and the first two months of ’08 has suddenly fallen into a self-destructive spiral. For a candidate who has arguably cinched the nomination, he’s acting like he’s desperately unsure of himself and wants Hillary out of the way so he can go into free-fall without consequence.

Or else why would he have signed off on denying revotes to two big and critical states, Michigan and Florida?  A confident candidate would have encouraged a revote, which is the obviously fair thing to do.  But Barack Obama is no longer a confident candidate.  He’s a shell of what he was just 30 days ago.

For example, I thought Obama was awful on “The View.” If he can be pushed around by Elizabeth Hasselback, the meekest lil’ Republican on the planet, it’s scary to think what John McCain will be able to do to him.  He may be sticking to his story on Rev. Wright, but it’s not a story that hangs together, or commends him to independent voters. 

I admit, I fell hard for Obama a few months ago — maybe longer.  I’m wondering about that now.  Did I get caught up in his campaign irrationally?  No question about it, he’s a brilliant person, but there are lots of brilliant people who won’t wake up next January as president. Obama still could get my vote, but he is much-diminished. There is absolutely no reason for Hillary to drop out, and I’m guessing there is a contingent of Obama-supporting Dems who are saying it but hoping she won’t actually do it.  He needs the remaining weeks of this campaign to reestablish in our minds the qualities that made him seem like a potentially great president. 

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Ray Davies on Regis and Kelly!

…singing “Lola” in honor of Kelly’s daughter.  (I’m not sure if Kelly is in on the joke.)

Don’t you love how Disney just cuts him right off?  This great performance:  Filler till the credits.

To be fair, he got to perform the title song off his new album Working Man’s Cafe earlier in the program.  This is really wonderful:

Davies was also on David Letterman last month, giving this hard-rocking performance:

Early in my blogging career, I wrote a salute to Ray and the Kinks, who managed to produce the greatest pop music of the 1960s without ever really being part of that transcendental decade.  I was nervous about his solo career.  The last several years of the Kinks produced more embarrassment than glory.  But the album he was coming out with then, Other People’s Lives, had several great songs, and no really bad ones.  The above songs sound, if anything, stronger.   Really glad he’s back, really fun to see him try to make some sense out of Regis and Kelly, who both seem like they’ve taken Tourette’s-inducing pills.

Migraine Art

Recovering from the debacle of TimesSelect, the New York Times is developing a superb repository of off-the-wall blogs.  I just discovered this one, devoted to migraines. 

The most recent post is a long essay by Jeff Tweedy, leader of Wilco (not one of my favorite bands, sorry to say).  His descriptions of the mysterious condition are compelling, especially to someone like me who’s never had one but has lived with people who have.  Tweedy now claims to have his migraines under control, but only after years of suffering, and a painkiller addiction that was a result of misguided care:

I had had a psychiatrist that was prescribing drugs to me without any conscience. I actually had a psychiatrist prescribe Vicodin to me as a way to alleviate anxiety. And I also had a therapist tell me that I needed the painkillers because I had migraines and that I didn’t need the antidepressants because they were just capping my creative energy. This guy was just a quack, an idiot. But when you’re in such a vulnerable and desperate state as I was, you want somebody to help you. I really wish I had been in a condition where I could have known and listened and understood that these people were out of their minds, but I wasn’t. I was vulnerable and I needed someone to help me. But I got really, really bad help.  

Also on this blog, a slide show of paintings by migraine sufferers.  Here’s an example:

migraine-painting.jpg

Let’s Bring Back Novels! (Updated)*

love-and-consequences.jpgMemoirs are great, if they’re well-written, tell a compelling story and…are true! 

If you’re Margaret B. Jones Seltzer, here’s the situation with which you were faced:  You’ve been “working to reduce gang violence in Los Angeles,” and spent a brief time in a school gangster types attended, despite your generally affluent existence.  So you’ve had a glimpse of that kind of life.  And you’re a writer. You’ve got an imagination.  

Imagination is nothing to be ashamed of.  

Until about 10 years ago, when the memoir trend hit the publishing industry, you’d write a novel that combined what you know with what you imagined.  You might be like Tom Wolfe, and imbue it with the fruits of journalistic research.  Or you might pin your observations to a genre — crime fiction, say.  As a novelist, you’ve got license to tell your story however you want, as long as it’s labeled “fiction.”

But now, publishers want truth.  Or what they can sell as the truth. As a serious novel,  Seltzer’s Love and Consequences wouldn’t have had much of a commercial prospect.  But as a memoir, it looked like a big seller.

James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, another false memoir, says he initially tried to peddle his writing about life as a drug addict as a novel, but no one bit.  Since this was a novel based on his life experiences at least in part, it didn’t seem like a stretch to change the book into a memoir.  But he left in the parts he made up.

“I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require,” Mr. Frey said in an author’s note released yesterday that will be included in future editions of the book. “I altered events all the way through the book,” he added.

Because that’s what we do when we tell stories.  We don’t sit and recite facts and expect the audience to stay interested.   Even if all the materials we’re working with are in fact true, we shape them.  It occured to many writers to go beyond mere “shaping,” but that’s okay, they could call it fiction. 

At its inception as a communications medium, the novel was a fundamentally journalistic exercise; truth, but not literally true.  Daniel Defoe, by most accounts the father of the English novel, was originally a journalist and pamphleteer whose most famous fictions, Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders were extensions of his journalistic activism — Crusoe, an adventure-filled parable, and Flanders, a tour of different tiers of London society in the mid-1700s.   Flanders’ saga reflected what Defoe knew of the streets he worked as a political tribune.  Crusoe’s tale a reflection of his thinking on colonialism, economics, morality and faith.  The things he described didn’t happen, but they reflected a lifetime observing things that did.

Margaret Seltzer’s observations of the 21st century equivalent of London’s demi-monde could have been valuable.  She comes off as a sincere social critic:

“For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk. Maybe it’s an ego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”

Seltzer bowed to publishing realities and turned herself into someone who will have a hard time ever being believed again.  She’s a fool and a liar and all that.  But her story strikes me as tragic, too.  A different publishing ethic might have prevented Seltzer from travelling a dark path.  I haven’t read the book — and won’t, since it’s been withdrawn by the publisher — but I suspect it had the makings of a decent novel.  But nobody wants novels like that anymore, or so publishers think.

*UPDATE, 3/4:  If you want a good laugh at Seltzer’s expense, read this cringeworthy interview from her publicity materials.  It was posted on Gawker.  A sample:

Q: How did this book originate?

A: During my senior year of college one of my professors told me a friend of hers was working on a book and wanted to interview me. I declined. I wasn’t interested in the whole “South-Central-as-petting-zoo” thing. Then my home girl said the teacher might mess around and fail me for rejecting her friend, so I ended up calling the author and doing the interview. She was real nice and asked me if I had ever written anything. I ended up giving her one of a number of short stories I had written for my brothers’ kids and for the kids of my homies serving life sentences.

The Obama and McCain Buddy-Cop Show

A month ago, I tossed off a comment on Althouse that included the following lines:

So that leaves Obama and McCain. I wish they could run together. They’d be like one of those old 1970s cop shows. The crusty old seen-it-all guy who goes by his gut, partnered with the brilliant rookie whose got courage to match his brains.

They both seem like leaders to me. Contrary to extremely popular belief, the presidency is not an ideological office. The needed skills are inertia-busting on the domestic front, and strategic courage on the international front. Plus the right kind of ego, an ego strong enough to surround themselves with very smart advisors and encourage candor from them.

Both seem to have these skills. If they end up running against each other, I don’t yet know which way I’d go. But if only one of them is in the race, that’s the one I’m voting for.

I was sort of kidding.  In the same comment, I discussed briefly my distaste for Hillary Clinton and at greater length my dislike of Mitt Romney. 

Recently, Salon’s Edward McClelland wrote a column suggesting that guys are supporting Obama and/or McCain — just to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.  His take-off point was my post:

John Stodder, a 52-year-old blogger from Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., looks at the presidential field and sees another buddy-cop pairing: John McCain and Barack Obama, supposed mavericks who break their parties’ rules, bound together by a common mission — keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

“I wish they could run together,” Stodder swoons. “They’d be like one of those old 1970s cop shows. The crusty old seen-it-all guy who goes by his gut, partnered with the brilliant rookie who’s got courage to match his brains.

I give McClelland huge props for crediting me with the line.  I think it’s funny.  I don’t actually think the White House is like a grungy detective precinct in a gritty urban core.  The fact that I like both candidates (Obama more than McCain) is incidental. 

The fact that they’re both men has nothing to do with why I like them.  I was prepared to vote for Sen. Clinton until this year despite some misgivings, until her campaign’s empty-headed and scurrilous nature became apparent. 

You hear a lot about the failure of the Clinton “inevitability” strategy.  In America, what else could such a strategy do but fail?  “Vote for me because you have no choice” might work in Cuba or Iran, but not here. 

Anyway, my little brainstorm got another push into potential meme-dom today on NPR’s “Wait…Wait…Don’t Tell Me.”  Listen to the first couple of minutes.  (And thank you to my wife’s aunt for happening across the show.)

It makes me want to blog some more!