Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Don't leave John Edwards alone

This week the Slate Political Gabfest's discussion of the possible John Edwards love child took a detour from its usual orderly, good-humored tone into something resembling the Howard Stern show (and that's a compliment). A part of the conversation that initially wasn't intended for the podcast turned into an all-out heated brawl, with everybody arguing over one another, dropping f-bombs and generally getting worked up. It's good drama and good argument; skip ahead to the 29-minute mark if you want to get right to the good stuff. (I am a fan of this podcast so I of course recommend listening to the whole thing.)

It's also not a coincidence that emotions ran high over this particular story. That John Edwards possibly has a mistress and a love child is the sort of fact that triggers so much cognitive dissonance that it is difficult to process. This is not only because Elizabeth Edwards has cancer, but also because so much of Edwards' own appeal as a politician rested on a sense of emotional connection to voters.

When Eliot Spitzer got busted, his actions seemed astonishingly reckless and delightfully scandalous, but I'm not sure many people had a strong emotional reaction precisely because Spitzer was widely understood to be a big jerk. Lots of Democrats probably appreciated him being a jerk when he was targeting big business interests and white-collar criminals, but few identified with him in the way a lot of the left has seemed to identify with Edwards.

One symptom of over-identifying with Edwards is that some people have been inclined to blame the Enquirer for publishing the story, or to otherwise claim that the media ought to but out of this one. But that's absurd, for all the reasons Emily Bazelon spells out in the podcast -- Edwards is a national figure, he aspires to future office, people care about him and so on. I don't see any reasonable argument that John Edwards visiting his rumored mistress at her hotel room after 2 a.m. and then hiding from a reporter in the bathroom is not a huge deal.

My strong intuition is that if there were a good explanation for this, we would have heard it already. But even in the absence of a non-damning explanation, it's still an open question whether having a love child ought to destroy Edwards' political career forever. I think the answer is not necessarily -- but it does probably disqualify him from doing much of anything in Democratic politics for at least a few years. It's too strongly counter to the public image Edwards cultivated, and it's too emotional a subject for too many people.

P.S. ... Boy the Dems sure dodged a bullet not nominating him for president, though, am I right?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why are politicians always touching?

Does it seem to you like politicians are more touchy-feely than regular people? It does to me. I was watching a bit of tape of Barack Obama talking to Angela Merkel today: they were shaking hands for the camera, but also they kept touching one another on the arm as they spoke. Nothing creepy or out of the ordinary (no backrubs), but it did get me thinking: I practically never touch the people I am talking to, especially business associates. Possibly I am uptight, but is this normal?

For Obama and the German chancellor, it was certainly no big thing. And that's the way it seems to be for political leaders. George W. Bush actually kissed Joe Lieberman, McCain gave Bush a big ol' hug and so on. So I feel I've got to ask: Is there something particular to the political profession that lends itself to PDA?

P.S. ... Turns out the New York Times got there well before I did, with a 2006 piece on the "Politics of Good Touch, Bad Touch"...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lee Siegel does not know the definition of 'definition'

Almost 500 words into his 1,000-word NYT essay on the Barack Obama New Yorker cover, Lee Siegel writes "If you accept this definition of satire, then..." Wait, what definition? I had to scroll up the page looking for where exactly Siegel thought he had provided any sort of definition at all.

Here is what Siegel might have meant to be his definition of satire:
It was a gnawing permanence of everyday life that the satirist lampooned -- i.e., punctured -- to provide a general catharsis.
But there you have the problem of using the term being defined within the definition, which is frowned upon. And there's a substantive problem: just about any sort of humor fits this definition, and not all humor is satire.

Further up the page, I found another possible definition that I think is closer to the point:
For satire has always taken as its target conventions, sentiments and injustices that are universally recognizable and complacently accepted, and not at all hidden phenomena that have to be roughly revealed. The reporter is the one who exposes social rottenness operating in secret. The satirist deposes it once it has become a visible and established part of life.
But this is also a terrible definition. I am pretty sure it would exclude Don Quixote, Catch-22, Candide and The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. So...

This definition issue actually is pretty central to Siegel's argument about the New Yorker cover -- that it is not satire -- although to be honest the piece is a bit of a mess from the jump.

I don't have any particular thoughts to contribute to Siegel's larger thesis except to say that his recommended remedy -- to render the cover "in a balloon over the head of a deranged citizen" -- does not seem to me like a recipe for a very hilarious satire.

I do, however, have this opinion to share: Outside of academia, Lee Siegel may very well be the most pretentious writer alive! Who can contest him? He has it all: rabid self-regard, lots of barely-apt literary allusions, and that way of writing above his own head, like he doesn't quite understand his own concepts.

And for definitions of satire, I am fine with Webster's -- or, even better, Dr. Johnson's.

Earlier Siegel-bashing:
- Most boringest arts critic ever
- Not alone
- Busted!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday reading

Definitely worth spending some time with the David Carr NYT Magazine piece about his days as a crack addict, adapted from his forthcoming book on the subject. I am not typically a fan of the from-addiction-to-recovery genre -- James Frey, Jim Carroll, etc. -- but Carr is doing something different.

Because he actually took the trouble to report his story -- seeking out old friends, family members, medical records -- the story is not so much about his tortured interior state, the depths of his depravity, or the other familiar addiction story cliches. Instead it's about how other people saw him during the years he spent smoking crack, and also about the story he constructed about himself before, during and after his struggles with addiction. That's a more interesting story, even if it does ultimately arrive at some of the same lessons.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Joining the Grand New Party media offensive

A nice interview with Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam on Fresh Air tonight, following their Bloggingheads episode, David Brooks column, TPM Cafe appearance and D.C. panel discussion. I fear that their book is going to turn out be one I hear lots of chatter about but never actually read, but nevertheless it is interesting to hear them talking about it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fact of the day

Average word count of top-ten songs during the 1960s: 176
Average last year: 436
[From Harper's Index via Marginal Revolution]

Clever commenter Jesse Rouse: "I blame Twista."

Water, water everywhere...(part II)

[This time actually about water]

My colleague and lunch companion David Zetland has this little blurb in Forbes about California's impending "water crisis" and what to do about it.

Water. water everywhere...

Media conglomerates take up an ever-increasing share of the media pie, fewer voices populate the media space, and a dearth of options are available to the news-hungry consumer.

That is, unless you live in the year 2008. According to this new report, "contrary to what some media critics suggest, 'We have more media choice, more media competition, and more media diversity' than ever before. Indeed, they argue, 'To the extent there was ever a 'golden age' of media in America, we are living in it today.'"

Perhaps the cognitive dissonance is due to our ever increasing number of information channels being expended to complain about how we don't have enough information channels.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Killer Mike for VP

Like a minute-and-a-half into this radio interview with Killer Mike (via Nah Right), I knew I was going to have to buy his new record immediately:

So I iTunes'd "I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II" and oh man I am so not disappointed. Exactly what I needed tonight.

"US Placers" by Child Rebel Soldiers

As my friend Tanner puts it simply: "sickness." I believe this came out last year but the video is new to me.

I think Pharrell may be the only rapper to ever refer to "Pfizer, Glaxo Smith Kline" and "DuPont" -- he really is a label maven! And I love how "Thom Yorke" never looks head on into the frame.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Two examples of hypersensitivity

I see Michelle Malkin is complaining about some dude's ridiculous idea of p.c. speech codes because of how "hypersensitive" he is being.

Funny thing is, just a couple of months ago a different blogger also named Michelle Malkin was arguing rather vigorously in favor of enforcing an equally ridiculous and hypersensitive p.c. dress code. I didn't realize there were two bloggers named Michelle Malkin! don't think...

"Dancing" with a non-star

I have a new column up about that "Dancing" video.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Heard it here first

Possibly the stupidest media-fueled quasi-attack on Obama yet...anticipated by AMillionMonkeys more than a year ago!

Monday, July 07, 2008

A new and promising strategy for dealing with political liabilities

In a new twist on dealing with a politically problematic vote, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio representing Dayton and some surrounding areas, sends out a campaign mailer in which he takes credit for "supporting" the GI Bill he voted against. Very clever, Rep. Turner!

It is not quite "Straight Talk Express," but I believe this tactic has some potential for the McCain campaign. Who knew you could just say you voted for a popular bill regardless of how you actually voted? This tactic would free up McCain, for instance, to argue that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, has been a steadfast opponent of torture, a suppoter of a woman's right to choice and who knows what else? The possibilities are nearly endless...

I am glad to know that Barack Obama will now be kept up-to-date about which movies I saw over the weekend and which Lil Wayne lyrics are amusing me at any given moment.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Obama songwatch

"Barack the Magnificent" by Mighty Sparrow:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Same as the old boss

From Campaign Diaries:
"NY Mag’s new article dissing Sebelius, Biden and Hagel as ... Obama’s choices devotes the most space in its section about Sebelius to the argument (provided by one 'well connected' source) that Obama could then suffer from the 'very American trope about miscegenation. (…) Every time they smile at each other, it will be triggered … And that’s exactly the kind of anxiety you do not want to raise in white working-class men — the fear that this handsome, charismatic black guy is after their women.' That the article concludes that Obama’s safest and best bet is Hillary Clinton, another white woman, does undermine its coherence..
Oh my!

J.K. Rowling's war on Wausau summer camp

[NOTE: I thought this item on J.K. Rowling and copyright, which I wrote for my day job, might be of interest to AMillionMonkeys readers as well.]

It won't be Muggle Academy that kids grades four through 11 will attend next week at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County.

Instead, the Harry Potter-themed summer camp, developed by UWMC professors Holly Hassel (left) and Karley Adney, will go by the name "Wizarding Academy."

In a way, it's an improvement! As every Harry Potter fan knows, "muggles" are oblivious civilians who can't do magic. Technically, every kid who goes to the camp already attends a Muggle Academy -- every schoolday from August through June. A Wizarding Academy is surely much better.

But that is not the reason UWMC had to change the name. A clue to that is in the disclaimer the now sported on the Office of Continuing Education's Web site:

"This event is not sponsored or endorsed by J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, or Warner Brothers."

Yep, Hassel and Adney were the recipients of a call -- friendly enough, they insist -- from J.K. Rowling's legal representation. The call came soon after the WDH story Keith wrote about their (legally cleared) scholarly companion to Harry Potter, so it was clearly the result of some team of googling lawyers trolling the net for copyright crime.

But isn't this serious overkill on the Rowling people's part? Under what possible definition of copyright crime does hosting a summer camp fall? Put it another way: Will any of the kids who attend the Harry Potter-themed summer camp be less likely to buy books, see movies and otherwise participate in Pottermania? If the answer is "no," then what possible damage has been done to Rowling's brand?

To be sure, J.K. Rowling and her publishers have a legitimate interest in having some measures of control over their massively profitable brand. But from the beginning they have taken a pointlessly hardline view on copyright, whether that has meant suing to stop publication of international knock-offs like Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass or threatening to destroy a middle school librarian from Michigan. Cracking down on summer camp is surely not the wisest PR move a kid-friendly brand can take.

Hassel and Adney take a rather more anodyne view on the question, and it's not like they chose to battle the lawyers' request. The guidelines are the guidelines, and it's not like they had to change the content of the camp itself.

But if you ask me, the point of copyright is to prevent copying. It's quite a distance from there to the point where anybody can claim to own the word "muggle."