Saturday, March 23, 2019

Authors fail to understand the public's love of presidential scandals

I'm trying to clear out some of my grad-school books. As part of this project, I figured it would be good to revisit and review, for one last time, some of the books I used extensively in my thesis on whether personal scandals helped or hurt voter turnout in presidential elections.

Peep Show: Media and Politics in an Age of Scandal by Larry Sabato, Mark Stencel, and Robert Lichter, reports of a time during the Clinton Administration when the line between public and private was blurring more than ever in media coverage of politics. They found that responsible media was fooling itself into not printing some scandals while seemingly arbitrarily covering other ones. They wonder if some mainstream reporters are simply lazy and bad investigators.

One striking passage early in the book makes a claim that my thesis found not to be true at all:
"The fidelity of elected officials and other personal matters are of little concern to most Americans, despite the attention such stories get in the news."
The authors do back this up by noting that 80 percent of those polled disapproved of coverage of Clinton's extramarital affairs. But Sabato and company failed to wonder if these people could have actually been lying. And what about all those everyday, water-cooler conversations about Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's "I didn't inhale," and the poor academic grades of Bush and Gore?

I largely disagree with the authors' findings in this book and contended in my thesis that Americans did indeed care about sex, drugs, and rock n' roll-type scandals and that they drive higher turnout in presidential elections.

People say Clinton's mistake was the lie, but they certainly discuss the sex a lot more than the lie. What I thought was good from this salacious turn by the media is that it shouldn't have ever been the media's job to offer a "zone of privacy" to public figures (as they had for many years) who have done scandalous things in the past; it's more the politician's job not to run for office in the first place if they've done those things.

The authors also claim the public will tune out personal scandals. But all these years since this 2000 book was published, it doesn't seem like that's holding true at all. People are chomping at the bit for the next scandal to sink their teeth into. Even with the seemingly daily scandals of the Trump Administration, the public still has great interest in reading all about it, and those scandals may drive massive turnout from both sides of the political aisle, potentially resulting in Trump winning reelection in 2020.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

My favorite rom-coms of all time (and some I unbelievably have yet to see)

I'm an admittedly big fan of romantic comedies, so when Entertainment Weekly recently had a special rom-com issue, I was a little shocked at some of the titles I've either neglected to see or forgotten whether I've seen over the years.

So here is both a ranking of my favorite rom-coms of all time and, to start it off, a list of titles I need to either watch or rewatch so I can accurately place them in the list in the future.

Rom-coms high on my list to watch:
Love, Simon (2018)
She's Gotta Have It (2017)
Maggie's Plan (2016)
Sleeping With Other People (2015)
Man Up (2015)
What If (2014)
Top Five (2014)
Don Jon (2013)
Your Sister's Sister (2012)
Ruby Sparks (2012)
The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
Italian for Beginners (2001)
Notting Hill (1999)
An Ideal Husband (1999)
My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)
Picture Perfect (1997)
In & Out (1997)
Emma (1996)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Boomerang (1992)
Doc Hollywood (1991)
Pretty Woman (1990)
Coming to America (1988)
Mannequin (1987)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Moonstruck (1987)
The Sure Thing (1985)
The Apartment (1960)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Indiscreet (1958)
Love in the Afternoon (1957)
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Adam's Rib (1949)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
His Girl Friday (1940)
Ninotchka (1939)
Holiday (1938)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
The Awful Truth (1937)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
It Happened One Night (1934)
City Lights (1931)

My list:
84. Friends With Benefits (2011)
83. Along Came Polly (2004)
82. Serendipity (2001)
81. Benny & Joon (1993)
80. Waitress (2007)
79. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
78. The Incredible Jessica James (2017)
77. Working Girl (1988)
76. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)
75. Valley Girl (1983)
74. Extract (2009)
73. Enough Said (2013)
72. All About Steve (2009)
71. LA Story (1991)
70. Obvious Child (2014)
69. Splash (1984)
68. Roxanne (1987)
67. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
66. As Good As It Gets (1997)
65. The Object of My Affection (1998)
64. Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
63. The American President (1995)
62. Amelie (2001)
61. Kissing Jessica Stein (2002)
60. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
59. You've Got Mail (1998)
58. Clueless (1995)
57. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
56. Kicking and Screaming (1995)
55. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
54. Punch Drunk Love (2002)
53. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
52. Miss Congeniality (2000)
51. Pretty in Pink (1986)
50. 500 Days of Summer (2009)
49. La La Land (2016)
48. She's the One (1996)
47. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
46. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
45. Dave (1993)
44. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
43. Juno (2007)
42. Arthur (1981)
41. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
40. The Importance of Being Earnest (1955)
39. Chasing Amy (1997)
38. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
37. Broadcast News (1987)
36. 50 First Dates (2004)
35. About a Boy (2002)
34. Bull Durham (1988)
33. Keeping the Faith (2000)
32. Knocked Up (2007)
31. Bring It On (2000)
30. Groundhog Day (1993)
29. Jerry Maguire (1996)
28. The Graduate (1967)
27. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
26. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
25. Music and Lyrics (2007)
24. Sixteen Candles (1984)
23. There's Something About Mary (1998)
22. Adventureland (2009)
21. Mr. Jealousy (1997)
20. The Big Sick (2017)
19. Wedding Crashers (2005)
18. Bridesmaids (2011)
17. The Brothers McMullen (1995)
16. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
15. Love Actually (2003)
14. Manhattan (1979)
13. Lost in Translation (2003)
12. Rushmore (1998)
11. Cold Comfort Farm (1996)
10. Grease (1978)
09. Reality Bites (1993)
08. Singles (1992)
07. Say Anything ... (1989)
06. Play It Again, Sam (1972)
05. Office Space (1999)
04. Annie Hall (1977)
03. High Fidelity (2000)
02. The Wedding Singer (1998)
01. Better Off Dead (1985)

With John Cusack starring in three of my top seven, I think it's safe to say that he gets the reward for my favorite rom-com actor of all time. With probably Cary Grant, who has tons of movies on my list to still watch (I've mostly seen his wealth of Alfred Hitchcock output), not far behind in second place. Dianne Keaton has to be in first place among female actors.

What do you think I missed and what are your favorites?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

My quotes in the Washington Post about Metro failing to promote itself

The Washington Post's Kery Murakami decided to dig deeply into data about growth patterns of people moving into spaces within a half mile from Metro stations throughout the DC region.

He contacted me (representing Arlington's Mobility Lab) because our expertise is on how important initiatives other than infrastructure are to the transportation choices that people make. Sure, running safe, reliable trains on time is really important, but it straddles the line between infrastructure and the education aspect we focus on.

In places like DC where the transportation grid has been built out about as much as possible, the only way to go is to win people's admiration and loyalty to various ways of moving around. The good news is that it can often be effective (if done well, which it often isn't), and it's a heck of a lot less expensive than building new highways and train stations.

Anyway, this is a good article, with excellent reporting and (I think) some pretty great quotes from me! :-)
But even though that meant 38,000 more people were living near a station, ridership didn’t grow. According to Metro’s figures, it fell. Weekday boardings in the District dropped by 13 percent between May 2011 and May 2018 — or by an average of about 57,000 boardings daily — while all those people were moving in around stations.
That was “absolutely” a lost opportunity, said Paul Mackie, research director of Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County Commuter Services. “It doesn’t help that the SafeTrack repair program has led to a general decline in both service and loyalty to Metro,” he said. “But Metro needs to promote itself harder, especially in light of competition from other options like Uber, Lyft, carpooling, e-scooters, bikes and bikeshare, and the rise in teleworking.”
Mackie also said Metro hasn’t done enough to reach out to all the additional people moving in around stations. 
“There is a huge TransitScreen on the marquee at Gallery Place/Chinatown that lists when the next trains are leaving,” he noted. “Why aren’t those signs in every neighborhood and bar and restaurant and library and hotel promoting transit?"
I was also quoted in a separate Post article titled, Data shows areas near Metro stations remain havens for the rich.
“We’re seeing the rich get richer – in both wealth and quality of life – and low-income people having to keep fighting to stay afloat with everyday tasks – like getting to work or daycare,” said Paul Mackie, research director for Mobility Lab, an Arlington transportation research center funded by local and federal governments.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Rush gets dissected on AXS TV's excellent Classic Albums show

I usually claim I cut the cord on cable TV because all I need it for is sports. That's only kind of true. Sling TV is a replacement for cable because it has ESPN and a bunch of sports channels, but it also has AXS TV. The music channel has a bunch of great shows, but Classic Albums is really hitting the sweet spot on the VHS rockumentary vibe.

The Frank Zappa show, like all of them, takes you behind the scenes for the making of the music. It's great, and convinced me I need to finally dig deeper on my Zappa collection beyond "Big Leg Emma" and the few others that I keep going back to.

But the Rush episode is the latest I watched. The show covers the self-titled first release with John Rutsey on drums pre-Neil Peart, and runs through Fly By Night and Caress of Steel before getting to the meat of the show, a focus on 2112 and Moving Pictures.

2112 is no doubt the most classic of Rush's albums, especially because it doesn't have a lacking moment anywhere throughout, unlike every other Rush album. Further, the Canadians may be rock's greatest sci-fi band of all time. Peart's lyrics were almost always based off science fiction, not least 2112 and its Ayn Rand fixation.

I wanted to rank Rush's albums here, but the aforementioned imperfections of nearly every album matched with the unfailing moments of pure brilliance on just about every release make that difficult. I'll just venture:

Classic Must Have

Really Great
Rush (not as critically loved because it's Rutsey instead of Peart, but I love it)

Still Pretty Much Essential
Fly By Night
Permanent Waves
Moving Pictures

Sleeper Pick
Hold Your Fire (maybe because this was one of the tours I saw them on in the 1980s and I remember liking the "songs off the new album" almost as much as the classic numbers)

Definitely check out the series Classic Albums.

Friday, March 8, 2019

From high brow to low brow, from BlacKkKlansman to Fuller House

My pop-culture intake the past week or so has taken a deep dive from all the way at the top level of sophistication to the lowest depths of low-brow culture.

Luckily, it started and ended with a highlight that I'm not embarrassed to discuss. Shamed by having seen so few of the Academy Award-nominated best films, I was inspired to head to pay-per-view to see BlacKkKlansman. I intended to watch about half of the film late one night when I was already exhausted. But 2-plus hours later, the end credits were rolling and it had seemed like no time had gone by.

Before the Oscars, I was definitely hoping for big winning nights for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, but after seeing Klansman, I'm not so sure that it and other movies (can't wait to see Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody) aren't at least as deserving of the top honors.

Upon reflection, I was actually a little embarrassed at how few Spike Lee joints I've seen. I loved Clockers, 25th Hour, and He Got Game. I truly can't remember if I've seen Do the Right Thing. So I'm putting that and 4 Little Girls, A Huey P. Newton Story, When the Levees Broke, She's Gotta Have It, and Malcolm X on my watch list. (Here's a good list of his top movies.) BlacKkKlansman is 5 out of 5 stars.

When you have kids, you have to watch things you wouldn't normally. My 11-year-old son and I watched Dodge Ball (I had already seen it once), which is mildly inappropriate. The Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn love triangle and fitness competition starts the movie somewhat boringly but when the Dodge Ball competition kicks in, it really is pretty fun stuff for both adults and kids. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Dipping lower into low brow is admitting that my kids love Fuller House on Netflix. I still have never seen an episode of Full House, but I have to admit this reboot is hilarious in an awful-acting sort of way. The whole thing reminds me of Three's Company. It might be more kid oriented than that classic 1980s show, but then again, I think I count about a dozen kisses every episode. These people love to kiss. I guess the Olsen twins were in the original. They're not in this one. All the characters are likable and, oh my god, when John Stamos occasionally appears - is he gorgeous or what? 1 out of 5 stars for production values and acting, but 4 out of 5 stars for pure entertainment value.

I took my pop-culture video diet back into the realm of sophistication by watching the odd yet critical-praised Call Me By Your Name. The movie is a bit slow, but it adds up to a powerful story by the end, especially when the father tells his son that his heart should remain strong and full of love and fondness for the affair he's carried on with an older man while the man stayed with their family for the summer in Northern Italy in the 1980s. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer turn in weird but relaxed and realistic performances as the bin-men who fall in love. 3.5 out of 5 stars.