Stills from a Training Montage

Cue the Survivor, people. Sarah Palin is training on grass.

Expectations game? Well, I don't know if it's a game this time. Is it a game if you can't win? If success or failure normally exists in the shorthand of a one-dimensional scale in zero-sum, her failure will contain multitudes: chaotic fractals of non-linear and infinite ratfucking not seen since the screensaver you had for a short time when you first got Windows 95.

But it's true: maybe she can make up a little bit of the difference by only being quite awful rather than the disastrously awful we all expect. This overachievement in and of itself maybe gets her all the way to moderately awful in the final calculus, sort of like that kid whose been getting Ds all semester and then writes a B- paper and you give him a A- for it because... oh wait. That kid hasn't come to class in three weeks? He's failed the course with 8 absences? Nevermind. Don't tell him, though. I just saw him and he's planning BIG things for that paper.

But my point is actually this: step out of the microcosm of the moment and the expectations not only of HER but also what we are all supposed to have to say about it afterward, step out of that, and you see that that moderately awful is still pretty awful. Maybe even pretty damn awful, because consider this: if the McCain camp is pushing hard for superlow expectations, then let's not allow it to go unnoticed that they are conceding the larger point: that she will be shitfacedly awful. And that larger point, on which we all agree, apparently, is the most salient one.

My spread: somewhere between very awful and fuckyermother awful. There's a Biden wild card here-- some possibility that he says one thing half as stupid as twelve things she says, and the coverage of this one thing eclipses all else-- but in the long run I don't think that really matters. People are going to see this one for themselves.

$40 on 10/9.

Venetian gondoliers, for example

A friend sent me this. There's something really touching about it. In case you were wondering, the rest of the world is on pins and needles hoping Americans will do something right for a change.

Last time I was home, my sister's father-in-law asked me, "So, but don't they really hate Americans over there?" I shook my head. Nobody gets it! "They love Americans," I said. "They hate Bush, and what he's done."

Even in Turkey, where many said we were the first Americans they'd seen in their town, their eyes would light up when I said where I was from. "Oh! I love America," one man said. "Bush, PFFFFT. But America. It is the best country."

Btw, today is the deadline to donate for September. Give $30 by midnight and you get a free t-shirt by Election Day.


A turtle on a post

I'd never heard the phrase before I was forwarded the story about the old rancher who calls (variously, depending who is sending the email) McCain, Bush, Palin or Obama a Post Turtle...

The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a 'Post Turtle'."

The old rancher saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he continued to explain. "You know she didn't get up there by herself, she don't belong up there, and she don't know what to do while she's up there, and you just wonder what kind of dummy put her up there to begin with."
and what if we put lipstick on the turtle? is it still a pig?


Jeez, this is painful

Palin's interview with Katie Couric.  Sheesh.

Can this work?

Since we're all former graduate students, all of us have had some experience teaching college students, right?  And since we've all taught for at least one semester, we've all had some experience with students' excuses, right?  Like when someone's eighth grandparent dies and they have to miss class?  Or, as in MSF's case, when a student blamed her woman parts for her regular  absenteeism?  Or, as in my case, when a student missed six of the eight summer classes and afterward claimed she'd had to rush out of town because her immune system had been compromised by mono and there was some sort of outbreak in Iowa City that threatened her, and could she have an incomplete for the course?  

Anyway, doesn't this strike you as similar?  Keeping Sarah Palin sequestered from the press (it's sexist to ask a lady questions!) was apparently not enough.

And, in a related note, watch this horrifying clip from The Daily Show.  (The particularly horrifying part is of our President.)  If only Bush had read Earth Goat and followed my edict to watch the recent Fresh Air with Michael Greenberger explaining the financial crisis.   I mean, seriously -- why is he even trying to discuss the markets?  It is so embarrassing!  

Due to my embarrassed condition, professor, I will have to miss class.

Absentee ballot finally arrives

Now, if I could just figure out who to vote for...

Barack Obama of Illinois / Joe Biden of Delaware / Democratic
Um, I'm a little too hip to fall for this? This ticket is waaay overexposed and far too popular. This would be like saying U2 is your favorite band. Plus, I dig that Obama's a brother and all, but the other geezer clearly has a rug and false teeth. What if they fell out during an important meeting? Our country's peoples would look like fools, that's what.

John McCain of Arizona / Sarah Palin of Alaska / Republican
Not a chance. One has a foot so far in the grave they think it's a new species of Chinese mushroom, and the other shoots wolves from planes with a rifle, which is the dumbest thing I've ever seen, because anyone with half a brain would use an AK on fully automatic or at least hand grenades.

Chuck Baldwin of Florida / Darrell L. Castle of Tennesee / Constitution Party
Much as I'd get a chuckle out of hearing "President Baldwin" on the radio, I just don't think any country should have to have a vice president from Tennessee named Darrell. That's asking for trouble.

Cynthia McKinney of California / Rosa Clemente of North Caroline / Green Party
An actual chance to break that cracked glass ceiling. However, I think you need to have a bit more imagination than naming your party after a color. Duh! A lot of people like blue, red, etc.

Bob Barr of Georgia / Wayne A. Root of Nevada / Libertarian Party
I am stoked that the top dude thinks it's cool to smoke spliffs and all, but when I look at this ticket I immediately hear the Beastie's, "I Kick It Root Down, I Put My Root Down, It's Not A Put Down, I Put My Foot Down," which is a killer track I grant you, but not for four straight years, let alone eight, which is how long the Libertarians would be in if they ever won.

Gloria La Riva of California / Robert Moses of Maryland / Party for Socialism and Liberation
Another ceiling buster, but another mental song problem. "President La Riva said today..." I would be thinking "La Riva, arriba, andale, andale, epa, epa, epa!" No can do. I mean, I like Taco Bell and all, but we are talking the US presidency here, not some superfast way to find cheese.

Ralph Nader of Connecticut / Matt Gonzalez of California / Peace and Freedom Party
Ralph Nader is from Connecticut? And his party has that name? Didn't know that. But I can never forgive him for what he did in 2000. (He cut in front of me at the Minneapolis Airport Cinnabon.) And I'm sorry, someone came here from Mexico and named their kid Matt? Seriously? Doesn't bode well on the judgment issue.

Brian Moore of Florida / Stewart A. Alexander of California / Socialist Party
As much as I think it's high time to have a president named Brian, I can't vote for that Wall Street philosophy. We lost all our money! Give us all the tax dollars! You know what? Give me a break. I work for my money and I don't go around asking for welfare checks.

James Harris of California / Alyson Kennedy of New Jersey / Socialist Worker's Party
Again there would be an investment banker's slant on everything, this time I guess for the people who clean those sky-rises, the janitors and elevator engineers and whatnot. Again I ask, what about Main Street? And I don't see a lot of difference between this party and the last one. Shouldn't you at least make yourself different in some way besides adding one word?

So, I dunno. Maybe I won't vote at all. But according to the instructions, I have to send the ballot back even if I don't want to vote, marking -- get this -- "Not Voted" on the envelope. I have totally entered a vortex of responsibility that includes the responsibility of participating in order to not participate. And that's just stupid. Not even vice president Darrell would come up with that, I'll bet. Maybe I should give him a second look. Also, you have to mark it in pencil. Why do they require you to use the one type of writing instrument that can be erased? So they can erase it, that's why.

At any rate, I look forward to seeing all these people in the debates! Maybe that will help me decide.


The future of our collective fret

If I had to bet money on the future of publishing (and maybe libraries), I'd put money on this technology over e-books at 3 to 1.

The machine is still way to expensive for anything but humongous, well-funded libraries. But as the price falls, watch for the intuitively flip dismissal of tangibility in reading to go down with it.

Too often with the e-book thing, we fall into an intellectualized rationalization of preference-- and the assumption that preference has such intellectual dimensions by default. But why should it?

Sure, it makes no sense that consumers prefer paper-- but it seems that most of us do. The why of it is really an academic question. And it just seems to me that the technology that embraces that preference seems more likely to thrive than the one that disdains it.

I find it useful to think of it all like this: the development of technology in a capitalist, consumption-based economy is defined by the tension and interplay between profits (for the producer) and practice (for the user). Progress, to the extent that the term is meaningful, mostly comes into play as a function of one or the other. We're conditioned to equate "new" with "better"-- maybe that's the root of consumption itself- but it's not necessarily more true with technology than it is, say, with fashion.

(Note, please, that I say "necessarily." I'm not saying new technology can't be preferable, just that we shouldn't assume that it is preferable, or even that being preferable in one manner makes it preferable in all possible manners.)


The best explanation of the financial crisis I've heard so far

From today's Fresh Air.  Seriously, go listen to it.

Obama/McCain primer

You may have already seen this, but this diary (updated regularly) at DailyKos gives you the information and ammunition you need to win arguments with Republicans and undecideds:

Single-issue voters

Lately, I've been thinking a great deal about the single-issue voters out there.  Just in my own circles, I've come across people whose vote is decided by one issue alone, from abortion (pro-life or pro-choice) to Israel (who's the most pro?) to taxes (lower) to regulation of particular industries (less).  

While I more or less used to give these people a pass (since, hey, if that's the most important thing to them, then maybe nothing else does matter in their minds), even if I disagreed with their position, I now find myself getting all riled up on the issue.  Like, to the extent that I sometimes think it is fundamentally immoral to vote on one thing alone. 

Certain family members of mine will say things like, "Well, I don't agree with all that stuff that the social conservatives want, but taxes matter most to me."  My response is that these family members are still making those other things (like constriction of civil rights) happen, and they have a moral obligation to admit to that.    And this doesn't only go one way; it's just that the Republican single-issue voters have been more visible and more exploited in recent years.

But maybe my blood pressure is rising because of the stress of the election season, and I'm not thinking rationally.  What do you think about single-issue voting?  Is there one issue for you that trumps all others and would change your vote?  


About Time

Saunders on Palin.

Tally: $30 to Obama on 10/9.

Burying the Treasure

A friend once told me a story about a jazz musician he knew who had so many LPs in his basement that he had to come up with an elaborate system for listening to each on a regular, if infrequent, basis. He had them alphabetized by year, listened to one a day, and kept metadata on his listening. It seemed absurd at the time, but now I have the same problem. Actually, I think probably have it worse. He, at least, was constrained by the tolerance of his wife and the dimensions of his basement. All my music fits on a thin drive that sits on an 9 X 2 in foot print on my desk. And that drive is only a third full.

The more music I have-- and I'm up to about 90 GB-- the more I feel this nagging anxiety about not listening to any of it with a depth of experience. When I was a teenager, I walked about 45 minutes a day, back and forth from the T. I was occasionally annoyed with my inability to carry more than a few tapes with me. In four years, I probably listened to a total of twenty different tapes, albums and mixes both. Somedays, when my batteries were low, Black Francis fell down a few registers to a tenor and Minor Threat became a midtempo grind. But otherwise, I was tracing the same handful of grooves everyday. It was a ritual, a privacy, and something like meditation.

Now I am overburdened by choice. The choice becomes the experience in a way I don't much enjoy. It seems, in fact, like a problem representative of the times: digital technology and late stage capitalism together make for some absurd conundrums and anxieties. Give a man 15000 options and even after he's decided, the thought of the other 14999 can linger--sometimes unpleasantly so.

And so I am hereby indefinite moratorium on new music. I simply have too much music to rediscover.

So if you guys don't mind, I'm going to use this forum as a vehicle for slowing down and appreciating my music. Here's what I've slowed down to appreciate today:

Talk Revolution, by Peter Tosh

God, this is one of my favorites, and I practically forgot it exists. A living room session with Peter Tosh, an acoustic guitar in need of a new truss rod, and a bunch of his songs in new, gloriously bare arrangement. He even stops in the middle to tell the story of how he was beat by a bunch of corrupt cops. At another point you can hear a woman practically swoon from the intimacy of the performance. I'm a Tosh fan more generally, but this album is my favorite because it's exactly opposite to his production-heavy studio work. Wonderful stuff.

In Name and Blood, The Murder City Devils

A lot of the music I loved in college-- loud, fast, obnoxious-- hasn't aged too well. That's probably the way it should be. I'm not as loud, fast or obnoxious as I used to be, so neither are my tastes.

I would have thought to lump MCD in with the rest of it, but I found this album in an old book of cds and thought I'd give it another try. Turns out that for all its bellow and gloom, this album still speaks to me. It's a showy sort of doom; theatrical and howling, all about sailors, Atlantis, and public hangings. But it's a little too waterlogged and garagey to be truly campy- ironically, perhaps, its the farfisa that grounds things.

There's more- late Dylan, early AC/DC, Smog, Modern English, Loudon Wainwright... but I have homework to do. Maybe some other day.

Dutch condom ad campaign

I'm told this campaign is being sponsored by the government. There are TV ads and free postcards distributed everywhere. This is one of the postcards.


DFW commits suicide at 46

This is very shocking and sad.  I know people have mixed views on him, but when I read Infinite Jest, it was one of those thrilling, eye-opening moments for me -- like, you're allowed to do this in a book?  I loved it.

Updated on 9/14:
This obituary has more information.



1. Do the people who want "someone just like me" as President or VP use that as their primary criterion when choosing an oncologist, surgeon, airline pilot, defense attorney, statistician, etc.?

2. Would the people who apparently held such low expectations for Sarah Palin in her first interview that she exceeded them have applied similarly low expectations to Hillary Clinton?

3. Does lying matter?  (Someone should ask John McCain this directly.)

Big Al

Ian mentioned Al Giordano in a comment-- I just want to square that enthusiasm. A paragraph I liked from yesterday:

...pay no mind to the armchair generals that try to get you riled up over their (mostly terribly errant) obsessions regarding "messaging" matters (the "What Obama Must Do" crowd), few of whom have any real experience managing, much less winning campaigns of any magnitude at all. To them who hold themselves up and out there as "experts" on campaign strategy and tactics, I'll borrow a line that Beckel applied to politics a quarter-century ago: "Where's the beef?"

The beef is in the ground game. And the rank-and-file volunteer making phone calls and going door to door is a hundred times more important this year than any fool shouting "'hit them' is a strategy" from the bleachers. Register someone to vote: that's the square hit to the jaw, and multiplied by millions, it's the knock out punch. This year, the boxing gloves are not in one man's hands. They're in yours.

If you want to see why he thinks so (it involves some seriously convincing cocktail napkin math regarding RV files and census data), you can read the rest of the post here.

Certainly, I'm an armchair general like anyone. More like a corporal. But anyway, the point is to act, not just to talk.

Tally: $20 to Obama on 10/9.

Words fail

Sarah Palin's Churches and The Third Wave from Bruce Wilson on Vimeo

Sarah Palin's church is terrifying.



So a number of commentators are unhappy with the dem response to this pig malarkey, complaining that it's somehow weak. But at least one suggests that maybe Obama set the lipstick line as a trap, so as to divert the Palin narrative and re-moor the McCain campaign in the gutter.

Who knows? But I do wonder: among those who don't think Obama has been aggressive enough, he is all but guaranteed to yield 99% of the available votes, and that's a pretty good reason not to give them what we want if doing serves some other purpose. These are the same people still smarting from Kerry's inaction against the swift boaters in 04, the hyper-informed and jittery liberals-- people like us. Our emotional state is understandable, sure, but it might also be self-defeating. We want the emotional satisfaction of a winning newscycle (though really, I'm not sure we lost this one). But what does the persuadable, swing state voter want?

In the end, we should want Obama to give them what they want. Assuming basic competency, I think that must be what his campaign means to be doing here-- the lipstick comment aside (or not). I don't think we should take his high-mindedness at face value anymore than we do when McCain tries to come off similarly.

This new wolf ad from McCain seems to affirm the strategy. I won't link to it. You can go find it if you don't know what I'm talking about. But the point is they're on the defensive about their own tactics.

I don't know if it will work. That's another question. But this ridiculous notion that we're not getting what we want from the campaign because of some fundamental character flaw endemic to our politicians and strategists is sort of silly. These people are professionals. At the very least they have a reason for what they're doing.

TALLY: $20 to Obama on 10/9.


The biggest problems facing America today

From watching the Republican convention and listening to John McCain and Sarah Palin since then, I've gathered together a list of the top problems that the Republicans believe are facing America:

1. Damned earmarks!   They're .6% of our annual budget!
2. Liberal Washington and the Eastern elites who have governed the past eight years!
3. Sexist Democrats!

Anything else you'd like to add to the list?

Disregard today's Palin quote

If you saw a Sarah Palin quote at the top of this blog today, don't believe it. An alert reader points out that the quote about dinosaurs is likely a hoax. Sorry and shamed. For about an hour, I was no better than people who forward false email smears about Obama. I was ... hideous.

Voicemail from John McCain

This message, left by John McCain on Sarah Palin's voicemail, is extremely entertaining and not to be missed. Thanks to Jason Marcuson for the alert.


Give Give Give

Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give Give.

A and I just gave $75. For the next month every post I write on politics here gets the Obama campaign $10. Starting with this one.

I'm sure a lot of you guys already have contributed- but if not, please consider it. Talking on the interpoo is good but it's not enough. Even small donations matter.

A and I will also be canvassing in either IA or IN at some point too- if anyone might like to coordinate, please get in touch.


Sarah Palin and the Media

Of the many, many things that irk me about the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate and about Sarah Palin herself, this is the one that I think should be the most upsetting to everyone: that we're to believe she is fully capable of becoming VP (and landing first in the succession line to the presidency) in 4.5 months but that she cannot take Q&A from the media (even Fox News) until she's "comfortable."  Which may be, like, never.  Or not before the election.

Are we insane, America?  

Don't answer that.

Talking Points Memo has a nice, concise analysis of this.

American Blackout

Required viewing for 2008 elections.

It's that time of year again

... when the oddest book title is awarded. (This year's winner is Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers. Congratulations to the author, Derek Willan.)


It's not the funniest thing we've seen so far...

...but it's still pretty funny. Apparently Walter Reed Medical Center and Walter Reed Middle School are not the same thing. (Not to mention the added giggle from finding out that the middle school picture was the backdrop for Jimmy Smits's acceptance speech on the West Wing, our former, more benevolent source of politics porn.)


Catching Up

I think that was a fine speech by McCain. But did it do anything to counteract one of the most resonant lines of Obama's speech? "It's not that John McCain doesn't care, it's that he doesn't get it."

I don't think so. He seemed noble and old and all that, but when he says things like "we must catch up to history" it reinforces the notion that he's still behind. It's a little close to "I want to get it!" It's like my grandmother, fresh off her first email check, offering to do IT support. No thanks, Grammy.

His attempt to claim the change mantle will probably only work with people who were looking for a reason to vote for him anyway, who are trying to "catch up" to this idea of change being what they want, after all. It's sort of hard to claim you're an agent of change when you've long been closely associated with, if not instrumental, in what needs to be changed. Even if we allow him uncynical intention in this, I think it reinforces the "doesn't get it" idea. It doesn't go well, either, with the standard conservative malarkey about the economy and taxes. That is, after all, part of what got us in to this mess and it doesn't take an economist to see that. That section of his speech doesn't do well when juxtaposed against Obama's "tax cut for 95%" line-which is pretty memorable-- and his litany of specific economic proposals.

They'll get their bump but I think it'll be fragile and short-lived.


This is my most favorite thing ever. Or at least for right now.

I tried to embed this, but I am too moronic.  So just follow the link.

It's not 1860 or 1932 or 1980 -- it's 1992

Sarah Palin's speech last night changed the dynamics of the election. Before that, I saw this contest as reminiscent of 1860, when a green-stick Illinois lawmaker became everyone's hero against all odds. And it felt like 1932, when the failures of Republican governance ushered in a sweeping realignment in which the Democrats reclaimed a broad ruling coalition that lasted more than three decades. And I also saw Obama as a new Reagan, a sparkling, optimistic newcomer whom people weren't quite sure about till he took care of their doubts by easily handling Jimmy Carter in the debates. But now I am reminded of 1992.

What we had in 1992 was an exciting young Democrat, new to the national scene, who picked a solid middle-of-the-road Senator as his running mate, facing an older moderate Republican who, after fending off a conservative challenger in the primary, was consistently losing in the polls and a big yawner to the party base, running with a goofy, grating, not-ready-for-prime-time social conservative. The Republican Convention in 1992, in which Pat Buchanan declared a culture war against politically correct far-left liberal East Coast baby-killing atheists, sealed the deal for Clinton-Gore, who suddenly looked conclusively reasonable to the independents who decide our elections. That convention brought the rabid 28% to its feet but frightened everybody else.

True, one big difference is that Bush the Greater and Quayle had already been in office for four years. But Bush the Lesser -- who is sort of a male Sarah Palin -- has been in for eight and has let the economy unravel, massively added to the debt, ensnared our troops in wretched conflicts, and seriously damaged our reputation in the world. His legacy is far worse than his father's. It's one of those times when nonpartisan people are saying, "Okay, okay, I get it, we screwed up by picking someone who has screwed up, so I'm open to new ideas." They looked around, saw Obama and McCain and said, "Hmmm, they both seem okay enough. Now, which one is better?" Biden fortified Obama in their minds. Palin? ...I'm thinking not so much. I'm thinking people have had enough of belligerent, stubborn halfwits running the show and are in no mood for more. I think that group even includes most Republicans -- after all, McCain did win the open Republican primary.

The other difference is that other big-eared Texan, who captured nearly 19% of the vote that year (Clinton: 43%, Bush: 37.4%). There is no wild card like Perot this time (unless Bob Barr catches fire), so his vote, if it goes according to exit polls from 1992, would go 1/3 for Obama, 1/3 for McCain, and 1/3 for staying home on the La-Z-Boy. That would still produce a Democratic winner by 5%. This morning, the RCP average has Obama by 5.8%.

Then again, every time I think I have a handle on this swerving race, it slips from my grasp and morphs again.


So, what do GOP insiders really think about Palin?

You gotta love the live mike.  Check this out -- seriously.  It is only a little over a minute long.  The good parts start about 20-30 seconds in.

Out of Hiding and on to Primetime

Get ready now for an adequate and vague speech by Palin that will, per the expectations game, be hailed as a triumph.

My guess is it just doesn't matter. There are several aspects of the last few days' coverage that will stick in the long term, even if the media coverage swings away from onslaught in the near term.

In fact, a short term boon for McCain in this might be a long term loss. Their best bet for damage control is a backlash to an ad nauseum media onslaught on Palin. The sooner that onslaught declines from its frenzied peak, the less likely a backlash is. In other words, they might benefit most from the pot boiling over. If it stays on at a steady simmer, they're basically fucked.

Of course I'd prefer that she totally screw the pooch tonight. But the dimensions of the pick are pretty much the same as they are now even if she doesn't.