Friday, October 31, 2008

The liberal media

Conservatives complain that the media is biased in favor of Obama, and this bias is held up as further evidence that the nation's central institutions have been infiltrated by "liberals."

The major media are undoubtedly biased toward Obama, but this should not be a problem in itself. Every organization will exhibit some institutional bias reflecting its ownership and whatever operational mandate may fall into the hands of executives. In the case of major American news outlets, these consist of several large corporations, integrated into even larger conglomerates, which distribute information from centralized operations in New York or Washington, D.C. to the rest of the country. They take different positions on different issues like anybody else.

If conservatives want to take a principled stand on the harmful effects of media bias, they would oppose the centralization of news which inevitably leads to one or two perspectives being imposed on everyone, and inevitably arises from the deregulated corporate model. Short of making this argument, conservatives merely gripe that the quasi-monopolies which distribute news don't have a different bias -- namely, whatever conservatives endorse. But because American conservatism advances the corporate model as its ideal, it cannot make a principled argument in favor of fairness. Fairness would mean introducing a range of competing viewpoints into the "news format," something that does not happen under monopoly conditions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scary, Pt. 1

The Grand Poobress, leading the store meeting at my retail gig, this morning said: "If you're going to go through the trouble of being here, you might as well take the opportunity to participate." She took issue with the fact that nobody wanted assemble within earshot.

Two thoughts.

First: The meetings are mandated by the company, so "the trouble" can be laid squarely at their feet; nobody wants to get up at 4am so they can present themselves to their colleagues at 6am. I wake up at 5am, but I live four blocks from the store -- hardly the case for most.

Secondly, "participation" in this case amounts to little more than applauding at regular intervals and -- at least theoretically -- listening to what is being said by management. Personally, I can't help but immerse myself in the quality of daydreaming I crafted in my formative years of public education. To my knowledge, nobody of interest speaks unless presented an "award" by management -- something I have blessedly avoided thus far. And, for the record, it depresses the hell out me when interesting people speak, because they are forever thanking all the wonderful people around them. That's roughly my estimation as well: people are the coolest part of every shitty institution devised by people so far. It saddens me when what's cool about people is conflated with what's shitty about institutions.

This note brought to you by 2/3's bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz. Yellow Tail: "Yep, it's cheap."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In consideration of what really matters

If you look at politics as nothing more than a grudge match between two or more celebrity straw men, it is only natural that you won't want to look for very long. This is called "electoral politics," and it works by making people feel excluded at the same time it motions wildly for their support. It is a party hosted by some of the biggest frauds in the country, and it is moderated by some of the smallest minds. You will be bowled over by charts and graphs and mathematical formulae which capture the spirit of democracy all in numbers. The corpses of statesmen-past will be propped upright and paraded about the public mind, their droppings a delicacy among the pundit-caste. Every cable news anchor will clench and strain until they are quite literally filled with feces. By the time the polls close, you won't want to think about "politics" for a very long time; that is American democracy, by design.

On the other hand, if you look at politics as a glass half-full of Trappist ale, then there just might be enough left for you to get pissed and stay pissed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Howard Zinn: Taxes!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The loudest sound

Do you want to know the noise business makes when Americans ask that they commit to the health of the nation?


Turn on talk radio in the next two weeks and you will find the echo deafening.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Welfare-states boast greatest income equality, social mobility

Income inequality has grown substantially in many developed nations in the last 20 years despite continued economic growth, a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found. Denmark and Sweden registered the smallest disparities in national income wealth, while the United States recorded among the largest (see graph, bottom) in the 30-country survey.

Reasons for the widening gulf between rich and poor include "changes in the labour market" which have eroded the quality of employment opportunities for low-skilled workers. Wealth redistribution via taxation has helped defray living costs associated with necessities, but may not be adequate as a substitute for good jobs. The OECD suggests that "welfare-in-work" programs -- receiving an income subsidy while working crap jobs -- could help make up the difference between what employers are willing to pay and what is required to mitigate poverty, at least in the interim before adequate employment is realized.
Howard Zinn on "change"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Of Human Energy

When you think about it, commuters, oil executives, seagulls -- we're all people. People just trying to get by in this topsy-turvy game called "climate change." Sure, maybe we've had one too many babies. And maybe we've bought one too many petroleum-powered entertainment systems, or, the con-artist formerly known as "SUV." But let's not play the blame game or point fingers, because, after all, we're in this together. Help us help you to not be fuck-ups anymore.

Yours truly,

The Oil and Gas Lobby
Chomsky on the economy

Monday, October 20, 2008

A note about managers

The constraints that managerial divisions place on people often make it very difficult for individuals to "do the right thing" toward each other. That holds true in any institution where the individual is expendable: when the demands of power lean one way, and ethical necessity another, you put your own safety and security in jeopardy by doing what's right.

Good managers -- in the ethical sense -- will know enough about how their organization works to be able to maximize opportunities for supporting others without unduly exposing themselves to risk. But ultimately they do take a risk -- substantially more so than the people around them who merely "do what they're told." On the other hand, the "followers" are usually least prepared when the moral bankruptcy of their enterprise is exposed (this is actually happening all the time, but only occasionally on a scale that makes it obvious to all), and that is because by following they have denied themselves the defensive benefit of independent thought and ethical awareness.

It's worth noting that there are many popular allegories for this that come from other systems, like Schindler's List, concerning Nazi Germany; or The Lives of Others, a new film about secret police activity in the former East Germany. These films are important in what they reveal about the systems they describe, but they are universally relevant in depicting the moral challenges individuals face in all hierarchies of power, especially when the individual is entrusted in some way with the maintenance of that hierarchy. Naturally, the fact that the stakes were so high in Nazi Germany or the former GDR only contributes to dramatic impact, but there is no reason why analogous stories could not come from contemporary corporate offices -- less extreme by degree but equally objectionable; and, unlike abuses elsewhere, they are things that impact our everyday lives.
Noam Chomsky on voting

Are you down with OCD?

Last week one of my middle-management betters approached me with a bit of constructive criticism with regard to one part of my job performance. I was in wholehearted agreement with him, and immediately replied with, "Yes, I agree."

He then restated himself two or three times, evidently for lack of anything else to say; or perhaps because repeating oneself from a position of authority paves the way toward consensus, in contemporary business theory. Arguments from superiors aren't meant to be sound; they are meant to remind everyone where power resides.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fun factoids

this from Wikipedia:

Labor, i.e., human work, is considered to be an economic factor of production, alongside capital, land (including raw materials) and entrepreneurship. That is, reducing the cost of the resource contributes to the corporation's net income.

Ah, human work. What other purpose might it serve if not wholly dedicated to "the corporation's net income?" Personally, I would like give back some of my income just to see the corporation do better. Oh wait, I guess that is my stock plan. But, really, I would like forfeit some of my recent raises. I am not greedy. It is just my union that coerced me to go from $8.50 per hour to over $16 in 9 years. I wish I had been in a non-union company all along, where instead of $1 raises each year you get a beautifully choreographed song and dance -- and "pride" in being a "stakeholder" in the company. That is nice.
Rolling Stone: Embedded with the Taliban

Here is a picture of some our enemies in Afghanistan. It is hard to bomb them without killing the neighbors, but perhaps that is the price of freedom.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The anti-union tool kit

Learn the ABC's of surveilling your employees, controlling their movements and conversations, and serving up the "straight scoop" on unions with the informational video available here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Taking the fight to Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has instructed US commanders in Afghanistan to offer apologies and compensation to the relatives of civilians killed by US actions there. The move came after intensified US and NATO airstrikes on suspected targets resulted in growing numbers of civilian dead over the past few months. US military officials have stressed that the air campaign strategy, which utilizes pilotless drones as well as conventional air power, is necessary without an increased commitment of ground troops in the region. Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has condemned the airstrikes, and suggested that the resulting civilian casualties undermine popular support against the Taliban.
Attacks on Colombian labor leaders

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spreading the wealth around

That some issues don't receive the attention they deserve at the executive level within institutions owes mainly to the fact that institutions are designed in the interests of their designers -- not so much anybody else. If you cannot count yourself part of the former group, you will have to think creatively about how your concerns can "coincide" with the concerns of executive power.

For example, "poverty" was not mentioned in last night's presidential debate for several reasons. The first is that the United States government was not designed by poor people to address their needs. It was designed by European aristocrats to protect their property claims against 90% of the population, who weren't allowed a role in government based on criteria including race, gender and whether they owned any property in the first place. While the demographic scope of the electorate has since expanded, economic power has narrowed correspondingly, leaving huge parts of policy deliberation outside the public arena altogether (e.g., why we haven't adopted anything more efficient than the internal combustion engine in over 100 years of technological innovation.)

Secondly, poor people abstain from electoral politics in disproportionate numbers -- and they are further discouraged from voting in the event they should become curious. In Philadelphia, this takes the form of papering neighborhoods with "notices" that any outstanding parking tickets, fines, utility payments, or criminal history will be subject to official scrutiny, which in turn presupposes the possession of a government-issued photo ID -- something which poor people are more likely to live without.

But perhaps even more fundamentally, poor people, like most Americans, only "vote" every several years, whereas large economic actors like corporations -- the "owners" of our day -- exist in perpetual dialogue with government: they vote every minute of the day with dollars and influence.

So it is not surprising that public concerns regularly lose out, including morally urgent problems like poverty. People who spend most of their time chasing paychecks in order to survive tend not to have the time or the money to petition their representatives. This is how the system is designed, and we can each ask ourselves whether it is for our benefit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In consideration of the McPalin mob

A recent spate of McCain fans behaving badly evokes sympathy on my part, because they are among those who have paid the highest price for the country's Republicanism of recent years. The great transfer of wealth from public budgets to private bank accounts under the guise of "less government" has pushed many working Americans into varying degrees of indebtedness, in order that they might have access to necessities like food, housing, transportation and fuel -- or what business commentators, in the wake of financial implosion, now like to call "living beyond your means." Add to this the export of industrial sector jobs which propped up the "blue-collar middle class" and drop child or two in the old Mesopotamian grist mill, and the full contours of rural, white agony are thrown into sharper relief.

So the anger is real and justified. The targets are merely the scoundrels-du-jour of the Republican Party mercenary media branch; the kind of local talk radio hosts who make their living by delivering rural audiences to business advertisers, or FOX News programmers who do the same at a national level. It's worth remembering that John McCain was the scoundrel that incurred the wrath of his party and its conservative base until it became clear he was the last man standing in line for the presidency. Four years ago it was gay marriage and "the French"; now it is ACORN and Bill Ayers, and, of course, Barack Obama. The villains change daily. But they aren't the inventions of John McCain or rural communities.

Should distressed populations know better than to trust the people who seek them out, affirm their anger, and identify the culprits as liberal elites? Should they fact check Rush Limbaugh's sources after working three part-time jobs in one day? Naturally, they should; the reality is, they won't anymore than you or I will fact check everything we hear on CNN or read in the New York Times after working all day. And we have those fuckers to thank for Iraq, among other jaw-dropping lapses of journalism. So the job of countering fiction with fact is left open to us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Americans can't afford Christopher Columbus

This may be a day late and a penny short, but the best thing I can say about Christopher Columbus is that he was Italian. I like Italians.

One of my grandmother's closest friends is a Hungarian woman who escaped Nazi capture when an officer's dog yielded to her affections. To this day, she loves animals but is deeply skeptical of humanity. Also, nobody can say a bad word to her about the United States.

The story goes that Hitler had a strong affinity for the US government's policy toward native Americans, whom he felt occupied a space analogous to the "Jewish question" in Europe. These communities could not be reconciled with the demands that the "national progress" spelled out; as such, they were deemed obstacles to be removed, in either case. But while the United States was constrained only by distant oceans as its borders, Germany was beset with hostile neighbors on all sides, and suffered for want of "Lebensraum" -- or, "living space." As such, the Jews could not be left to rot in a corner, as the native Americans were so ably undone by the industrious Americans, but required a "creative" solution unique to the particulars of Europe at that time.

The good news is that my grandmother's friend, the survivor, will talk about it all -- quite openly -- to anyone who will listen. The bad news is that she doesn't find many takers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Noam Chomsky: Anti-democratic nature of US capitalism is being exposed

from the Irish Times:

[T]he US treasury now regards free capital mobility as a "fundamental right", unlike such alleged "rights" as those guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: health, education, decent employment, security and other rights that the Reagan and Bush administrations have dismissed as "letters to Santa Claus", "preposterous", mere "myths".

The conception of the inalienable right of wealth to do as it pleases, without any obligation or debt to the society from whence it came, is forever being repackaged for consumption by the average American. It is a very old song, a lullaby set to induce the kind of intellectual coma required to believe that owning a car or home creates an economic kinship with the conglomerate legal entities which effectively own the nation -- its industry, its resources, and its government. It's one of the clearest examples of how the whole concept of "private property" confuses endlessly what should be a transparent demarcation of interests: owning personal property does not threaten to infringe on the basic ability of others to survive; but owning productive property -- like factories and farm land and the resources they require -- can ultimately affect everybody in a society, thus warranting some manner of "shared" ownership.

Similarly on the subject of taxation, "cutting taxes" for lower-income workers gives them a few hundred extra dollars back -- naturally helpful -- but pitifully insufficient to buy their own health care plans, their own road maintenance, their own fire department and police services, their own libraries, or their own private schools. What across-the-board tax cuts get them is $1000 back on which they are expected to meet every basic human need imaginable. This is why the very godfather of "free markets", the Scottish economist Adam Smith, would be slandered as a communist if American business programs ever taught his actual views, including the moral necessity of progressive taxation. The tax which supports the maintenance of democratic governance was, in Smith's words, "a badge of liberty" -- evidently a sentiment lost on the McCain campaign, which ridiculed Joe Biden for the suggestion that paying taxes might constitute a "badge of patriotism."

Enjoy the show.
Making banks a public utility

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pining for the day when America becomes France

Something we're all going to hear a lot more about in the event of an Obama win is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). For the American business community, it is probably one of the most significant bills to come along in the past 30 years, because it would make unionization a much simpler process, with less opportunity for employer interference.

From the employer's perspective, "America will become France," in the words of Home Depot founder, Bernie Marcus. France happens to have paid maternity leave, however; and I hear that's cool if you want to, like, raise your kids and feed them at the same time. It's one of the benefits people enjoy when their tax money is spent on basic public needs -- as opposed to merely making things go kablooey in far distant lands, or ensuring that the have-mores can play the stock market when they aren't cockblocking wages via executive compensation and shareholder payouts. (Just to be kind, we'll omit the kinds of public outlays required in the event of a wholesale financial Armageddon -- which happens every once in a while, too -- and restrict our criticisms to the normal, healthy functioning of a pro-business economy.)

American business is always in an awkward position when it comes to discussing its basic motivations. You will never hear any high-level executive or government hireling say: "Fuck man, we need more cash-money for bitches and bling!" You will only hear them say: "Shit dude, we're only trying to create jobs up in this piece!" And yet, no company creates jobs without an implicit guarantee (or, at the very least, expectation) of profits derived from that expenditure. In practice, the shittier the job created, the greater the profits derived. This is why unions suck from a business perspective: they impose limits on the shittiness of jobs created. In the early 20th century, this meant being able to work in a meat processing plant while enjoying a much reduced probability being processed as meat yourself. Today it might mean having some variety of health insurance for your family, even though you didn't go to college and don't deserve it -- at least from an employer's perspective.

True to form, business is framing their argument against the EFCA as a defense of workers' fundamental rights -- in this case without even disclosing their identity or self-interest in the legislation:

The deceptively titled Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) threatens to shake loose one of the cornerstones of democracy: the private-ballot vote.
For over 70 years, workers have exercised this fundamental right to privacy in deciding whether to unionize. EFCA seeks to disrupt the private ballot and use in its place a public system in which a worker's vote will be anything but private. Under EFCA, workers could be required to publicly declare their vote in front of union leaders, fellow employees, and management. This invasion of privacy is not only unfair, it is just plain un-American-and it opens the door for coercion and intimidation from both sides.
Anybody who has ever "done time" in a place of employment can tell you how long anything told in confidence to one co-worker will last before it becomes the common intellectual property of all. There is no "private option" at work unless you express nothing that you want kept private.

The same is true of union organizing drives -- especially true since perks and privileges can be distributed by managers to their subordinates in exchange for info on pro-union employees. These employees can then be sacked on whatever pretense required; and they can be sacked before the private ballot process ever begins. This is why the private ballot option is so useful to employers: organizing simply can't be done in private, and the more time employers have to disrupt the process, the better. EFCA addresses this disadvantage by establishing union legitimacy through a simple collection of signatures, or, "card check."

But if anything is evidence of an unwillingness among business concerns to negotiate with employees in good faith, it is the kind of treatment, like above, which purposefully aims at deceiving the public as to where workers stand on this issue.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


In China as it is in India:

Rural land disputes, usually with local officials and their corporate allies and stemming from the ambiguous legal position of peasants' rights, have been identified by the government as a leading cause of social instability and riots.

Yeah, it's funny about republican, representative-styles of government -- especially when it comes to putting words on paper that are to be the "rules" we all live by. It's almost as if certain people are more "represented" than others, by virtue of qualities that aren't supposed to be political, at least in theory. Equality under the law is equality under the law, right?

It's really a universal phenomenon. In the old communist bloc republics, it was sardonically captured in the expression, "Some citizens are more equal than others." That one never goes out of style among the casuists at the Wall Street Journal -- who of course are guilty of exactly the same thing. If bullshit was a condiment it would be spread evenly over the breakfast bagels of every capital city in the world.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Propatainment & Infoganda

A local talk radio program asked listeners whether health care is a "right" or a "responsibility," invoking a question from last night's debate. The verdict seemed to be that health care is a "responsibility" which one meets by saving money to cover medical expenses. One caller said she had done this to address a tooth ache since "it's not government's job" to do, I was left to presume, anything people might reasonably expect of it.

The hosts welcomed the consensus. After all, in Canada people have to "wait" before they can receive free care. And look at France's stagnant economy! Why, people even come from far away lands just to receive unrivaled American care.

It struck me how consistently the callers seemed to articulate only the preoccupations of the very rich. It's inconvenient to wait for a service when you have the money to buy it, or an insurance plan which covers it, for example; and whatever will become of our gross national product!? And this from the same folks who borrow themselves into bankruptcy when their "health savings account" is put in the ring with a more serious contender than tooth decay.

It's generous that people would risk their health for the consumer prerogative of a privileged few, but I wonder how many realize just how generous these attitudes really are. They may be giving up more than they know, and for the comfort of those who are not themselves.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is moved by "a Reaganesque belief in low taxes, small government and free markets."

Reagan believed in small governments so much he tried to start his own all through Central America. They believed in low taxes, too; that is, unless you count being strung from a tree a kind of "tax." And doesn't it take putting a heckufalotta folks in jail before markets can truly be free? Yes, bringing democracy to others isn't easy, but it's a lot safer than letting people practice it themselves.

Sound familiar, Bibi?

Monday, October 06, 2008

News digest

This courtesy The Angry Arab News Service:

Trying to save her from herself, Fox News interviewed Palin allow her to answer (or recite memorized answers) to questions that she could not answer on CBS last week. Among her answers, she said that she read the Economist. I believe that. And Bush reads Hegel every night before he goes to sleep. It shows on both of those two. In French presidential elections, they have debates. In the US, they have theatre and gimmicks. In the last presidential election in France, they asked both candidates during a debate this question: what is the percentage of energy that France receives from nuclear reactors? Can you imagine such questions in US "debates"?

Also brought to my attention was a NYT review of Thomas Friedman's new book, which included the suggestion that someone "remind Friedman that the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data.'" I second that revulsion.
Problems of modern management: when people resist

Here is a flavor of what the multinational corporation brings to the developing world, as summarized by today's Financial Times, and now myself; in this case relating to India:

An automobile manufacturer cuts a deal with local government in India to build a plant on land that is owned and cultivated by small farmers. The government offers the farmers compensation for their land, but many farmers refuse, either because the compensation is not agreeable, or because farming is their traditional livelihood and they don't want to give it up for factory work.

Eager to push forward with the "democratic development" of their domain, the government confiscates the farmers' land on the corporation's behalf. This prompts an unhappy reaction from the farmers, who stage large protests. The government blames the unrest on left-wing, middle-class interlopers who do not have the farmer's interests at heart: they merely harbor a reflexive animosity towards big business.

Western press outlets cover the story for weeks, marveling at the notion that simple farmers would not jump at the chance for wage-work in a modern industrial facility producing an innovative new vehicle.

The protests succeed and the company backs down. The farmers have their land but it is not the same, having already been developed for industrial use.

Western observers lament the tragic consequences the Indian farmers have surely brought upon themselves. If only they had not had a mind to question the high aspirations their corporate and government betters held for them! Now they will amount to little more than simple farmers on damaged land, rather than proud auto-company employees with a taste for consumption -- or so the story goes.

All this and more, in Asia's "greatest democracy."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Sarah Palin means

The liberal problem with somebody like Sarah Palin ultimately comes down to class. The Democratic Party is not a convincingly working class party. Moreover, they are so unconvincingly working class Republicans can literally pluck a woman with children from the seat of local government and invent a conservative national hero out of thin air. It is a testament to the political alienation felt by poor, white rural communities that by simply acknowledging them, no matter how cheaply, you gain their loyalty.

The Democratic Party solicits this important constituency through economic policy, but insofar as unionization has declined throughout the country, there is no effective mechanism for getting this message out: there is no space on CNN for in-depth reporting on the merits of progressive taxation, for example, like there was in the labor publications which existed 100 years ago. Simply put, the labor movement is the progressive working class, or least is the best hope for it; and losing independent labor unions has always precipitated losing the working class to the narrow appeals of racism, bigotry and jingoism that the owners of industry are always dangling before them, in standard divide-and-conquer fashion.

As labor union strength has declined, the Democratic Party has turned increasingly toward big business to make up the difference, with a corresponding shift in policy commitments. Democratic Party culture has merged more completely with corporate culture, with its premise of educated managerialism, wherein those with the most education and experience are conferred with executive authority over everybody else. In essence, it is the same idea that underpins many Americans' conception of the office of the Presidency, leading to the kinds of squabbles that existed between the Obama and Clinton camps; and having more recently erupted around the selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President, who is "merely" representative of much of rural America -- and thus inadequate in any significant leadership role -- as this philosophy of power would hold.

Meanwhile the Republican Party apparatus speaks to the white lower classes everyday, primarily through talk radio, and it makes guns and immigration and national defense and gay marriage and abortion and religion and every other position that induces apoplexy among American liberals the starting point of every conversation. In other words, it leads with their concerns and interests as they stand now, and in doing so acknowledges them, rather than writing them off as a lost cause, deserving of their lot because they have not taken the necessary steps to "improve themselves" with an education they likely can't afford, or otherwise must risk their lives in a combat zone to acquire, so that someday they might not be mere hillbillies with little to offer society -- and subsequently permitted to ascend to some enviable position of power over others.

Naturally, people from this group take a different view, believing they have positive attributes in spite of whatever might be beyond their immediate reach; and many of them see these positives in Sarah Palin. Their counterargument to educated managerialism is values-based leadership -- "values" being something a person can have regardless of whether they have a master's degree, and, from a religious perspective (namely, theirs), is probably more important anyway. The Republican Party has found common cause with this perspective insofar as it helps mask their economic agenda, which is explicitly geared toward redistributing wealth to top income-earners by fleecing everyone else. The Democratic Party, however, is still too mired in its own class affiliations to know how to approach the white, rural working class except, ironically, at the level of policy, which they have no way of explaining except through their union go-betweens, who may reside at the blue-collar level but not in sufficient numbers. The Democrats may want to manage "on behalf" of lower income people, but that is only a further example of their "elitism," as the Republican-sponsored narrative goes. Barring a complete economic catastrophe -- the likes of which Obama presently enjoys -- the Republicans are winning these arguments, and will continue to do so in the future, until either the labor movement is sufficiently revived or the Democratic Party culture otherwise shifts in such a way that is not so rigidly constrained by class prejudice.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A sober reaction

Nice work by Sarah Palin. She was strong, confident, quirky and cute. She winked and smiled and used endearing colloquialisms. She made the audience laugh when she gave "shout-outs" to third graders, and crap like that. Most importantly, she managed to do it for over an hour, without really saying anything about policy. Ultimately, that was all she needed to claim success; and she did it with the combined power of her strange bouffant-bang-mullet headpiece.

Joe Biden is a pretty uninteresting, old-school politician. It does not help that the man has no color whatsoever, reminding me of Jack Nicholson finally reposed in The Shining. He should dye his eyebrows or something.

Biden was able to say more about policy, but most of it was terrifying to me personally. Bombing Bosnia was not my idea of a humanitarian intervention, and the fact that we aren't sinking billions of dollars into Afghanistan like we are in Iraq strikes me as a good thing. Finally the man mentioned LIHEAT, kitchen tables and so forth, to good effect.

People like who they like, and tend not to look generously at the other side. In principle, I like neither, so there is no similar conflict. I think Palin did more to rally her side than Biden, mainly because she held her own against a veteran and was less conventional in her deliveries. Biden, for his part, did not embarrass himself or his party, a big accomplishment. I don't know that either would have had a big impact on independents or undecideds. Some would have been drawn to Biden's "substance" and others to Palin's "charisma."

Not at all what I was expecting from Palin, and I must credit her for that.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

La fin du monde

A neighborhood watering hole is rumored to feature the Vice Presidential debate this evening. Whether the occasion proves itself high-entertainment or a turgid bore, it will not matter very much because I intend to be drink-soaked.

I'm going into the charade with some sympathy for Sarah Palin. The woman is clearly not seasoned in national-stage shystery, and may well be approaching some order of mental illness, as her flailing party's shock therapists press ever more determinedly down into her small-town psyche. Frustrations reportedly abound: toward her handlers, for not letting her "be herself"; toward herself, for not being sufficiently malleable as clay; toward the party leadership, who regard her family as a nuisance and a distraction, keeping them at bay. And then there are the high-level dissenters who perceived her as a liability from the beginning. If any of this is accurate, I hardly see how Palin will be anything other than a tightly-wound ball of terror, especially in light the humiliation doled on her in casual conversation with Katie Couric. But this is why I feel generously towards her: the price we pay on the road to power is not often understood in advance, often to our regret.

And then we have Joe Biden, the Mt. Vesuvius of misspeak. Here's hoping for hilarity all around. Cheers.