Phony Flash Mobs

If I told you I saw a video of a choir performing the Hallelujah Chorus in a food court in a mall, would you be interested?

Probably not. Firstly, the acoustics would not be that good. Secondly, the choir– having displayed their standards of professionalism by agreeing to perform in a food court– would probably not be all that good.

Thirdly, why would you want to hear the Hallelujah Chorus in a food court?

But that is exactly what the so-called “Hallelujah Flash Mob” is. It is neither a flash nor a mob. The entire event was meticulously planned out to the last detail, other than the unsuspecting shoppers. The event was staged not only with the approval of the mall owners, but with the active sponsorship of a camera store (note the number of cameras shown in the video).

The singing was pre-recorded and then dubbed.

This one, at least, is not dubbed.  The original dubbed one doesn’t seem to be available anymore.

It is an average, possibly even mediocre choir performing one of the most over-exposed pieces of the music in history in front of a group of surprised shoppers. The entire “flash mob” thing is a con. There really are flash mobs and they really are spontaneous, and this is not one.

So why have 10 million people watched the video? Because the initial wave of viewers– upon whom “going viral” depends– thought it was this coolest thing they heard of, a “flash mob”, that is just so cool, and they heard it was cool, and they knew a little about flash mobs and they were supposed to be cool, so if I e-mail my friends about the video and tell them to watch it and then e-mail all their friends and Facebook it and tweet about, then I will be cool.

The flash mob aspect– the suggestion of spontaneity and risk– is the grossest deceit of the this video. There was not the slightest spontaneity nor risk involved in the making of the video. There is not much special about the video at all, other than the faked cache of the name.

There is a second aspect of the popularity of this video that I find disturbing. When you read the comments about it on Youtube, you find a kind of triumphalism among some Christians who are resentful of the courts removing overt testimonies of the Christian faith from city halls and courtrooms in the U.S. In your face, liberals! When the people are permitted to voice their convictions unfiltered by the left-wing media, they are overwhelmingly in favor of Jesus! It’s almost like we are all kind of martyrs.

The choice of “The Messiah” seems to prove that Christians can not only be as sophisticated as anyone else (the flash mob) but that they also have good taste (even if the hallelujah chorus from “The Messiah” is the only piece of classical music they can identify).

But… here’s a performance of “Hallelujah Chorus” I really like.

And if you like a good choir performance.

To those who found the Hallelujah Chorus Flash Mob inspirational: I apologize. I know, it’s mean to find fault with something that seems that perfect. I can’t help it. We all crave the real, the authentic, the true. We owe to ourselves to not be taken in by people who just want to fake it.

Bill’s suggestion for future flash mobs to appeal to the same crowd that adored the Flash Mob Hallelujah Chorus:

  • Flash Mob “Amazing Grace” at a funeral (preferably of an atheist).
  • Flash Mob beer party at a Tea Party Event singing “Joe Hill”.
  • Flash Mob “Copacabana” at a symphony orchestra performing Beethoven’s 5th.

To Serve Mankind

“My view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

Did you miss this revelation? From the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee– the Congressional body that regulates the banking industry– Spencer Bachus.

Bachus received about $1 million in campaign contributions from the banking industry.

“Now is the time to get the farmers out of the way,” said Bachus, “so the foxes can create chickens and grow the farm.”

There is a Twilight Zone episode in which aliens land on earth promising solutions to all mankind’s problems, energy, food, pollution. They also encourage humans to come visit their planet. They have with them a guide book in their own language which some stubborn scientists have obtained and try to decipher.  One of them succeeds.  It translates as “To Serve Mankind”.

Hundreds of humans are happily boarding the alien spaceship, breathing a sign of relief.

But just as the protagonist has decided to get on the spaceship and visit the alien world, a friend of his, one of the scientists, rushes to the spaceport. She screams at him, “don’t get on the space ship!”.

They have succeeded in translating the rest of the book.

It’s a cookbook.

Spencer Bachus has arrived, with his cookbook, to serve Americans.

If you thought there might be relief in sight from the Democrats, you should know that Barney Frank himself, the outgoing Democratic chairman, accepted about $1 million in campaign contributions from the banking industry.

I’ll bet the Tea Party people are really upset about that.

Three Days of the WikiLeaker

There is one scene– actually, two or three– in “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), Sydney Pollack’s brilliant thriller about a rogue CIA agent– that really is quite preposterous. Having caught up to the mastermind of the evil secret rogue CIA network, Turner (Redford) forces him to reveal the secret purpose of his group by pointing a gun at him threateningly.

Of course, this makes people tell the truth, instantly.

Of course not.

It makes people say whatever it is they think you want to hear, so they can live another day. And so Leonard Atwood tells Turner what he thinks he wants to hear. No he doesn’t. He tells him the whole truth, so the story can be concluded.

[Spoiler] The scene ends brilliantly, however, when Max Von Sydow, playing a hit man named Joubert, enters the room. We have been prepared to believe he is there to kill Turner but, in fact, he turns his gun on Atwood and shoots him in the head.

He explains to Condor (Turner/Redford) that he was hired by the CIA to dispose of Atwood who was about to become an embarrassment. Since his contract to kill Condor was with Atwood, it is now null and void. He offers Condor a ride back to town. A little surprisingly, Condor accepts. Joubert then gives Condor an astute, restrained, intelligent explanation of how things really are.  There is no future for Condor in America.

Condor returns to New York where he contacts Higgins and, ridiculously, informs him that he has turned over documents to the New York Times to reveal the rogue CIA group to the world. Wikileaks, 35 years ahead of it’s time! Condor strides off, triumphant, but Higgins yells after him, “What makes you think they’ll print it?”. The last shot, a freeze frame, is Condor’s face melting into the crowd…. with a flicker of doubt.

2022-05-10:  We now know that the New York Times held off publishing a scoop at the request of the government.  I forget the details but I will find them and link to it here when I do.

Lost Obama

Reading the comments section of a piece on the New York Times website, one is struck by the unanimity and passion of the readers who feel that this last one, this deal with the Republicans to keep the Bush tax cuts, is the last straw: they will never vote for Obama again. They feel betrayed, disappointed, angry.

The depth and breadth of rejection is stunning– post after post after post, categorically insisting that Obama is done.

Why didn’t we just elect McCain/Palin and get it over with? Other than Health Care, is there anything important that would be different? Is the Health Care plan even all that great, after gutting it of all the genuinely progressive elements?

It is striking. It is almost tragic. Suppose they got really mad and decided they would support someone progressive and liberal and passionate in the next round of Democratic presidential primaries, someone who is about change, who promises a new approach to government, and who seems to genuinely care about the average working stiff: they will never know until it’s too late if that person is going to be another Obama. They will never know until it’s too late if that man or woman is going to be signing another massive tax break for rich people, or cutting social security, or putting people on trial in front of military tribunals.

The funny thing is, if a nut case like Sarah Palin got elected, she’d probably do exactly what she promises to do, leading us all into disaster after disaster, like Iraq, Afghanistan, coal-fired power plants, ethanol, and the collapse of the financial industry.

An esteemed colleague of mine makes a compelling case that it’s too early to judge– every recent president plunged in the opinion polls at this stage of his presidency. Clinton and Reagan both recovered. George W. barely recovered. Health care may yet prove to be the jewel of his administration and the economy could turn around and everyone might eventually forget all about the mid-terms and the winter of 2010. It’s possible.

It’s possible that it takes two years for a new man to really begin to fit into the suit of the presidency, to know the length of it’s sleeves, the ability to stretch, the tightness around the crotch. Maybe we will see somersaults in 2011 and 2012.

Obama has made some exceptional appointments, and the government is at least behaving rationally on a range of domestic issues that never see the front page. But like those readers of the New York Times, I wonder why when some asshole on the right campaigns on stupid ideas like environmental and banking deregulation and aggressive military policies and lower taxes for the rich, he gets to do exactly what he said he was going to do, but when someone rational on the left wins an election, he always seems to track so far to the middle you have to wonder why we even have two parties.

Why not just let the tax cuts expire? Obama made it reasonably clear that he wanted to keep the tax cuts for the lowest earning Americans and the middle income Americans. Why not refuse the deal with the Republicans and say, fine, let them all expire. Most Americans, in poll after poll, support the elimination of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, as Obama proposed. Why didn’t he have the guts to fight for it? He just traded about $4 trillion in benefits to the well-off for about $56 billion in aid for the jobless.

Very, very good deal if you are rich in America. In fact, there’s a word for it, if you are rich in America, during a time of economic hardship and war: “obscene”.

He won’t get credit for extending the tax cuts anyway– the Republicans will be crowing about this for years to come. They’ll let everyone know that Obama was against it, even though he signed it into law. He won’t get credit for compromising– this kind of compromise looks weak and indecisive. And the projected deficits will be even bigger than they already were, which the Republicans will use as an excuse to attack Social Security and Medicare.

That’s the Republican way: create deficits and then campaign as fiscal hawks.

It looks for all the world like a lose-lose situation, and it looks humiliating and insulting and embarrassing.

Is it a done deal? I’m watching with great curiosity. There is a bit of rumbling among Congressional Democrats that they might not vote for it. It’s a very intriguing idea. Especially if you just got creamed in the mid-terms and you have this feeling of having your noses rubbed in it.

Especially if you are ambitious and think there might be room of the left for an insurgency in 2012.

You should have voted for Hillary instead? What would she do differently? Well, take a cue from Bill, for one thing: Clinton stood up to the Republicans when they held the government hostage to their agenda in 1995.

What did Clinton do?

Armey replied gruffly that if I didn’t give in to them, they would shut the government down and my presidency would be over. I shot back, saying I would never allow their budget to become law, “even if I drop to 5 percent in the polls. If you want your budget, you’ll have to get someone else to sit in this chair!” Not surprisingly, we didn’t make a deal.

Wow. So what happened to the uncompromising Clinton? The highest approval ratings since he took office in 1992.

On the other hand, the glee with with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell greeted the announcement of the deal is positively nauseating.

West Wing: Sorkin’s Soft Spot For Militarists

I love “West Wing”. It is one of a handful of television dramas (“The Bold Ones”, “Hill Street Blues”, the first seasons of “St. Elsewhere” and “Mad Men” ) that was worth watching for it’s artistic value alone. It is, at times, brilliant; it’s always at least very good (at least up to the fifth season). It is occasionally — very occasionally– annoying. We’re hardest on the ones we love, aren’t we?

Bartlet is allegedly a liberal, and he generally holds liberal positions on most social and some fiscal issues. In fact, the show makes a point of Bartlet– unlike Clinton and Obama in real life– actually standing firm for certain enlightened, tolerant, liberal positions, instead of compromising in order to cut deals with red state Democrats or Republicans.

Real liberals, however, don’t have a lot of reverence for the military. They might or might not believe that the military and the police are necessary, but it’s a regrettable necessity, and real liberals can’t not be conscious of the fact that the culture of the military is decidedly anti-liberal. Real liberals want to make the world safe for wimps. Real liberals recognize that the culture of authoritarian militarism is a self-sustaining model for violence and repression.

But Sorkin’s projection, President Bartlet, is a post-Reagan Democrat. Post-Reagan Democrats like Clinton and Obama realized that to get elected, you had to outflank the republicans on law and order and guns and the death penalty. So Bartlet sucks up to the military.

I think it is a desperate attempt by a thin-skinned liberal to prove to the world that he is not a pussy.

Why it matters to Sorkin, that Bartlet is not perceived as a pussy, is beyond me. It’s obviously a touchy issue, for it is handled on “West Wing” with this awkward, prissy bravado, as if Sorkin wants to make sure that no one suspects for even one moment that he isn’t willing to kill lots of people if it’s helpful to American interests, because, God bless us, we’re Americans. Behind that bravado can only be the absolutely godless and anti-liberal assumption that an American life is inherently more valuable than an Arab or French or African life.

In the episode entitled “What Kind of Day has it Been”, an American fighter pilot patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq (part of the peace conditions after the first U.S. – Iraq War under Bush I) is shot down. Bartlett goes all mushy with concern about the pilot, his family, his pet hamster and goldfish, and at one point announces that if anything happens to this pilot he will invade Baghdad. He says this with great sterninity and gravitas. I am not a pussy.

No real person like this — Bartlet, at this moment– exists. A real liberal would have already been considering whether it would be wise to start an entire war requiring the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people to get back at a man for causing the death of one American pilot. But Bartlet is, at that moment, utterly a projection of Sorkin’s insecurities about his liberalism: they might not think I’m manly!

Sorkin’s fussy compensatory projections emerge quite regularly, often expressed as awestruck respect for Secret Service Agents and Generals. The awful part of this is that some liberals, knowing that Sorkin is an enlightened liberal himself, might conclude that most military men really are quite sane and rational and, well, just so damn manly.

The most evil moment of this Sorkinese perspective came in Episode 72 (“Election Night”) when Donna fell hard for Christian Slater as an uber-manly military aide. Oh my gawwdd– he’s just so hot! At least, compared to the thoughtful and compassionate Josh Lyman. But then, Donna spent much of the first season complaining about having to pay taxes. West Wing’s incipient Tea Party leader.

At a meeting in the situation room to discuss the downed pilot, a member of the “individuals in suits who sit in the situation room to make it look like an important situation has developed group” lamely suggests they pursue diplomatic channels instead of considering a military rescue. Leo, oozing with manly testosterone, castrates the man with rusty nail-clippers. We are not prissy little pinafore-waving dilettantes! Not we! And, after all, this is an AMERICAN life at stake. But Sorkin betrays his double-standard: this straw man arguing for negotiation is a preposterous caricature of a liberal’s projection of what a conservative thinks a liberal sounds like. Follow me? And he is provided to us precisely so Leo and Bartlet can look manly by contrast, even though they are in favor of health care.

I admire Sorkin’s ability to present both sides of most hot political issues with credibility and conviction. There is a case to be made for a strong military response to certain events, to lower taxes, and to strong security. But why is he so afraid to show us the Donald Rumsvelds, the Richard Perles, the Westmorelands, the Gulf of Tonkins, the faked intelligence, the paranoid crypto-fascists, the torturers (who all came out of the woodwork– you think from nowhere?– during the Bush Administration)? It’s a glaring omission, especially since Sorkin is so careful to show us the faults in the liberal true-believers. I am convinced he doesn’t want to be accused of being a being what used to be called a “bleeding heart” liberal.

It’s all a grand tribute to how TV and Hollywood works– we all love to look rational and enlightened and compassionate but when the rubber hits the road, we are brutes and killers and always will be.

Sorkin’s other soft spot…

Is Sorkin, like so many other Hollywood celebrities, in therapy? In episode “Noel” (Season 2), Josh Lyman has a episode Sorkin must have snatched right from the dime-store psychology section. Lyman is anxious, easily angered, tense, nervous, and he can’t relax. Instead of going to a Talking Heads Concert,  he yells at the President. He cuts his hand. Leo orders him to see a psychologist, Dr. Stanley Keyworth. Keyworth can only be described as godlike, in his infinite wisdom and patience. He is the ultimate projection of every psychotherapist’s wettest dreams. He is also, in his absolute conviction that he is fit to judge the sanity of other people, the most arrogant character ever to appear on West Wing.

We are asked to believe that Josh didn’t notice that it was a window, not a glass that he broke with this fist– repression!– and that whenever music plays he actually hears sirens, or at least his subconscious interprets the music as sirens, or thinks that it sounds like sirens which subconsciously reminds him of real sirens— whatever. The smugness with which Dr. Stanley asserts these things, and the creepy way Josh goes Bedford in response (after the cliché-ridden resistance phase has passed), practically crawling on his hands and knees and licking Dr. Keyworth’s boots, was a low point of season 2. I mean, really, really low.

Even more creepily, Sorkin glibly presents Stanley with the power to label Josh as PTSD and, if he wanted to remove him from the White House staff, and even have him institutionalized, all on the basis of and with the only authority of his so-called “expertise”.