OPW, poetry

OPW: “The Future”

Today on Other People’s Words, a beautiful poem by Wesley McNair called “The Future.”

On the afternoon talk shows of America
the guests have suffered life’s sorrows
long enough. All they require now
is the opportunity for closure,
to put the whole thing behind them
and get on with their lives. That their lives,
in fact, are getting on with them even
as they announce their requirement
is written on the faces of the younger ones
wrinkling their brows, and the skin
of their elders collecting just under their
set chins. It’s not easy to escape the past,
but who wouldn’t want to live in a future
where the worst has already happened
and Americans can finally relax after daring
to demand a different way? For the rest of us,
the future, barring variations, turns out
to be not so different from the present
where we have always lived—the same
struggle of wishes and losses, and hope,
that old lieutenant, picking us up
every so often to dust us off and adjust
our helmets. Adjustment, for that matter,
may be the one lesson hope has to give,
serving us best when we begin to find
what we didn’t know we wanted in what
the future brings. Nobody would have asked
for the ice storm that takes down trees
and knocks the power out, leaving nothing
but two buckets of snow melting
on the wood stove and candlelight so weak,
the old man sitting at the kitchen table
can hardly see to play cards. Yet how else
but by the old woman’s laughter
when he mistakes a jack for a queen
would he look at her face in the half-light as if
for the first time while the kitchen around them
and the very cards he holds in his hands
disappear? In the deep moment of his looking
and her looking back, there is no future,
only right now, all, anyway, each one of us
has ever had, and all the two of them,
sitting together in the dark among the cracked
notes of the snow thawing beside them
on the stove, right now will ever need.


Review: The Bugle (Podcast)

TimesOnlineComedians John Oliver and Andy Zalzman

With the Writers Guild of America still on strike, the absence of late-night commentary on politics has been missed. Though the quality of the commentary was rarely exceptionally high, late night comedians did provide a useful and informative diversion for those less tempted to read the papers (like myself, most of the times).

So while looking for new podcasts–something I do habitually–I noticed a a picture of The Daily Show‘s John Oliver, attached to a podcast called The Bugle, which calls itself “An audio newspaper for a visual world.”

Because it’s associated with The (London) Times, one of Rupert Murdoch’s many media properties, I was moderately fearful that The Bugle a would suffer from the same awkwardly conservative bent that doomed Fox New’s The 1/2 Hour News Hour to a lukewarm death.

Alas, such concerns were unmerited. The Bugle is a usually delightful, witty, and deadpan satire that has, since I discovered it, softened the blow caused by the absence of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert from the airwaves. The transatlantic chat show, with The Daily Show‘s John Oliver in New York and the new-to-America Andy Zaltzman from England, ranges all sorts of topics and is frequently full of biting dry wit that is unequaled in my recent memory.

As just one example Mr. Oliver, the Englishman living in America, ridicules Mr. Murdoch’s Fox News Channel saying about the recent California wildfires:

Now Fox News has speculated that there may even have been a terrorist link to this. You can now officially blame the terrorists for anything. Now I burnt my toast this morning, and I think that’s the terrorists at work. They must have broken into my apartment and turned the setting up half a notch. There’s no other explanation for this.

If you viewers have had anything happen to you that you’d like to blame on terrorism, please do email that in.

This is funny, but not The Bugle at its best. They easily venture into inanities discussed with a delightful seriousness. Mr. Zaltzman on the same topic:

But I think George W. Bush has to take a lot of blame for this because he’s been very weak with the environment this year. Now, traditionally, he’s always been heroically strong in the face of the threat the environment poses to the world, saying that we must stand up to the environment, we can’t negotiate with it because that would make us appear weak. But even he, this year, has given into the environment. He signed up to the G8’s non-binding verbal agreement to think about the environment at least once a week from now on. He does now have a picture of a tree on his desk, so it does appear that the leopard is now starting to show its spots. And it’s a snow leopord, so the joke stands.

As with all comedy (and especially satire), The Bugle is hit and miss. Some of their jokes are over-written, others feel like they would have been better if they’d been written at all. They repeat jokes to the point of meaninglessness. Their “audio cryptic crossword” is just one example of an interesting idea that has already gotten old over the mere five shows they’ve recorded.

They also seem to stretch the transatlantic connection a little past its breaking point. Their recurring–if chronically delayed–“Ask an American” segment isn’t without humor, but it tacks too close to stereotypes and sacrifices some great jokes in the process. Another of their favorite bits is to run down a current–but not well-known–event in British politics, and then ask the self-evident question “is it known in America?”

On the whole though, The Bugle is an admirable stand-in for those suffering from satire-about-current-events withdrawal. It is certainly funnier than any satire I’m either watching or not watching during the strike.


Taking A Break

I-80, c/o Western FolklifeToday, I’m doing something all Americans have done, or think they should have. It’s that time of the summer.

That’s right, time for the family road-trip.

I am, for probably the last time, riding in a car with my parents and two of my sisters along I-80 going east. And as we pass through Cheyenne, western Nebraska, Lincoln, Omaha, Des Moines, the Quad Cities, and Chicago, I’ll be thinking about all the times we did it before.

Almost annually, we would venture east, to Michigan, where both my parents were born and raised. We’d head back and make the rounds to the homes of all relations still living there around Flint, MI.

I tell this not to be chastised for wasting gas and not to be envied for having the time. I merely endeavor to explain why new material will be absent or at best unlikely until August 8.

politics, USA, world

Global Unease With World’s Major Powers

A few days ago, I read about the recent results of the Pew Global Attitudes project. Here is part of Pew’s summary of their own results (full summary here):

A 47-nation survey finds global public opinion increasingly wary of the world’s dominant nations and disapproving of their leaders. Anti-Americanism is extensive, as it has been for the past five years. At the same time, the image of China has slipped significantly among the publics of other major nations. Opinion about Russia is mixed, but confidence in its president, Vladimir Putin, has declined sharply. In fact, the Russian leader’s negatives have soared to the point that they mirror the nearly worldwide lack of confidence in George W. Bush.

These are merely the most popular of the results. There are number of potentially more interesting things that I was modestly surprised by.

Pew reports that dislike of America and its methods of business are decidedly lower in African countries than it is even in traditional allies like Israel, Poland, and Japan. I was left questioning the methodology of the survey, wondering if the methodology itself could sway the data toward an upper-class data set (by virtue of phone penetration) that would in general have a different view than their fellow citizens. Alas, upon closer examination I found that the results were gathered face-to-face in most of these countries, leaving me with something more of a mystery.

I also found it interesting that a lot of the distrust of US power was due not only to our continued “coalition” presence in Iraq and NATO presence in Afghanistan, but to our perceived role in continuing pollution levels that are harmful to the environment (though China merited a good deal of the burden for this as well), and our continued leadership in sustaining the divide between rich and poor.

More troubling to me personally, is that Pew reports that views of the American citizenry are increasingly coming to see it as just as culpable for US policies as our government is. This is not really unexpected, after all, we are electing our leaders, but why this has changed since the survey was last conducted in 2001 is something of a mystery to me.

I could go on, but I think I covered all the major points I saw. I would really encourage you to give the summary a look. It’s very interesting stuff, and I mean that.

OPW, politics, USA

OPW: Zbigniew Brzezinski on America’s Role

Today on “Other People’s Words,” what Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser, told Charlie Rose about the actions the next president must take to restore America’s place in the world.

I think the next President should say to the world that the United States wants to be part of the solution to its problems and not, in part, the maker of their problems. And that the United States is prepared, really, to be engaged in the quest to give people in the world the dignity that they seek today, the social justice that they feel they are deprived of, and the common solution to global problems [that they desire].

But secondly, I think the president has to say very credibly and forcefully to the American people that to do that [they] have to think hard about their definition of… the good life. That the hedonistic-materialistic society at high levels of consumption [and] increasing social inequality is not a society that can be part of the solution of the world’s problems. And therefore, the president has to project to the American people a sense of demanding idealism. Idealism which is not based on self-indulgence, but on self-denial and sacrifice. Only such an America can be credible to the world.


Review: Creature Comforts (US)

Though I had not intent to review this TV show, I find it hard not to.

But to really explain, I have to explain how I found it. I’d seen the ads and thought it looked cute, if a little boring. So when I found it while flipping channels one day, I paused and watched. But after about five minutes I found it uninteresting and left it.

But high opinions of it started stacking up against my gut reaction. Two different bloggers at TV Squad had it on their “what I’m watching this summer list.” And though I disagree with Anna on the show being “drop-dead hilarious,” her opinion fell on the right side of the issue.

So when I saw that it was on again, I had to watch it. And this time I committed to the whole hour. No channel flipping.

By the end of that hour, I was actually finding myself chuckling softly at much of what was being said. That’s far below for my traditional threshold for good comedy, but it is a step in the right direction.

Part of what I began to notice and what Adam writes about in his review at TV Squad, that “it’s those animal conduits that allow the viewer to identify with the folks being interviewed. It’s not the actual physical people we relate to, it’s their stories.”

When I just watched the show for 5 minutes I was missing the stories. I missed the fact that these people (or their animal representatives) keep reappearing. They become familiar in a way they simply cannot be if you’re watching it for instant gratification.

And the animators are striving to keep those stories interesting. Sceneries change to optimize the joke. And the joke gets funnier when you recognize that subtle changes have occurred.

At the end of the day, I can’t lavish Creature Comforts with high praise. But I have to say that I’m impressed with it, and that I’m glad I gave it a second chance. My advice to anyone thinking of it: if you’re going to give it a chance, give it at least a full half-hour before you dismiss it off-hand.

It’s much more subtle than the TV comedy I’m used to. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s mostly just a thing.

politics, USA

After Bush: How to Restore America’s Place in the World

Our (that is to say the United State’s) requirement that all presidents must be natural-born is patently absurd. Though the first person to make me reconsider this rule was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has shown himself to be an incredibly bipartisan and wise Republican in recent times, it is actually Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek columnist and generally acute observer of world politics, who has pushed me over the edge.

Zakaria has repeatedly astounded me with his ability to look optimistically and critically and all facets of American policy. Further, he synthesizes this analysis into a size that the average person can easily read, digest, and understand in a very short period of time.

Where the New Yorker seems unable to write a thorough analysis in under 60,000 words, Zakaria regularly makes himself understood in a single page. Though his cover story in this week’s Newsweek is longer than that benchmark, none of the words are squandered.

Some of the most interesting observations:

  • “Today, by almost all objective measures, the United States sits on top of the world. But… we have become a nation consumed be fear, worried about terrorists and rouge nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed…”
  • Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, “We will never be able to prevent a small group of misfits from planning some terrible act of terror… The real test of American leadership is not whether we can make 100% sure we prevent the attack, the rather how we respond to it… our goal should be resilience… If one day bombs go off, we must ensure as little disruption–economic, social, political–as possible. The would deprive the terrorists of their main objective.”
  • “If America has a core competitive advantage, it is this: every year we take in more immigrant than the rest of the world put together.”
  • “Above all, the United States has to find a way to send a powerful and consistent signal to the world that we understand the struggles that it is involved in–for security, peace, and a better standard of living. As Barack Obama said in a speech in Chicago, ‘It’s time to… send a message to all those men and women beyond our shores who long for lives of dignity and security that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future’.'”
  • “At the end of the day, openness is America’s greatest strength. Many people of both sides of the political aisle have ideas that they believe will keep America strong in the new world–fences, tariffs, subsidies, investments. But America has succeeded not because of the ingenuity of government programs. It has thrived because it has kept itself open to the world… This openness has allowed us to respond fast and flexibly in new economic times, to manage change and diversity with remarkable ease, and to push forward the boundaries of freedom and autonomy.”

These brief quotes fail to do the article justice. If you do yourself no other favor this week, make it reading the Newsweek cover story, either online, or in print.