Thursday, October 30, 2008

David Frum Can't Google

Frum is ordinarily one of the more reasonable opinionators over at National Review, which, these days, is a bit like praising the designated driver at a frat keg party. But, ol' Frumps decided to burnish his anti-liberal credentials a bit this week by posting this gem, modestly titled, "The International Case Against Obama":
From a regular correspondent, a young Indian national doing graduate studies in the United Kingdom:
An Obama presidency will embolden terrorists. I admit that this administration made too many inexcusable errors, but Obama will only offer palliative prescriptions, not permanent cure to the problem. If his presidency is a peaceful one, it will be so not because he has gone after the terrorists, but because he has conceded. That's really not leadership.

Recently, an Indian newspaper asked Obama what he knew about India. His ignorance was startling. Other than Gandhi, he couldn't mention a single name. I can almost imagine the day when Pakistan strikes India, and Obama asks Indians to follow the example of Gandhi and sit still. McCain at least recognises the importance of democracy.
The chief, and probably, only, merit of this post is that it brings to attention an important topic (at least for India-watchers): what would a President Obama's policies toward the Indian subcontinent look like? Would he continue Bush's unprecedented expansion of cooperation with India? How would he deal with the thorny India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir?

Leaving aside the tortured "logic" of this young graduate student's missive, what this piece accomplishes is to painfully expose dear Frumpy's complete ignorance of India matters, something that should be clear to even a casual India-observer. However Obama may view India, ignorance is not the problem. A simple Google search on "Obama India" would have revealed a wealth of information on the candidate's positions to Frumpelstiltskin.

First, Obama (and McCain) voted for the recent U.S.-India nuclear agreement, one of Bush's most significant foreign policy achievements. Hardly a "Gandhian" peace dove-y view; controversial to be sure, even in India, but not quite "anti-India." Second, Obama criticized U.S. assistance to Pakistan on the grounds that it was being used not to fight terrorists but to arm against India; a nuanced position that is obviously more "pro-India" than even this administration who accepted, maybe unwillingly, the tacit compromise when funding Pakistan. Third, Obama has been the most plain-spoken of the candidates in asserting a willingness to take out high profile terrorists in Pakistan if that government does not do so itself. Obama has been criticized for saying that, and this position certainly did not make him any friends in Pakistan, but I have a hard time visualizing hawkish Indians being dismayed at this stance.

Now, my point is not to defend Obama about his India views, just to say that Frumpsky does not know what the hell he's talking about. To be sure, Obama has some positions related to India that concern some people there. For example, his constant railing against outsourcing (read software and call center jobs) and his generally protectionist stances on trade. There are many others; if you'd like to know more, do your own damn Google search (and tell the Frumpster what you found).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bias? Common Sense? Journalism?

What do you, noble reader, expect of your journalists?

a) Present the facts and let the smarty audience decide.
b) Go ahead and point out outright falsehoods when reciting the news.
c) Make up stuff that I want to hear.
d) News? Ha!

Many journies brag about following the first approach, but it is clearly difficult to present all the facts of any given situation due to space/time constraints, so, the reportahs must, to some degree, present what they think is relevant. But, what about "simply relaying" something that Ms. X and Mr. Y said when you know Mr. Y's talking gibberish? Is that making a false moral equivalency, if you pretend not to notice that one is a raving lunatic, all in the name of letting the audience decide?

CNN's Campbell Brown seems to think so, and is attempting to "cut through the bull****" in her new show: No Bias, No Bull. Campbell uses the following example to make her point: If one person says it's raining outside, and another says it's sunny, the journalist should have the common sense to look out the window and report which person ought to be gently led away. ('gram to Campbell: Suggest tweak example STOP It possible both sun and rain STOP)

Personally, I applaud her efforts, if she is truly sincere and not just toying with our emotions, to wrest back the mantle of "no bias" from the Bill O'Reillys and the Keith Olbermanns whose shrill partisanship is dismaying. (Not, of course, that there's any moral equivalency between the two; one of them is a complete jackass.) By some stroke of luck, Campbell Brown's show is scheduled for the same time slot as the aforementioned shrillsters. (Centrism...that's our rallying cry! And money maker!)

This whole discussion brought to mind something Paul Begala (no shrinking violet himself, in terms of the spin ability) said last month (ignore the candidate-bashing):
If John McCain and Sarah Palin were to say the moon was made of green cheese, we can be certain that Barack Obama and Joe Biden would pounce on it, and point out it's actually made of rock. And you just know the headline in the paper the next day would read: "CANDIDATES CLASH ON LUNAR LANDSCAPE."
Why doesn't somebody call Neil Armstrong? He's been there. Or go to the Smithsonian and open the glass case that contains a piece of the moon. The moon is a rock. That's a fact, Jack.
Hyok, hyok. Mr. Begala, here's the truth: Neil Armstrong never went to the moon. NASA faked it all.

How's that for journalistic excellence?

Monday, October 27, 2008


If you had had the misfortune of wandering over to Drudge tonight, you would have noticed the following cryptic screamer (without a link to an article):

His sludgeness, Mr. Matt, is questioning whether the 16 news organizations listed above might all be wrong in their polls which have consistently shown Obama ahead of McCain at the national level. Your immediate response to this "question" probably reveals your political preference. Obama devotees are probably incensed at the Dreg Depot's ignoring of all pro-Obama news in favor of manufactured skepticism such as this headline. McCain grit pals are the ones ardently hoping against all evidence that the Grudge Resort is correct.

And a very small minority out there--known as the independents--wondered whether it is possible that Matt Fudge is hedging his bets by asking a question that could be read as being self-refuting, i.e., can sixteen independent polling outfits all be wrong in the same direction?

By a remarkable coincidence, Faux Noise, the sludge echo, leads its online political coverage tonight with the following gem of journalistic excellence:
Pollsters Struggle to Handicap Presidential Race: Barack Obama's leading in virtually every national poll, but his margin fluctuates wildly -- suggesting that in some cases, the numbers do in fact lie.
The article "finds" that even though virtually every poll out since late September has shown Obama ahead, his lead has varied wildly, from 1 to 13 points in the past two weeks alone. From this observation, Flax News infers that, naturally, McCain must be leading somewhere in some sets of voters, which means the polls are suspect, never mind that the overwhelming majority of polls have shown Obama ahead all the time. (I could point you to professional critiques of the "close" polls such as this one, but I'll spare you.) The compounding problem that is causing such fits to the poor pollster babies? Not a dearth of data, as one might expect, but an excess of the squigglies:
FOX News political analyst Karl Rove said by his count, there have been 177 national polls conducted as of Oct. 24, compared with 55 at the same time in 2004.
"The proliferation of polls, particularly polls run by universities that may not have the skill and capability that a professional polling outfit has, are really not helpful to the process, in my opinion," Rove said.
So, having more than three times the amount of data showing one candidate consistently ahead is the problem? What are the odds that that many trollsters could all be chucked into the polling feeding frenzy and almost all emerge with the same result?

The sharper-eyed among you would notice whom Flack Nays quoted above: yes, the Prez's favorite Turd Blossom himself (see #9). The other pollsters mentioned by the article in order to justify the title of this dingbat piece of journalism? Dana Blanton, FOX News polling director, and Karlyn Bowman, who studies public opinion for the American Enterprise Institute (I'll save you the suspense...they lean pro-McCain.)

All said, whom do you think this type of coverage best helps? McCain, in order to gin up some more enthusiasm? Or Obama, who has worried about complacency?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Live Every Day Like It's Your Last...

is, roughly, how the saying goes, intending to encourage us to live fuller, more meaningful lives than our current, presumably desultory, ones. The sentiment finds expression in a variety of settings, whether it be coaches exhorting their players to play each game passionately, as if it were their last, or "life coaches" suggesting that being conscious of the fact of one's mortality can make one shed self-imposed inhibitions to greatness. Preachers, too, have a habit of pleading with their flock to return to the straight-and-narrow, pointing out that Judgment Day will arrive suddenly, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, and that this event will extinguish all second chances at redemption (i.e., you're screwed).

The Latin phrase, Memento mori, captures this idea, essentially saying, "Remember that you will die." Naturally, this morbid idea spawned an entire school of art in Rome during the 17th and 18th centuries. Sir Robin Williams, in the movie, Dead Poets Society, inspired his students to carpe diem, Latin for "seize the day." This, of course, is slightly different from memento-ing your mori. The former merely points out that because we don't know when our mori will overtake us, we ought to carpe the heck out of our diem and make the most of it.

Scientists, being scientists and unable to leave such morbidity alone, prefer to conduct experiments on lab rats. Calling it "mortality salience," one scientist tested the idea on judges in Arizona, attempting to see the effect of awareness of one's mortality on one's world views. The honorable lab rats confirmed the scientist's premise that mortality salience "increases positive reactions to those who share cherished aspects of one's cultural worldview, and negative reactions toward those who violate cherished cultural values or are merely different."

Keep that in mind when you tell someone to live their day as if it were their last; all you may be doing is to make them more rigid in their existing views.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Thank God She's Not Going to Have to be President from Day One"

(H/T to Halperin) That's McCain supporter, Sen. Lieberman, talking to Connecticut reporters about Ms. Palin's readiness to be vice president. In fairness, that's just half of his quote; the rest goes, "McCain's going to be alive and well."

My first reaction was that he just botched the delivery of that sentiment; presumably he was aiming for a statement of confidence in McCain's health, and not an "Oh God! President Quayle!" type shudder that went through a lot of people everytime Bush Sr. was taken ill. But, he continues:

"When I endorsed John in December of last year, I cited ... he was ready to be commander-and-chief on day one," Lieberman said.
Palin has come under fire from members of both parties as being ill-prepared to assume the role of commander-and-chief if necessary. Lieberman himself was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2000 and ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004.
"Let's hope she never has to be ready because we hope McCain is elected and live out his term," Lieberman said. "But if, God forbid, an accident occurs or something of that kind, she'll be ready. She's had executive experience. She's smart. And she will have had on-the-job training."

My emphasis. As Jon Stewart might say, they really don't want to win this thing, do they?

Bring Out Yer Soapbox

Each Friday evening, on my way home from work in the nation's capital, I walk by a group of opinionated individuals gathered by my metro (subway) stop. The supreme leader passionately expounds on the merits of his point of view and on the plentiful shortcomings of the opposition's. Generally, but, not always, his oratory is directed at issues of faith. Some days, he warns about Judgment Day (I'm told it's on its way); on others, he rails against [insert name of religion]; yet other times, he assures us that [insert politician's name] is the devil's favorite child. The scene is the same each week: a handful of intent listeners surrounding the head ranter, a gaggle of bemused onlookers milling about (actually, waiting for their bus), and the vast, silent majority of passers-by, going dourly about their business as usual. Every Friday, I am reminded of the time I went to Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, London, during a brief visit to that city ten years ago. Soapboxes and orators have a long history in that corner of the world; I trust that that noble tradition continues to this day.

I admire those that have the passion to stand up and boldly proclaim what they believe, regardless of the quantity or quality of their audience, undeterred by inclement weather or the Thought Police. When ideas and beliefs are vigorously debated, I think the world is the better for it. Some might see blogging as the modern-day equivalent of speaking on a soapbox. We articulate, debate, gesticulate, and pontificate in an online community (sorry for going all Jesse Jackson there). More power to those that are secure enough in themselves to lay their thoughts out in the public domain.

But, surely blogging is just a pale imitation of the real thing. Unlike in Hyde Park, we don't have to face our critics in person in the internet world; such an encounter might temper our more extreme opinions and improve civil discourse. On the other hand, you might be assailed by sputum or pies.

So, here's to "soapboxing" in all its forms: may it continue to keep us sharp, engaged, and slightly drunk.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Today's Moral

Don't mess with the Brits. Or pedants, for that matter. In response to my last post, "Greenspan: Wherefore Art Thou, Capitalism?", Phillip Philip (a well known British curmudgeon) writes:
Pedantry Warning As is clear from the context of Juliet's speech (Act II, scene ii), "wherefore" means not where but why, hence the absence of commas in the original. Were Baron Alan Greenback poetically inclined, he might prefer to go with Milton's "Whence and what art thou, execrable business practices?", or Marlowe's "Why, this is recession, nor are we out of it".
I'm somewhat partial to Milton myself.

Thank you for the correction, friend. Serves me right for having readers smarter than myself. No matter, I welcome pedants and their unprovoked outbursts if it serves the greater good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Greenspan: Wherefore Art Thou, Capitalism?

Oh man...the Oracle, himself, is shellshocked about the collapse of the free market system, calling it a "mistake" in his views that banks would be more prudent in their lending practices. Self-interest gets body slammed by irrational exuberance...don't we, then, risk further moral hazard by bailing out the markets? If they no longer have to worry about pricing in the risk of failure, it seems to me that there is little reason to expect rationality any time soon.

FYI: New Address

I decided to take the plunge and get my own domain:

Mystery in Obama-Biden Land

Althouse rightly points out the media's double-standard on not pushing Biden to better explain his comments. What on earth did he mean when he said, speaking to donors and mentioning that in four or five scenarios, their administration's response would initially not "be apparent that we're right"?

What types of international incidents is he envisioning? More importantly, what unorthoodox response is he promising? In what way? Is he saying that if we get attacked by terrorists from one country that we'll invade a different one? Already did that, thank you. I want to know his explanation and details on all five scenarios.

On Sober Reflection

I think George Will did have a point after all. (Note to self...lay off the rantorade a bit.) I do believe that people crave moral certitude, and that they are increasingly being drawn to traditions that demand something of them. Until someone shows me that the mainline Protestant traditions are losing members for a different reason, I am inclined to agree that we have lost our edge in these movements. The Gospels are still edgy; Jesus' words still can be harsh and prophetic. The question for Christians, then, is how to deal with vigorous disagreements on scriptural interpretation. Do we agree to disagree? Or do we battle it out to the point of division? I have a personal bias in favor of Churches staying whole because I think secessionism too easily devolves into disintegration. I can see why people might feel compelled to draw a line in the sand for whatever reason and say: no more! But, is that a problem with them, or does it show our inability to talk about difficult things?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin v Global Warming - Redux

I discussed this before and I'm still confused by what Sarah Palin is trying to do with this topic. Is global warming caused by a) natural cycles of cooling and warming, or b) by human behavior? If you select the second option, then it appears fairly clear what you might do to reverse g.w. But, if you select the first option, what on earth can you do about it? In that last post of mine I sarcastically suggested several policy solutions, such as building giant sea walls, etc. I assumed that the campaign wonks would consult with Ms. Palin and refine her position in case she was asked this again. Here's the latest from an interview this week:

Identical response. Obviously, she is attempting to take on the persona of practicality and go-do-itness, which is admirable and a great political tack. But, how on earth can you continue to present such illogic? Palin says: we don't know if human activities have a small or large part to play in causing g.w., but it's clear we need to do something, like reducing pollution, etc.

My question: Why? If humans are only causing 1% of the phenom, then clearly it's not worth worrying about (unless you're a tree hugger elitist).

Unless...her position is that it's probably a natural thing, but, we still need to something about it. In that case, and I'm being serious here, the only options left are along the lines of sea walls or mass evacuations from the coast.

My advice is to pick one option and stick with it. Nuance doesn't serve you well here. Full disclosure: I don't particularly care about the global warming issue except in some distant academic way. It's the illogical statements about it that drive me batty.

Daily Eat 10/22

Do you know where to vote? Google Maps just released this incredible tool.

Two British counterterrorism experts criticize the U.S. for taking an "overly militaristic approach" to fighting terrorism.

Tiger Woods takes a break from his knee rehab to caddie for a fan who won a sweepstakes.

Ambinder doesn't like "W".

The Curmudgeon is not happy with Britain's wind power approach.

Rod Dreher summarizes the mood among some Dallas Republicans (they're not happy).

Here's a sciency take on why we crave the taste of unami.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

George Will Eats, Dumps and Leaves

To echo what seems to be a popular sentiment, I enjoy George Will's typically penetrating insights as he applies his formidable intellect to matters of politics and baseball. His most recent column--on Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church--, however, falls far short of the standard he is known for, taking half-truths, substituting analogy for theology, and smugly taking aim at his real target: "progressive politics."

Will says that the Episcopal Church has become "tolerant to the point of incoherence" and intent on furthering what he derisively refers to as "inclusiveness." Doctrinal elasticity, he claims, has caused a dwindling following, secessionist dioceses, and a rift within the broader Anglican Communion.

As George Will might say: well.

First, as Lutheran Zephyr points out, this drive-by piece begins by misrepresenting Luther, attributing to him a manufactured ideology of "the primacy of individual judgment and conscience":
For Luther it was not his individuality but the Word of God which called him to take his stand. Luther viewed the power structure of the Roman Church as corrupt and failing to live up to its God-given mandate, but he never called for that power vacuum to be filled with raging individuality. Rather, he and his fellow Reformers affirmed the conscience-binding authority of the early ecumenical councils, the creeds, Scripture, and - most importantly - the Living Word of God that those creeds, councils and Scripture proclaim. Rather than asserting "the primacy of individual judgment" as Mr. Will claims, Luther asserted the primacy of the Word of God in one of the most beloved slogans of the Reformation - Word Alone. Quibble what you will with the impact of Luther's claims and the ways in which his successors used (or abused!) his legacy, Luther was no modern individualist.
It is the primacy of scripture that Luther advocated which underpins Protestantism, not, as LZ calls it, "a theological free-for-all, choose-your-own-adventure approach to ministry and faith." In fact, it is precisely an overindulgence in individualistic interpretations of Scripture that has arguably led to the proliferation of secessionist movements in Protestantism since Luther's time.

I came to Anglicanism from a conservative evangelical denomination that depended myopically on the primacy of Scripture. Myopic because that denomination like many of its ilk split voraciously on differences of scriptural interpretation, large and small. From disagreeing on evolution to the "proper" role of women to whether instruments are permissible in worship, arguments about how to "rightly" interpret Scripture frequently hinged on who yelled the loudest. And, just as frequently, these disagreements led factions to break-away, secure in the knowledge that they were the "true believers."

The reason I came to Anglicanism was that it represented a sensible way out of the quandary that two reasonable individuals might heartily disagree on how to interpret any given Scripture. Churches in the Anglican Communion are distinguished by their sharing few, broad characteristics, such as the use of the Book of Common Prayer and a belief that Scripture is God's word for us on earth. What Anglicanism does not require, however, is that one believe a laundry list of doctrines, precisely because to do so would fossilize interpretations made in a certain time and place, leading to untold quarrels over the modern-day applicability of this or that tenet, whether now or at some future point.

The question of homosexuality has been angrily debated in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Will says:
It is not the secessionists such as Duncan who are, as critics charge, obsessed with homosexuality. The Episcopal Church's leadership is latitudinarian -- tolerant to the point of incoherence, Duncan and kindred spirits think -- about clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of Scripture and the path to salvation. But the national church insists on the ordination of openly gay clergy and on blessing same-sex unions.
The last sentence betrays Will's (and others') ignorance of the Episcopal Church's structure and laws. There is no "national church," at least, not in the sense that he means. Rather,
The Episcopal Church is governed by a Constitution and a set of laws (known as “canons”) which it establishes for itself by Convention, but the diocesan bishop is the ecclesiastical (or “church”) authority in his or her particular diocese. The bishops of the Episcopal Church have no jurisdiction outside of their dioceses, so they meet together twice per year to pray and make decisions about the life of the Church. Every nine years, the Church elects a “Presiding Bishop” who represents the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion and “presides” over meetings of the bishops, known as the “House of Bishops.”
My emphasis. Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire--a choice of members of that Diocese and that Diocese alone. The "national church" has limited powers of ratification--limited because they are enumerated in the Church canons--and could/should only have overruled the Diocesan election in certain limited situations. It would have been improper activism if the delegates to the Convention had suddenly expanded the canons to include a litmus test on sexual orientation.

If you note similarities between constitutional conservatism (of the sort George Will espouses) and the Episcopal tradition, this is no accident. After all, what Will calls "America's upper crust" was once the same group that gave us both.

Curses! Part Deux

In yesterday's post on politicians and their habits of lying or using expletives, I closed with the following:
I miss the days of plain ol' spin. Orwell himself would have blushed on behalf of our politicians of today.
But, reader Scott calls me a big lout and correctly points out:
...I have to disagree with the closing line. I don't think Orwell would blush at all, as Hughes' and Palin's behavior are completely consistent with what he described here: I doubt he'd find the behavior shocking in the least
So, my apologies to the great Orwell for mischaracterizing his views. (On the other hand, perhaps, to pay homage to his spirit, I should pretend that there is no inconsistency at all.) Nevertheless, my closing statement yesterday was striving for emphasis and effect. But, common English was insufficient to express my incredulity. I should've used the f-word instead and avoided criticism from smarty readers like Scott.

Freak! Faugh! Flak!

(for the record, all real words...look them up.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou, Racism?

Not that I'm clamoring for it, but one of the strange things in this election has been the unexpected ways in which racism has appeared (and not).

Some observers expected to see the so-called "Bradley Effect" whereby Obama would end up doing worse than predicted by pre-election polls; according to this view, some white voters would rather tell a pollster they would vote for the black guy/gal than admit that they harbor negative feelings about that candidate. However, as Nate Silver quite comprehensively demonstrates, this effect appears to have been vastly overstated for this election cycle.

Which is not to say that racism is entirely absent. Indeed, just a short search on YouTube brings up disturbing videos from recent political rallies where people say nasty things about the Democratic candidate. Some old hate groups have resurfaced in certain parts of the country (h/t to Ben Smith). My point is not to hash out how prevalent racism is, but merely to marvel at how economic conditions have so soured that even some that are racist are actually considering voting for Obama. Ben Smith has a great story today that explores this phenomenon:
Anecdotes from across the battlegrounds suggest that there’s a significant minority of prejudiced white voters who will swallow hard and vote for the black man.

“I wouldn’t want a mixed marriage for my daughter, but I’m voting for Obama,” the wife of a retired Virginia coal miner, Sharon Fleming, told the Los Angeles Times recently.

One Obama volunteer told Politico after canvassing the working-class white Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown recently, "I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are … undecided. They would call him a [racial epithet] and mention how they don't know what to do because of the economy.”

The notion that there might be “racists for Obama,” as one Democrat called them, comes against the backdrop of a country whose white voters largely accept the notion of a black president.

“The economy is trumping racism,” said Kurt Schmoke, the dean of Howard University Law School and a former Baltimore mayor. “A lot of people who we might think wouldn’t vote their pocketbook because of race — now they are.”

“If you go to a white neighborhood in the suburbs and ask them, ‘How would you feel about a large black man kicking your door in,’ they would say, ‘That doesn’t sound good to me,’” said Democratic political consultant Paul Begala. “But if you say, 'Your house is on fire, and the firefighter happens to be black,' it’s a different situation.”

“The house is on fire, and one guy seems like he’s calm and confident and in charge, and that’s the only option,” he said.
But, my favorite anecdote (and my real reason for writing all this) comes via
So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the n***er!"

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the n***er."

In this economy, racism is officially a luxury.
Hey, does it really matter whether behavioral change follows attitude change or if it happens in reverse? As one of Nixon's henchmen once said, "If you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."


Texas Monthly has a great piece on Oliver Stone's new movie, W., talking in particular about whether or not Bush uses the f-word, as portrayed in the movie. Basically, Karl Rove panned the movie, saying that he couldn't remember Bush ever using that word in the 35 years he's known him. But, Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater, who extensively covered Bush during his Texas years, remembers otherwise. The post goes on to quote Tucker Carlson (hardly an elitist liberal) who had a hostile discussion with Karen Hughes on the same topic in 1999:
...I heard that (on the campaign bus, Bush communications director) Karen Hughes accused me of lying. And so I called Karen and asked her why she was saying this, and she had this almost Orwellian rap that she laid on me about how things she’d heard—that I watched her hear—she in fact had never heard, and she’d never heard Bush use profanity ever. It was insane. I’ve obviously been lied to a lot by campaign operatives, but the striking thing about the way she lied was she knew I knew she was lying, and she did it anyway. There is no word in English that captures that. It almost crosses over from bravado into mental illness.
Mental illness indeed. I personally am no Bush fan, yet I am not dismayed to learn that he curses like a sailor (why sailor?...why not construction worker?...anyway). I myself used to rely on the f-word in daily conversations for a variety of uses: emphasis, surprise, sarcasm, anger, dismay, and many more. The f-word is versatile, able to fill vocabulary gaps like no other. But, it became for me a verbal crutch, obscuring what vocabulary I did have, and leaving me unable to construct a proper sentence in polite company. That's largely why I completely stopped using it several years ago. That and the fact that my best friend in college was a non-swearer and I wanted to conform. This (amoral reason) is why I object to the use of expletives.

In fact, one can make a general case in favor of the proper use of the English language. Tony Wright, a British politician, wrote in 2001 that "poor English murders clear thinking." I couldn't agree more. I would go on to say that poor English (or whatever your first language is) reflects muddled thinking, an inability to string together coherent thoughts (I know, I'm an eff-ing elitist).

My larger concern is what Carlson called the "mental illness" of lying deliberately, even fully knowing that the listener knows that one is lying. What is the difference between Karen Hughes' apparently brazen behavior and Sarah Palin's baffling statement that the recent TrooperGate report "completely cleared" her?

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin insisted Saturday that a long-awaited legislative report proves she broke no laws in firing the state's top cop.

"If you read the report, you will see that there was nothing unlawful or unethical about replacing a cabinet member," the GOP veep nominee said as she boarded her campaign bus in Pittsburgh. "You got to read the report."

Or, as ABC's Jake Tapper reported in his excoriating article:
"Well, I’m very very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing," Palin said, "any hint of any kind of unethical activity there. Very pleased to be cleared of any of that."
Note the complete lack of nuance and even "depends on the meaning of 'is'"-type parsing. Not even "any hint" of unethical activity? This prompted the Anchorage Daily News editorial board to slam Palin's remarks, saying "Her response is either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian."

I miss the days of plain ol' spin. Orwell himself would have blushed on behalf of our politicians of today.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Humanity Alert!

Too often partisanship clouds our view of politicians, obscuring even their humanity in our eyes. Here are two must-watch videos of McCain's and Obama's comedy routines at last night's Al Smith Dinner in New York.

(pop-up links)
McCain's speech

Obama's speech

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blinkers Beware

In my previous post I made an off-hand comment about McCain's disconcerting habit of blinking rapidly and shooting dart-like gazes everywhere. Turns out there is an entire field of study on blinking and its relationship to how the mind works, called "psychophysiological studies of eyeblink frequency". Who knew? One study by Boston College compared eyeblink (is there any other kind?) frequency of presidential candidates and the eventual electoral outcome (h/t to Ambinder). Basically, the rapid blinker during debates got fewer votes in each of the last 8 presidential elections.

Also interesting is the discussion of a two-factor theoretical model: blinking frequency increases when attention is divided and also during negative hedonic arousal states. Furthermore, the author proposes that since rapid blinking is associated with stress, it might act as a social cue, thus turning off viewers.

It's always nice to get scientific backing for one's hunches! I guess the moral of this story is "blink not, want not".

Third Presidential Debate: Thoughts

My first thought is that I'm glad there will be no more debates. In fact, I'm ready for the election to be over with already. I'm tired of "Joe, the plumber" and "Joe Six-Pack."

The clear winner to me, besides the afore-mentioned plumber, was the moderator, Bob Schieffer. I thought his questions were on point and edgy enough to elicit the most direct responses we've seen from either candidate so far. I was disappointed that Bob didn't ask about things such as Habeas Corpus, executive branch power, and climate change, but more than anything I had an overwhelming desire to have the thing over with. Yes, even a horse-race nerd like me tuned out repeatedly.

Which brings up the most crucial point of all: I bet that anyone who listened to the debate on the radio thought that McCain won handily. I thought he set an aggressive tone early and put Obama on the defensive. But the optics of the affair were a different matter entirely. McCain had the misfortune of appearing on TV. Seated next to a young man like Obama, the contrast couldn't have been more painfully obvious (just like the last debate). McCain also suffered the impediment (like most normal people) of not being able to conceal the fact that he was furiously thinking while Obama talked. This manifested itself by way of McCain's combination frozen-grin-darting-eyes syndrome, which was disconcerting, to say the least (I think the same problem doomed Hillary Clinton's debate performances during the primaries).

Yes, it is manifestly unfair that such important matters are decided on the strength of visual cues; but we crossed that bridge a long time ago, with the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Then, as now, the apparently unflappable youngster beat out the wily veteran mostly due to the effect of television.

Update: CrunchyCon has a similar, but pithier take on this.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Food Meets Politics two favorite topics meet. The White House hosted Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, for dinner tonight (Monday), and this is apparently the last time President Bush hosts an official dinner for a world leader. Here's the menu:




Delicata Squash Soup with Citron

Maine Lobster Fondue

Artichoke and Reggiano Cheese Ravioli

Ponzi Chardonnay “Reserve” 2005

Rosemary-crusted Elysian Farm Lamb

Crispy Eggplant and Swiss Chard

Robert Mondavi Cabernet “Reserve” 2005

“Santa Maria”

Chocolate Napoleon

Iron Horse “Russian River Cuvée” 2003

So, being the bright guy that I am, I noticed they're serving ravioli. To the Italian PM. Is that really a good idea? Not that I doubt the WH chef's abilities, but why risk an international incident by serving Italian dishes here? What if it turns out that Berlusconi grew up eating artichoke with romano cheese ravioli instead? I know Berlusconi likes Bush, so presumably he would take no offense. But still, this is dangerous territory. Would have been safer to have gone American.

On a related note, the ABC article also points out that this is an "official visit" and not a "State Dinner," the latter being functionally the same as the former except for the name. The White House decided that given the current economic worries it would not behoove them to be seen hosting an extravagant State Dinner (even though they're the same thing, with full pomp and circumstance...well, you get the idea).

What's in a name, you ask? In the elitist, rarefied air of international diplomacy, everything. State Dinners are a huge deal and a matter of prestige, symbolic not only by commission but equally by omission. When China's President, Hu Jintao, visited the U.S. in 2006, he got just an "official visit" and no dinner at all, just a "working luncheon"--an intentional indignity. And here is the menu from that event:

Menu for the Luncheon in Honor of the Visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao and Madam Liu Yongqing

Butter Heirloom Corn Broth
with Scallions

Seared Ginger-scented Dumplings

Wild-caught Alaskan Halibut
with Mushroom Essence

Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Legumes, and Sweet Carrots

Freckles Bibb Lettuce with Grilled Eggplant
Banyuls Vinaigrette

"A Good Fortune"
Melon Three Ways
Candied Ginger and Orange Peel
Warm Almond Cakes

Newton Chardonnay "unfiltered" 2002
Ginger-scented Dumplings? Bibb Lettuce? Candied Ginger and Orange Peel? Are you kidding me? They might as well have ordered take-out.

Where are the Truth-Tellers?

And if one came along to tell us the difficult-to-hear facts about our current economic, diplomatic, and military crises instead of telling us what we want to hear, would we listen? Would we care? Excerpts from an interesting op-ed in today's LA Times (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan) that suggests what McCain might say as a way to break out of the populist one-upmanship we've seen from the two candidates:
"My friends, I've done and said a lot of things these past four years to become president. I even believe in some of them. But at a time of possible economic meltdown, you need an adult to talk to you straight about economic policy. So here goes: My math doesn't add up. My promises are extravagant, and most wouldn't pass a Democratic Congress anyway. We have debts no honest country can pay, military deployments no volunteer army at current levels can continue fighting and entitlements that are going to begin crippling the budget as the baby boomers retire. We've had eight years of fantasy-based budgeting and can no longer afford it. So until we get our finances under control, until we stop growing government and the regulatory state at rates not seen since Lyndon Johnson, until we learn how to pay for such predictable outlays as war costs without circumventing the budget process and larding things up with pork, I promise you all exactly this: nothing. It sounds harsh, but drastic times call for drastic measures, and only straight talk, not campaign fantasia, can get us through this mess."
Welch closes with this gem:
How about just telling the harsh economic truth, something that Americans seem much more willing to discuss and accept than the two pander bears running for president.
Pander bears. Chuckle :)

George Will said something similar two weeks ago (my italics):
We are waist deep in evasions because one cannot talk sense about the cultural roots of the financial crisis without transgressing this cardinal principle of politics: Never shall be heard a discouraging word about the public.
Now, I'm not sure whether such a change to painful directness would work in the three weeks remaining before the election because McCain may have reinvented himself too many times over the last few months. However, the larger question remains, would we be able to listen if someone did point out our own shortcomings?

On Anti-Intellectualism (Part 0)

New York Times Columnist, David Brooks, wrote last week that the Republican Party has become the Party of anti-intellectualism, disdaining sophisticated thinking, and generally operating from gut instinct. Brooks highlighted Sarah Palin as emblematic of this mode of thinking, calling her a "fatal cancer to the Republican Party." The remarkable thing about all this is that Brooks is known (or at least, was known) as a conservative--I like to call him and people like George Will and Peggy Noonan old school conservatives, or, "paleoconservatives"--and his words sparked discussion and the closest thing to self-examination that the conservative movement has experienced in some time.

This anti-intellectual mindset scorns "elitism" and praises the wisdom of everyday "Joe six pack" as the antidote to everything that ails America. And it has manifested itself recently in some truly absurd ways: for instance, the "debate" about how to pronounce the names of Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Now, I normally do not begrudge those that habitually say "Eye-raq", "Eye-ran", and "Pack-istan", because I believe in freedom of accent. But when some take the time to argue that to pronounce these (correctly) as "Ee-rahq", "Ee-rahn", and "Pahk-istahn" is being "ostentatiously exotic" and "annoying", I find this dismaying. Dismaying because, to paraphrase something George Will said once, people like these think it is clever to think this way.

As David Brooks says, "Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals." And now, (neo-)conservatives value unsophistication as authenticity. To be fair, politicians have given us plenty of reasons to question their sincerity, but is electing "Joe six pack" really the solution?

There are many tangents I can take on this subject:
  • Where American conservatism goes from here (please, let us save it from itself);
  • A discussion of how the founding fathers would have been aghast at this mindset (those bloody elitists);
  • A comparison to sports (because everything has an analogy to sports); and,
  • A comparative analysis of anti-intellectualism around the world.
Maybe I will write about those some other time, but the thought that really strikes me for now is that we've seen this movie before, in the form of religious anti-intellectualism, specifically in Christianity. My wife (an Episcopal priest and a hundred times smarter than I am) has pondered this issue in her own academic and spiritual journey. By some strange coincidence, and if I may make a horribly broad generalization, it appears that in America there is some demographic overlap between the political and religious anti-intellectual groups. This is what I want to discuss, and will attempt to do so in parts over the next few weeks. Hopefully my wife will guest-write some posts (hint, hint) because I will probably end up paraphrasing what she's told me anyway. If you or someone you know has thoughts on the subject, please send them my way and I will post them here as well.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How to Debate

After three pathetic presidential and vice presidential debates, designed to beat the life out of this landmark election, some (including the campaigns!) have called for a much more free flowing format for the third and final presidential debate. Now, I have my doubts whether this will actually go very far, but clearly something needs to be done in future elections. Here's an example from Britain of what direct, hard-hitting debates look like, without calling someone a terrorist or senile. (Many out there have posted this before, so it's not like I discovered it, but I continue to enjoy watching the clip.)

Tony Blair vs. John Major (then-Prime Minister) in 1995 and 1997:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Question for McCain and Obama

Vice President Cheney, in an attempt to shield his office's records from the public, came up with the novel claim in 2004 that the vice presidency is not part of either the executive or legislative branches (pdf link). After protests by several groups and government agencies, a federal judge recently ruled otherwise, ordering that Cheney's office preserve all records. McCain's running mate apparently agrees with Cheney's preposterous theory as well, lauding the "flexible" nature of the vice presidency.

The point of all of this is to raise the question of the executive branch's unprecedented power grab over the last 8 years. Here's where we stand today: Obama and Biden have criticized this administration for this reason; McCain has been silent on the topic (as far as I can tell); Palin seems to agree with Bush and Cheney, but in fairness, we know very little about her views on the subject because of her severely limited press availability (some have demanded she hold a real press conference). Still, even with Obama and Biden we know precious little about whether they plan to reverse this trend. After all, history has repeatedly shown that what Government takes over, it rarely relinquishes, even after the initial impetus disappears. This is the greatest argument for conservatism (IMHO).

So, my question to both McCain and Obama is this: Do you agree that the executive branch has expanded its powers over the last 8 years beyond its constitutional limits? What will you do as President to roll back these powers?

Now, I recognize that the current economic crisis has basically led to the semi-nationalization of the financial system and has vastly grown the executive branch's powers beyond anything we ever imagined. Nevertheless, I think we need to understand where these candidates stand on the general topic because that will tell us how much they value the constitution. In case this seems like a minor issue, let me remind you that the President takes the following oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Before January 20, 2009 comes, we need to know how, or rather, whether, our next President intends to fulfill this oath. Because the last 8 years have shown that we cannot simply take this for granted.

Word for the Ages

From the book of Ecclesiastes (NIV):

1 The words of the Teacher, [a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 "Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless."

3 What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

11 There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Now, for something completely different...

Do you know where your favorite meat comes from? If your first thought is the supermarket, then read on.

H/T to Ruhlman for this link to a video that shows the making of headcheese from a pig's head. This incredible 19 minute video shows not only how to use the entire animal, but more importantly reminds us that our food is not anonymous and does not simply appear in neat little packages out of nowhere. Obviously, if you're vegetarian or are easily grossed out, skip this video.

Sky Full of Bacon 04: A Head's Tale from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

On the Question of Taking Out Bin Laden in Pakistan

McCain and other "conservatives" have ridiculed Obama for saying that he would be willing to unilaterally use force to take out bin Laden if the Pakistan Government was unwilling or unable to do so. Now, setting aside the discussion of international law and violating Pakistani sovereignty, is this really where the right wing wants to go on this issue? Surely what Obama is saying is hardly revolutionary in any way. Is there a single person in the whole world who doubts that the U.S. would launch a cruise missile at bin Laden the second America knows where he is, regardless of what country he's in? If you were to predict world outrage at yet another example of American unilateralism, would you pick this issue as a cause célèbre?

But, of course, that is not the crux of their objection. McCain, rather cutely, says: We will do it if we must, but we should not advertise this in advance. Why? Because bin Laden has been deluded into thinking that he was safe across the border? Or that Pakistan didn't think the U.S. would do such a thing?

So, we arrive at the last objection: that this language unnecessarily antagonizes our ally (Pakistan). This is a valid criticism, but does anyone besides me find this newfound concern for our country's image hilarious coming from the right wing? Moreover, since the two candidates are fighting for American votes, which party's base would you expect to be more offended by bellicose rhetoric? Is McCain really spending precious time arguing that Obama is the hawkish one? And this is supposed to win over which types of voters? Call me naïve, but I do not think the Republicans should be wasting their time on this topic.

World Blogs

Check out this section on the right where I list some interesting blogs from around the world. FP Passport and Baghdad Bureau are blogs by magazines covering foreign affairs. The others so far:

India Uncut
: Great news and insight from India by a group of bloggers who post daily.

In the Making: Blog by a Saudi lady, Aysha, who is a screenwriter and writes about daily life in Riyadh.

Last of Iraqis: A young dentist living in Baghdad comments about health and policy issues.

In fact, if you have any others in mind, please let me know. I'm always on the lookout for more.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Drop These Words!

Please, just stop saying these tired words/phrases. Both of you appear to be otherwise intelligent candidates. Show us that your vocabulary is broader than this.

McCain: my friends, maverick, earmarks.

Obama: notion, aaand, notion, Bush.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Debate II - Small Talk

If you want the gory details of last night's presidential debate, follow this rabbit trail. Both sides did their best spin afterward, and the pundits dutifully parsed the candidates' responses, the moderator's efforts, and the spin itself. Most polls (even Fox's) gave Obama the victory, albeit by varying degrees. The one visual I took away was the obvious generational difference between the two candidates, made all the more stark by their proximity and by their walking around, which did not favor McCain. As we speak, there are no doubt several insta-ads up and running in battleground states, trying to capitalize on "moments" from last night's debate.

And, yet...why was my one overwhelming impression that I was in some sort of wonderland last night? I recognize now that I had the same lingering uneasiness during the previous debate, that it was as if the candidates were sitting on a park bench making small talk about the weather while the city around them was in flames. Yes, they talked about the economic difficulties, and they threw prepared zingers at each other, and generally stuck to their respective debate strategies.

Therein was the problem. These are strangely difficult times, scary because we don't understand the severity of the problems and yet intuit impending doom. The DOW has dropped 33% in the last year, the country has steadily hemorrhaged jobs each month, many venerable Wall St institutions have simply disappeared, every bank out there is holding its breath (and its cash), all the major central banks in the world are frantically coordinating their daily responses, and every smart economist out there is generally freaking out. And yet, our would-be leaders talked last night about this and that as though this were a normal election year. While the city around them was burning to the ground, it seemed, they were arguing over who would be the better fire chief, muttering about extra fire extinguishers in each home.

As Peggy Noonan--a respected conservative columnist--said on several programs recently, it seemed to her that the McCain campaign was not big enough for the moment we're in. Indeed, I think she was saying that neither campaign was acting in a manner commensurate with the magnitude of this crisis. CNN's Gloria Berger said last night that what most ordinary people seem to want from their leaders right now is reassurance more than anything else. I agree. One of my fondest childhood memories crystallizes this want: sitting in the back of the car as my parents drove us home after a fun evening, me half-asleep and them speaking to each other in hushed voices so as to not wake up me and my sister. I bet you have a memory just like this one. I didn't know what they were discussing, but I knew they had it covered and I was secure in that fact.

Neither candidate gave that sense of reassurance yesterday. The country does not need more three point plans or more talk about spending seven hundred bizillion dollars to fix this or that. What we need is a modern day _____ (fill in the blank) leader who will rally us back into optimism and a "can do" spirit. If Obama is going to be President, as polling now shows likely, he had better channel his inner JFK or Reagan by Inauguration Day on January 20th, 2009, and rally the country around a new agenda. Without that public support, he will flounder and the country will be no better off than it is right now.

Here's a good start for what he might say:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
(President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at his first inaugural on March 4, 1933)

Monday, October 06, 2008

From the Dept. of the Absurd

Priceless "hypothetical" from The Corner today that apparently now qualifies for reasoned discussion:
Does the selloff on Wall Street have anything to do with the increasing likelihood that Obama will be our next president?

Well. I understand feeling morose about the trailing candidate's electoral prospects, and I understand partisanship and feeling a certain level of paranoia, but does it behoove an influential blogger like Kathryn Lopez to post such drivel? The worst part is the too-cute-by-half title: "Coincidence?"

If, on the other hand, Ms. Lopez believes this sort of thing to be worthy of discussion, I have some more fodder:
1. Coincidence? The weather in DC has steadily become cooler over the last few months while Obama's poll numbers have improved.
2. Coincidence? Wall St. has gone to crap ever since Tom Brady blew out his knee.
3. Or how about this? Republican prospects have really sucked since the economy tanked. Er, actually... Never mind. That one makes too much sense.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bad Theology, Meet Bad Economics

Time Magazine wrote Friday on the unfortunate, but sadly not surprising, nexus between the prosperity gospel and the sub-prime mortgage mess.

Says Anthea Butler, an expert in Pentecostalism at the University of Rochester in New York: "The pastor's not gonna say, 'Go down to Wachovia and get a loan,' but I have heard, 'Even if you have a poor credit rating, God can still bless you — if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big donation to the church], you'll get that house or that car or that apartment.' " Adds J. Lee Grady, editor of the magazine Charisma: "It definitely goes on, that a preacher might say, 'If you give this offering, God will give you a house.' And if they did get the house, people did think that it was an answer to prayer, when in fact it was really bad banking policy." If so, the situation offers a look at how a native-born faith built partially on American economic optimism entered into a toxic symbiosis with a pathological market.

My wife, who knows a thing or two about theology, has been railing against the prosperity gospel for some years now, but I haven't taken more than a passing interest in it. The idea that God "rewarded" faith with material things seemed ludicrous, but generally harmless. After all, if someone prayed for a promotion and got it, and believed in a causal relationship, did that really harm anyone? In short, an infantile, wrong, and sad theology, but not harmful. The current sub-prime mess, however, leads me to ponder something else: given that the prosperity gospel became popular during an economic bubble where normal senses of prudence and sobriety absconded, will we now see its decline during tough times? Or does this movement have enough momentum to persist until the good times return? Will the p.g. advocates be forced to exhort their wavering followers who don't see immediate gratification to press on with the mere promise of hitting paydirt? But then, can a movement dependant on instant results survive this cognitive dissonance? Just tryin' to make some sense...

Friday, October 03, 2008

VP: What is it Good For?

An update to my earlier note about Palin's description of the vice-presidency during the debate...she elaborated further on the issue during an interview with Fox News. Think Progress has a good overview of the discussion along with some gratuitous shots at Palin, so here is the relevant section from the interview transcript:

CAMERON: One of the things you talked about last night was the flexibility of the vice presidency (INAUDIBLE)


CAMERON: What do you mean by that?

PALIN: That thankfully, our founders were wise enough to say, we have this (INAUDIBLE) and it's Constitutional. Vice presidents will be able to be not only the position flexible, but it's going to be sort of this other duty as assigned by the president. It's a simple thing. I don't think that was a gaff at all in stating what the truth is.

And that is we've got flexibility in the position. The president will be directing in a lot of (INAUDIBLE) with the vice president does.
The vice president, of course, is not a member -- or a part of the legislative branch, except to oversee the Senate. That alone provides a tremendous amount of flexibility and authority if that vice president so chose to use it.

CAMERON: One of the criticisms of Vice President Cheney is that he is (INAUDIBLE) the power and influence of the office and that during the Bush/Cheney presidency, the power of the executive has been a standard beyond perhaps that which is good for a country that wants to make sure that we don't have an imperial presidency.

Would you change any of that, (INAUDIBLE) than the Bush/Cheney administration in terms of the power of the executive?

PALIN: Well, again, as I tried to explain last night, our executive branch will know what our job is. We have the three very distinct branches of government. You know, we might be bleeding our authority over to the Legislative or Judicial branch to do our job in the Executive branch as administers.

Um...excuse me? "Bleeding our authority over" to the other two "distinct branches of government"? Has the meaning of "distinct" now changed? Does Ms. Palin believe that she would have the authority to actually set the Senate's legislative agenda? And, pray tell, exactly what executive authority will now "bleed over" to the judicial branch?

The only thing bleeding over here is the Constitution.

Debate Thoughts

First of all, a shout out to Mr. Biden for quoting from my recent post on global warming, i.e., it makes a big difference whether one thinks it's man-made or natural. Actually, I'm sure he's never read my blog, but hey, I can dream, right?

But, seriously, how was this even close? According to these pundits, they both basically exceeded expectations. That's how low we've sunk. Almost no one is sufficiently horrified that one candidate did not subscribe to the arcane idea, as specified in that rag sheet--the constitution, that the vice-presidency is part of the executive branch. Not only that, but the constitution also, apparently, made the position a "flexible" one. The mind boggles. Do we or do we not still believe that the constitution matters?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Mindboggling Stat of the Day: Zimbabwe's Hyperinflation

40 Million Percent. From today's NY Times: $1 from August of this year would have been worth 10 Trillion Zimbabwean dollars, if their government hadn't lopped 10 zeros off the currency. People are now calculating prices of goods by the number of days they spend in line at the bank to withdraw cash to buy them: a day for a bar of soap, four for a sack of cornmeal.

Was it Stalin who said that one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic? Cognitively, how do you even comprehend such misery?

Palin & Global Warming

An underreported tidbit from the recent Sarah Palin-Katie Couric interviews was her response to the question of global warming:
(Sept 30th;

Couric: Is it man-made, though in your view?

Palin: You know there are - there are man's activities that can be contributed to the issues that we're dealing with now, these impacts. I'm not going to solely blame all of man's activities on changes in climate. Because the world's weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn't matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it's real; we need to do something about it.

Now, I personally like the idea of blaming man's activities on climate change. Take war, for example: seems reasonable to argue that warmer weather causes hot-headed behavior. Similarly, we already know about the depressive effects of cold, gray winter weather; just ask any Swede. But, I'm parsing here...I think she just unintentionally mangled her grammar. The more important point is: does it not matter whether you think climate change is man-made or whether it merely reflects natural cycles? If one believes the latter, how precisely can we "do something about it"? Cloud seeding to cause rain in drought-stricken areas? Gigantic sea walls to protect from rising sea levels?

Seems to me that what one believes is the cause has a hell of an effect on policy choices.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Time to spot the "un-voter"

Just barely over a month to the most awesomest election day YOU know where your voter registration card is? Actually, I need to go look for mine. This is also a good time to identify those friends of yours that are hoping as usual to get away with not voting at all. Here's how to spot one:

1. Watch their eyes...they're probably very shifty; a clear sign of a guilty conscience.
2. They keep changing the subject when you mention your favorite candidate. Something like, "speaking of the gutter, it needs cleaning."
3. Wildly exaggerated statements, such as, "It's too late, the election's over already."
4. Nonsensical gibberish, as in, "My vote doesn't matter anyway."
5. A generally sheepish air about them.

Remember, it is up to YOU to twist their arms so they can exercise their right to vote.