Posts Tagged ‘us election’

Nanu Opinions: The West Wing

West Wing

Here at Nanu Nanu, we're big fans of Aaron Sorkin's work – especially The West Wing. With that, and the US election in mind, we've put together a list of our favourite West Wing episodes, and written just a few words about why. Elyse Jamieson Noël Season 2, Episode 10 This was an incredibly difficult decision to make as, in my opinion, the first four seasons of The West Wing are some of the finest television episodes ever made. For illustration, it’s important to note that I’d bought the entire box set having only watched the first seven episodes of series one. However, I eventually narrowed my favourites down to the series 3 finale, ‘Posse Comitatus’ (I love you, CJ), and series 2’s Christmas episode, ‘Noël’. Although neither are the funniest or most politically driven, these are episodes I specifically revisit time and time again. The latter came out on top. At least for today. ‘Noël’ centres on Josh discussing with a psychologist what turns out to be post-traumatic stress disorder, jumping back and forth between that meeting and flashbacks to the events that triggered him. Bradley Whitford is fantastic in his portrayal of the confused and scared deputy chief of staff – so much character development happens in the 45 minutes available. It’s also an episode which has a wonderful aesthetic, and that makes it an absolute pleasure to watch, even if it is a little upsetting in places. Of course, for light relief, there is always Bartlet’s desire to personally sign all 1,110,000 holiday cards sent by the office of the President. ‘Noël’ has got it all. Angus Niven 20 Hours in America (Parts One and Two) Season 4, Episodes 1 & 2 I understand this is annoying, being asked to pick one episode and choosing two, so apologies to everyone offended (tweet me some abuse if it makes you feel better) but it’s a two parter and impossible to separate. ‘20 Hours in America’ was the first episode that came to mind when I was asked for my favourite episode. I of course considered others but I just kept coming back to the fourth season's premiere. This was the first episode of The West Wing I ever watched back in dark days of the early '00's on More 4. I watched it before I knew what a stump speech was or a caucus or what the White House Deputy Chief of Staff did. I had no idea what was going on and yet I was totally engrossed in this episode, I was engrossed in plots I jumped in on half way through and characters I knew nothing about. That is pretty flipping special, I knew I had to watch the show. Josh, Toby and Donna are all stranded when the motorcade leaves an Indiana stop on the campaign trail. Missing the motorcade leads to them missing the plane which leads to 20 hours of shenanigans. Because of their absence Sam is having to fill Josh's role

while the President and Leo struggle with the aftermath of an ill-advised assassination and the loss of Mrs Landingham. My synopsis obviously doesn't do the episode justice. ‘20

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Hours in America’ is a prime example of The West Wing at its best, showing off the ensemble, somehow highlighting the characters in the midst of some truly gripping drama. Oh and did I mention that it’s also super funny? I probably didn't, but the Josh/Toby/Donna plot really shows off Sorkin’s love affair with 1940's Screw Ball comedies. Richard Hanrahan 17 People Season 2, Episode 18 It's a tough choice, as much like a father cannot choose their favourite child, for with The West Wing I would have around 154 equally talented, beautiful children, and tell 153 of them that I don't like them. Except some of the kids that hung around smoking and doing drugs behind the school when Aaron Sorkin wasn't watching them. The opening episode is quite brilliant, as Jed Bartlett makes his incredible entrance, or perhaps my favourite would be one of those festooned in light relief – where its open door policy at the White House, and all the staff have to listen to the crazy ideas that end up making sense to them. Or when John Goodman turns up (!). But I'm not going to go for spectacle, or glitz, or humour – the best episode has to revolve around my favourite character, Toby. He is the powerhouse behind the entire administration, whose idealism and intellect guarantee the moral authority with which the administration deserve. But when Toby, using spare brain resources while doing other important things, deduces why Jed Bartlett might not run for a second presidency, he creates the storyline that defines the maturity for the rest of show. And all in one catch of a bouncing ball. Finlay Niven Posse Comitatus Season 3, Episode 21 The last episode of the third season of The West Wing is the perfect mix of all that makes the show great. CJ’s relationship with her bodyguard comes to a head with a slim glimmer of hope for her private life dashed in one of the cruellest story lines on the show. The death of Simon Donovan in a senseless random crime is juxtaposed with the cold calculated assassination that President Bartlet and everyone involved is clearly uncomfortable organising. Also gearing up in this episode is the fourth coming election and in one of the episodes best scene’s President Bartlet

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meets his opponent Governor Ritchie. The Governor is smacked down

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in typical Bartlet style, as seen here. The West Wing was truly in full swing during this season and the next. For me everything seems to just work here. It was a difficult choice but when I sat down to re-watch this afternoon, so many of this episode’s moments stood out as exceptional.


Pioneers: I'm a Swanky-Google-Gandhi

Voting Booth

My interest in technology often revolves around one thing in particular – democracy. With technology, it is hoped, democracy can be spread around the world, and this democracy can become corruption free and efficient. As it happens for the American Election this year, there are a number of different technologies that will hope to revolutionise how people relate with politics.

The Campaigns themselves

Both Democrats and Republicans have used technology in different ways to better organise their core voters. As part of the 2008 election campaign, in which Obama was elected on a passionate wave of hope and possibility, much was made of the role of twitter and other social networks to really get people inspired by the message. Often neglected in analysis since, given the role of these technologies in events like rioting and the arab spring has seen this form of interaction take on an altogether more violent edge, the role of twitter in getting Obama into the White House cannot be underestimated. Sure, much of his support came from Black and Hispanic voters who finally saw a candidate that might genuinely represent their views, but it was the new generation of voters that he really inspired – a group that transcends both sex and race.

This year, the democrats unveiled their latest tool – dashboard. Dashboard was a project that was being worked on behind the scenes for a number of years, and when first revealed promised to change the way democrats could inspire the grass-roots movement to get involved. The features of dashboard are fairly simple – with simple group network and fundraising tools (see this ) – which all point towards getting volunteers to where they can best be organised. The dashboard does this by connecting to a simple “vote builder” database which contains telephone numbers, addresses, and other personal data, for millions of people and connects these with the volunteers who want to contact them. Why waste resources on known, keen republicans – when instead you can concentrate on getting firm democrats out to vote as early and as soon as possible? Once these early votes are cast, resources on the final stages can be diverted to the undecided (whoever they are).

The role of technology for republicans is an altogether different beast. Their weapon in democracy was the construction of a giant database called Themis – which looked to emulate the success of a similar project called Catalist that helped the democrats win the election in 2008 – but which operates in secrecy. Not knowing much about the project, it is difficult to say much about what it is doing – but some have pointed towards its business partners, which include Intell360 that describes data mining services for likely voters. Under law, due to the way the project is managed it cannot co-ordinate with the candidates, but can work with advocacy groups. What can be said however, relies on how this group has operated – and if it does, as many predict, have voter data, and uses it analytically and efficiently, but which does not include grass-roots and activist groups in its use, we can suggest that it is a project which suppress the democratic instinct. This isn't technology employed to inspire participation in a democratic system – it is designed to beat it.

Obviously this analysis – democrats good, republicans bad, despite both using centralised databases of personal data – fits into a liberal agenda, and many would be right to suggest I have evidence to work with, but it is still crucial that the very central openness of the democrats use of this data, as opposed to the republic closed and secretive model, Much of the campaign for the democrat side of things is about ensuring people vote at all. Getting people to vote, getting the enthusiasm that no only inspires the individual to vote, but frisks them up enough to – it is, and continues to be, the agenda of the democrats to ensure that larger numbers of people are represented, and are given the chance to vote, as the rights and desires of the innumerable poor challenge the individual and private interests of an increasingly limited and privileged few.

Voting Machines

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at America makes the right decision – which according to European polls suggests a staggering favour for Obama over his republican alternative – many might be surprised to know that voting is done on ATM style machines, allowing digital technology to permeate the very act of voting itself. The benefits in such a system are clear – in an optimised and totally efficient system, voting calculations can be almost instantaneous, disregarding the slow (and often prejudiced) counting process at the hands of a small army of human volunteers. Knowing where votes were coming from also could be beneficial for identifying where campaign money should be spent, especially for establishing low turnout areas and were access to government and resources should be allocated.

However, as the technology becomes more and more dominant in the American system, the limitations of such devices are becoming increasingly clear. One , shared early this morning, exhibits Je suis un passionne de jeux de casino et plus particulierement de la casino roulette francaise. the problems in a technology that has to be cheap (used rarely, but at an incredible scale) such that it is unresponsive, poorly calibrates, and, worst of all, vulnerable to malicious code and near invisible corruptive software. This sort of problem is almost definitely the feature of cheap software and hardware as opposed to any serious problem, but had this voter not been aware of himself (he does go on to vote correctly according to reports on reddit) or someone perhaps less tech literate, then many votes may be being given to the wrong candidate without awareness. Alongside this, the potential for more sinister software manipulation were presented of the account of what was claimed to be a software engineer who was approached to potentially design a system which not only redistributed and changed votes invisibly, but which would also destroy itself after the event. Without a trail of paper, votes cast cannot be – and who knows, maybe this has taken place in the past. That this sort of corruption appears to have taken place with less technical voting systems, ensuring an open source software for public voting machines – with a proof of receipt system that guarantees a physical presence of the vote after the machine has finished operating – might be a logical technical solution to this problem. As it stands, these electronics are big business, and until money is removed from politics and this software becomes transparent, there will be more possibility for this kind of corruption to exist.

Technology is Everywhere

But for all the money spent on these tools, the real game changer this year may well be our friend Citizen Journalism. In 2004, when voter fraud reached heartbreaking levels as thousands (if not millions) of American voters saw their votes ignored  disregarded or thrown out from technical errors, such as the “Hanging Chad” controversy  Today, as voters across America struggle to vote, their stories will be heard and shared whenever and however they occur. The evidence can be filmed, and shared, without the usual limitations that has blighted democracy for a hundred years.

By all means, this does not solve the problem. The rise in this general noise of disenfranchisement will ensure most of this may never reach any sort of worthwhile attention, but factual evidence – rather than mere anecdotal evidence – exists and can hopefully find these democratic problems before they become a real issue.

The role of technology in the everyday has also allowed many to raise awareness of voting applications, making sure people have the right documentation at the right times. Journalism, and the ever present camera, has allowed stump speech and shady conference addresses be fact checked and shared by and for those who perhaps cannot know the facts themselves. Hopefully, as years go by, and technology helps to not only inspire generations to vote, but guarantees access to voting for everyone without having the limitations we have now – with many voters unable to vote in the allocated time due to work commitments and other physical limitations – we can have a political system that is fit for the age in which we live.


Yes? We Can?

American Flag

Two Thousand and Eight

It seems like an absolute age ago. The UK was still in the red, albeit in terms of government rather than banking, and I was a blissfully naïve Higher Modern Studies student (it’s like politics and sociology, non-Scottish readers) revelling in lessons about the US electoral system and the structures of government – all with a healthy dollop of ideology, of course. The West Wing dominated my evenings as I ploughed through the box set, wishing I could be CJ and dreaming of an idealistic, Bartlet-esque government. It was shiny, exciting – and it was happening in real life.

yes we can

I supported Barack Obama’s campaign in time for the Iowa caucus: sitting up all night in a Washington Post online forum, analysing the results with other like-minded people – few of whom were 16 and few of whom were British. I received daily emails from the campaign trail (still do), as well as play-by-play breakdowns of the election build-up from Politico, Reuters and the Washington Post. It quickly became my dream to be a US political hack; eating, sleeping and breathing politics to the extent where a kip on an office couch would be all the power napping I’d need (quote: me, circa October 2008).

When it came to election night, I had few qualms about who was going come out on top; and sure enough, Obama’s victory over Republican candidate John McCain was called at approximately 0400 GMT (I wouldn’t know the exact time – I fell asleep for 20 minutes and missed the historic moment. So much for power napping).

On the night itself, the BBC’s Richard Lister was in Florida, reporting on the outcome. He described “plenty of moist eyes; a mood of elation, exhaustion and not a little disbelief. People shouting ‘yes we can’. A grinning man in a beery ‘change’ t-shirt says ‘NOW it can begin’.”

Obama’s entire campaign was built on hope, change and a better future. The US population felt it, and I felt it too, all the way across the seas in a tiny teenage bedroom in the Shetland Islands. Things were going to be good.


Two Thousand and Twelve

Fast forward four years. The recession never left. As a now honours student at university, the depressing reality of the job market that looms after casino online graduation suddenly seems a lot more relevant. Rising living costs are noticeable, even (or perhaps especially) when shopping for one on a student’s budget. Social freedoms, such as a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body, and gay marriage, are things I now fully understand the importance of. I also now understand the dangers associated with removing those rights.

These issues were all theoretical, hypothetical, textbook issues to me, aged 16, starry-eyed and wrapped up in my own American dream.

american dream is over

I’ve grown up a bit

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now, and the world has too. Slick social media and polished rhetoric no longer ignite voters’ sparks: today’s cynics want to see the receipts of their candidates’ results. Results that make improvements across the country, for everyone. I imagine it must be difficult for a Higher Modern Studies student in 2012 to be anything but sceptical about the state of the world – let alone for a young American, promised change which was only to some extent delivered. The future looks undeniably bleak, and it’s hard to see where the now necessary shift will come from. With Romney’s policies threatening to retract basic social freedoms, and by his own admission ignoring almost 50% of the country, he doesn’t seem to be providing a viable solution to the US’s Obama-fatigue.

Personally, I’d still be voting for Obama. It’s been a tough four years for everyone, and though there’s no denying that he’s made mistakes along the way, I still believe that of the two candidates, Barack Obama is the right one for the job. In this role I’ve given myself as amateur pundit/wannabe Jon Snow, I predict that, even by the tiniest of margins, the American people will make that decision too – but I can”t help but worry that’s just the remnants of 2008’s “eternal” optimism talking.