Waiting for the end

September 4th, 2008 – 3:15 PM by James Lileks

l”>Light cool day; everything in the hall feels a bit anticlimactic after last night. I’m sitting in Rice Park with MSNBC blaring in the background. No protests at the moment; there was one sad 9/11 truther walking around with a pole. No sign, just a pole. The Mossad took it! A couple has set up an unintelligible hand-made sign that demands a NEW MONETARY ORDER; they’re either protesting the Federal Reserve, or Western Union. Two bands are playing pretty good rock to audiences composed entirely of granite-faced cops. There’s really nothing to film and nothing to cover; it’s all just a matter of waiting for McCain.

The quote going around the newsrooms: when this thing is over, there will be a crash heard for a ninety-mile radius. I think you’ll all be understanding if newspapers just take a week off, won’t you? People who’ve been on this thing for a fortnight are staggering around like hollow-skulled zombies. What must surely task the souls of pundits at the moment is the knowledge that nothing anyone writes or predicts before tonight’s speech will matter a second after McCain begins to talk. I mean, I have to go on the air in four hours, and I feel like singing “99 bottles of beer on the wall” until they cut my mike.

One sign it’s been a long week: by day four, you should set off the metal detectors with your lanyard flair. Many news organizations and exhibiters give away small pins to hang on your neck-rope, and we collect them just because they’re free; I have a UPS tape measure for the same reason. (Actually, I have two, because whenever someone hands out something you get one for “your friend.” Because there might be a pin-for-tape-measurer market that develops at any moment.) By Thursday you should have enough pins on your credentials lanyard to earn you the wanding of your life by the security guards. 
Off to film some bands, then do some radio; downstairs on Radio Row you can hear the sound of the barrel-bottom being scraped, and that’s my cue.

Day Three: miscellany

September 3rd, 2008 – 4:01 PM by James Lileks

Sorry for the delay here, but we’ve been caught up in the endless swirl of schmoozing hard-nosed impromptu political analysis in the halls. You can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who believes that you’re wrong, you should have swung a dachschund, but if the internal tracking polls are correct it doesn’t matter because people are in the mood for someone who juggles ferrets, etc. Opinions are like nostrils around here; everyone has two, and they’re full of hair. Sorry. Long night, long day. Some random notes: * John Bolton is shorter than you might think, if you’d thought about it at all. Without the distinctive facial hair he would be unrecognizable to most, though; it’s a reminder to all that you should adopt a distinctive moustache before entering into a controversial career, because if things just get too stupid you can shave it off, change your glasses, and you’re set for a lifetime of peace.* The Bird Porn people are here. More on that in tomorrow’s video. I’m starting to suspect it might be a put-on. No, really.* The 9/11 Truthers were screaming at the MSNBC set, which is located outdoors. This was a wise move, because one of the surest way to get your message across – and penetrate the adamantine belief system of television anchorpeople – is to disrupt their work. It’s page one of the Dale Carnegie system, in fact. * Word on Palin’s speech tonight: she wrote it all. Turned down offers of help from pro speechwriters. Will punctuate her points with skeet-shooting; by the third one the audience will get the idea and shout PULL in a roof-raising chorus. The broken pieces of clay pigeons that fall to the floor will be greatly prized; don’t expect to see them on eBay.Off to shoot video; the street performer who’s been pretending to be a statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald is present again today, so we’ll try to crack his concentration again.  

Cub Scout bus attacked? Seriously, Cub Scouts?

September 2nd, 2008 – 11:23 AM by James Lileks

Episode 2 of the convention diary is up; it’s about all the merry events surrounding Monday’s protests. The video doesn’t address any subsequent unpleasantness that happened en route; if you want additional views, the Uptake was there. It also doesn’t cover any peripheral misbehavior, such as the cement-bag dropping matter mentioned yesterday. (More on that here, and apparently nowhere else.) It concerns the people who were on the Mall, and to repeat what the video says: the vast majority were peaceable and civil. Certainly more so than Denver – didn’t do a scientific survey, but the amount of vulgar t-shirts was infinitesimal compared to the DNC protests.

As with Denver, the impact of the protests on the actual event was nonexistent. No one cared in Denver, and no one cared in St. Paul. This has nothing to do with how you feel about the justness of the protester’s cause – it’s simply a fact. While the protesters filed past, they outnumbered the observers by 600 to one, counting the cops and the media and the delegates who wandered out for a smoke break. To state the thuddingly obvious, I’m not saying that the justness or unjustness of a cause is determined by the number of people watching the parade; I’m just saying that the practical impact on the people inside the Xcel Center was nil.

Except for the old ladies who got sprayed or doused with diluted bleach, or the bus full of Cub Scouts that was stopped and rocked by protestors. Old ladies and Cub Scouts: brave, aren’t they? Tomorrow they’ll be sloshing motor oil in front of seniors with walkers.

Protest passes by with signs and chants

September 1st, 2008 – 3:09 PM by James Lileks

The protest is winding around the Xcel at the moment; there are reports of pepper spray, but nothing untoward is happening on the east side. They are moving at the usual pace of a protest march – is that the natural gait and speed of crowds of people not fleeing anything bad or running towards good? – and the signs are held high. Alas for them, it is impossible to hear what they are saying or read the signs, since they’re A) separated by the same high metal walls used in Denver, B) too far away from the main plaza, and C) competing with the rock tunes played outside the Xcel. (Chuck Berry, Shania Twain, more Van Halen. When did the GOP decide to use the controversial medium of Sammy Hagar as a mood-elevating substance?) The only people watching are the cops, the media, and delegates who’ve come out for a smoke.

The effect on the convention is absolutely nil, as you’d might expect; the protester’s efforts didn’t affect the mood of the Democrats at the Pepsidrome, either.  

Blogger Gateway Pundit says sandbags were dropped from an overpass on a bus; we’re trying to get some police input, see if there was an official report filed. Developing!

Non-Fruit Item Confiscated

September 1st, 2008 – 12:43 PM by James Lileks

Things you cannot carry through security, part two: last week we learned you cannot bring an apple into the event, because you could throw it at someone. Or you could disrupt health-care meetings with its magical doctor-keeping-away power. Today I had an umbrella confiscated, which means they have advance word that the Penguin is up to his dastardly tricks. I considered protesting, because it’s not a long umbrella; it’s not as if it contained poison gas or a ricin ball I planned to inject into someone’s shin. It’s a small collapsible umbrella. You couldn’t knock out Estelle Getty with this thing, let alone cause mischief. But the rule was simple: no umbrellas; could be used as a weapon. Meanwhile, guys with heavy metal camera tripods sail right in. So I’m out one apple and one umbrella. We’ll be starting a fundraiser after Gustav is over.

Just got back from the protest assembling on the State Capitol Grounds. Most of the folks, I’d say 93%, are waving generic mainstream anti-war slogans. It’s the seven-percent lunatics that make it interesting, of course. The obligatory Truthers were walking around with a giant banner that said “9-11 was an inside job,” and I interviewed a fellow who gave them a thumbs up. He was pretty sure a plane didn’t hit the Pentagon, but was uncertain what they did with the people who were originally on the plane. “We just don’t know,” was the quote, I think. Well, you just don’t know, friend.

Off to investigate the impact on downtown – so far so good; St. Paul hasn’t seen this much pedestrian activity since 1953. It’s as if the old city came back to life. Ah, so this is what it was like before the malls and the burbs? Sweet.

Sunday: Convention opens, closes

August 31st, 2008 – 3:25 PM by James Lileks

Welcome to the 2008 Hurricane Gustav Convention. This might be the first convention in meteorological history that was interrupted by a political event, but right now it looks as if the two will compete for the rest of the week. John McCain, who everyone had expected to appear Thursday night on the levees and fill sandbags, may actually show up at the Xcel in Minneapolis  – what? Oh, sorry, right – the Xcel in St. Paul, whatever, but if it’s important to you then we’ll say “St. Paul” when we remember. Can’t promise anything, though. We’re the MEDIA. Have you thought of just putting it all in one city? Anyway, it looks bad, and we’ll be standing by. Gustav is expected to make landfall in St. Paul on Tuesday evening –

BREAKING: we finally have some news at the convention, and the news is that there will be no convention tomorrow. Not much of one, anyway. Most events will be cancelled, McCain said. They will call the convention to order, adopt the rules, elect officers and adopt the platform – and then call it quits two and a half hours later. This means there will be hundreds of news-starved journalists roaming St. Paul in a blind red fury; deprived of even the meanest ration of gruelly news, there is now a level of non-newsiness here that eclipses anything we experienced in Denver. It’s like Un-news. Anti-news that destroys news on contact. This is like waiting three hours for the band to hit the stage then learning the concert is cancelled.

Avian indecency: the Dave Barry version

August 28th, 2008 – 4:50 PM by James Lileks

Forgot to link to DB’s version of the event. It’s here!

Podium now open to all

August 28th, 2008 – 4:30 PM by James Lileks

As noted on twitter, everything at the Pepsidrome is being dismantled and carted away. The widescreen TV and Wii are gone; there’s no Diet Pepsi in the media spa (plenty of free beer, though, if Coors qualifies; yesterday a can bobbing in the melted ice water leaked, and the water actually got lighter). Grim men are walking around spooling up wire. I fear this will be like the last dispatch from the wireless room of the Titanic, but I’ll stay at my post as long as I can. Just call me Sparks.

The twitter feed, incidentally, has minor comments made about this event in between laptop internet access; you will see, among other things, the sight of Al Sharpton ascending an escalator. You need not log in or join anything to read.)

 The interior of the Pepsidrome is returning to normal. The chairs are gone; the big risers on which 50+ cameras all captured the exact same thing are gone, and people are wandering around on stage without the necessary level of credentials. The very fact that they can wander unmolested is proof that the sharpshooters in the rafters have moved elsewhere, or decided to let us have our fun. A few days ago you could have been tackled for trying to get near the podium; last night you could have gotten shot if you rushed it. Today, with the action moved elsewhere, you can wander on up and have your picture taken from the podium. 


Who could resist?

Winding down

August 28th, 2008 – 2:21 PM by James Lileks

This is being written while standing up, because a group of journalists and a Very Important Politician have taken over the Strib booth, and are sitting in all of our chairs. Only one of them seems abashed at the intrusion. 

Everything is coasting to the conclusion – the buzz around the Pepsidrome has completely evaporated, along with security. You could bring in an apple and no one would stop you. Journos and delegates are queuing for the bus to take them to the evening ceremony; apparently you have to there seven hours in advance. No one in line seems particularly happy. They seem hot and thirsty. A few hopeful souls are hanging around the perimeter asking for spare tickets, as if this is some Grateful Dead event. Happened on the way out last night: at least ten people asked if they could have our credentials so they could get in for the Clinton-Biden speech. What were they expecting? Oh, but of course – have my badge! Wander on in! I’ll go back to the hotel and draw one from memory and use that tomorrow.

I have no idea who this pol is, but there’s absolutely nothing he’s saying that the reporters couldn’t make up and attribute to Bruce McRockjaw or Howard Gudhare. After three days of this, there’s almost nothing new to be said.  

Okay, one of the journos stood up and a standing journo took his chair instead of offering it to me. Time for the Taser. We each got one in the welcome-bag of goodies; it’s good for one shot. Old convention hands knew enough to save them for the last day, when you’d really want to use them. The newbies shot them all off on the first day.

Later: inside the members-only CNN bar. 

The Last Day

August 28th, 2008 – 2:17 AM by James Lileks

I’m not saying this convention has a pre-scripted feel, but when the TV at the bar flashed NEWS ALERT followed by the words BARACK OBAMA NOMINATED FOR PRESIDENT there wasn’t the stunned hush you expected, and reporters did not dig out cell phones and start barking paragraphs to the copy desk. It may be that we’ve become inured to the NEWS FLASH; it may be that people actually saw that one coming.

I was on the floor when it happened, as noted yesterday, and while the management of the event was flawless – the deferred votes, the appearance of Sen. Clinton, the dramatic suspension of the rules all built up nicely to the final vote tally, and if the band was surprised by the quickened pace of the event they covered well, and launched into “Love Train.” As the lyrics suggested, people all over the hall did join hands and got on board the aforementioned train, and the hall was filled with joy and light and music. Except for this guy:

Shep! C’mon, go with the moment. Well, the official media is supposed to be straight-faced no matter what. I will say this: the last time I saw someone with that much makeup on he had green eyes and went by the name “Data.”

Speaking of which, Shep was given a Vulcan neck pinch shortly before going on the air:


He recovered by airtime, though. These guys are pros.

You will not find this sort of hand-holding at the RNC version, I think; as a friend of mine once said, he chose his church on the basis that it was the place he was least likely to be hugged. Don’t know what the RNC will do for music – anything from the latter quarter of the 20th century would be modern by comparison, although they could hire Brian Setzer and have his orchestra knock out big-band tunes. M-C-C-A-I-N-0-8 I got a guyyyy named Johnny McCain / don’t wanna boast but the other guy’s toast / along with his running mate-ate-ate ate and so on. Then again, just because McCain is 72 doesn’t mean he listened to the Andrews Sisters, for heaven’s sake. He’s expressed a preference for ABBA.  This would make him more popular with the younger undecided demographic, but only if he enjoyed them semi-ironically, and wore a black T-shirt that had the ABBA logo split in half by the AC/DC lightning bolt. (Note to the McCain camp: are you listening? I’m not charging for any of this.)

Anyway, today is the last day. Stay tuned for more BREAKING NEWS. It’s expected that Barack Obama will accept the nomination tonight and give a speech relating to the campaign. You heard it here first.