Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin's Effect on the Race

I think that Jonathan Zasloff has it about right:
Throughout the blogosphere, the pundits are saying that the Palin nomination is either a disaster for McCain (Blue) or a game-changing work of genius (Red). I suspect it is neither, mainly because voters virtually never change their votes on a Veep.
I disagree about the way Zasloff says the biases are stacking up. I've seen conservatives say (worriedly) that Palin is a disaster (e.g.), and I've seen liberals say (worriedly) that Palin was a brilliant pick (e.g.). I think that both views are well represented on both sides of the political spectrum -- and not just in the blogosphere, either. There's been a remarkable amount of both "it's a brilliant move"/"it's a disaster" from both sides -- all very strong for their various perspectives.

But even if he ascribes the biases too simply, I think Zasloff is right about the basic issue: fundamentally it won't matter much. Maybe she'll help fire up the conservative base a bit, or win them Alaska; maybe she'll prove to be an embarrassment and depress the conservatives or fire up the liberals. But I doubt that it'll make much difference either way.

Although it sure sounds like the pick did one thing, which is knock Obama's speech right out of the single-issue lens of the mass media (and me too, I admit: I am one of those Americans they pander to, I guess). So in the short run it was a gain. (Although given how many people watched it, maybe it doesn't matter. (Incidentally, I'm not one of those 38 million, since I listened to it on the radio rather than watched it on TV.)) But I bet in the long run it won't make much difference either way.

Incidentally, Zasloff's other four points are good too -- especially his defense of Palin's common sense notion that she has no idea what the VP is supposed to do: as he points out, that has been true since the very first VP, John Adams. I think Palin should be attacked, not on this (nor on her experience, as I said below), but along the lines Obama actually did criticize her today*: given that she's on McCain's ticket, she is (presumably) committed to McCain's policies, which are mostly Bush's, which have been a disaster.) It's not who she is or what she's done, but what she -- and more importantly (what with him being the candidate and all) he -- are committed to: a disastrous style of governance that we can't afford four more years of.

* The quote is:
She seems like a compelling person ... with a terrific personal story. I'm sure that she will help make the case for Republicans, unfortunately the case is more of the same, and so ultimately John McCain is at the top of the ticket. He wants to take the country in the wrong direction, I'm assuming Gov. Palin agrees with him and his policies.
Precisely. (Obama then went on to say, wisely and correctly, that notwithstanding this it's good she broke the glass ceiling on the Republican side.)

New Orleans Yartzeit (Year Three)

Time once again to light a candle in memory of the dead, and of the great city that drowned. And to swear that, next time, we will be there for our fellow citizens, as we -- acting through our government, the collective agent of its people -- were not last time.

And to hope -- and pray, if you're the praying type -- that the dire warnings once again being spoken turn out, this time, to be needless.

And, lastly, to act so as to minimize both the chances of such storms (i.e. stop fucking with the Earth's climate) and the impact they will have upon our country when they, inevitably, do occur (i.e. have a government which manages to care for our basic infrastructure, and to treat emergency response as a sacred duty and not a patronage plan).


A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to Who?

An entire nation says, in unison, “Sarah who?”

-- John Cole

...Oh, and while I'm not commenting on current events, I liked Obama's speech a lot -- I liked that he went after conservatism and not just McCain, and so forth, the sort of things that all the liberals are saying. I'm just not interested, myself, in what I think: I want to know how it's going to effect people not insanely biased in Obama's favor. And so far I haven't seen any data on that (although I admit Pat Buchanan's fawning seems like a good sign.)

Update: I've been surfing around looking for reactions to McCain's VP pick, and here's a point I haven't seen made yet. (Which probably just means I haven't seen it, not that it hasn't been made.) And I'm far from certain about it, but in a spirit of tentative musing, I'll throw it out there.

I think that in addition to the obvious (an attempt to cash in on the "change" feeling, plus a hope to reinforce McCain's existing-if-undeserved maverick/reformist reputation*, etc, etc), this is an attempt to cash in on people's subtle -- even unconscious -- racism.

Here's what I mean. Noah Millman (via) says of Palin:
...she gives women who are angry about Hillary being passed over another reason to vote McCain; she gives fence-sitting whites who feel they "ought" to vote for Obama because of the historic nature of his candidacy an excuse to find history on the other side...
I'm simply putting a slightly darker spin on that. I think that a lot of people are uneasy despite themselves with the notion of an African American President; and putting a woman on the ticket gives them permission to feel good about themselves ("finding history") while still not voting for the black guy. (This also explains McCain's ad of last night congratulating Obama on making history: he wants to acknowledge this issue, and then claim that it's a wash; that was the first half of that two-step.)

Of course, they'll have to vote for a woman. But the VP candidate is not the Presidential candidate; and I, personally, remained convinced that racism is stronger than sexism in this country -- particularly when you force people to choose between them (rather than between a non-white male and a white male).**

I don't know if this was deliberate on McCain's part -- although given the takeover of his campaign by Rovian operatives, I'd guess that it was deliberate on someone's part.

The possible flip side to this, of course, is that a lot of I'm-not-a-racist-but-ism has latched onto Obama's lack of experience as their "objective" criteria for dismissing him, and Palin makes that argument trickier. (Doesn't mean they won't try it under the flag of IOKIYAR, of course.) But I bet they'll simply pirouette and find another cover story to give people who are hesitant an excuse for not voting for Obama.

Don't get me wrong: I'm very hopeful that, even if this is the strategy, that it won't work. And I'm certainly not saying that other factors -- her pro-life stance, the above-mentioned attempt to burnish McCain's undeserved maverick reputation, the simple lack of other good candidates -- weren't more important. But I think this is a signal about how they're going to run. After all, we all know they can't run on their ideas -- those have been shown, over the last eight years, to be entirely disastrous*** -- and Palin's lack of experience complicates their heretofore primary argument on non-issue grounds. So what's left? Sure, the lie of McCain's maverick nature; the POW card; but also the plain, basic appeal to good, old-fashioned American racism. It's a lot of what they have left.

Let's hope that we've grown beyond that. I guess we'll see in a few months.

Update 2: I do think that the Obama campaign would be stupid to try and make an issue of Palin's level of experience -- as, I fear, they are starting to do. (The same applies to liberal commentators who genuinely want to help Obama win.) I've long thought that experience shouldn't be an issue -- but either way, it's not winning ground for Democrats this year, even if it is less winning ground for Republicans than it used to be. Better to try to pocket the neutralization of the issue and move on to the issues -- the ground on which we can win and (bonus!) the ground on which elections really ought to be fought.

Update 3, from the credit-where-credit-is-due-dep't: If I'm reading this right, Sarah Palin seems to have named one of her children after Willow Rosenberg, the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- who, in addition to being Buffy's best friend & sidekick, was a lesbian witch. (Just sayin'.) While it doesn't make me inclined to vote for her or anything, gotta give her mad props for that. (Oh, and for a bonus, another daughter is named after another witch from the TV show Charmed. -- I sort of wonder what her evangelical Christian base is gonna think of that...) Update to Update: Alas, this seems not to be true. Ah well.

* One might think that picking as a symbol of anti-corruption crusading someone who is themselves involved in a corruption scandal would be a silly move.... if one was utterly unfamiliar with the American press's willingness to regurgitate Republican talking points and ignore factual contradictions.

** No, this isn't disproved by the results of the Clinton-Obama race: I don't want to go too deeply into this, really, but I'm personally convinced that if not for racism Obama would have won more decisively and quickly. But I can see the argument on the other side.

*** My favorite line from any convention speech -- after Kucinich's undelivered zinger, anyway -- was from Bill Clinton's speech:
But on the two great questions of this election -- how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world -- [McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy that has defined his party for more than 25 years. And it is, to be fair to all the Americans who aren't as hard- core Democrats as we, it's a philosophy the American people never actually had a chance to see in action fully until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and the Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades actually were implemented. And look what happened.
To me, this is the basic point to make, over and over. Bush implemented conservatism, and it was a disaster; let's go a different way. (And one of the reasons that I liked Obama's speech is that he did go some distance in that direction.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quote of the Day

"They say it's gavel to gavel coverage, but maybe they're just talking about the gavels."

-- My wife, about the available live video coverage of the DNC

Ezra Nails It

Ezra Kline has come up with the perfect description of the strange dynamic between McCain campaign and the press:
It's amazing how dumb [the McCain campaign] seem to think the press corps is. And its amazing how dumb the press corps is willing to be. It's like watching Tom Sawyer run for president: "You know what's great? Being a bad speaker! And having very few people show up at my events! Nothing better than the peace and quiet of an sparsely attended townhall. I'd hate to be cool and flashy and eloquent. What could be more suspicious then that? Meanwhile, you should see what I'm going to do later. It's going to be great!"
As the big boys say: Heh. Indeed.

While I'm linking to Ezra Klein, I might mention that thus far his blog has been my favorite source for coverage of a convention that I am -- frankly -- mostly ignoring.* This post did a good job of summing up my (and other's) fears about how the convention is going. And, although not a characteristic post about the convention, this is my favorite post to come out of the convention so far. So check out his blog's convention coverage if you're interested in that sort of thing.

*These things are now meaningless except as week-long advertisements; and I wonder how many people watch them, except for political junkies who have already made up their minds anyway. I'll probably watch Obama's speech tonight -- the main event -- but for the most part it seems like a good week to get some work done.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Or so everyone's reporting as of now (early Saturday morning).

My first reaction: Meh. Coulda been worse. Doesn't raise my enthusiasm. Depressingly centrist & "safe". I hate that Obama picked someone who voted for the war. But better than Kaine or Bayh, I think. Good that he's aggressive in debate; Obama could probably use an attack dog in the rest of the campaign. Overall: Meh. But it coulda been worse.

Atrios is a bit more upbeat than I.

OK, on to November....

Update (Monday, 8/25): My favorite comment on the selection so far comes in two parts, both from the comments section of Making Light. First, Nina Katrina:
Biden makes a decent Tommy Lee Jones to Obama's Will Smith.
And then Magenta Griffith:
Obama is Will Smith, Biden is Tommy Lee Jones - and McCain is the giant cockroach they have to defeat!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sir Penguin

Via Hilzoy, this BBC video of a penguin, Nils Olav, being knighted -- yes, knighted, really -- at the Edinburgh Zoo is about as delightful as anything you'll find on the web. Watch it for the sheer joy of it -- to say nothing of Sir Olav's incredible dignity and poise as those strange primates did whatever they were doing.

Sir Nils Olav inspects the Royal Norwegian Guard.

Photo from here -- along with a great many other photographs, including some of the bronze statue of Sir Olav.

Sir Nils Olav's Wikipedia page is here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

From a Hitherto Unreported Conversation in the Studio of Peter Gabriel, 1984

"I need some help with this. It's a great tune, but I'm struggling with the lyric. I can't figure out which tool works best."

"Tool? Lyrics? You lost me."

"Let me play you a few."

I want to be.... your lawn mower

"Lawn mower? What?"

"Y'know... I want to keep you in shape, help you look good, be the thing that caresses you..."

"Cuts you down if you grow too high?"

"Okay, maybe not. How about this:"

I want to be.... your screwdriver


"The most useful tool there is. Plus, y'know, the pun."

"Spare me. Next?"

I want to be.... your bread toaster

"Toaster? You've got to be kidding me."

"Sure. The toaster is the friendliest kitchen appliance. 'Lives there a man with a soul so dead/He's never to his toaster said--'"

"Enough. No. Toaster will not do. And adding "bread" to make the rhythm work is just lame. You got anything else?"

"Yeah, but nothing I like. Y'know... Egg beater, air conditioner, tape recorder, sledgehammer... nothing seems to work."

"Wait, what about that last one?"

"What, egg beater?"

"No, the other. Sledgehammer."

"Sledgehammer? You've got to be kidding me. I want to smash her to bits?"

"No you want to build her things. Y'know... train tracks, airplanes..."

"That's ridiculous. Way too violent. Anyway a screwdriver is much more useful in building generally."

"Yeah, but you have the whole juvenile-sex pun thing working against you."

"What, like you've never heard the expression 'hammer her?' No way. I am not going with sledgehammer."

"Fine, whatever. You asked my advice, I gave it."

"Hmm. We'll work on it later. In the meantime, what about this other lyric I'm working on: Bunker hill? Highgate hill? Sparrow hill? Signal hill? What do you think sounds best?"

Monday, August 11, 2008

(e) Those that are variations on Borges; (f) Those that are simply links to other posts

If you look closely at a few of my blogpost labels, you'll see that I have been a fan of the famous passage from Borges's essay* "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins":
These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies. (Trans. Lilia Graciela Vázquez)
This passage from a fairly obscure Borges piece was made famous by its citation by Michel Foucault in The Order of Things, although its fame has now out-stripped those who heard of it that way. In some ways, it is the quintessential Borges passage -- the one sentence that best conveys his spirit. (That, of course, is a challenge: anyone got a better one?)

Anyway, in one of the games that make Making Light such a delightful blog to read, Jim McDonald, aping Borges, has now proposed the following classification of novels:
a) Those that are best-sellers, (b) those that were assigned to you in school, (c) those that you feel you have already read even though you have not, (d) classics, (e) those that are not read as the author intended, (f) those that many intend to read “some day,” (g) fantasy trilogies, (h) those that are otherwise not flawed, (i) those that were written on manual typewriters, (j) those that can be judged by their covers, (k) those that were padded by their designers during production to appear longer than they are, (l) those that are only called ‘novel’ by courtesy, (m) those that have been condensed by Readers Digest, (n) those that look well upon the shelf.
The comments that follow are filled with additions, as well as some revisions and other ions. Check them out if you found the above at all amusing.

(See also the list of types of novels from the first chapter of Italo Calvino's incomparable novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.)

Then, via comments in an earlier Making Light post, we have the following classification of people who site the Borges quote cited above:
Citers of John Wilkins are divided into: (a) government employees, (b) tenured faculty, (c) LIS graduates, (d) freshmen, (e) the transgendered, (f) Mac users, (g) laid-off dotcommers, (h) programmers who write recursive code, (i) those on their fourth espresso of the day, (j) webloggers, (k) those using XML with a valid DTD, (l) et cetera, and so on, und so weiter, (m) Microsoft users, (n) geeks.
Currently I fall into (f), (j), (n) and arguably (l).

Any other Borges-on-Wilkins pastiches that my Noble Readers have noticed?

Update: While I'm on the subject of Borges's fabulous non-fiction (in both senses), let me link to this post of mine from a few months ago, which reprints, in its entirety, one of those fabulous non-fictions. If you haven't read the piece, do: it's simply amazingly wonderful.

* Yes, essay: at the very least, it's included in the Selected Non-Fictions volume, not the Collected Fictions volume. But in Borges, these categories always look like flies (from a long way off, anyway).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Recent Amusements

I seem to have entered another of my periodic blogging lulls -- as usual, this doesn't mean much of anything: I'm working on other stuff and haven't had anything particular to say, is all. I'll be back soon enough (FSM willing).

In the meantime, here are a few diversions you might find entertaining.

Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor visualized -- this is truly stunning stuff, well worth watching. (via). If you like it, the same guy has done a bunch of other videos too -- try his visualization of Bach's Little Fugue. Now if he'd just get to work on the Well-Tempered Clavier and Goldberg Variations, I'd be a happy man....

• Speaking of Bach, if anyone hasn't seen 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, it's a great film. Just sayin'.

Two comics about Gricean conversational maxims. How can you not love that? (via Zompist.)

• Who knew that there was a list of the Forbes Fictional 15 -- the wealthiest fictional characters? Highly amusing, although I am curious where they go the various numbers (if, indeed, they were not just randomly generated, as seems reasonably likely....)

• Someone made a short film out of Terry Bisson's classic short story, "They're Made of Meat" (which I've linked to several times before.) The story's much better (and, in my head, very different in tone and overall atmosphere), so if you haven't read the story, do yourself a favor and read it. But if you have read the story, the film's kind of fun. (Bisson himself seems to have made it into a play -- which, given that the original is entirely in dialogue, seems to mean primarily that he changed the formatting. Unlike the film, the play is virtually indistinguishable from the story...)

Three Quarks Daily reposts a terrific Yehuda Amichai poem (in translation).

Andrew Sullivan unearths a gem from Craigslist.

• If you've seen McCain's various attack ads against Obama, you might find this parody amusing.

And that's all for now, folks.