How the Republican National Convention Outshined the Democratic One

Just a week after the depressing conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, it’s more clear than ever that the Republic Party is superior in every way when it comes to salesmanship, even if what they’re selling is rat poison dipped in chocolate sauce. With a few exceptions, Joe Biden’s 2020 introduction as the Democratic party nominee was stilted, amateurish, vapid, and worst of all, boring. Conversely, the RNC was a spectacle of machismo and nationalism creatively combined with disturbingly convincing gestures towards inclusion and unity. However hollow the RNC’s messaging was at its core, production values – and looking like you give a shit about what you’re selling – can go a long way with the public, perhaps all the way to a second term. 

Despite how fun and energetic the RNC felt at many moments, the Republicans didn’t need to do much to outshine the DNC this cycle. Each bombastic anthem in front of a sea of fan-flapped flags or emotional speech from culture-war victims drowned out the placid tone and general drudgery of the DNC. How could the Democratic party fail so horrifically at what seemed like a slam dunk? Why did countering an incompetently handled pandemic, a crashing economy and an extremely rare impeachment proceeding seem completely out of the DNC’s ability? Sadly, we’ll never know what they could have accomplished, because they didn’t even try. 

Instead of appealing to progressive strengths – 70% are in favor of Medicare for All and 63% are in favor of legalized marijuana and pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants – the DNC opted for Republican-light messaging. No popular issues were put in front of the camera in any significant fashion. The strategy was not about closing the wealth gap or ending police brutality, but rather showing moderates and so-called Never-Trump-Republicans that the DNC was now their home. “We’ve got the same politics you’ve always loved but without the shame and sticky fingers,”  seemed to be the essential message of the four-day convention. 

To highlight this point, the DNC rolled out all the old Republican fallen idols: John Kasich, Colin Powell, Meg Whitman and several other anti-orange conservatives who’s main message was “Say No to Trump.” Even the presidential candidate played a major role in this effort by appearing in an extended post-mortem fellation of John McCain. Imagine trying to make your candidate look better by showing how good of friends he was with his opponent just 12 years prior. Meanwhile, the RNC represents most democrats as near demonic figures out to destroy the very foundations of American life. 

Maybe none of these tactics would hurt the DNC if they had any sense of showmanship, but a total lack of enthusiasm for the candidate and overall platform made the convention feel more like a 2 A.M. mesothelioma class action ad than a promotion for the most powerful person on the planet. In the RNC, viewers could understand the stakes of the election even if they could see through the misdirection and smoke screens. But like any rich-flavored dessert void of nutrition, the RNC was best observed in moderation. The nausea could sneak up on you quickly. 

After three exciting nights of fun house mirrors and terrifying carnival clowns, the GOP used the final night of their convention to bring out some of their more respectable hitters. Ann Dorn, widow a murder victim, tearfully recollected the night of her husband’s killing, perhaps unaware that she was being used to set up a terrifying depiction of modern “Democratic” cities. Rudy Guliani converted the earned sympathy for this victim into hatred, describing Black Lives Matter protestors as terrorists and blaming every instance of American violence on the left. Guiliani’s depiction of New York City could have made John Carpenter envious. Between the exploitation and post-apocalypic imagery, Ben Carson claimed that abortion was the most potent form of racism in the country. Just as viewers had too much conservative red meat, Ivanka Trump came in to tie a soft bow around the bloody package. Despite some of the contradictory tones, the messaging was emphatic, a characteristic that’s all too often confused with authenticity. 

Many Democratic-leaning professionals are against using tactics even remotely similar to the RNC to attract, or scare, voters. The infamous mantra from 2016, “When they go low, we go high,” should be a warning sign, however, not a renewed battle cry. The answer to an intense and aggressive opponent lies not in pacifism or proper decorum. When you want to discredit an adversary who constantly lies, you tell the truth forcefully and with conviction. When you want to counter their fear-mongering, you provide hope and a clear path out of the darkness.  Sadly, the DNC gave people no reason to hope for a better future, just a slightly less severe trend towards the abyss that we can all feel pulling us down 

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

The PTA Disbands Is an Animated Masterpiece

Social commentary was a strong component of the Simpson’s from the very beginning, but no episode skewers the roles parents, teachers, and administrators play in Springfield’s seemingly only school better than “The PTA Disbands.” The episode begins with the Springfield Elementary School bus making its way down a rural road towards a Civil War battle site. Within just a few seconds, we see a broken bumper creating sparks on the asphalt, a gaping hole threatening to swallow Millhouse and Bart alive, several cross-eyed children choking down exhaust fumes, and principal Skinner instructing the children to use their clothes as drag parachutes.

vlcsnap-2017-04-25-17h18m14s169

When “The PTA Disbands” first aired in 1995, it was likely exhausting to watch. The satire here is packed tightly into the 22-minute run time, leaving little room to digest a joke before the next one arrives. By the time the bus reaches Fort Springfield, the writers have already covered inadequate school funding, privatization of heritage sites, and the poor treatment of public employees. After the children are run out of the fort (R.I.P Ooter), tensions between Ms. Krabappel and Principal Skinner begin to heat up in the cafeteria – where malk and meat blended with newspapers and gym mats is being served.

The battle brewing here between the teachers and the administrators has no real antagonist or protagonist. Krabappel’s examples of the school’s lack of funding, including  a ‘banned’ book titled “The Theory of Evolution,” are persuasive, but even if Skinner agreed with her point, he doesn’t have the resources to meet her demands. The writers are concise in their commentary here: educational failures of our society are not the fault or teachers or principals. Who’s to blame? As the community tries to work together to find out how to deal with the teacher strike, the answer becomes clear.

Before the titular part of the episode arrives, chaos ensues in Springfield as the children have nothing to do during the day. Each kid, expect for Millhouse, approaches the lack of structure uniquely. Lisa soothes her anxiety by creating a mock school setting in the Simpson’s house and creating a perpetual motion machine,  Jimbo enjoys soap operas with his mother, and Bart disrupts order within the community in devilishly clever ways. His ability to create a run on the banks in just a few seconds is one of the highlights of the episode.

When Marge gets creeped out by Bart’s nighttime kite flying and Homer refuses to let Lisa disobey the laws of thermodynamics,  it’s finally decided that the PTA needs to do something about the strike.  As the meeting starts, its quickly apparent who’s to blame for this entire mess. Everyone is in favor of giving the teachers what they need to create a positive future for the children, but no one wants to pay for it. Krabappel’s and Skinner’s arguments eventually devolve into single-word sentences and hand motions as the parents chase their own tail.

Springfield’s citizens have already proven themselves too incompetent to simply raise a bit of money for their schools, so who better to entrust the education of their children than those very same citizens? The replacement teachers at Springfield Elementary include Moe, Jasper, and of course Marge, whose presence forces Bart to work against the strike for the first time. “The PTA Disbands” is at its weakest as the characters, now realizing this band aid isn’t working, try to find a solution to the strike, but there are still plenty of good jokes.

 

Posted in Television | Leave a comment

How to Spot a Bad Recipe

As a home cook who makes nearly every meal for himself, I’ve seen a lot of recipes both online and in cookbooks. Nearly every recipe can be divided into three distinct categories: amazing, satisfactory, and horrible. If you’re a new cook, it can be hard to make a distinction between these groups, especially if you’re trying to follow a recipe that has no user ratings. While there is no definitive way to tell  good recipes from bad ones, there are some clear warning signs that your next meal may launch rancid warfare on your taste buds.

The problem with most bad recipes is that they sacrifice flavor for time. This usually means using processed products in place of home-prepared alternatives. It’s perfectly understandable for home cooks to want to save time, but cutting corners is rarely worth it. There are plenty of great recipes out there that are also fast. If you want a good lasagna, take the time to make it right on a night where you do have time.

1. No More Canned Soups or Sauces

Why does Mary Sue Huggins from Georgetown, Texas, want you to put a can of cream of mushroom soup in your green bean casserole? She’ll tell you it’s because that’s the way her mom and grandma did it, but the truth is that she doesn’t really know any better. Creamed soups add a creamy consistency to recipes and help thicken sauces, but they’re also filled with a bunch of ingredients you probably don’t want, not to mention the substandard taste. Instead of soup, a good recipe will tell you how to make a sauce from a roux, which is just a mixture of flour and fat. It may take a little more time, but the flavor will be much better.

When it comes to sauces, there are good options available on the shelves, but there are also many culinary atrocities. Good canned or jarred sauces, however, can be expensive because of their short shelf life. A recipe that calls for a canned sauce can almost always be replaced by something homemade, leading to results that will be far more palatable.

2. No More Pre-Cooked Proteins

Ever bitten into a canned or packaged piece of fish or chicken and thought, “Wow, this is tender and full of flavor?” No you haven’t, you liar. Pre-cooked proteins are dry, bland, and can make otherwise great dishes unappetizing. Sure, beef jerky is pretty good, but you’ve seen a recipe that has beef jerky in it, you’ve ventured further down the spiral of culinary dystopia than I have. If a recipe tells you to buy your beef, chicken, or fish in a can or cooked package, look elsewhere. There’s no telling what other horrible ideas they have hidden in the cooking techniques.

3. Beware of the Microwave

Unless you’re reading this from a college dorm room, there’s little reason for you to ever use the microwave while cooking. Folk wisdom states that microwaves kill off the valuable nutrients in your food, but that’s not really the problem. The real problem with microwaves is that they don’t offer the same flavor benefits, such as the Maillard reaction, that are delivered by other cooking methods. If you insist on using a microwave to cook your meals, cook only for yourself so no one else has to suffer.

Microwave Cookery

4. You Don’t Need to Use Acme Cheese

Placing products in recipes is one of the oldest marketing techniques for food companies. In fact, it’s probably how Mary Sue Huggin’s grandma learned how to make green bean casserole. While some of these recipes may yield decent results, there’s no reason to limit yourself to that name brand product. Substituting real cheese for the processed orange plastic is likely to improve the flavor of your dish in drastic ways. I won’t go as far as to recommend you make your own cheese because there are plenty of good products on the shelf. Just stay away from the shredded bags.

Posted in Cooking | Leave a comment

“Eye in the Sky” Probes Western Emotions About Drones

Citizens of western countries don’t really care much about the casualties of war in places like Yemen, Syria, or Northern and Eastern Africa. There’s plenty of western people who think critically about drones, who voice opposition to certain military operations and ask thoughtful questions about what goes on, but emotionally, we’re detached by a wide range of factors. By creating a realistic, technical bridge between people on the ground and those making decision at the highest level, Eye in the Sky paves a clear path that allows us westerners to feel somewhat connected to the impact the war on terror from above is having in the region.

Eye in the Sky is set primarily in four distinct locations: a block on the outskirts of Nairobi, an Air Force Base in Las Vegas, a military intelligence room in Surrey, and some type of bureaucratic board room in London. Information travels upward through this chain through live video feeds of Nairobi, and sometimes through requests, while commands travel downwards toward the agents closest to the action. Due to the nature of the situation, those who will be affected most by decisions made far away are least aware of their fate. The camera, therefore, never gets too close to these characters, and we never learn much about them.

Eye in the Sky plays off this dynamic by giving greatest emotional weight to two drone pilots at the Air Force Base in Las Vegas. A significant distinction is made between pressing a button and ordering someone else to press a button by showing Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox, the drone’s operators, fight back tears and directly question the orders of their superiors . Helen Mirin’s character, Colonel Katherine Powell,  as well as Alan Rickman and various other upper level bureaucrats, however, come off far more callous and calculating, often using percentages and body counts to make their points. Deciding if their demeanor’s are moral failures or strategic facades is all a matter of perspective. No matter what moral reading a viewer might take from Gavin Hood’s film, it’s clear that it views drone warfare as an extremely troublesome form of violence.

Eye in the Sky’s strength is its ability to maintain a suspenseful tone through most of its running time,  but there are moments of bureaucratic bumbling that feel like weak imitations of The Thick of It. Humor could have been used effectively in certain parts of the script as a release valve for characters under immense amount of stress, but the attempted laughs in this script fall flat because they involve characters who have little at stake. Overall, however, these moments don’t last long enough to detract from the overall tension.

Posted in Movies | Leave a comment