Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Reading

Is It Possible? — Michael Tomasky on the numbers that point to an Obama win.

There’s a secret lurking behind everything you’re reading about the upcoming election, a secret that all political insiders know—or should—but few are talking about, most likely because it takes the drama out of the whole business. The secret is the electoral college, and the fact is that the more you look at it, the more you come to conclude that Mitt Romney has to draw an inside straight like you’ve never ever seen in a movie to win this thing. This is especially true now that it seems as if Pennsylvania isn’t really up for grabs. Romney’s paths to 270 are few.

First, let’s discuss Pennsylvania. There has been good reason for Democrats to sweat this state. True, Obama won it handily in 2008, by 10 points. But it’s a state that is older and whiter and more working-class than most of America. Obama benefited from all the unique circumstances of 2008 that helped him across the country, but if ever there were a state where the “well, we gave the black guy a chance and he blew it” meme might catch on, it’s the Keystone State.

But the jobless rate there is 7.5 percent, well below the national average. Democratic voter registration has held its own. The Philly suburbs have grown. And this odious voter ID law is facing meaningful challenges. A hearing on the law’s validity has just been concluded. A state judge says he’ll rule on the law’s constitutionality the week of Aug. 13. It sounds as if the law’s opponents made a stronger case at the hearing than its supporters. In any case, the losing side will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

But whatever happens with that law, Pennsylvania has been trending back toward Obama lately. He now holds a lead there of nearly seven points, and he’s close to 50. And as I wrote the other day, Nate Silver now gives Barack Obama a slightly better chance of winning Montana than he does Romney of winning Pennsylvania. That tells you something.

Just remember though: In 1936 the Literary Digest, a reputable magazine of the time, predicted an Alf Landon landslide against FDR, and in 1948 everyone thought Dewey would beat Truman. This is August. We have a long, long way to go.

Carl Hiaasen — Rick, You’ve Got Mail.

An absolutely true news item: To erase the perception that it was censoring public records, the office of Gov. Rick Scott has announced it will no longer delete unflattering correspondence from the governor’s official email account.

Dear Rick,

We received your inquiry about a possible stage appearance with Gov. Romney during his upcoming campaign swing through Florida. Unfortunately, Mitt has a very tight schedule and it’s unlikely he’ll have time to be seen with you.

Perhaps after the election you can come visit him at the White House, or at least take the tour. Meanwhile, keep up your good work in the Sunshine State, and try not to get discouraged by those scary low poll numbers!

Warmest regards,

Dear Gov. Scott,

I’m a huge supporter of your plan to drug-test state workers and welfare recipients. Wouldn’t it be a neat idea to do the same thing to all the delegates at the Republican National convention this month in Tampa?

What a golden opportunity for the GOP to set a moral example for the whole country, while also showcasing your own unique priorities as governor.

I just happen to own a company that sells urine-sampling kits online for $24.95, but for you we’ll make it an even 20 bucks apiece. What do you say?

Dear Governor,

I was really upset to read that elections officials in Florida aren’t finding as many illegal voters as everybody expected, and by everybody I mean all red-blooded American patriots such as myself.

What kind of a lame purge are you running, anyway?

The fact that Obama won Florida in 2008 means there must be hundreds of thousands of illegals registered, maybe even some white ones. Just start with a list of whoever voted for that Muslim-loving, basketball-playing socialist, and work your way down.

Get on the stick, man! Time’s running out.

Dear Rick,

I received your latest note asking about Gov. Romney’s appearance schedule while he’s in Florida. It’s very kind of you to offer to fly wherever he is, anytime, and it’s also helpful to know that your private jet needs only 3,200 feet of runway.

However, Gov. Romney’s itinerary remains undecided, and we won’t know anything definite until, oh, four minutes or so before he actually arrives.

It might be Bradenton, might be Sarasota, maybe even St. Pete. That’s our Mitt!

In any case I’m sure your paths will cross some day. Thanks again for not mentioning him in your recent media interviews.


The Top Fifty — Richard Brody on why “Vertigo” is the top film on the BFI list.

If Howard Hawks mistakenly opened a door and found a youngish actress there, freshly showered and in a state of unkempt undress, he’d go in and close the door behind him with his hopes high. If Alfred Hitchcock entered the same room with the same occupant in the same state, he’d want to see her coiffed and dressed and made up before knowing what he wanted. That’s why no Hawks movie is to be found on the Sight & Sound top-fifty list, and why “Vertigo” came in at number one. It dramatizes the process by which Hollywood transforms a charismatic person into a beauty: the cosmetic arts, which Hitchcock saw as central to the art of the cinema. For Hitchcock, undress signifies an unhealthy preoccupation with sexual gratification rather than with the object of desire—and desire begins with perfection. He has a sufficient loathing of the human condition to yearn for its drastic improvement before he finds it appealing, and—as singularly expressive and psychologically resonant as his images are—he is perhaps the poster director for cinematic elaboration, for the virtue and power of artifice. (The relevant quote, which I’ve seen in a variety of phrasings, is his assertion that his films aren’t “slices of life” but “slices of cake.”)

With apologies to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the movies on the top fifty are, for the most part, cooked, not raw. Even the top documentary on the list—Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera,” at number nine—is highly inflected and cinematographically elaborate; there’s nothing by Frederick Wiseman or the Maysles brothers or Robert Flaherty. The prominence of films by of Stanley Kubrick (“2001” at number six), Francis Ford Coppola and Andrei Tarkovsky (three each), and Akira Kurosawa (two); the relative absence of Italian neo-realism (“Bicycle Thieves” at thirty-three, “Voyage to Italy”—if that counts—at forty-one); and, in general, the lack of movies where the strings seem looser (e.g. John Cassavetes, Elaine May) indicates that directorial control freaks have a higher standing among the voters than those whose movies reflect heads-up curiosity, spontaneity, and responsiveness to unexpected discovery.

Doonesbury — Nightmare scenario.