Friday, September 12, 2008

Exempting Abortion (JM)

So I am concerned about tackling an issue this controversial, but I think there is an underdiscussed aspect of the abortion issue that deserves discussion. As a quick preamble, I think abortion is a deeply personal decision, one the can only be reached by the potential mother and the other people involved in the matter. I think choice is the right way to deal with such an issue, but it is neither an easy, nor a clear cut choice. That said, a lot of people take issue with Sarah Palin's unwilling to support exemptions in the case of either rape or incest. There are many things I don't like about Palin, many many things, but this is not one of them. Let me explain.

When one takes a position that abortion ought to be outlawed it is already a fairly extreme position in the sense that we are superseding a person's right to make decisions about their body and health. The reason they would take this position is that they genuinely believe that this a question of protecting a life and the rights of that child. Everything that follows is a consequence of that position. Now I recognize just how dreadful a situation might be where one is called upon to make a decision about a child created in either rape or incest. However, at the point that a person thinks that this is a being worth absolute protection I actually think it's morally inconsistent to support any sort of exemption based on the potential future of the child. Once we are willing to do that, then it seems to me that we should revert back to the position of choice.

So to the extent that not having such exemption is unpalatable, I agree and I understand. However, I think such exemptions seems like political expediencies rather than genuinely consistent positions. If the child were born we certainly would never consent to killing him or her, yet for the most part the pro-life position is held up on the conceit that a conceived child is life and that life is simply our highest value. So I don't agree with Palin's position on abortion, but I do think she is at least consistent in the regard and respect that.

As a final aside, I think there needs to be more respect in this debate on both sides. On the pro-life side I think there is a fundamental failure to respect that fact that this is still and always a tremendously difficult decision and that the fight is for real personal choice (something for which Republicans are supposed to be top advocates). At the same time, I think people who are pro-choice need to realize that, for the most part, pro-lifers are not on a personal crusade against women and rights. Many firmly believe that they are trying to save lives, and to the extent one believes that, it is hard not to respect such a fight. These are deeply personal issues and ones that will never be resolved with hectoring, violence, yelling or name calling. I think a dialogue about these issues would do the country some real good, and it's my fervent hope we will have one, but my sincere doubt that we actually will.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stupid Microsoft Ad (Dennis)

So you're Microsoft, and you've been getting your ass kicked in the ad wars with Mac (well, OK, they target PCs, but it's really about you isn't it?) and now Google has stepped up with a much hyped browser as a direct challenge to your dominance in that area. So you need to fight back fast.

How do you do it?

You can't really go at your competition too hard, you're the frontrunner after all and are already perceived as a big meanie. The first step is to remake your image. That makes sense. Right now, you're looked at as a fading 90s powerhouse who was once on the cutting edge but now is the very image of the tired boring establishment abhorred by younger consumers you're hoping to attract.

So, to help you change this image you bring in....Jerry Seinfeld?


Isn't he the Microsoft of the comedy, sitting on his vast piles of money while not having done anything worth noting since 1998?

OK OK, so maybe these things don't always work according to that kind of logic, I can buy that. But why spend the gazillions of dollars it must have taken to sign Jerry Seinfeld to produce this commercial:

I mean that's atrocious. Jerry still can't act and is tossing out half-hearted lines from Seinfeld (except, bizzarely, he's playing Kramer in this commercial). Bill Gates isn't even that funny, and seems like an old retired guy puttering around a mall in Palm Beach. At the end they say something about the future, but the commercial feels like you're watching two has-beens, away from the exciting places that made them famous, with nothing better to do than screw around in a mall for a few hous.

Look, if they were going to go for nostalgia humor, how much more would it have cost to get George, err, I mean, Jason Alexander and pair him with Jerry for the commercial? (And how much more memorable would that commercial have been?) But really, don't you think they needed to go somewhere different with this?

Look at the hugely successful Mac advertisements. On the one hand there's the cute Mac vs. PC ads, which manage to be vicious without seeming vicious:

And then there's the brilliant ITunes/IPod ads:

How much better are those than the crap Microsoft put out? Microsoft is a company that is worth billions and billions of dollars, and I think what literally happened when they considered remaking their image was a 15 minute board meeting where they talked about golf for 14 minutes, and at the end said, "Hey! Let's pay 5 million dollars to get Jerry Seinfeld, we'll send him and Bill out together. Let's see what happens!"

If they wanted to soften Bill Gates, and, therefore, Microsoft why not just have him tell a story about something important that happened early on at Microsoft, something about the joy of discovery or innovation? If they wanted a nostalgic commercial, why not do something like showing someone someone who is now like 30 using Microsoft over the years as he gets older? If you really wanted to do a "future" commercial, why not do something in the same "cool" vein as Apple's stuff? Their choice just made no sense. Corporations can be so silly sometimes.

Monday, September 8, 2008

What will we do without Tom? (Dennis)

For those that have lived with watching football without rooting for Tom Brady, it’s difficult to describe the shock that many Patriots fans, especially the recently minted ones, will go through these next few weeks as they realize that all of their old assumptions about how to feel, act, and think during a football game will be shaken. During the Tom Brady era, to watch all but the most important playoff games was a sedate, reassuring activity. Every time Brady dropped back to pass, you knew that if there was way to find the open receiver, he would somehow do it. If there was an important third down to convert, the pass would get to the open man past the yellow line and the drive would go on, until, almost inevitably, a ball would sail into the hands of a receiver in the end zone. It happened so often that success became an expectation. And when the big play wasn’t made, it was jarring. I actually remember thinking, when an important third down wasn’t converted late in the game, “that must not have been the real important one,” as if Brady had some Tralfamadorian ability to see through time and sense which play was really critical for him to convert and which would simply have ruined the suspense.

For this season, at least, things will be different. Our quarterback will be some schlub who will hopefully throw more touchdowns than interceptions. Games will be tense, and whenever the quarterback drops back to pass on a big play, we’ll get that same feeling in our stomach we always used to get during Red Sox playoff games. You know, that tortuous mix of dread and excitement, where you don’t know if something very good or very bad is about to happen.

And I’m not sure that's a bad thing.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very excited for this upcoming season. The whole air around the team was extremely deflated, and I wasn’t looking forward to another season of them with so much pressure to win on each game, and so many talking heads pontificating about what their success meant to society. Last season was fun for a while, but all the resentment and bitterness at the end from all other corners of the league ruined it for me, and I spent much of the summer dreading the start of the NFL season. How could you possibly top the 19-0 season that they let slip away? Would even a Super Bowl victory feel like an anti-climax?

Now, however, the Patriots suddenly find themselves in the role of underdog once again. Uncertainty and perhaps even dysfunction are on the horizon. Columns on the Patriots, which have recently become tiresome odes to their greatness, will be flush with drama. There will be questioning of the quarterback, of the coach’s strategy, and of whether the Patriots have the juice to get into the postseason. When the Patriots beat a pretty good team the fans will all go crazy again, rather than letting out a muted “yay” as they get back to the Sunday paper.

It will, in short, be kind of like the old days. That long ago time when we had the great Bledsoe at quarterback. He was a true tragic hero, who had a rocket arm but always seemed to make exactly the wrong decision at the wrong time. Strange as it may seem, even as I reveled in their greatness last season, I secretly wished we could give it one more go with Bledsoe. Back when he was around, I at least had someone to defend, and even more importantly, someone who needed defending. The Patriots of Belichick and Brady almost made me feel like they didn’t need me. They attracted the cheap love that rock stars get, where people admire them for their accomplishments and talents. With Bledsoe, I felt like I was on a journey with him, I shared his hopes and dreams and, most importantly, his disappointments. While Brady is an iconic figure, Bledsoe was one of us. And the one real advantage that that long ago unsuccessful era had on this successful one, is that while today fans root for the Patriots, it seemed like back them we rooted with the Patriots.

And so, it is that promise of the return of that familiar foxhole mentality that has me somewhat interested in this season again, despite the bad news. I’m excited for next week’s game against the Jets, where, doubtless, the Patriots will be declared hopeless underdogs by the media, and the fat, loathsome Jets fans will make their reappearance, like front-running swallows returning to Capastrano. I will yell at people to defend the competence of the Patriots and the quarterbacking skills of Matt Cassel, and, if it isn’t as good as thrashing the Jets by 89 points, it will, at least, be fun.

And who knows what will come out of this season? We still have Belichick, a great receiving corps, and at least a few players who have done the impossible before. After all, the last time the Patriots lost their starting quarterback to a horrible injury, they won the Super Bowl. And wouldn’t it be just perfect, if, after being counted out, the Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl just like they won their first? Except this time, the image of the Super Bowl celebration will not be the exuberant Brady raising his arms at the unexpected triumph, but the sly cynical Belichick, smiling like Voltaire, and saying, with a note of condescension: “nobody believed in us but ourselves.”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008

Debating Life (JM)

So I wanted to pull out a comment that regular reader and commenter "g thomas" had on my piece about the media and empiricism. He engages me on the issue of whether we can discuss life and abortion empirically in a political setting without reference to values or first premises. He thinks we can, in a well-thoughout line of argumentation, but one I will quarrel a bit with after his comments:

I agree with all of your analysis and conclusions, and feel similarly enraged by the Republican's egregious attempt to disconnect the folk from reality. What's most enraging to me and maybe to all of us is that it works. Like Dennis, i deliberately avoided watching the RNC, but inadvertantly caught a snippet of Palin, which succeeded in zero time to piss me off.

My only issue is with your point that we can't debate whether life begins at conception or not. I believe we can debate this issue, but it requires a more sophisticated set of argumentative tools than those available for public debate and a knowledge of neuroscience to do so.

In a practical sense only, I agree that that argument is not something that could possibly take place in a political forum, but an argument exists, if only in my head at the moment.

The basic structure of the argument is that life ought to measured not only in terms of alive versus dead, and some philosophers of science have pointed out that "life" isn't even well defined still, but also in terms of degrees of consciousness.

I think we all implicitly act on the belief, empirically based, that consciousness increases with experience. For example, male infants are routinely circumsized without asking if this is okay with them, while an adult would never be subjected to such an involuntary procedure in most societies. One could argue that this is because the infant can't answer meaningfully, but I think the reason we think it's okay lies more in the sense that infantile amnesia will remove the consciousness of the deed within a short time.

Since there's almost no possibility that an embryo has consciousness of self, there is a far smaller degree of the aspects of life that we value in any being, which renders it less alive than a newborn or an adult. The lack of any meaningful mental life or awareness I believe is the heart of the issue.

For example, we sympathize with dolphins and find their capture along with tuna to be abhorrent. Why?

Of course, there's a slippery slope here, but then "slippery slope" is the name of a type of fallacy, not that of a valid argument.

There are some gaps in the argument, of course, as I don't want to go on all day about this, and it's somewhat repellent to frame things this way, but life happens and I think most of the objections only stand up if we suppose that we're able to obtain an ideal transcendence of the realities of life at this very moment.

Also, if there isn't some valid argument that makes, say, the morning after pill okay, then we'd all have to agree with the most rabid right-to-lifers, at least implicitly.

Of course, you also say that we can't make the empirical argument, and I admit that would require my additional premise, a more refined definition of life, including degrees of consciousness, to make adequately.

I think the problem here is actually specified in your final paragraph when you mention a "more refined definition of life". I agree completely that as cognitive science gets better we will be able to codify consciousness and awareness to a much more accurate degree. But even as we do, this still leaves us with the Peter Singer problem; the role of the brain-dead or mentally handicapped. Does human life become less valuable because of cognitive capacity? I think intuitive we all feel, to some greater or lesser degree that it doesn't, at least not completely. There is probably no normative reason why this is the case (no more than there is a normative reason for most things). We have a value system where our identities as human has been fundamental to our place in the ecosystem. Even when we criticize our role in the Earth's environment all but the fringiest of activists still couch the problem in terms of future generations of humans. And that's probably alright (though I have a hard time seen the distinction between humanocentrism and ethnocentrism, at least completely).

The point of all of this is that our valuation of life is based entirely on the groups of which we are a part and the values derived from such groups. Thus, no matter how specific our categorizations get, that definition of life will always be debatable. Life is an emergent reality, a social concept, rather than an actual category. Even if science moved to specify its definition, the concept itself has become so socialized and politicized that it would face far more rabid opposition than even evolution or global warming. We live in fascinating times, we have come to the point where we problematize and question what we once considered objective knowledge. And that is great. However, it comes with a deep downside, because now everything can be politicized and idealized, and structures of knowledge become arenas for contestations of power. So now, more than ever, it is important to have empiricism and facts on our side, but merely asserting these things as factually true will never win the day or prove the point. This is where many of our political battles will be fought in the future and it's a ground we have not yet started to defend.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Just Relaxing For A Second...And Giving Money (Dennis)

I have been telling people that I'm not watching the Republican convention because I don't want a shoe through my new TV. I mean a lot of people who know me don't realize it, but I have a pretty terrible temper if something gets to me. For example, after seeing only a snippet of the Sarah Palin speech I was tempted to write a rant like Jon's except mean spirited and probably offensive. I decided after running 8 miles to vent my frustration that this was probably not advisable and instead gave more of my money to Obama. (This Palin speech, by the way, will be gold for the Obama campaign in terms of getting money out of me, I swear, every YouTube clip I see will be another donation I feel compelled to give.)

Anyway, rather than watching the convention tonight I've watched the Muppet Movie, one can only take so much rage in one day. But, don't worry, I'll watch the recap of McCain's speech tomorrow so I can happily part with more of my money.

Oh, and for those of you that do need calming down tonight (only after you give money!) here's something from the Muppet Movie.

All Hail Joe Klein, All Boo the Media (JM)

Joe Klein kind of looks like my pop, but that's night the reason he get plaudits today. Rather, it's this post. He points out the obvious, that McCain is getting furious because he is simply not used to hard treatment from the press. Obviously this is all a little silly, if you want to lead the country the press is going to be hard on you. The notable point he makes though is that just because the press is being hit hard doesn't mean they should back down from vetting Sarah Palin.

I don't want collide with my last post, but I think this point requires bearing out a little bit. Politics in general, and the Republicans in specific, have unrooted fact from empiricism. We don't live, according to them, in an empirical reality, but rather an ideological reality. This means things like energy policy, global warming, evolution are not just debatable on the grounds of governmental principle, but on their factual bases. We are not just arguing about how to deal with global warming, but instead whether or not global warming exists. Moreover, everything is open to debate, to question this is not just disagree, but to devalue someone's worldview.

This presents a real problem for politics and the press. Heck, even during this campaign with a significant Democratic advantage, the only person who has stood and said that Republican principles have been wrong is Bill Clinton. Everything has been about how the last eight years have been bad for people, it's only the deeply personal that allows to adjudicate the whether something is true or false, good or bad. This is stupid. I think here are many things that come down to personal values and social conditioning. I honestly don't think we can argue empirically whether life begins at conception, we just can't. But by god we can and should argue about the soundness of free market economics. I just hate that term free, let's call it what it is "unregulated economics. The market isn't some independent actor, it responds to the will of money and capital and that will is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. In fact, we should be arguing about freedom in general, because the government simply isn't the only check on our personal rights and freedoms. I believe in the idea of the self-made man, but for every man or woman who's made it out from under the wretched yoke of poverty there are several who fought just as hard who are there.

Ultimately, we as individuals and the press as a collective entity don't remain objective by simply not touching anything cloaked in ideology. The less apt the media is to explore these issues (or entwine them in partisan attacks, a la Keith Olbermann) the more both parties will stop discussing issues as issues and start disguising policy as values. Not only is this not partisan, it's the responsibility they actively have, but one they run away from the second the phrase "liberal elite media" shows up. Newspapers are dying all over the country, and one of the big reasons why is that no one believes objectivity exists any more (and the internet, obviously). The media, instead of fighting gave in, and now news is partisan news. We ask, "Where did you read that?" before even beginning to decide how we feel about the report. So media, fight back, you don't have to be impartial, just be fair. Oh and even the most partisan outlets can be nice once in a while. Seriously, it would be totally okay if Keith Olbermann were to do a segment talking about Bush's mostly excellent work in Africa (though contraception issues are still a negative there). On a similar note it would be nice if the good people of Fox News could recognize some of the really good work Nancy Pelosi has been up to. But fairness is not tit for tat and it's certainly not acquiescing to the taboos set by either party. Good start Joe Klein, but it's time for the rest of the media to pick up the ball and run with it.

The Angriest Thing I Have Ever Written (JM)

Hot damn, I though I was cynical, but apparently the GOP has me beat by a freakin' country mile. The RNC last night was notable for many insane things, perhaps the most insane being the media's inability to not be wowed by shiny objects.

Let's start with our good friend Mittmentum, who gave in an awesome speech in some sort of alternative history novel in which Gore won the 2000 election and Washington was dominated by the liberals for the last 8 years. He serious railed against liberal tax and spend Washington, conveniently ignoring the fact the Washington has been in the hands of the GOP for the past two terms. Explicitly more hilarious was Romney attacking East Coast Elites. The head of Bain Capital, from Massachusetts, is attacking east coast elitism, I don't even begin to understand how he thought he could get away with this. The temerity of this speech was amazing, in line with all of the other speeches last night, as the GOP seemed under the impression that if they said it in prime time it would suddenly just become true. And they're right, it might, if the media refuses to challenge this utter nonsense.

Then cameth the Huck. Look, it's hard not to like Huck. He seems nice, he's funny, snarky and pretty smart. I hate the religious side of his politics, but I think in person I would get along with him real well. I appreciated the fact that he was the one person who took a single moment to be gracious to Obama about his accomplishments. That said, two huge quarrels with his speech. The first was all his talk about small government. Who are you fooling Huck? You love government! You want to have government's babies. I saw you and government out back canoodling under the old elm tree. All kidding aside, Huck really is an economic populist, it's why he's gained traction in areas the GOP hasn't, it's his unique strength and he should stick with it. If he wants to win in 2012 he's not going to out market downhome country boy, Mitt Romney. Seriously, I think the two of them, for a larf, switched speeches, Huck talking about small government, Mittmentum about the Eastern Elite. But then Huck made a Madonna joke, so it was definitely him. My other issue with Huckamonster was his flat out lie about Sarah Palin getting more votes for mayor of Wasilla than Biden got for POTUS. Let's assume we are comparing only this time around, not 1988. The most votes Palin ever got in Wasilla was 650, Biden got over 50,000 against a much tougher field of candidates. These are not even comparable, and in so far as they are this analysis of the comparison was a flat out lie.

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy! I don't have too much to say specifically about Rudy's speech. He's a buffoon, pure and simple. The man has jumped the shark so hard that it's comparable to when the Bundy's got that extra kid only to find out it had all been a dream. I would say his the political equivalent of The Golden Palace, but I would never insult the memory of Estelle Getty like that. He's basically the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers post-Kimberly. Anyway, my point is that I am going to take this time to focus on two things that were present throughout all the GOP talking points. The first is this batshit crazy notion that executive experience is the most important. Attempting to ban books in Wasilla, AK is waaaaaaay more important to being a President of the United States than being a Senator for 35 years, meeting with leaders of the world, ushering through critical legislation to protect women, managing critical Supreme Court confirmation hearings and being responsible to voters of your state. I love to strawman, but Rudy and the GOP loves decisionmaking so much that their logic easily extends to the idea that Peter Boyt, manager of the Barnstable, MA Kinko's, is more qualified to be president than Joe Biden. Well, I am sorry I forgot, Peter Boyt is probably a member of the East Coast establishment. Ugh, it's just so stupid and cynical to think that people would believe this, hells I think we are all aware that the other extension of this argument is that Palin is more qualified than McCain. Oh wait! McCain once led in the military. Sigh, I don't know what pisses me off more, the fact that the GOP has the cojones to make these arguments or that fact that they might work.

The second thing I just don't get is the derision that the Republicans seem to have for community organizing. It's amazing, they act like this is the only thing on Obama's resume, rather than the start to a notable and respectable career. I think it's awesome that Obama chose to work in his community helping people, rather than selling out. But here's the bigger reason the Republicans have such utter contempt for community organization, it's their job to tell the people what to think. Community organization is based on the principle of giving voice to the people, and having the bottom control the top. Republican principles are based on telling the people what to think and believe, letting market forces (read as, the will of those with the most money) determine how communities are shaped, and using wedge social issues to get people to vote and act against their local interest. They don't respect community organization because they don't want to see communities get organized. Yet another in a litany of reasons to believe that the Republicans are so insanely out of touch with the American people.

So finally we get to Palin, the "Real Housewife of Juneau County"*. I have never in my life disliked a politician more than I do her. I think putting herself in the spotlight while her daughter is dealing with her personal issues was reprehensible, but using a Down's Syndrome baby as a campaign prop? It's nearly abusive. I mean at one point Cindy McCain was holding the baby. It's flat out disgusting (and I really don't get disgusted by anything). She spoke well, she read off a teleprompter (one that had the word nuclear spelled phonetically "new-clear") and she got off some reasonable funny lines. What she didn't do is talk about policy or give any of us a single reason to believe that she is actually qualified to step in as President of the United States. There is not a single person in this country who cannot imagine any of the three other people in this race sitting in the Oval Office. They may not be your first choice, but Obama, Biden and McCain all make sense sitting behind that desk, but Palin? My God, the unknown of that is simply terrifying. There is no chalking this up to some sort of misogyny, I think Hillary would have been an amazing president (I'd have put her in there before anyone but Biden). No this is simply about the fact that Palin has no clue on national domestic issues or international affairs. She's also a flat out liar. She claims to have said "no thanks" on the "Bridge to Nowhere" when she was demonstrably in favor of it, she hired lobbying firms to get earmarks for her town, she's embroiled in several scandals and is all for small government except for intrusions in to your bedrooms and libraries.

She's mean-spirited and not ready, but with all the press applause for her speech delivery last night you wouldn't know it. This is woman who's voice dripped with derision for the press. And they ate it up. The media often talks about how they're the voice of the people, this is perhaps their biggest opportunity to show it's true. They must demand interviews with Palin now, with serious magazines, papers and shows. She can't get away with interviews with People and Hannity, she has be held accountable by the mainstream media, asked questions that demand knowledge and deep understanding. It's also on Biden, I love Joe, but he can't let the "play nice' attitude of the Obama campaign effect you too much. He has to get out there in the debate and simply womp her in to the ground. He needs to demands specifics and talking about intricate plans both domestically and abroad. The word Afghanistan was mentioned not once last night, the Dems need to talk about that more.

In the end we are left with this. The Republicans have squandered the last eight years, killing a surplus created by Bill Clinton. They have poorly fought wars, mismanaged the economy, eroded civil rights and generally made a mockery of ethical governance. Now they are simply pretend that it didn't happen. They are arguing two people who are political and have done little to create substantive reform (or in McCain's case moved away from the actual good things he has done) are the real standard bearers of change. If we can't win now, we will never win. Sighing about the politics of cynicism won't do it, it's simply not enough. We need to be specific, point out every lie, spin or misnomer they put out there. The American people deserve better than this, but we need to show them what there real choice is. If we can do that and they still opt for this disturbing brand of image-based, elitist domination on the part of the Republicans, well then my God maybe we do deserve McCain/Palin.

*Patent pending, Bravo reality TV coming to a White House near you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stop it. (Dennis)

Perhaps the most distasteful thing opinion on the internets is the endless original opinion competition that generates genuinely asinine thoughts in record time.

Example A is the evolving assessment of Hillary's speech last night. Last night, everyone who watched the speech though it was a great speech under any circumstance and incredibly gracious speech given the rancorous campaign that preceded it. As morning came, people on Internet opinion factories, like Slate, thought it was a very good speech, but, left out some things, like the fact that Obama was "ready to be president." Nevermind that she basically said that fate of Western Civilization depended on his being elected. Now, as I sat down to watch Bill Clinton's speech tonight, it had become conventional wisdom that Hillary had somehow left something out, and Bill needed to fill that void. This was a notion which, a mere 24 hours ago, was dismissed as a ridiculous McCain talking point.

You can't tell me honestly that you saw Hillary's speech last night, and detected an actual opening, so why say it, if you aren't a Republican hack? It's because there's this annoying strain of intellectual masturbation from people hired to write online. For some, truth doesn't matter as much as having something different out there, no matter how much sense it makes. I suspect this has always existed, but with millions of opinions out there acessible via the internet, conventional wisdom now devolves more quickly into nonsense. It turns on its head the idea that greater accessiblity to ideas and information make us more informed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Awesome Picture and Quick First Night Democratic Convention Thoughts (JM)

In all seriousness please ignore the picture of McCain. Just look at the picture of Biden. It's hilarious, maybe even beyond hilarious. It's like he's a 70's blacksploitation film. I don't think I am the only one who sincerely believes that he needs to bring that look back for his speech Wednesday night. Okay McCain looks pretty darn earnest in that picture to be fair (though I am pretty sure that he was at the helm of the Monitor). Anyway, just a fun moment of Biden-related fashion talk. Also Michelle Obama's speech was phenomenal last night, the video montage was also quite impressive, I think the campaign hit all the right notes towards the end of the evening. No one will forget the return of Ted Kennedy, a well crafted night all around.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tonight We're Gonna Party Like It's 1952! (JM)

Wellity, wellity, wellity, wellity. Let it never be said that the telecom industry doesn't return favors. I don't exactly who will be hosting this party, but you can be that the likely suspects include our good buddy Sen. Jay Rockefeller and long time personal favorite of mine, Sen. Claire "Oh, won't someone please think of the telecoms!" McCaskill. Well even if we don't have the ability to sue telecom companies for wiretapping, at least the Blue Dogs will have a kickin' party. Please don't discuss politics, it makes them uncomfortable.

Snark aside, there's a bigger issue here. Despite the Obama campaign's unwillingness to take corporate or PAC money in to his campaign, certain campaign events (and many parts of the convention) are sponsored by this money. It certainly raises the question of whether or not we can ever have an electoral system that doesn't have corporate influence. I have always thought that publically-funded elections with a complete ban on private funding, were the solution. In the end, however, I wonder if this wouldn't just marginalize corporate money in to other, less-trackable areas of the political playing field. I am aware that this is a criticism that has been leveled before, but it's one that has become clearer and clearer in this election. As political campaigns get bigger, the terrain more expansive and the methods of campaign far more diverse it is becoming tougher and tougher to hold the floodgates of corporate money closed. But that doesn't mean that's not a fight worth having.

Hat Tip: Matt Stoller

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden! Biden! Biden! Biden! (JM)

Perhaps later today I will add, you know, content to this post, but until that time let's just say I approve wholeheartedly of this choice (despite the constant feeling this ticket should be flipped). Anyway, by choosing Biden I have actually gained a lot of respect for Obama, who clearly feels comfortable enough giving authority to the most qualified person, despite their senority and the fear of being overshadowed. More on this later, for now I am going to the beach.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Prediction (Dennis)

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about who exactly Obama’s vice presidential pick will be. Generally, this talk has centered around three names: Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, and Delaware Senator Joe Biden. Unfortunately for those men, none of them are the pick. Consider the evidence:

1.) Campaign Style: The Obama campaign has two hallmarks. For one, it loves dramatic political theater. For another, it strives to keep leaks about critical campaign decisions to minimum. Now, knowing this about the campaign, do you really think we’d get a billion stories from reporters about these characters in the weeks leading up to the selection if any one of them was the pick? Why has Obama been visiting Indiana and Virginia, chatting up both Kaine and Bayh? Why is there “buzz” around Biden? Isn’t it possible, probable even that they are using these people as distractions, while the real favorite improbably stays off the radar and out of the wrenching cable news discussion?

Now let’s think about the “splash” part. Are any of these guys particularly exciting? Sure I would love Biden, but I don’t think an announcement including any of them would exactly set the world on fire. Now, obviously, you’re looking for a good pick and a good surrogate first, and if there weren’t anyone out there who was both exciting and solid pick, I would say it was even money between the three, with Biden the slight favorite because he’s so excellent on the attack and on foreign policy. But isn’t there someone else.... someone who wants to be Vice President, who, unlike the other three, would be disciplined, effective, and an exciting choice?

2.) Location: It seems that Obama has scheduled a big rally on Saturday in Springfield, IL to announce his choice. Now if you were Obama, and you wanted to capture either Indiana or Virginia with your VP pick, wouldn’t you announce your selection of the hometown favorite in either Indiana or Virginia? Particularly with Bayh, wouldn’t announcing a Bayh selection in Springfield be a little like announcing you’ve received Ted Kennedy’s endorsement for Governor of Massachusetts in Yankee Stadium?

I guess that leaves Joe Biden, but if what exactly about Springfield screams “Biden?” If I were going to pick Biden, it would be because I wanted people to know that I’m serious about foreign policy, and I’d select somewhere particularly evocative of that, perhaps an aircraft carrier or even the USS Constitution...somewhere where you could tell an appropriate story as a rationale for the pick. The Old Statehouse in Springfield doesn’t make sense as a place to roll out Biden.

The one person people associate with the Old Statehouse is Lincoln, a person Obama clearly models himself after. He, after all, announced his candidacy from Springfield, and has cited “Team of Rivals,” a biography of Lincoln’s political life, as a key book he would take into the White House.

And in Team of Rivals we get our last major clue as to who the choice will be. For Team of Rivals is a book about how Lincoln placed his fiercest rivals for the presidency in the cabinet, including and especiallythe early, overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination, New York Senator William Seward...

By now even the most casual observer of politics knows I’m hinting at Hillary, and indeed, I think it will be her. I’ve thought for some time that Obama has been doing everything necessary to pick her. By courting other people, he doesn’t look like he’s being forced into the choice. By focusing on others he avoids the horrific cable over analysis of the pick. And with Hillary in Springfield he gets a place that draws parallels back to Lincoln (always a good thing), plus he get the added bonus of Hillary’s Illinois roots.

But moreover, it was really the obvious choice all along. She’s the only one that really makes a difference, that gets a sizeable number of non political junkies excited. She and Bill are probably his best attack dogs against McCain. They even give him an excellent decoy to draw Republican fire. She’s the only one thats great for now and great for September and October.

If you still aren’t convinced, I’ll leave you with this from ABC News today:

Obama said he wanted somebody who is "prepared to be president" and who will be "a partner with me in strengthening this economy for the middle class and working families."

He said he was looking for not just a partner but a sparring partner. "I want somebody who's independent, somebody who can push against my preconceived notions and challenge me so we have got a robust debate in the White House."

If not Hillary, who?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Maureen Dowd is an Enron Executive (JM)

Two Against The One
Published: August 19, 2008

Alright, what follows here is a rant of insane speculation the likes of which probably couldn’t be printed in the Enquirer. In fact, I am not entirely positive how this is not straight up libel. This is one of those examples where Maureen has actually gone way too far in to the realm of terribly unethical journalism. The funny thing is I expect that this isn’t even as bad as it originally was before editing. So I shall, for your benefit, add the “original” text in italics.

In the dead of night in a small hideaway office in the deserted Capitol, a clandestine meeting takes place between two senators with one goal.
They grin at each other as they lift their celebratory shots of brutally cold Stolichnaya.

This meeting of the Evil League of Evil will come to order, Hillary intoned, as John McCain and Bad Horse swigged their vodka.
“Our toast to The One,” they say in unison, “is that he’s toast.”

“Obama should have picked you, Hillary,” John McCain tells her. “It isn’t fair, my friend. But it just makes it easier for me to whup him.”
“Don’t worry, John, I’ve put it behind me,” Hillary replies. “I’m looking toward the future now, a future that looks very bright, once we send Twig Legs back to the back bench.”

They chortle with delight.

Joe Lieberman enters and kneels before McCain, “Master, I’ve gotten the lock of Tim Kaine’s hair as you requested.”
Hillary, her head thrown back laughing, says, “Good, good! Now we can control him. Did you bring the eye of Newt?”
::cut to Newt Geingrich running really fast from Lieberman in a bulldozer::

“He’s a bright young man, but he got ahead of himself,” McCain says. “He needs to be taught a lesson, and we’re the ones to do it. Have you seen the new Bloomberg poll? Obama’s dropped and we’re even again. The Bullet’s getting all the credit, but you and I know, Hillary, that it’s these top-secret counseling sessions we’re having. And thanks again for BlackBerrying me the Rick Warren questions while I was in the so-called cone of silence.”

“Oh, John, you know I love you and I’m happy to help,” Hillary says. “The themes you took from me are working great — painting Obama as an elitist and out-of-touch celebrity, when we’re rich celebrities, too. Turning his big rallies and pretty words into character flaws, charging him with playing the race card — that one always cracks me up. And accusing the media, especially NBC, of playing favorites. It’s easy to get the stupid press to navel-gaze; they’re so insecure.”

Seriously, let’s just stop for a second a appreciate the fact that the so-called paper of record has allowed their most famous columnist to print an exchange in which Hillary admits to helping John McCain cheat. This is just such a tremendous lapse in journalistic integrity that I am nauseous. Usually I just think Maureen is a bad writer, but seriously this column makes me feel like she is just a terrible person.

“They’re all pinko Commies,” McCain laughs. “Especially since they deserted me for The Messiah. Seriously, Hill, that Paris-Britney ad you came up with was brilliant. I owe you.”
Looking pleased, Hillary expertly downs another shot. “His secret fear is being seen as a dumb blonde,” she says. “He wants to take a short cut to the top and pose on glossy magazine covers, but he doesn’t want to be seen as a glib pretty boy.”
McCain lifts his glass to her admiringly. “If I do say so myself, while the rookie was surfing in Hawaii, I ate his pupus for lunch. Pictures of him pushing around a golf ball while I’m pushing around Putin. Priceless.”
“I have a little secret to tell you about that, John. Bill made it happen. He loves you so much. He called Putin and told him that if he invaded Georgia, he could count on being invited to the Clinton Global Initiative every year for the rest of his life.”

Vladimir Putin and Osama bin Laden walk in to the room. Putin places as a bottle of Stoli on the table, and Clinton proceeds to drink all of it with no hands.
“Impressive,” laughs Putin, “you’ll see that I’ve invaded Georgia for you. We agree that once you become President that I can have Poland and Germany.”
“Of course you can, John pour us all another drink.”
Osama sheepishly, “No, no, none for me, it’s kind of against my religion. I’ll tell you what, if I can have the Middle East and France I will create a picture on Photoshop of me and Obama having a catch as brothers.”
“Whoa, that’s a hell of an idea! The Middle East is yours!” exclaims McCain.
“Ehhh… sure why not. The look on Sarkozy’s face will be priceless.”

“Wow. Should I call him? I saw your husband’s kind words about me in Las Vegas on Monday, saying I’d be just as good as Obama on climate change.”

Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies. Bill explicitly said that McCain is better than most Republicans on the environment and that he prefers Obama’s plan. This is not just what he actually said, but a pretty accurate assessment of the situation.

“I think he’d like that,” Hillary smiles. “He’s still boiling at Obama. And you don’t have to worry about my army of angry women. We’ve spread the word in the feminist underground — as opposed to that wacky Obama Weather Underground — that ‘catharsis’ is code for ‘No surrender.’ My gals know when I say ‘We may have started on two separate paths but we’re on one journey now’ that Skinny’s journey is to the nearest exit.”
“But Obama’s says he’s finally ready to hit back,” McCain says, frowning. “He’s starting a blistering TV campaign and attacking me for attacking his patriotism.”
“Now, John, you know that every time he tries to get tough, he quickly runs out of gas. Sometimes in debates, he’d be exhausted by the third question. He must use up all his energy in the gym. He doesn’t have any stamina, and he certainly doesn’t have our bloodlust. Besides, you can throw that Mark Penn stuff at him that I couldn’t use in a Democratic primary about how he’s not fundamentally American in his thinking and values. While he’s up on his high-minded pedestal, you’ll scoot past him in your Ferragamos.”
“How can I ever thank you, my friend?”

In to the room comes Blackbeard, Hitler, Mao, Charlie Manson, and Richard Nixon.
“Arggh, this is fine conspiracy we have going here.”, Nixon states as he gives Hillary the second creepiest back massage of all time.
Mao and Hitler go over to Joe Lieberman with hugs all around (I suspect this moment was a bit uncomfortable for Joe, but you know anything for the party).
“Arrr, our plan for world domination is neigh completion. Let me ask you this: Does anyone have any gold doubloons they need buried?”
McCain shakes his head with disdain before calling Charlie Manson “a little jerk” and barbecuing for him.

“You can announce that you won’t be running for re-election because you’d be 76, and you can pick somebody really lame to run with, like your pal Lieberman. That means one term for you, and two for me.”
“It’s a deal,” McCain says, sticking out his hand to shake on it. “That was inspired to snatch his convention away — makes him look so weak. Listen, why don’t you stop in Sedona on the way to Denver? Wear a black wig and I’ll spirit you up to the cabin for the night. I’ll catch a catfish in the mill pond and grill it for you. It will be an adventure.” There’s a knock on the door. Jesse Jackson sticks his head into the meeting.

Following Jesse in to the room glides Lord Voldemort, Satan and a living personification of the AIDS virus.
“Tally ho and good day folks, does anyone have any need of a retrovirus this fine summer’s day?”, asks AIDSy.
“Umm… no…” says Hillary, but slowly reconsidering, “Hmm… well let’s wait and see who Obama chooses as VP shall we?” Turning she glances at Voldemort given the first creepiest back massage of all time to John McCain.
“Mmm… thanks Volde, that Imperius curse you taught me was fantastic. Look what a good little servant Joe has become.”
Satan looks around him, “Jesus, this is screwed up even for me! I’m outta here.” Satan zooms off cartoonishly with a little smoke cloud left behind him.

“Is it over?” he asks his co-conspirators.
“Yes, he’s over,” they respond in unison.

Seriously, I cannot emphasize how bad, absurd, cartoonishly evil, irresponsible, inappropriate and terrible this article is. If I thought it would do any good I would write a letter to the Times. But instead, I choice strawman it death and a makes some decent Harry Potter jokes. We all have our paths I suppose.

Getting Denver Ready (JM)

Well consider John Edwards a winner. Denver has taken a real step helping the homeless in the run up to the convention. That's right, free haircuts for the homeless. You may not have any where to sleep, but god dammit you will be presentable.

Via Ben Smith.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Your Lesser Known Veep Candidates, Part I (JM)

In a time of violence and chaos Obama needs a steady hand at his side. He'd ideally like someone who understands international affairs, while not being tied to the politics of the past. Well in Col. Sherman Tecumseh Potter Obama has found his man. A veteran of both World Wars as well as the Korean he has a deep understanding of the history of international conflict, plus he has Eisenhower's endorsement. Col. Potter is a fine family man, but even understands the allure of temptation. Even when facing it in his own family he acted with respect and used it as a fine teaching moment. But beyond his public credentials he also has a fine track record of dealing with youth, teaching Hawkeye and BJ to make their gin still even more efficient. In the end, Potter gives the impression of strength and comfort at the same time, while not overshadowing Obama in terms of political experience. Oh, and of course how great will it be to see him respond to Mitt Romney angry in a debate with classic expression, "Oh, horse hockey!". This is really best of both worlds, making Col. Sherman T. Potter a candidate you ought to know about.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Great Dane (JM)

If there’s anything you need to know about me it is that I think Dane Cook is hilarious. Seriously he is the funniest comedian since Ashton Kutcher. Just sit me down with a bottle of red wine and anything in the Dane Cook oeuvre and I will good to go. That’s why it pleased me so much to discover Dane Cook’s super nifty My Space blog (I highly recommend reading the comments too, which are actually totally hilarious). Let’s strap ourselves in and feel the Gs.



I will spare you the obvious jokes here, but I mean how’s this for a premise, a top ten list about nothing. It’s a list of ten random things. Also I tot-fukin-ally lo-shite-ve wh-donkey sex-en frat boys place profanities in the middle of words, that is some fine lingual craftsmanship. Also I dig on you misspelling the word “fuck” Dane, way to be inoffensive, yet rebellious, you can be on my Tiger Beat any day.

The First Thing:
I hate the ocean. It's ugly and smells like a salty puddle. It is too damn loud with it's churning and splashing. The people that say they love the ocean are also not pretty to look at. They steal, lie and are not fair or right about most everything. The ocean is a pool filled with awful unattractive creatures that have no business on this planet. We should build a skyscraper-sized toaster, plug it in and drop it in the ocean electrocuting all the varmints in there. After that drain it and build some ballsy skateboard parks!

This is funny because the ocean is a weird thing to hate. No one else has a bit on hating the ocean, thus Dane is an original. I hate the letter Q, it’s always staring at me with it’s one giant eye and it looks like it has a tail! Check it, now I’m Dane Cook. Also, “ballsy skateboard parks”, you’re such a Sk8r Boi (see you later boy).

The Second Thing:
I can only eat egg whites if they are colored with a yellow food dye appearing like they are regular eggs. When I say "these are delicious regular eggs" you respond with "yes they look like tasty regular eggs and NOT egg whites."

Dane is very successful because a large part of his humor is getting us all to imagine that we are sitting down to breakfast with Dane Cook and he’s being quirky. God that just makes me want to eat eggs with Dane Cook, he’s so damned quirky!

The Third Thing:
I've invented a device that mathematically figures out who is the most boring person at a party and shoots a deadly laser at them killing them close to instantly.*1

It’s called a Suicide Machine. ZING!!!

The Fourth Thing:
My biggest regret in life is not having a really big regret.

I wish I had a time machine. The only thing I would use it for is to go in to the future and find out what Dane Cook’s biggest regret is going to be. I bet it involves a remake of Curly Sue.*2

The Fifth Thing:
One time a ghost appeared to me and told me I was going to do great things in this lifetime. I responded by trapping him in my Proton Pack and delivering it to the
Ecto-Containment Unit. You see, Dr. Peter Venkman is a dear friend of mine and some ghost with his tricky horseshit will not persuade me other wise.

Alright, can we all be serious for a second. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making a decent pop culture reference you need to do one of two things, either: a) be much funnier about it or b) make a reference to a much more obscure pop culture reference (see Fourth Thing for an example of a mediocre joke obscured by a reference to Jim Belushi’s second awesomest movie, falling right behind Mr. Destiny).

The Sixth Thing:
There is no better feeling in the whole wide world than when the cop that is following behind your car takes a left. Especially when you DO have a body in your trunk.

That joke is roughly akin to this:

The Seventh Thing:
There is nothing funnier than someone that is not funny trying to convince other people that someone isn't funny.

It’s like Dane Cook went forward in time and found out about this post and tried to preempt me. Nice try Cook, nice try. I’d respond but the temporal grammatics are getting to me here, but way to be defensive. By the way Dane, if you have a time machine, how do you not know your biggest regret, hmm?

The Eighth Thing:
A young boy looked at his mother and asked her, "Mom is there a God?"

The mother looked, smiled and responded, "I really don't think so."

This boy then went to his father and asked, "Dad is there a God?"

The dad looked, grinned and replied, "Yes. I know there is."

Later that night the three of them were driving to grab dinner at a place where lower middle class people eat when a logging truck ran a red light and hit them head on. The mother died the father lived and the boy was badly hurt by a log that bashed into his body.

Oprah called and had the father and son on her popular syndicated talk show and she asked the boy if he believed in God. The boy looked, smirked and replied "I'm on Oprah so what do you think?!"

Later that night the logger that drove the truck in a fit of rage because he was not asked to participate in the panel discussion on Oprah (yet he was invited to sit in the audience which is still pretty prestigious but certainly not as validating as sitting on the actual couch with Oprah) went into a blind white rage and killed the father and son, dug up the mothers body and put the three of them in a tree fort he built for his son Jarvis dressing them in army uniforms wearing wigs, costume jewelry and smart casual footwear.

A year later the logging trucker guy was the LEAD GUEST on Oprah live from prison and his new book "LOGGING, KILLING, CATS and OTHER DAILY STUFF" is a bestseller.

I think we all know that there IS a God but He is very drunk, somewhat troubled and obviously extremely shy hence He doesn't care for the question about him existing or not so let's focus on something else for right now.

I wish I hadn’t used up that cow cartoon earlier. Can I also point out that this is explicitly not something that no one knows about you in as far as it is nothing about you at all. Which is weird since your top ten list was already about nothing and you managed to break theme anyway.

The Ninth Thing:
Nobody can tell you that you won't make it in this world. Yet, if we can rally everyone in the world to tell you that you won't make it than it's true. You really have no shot because all of us don't care for your work and we are the world. Odds are you will be fine but have a back up plan in case all of us come calling with some bad news.

Wait, I think I have finally figured this out. You are Jack Handy, but after you’ve had some sort of severe impairment. "Instead of a trap door, what about a trap window? The guy looks out it, and if he leans too far, he falls out. Wait. I guess that's like a regular window." See how much funnier he is?

The Tenth Thing:
If I went to college I would major in Apology.

It’s like a black fly in my Chardonnay. It’s like a death row pardon, two minutes too late.

*1 - Pending approval with the FCC and people that like coming to my parties.

*2 If you’re going to use the humorous footnote at least say something funny or interesting. For instance, did you that when Mr. Papadopolous kissed Webster it marked the first time in the history of television that a Greek man kissed a black child, at least as far as I know.

Same As It Ever Was, Same As It Ever Was (JM)

I wish we had a brief rundown of the Georgian conflict in Lost episode recap format, complete with banal Matthew Fox voiceover. Since I don't, here's basically what we know. Georgia, a former section of the Soviet Union is the first non-satellite state to develop even a quasi-democratic government outside the auspices of the Soviet Union. After regaining independence in 1991 almost all of the 90s were spent in turmoil, violence and opportunism being the order of the day. The next momentous period came in 2003 when then President Eduard Shevardnadze was reelected in by a system that was grossly skewed in his favor. This led to a series of mostly non-violent protests which culminated in Mikheil Saakashvilli and other pro-democratic supporters marching on the opening of the Georgian parliament carrying roses. So called the Rose Revolution led eventually to the resignation of Shevardnaze and a new series of elections which came down resoundingly in favor of Saakashvilli.

During this time of transition there were other problems developing. Two key regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia began to erupt in violence. These are both region with substantial non-Georgian ethnic minorities. However, the exact demographic make up of these regions is particularly unclear as the Georgian government created large-scale settlements in these areas with Georgian ethnic to disrupt the balance of power. In turn, violence was fomented in both areas, and Georgian ethnics were largely displaced from these communities by local ethnic groups, warlords, outside groups such as the Chechens and, above all, the support of Russia.

It's this backdrop that leads to the current set of conflicts. Georgia, along with the Ukraine (which is, despite Kramer's insistence, not weak), are interested in becoming members of NATO. However there are serious concerns about offering Georgia NATO membership, the primary being a potential for intense conflict with Russia, but also the fact that Saakashvilli has been far from perfect, going out of his way to antagonize Vladimir Putin and also repressing the speech of major opposition groups. Despite all of these reservations Georgia remains a far more democratic stronghold than its neighbors and is an incredibly close ally of the Western world, the United States in particular. It's status as a Western supporter drives Russia even further to try a destabilize the region (and potential a full-scale invasion with the direct hope of regime change). It also certainly doesn't help that Putin and Saakashvilli loathe each other and either would be happier should the other cease to exist.

This brings us to today. Russia invaded to protect the minority populations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from being bombarded by the Georgian military. The Georgian military claims to have attacked these areas in response to attacks from Russia supported militias and warlords in this region. In other words, Russia has a thinly veiled excuse to invade and Georgia has thinly veiled excuse to repress. Think Palestine with military support while ignore some of the ancillary issues. In other words, it's a total mess.

We've certainly had a myriad of responses from our government and candidates about this crisis. McCain has taken the hardest line, arguing that we should immediately extend NATO membership to Georgia and demand the removal of Russian troops. It should be noted that McCain has a very close relationship with the Georgian government, his campaign manager Rick Davis is a registered lobbyist on behalf of Georgian interests. Despite all of this, it is certainly in our and the world's interest to keep Russian out of Georgia and certainly prevent them from toppling an even quasi-democratic regime. But there appears that there is just too little to be done. The fact is that we have several players in this, none of whom are completely innocent. Even on an even playing field there is just no way to fairly assess blame (though it does appear that Russia has pushed the most boundaries). Even if the world were to agree that Russia's actions ought to be condemned the U.N. is powerless to do anything due to the Russian Security Council veto. Other international organizations hold little sway in this matter as well. If we were to extend NATO protect to Georgia it would put the entire Atlantic community on the hook to defend Georgia militarily. It's exactly this sort of entanglement that lead us down the path to World War I.

This is, frankly, what Russia is counting on. The United States tired and poor from fighting two separate wars, it's political capital spent and amidst an election that will change the direction of our foreign policy in either case is ill-equipped to take the lead in this situation. Russia is aware that they can essentially call the world's bluff and repress the beginnings of local democracy right before our eyes. Though weakened they still retain a certain amount of power due to an abundance of natural resources and fuel needs. However, Putin has discovered that their greatest power might just lie is simple brazenness and an awareness that no one in the world has any desire to be the one to get in their way.

This leaves our country in quite a quandary, two small ethnic divisions of a relatively small state threaten to disturb the stability of Eastern Europe completely. The simple truth is that something must be done and nothing can be done. This is the greatest advantage Putin has and one he has shown the proclivity to use. If we allow Russia to hold Georgia in abeyance based on flimsy pretense, Ukraine and other former Soviet territories will soon follow. Essentially an ominous Russia will make the expansion of the European and Atlantic community over these states much more difficult and is position itself to feel threatened by any expansion. The truth is we are once again faced with a decision, stand up to the threat as a world and risk violence on a world stage or allow aggression to stand an allow for the creeping spread of authoritarianism throughout Eastern Europe. Neither is a great option, but I would suggest that action has always proved more valuable in the long run than inaction. A show of strength now may prevent Russia from getting the type of strength we'll really have to fear. In the end though either solution will be a bitter pill to swallow indeed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Free Advertising, Just Act Indignant (JM)

The most impressive strategy I've seen from the McCain campaign thus far is it's ability to create and spread media without spending any money. The recipe for this has been remarkable simple. Create webads (or low media buy ads) with a little bit of controversy in them. For instance the already famous "Celebrity" ad starring Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. This ad has become so noteworthy that Paris Hilton responded with her own ad, Hilton's mother spoke out (as she is a major McCain donor) and myriad terrible internet parodies were spawned. Out of indignity and attempted mockery came a gazillion dollars worth of free ad time for John McCain.

Now comes this latest web ad:

Already the band is getting ginned up for another round of, "this is racist and disrespectful". Just check out this post on TPM and the comment thread. How much do you want to bet that this hits the mainstream media in the next two days. This is precisely what the McCain campaign wants. I recognize calling any criticism of Obama racist was a pretty effective strategy in the primary, but this is a different situation and entirely different demographic. One which, it is sad to say, is unlikely to be persuaded by such a criticism. But there's a bigger principle at stake here, because in this case the criticisms are simply wrong. Just because this ad mocks Obama love (I mean it shows a girl stating explicitly that she "loves the softness" in Obama's eyes) doesn't mean that this is attempting to play on racism. It is, to sadly quote a legal term, facially neutral, and quite possibly nothing more than an attempt to mock youthful support and irrationality, not try to create a, "Where the white women at?" moment.

Ultimately when it comes to these sorts of ads the best response is simply to ignore them and attack on issues. This isn't swiftboating, it isn't challenging Obama's past or credentials. Simply put, there is no good way to respond to these ads, only a good way to get more people to pay attention. I actually think the campaign itself is doing a pretty good job with this, it's rather Obama's rather passionate internet supporters that drive this story on blogs, which then drives the story in the MSM. So those that are made angry by this ad I would caution outrage and instead suggest that in the long run there is less to be outraged about when fewer people see the "offensive" material.

Welcome Back! (JM)

Hello my friends, compatriots, well-wishers, and people who hate me, but love Dennis. After a considerable hiatus we have returned. Feel free to rejoice. There may be some differences between the old and the new, but I really couldn't tell you what they are. Feel free to chime in with requests, ideas or not. That said, enough foreplay I am excited to get to some real writing and discussing, so strike up the band and away we go!

By the by, for those of you who don't know, that's a picture of me. I teach in a 70's themed charter school in Brooklyn, Vinnie Barbarino High School. The way we figure it the children of the 70s brought us the joy and prosperity of the 80s, thus we are trying to raise the children of today in much the same manner. In fact, the kids are in for a treat as they are just about to learn about history's greatest monster, Jimmy Carter. Anyway, that's enough filler material so that this post doesn't look weird with the picture included, so now with out further adieu, actual postings.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Food TV Was Way Better Back in the Day (Dennis)

I watch the Food Network a lot, but I usually find myself cringing at most of their offerings. A lot of their travel shows are terrible and actually just the same show with over and over with different hosts. Rachel Ray is totally unwatchable with her obnoxious accent, annoying nicknames, and gimmicky recipes. Then there's Sandra Lee. I actually think she just steals recipes off of the back of Kraft products. She makes the type of food your mother would cook when she was very tired, except Sandra does it on an actual cooking show. (For a better takedown of Rachel and Sandra, see Bourdain, Anthony).

The saving grace of the network is Alton Brown, who hosts both Good Eats and Iron Chef America. Iron Chef, is pretty watchable, though not nearly as fun as its Japanese predecessor, which, sadly, is not aired anymore. Good Eats is an amazing show that actually teaches you a lot and is funny in a nerdy sort of way (my favorite way).

But really all that was just an excuse to show you this video of Julia Child. After seeing some of her stuff on youtube, I really wish she was still in her prime. Whereas Rachel would waste our time with "Garlickly Butter Pasta, with Eggplant Slammers" as if she was making a menu item at Friday's, Julia here actually teaches you the correct way to do the simplest of French dishes: the omelette. It was with programs like this one that she quite literally changed the way America cooks. Who knows what the state of cooking in the US would be today without her?

Not only that but she did it by being entertaining in way that TV stars just couldn't be anymore. She had the demeanor of that wacky professor you had in college who clearly knew what he was talking about, but was sort of disorganized and had bizarre mannerisms. Anyway, enough of me, enjoy:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hillary Clinton (Dennis)

Hillary Clinton, the resilient presidential candidate, exited the campaign this week at age 60.

When are we most ourselves? Of the many styles and personalities we present to the world, which one is the real us? I suppose these questions are even more troubling for women, who, because of social norms, are required to be diplomatic hostesses, fashion-conscious dressers, and accommodating wives and mothers. While men are expected to not compromise themselves, to speak their mind, and to dress in roughly the same business suit their fathers wore, it is a woman's job to adjust.

Hillary Clinton, when she was young, fought this bitterly. Rather than meekly accepting the Republican Party of her parents, she decided to become a Democrat in college. While giving the commencement address at Wellesley College, she criticized Sen. Edward Brooke (incidentally, the last African American man to be a Senator before Barack Obama) rather than ignoring her disagreements as a courtesy to a guest speaker. In that speech she challenged us to find “deeper more ecstatic, penetrating modes of living” than what society traditionally offered. Even her clothes at the time show us an individual rather than someone trying to fit into the pack.

Eventually though, this Hillary changed. She followed Bill to Arkansas, taking the path of a traditional wife rather than one of a crusading career woman. She had a child with him as well, and eventually her career and her strong voice had to be moderated to fulfill her duties as mother and as the First Lady of a traditional state. Back when she and Bill married, she stubbornly kept her last name, but eventually she even had to change that. There was more than a little Norma Jean Baker in the compromises Hillary Rodham had to make.

Now and again, the old Hillary would pop up. Somewhere, the members of the Wellesley College class of 1969 must have been smiling when they heard that their old classmate had told off a reporter by saying she wasn't going to apologize for not staying home and “baking cookies.” Maybe, despite the hardship, they even smiled when she vigorously asserted that she wasn't going to just “stand by her man like Tammy Wynette” in response to a question about Bill's alleged affairs.

But those would be just temporary victories for the independent Hillary. She did end up standing by her man, and being embarrassed along with him for his mistakes. And she had to apologize for the cookie remark, like it was some temporary moment of hysteria rather than legitimate pride at eeking out a successful career despite domestic pressures.

All this seemed to slip into her political career as well. When she ran for Senator, she changed her appearance to accommodate what most people thought a politician should look like. When she became a Senator, she attempted to fit in to the Senate's culture and work behind the scenes. She staked out moderate positions that favored her state, once voting for a bankruptcy bill that would harm poor debtors, but would be a boon to financial companies based in New York. That 22 year old who spoke so passionately about civil rights in college was now telling us that marriage was strictly between a man and a woman. Then, in what was, to some, the most unforgivable sin of all, she voted for the authorization of the Iraq War.

All those years of compromise were but a prelude to the campaign that has just been completed. For most of it, Hillary seemed to be willing to change what was necessary to complete the task, to move to the next step. She listened to consultants and changed her message and image as many times as it took to whatever image they thought it would take to achieve the prize that really mattered to her: a chance to accomplish all the positive changes she dreamed about.

She was hammered by many for these compromises and for her past ones. But women stuck by her. Women of Hillary's age understood that you couldn't always be yourself, you couldn't afford to be an idealist. You might love to ditch the husband you hate, but how could you afford to feed the kids on your own? There's a great job waiting for you in New York, but if you leave, who is going to take care of mom and dad? Women of that age, who had to feel the full weight of society's burdens and expectations, who had given up so much and were appreciated so little, knew in their hearts that only a man would call his book something as ridiculous as “The Audacity of Hope.” They respected and loved a woman like Hillary, who didn't care if she wasn't loved adoringly, who didn't mind humoring the boys by throwing back a shot with them, and who took some objectionable positions because she thought it might mean she would be around for the fights where she could make a difference.

Despite that empathy, it eventually became clear that she was going to lose. But instead of meekly surrendering, Hillary, this time, decided to hang on, and it was then that her supporters rallied around her more fervently than ever before. “She has compromised so much,” they thought “WE have accommodated you for so long, why can't we play this out without you telling us to sit down and shut up?”

In this stage of the campaign it was, for once, about Hillary. She made sarcastic jabs at Obama in speeches, and took every remaining debate as an opportunity to demonstrate her superior skills at sparring on policy and politics. She took the time to demonstrate that she really did understand what people were going through, and, for the first time in her political career, she was genuinely loved by a broad audience of people. She did all this not because she thought it was tactically smart, and not because it was easy, but because she wanted to fight for something she believed in without thinking of the consequences, without calculating the chances of success. She wanted to be an idealist again. It must have been thrilling.

When the end finally came, she dutifully mounted a podium and gave a gracious, wonderful endorsement of her rival. She even gritted her teeth and uttered that phrase that must now haunt her nightmares: “Yes we can.” It was just the latest example of Hillary changing everything on a dime to accommodate the needs of a cause she really cares about. I must confess, I was glad that she finally did this, because it means the Democrats will have a better chance of winning in November.

I hope, though, that some day she'll become that idealist with the long hair and the crazy pants again, that she'll once and for all break out of that political mask we, until recently, were so used to seeing. If I thought this would happen if she were elected, I would have supported her. In the past it may have been admirable and unselfish of her to hide the real Hillary, but now I think we need her more than ever.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Get Out of My Head Jake Tapper! (JM)

I am pretty sure Jake Tapper at ABC and I have a telepathic link. Perhaps I will sit down and explain it to you all at some point, it's a fascinating story. However, this was just too much:

For a scene where Joe Lieberman's voice can be heard on a conference call, I recommended that the producers get the guy who played the dad on "Alf," since he and Lieberman have the same voice. Alas, it was not to be.)

I have, for years, been suggesting that Max Wright should be the voice of Joe Lieberman in a new cartoon: The Joe Lieberman Action Rangers. Anyway Tapper, get out of my mind, it freaks me out. The column itself is about the new HBO movie Recount, about Florida in the 2000 election, which I am quite psyched for. Anyway, regular updating to recommence soon. I miss y'all.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Israel Post (Dennis)

I thought this article by Jeffery Goldberg on Israel's relationship with America was a very good one. In it, he basically argues that the leaders of the groups like AIPAC and their supporters have been stifling a reasonable debate on Israel by being more extremist on Israel than the Israelis. Here is a quote that I think illustrates the core of the piece:

These Jewish leaders, who live in Chicago and New York and behind the gates of Boca Raton country clubs, loathe the idea that Mr. Olmert, or a prime minister yet elected, might one day cede the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the latent state of Palestine. These are neighborhoods — places like Sur Baher, Beit Hanina and Abu Dis — that the Conference of Presidents could not find with a forked stick and Ari Ben Canaan as a guide. And yet many Jewish leaders believe that an Israeli compromise on the boundaries of greater Jerusalem — or on nearly any other point of disagreement — is an axiomatic invitation to catastrophe.

One leader, Joshua Katzen, of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, told me, “I think that Israelis don’t have the big view of global jihad that American Jews do, because Israelis are caught up in their daily emergencies.” When I asked him how his Israeli friends responded to this, he answered: “They say, ‘When your son has to fight, you can have an opinion.’ But I tell them that it is precisely because your son has to fight that you have a harder time seeing the larger picture.”

By the latter part of the 20th century Irish Americans had a similar relationship with the troubles in Northern Ireland. That is, the most radical factions in the conflict were funded by ill informed nationalist Irish Americans, while the vast majority of people in the Republic of Ireland and even the Catholics of Northern Ireland were far more ambivalent about (and even disgusted by) the actions of the IRA.

This comparison made me think about some similarities between the Irish and Israeli situations.

Ireland, like Israel, was a nation founded in response to the hard realities oppression and the sweeping poetry of idealistic nationalism. Ireland, for its first 60 or 70 years, was an insular backward and poor country. It was plagued by a troubled relationship with Britain, embarrassing terrorism on its behalf in the North and in England, and restrictive economic, and cultural regulations that stunted growth and creativity. Its presidency was always won by the radically nationalist Fianna Fail party, which was started to oppose the very compromise that brought Ireland into existence.

Then, perhaps in response to the troubles of Northern Ireland of the 1980s, or perhaps in disgust at being considered Western Europe's only third world nation, the attitudes of people changed. They elected as president Mary Robinson, the first woman, as well as the first person not from Fianna Fail, to ever hold the post. She was someone who had built a career around campaigning for liberal principles that ran counter to the strict Catholic traditionalism that had strangled the country for so long, and who was known for reaching out to the British and to Unionists.

The act of electing Robinson showed a desire for change on the part of the Irish, but Robinson also pushed the Irish in many ways. Most notably, she became the first Irish president to meet with Queen Elizabeth in England. A professor of Irish history told me that only after her presidency was it possible to conceive of an Irish identity that was not Catholic, white, and traditional.

This change it attitude made it possible for Ireland to achieve all it has today. Could the protectionist, reactionary Ireland from the 1970s and before have accepted the waves immigration that went along with membership in the EU? Could such an Ireland have achieved a sufficiently educated populace if going to some of the best (Protestant) universities still required special dispensation from the local bishop? I doubt it.

Indeed, it's reasonable to ask whether the situation in Northern Ireland would continue to challenge Israel and Palestine for ferocity without the change in attitude of the Irish and Robinson's leadership. If the Irish Catholics on both sides of the border didn't embrace the idea that a Protestants were fellow citizens and not just "The Enemy", wouldn't Belfast be the same horrible mess it was in the 1980s?

I think that the experience of Ireland tells us that Israel cannot be both at peace with its neighbors and exclusively Jewish in identity. Yes, there are Arab/Muslim citizens in Israel, but how can one be a full citizen if the identity of your country stridently and officially excludes you? How can you and others feel welcome if it's the stated policy of a country to keep you in the minority? We know precisely why it would be (and was) a bad idea to define America as a "Anglo-Christian nation." So how exactly is it a good idea to define Israel as a Jewish state? It is arguably even worse, since sets up an inevitable, intractable conflict where on one side stands Israeli Jews and on the other side stands all of its neighbors.

I think the end of the Israeli-Arab conflict will finally come when Israel ceases to be the "homeland of the Jews" and becomes simply a democracy with no pre-concieved notions on what the ethnic character of its body politic should be. I suppose a lot of people would regard this as a tragedy, since he dream of a restored romantic vision of ancient Israel would be lost.

I would not.

Jews would not be losing their homeland any more than Irish Catholics are losing theirs or any more than the decedents of the Puritans in America have lost theirs. They would, instead, deal a final crushing rebuke to the Nazis that drove them there. An Israel where a Muslim could be elected president, or where it would pass relatively unnoticed that Jews were in the minority was exactly the type of society that the Nazis attempted to banish from the Earth.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Obama's Response (Dennis)

I thought Obama's response (shown below) today to the Bush calling Democats "appeasers" was particularly good. This attack by Bush and his two chief goons, Lieberman and McCain, needed a response that put into perspective exactly who was saying it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Awwwwwkward! (JM)

You know that moment when you accidentally accuse a girl of being pregnant and you see her reaction and know you're in trouble because: a) she's not pregnant, she's just fat and b) she's not a woman at all, just a terribly effeminate man? Well I am pretty sure this is more awkward. Terry McAullife referred to Tim Russert's father, Big Russ, as "in heaven right now...probably having a scotch." Tim Russert could have replied, "Big Russ is way less dead than your candidate.", could have, but didn't, that's just the kind of class act Russert is. Moral of the story, if you don't know if someone is dead, don't bring them up.