So who’s ready for the two month nap?

It should probably be even longer, actually.

Barack Obama would like one right now, really, and who can blame him:

Barack Obama wriggled free of the campaign’s fetters on July 4. Caught in Montana on his daughter Malia’s 10th birthday, he improvised a party.

At the Holiday Inn Express in Butte, a city known for its copper mines and bordellos of old, Obama and family ordered a cake. They loaded an iPod with Malia’s favorite songs and danced and sang. Obama later came close to tears, recalling that Malia told him “it was the best birthday she’d ever had.”

“I know it sounds corny, but last night was actually one of those times where being in a Holiday Inn in Butte without a lot of fanfare. . . . I don’t know whether she was just telling us what we wanted to hear, but I can tell you from my perspective it was one of the best times I’ve had in a long time,” Obama told reporters aboard his campaign plane. Then he quickly turned and went back to his seat.

I never had it quite so random when I was growing up — having a March birthday almost always meant we were definitely living in one place or another rather than on the road between school years, say — but having been in a mobile enough family I recognize, in a very small way, the importance of making something feeling like home even when you’re not in the house. But the larger point of the story is that right now neither Obama nor McCain can catch much of a break — they’re on the road, campaigning and making stops and doing this and that.

And…for what?

Another tiny comparison point — this is the first full-on political blog post of mine in some weeks, at least with reference to the presidential election. It isn’t because the issue is not important to me, of course — anything but! Neither is it because there’s been nothing of note in the meantime — a few interesting bits and pieces have cropped up.

But I needed a big ol’ break from a lot of things, and that’s why I had set up the vacation in the first place to go east, taking advantage of Terrastock to venture further and relax and enjoy life and so forth. It might have seemed like I was plenty busy enough with all the photos and blog posts and the like but that’s simply me being me — I think and write a lot, and a lot of it ends up here by default — and a lot of time I was doing exactly what I wanted to do: zilch. Waking up late, lazily reading books, taking it very, very easy. Heaven, of course.

Part and parcel with that was not paying much attention to the news beyond brief glances to make sure California hadn’t fallen into the sea or the like, and definitely not paying any attention to the political blogosphere in all its forms. That’s the kind of conscious break we all need from time to time from all of our interests and/or employment or whatever, something where you say and think, “It can all get along without me.” And it’s the type of approach that, if both Obama and McCain announced that they were doing the same thing for a while, could probably serve everyone best.

Now, I’m not trying to dream up some sort of proscriptive ‘do this or else’ approach, and there are plenty of reasons why the two campaigns’ organizations, as opposed to the candidates themselves, need to stay on point as time goes forward from here. But there are two points I’d like to bring up as illustrative of why the current campaign cycle — in full effect from now to early November — is a tiring mess all around.

First is something I’ve addressed time and time again — and that, literally, is time. We’re still just under four months away from the election, and time will not speed up any faster. This being the case, why force things? There’s been rumblings going on already regarding such matters as the Republican platform and how it might have to be rewritten — actually, given its ‘yay Bush can do no wrong’ language, it NEEDS to be rewritten at this point — but this is the type of thing that goes on between groups in a larger organization like a major political party, and while there’s plenty of interest on the wonk level to be gathered from it all, it’s essentially an internal debate among a party’s members and pressure groups and areas of vested interest. It is not the kind of thing that requires campaign stops across a pretty huge country every other day, say.

But the second looks back to history and to the fact that it IS a huge country we’re in. We take for granted now that we can dash all about between the contiguous 48 states like so — a five, maybe six hour trip from coast to coast is all that need be done, say — and everything from air conditioning to Blackberrys and iPhones can keep people feeling reasonably cossetted in the maelstrom.

Consider a counterexample — in the nineteenth century, most presidential candidates didn’t campaign at all in the sense that we know it. Quite often they barely moved at all from their homes or places of work — the idea was that their supporters did the heavy lifting in their own areas, spreading the word out. The ‘front-porch campaign’ is the commonly recognized term for it, with two of the most famous examples being James Garfield in 1880 and William McKinley in 1900 (that the two ended up being shot could perhaps be seen in retrospect as a conspiracy by railroads annoyed at losing business — did Robert Anton Wilson ever do anything with that idea?), and other examples can be found. In those days, frankly I’d’ve rather chilled on a shady porch myself and let everything work itself out before doing more in a cooler fall atmosphere anyway.

And it’s not just because of the weather or whatever — it’s the whole sense of grind. To quote another bit in that article I linked:

Few Americans can appreciate what Obama is enduring. Michael S. Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, said the incessant campaigning at this stage of the contest was “insane.” It is easy for a candidate to get stale, getting in and out of airplanes, repeating the same message, said Dukakis, a former governor of Massachusetts.

“As a candidate you get bored,” he said. “You’ve been saying the same thing over and over again for the last year and a half. What they ought to do is say, ‘OK, you campaign three days a week during the summer.’ What is this every-day stuff?”

And this makes perfect sense to me! It should make perfect sense to everybody. Both candidates have laid their basic groundwork and are essentially refining, tweaking and otherwise shoring things up. What’s there is there and the kind of obsessive tea-leaf reading that goes on over those tiny variations speaks more to the minds of those tea-leaf readers than it does about the candidates themselves. And if the idea is that one shouldn’t show one’s boredom or annoyance or frustration with the process as it stands while one is in that process — well, you know, to heck with that. I’d rather a candidate say, “This really flat out sucks, for these reasons,” and the fact that Obama’s getting close to that point, far from making me think he’s somehow ungrateful or unworthy, just makes me think more of the guy. I’d be feeling the same way, and if McCain’s been similarly grumping about it as well a bit, I’m all for that as well.

I don’t think we need wind-up robot supercandidates who simply show up just to deliver a stump speech and leave again. What’s the point? In that Obama has been generally agreed to be the better speaker of the two and has a more charismatic gift to him, great, but there’s a little thing I like to tell my student workers here at the library — ‘It may be the thousandth time you’ve said something, but it’s the first time someone asking the question has heard it.’ While this advice could just as easily be applied to the candidates, there’s a key difference — it won’t be the first time at all that their audiences have heard their sentiments, and intellectually they *must* know that what they’re hearing is not far removed from what’s already been said and heard elsewhere, as any scrounge of YouTube will confirm. A bit like rock concert tours in that regard, actually. But this gets more into the dynamics of performance and making the mundane seem special and unique, and that would take more time than I have at present to address properly.

Suffice to say I have no problem with the mundane being openly addressed as mundane, and therefore not of overriding necessity. Personally, I’d be fine — MORE than fine — if Obama and McCain basically both said, “You know, Congress isn’t in session, it’s summer, we’ve each got our own people to deal with and plan for as our conventions approach, and there’s a lot to think about as we get closer to November. See everyone in September.” A hectic two months from that point on, yes, but in those two months one could argue that the candidates could then operate in the mode of “Okay, NOW we’re getting down to it, and aiming for that general electorate from here forward.” And again, speaking about the CANDIDATES, not the organizations — those are supposed to be chugging along day to day regardless. That’s the point — if you’re volunteering for one, working for one, you have made that decision and are acting accordingly.

Would that it were all so. Instead we’re going to get a slew of soundbites and bits of speeches and sentiments we’ve already heard all summer long, not to mention oodles of analysis from people all trying to be the next Tim Russert. And you wonder why I don’t watch TV much these days…

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The Quietus fully redesigns and launches

The site had earlier renamed itself to the Quietus but had kept its initial design; now, however, it’s fully up with a design overhaul. It’s been fun to be a small part of it so far — I’ll be working on a piece next week that’s going to be a main feature if it all shakes down properly, so we’ll see how that goes! Jarvis Cocker talking about Sheffield hometown heroes of a time, Artery, is there for the reading in the meantime, among numerous other pieces.

An even simpler summer dinner

There’s a good rule of thumb — if you have a full lunch, aim for a lighter dinner. Thus this, where in the midst of laundry and other chores I didn’t want to spend a slew of time — chopped and steamed kale, tossed with a bit of sesame oil and a rosemary salt blend, plus some good cheddar toasted on the whole grain bread bought yesterday. Add a glass of cab sav and you’re good to go.

Tuesday book review bits

Having read my way through a slew of recent books it behooves me to say something about them — if only to fully clear them from my desk at work and check them back into the system:

  • Julian Cope‘s Japrocksampler is unsurprisingly meant to be a companion volume to his earlier Krautrocksampler — both books being freely biased but still aiming to be informative takes for an English-language audience on the late sixties/early seventies rockkultur of Japan and Germany respectively. Like the earlier volume, Japrocksampler has been received well but not without some criticism — in a quick chat I was lucky enough to have with Kawabata at Terrastock, he averred that it wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly better than nothing! (One of the more amusing errors he noted involves one of the album photographs in the book — an album was pictured with the obi (the paper strip with information about the album such as title, price, etc., as can also be seen with CD imports) of an entirely different album wrapped around it!)

    These caveats noted, and Cope’s irregular stylistic quirks being part of the flow — they’re not disruptive, but are noticeable nonetheless — it’s still a solid introduction not merely to legendary acts like the Flower Travellin’ Band and Speed, Glue and Shinki but the context in which these groups emerged in Japan, from the working of the Japanese music industry to, if perhaps too briefly, the general sociopolitical context of Japan at the time. Don’t know if I would recommend everyone buy it, but read a library or friend’s copy at the least; meantime, the book’s spinoff site, which I’ve linked at points throughout this review, is a fine complement, providing further links and information about the artists in question.

  • Equally not quite perfect — there’s a slew of editing errors throughout that made me wince — but equally worthy of reading is Dave Thompson‘s The Dark Reign of Gothic Rock, which overwrought title aside might actually have been the first book on the subject to not only treat the genre and initial UK-birth period as a detailed and worthwhile subject of study in its own right (nothing against Mick Mercer — who favorably reviews the book here — but his eighties work seems to have been more of a capturing as it happens — equally useful but with its own limitations), but to get nearly all the principal figures caught up in the tag sat down for a series of interviews. Finally getting folks like Peter Murphy and Siouxsie Sioux and Ian Astbury and the like to talk at least somewhat directly about being identified as goth — however unintentionally — makes for instructive reading, since none of those figures had of course ever planned to actually BE ‘goth’ in the first place.

    There’s a good wealth of historical information scattered throughout the book as well — though as noted, having a caught a slew of small but notable errors, it makes me wonder about the ones that I’ve missed — and in many ways it’s the stories of the second-tier groups that are of the most interest, such as learning the story of Specimen and their Batcave club in more detail than I’d yet read. Its understandable enough UK focus leaves out plenty, admittedly — Rozz Williams and Christian Death quite literally appear only in the final couple of pages almost as an afterthought, for instance — but even so, well worth a read, and for its detailed breakdown of the early Sisters of Mercy story alone it was crucial stuff.

  • Finally, John Cox‘s Slovenia: Evolving Loyalties, one in a series of books on Balkan countries published recently by Routledge, was of specific interest to me as someone who has been idly considering a visit to the area for a while, and is now looking towards a trip to both Slovenia and Serbia next summer as part of a larger European vacation. Still, one person’s vacation spot is another’s home and central social context, and Cox’s work taught me more about the country and the Slovenian consciousness as such more than anything else ever has yet. With the caveat that it is an outside perspective from an academic researcher, if one who clearly knows and loves the Balkans, Cox’s book was a detailed, multi-perspective take on many different issues in Slovenian politics, history, culture and more besides — and I didn’t realize until now that Slavoj Zizek was Slovenian! Serves me right!

Next up on the reading list — Kafka’s The Trial. Finally!