24 December 2008

Somebody please parse the error in this sentence

From The Atlantic on mozzarella di bufala versus the regular cows' milk stuff: Buffalo milk connotes luxury, but aside from its much higher butterfat content, it doesn’t necessarily taste better.

I'm having a lot of trouble interpreting what this sentence is saying. First of all: "Buffalo milk connotes..." Puzzlement follows.

Second: "aside from... it doesn’t necessarily..." Is this an admission that higher butterfat content is a sufficient condition for greater deliciousness? If so I have no quarrel. But then the author dismissively and in apparent self-contradiction suggests "it doesn't necessarily taste better." So, higher butterfat is neither necessary (since other qualities can make something more delicious) nor sufficient (since even something with higher butterfat can in fact not be more delicious). But the latter assertion conflicts with what we know about the world. So I just don't understand.

Bonus points: False dichotomy! (Bufala v. regular: often taken to be a difference of degree not kind, delimited by a socially agreed or bureaucratically imposed norm.)

Happy Christmas.


14 December 2008

#67 on list of things I hope don't ever happen to me

67. Get shoes hurled at me by journalist as ultimate sign of disrespect in country I invade.

Video here. Would've been more effective if he'd had an accomplice and they'd gone high-low.

They kicked him and beat him until “he was crying like a woman,” said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges... [Bush] also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as the man’s screaming could be heard outside.


11 December 2008

"Diamond" Rod Blagojevich

Springfield's in which state, exactly?


09 December 2008

From the department of false dualisms

From the chorus of "Human", the third single on The Killers' Day & Age:

are we human or are we dancer?
my sign is vital, my hands are cold
and I'm on my knees
looking for the answer
are we human or are we dancer?
Derisive comments about banality aside, I think Mr. Flowers should get up off his knees and realize the obvious solution to this seemingly intractable philosophical problem.

Also, forcing a subject-object disagreement in order to rhyme "dancer" with "answer"???


05 December 2008

Tale of the Tape

Stephan Dion's biggest sin this week, according to the national press, wasn't his dastardly alliance with socialists and separatists, but his lack of focus on television.

From Keith Boag and Susan Ormistan on CBC Newsworld immediately before the airing of Dion's reply to a plethora of news reports, columns and editorials, pundit consensus is that Dion's great mistake - completely irrespective of what he actually said - was displaying low production values.

I'm likely going to stop defending Stephan Dion pretty soon (I think, in fact, I already have). But I think it's notable, and suggestive, that A/V quality has been such a major bugbear for the media

Is it because journalists are so obsessed by the sanctity of their medium that they tolerate no adulteration of its quality? Or do we really just expect our politicians to look good and say nothing? Either way, the implications aren't pretty. I know, I shouldn't be surprised. And I'm not. But it's a pitiable and slightly terrifying symptom of the digital hall of mirrors in which we live that the news is so profoundly about the medium, not the message.


04 December 2008

The polls are in...

...and things look bleak, at least at the moment, for the coalition.

EKOS has the Conservatives at 44% nationally. Strategic Counsel has them at 45%. Ipsos-Reid has them at 46% (though Aldous quite points out that some of the internal numbers are, to put it mildly, a little confused).

The "smart" buzz now seems to be that Stephen Harper provoked a politicial, constitutional and national unity crisis deliberately to ensure himself a majority government sometime in the new year. And while the public is more divided than the topline voting preference numbers would suggest (and, more importantly, pundits are avowing that the PM's behaviour means his chances of winning a majority are nil), the Conservatives are benefiting from Canadians "rallying to the flag" and by extension, the government of the day. As noted in an earlier post, Harper is set, in some circles at least, to be elevated once again to the status of Greatest Political Mind in Canadian History.

Do I buy it?

Yes and no. At the moment, the Conservative media assault has, once again, been successful (Harper's brtual treatment of the media at the beginning of his first mandate has paid off spectacularly, as the national press corps has managed to develop the political equivalent of Stockhold Syndrome). This success is compounded by the impotence of a Liberal Party that, it seems, continues to ignore the threat posed to its existence by ongoing internal divisions. All this is the conventional wisdom. However, it doesn't mean there isn't a way out.

What unconventional wisdom can I offer to rescue progressives from the mess we find ourselves in?

a) Pass the Budget. It's time, I think, for the coalition to take the high road. It seems clear that Harper desperately wants the House to fall in the New Year. Don't let it. Call the Prime Minister's bluff. Pass whatever godawful stimulus package he presents, in the name of national unity. (If it's really egregious, vote it down and run like hell with it.)

b) Ditch the Bloc- Nicely. The Bloc is doing no favours to the Liberals and New Democrats outside Quebec. The coalition must either come up with a rhetorical strategy that adequatly convinces Canadians of the Bloc's good intentions, or part ways, amicably. This ties in with the need to:

c) Replace Dion - But Fairly. I have supported Stephan Dion from before anyone gave him a chance. But his manifold talents are lost on the media, the public, his caucus, and occasionally himself. So, drastic times call for drastic measures - but fair measures that give the Liberal base a chance for involvement. This means a very speedy convention process, or some sort of one-person, one-vote ballot, in early January. Do it all online - it could be cool and exciting and 21st Century! And whoever loses has to suck it up (I think, sadly, this is the most unlikely of my suggestions to actually come off).

d) Up the Ante with the NDP (and the Greens). Whoever the new LPC leader, the formal coalition with the NDP needs to continue. Despite the polemics of the National Post, Canadians are not particularly afraid of the NDP (and Harper's inflammatory rhetoric about the Bloc may succeed in legitimizng the New Democrats even more in the eyes of some voters). In a more or less permanent fashion, progressives in Canada must - I repeat, must - unite.

e) Develop a "Regular Joe" Platform. The LPC-NDP coalition needs to develop a common framework of policy that cuts across the traditional conservative-liberal-socialist spectrum. The contents of said platform are best left to another post - but they have to speak to the messy anxieties of ordinary people. That means unconventional or unexpected juxtapositions and amalgams of policies or ideas.

f) Use the Moment. Uniting progressives and developing an unconventional platform is going to embolden a lot of people, and attract new volunteers and recruits to the progressive front (ideally in Obama-esque proportions). A strong volunteer system needs to be in place to handle them, to solicit donations, and do all the cool stuff that, lo and behold, won the Democrats the White House. So, David Axelrod, and a minion, had better get called up the Great White North ASAP - for seminars, a pep talk, and the phone number of a good website designer.

Is this a lot to ask? In our poor benighted country, perhaps. It will take work. The alternative is to:

g) Let the Conservatives win a majority. Allow them to take power, destroy the bureaucracy, politicize every quasigovernmental agency they can, gut the social safety net, obliviate our world standing, and use the bully pulpit to rule for at least a decade. I guarantee Canadians will be sick of them by then. But will there be any Canada left?


Now Rick Warren Needs To Read Aquinas

Via Sullivan, this report notes that Warren gave his imprimatur to the idea that President Ahmadinejad should be assassinated:

Last night, on Fox News, Sean Hannity insisted that United States needs to "take out" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Warren said he agreed. Hannity asked, "Am I advocating something dark, evil or something righteous?" Warren responded, "Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped.... In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers."
Aquinas contra Warren:
human laws cannot punish or prohibit all evil deeds, as Augustine says in his work On Free Choice. This is because in seeking to eliminate all evils, one would thereby also take away many goods and not benefit the common good necessary for human companionship.
(ST, I-II, Question 91)

Oh yeah, and all that stuff about just wars too. I think that's probably relevant. Oh, and the Bible has other recommendations regarding what to do about evil. One is to turn the other cheek, if I remember correctly. Come to think of it, these people need to read Augustine, for good measure.

Might as well add Sean Hannity to the list for good measure.

UPDATED: and more, including video.



Story is still developing, but it looks like Jean assented to Harper's request. At writing, the CBC indicates that this information comes from the PMO. So: Jean saves Iggie?


You May Now Disperse to Your Homes!

...because the pundits have decided that the coalition is toast, Stephen Harper has returned to king-shit status, and we can now get on with turning into the world's coldest banana republic.

On what grounds do they make this judgement, you might ask? Chiefly because of the poor production values of Stephan Dion's video response to the Prime Minister.

But as Aldous alludes to in an earlier post, Dion's problem all along is that he doesn't look or sound self-satisfied enough to run the country. It would be nice if the punditry could just call a spade a spade and leave it at that. In any case, the Liberals are also playing to type and starting to bicker.

My only prediction at the moment: that if he escapes this, we're going to have a very vindictive Stephen Harper running Canada for a long time to come. And that makes me want to become an American faster than you can say "wrap yourself in the flag."


03 December 2008

If these camera stills could vote...

...Jack Layton would be the undisputed Prime Minister of Canada.

Why, you ask?

1. Strange shadow-effects on Harper's face plus puffy eyes and forced grin make him look extra-evil.

2. Dion just can't help himself from looking like a befuddled professor.

3. Duceppe comes off as a weird Emperor Palpatine/deer-in-headlights hybrid.

Back to real content in my next post, I promise...


Is it just me...

...or was Harper's address not made in French?


02 December 2008

Daily Show on terrorism...

Fairly hilarious, but at the same time contains some truth. This is not its overt message (that these killers are simply motherfuckers) but, its half-serious parody of the unhelpful reaction to terrorism that is or has become our habit as Westerners; namely, that these killers are simply motherfuckers. Or, as many of us are quick to unreflectively assume, that terrorists are irredeemably evil, completely irrational (in the sense of being able to choose apt means for the ends that they pursue), and (therefore) so entirely Other that we can treat them as inhuman.

Of course there is an incomprehensible inhumanity in their actions, and in the repulsive images and narratives that came to us from Mumbai over the past few days, and I'd have to be particularly heartless to deny that. But not only has our habit of dehumanizing the Other been instrumental in facilitating the excesses of the WoT (which, hopefully, by now is a rather mundane and uncontroversial argument), it also suppresses any moral commitment to the need to understand their ends. These ends they likely hold in common with many others who are unwilling to choose violent means, and to that extent they probably don't boil down exclusively to seeking to construct an Islamic Caliphate or somesuch as the clip seems to suggest. These ends may turn out to be incompatible with our own, in which case we will find ourselves engaging in moral compromises to ensure that ours are the ones that prevail. But we should not hide from that possibility by refusing to ask the question.

It is a sensitive time to express such insensitive thoughts, but hopefully you agree that recognizing the humanity of the terrorist doesn't entail denigrating the humanity of his victim.


01 December 2008

Best sentence I have read in a while

An otherwise unexceptional Macleans article about how coalitions work in various other countries contains the following unexplained aside:

Since 1959, Switzerland has been run by a four-party coalition called the “Magic Formula.”


28 November 2008

Black Friday, No Matter What

Part of what's maddening about our Canadian parliamentary crisis is that in most respects, it's so damn trivial.

Particularly in relation to the actual crises blossoming like dismal, premature poinsettias. And other unpleasant happenings on this late November day.

Everybody hang on, and pray the weather doesn't get worse.


King-Byng v2.0: Black Friday?

In a crisis, you are always in danger of, to use an apt BBC term, "being overtaken by events."

The Conservatives have blinked. Except they haven't. The pundits are furious. The Opposition parties have snapped. Or have regained a sense of purpose. Or something.

Remember that roulette ball? It's up in the air at the moment, and no one knows where it's going to land. My bet is on a number Stephen Harper likes - but hope springs eternal in the human breast.


27 November 2008

More on King-Byng v2.0

Aldous, this is certainly is a cunning move - "crafty" and "diabolical" are synonyms being tossed about by the commentariat - but there's an old adage that might also apply to Stephen Harper: he's so sharp he's liable to cut himself.

I can't think that internal polling is anything but rosy for the Tories, given their incumbency and the weakness of the Liberals. Still, this imbroglio brings to mind a line from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida: Ulysses, after bemoaning the disorder among the Greek champions, declaims that "to end a tale of length / Troy in our weakness stands, not in her strength."

If October's election is rerun with all its variables unchanged, the Conservatives will win a majority. However, a number of things have changed in the last six weeks (really, has it been that long?): the severity of the economic crisis, the government's own stance on deficit spending, the field of Liberal leadership candidates (considerably smaller than it was on October 15th) and most importantly, the sense of anxiety in the Canadian public, and the sense of urgency, if press reports are to be believed, within the opposition parties themselves. The Conservatives may be overconfident: only a third of the country voted for the turkeys the last time around.

Crisis has a funny way of concentrating the mind. If the Liberals immediately replace Dion (Pat Martin's report of Jean Chretien attempting to broker a deal between the leadership candidates is intriguing) and the New Democrats rediscover their progressive cojones, a coalition might have a fighting chance. If Paul Wells is right and the NDP, like the Liberals, are broke, then there might be a lot of motivation for cooperation. If there's an election? Look for a formal coalition betweent the NDP and Liberals, and plenty of rhetoric about national unity in the face of catastrophe. Oh, and an awful lot of kind words for Jean Charest.

Or, Harper could back down. His game plan was supposed to be not just incrementalist, but soporific - he has tried to convince Canadians of his and his party's moderation, despite various nasty smells (Chuck Cadman, Zaccardelli, lazy artists, etc etc) dispelled as much as possible by a compliant media. But this maneuvre stinks so badly that it's hard to ignore. Much rests on each party's assessment of risk versus opportunity in this situation. The key question, of course, is how public opinion is shaped in terms of apportioning blame. I have to say that, based on the last two elections, I'm not optimistic on that score. But on the other hand, a roulette wheel on a cruise ship in these stormy waters isn't always going to land in the black.

Finally, Aldous, I commend you for getting through a post on this subject without swearing. Happy Thanksgiving - let's hope there's no war between India and Pakistan!


King-Byng v2.0 Update

Following Luke's post yesterday, early indications are that the opposition parties will vote the "fiscal update" down, sending Parliament either towards dissolution or towards some sort of governing coalition/liberal minority government (with emphasis on minority).

Press reaction? Perhaps the Globe could be beginning to regret its ridiculous decision to endorse the Tories in October. Even Canwest/National Post is ambivalent; some columnists are taken aback (and here) while another loves it. Andrew Coyne is very happy... no surprise there.

My two cents: I don't have much grasp on the tactics at play here, but for what it's worth here's my take. This is a cunning move for Harper, but one that would come back to haunt him if indeed the opposition parties stiffen up and reject the measure. That leads me to suspect that the Tories have internal polling numbers that show that they are again in a position to win a majority, and some sort of strategy in their back pockets to put the blame for another election squarely on the shoulders of the Liberals. If they didn't think that they would come off well in an election, they would not be making this gamble. As one Post column points out, the Conservatives are only seeing upside right now. But if the motion is defeated and the opposition parties can govern together for a few months or half a year, it could turn out to be a bad mistake.

I also can't let this go without venting about how utterly wretched this plan is. $30-million to provide well over the majority of the major parties' revenues? That's peanuts, and even if the Tories were being sincere about this simple fiscal prudence, their obsession with balanced budgets at a time of deepening recession is highly troubling.

We get party politics on the cheap in Canada. Tying party finances at least partially to their electoral success ensures that funding is related at least loosely to what counts for merit in representative democratic politics: popularity. A party's funding, and therefore its electoral fortunes, should not depend solely on its fundraising capability, since this depends on a whole lot of factors completely unrelated to ideas, policies, or governing competence.


Lots of nails, heads, and accurate strikes thereon...

...I am unable to more articulately express my admiration for Mr. Rodriguez's gentle and astute explanations for religious antipathy and fear towards gay marriage in America.

Some choice bits:

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people -- it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.

...But the real challenge to the family right now is male irresponsibility and misbehavior toward women. If the Hispanic Catholic and evangelical churches really wanted to protect the family, they should address the issue of wife beating in Hispanic families and the misbehaviors of the father against the mother. But no, they go after gay marriage. It doesn't take any brilliance to notice that this is hypocrisy of such magnitude that you blame the gay couple living next door for the fact that you've just beaten your wife.


Payback's a Bitch

I wonder if Jean Chretien ever imagined this would happen?

Prediction: if this oh-so-tactically brilliant ball of s**t passes the House, someone, in one of the four opposition parties, is going to bring up uniting the left. I hope the country's non-Conservatives take it seriously.

Because if this maneuvre is a taste of what's to come thanks to a recession and a Conservative government, there's not going to be much of Canada left to govern by the time someone in the Liberal party - or heaven forbid, the NDP - manages to get a clue.

The Liberals are finding out that payback's a bitch. I sure hope Stephen Harper's next in line.


25 November 2008

Trend of the Week? Year? Decade?

...is the angst-ridden Democrat.

Hanging chads? War on Terror? Working-class whites? No, no, no. All irrelevant fads of the antediluvian past. Now he/she is petrified that the Democrats from the last Democratic administration aren't Democratic enough for this one.

Memo: up until around mid-January of this year, the Clinton years were hazily recalled by Democrats, some Republicans, and the national press corps, as a golden age of unlimited domestic prosperity, unencumbered foreign hubris, and news cycles praiseworthily dominated by sex, not death.

One of the effects of the twenty-four news cycle is that some people forget about cycles that take longer than twenty-four hours to run. I blame this, like I blame Guantanamo, on 24.

Or maybe, just maybe, the media is just making this issue up?


Validation, Kind Of

Nate Silver appears to agree with me. Hurray.


23 November 2008

A Brave New Post-Ironic World? Not a Chance... I Hope

A couple days ago ("Irony is Dead. Again. Yeah Right.") the Times raises the terrifying possibility that a post-Obama-as-President-elect world will also be a post-ironic world. Current evidence for this prediction includes the apparent inability of anybody to effectively make fun of the President-elect - which isn't really a question of irony, but, anyhow... - which, for what it's worth, seems on the mark. Has anybody seen The Daily Show recently? Tough crowd there. Quoth the puff-piece:

Roger Rosenblatt, the former Time columnist who wrote that Sept. 11 might at least “spell the end of the age of irony,” said that while irony had its place and time, this was not it.

“Irony,” Mr. Rosenblatt said, “is a diminishing act — the incongruity between what’s expected and what occurs makes us smile at the distance. But there are some events that occur, like 9/11, and perhaps Obama, though I didn’t think of him in this context, that are so big that they almost imply an obligation not to diminish it by clever comparisons.”
America just elected a President with the expectations that he will bring sweeping, fundamental change in Washington politics, a re-invigorated foreign policy that will raise the U.S. to new heights of exceptionalism (the good kind?), and an improved standard of living for "the middle class" after decades of decay - among other things. This in the midst of an economic crisis that threatens the economic and social foundations of advanced-industrial-liberal-democracy. Mr. Rosenblatt: there is going to be some incongruity.

I ardently hope that an Obama presidency does not mean that humor, presidential satire, and healthy critical self-distancing(which all appear to be what the Times means by "irony" these days) become the preserve of the right. If it does, November 4 was a tremendous victory for them.


22 November 2008

The Dangerous Discourse of the Middle

In the NY Times, a gloss on recent commentary from various corners on Obama's apparent "tilt to the center":

President-elect Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic support of the left wing of his party, fueled by his vehement opposition to the decision to invade Iraq and by one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury — suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

And so, we are supposed to understand, the first to be disappointed by the Obama administration will be the hardcore liberals who see themselves as his first, true, most ardent supporters, while those most relieved by his actions will be from the solid, stable, middle of American politics. Right?

Not so fast. That would be conflating what he does (or rather, what we expect him to do) with how he does it (how we expect him to do it). "Pragmatists" versus "ideologues" is a false, or at least not necessarily true, opposition. There's (to me) a more encouraging interpretation, which is to say that the apparently conventional (besides Hillary, who I think will anyhow end up being seen as a conventional, obvious choice once the buzz dies down), steady picks for administration posts are being made in order to facilitate the smooth implementation of a fairly leftist agenda. If for no other reason than that "radical" (for America) social-democratic solutions are what the world needs at this time. In other words, let's try not to confuse ends and means, and reserve judgment on how Obama's actual policies will "tilt" until we see some of them in practice... that would be the pragmatic response, wouldn't it?


15 November 2008

Money and the ethnic vote?

Oh, the problems of living with pluralism.


09 November 2008

This just in: Thomas Friedman is still an idiot

Why do I get the feeling I'm repeating myself?


07 November 2008

It was only a matter of time...

Before Italian PM Berlusconi said something undiplomatic about President-elect Obama:

(From the BBC). ''Obama is young, handsome and also tanned, so he has all the qualities to agree with you,'' he told the Russian leader, speaking in Italian through a translator.

The Italian news agency Ansa said Mr Berlusconi later defended the remark, calling it "a great compliment".

Responding to a reporter's suggestion that the remark might be misunderstood, he accused his opponents of not having a sense of humour.

''God save us from imbeciles,'' he added.


06 November 2008

Appalachia: No You Can't

The results from Knott County, Kentucky in presidential elections since 1960:

John F. Kennedy (D) 73.7%
Richard Nixon (R) 26.3%

Lyndon Johnson (D) 90.6%
Barry Goldwater (R) 9.2%

Hubert Humphrey (D) 68.5%
Richard Nixon (R) 22.6%
George Wallace (I) 8.8%

George McGovern (D) 64.7%
Richard Nixon (R) 34.5%

Jimmy Carter (D) 82.4%
Gerald Ford (R) 16.6%

Jimmy Carter (D) 76.5%
Ronald Reagan (R) 22.7%

Walter Mondale (D) 71.8%
Ronald Reagan (R) 27.7%

Michael Dukakis (D) 74.9%
George H.W. Bush (R) 24.4%

Bill Clinton (D) 75.1%
George H.W. Bush (R) 17.0%
Ross Perot (I) 7.6%

Bill Clinton (D) 73.3%
Bob Dole (R) 18.2%
Ross Perot (I) 7.8%

Al Gore (D) 67.3%
George W. Bush (R) 31.4%
Ralph Nader (I) 0.7%

John Kerry (D) 63.4%
George W. Bush (R) 35.8%

John McCain (R) 52.6%
Barack Obama (D) 45.0%


05 November 2008

John King, may the Force be with you

And Anderson Cooper is hotter than Mark Hamill ever was!


04 November 2008

My Guess

This is not at all original, but for whatever it's worth:


Sartorial Backsliding

Apparently, the Republican Party has already made good on its promise to donate her wardrobe to charity:


15 October 2008


Does it strike anybody else that John McCain's debate performance has come unhinged?


13 October 2008


Before the vote on Tuesday, please visit this website to learn how to vote against the Tories in your riding.


10 October 2008

Crazy Malicious

The Globe and Mail endorses Harper. Hell freezes over?


09 October 2008

Crazy Delicious

This will probably no longer be current by the time the two of you read this, but this afternoon's electoral map at fivethirtyeight, which shows West Virginia as a tossup (due to an ARG poll that has Obama 8 points ahead there, is a thing of beauty. Also note Florida in light blue (leaning Obama).

Of course, we will probably all be disappointed on November 4 when the Republicans rig the election. Again.


05 October 2008

I think the article below speaks for itself...

From the Norwegian newspaper VG, via the blogosphere:

Mary lacked money to fly home to Norway – he saved her love

ÅSGÅRDSTRAND (VG): Mary was a newlywed and ready to move to Norway, but was stopped at the airport because she didn’t have enough money for the trip. Then a stranger turned up and paid for her.

Mary Menth Andersen was 31 years old at the time and had just married Norwegian Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to starting a new life in Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold with him. But first she had to get all of her belongings across to Norway. The date was November 2nd, 1988.

At the airport in Miami things were hectic as usual, with long lines at the check-in counters. When it was finally Mary’s turn and she had placed her luggage on the baggage line, she got the message that would crush her bubbling feeling of happiness.
"You’ll have to pay a 103 dollar surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway," the man behind the counter said.

Mary had no money. Her new husband had travelled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call.
"I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions," says Mary.

Although she explained the situation to the man behind the counter, he showed no signs of mercy.
"I started to cry, tears were pouring down my face and I had no idea what to do. Then I heard a gentle and friendly voice behind me saying, That’s OK, I’ll pay for her."

Mary turned around to see a tall man whom she had never seen before.
"He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, Who is this man?"
Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man.
"He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants", says Mary.

She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

The piece of paper said ‘Barack Obama’ and his address in Kansas, which is the state where his mother comes from. Mary carried the slip of paper around in her wallet for years, before it was thrown out.
"He was my knight in shining armor," says Mary, smiling.

She paid the 103 dollars back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly paid community worker* in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard university.
In the spring of 2006 Mary’s parents had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier.

In a letter to Mary’s parents dated May 4th, 2006 and stamped ‘United States Senate, Washington DC’, Barack Obama writes**:
‘I want to thank you for the lovely things you wrote about me and for reminding me of what happened at Miami airport. I’m happy I could help back then, and I’m delighted to hear that your daughter is happy in Norway. Please send her my best wishes. Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States senator’.The parents sent the letter on to Mary.

This week VG met her and her husband in the café that she runs with her friend Lisbeth Tollefsrud in Åsgårdstrand.
"It’s amazing to think that the man who helped me 20 years ago may now become the next US president, says Mary delightedly."

She has already voted for Obama. She recently donated 100 dollars to his campaign. She often tells the story from Miami airport, both when race issues are raised and when the conversation turns to the presidential elections.
"I sincerely hope the Americans will see reason and understand that Obama means change," says Mary.


03 October 2008

One More Thing

I've been doing some hardcore housecleaning over the last couple of days, and have had CNN on as background noise. And I have to ask:

What happened to the phrase "working class"?

Coverage of the bailout and the VP debate was filled with references to the "middle class," and "American workers," but "working class" has been nowhere to be found. I mean, I know the United States is supposed to be a classless society. But is "middle class" now officially synonymous with "working class"? Is it like ordering a Tall coffee at Starbucks - the nomenclature's all been supersized?

In other news, Sarah Palin continues to be terrible. That is all.


What's Past Is Prologue

And by that destiny to perform an act / whereof what's past is prologue; what to come, / in yours and my discharge.
-Antonio, The Tempest

Two truths are told, / as happy prologues to the swelling act / of the imperial theme.

""Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future."
-Sarah Palin

Joe Biden tossed in a little bit of Shakespeare last night to counter Sarah Palin's nonsensical insistence that, all evidence to the contrary, the Democratic ticket and not her own is stuck in the past. "Past is prologue," Biden reeled off - and most of the pundits forgave him for a moment that could be considered *gasp* a little professorial.

Time is paramount in the theatre and one of the most satisfying elements of Shakespeare's writing is his attention to it. In the quotes above, Antonio and Macbeth are spurred by circumstance and their own darker natures to confuse history with destiny. To each, malfeasance in the past predicts, enables and sanctifies villainy - regicide - in the present; both commit a sort of cosmic pathetic fallacy whereby Nature, and not individual failing, is responsible for future behaviour. Neither looks to the past for lessons, only for validation. The tragedy is then as Santayana said: those who through their own shortsighted desires and rampant egocentrism fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

Biden's reference was thus uncannily appropriate to the substance of Sarah Palin. She does have some - not in policy, but in "vaunting ambition." Her answer on the powers and duties of the Vice President was terrifying; like her response to Katie Couric on Dick Cheney's greatest mistake ('Worst thing I guess that would have been the duck hunting accident--where you know, that was an accident") it betrays either an obliviousness, or more likely an appreciation, for Cheney's executive power grab over the past eight years. As a person, she might be a nice, feisty lady with a wacky family. As a politician, she's an untutored monster.

Sarah Palin would have us ignore the past, both hers and that of the Bush administration, because that's just what she does. Her abuses as Mayor and Governor are legion, but I suspect she doesn't really see them. Her unsuitability for the Vice Presidency is obvious. (As an aside, imagine if Palin had been at the table of the Canadian leaders debate last night. Would she have lasted five minutes? Four? Any of the men, to say nothing of Elizabeth May, would have clobbered her. Elizabeth May would have shredded her like a pine tree in a pulp mill).

I'm not suggesting merely that Palin doesn't understand history. It's worse than that: Palin knows history - she believes what she believes and wants what she wants wants, cherry-picking the historical record from the Flood on to support her own delusions. And if her attitude towards power is any indication, her future for the American people is nothing less than bullying, small-minded and vicious - tyranny in a bob and $400 glasses.

Antonio was stopped. We know what happened to Macbeth. Let's pray that with Palin, the result is like the former. Otherwise, as Sarah might say, our reward is in heaven. Right?


02 October 2008

City on the Hill

"America is a shining city on the hill, as Ronald Reagan said."
-Sarah Palin

Ronald Reagan may have said it. But if she thinks he coined it, she's forgotten her American history. All of it.


"We represent a perfect ideal"

Sarah Palin on America.



FALSE dilemma!

"Now, Barack Obama had said that all we're doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause. That's not what we're doing there. We're fighting terrorists."

- Sarah Palin in the debate just now.

No comment is possible.


24 September 2008

Obama-Bartlet Exchange?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

Link to the whole article.


18 September 2008

This Just In: Palin Needs To Read Aquinias

Why, you ask?

Well, moveon.org has a few nice talking points. My favorite: she was a Buchanan supporter in 2000 (you know, the year that George W. Bush was running). Needing to read Aquinas, by association?


Zapatero: Not with US, so with the terrorists?

From the Washington Post's "The Trail," according to a McCain aide writing to clarify McCain's position on whether he would meet with Spain's president:

"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview."


17 September 2008

Can Fat Teens Hunt (!?)

I wish I were making this up.

Series description: Ten overweight teens live with a tribe of former headhunters in the remote jungles of Borneo. (Stereo)

They're British. They're yobs. At the moment, the participants are squeamishly eating frogs. This program is on the Health Network. It's not just the West's financial system that deserves to collapse...



Do people think the tooth fairy exists? Do they secretly hope that John McCain will die?

Now that the blogging season is back upon us I want to use this (not very elevated or well-attended) soapbox to promote a website started in part by one of my high-school compatriots: Urtak.

According to the creators, "Urtak is the world's first experiment in collaborative public opinion." Promoted as a sounder, saner alternative to mainstream public opinion research, any user can ask any question, answers are always in a yes/no/don't care format, and questions are randomly posed to users. The only thing missing is a truly representative sample, but as the creators point out, (a) no sample can be adequately representative, and (b) it's more important to prioritize good questions over representative answers.

Check it out.


16 September 2008

Free range

The New York Times reports that flocks of chickens have been seen wandering around East Harlem recently, and that a new flock appears whenever the city's animal control people have captured all the last gang. Though the perpetrator has not been caught, the word on the street seems to be that some local eccentric has been periodically buying the chickens from a wholesale poultry market and releasing them in the area. We trust that this is not, in fact, a postmodernist installation from one of Nick's IFA colleagues.


Elitist Liberal Media Continues to Pour It on...

...in two interesting articles about the Republican ticket's truthiness that will hopefully be interesting fodder in a swing state near you:

From The Post, on Sarah Palin: "it's weird for a politician -- or anyone else, really -- to maintain that an assertion is true after admitting that it isn't true."

And on John McCain: "His dishonesty would be unacceptable in any politician, but McCain has always set his own bar higher than most."


13 September 2008

Everything in Order Here

BBC vocabulary, rappers' good behaviour and Italian efficiency all seem to be alive and well:
West arrested after airport row
Alitalia 'running out of fuel'


26 August 2008

The West and Russia: Moral Hierarchy or Equality?

Apparently, undermining some generic Western media source's earlier prediction/speculation/wild guess that Russia would not want to undermine its own position vis-a-vis the Chechens by recognizing South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, it has done exactly that. So much for the civilizing force of hypocrisy? (Just imagine a third party attempting to secure an agreement by Russia to the "non-use of force" with the Chechens, which is what the Russians have insisted on the Georgians doing with regard to their breakaway regions.)

Meanwhile, the West finds itself continuing to stand by "the independence, the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia." Two sides playing at the same hypocrisy game?


20 August 2008

Right on, Mr. Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev himself in the NY Times on the crisis over Georgia. The thrust of his warning:

In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush have been promising to isolate Russia. Some American politicians have threatened to expel it from the Group of 8 industrialized nations, to abolish the NATO-Russia Council and to keep Russia out of the World Trade Organization.

These are empty threats. For some time now, Russians have been wondering: If our opinion counts for nothing in those institutions, do we really need them? Just to sit at the nicely set dinner table and listen to lectures?

Indeed, Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here’s the independence of Kosovo for you. Here’s the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here’s the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?

There is much talk now in the United States about rethinking relations with Russia. One thing that should definitely be rethought: the habit of talking to Russia in a condescending way, without regard for its positions and interests.

Our two countries could develop a serious agenda for genuine, rather than token, cooperation. Many Americans, as well as Russians, understand the need for this. But is the same true of the political leaders?


Welcome to the Palmerston Conservatory

As I write on the computer, there is one double bass practice in the room directly above me and a separate unrelated double bass practice in the room at the opposite end of this floor. While the two perhaps cannot hear each other, both are quite audible from the computer, leading to an interesting new postmodern composition.


31 July 2008

Klassic Komedy Kuote II (Or, funny...but really...not funny at all)

“It’s not something that happens regularly on a bus"

-RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Colwell, reassuring the public after a teenager was decapitated on a Manitoba Greyhound for no particular reason


30 July 2008

Klassic Komedy Kuote

"We don't govern by statistics in our government. We're governing by what we told and promised Canadians."

-Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, explaining the Conservative focus on crime and punishment despite the fact that crime is at a 25-year low.


07 June 2008


Not a half bad piece in the Times about bullfighting.


06 June 2008

Smoke Weed Every Day!

In an interview with The Guardian, Snoop Dogg propounds an interesting theory of campaign finance:

He almost looks at me, but then seems to think better of it as he whispers: "The KKK gave Obama money."
"YES." Snoop has an interesting verbal mannerism of capitalising words without putting any exclamation at the end. "They was one of his biggest supporters."
"I've never heard that."
"YES. Why wouldn't they be? The media won't tell you that. They don't want you to know that. They just want you to know that this nigger befriended this other nigger who be threatening your values. But we all know all presidents lie to get into fucking office. That's they job."


04 June 2008

Thomas Friedman strikes again!

This man is a parody of himself:

The trust deficit is exacerbated by the fact that after Israel quit the Gaza Strip in 2005, Palestinians, instead of building Singapore there, built Somalia and focused not on how to make microchips, but on how to make rockets to hit Israel.


31 May 2008

"Juxtaposition Records"


21 May 2008

Welcome home, Dear (Dr.?) de Montebello

Met Director Will Become Professor at N.Y.U. Institute

I should have bet money on this.


19 May 2008

National Gallery drops Renaissance painting, splitting it in two

Art handlers = Yobs. I bet Lee from The Office (UK) was involved.

You can't just drop a Beccafumi. These people need to read Aristotle.


Rules of Engagement. Or, the Exception within the Exception

An interesting Der Spiegel article on German rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

Germany's KSK special forces have been charged with capturing the terrorist, in cooperation with the Afghan secret service organization NDS and the Afghan army. The German elite soldiers were able to uncover the Taliban commander's location. They spent weeks studying his behavior and habits: when he left his house and with whom, how many men he had around him and what weapons they carried, the color of his turban and what vehicles he drove.

At the end of March, they decided to act to seize the commander. Under the protection of darkness, the KSK, together with Afghan forces, advanced toward their target. Wearing black and equipped with night-vision goggles, the team came within just a few hundred meters of their target before they were discovered by Taliban forces.

The dangerous terrorist escaped. It would, however, have been possible for the Germans to kill him -- but the KSK were not authorized to do so.

...The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while -- and to "eliminate" the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

From a military point of view, the so-called targeting has been a success. Close to one-third of the Taliban leaders, about 150 commanders, have since been "neutralized," meaning they are either dead or captured. Most of the capture-or-kill missions, as the operations are called in military jargon, are undertaken by British or American special forces.

...[E]ven in a time of growing threats in Afghanistan, Berlin is sticking to its "principle of proportionality," stressed one high-ranking official in the Defense Ministry. A fugitive like the Baghlan bomber is not an aggressor and should not be shot unless necessary, the official explains.

Soldiers from Britain's British Special Air Service or the US's Delta Force are less bothered about such hair-splitting. For them, this is a war in which it comes down to "kill or be killed," say sources in military circles in Kabul. The "targets" are identified, tracked down and -- often with the help of laser-guided weapons systems -- "eliminated."

The Germans have considerable misgivings about such an approach. They have secretly given "clarification notes" to NATO with far-ranging instructions for their soldiers which expressly contradict the usual procedures: "The use of lethal force is prohibited unless an attack is taking place or is imminent." Sources in NATO circles regard the confidential document as a "national exception," a caveat which places restrictions on operational capability. The Germans, for their part, always avoid using the word caveat, out of diplomatic considerations vis-à-vis their allies.

The most remarkable thing about the secret document is its stated justification. The German government considers its allies' approach as "not being in conformity with international law." Little wonder that NATO's mission in Afghanistan is marked by tension and friction.


Ahh yes, the global brain...


Hat tip: NY Times' Caucus blog.


16 May 2008

"You're not going to box me in here"

When power kills knowledge? For once, I have to give props to Chris Matthews. In this clip, Kevin James illustrates that a lesson from an analogy may supervene over... facts.

Thanks to a brilliant colleague for forwarding this.

UPDATE: Rodger Payne on Conservatives' misunderstandings of appeasment.


15 May 2008

A Red Letter Day for Liberal Cosmopolitanism

First, (via Nick, erstwhile Hoboken Group blogger):

The city council of Chicago has overturned a ban on foie gras, less than two years after it was imposed.
Then, to put the icing on the cake:
The California Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex couples should be permitted to marry, rejecting state marriage laws as discriminatory.


04 May 2008

Slow on the uptake

Thomas Friedman got pied ten days ago and I didn't hear about it till now? What is wrong with me?


29 April 2008

Signs of the Apocalypse?

From the studio that brought you the siege of Basra, the John Yoo torture memo, and anti-ballistic missile defense!


I can't wait to start clinging to guns and religion...

So we all know that my adopted "province" (oh, so provincial), Ohio, has a massive and well-deserved inferiority complex, both in comparison with present Others and past Self. Now, my home province, Ontario is poised to join the ranks of the embittered.


27 April 2008

Pot, Meet Kettle

At the end of the latest Washington Post fear-piece on the global food crisis (who knew that it'd been happening since, oh, a few months ago, when we barely noticed it because we still cared about the Democratic nomination contest?) the regular neoliberal platitudes about oh-this-wouldn't-have-been-a-problem-had-the-market-mechanism-been-allowed-to-work are supplemented by an equally predictable jab at those socialist Europeans (and especially the French!):

Perhaps more than any other sector, nations have a visceral desire to protect their farmers, and thusly, their food supply...

Consider, for instance, the French.

The European Union doles out about $41 billion a year in agriculture subsidies, with France getting the biggest share, about $8.2 billion. The 27-nation bloc also has set a target for biofuels to supply 10 percent of transportation fuel needs by 2020 to combat global warming.

The French, whose farmers over the years have become addicted to generous government handouts, argue that agriculture subsidies must be continued and even increased in order to encourage more food production, especially with looming shortages.
All this would feel far less disingenuous coming from, say, the mainstream media of a country that doesn't heavily subsidize its agribusinesses and absurdly promote the production of biofuels. Like, maybe, Iceland?


Pork politics

It's probably the naive liberal cosmopolitan internationalist in me saying this, but let them eat pork. (It's a beautiful thing).


20 April 2008

Doug Finlay, that flapping sound you hear...

...is all 'dem chickens coming home to roost.

Check this out.


John needs to get in on some of this

Shopping with Princeton's Endowment Dollars


17 April 2008

Bush to Pope: "Awesome Speech"

If ever there were an argument for a bit of real elevation - dare I say elitism - in the discourse of this nation's leadership...


14 April 2008

Huckabee seems to be up to something...

This was his actual presidential campaign site.


13 April 2008

The Bitter Bus

It looks like bitter is the new angry. In 2004, Howard Dean wasn't allowed to get hot under the collar. Now, Barack Obama isn't allowed to say that working-class Americans are bitter.

I know that there's more to this media echo-chamber non-story than that, but it's what struck me most immediately upon reading both Obama's comments (and for Pete's sake, Huffington Post - I'm all for citizen journalism, but would you ever see anyone from the right posting stories about John McCain saying poorly phrased things?) and the inevitable, holier-than-thou Clinton response, was that Pollyanna culture is live and well and living in Scranton. Does Hillary Clinton think that laid-off auto-workers are sanguine and satisfied with their lack of jobs, benefits, infrastructure, or prospects? That strikes me as considerably more insulting to the indomitable American spirit than any talk of guns and God.

And speaking of which: surely the key word in Obama's point on that score is "cling." It's clear that Obama doesn't hate people who like God and think God is on their side (didn't we go through that whole "crazed pastor" thing two weeks ago? Wasn't Jeremiah Wright the epitome of bitter? Are black people supposed/allowed/expected to be bitter, but white people under no circumstances can/should be?) It's all about the dangers of making a fetish of one problem or idea or belief at the expense of another - like race, or religion, or the right to leave your revolver around the house. It's about what it's now unfashionable to call a false consciousness.

Deluded? All of us. But never bitter!

GREAT-MINDS-THINK-ALIKE UPDATE: I'm on to something - Bill Kristol is fulminating about Marx in the NYT! Check out his equation of bourgeois America with small-town America - looks like there's no class conflict in the U.S. of A. unless a Republican says so, and gets to radically twist words like "bourgeoisie" out of all recognition!


Natural Habitat

From a Vanity Fair piece on Renzo Piano's Calfornia Academy of Sciences:

In particular, Piano wanted to focus on power efficiency. “As an architect,” he says, “you spend your life thinking about some little obsession you have. One for me has been the obsession to make a building without air-conditioning.”

Through a complex system of weather sensors that tell a central computer what motorized windows to open and close, the entire museum is cooled with untreated outside air. Even the skylights automatically pop open to vent hot air. The undulating roofline doesn’t just look dramatic; it also serves to draw cool air into the open courtyard at the center of the building, naturally ventilating the surrounding exhibit spaces.

An excellent strategy, I assume, for a complex in Northern California that will include "a habitat for penguins."


11 April 2008

Raccoon, stealing doormat

This is, I believe, self-explanatory...


09 April 2008

From the BBC: "Italian opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi has claimed that right-wing female politicians are better looking than their left-wing counterparts."


05 April 2008

Presidente siamo con te!

Yes, it's that time of the average year again... Italian election time.
Time to confront the serious issues facing the peninsula: demographic stagnation, economic contraction, democratic apathy, the Mozarella recall, and that nagging garbage crisis that just doesn't seem to end.

Or we could just listen to this year's battle of the candidate songs. From the country that brought you the non-ironic Parmigiano-Reggiano jingle, there's Forza Italia's "thank goodness for Silvio," and, to the tune of the Village People's YMCA, the Democratic Party's "I'M PD" (which was quickly pulled due to copyright infringement). Enjoy!


04 April 2008


Population (2000 census) of Camden, NJ: 80,089
Homicides so far in 2008 in Camden, NJ: 19
Population (2001 census) of Toronto, ON: 2,481,495
Homicides so far in 2008 in Toronto, ON: 13


Food and Neoliberalism

Dani Rodrik makes an interesting comment on the global rise in food prices and the anticipated impact of future agricultural trade liberalization.



Stephen Harper announces he will not attend the Beijing 2008 opening ceremonies.

It's not what you think; rather, he has tried to decouple his attendance from the Tibet issue, and it's not a protest move.

The best of both worlds. Anger China, given the current sentiments in favor of boycott in the West, possibly provoking retaliation in 2010, and refuse to make a symbolic gesture on behalf of human rights!


02 April 2008

Is that Imperial, or Metric?

It's been commented that my posts to Hoboken Group tend to be both overly long and overly serious. Hopefully this makes at least partial amends.


01 April 2008

Julia Kristeva, eat your heart out!



31 March 2008

Bullshit watch: Richard Florida

Go here, scroll down to the bottom, and click on the fourth map, "Personality Maps". You won't regret it.


30 March 2008

Well prepared by Mr. Wilson

On the reading list for my undergrads this week:

Searle, John. "Minds, brains and programs". Behavioral and Brain Sciences (1980) 3, 417-457.

Dennett, Daniel C. "The practical requirements for making a conscious robot". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A (1994) 349, 133-146.


29 March 2008

Your Saturday Analogy

Basra, March-April 2008 may mark the beginning of the Tet of Iraq by demonstrating the Iraqi military's inability to wage an effective, independent campaign against domestic militias, and so represents the continuing, compounding failure of Bush's (and McCain's) Iraq policy.

Or so Democrats everywhere should be arguing.


20 March 2008

Knowing Left from Wright, and Wright from Wrong

"When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my colour. When they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my colour."
                                                                          -Franz Fanon

Who can approve of offense? Only a social order comfortable that the offense poses no risk of upsetting the established system: then it's just comedy. But it's probably fair to say that footage of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. that has circulated on YouTube contains very little of humorous value. The United States government did not invent the HIV virus, and there's too much history between Nagasaki and 9/11 to draw any but the vaguest historical parallel. Apart from these two laughable errors, it's anger, bitterness, intemperance, and yes, something close to the truth, that have their day: it's not polite to damn your country, but sometimes your country does damnable things. 

Barack Obama isn't Jeremiah Wright. But will his association with the Rev. Wright cost the junior Senator the Presidency? The cynical (and malicious) are already in agreement that it will: in the Globe and Mail ($), Clifford Orwin describes the Obama campaign as "amateur hour"; neoconservative and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gershon, in a spluttering column for the Washington Post, claims that Obama "is not a man who hates -- but chose to walk with a man who does"; and Pat Buchanan, who might not be the king of reasoned, rational discourse, chose to weigh in a way which deserves to be quoted at length:

“Wright has, for millions of Americans, filled in the blanks about Barack. Wright tells us the kind of company Barack keeps, the kind of men he holds close, the kind of attitudes and beliefs he finds acceptable, if not congenial. That Wright is a revered preacher in black America also tells us that, far from coming together, we Americans are further apart than we were in the 1950s, when Negroes could be described as Christian, conservative and patriotic.”

That Buchanan feels it appropriate to use the term "Negro" in a public forum while waxing nostalgic for those good ol' segregationist fifties is telling in itself.

The furor over the Rev. Wright is what might be called a "
black panic." How else to explain whynews outlets, reporting Monday that Senator Obama would make a major speech on race, contended his candidacy was doomed without a magisterial performance? Never mind that the presumptive Republican nominee so beloved by independents and Democrats for his moderation has a spiritual adviser who seems to believe, and has said so in print, that the United States has an "historical conflict with Islam." Never mind that Republican presidents have long been advised and counseled by religious leaders whose sanctimonious screeds rarely generate the kind of mass media opprobrium faced by the Rev. Wright. Never mind, never mind.

The quote from psychologist and anti-colonial theorist Franz Fanon couldn't be more applicable. By the racial logic of the politically correct, and primarily white, chattering classes,  Obama's public persona as a politician has been acceptable, not 
because of his race (though this was often the platitude) but in spite of it, appealing because he was not Jesse Jackson, not really black. The umbrage surrounding Bill Clinton's comparison of Obama with Jackson in January points this problem up: the political press understood the comment as an insult to Obama because they understood Jesse Jackson to be a sideshow candidate, a " a strong,powerful candidate, a black candidate, running for president” (oh, the gendered language!), but a candidate too dangerous, too "wild" to win. 

Barack Obama was a safe black man: Harvard, nice family, not too many slaves as ancestors. Bill Clinton (described by Toni Morrison, so foolishly to my mind, as "the first black President") knew what he was doing. In the current crisis, this rhetoric is now being rehearsed freely by more incendiary right-wing bloggers: Mark Steyn claims that because of his association with Rev. Wright, Barack Obama can now be lumped in with " the Reverend Al Sharpton or the Reverend Jesse Jackson or the rest of the racial-grievance mongers."

But now, of a sudden, a reverse: Michael Gershon claims that the problem is that "[Rev.] Wright is 
not a symbol of the strengths and weaknesses of African Americans. He is a political extremist, holding views that are shocking...." Suddenly, race is not longer the issue: politics is separated neatly from society. Never mind that the story of Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ doesn't seem to generally be one of hate, intolerance and exclusion.
Rev. Wright is a "political extremist" in a country where the sitting President reputedly believes in the immanence of the Second Coming.

The subtext in all this is crystal clear: Barack Obama is suddenly black. He goes to church with black people who aren't the Banks familyblack people who are exercised by injustice and oppression, black people who are angry at the institutions of American society and might get uppity and riot, those same black people (though by now black is a euphemism for other things) who have been the cause of problems in American society since World War II, when they were "conservative" and "patriotic" and "Negroes." When they were under the white man's thumb, and safe. 

"Why are we talking about slavery?" asks Mickey Kaus playing to the theme of the separation of politics and society (though not church and state!) "We know about slavery. We want to know why Obama picked his paranoid pastor!" With all due respect Mickey, "we" don't know about slavery - if "we"are those who I wrote about a few weeks ago. Obama picked his "paranoid pastor" because "we" have no adequate knowledge and understanding of oppression and injustice; about slavery or Jim Crow or Rodney King, or about the millions of indignities suffered by those who don't conform to "our" standard of western capitalist modernity. Jeremiah Wright is old and tired, and his words are hurtful - "fervor," wrote Fanon," is the weapon of choice for the impotent" - but most centrally, he is caught in the trap of "blackness," of being and becoming exactly what is expected of him.

So where does all this leave Senator Obama? He sprang the trap of blackness closing in on him with what was indeed a 
majestic speech, confounding every cliché of identity politics and the media echo chamber with far more composure than I can muster about the topic. Those that claim he failed to answer questions about his relationship with the Rev. Wright were, for whatever reason, not listening. The damage may be done: the most pertinent criticism of the Senator that I've heard involves his inconsistencies around just what he heard, and his enemies will continue to attempt to whip up the hysteria of "black panic" at any and every opportunity, feeding every one of Barack Obama's foibles - and as a human being, he inevitably has a few - back into the pedantic boring cry of "black, black, black!

Every vicious and dehumanizing stereotype culled from five centuries will be massaged for public consumption. It isn't going to be pretty. Take a look at the clip from MSNB posted below this piece, and, if you can stand it, watch and listen to former Republican congressman and television host Joe Scarborough simper and smirk, toady to a man who, views of the IRS notwithstanding, may have been the class act of the Republican field. Mike Huckabee is reasonable, considered, empathetic, and charming - with conservative credentials like his, he can afford to be, but it's striking nonetheless. Scarborough is anything but, doing his utmost to draw out Huckabee, and when he doesn't succeed, resorting to a nasty, backhanded story about black students cheering at the news that Reagan had been shot. "Don't forget," he seems to be smirking to his audience, "that's what they're really like." No doubt Pat Buchanan will be on next week to set the record straight. 

But if you're not Mike Huckabee, what can you do? I suggest taking a page from the junior Senator's book. Stay cool, calm, and collected.  Resist fear, anger and despair, which, as Yoda knew, don't lead to anything good (and to which some progressive bloggers seem to be succumbing). As Huckabee points out, it's March. There's an awful lot of campaign left before the nomination, to say nothing of the 4th of November. 

And finally, persevere. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who paid for truth with his life, avowed that "progress does not come unless we think and act anew." Dr. King, like Senator Obama, knew people like the Rev. Wright. And Senator Obama, like Dr. King, knows that we must escape the trap that Rev. Wright and too many others cannot.


Mirabile Dictu

This is incredible. Start around 3:22, unless you enjoy the inane, sycophantic fatuousness and queasily peppy crypto-racism of Joe Scarborough.  Maybe Mike Huckabee is just angling for the Vice-Presidential nomination. But incredible nonetheless. 

As an aside, Huckabee has a not-unreasonable point about sermons coming out wrong in the heat of the moment for preachers of any stripe. I would challenge him, though, to show that the actions of the Rev. Wright on fostering social justice (which apparently included arranging for white students to attend his services), actions that seem to speak louder than his words on race, can be matched by, say Jerry Falwell's outreach efforts to gays and lesbians. Someone, it doesn't seem quite the same.