Bonbons In The Big City

The design of corporate plazas often is rote and uninspired.  A lone tree in a planter here, a random piece of abstract sculpture there, a concrete bench or two at the opposite end . . . it’s why so many downtown areas have this grim sense of sameness.

It’s a pleasure when you see some downtown landscaping that is different and interesting, like this collection of topiary bushes in front of one of the Chevron buildings in Houston.  The spherical shrubs look like bonbons in a candy box, or tomatoes on the shelf in the produce section at the grocery store.  Seeing the ball-like shapes as I walked by brought a smile to my face.

A Big Audience For A Big Debate

Last night’s debate was popular with viewers — which probably is good news for Mitt Romney, who is generally regarded as having performed very well.

According to the overnight ratings, 58 million people tuned in to watch the candidates spar over the issues — a number that doesn’t include those who watched on PBS, Univision, or CSPAN or on-line.  Surprisingly, more people watched this debate than watched the first presidential debate in 2008, when President Obama was at the height of his popularity.  The TV audience also was far larger than the viewership for this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions.

I’m glad to see that the American people are paying attention to this election.  I wonder whether the significantly increased viewership for this debate may have been influenced, at least in part, by a desire on the part of some fed-up voters who are sick of silly attack ads and the squawking of the punditocracy, the pollsters, and the spin jockeys, and just wanted to see President Obama and Mitt Romney in their unfiltered state, going toe to toe.  I imagine that most people who watched the debate thought it was a worthwhile and interesting experience, and will encourage their friends to watch the next one.  I’ll bet that the audience for the second debate will be larger still.

I hope that is the case, and I hope that the viewers also are reaching their own conclusions — not about who won or lost a mere debate, or who looked more “presidential,” but about which candidate is best suited for a very tough and important job.  After all, that is the ultimate question that voters must decide.

Home Of The Jetsons?

I’m not a huge fan of modern architecture, but occasionally you see a futuristic design that makes you stop in your tracks.  The Chevron complex in Houston is like that.  An expanse of concrete, steel, chrome, and glass with a cool, above ground circular walkway connecting the different buildings, it looks like it came straight from the drawing board of the creators of The Jetsons cartoon.

Walking by, you expect to see a slobbering Astro come bounding past you, and you can’t help but listen carefully for George’s desperate cry:  “Help, Jane.  Stop this crazy thing!  Help, Jaaaaaaaaaaaane!”

Second Thoughts On The First Debate

A few additional thoughts on the first debate last night, and its aftermath:

Although Jim Lehrer almost immediately lost control of the rules and format — initial two-minute answers, moderator-led discussion, 15-minute “issue pods” — I’m glad that happened.  Because Lehrer shrank into the background, we got to see direct give-and-take between the candidates.  They took the discussions where they wanted to go, and the results were revealing.  We also were spared the annoying time limit hectoring we’ve had to endure in prior debates.  The ultimate price of Lehrer’s lack of zeal was that only three minutes were available for the last, “governing” issue pod.  I’m sure America will somehow manage to stoically endure that loss.

I watched the debate on CNN, which had a real-time male/female favorability reaction meter running throughout the debate, and I later caught the Frank Luntz focus group on Fox.  These kinds of reaction measuring devices are familiar to trial lawyers, who use focus groups and mock juries to test potential courtroom themes, and they are always interesting to watch.  The peril of focus groups, however, is that they often confirm that viewers (or potential jurors) hear what they want to hear.  One member of the Luntz group, for example, thought Mitt Romney was too vague, another specifically disagreed and said he heard lots of specifics.  They both watched the same debate.  If you are the candidate (or the trial lawyer), which perception do you credit?

The Luntz focus group overwhelmingly thought Romney won, and some members said he changed their voting decisions.  Their big takeaways were that Romney was more decisive and also more capable for reaching a bipartisan consensus on issues.  Those aren’t exactly consistent qualities, yet Romney managed to convince focus group members that he could do both.  Sending that dual message is no mean feat.

I also watched MSNBC, where some commentators bemoaned the President’s performance as lackluster and also thought Romney pushed Lehrer around.  That reaction is interesting, because the President occupied far more debate talking time than Romney did.  Indeed, on one occasion the President overrode Lehrer to get “five more seconds,” then spoke for a much longer period, and on another occasion Romney cordially accepted Lehrer’s instruction that it was time to move on.  It’s another example, I think, of perceptions being colored by preexisting views.  It’s just human nature to blame the refs when your team is losing.