Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Reading

Far Less Hokey and Weird — Recovering conservative wunderkind Jonathon Krohn returns to CPAC.

Does being back at CPAC, the annual gathering of conservatives from all over the country, feel weird?

That’s the question I got everywhere I turned these past few days. I suppose it was a natural question to ask, seeing as I had been a high profile speaker at the conference in 2009 as a thirteen year-old conservative wunderkind, before renouncing conservatism last year. So my return this year was an object of fascination to many.

The answer to the question is: No, it didn’t feel weird. I mean, I guess it should have, but it didn’t. In a way going back to CPAC seemed like going back home and visiting your old libertarian friend from high school: it’s pretty predictable, there’s a familiarity to the situation, you know the kind of stuff she’s going to say, you never know exactly how (or why) she says the stuff she says (and neither does she, in all likelihood), and so long as you don’t talk politics and just listen, you’ll be fine.

Still, there definitely were differences between this year’s CPAC and the conferences of the past, which may signify larger differences in the conservative movement more broadly.

Last time I attended CPAC, I remember seeing the Ron Paulers in full force. As soon as Congressman Paul (R-TX) arrived, it was like something out of A Hard Days Night: security had to escort Paul to the green room and then back out of the building afterwards. The room was packed whenever he came on stage, but, to be honest, his Young Americans for Liberty group seemed kind of too far-out for a lot of people — even though they came in force the second time I went, even bringing along a pair of those inflatable Sumo-wrestling suits for their booth (don’t ask…I know I didn’t).

This time around, Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), his “Stand With Rand” campaigners and today’s YA for Liberty all seemed far less hokey and weird, and much more a part of the mainstream.

The sleeker, more polished member of the Paul political franchise, Rand showed himself to be a more than capable campaigner. With his new (and free!) Stand With Rand t-shirts, buttons, wristbands, and campaign signs (which all look strangely like the cover art one might see on a White Stripes album) Rand Paul brought down the house at CPAC with arguably the best speech of the convention to one of the biggest (if not the biggest) crowd of the weekend. His insistence upon using the “stand” line over and over again (“stand for righteousness,” “stand with me”) gave it the sound of a campaign announcement or stump speech, while the abundance of overly-enthusiastic Paul staffers gave it the feel of a convention speech.

But most interestingly—to me anyway—was the fact that while the base of the Paul family’s support is almost entirely composed of young people, most of the Young Republicans I spoke to who voted for Rand in the straw poll actually told me they had never been (and still aren’t) fans of Ron Paul. When I asked them their reasoning, the almost universal reply by a country mile was: Rand is more polished and electable.

Phone Hangups — Ian Bogost laments that you can’t slam down the receiver on a Smartphone.

Desk PhoneWhen I was a kid, we had a bright yellow, rotary Western Electric model 554, the wall-mountable companion to the 500 desk set. Before answering machines, caller id, *69, and eventually smartphone address books allowed us to screen calls quickly, a ringing phone was a pressing matter. It could mean anything: a friend’s invitation, a neighbor’s request, a family emergency. You had to answer to find out. Telephones rang loud, too, with urgency and desperation. One simply did not ignore the telephone.

In the context of such gravity, the hangup had a clear and forceful meaning. It offered a way of ending a conversation prematurely, sternly, aggressively. Without saying anything, the hangup said something: we’re done, go away.

My father took great pride in hanging up our model 554 phone violently when something went awry. An inbound wrong number dialed twice in a row, or an unwelcome solicitor. Clang! The handset’s solid mass crashed down on the hook, the bell assembly whimpering from the impact. The mechanical nature of telephones made hangups a material affair as much as a social one. A hangup is something your interlocutor could feel physically as much as emotionally, and something you couldn’t downplay either. Like slamming a door or yelling at a child, hanging up a phone couldn’t be subdued or hidden.

Unlike today’s cellular network, the public switched telephone network was robust and centralized thanks to monopoly. Apart from flukes like my son depressing the hook switch, a disconnected landline call is almost unheard of. By contrast, it’s not possible to hang up on someone via smartphone with deliberateness, because it’s so much more likely that the network itself will disconnect of its own accord. Every call is tenuous, constantly at risk of failing as a result of system instability: spectrum auctions, tower optimizations, network traffic, and so forth. The infrastructure is too fragile to make hangups stand out as affairs of agency rather than of accident.

Today a true hangup — one you really meant to perform out of anger or frustration or exhaustion — is only temporary and one-sided even when it is successfully executed. Even during a heated exchange, your interlocutor will first assume something went wrong in the network, and you could easily pretend such a thing was true later if you wanted. Calls aren’t ever really under our control anymore, they “drop” intransitively. The signal can be lost, the device’s battery can deplete, the caller can accidentally bump the touch screen and end the call, the phone’s operating system can crash. The mobile hangup never signals itself as such, but remains shrouded in uncertainties.

Bird Foodies — Ethan Kuperberg eavesdrops.

Two jay birds, a crow, and a raven sit on the branch of a large tree. Dusk.

EURASIAN JAY: I was thinking we could all go for thistle seeds tonight.

BLUE JAY: Oh, thistle seeds. Cool.

EURASIAN JAY: Something wrong with thistle seeds?

BLUE JAY: No, that sounds great. It’s just that I had thistle seeds for lunch, so…

EURASIAN JAY: Do you want something else then?

BLUE JAY (sighs): What I want is for you to know what I want.

EURASIAN JAY: Jennifer, please. We have guests.

Silence. Various feather rufflings.

RAVEN: Courtney and I would be down for some carrion.

CROW: Carrion is exactly what I feel like right now. How’d you know, babe?

RAVEN: I just know you, babe.

EURASIAN JAY (coughs): Do you want carrion, Jen?

BLUE JAY: You know I’m vegan, right? Vegans don’t eat carrion.

EURASIAN JAY: Oh, that’s right. You’re vegan. Weird, because I thought vegans aren’t supposed to eat insects.

BLUE JAY: That was like two months ago. I’ve recommitted since then. You try being vegan, it’s harder than it looks.

EURASIAN JAY: Somebody get her a medal.

RAVEN (stretching): Carrion’s pretty good, Jen.

BLUE JAY: I don’t eat carrion. I don’t want carrion. Carrion is off the menu.

Silence. Someone chirps.

BLUE JAY: Why don’t we go to that bird feeder on Elm?

EURASIAN JAY: That place will be packed at this hour.

BLUE JAY: Then we’ll wait. It wouldn’t hurt us to wait. And talk.

All grumble.

EURASIAN JAY: I don’t see what the problem is with thistle seeds.

RAVEN: Here’s the problem: some of us like flavor.

BLUE JAY: Thank you, Steve.

RAVEN: What about some snails? Have you guys ever had invertebrates?

CROW: College boy over here.

RAVEN: I’m trying to be helpful.

BLUE JAY: Hey, we all like nuts. It’s been ages since I’ve had a good nut. I know a great tree.

EURASIAN JAY: Why don’t you guys get nuts and I’ll get thistle seeds?

BLUE JAY: That ruins the whole point of eating together, David.

Silence.

Doonesbury — Twits galore.