July 12, 2008

Graffiti Bridge.

Graffiti Bridge


Water mysteries.

Unseen water

These are pictures of water that looked quite disgusting in reality and like nothing at all in the unmanipulated photograph.


So this is just an exercise in finding things with the computer.

Do you really think Justices Stevens and Ginsburg are about to create Supreme Court vacancies?

Do you imagine that they stay on the Court only because they don't want George Bush replacing them? Here's the AP:
The oldest two justices — half the court's liberal wing — top the list of those considered likely to retire during the next presidential administration. Despite Stevens' and Ginsburg's apparent vigor, change on the Supreme Court is more likely than not over the next four years.

"One would think that over the course of the next four years the actuarial tables would catch up with the oldest members, as they do for us all," said Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec.
Stevens is 88. Ginsburg is 75. Let's check those actuarial tables. I'm looking at the most recent life table from the National Center for Health Statistics. (PDF – 2004.) A white female who is now 75 has a life expectancy of 12.8 more years. So if Obama is elected and wins a second term, Ginsburg can outlast him and even the first term of the next President.

Now, Stevens is 88 and male. Surely, he can't hold on, you're thinking. But you are wrong. The life expectancy of a 90 year old white male is 4.3 years. 6.o for 85. So do the math. Looks like a good 5 years.
[Tom] Goldstein predicts only Stevens will retire during the next four years and not before he surpasses Oliver Wendell Holmes — who stepped down two months shy of his 91st birthday, in 1932 — to become the oldest sitting justice. That would happen in February 2011.
It's funny to think of a man that old engaged in what seems like the rather childish behavior of record-setting. But if Stevens is into record-breaking, would he just try to beat Holmes by one day or would he try to set the most unbeatable new mark that he could? And what about that other record? William O. Douglas served on the court the longest: 36 years and 7 months. The man who took his comfortable seat was John Paul Stevens. The date: December 18, 1975. So he needs to go to July 19, 2011 to beat that record.

Think people will get fired up about Supreme Court appointments this fall? Perhaps not.

ADDED: I was just reading articles from the NYT archive about the Stevens appointment. This is from January 12, 1976, by C. Herman Pritchett, a polisci professor:
President Ford's appointment of John Paul Stevens to the United States Supreme Court continues and underlines the striking contrast between Republican and Democratic policies on Supreme Court selections.

Republican Presidents have consistently considered the Court as a law court, members of which should have past experience on lower Federal or state courts. Democratic Presidents have seen the Court as a policy court, and have consistently appointed to it men from public life with substantial experience.
(Here's the PDF of the article, which you might have to pay for.)

Isn't it amazing to think how differently that would be written today? For one thing, someone who favored the Democrats' approach, as Pritchett does, would never concede that the Republicans see the Court as a "law court" and the Democrats see it as "policy court." You never even hear those expressions these days, and you don't even find the idea embodied in that term "policy court" presented in a positive light. Today, both sides claim their judges follow the law and accuse the other side's judges as importing policy preferences into the decisions.

Pritchett was looking at the record beginning with the constitutionally monumental year 1937. He acknowledges 3 big exceptions to the Republican pattern: Earl Warren, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. He summarily discounts them: Eisenhower viewed the Warren nomination as a mistake, and Powell and Rehnquist were "spur-of-the-moment selections made by Mr. Nixon under great pressure." Of the 16 Democratic nominees, Pritchett counts only 3 that had judicial experience, and for 2 of those — Fred Vinson and Thurgood Marshall — it was "little more than an incident in a distinguished public career, and hardly figured as a factor in their selection."

Pritchett definitely thought the Democrats had it right. He cites Felix Frankfurter — who hadn't been a judge before he went on the Court — who supposedly made "a careful study of his predecessors" and "concluded that the relationship between judicial experience and success on the Court" — there's a soft variable! — "was absolutely zero."

Can you image the uproar if Barack Obama echoed Pritchett's views today?

IN THE COMMENTS: Bissage writes:
I’m just going to say this much: I strongly suspect that some of you people who think high-achieving people fight to retain their status because they live for the hope of seeing the downstream effects of their work have probably never worked for a high-achieving person.

I’m not saying that to start a ruckus.

I’m just saying.
And this makes me realize I accidentally deleted a paragraph of my original post! I had intended to say that individuals who keep their jobs into old age have demonstrated to us that they are not the retiring kind. I would assume they love their work, live in it, and even believe that it keeps them alive, sharp, and in the world. You would do better to watch for people in their early 60s to retire, because these are the people who have not yet revealed whether they have a vision of themselves as retirees. An 88-year-old Supreme Court Justice doesn't look to me like someone who's just waiting for the right moment to retire.

Jim Lindgren says:
If Obama wins, I think Souter or Ginsburg will be first.

Stevens is going strong and in great health. Why NOT set the record for serving the longest?
I agree. Let him set a fine example of strength in super-old age. Is there some 50-year-old with more to give? Why would he think so?

The miracle of cornstarch and vibration.

This brought back some memories. Cornstarch mixed with water was a classic hippie toy. It's just really fun to squeeze. But we never put it on a tray on top of a subwoofer and made it dance like that. (Via Boing Boing.)

AND: Commenter Zeb Quinn points me to this highly amusing cornstarch demonstration from the Ellen show:

"Why is it so hard for a magazine to shoot a decent celebrity cover?"

Some shocking examples of uglification here. My theory is that magazine editors want professional models and are annoyed to by the fact that celebrity faces on the cover help circulation so much that they can no longer do what their aesthetic sensibilities tell them is right. Thwarted, the wreak their revenge. It's passive aggression.

"I know there won't be the outpouring of gushing praise for him like happened with Russert's death. But I didn't cry for Russert."

"I do for Tony."

"I'm not here to make friends."

Via Andrew Sullivan, who may only be posting because The Atlantic tells him he must, but finds a lot of cool stuff.

Matt Yglesias asks: "Does This Blog Suck? Do All Blogs Suck?"

"This," meaning his, not mine. He's responding to a reader who wants to know "What'd you think about David Appell's smackdown of you?" Matt's defense is: "I don't think the post was really about why I suck, it was about why the punditsphere as a whole sucks with me just as a prominent example." And the first commenter says, "No, it's a pretty good smackdown of you in particular." Hmmm.

Here's the main thing I found interesting in Appell's piece:
[W]hat's especially bad, "professional bloggers" seem so intent on posting 20 times a day that all of their individual posts are basically useless, conveying nothing whatsoever.

For example, I think Andrew Sullivan, by becoming a blogger, has completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis. Now he posts 40 times a a day [sic], and includes so many insipid or inconsequential things and meaningless pieces of campaign gossip, and very, very little (i.e. none) of what he writes changes my life in any way whatsoever. I have stopped reading him.
Appell goes on to pick apart a post by Matt Yglesias, who, like Sullivan, blogs at the Atlantic. So I'd say it's not so much "a pretty good smackdown of [Matt] in particular" as it is an expression of concern about the efforts of writers and readers. Appell would like people to read more weighty writing by serious experts, and this, I think, misapprehends human nature. People will study difficult things sometimes — mostly, when it's necessary in the pursuit of their career. But with or without blogs, people read for fun. And blog reading — especially when there's a comment section — provides a kind of social interaction that you can't get from a book. It's a different experience from reading a book, and it's probably richer than what most people would be reading if they weren't reading blogs.

The question whether blogging is ruining the writers is quite different. Posting 40 or even 20 times a day does seem excessive, and I have a problem if Sullivan and Yglesias are cranking out posts because their employer imposes a quota. I think there is a kind of prolific, money-driven blogging that would suck the life right out of you. Sullivan had 37 posts on Friday! Did all of that just spring out of his fertile, energetic, overflowing brain in the pure joy of blogging or is this commerce?

I love prolific, eccentric blogging on divergent topics, and I do blog for the sheer intrinsic pleasure of it. Could I put the same energy into writing a serious book every year? I would have more time for other projects if I didn't blog, but I can't just take the energy and put it somewhere else. Blogging creates its own sort of energy. To say take that energy and write a serious book is like saying to someone who is in love with a guy who's no good for her that she should take that love and give it to this other guy who's got a steady job and stays home in the evenings.

But I don't know why Andrew Sullivan is blogging the way he is or how valuable the books he doesn't write would be. Nevertheless, his blog is wonderful. It's a model of multifariousness. I don't trust anyone who thinks writing like that undermines the other, longer, focused writing that he happens to get done at the same time. The notion that he has "completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis" is quite simply insane (or jealous). Being serious all the time is not the only way to be serious, and it's probably not even a good or healthy way to be serious. It might be that Sullivan, with his elite, advanced education, could have become more of a scholar and less of a polemicist, but he went right into journalism after he got his Ph.D, long before blogging was invented.

Yglesias is another matter. He's young and unproven. Unlike Sullivan, he hasn't written books that have made a difference. Nor does he have an advanced degree that would make us think he should be writing scholarship. He's just a young pundit, and who knows if he has anything more useful to offer than his blog and his blog-like book? I'd rather read his blog than his book, but what difference does it make if he writes in a book or on a blog? If it's on the blog, people can comment — unlike Sullivan, he has comments — and other bloggers can cut and paste and link. That's all perfectly fine. Who thinks there is a more profound book that we're missing out on?

As for me, I'm old and I've written plenty of scholarship. Hardly anyone has read it and it has had approximately zero effect. Blogging is my métier. That's just the way it is.

"It was one of the stupidest things I've done in my life but it's no reason to take my kids."

A woman in Canada drew a swastika on her daughter's arm — twice, and the authorities took the daughter, who is 7, and a son, who is only 2, from the home.
"I'm willing to jump through their hoops," the woman told the CBC. "If they want me to deny my beliefs, I'll tell them that, but at the same time, I'm not a traitor to my politics, my beliefs. I just want my kids back."
Way to show your opposition to political oppressors, Canada.

July 11, 2008

Now, hop on your motor scooter, go to the beach, and dance.

Pure amusement. I guarantee this will make you smile:

Did you know that when he was quite young, Bob Dylan played piano in Bobby Vee's band?
Bobby Vee was from Fargo, North Dakota, raised not too far from me. In the summer of '59 he had a regional hit record out called "Suzie Baby" on a local label. His band was called The Shadows and I had hitchhiked out there and talked my way into joining his group as a piano player on some of his local gigs, one in the basement of a church. I played a few shows with him, but he really didn't need a piano player and, besides, it was hard finding a piano that was in tune in the halls that he played.

Bobby Vee and me had a lot in common, even though our paths would take such different directions. We had the same musical history and came from the same place at the same point in time. He had gotten out of the Midwest, too, and had made it to Hollywood. Bobby had a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell, like Buddy Holly's, only deeper. When I knew him, he was a great rockabilly singer and now he had crossed over and was a pop star...

I wanted to see him again....

I told him I was playing in the folk clubs.... He'd become a crowd pleaser in the pop world...

Standing there with Bobby, I didn't want to act selfishly on his time so we said good-bye and I walked down the side of the theater and out through one of the side doors. There were throngs of young girls waiting for him in the cold outside the building.... I wouldn't see Bobby Vee again for another thirty years, and though things would be a lot different, I'd always thought of him as a brother. Every time I'd see his name somewhere, it was like he was in the room.
Bob Dylan, "Chronicles," pages 79-81.

Pick one.



Althouse in L.A.

Not right now, but soon. And not another one of those months-long exiles from my beloved Madison, Wisconsin. Just a little trip for a few days. I've only been to L.A. once before, in about 1974, and I hated it. But I've giving it a second chance, so give me some advice. How can I amuse myself in L.A.?

"Turn It On"... turn on the Top 40 grunge recordings.

"Turn It On" by the Flaming Lips is #40 on the countdown, put together, with video, by Jac, who's in his mid-20s and thus experienced the grunge era in his formative years. Was grunge important to you? Did you pick up your guitar and play it?

What counts as grunge? Per Jac:
My basic definition of grunge is music that was made mostly in the '90s, drawing on the early punk and heavy metal of the '70s-'80s as far as dynamics and tone quality (namely, loud and distorted), but drawing more on the songwriting of the '60s. There's usually a loose, lazy, "Anyone could play this" vibe, and there are rarely any instruments other than guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.
He's only giving us 5 at a time, on Fridays, but I love the first 5 choices. And I'm allowed to love this stuff. I didn't experience during my formative years, but my son Jac played it, and just as he liked my 60s music, I liked his 90s music. I loved having the bands practice in my basement, and I loved being the adult that was happy to drive teenage guys to concerts — including that one Jac mentions in the discussion of #36 ("Everything Zen").

There is always some poignancy to looking at things from the past, but there's a really hard twist of that feeling at #37 — "Feel the Pain."

Bernard-Henri Lévy says why Barack Obama will be President.

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy is writing about America again, getting things wrong, of course:
Then there is ... the American art of "junk politics," especially as practiced by the Republicans, and its unpredictable, often devastating effects. When will the below-the-belt stuff begin? On what Internet site will the first photomontages appear of Barack Obama tricked up as a radical Islamist? How many other pastors à la Jeremiah Wright will we see paraded out by "527s," groups on the fringes of the principal parties that are allowed, without bearing any moral or financial responsibility, to launch all kinds of slanderous campaigns?
Can you get things wrong with questions? Why, yes you can! Note the sleaziness of implying that Republicans will begin the "below-the-belt stuff" at some point, when we know that below-the-belt stuff has already happened and it came from that Democratic source known as the Hillary Clinton campaign.

And this notion of "other pastors à la Jeremiah Wright" implies that Wright was just some pastor unfairly associated with Obama and not the religious leader Obama chose and stuck with for 20 years. And 527s have no financial responsibility? They're responsible for paying for their own ads. Presumably, Lévy's referring to their independence from the legal restrictions that apply to the campaigns. And as for "moral responsibility" — we all have moral responsibility, and if there is actual "slander," there can be lawsuits to hold 527s responsible.

Anyway, Lévy identifies 3 reasons why he thinks Obama will win:
1. America has changed. ... America is no longer a Protestant, Anglo-Saxon country, European by tradition and white by vocation, that cannot seriously imagine a black man running for the presidency....
Not much of a reason why he will win. Obviously, Obama's success to this point establishes that Americans can "seriously imagine" him running. Lévy is so stingy about saying anything complimentary about Americans that he won't make his own point more strongly. He could say: a large proportion of Americans love the idea of a black President.

But Lévy pads out his first point with verbiage about the America that went "far right" after 9/11 and opposes abortion and Darwinism. Without establishing that people with such opinions are racist, Lévy simply decides that they are giving up. He tells us that he perceives their efforts as "the shock and desperate mobilization of an America that knows it is dying but is trying nonetheless to delay the moment when it realizes it must surrender." The Frenchman exhibits pride in his sharp, early perception of the need for surrender. That's rich.

Point #2:
2. Obama is not a typical African-American. Unlike, say, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Condoleezza Rice, he does not carry with him the heritage of slavery or the memory of segregation because he was born of a Kenyan father.
Note to Lévy: Men don't bear children. Your pretentious locution is generating ludicrous errors. (Note to commenters: Spare me references to the "pregnant man.")
The difference is enormous, because the mirror he holds up to America is no longer one that reflects those dark times, no longer one of unbearable ancestral culpability. Barack Obama can win because he is the first African-American to take, by the grace of his birth, a step away from the two sides of a deep divide--and the first who may now play the card--not of condemnation or damnation--but of seduction, and--as he says over and over--of reconciliation.
So point #1 is that we're not racists anymore, but point #2 is that we still kind of are. And these are 2 of the 3 reasons Obama will be President? Lévy could make point #2 more strongly, and why doesn't he? The point is that white Americans love the idea of transcending race, and Obama has cleverly exploited that hope. But, as Jesse Jackson reminded us the other day, that can be a tricky enterprise. So #2 could be a reason that Obama will win, or it could be a reason why he's come this far but will be tripped up in the end.

So there's one more reason left. This better be good:
3. He is good.
Ha ha. It is good!
What I mean is that he is not only the most charismatic but also the most gifted politician produced by the Democratic machine in a long time.
Charismatic and gifted? Has such an amazing combination ever been seen before? Good lord. Did you know that Obama is also tall and has impressive height? Simultaneously!

So, yeah, anyway, okay, Obama is charismatic and gifted. We know that. It's gotten him very far. He defeated Hillary. But is there no limit to what you can do with charisma?

IN THE COMMENTS: Simon says:
All of this is designed to set up the narrative that if Obama loses, it's because we're a racist country. Cut away the fluff, and that's the clear purpose of this an a million similar commentaries advancing the same idea. To say that Obama will win because we aren't racists any more is to claim - or at least set the stage for the claim - that if he lost, the opposite is true.

"On what Internet site will the first photomontages appear of Barack Obama tricked up as a radical Islamist?"

It's true that the Rethuglican noise machine does things like that. Remember the last Senate election in Connecticut, when Republicans depicted then-Democratic Senator Lieberman in blackface? Oh, wait... Hold on, that wasn't the Republican party, it was the left.

Ann said...
"[I]f there is actual 'slander,' there can be lawsuits to hold 527s responsible."

Indeed. There is a reason why Senator Kerry has never sued anyone over the so-called swift boat veterans' claims.

Revenant said:
Obama is not a typical African-American. Unlike, say, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Condoleezza Rice

If the guy wasn't a Frenchman unfamiliar with American society I'd be tempted to call him out for racism. Referring to Sharpton and Jackson as "typical African-Americans" is an insult to black people. For that matter, the term "typical African-American" is suspect to begin with.

What I mean is that he is not only the most charismatic but also the most gifted politician produced by the Democratic machine in a long time.

So has Bill Clinton officially lost his status as "charismatic and brilliant politician", or does Levy think it has been "a long time" since the 1990s?
Ha ha.

The Drill SGT said:
The difference is enormous, because the mirror he holds up to America is no longer one that reflects those dark times, no longer one of unbearable ancestral culpability. Barack Obama can win because he is the first African-American to take, by the grace of his birth, a step away from the two sides of a deep divide--and the first who may now play the card--not of condemnation or damnation--but of seduction, and--as he says over and over--of reconciliation.

Forgive me for thinking that Colin Powell could have had the Republican nomination for the asking and likely the WH if Alma Powell hadn't said no.
So Lévy managed, in short order, to forget Bill Clinton and Colin Powell.

Henry said:
I was wondering why anyone cares about this guy and found out that Wikipedia is not a fan:

Critics of Lévy are not limited to pie-throwers, however; French journalists Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, in a biography of the philosopher, claimed that "In all his works and articles, there is not a single philosophical proposition." The book is contested, however, and Lévy sought legal action against the authors.

You can see why Lévy doesn't like America. It's harder to sue your critics here.
Oh, so then he does know about defamation lawsuits. He likes to bring them for mere insults. So that's why he thinks the 527 are not held accountable? In America, we get to insult each other with impunity. I can say John Kerry is not a war hero and there's not a damned thing he can do about it.

By the way, LOL at "Wikipedia is not a fan."

Former law student said:
Don't be so hard on his "born of a Kenyan" locution; note that the article was Translated from the French by Sara Sugihara.
Oh. Good point. So maybe he didn't say "surrender" either. This "translated from the French" business is frustrating to textualist bloggers like me. If that is supposed to be a defense, I will counter with a new attack: How can this man purport to instruct us on the subtleties of American political discourse if he doesn't write in English?

July 10, 2008

"You're spending a large part of your life whoring after the affections of 12 people!" — says Mickey Kaus to Robert Wright...

... in this video clip that seems to be whoring after my affections:

Anyway, the answer to Bob's challenge to me is, of course: my comments section!

"Obama's ample self-regard is lapsing into hubris."

Oh, no! He's losing Andrew Sullivan! Sullivan's biggest complaint: that "Access Hollywood" interview with the daughters.
I was gob-smacked by the Obamas' decision to include their children in a soft-focus TV interview.

Displaying them in this way was bad judgment and poor parenting. Fame is a toxin. Children deserve to be protected from it as much as they would from lead paint.
No one should ever let their kids go on TV? Oh, come on. There's such a thing as overprotection too. I thought it was nice seeing and hearing from the daughters. They're perfectly charming and they reflect something about the man we're trying to understand.

I'm actually a little put off by Obama's expressions of regret about doing the show.
"I think that we got carried away in the moment," Obama told NBC Wednesday morning. "We were having a birthday party and everybody was laughing, and suddenly this thing cropped up, and I didn't catch it quickly enough, and I was surprised by the attention it got."...

Appearing on ABC Wednesday morning, Obama said he didn't think it was healthy for his two daughters to be so exposed.

"Particularly given the way it sort of went around the cable stations, I don't think it's healthy, and it's something that we'll be avoiding in the future," he said.
Why is he conceding that his judgment is so poor? How can someone who didn't anticipate that an interview like that would be all over the cable channels (not to mention the internet) expect us to trust him with national security? Or is it his modus operandi to do one thing and then, when he sees the pundits criticize him, change positions? (That's change you can't believe in.)
Speaking with CNN Tuesday, [Maria] Menounos, the Access Hollywood reporter, said the campaign had reached out to the show for an interview and her only goal was to show the Obama family dynamic.

"No one really expected them to open up so much," Menounos said of the daughters. "You know the campaign and their family were all huddled around and as surprised that the girls took over the interview as I was!"
Yeah, the girls were great, especially the confident, talkative older daughter Malia. (Nothing against the ice-cream-loving younger one.) Did anyone trash her? Did anyone say she was disrespectful? I haven't read the criticism. I'm just speaking for myself. I thought she was wonderful, and, as I've said before, seeing the family together has a powerful emotional effect on me. This is a natural, human feeling, but of course, the Obama campaign must be careful not to do too much.

Anyway, I'm old enough to remember how sublime it was to have the young Kennedy family in the White House. Americans felt a tremendous amount of pleasure seeing the beautiful wife and the adorable children there.

Children are an important part of the world. They have something to contribute to the culture before they grow up. They shouldn't be entirely hidden away in family and school enclaves. They should be out in public frolicking, having fun, and bringing joy to the world and breaking up the crusty solemnity of adult affairs. It's not wrong! And it seems morbidly fearful think that it is.

The righty bloggers' favorite elected Republican is...

... Bobby Jindal!


I'm going with: We want our young, racially diverse guy too.

"I read online. I think it's better for the environment not to take the newspaper."

Oh, yes, dear readers, that's what your humble blogger said, verbatim, to the telemarketer who just called to try to sell me home delivery of the New York Times.

Did you know I was such an environmentalist?

Now, how do you think the telemarketer responded:

1. "But the New York Times has many articles about the environment! It's an excellent source of news about global warming and green household tips."

2. "You can recycle. You can share the newspaper with someone who doesn't have a computer. And many people prefer doing the crossword puzzle on paper."

3. "Oh yeah?"

Can you place yourself in one of these 6 categories of voters?

USA Today categorizes us this way:
1. True believers: 30% of the electorate

... John McCain has some support among this group of the year's most intense voters, but Barack Obama has more. By 2-1, such voters back the Democrat.

This group includes the highest percentage of women, African Americans and liberals — the sort of voters who fueled record turnout in a string of Democratic primaries this year.
So the inflexible ideologues tend to be Democrats? Not necessarily. McCain doesn't inspire hardcore Republicans.

Anyway, I'm completely not the sort of person who would fit this category.
2. Fired up & favorable: 14% of the electorate

Like the "true believers," voters in the second group are overwhelmingly more enthusiastic than usual about voting. Unlike the first group, though, nearly all of them view McCain and Obama favorably....

They're confident in the ability of either candidate to handle the Oval Office...

That would seem to make them a swing group, but voters in this category say their minds are settled. By nearly 2-1, they support Obama.
A funny category! I almost belong here. I like both candidates, but I can't say I'm confident. And I can't say I'm "fired up" either.
3. Firmly decided: 12% of the electorate

... Although they are closely divided — 50% for McCain, 48% for Obama — few swing voters are in this group. Almost all of them say they have made up their minds about their vote.
This is like #1, but without the belief. I'd get myself into this category if it was time to vote. But it's not. So let's see what happens.
4. Up for grabs: 18% of the electorate

These voters are squarely in the middle. They tend to have favorable views of both candidates and are the most likely to say either would make a good president, but they aren't yet settled in their choice. They aren't paying as much attention to the campaign as the most engaged voters in the first two groups, but they're also not as disenchanted as those in the last two groups....

This battleground group has a GOP tilt. It includes the highest percentage of whites of any group and more of those who attend church every week. McCain needs to make major inroads with them to offset Obama's edge among other voters....
This is probably supposed to be my category. But I am paying attention! Yeah, but I'm paying attention so I can write about things, including the way the people in the other categories think. If I wasn't passionate about doing that, I'd be off paying attention to whatever else was the substance of my personal life.
5. Skeptical & downbeat: 12% of the electorate

.... They aren't excited about the contenders to succeed the president, either. Four in 10 haven't decided whom to support, by far the largest of any group, and the rest are open to changing their minds.

Voters in this group are older than average and the least likely to have a college education. It includes the highest percentage of those who live in small towns and rural areas.

They favor McCain over Obama by 11 percentage points, but can he persuade more of them to support him — and then turn out to vote?
Do these people deserve to be separated from #4 ... mainly just to insult them and impugn McCain?
6. Decided but dissatisfied: 16% of the electorate

... They include the highest percentage of conservatives and Republicans of any group, and they give Bush his highest job-approval rating, albeit still just 37%. This group is the least likely to see the Iraq war as a mistake, although 51% say that it was.

That underscores a quandary for McCain. The groups that clearly favor the Arizona senator are the two final ones. One gives Bush his highest rating, the other his lowest. One group has the fewest members who say invading Iraq was a mistake; the other has the most. Bridging that divide and building support from both groups could be a challenge, especially when it comes to calibrating how closely to embrace Bush.

National security concerns drive the "decided but dissatisfied" voters. It is the only group in which a majority favors a candidate whose strength is protecting the country from terrorism rather than fixing the economy, and the only group in which a majority doubts Obama can handle the responsibilities of commander in chief. This group is McCain's base, the only one in which his support tops 50%....

"I don't think either of these candidates are evil," McLen says of McCain and Obama, "but to use the cliché, I'm choosing the lesser of two evils."
Again, the style of categorization seems to be to make McCain voters sound bad. But in fact, I identify with this mentality. You don't believe government can really solve too many problems, but it damned well better provide security. I can't fit here though, because I'm undecided.

But why are these people so different from #1? Is it because they seem more creepily negative to USAToday?

"How Matt Drudge Rules the (Political) World."

The headline that proves itself. WaPo's Chris Cillizza gets his Drudge Report link.
In interviews with more than a dozen operatives -- many of whom are rightly classified "Drudge-ologists" for their intimate study of the likes and dislikes of the man and the site -- two major reasons are offered.

First and foremost, is the depth -- and the quality -- of Drudge's readership. Drudge's number of unique visitors is regularly touted but what is more important, in terms of his ability to drives news cycles, is that every reporter and editor who covers politics is checking the site multiple times a day.

Phil Singer, former deputy communications director for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign and now a Democratic consultant, called Drudge's "elite readership" a key to his influence. Singer added that a walk through any press filing center at a debate reveals every other laptop, at least, has Drudge's website up on its screen.

The second major reason for Drudge's influence, according to the Fix's informal poll of Drudge-ologists is his ability to sniff out a potentially big story when others -- including reporters -- miss it at first glance.

"He can identify what's a big deal even when the reporters who actually cover and report on an event don't realize what they have," said one GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. "He scoops reporters' scoops."
So the reporters are now all obsessed with Drudge. Read the whole article and cringe at the vast power that has been ceded to that man.

I mean, I check out Drudge many times a day... I understand the feeling.

"They think we’re a cult. People think we should be home playing 'Grand Theft Auto.'"

Kids build a Wiffle ball field on public land and — invoking the favor of adults who value old-fashioned fun — stand their ground when the neighbors go legal on them.


Apparently, compulsive neatness is a learned characteristic:
[L]egions of retail grads have spent countless hours neatly folding T-shirts and jeans and stacking them on tables and shelves. Now, their peculiar idea of perfection is straining marriages and leading to bizarre behavior ranging from buying clothes based on an item's foldability to straightening up sloppy displays while shopping....

Phil Walmsley, 24, of Vancouver, still uses the plastic folding board he stealthily slipped into his backpack on his last day of work at Club Monaco five years ago. "I like the idea of having a perfectly folded closet," says the graphic designer. "It's kind of like my own little retail store."...

Romey Louangvilay stopped working at Abercrombie & Fitch three years ago but it was only last October that he was finally able to go shopping without automatically spending 10 or 15 minutes refolding messy T-shirt piles in stores. The 22-year-old assistant account executive for a public-relations firm in New York forced himself to kick the habit after growing tired of having to awkwardly explain himself to other customers asking him for help. "I still kind of have the urge to do it," he says.
Straining marriages? Why isn't it nice to have a super-neat partner, keeping everything perfectly nice? I love when a place looks very neat, and sometimes I neaten things up myself and feel good about it, but then I let chaos set in for a while before I get remotivated.

I suppose there are people who specifically like messiness or have their own order in messiness that they don't want someone else to ruin by imposing superficial neatness. And I realize there's this other problem of living with someone who insists that you behave the way they do, neatening beyond your natural — or job-learned — urges. But the people described in the article aren't doing that. They've just internalized a commercial aesthetic.

Jesse Jackson, Day 2.

1. Mickey Kaus says Jackson was making a perfectly good point.

2. Who really cares if he uses language like "nuts" in private conversation? But what's the other thing he said that FoxNews didn't air? Gawker has the rumor.


3. Forget the "nuts off" statement. Jackson's apology line "I cherish this redemptive and historical moment" is more exquisitely revealing. From the comments on yesterday's post:
Lawgiver said:

What an awesome apology by Jackson ending with, "I cherish this redemptive and historical moment."

To paraphrase;

I said I wanted to cut your nuts off but I didn't really mean it because I really really support what you do and say. So I will really really really think of my nut cutting comment and subsequent apology with a fondness and love that will comfort me the rest of my years for I have been redeemed!.

It doesn't get any better than that.

John Stodder said:

What an awesome apology by Jackson ending with, "I cherish this redemptive and historical moment."

It's quite possible that some of Jesus' disciples wanted to cut His nuts off, despite or perhaps because of His divinity.

Or it's like the old song, "You only cut the nuts off the one you love."

July 9, 2008

Lake Mendota, today.


There's something about Jesse.

Jesse #1. So Jesse Helms died. He was old and his time had passed, but he got some attention.

Jesse #2. Wait! There's a more famous Jesse the ME? JESSE THE GREAT FORMER GOVERNOR OF MINNESOTA!!! That cannot stand! Jesse Ventura springs to life. He's running for Senator maybe... probably....

Jesse #3. NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! I AM THE JESSE!!!!!! Of all of the Jesses, one Jesse must prevail. Whatever it takes. I will not be overshadowed! I will not be ignored. Death! A lame stunt! A run for the Senate... even if it involves kicking Al Franken's ass... that will be nothing! Nothing! Compared to what I can do!!!!! Jesse Jackson will not be ignored.

UPDATE: What exactly did he say?
In a vulgar tirade caught on tape by Fox News, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he wanted to "rip (Barack) Obama's nuts off" and he accused the fellow Chicagoan of "talking down to black folks" by giving moral lectures to African-Americans, source said.
Supposedly, Bill O'Reilly will be playing the tape on his show (which is on soon).

AND: I watched the clip on O'Reilly. Jackson makes a little nuts-ripping hand gesture when he says it. O'Reilly was pretty mellow, but he did say that there was a lot more on the tape, that it was worse, and that they decided not to use it.

AND: I missed a Jesse.

AND: Here's the O'Reilly video.

Dicks: "This immoral self expression goes beyond freedom of expression."

Flint Police Chief David Dicks "announced that his officers would start arresting people wearing saggy pants that expose skivvies, boxer shorts or bare bottoms."
"Some people call it a fad," Dicks told the Free Press this week while patrolling the streets of Flint. "But I believe it's a national nuisance. It is indecent and thus it is indecent exposure, which has been on the books for years."
It's a misdemeanor that could put you in jail for up to a year!

A lot of people think Dicks is going too far:
"If I pay for my pants, I should be able to wear them how I want to," said 16-year-old Montez Phifer, taking a break from playing hoops in the city Monday. "Everyone thinks it's gangster, but it's a fashion. Nothing more."

His friend, Lorenzo Johnson, 14, said his mother warned him about the chief's stance on sagging.

"I pulled them up to respect her," he said. "When she left I pulled them back down."

Another friend, Senita Abrams, 18, said: "I think it's cute when boys sag."....

Greg Gibbs, a lawyer and chair of the ACLU Flint chapter, said the crackdown sounds like a "vast waste of resources."
Ha ha. Crackdown. You know which side the newspaper is on.

Obama echoes the phrase that made me turn against Kerry.

On Election Day 2004, I contributed to a NYT op-ed page feature called "The Revolution Will Be Posted." A bunch of bloggers, including me, were asked to identify one thing about the presidential campaign that affected us the most. I wrote:
I'd grown used to waiting for John Kerry to reveal what he would do in Iraq. Though I'd voted for Al Gore and Bill Clinton, respectively, in the last two presidential elections, I needed to hear Mr. Kerry commit to success in the war. On April 14, at an event at the City College of New York, a man challenged Mr. Kerry to explain how his plan for Iraq differed from President Bush's. Mr. Kerry responded testily, "You're not listening."

I wrote on my blog at the time, "If you still don't know what he would do differently from Bush, do you deserve to be snapped at for 'not listening'?" After that, as I heard Mr. Kerry wriggle his way around the Iraq question one way and then another, I never forgot his willingness to blame the listener for not already seeing his answer, and my mistrust of John Kerry hardened into support for George Bush.
(For more on how Kerry lost me, see my post "How Kerry lost me.")

Imagine my dismay today when I saw the headline "Obama Says His Critics Haven’t Been Listening":
Senator Barack Obama on Tuesday forcefully addressed concerns that he had moved too quickly to the political center, acknowledging complaints from “my friends on the left” about his statements on Iraq, his approaches to evangelicals and his remarks on other issues that have alarmed some of his supporters.

“Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center,” he told a crowd gathered at a town hall-style meeting in this Atlanta suburb. “The people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me.”
Ugh. I've been cheered by Obama's move to the center. I like Obama and I want to like Obama. (Note: I'm not against McCain. I've taken a vow of cruel neutrality.) But I hated to see him use this Kerry-esque locution. Unlike Kerry, Obama has taken some clear positions on Iraq. But he's been moving and he's denying it and blaming us as bad listeners. How irksome!

"A little girl seems to be crying, her eye bruised, with an American flag in the background and two words framing her figure: 'Liberty Weeps.'"

The NYT promotes incredibly bad art on display in a mall in southern Florida. Can you fathom why?

The huge posters — from "a surprising new exhibition at the Wolfsonian museum at Florida International University titled 'Thoughts on Democracy'" — are supposedly a present-day permutation of Norman Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" posters. The Rockwell posters, made during WWII, present an inspiring, positive, plainly un-ironic vision of freedom in America. (The illustrated freedoms are: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.) The new posters eschew the Rockwellian attitude and replace it with— who could have predicted? — snark, cynicism, and sadness.

Let's see if we can figure out why the NYT thought this Florida art show deserved a big write-up and slide show:
In Guillermo Kuitca’s rendition of Rockwell’s image of parents putting their small children to bed, the family is surrounded by a sea of blackness. In James Victore’s remake, tears burst from the parents’ eyes as they pull an American flag over a wooden coffin.

What all of this suggests is not just a reinterpretation of Rockwell but a meditation on an American crisis of self-confidence: the sense that trust in American ideals is giving way to fear and uncertainty about how they are exploited....

Many of the artists interviewed said they felt that now was not the time to emphasize American greatness, as Rockwell did, but rather to caution people about the risks of complacency. They said they created the posters because they loved their country — about two-thirds of the 60 are American — but felt that their fellow citizens needed to wake up, to break free from anxiety and a habit of looking away.

In the mall at least, the artists’ instincts seemed to be borne out. In an hour and a half, more than 100 people walked by the exhibit. Only 8 stopped to look.
Oh, my lord, the people really are complacent about freedom! They continued going about their business despite the presence of giant crappy posters!

Apparently, the NYT has not heard of some of the less-frequently-invoked American freedoms: the freedom to ignore propaganda, the freedom to avert your eyes from artists who scream for attention, the freedom to shop without genuflecting at sanctimonious criticism of your country, and the freedom to loathe hideous art.

Now, the journalist who wrote this piece, Damien Cave, did spend "18 months on and off" reporting from Iraq, and he is "stunned by the war’s lack of impact on people’s lives or thoughts." I'm not sure why his personal experience belongs in this article. He seems to be offering it as a basis of authority for his promotion of this exhibit which aims to goad Floridian shoppers to agonize about the war. I'd say it reveals that Cave's field of expertise is not art.
The most powerful efforts tackle the tension between the American democratic ideal and its practice. The Map Office, a design studio in New York, produced three unequivocal images. One poster shows democracy as a green goo spread across a pristine landscape; another reads, “kiss the fist of democracy.” A third says, “Democracy is the Helvetica of Politics,” reflecting its ubiquity, openness and adulteration, the artists said.
The most powerful efforts? Look at the slide show at the link. These are the most embarrassingly unsophisticated pictures in the bunch.
A paradox is embedded in this round of cynicism and self-doubt...

Why, then, are we so depressed?...

In many cases the results feel more like heartbreak than like anger...

Democracy often seems to grow uglier with age.

But amid the happy, escapist shoppers at the Aventura mall, these thoughts felt as out of place as Rockwell’s proud posters. The sprawling darkness of Mr. Kuitca’s remake of “Freedom of Fear,” with the original tucked in the corner, seemed far more apt.
You've got to be kidding me. This is the New York Times, not the student newspaper at Florida International University?

July 8, 2008

"When I was driving to work I felt a slight vibration but I thought it was just my mobile phone in my jacket pocket."

AHHHHHHHHH! OH! A woman realizes that odd feeling she's had in her bra all day is a.... bat!


I did not create the "bats" tag for this post. I have a history with bats.... that added some real dimension to this story for me.

UPDATE: The young woman milks her 15 minutes of fame.

"Approaching the nearer vase, I pushed aside the greens and then I vomited — hideously, pungently, gloriously — into the vase's depths."

Hold on to your crockery! It's roman à clef about Laura Bush!

What happens when you blog about cereal?

Yesterday, I made fun of "Good Friends" cereal. Today, I get this email:
Hi Ann,

First off, like the new picture of you, it looks great. Second, I work on some of the Kashi Cereal Projects and I have to tell you that I was quite amused to see our “Good Friends” cereal making your site.

As you can see, that is the Left Coast ideal of what our 7 Grains can do for folks. The man and the woman picture actually is a characterization that depicts two former neighbors in Rialto, CA, who used to feud with one another, until they both realized that they both loved our “Good Friends” cereal and as such she no longer needed to complain about his son’s loud car stereo or he about her daughter’s drunken soirees by the pool, when she is gone. In fact they have become “Good Friends”. If only we could sneak some “Good Friends” into the Gaza Strip, alongside the Kassam rockets and some into northern Israel, imagine what the world could be!! Of course we would have to remove the Kosher designation. ;-)

I would like to send you some samples of our other fine products, though not of this one, which doesn’t seem to tickle your fine central Wisconsin sensibilities. We do make many other very good products which I think you might enjoy both visually as an ad and as a foodstuff. If so inclined, please send me your work address and I will send you off a care package.

Thanks for the great blog site and for your appreciation of the Kinks!!


[I'm withholding the name for no particular reason.]

Manager, Contract Manufacturing

Kellogg Company
I feel like an accidental Lazlo Toth.

IN THE COMMENTS: Paul Zrimsek writes:
Maybe I've been watching too much Bloggingheads lately but every time I see those paired faces on the cereal boxes I expect to see them start arguing about Heller.

"It was a time of uncertainty, hope and change. The summer of love."

"John McCain doesn't always tell us what we... hope... to hear..."

Chris Cillizza says:
The McCain campaign is playing a dangerous but necessary game here. Poking holes in the idea of "hope" was tried -- unsuccessfully -- by Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary.

Time and time again, the New York senator sought to make the case that while Obama talked a good game, that flowery rhetoric alone would not bring about the change needed for the country. And, time and time again, Obama pointed to his accomplishments in the state senate and decried Clinton's "old" attack politics.
I think McCain is doing something different. Hillary was saying Obama's idea of "hope" is insubstantial. McCain is trying to trump hope with something more substantial. And Hillary couldn't — as McCain does here — try to associate Obama with hippies, because she was more easily portrayed as a hippie than he was:

But what connection is there between hippies and Obama? Possible answers:

1. There's no connection. This is stupid.

2. Drugs! This ad is a tricky, subliminal reminder of Obama's drug use, and we ought to think about whether that's okay to do.

3. The hippie is a symbolic character who embodies fuzzy-headed, unrealistic idealism in a ridiculous form. As such, we understand the image of the hippie as a critique of Obama and the people who love him.

Hot (blogging)heads.

What does it mean when the guy doing most of the talking gets unnerved that the other guy is talking too much?

It's Bloggingheads at its hotheaded best, with Jack Rakove and Eugene Volokh.

Why did the NYT Magazine flatter Rush Limbaugh? The cowards!

Ezra Klein is bent out of shape:
[T]he Times appears to have challenged itself to write 8,000 words on Limbaugh without saying anything that could be even remotely interpreted as critical. It's perfectly clear why: The article begins with one of Limbaugh's assistants snarling to the reporter, “Are you the guy who’s here to do the hit job on us?” The Times wanted to prove Limbaugh's staff wrong, so they wrote a puff piece. See? Liberals can be fair and balanced too!
Why would writing something completely unbalanced be a demonstration of balance? But I agree with Ezra that the tone of the article reflects the Times self-interest. My guess would be that the NYT would love to get more readers, and Limbaugh has the power to send 20 million people its way.

But the article isn't doing well on the Times's "most emailed" lists. I'll bet most regular readers, like Ezra, were disgusted that the article didn't trash Rush. Then again, the articles that do well on the "most-emailed" list tend to be articles about what to eat and how to get along in a relationship. Sex and food — that's what NYT readers care about the most.

On the other hand, the Limbaugh article is second on the NYT "most blogged" list (covering the last 7 days). In fact, the "most blogged" list is completely different from the "most emailed" list. The blogging list is full of political articles. Does that mean bloggers care more about politics than about food and sex? Or maybe it's just that political bloggers get ideas from NYT articles and sex-and-food bloggers get their ideas somewhere else (including from their personal life). Another explanation is that the kind of readers who go for sex-and-food material are not into blogging. They just forward email to friends and family.

July 7, 2008

Eugene Volokh and Jack Rakove debate Heller.

On Bloggingheads. How exciting! I'm just starting to watch it, but I'll try to pull out a good embed to add character to this post.

ADDED: On the shelf behind Rakove, there's a John Paul Stevens bobblehead.

What can you say about those atheists who believe in God?

I don't know. I can see the notable atheist Sam Harris is grappling with the contradiction.

Hmmm. I often click on WaPo front-page links that turn out to go to the "On Faith" page. As soon as I see that inside page, I reflexively decide I'm not going to read it! It's something about the way the front page of the Washington Post is journalistically black print on a plain white background, and then the "On Faith" page is various shades of blue. I've left the realm of reason and entered the squishy soft spot. All that blue — those words "On Faith" — those 2 smiling heads — it says: This is something for other people to read. This is some kind of specialized reading for people who want mainstream assistance in their earnest efforts to devote the appropriate amount of time to struggling gently with religion. I find that instantly off-putting.

So, you're on your own. Some atheists believe in God. Okay?

And speaking of my distaste for WaPo's "On Faith" aesthetic: I'm not buying cereal that is packaged like this:

Who is that supposed to appeal to? "Good Friends" cereal?
This high-fiber trio of flakes, twigs, and granola is absolutely delicious. For all the good things fiber does for you, it deserves to be loved.
First of all. Twigs? Second. Fiber deserves to be loved? I don't want relationship neediness from breakfast food. And I don't like the way the paired up heads on the packaging symbolize the cereal's insistence on becoming my close friend. If you're going to foist happy breakfast faces on me, don't be earnest about it. At least have the decency to be surrealistic:

It's time to turn the Webb page.

"Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for Vice President."

"Sorry to be crude, but does the NYT realize that we may be at the point where reports of military success in Iraq help Obama..."

"... (because stability enables the rapid pullout he seeks) while reports of contiuing turmoil and difficulty help McCain (by raising doubts that U.S. forces can be safely withdrawn in the next few years)?"

Mickey Kaus, wondering when the NYT will get around to reporting on the great success in Mosul.

What do we know about Barack Obama, the "community organizer"?

I'd really like to understand more about what Barack Obama did under the heading "community organizer," so I jumped to read the front-page NYT article by Serge Kovaleski, "In Organizing, Obama Led While Finding His Place."
The year was 1985 and Gerald Kellman, a community organizer, was interviewing an applicant named Barack Obama to work in the demoralized landscape of poor neighborhoods on this city’s South Side...

It is clear that the benefit of those years to Mr. Obama dwarfs what he accomplished. Mr. Kellman said that Mr. Obama had built the organization’s following among needy residents and black ministers, but “on issues, we made very little progress, nothing that would change poverty on the South Side of Chicago.”
The article calls attention to a deficiency in Obama's memoir:
Mr. Obama recounted that he helped arrange a bus trip to the housing authority headquarters where residents [of the Altgeld Gardens housing project] had demanded a meeting with the executive director and a pledge that residential units would be tested for asbestos. As television cameras rolled, the residents were promised testing and a meeting.

“I changed as a result of that bus trip, in a fundamental way,” Mr. Obama wrote. It was the kind of action that “hints at what might be possible and therefore spurs you on.”

What Mr. Obama does not mention in his book is that residents of the nearby Ida B. Wells housing project, and some at Altgeld itself, had already been challenging the housing authority on asbestos. A local newspaper had also taken up the issue....

Hazel Johnson, an environmental activist at Altgeld, said that she started to raise the asbestos issue with the housing authority in 1979, but that it had failed to act. Ms. Johnson and [Linda] Randle pointed out that only some of the asbestos was removed from pipes at Altgeld, but not until 1989, a year after Mr. Obama left for Harvard. (An Obama campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said, “The book is meant to be an autobiography about Obama’s experiences, not a history of social and environmental activism in Chicago.”)

Meanwhile, the residents’ meeting with the housing authority’s executive director was a debacle, an illustration of the setbacks faced by Mr. Obama and other organizers.
You can read the description of the debacle in the article.
Mr. Obama had risen to executive director of the Developing Communities group, but the demanding hours, small victories and low pay took a toll on him, and he decided to leave.

“ ‘We are not making large-scale change, and I want to be involved in doing that,’ ” Mr. Kellman said Mr. Obama had told him....

Mr. Obama had mused to friends in Chicago about one day working for unions or becoming a preacher, a journalist or even a fiction writer. While there, he wrote short stories based on people he had encountered. “The stories were beautifully crafted and evocative,” said Mr. Kruglik.
A preacher, a journalist, or a fiction writer? All of those things — along with politics — have to do with crafted and evocative language. It sounds as though Obama learned what he core skill was and — I'm guessing now — realized he operated better at some distance from the raucous, demanding people.

I'd love to see the transcript of Kovaleski's whole interview with Kellman. What details underlie the phrase "took a toll on him"?

Here's an article covering much of the same ground that ran in The Nation in April 2007:
After a transient youth and an earnest search for identity, Obama also found a home--a community with which he continued relationships, a church and a political identity. He honed his talent for listening, learned pragmatic strategy, practiced bringing varied people together and developed a faith in ordinary citizens that still influences his campaign message. He discovered the importance of personal storytelling in politics (and wrote short stories that refined his style).
Please, can we read the stories?
Often by confronting officials with insistent citizens--rather than exploiting personal connections, as traditional black Democrats proposed--Obama and DCP protected community interests regarding landfills and helped win employment training services, playgrounds, after-school programs, school reforms and other public amenities....

But Obama grew restless and eventually went to Harvard Law School. "He said you can only go so far in organizing. You help people get some solutions, but it's never as big as wiping away problems," says Michael Evans, a DCP organizer after Obama left. "It wasn't end-all. He wanted to be part of the end-all, to get things done."....

Obama's politics of transcendent unity, which has appealed to many voters, has its roots in his work as a "bridge builder," in the words of the Rev. Anthony Van Zanten, overcoming the gulf within DCP between Catholic and Protestant churches. But this vision of harmony also reflects Obama's distaste for conflict.

"Personality-wise, Barack did not like direct confrontation," Kellman says. "He was a very nice young man, very polite. It was a stretch for him to do Alinsky techniques. He was more comfortable in dialogue with people. But challenging power was not an issue for him. Lack of civility was."

Obama's organizing history may give few clues about what policies he would pursue as President, but Obama the presidential candidate still shows his roots--a faith in ordinary citizens, a quest for common ground and a pragmatic inclination toward defining issues in winnable ways.
ADDED: And here, literary critic Andrew Delbanco opines on Obama's writing style. (It was worth writing this article if only to use the great title: "Deconstructing Barry.") Quoting a passage from "Dreams From My Father," he says:
This is a young writer (he was around 30 when he wrote Dreams) strutting his stuff. Sometimes he overwrites, as when he describes police cars cruising past groups of sullen black teens in "barracuda silence" or compares a row of scrappy trees to "hair swept across a bald man's head." He has a habit--almost a tic--of throwing in a cinematic flourish when none is needed: "a spotted, mangy cat" runs among weeds with a crumbling housing project in the background; a torn poster-photo of the recently dead Chicago mayor, Harold Washington, tumbles down a windswept street.
Yes, reading the book, I was often distracted by the thought that it was "creative writing." But Delbanco likes the book, in which he detects "a theme... the fall from paradise." There is the race-blind childhood in Hawaii and the gradual detection of the role played by race.

Delbanco moves on to "The Audacity of Hope":
[T]he voice of the writer is fundamentally the same as the one we hear in Dreams. There is the same internal counterpoise in the sentences: "Most evangelicals are more tolerant than the media would have us believe, most secularists more spiritual" ... "most rich people want the poor to succeed, and most of the poor are more self-critical and hold higher aspirations than the popular culture allows." When he scans the human landscape, Obama tends to notice contradictory individuals more than coherent interest groups....

This is the writing of someone trying to map a route through a world where choices are less often between good and bad than between competing goods. Though it lacks the sensual immediacy of the earlier book, the language is open and unresolved, the sentences organized around pairs of sentiments or arguments that exert equal force against each other--a reflection of ongoing thinking rather than a statement of settled thoughts.

"Edwards is the white Barack Obama. He's an inexperienced, pampered, liberal wimp whose biggest assets are his charisma and how he looks."

Pithy assessments of 24 possible VP picks for Obama — with a sharp right-wing edge.

The pro-McCain argument that older is better.

Ronald Rotunda makes the pitch:
Older people can use both sides of their brain together, which gives them an advantage. As [Dr. Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University] notes, a 75-year-old historian can “run circles around” a 25-year-old Rhodes Scholar studying history. Older people continue to generate new brain cells if they are active and participate in events. Cohen says that age confers a “new senior moment—a creative moment.”

Of course, if the old person is vegetating on the couch, watching the Home Shopping Network, age confers no advantage, but that is not what John McCain has been doing. He has been exercising his brain and, like muscles, it improves with use. “Use it or lose it” applies to our brain as well as to our deltoids.
Older people can use both sides of their brain together, eh? I have some questions about that How do they know this happens? (Answer: MRI and PET scans.) Why is it better and not more like, say, needing to use 2 hands to carry something you find heavy?

I'm skeptical about these notions of right-brain creativity and left-brain analytical reasoning, but assuming the 2 sides of the brain do think differently and that some brain halves play better together, would it be better for a President to have a brain like that?

It's rather obviously that looking straight at the individuals — McCain and Obama — will give us better information about whose brain we want in the White House. But since there is a general prejudice against older brains and the people who think with them, it's helpful to know that they can be better.

July 6, 2008

"Man Flies To Idaho … In Lawn Chair."

All right. First off. I hate the headline. "Man Flies To Idaho"... but where did he start? Argentina? Florida? Indonesia? You have to read the article to find out. Answer: Oregon! Look at a map. A child could jump from Oregon to Idaho on a pogo stick. Second:
Using his trusty BB gun to help him return to Earth, a 48-year-old gas station owner flew a lawn chair rigged with helium-filled balloons....

Kent Couch created a sensation....
Now, this is really annoying me. His name is Couch and he chooses to fly in a chair. Fly in a couch.

"Maybe replace the whole paragraph with 'Sometimes, when people break up, they should say why.'"

I missed this the other day. Hilarious.

More watery images.

This is the Thai Pavilion, reflected and inverted:


Not the first time I've done that, I realize now. Here's the old one. And here's a picture of the pavilion undistorted by water.

This is the fountain, and the yellow in the reflection is the pavilion:


The Washington Post says the Supreme Court's mistake requires it to reconsider the ban on the death penalty for rape of a child.

It's absolutely right:
The majority determined that capital punishment for child rape was unconstitutional, in part because a national consensus had formed against it. As evidence, the court noted that "37 jurisdictions -- 36 States plus the Federal Government -- have the death penalty. [But] only six of those jurisdictions authorize the death penalty for rape of a child." Actually, only two years ago, Congress enacted a death penalty for soldiers who commit child rape, as part of an update to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Irony of ironies: The court has cast doubt on the constitutionality of an act of Congress based on the erroneous claim that the statute did not exist....

The Supreme Court's legitimacy depends not only on the substance of its rulings but also on the quality of its deliberations. That's why we think the court needs to reopen this case -- even though we supported its decision. The losing party, Louisiana, still has time to seek a rehearing, which the court could grant with the approval of five justices, including at least one from the majority. The court could limit reargument to briefs on the significance of the UCMJ provision. We doubt the case will come out much differently; we certainly hope not. But this is an opportunity for the court to show a little judicial humility. Before the court declares its final view on national opinion about the death penalty, it should accurately assess the view of the national legislature.
The opinion doesn't cohere as written. The dissenting opinion doesn't cohere. It's an egregious mistake that throws all the reasoning out of whack. Fix it!

ADDED: Has the Supreme Court case ever used the expression "out of whack"? No. The word "whack" only appears once in the Supreme Court's cases, in a one-sentence rejection of jurisdition in a case called Whack v. Maryland, 450 U.S. 990 (1981).

Is it "out of whack" or "out of wack"? If you go by Google hits, you'll think it's "out of wack" — but that's "out of whack." "Wack" means crazy. It's a back-formation from "wacky." As a noun, it means "a person regarded as eccentric." "Whack," as a noun, is a "a sharp, swift blow." I know, it makes little sense to say the reasoning is out of a person regarded as eccentric or out of a sharp, swift blow, but trust me, the standard, idiomatic expression is "out of whack."

Here's some history:
At one time, [whack] could mean a share in a distribution, a portion; this sense was originally thieves’ cant — Francis Grose, in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue of 1785, has “Whack, a share of a booty obtained by fraud” (could physical violence have been involved in some cases?). British English has a couple of phrases that retain that sense. One is pay one’s whack, to pay one’s agreed contribution to shared expenses. Another is top whack, or full whack, for the maximum price or rate for something (“if you go to that shop, you’ll pay top whack”).

There are some other old figurative senses, including a bargain or agreement (which evolved out of the idea of a share), and an attempt at doing something (“I’ll take a whack at that job”). These are mostly American, and it was in the US that the sense you refer to first appeared, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. There seems to have been a phrase in fine whack during that century, meaning that something was in good condition or excellent fettle. (It appears in a letter by John Hay, President Lincoln’s amanuensis, dated August 1863, which describes the President: “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene and busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once”.) It doesn’t often turn up in writing, though, so there’s some doubt how widespread it was.

To be out of whack would then have meant the opposite — that something wasn’t on top form or working well.

"What do you think playground bullies grow up to be?" "Right-wing Republicans."

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich answers a question.

Actually, when I decided I was going to blog this little interview, I planned to feature this line about why our drilling for more oil isn't a good solution to high gas prices:
When you consider that the oil we pump goes into a global oil market, offshore drilling makes no sense. We take the environmental risk, but we’d have to share the negligible price gains with Chinese consumers and every other user around the world.
He's right about that, isn't he? I love the way lefties sometimes get bracingly chauvinistic. Suddenly, it's screw the rest of the world!

Oh, I know... the gains are only negligible anyway. But read the whole interview. Reich is obviously happy that the high gas prices are pushing people into mass transit at long last. If the environment is your primary concern, of course you don't want more domestic drilling, and, what's more, you welcome the high gas prices that make people consume less.

I'm calling Reich a lefty, but I note that he lives in Berkeley (where he's a professor of public policy) and he says "here I am on the right of most arguments."

And this is good. He's asked about whether he dated the college-age Hillary Clinton:
To call it a date is an exaggeration. She and I went out to see Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.” The only thing I remember is that she wanted what seemed to me to be an extraordinary amount of butter on her popcorn.
Yes, very tasty! Yes! I like it! I like it! Go on!

You know, if a woman indicates she wants extra butter, that means something:
Only an economist could go on a date and study trends in butter consumption. Isn’t that a kind of wonky thing to remember?

Yes, it is. I recall the extra butter costing more.
If the man balks at giving her extra butter on her popcorn, if he seems to calculate the expense, I think she can make some predictions about what any sexual relationship will be like. Later, when Bill took Hillary to the movies — maybe it was "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" — I bet Bill was all come on! Double extra butter! And Hillary fell in love. I wish I could find a clip of that scene where Julie Christie pigs out on eggs in front of Warren Beatty and he therefore knows she's quite the woman.

Now, Reich is also very short — 4-foot-10 1/2 — and he notes that he's "much more economically and environmentally sustainable."
I exhale less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I use up less space. I have a little house.
In the future, you will have to buy carbon offsets if you want to be tall or fat.

Anyway, it's at the end of the interview that we get to the quote that I highlighted above. Reich says that because he was short, he was bullied a lot as a kid.
People frequently tell me in interviews that they were bullied as children. But no one ever steps forward and says, “I was the bully.” They don’t want to admit to being a bully.
This provokes the questions-and-answer used as the title of this post.

As for Reich's answer, isn't it more likely that kids who were bullied grow up to be bullies themselves? You're very short and/or weak, but you're smart and you study... then you figure out how to crush your erstwhile tormentors by winning in business or politics. Right?

As my ex-husband used to say — maybe he's still recycling this line — "Life is 'Revenge of the Nerds.'"

John McCain says: "I hate the bloggers."

And John Amato says: "Hey right wing bloggers. I think he’s talking about you too."

Is hearing humor in tone of voice a lost art... among lefty bloggers?

And I remember the conference call McCain did with some of us bloggers on when he said:
"Listen, I'll never forget you. You were the only guys who would listen to me for a couple of months. Do you think I'd ever forget you?"
He said that spontaneously and sincerely after someone thanked him for continuing to do the phone calls with bloggers.


By the way, I've apparently been crossed off the list of McCain's preferred bloggers. Quite aside from anything like conference calls, I don't even get email from the campaign anymore. I used to get several emails a day (mainly pointing me toward favorable news stories and blog posts). And it's not as though the Obama campaign sends me anything. Have they all heard of my vow of cruel neutrality? I still like to get tips about bloggable things.