Friday, October 31, 2008

Take it easy, but take it

Studs Terkel has died at the age of 96.



Not least since he was a specifically Chicago institution -- one that my mother remembered listening to going back to the 1960s and spoke fondly of -- and since I too spent a few years as a public radio broadcaster (WNIU...this is a long time ago) I feel a special connection.

Studs is hard to summarise for the uninitiated.

A few starting points:

The Chicago Historical Society
Wikipedia
Gary Younge's Interview

And the conclusion of the Chicago Tribune story from today:

He seemed keenly aware, however, that the shadows were closing in. To touch his arms was to feel a living skeleton. He displayed a mind still sharp with its ability to recall names and dates and places from his lengthy and storied past. But he was facing the future too.

"Remember those old Ivory soap commercials, 'Ivory Soap, 99.44 percent pure?' Well I am 99.44 percent dead," he said, sitting in the sun-soaked living room of his house. The place was, as always, a wonderful mess of papers, tapes, books, letters, photos and visitors that so pleasantly cluttered his life.

"The most fun I've ever had doing a story was interviewing Studs in that living room," says WMAQ and WTTW television anchor/reporter Carol Marin. "He was unique."

He was in that living room last year when he said with zest that when he "checked out"-- as a "hotel kid" he rarely used the word "dying," preferring the euphemism "checking out" and its variants--he wanted to be cremated. He wanted his ashes mixed with those of his wife, which sat in an urn in the living room of his house, near the bed in which he slept and dreamed.

"My epitaph? My epitaph will be 'Curiosity did not kill this cat,'" he said.

He then said that he wanted his and Ida's ashes to be scattered in Bughouse Square, that patch of green park that so informed his first years in his adopted city.

"Scatter us there," he said, a gleeful grin on his face. "It's against the law. Let 'em sue us."

That's the spirit.

Goodbye, Studs.


[UPDATE] Ed Vulliamy's recollections at the Guardian are well worth reading.

Eloquence in action

Among the various reasons that John McCain's campaign has been struggling this year (I mean, apart from the negative effect of Bible Spice), I think we should give credit to the excellent spokespeople he's got working for him.

We've already highlighted the unconvincing gibberish of the improbably named Tucker Bounds, and today we can add to it the playground antics of Michael Goldfarb, who appeared on CNN to discuss the GOP's latest guilt-by-association wheeze, the one involving Rashid Khalidi:



No doubt, there are some delusional McCain supporters who think that Goldfarb comes off looking good in this video, just as they seemed to think that it was the reporter who got the best of Joe Biden in this bizarre exchange involving a quotation from Karl Marx.

That's fine.

I would be the last person to rob them of their delusions.

They don't, after all, have much else going for them.

And I am nothing if not generous. Especially to losers.

One small request though: after this election, can we perhaps agree that use of the word 'maverick' or the phrase 'pallin' around' will be made somehow punishable? I'm open to suggestions for what an appropriate punishment might be.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Legomandias

The story of the 6ft Lego man washed up on Brighton beach reminds me of the following:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Speaking of Shelley: apparently Lily Allen is the new Wordsworth.

Katy Brand and I beg to differ:

Blue State Boy

Perhaps some of you, like me, have become regular readers (i.e., hopeless addicts) of FiveThirtyEight.com, a sort of election meta-site that collects, criticises and combines polling data on this year's US election to try to get an accurate sense of what's going on.

I'd like to think, anyway, that I'm not the only one refreshing the site 10 times an hour to see if anything -- anything! -- new has appeared.

Along with presenting data, the site has a series called 'Road to 270' (that number referring to the magic majority in the electoral college) that looks at each state in some detail.

They have now done profiles of the two states in which I have lived (and voted), and I've learned a thing or two.

For instance, consider the state where I lived for nine years (as my last US residence, it will be the place where where my vote will count for the rest of my voting life).

Maryland, it turns out, is not only probably the most liberal state south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- which, given the competition, I could have guessed -- but...

This is one of the most liberal states in the nation, with every statewide office Democratic-held and both state legislatures holding Democratic super-majorities. Six of eight House seats are Democratic, with only the 1st and 6th CDs held by Republicans. After a series of four single digit elections (Carter '76, Carter '80, Reagan '84, and Bush '88), Maryland has broken Democratic by double digits each of the last four elections beginning with Bill Clinton.

...

It's also the 4th highest percentage of African-American vote, the 2d highest percentage of female vote, and the single most-educated state (good job hitting the books, Maryland). It ranks 10th most liberal on the Likert scale, and has the 2d most self-identifying Democrats. Same-sex households by percentage rank in the upper quartile, and there are many more Starbucks than Walmarts. The high education rates lead Maryland to be the 2d highest per capita income state, which doesn't directly correlate with Democratic voting.


I had no idea that Maryland was so well-educated and wealthy. (This might have to do with the places I lived in Maryland, which were not often either of these...)

The unbalanced Starbucks/Walmart ratio was a bit more obvious.

Today, a profile was added for my real home state, Illinois, concluding, somewhat dispiritingly, that it is 'among the least interesting places to be a voter in the entire country' due to becoming solidly Democratic.

But there has been one very interesting development. At least if you come from where I do.

The story of Illinois' political transformation is the story of the bluing of the Chicago suburbs, which now account for slightly more than 50 percent of the state's population. In 1988, Lake County, the wealthy area to Chicago's north that is featured in all those John Hughes movies, went for George Bush by 27.7 points, making it 20 points more Republican than the country as a whole. But every year since, that number has been pared down some. In 1992, Lake County was 13 points more Republican than the rest of the country; in 1996, 8 points more Republican; in 2000, 3 points more Republican, and then finally in 2004, John Kerry outperformed his national margins there, although still lost the country by a hair (Barack Obama won't have the same problem).

Even my home county -- anything but Democratic when I was there -- may be turning bluer. Back during the primaries, Chicago Tribune writer Eric Zorn noted:

Eight years ago in DuPage County, Republican voters outnumbered Democrats 3-1 in the presidential primary election.

Four years ago, the pro-GOP split in the traditionally Republican enclave was 55-45.

On Tuesday, Democratic voters [in the primaries] outnumbered Republican voters in DuPage County 54-46 percent (131,345 votes to 112,240 votes).

Now, if we could only get the same dynamic going in my family....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just for the record ...

... I have always found Russell Brand a totally negligible dimwit (What do you expect? He's an Essex boy).

And that goes for Jonathan Ross, too. The negligible dimwittedness, I mean. Otherwise he's from Camden (I didn't know people lived there).

But at least now I know not only that Andrew Sachs originated from Germany, but also that we share a birthday (albeit several decades apart).

Oh, and my brother is called Manuel.

And: I, too, learn English from a book.



[UPDATE] For a rather linguistic take on this matter, see Francis.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dictatorship of the Obamatariat?

Apparently unaware of the Marxist threat posed by an Obama presidency, the Financial Times has endorsed the Illinois senator.

US presidential elections involve a fabulous expense of time, effort and money. Doubtless it is all too much – but, by the end, nobody can complain that the candidates have been too little scrutinised. We have learnt a lot about Barack Obama and John McCain during this campaign. In our view, it is enough to be confident that Mr Obama is the right choice.

Alternatively, the paper might have been infiltrated by a radical socialist cell. How else are we to explain this?

We applaud his main domestic proposal: comprehensive health-care reform. This plan would achieve nearly universal insurance without the mandates of rival schemes: characteristically, it combines a far-sighted goal with moderation in the method.

The long list of conservatives who have publicly backed Obama should make it apparent that the "He's a Scary Radical/Muslim/Socialist Who Associates With Terrorists and Hates Real America" line is a delusion and can die the quiet death it deserves.

But that's unlikely.

It seems it is all the McCain-Palin team and their increasingly troglodytic fan base have left.

As Thers points out:

This class of stuff, you'll note, comes from people who argue that a 3% increase in the income tax rate for people making over $250K is "Marxism" and anyone who says otherwise is a Red. This is what makes the "Bill Ayers" stuff so bizarre. By Corner standards, Marxism starts at, well, Ben Bernanke. Stanley Kurtz thinks "conventional-seeming Democratic liberalism" IS "radical politics."

'The Corner', for those of you who don't lurk in that sector of the blogospheric gutter, is a group blog at the National Review.

Thers sums up:

The Corner is a porn site for the resentfully ill-educated.

And I couldn't agree more.

Indeed, it's fascinating to watch the extent to which the right-wing is taking on precisely those characteristics for which they have long condemned the left, such as whining about exclusion (see the harping on about the media's liberal bias) and retreating into identity politics (real-v.-fake-America, pro- v. anti-America, Joe the Plumber, etc., etc....).

And, yes, that's fun to watch.

Even Ann Althouse (and I am no fan of hers) recognises the absurdity of the paranoid claims about Obama's 'socialism'. Speaking of McCain's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday, she summarises:

Whenever he found the chance, he would stress that Barack Obama has a far-left ideology, and whenever he needed a different argument -- such as when Brokaw confronted him with his own statements in favor of making the rich pay more taxes -- he would resort to the argument that different times require different solutions. How can you use these two rhetorical strategies alternately? It's incoherent.

(Full transcript here, video here. Althouse has selected some of the relevant sections of the transcript in her post.)

Of course, if you're one of those people who believes that proposing that wealthy people pay a somewhat higher percentage of their income in taxes is enough to make you a 'socialist' or a 'Marxist', then perhaps you think that McCain, too, is a fellow traveller.

And, I am sure, there are such people, since I've met a few. I had a lengthy semester-long debate along these lines with a former student of mine way back in the mists of time when I taught British history in the US. It reached the point at which she, of a pronouncedly libertarian persuasion, asserted that both John Major and Winston Churchill were socialists.

I betcha didn't know that!

Yes, it was a trying semester. It was at about that point where the discussion ended, as no further communication is possible with people who live in alternate universes.

You know, maybe we should take a closer look at the sources of McCain's possibly radical views.

Such as his hero, Republican president Teddy Roosevelt.

As Timothy Noah notes, Roosevelt was often labelled a socialist, and he advocated progressive taxation as a way of addressing inequality:

Our aim is to recognize what Lincoln pointed out: The fact that there are some respects in which men are obviously not equal; but also to insist that there should be an equality of self-respect and of mutual respect, an equality of rights before the law, and at least an approximate equality in the conditions under which each man obtains the chance to show the stuff that is in him when compared to his fellows [italics Noah's].
Commie...pinko...Bastard!

It's probably fruitless to hope for a return to semi-sanity after the election, isn't it?

[Addendum]

It occurs to me that anyone who continues to make the 'Obama is a dangerous radical/Marxist/Socialist' argument in the face of widespread support for him from moderates -- and even from conservatives -- has to therefore also be saying at least one of the following:

1) Large numbers of politically moderate or conservative people who are either in politics themselves or who closely observe politics have been duped by the liberal mainstream media into ignoring The Truth.

and/or

2) These moderates and conservatives are not really moderates and conservatives, but are actually quite radical people themselves and have just been pretending to be moderates and conservatives (perhaps a variation on the 'no true Scotsman' argument).

Given that either of these is fairly improbable they are more likely simply demonstrating something else: how radical their own points of view are and how disconnected they are from the mainstream America that they so loudly (and tiresomely) proclaim to be defending.

Which seems obvious, but I don't imagine that you'll find many of them admitting it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

True

Not being in the US, I can escape the onslaught of political advertising that some people (those in closely-fought states) are experiencing.

Given that I'm not an undecided voter and have already cast my ballot, such things would be a bit redundant for me anyway.

But a couple of things I've caught online have struck me as being quite effective.

First, a 'no on Prop 8' ad from California. (This is one of the many 'ballot initiatives this year in many states, and in this case it revolves around the issue of gay marriage. In short: 'no' is in favour of equal rights, 'yes' is against.)

This series of ads is based on Apple's well known 'get a Mac' campaign. (Like Google, Apple has donated to the 'no on Prop 8' campaign.)



I also like this one, which stars Molly Ringwald, along with her real-life husband and daughter:



Finally, I present this pro-Obama ad based on the famous 'Wassup?' ad campaign for the Anheuser-Busch company that ran from 1999 to 2002.

In case you have forgotten them (or never saw them...they were inescapable for Americans), the original is available here.

The new ad is both entertaining and powerful:

Sarah Palin is an ignorant fool. I kid you not.

On any given day, the odds Sarah Palin will say something outrageously stupid approach those that the sun will rise in the east.

So I have to admit that I wasn't exactly surprised to see her make the following comments about scientific research:



"Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? […] You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not."


Just parenthetically, keep in mind that this was her first major policy address of the campaign, so you think that she might have thought a bit about what she was going to say. (Which is more unsettling: that she did or that she didn't?)

And spare some space in your mind for the fact that this speech was about a topic area she has proclaimed to be one that she is knowledgeable about and has a personal investment in: the treatment of 'special needs' children.

First off, I'm not sure how to understand the jibe about Paris. Is Palin simply unaware that scientific research is often done across international boundaries? Or is this just anti-European bias (not all that uncommon on the right, after all)?

Is she suggesting that the French are inept at science?

Or -- given her lack of personal experience of the wider world -- does she just happen to hold a rather stereotyped notion of what life in France is like:



All those frilly knickers, admittedly, might just get in the way in the lab.

Might she feel better about such research if we re-named fruit flies, say, 'freedom flies'?

Anyway, I'm not a scientist, nor does my work involve Drosophila. Indeed, my only experiences with the little bastards have generally been negative. Rather like Dale's.

However, reactions from people who do know a thing or two about scientific research have not been kind.

Take it away PZ:

This idiot woman, this blind, shortsighted ignoramus, this pretentious clod, mocks basic research and the international research community. You damn well better believe that there is research going on in animal models — what does she expect, that scientists should mutagenize human mothers and chop up baby brains for this work? — and countries like France and Germany and England and Canada and China and India and others are all respected participants in these efforts.


Via Think Progress, a report last year highlighted just one of the practical results of fruit fly research:

Now scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have shown that a protein called neurexin is required for these nerve cell connections to form and function correctly.

The discovery, made in Drosophila fruit flies may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism.


jforman at Daily Kos gives some examples of the usefulness of such basic research, and he then observes:

Why do we use model organisms to study human biology? Well, it's kind of hard to tinker with live humans. Ethics and what not.

And why is it even possible to study human biology using model organisms? That answer is simple - evolution. Yeast, worms, fruit flies, slime molds, corn, humans - we all have the same common ancestor. Our basic components are the same. It's shocking to think about, but it's true. Our basic components are the same as those in single-celled yeast at the molecular level. That's why studying the yeast cell cycle means studying the human cell cycle. There are differences, of course. But they're not nearly as big as you would think.

I'm not really all that shocked that Sarah Palin didn't know this. She doesn't even believe in evolution, after all. But that she has advisers and speechwriters who don't really, really scares me.


It is, of course, only really 'scary' should McCain-Palin win. Otherwise, it's merely shameful. But, then, it's mainly a problem for the good people of Alaska.

And they elected her, so, as momma used to say, that's their fucking problem.

This is hardly a one-off: McCain also expressed his disdain for science education by dismissively referring to an 'overhead projector' that Barack Obama had sought funding for: it turns out this was a major item of long-overdue machinery that is the centrepiece of science education at the oldest planetarium in the western hemisphere. (Which I feel quite strongly about, seeing as some of my fondest childhood memories involve that place. To quote Jon Stewart: Fuck all y'all.)

Given that her popularity is melting faster than the ice on Alaska's North Slope and that even the McCain campaign itself might even have grown tired of her, might we be able to hope that she will totter off back up north on her Naughty Monkeys and let the grown-ups get on with the serious business of governing?

Given that there is a section of the right-wing 'base' that continues to adore her not despite but rather seemingly because of her ludicrous viewpoints, I suspect that things will turn out rather differently.

Tina Fey has a long career before her, methinks.

Undecided

An insightful perspective from The Daily Show on that mysterious group of people, 'undecided voters':



It's all true.

Except that bit about the Chicago Cubs.

There's always next year, man.

(Via my old highschool friend -- and fellow Cubs fan -- at The Dilettante's Dilemma.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

We take aim at the dawning day, and we shoot

A couple of musical pointers for the weekend.

One of our favourite groups, The Mountain Goats, has made a new EP available online, Satanic Messiah. It's very nice. Very quiet. Very...autumnal.

It's to be had for free, but donations are welcome. My efforts to donate the requested $6.66 failed, for reasons I don't understand, because the Google payment thing wouldn't accept my real international phone number. I tried!

Some kind of anti-German prejudice, for sure.

Secondly, John Darnielle, the main dude behind The Mountain Goats, has also released another song online with Kaki King, 'Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is in Another Castle'.

Enjoy.

And for those who seek more immediate pleasures...here's an older song.

Achilles and Patroclus in Austria

Geoff Coupe has asked "Mrs Wood" to comment on the Jörg Haider saga. Why he deems her of all people qualified to do so, is beyond me. She's a real girl, after all, and unfamiliar with the antics of those still in, or half out of their various closets.

Having said that, Mrs Wood doesn't believe for a second that anything serious was going on between Haider and his blonde lapdog Stefan Petzner. The "special relationship" that has become the latter's nauseating mantra (see Dale's comment here) seems to have been more akin to the drooling kind of total adoration that Nazi- and Neo-Nazi leaders have always expected from their abject underlings.

What the whole affair has affirmed once again, too, is the wise old adage that there really is nothing new under the sun. Remember the Iliad, more specifically the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus depicted there? Another purportedly homosexual couple - though scholars beg to differ on the quality of their relationship, most of them claiming that the two mythical men were really "just" martial buddies.

Now here's Mrs Wood's mythopoeic interpretation of the Austrian situation: Stefan Petzner is the pitiful Achilles - all heel and no knickers - weeping his eyes out over the body of Haider-Patroclus, not only during the latter's funeral, but also in an interview with Krone-TV (the excrescent appendix of Neue Kronen Zeitung - the Austrian equivalent of Bild or The Sun).

Go on, watch it! It's about as slurry as Kerry Katona's recent embarrassment.

And just as in Homer's epic, a conflict has emerged over the body of the hero killed in action, as Frau Haider plans to drag her husband's corpse off to Italy for yet another post mortem. To prove that Haider's sudden death was a case of foul play. As if the man wasn't already martyr enough!

For an aptly dismissive depiction of the Achilles-Patroclus relationship, see Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, I.iii., where we find the image of a "large Achilles, on his pressed bed lolling" and of Patroclus, similarly lounging "Upon a lazy bed, the livelong day/Break [ing] scurril jests." You can just see Haider and Petzner enacting the scene, can't you?

Woman attacked by democrat mugger at ATM

Oh puh-leeze.


[UPDATE]: Well, she bloody made it all up, didn't she? What a sad, pitiable, attention-seeking failure is this person? But then again if she is in any way representative of the mood amongst the Republicans ... yippeeeh!

On that note: for comfortingly pathetic crowds at Palin events check out this video by Marc Maron.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A new (old) England

In further economic news, financial experts have issued a serious warning:

WITH unemployment expected to reach three million by the end of next year, economists were last night warning of Billy Bragg.

The dire financial climate means there is now a greater chance of the communist singer-songwriter than at any time since 1987.
Please do read the full story. Which is terrifying. (Via The Yorkshire Ranter)

A reminder of the threat we face:



Previous Bragg references here and here.

"The leading banker in Amsterdam is now the pastry chef in our kitchen."

The Washington Post has a story on former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan:

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Greenspan said that, as a result of the current situation, the United States is heading for a "significant rise in layoffs and unemployment" and a continued downturn in home values as the world works through a crisis that is "broader than anything I could have imagined."

Greenspan, who called the current financial crisis a "once-in-a-century credit tsunami," said that he remained "in a state of shocked disbelief" that banks and investment firms did not do a better job of analyzing the risks involved with investing in home mortgages extended to less creditworthy borrowers.
Greenspan's impression of Casablanca's Captain Renault ("I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!") in responding to the financial crisis would be amusing, if he hadn't helped to create the conditions for it.

As Dale points out:

To call Alan Greenspan a true believer in the god of market fundamentalism would be akin to calling Moses a true believer in the god of the Old Testament -- he was on the scene as the plates were etched, inhaling the very vapors rising from the burning bush.
Whatever Greenspan inhaled, coming down from that trip is a definite bummer.

From the IHT:

Pressed by Waxman, Greenspan conceded a more serious flaw in his own philosophy that unfettered free markets sit at the root of a superior economy.

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms," Greenspan said.

Waxman pushed the former Fed chief, who left office in 2006, to clarify his explanation.

"In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working," Waxman said.

"Absolutely, precisely," Greenspan replied. "You know, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well."

Your cash, Alan, is good at the bar.

And you're lucky the bar's open to you.



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election round-up: 'real America' edition

I've spent the last week or so in Britain submerged in research-related work on a crime-history project. So, while not exactly in a news-free zone (even if the headlines seemed as occupied by Madonna's impending divorce as anything else), I've been, shall we say, a bit distracted in my efforts to keep up with US election news.

And I missed commenting on so much: the third debate! Joe the Plumber!! Palin on SNL!!!

Oh well...I'm imagining you won't mind.

In trying to catch up with what's going on, I have noticed that the ugly turn in the Republican campaign -- when we last tuned in, they were labelling Barack Obama the friend of terrorists -- has not only not been reversed but has even expanded.

Seeming bereft of any ideas for, you know, actually making an argument that they know how to run the country, Republicans are instead relying -- solely, as far as I can tell -- on energetically smearing efforts to register more voters, inflaming resentful divisions between regions (even within states) and warning of the threat a 'socialist' Obama administration would pose to basic American freedoms.

This is likely, I think, to fail, and will likely drive independents and moderates away. There are years in which you can't win an election solely with angry pseudo-plumbers, religious extremists and moose hunters, and this might be one of them.

True, there are people who do find McCain-Palin appealing. Like Tracy, whose husband is still undecided about whether to vote Democratic or Republican.

She, however, has definitely made up her mind:


(via Geoff)

One of the most chilling moments I've ever seen on television has to be watching Tracy's face when she says, referring to her undecided husband, 'He knows what the right decision is.' I'm not sure what she can threaten him with, though, as simply being married to her sounds like all the punishment one person can legally be forced to endure.

(If you're interested in seeing the context from which that excerpt comes, see the PBS 'Now' website. The 'Virginia Votes' video -- in which Tracy's husband comes across as a pretty thoughtful guy -- is available here.)

In any case, a number of other conservatives -- some gesturing toward the brain-dead aggression of their party's campaign -- have endorsed Obama. (As a commentator at Daily Kos points out, it might be just because they too are black, as Rush Limbaugh has suggested was the case with Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama. He's a classy guy, Rush, yes indeed.)

If this goes much further, you sort of wonder what kind of people the Republican Party is going to be left with after November.

Tracy should, indeed, have some interesting company.

As to the various other things, I've run across a few good commentaries.

The Chicago Tribune, for example, has officially endorsed Obama:

Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.

An unsuprising decision, you say, for a paper based in Obama's political hometown? Well...

This endorsement makes some history for the Chicago Tribune. This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party's nominee for president. [Emphasis added.]

When I was growing up, we were Sun-Times readers in our house (which is kind of strange now that I think about it, as my parents always voted Republican...), but this still gives me a very good feeling.

On the ACORN (non-)scandal, Dave Neiwert (in a post that is -- as always -- worth reading) points us to an AP article examining the charges that the activist group -- in McCain's measured words -- might "now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

For AP, Deborah Hastings states,

Voter fraud is rare in the United States, according to a 2007 report by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Based on reviews of voter fraud claims at the federal and state level, the center's report asserted most problems were caused by things like technological glitches, clerical errors or mistakes made by voters and by election officials.

"It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than he will impersonate another voter at the polls," the report said.

Alex Keyssar, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, calls the current controversy "chapter 22 in a drama that's been going on awhile. The pattern is that nothing much ever comes from this. There have been no known cases of people voting fraudulently."

"What we've seen," Keyssar said, "is sloppiness and someone's idea of a stupid joke, like registering as Donald Duck."


Harold Myerson, in 'The Power of Two Myths' in The Washington Post, makes a similar point:

For years, the Republican response to the rising number of non-white voters in particular has been: If you can't win their vote, suppress it. So the GOP has propagated the myth that large numbers of people are voting who shouldn't be, that voter registration groups such as ACORN, which the Republican ticket regularly attacks, are, like the big-city machines of yore, casting ballots in the name of the dead and stealing elections.

Ferreting out these nefarious activities became a central focus of the Justice Department under John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales at the direction of the Bush White House. The department instructed all U.S. attorneys that the prosecution and conviction of voter-fraud perpetrators was, in Gonzales's words, a "top priority." Extensive investigations were undertaken across the nation. Yet, by 2005, as Art Levine reported in the American Prospect this April, only two people had been charged with falsifying or fabricating voter registration forms, and nobody had been charged with impersonating another voter.

But the current attacks on ACORN provide the pretext for attempts to turn black voters and college students away from their polling places. In Ohio, the Republican war on voting has already begun. Hamilton County (that's Cincinnati) prosecutor Joseph Deters, who is also the Southwest Ohio regional chair of the McCain campaign, subpoenaed the records of 266 new voters who have cast absentee ballots because he suspected their addresses might not comport to other public records. A GOP fundraiser in the state is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to deny 200,000 recent registrants the right to vote because their addresses on their registration forms don't match those on their driver's licenses, a discrepancy that suggests that the voters have moved or that the addresses were entered incorrectly by the registrar's offices.

If you can't find the crime here, you're not alone. A number of the U.S attorneys fired by Gonzales got the ax for failing to uncover such crimes, though they conducted far-reaching investigations. David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, told Levine that voter fraud "is like the boogeymen parents use to scare their children. It's very frightening, and it doesn't exist."


(The Levine article cited, 'The Republican War on Voting', is well worth reading.)

And on the 'real America' meme (or the effort to divide the country into those who are 'pro-America' and 'anti-America') that is emerging as a centrepiece of the GOP campaign, I can't think of a better response than Jon Stewart's comments on the expressed views of Sarah Palin, Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, and McCain campaign aide Nancy Pfotenhauer:



I don't now live in what anyone would regard as 'real America'. Because...well, it's really not in America. And even were it to be admitted to the Union, polls suggest that Germany -- although currently governed by a mainly conservative coalition -- would be among the bluest of blue states.

Nevertheless, I consider myself as 'real' an American as any other, not least since I think that that category should have as little to do with geography as it does with skin colour. (No Blut und Boden ideologies for us, thank you)

Take that as you will.

At least, however, I have no problem pronouncing 'Pfotenhauer'.

[UPDATE] Olbermann also chimes in.



(via Pharyngula)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Star is (not) born

According to Der Spiegel, Sarah Palin's appearance on Saturday Night Life was one big flop. The hockey-mum-pitpull-drill-bit did not bite back. In fact, the whole thing was a bit of a sad affair.

Check it out for yourselves.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Germany-related weekend reads

.... just in case you lot find the time. I don't (find the time, I mean) - which explains why things over here have become rather quiet.

The Times has a wonderful article about one of my great childhood heroines, Judith Kerr, the author of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. One day I'd really like to thank Judith Kerr in person for instilling in me a love of all things British (I wouldn't tell her, of course, that my once fervent passion has been abating a bit over the years), but since she doesn't seem to be too keen on most things German, this will probably never happen.

Der Spiegel
has an oxymoronic piece on (the not so) latest London fashion: German comedy.

And over at The Independent, always alert culture-vulture Tony Paterson offers the world a completely rancid old chestnut about Our Lady of the Avocado Kernels (for my take on Feuchtgebiete, see here and here).

Bird of the day


(Picture via).

Lophophanes cristatus
, aka the Crested Tit. I've never seen one in our garden before and was extremely pleased to discover one earlier today, hacking away at the rotten conifers that we have in the front.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who's afraid of the big fat pig?

In England, it's "The Wild Runts", in Germany, it's wild boar. As English suburbs are haunted by feral youths, German pedestrian zones suffer from rampaging hordes of sus scrofa.

I don't know what's more intimidating: being held up in your local kebab by a snotty teenager or by a snouty pig. At least pigs are clever, as this article in Stern reveals, which describes the havoc recently wreaked upon the nearby town of Rüsselsheim by a dirty half dozen of pillaging boars. The attack, it appears, was well planned and strategically executed.

Oddly enough, the anxiety surveys to which Norm Geras directs us don't mention pigs as a source of urban fears, so maybe things ain't all that bad.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Take me back to dear old blighty...

I happen to be headed to Britain (for a short while) tomorrow from Germany.

Momus has just done the same: and it sounds a bit grim over there.

Same as it ever was....

Hebbo! And greetings from Universe B!

Thanks to Boing Boing, I have discovered something important: the world's fastest growing religion, Tarvuism.

Like you, probably, I was a bit confused, as I'd never heard of it before. However, they have statistics, so it must be true.

Who is Tarvu and what is Tarvuism, you might ask?

Well...


Tarvu - creator of Universe A and Universe B (we live in Universe B) - came to Earth over 3,000 years ago as a tiny baby boy. After landing in the oceans, and swimming with Oobu the holy octopus, Tarvu came ashore and lived amongst men and women so that he could teach them "to live". Soon his Word spread, and that Word became Tarvuism.

Tarvuism is one of the oldest and largest religions in the world, with over 1 billion followers in over 150 countries - from afar as Iceland to Timonia - speaking as many languages. As Tarvu said "Every land is nice, and everyone who lives there is nice too". (Chronicles of Amzamiviram, Cpt 44).


(Source: www.tarvu.com)

I am considering becoming a member, not least since -- as the following video emphasises -- 'it's so easy to join'.




Sounds like fun!

Further information available at www.tarvu.com!

But in case you think Tarvuism is a bit...strange (I mean, thinking that octopi are 'holy creatures' is maybe not for everyone, yeah, I can see that), you may wish to consider instead the wisdom of Blossom Goodchild. (Via Spiegel)

Goodchild not only brings wisdom to the masses by channelling the spirit of White Cloud, 'a native American spirit energy' but has also foretold the arrival of alien beings from the 'Federation of Light' who are due to arrive in the skies above Earth (specifically, perhaps, to Alabama)...well, today.

There has been some confusion in the message (interstellar space is a vast distance, why should we expect it to work any better than your basic cell phone, eh? Cynics...).

Blossom explains:

I think I may have put a spanner in the works by saying 'Alabama isn't in the Southern Hemisphere'. Mind you, the reply The Federation gave me 'It used to be' ... it seems was, true! However, it seems many have misread the letter and are assuming that the ship will appear in Alabama. The Federation DO NOT say this. They say 'We give to you the name of Alabama'. Here are some thoughts I have received as to its meaning.

1. The only thing comes to mind is "Stars fell on Alabama". This motto is printed on car license tags in the state of Alabama.

2. I was very interested in hearing of the October 14th date, I have longed for this for so long. In 1999 I saw quite a few UFO's in Adelaide and on several occasions and one of them was what I assumed was a light ship because it was like a ghost, the ship was say 60 feet in diameter and white, but the middle had a band of all the colours of the rainbow. Later I went to a psychic and he told me that Adelaide used to be a space port around 50 000 years ago. As soon as I read the words in the October 14th article "In days of old, it used to be" I immediately thought that Alabama might be the name of the old space port in Adelaide.

Not content with such superficial thinking, Blossom considers a deeper possibility:

8. Maybe the Credence Clearwater Revival song, 'Sweet Home Alabama' may be of some help - 'Sweet Home Alabama, Lord I'm Coming Home To You.... Where The Skies Are Blue....' Isn't Australia lovingly nicknamed 'Gods own Country?'

Of course, 'Sweet Home Alabama' was a song by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but who's going to split hairs over southern rockers over the lightyears? Not me!

Hebbo! and welcome to our new intergalactic friends, I say.

The future, my friends, is looking brighter.

Do not worry.

Tarvu abides.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Civic duty. Done.

Voting for president via a German post office is a somewhat strange feeling, but I suppose I should get used to it.

So, I have now done my small part in ensuring Maryland's 10 juicy electoral votes go to Barack Obama and also given Deutsche Post a rather extortionate sum for their part in this little democratic transaction (the size of the ballot envelope apparently knocked it up a few price brackets...don't local election officials in Baltimore think about these things!).

Freedom, truly, is not free.

Nevertheless, although having finally gotten a chance to cast my vote is a good feeling, something's...missing.

I actually used to love election days at home: everything from voting in the morning at the school or library that was my designated polling station in crisp autumn weather (or, sometimes rain) to watching the coverage that evening (preferably in some local watering hole with some like-minded fellow voters).

Somehow, filling in the little ovals with my no. 2 pencil and signing the oath before mailing it off was not quite the same...especially with three weeks still to wait until the result.

Three long weeks....

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday censorship

It's comforting to see that even during a global financial crisis Britain's guardians of morality and good taste still find the time to save the innocent public from exposure to deleterious trash.

Trash such as the religious TV drama Apparitions, a BBC production to be aired in the very near future, which will feature - among other marvels - a man possessed by the devil who is flayed in a gay sauna, a father threatening to rape his daughter and Mother Teresa's death-bed exorcism.

The latter is defended against media watchdogs who find the whole thing a tad too gory by the man who concocted this marvellous concept, actor Martin Shaw (Martin Shaw as in The Professionals? I loved that show!). Shaw reminds Telegraph readers that

Christ spent 40 days in the desert and was hideously attacked by Satan. The scene is not against Mother Teresa or her message.

So Christ spent 40 days in the desert, did he, Martin? And was attacked by Satan, right?

I wish you'd get yourself onto an adult education BA in "Secular Reason for Beginners" - and soon. Otherwise it'll be witches next!

The other noteworthy item to come within the censors' purview is a frieze designed by artist Paul Day to accompany his hideous "The Meeting Place" sculpture for St Pancras station (to alleviate the burden of this totalitarian lump of bronze, more like it).

The new sculpture, which depicts scenes of urban grit and despair (public snogging, nose poking and self-immolation) as well as a skeletal train driver, reflected in a pair of sunglasses, was deemed "completely unsuitable" by London & Continental Railway officials. Work on the frieze was suspended immediately when train drivers and the families of suicide victims complained that it was bad taste.

Why the heck said officials didn't look at the design before they commissioned this sculpture is beyond me.

But then again, it is also beyond me why any bank would give completely credit-unworthy people virtually unrepayable loans - and yet look at where this common practice has gotten us. I reckon I need a good dose of Apparitions to get to grips with this world.

Anyway, Paul Day defends his work, explaining that "the sunglasses image was supposed to be a metaphor for the way people's imaginations run wild".

Yeah? Wicked, man.

And he points out:

"The imagination and real life are often intermingled," he said. "Tragedy in art is about creating hope out of drama, through the beauty of the image but also by going beyond the image."

Pity, that. I thought the frieze was a satirical visual pun on the freak accident information typically proffered by the Daily Mail, on whose pages the end is always night, foreigners will eat our swans and the nasty nanny state is hell bent on meddling with our sacred national project of making our already obese sprogs even fatter and fatter.

Still enjoying this window of opportunity in which bankers have become objects of hate and scorn

Something fine from Married to the Sea:

Think of it as a sort of visual aid for a couple of recent posts...

Sunday: A day for evil rock, horror novels and space opera...

OK, so the world economy has turned desperate and the American election has turned nasty. It would seem a little escapism is in order....

For your listening pleasure, I would suggest Blood Ceremony, whose self-titled début album was released last month.

Might it appeal to you? Well, it depends on how you would react to a musical mixture recalling bands like Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Coven with lyrics that seem to have been inspired by repeated (perhaps excessive) viewings of The Wickerman.

I happen to like that sort of thing.

You, I realise, may not. Psychedelic doom metal is not, I am aware, universally loved. (In this house and the world over...)

In any case, it's grimly atmospheric sound is ideal for your Halloween party...and then all the gloomy year through. (With many thanks to Last Plane to Jakarta for the tip.)

I've been listening to it non-stop. An exorcism may soon be in order.

To stick with the horror theme for a moment, while we turn to books: I've been reading a lot of Stephen King lately. I'd never read anything by him in my life before a few months ago, but as part of my readings in post-apocalyptic fiction, I ran across The Stand and was...well, hooked.

Since then I read Salem's Lot (which I loved), the short story collection Skeleton Crew (a bit hit-or-miss, but with highpoints such as the novella 'The Mist') and am currently working my way through It, which is shaping up nicely and...creepily.

I've never been a huge fan of horror fiction, other than the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Re-reading his work over the last year or so has been partly to blame for kindling my interest in this genre.

Along with drawing strong characters, King, it strikes me, is particularly good at evoking the darker side of two things: small-town life and childhood (and the tendency for the traumas of the latter to haunt adulthood.)

Again, not everybody's cup of tea -- and hardly, um, obscure -- but a new discovery for me, and one I'm glad I made.

Finally: I don't know why it took me so long to realise this, but the new Battlestar Galactica is excellent.

Well, I suppose I do know. Not having had American TV for the last 7 years, it kind of passed me by, and then I never got around to buying the DVDs.

A friend we visited in France last month, however, generously lent me the pilot film and the first season, and I've been enthralled, as I've (slowly...little time for TV watching...) started making my way through it. Since I'm probably the last science fiction fan in the universe to pick up on this, I'm not sure how much this recommendation is worth, but I thought I note it.

And say thanks to said generous friend. So...thanks friend.

Well, those are my listening, reading and viewing suggestions for the next while.

You may now sigh with relief that they're over.

So, I suppose we can get back to the world coming apart and the drama of American democracy in action.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

There is no floor. There is no shame. There is no clue.

Ophelia states it well:

The McCain-Palin campaign is a revolting spectacle. It interests me that there seems to be no braking mechanism, no floor, no point at which they just can't stomach it any more. I realize they want to win, but I assume they also want to be able to live with themselves. Yet there is no floor. There is (as with good old Joe McCarthy) no shame.

Beyond their shamelessness, what strikes me is how desperate the campaign seems. I mean...Ayers? That's the best they can do?

C'mon, Sarah, doggone it, I thought you said your campaign was going to look toward the future and not dwell on all that negativity in the past.

I mean, I don't condone what Ayers did back, uh, around the time I was born. Indeed, I tend to think such inept hotheads (in whatever country) have been bad not only for the left but for everyone in general.

But, please: by the time Obama met him, Ayers was a fixture on the Chicago educational scene. One might say that this condemns the entire city...actually, this is what McCain-Palin has tried to say. (Which leads part of my Chicagoland-born and Chicagoland-bred self to respond in very vulgar terms that I won't share with you.)

When these accusations surfaced in April, Chicago's mayor, Richard M. Daley, issued a statement calling Ayers a 'valued member of the Chicago community' and praising his work on the city's school system.

More recently, Daley said:
“He’s done a lot of good in this city and nationally,” Mayor Richard M. Daley said in an interview this week, explaining that he has long consulted Mr. Ayers on school issues. Mr. Daley, whose father was Chicago’s mayor during the street violence accompanying the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the so-called Days of Rage the following year, said he saw the bombings of that time in the context of a polarized and turbulent era.


“This is 2008,” Mr. Daley said. “People make mistakes. You judge a person by his whole life.”

Maybe you agree with him, or maybe you don't, whether about that sentiment or how it specifically applies to Ayers. Either way, it's a bit difficult to cast Daley as some kind of hippie-loving counter-cultural socialist that 'real' Americans have to fear.

I am not interested in defending Ayers (or his educational theories, about which I know little).

My point is this: when Barack Obama was involved in Democratic Party politics in the mid 1990s, Ayers was an established figure. Obama was interested in education issues. Ayers was a very common presence on those topics in the city. It is not odd that they might, as the New York Times put it, cross paths.

They met via the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Take a look, if you will, at the people involved in leading it. I don't suggest for a moment that they are all perfect human beings. There may even be a few rather unpleasant people among the bunch. However, do they appear like a bunch of anti-American commie radicals? I don't think so.

If this issue weren't being hyped by Sarah 'Fatal Cancer to the Republican Party' Palin (who's been 'pallin around' with her own bunch of unsettling types) and turning a certain section of McCain supporters into a bunch of bloodthirsty rage addicts, it would be amusing. (Count me as one of those who is concerned about the potential for verbal violence transitioning into the real thing.)

Myself, I would prefer not be judged via each one of the people I might have spoken, lived or worked with over the last twenty years.

Especially those who do not seem to have been particularly influential on how I see the world.

Predictably, of course, anti-American Communist terrorist sympathisers -- such as...well, David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, and some other Republican (or formerly Republican) elected officials -- have voiced criticism of McCain's increasingly nasty campaign tactics or even come out in support of Obama.

That's those fuckin' lib'ruls for ya. You betcha.

In some ways, I can only welcome the right-wing obsession with Ayers, et. al. I really don't think it's going to work in rescuing the somewhat hapless McCain-Palin campaign, and the more red-meat berserkerdom that the campaign generates, the more they will turn off the independents and moderates that they need to win.

And if they want to crash their campaign into the ground, I'll be happy to watch.

That's the Chicago way.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Into the blue again, after the money's gone

Our story so far:

Because American financial institutions sold a bunch of dodgy mortgages to Americans, several British local councils now have to fear losing the money they'd deposited in Icelandic banks.

Hmm. It's a funny old world, ain't it?

Along with the primer that I recommended on the background to how several hundred billion dollars (euros, pounds, yen, whatever...) have rapidly evaporated, I suggest you peruse posts by Andrew, Francis and Shuggy.

If you want to escape thinking about it, I recommend listening to Juana Molina over and over again, until the fear subsides.

I received, coincidentally, an e-mail yesterday from the institution I work for that sought to reassure me about its financial situation and to emphasise that I will continue to be paid as normal.

Which is reassuring.

Except for the fact that they felt they needed to reassure me.

Which is not very reassuring.

Looking forward to that shotgun shack...

[UPDATE] Dale points us to a sequel, of sorts, of the 'This American Life' radio report that I recommended previously. I haven't listened to it yet, but the title, 'Another Frightening Show About the Economy', is certainly encouraging.

It is currently available FREE for download.

And 'free' is sounding increasingly good.

[UPDATED UPDATE] Oh my...now even the cats are suffering! (At least, as previously mentioned here, they might make a possible -- if substandard -- food source. If it's good enough for Peru....)

(Thanks to The Wife for the reference)

Friday Music

Thanks to deutschlandradio Kultur, we had the pleasure this afternoon to catch a snippet from a lovely track by Juana Molina - a popular comedienne in Argentina who turned to music a few years ago.

This is not the song that we had heard, but it's rather nice nevertheless:




Juana Molina, "No es tan cierto"

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Notes worth the noting (or: Shakespeare as political pundit)

Speaking of Shakespeare (and the US election).

Who would have thought that Stephen Greenblatt is a funny man?


Some like it quiet

Not too long ago I shocked a student when I suggested that the whole New Labour-Cool Britannia affair of the 1990s has had a pernicious effect on English culture, leading, among other things to the country's overall infantilisation and relentless slide into the low-brow.

I know, I'm an intellectual snob. That's what my PhD supervisor said to me a million years ago when I voiced my amazement that in a class of over thirty students only three knew of and/or had seen Hitchcock's The Birds. That's how snobby I am.

But these days, my snobbism is all I have to shore against the ruins of a professional world that has changed beyond recognition. For academia, too, has contributed to the propagation of the low-brow, ditching "traditional" programmes, culling the canon and pursuing more poppy kind of interests: MAs in "Chick-lit", for instance, research programmes on Nick Hornby's record collection, or conferences on the cross-cultural and transhistorical significance of genital piercing.

Out goes William Shakespeare, in comes (the) Prince Albert.

Such intellectual self-destruction plays in the hands of public philistines such as the Secretary of State for Culture [sic!] Andy Burnham, who today suggested that we need to rethink the "traditional" concept of the library. For the library as we know it is far too stuffy a place. For one thing, it's full of bloody books. Second, you're not meant to eat and drink in there. Above all, however, the library is typically frequented by antisocial beings, known as readers, who sort of like it quiet (at least as long as they are trying to focus on the act of reading).

As The Independent writes, Mr Burnham "suggested that the traditional 'silence' in libraries be reviewed and opening hours extended".
Extending opening hours - fair enough.

But reviewing "traditional silence"? In a library? I'm sorry to have to tell you Mr Burnham - in case you have never seen a library on the inside - that these places do not compare with your average McDonald's or HMV.

And while I'm at it, may I suggest that you help reduce noise pollution (to which I - as a reader - am extremely sensitive) by keeping your mouth shut on matters beyond your experience and understanding?

Thank you, Mr Burnham. Now I can finish reading my book.

[UPDATE] Ophelia at B&W agrees with me. And the rest of you, I guess.

The Shakespearean cadences of Sarah Palin

Sorry for the brief silence.

We were in Tübingen for a couple of days, where The Wife was attending an English literature conference. I wandered around town, drank too much coffee, and did manage to get a fair amount of reading done for one of the various projects I'm working on.

It was a brief visit, but Tübingen is a lovely city: I had intended a charming and amusing photo essay based on the images I managed to shoot with the camera in my phone, but they didn't turn out as well as I expected, so you'll have to miss out on that.

Although I suppose this one, taken at a store specialising in colourful hosiery, is relevant:


Which means something like: 'Choose colour: the USA is choosing it too.' (This plays on the fact that the verb 'wählen' can mean not only 'choose' but also 'elect' or 'vote'.)

In any case, my absentee ballot just arrived, and this has not only made me happy but also sent me scurrying off to catch up on some of the election news I missed while we were no longer able to mainline our broadband connection as and when we desired.

The most...um...entertaining?...comments I've found so far are probably those from literature professor (and apparent Obama voter) Camille Paglia about vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Paglia seems to have dropped off the public intellectual radar recently, at least compared to all the attention she got back in the 90s, and but for a post at LG&M highlighting her, uh, incisive wit, I wouldn't have known she writes a regular column for Salon.

I'm glad to see, though, that she can still pile up words like she used to! Indeed, her tendency to rambling incoherence and posing solipsism doesn't seem to have suffered one bit over the years.

Take it away, Camille!

When I watch Sarah Palin, I don't think sex -- I think Amazon warrior!


(You know, I have to admit that I don't 'think sex' either when I watch Palin... Oh, sorry for the interruption, you were pontificating...)

I admire her competitive spirit and her exuberant vitality, which borders on the supernormal. The question that keeps popping up for me is whether Palin, who was born in Idaho, could possibly be part Native American (as we know her husband is), which sometimes seems suggested by her strong facial contours. I have felt that same extraordinary energy and hyper-alertness billowing out from other women with Native American ancestry -- including two overpowering celebrity icons with whom I have worked.

I find the subtle mixture of non-sequitur and narcissism in the following to be especially tasty:

People who can't see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism -- the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary.

As someone whose first seven years were spent among Italian-American immigrants (I never met an elderly person who spoke English until we moved from Endicott to rural Oxford, New York, when I was in first grade), I am very used to understanding meaning through what might seem to others to be outlandish or fractured variations on standard English. Furthermore, I have spent virtually my entire teaching career (nearly four decades) in arts colleges, where the expressiveness of highly talented students in dance, music and the visual arts takes a hundred different forms. Finally, as a lover of poetry (my last book was about that), I savor every kind of experimentation with standard English -- beginning with Shakespeare, who was the greatest improviser of them all at a time when there were no grammar rules.

Yes, keep that in mind the next time you hear Palin speak off the cuff: note her flair for...Shakespearean linguistic improvisation.

Forsooth.

There's more of that sort of thing if you can stand it (including something about feminism's need to 'circle back and reappropriate the ancient persona of the mother'...here, Paglia finds herself making common cause with Obscene Desserts favourite Luce Irigaray) and if, perhaps, you take a particular joy in laughing at literature scholars.

'The value of Ivy League degrees, like sub-prime mortgages, has certainly been plummeting', Paglia (Yale, '72) observes.

And, doggone it, she certainly helps us all to understand why!

(Via LG&M and The G Spot, who -- like yours truly -- also seem to be trapped in narrow parochialism and the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary.)

Friday, October 03, 2008

A taste of German unity: cheap. Certainly cheaper than the real thing.

It's the Tag der deutschen Einheit today, on which Germans mark ('celebrate' might be too strong a word) their reunification in 1990.

We dealt with it typically low-key style, which meant sleeping in a bit, taking an afternoon walk through the vineyards and treating ourselves to some nice Butterstrudel from the local bakery.

It also made me think of a moment from our recent French road trip. We had just left our friends in Carcassonne and had stopped by one of those ubiquitous French hypermarchés to stock up on diesel, baguettes and cheese for the long trip up to the Normandy coast.

I spotted one of those little machines that you might remember from your childhood: you put in some money, turn a dial, and out pops either some kind of candy or a junky toy-like thing encased in a little plastic dome. I used to love these things.

Anyway, what caught my attention was one of the excellent treats you could get -- if you were lucky -- for a measly 50 euro cents.

Notice it?



Yes, it's that curious little button in sky blue with the German flag on it.

Quelle bizarre!

Now, beyond thinking that this was an odd addition to a selection of what looked basically like a bunch of cheap -- and possibly toxic -- Chinese-made fake jewellery for children (no other flags were visible), I considered something else.

Just what, do you think, would run through the mind of the French child who, having parted with their precious 50 cents, turns the dial, opens the plastic dome and is confronted with the black-red-gold banner of their eastern neighbour?

Are they happy? Disappointed? Merely bewildered?

I don't know.

But sitting here on the Day of German Unity (in what a German friend of ours called 'the Germanest part of Germany'), I sort of wish I'd been willing to part with 50 cents.

Who knows, I might have gotten lucky.