This little video just made my day. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has finally come out and endorsed Barack Obama for president in one of the most well-stated descriptions of the campaign and current political culture that I’ve ever heard. I’m so happy to hear a prominent Republican come out in favor of intellectual vigor and even-handed diplomacy over fear- and hate-mongering. People of all political stripes should watch this clip; it’s well worth seven minutes of your life.


As most people know, Obama rolled out his pie-in-the-sky economic relief plan yesterday, and McCain did the same this morning. Both plans are deeply flawed and stand very little chance of actually being implemented, but the hypothetical solutions are interesting windows into the candidates’ minds. Both want to allow people to dip into their retirement savings early without penalty (bad idea, guys–what happens when people run out of money and have to survive on Social Security?); Obama wants to bribe employers to “create” new jobs, which I think is far too simplistic and not well thought out. But McCain takes the cake. He wants to cut the capital gains tax from 15% to 7.5%. Theoretcially this sounds kind of nice; you don’t have to give up such a big chunk of profit when you sell your house or your stocks. Except now, people’s houses and stocks have generally decreased in value, so anyone unloading assets right now wouldn’t be worrying too much about CGT. But you know who would stand to benefit hugely from this tax cut? Hedge-fund managers! Yes, those gazillionaires whose income is taxed as “fees,” or capital gains, at what is already half of the rate (or less) at which the typical worker’s income is taxed. So now McCain wants this mind-bogglingly wealthy group to be taxed at a quarter the rate I am? This is his regard for the “American workers”? Please, Senator Obama, smack the old man down tomorrow for this!

This sums up last night’s performance pretty well (nicked from Joe.My.God):

For Thursday’s debate:

Several Republicans said that all of [her previous bubble-headed behavior] could ultimately play to Ms. Palin’s benefit, lowering expectations for her so much that a mediocre performance in the debate could be hailed as a success.

“Thanks to the mainstream media, quite a low expectation has been created for her performance,” said Ron Carey, chairman of Minnesota’s Republican Party.

What, so if she doesn’t burst into tears and run off the stage we’re going to call this a success? Biden’s been in this game since she was, like, in the second grade! Even if she doesn’t fail quite as spectacularly as even her own party expects her to, girlfriend doesn’t stand a chance.

The past week or so has seen the visitation of the brother and then a bit of a wind-down of much-needed solitude. Of the many events and sights I/we visited, the highlights (two films and a play) were each characterized by Q&A sessions. I’ve never quite gotten on board with these things–I think it’s cool that directors/actors/writers get up there to go into a little more detail about their work, but the people ask the dumbest questions. Or worse, they don’t ask questions at all, but rather use the forum to air information about themselves, creating an awkward silence in their wake.

The first (and most painful) of these was a Tribeca Film Festival screening of Fighter, a fairly low-budget Danish version of Karate Kid (Turkish girl overcomes gender/social/cultural obstacles to become kung-fu fighter, wins respect of glowering bully and love of cute blond boy). The film was fine, not great; the director, one of the lead actors, and this old-school kung-fu master guy were there for the Q&A and gamely fielded statements about audience members’ experiences in Copenhagen, opinions about the “Turkish diaspora” in northern Europe, and a request for the actor to do a back flip (he politely declined).

A few days later we took in the premiere of Finding Amanda, which was hilarious (catch it if it comes to your town) and again sat through a stiff Q&A with the writer/director Peter Tolan and stars Brittany Snow and Matthew Broderick. They all seemed pretty unwilling to answer questions at all, and the death blow was dealt by the guy who asked poor Mr. Broderick what was the worst thing he’d ever read about himself in “the trades.”

Then, the other day as I was quietly enjoying a freshly empty house (brother sent home, Will in Princeton), I received an unexpected last-minute invitation to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, starring John Turturro and, of all people, Elaine Stritch. The play was as hilarious and sad as I expected, but then the dreaded Q&A began. The best part, I think, was when someone asked Ms. Stritch about how she prepared for the “physicality” of her role. [For those unfamiliar with the play, she played Hamm’s–John Turturro’s character–mother, who, along with her husband, Nagg, lives in a garbage can.] She tartly replied that there wasn’t much preparation needed for moving around inside an ashcan on one’s stumps. Okay, then! I really think that these little extras would be best presented as panel-type discussions among the players/producers that the audience can just watch and enjoy, like a DVD extra. We can’t be trusted to ask interesting or intelligent questions, it seems.

I’ve tried to avoid the lame round-ups lately, but things have gotten quite busy, so…

Eating: We went to a seder the other night with our friend Seth’s (the one who gave us the Fergus Henderson book) family. The food–huge amounts of chopped chicken liver, pickled herring, salmon, matzo ball soup, brisket, chicken, potato kugel, etc.–was fantastic and I was so full that I actually had trouble walking. Then last night we went to another dinner party with a much more spa-like menu of swordfish steaks, couscous, and mango salsa, finished with apple pie. As a result of all this, the running program has been stepped up a bit.

Reading: It’s allll work right now, and none of it very interesting.

Family: It’s crunch time, as I get the work projects out of the way to get ready for my brother’s visit later this week and early next. There will be some Watching during this time, as we take in a few screenings of the Tribeca Film Festival.

Listening: For the past week I’ve been obsessed with In a Cave, the new album from Elf Power, whom we saw perform a few weeks ago. I’m also wearing out Me and You, Snowglobe’s recent-ish compilation of odds and ends. Those guys have a *lot* of time on their hands, I think. Both of these treats are on vinyl, which has the added benefit of getting me up every 30 minutes or so to flip the record over. Otherwise I’d be permanently glued to my seat.

Watching: We’re making our way through No Direction Home, which has been rewarding so far. As Will has remarked, Dylan is remarkably straightforward in the interviews, which is probably a sign of respect for Scorcese, whom Dylan surely regards as a fellow wacko-genius. I’m sad to have missed the return of Desperate Housewives last night due to dinner party, but nothing will keep me away from the new episode of Gossip Girl tonight. Nothing!

Overall, I was pleased with who won the main Oscars last night, but I gotta say–Marion Cotillard? Granted, I didn’t see La Vie en Rose, and I would like to, but from what I see it’s just another case of a pretty woman putting on ugly makeup and being lauded for her “transformation.” (At least the makeup artist also won an Oscar.) My favorite for this category was Laura Linney, who (in The Savages) so perfectly captured the essence of an intelligent yet professionally/emotionally/artistically paralyzed late-30s New York woman–the kind who clings to her semi-squalid rent-controlled East Village studio and has bad relationships with unworthy men while fantasizing so hard about her big break that the line between dream and reality blurs. But alas, as usual, false teeth won out over emotional nuance. Someday she’ll likely get Best Supporting Actress for an uninteresting role in a negligible movie, as most of the better actresses do (see Blanchett, Cate; Dench, Judi).

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