photo of horse and hill
animals, music, photography, really?

Lonely Horse

Remember that song from the ’80s by Yes? “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” When I heard that as a kid, I misheard the lyrics. I was convinced they were singing about the “owner of the lonely horse.” (I also thought Starship “milked this city.” I was wrong.) It was not until I was nearly out of high school, while standing in a grocery store in Fairbanks, Alaska, that I realized this was not, in fact, the case.

For years I felt bad about that horse.

[Photo above taken outside of Olema. Point Reyes, CA. October 2005.]

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Alaska, politics, really?

Alaska, Factored

When I was in high school, an especially talented teacher brought the hammer down on all of us idealistic almost-voters. Our votes for president, she told us, wouldn’t count.

Easy for her to say. And not necessarily wrong. We were living in Alaska, which holds a whopping three electoral votes. And those three electoral votes are reliably Republican, just like the state. She encouraged us to participate, but when it comes to realpolitik, Alaska doesn’t make the difference. No president-elect or vice-president-elect thanks the people of Alaska on election night.

For the last 28 years, Alaska’s delegation to Washington, D.C., has been solidly Republican. The governors have been more mixed—five Republicans, five Democrats since statehood. The tie-breaker would be Wally Hickel, who was governor from 1990 to 1994, under the Alaska Independence Party banner. He breaks the tie in favor of the Republicans–after all, he switched to the party in 1994. Or, rather, switched back to the party–he was also one of those Republican governors, in the 1960s, until he joined the Nixon administration.

By now, you’ve probably heard of at least two of Alaska’s delegation: Don Young and Ted Stevens. They’ve run successfully on anti-change platforms. That is, you should vote for me, because I’ve been in Congress for such a long time that it would be bad for you to get rid of me. This is why Young, for example, didn’t feel to bashful about admitting, about the 2005 transportation bill, “I stuffed it like a turkey.” That bill included earmarks for the famous “bridges to nowhere” (there were two, technically, including the famous one down near Ketchikan), which the Republicans point out now-Governor Sarah Palin opposed. They don’t mention that it was a Republican’s initiative.

But Young is in a political fight to the death at this very moment. (Let’s save a discussion of Stevens for another day.) Palin’s lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, challenged the 36-year-incumbent in the primary, held Tuesday, and they’re still counting the votes. Young has a lead, but just barely: 151 votes. (I’ll write more about Young in the future. I need a real reporting budget, too–it’s a great story.)

And now Sarah Palin is John McCain’s running mate. A surprise, but hardly a shock since Palin has been mentioned as a possibility (though a long shot). She is probably a good short-term choice for McCain, but debatable in the long term. She is popular in Alaska, but Alaska only has about 670,000 people. While 60 percent of the population is independent or unaffiliated, and another quarter is Republican, it hasn’t proven to be that politically diverse at core when electing statewide or nationally in recent years. Compared to bigger, more diverse states like Texas or California, or even medium-sized states like Pennsylvania or Ohio, it’s kind of like saying she’s popular in high school.*

She ends up undermining much of McCain’s campaign so far, namely the experience argument. Even though the Republicans can point to her executive experience, once the dust settles, it will be clear that she’s only been governor of Alaska for about a year and a half, and her prior experience is limited, potentially negligible. If she’d been an early candidate for president, she would have been severely criticized if not ridiculed for her presumption to the office. And Obama’s people will focus on her glaring weaknesses while pointing out that executive experience is no guarantee–after all, George W. Bush was a two-term governor of Texas, and a two-term president, and how often do we hear anyone singing his praise anymore?

There are a lot of other Republican women who have longer résumés (including active governors and senators), and from that perspective, choosing Palin is particularly surprising. But she brings advantages. One is that she doesn’t really have a record to run from, though that brings a slim record to point to.

But choosing her also has an effect that Karl Rove would be proud of. The Palin selection is Rove’s base strategy at work–appealing to and drawing out the conservative base, which helped re-elect Bush in 2004. Remember George W. Bush’s perhaps unintentional acknowledgment of the strategy after the election, when he pledged to “reach out to everyone who shares our goals.”

Alaska has a strong libertarian streak (with a paradoxical dose of federal entitlement), which helped Palin’s anti-corruption, anti-waste campaign for governor. All state politicians have to balance that libertarianism with their personal conservatism or liberalism, which means it’s often subverted. It’s clear that Palin’s conservatism will be deployed strategically: evangelical, anti-abortion, promotes teaching creationism in school, grew up around hunting and guns,* etc. Just like, say, Mike Huckabee. But choosing Palin more easily qualifies as historic.

So what does Alaska have to do with any of this? Almost nothing, at this point. Energy and global warming are the obvious issues, and it will be interesting to watch Palin attempt to shut down Biden on these points in debate. But Alaska, like Delaware, doesn’t figure into any key electoral equations. My teacher is still right, and this election won’t be won and lost there.

Plus, if Palin goes to Washington along with Sean Parnell, and they stick to their fiscal guns (the Club for Growth loves them), then Alaska actually stands to lose money. Alaska wouldn’t be Alaska without that steady influx of federal cash.

No, it seems that Alaska’s unique role in today’s decision is that it’s a small state that allows people to make big impressions. Where else can a person come, seemingly, out of nowhere, to make a political name for herself? It’s unlikely, beating a machine, subverting the hierarchies, jumping to the head of the line. Doing that sounds impossible in California or Texas or New York. Except that Barack Obama seems to have done just that with the nation, and, with the Palin pick, McCain apparently sees that kind of dynamism as a key to success. And if it does the trick for McCain, then, for the first time, somebody will remember Alaska on election night.

*In fairness, Delaware only has about 850,000 people. And I do like Alaska–after all, I went to high school there and my family lives there still.

**I grew up around hunting and guns, too. Something like that is not necessarily a conservative attribute, but is boiled down to useful keywords in elections.

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China, cool, really?, talent, technology

The Shanzhai Huaxiangji Question

An unusual video showed up on the Ifgogo blog that’s created a ripple on the internet over the last few days. It’s a video of a Chinese farmer piloting a flying machine that he is supposed to have built on his own. The shanzhai huaxiangji, or little mountain village glider, if the translation’s any good (山寨 滑翔机), has sparked some debate as to its veracity. Here’s the video that YouTube commenters claim is a fake:

Fair enough. It’s hard to know based on the perspective; and I didn’t watch closely enough to tell if there was much inconsistency between the pilot’s bumpy ride and the background. But Ifgogo blogger Aw Guo has updated his post to include more video to back up the story. The YouTube video is helpfully titled “I don’t think the farmer-made plane is fake.”

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really?, ridiculousness, technology

Tweet?

Since the screen on my cell phone has been broken for months, that’s been my latest excuse for holding off on signing up for Twitter. No more. So now I’m on Twitter. And what do you know, my first so-called “tweet” is about the last post I put on my so-called blog. And now I’m posting about that tweet. If I do this enough, I’ll create some kind of feedback loop that could perturb my little section of the internet to unknown but probably incredible effect. What hath [choose individual] wrought?

So here’s the link: http://twitter.com/telesle

I can’t wait to start forgetting to update that thing, too.

P.S.: My phone’s still busted.

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China, international, journalism, really?, television

Young, Restless, China

The always worthy Frontline is airing a documentary tonight following young Chinese adapting to a changing urban environment:

No shortage of stories coming from the city in China. (No shortage of cities in China; something like 100–or more–cities with populations that exceed one million.) I chalk this up, in part, to a fascination with people who are becoming more like us Americans.

There is a nod to rural China, something like 800 million out of the 1.2 billion Chinese, in this documentary by looking at migrant workers. The migrant’s story is about the only vehicle through which the media looks at rural China, though rural China is where most of China remains. Probably the best comment I’ve encountered on how we see rural China comes from an expatriate American credit card marketer in this spring’s China issue of Good magazine (a magazine I like, and to which I subscribe):

What should people in America know about China?
Whenever people hype China, remember that China is still two-thirds farmers. That means there are roughly 800 million farmers here. That is the real China. Even I don’t go to those places.

Neither did Good–or most anybody else.

–Update: The Frontline doc did quite a good job with the rural angle. —

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anticipation, competition, politics, race, really?

It is on.

Who says politics has devolved into a slideshow? Looks more like it’s the center ring. This was recorded for the WWE, broadcast last night. I guess they really are trying to get that working class white male vote. No more direct route than pro wrestling, right?

 

I like how McCain suggests that he’s “the man.” Hard not to hear that and think about “the Man.” As in, don’t let the Man get you down.

While we’re at it, here’s one version of the Fatboy Slim video for “Don’t Let the Man Get You Down.” It is supposed to have multiple endings. I am not suggesting that McCain is racist.

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China, geography, history, international, irony, really?

A little torch history.

I’ve been throwing ideas around lately to all kinds of people. They haven’t stuck, which is too bad. But one of them was to look at the history of the torch relay after reports that the IOC and Britain may forgo the tradition in the runup to the 2012 games. I kind of knew the answer to the question about how the modern torch relay started, but the LA Times editorial page beat me to it:

The Olympic torch relay was invented by the Nazis. According to historians, Adolf Hitler wanted to promote his belief in an Aryan master race by symbolically linking the 1936 Berlin Games to the ancient Greek gods and rituals, hence the carrying of the flame from Olympia to Germany. The first relay was chronicled on film by Hitler’s propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl.

We bring you this brief history lesson because, as the Olympic torch makes its only North American appearance today in San Francisco, it will be met by thousands of protesters decrying China’s human rights record. In response to similar demonstrations Monday in Paris, the Chinese government complained that a “small group” of Tibetan activists was seeking to politicize an event that should have been a tribute to the love of sport.

Nonsense. From its very beginning, the torch relay has been deeply political, a promotional extravaganza for the Games’ host country. Chinese officials are well aware of this, having designed the longest relay in Olympic history — an 85,000-mile, six-continent tour, meant to highlight China’s vast economic and political might. The protests are a welcome reminder to Beijing that it can’t tailor public opinion in the rest of the world the way it can at home.

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cool, really?, science

The BigDog

Here is an amazing feat of engineering.The vehicles and robots from Star Wars were always fun to watch, but seemed less feasible, because they had articulated legs and moved like animals. Wheels seem much more efficient and, frankly, easier. But look at this:Notice how that guy nonchalantly kicks BigDog about 35 seconds in? It’s just a machine, but it feels weird to see somebody kicking something that looks so alive. You know, if people get used to that kind of behavior, and then the robots gain intelligence–this is why they revolt in the movies, isn’t it? More at Boston Dynamics’s web page, and scattered around Youtube.

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anticipation, China, consumption, development, environment, international, journalism, multimedia, really?

China: Green Dreams (Finally)

China Green Dreams

Last August I went to northeast China and for the following five months I’ve been putting together a story about an eco-village in China. Or, rather, an attempted eco-village.

Here’s how Frontline/World described it: “The village of Huangbaiyu in rural northeast China was supposed to be a model for energy-conscious design. The initial project was to build 400 sustainable homes, a collaboration between U.S. architect William McDonough and the Chinese. But something went awry. Frontline/World reporter Timothy Lesle traveled to the region to investigate.”

I’m glad I got to do this project and look forward to any responses it may get. No doubt they’ll range from positive to negative. Frontline does something different with this slideshow from a web-tech perspective, which is to stream the images and sound like video rather than through Flash.

If you get a chance, let me know what you think. And if you are inspired, let Frontline/World know what you think.


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