Monday, June 30, 2008

Just Another Brick in the Wall

I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation this afternoon.

I have some minor revisions to do before I turn it in (for an August degree); and then [cue Scarlett O'Hara voice] as God is my witness, I'll never take a class for credit again.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On the Length of Graphic Novels

This began as a comment on this post at Abigail Nussbaum's blog Asking the Wrong Questions, but it was substantial enough that I am reposting it here (with a few elaborations at the end). The quote it begins with is from Abigail's original post, which is a review of three recent graphic novels.

One of my greatest complaints about graphic novels is that very few of them are novels at all, by which I don't mean that it is ridiculous to call a memoir like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home a novel, though clearly it is, but that the amount of narrative material in most graphic works barely amounts to a novella. Black Hole may have taken Charles Burns ten years to put together, but I read it in a little more than an hour. It's hard for a work that demands so little of a reader's time to develop the breadth and heft that I associate with novels (or novel-like works of non-fiction).
I think Abigail's right about this, but I'm not sure that's the right frame of reference. I think graphic novels, in terms of the amount of "content" (however defined) they contain and the amount of time they take to absorb are comparable to movies. Movies, too, take "a little more than an hour" per go-through (1.5 - 2, usually, sometimes longer). And movies generally also have about a novella's worth of content to them (in my experience, novels made into movies need to be cut, short stories expanded; novellas work about perfectly).

Note that movies, too -- like graphic novels -- take an inordinate amount of time to produce: usually more people in fewer time, rather than fewer people in more, but still a great number of hours of human labor go into them.

I don't think this has much to do with the potential of the various mediums, nor with their youth/age or anything; I think it's mostly a matter of how human beings absorb visual (or in the case of movies visual/audio) versus linguistic information.

There are, of course, some graphic novels that take a lot longer to read (as, in fact, Abigail has noted in the past on her blog -- it'd be interesting maybe to compile a list...), just as there are long films, or films that flatly require multiple viewings for comprehension (and are thus effectively longer), just as their are novels that are short and rip quickly by. But these are the exceptions.

For graphic novels, incidentally, an additional limiting factor may be financial: it costs more to print illustrated pages than prose, and so graphic novels can't be as long as, say, a Dickens novel. (Or, if they are, they are serialized -- as was Dickens, for that matter.) Not to mention the basic financial issue of paying for the work to create the thing (whether lots of people for a year or two or a few people for many years). Thus lengthier comics narratives tend to be serials -- again comparable to movies, where the longer works are, in fact, TV shows (which in better cases work as long, serialized movies) -- where the financial burdens can be spread over time, interest can be gauged, etc.


As far as Abigail's complaint that "it is ridiculous to call a memoir like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home a novel", she would perfectly right if it were prose.* But, as I've noted before, this is simply the way the term "graphic novel" has been used since its introduction: it's never just meant the comics equivalents of what in prose would be called novels (literally since the term's introduction: the first widely-publicized work to be called a "graphic novel" (Will Eisner's A Contract With God) was a collection of shorter stories). A "graphic novel" is, generally, a book-length, sophisticated* comic of any variety, whether a single work or a collection, and whether fiction or non-fiction.

To repeat the point I made in my earlier rant on this: "graphic novel" is an odd and imperfect term, I admit, since it sounds -- to those unfamiliar with the medium -- like it refers to a type of novel. But it's the term we have -- the "wrong and only name for it" (to borrow a phrase from David Hartwell in referring to another publishing category ill-served by reviewers). It's now an official category in many bookstores. There are magazines and web sites and college classes on the form. It's what these things are called.

(And again, I think this is a common linguistic phenomenon -- that is, that a compound term will include items that won't be within the realm of the root term. I don't know the name for this, though, if there is one. Is there a linguistic in the house?)


Finally, a few stabs at the list. What is being listed are graphic novels that take a long time to read -- ones that have the heft of a novel in terms of time it takes to read them (putting aside the issue of artistic merit or lack thereof). This is easy to do if you consider a serial as a unit; but let's restrict the list to items available in a single volume. Books that, in Art Spiegleman;s words (in describing his ambitions for Maus) are comics that you need a bookmark to read. Off the top of my head: Maus, natch; Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell's From Hell; Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons's Watchmen; Jeff Smith's Bone; many of the various Love and Rocket books by los bros. Hernandez (certainly the really big hardcover ones published a few years ago); a few volumes at least of Dave Sim's Cerebus; Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison; Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan; and both issues of Shane Simmons's Longshot (which is pretty impressive for 24 page comics). A few of these are arguable; but there are a lot more, too. Leave other suggestions in comments.

* Although the mistake is so common among my students that I wonder if the word "novel" is shifting into simply a pretentious word for "book" -- or, perhaps, a word meaning any book-length work, as long as it is a single piece (and not a collection of shorter ones). If so, it's a trend I'd resist -- there'd be no word left for "novel", which is something worthy of a term -- but in matters of linguistic change resistance is, most often, futile.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Okay, as a thirty-seven-year-old fogey who remembers the days before email and the inernet, I am officially Old and Clueless. I get that. But even I found this pretty !@#$%ing funny. (Link via.)

And, really, it's the specific twists and turns of language that are hilarious. All emphasis added.
...North Carolina drivers whose license plates have the potentially offensive "WTF" letter combination can replace the tags for free. The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Tuesday the state Division of Motor Vehicles has notified nearly 10,000 holders of license plates with the letter combination. Officials learned last year the common acronym stands for a vulgar phrase in e-mail and cell phone text messages.
Learned last year? You're kidding me, right? This is news? ("It turns out there were two President Roosevelts...")
The DMV recently realized the same letters appeared on the sample license plate on its own Web site.
Recently realized? How hard is this, really? Put the pièce de résistance is the next phrase:
Officials are trying to remove the plate from the site.

DMV officials got word of the plates last July when a 60-year-old technology teacher from Fayetteville complained about the plate after her teenage grandchildren clued her in.
Ah, yes. Teenage grandchildren clue in, the grandmother complains. Shoulda known.
DMV officials said they try to keep up with the latest acronyms, and that anyone who has an issue with their plate can contact their local DMV office to request a new one.
Ok, guys, here's a thought. Track down one of those teenage grandchildren, and pay them to make a list for you. Not really that hard. -- Or, if you really don't have the budget for that, there's this nifty site that might help you out.*

I mean, really. WTF?

* I have to admit that until writing this episode I was still using the apparently-outdated form "ROTFL" rather than "ROFL". But at least I thought to google it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

From the Annals of Future Conservative Ideological Pivots

If, as David Neiwert fears (with, alas, some justice), an Obama presidency were to be met with a wave of domestic terrorism -- as white supremacists, militia members and assorted other McVeigh-style right-wing crazies react to the election of someone who is not only a liberal, but an African American, with violence -- we will see mainstream conservative voices abandon -- all at once, with no coordination necessary -- everything they have said about terrorism in the past seven and a half years: that the proper response to terrorism is to destroy the culture out of which it emerges, that military force is the only proper response to acts of terrorism (and law enforcement approaches are too wimpy, etc.), that religions which are invoked to justify terrorist acts are ipso facto dangerous -- even, in some cases, abandoning the idea that no terrorist act is at all understandable, since some folks on the right will have sympathy for the future McVeigh's grievances if not their methods.

And no, this won't be met with any parallel switch. Liberals will believe what they do now: that terrorism is immoral and inexcusable; that it can be provoked by grievances both genuine and illegitimate, and that confronting those grievances (which does not mean giving into them or even acknowledging the slightest shred of validity to them) is essential to stopping future terrorism; that confronting the cultures that nurture hate is an essential part of ending terrorism*; and that the bombing and/or invasion of people who happen to share racial or religious identities with terrorists is not only an immoral response, but a flat-out idiotic and counterproductive one as well. And so forth.

(Actually, the one sort of "liberal" who will switch their positions were those who, in the run-up to the Iraq war, adopted the conservative position on the proper response to terrorism. Presumably the New Republic won't be deriding as pacifists those who oppose invading whatever state the future McVeigh hails from (or its uninvolved neighboring state that happens to share an ethnicity with the future McVeigh); even Tom Friedman won't advocate sending the U.S. army through such a state telling its residents to "suck on this". But really these pivots will be simply a subset of the above-mentioned conservative pivot: since anyone who supports invading random countries is not, in my book, a liberal in any reasonable sense of the word.**)

I can only think of one way in which this conservative pivot would not happen in response to such a right-wing terrorist attack: if they decided to ignore the fact that the perpetrator was a white, christian, right-wing, American extremist, and simply use the event as fuel for more calls to bomb people who are not white, muslim and non-American. Yeah, a few might do that. Because obviously if we don't bomb Iran in response to a domestic, homegrown terrorist's attack, we will never be safe. Which would, I suppose, be consistency of a sort.

Anyway, I obviously hope that the chatter from white supremacists and their ilk is just that -- chatter -- and that no such attack will happen in the event of an Obama presidency. If, however, the terrorist threat that Bush has decided to ignore*** does, in fact, occur in response to an Obama electoral victory, then the right-wing pivot described above is a virtual certainty. You can bank on that.

* And if you think that Bush and his cronies did any such "confronting", please see the clause following the above. Bombing or invading people who happen to share an ethnic, racial or religious identity with terrorists is not confronting anything, will make the problem worse, and in many cases is morally comparable to the original terrorist acts.

** This, alas, is a prescriptive rather than descriptive usage of the term. Many liberals do, in fact, have a disgraceful history of advocating -- and perpetuating -- invasions of random countries, to their (and our country's) eternal disgrace and sorrow; see, e.g., LBJ and Vietnam. But in the contemporary world, it seems to me that a distinguishing feature of liberalism -- that is, something that we should make damn well sure is a distinguishing feature of liberalism -- is an opposition to any and all aggressive wars that our political classes should take a fancy to.

*** Rather than react to by shredding constitutional rights and invading uninvolved countries.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supporting the Future Impeachment of President Obama: A Liberal Dilemma

Obama's recent support for the foul FISA capitulation brings to the fore a liberal dilemma, one that we will, most likely, face in future years -- and one to which I have no ready answer. This is the dilemma that Atrios, in his usual pithy way, captured in this post:
...Democrats will regret embracing the expansion of executive power because a President Obama will find his administration undone by an "abuse of power" scandal. All of those powers which were necessary to prevent the instant destruction of the country will instantly become impeachable offenses.
So the question is: what do principled liberals -- ones who don't believe in untrammeled executive power or unconstitutional structures such as spying in defiance of the fourth amendment -- do about this situation?

The answer of principle is easy, and probably correct, but it leads to a larger structural problem that I have no idea how to deal with.

The answer of principle is: unconstitutional acts are unconstitutional acts whoever does them; if Obama does them, he must be impeached.

As far as it goes, this is obviously correct.

But the problem is, it won't do jack to reign in executive powers -- because the Republicans are totally partisan in their interpretation of these matters. We learned this (if we didn't already see it) with the comparison between the Clinton impeachment and the Bush support: to Republicans, Clinton's lying under oath about a private affair was an impeachable offense -- but Bush's repeated, blatant and admitted violation of numerous laws (including FISA and the laws against torture) are not. So all their bullshit about upholding the rule of law... was, in fact, just bullshit. Their principle is, if a Democratic president does it, it's illegal; if a Republican president does it, it's not illegal. End of story.

So when Republicans call for President Obama's impeachment on grounds which are A) substantively correct, and B) far less than what President Bush ('43) did, what are progressives to do?

If we say yes, Obama's actions are impeachable, we will be holding to principle -- but we won't be restraining executive power at all, because even if Obama is impeached and convicted and removed from office for a given offense, the overwhelming majority of the Republicans voting for this will turn on a dime and support worse actions from the next Republican to be elected President. All supporting President Obama's impeachment will do is damage any power that any Democratic President might have.

So the response of some liberals -- no, scratch that: liberals stand on principle; the response of some Democrats -- will be to say, Bush did worse and wasn't impeached, so we will oppose the impeachment of Obama on those grounds.

And this will make sense on the grounds of realpolitik: they did worse, why should we attack our own team for less than they supported their team for?

But the problem is, it's unprincipled. It's wrong. Liberals actually believe in checks and balances, in restrained government and the rule of law. If -- or when -- Obama breaks these things, we have to support his impeachment.

So we have a dilemma.

What do you do when the Republican party will support the impeachment of anyone on the other side, whatever the actions, and no one on their side, whatever the actions? For us to adopt those standards would be to sell out the principles we are fighting for. But for us to embrace them will be to inevitably and irrecoverably damage Democratic politicians, while doing nothing to restrain Republican ones.

Let's assume that half of all Democrats stand on principle, and half stand on party, while all Republicans stand on party, and none on principle. This is an exaggeration for the sake of simplification, but it's close to true -- how many Republicans would support the impeachment of Bush now? Given the open-and-shut nature of the case, it's a good bellwether for party v. principle. So, given these simplifying and reasonable assumptions, then, further assuming a rough parity of parties, any Republican president violating the constitution will have a 50-50 vote -- either won't be impeached (as now), or won't be convicted -- while any Democratic president will have a 75-25 vote -- will be impeached & convicted. Again, this is a simplification; but it reflects the reality... except insofar as a fair number of Democrats are actually in a third category, one that will support the unconstitutional expansion of Presidential power whatever party is in office. Which is to say, things are worse than this little scenario implies.

So what do we do?

I don't see any way out of this dilemma which won't mean either A) selling out vital constitutional principles, or B) loosing on all substantive political issues due to the lack of principles of the opposing party.

Of course, there was an easy way out of the dilemma: Democrats could oppose unconstitutional powers in the first place. But Obama just tossed that one out the window when he supported the FISA bill. Bush, in a open-and-shut impeachable offense, established unconstitutional surveillance. Liberals, following principle, called for his impeachment on those grounds. Now Obama has embraced Bush's criminal methods. When Republicans, following party (and a few Conservatives, following principle*), call for Obama's impeachment for violating the constitution by using the powers Bush established... what will we do?

Undermine our principles, and support Obama?

Or undermine our cause -- which include, let's recall, not starting aggressive wars: we're talking about things that can (and have) cost hundreds of thousands of human lives; these are not trivial matters -- and support our principles?

I don't know.

I don't think there's a good answer. I hope I'll support my principles. But the problem with dealing with an entire political party whose fundamental culture is amoral is that they can put you in these positions. Sociopaths have a sort of power that the rest of us do not; and this is true of cultures as well as of individuals.**

But I wish that Obama had allowed us to side-step this dilemma. Oh, I understand -- on some level - why he did not. People don't run for President, generally, to diminish the powers they'll have in office. And, yes, this doesn't mean I don't support him now: he is, at the moment, clearly the least bad choice.*** And he'll do good in a lot of crucial areas -- above all, again, the war.

So I'm not surprised. But I'm disappointed.**** And I'm dismayed by what this will mean in the future, when those who have no principles at all use his violation of ours to attack him with good grounds, and thereby harm all the good he might do.

In the end, I think -- and this is a matter on which I am perhaps naive -- morality is the best policy. In many areas, Obama clearly gets that. But in this area he doesn't. And I fear that it may ultimately prove his undoing.

And ours.

* You can tell the difference easily: any Republican who opposed the impeachment of Bush is simply following party; any self-described conservative who supported the impeachment of Bush (did Ron Paul? Not yet, I don't think, but I can see him doing it...) is following principle. An easy test.

** This is one reason that corporations -- which are legally required to be sociopaths, i.e. to consider only profit and not moral issues, to make their judgments in fundamentally amoral ways -- are so powerful, and so hard to fight.

*** Clinton supporters can, I think, justly crow on this one: she voted against the bill. Although in fairness, it's not clear she would have if she had been the nominee (or that Obama wouldn't have if he'd lost); I think that both of them are using the calculus of power, and standing by principle only when convenient. But given the outcome, this is one that leads her to good things, and him to bad. And neither of them, alas, are doing what Feingold and Dodd are doing, and actually putting some effort into fighting this thing.

**** I expect -- and always have expected, really -- to be disappointed a lot by Obama in the next six months; and, FSM willing, over the next eight years. That I think (and have long thought) that he was by far the best candidate never meant that I was blind to his considerable flaws. And many of these are absolutely endemic to politicians in general, at least to ones who are contesting for (or hoping to contest for) non-safe seats. This is not, really, because politicians are bad people, but because structurally they are led to be. Open-eyed liberals have to support the best candidate -- knowing that they'll disappoint, and willing to fight to make them disappoint as little as possible. On this point, see this important post by Kathy G, "Barack Obama: deeply flawed, and it's our job to make him better". Even the best politicians do terrible things. The job of liberals is to try to make them do as many good things -- and as few bad things -- as possible. The burden I'm trying to articulate in this post is how to balance these issues given Obama's capitulation on this fundamental constitutional issue -- and the fact that the opposition will be totally unprincipled in their dealings about it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Totally Random Thought of the Day

Isaac Asimov never used (probably never heard of) the internet.

(On the other hand, it seems that blogger's spellchecker has never heard of the internet either, so Asimov (up in heaven, natch) shouldn't feel bad about it.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

"There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes"

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

-- Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (ret.)
Will those who ordered the use of torture be held to account?

No, they won't.

They'll just have to curtail their vacation plans.

God bless America. 'Cause Bush has damned it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pelosi's House Attacks the Constitution

I seem to be in one of my periodic blogging lulls, but I wanted to note that I share the (left) blogosphere's broad and deep disdain for the cowardice, corruption, malevolence and or/idiocy for the Democratic-controlled Congress's pathetic capitulation on the issue of immunity for telecoms who collaborated with Bush to break the law. And shame on Obama for agreeing to this vile bill.

I presume most of my readers have been following this elsewhere. If not, Glenn Greenwald has been all over this (his latest posts are here and here; work back from there). Digby and Hilzoy explain why it's important in complementary ways; explore both blogs for more.

But really, go anywhere in the blogosphere to the left of Andrew Sullivan: we all get it. The Democrats -- Obama included -- joined with Bush & the Republicans to shred the constitution today. We are a less free country, a less just country, a worse country because of it. Damn them all.

Update: Also, what Atrios said. Hardly the most important reason to oppose this; but an important and true one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Poem for California's Equal Marriage Day

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

-- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116*

I wish a lifetime of joy and delight to all the couples married in California on the day that marriages are first performed there on an equal basis. Mazel tov, to each and every one.

* Hat tip to Patrick who quoted this in a similar context.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Bird Blogging

Sara's arm makes a nice perch:

(That's Boojum on the left and Snark on the Right.)

Communing with Sara:

A different pose:

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Constitution Hangs In By a Thread

The incomparable Publius headlines his one-sentence summary of today's decision in Boumediene v. Bush "Court Reaffirms Existence of Constitution". And much of the instant commentary has been pretty celebratory in tone. But for me the chief fact is how slender a thread this decision hangs upon: one vote.

If this decision means that the "Court Reaffirms Existence of Constitution" -- not to mention the fact that everyone is "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness", then the headline here as far as I'm concerned is that there is now a die-hard block of supporters of the "Elected Dictator" theory of the Constitution that is one-vote shy of a majority. Four guaranteed votes for tyranny: the only question is will the other five (including Kennedy, usually a pretty conservative guy) stand firm.

The next lede is that the conservative movement -- not as it exists in the fantasies of its idealistic proponents but actually existing conservatism -- is a solid block of pro-tyranny sentiment, with only a few outliers to throw things off.

Anyone who votes for McCain -- or does the functional equivalent (not voting, voting for a third-party candidate, etc.) -- should have not the slightest illusion about exactly what they're getting.

And any Senator who voted for Roberts or Alito; any Senator who failed to vote to filibuster Roberts or Alito; for that matter, any Senator who apologized for those who supported either of them even if they themselves voted properly -- should be deeply, deeply ashamed.

Today's ruling is not a triumph: it is a bare aversion of tragedy. We should be scared, not relieved.

(Souter apparently gave another, equally important reason that today's ruling is not a triumph in his concurrence; key quote here.)

PS: Glenn Greenwald writes a celebratory post and adds a cautionary update. He says in the latter:
Three of the five Justices in the majority... are widely expected by court observers to retire or otherwise leave the Court in the first term of the next President. By contrast, the four judges who dissented... are expected to stay right where they are for many years to come. John McCain has identified Roberts and Alito as ideal justices of the type he would nominate, while Barack Obama has identified Stephen Breyer, David Souter and Ginsberg (all in the majority today). It's not hyperbole to say that, from Supreme Court appointments alone, our core constitutional protections could easily depend upon the outcome of the 2008 election.
Far from hyperbole, Greenwald seems to me to be guilty of excessive understatement. It's not that "from Supreme Court appointments alone, our core constitutional protections could easily depend upon the outcome of the 2008 election"; it's that from Supreme Court appointments alone, our core constitutional protections do clearly depend upon the outcome of the 2008 election.

A vote for McCain is a vote against habeas corpus; a vote for McCain is a vote for an elected dictator, not a president. It's as simple as that.

PPS: I'm sure that, in defending the pro-tyranny side of the debate, a lot of conservatives will focus on the fact that the people in question are not U.S. citizens and were not captured in the U.S. This is part of a really disturbing trend towards the belief that non-citizens have "no rights" that the US government "was bound to respect". But the founders knew quite well that many of the rights of human beings -- including those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- were human rights. Freedom from arbitrary detention -- the heart and soul of tyranny -- is not a special privilege of citizenship. It is the basic minimum that every government is obliged to uphold for everyone.

Update: Just in case you doubt Actually Existing Conservatism's commitment to Executive Tyranny, Bush reacts poorly, and other Republicans are even more clearly pro-tyranny. (Incidentally, I'm not a journalist, but I suppose that in the spirit of "full disclosure" I should mention that I know the author of the first link). Both links via Steve Benen. Update to the Update: And of course McCain signs on to the pro-tyranny position. Why wouldn't he? Executive tyranny is a core principle of American conservatism in the twenty-first century. (And Lieberman, McCain's mini-me, signs on to the pro-tyranny position too. Again: why wouldn't he? Executive tyranny is a core principle of American conservatism in the twenty-first century. And Lieberman is a poster-boy for conservative values: aggressive war, torture, the abolition of habeas corpus, etc.) UtUtU: More McCain support for tyranny here. (via)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Iran War Watch

Remember that company that was doing brilliant stories on the Iraqi war buildup while the rest of the media was still regurgitating the Bush department's lies? (The one I was talking about less than two weeks ago?)

Here's what they wrote today (via):
Six months ago, after American intelligence agencies declared that Iran had shelved its nuclear-weapons program, the chances of a U.S. or Israeli military strike on Iran before President Bush left office seemed remote. Now, thanks to persistent pressure from Israeli hawks and newly stated concerns by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the idea of a targeted strike meant to cripple Iran's nuclear program is getting a new hearing.
Just so we're clear, we're talking about a criminal war of aggression which will unleash unknowable horrors on us as well as on millions upon millions of other people.

We don't know for certain if it will happen; if it does, we don't know for certain how it will go down -- will there be some incident to serve as a pretext, will Bush strike himself or just green-light Israel to do it, etc. But it will be a crime, and it will be a disaster. And the fact that there's a real chance that it will happen means that we should try to stop it now.

Let's try to get this one right this time.

The Insidious Plan of Liberals to Undermine Our Best Defense in the War on Terror Unveiled At Last

As a defense of it accurately says, everyone is ridiculing Mary Grabar's latest column at Townhall, largely on the basis of its first paragraph:
An Obama presidency would signal the final salvo by the Left in the culture wars. Obama’s advance troops have already taken over our college campuses, have bound and gagged our conservative professors, have ravished our virgins, have pillaged our stores of wisdom, and have ensconced themselves in the thrones of power in deans’, presidents’ and department heads’ offices. (Emphasis added.)
Obviously, a certain misunderstanding about the binding and gaging of conservative professors is at work here -- someone should clue Dr. Grabar* about this whole phenomenon called "bondage". And, of course, I think we all will agree that the image of troops having "ensconced themselves in the thrones of power" at universities is quite terrifying. But what has been most ridiculed is the true but terrifying fact that these threatening Advanced Troops have been ravishing our virgins. This, sadly, is something that some on the left are -- horrifyingly -- taking lightly.

Obviously what is missing here is people's true appreciation for the importance of "our virgins" in the War Against Terror.

This is because people are failing to think the matter through. Obviously Dr. Grabar has learned that "we" -- America? Conservatives? It's not clear -- have a secret store of virgins which are a key component of our success in the current War.

Now, obviously Decadent Liberals will immediately assume that there is no job that virgins could do that a ravished virgin could not. But a moment's thought will reveal that this is wrong -- and, thus, demonstrate the true insidiousness of the Liberals Dastardly Plot.

One tempting but false hypothesis is that we have been hoarding virgins to try to compete for the loyalty of those who blow up planes and buildings in the expectation that doing so will earn them 72 of them. If we offer each of these gentlemen, say, 83 virgins, perhaps we could outbid them and get them to stand down. But, tempting as this plan is, a little thought will show that it has only a slight chance of success. After all, rumor has it that the countries these men are coming from are themselves filled with virgins. Now, while there is apparently a limit of 4 imposed in those countries -- presumably due to shortages -- still, it raises the troubling possibility that these warriors insist upon non-corporeal, heavenly virgins. So clearly the "outbid" strategy can't be the purpose of our secret store of virgins which the Liberal Advance Troops have so deviously ruined.

But what else, you cry, can a virgin do that a non-virgin cannot?

Why, the answer is obvious: feed dragons.

Dragons, as is well known, feast only upon virgins. Without a steady supply of virgins to devour, most dragons get listless and cranky, and will often refuse to fly at all, much less fight.

There can be no other explanation. Given Dr. Grabar's information that we are hoarding a secret store of virgins for use in the War on Terror, we can clearly deduce that we also have an advanced fighter wing of virgin-devouring dragons to use to protect the skies of America.

But! But! If the Advance Troops get in and ravish the secret store of virgins, then the advanced fighter wing of virgin-devouring dragons will, clearly, have nothing at all to eat.

And an army, as was famously said, marches -- or, in this case, flies -- on its stomach.

So, yes, my Noble Readers: the advanced fighter wing of virgin-devouring dragons -- known, according to anonymous sources, as the "Cheney Wing" -- which are our only defense against the Enemy in this terrible war -- are being deprived of its food source by the terrible hoards of Advance Troops coming in and rendering that food unfit for dragonian consumption.

A more dastardly and unpatriotic act is hard to imagine.

Dr. Grabar has sounded the alarm, and what can any patriotic American do but answer? Defend our secret store of virgins! Preserve the crucial fuel of the advanced fighter wing of virgin-devouring dragons! Act now, before it is too late!!

For -- terrifying as it is to contemplate -- if the Virgins are Ravished... the Terrorists Will Have Won.

* Yes, I said "Dr. Grabar". She apparently has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Georgia. It certainly puts the notion of "silently calculate the measure by which your university, by conferring your degree, has cheapened the value of doctoral work across the globe," which I was just talking about the other day, in a new light, doesn't it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

35 Reasons to Impeach George Bush

This is awesome. (via comments here) Dennis Kucinich has introduced thirty-five articles of impeachment against Bush. Apparently he already introduced articles against Cheney. (And why do we have to go to the web site of a British paper to find out about this?)

What I particularly like here is the thoroughness of it: getting across the sheer number of impeachable offenses Bush has committed. I don't know if he left anything out -- given how much has happened in the past seven and a half years, he easily might have. Certainly some of these articles of impeachment would require investigation as to whether Bush was sufficiently involved in them (or in one or two cases whether or not they happened at all) to see if they should be passed. And I don't know if every single offense here is, or should be, an impeachable offense. But there is no question that Bush has done many of these things (in a lot of cases he's admitted it); there is no question that many of them are unquestionably impeachable offenses; and there is no question that there is a substantial overlap of those two categories.

Bush should be, must be, impeached. (Frankly, he should be tried for war crimes; and it's not even clear to me if his impeachment would be enough to repair the damage he's done to the republic. But impeachment is a crucial step.)

I herewith present Dennis Kucinich's 35 Articles of Impeachment Against George Bush:
1. Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq

2. Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression

3. Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War

4. Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States

5. Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression

6. Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114

7. Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.

8. Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter

9. Failing to Provide Troops With Body Armor and Vehicle Armor

10. Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes

11. Establishment of Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Iraq

12. Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation's Natural Resources

13. Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries

14. Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency

15. Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq

16. Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors

17. Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives

18. Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy

19. Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to " Black Sites" Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture

20. Imprisoning Children

21. Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government

22. Creating Secret Laws

23. Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act

24. Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment

25. Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens

26. Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements

27. Failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas and Instructing Former Employees Not to Comply

28. Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice

29. Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965

30. Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare

31. Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency

32. Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change

33. Repeatedly Ignored and Failed to Respond to High Level Intelligence Warnings of Planned Terrorist Attacks in the US, Prior to 911.

34. Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001

35. Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders
The Congress should move forward -- at least investigate the truth and/or impeachability of -- every single one of these charges; and should impeach, and convict, on many of them.

Impeach George Bush. Impeach him now. (h/t)

Update: Kucinich's full 65-page text, flushing out the 35 articles is available here as a pdf. Here's the web site hosting the pdf (via).

Monday, June 09, 2008

The War Criminals Are Planning Their Next War Crime

Warning lights are flashing: a special, all-Think Progress link collection.

• June 5: Rush Limbaugh thinks Bush will attack Iran before he leaves office.

• June 5: Daniel Pipes thinks Bush will attack Iran if Obama wins.

• June 4: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urges Bush to attack Iran before he leaves office.

• May: John Bolton thinks Bush will attack Iran before he leaves office.

• Last Year: Norman Podhoretz thinks Bush will attack Iran before he leaves office.

We don't know if this will happen or not. It's quite possible no decision has been made yet. But anyone who thinks this isn't possible because it's too crazy, or the NIE report means it can't happen, or because only seven percent of the public would approve, is underestimating the crazy radicalness of this administration. Basically, if you think they "can't" attack Iran, you're making the same mistake that all those pundits made in December 2000 when they declared that the nature of Bush's assumption of power meant that he'd "have" to govern like a moderate.

These people know no rules. They have announced that the Presidency is, essentially, an elected dictatorship. They think history will vindicate them on Iraq even now -- if, say, in sixty years it's a peaceful democracy.

(Oh, and by the way, Obama's echoing of Bush's Iran warmongering? Not helping. I don't know if he means it or if he's just pandering: but at the moment (until January 20) the latter is just as dangerous as the former, since it creates a climate conducive to aggressive war.)

I don't know what we could do to stop them. I think it's quite possible that there is nothing we can do. (It's certainly worth giving Arthur Silber's suggestions a try, though.) But if there is anything, we should do it.

Call your congresscritters. Tell them to pass, now, a resolution declaring that attacking Iran without specific, direct congressional approval would be an impeachable offense.

And talk about it. The fact that people think it can't possibly happen is one of the things making it more likely -- more possible.

It would be a crime of almost unimaginable magnitude; it would have ruinous consequences, for our country and for the world.

Let's try to act now. Before it's too late, and the bombs begin to fall.

(Oh, and by the way? If they get their way, we are never leaving Iraq.)

Update: June 9: Steve Clemons is worried not about a direct attack, but about "an increasing chance of a trigger event driving a fast escalation of higher and higher consequence military options." And he's been in the "don't worry" camp until fairly recently.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mr. Obama Goes to AIPAC

This post will be written without the traditional supporting links, not for any good reason, but because I am feeling too damn lazy this particular morning to go dig 'em out. If you want 'em, you'll have to google 'em yourself.

I think I figured out why Obama's trip to AIPAC, mouthing all the ritual loyalty oaths and shibboleths to the Blind Support For Likud wing of American Jewry, was so frustrating.

It's because he is so often willing to tell people what they don't want to hear.

Obama is someone who went to the Cuban exiles in Miami, and talked about ending the embargo on Cuba.

He's someone who stood his ground as McCain and Clinton pandered with a useless gas-tax holiday.

He's stood up for negotiating rather than ignoring then invading countries we are at odds with.

-- And on and on. One of Obama's key strengths is going and talking to people he disagrees with in ways that earn their respect while not papering over the disagreement.

But not on Israel. On Israel, he just went and said the shibboleths.

Now, there isn't a single remotely plausible argument that this is a reason to vote against Obama -- simply because his opposition, John McCain, is equally bad on this score, and is overwhelmingly worse on every other score. So voting for McCain -- or not voting* -- is simply ridiculous as a response to this.

But it's disappointing.

There has arisen a cottage industry of trying to figure out Obama's "real" position on the middle east -- is he (as, of all people, Marty Peretz seems to think), a genuine Likudnik?** Or is he really secretly sympathetic to a just and equitable solution to the issue? Or does he genuinely not care much?

I have my opinion on this, but I won't give it, because I actually don't think it matters nearly as much as most people do. There are lots of issues on which the Democrats are better than the Republicans -- Iraq, the environment, health care, etc -- even if on none of them are they as good as I, for one, would like. But then there are the depressingly large number of issues -- copyright reform, ending the drug war, and, oh yeah, Israel -- on which both parties are essentially equally bad.***

On the former, the important first step to take is to elect Democrats. Then we can get busy applying sufficient political pressure/support to allow them to follow "the better angels of their natures" and actually follow through on their stated positions -- or even, heavens to betsy, improve on them. (Surgeon General's Warning: Even very good politicians will not behave well without constituent pressure to do so. Apply daily until problem disappears.)

But on the latter, whoever we elect won't help much. So on those, what's needed is sustained grassroots actions to change the political climate, so that a set of politicians -- probably Democrats, but who knows?**** -- will emerge who might be good on them. (Then we work to elect them; then we pressure them... see above.)

So if you care about peace between the river and the sea, go join J-Street or Brit Tzedek v'Shalom or whatever other organizations are out there. (Those two are specifically Jewish groups devoted to mid-East peace, which are just the ones I happen to know about.)

And vote for Obama... because of Iraq, and global warming, and health care, and restoring constitutional balance, and probably quite literally hundreds of thousands of other reasons: but not because of Israel.

But yeah, it's disappointing: because on some issues -- say, again, Cuba, or stupid gas-price-pandering -- Obama is one of the best democrats out there,***** willing to lead while others wilt into Republicrats. So there was some hope -- however dim -- that even on this issue he might be better than the run of Democrats.

But, alas, 'tis not to be.

* Which includes, as its functional equivalent, voting for Nader or Barr, writing in Ron Paul, or anything of the sort.

** That is, Peretz supports him, and in general seems to believe anyone who isn't a likudnik is an anti-semite, including, of course, half the Jewish population of Israel.

*** The hypothetical third category -- issues on which the Republicans are better than the Democrats -- is, at least at the moment, the empty set. A purely theoretical construct without any actual examples.

**** I know that Republicans are probably about as interested in my advice as, well, something disdainfully uninterested in something is in that thing, but what I'd suggest they do is rather than pursue policies in every single dimension of political life that have not only turned out, in practice, to be complete and utter disaster, but which the public is now starting to realize are disasters, they should instead pick some issues on which the Democratic party is actually bad -- again, Israel, copyright, ending the drug war, and maybe scaling back our overseas empire a la Ron Paul (just without the life-long publication of racist newsletters angle) -- and work out good positions on them. Don't double-down on failed imperialism, economic deregulation leading to catastrophe, environmental stalling leading to ditto, and let-em-die style health care; rather, pick some issues on which your opposition isn't very good and work on those.

Yeah, I know: as long as I'm wishing, I should wish for a pony. But where would I stable it?

***** The only issue I know of where Obama is not as good as the Democrats get (well, aside from a few Kucinich figures who have no realistic shot at national office) is health care: his health care plan was slightly worse than Hillary Clinton's, which was a genuine reason to support her. Although let's face it, neither were offering anything close to single-payer, which is what would be really ideal.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Quick Hits

A miscellany; some good stuff I've seen recently, plus a fair dose of end-of-the-week grumpiness.


Only in The New Yorker would someone write an article with "Hellmouth" in the title and link it not to the popular television show that began in 1997, but to a Norman Rush novel from 2003. It's not the highbrow trumping lowbrow: probably the true highbrow would link it to the medieval stage concept rather than the novel. Doing the latter seems like a sheer willful blindness about popular culture -- some of the very best popular culture out there -- mixed with a sort of failed highbrowness, one that avoids genuinely old and interesting culture while searching desperately for some "respectable" source. Ycccch. (Probably not fair, since James Wood, who wrote the New Yorker article, reviewed, & really liked, the novel. Still. Some of what makes me grouchiest about a generally fine magazine.)

The article in question is actually an interesting meditation on theodicy -- a topic which interests me -- although probably not anything new to anyone who's read that much about it.


Speaking of Popular Culture, anyone who read the classic Claremont/Byrne run on the X-Men should really check out the issue-by-issue analysis Jason is doing over at Remarkable. And don't skip the comments -- a certain "Doug M" is leaving comments on almost every post that are at least as good as the main series. I mix it up in comments in this entry, but the series goes way back. Although if you've never read the comics, then it's probably not going to mean much to you. (I began reading the posts with #129, which is the first one I read back in the day...)


This is hilarious: "The job of Vice President of the United States is an important one, with powers enshrined in the Constitution rivalling those of Miss Teen Delaware."

Not a new point, of course. But funny.


Given the New York Times's sustained war of attrition on its own reputation in the past few years (one that continues to this day), it's really good to see that someone there who cares about news has counter-attacked by hiring Charlie Savage, one of the best reporters around during the Bush years.


I know that we're all supposed to be totally over the Democratic primary now, but Matt Yglesias went and recommended this essay by Michelle Goldberg about Clinton's supporters anger at the sexism directed towards her, and identification with her. And I think that it's absolutely true, and important, that Clinton had to deal with a lot of sexism in the campaign. But it infuriates me that so many of the women never seem to recognize the racism directed towards Obama in the campaign, and the identification of African Americans with him. What drives my anger off the charts, however, is that while the sexism in the primary came largely from the media and random supporters; while the racism came from the media, random supporters... and the Clinton campaign itself.


Speaking of racism: this Rick Perlstein post on "the Meaning of Box 722" is an extraordinary reminder of how far we've come, in how short a time. A stunning piece, really highly recommended. (Another good Rick Perlstein post here.) (Yeah, yeah, I know: not yet, but my copy of Nixonland is on order...) Update: Perlstein has a follow-up, More Box 722, here.


And speaking of the primary, lots of good post-mortems out there. The entire American Prospect set is worth reading (I linked to one above). Other good things from: Tim Burke. John Cole, part 1 (read past the opening), and Cole, part 2. And others; I'll add the links if I remember/come across them again. Update: Very key: this post by David Neiwert (via). Also this post from Jack and Jill Politics Neiwert links to.


Finally, this essay by David Rieff on the death of his mother, Susan Sontag, is simply extraordinary. Filled with brilliant and astonishing moments. I'm going to resist quoting any -- it's too good. Just go read it.


Thaaaaat's all folks. Enjoy your weekend.

Reassuring Representative Rangel

Quoth Steven Benen:
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) must be pretty upset with Clinton right now. He’s not going to her concession speech tomorrow, and when asked why, Rangel said, “It’s a Jewish holiday — enough said.” Rangel isn’t Jewish.
I appreciate Rangel's support for American yiddishkeit. But a few points:

1. Saturday isn't a Jewish holiday (chag), it's the Jewish sabbath (shabbat). While I grant that these two are sometimes grouped together ("yom tov"), they are basically separate ideas. (Rep. Rangel may be confused because the Jewish holiday of Shavuot is coming up; but, in fact, it doesn't start until Sunday night.)

2. Clinton's event is apparently going to be in D.C. Since Congress is in session, I assume that Rep. Rangel will be in town anyway. While obviously Rep. Rangel should check with a qualified posek, which I am decidedly not, as far as I know there would be no objection in Jewish law to attending such an event on the Sabbath, as long as one walked there, and didn't personally do such things as e.g. use an electric microphone.

3. In any event, Rangel needen't worry: according to Jewish belief, non-Jews are not obligated to keep the Sabbath. Actually, they are specifically forbidden from doing so.

I hope this helps.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Never Anything False About Hope: A Post-Primary Ramble

Two things came together in my mind, and produced a long, rambling blog post: I think it has a point, but fair warning: I'm even less laconic, terse, concise, succinct and pithy than is my habitual, usual, typical and quotidian wont.


First, this wonderful post from Hilzoy (but I repeat myself) about what it means to African Americans to have an African American candidate. She writes in part:
...most of the people quoted in [a newspaper] article did not believe that a black candidate -- any black candidate -- could win the nomination, let alone the Presidency. Once I had noticed that, I seemed to hear it a lot.... a black voter called in and said that until Iowa, he had assumed that Obama was "some kind of stunt". I suppose I live a sheltered life, but for some reason it hadn't crossed my mind that many African-Americans would think not just that it was very hard for a black man to win the nomination, but that it was impossible.
I think she's right, based on what I've heard and read. There certainly seems to have been a big swing to Obama among African Americans after he won Iowa -- with a sense (if the reporting is to be trusted) that having Obama win so big, and in so white a state, made it seem real.

But he did it: he won the primary. It was a long and difficult road, one that uncovered a lot of ugly racism in this country. And there are two sides to this story, since Obama's victory showed that there were also a lot of white voters who were, in fact, very willing to vote for an African American -- and less that sound minimal, just think about how short a time it's been since Jim Crow was dismantled in this country -- less than the span of Obama's lifetime, and he is, as is often noted, young as presidential candidates go. The sad fact is that, in a significant fraction of the country, "de facto African American enfranchisement" could be added not only to the web site Things Younger Than McCain, but to its hypothetical Obama counterpart too.

So yes, it makes sense that a lot of African Americans were worried that Obama couldn't win -- and I, like much of the country, am still very worried about the general, and only in part because of racism (there's all sorts of other factors too, not the least of which is the GOP's effectiveness at slimeball politics). Still, he won the primary. And if the racism directed at him was very ugly, the evidence of progress in the last forty years was just as encouraging. (I have a vague memory of swiftly-up-and-coming new blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates talking about the primary making him rethink his views about racism in this country in a positive way... but now I can't find it, so maybe I'm imagining it. (Update: In this new post, published after I wrote this one, he says something similar.))

Given an ongoing ugly reality, and an ugly history too often forgotten, it's not surprising that those who have been the victims of discrimination are wary of optimism. But sometimes -- in part -- it's justified. Sometimes, for all the work that there is to be done, real progress has been made.

And then there was this essay by Erica Jong (via) about Clinton's loss, where she writes, in part:
I didn't know it would feel this bad. I didn't know it would feel this personal. I'm all for a united Democratic party. But losing my last chance to see a woman in the White House feels like shit.... "It's not sexism -- it's her" seems to have replaced, "I'm not a feminist, but" in our national lexicon. This is not to imply that Hillary Clinton is faultless -- far from it. But it's clear that the faults we tolerate and even overlook in men, we see as glaring in women.... Will women ever be winners? And if so, when?
Which brought me back to something I'd thought about before, but which I think that I, like many Obama supporters, haven't focused sufficiently on: the degree to which some -- not all: a portion; a slice; I don't know how big -- of Clinton's most intense support came from the sense that this is our only chance. That only because of Clinton's unique combination of factors -- name recognition, etc -- was a woman's victory even possible. Look at the way Jong put it: that Clinton's loss meant her "losing my last chance to see a woman in the White House."

And I think a lot of the bitterness about Clinton's loosing is due to that; particularly when combined with the sexism that was just as evident in the campaign against Clinton as the racism was in the campaign against Obama.

Now, it's true that Clinton had a lot of unique (so far) things going for her, which could break the barrier. But of course so did Obama -- he had a lot of unique things too, including a natural political talent that of a magnitude that comes along perhaps once in a generation, and the virtue of having been right on the most important issue of the past decade, the disastrous and criminal war in Iraq. And I think that if -- FSM willing when -- Obama wins, it will be because other factors -- his incredible talent, his incredible team, and the incredible clarity with which the Republican party has performed utterly disastrously in every single area of governance -- overcome the racism in this country.

But I think he'll do it. Because all those factors are there, and important; and because we've come somewhat farther than some of us think, if not nearly as far as we need to go.

And I think it's true of sexism too. And I think that this, ultimately, is why those Clinton supporters who are so bitterly disappointed are wrong to be.

Because I think that Jong is wrong when she implies that "It's not sexism -- it's her" is a euphemism. Oh, sure it is: for some people. But there were a lot of us who were against Clinton for very specific reasons -- in my case, always and above all, because of the criminal war which she voted for, which she supported for so long: a war without which she would have won the nomination in a walk.

And I really believe that. I believe she would have won, quite clearly, were it not for her support of the Iraq war. And that it is a tribute to her incredible talent and popularity -- as well as other things, of course, such as really baleful power that name recognition has in our politics, and our terrible national penchant for dynastic politics -- that that she came as far as she did.

Which means that I think that a woman can win. That when another woman -- yes, a different woman -- runs, she will win.

And I think probably sooner than a lot of people think. Probably even soon enough for Erica Jong (who was born in 1942), assuming a reasonable lifespan.

So I have a lot of sympathy for those Clinton supporters who think that this was the chance for a woman president, that sexism is too deep for a woman to succeed. And I'll freely admit that as a man I have no direct experience of sexism's prevalence in our society. But then again, if Obama had lost -- and he came close, just as she did to winning -- people would take it as proving that an African American can't really win. (And, to keep the parallelism, as a white man I have no more direct experience of racism than I do sexism.)

So while I have an enormous amount of sympathy for those feelings, I think they're mistaken. I think this is a case where the lack of direct experience of discrimination can make people see things clearer, not less clearly. Which, again, is not to say that there isn't an enormous amount of sexism (or racism) left in this country; the primary has shown that there is. It's just also shown how far we've come on both accounts.

The point being, that we had a chance for two groundbreaking candidacies; one had to win, one had to loose. The fact that one did win therefore -- particularly given how close they both came -- is not evidence that it will be impossible for a person with the other characteristics to win in the future, any more than it would have been proof the other way if things had been the other way.

So I think it will happen. And happen soon -- partly because so many people clearly feel strongly that breaking the gender barrier for the presidency would be a very good thing, apart from the specific candidate. (I'm certainly among those people.) In fact it's one reason that I'd like to see Obama put a woman (although not Clinton) on the ticket as his VP candidate: not to heal the wounds of the party (I hope it'd help, although I've heard some people suggest that putting any woman besides Clinton on would be an insult to her & her supporters); and not to help win (although I hope it would help, obviously) -- but because the VP slot makes one the presumptive nominee for one's party the next time around, and I think it'd be good to have a woman nominee the next time. And if Obama wins -- as I think and hope and pray he will -- then this will help prepare the ground for that. There are a number of good choices; personally my main criteria would be someone who opposed the war, although of course there are lots of other things to consider too.

Now I, personally, think that the lesson from the current state of American society, and this primary, should be that it's harder for a black man than for a white woman to win the presidency -- a seemingly paradoxical statement given how the race turned out, but it makes sense if you think that (as I do) without racism Obama's natural political gifts, and having gotten the war right, would have led him to win even bigger & more quickly. But of course I understand that a lot of people think the contrary.*

So I guess the bottom line of this mish-mash of a blog post is that I understand the anger and frustration of people like Erica Jong, and, as a supporter of the winning candidate, I extend my deepest sympathies and my pledge to work to break that barrier next. But also the words that they are both big barriers, and given the choice, we had to break one or the other; that the fact that we broke one and not the other doesn't mean that the other won't be broken soon; that a lot of us really were bothered by other things primarily; and, finally, to offer you the hope -- no more than that, but the hope -- that it will be your turn to be pleasantly surprised next time out. (FSM willing, in 2016, after two full Obama terms!)

Because, as one barrier-breaking Presidential nominee has put it, in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

* Probably it's a mistake to spell it out, but in case anyone's curious, my basic case would have two components. First, I'd point to the history of women versus African Americans getting elected to public office: in governorships, senate races, etc, I think women have generally had an easier time than men. (There are currently 16 women in the Senate; there is currently one African American.)

Second, I think that both Obama and Clinton had both benefits and handicaps from their ground-breaking statuses (statusi?). Both mobilized additional voters who were excited about the notion of breaking the race/gender barrier and who would not have been as excited about a white male candidate (mostly but not entirely African Americans in Obama's case, and mostly but not entirely women in Clinton's). On the other hand, both had to struggle through the basically sexist/racist landscape to get to where they ended up; and both had to deal with the various ways in which the media, fools on the internet, etc, thought about them in gender/racial terms. So that's all parallel. But in addition to that it seems to me that there was a very big set of very specific, identifiable voters -- many of them, interestingly, in Appalachia -- who quite clearly and in many cases vocally wouldn't vote for Obama specifically because he's black. And I just haven't seen anything parallel on the other side of that one.

-- But, as my (white, feminist) mother used to say, comparisons are odious. So I'll let it drop there, and return to the key point: these were both important barriers to break; given the candidates, we had to break one and (thereby) not break the other. And given how close things were, I don't think this race shows that either white women or black men have insurmountable handicaps in presidential politics, although they clearly both have handicaps. (Black women may well still have insurmountable handicaps, I fear.)

And, of course and always, given that we could only break one barrier, and not both, I think that going with the candidate who was not complicit in the deaths of more than a million civilians was a really good choice. But that's just me.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Best of the Blogosphere, Part 8: Axis of Evel Knievel on Ph.D. Dissertations in Retrospect

(Eighth in an occasional (at this point very occasional -- the last one was more than a year and a half ago) and entirely whimsical series. Other entries here.)

I haven't done one of these posts in a long time, but in honor of my current endeavor, I thought I'd revive this old series. This post certainly fits my criteria -- it's more than a year old, and well worth re-reading. I even recently found myself googling to try to find it again, always a signal that it was a very good candidate for this particular honor.

So, Noble Readers, I hereby present the eighth official Attempts Best of the Blogosphere™ award to the Axis of Evel Knievel post "Greetings from the Bell Jar". It's about the writer's return to their Ph.D. dissertation a few years later. Here's a bit from the beginning:
I offer today's post as a tribute to all the PhD. candidates out there groaning beneath the awesome, shin-splintering burden of their dissertations. You know who you are.... I come with a message from beyond the threshold: As much as you may hate what you're writing at this exact moment, you will only feel a more precise and exhausted loathing toward it later on. Your prose will seem more lame, your conclusions more uninspiring and aimless, your insights more delusionally smug than you can possibly imagine as you sit there today in your pajamas, choking with writer's block and wondering if you should take a nap, drink yourself sideways, or simply heave yourself beneath the tires of a bus....
And it only gets better from there. Go read it. Especially if it applies (or applied, or will likely apply) to you. You know who you are.

In the meantime, I'm ending here, keeping this post uncharacteristically brief. Figuring out the reason why is left as an exercise for the reader.