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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Electoral Values

OK, one final political comment, then I'm going cold turkey through the weekend. This is basically a revise-and-extend job on a comment I posted to a pseudonymous LiveJournal yesterday, but I need to get it out of my system.

Much is being made of the fact that "moral values" was apparently the deciding issue for a key set of voters on Tuesday. There's some quibbling about whether that's really true, and some outrage over definitions, but there's been a lot of hand-wringing about why the Democrats lose those votes, and what they need to do.

First and foremost, I do not think that this is a problem that can be addressed by the candidate, or the national-level party. John Kerry handled the faith issue about as well as it could be handled, and it didn't make a bit of difference. The problem is not on the political side, it's on the religious side-- the Democrats don't need a candidate who talks more about religion, they need religious people who talk more about politics.

The Republican majority has been built on a network of people pushing the notion that Jesus wants you to vote for Republicans. Yes, they're using some weird, hateful warped image of an Old Testament style Jesus that doesn't ring true to the Gospel readings of my Catholic upbringing, but that's their message: Jesus wants you to vote for the Republicans.

The counter to this needs to be not "It's OK to vote your conscience" or "It's not actually a sin to vote for a Democrat" (which liberals were pathetically grateful to get from the Church this time out), but an active "Jesus wants you to vote for the Democrats." Backed up with the full weight and majesty of Scripture-- which is an easy case to make, if people are willing to stand up and make it.

The problem here is that liberal religious people are not generally of that temperament. That's why they're liberal religious people, after all: they approach religion with a greater sense of humility, and human fallibility, and are more likely to be forgiving of lapses or character flaws than the fire-and-brimstone hypocrites of the Right. Standing up and declaring affirmatively that Jesus wants you to vote for the Democrats is not a thing that comes easily to the religious liberals I know-- the mere thought of claiming to know the mind of God is enough to give them hives.

But if liberals want to take back religious issues, that's what we need. Complaining about how the media misuse terms won't help, putting more religion in the stump speech won't do the trick, complicated and nuanced explanations of how there's nothing wrong with holding different opinions will just bore people. The message you need is short and simple: Jesus wants you to vote for the Democrats. Cast the money-changers out of the Temple, and all that.

I hate saying this for two reasons: first and foremost, because this is necessarily and unavoidably advice to others. I am not a religious person, though I retain some reflexive Catholicism. I can't claim the kind of faith that I would need to have to be an active part of this, and I won't pretend to believe for the sake of politics-- that would belittle the deep faith of many people I respect and admire. And this can't come from political operatives or non-believers: it's got to come from people who are within the religious community.

The second reason I hate to say this is that it's a horrible thing to ask. Pushing the sort of counter-message that needs to be out there will require the politicization of people who are not, by nature, political. It means asking good and decent people to behave in a manner that they will not like. And I'm not sure any of us would be entirely happy with the long-term effects.

But that's the only way I see to counter the Right's domination of religious issues. Chipping away at the flaws in the arguments, and pointing out their hypocrisies won't do it-- that's fundamentally a reactive strategy, and it's too easy for them to shrug off. You need an active and affirmative message to put out there: Jesus wants you to vote for the Democrats. It won't get the real fire-breathing "God hates fags" crowd to change their mind-- they cling too tightly to their selective readings of the nasty bits of the Old Testament for even the entire New Testament to dislodge them-- but it's a strong case, and can move some of the more moderate people who vote on cultural issues. And more importantly, it can start to shift the public perception of religion back in the direction of sanity-- even the "he-said, she-said" quasi-balance you get with mainstream journalism would be an improvement at this point.

There's my one bit of political strategization for you: Jesus wants you to vote for the Democrats. If we want to take back religious issues, we need ten thousand people like Fred Clark, only louder, to start spreading that message. Changing candidates won't help, changing platforms won't help-- the occasional stump-speech God talk will just get drowned out by hundreds of preachers thundering that Jesus wants you to vote for the Republicans. Their braying needs to be answered by other preachers, or even just members of the congregation, coming back with: "No, Jesus wants you to vote for the Democrats."

Unless that starts happening, the only thing you can do is wait for older conservative voters to start dying off.

Update: I wrote the above this morning, before I saw Jim Henley's post on more or less the same subject, which is worth reading. What I'm saying is pretty much complementary to what Jim says: religious talk won't make the difference for Democrats, because religious voters have specific policy goals in mind. What I'm saying is that the solution is to work on this from the religious end, and try to change those goals.

Posted at 7:17 AM | link | follow-ups | 20 comments

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

May God Have Mercy On Us All

Jon Stewart's job stays easy, while the work gets harder for the rest of us.

Physics and pop culture blogging will return tomorrow (assuming schedules hold), but I'm really not in the mood today.

Posted at 8:20 AM | link | follow-ups | 22 comments

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Unless you're, you know, foreign or something. In which case, well, pardon our spectacle.

But if you're an American, go out and make Jon Stewart's job difficult.

Posted at 8:16 AM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Italian Job

Back when the Marky Mark remake of The Italian Job came out, there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from various UK types, over the fact that anyone would dare to remake such a classic film. As I'd never even heard of the original at that point, I sort of shrugged it off, and found the new version to be a perfectly competent and enjoyable caper movie.

Kate got both versions on DVD for her birthday, and we finally watched the original this weekend. Having seen it, I have to say that all those worries were unfounded: there was very little chance that a remade version would actually be worse.

Criticizing "classic" movies is always a dodgy business, of course, mostly because the expectations for films have changed so dramatically in the last few decades. A lot of my dissatisfaction with the film has to do with the pacing-- it includes lots of pointless scenery interludes, and sort of wanders casually from one plot point to the next. In that, it's very much a movie of its time-- it reminded me very much of the film of The Hot Rock and its extended "Look, Ma, we rented a helicopter!" sequence. Modern American audiences are conditioned to want much more bang-bang action in their movies, and I'm nothing if not a modern American.

But there's a general sloppiness to the movie that I found unappealing. Benny Hill is supposed to be essential to the job, but he doesn't seem to do anything, and nobody is the least bit worried when he disappears just before the job goes down. A great deal is made of the Mafia and their threats to kill the crooks, but nothing is really done with that-- they don't even participate in the main chase scene. The girl is sent off just before the job starts, and is never seen again. There are bits of unfulfilled plot all over the movie.

A bigger problem is that it really just isn't that good as a caper movie. The special features make reference to "a band of lovable crooks," but there are about fifteen of them, which means none of them get more than a couple of lines. They never have any personality, other than Michael Caine, and all he does is wander around yelling at people. It's not even clear what's so special about him, given that the entire plot was pretty much handed to him by the dead guy from the first scene. And the caper itself is awfully simple other than the getaway, which involves a remarkable amount of pointless faffing about in small cars before they actually try to get out of the city.

The remake improves on just about every aspect of this: the crew is smaller, meaning that they all get enough screen time to be distinct characters (albeit one-note characters, for the most part); the actual plan is mor complicated, allowing for more suspense as it unfolds; and there aren't the blind alleys and dropped threads of the original. Also, the car chase is much cooler, though that's mostly a matter of it being a better match to modern tastes.

Had I seen this version first, I might've found it more charming. Seeing it after the remake, though, my reaction is essentially "What's the big deal?"

Posted at 9:44 PM | link | follow-ups | 10 comments

Music Notes

Quick comments on recent pop-music items:

U2's new single, "Vertigo," has been everywhere, and makes me kind of uneasy about the album. It's a catchy tune, but pretty vapid in their usual "soaringly vague" manner, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it also has strong echoes of their ill-conceived forays into dance pop in the mid-90's, which were less than good. I'd rather not replay that. Also, it opens with Bono counting (in Spanish) "1, 2, 3, 14." Stick to English, OK?

Meanwhile, REM has a new single out, "Leaving New York." And, boy, have these guys embraced their inner Lite Rock nature. If you're a person who thought that "Everybody Hurts" rocked a bit too hard, then this is the song for you. (Not that it's all that bad a song, but it's a long way from their roots.)

That said, the prize for "Stupidest Single Ever (Right Now)" goes to Lenny Kravitz's "Lady," which boldly combines a plodding, uninteresting guitar riff with grade-school lyrics. I half expected him to start making up new words that sort-of rhyme with "lady," since he had clearly exhausted English's normal stock. I mean, he was never Bob Dylan, but he was at least vaguely interesting around the time of Are You Gonna Go My Way? But this? Yeesh.

On a more positive note, I've started taking the iTunes Party Shuffle from the recently purchased music category, just so I can hear some of this stuff while it's reasonably fresh. Tentative thumbs-up reviews: Bright Eyes ("Make War" was just playing, and sounds like a lost Old 97's track), Reigning Sound (It might be a bit much as an album, but the individual tracks mixed in with other things are pretty good), Get Up Kids (Pretty much the same as their other albums, really), The Mountain Goats (Thank you KEXP), The Ike Reilly Assassination (Exhibit A in the case that all the good band names have already been taken), and Har Mar Superstar (Who has a kind of ironic Jackson 5 thing going on, which might get old, but is a lot of fun on first listen).

Still to be determined: Weezer (Both the "Blue Album" which I previously had only on cassette and Pinkerton, which Nathan keeps talking up. I haven't heard enough of the latter to really say anything sensible.), Superchunk (Foolish, which got rave reviews and then dropped out of print so fast that I never saw a copy. Let's hear it for back catalogue on iTunes...), Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama (The idea has promise, but the songs I've heard just sound like Ben Harper solo), and Muse (Talked up enthusiastically by some of my students, so I figured I'd give it a shot, but I'm not sold on it).

Posted at 8:45 AM | link | follow-ups | 6 comments

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