Electricity & Lust

Palin Power Abuse

Posted in Politics by Sam Unsted on October 11, 2008

The general consensus among Democrats over the past few weeks has been that Obama needs to go on the offensive, the counter the Republican attack machine and prevent himself from being saturated by overblown scandal and downright lies which sway the dumb voter and give the White House to the Republicans. I’ve always felt a better idea, and perhaps the one he has been using, is to allow them to just destroy themselves, give McCain and Palin the space to make their ridiculous comments and make their unsubstantiated attacks on him and just let the water flow clean under the bridge.

Today, that plan of attack appears to have had some credibility as Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was found to have abused her power as Alaskan governor by a State Legislature panel. The case relates to her firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, pressured by Palin and her husband, Todd, to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who had been involved in a custody battle with Palin’s sister. Palin had maintained he has been fired due to a budgetary dispute.

The Republicans had gone on the attack with the report from the start, saying the investigation was politically motivated and brought around by supporters of Obama looking to discredit the then-very popular Palin. Whether that’s the case or not, this is an explosive story likely to have the entire weekend’s coverage to itself plus the holiday in the US on Monday as people put the market crash on Friday to the back of their minds. Having said that, the danger remains that Paulson and Co will crush the story coming out of the weekend with a new rescue plan for financial markets. The Republicans will attack hard but I can see this providing a major problems for the McCain-Palin ticket and it again gives a strong reason as to why you shouldn’t hire someone after meeting them once. Would you choose a vice presidential candidate who was in the midst of a corruption case?

Check out the story on The Huffington Post, Fox NewsBBC News and CNN with the full report here.

Here’s some early comment from Richard Lister (BBC) and I’ll try and provide some more on it tomorrow.

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Political Week

Posted in Politics by Sam Unsted on October 5, 2008

The big news of the week was the debate but really, the major news, is going to be the attack machine that now gets rolling after two, if not blockbuster then definitely marginal, wins for the Democrats in the debates.

Palin has got the ball rolling with some Weather Underground accusations for Obama.

More indirectly, McCain decided the biggest issue needs to become a non-issue.

That would likely prove a problem for American families.

But no wonder, Obama’s gaining ground because of economic unrest.

He’s going after McCain on healthcare.

He’s allegedly also looking to pre-empt the attacks with a new ad.

Hillary is also helping, saying McCain is a Bush ‘mimic’.

McCain is gaining fewer options as Obama takes a stand in major battlegrounds.

 

Debate comment

Christopher Caldwell at The Financial Times on his fears following the debate.

Frank Rich for The New York Times on the impact of Palin’s debate performance on McCain.

Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal talks about the dangers of Palin’s appeal.

Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review but writing for The New York Post, said Palin has recovered from the Couric debacle.

Maureen Dowd, also for The New York Times, on how Palin has made the case for elitism.

Joan Vennochi at The Boston Globe says the problem for Palin is a lack of seriousness.

Mark Penn, op-ed-ing for the NY Times, questions the substance of debating.

The Washington Times even-handedly praised both candidates.

Eric Alterman on The Guardian argues against ‘folksy charm’.

The Kansas City Star has nothing but praise for Biden.

Scott Maxwell at The Orlando Sentinel says Palin has cleared the hurdle.

Anne Applebaum on The Telegraph says Palin is unlikely to impact the election at all.

Daniel Finkelstein on The Times says Palin lost by not winning.

Bill Boyarsky at Truthdig says Palin survived but the performance was not good.

Select Thoughts on the US Election

Posted in Politics by Sam Unsted on September 16, 2008

I haven’t been as closely following the election since the exit of Hillary. In the run-up to the convention, little interesting happened on either side to peak my curiosity to start back up on the train but, and it’s been a fairly significant but, the last couple of weeks have finally provided some fuel for the fire and I’m starting to really begin to read and check up on the campaigns.

The first catalyst was Obama’s speech at the convention which was pretty great, if a little short on the substance that I would have wanted. If his was short on substance and heavy policy though, McCain’s was far worse. To have a vague chance of stopping Obama, McCain will have to stop trotting out Bush-era cliches and stop making Bush-era faux pas all over the shop and refocus. Either that, or apparently he can just select a woman from Alaska he’s only met once before and who has almost no relevant experience to be his running mate and the religious right will come a-running. I wouldn’t want to get focusing on the experience angle really, given that a) that’s precisely the argument used against Obama constantly and, b) it’s a ridiculous argument from all sides because almost no job can really prepare someone for the presidency of the most powerful nation on the planet.

I don’t like Palin. Not because she’s a woman, a mother, a Christian or even, subsequently a semi-creationist. Not because of her seemingly blighted and unattractive record in the past as regards her personal dealings. Not because she seems to have flip-flopped on a few points here and there to gain currency. Not because her daughter is the perfect argument against abstinence-only or because her baby-daddy is the perfect example of a teenage father. Not even because she said that she would have made her daughter keep the baby even if it was the product of a rape. I dislike and wouldn’t vote for her on these things but I don’t hate her. I hate her because John McCain’s picking her confirms his confidence in the utter stupidity of certain parts of the voting spectrum in the US, those who will vote for her no matter her policies or beliefs, her past or her record. Those who will vote for her because she is a woman. Interviews conducted outside the DNC indicated that a great deal of people still exist who think Hillary should be president and further more who will vote for McCain now because a female is on the ticket. Her presence on the ballot provides a truly terrible section of voting foolishness to be indulged and McCain’s confidence in this makes me sad, very sad indeed.

What may play now though is a return for fundamentals. The Washington Post wrote about this today and it seems like a strong argument. Given the shocking last week and a bit in the US banking and financial services market, it seems only right that focus should begin to shift away from the tabloid gossiping and shouting of Palin and the conventions and move over the fundamentals of election politics. The economy is likely to become central and no sooner has it than McCain has stuck his foot clean in it. Strong fundamentals? He comes out and praises the resiliency of the banking market, and then slightly alters it to cover his ass, after the following things have happened.

  1. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants that guarantee somewhere in the region of $3tn of the US market, are essentially nationalised and taken under the control of the Federal Government. This effective nationalisation places the burden of these two institutions, seriously hammered by the crash of the US sub-prime market, on the taxpayer. When this happened in the UK with Northern Rock, heads rolled and Gordon Brown began his descent into being the most hated man in the country.
  2. Lehman Brothers, the fourth largest investment bank in Wall Street and an illustrious institution with a 150-year-plus history, declared bankruptcy on Monday morning. It had spent the entire past week trying to find rescue funding, eventually failing because Barclays pulled out of a buy because the government wouldn’t guarantee its liabilities. It’s bankruptcy filing has sent the FTSE and the Dow hurtling lower and today hammered shares in Asia too. It is the largest insolvency declaration ever. EVER.
  3. Merrill Lynch, another mega-investment bank, follows Lehman and Bear Stearns into finding rescue funding, selling to the Bank of America before speculators could bring it to its knees. Bank of America is paying $50bn to buy the bank and is now a super-size financial institution to rival Citigroup and HSBC. This is good in the sense that the bank has been bought and can’t help to further depress markets but it means Bank of America is now so flipping huge, it can’t really succeed.
  4. AIG, the US insurance giant long-troubled due to its place as a major insurer of financial products, went to the Fed for emergency funding. Subsequent reports are suggesting this isn’t going to work given the concerns raised by the major ratings agencies over the future of the company. If AIG collapses, which it really could, the US market will almost certainly fall into recession. The only hope now is that the two still-strong investment bank on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, will provide $75bn in emergency funding to the group.
Now if you consider all of these, and of course the inflationary pressures, the hammering taken by equities across the board and the volatility of oil prices, I don’t know how much optimism you can really have about the market. About the only folks who might well be able to find some solace in the crushing depression of the markets will be the chief executives who, although likely and deservedly heading for the chopping block, will probably see pay offs well into eight figures. If McCain feels like he wants to hold this optimism, he either knows something we don’t or knows nothing we do.
It would be wonderful if the election can now get back to the fundamentals. This will allow Joe Biden to start to flex his muscles on national security issues and allow Palin to make some terrible statements in more important stages than in the circus that surrounded her appointment. It will allow Obama to make some more great, true speeches about the issues that really face the country and maybe it will give McCain a chance to show us all the man that originally garnered so much praise as a progressive Republican. Maybe, if it really gets down to good, strong politics, we will get to see two strong candidates emerge and we can go into November without too much fear that the last eight years will be repeated.
Consider that for a moment. Consider the legacy of Bush and how badly the world cannot have that for another eight years. He will leave office with a quagmire war, a chunky deficit and a recessionary economy. We can’t have another Bush. So right now, we also can’t have a McCain.

Diggin

Posted in diggin by Sam Unsted on September 13, 2008

Music

Well, it’s been a little while since my last update so there is much to talk about. At work, I find I need to have very specific types of music playing to help my ability to type fast and not be too far taken out of my concentration. With this in mind, two types of music continually find their way onto playlists I make and so are often my working music pieces. The first is hip hop and in the past few weeks, I’ve become partially obsessed with finding good, eccentric and esoteric hip hop albums that sound interesting and manage to avoid much of the posing and faux-gangster braggadocio of much of mainstream rap. Peanut Butter Wolf and Madvillain are both amazing for this with the second’s Madvillainy album now placing itself among my all-time favourites in any genre. Also working for me are Prefuse 73, Flying Lotus, Aesop Rock, Cadence Weapon, J Dilla, Cannibal Ox, Edan, El-P and Sage Francis. All are recommended to those who like to avoid getting too much syrupy R ‘n’ B with their hip hop. Having said that, a man whose purveyance of syrupy R ‘n’ B verges on the R Kelly, T.I., has made the incredible, thrilling ‘Swagger Like Us’ with Lil Wayne (whose ‘A Milli’ is also a total masterpiece), Kanye West and the king of brag-rap, Jay-Z. For all my dislike of that kind of hip hop from lesser minds, this is a truly incredible song.

The other portion that’s working for me right now is long-form electronica and textural compositions. Lindstrom’s new album is wonderful while I would thoroughly boost Tim Hecker and Fennesz for some more challenging and dense electronic work. I’ve also fallen head-over-heels for the sweet, weird little songs from Books, a fine group making slight but hugely enjoyable albums of electronic-inflected indie. Just as a post-note on this, you can also add into the genres I dig for writing krautrock. I love me some really repetitive, motorik sound of Neu and Can, the latter providing some far more out-there, almost hippie moments while the former, and superior, is guitar-based pounding symphonies of rhythm and discipline. Neu would probably rank up as my absolute favourite of all for writing.

Other than these, and outside of work, I’ve become a little over-obsessed with a cover of ODB’s ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ by White Pony and I really love the uber-heavy reggae dub of The Bug. The Hold Steady continue to float every portion of my boat, Jay Reatard (terrible name) has a singles collection which is filled with dirty garage rock and hooky choruses, the new songs from TV on the Radio are awesome and ‘Nonpareil of Favor’, the new track from Of Montreal, is terrific. Also well done to Elbow for winning the Mercury, even if it should have gone to Burial. Seldom Seen Kid is a fine record, even if they should really have won for their first record. At least, unlike many of the last few winners, they looked genuinely happy to have won the award rather than skulking off and remaining ‘cool’ in the moment.

 
Film

Busy weeks again on this front. Tom and I completed our 1980s marathon by finding out that Top Gun sucks, as does Arnie’s Red Heat. However, Total Recall holds up far better than it has any right to do and has ushered in an Arnie marathon which has thus far included Terminator (still superb) and Conan the Barbarian (has its moments). More are planned so stay tuned for that.

Better, and way cooler, than any of this though is Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai. Following Alain Delon’s Jef Costello, a Parisian hitman, through and existential passage of his life following a hit, it’s maybe the finest example I have ever seen of a hitman movie. Melville’s true skill is the economy of his filmmaking, allowing enigma to exist without providing spoonfed explanations for all that occurs and never over-indulging in dialogue. Alain Delon is likely the coolest human and if you witness this movie and don’t have an immediate urge to go and purchase a trenchcoat and hat, along with at least 500 packs of cigarettes, I don’t know your kind. It’s beautifully filmed, sparely written and acted without any theatrics from anyone involved. All remains at a level of cool detachment that, rather than making this overly-cold or uncomfortable, just makes you try harder to understand and engage with the story, the rewards for which are more than satisfactory. Hyperbole perhaps but I think this goes straight in amongst my all-time favourite films and I cannot recommend highly enough that you seek it out and take it in. I will now be searching out the rest of Melville’s work, including Le Cercle Rouge and Le Doulos.

I also got to see Pineapple Express which I absolutely loved. I’m a big lover and apologist for the Apatow-Rogen team and I really found nothing to hate in the mixture. James Franco is outstanding as Saul, bringing all he has to make sure you completely empathise with their plight and laugh hard while doing so. Rogen isn’t as good but I still feel this quasi-paternal nuturing sensation towards his projects due to my loving his work in Freaks and Geeks all that way back. I loved it and honestly, I think most who haven’t just didn’t drink enough before hand. We had a couple of glasses of wine and this film rocked. As an aside, our housemate also saw it but stone sober and still loved it.

I’ve managed to set a new rule with my LoveFilm account, only keeping DVDs for two weeks at a time, after which, if not watched, they go back regardless. I’ve recently taken in Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know which was too quirky for its own good but still quite enjoyable. I watched Pierce Brosnan in The Matador which I was close to loving and I checked out The Saddest Music in the World, Guy Maddin’s least-insane film about a contest set up by Isabella Rossellini in which people are invited to come and play the saddest music in the world at her club and win a prize if there is truly the most sad. It was somewhere between an overly-arty minefield of quirk and a complete, emotionally shattering masterpiece and I don’t know if I ever know which one it is. Next up is Jacques Tati’s M Hulot’s Holiday. From there, it could be another Tati, some Tarkovsky, Point Break, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia or Living in Oblivion.

I this week completed Generation Kill, the mini-series on HBO from David Simon and Ed Burns that I wrote about a little while ago. I really loved it by the end, but purely on a level of filmmaking and acting. This is some distance from being enjoyable TV, so relentlessly depressing is its depiction of top brass in the US military and the parallel realisation that the whole thing is based on a true story. But Simon doesn’t ever judge and he depicts without any really heavy-handed preaching and with a sense that you understand what happened, what’s going on and why the mess is there. Also, Alexander Skarsgaard as Brad Colbert might be my televisual performance of the year.

Tom and I checked out the pilot of Fringe which was only okay and could possibly get interesting but is likely to suffer due to its slightly-less-than-brilliant cast. My  liking of Joshua Jackson unfortunately comes from Dawson’s Creek and before that The Mighty Ducks, both pieces of not-well-aging nostalgia pieces that I’m unlikely to ever watch again. The other pilot we checked out was Alan Ball’s True Blood, the vampire love story thing set in the deep South of the US in which vampires are just another race of people facing the same prejudices as any other. At current, having watched the first two, I want to like it more than I do but Alan Ball, the creator of Six Feet Under and writer of American Beauty, has earned my trust so I’ll give him the first season to make things work before I lay into him.

Other than those, Gossip Girl returned brilliantly and is just the most ridiculously enjoyable show on TV right now. Mad Men is not as soapy and ridiculous but is probably the best show on TV right now in its own right, given that Jon Hamm’s performance remains so shockingly good and they are building out the rest of the cast with aplomb. The reimagined 90210 is okay but could prove an annoyance in the long-run while this month sees the return of Heroes, The Office and then a chunk of other bits and bobs to be getting on with.

 
Books

I read Remainder, the winner of The Believer Book Award, by Tom McCarthy which was really strange but kind of great. It follows a man who suffer a psychological shift following a major physical trauma. He wins a massive amount of money through a settlement and embarks on a project to build his own world which continues to escalate until it becomes truly dangerous. I don’t want to say too much about it because really, the best way to experience this, is coming in with little or no knowledge of it. In short: recommended.

Better than this was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a complete masterpiece from Dominican writer Junot Diaz about an overweight geeky kid and his misadventures in life and love while living in a dictatorial country. It taught me a huge amount about the Dominican Republic’s history without ever losing a flow and portraying a cast of fully-drawn character, none of whom were given short shrift. I loved every second of this book and I would advise anyone to seek it out and just sink into its perfect storytelling and sense of language. Nearly perfection.

I’m currently on The Master and the Margharita, a truly classic allegorical novel from Mikail Bulgakov that I’m not even remotely qualified to talk about. Suffice to say, I flipping love it so far but I’ll report back more soon.

 
Other

I’m currently getting addicted to shirts for the first time since a brief period when I was younger than saw me purchase a number of Hawaiian-style shirts but graduating to padded lumberjack pieces in the winter. Not a good time. Uniqlo is proving the best for all this right now as its cheap, the clothes are good quality and its stores in London don’t have the cattle market chav feel of a Topman or H&M. The latter is still worth a look though. My current ones to hit are Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, H&M, American Apparel and then maybe some vintage shopping again once the corporatising of Camden is completed.

I’m also really enjoying the political race right now. I’ll probably write a piece on it again in the next week or two but the entry of Palin as produced a fascinating new figure that seems to be entirely outshining John McCain. If she’s bringing in women, she’s got to be pushing out those who were worried McCain was too old. More on that soon.

Link Round Up

Posted in Links by Sam Unsted on August 16, 2008

It’s been a while so this could end up being epic.

Craig Robinson, Darryl on The Office, has been arrested and charged with possession of a shedload of drugs including meth and ecstacy.

Check out Jezebel’s ‘Pot Psychology’ this week, it’s deeply strange and funny.

Samm Levine has been cast in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards.

Here’s a Q&A with Shane Meadows, director of Somers Town and my film of last year, This Is England.

What’s the point in literary agents?

Here’s a primer on the career and works of Woody Allen. (Start with Annie Hall and Manhattan and work around)

Sonatine enters the New Cult Canon.

Here’s a list of thirty actor-directors.

The Wackness is dosing folks with nostalgia for early-90s hip hop.

Why do beach volleyball players keep patting each other on the arse?

Jackson Browne is suing John McCain.

Predictions on the future for China.

Iron Man’s deleted scene with Ghostface Killah.

Twilight is moving into the space left open by Harry Potter.

Here’s the trailer for 90210, the one with the old cast members.

Here’s fiction from Joshua Ferris, writer of the pretty-decent Then We Came To The End.

Flobots are bringing politically-conscious hip hop back to the charts, according to PopMatters.

Jerry Wexler has died at the age of 91.

Michael Phelps has won yet another bloody medal. Seven! Seven gold medals!! Wow.

Here’s what he listens to before jumping into the pond.

Rebecca Adlington has won her second for Blighty so massive well done to her.

The Riff has had a little listen to the new Verve.

‘Good Morning, Captain’, the piece de resistance of Slint, has been turned into a children’s book…

America is killing another overseas TV series, this time Australia’s Kath & Kim.

Check out Michael Hammett’s White Denim covers.

A conversation between Werner Herzog and Philippe Petit, the tightrope artist.

AC/DC in ‘fancy dress’ return for Reading.

Vote in the Drowned in Sound Pluto Prize, the alternative to the Mercury Music Prize.

The top 5 accordion rock songs.

Here’s an interview with mad genius Guy Maddin.

Here’s one with not-mad but still-genius Art Spiegelman.

Best ever music producers?

The ten fastest guitarists are…

Finally, the Criterion edition of Bottle Rocket has been announced and I can’t wait.

Political Weekend

Posted in Links, Politics by Sam Unsted on June 29, 2008

UK

Racial discrimation in the police force rears its ugly head once more

Wendy Alexander, an ally of Brown, has quit.

The Guardian has a piece on Henley and the now dominant Tories in the area.

Donors are turning on Brown too.

Tony Benn puts in his support for David Davis.

US

So Obama and Clinton have publicly made friends this week.

McCain and Obama are courting Latin American voters.

Obama is planning to hit the road.

Jeff Greenfield discusses how Obama can lessen the impact of the Republicans.

Could he get the endorsement of Colin Powell? The ‘Obamacons’ pose a serious threat to McCain.

(more…)

Political Weekend

Posted in Links, Politics by Sam Unsted on June 22, 2008

UK

Our new key political enemy in the UK? The Grey Squirrel.

Gordon Brown is pleading for help from oil-rich nations on nuclear energy in the UK.

29% of secondary schools in the UK have sexual health clinics.

Labour is careering towards financial disaster.

Apparently we are also leading the world in arms sales.

MPs want money for second homes.

Brown’s plans for eco-housing are being attacked as just hot air.

The Anglican church is divided over the recent marriage of two gay priests and leading bishops will boycott the Lambeth conference

Could the intense criticism of Brown from the Conservatives backfire?

Stagflation in our economy will not be like it was in the 1970s.

World

Unicef say children have been targeted in the war in Haiti.

155 people have died in a typhoon in the Philippines. A ferry, carrying 700, has been hit by the disaster.

Brazil, and the mystery of the not-so-undiscovered tribe.

Violence in Zimbabwe continues and seems to have been meticulously planned.

(more…)

Political Weekend (a day late, sorry)

Posted in Links, Politics by Sam Unsted on June 9, 2008

US

So Obama won last week, officially. Plus Hillary’s getting right behind him.

But what will it take for her people to really get behind Obama?

Maureen Dowd praises her acting skills.

Why did her campaign go wrong though?

For the Clinton clan, this is a pretty huge change for their lives to take.

Peggy Noonan thinks the American people dodged a bullet.

Here’s an interesting thought, could she be predicating a future run on a failure this year for Obama?

Frank Rich concentrates more on the enormous gap in political philosophy between Obama and McCain.

Jesse Jackson thinks Hillary’s a strong candidate for vice-president.

Obama’s received the endorsement of Kurt Beck, the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats Party. The move represents a key break from tradition of German politics.

Obama has much to do however, and little time to do it in.

Andrew Sullivan and Marc Ambinder consider an Obama presidency.

(more…)

Politics Sunday

Posted in Links, Politics by Sam Unsted on June 1, 2008

Scott McLellan, the tell-all Bush staffer who this week launched a book telling all sorts of terrible things about the Bush administration, five years too late.

UK

Internal documents claim Labour has failed the UK on crime.

Brown is being told to drop his Scots.

That could become a key issue.

Brown’s problems right now seem everywhere.

US

The DNC is closing its meetings on the delegates from Florida and Michigan with half votes for each (overall favours Obama). Democrats have quite rightly been contesting the whole deal.

Hillary’s reserving her right to protest.

Some Clinton supports still say they would vote for McCain if Obama gets the nomination… Matthew Yglesias discusses the flaws in this foolish plan.

(more…)

Political Weekend

Posted in Links, Politics by Sam Unsted on May 25, 2008

Just a reminder for those who do enjoy the political linkage, check out the Slate Political Gabfest and KCRW’s Left, Right and Center podcasts. Both are excellent. For the British politics, try the BBC’s Weekly Political Review.

UK

Gordon Brown is being put under pressure appoint a viable successor as deputy.

Allegedly, ‘Blair-ite’ left-wing figures are plotting and have approached someone to consider taking the job.

The leading candidate at the moment is Miliband.

What about Alan Johnson though?

John Rentoul says only Labour can really be blamed for this.

It should also be noted this week that our government rejected restrictions on IVF (which really pissed off The Daily Mail and therefore must be good) which would have discriminated against lesbian and gay couples seeking adoption and we voted to keep the current upper abortion limit at 24 weeks.

US

One must-read this week, George Packer’s excellent piece from The New Yorker on the fall of conservatism in America.

He’s been getting a few responses since publishing the essay.

(more…)