Beware the Self-Proclaimed Moral Paragons

Someone breaks the bonds of trust with the public.  In an instant, he squanders all his political capital and his reform agenda is dead in the water. He resigns.  His family and children are devastated. Maybe his family holds, maybe not. And yes, the whole tragedy is completely self-inflicted. And yes, the man apparently has virtually no well of affection outside his family from which he can  draw either sustenance or survival.

But here’s what I want to know:  What’s with the piling on ? What’s with this this public competition to see who can be the most indignant? Just who are these people so certain of their own virtue, so confident that they are beyond human flaws,  that they are tripping over each other to get in front of a camera and proclaim their credentials as moral paragons?

People have every right to be angry with the Governor. The press must take on this story with all the zeal it deserves. It’s serious stuff. But if we know even the simplest things about human nature, it is that  the very group of those now clamoring to raise the public scaffold almost certainly includes some of the very people who themselves will be hoisted onto that scaffold in due time. 

Indignation is justifed. But spare me the kind of angry and hypocritical over-acting that is more strategic angling for political advantage than genuine disappointment with a Governor who let us down big. Indignation is one thing, but there is a moment when it morphs into self-righteousness. The morphing has begun.

And maybe, just for a fleeting moment, think about the non-combatants here — his children  — who deserve only our compassion and concern.

What Microsoft Execs Were Secretly Saying About Vista

Get a load of this.

I am a PC guy working in a MAC-heavy environment. I love PCs. But these MAC users are people skilled in digital media and new technologies who use it for a whole host of impeccably argued reasons. I mean, I work with people who actually futz with the inside and outside of their machine and write code.

Cool code-writers!

These are also people who know why — in exquisite detail — they don’t use a PC running on Windows.

I immediately thought of them today when I read Randall Stross’s amazing Digital Domain column in the New York Times. (Registration required) It turns out that Microsoft execs not only knew know that VISTA was a lemon, but that they were exchanging brutally frank emails about its mind-boggling lemonishness.

When you have studied and taught about rumor and urban  legend, you know that the miasma that is culture and the marketplace often has some pretty weird and ludicrous stuff circulating about various brands and products.

But the noise about a VISTA disaster wasn’t legend, wasn’t rumor.  And we know this now precisely because the very stratosphere of the Windows development and sales team was saying it.

The End of “The Wire:” Say it Ain’t So.

Three episodes into the first season of The Wire, I had a sinking feeling. Someday this story will simply stop. Someday these characters will be frozen in time. The dead ones will stay dead and the survivors will live forever in a tableau of their last moment on screen.

It’s over on Sunday.

That I even had these feelings is testimony to the exquisite skill of David Simon, Ed Burns, and all the others responsible for The Wire. I had given up on episodic television, with its conventions and predictability and paper-thin characters. Yet after only a few episodes, the elaborately crafted character and story development that would become The Wire’s trademark had me obsessed with learning every possible thing about these characters. I needed to know what would happen to them. And most of all, given the fully realized living-nightmare that was Simon’s Baltimore, I had to know how and when they would die. Death hung like a oppressive shadow over The Wire, always a possibility in even the simplest, most mundane moments. And when it came, it felt like a shot to the head, fired from behind with no warning.

David Simon generously gaveth and mercilessly “tooketh”  away characters. In fact, so many carefully drawn characters passed through so many story lines that no obit for the show could do it justice. But there are a few things about how it was crafted that will always be there to be treasured and savored.

Gratuitous things did not happen in Simon-land. Sex, violence, blood, nudity, atrocious language and everything else that NYPD Blue used to use with such a self-concious, heavy-hand had to earn their way onto The Wire. They only made it when they advanced the story or moved a character forward. I’ll never forget when one of the show’s creators, during the audio commentary offered in the DVD collection, saw an especially white-hot sex scene and remarked something like: “Wow, that was great wasn’t it. We should do more sex.” But they quickly concluded that the sex would only happen if and when the story or the character needed it to happen. Same with violence. When it came, it was the culmination of careful narrative preparation. But it was never, ever predictable.

Enough story lines were constantly dangling that every episode was an adventure in seeing which would be picked up and which would never be heard from again. One attractive young woman came on the scene for a couple of episodes, captivated the audience with beautifully written lines, created a heart-breaking character, and simply disappeared. She wasn’t killed. She was the victim of the kind of dramatic fatality that only happens in brilliant scripts — death by compelling narrative.

Which leads to my last point: No show was ever cast with such care and skill. In fact, as I face the show’s demise, I have been having the strangest thought: What is going to happen to this once-in-a-lifetime ensemble? How can stage, television, and film absorb them all at once? And what about all the quirky, weird characters, masterfully portrayed by actors who, stated charitably, did not exactly have conventional faces? I have a fantasy of casting agents all over the world keeping a special “Wire” book, with headshots and resumes of a slew of the best actors working today.

Ill leave you with the almost unbelievable gift that this Wire fan got two days ago on the #6 subway in Manhattan. I walked onto the crowded train and saw only one empty seat. And in an instant, as I sat down, I looked up to find that I was sitting next to one of my favorite characters, played by an actor of such power that I literally started to shake as I complimented him. He was gracious, I looked like a fool, and then he was gone.

So I can think of no better tribute to The Wire’s endless parade of masters of the craft of acting than to share his picture with you and designate the incomparable John Doman, Deputy Commissioner William Rawls, as my stand-in for the best cast ever assembled for a television drama.

Rawls — you arrogant, backstabbing, selfish, hateful, self-hating creep — I don’t know how we’ll live without you.

 

Great Moments from Political Debates #1

Over the years, there have been  some great examples of what happens in political debates when candidates stray from their scripts or stump speeches.

Sometimes, in a moment of anger and spontaneity, they say something astoundingly and revealingly dumb. Other times, they get lost in the moment and reveal a personal characteristic that all of their advisers had hoped would stay hidden. And finally, sometimes  history is made when a debater thinks of precisely the right retort or putdown at precisely the right moment.

It’s funny, but I don’t ever remember someone losing it to the point of uttering mongo expletives, but some of you may have an example.

Remember this one? Perhaps the most legendary debate putdown in American history.

 More to come.

Winning Presents Problems

The most skilled and smart politicians I have observed and known generally follow an election result by asking one of two questions: If they won, they want to figure out any tactics or words they used in the campaign that might that cause them problems down the line. “What wounds did I inflict to win that I now have to heal?”If they lost, they want to figure out every opportunity that the loss might have created any new doors that might have been opened when the others closed. “Is there something new I can try?”

So if Hillary wins any combination of primaries and ultimately the nomination, she’ll have to assess the damage done by the negative campaigning that exit polls show many people resented. Hillary will ask: “Who did I alienate and how do I fix that? How do I get Obama supporters?

If Obama wins, he’ll need to come to terms with how and why his strategy did well with white males and African Americans, yet was largely unable to attract older white women, a fairly large demographic group. Barack will ask: “Did sexism drive the votes of some of my supporters and what do I have to do about that? How do I get Clinton supporters?

McCain, now the nominee, has to come to terms with the extent to which his courting of the extreme right might have alienated centrists and how much his courting of the centrists might have alienated conservatives. McCain will ask: How do I move back toward the center without alienating people.

Winning a nomination creates as many problems as it solves.

High Drama and a Strange Nine Year-Old Kid

There is nothing more boring than an old guy who starts babbling about the old days.

Gimme just a second for babbling.

I grew up just long enough ago to be able to watch, in between episodes of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, absolutely vicious and contested televised fights for presidential nominations. Many candidates were not nominated until messy fights on the floors of conventions. You really had to see it to believe it. I’m talking about politics that sometimes resembled the World Wrestling Federation.

I might have only been nine years-old, but I was a truly strange nine year-old, and to this day I remember skipping my Popeye cartoons and being mesmerized as I watched the 1960 Democratic convention on television and seeing Bobby Kennedy running around the floor rounding up votes to seal the deal for his brother John. And I recall the 1964 Democratic convention when a group of heroic African American delegates from Mississippi, the Freedom Democrats led by 20th century civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, fought to be recognized. So what’s my point?

You may be understandably sick of the whole business. No matter who you support, you might be looking at the other candidate and feeling that enough is enough. Fair enough.But let’s not let our fatigue divert our attention from the fact that, with a woman and an African American candidate, we are watching the kind of high political drama that all of us will remember for years. I envy those seeing it for the first time. Watch and learn.The old guy has babbled.

After This Post, I Am Going to See if My Sleeping Daughter is Safe

Well, I’ve learned my lesson. If I try to show some restraint, I inevitably allow a festering resentment to continue to – well – fester. So let be more direct and say it for the last time.

The first Clinton “sleeping children” ad crossed a line.  

I detest the use of children in any advertisement or media content to foster or encourage fear. Children face so many less-visible and legitimate threats — everything from reckless drivers to substandard schools to hunger to racism and sexism — that to even give the impression that your opponent is a threat to the safety of sleeping children is ridiculous. Check out Joel Best’s brilliant “Threatened Children for the history of how fear and children have been a volatile and incendiary mix in American culture. 

And that’s what I think was in that ad. If you show children sleeping in a dark, creepy room, you imply – on some level — that someone is coming who will scare them or wake then up or hurt them. Just look at that ad and see the worried face of the mother who checks to see if they are alright. 

I know how flacks defend ads like this: “The ad was not intended to scare anyone but to call attention to the differences in experience between the candidates. Crises do occur and the voters blah blah blah blah blah and another blah. 

Please stop.

If you want to bring kids up, show us how you are going to treasure them and nurture them with sound public policy, not how your presidency will keep creepy people out of their bedrooms.