I think he and his various hard-working components did a tremendous job. Don't you?
I think he and his various hard-working components did a tremendous job. Don't you?
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 05:38 AM | Permalink
"Styles make fights — or so goes the boxing cliché. In 2008, they make presidential campaigns, too. ...Yet, according to design experts, the candidates have left a clear blueprint of their personal style — perhaps even a window into their souls — through the Web sites they have created to raise money, recruit volunteers and generally meet-and-greet online. On one thing, the experts seem to agree. The differences between hillaryclinton.com and barackobama.com can be summed up this way: Barack Obama is a Mac, and Hillary Clinton is a PC."—The New York Times, February 19, 2008
Today, I, Adam Baer, announce my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States. But I am not a Mac or a PC. I am a Commodore 64. And I mean business—but in a Donkey Kong kind of way.
Let's start with the obvious. I am bulky and shaped like a breadbox. I'll take up real American space in the Oval Office. And I won't have the capacity for extreme detail, speedy platform changes, or impressive light shows. I'm only eight bits. Which means I'm simple. Which means I won't even know how to deceive you. Or hire people who know how to use me for their own personal gain.
You'll be able to slide old-school floppy disks into my attached drive, perhaps to play one-dimensional games. (I'm fun and by my very nature only able to see one side of things.) But you won't be able to program me to do damn near anything useful in today's world.
I'll be the kind of candidate we need: way behind. You want me to know about something happening in real time? You'll have to plug a dial-up modem into me and pray I actually connect. I'll take our country in the direction we all really want to be headed with all our accusations of plagiarism, speeches vs. action, and number-fudging: backwards.
Sure, there are emulators out there for use on the most innovative of computers. Lots of people have tried to be me, dreamed to be me. But I am the real thing: beige, heavy, slow, and full of glitches. Sometimes I just shut off. Other times, I'm your best friend: your escape into virtual worlds that look nothing like real life--finite, comforting spaces where filling up a pint of beer or swinging ever-so-slowly on a vine over a river filled with pixellated alligators, will take you away from the everyday.
Why care about global warming, education, terrorism, healthcare, the economy, foreign affairs? Pick me and we'll never have to worry again. We just won't have the capacity to do anything--bad or good. Unless you consider procrastinating progress. Because I'm great at procrastinating. I think I would have invented it if I had been given the capacity to process that kind of conceptual stuff.
Just draw the blinds, spin some Supertramp, and we'll have the best time together. Because that's what this country really requires: some 1980s basement fun, right? Hey, I won't even tell if you choose to smoke up a little in front of me or talk dirty to your girlfriend. I have no capacity to speak, except in drones! I keep things BASIC--literally.
Sure, I like music, but I'm not going to offer you catchy campaign orations or songs like the others. I'm just going to blip and bleep. I'm literally going to offer soundbytes and remain proud of them.
Plus, I'm not too portable, so it's going to be hard for me to travel. Which means I'll keep our country out of trouble overseas. I'll just stay put. You may not even see me out and about in your country. I'm used to being alone, it's OK.
What's more, I don't have any special interests. The people who make me are nowhere close to as powerful as those Mac and PC CEOs. I think the people who make me may even be dead. So there you go. I'm an orphan. No important family behind me running their own agenda, no corporate tie-ins. But I could be wrong. I can't think. No possibilities here for artificial intelligence—what, you thought the real kind was available elsewhere?
More impressive, I think, is that I didn't invent the Internet. In fact, I don't even know how to use it—and I don't claim to know anything about that "Web 2.0."
But I am accessible. Want to get in touch with me? Just contact me over your BBS. We'll trade a few words, and you'll have better communication with your commander in chief than you will have ever dreamed.
Most important, however, I….Sorry, DISK ERROR. That's going to happen if you vote for me, I guess.
But wouldn't you rather have a president that can't hide his or her mistakes? With me, there are no secrets. No fancy packaging. No calming fonts or manipulative creative spins. No "thinnovation" or hidden memory card readers. No celebrity endorsements or product placement. No invisible signals permeating my body, connecting me to streams of information sent via WiFi or 3g networks I can use for my own attempt at world domination.
I just don't have an opinion on damn near anything--real, phony, or undeveloped and ever-changing. Feed information to me, and I'll spit out some real (if terribly uncomplicated) results. They might be correct, they might not be. The process might make a lot of noise and take a long time. But it will be pure, honest interfacing.
As for my web site, well, you're lookin' at it. A note sent to some magazine writer's blog. A note I could have just printed out on my dot-matrix friend over there, but that I also thought it would be wise to share with someone a little more advanced, just this one time.
I'm the form-meets-dysfunction autopilot you're secretly looking for with all your gripes about politicians: unreliably safe, eminently limited, unable even to comprehend anything that isn't based in fact or arcane code. Just plug me in and see what happens. You won't regret it. And won't that be a change.
Posted on February 20, 2008 at 06:04 AM | Permalink
[Cross-published at The Huffington Post]
"So, are you on strike?"
"But you're a writer?
"Not that kind of writer. Not right now."
"Then what do you write?"
"Articles, columns, essays. You know, for newspapers and magazines. I'm also working on a book."
"Well, at least you don't have to picket."
* * *
Before I moved to Los Angeles, it was nearly fantastical to be a writer for reasons that went way beyond in-the-moment job satisfaction. I lived in New York City. I worked for a newspaper but also freelanced for magazines and book publishers. I reviewed and reported on operas, records, and books. ("That's work?" my friends in other professions would ask with jealous glints in their eyes. "That's what we wait for the weekends to enjoy!") As a writer, I might every now and then eat at a popular, brand-new restaurant or visit an unusual city. I wrote essays and sometimes just had to reminisce. Other times, I spoke to unusually influential people: a musician, famous businessperson, TV personality. There were truly smoky book parties to attend -- illuminated by the presence of seasoned authors dancing in lockstep through clouds of unedited wit. And when I was working-working, I stayed home, comfortably, or hit local cafes, while my nine-to-nine friends claimed to feel trapped inside the institutions that had claimed their lives. To be a writer in New York City--one that left the house -- meant seeing people actively reading your articles on the street. Living the life you often wrote about. Being a beloved cog in the urban wheel. You were a vital part of society, and even if you didn't rake it in, you garnered some respect, if only for trying your hand at the profession.
As an Angeleno, the rules changed. Here, Writers with a capital W didn't just speak to top showrunners on the phone for 20 minutes; they had lunch with them at Katsuya. Three times a week. Because they worked with them. Here, Writers got re-si-duals (I often had to say the word slowly so as to stave off a complete meltdown about the fact that jokes people had written in the past continued to pay for their organic lattes well into retirement). Here, Writers drove fancy cars, owned (even small) homes, and could afford to have children! They had kick-ass health insurance. A strong union. Retirement plans. Acupuncturists! Lawyers on retainer. Abs!
One time, after just having arrived in L.A., I even saw a Writer dating one of the world's biggest female movie stars; he wooed her with his words, a local friend said. (The words she had heard via a surround sound theater -- L.Ron forbid she would have had to find them in a publication that she would have had to read.) In L.A., being a Writer meant something else entirely -- studio development deals to just, well, "develop"; weeks in the Maldives; enough money to actually buy the eco-friendly hybrid cars and organic produce. That oh-so-coveted status that connotes respect, at least in LaLaLand.
The tales of woe Hollywood Writers told -- "Moron actors make so much more than us; we might have to go on strike; my Mac just broke and now I have to buy a new version of Final Draft; they didn't even buy my script for low-six figures, and now they're not going to make it until 2010..." -- just didn't seem to elicit very much sympathy in me. Of course, screenwriters existed in New York, too, but they were a lot harder to find and seemed to co-exist more naturally with other scribes. Here, print writers (at least the majority of us) were definitely second-class citizens.
Of course, I still told people that I was writer when they invariably asked my profession at social gatherings, and sure, I still felt -- and feel -- lucky to be able to make a living the way I do. But when it was clear I wasn't a Writer (as in I hadn't created The Sopranos or even just the shmucky Comedy Central show of the month), they usually didn't care to speak about very much. Hell, neither did I; I just spotted J.J. Abrams on the other side of the room, too.
Yes, there are novelists here as well as the occasional literary celebrity. But c'mon -- we all know most of 'em are just in town to lunch with the agents that had arranged for the optioning of their work. Or else they wrote Bruce Wagner-like novels and delved into print work to be oddballs. Alterna-scribes. Or else they worked for local media, including one of the best newspapers in the country. In any case, they didn't quite blend the same way.
But for just a few months in Los Angeles, that wasn't the case. There was a Strike! The Writers -- and yes, even those without all those fancy deals and high wages, even those truckloads of unemployed Writers who were still clamoring for a chance -- didn't have anything to do. They flooded my favorite café. Asked what I was working on. Seemed to care. "Oh, you get to visit faraway places and then write about them for travel magazines? You get paid to read your favorite authors? To dig into a true-life news story that has gotten you so worked up, you want to get to the bottom of the mystery? To pen an essay about your opinions?" There were even moments of genuine jealousy. That is, before the Writers learned what a top newspaper or even a national magazine paid for an article. You could tell them you got $700 for a newspaper feature or ten times that for something in a men's monthly -- it didn't matter. "You mean you don't get something for those stories every year?" they'd ask. "You mean that's just a one-time payment?" That's when I realized: These men and women didn't need a travel magazine assignment to see Italy. They probably rented villas there at the drop of a hat.
It has to be chronicled for posterity: Most Los Angeles writers who haven't yet joined the WGA and continue to peck away at careers in writing for publication -- don't degrade us by calling us journalists; here "journalist" is almost as bad as "paparazzo"; it doesn't mean you're smart, sadly -- had their moment in the sun during the Writer's strike. We supported our Final Draft-clicking brethren. Some of us even picketed with them. But there never was a time like these last few months for non-screenwriters in Los Angeles. Hell, I even got a table at Katsuya on a Saturday night. At 8 p.m.
Am I sad that some of my friends and screenwriting colleagues are about to go back to work? Not at all. Some weren't working to begin with, and some weren't making all those millions even if they have jobs. I kid about all the screenwriters rocking the high life. I know it's just a minority. Of course, I'm not sure that their New Deal is as awesome as they say it is -- is it me or will ABC just cycle old Lost episodes off the web before the 17-day cutoff, leaving plenty of Writers without pay for some of the most heavily watched Web streams? But I am not sad. I also mess around with scripts. Who knows: One day, maybe someone will option one of my articles or books, and then I'll adapt the thing and become David Duchovny in Californication. Maybe I'll even get wealthy enough to have a drug problem. Or become friends with an actor who continues conversations even though he just got a role on a new network sitcom.
Let's just not forget what a glorious time it was to be a non-WGA writer in sunny Hollywood, throughout the 2007-2008 winter. I hear that a "journalist" -- you know, one of those guys who wrote some book probing the cultural history of a culinary condiment -- even got a date with a real movie star. Ok, she's just on a cable series. But still. That's progress.
* * *
P.S. Today, I received an extremely kind letter from a top screenwriter, regarding an article he wrote. But don't get too excited -- the guy is also a fantastic playwright from neither New York or L.A., and never let any of this nonsense go to his head.
Posted on February 13, 2008 at 04:35 PM | Permalink
[Cross-published at The Huffington Post]
NOTE: See addendum below this piece to as a response to HuffPo commenters.
IN A RECENT New York Times piece, Paul Krugman, one of my favorite columnists, explains how the numbers can't deny that Hillary's health plan is better than Obama's. But what "better" means here is relative even when stats and dollars are an issue. The idea is that Hillary's plan calls for a mandate and will result in more coverage dollars per person. You can't argue the logic of strong economic research. But what excites me about Obama is his less-than-bright-lining look at things. He's got a realistic hold on the healthcare crisis even if his plan is less likely to insure everyone immediately.
powerful, he's also clearly interested in eliminating waste that
contributes to hard-to-explain hardships for sick people. And from the
standpoint of someone somewhat young with chronic health problems in
the wake of serious cancer, it was damn-near
J.F.K.-inspiring to hear him discuss healthcare in the past by leading
talks about insured Americans who had survived cancer but now face secondary
problems and an endless onslaught of salary-zapping bills.
To be sure, getting everyone insured is of paramount importance. But so is realistically looking at how one can make that happen over a span of time so that it happens correctly in the nuanced way that it should. Does Obama have specific ideas for how to stop hospital and doctor billing fraud? For how to get cancer survivors better quality of life as they age and new bizarre conditions come their ways because of the toxic chemicals and treatments they were forced to endure to be able to vote in this election? I haven't exactly heard them. But if there's one thing that keeps people going after they've been very sick and now have uncertain futures, it's hope. And Obama gives me, a survivor of an autologous stem-cell transplant for pediatric lymphoma, hope.
I just wouldn't trust her looking out for me at the
infusion center if there was another chance for her to win some more
powerful support from someone across the street. I wouldn't look to her
for thoughtful looks at the small problems facing patients
double-billed by hospitals, giant corporations, in fact, who often
charge $150 facility (or in some cases, emergency room) fees in
addition to outrageous doctor fees just because a physician chooses to
practice inside a hospital-owned professional building a few blocks
from the actual hospital building--what I call the branding-inspired
Mayo Clinic model.
What's become evident, however, is that the sufferers and
survivors of chronic diseases in America should band together to endorse a
candidate based on the specific issues of getting and keeping not-just-OK-but-excellent insurance
after a war has been waged against our bodies. Medicare, for
instance, recently stopped paying out for some instances of immune deficiency treatments like intravenous
immunoglobulins (which is also used to treat auto-immune diseases affecting the
nerves, muscles, and joints, to say nothing of its promise for Alzheimer's and
other conditions). Someone needs to ask the candidates about this.
Universal health care is vital. But if some of us devoted to it aren't alive—or well enough—to fight for it as the years pass, voting for someone's broad promise of more coverage dollars for everyone when they may not really care about the details for those sick people lucky enough to already have insurance isn't going to help. If there's one thing sick people know, it's that there are a hundred questions to be answered and solved after deciding on a treatment plan.
There's a way to live more healthfully on the left side with insurance – and that doesn't mean just swallowing our severe insurance and medical care issues because the rest of the country isn't insured. Let's look at the problem in a complex, multi-angled manner, and not jump to the flashiest, sexiest solution just yet.
When flight attendants tell you to make sure your air mask is secured before you help others with theirs in the event of an emergency, it's about not being self-interested or conservative. It's about being smart. And while Obama's thoughts about healthcare may seem like an immediately smaller and less comprehensive band-aid for the country's uninsured, they may also be the most realistic and nuanced on the ticket because they come from someone who sees that this problem is a lot larger and more intricate than it seems.
Response to HuffPo commenters:
Don't teach me about the value of hope vs. the value of insurance. I know it all too well. But I also know it matters who's holding the cards. And it's never you as the patient. So in this case hope matters. Because I simply wouldn't trust Hillary holding the cards that concern my medical treatments--what's allowed, what procedures, what payouts, when. Obama has shown concern not just for universal health coverage but for a growing population in America: the chronically ill, the survivors who now face mysterious secondary conditions (and secondary can mean 5 or 6 or 12 of them). So to anyone who doesn't understand the above piece, let me say it clearly: More coverage dollars and an immediate quick-fix mandate doesn't mean jack if it means that the person in control won't necessarily grasp or care about the nuances involved in high-level medical treatments once plans are put into place. Obama has shown the most important quality here: human concern. My biggest nightmare is waking up to find Hillary with her hands around some patient's IV, discussing the economic worth and political value of his or her treatment with an insurance company.
Posted on February 04, 2008 at 06:46 PM | Permalink
It's been over 10 years since the publication of this article about Los Feliz. I'd be scared to ask the author of this article how she feels about the neighborhood now that you can spend $30 for a piece of conventionally raised fried chicken at the cafe around the block from my house.
Posted on February 04, 2008 at 07:31 AM | Permalink