Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
It was a robopoll -- press one if you're a Republican, two if you're a Democrat, and so on. So since I had nothing better to do at the time, I sat there beeping out my answers to a variety of questions having to do with the election. It started with my opinion of George W. Bush, which I was happy to give -- even though I wished there was something more emphatic than a number five ("highly unfavorable") I could punch in. Something like 911.
And then, curiously, the robovoice asked my opinion of "Governor Brian Schweitzer." At first I thought I had misheard, and that the voice was having trouble pronouncing "Arnold Schwarzenegger," but I was pretty sure that there was a Brian Schweitzer who was governor somewhere (turns out, it's Montana -- I don't read Daily Kos for nothing), so I punched in "no opinion." So now I wonder if Rasmussen got its wires crossed somewhere and really thought they were calling Montana, or if the question was just thrown in to see if I was paying attention.
Anyway, I got to choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and then between Obama and McCain, and then the questions turned to hot button issues, like whether I was "pro-choice" or "pro-life." I bristled a little at this one, since I don't think that to be pro-choice is to be "anti-life." And sure enough, the poll asked if, knowing that McCain is "pro-life" and Obama is "pro-choice," I still wanted to vote for Obama. I did.
And then the pollvoice asked whether I thought "illegal" -- i.e., undocumented -- immigrants should have driver's licenses. I do. I don't want anyone who hasn't passed a driving test out there on the roads where I'm driving or walking. McCain, the poll informed me, opposes such licenses, and Obama favors them. Do I still want to vote for Obama? Well, sure.
The whole business left me wondering if Rasmussen -- which I gather is not a particularly highly regarded poll -- was twisting the questions toward McCain. Early in the survey, I was asked which of several issues (e.g., the economy, immigration, moral values, etc.) was of most importance to me. I beeped that the war was uppermost. But there were no "McCain favors staying in Iraq, Obama wants to get out" questions.
So was I being push-polled? I don't know, but it sure felt like it.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I did notice today that Jane Smiley's novel Ten Days in the Hills has just come out in paper. So here's my review of it that ran when the book first appeared.
TEN DAYS IN THE HILLS
By Jane Smiley
Anchor, 544 pp., $14.95 paperback
It’s an old trick: You put together a group of people in a semi-isolated setting such as a country house or a vacation retreat and see what happens. It’s worked in everything from Chekhov’s plays to Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game to Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music (and its source, Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night).
Jane Smiley also has something even older in mind: Boccaccio’s Decameron, in which ten Florentines escape the plague-threatened city for ten days. She seems to have approached her new novel, Ten Days in the Hills, as a kind of “thought experiment,” letting the story grow out of the characters. What would happen if a pair of lovers, Max and Elena, were joined at his home by Max’s daughter and Elena’s son, plus Max’s ex-wife, Zoe, and her current lover? And what if you added in Zoe’s mother and three more of their friends? And set the novel at a time of political and social tension?
And what if you made Max a movie director, Elena a successful writer of how-to books and Zoe a famous movie star? And what if you put Max’s house in a spectacular hillside setting in Pacific Palisades? And instead of plague, made the threatening event the
What would you get? You know already: a lot of talk and a lot of sex. Something for everyone.
Or not. The trouble with the talk is that so much of it is predictable. It’s
At least there’s the sex, which Smiley is generous with. Max is having a little dysfunction problem, brought about in part by the standstill in his career, so Elena is solicitous in her attempts to arouse him. Zoe is nearing the end of her relationship with Paul, a New Agey “healer,” so she checks out Elena’s son, Simon, a handsome and sexually adventurous young slacker who has recently shaved his head so he can play the role of a phallus in a student film. Simon is happy to get it on with anyone, female or male, who’s willing. As for Max and Zoe’s daughter, Isabel, she’s been having a secret affair with Max’s agent, Stoney, since she was a teenager.
At the midpoint of the ten days that these ten characters spend together, the whole ensemble is invited to the fabulous but somewhat sinister home -- Shangri-la crossed with the Hearst Castle -- of a Russian entrepreneur (read: gangster). The Bel-Air estate is filled with secret treasures, including a hitherto unknown Vermeer and what may just be the actual
The Russian proposes to bankroll a film version of Gogol’s Taras Bulba that would be more faithful to the story than the 1962 Yul Brynner/Tony Curtis clunker. Max is trying to decide between directing this epic, to be filmed on the steppes of
The satiric potential is obvious, and Smiley exploits it. Yet she also gives her characters depth and plausibility, which works against merely using them to lampoon