Author Archives: Elisa

Elisa is No More

I got worse at posting consistently and on time over the past few months. I kept telling myself that I would be able to catch up soon, or that I was just adjusting to moving and working. But I haven’t caught up, and with grad school approaching I know I won’t be able to keep up consistent and quality posting – so I’m done writing for Culture War Reporters. I like this blog, and I’m glad that Evan asked me to write with him, and I’m glad that whoever reads it (usually people from Google image search, I’m pretty sure) reads it, and it was great for me to have something to make me write each week, but I’m done now. I hope someone quality takes my place. I also hope that Evan starts to write a video-game-and-graphic-novel themed blog and garners thousands of subscribers.

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Republicans, Marriage Equality, and Inevitable Social Change

Freedom to Marry has set up the Win More States Fund with the goal of influencing legislation in Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Washington. Interestingly, the fund’s largest donors so far have been a group of major donors to the Republican party.

Freedom to Marry is one of the many organizations in the US that support and fight for the legalization of same-sex marriage

And this isn’t just excitement over a few novel Republicans donating insubstantial amounts; the group collectively donated $1.5 million, which is half of the fund’s stated goal. Ken Mehlman, the former chair of the RNC (Republican National Committee) (I’ve heard that they’re a big deal). The group of donors, including Mehlman, has founded a Super PAC (American Unity), which defines itself as a PAC that “supports GOP political leaders committed to advancing the rights of gay and lesbian Americans”. The PAC’s first donation was $1 million from Paul Singer, hedge fund CEO and major donor to the GOP.

This shows quite the shift, especially compared to popular (if slightly under-informed) consensus about party alignment on the gay marriage debate.
Freedom to Marry quotes Mehlman talking about his decision to donate:

“Supporting the right of adults to marry the person that they love is consistent with Republican and conservative principles. A party that ignores reality and demographic change is a party that loses a lot of elections and becomes less relevant.”

Freedom to Marry’s Win More States Fund targets Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Washington State

There were a lot of predictions that opposing gay marriage would just cease to be a respected opinion in the US, and it seems that that’s what’s happening now. Mehlmen’s statement is practical – he does say that the position “is consistent with Republican and conservative principles,” but this issue would not be being addressed if not for the huge social movement over the past few decades. That IS sort of how democracy is supposed to work – but I think that we will always hear more people saying things like “Those people have to change in order to survive politically” than things like “They can take the job and shove it … I’m trying to do the right thing.”

But that’s how things work, I guess. People have a tendency to distrust things that are different and strange, and so social change with respect to accepting and adapting to differences usually has more to do with social pressure (and shame) than with lots of miraculously-timed personal insights. The fact that our opinions and actions are inseparably intertwined with the popular sentiment is not news. And while political moves responding to trendy or controversial social issues might be occasionally disingenuous, there’s no arguing that they can instigate actual change.

Recent Graduates Face a Molasses-Like Economy

About a year ago I wrote about education inflation. A year later, I’ve graduated undergrad, started two jobs, and found an apartment. I’ve also watched a number of my friends in the same “fling-yourself-out-into-the-world” circuit, and so my viewpoint has definitely refined.
source: sodahead.com
A year ago, I was thinking about the nature of my education, and now I’m really just worried about getting a job, and so is everybody else I know – I’m finding that one thing that demonstrates the inflation of higher education is the fact that young graduates right now are facing 50% un- or under-employment.

We (collective college graduates, that is) are presented, upon getting off the bus singing “NYC” from that one Broadway show, with a dismal job market for recent grads. We are also presented with loan payments, apartments that require us to earn triple their rent to even apply there, and “entry level” job lists full of positions that require 5 years of experience.

Bachelors’ degrees mean less to employers, and there are two possible reasons for this: either their prevalence simply means that BAs and BSs are less of a distinction than they used to be, or employers find that Bachelors’ degrees don’t really ensure quality work. This second reason explains why employers are requiring more and more experience for “entry-level” jobs; bachelor’s degrees used to be enough to indicate an applicant’s competency; now, employers don’t want to risk hiring any new college grad who hasn’t proven him/herself in the workforce first.

source: weeatfilms.com

Sitting on the couch all day looking for jobs that aren’t there is, surprisingly, exhausting

This traps recent college grads with little-to-no full time experience in a rather depressing catch-22. Half of us are taking jobs that don’t pay enough or are in fields unrelated to our major; a full quarter of us are working for free to get experience. A third of us go back to school after trying to enter the work force with just a bachelors’ degree. A confirmed1 94% of us consume triple the amount of ice cream than we did a year ago.

In terms of status in the work force, bachelors’ degrees have become the equivalent to what a high school education used to be. In terms of time and money, however, bachelors’ degrees are painfully different – instead of entering the workforce at 18 with generalized competence, college grads are old enough to want permanent homes, long-term relationships, and career-based jobs, but are entering the workforce equipped with almost nothing to achieve those goals.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but this is a problem that needs to self-correct (if you want to be all Adam Smith about it). Many degrees are now including internships as part of their requirements, and it seems to me that (perhaps even more significantly) nervous mothers talk about them to sullen college students at a higher rate. Maybe the undergraduate degree will become more like a vocational school, in that sense, or a stepping stone to graduate school for those inclined towards academia. It seems less likely that students will find more success trying to get four years of experience, starting from the bottom up out of high school, but it’s a possibility.

What’s more, unemployment yields depression and lowered self-efficacy. Because so many of the unemployed population are young, this means that a huge portion of the emerging workforce and maturing economic leaders which will have debilitating effects on the US as a whole in the near and distant future.

Society as a whole is suffering and will continue to suffer from education inflation, as more overeducated students with little actual experience are flung into a floundering economy.

1Not really confirmed

Supreme Court, Media Slips, and general un-with-itness

When I was a kid, I pretty much imagined the adult world as a complex and efficient system abounding in efficiency, professionalism, and self-restraint. The more I interact with the real world, though, and see how and why things get done, the more I’m convinced that society is perpetually on the brink of collapse.

This is sort of comforting, because it means that I will actually fit into this society of flawed individuals. There were a few things about the Supreme Court ruling on the health care mandate that reminded me of this on Thursday –

First,

source: News Wrong On Individual Mandate  article.wn.com
source: jimromenesko.com

These things. CNN and Fox have gotten enough news coverage for their slipups, but the the fact that 2 out of the 3 major US news cable networks reported incorrectly in haste – on a supreme court ruling, no less – is fairly disconcerting. The race to report the news made everyone scramble semi-ridiculously on Thursday, and CNN and Fox happened to be the ones to scramble in the wrong direction. One could consider the NYT’s release conservatively paced, and they only waited for 20 minutes before reporting. What’s more, at least CNN apologized for the error –

“CNN regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate,” the NYT quoted. “We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.”
Fox news released: “Fox reported the facts as they came in,” even though they reported that the mandate was found unconstitutional. This in contrast with CNN’s staff memo: “We got it wrong and we take that very seriously.” CNN’s release didn’t even try to weasel their way out with the fact that the mandate was technically ruled unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause: “CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional”.

The strangely tabloidic media buzz surrounding the Supreme Court decision was reflected in the protesters and supporters of the mandate outside the building Thursday (the Washington Post has a pretty interested slide show of the crowd here), which included a few of these:

I have no grand conclusion about all of this1 – these were just instances of a not-entirely-together social infrastructure in the past week.2

1I never do
2This title is less catchy than Evan’s
Also, I couldn’t figure out how to make this relevant but this photo also came of the debacle, which is another cause for sadness.

Game of Thrones translates better to the screen than Lord of the Rings


I read Game of Thrones back when it was a relatively nerdy thing to do (I’m not bragging; the geekiness of it at the time cancels out any hipster cred I could claim now) – back when I had to tell people that it was “fantasy, but also good”. So seeing the books translated into an HBO series (insert shout-out to the casting directors for being awesome) is pretty exciting, and seeing it done well is even more exciting.

During the (EDIT: second-to-last episode) of Season 2 – specifically, the siege scene – there was this shot of Stannis’ army lifting up ladders to the walls of King’s Landing, and one of my friends said that it looked like the Two Towers. Upon further thought, I realized that I liked the film representation of the King’s Landing siege – and the Game of Thrones books in general – better than I liked the Lord of the Rings adaptations. As the LotR movies were the most significant and noticeable film event in my life so far, this was a pretty strange realization. So I tried to figure out why I thought that Game of Thrones was doing a better job on screen.

I do love extravagant battle scenes, and the LotR movies delivers, but I always feel kind of jerked around by the battle scenes in LotR. I was watching The Two Towers and noticed how formulaic the Helm’s Deep battle sequence is. The tactics are interesting enough, but the camera just focuses on giving us series of tantalizing deaths to push my hopes one way or another – we’ll see a handful of individual “good team” deaths accompanied by tragic music, only to then be fed a series of orcs getting killed by archers to keep us hopeful and interested. Tactically, Helm’s Deep isn’t a very interesting battle – good team is losing/bad team is scary, Gandalf comes back with Eomer, good team is winning again.

EDIT: I have been informed that I am woefully underinformed, and this giant scary battering ram’s name is Grond and is NOT from the battle of Helm’s deep. I’m keeping this picture up, though.

In terms of effects and extravagance, the LotR team did an incredible job. The scenes are beautiful. But the use of repeated grisly deaths and cruelly interesting kills just to jerk around the viewers’ emotions started to feel like a cheap tactic.

A quote you wouldn’t hear in Lord of the Rings: “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!”

In Game of Thrones, however, I noticed the battle in the Season 2 finale was different. For one thing, there wasn’t a specific side to cheer for – I mean, everybody likes Tyrion and Sansa, but it probably wouldn’t be a terrible thing if Joffrey were kicked off the throne, and what’shisface’s (the Stag guy’s) bitterness is relateable, and not necessarily borne of some intransigent evil. The scene also depicted more of the tactics and the actual progression of the battle, I thought, than dragging the viewers along by alternately dashing and keeping up their hopes.

The whole story of Game of Thrones, I think, falls short of the story of LotR. Martin relies too much (like Ayn Rand in We the Living) on making us disappointed – true, the events are appropriately random and unexpected, but (is it ridiculous to say this?) random and unexpected for 1200 pages gets sort of predictable. Or at least, rhythmic. But the honesty of the characters and the anti-gloriousness of their predicaments makes it more suited to visual media than LotR. The broad, mythic scope of LotR made for beautiful movies that would never quite live up to the epicness of the books. In the end, even after all of the stunning shots of New Zealand, the story was too big to be sold.

In LotR, we know , essentially, that the good team is going to win. In Game of Thrones, while the Stark family is pretty unabashedly Good, the rest of the characters are up for grabs. Villanous actions in LotR are generally due to some inherent evil (orcs, Uruk-Hai, Sauron), but villainous actions in Game of Thrones are usually the product of a relateable motivation (love, fear, greed) and aren’t generally limited to specific characters. Game of Thrones is morally messier, and while LotR calls upon values like honor and steadfastness, the characters in Game of Thrones are constantly questioning the actual merits of those values

Questioning the merits of virtue
Jaqen: “A girl has no honor!” Arya: *shrug*

LotR is a myth. Grittiness of character is not its thing – it excercises a style of storytelling that requires suspension of disbelief and an appreciation value of behavioral archetypes. In LotR, Aragorn becomes king and is reunited with Eowyn – in Game of Thrones, Eddard Stark dies in the middle of the first book. LotR’s plots make for fabulous books, and the prose and the world Tolkien created is LotR’s real strength. Game of Thrones by no means compares to Tolkien’s prose, but it makes for interesting characters, engaging dialogue, and non-predictable battles. Because of this, Game of Thrones is way, way better for visual media.

In Game of Thrones, Robert says of killing people: “They never tell you how they all sh** them selves, They don’t put that part in the songs.” Lord of the Rings was the song, and Game of Thrones is showing us the parts the songs leave out. Each type of story is legitimate in its own right – but Game of Thrones seems to translate better to the screen.

Obama: the brand

Jim Messina was an undergraduate when he managed his first campaign, and has won every race since then. He’s now manager of the Obama reelection campaign and going to great lengths to maintain his record.

source: huffingtonpostMessina has purportedly read volumes of US election history, but he spent the first months before beginning the Obama campaign in earnest meeting not with successful senators and former campaign managers, but with CEOs and senior execs of Apple, Google, facebook, Zynga, and DreamWorks. While Obama looks for support from left side of the House and Senate, Messina’s also brought Stephen Spielberg and Vera Wang into the campaign. Messina’s campaign, he says, is more based on wunderkind business strategies (Zynga and facebook, for example) than any elections from previous centuries.

The most interesting part to me of Messina’s campaign is the part focused not on intellectual persuasion, but attachment-building via branding. To contrast this with Mitt Romney’s campaign, look at the merchandise pages of each of the candidates’ websites:

Romney’s store has:
2 types of bumper stickers
a window decal
2 buttons
4 different t-shirts (2 of the with just the semi-unrecognizable logo on them)
a baseball cap
a lapel pin, and
(regrettably) a heather grey quarter-zip-up sweatshirt

All of his products are on one page, and most of them look like print-screened logos on shirts from AC Moore.

Obama’s store includes:
iPhone cases,
Earth Day packs,
“I bark for Barack” magnets,
v-neck shirts for women under 45,
calendars,
yoga pants,
a $95 Monique Pean scarf,
a Vera Wang bag, a $95 “Thakoon Panichgul“, whatever that is,
dog bandanas,
dog sweaters,
Joe Biden mugs,
Obama jerseys,
rubber bracelets,
pint glasses,
aprons,
bangles,
cufflinks,
baby bibs,
grill spatulas,
soy candles,
golf divot tools,
and a six-pack cooler.

There’s also about a billion different types of tshirts, buttons, and bumper stickers, and a “for Obama” series: women for Obama, nurses for Obama, veterans for Obama, African Americans for Obama, Latinos for Obama, Hispanics for Obama, Asian American & Pacific Islanders for Obama, and environmentalists for Obama.

Romney’s shirts say, at most, “Romney” or “Believe” – one of Obama’s shirts says “Health Reform Still a BFD.” Granted, Romney is aiming at a different demographic (LL Bean fans, eg), but Obama’s 19 pages of merchandise make Romney’s 1 page look pitiful, from a branding point of view.

The Obama campaign’s brand-focused strategy is closely integrated with its other image-focused tactics: assigning Romney the cold, out-of-touch persona, for example.
While critics of the Bain capital narrative put out by the Obama campaign said that things like negativity and party inconsistency (Bill Clinton’s subsequent praise of Romney’s management skills, eg) rendered the move moot, an article in Bloomberg said that Messina may not have been so concerned about persuasion at that point: “Messina is adamant that the Bain attack succeeded among the uncommitted voters he’s concerned with, who ignore pundits and are only now beginning to form opinions of Romney.”

For a lot of voters, Romney’s business and managing experience are just off the table. The Bain Capital anti-campaign put on by the Obama team wasn’t so much a persuasion for some voters as an excuse to keep holding their current opinion. K street and the hill will argue about the relevance and logical holes in different arguments, and about the influence of different political figures voicing their opinions, but humans decide things more based on instinct than consideration, I think.

David Plouffe, a political strategist, commented: “When people say, ‘How’s the Bain thing playing?’ it doesn’t matter what the set of Morning Joe has to say about it.”

Voters’ behavior and attitudes are hugely dependent on their initial impressions of politicians. People will take things like the Bain story how they want to, based on what they’ve already consciously or unconsciously decided. And some might criticize the Obama campaign for putting a lot of money into what seems like frivilous merchandise, but things like brand and image aren’t meant to persuade – they’re meant to create a stronger identity and community within the already-present supporters. Such branding is what made Facebook, Google, and Apple such monstrosities – and they are precisely where Messina went for advice.

Fluffy Democracy and the 2012 Election

I’m not a political analyst. But I am concerned – as a student and as a person – by the unquestioned, inherent value in the word and idea of “Democracy.”

I understand the need for a fanatic search for government other than despotism, especially in the past, and especially in the very early history of the United States. Democracy was the ideological banner under which the United States stayed United, after all. And the deification of the ideal upon which the government was sort of constructed seemed to be a pretty good plan – it tried something new, at least; it’s not common birthplace or allegiance to an individual or even language or religion via which Americans traditionally identify themselves, but work ethic and political representation.

And that’s a good and noble thing. But “Democracy” as we use it now is lacking in substance, and only vaguely reminiscent of the word’s original purpose and ideals. It’s a fluff word – a word that’s lost its weight, meaning, and context. Something we can tack onto any object to make it instantly American and socially approved.

And the need for quick and easy social approval is, I think, rooted in the decomposition of political efficiency in the form of the partisan two-party system. The two-party system, whether it is the best model of an election-based political system or not, focuses all public attention and energy on competition for competition’s sake. The goal of traditional political debates has been skewed from clarification of one’s views to beating one’s opponent.

Bill Keller, New York Times columnist and previous executive editor, suggests that the rabid opposition effect is increasing over time. We are in “The Age of Shouting,” politically and culturally, Keller says – where politicians study talking points more than policy and semantic slip-ups receive more attention than real inconsistency. He suggests that the current political scene will be slow to make any real progress towards culling the approach of economic entropy if it continues to value short-term popularity over long-term benefit. Attempting to cling to empty ideals has caused politicians’ relationship with the public to become an empty thing in itself; all intentionality is replaced with the rabid defense of platitudes to which we glue our identities, and any sense of common benefit is drowned out by the cry to defeat any opposition.

Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show” , was a guest on “Crossfire” – a CNN show that featured commentators sitting at dramatically angled tables and asking political figures loud questions – in 2005. He called out the show for being culturally destructive and deceivingly theatrical: “What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery.” Stewart said to the hosts, “You have a responsibility to the public discourse.”

The comedian’s call towards participation in productive public discourse is impressively insightful. Democracy is a good and beneficial thing, especially for everyone who is not a) a despot or b) stronger than everyone else. But it does not magically self-perpetuate – because it is literally constructed of the public, it requires the constant activity and engagement of the public. Socially responsible and informed discourse is needed, and we’re not going to get it by finding cheap ways to win arguments. It’s going to take work and a widespread social movement towards real discourse to keep “Democracy” in the American lexicon as anything more than a buzzword.