31 August, 2008

Palin and Sexism

One thing the Palin candidacy has illuminated is the degree to which there's still a great degree of sexism in our politics. Contrary to the view of pissed-off Hillary supporters and PUMAs, no one viewed her as a less qualified candidate because she was a woman. However, that's exactly what's happening with Palin.

Tim Kaine was on the shortlist to be Obama's veep pick. And his record looks a lot like Palin's. He's been governor of Virginia since 2006 and before that he was Lt. Governor for a few years and Mayor of Richmond. Now, he's run somewhat larger governments than Palin, but he still has very little in the way of national experience. But I don't think that if Kaine had been picked by Obama you'd be seeing pieces like this blog post from James Fallows, who is sure that Palin will make some gaffe related to her lack of preparation on national issues.

This sort of counterfactual thinking is basically speculation, but I'll take as hard evidence that I've noticed myself making exactly the same kinds of assumptions as Fallows (and Klein and Yglesias) have been making. Palin has a week to prepare--and all she'll really have to do is make stump speeches. Assuming she's an intelligent, driven, articulate person (and I have no reason to assume she isn't), she should have no problem getting ready in that amount of time. Yes, she hasn't been campaigning for the last 18 months but that's true of every vice-presidential candidate ever (except perhaps John Edwards in 2004).

As far as governance, I think the same argument I've used in the past to allay fears of Obama's own inexperience applies to Palin equally well. That is, the experience of the President doesn't matter too much because they have access to teams of experts, speechwriters and advisers to tell them what to do. So really what you should look for is a candidate that picks good advisers. Incidentally, this is one of the primary reasons I like Obama. Now, we don't know what kind of advisers Palin would pick, but there's really no reason to think she wouldn't pick good ones. (McCain on the other hand... .) So the "heartbeat away" argument doesn't really hold water unless there's some other reason that she wouldn't be able to make good decisions...like maybe she was a beauty queen and is a mother of five? Just sayin'...

29 August, 2008


...apparently MSNBC has turned into the convention sideshow. No wonder I can't see their commentary on internet feed anymore. I've posted all of the videos from these incidents below the text. First, Keith Olbermann mutters under his breath "Jeez Joe, why don't you get a shovel?" while Scarborough defends the McCain campaign's ability to stay on message. Second, Scarborough explodes at David Shuster, who dares to suggest that Scarborough should not mock the idea of a timetable in Iraq. (This one is...pretty great, I love his co-host awkwardly trying to keep him under control.) Next, Chris Matthews is talking about women voting for Hillary Clinton, a subject that he hasn't exactly been politically correct about in the past, and his producers attempt to shoo him on to the next segment. When that doesn't work, Olbermann gets creative with hand gestures. Finally, we have Olbermann trying to hurry Republican Mike Murphy off-stage while he claims that the Clintons are going to vote for John McCain.

Entertaining indeed. Here's more from the Politico on the infighting at MSNBC and even more from Page Six.

The underlying tension, I think, derives from an internal battle over whether MSNBC should attempt "objectivity" or should become an Olbermann-esque left-leaning news/commentary hybrid. It seems that the passing of Russert has left a bit of a power vacuum--on one hand we have Olbermann and Matthews seeking to make MSNBC the network of Obama and on the other is Brokaw and Scarborough, who want anchors to read the news without a voice. (Although I'll bet the reason Scarborough doesn't want the network to become more liberal is maybe because he's conservative?) The former camp looks to be winning since they just hired Rachel Maddow, a prominent liberal radio personality and frequent MSNBC contributor to do a one-hour show every night. But, apparently Olbermann has gone so far as to call for Brokaw's banishment from the cable network.

This is relevant to a discussion that Elliot and I have had on more than one occasion--should the news media strive for objectivity or should we just have liberal news and conservative news, each presenting the days events with their own "biased" perspective? Now, there's no completely impartial way to tell a story...and what would impartiality mean in an operational sense anyway? After all, what the news media does is record events and imbue them with meaning by weaving them into a narrative. The selection of such a narrative (not to mention the language used to tell it) is inherently political, and so there can be no media that exists outside of politics. (And thus Elliot advocates what he or I might call "adversarial journalism".)

So are we doomed to the insularity that having a purely partisan news media would surely bring? If I may use a metaphor: we can imagine the various political parties as planets floating in space. What the argument of the previous paragraph shows is essentially that there's no Sun. There is no center view from which to calmly and dispassionately observe the goings-on. The clever journalist will now argue that, well, since there's no perfect point of view, let's just report on ALL the points of view. But this would get us what we've had for the last 5-10 years. CNN is a prime example. If Fox leans conservative and MSNBC liberal, CNN is the court stenographer. What passes for "unbiased" news on CNN these days is simply a report of the positions and statements of the different parties and candidates and some largely inaccurate speculation about how these positions will affect public opinion. This is, of course, ridiculous. As Paul Krugman famously wrote, if George W. Bush claimed the world was flat, the headlines would read "Shape of Earth: Opinions Differ". "Crossfire" may have been the height of this ridiculousness but it was certainly not the end.

However, all is not lost. I think there's another way out that is neither reporting from one partisan perspective or another nor is it merely transcribing what each party says. An enterprising journalist could, if she dared, create a new perspective based around propositions that we know with a high degree of probability to be true. For example, there are a wide variety of facts that are beyond dispute. Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border, Iraq is not now a "peaceful and stable nation", $5 million is not middle class. One could draw upon the work of scientists, economists, philosophers, Latin American studiers, academics and experts of all stripes. One could point out obvious contradictions in the positions of the candidates and the unsavory implications of certain beliefs. When there were legitimate differences of opinion, one would report both sides of the issue and the differences between the underlying assumptions of each. In essence, one would seek to understand the arguments involved and evaluate their premises and validity. This may be a bit much to ask from our current media, brought up to simply repeat statements instead of think about them, but it's possible that we may someday have a press corps that even Brad Delong would respect.

Obama's strategy

I try to leave the unquantifiable and unfalsifiable strategy/ horse race BS to better qualified folks like Mark Halperin and David Brooks, but last night's speech crystallized what I've been thinking for a while about Obama's strategy. I've heard a lot of Democrats recently feeling very distressed over what they have perceived as the weakness of the Obama campaign so far. The national polls have tightened as McCain has laid into Obama again and again, while Obama campaign has seemed to respond only half-heartedly. Some attributed this to Obama's gauzy, one-hand-behind-my-back message of a New Politics, some to his lack of experience running against a GOP opponent, some to traditional Democratic wishy-washyness.

But this diagnosis, I think, misreads the deliberateness -- and, possibly, brilliance -- of Obama's strategy. And in his acceptance speech last night, he finally played his hand. Sullivan hits the nail on the head:

What he didn't do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again ... and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans thought they were playing with a patsy, they just got a reality check.

By responding passively over the summer, he let the McCain campaign dig its own grave with negative and frankly silly attacks that made increasingly unsubstantiated claims. Now, proving the ridiculousness of those attacks is a rather low bar, and what's more, he can still claim the high ground as he goes after McCain. I endured a summer of this nonsense, he says to us, and enough is enough -- It's time to respond. And respond he did -- and, now, in self-defense, and out of a poignant sense of wounded honor. I think one of the most effective line of his speech was the one in which, after laying out his decidedly un-elitist life story, he said in a low voice, "Now, I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine."

If you'll recall, this closely mirrors the strategy he employed against Senator Clinton. For the first half of the primary season, he sat above the fray, outlining his positive vision and letting Clinton attack him with similarly laughable accusations (remember the Kindergarten debacle?) which Obama could swat away with "I guess it's silly season." Nonetheless, he remained behind in the polls until the month before the Iowa caucus, when, defending himself against the months of Clinton smears, he began to mount a counter-attack. In this way, he was able to attack while maintaining his higher-ground brand. McCain, by going down the swift-boat path early, may have just played right into Obama's fall strategy.

A Tad Insulted

Sitting in between classes, I finished the Spanish homework due in a few hours and turned on the tele. On the same channel from the DNC last night, Fox News has now switched the focus to McCain. He has chosen governor or Alaska, Sarah Palin as his running mate.

I'm not amazed that A WOMAN could be a good choice, but the way that it has been presented. They have been talking and talking about the huge amount of Hilary supporters to be picked up...

**Side note** They now have what appears to be high school cheerleaders throwing out t-shirts to the Ohio crowd. Awesome!**

...the way that this has come across to me is that John McCain chose well to add a woman to the ticket because Hilary supporters will likely swing his and her way now. Really, just because she's a woman? Oh yes, that's right. Women don't care about issues; it's all about the SISTERHOOD! You go girl! (pick up on the sarcasm yet?)

And I know there is more to her being his running mate. This could all just be a brief burst of my personal emotions (you know how women are with their emotions..)

28 August, 2008

The Youth

Al Gore said tonight in his Democratic Convention speech that, "among the young generation, this election is not close at all." Sounds good and I'd say my impression is that it is true. Anyone have any stats on this?

So, I had this idea...

Mr. Fleishman has inspired me with a simple text message: Have you tried Berliner Weiss?

New Glarus has a brew out that we must have missed somehow, and this in itself bears scrutiny--what were we thinking?

The Berliner Weiss style is interesting, complex, and at times just hard to find in the states. I spent some time reading traveller's accounts of attempting to order a Berliner Weiss in Berlin, and it sounds like an adventure in itself--I'll explain momentarily.

The beer itself is low in alcohol, has a pale, straw-like color, and a head that dissipates quickly. Sounds pretty plain to start, but the flavor profile will more than make up for any perceived shortcomings.

Berliner Weiss is a wheat ale, fermented with traditional warm temperature, top-fermenting yeast, and also a lactobacillus culture. Peaked your interest yet? The culture helps to add one of the most prominent mouthfeel qualities: sourness. This is a tart, sour beer that may be mildly reminiscent of a lambic or gueuze, for you Belgian beer fans. Spence may have encountered such at the beer festival he neglected to invite me to. Thanks Spence. The brew also sports a fairly high acidity, something like grapefruit juice with its citric sharpness.

Now, the truly interesting thing about this bier is the culture surrounding it. I mentioned the adventure of ordering such a drink in Berlin. The tradition among Berliners is to add a fruit syrup to the beer, which is then served in a large bowl-shaped glass with a straw. Think of it like a not-so-poor poormosa (cheap lager and orange juice). The syrups most often used are Himbeere (raspberry) and Waldmeister (woodruff). These also impart a red or green color, respectively. The fashion behind this suggests the drink as a fun, refreshing, and light summer drink. One might call this the true Champagne of Beers. The syrup cuts the sourness substantially, some think to the point of removing almost all beer-like qualities.

The purist accounts I've come across suggest the beer served "ohne Schuss" in a tall Pilsener glass--meaning, of course, without syrup in a tall Pilsener glass. I plan to try both ways and make the call for myself.

And so I pose a challenge to my compratriots: a beer profiling competition of sorts. Not really a competition, I suppose, since I offer no prize and have no criteria for judging you at all. What I ask of you is to seek out a new style of beer. Do some research, give it a shot, and record your impressions. Step 2: post these on Debaser, for the enjoyment of all!


27 August, 2008


  • Phelps did that eighth gold.
  • Here's a profile of Austan Goolsbee, Obama's top economist, and an interview with him on Charlie Rose.
  • Perhaps the most interesting piece I have read on the Georgia situation by Mikhail Gorbachev. He argues that Saakashvili is baiting the U.S. into sending new arms and U.S. officials are swallowing his bluster hook, line, and sinker. It is apparent that Georgia started the crisis, not Russia.

    Gorby also makes the point that Russia is a large country that has interests, just like the United States, and that it would do the U.S. well to respect those interests:
    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.

26 August, 2008

Interesting Links

  • An article on the new wave of professional panhandlers. As I've noticed, the new thing is to say that you're going to spend the money on liquor and drugs. This tends to do well because it's funny. Of course, once this strategy becomes widespread I expect the excess returns will vanish. What will the next fad be? Perhaps environmentally-conscious "greenhandling" with recycled cardboard signs? As before, the best personal policy is just to respectfully decline panhandlers since you can always give your money to a soup kitchen or shelter where you know it will actually help people.
  • Tyler Cowen says that people aren't dogmatic enough because they selfishly care about being correct instead of zealously promoting ambitious new ideas that are probably wrong.
  • Paul Krugman reinforces the important point that we should really be paying attention to median income instead of mean income and by that measure, the Bush expansion was basically a long drought.
  • Krugman also likes Obama's negative attacks on McCain's "ten houses" comment. (But why did he have to get that dig on Biden into the column?) I think I have much less animus toward negative advertising than I once did.

17 August, 2008

Some new links

With our new-found leisure time, Spence and I have gone through and added some links to the blogroll over there on the right. Some addresses have changed, and some stuff that we've been reading for a while but have been too lazy to link to. Check 'em out if you get a chance:

Lots of good stuff.

13 August, 2008


In a NYtimes opinion editorial called "Eight Strikes and You're Out," Tom Freidman surfaces something even worse than political attack ads.

He calls McCain out for not voting on an important bill "— S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.
Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile."

But the real kicker is that this is not the first, second, fifth, or even seventh time, but the EIGHT time that McCain hasn't voted on this bill; a perfect record of not counting...or being unaccountable.

Barack has voted 3 times for this which isn't the perfect score either, but McCain was in the Senate one voting day and wouldn't leave his office. Unexceptable in my opinion. Give the vote to someone who will use it.

12 August, 2008

A horrible disappointment...followed by a lack of posting...followed by a stunning success.

Jonathan Edwards. There I sat, thinking we finally have few people of conscience rising to the top, when reality comes up and says, "silly Boy Scout, morals are for lessons you hypocritically tell to your kids."

Everyone slips, I know. I'm just tired of every single one slipping. In my ideal dream world, people can just be up front about their fallibility and not be destroyed by it, but at the same time, the mistakes people make are more like misspelling Azerbaijan in a press release.

That said, I know we're all busy with moving and travelling and such, but geez, we are slacking on the comments. That said, here's a great recipe we tried the other day, and easy too!

Rice Salad with garbanzo beans and tomatoes:

2 1/2 c short-grain rice (we used wild rice)
1/4 c EVO
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp Red pepper flakes
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, sliced (we halved ours)
3 c canned garbanzo beans, drained
1 bunch mint, torn+extra to garnish (we ommitted, thinking cilantro might be nice, or a variety of other spices)

08 August, 2008

New York Timesenalia

Paul Krugman hits the nail on the unfortunately shrunken head:

What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”
Of course, Stephen Colbert has been saying this for some time now. But I think this is perhaps the most important aspect of our politics today. There are a whole lot of people, mostly Republicans, who don't care a whit about getting policy right. Even if our goals differ, it's certainly possible for Republicans to put forward a coherent and sophisticated set of proposals that achieves their goals.

Meanwhile, David Brooks reveals himself as what he has always been:
When you first come across some obscure cultural artifact — an unknown indie band, organic skate sneakers or wireless headphones from Finland — you will want to erupt with ecstatic enthusiasm. This will highlight the importance of your cultural discovery, the fineness of your discerning taste, and your early adopter insiderness for having found it before anyone else.

Then, a few weeks later, after the object is slightly better known, you will dismiss all the hype with a gesture of putrid disgust. This will demonstrate your lofty superiority to the sluggish masses. It will show how far ahead of the crowd you are and how distantly you have already ventured into the future.
The true brains behind Stuff White People Like.

06 August, 2008


Yesterday, August 5th, was the 6th annual National Underwear Day!.
Hosted by freshpair.com, models clad in what used to be considered unmentionables take over the streets of New York.
I've heard that they even give out undies to random people.

Fortunately, no pants day comes more than once a year!

This could be a horrible idea. But...

I think it sounds fun. Andy Sullivan (whom, despite Spence's arguments, I still read) has come up with an idea to take the wind out of the sails of ridiculous negative campaign ads on both sides. He wants to host a competition for the best/worst amateur attack ad against either John McCain or Barack Obama (or Bob Barr or Ralph Nader, I suppose...). In his words:

Couldn't we take some of that power away from the pros - especially with negative advertizing - by pre-empting and defusing them? What I'm thinking of is a Dish Youtube contest to come up with the least fair, most effective negative ads for both sides. The technology is widely available for making your own 30-second negative spots, and it's good therapy. So let's flood the zone.

The hope is by flooding the nets with silly attack ads, it will diminish some of the ability of real attack ads to be taken as seriously as they are. I think this dynamic has already begun to happen to some extent with gaffes/embarrassing moments -- since every moment of every candidate's life are recorded and put on YouTube, none are free from widely available public scrutiny of their mistakes. That, in turn, diminishes the impact of any one misstep - a sort of law of diminishing returns from scandal.

Will this exercise change anything? Probably not -- but I agree with Sullivan that during the primaries there was a sense of the campaign being more participatory, with the news cycle as often as not being driven by viral videos (Obama girl!) or the decentralized energy of grassroots supporters. Now there is a sense of sitting back and waiting for the next ad to come out, and then arguing about what that ad means and how it will affect things, which is probably the single least illuminating way of carrying on a political debate. Maybe, in one more great moment of irony, the inanity of the internet can restore some semblance of sanity to the political discourse by satirizing the much greater inanity of the mainstream political process.

It's quick and easy to cut and paste a 30 second video...anyone else going to join me in seeing if I can't take Barry down a peg or two?