Friday, August 29, 2008

"Governing" mag. backgrounder on Palin

August 29, 2008

Who Is Sarah Palin?

posted by Josh Goodman

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is John McCain's running mate. Who is she?

As surprising as this pick is, it makes sense in a way. Palin's persona is very similar to John McCain's -- that is, if McCain were a 44-year-old woman from Alaska.

Palin made her name as a somewhat iconoclastic reformer in the Alaska Republican Party. Even before she ran for governor, Palin was a key figure in securing a $12,000 ethics fine against Randy Ruedrich, the chairman of the state Republican Party. Ruedrich, despite Palin's best efforts to get rid of him, still leads the party to this day. Palin also filed ethics complaints against a Republican state attorney general.

It was that background that made her the perfect candidate to challenge Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski in a primary in 2006. To many Alaskans, Murkowski's ethics had been in doubt from the first days of his governorship, when he appointed his daughter to fill his U.S. Senate seat. Palin won the Republican primary relatively easily (Murkowski finished third), then beat former Gov. Tony Knowles by a surprisingly comfortable margin.

As governor, she immediately endeared herself to the public by focusing on ethics reform. Palin also has a record as a fiscal conservative and, like all Alaska governors, has spent a lot of time focused on issues related to the oil and gas industries.

She's a big proponent of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which McCain opposes. She has also fought against the listing of polar bears as a threatened species.

Like McCain, she's conservative on social issues, but seems to prefer talking about other topics. She was put into an awkward spot in the very first weeks of her term, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the same-sex partners of state employees couldn't be denied certain benefits. The legislature tried to reverse that decision but Palin, advised that the bill was unconstitutional, vetoed it.

All in all, Palin is a daring choice and a risky choice. In one move, McCain is making a play for women and for young voters. No one would call her an elitist. She may prove to be a strong voice on economic issues, which is something McCain desperately needs.

But, she has served for less than two years as the chief executive of a state with a smaller population than Austin, Texas. It will be difficult for the Obama campaign to play the inexperience card, but, after this pick, it will also be difficult for McCain to use that issue against Obama. Plus, voters may not need any prodding from Democrats to wonder whether she is ready for the job.

As my colleague Alan Greenblatt points out, she's also facing a $100,000 independent investigation into her own ethics. And, Palin has fairly close ties to indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

One factor that can't be ignored: Palin is the mother of five children, including a four-month-old with Down syndrome. Inevitably, some people will say that running for vice president or being vice president will take too much time away from her kids. Yet, many people will find those criticisms sexist and unfair and may be even more drawn to Palin because of them.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Commentary on Phelps Sports Illustrated Pic

he Man With All the Medals Blows a Golden Opportunity

Sports Illustrated should have let Michael Phelps be his own man, instead of having him mimic Mark Spitz's iconic '70s pose.
Sports Illustrated should have let Michael Phelps be his own man, instead of having him mimic Mark Spitz's iconic '70s pose. (Ho - Reuters)

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By Robin Givhan
Sunday, August 24, 2008; Page M01

Before assessing the supremely unflattering Sports Illustrated cover that celebrates Olympian Michael Phelps's eight gold medals in Beijing, one thing must be made clear: Phelps is an extraordinary athlete. He is an amphibious marvel. The man set an unprecedented goal for himself and then made accomplishing it look easy. He will undoubtedly serve as inspiration for generations of swimmers to come. All hail, Michael Phelps.

But Sports Illustrated did him an injustice with its Aug. 25 cover. The photograph treats Phelps like a pinup, like beefcake, like a babe. And he is none of that. He epitomizes athleticism, but he is not swoon-inducing in the manner of Tom Brady, Rafael Nadal or Michael Jordan. He does not have the golden boy grin of Tiger Woods. Nor does he have the kind of boy-band appeal that would make people who don't know diddly about swimming go ga-ga over his very presence.

The cover echoes the famous poster of swimmer Mark Spitz, whose record of seven gold medals at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 was surpassed by Phelps. Clearly, it was a visual reference too tempting to ignore.

In the Spitz photo, the swimmer is posed in his swim trunks with his hands on his hips and his medals draped around his neck. Spitz's medals are hanging from thin metal chains, a detail that gives the photo a kind of 1970s cool. You could imagine him in some fern bar wearing those medals with a pair of bell-bottoms and a polyester shirt with a collar the size of elephant ears. The photograph captures a particular '70s sexy aesthetic a la Burt Reynolds in the Playgirl centerfold. It was perfect for its time. Even today the photo maintains an air of macho magnificence, although that bushy mustache is now a grooming flourish only American Apparel CEO Dov Charney and porn stars can carry off.

Phelps's photograph has him striking the same pose: hands on hips, medals spread out and forming a Mr. T lei around his neck. But Phelps's medals are hung on wide red ribbons. All those ribbons combine to form a thick V-shaped sash around his neck. And when you first look at the image, it appears as though he is wearing some sort of "Project Runway" midriff-bearing Olympic halter with a gold-spangled hem.

Phelps's torso is otherwise naked. He has the lean physique of elite swimmers. But it is not the kind of pumped up, six-pack Hollywood torso typically found on the cover of Men's Fitness and that has come to define today's sexy man. Aesthetically, it's a 1970s torso, not a 2008 one. To understand its power, it needs to be seen in action barreling through the water like a torpedo.


There's no hint of swim briefs -- not even if you squint. Phelps's exceptionally long and hairless torso seems to go on and on until the photo is abruptly, thankfully cropped. Instinctively, you know your eyes shouldn't slide any lower, but all warning signs have been waxed away.

The cover disappoints because Phelps has looked so spectacular on Sports Illustrated in the past. Other photographs have captured him in the water. That is his realm, and he looks most comfortable there. The Aug. 18 cover has him swimming directly into the camera's lens. His iridescent goggles are pressed tight to his face; his swim caps -- he wears more than one at a time -- are vacuum-sealed to his head. His mouth is open as he comes up for air. His body is in motion and he looks invincible. He is a superhero.

On the July 28 cover, he's in the pool again. This time, he's come up for a break. His wet hair is pushed back off his face and his goggles are perched on his forehead. He's not smiling. He's staring down the camera. Phelps exudes square-jawed intensity. His championship energy practically leaps from the page.

In previous images, Phelps looks elegant and self-assured because he has been captured in the midst of athletic endeavor. He comes across as incomparable. And ultimately that's what's so frustrating about the eight-medal photograph. That image isn't about the uniqueness of this swimmer. It's about someone else's greatness and his relationship to it.

Spitz owns that pose. Phelps deserves his own cultural iconography, an image that will help to embed him in the minds of non-sports fans, those who don't watch the Olympics and those who find it hard to get excited about swimming. Sports Illustrated is part of the machinery that makes such a thing happen. That's why this cover photo matters.

But the photo is so busy celebrating the shattering of a record that it fails to take into account the man who accomplished the feat. Phelps has talked about wanting to do for swimming what Woods has done for golf or Jordan for basketball. Part of their success has been because they were so utterly of their time and because they signify something off the green, away from the court and without their stats.

Phelps is pure magic in the pool, a blur in a ripple of water. But what does he represent on dry land? He is an iPod-obsessed, hip-hop-listening, bulldog-loving champion. He is, he has said, a mama's boy. His Sports Illustrated victory cover tells us he's one gold medal richer than Spitz. But in terms of cultural resonance, Spitz still comes out ahead.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Was Ludacris Angling for an Ambassadorship?

Obama campaign rejects rapper Ludacris' rhymes

Here is a link to the song - you do not want to listen to this if your children are in the room with you :)

CHICAGO July 31, 2008, 08:27 am ET from The Associated Press

Barack Obama's presidential campaign says a new rhyme by supporter and rapper Ludacris is "outrageously offensive" to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Republican Sen. John McCain and President Bush.

The song brags about an Obama presidency being destiny. It uses an expletive to describe Clinton, calls Bush "mentally handicapped" and says McCain doesn't belong in "any chair unless he's paralyzed."

The lyrics don't spare the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who recently apologized for making crude comments about Obama. "If you said it then you meant it," intones the rapper.

Obama's campaign blasted "Politics as Usual," which is on the "Gangsta Grillz: The Preview" mixtape with Atlanta spinner DJ Drama.

"As Barack Obama has said many, many times in the past, rap lyrics today too often perpetuate misogyny, materialism, and degrading images that he doesn't want his daughters or any children exposed to," campaign spokesman Bill Burton said in an e-mail statement Wednesday. "This song is not only outrageously offensive to Sen. Clinton, Rev. Jackson, Sen. McCain and President Bush, it is offensive to all of us who are trying to raise our children with the values we hold dear. While Ludacris is a talented individual he should be ashamed of these lyrics."

Ludacris' publicist and manager did not immediately return calls Wednesday for comment.