Monday, October 13, 2008

Final Stretch

Instead of televising a debate, we should do something more like this:

Fuck debates. What a joke.

Anyways,this is how it's gonna be till election day.

I thought this was interesting:

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Damn It Feels Good To Be A Banker

This is HILARIOUS.

Of course, at the moment, it doesn't feel that good to be a banker.


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Monday, September 15, 2008

Superstar Sarah

I was reading more on Palin (for the life of me, I cannot understand why I can't let it go. Her story is not particularly interesting, other than the insanity that it reflects in McCain for having chosen her, and in others for supporting her. Maybe it's just that she's so easy to rip on that everyone's having a field day. Anyway.) and I found that even Maureen Dowd --the Sarah Palin of NYT editorialists (yeah I'll say it)-- gets her barbs in. Excerpt:

Palin has rocketed in the polls, drawing women and men with her vapid — if vivacious and visceral — scripted cheerleading. But if you’re reading this, Charlie, we want to know everything, including:

What kind of budget-cutter makes a show of getting rid of the state plane, then turns around and bills taxpayers for the travel of her husband and kids between Juneau and Wasilla and sticks the state with a per-diem tab to stay in her own home?

Why was Sarah for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against the Bridge to Nowhere, and why was she for earmarks before she was against them? And doesn’t all this make her just as big a flip-flopper as John Kerry?

What kind of fiscal conservative raises taxes and increases budgets in both her jobs — as mayor and as governor?

When the phone rings at 3 a.m., will she call the Wasilla Assembly of God congregation and ask them to pray on a response, as she asked them to pray for a natural gas pipeline?

Does she really think Adam, Eve, Satan and the dinosaurs mingled on the earth 5,000 years ago?

Why put out a press release about her teenage daughter’s pregnancy and then spend the next few days attacking the press for covering that press release?

As Troopergate unfolds here — an inquiry into whether Palin inappropriately fired the commissioner of public safety for refusing to fire her ex-brother-in-law — it raises this question: Who else is on her enemies list and what might she do with the F.B.I.?

Does she want a federal ban on trans fat in restaurants and a ban on abortion and Harry Potter? And which books exactly would have landed on the literature bonfire if she had had her way with that Wasilla librarian? "


And also, seriously...I mean seriously.

Finally:


In other words:


Beauty queens are all the same. Except for ones from the midwest, who have an annoying accent when they spout idiocy.



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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Not Done With Palin

NYT gives her a bum rap. She's uber-secretive, cronyistic, petty, ignorant, and has ties to religious fanatics. Sound familiar? No wonder McCain thought she might energize the base.

Here is an excellent editorial by Marc Fisher that comments on the sort anti-technocracy that I've bemoaned before. An excerpt:

Most people I spoke to readily conceded that Palin lacks experience with or knowledge of many important national and foreign issues. But, as Allison McGarvey, a teacher who lives in Stafford County, said, Palin is "a courageous woman, and what she doesn't know, she can learn quickly. Let's face it, no president knows all the issues. Anyway, I don't see how a candidate can pick one stand and just stick to it. The world situation changes every day. It's their moral and ethical background that's important."

In this hyperdemocratized society, the national conviction that anyone can succeed is morphing into a belief that experience and knowledge may almost be disqualifying credentials.

Like many at the rally, Victoria Robinson-Worst sees Palin's lack of experience as an asset. "I know people who have experience who are totally incompetent," said Robinson-Worst, who lives in Loudoun County, designs wedding flowers and raises two children. "And I know people who have no experience who step in and get it right. I mean, women can do amazing things."

This is where culture wars, identity politics and self-suffocating academic theories of deconstructionism have led us: Authority is suspect. Experience is corrupting. Ignorance is strength?

Next will be "war is peace." Or have we already heard that one?

Krugman tells how this campaign is gonna be.

This is a relatively objective critique of Palin's inexperience.

This is perhaps the most interesting take on what the Palin pick really means, and it's quite scary.

Even Friedman has a point on Palin. (And Friedman is kind of an idiot.)




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Monday, September 8, 2008

Damning With Faint Praise

Wonkette nails it. Condi's apologia is so piss-poor it's laughable. Condi ends by saying, "There different kinds of experiences in life that help one to deal with matters of foreign policy." Chief among these: dealing with matters of foreign policy. Shitty among these: having babies, winning beauty pageants. Which ones does she have again?

Finally, an authoritative fisking of Palin's stance on the "bridge to nowhere," with damning photo to boot.

The reviews below also really hurt, since the worst (in my opinion) are plucked from the National Review, an arch-conservative publication with highly apologetic tendencies towards bush. Ouch. If I'm agreeing with Bill Kristol, something is terribly wrong.



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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Link Dump - Mostly Palin, That Hilariously Unqualified Minx

I'm a little disappointed that I missed on my forecast of Lieberman for veep, but I am stoked that my prediction of "the perfect storm of electoral failure" still looks on the money. I mean, what was he thinking?


"She's a moose hunter. That sounds like a euphemism for something, but it's not. She actually hunts moose."



Palin's to do list.

Two main points from the NYT article on McCain's pick:

Ms. Palin appears to have traveled very little outside the United States. In July 2007, she had to get a passport before she visited members of the Alaska National Guard stationed in Kuwait, according to her deputy communications director, Sharon Leighow.
Whooops! said the McCain staffers who initially tried to claim that Palin's travel abroad would help offset her lack of "formal" foreign policy experience. This was an asinine claim even if it had been based on reality. Also:
Ms. Palin is known to conservatives for opting not to have an abortion after learning that the child she was carrying, her youngest, had Down syndrome. “It is almost impossible to exaggerate how important that is to the conservative faith community,” Mr. Reed said. "I mean, these people are themselves -- almost without exception -- born with severe mental retardation."
Okay, so Ralph Reed didn't actually say that last bit. But he's proven it many a time.


I do feel bad for her daughter Bristol in all this. Not just because she's young a dumb and got knocked up, and not just because the whole country now gets to know about (and presumably pass judgment upon) this, but because Palin has declared that she's looking forward to her daughter's having the baby with "the man she will marry." So there will be a shotgun wedding so as not to torpedo her mother's political aspirations. Nice.



This is not right. The meth-heads with guns that wanted to to kill Obama were deemed "not a credible threat," but some dude in prison who wrote a nasty letter to McCain was dealt with swiftly and harshly.


Unrelated:

Unfortunately, escape is not so easy.



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Monday, September 1, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

One Woman Is As Good As The Next?

This commentary pretty much says all you need to know about McCain's pick for VP.



Paul Begala also offers a few not-completely-idiotic thoughts, as he is wont to do when not seated opposite Tucker Carlson:

For a man who is 72 years old and has had four bouts with cancer to have chosen someone so completely unqualified to become president is shockingly irresponsible. Suddenly, McCain's age and health become central issues in the campaign, as does his judgment.
(snip)

For months, the McCainiacs have said they will run on his judgment and experience. In his first presidential decision, John McCain has shown that he is willing to endanger his country, potentially leaving it in the hands of someone who simply has no business being a heartbeat away from the most powerful, complicated, difficult job in human history.


Yes, it's rhetorical and not particularly insightful, but it's also unquestionably true. She has no serious leadership credentials. Period.

I'd say the pick makes McCain look fairly desperate. I'm clearly biased, but I can hardly see any other way to construe it. I mean, while Biden may be a good choice for Obama as far as "shoring up weaknesses," I kind of wonder how many people really believe that that sort of thing decides elections. I half-suspect it just provides mouthy pundits (or wannabes, like, um, yeah, nevermind) with one more topic over which to engage in moot, mentally masturbatory bloviation. I mean, the fact of the matter is that people vote for the presidential candidate they want to be president. Veeps are an afterthought. So when McCain makes a reachy move like this (this might be the most "maverick" we've seen from him in a while), it seems almost like an admission that he can't beat Obama head to head. He's pulling out the gimmick playbook because he can't get it done with fundamentals. Once again, while I happen to really like Obama's pick of Biden, there is absolutely no question that Obama's campaign intends to win the election on the strength of Obama. He could have chosen just about anyone as his veep and it wouldn't have made much difference. Well, he couldn't have chosen "a first-term governor of a state with more reindeer than people" without raising some eyebrows about what type of campaign he was trying to run.

As for my predictions about the efficacy of this gambit, I suspect that it will fail spectacularly. The desperation of this pick will not go unnoticed, and I think the patent insincerity of his attempt to reach out to female voters (read: exploit disgruntled Hillary supporters on the rebound like Fratty McRoofie III at a kegger) will probably backfire. Not like, not work well. More like, blow up in your face you patronizing old pig.

Furthermore, in failing to choose an old Republican stalwart (for all his weaknesses, I think Tom Ridge would have been an excellent choice for McCain; they would present a united front of old, grouchy, militant geezers, which they might as well do, because only the die hard Red-Heads are going to vote for them anyway.) he will most likely continue to alienate the conservative branch of the Republican constituency. Much as he may think he can pick up points with traditionally Democratic demographics, what he really needs to do is ensure the thus-far tenuous support of traditionally Republican blocks. Some of the old boys from the party will not be pleased that he has chosen an upstart nobody of a woman from Alaska, while McCain, regardless of his running mate, is himself an awful choice for reaching to anyone not already in the fold. Not to mention he's running against Barack Muthafuckin Obama, the archetype of charisma and pied piper of the disillusioned, so even a more dynamic candidate would hardly stand a chance among the ranks of the undecided. In short, for a guy who touts his military expertise, McCain has done a terrible job of picking his battles. McCain would do better to base his strategy on ensuring maximum turnout from the Republican faithful: wave the flag, cut taxes, hate gays, love Jebus. Don't try to get cute and start pretending that women matter all of a sudden; in matters of fresh faces and fresh ideas, Obama is king.

PS: If the McCain campaign really thought those sore losers on the HillRod wagon were serious when they claimed they would vote for McCain if Obama won the nomination, they will prove sadly mistaken. On the other hand, this maneuver is somewhat more subtle than I've given them credit for. I cannot but imagine that McCain strategists appreciate that they will have little success in capturing the female vote at large. Palin's unique appeal is in her exemplification of a strange and paradoxical political entity that I call the she-o-con. There are a handful of Fox News pundits and such that also fit this mold, and they are essentially smart, attractive, conservative women wily enough to conceal their "masculine" political ambitions behind a pretense of dutiful motherhood. They are proud soccer moms who quickly avow their subservience to their husbands, lest they be castigated as uppity, but who are meanwhile clearly brainy and ballsy enough to handle the Machiavellian machinations of the political world. They're like the Republican equivalent of Hillary Clinton masquerading as Martha Stewart. A strange beast indeed. (Actually, I don't know enough about Palin to confidently assert that she is a she-o-con, since she's never really been in the media at all. But I extrapolate this from what little biographical information is available on her. If she is not she-o-con, then she REALLY doesn't have much going for her.)


PPS: I have been please with my calls about the election so far. Way back at the beginning of primary season, even after Hillary came out of the gates super strong, I predicted confidently that Obama would win the nomination. So I'll make another prediction, this time on the record, so that the legend of my political forecasting prowess will spread from - and be enshrined forever upon - a blog that nobody reads. Obama crushes McCain in the biggest landslide I will see in a presidential race in my lifetime. We're talking like 57%-40% of the popular vote, and carrying almost all of the big swing states to a thrashing at the electoral college level. It will be an embarrassingly lopsided lopsided contest. See "a thumpin'."

PPPS: I didn't mean to compare Palin to Hillary in a way that would validate McCain's oh-so-ridiculous strategy of placing a Hillary decoy on his ticket. Also, I just found that Wonkette feels similarly, calling Palin a "fake Hillary Clinton," and breaking the news (to me) that Palin is embroiled in a scandal. Oh Alaska, do you ever elect legislative types that aren't corrupt?

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More on Joe Biden

Here's a Biden video I had posted earlier that got taken down. I really do like this sumbitch. It's a shame he and Rudy fell out of the race so early, because their pointed remarks toward one another (an exchange that Biden got the better of) were nothing short of hilarious.



I also came across a nice Politico article elaborating on the notion that Obama's choice of Biden as VP really stuck it to McCain.

Here's the guy running off at the mouth, but in such a great way. Why can't more politicians talk like this? Dare I say, it reminds me of some sort of (now defunct) rapidly moving vehicle that conveys speech in a bullshit-free manner.



Non sequitir:
An interesting way to think about the Olympic medal count.




And an awesome xkcd. For pure math nerdiness, this is about as clever as it gets.






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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

KOwned


I LOVE that man.


Also, I have semi-fawned over Joe Biden before (here and here), so I must say I'm pretty happy with Obama's choice. Given that Hillary was essentially ruled out from the start (although I'm still not sure why it must have been so), I think Biden is one of the best choices out there. Truthdig gives him a review that is, not surprisingly, quite positive, and speaks to some of the more substantial strengths that Biden provides the Obama campaign. Most notably, he shores up Obama's foreign policy cred with a great deal of experience in that arena. It's also an interesting observation that this choice "hamstrings" McCain with respect to the sort of running mate he can now select. (Ha! Obama forcing McCain to be conservative; there's a punchline for ya.) I would also love to see Biden in some VP debates; I think he would give Lieberman (yes, I think it will be Lieberman; McCain is orchestrating the perfect storm of transcendent electoral failure) a pretty nasty whoopin'.

And lastly, remember our plan for Iraq: "As they stand up, we'll stand down keep staying here. Even if they tell us to leave because we're fucking shit up. (Like this. Or these. I could go on.)

Seriously though, if even Al-Maliki thinks we should go, what the hell are we doing there? We should probably leave soon 5 years ago.


</rant>

PS: From this link:

Custer Battles is a relatively new company in the booming field of so-called "private military companies" in Iraq providing veteran soldiers from around the world for various security jobs. Named for founders Michael Battles and Scott Custer, who are military veterans, the company quickly nabbed lucrative contracts in Iraq, where U.S. authorities needed firms who were willing to accept high-risk assignments.
I don't give a shit what your founders' names are, naming your fighting/mercenary outfit "Custer Battles" is re-fucking-tarded. Is that some kind of sick joke? What the hell is wrong with you people?

</rant> <!-- Seriously -->



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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Not Helping...

Robin Leach apparently leapt to John McCain's defense in a recent media schaden-session, deftly explaining why the geezer couldn't remember how many houses he owned. This unfortunate brain flatus was already a minor disaster for the McCain campaign, adding one more facet to the narrative of McCain's not-so-creeping senescence and seriously undermining his digs at Obama's elitism. What he really didn't need to help reassure voters that he can relate to their financial woes was for the Grand Poobah of pretentious dickwads, a man whose very existence is predicated on showcasing how much "better" some people live --nay, are -- than regular Americans, to cavalierly tell us "It’s nothing to get into a kerfuffle about."

[Leach said] he isn’t really surprised at McCain's odd memory lapse given the complex lives that the super-rich lead.

"He probably was confused as to which homes are in his name, his wife's name, or corporate names," Leach explained in his familiar, deep British baritone. "In his attempt to be honest, he put his foot in his mouth."

Well, if your dayjob is (well, was before he retired) touring opulent shrines to Mammon, it's rather easy to dismiss this incident as a common mishap among the fabulously wealthy. The problem is, voters don't like candidates to be fabulously wealthy (or, rather, they don't like to envision them so). Moreover, this incident has prompted many to investigate just how many houses the McCain estate does comprise, and their approximate value. And all this negative PR is being disseminated without the Obama campaign having to dirty their hands with innuendos or accusations. That is why this fuck-up is big; it has invited people to criticize McCain on their own terms. And Robin Leach's ill-conceived defense, in fact, the very notion that he saw fit to defend McCain at all, is most certainly not helping.

McCain: With friends like these, who needs enemies!




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More on Torture, Part 2

There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one
thing, while methods and tactics are another. -Emma Goldman, social
activist (1869-1940)

Here are some very interesting comments on interrogation by a guy who knows the field:



I am certainly pleased to hear that the ticking time bomb scenario is in fact unrealistic. But I should point out that even without that scenario's unlikely justification, Sam Harris's defense of torture is quite compelling. I'm not so sure I can stand by my claim that I unconditionally oppose torture (although my thoughts about the legal process that must govern its use most certainly hold). Harris's argument is essentially that if we are willing to engage in a practice (namely, war) that will undoubtedly kill innocent people, how can we cringe at a practice (torture) that might do the same or less, and presumably on a much more limited scale. (The argument that torture can in fact be worse than death is, if true, not applicable. Maiming, disembowelment, the loss of children, parents, and loved ones are all inevitable consequences of war. In short, there is no suffering that can be inflicted by torture that is not inflicted by war.) He sums it up thusly:

Assuming that we want to maintain a coherent ethical position on these matters, this appears to be a circumstance of forced choice: if we are willing to drop bombs, or even risk that rifle rounds might go astray, we should be willing to torture a certain class of criminal suspects and military prisoners; if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war.

Unfortunately, I find his logic quite sound. The logical conclusion of any frank discussion about the ethics of warfare seems to arrive at simplistic aphorisms. If warfare is permitted at all, then "all's fair in [love and] war," or more simply, "war is hell." How then do we stay on the high side of the slippery slope to Shermanesque absolute war?

I don't know. But in the theme of reducing complex ethical issues to vulgar wisdom, I'm reminded of a movie quote on war:
"Strange game. The only winning move is not to play."





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Tha't all you had to say....




This interview was also kind of interesting, although I think it was conducted poorly by both parties. The amazing thing is that the consistent incoherence and irrelevance of Bush's answers make it impossible to pin him down on an issue. I think his stupidity is truly in asset in answering a policy question with a propagandist response; Karl Rove or even Dick Cheney could never pull off the old bait-and-switch as convincingly, because at least they would know they were doing it. W seems to legitimately fail to grasp the question.



Which is not to say that he's incapable of lying, of course. It's just that with the toughest questions, it's better to duckspeak. And as Harry Frankfurt elaborates, bullshit is a more pernicious enemy of truth than lies, because:

"It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may pertain to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose." (On Bullshit, pp. 55-56)

To put it another way, his fault is not that he provides the wrong answer to the question, it's that he's not even trying.

So when Bush actually does lie (like below), it's actually strangely refreshing. At least the value of truth is acknowledged by the attempt to deny it. (Likewise, it does not crush my spirit to think that my compatriots have elected a liar. Having elected a moron too stupid to be worthy of the epithet "liar", well, that is quite bleak.) So lie to me Georgie, it's better than whatever the fuck you were saying to that Irish gal.








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Monday, August 18, 2008

Neuro Neatness

I've seen this research before, but this is a particularly interesting popular piece on it that explains its relevance to neuroeconomics, social neuroscience, and addiction. Good stuff.

Article at Seed Magazine.



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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Magic Patriotism

Penn and Teller have a point:


Although it would have been a better trick if they hadn't given up the goodies at the end. Well, not a better trick, but a much better political lesson.




Here are some interesting stats regarding presidential candidates and experience.


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Alternative Medicine - Extra Weird Addition

This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen. It could well be the stupidest thing on the internet. HOLY FUCKING SHIT is that stupid. It really makes me reconsider my stance on mandatory sterilization for mental midgets.

Disclosure: I am heavily biased in my evaluation of this birthing method, as I am a strong opponent of the impingement upon traditional hospital-based medical care by non-humanoid mammalian practitioners (especially aquatic ones) and other bestial outpatient clinics.



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TDS Gets Its Due

From the NYT, no less.

["The Daily Show" has become] a genuine cultural and political force. When Americans were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “ ‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.”

While the show scrambled in its early years to book high-profile politicians, it has since become what Newsweek calls “the coolest pit stop on television,” with presidential candidates, former presidents, world leaders and administration officials signing on as guests. One of the program’s signature techniques — using video montages to show politicians contradicting themselves — has been widely imitated by “real” news shows, while Mr. Stewart’s interviews with serious authors like Thomas Ricks, George Packer, Seymour Hersh, Michael Beschloss and Reza Aslan have helped them and their books win a far wider audience than they otherwise might have had.


Not so relatedly, this xkcd pic is funny. It's called "Wikipedian Protester".






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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Atlantic Stuff

This piece in The Atlantic has some of the most insightful commentary I've read on how this election has demonstrated a radical evolution in the dynamics and strategy of a successful electoral campaign. Excellent.

Sure, we all know that this is the “YouTube election.” The Web has replaced TV, and e-mail has replaced direct mail, as the current modes of wholesale campaigning. Hillary’s tone-deafness has been well explored and mocked, but her comprehensive misapprehension of how rapidly mutating media alter the way people communicate has not. The digital living room she was once going to fill with listening and sharing as she cakewalked to the nomination has become an altogether more dissonant gathering place. Thanks to some sort of undead-like invincibility, she is surviving, but certainly not to have the sort of chummy conversation she envisioned in those innocent fall e-mails. Like watching Nixon sweat on television in 1960, to read Hillary’s e-mail today is to experience an old dispensation crashing headlong into the new.
(snip)

There’s a serious point here. For all the focus on position papers, and process, and even likability, what gets lost is that elections are ultimately about making connections; about showing the largest number of voters that you care about them; about, as they say in my world, relatability. Relatability is a function of discourse, which requires the candidate to speak in the vernacular of the moment. And what the era of YouTube and social media prizes is authenticity, improvisation, rough edges. Whether these values are genuinely held or brilliantly mimicked is immaterial. You have to bring the realness.

John McCain and Barack Obama turn out to be fantastic at realness; each offers up a kind of linguistic meta­narrative that says—screams—“I am not a politician,” or at least, “I’m not only a politician.” Obama’s admission in his 1995 autobiography that he did “a little blow” as a teenager may in retrospect have been his most brilliant campaign gambit, one that makes him of this moment (confessional, flawed, post-Boomer, ultimately untouchable on questions of honesty because he already admitted to something no candidate has ever admitted to before) the way Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” nonadmission (Boomerish, entitled, prone to sanctimonious deployments of situational ethics) made him quintessentially of his. Authenticity now is more coded, in the sense that the politician needs to have an intuitive understanding of how to converse, what to concede, what to hide, and what the Web hive will and will not validate.

As we contemplate Hillary’s persistent outrĂ©-ness, it’s worth dwelling on the ways in which she so misunderstood this moment. She is a politician who can never get out of the way of her politicianness; even her efforts to recast her campaign as a “conversation” reeked of politician. Last summer, the Clintons’ YouTube quasi-parody of the Sopranos finale initially seemed audacious, a witty surfacing of the repressed subtext of the couple’s Mob-dynastic ambitions and less-than-fully-intact marital status, until it devolved to more shtick about Bill’s diet. Perhaps the Clintons didn’t get their own joke? The campaign proceeded to become more and more obtuse about the Bill-Hillary dynamic until the subtext—was Bill undermining his wife’s candidacy?—drowned out the official text. Despite those grasping and un-fun appearances on The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live (required stops on the political self-flagellation circuit), it remains hard to find the human being inside, to break through Hillary’s carefully wrought positional scrim.

We understand intuitively why this discourse comes off as so wooden, so content-less, even in its relentless gravitas, but why is it so off-putting now? The answer has to do with how digital culture has made us all skeptics, all Swift Boaters. There is not one affectation, one biographical detail, that now can survive the relentless interrogation of bloggers, oppo researchers, amateur videographers, data miners. This digital Panopticon has in turn bred a culture of preemptive self-revelation, a race to bare body and essence: Hey, I did a little blow!


On the other hand, I think the author profoundly misses the boat in proclaiming that McCain's candor still passes for authentic (and in suggesting that McCain has a legit shot at the presidency; he will be crushed in the biggest landslide most Americans have ever witnessed), but it was a ploy that once worked exceedingly well for him. In fact, McCain was much admired by staunch liberals like myself simply for the fact that he did not --or at least convinced us that he did not-- bullshit us. Anyways, those days are over and Obama brings an even more refreshing form of hopefully sincere self-revelation to the table.

Frankly, this is my great concern about Obama. He is lovable to liberals for many of the same immaterial reasons that Bush was so appealing to conservatives. McCain made a strong run on his platform of honesty, and it turns out that he probably would have been nearly as disastrous a president as Bush. So I'm not so much worried that Obama's "authenticity" will turn out to be of the same quality as McCain's, but rather that authenticity does not ensure a successful presidency. In my heart I believe Obama will be pretty good, but a decision this important needs to be made with my head. (Not that there's really an actual decision here; I'll vote for Obama. It's just a question of how strongly I truly support him.) In any case, I still have a nagging fear in the back of my mind that he could be the Democrats' Bush: a perfect figurehead of incomparable incompetence. Let's hope not.


Here is another fantastic article in the same issue of The Atlantic. I read it just before going to Israel and it profoundly enhanced my appreciation of the political situation there. On firsthand inspection of the situation (Among other things, I had an incredible experience touring Bethlehem, a Palestinian settlement, with a christian Palestinian who claimed with credibility to have been one of Arafat's bodyguards for several years. Needless to say, we discussed the politics and prospects of peace among Israelis and Palestinians.) I found much of it to be uncannily accurate. Important reading if you care about what's going on there.






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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Enlightenment

The below excerpt is essentially this entire NYT article.

Borrowers who are in trouble on their mortgages have seen their government move slowly — or not all — to help them. But banks and the executives who ran them are quickly deemed worthy of taxpayer bailouts.

On the ground, this translates into millions of troubled borrowers, left to work through their problems with understaffed, sometimes adversarial loan servicing companies. If they get nowhere, they lose their homes.

Taxpayers, meanwhile, are asked to stand by with money to inject into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants, should they need propping up if loan losses balloon.

The message in this disconnect couldn’t be clearer. Borrowers should shoulder the consequences of signing loan documents they didn’t understand, but with punishing terms that quickly made the loans unaffordable. But for executives and directors of the big companies who financed these loans, who grew wealthy while the getting was good, the taxpayer is coming to the rescue.

To be sure, bailouts are becoming increasingly necessary in our highly leveraged, interconnected financial world. One obvious reason that huge companies are not allowed to fail is that so many people are hurt by such debacles. If a family files for bankruptcy or loses a home, the pain still hurts, but its emotional and financial ripples are confined.

And in the heat of a financial crisis, there is often little time to think through who deserves a bailout and who does not. In especially dire circumstances, leaders have no choice but to rescue companies. Think about Bear Stearns: even though it was relatively small in size for a brokerage firm, its demise had to be averted because of a possible domino effect that might have also taken down its many trading partners. In that multibillion-dollar bailout, it was Bear’s big and wealthy counterparties who benefited.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, however, present an exponentially larger problem. They are unquestionably too big to fail. With $5.2 trillion in mortgages either on their books or guaranteed by them, their bailout was completely predictable. If those companies had been left for road kill, the mortgage market would have ground to a halt and a financial conflagration of historic and devastating proportions would have resulted.
(snip)

Bailouts are also ticklish affairs because of the precarious state of our economy. As Americans are being asked to shore up reckless financial companies, they are also being punished by high oil prices, rocketing food costs and a stomach-churning slide in the buying power of their currency, the once-almighty dollar.

So asking Main Street to bail out Wall Street leads to this inevitable question: Weren’t the financial folks the ones who helped create the mess we’re in?
(snip)

Once again, this emergency action smacks of the regulatory responses of recent years: do nothing to curb the deal-making mania while it is occurring, but when the rout comes along, hurry up and rein it in.

Of course, people prefer rising stock prices to declining ones. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if shares never fell? But such actions call into question the claim that ours is a free-market system. More and more, our version of free markets holds that they are free only when asset values rise. When they fall, the markets must be managed.

HERE is a question: Might not the routs, which inevitably follow the manias, be less painful if things were not allowed to get wild and crazy on the upside? Might not the American people be better off with regulators who curb market enthusiasm — whether in the form of errant lending or voracious, ill-considered deal making — when it reaches manic levels, to protect against the free fall, and the bailouts, that ensue?

No, no, no — perish the thought, especially when the taxpayer is there to pick up the bill.

Which returns us to the dispiriting divide between those who receive help and those who don’t.

“The banks are too big to fail and the man in the street is too small to bail,” said John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, the mutual funds giant, who is a philosopher of finance.
(snip)

Mr. Bogle, like most investors, is an optimist at heart. But he believes that we must work to correct the growing imbalances in our country. “We Americans are one lucky bunch,” he said. “But, let’s face the truth. While the Declaration of Independence assures us that ‘all men are created equal,’ we’d best face the fact that we may be created equal but we are born into a society where inequality of family, of education and, yes, even opportunity begins as soon as we are born.”

“But the Constitution demands more,” he adds. “We the people are enjoined to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, and to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. So it’s up to each of us to summon our unique genius, our own power and our own personal magic to restore these values in today’s imbalanced society.”

Not a bad idea, bringing a little 18th-century enlightenment to this moment of 21st-century gloom.


In a more pragmatic vein, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich makes a "modest proposal" at his blog:

Socialized capitalism of the sort the Fed and the Treasury are now practicing, consisting of private gains and public losses, is untenable. On the other hand, it's also true that giant Wall Street investments banks as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are too big to fail. How to reconcile these conflicting principles?

Here's a modest proposal: When taxpayers insure a giant entity against loss -- as we now are with Freddie, Fannie, and Wall Street investment banks -- those entities must agree that:

(1) for the duration of the bailout, their top executives cannot receive total annual compensation higher than that received by the President of the United States, and

(2) the government gets five percent of their current valuation as shares of stock (roughly representing the benefit to their shareholders of the federal insurance) -- so that if and when the entities become profitable again, taxpayers are compensated for the risk they've taken on.


Here's a funny cartoon on McCain's offshore drilling plan, from The General.

Finally, if a soldier falls in the desert and nobody hears him, do we make a sound?

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Econ 101

It's pretty simple, actually.

So thoroughly is the economy decoupled from ordinary experience that according to a CNN poll, 57 percent of Americans thought we were already in a recession a month ago. Economists may complain that this is only because the public is ignorant of the technical definition of a recession, which specifies at least two consecutive quarters of negative growth. But most of the public employs the more colloquial definition of a recession, which is hard times. And... most Americans have been living in their own personal recession for years.
(snip)

In the months ahead, we can expect the hard times to spread... This is what a stimulus package needs to address: the persistent and growing struggles of the middle class and the working class, which is increasingly conterminous with the working poor.

There are reasons for doing so other than compassion. The chronically poor and the battered middle class have become a tripwire in the American economy — generating defaults on debts, depressed consumption and global market turmoil.



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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Internet Junk Day

This was interesting considering the Obama shenanigans.

This was fairly interesting as well.

This says it all:



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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bush Gets Smart On Fiscal Policy

Just kidding. But if this was funny almost six years ago...just, wow.

On a more serious note, this is wild. Check out the lower fifth's consumption vs. earnings.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wow

Jesus is an NRA member, among other crazy things.

Note: This site is almost certainly definitely tongue-in-cheek, although it is not nearly as good natured as Jesus' General


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Iraq: Who Knew?

“There is still—and I say this with a heart full of sorrow—no Iraqi people, but an unimaginable mass of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever. Out of these masses we want to fashion a people which we would train, educate and refine…The circumstances being what they are, the immenseness of the efforts needed for this [cannot be imagined].” -King Faisal I of Iraq, circa 1930

“Evidently we are in for a long, costly campaign in Mesopotamia which will strain to the uttermost our military resources.”

"There is something very sinister to my mind in this Mesopotamian entanglement...It seems to me so gratuitous that after all the struggles of war, just when we want to get together our slender military resources and re-establish our finances and have a little in hand in case of danger here or there, we should be compelled to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless deserts.”

"We have not got a single friend in the press on the subject, and there is no point of which they make more effective use to injure the Government. Week after week and month after month for a long time we shall have a continuance of this miserable, wasteful, sporadic, warfare marked from time to time certainly by minor disasters and cuttings off of troops and agents, and very possibly attended by some very grave occurrence.
-Winston Churchill, various private communications during the 1920's

“You are flying in the face of four millenniums of history if you try to draw a line around Iraq and call it a ‘political entity!’ They have never been an independent unity.”
-American missionary warning the British, circa 1920

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia [Iraq] into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information…..We are today not far from disaster.”
-Colonel T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) in the London Sunday Times, August 1920


Apparently, George Bush is not lying when he says that all he reads is the Bible.



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Monday, February 4, 2008

Drug Abuse?

This is an interesting piece calling into question the efficacy of statins, whose use is essentially de rigeur for anyone threatening a heart problem (which incidentally, high cholesterol does not necessarily portend, so there are a few pieces of conventional wisdom being challenged here). Good stuff, and once again an example of the incredible amount of influence that the pharma industry wields; they have, via clever marketing, quite literally told doctors how to practice medicine, and wouldn't you know it, the "suggestions" happen to benefit their promulgators to the tune of billions of dollars.

Here is a piece in a similar vein.

This is tangentially related, but obviously much more pertinent to the ongoing circus of political "debates." It reminds me of memes like "John McCain is a straight-talking maverick" and "George Bush is a real down-home everyman." I've never understood how those sorts of assertions could scan with the public, but perhaps it really has to do with our fundamental tendency to favor gossipy descriptions over objective information.




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What It's All About

The intro page to a blog I have recently discovered is actually one of the most cogent and concise critiques that I've read about the current media situation. The NonSequitir really nails down what political punditry needs more than anything:

While run-on sentences, comma splices, split infinitives, and other such grammatical minutiae may rarely make appearances in the best of our nation’s dailies and weeklies, and a small but growing class of press watchdogs help to correct errors of fact (pointing out bias, factual omissions, and distortions), a more perilous corruption lurks under the clean surface of the printed page: specious reasoning.

The political media is in the business of persuasion. It generally falls to the columnists, the editorialists, and the pundits to draw inferences from the facts, to argue for opinions, and to persuade the readers by the strength of their reasoning. But, for their arguments to be of any value, for their reasonings to command our assent, they must not only have a clear basis in fact, but more importantly, they must have a cogent logical structure.

It is, thus, one thing to have one’s facts straight and one’s sentences grammatical, but how one alleges that the facts are connected is often simply ignored as outside the realm of the editor’s responsibility: A matter of debatable opinion, they say, let the reader sort it out. Let the reader judge the author’s arguments.

Errors in grammar may produce laughable incoherence, errors in fact produce fiction, errors in logic, however, produce simple nonsense. Unlike grammar and facts, logic is not a matter of debate: Reasonable people cannot, in fact, disagree.



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Friday, February 1, 2008

Moby Dick

For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was spilled for it.

Text.

PS: There Will Be Blood was badass. The final scene is one of my favorite ever in film.


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Monday, January 28, 2008

Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell wrote what is probably the best account of the racial-prowess-at-sports debate that I've ever read. He also brings the perspective of increased genetic variance to a few other issues to which it is relevant. (This line of reasoning is to me particularly reminiscent of the Larry Summers scandal at Harvard, which the article predates.) He also includes social science evidence for possible mechanisms of positive feedback involved in these selection processes. Good stuff.

He also has an interesting series of blog posts of the silliness of the anti-performance-enhancing-drugs crusade in professional sports:
Part 1, 2, 3, 4.





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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wow, That's a Good Idea

A few decades after idealists dreamed of a virtual vehicle by which useful information and informed opinions could be shared digitally around the world, the internet has begun to realize its potential. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but finally Big Think is here.

A random sample:



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What Are They Waiting For?

What?




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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Aussies

Are now running neck-and-neck with Brits for the funniest people that speak my language.






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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kucinich

I like him for exactly the same reasons he will never be president; chiefly, the sumbitch just won't play ball. More here.

A judge ruled against his suit. While I find that unfortunate, I think the court is correct in allowing parties to enforce their own reasonable rules internally; it's the Democrats that are the assholes. Signing an unconditional oath of support? Falling in line behind the honcho, come what may? That's how the Republicans got where they are, and I want no part of it.





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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Dirt on Romney

Taibbi's got it, again.

Take home:

The most common thing you hear from voters after a Romney event is how impressed they are by his demeanor and delivery, his obvious vitality, by the fact that he looks like he could do this twenty-four hours a day and twice on Sunday, taking off only twenty-six minutes once a week to make monogamous, missionary-position love to his baby-factory wife. And that's precisely the way Romney wants it: He wants voters focused on him the man, this unblemished, in-control Example for All who, unlike his Republican rivals, is in no danger of collapsing onstage, or getting caught on camera with his cock in some bruise-covered stripper or Jack Russell terrier.
[snip]

You can learn a lot about a candidate by what his leadoff line is, and in Romney's case, when he's not in New Hampshire (where he unfailingly kicks off every event with a Red Sox reference; I actually clocked him at one stop mentioning the Sawx as early as three seconds after grabbing the microphone) he plunges right into his I-know-the-way-because-I've-made-shitloads-of-money act.

"The challenges we face are beyond the scope of just a politician," he says. "It's going to take somebody who's been able to live in the private sector, who learns how the economy actually works, who knows how to get the job done. It's going to take someone like that to get America on track again."
[snip]

Only in America do audiences not burst out laughing when a guy worth $250 million gets up onstage and says he and his CEO buddies spend their spare time racking their brains to find ways to help people.
[snip]

In a delicious detail that says a lot about the nature of Romney's morality, the investor had no problem making piles of cash off companies that executed mass layoffs or defrauded the government, but he balked when asked to invest in a Bain deal to acquire a video distribution company called Artisan Entertainment. "I didn't want to profit from a studio that made R-rated movies," he huffed.
[snip]

The real question is this: If you're gunning for the GOP nomination, where do you run these days? Do you strap on your medals, limp into VFW halls and do a Band of Brothers act, a la John McCain? Do you stand up before suburban crowds, tell horror tales of hairy Muslims lurking near reservoirs and promise to bomb them all back to the Stone Age, like Rudy Giuliani? Do you wear your WWJD cap and quote the Bible, like Mike Huckabee, or freak out about rape-hungry Mexicans, like Tom Tancredo? Or do you do what Romney does: Look smooth, keep your nose clean and tour the country talking about business being the answer to all the world's ills?

It's a conundrum, and the problem isn't just that the current batch of ruling Republicans have horrified the whole world through their insane invasion of Iraq, run up record deficits despite campaigning on a platform of fiscal restraint, punted the ethics issue deep into Democrat territory with a parade of staggering corruption indictments and turned their pompous emphasis on personal morality into a late-night punch line through their hilarious high-profile pursuits of little-boy pages and anonymous bathroom sex. It's also that America is getting older, and yesterday's liberalism is slowly but surely turning into a new generation's conservatism. So when some starched-up, smooth -talking, TV-ready creature like Mitt Romney, who made his fortune laying off factory workers, walks onto college campuses and starts bashing cohabitation and having children out of wedlock, he loses young people who are tired of watching our leaders fuck things up on a grand scale and then turn around and blame our problems on stoned teenagers. Back when the Gingrich revolution was hot, even college kids bought into the reactionary rhetoric. But now that Bush and Cheney have blown that revolution to itty-bitty pieces, the Republican morality line sells like warmed-over horseshit; on college campuses, Romney comes off like a parent trying to maintain his moral authority after a messy divorce in which the kids got to watch Daddy shacking up with his secretary and Mommy hauling out the lawyers to repossess Dad's fridge.


His interesting ethical stances in his lucrative business ventures were, for me, the most interesting and illuminating (though hardly surprising) details of the story.

Here is an oddly prescient piece.



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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lashing Out

I love Matt Taibbi.

Then there's this whole business of liberals who are accused of "rooting" for failure in Iraq. I'm sorry, but the next pundit who whips that one out should have his balls stuffed down his throat. You cocksuckers beat the drum to send these kids to war, and then you turn around and accuse us of rooting for them to die? Fuck you for even thinking that. We're Americans just like you. You don't have the right to get us into this mess and then turn around and call us traitors. Your credibility is long gone on this issue. Shut up about us.

Beyond that, what you say doesn't even make any sense. For most of us, if we thought there was any chance this thing could work, we'd have been for it, or at least not so violently against it. Instead, our opposition to the war was based on our absolute conviction that it would end in disaster -- which it incidentally has. But according to Klein, if we see a guy step off the top of the Empire State Building, we're supposed to root for him to nail the dismount. The whole issue is irrelevant and absurd. This is a catastrophe, not a baseball game. "Rooting" is a kid's word; grow the fuck up.

But that's not exactly what the article is about.
I think they're all full of shit -- Klein, McCain, Kerry, all of them. But especially Klein. He is the living, breathing incarnation of American "conventional wisdom" -- and what American "conventional wisdom" is is a spineless, slavish, power-worshipping watcher of polls who has no problem whatsoever denying today what he said yesterday, and is mostly interested in making sure he still has invitations to the right Beltway parties.

The war, you might have noticed, has not budged very many of these people from their places. Many of them now claim to be against the war. But they're the same people they were three or four years ago, and they're still quite openly sneering at the people who really were right all along. They seem to hate us even more, now that we've so obviously been proven right.

Which tells us: if they're going to end this Iraq thing, they're going to try to do it without admitting either that they were wrong or we were right. And we'll take that, I guess -- but Jesus, is it infuriating.


Here's some more from Taibbi (from a different piece). I love him because he is so astute in putting his finger on exactly how a given political stance is bullshit. Check him ripping the dems (my emphasis):
The Democrats, God bless them, came out with yet another calculated media attack last week, following up Hillary Clinton's August ambush of Don Rumsfeld with the calling for the defense secretary's resignation. From almost the moment that Rumsfeld gave a speech early last week comparing Bush's Iraq war critics to pre-WWII Nazi "appeasers," the Democrats started whaling away at him, filling the front pages of big dailies across the country with "Top Dems Blast Rumsfeld" headlines.

Almost the whole roster of prominent Democrats was in on the effort, with everyone from John Edwards to Chuck Schumer to Nancy Pelosi to Ike Skelton to Jack Reed seemingly reading from the same gloatingly self-righteous "Rumsfeld is a real dick" script. It was one of those groan-out-loud coordinated media-sandbag jobs, now standard procedure in American politics, where the various politicians separately make exactly the same pre-prepared "jokes" in their respective "extemporaneous" public remarks, delivering their message with all the wit and spontaneity of a Speak N' Spell:

Pelosi on Rumsfeld: "If Mr. Rumsfeld is so concerned with comparisons to World War II, he should explain why our troops have now been fighting in Iraq longer than it took our forces to defeat the Nazis in Europe."

Biden: "The most significant comparison with World War II is that we soon will have been in Iraq as long as World War II, with much less success."

Yuk, yuk. In any case, this anti-Rumsfeld broadside is a classic political canard, a perfect expression of everything the modern Democratic Party stands for. Politically, it makes perfect sense, as Rumsfeld is much less popular even than Bush; this is a figure whose approval ratings were down in the thirties two years ago, back when Bush was still capable of winning a national election.

The attack will work, because so many voters out there will see in it a reflection of their own animosity towards the hoary defense secretary, not thinking about the real underlying meaning of the Democrats' campaign. Because what Rumsfeld actually represents to the Democrats is a means of attacking the Republicans on the Iraq issue without having to explain their own vote in support of the invasion.

Essentially the Democrats will call Rumsfeld a bunch of names for the sound bite, and then, in the fine print, state their real "objections" to Rumsfeld's record, which will amount to something like the fact that he invaded Iraq on a Thursday instead of a Tuesday, used too few troops to needlessly destroy Iraq's national infrastructure, failed to distribute free milk and cookies to the Mahdi army, etc. A typical comment will be one like Chuck Schumer's of last week: "There are growing doubts about how competently he's conducted the war." (How do you competently invade the wrong country?) And so the Democrats once again will make an effort to sound antiwar out of one side of their mouths, and pro-war out the other side; they will then close their eyes and hope that they pick up sixteen seats before anyone notices. If that ain't leadership, what is?


And of course, a righteous repudiation of the media, wrapped in a story that's so much more.

One more. An all-opinion piece.




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I'm Doing This



HELLLL YEAH.


More info.



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Jimmy

While the same clowns who bitch about Hollywood actors opining on politics want to dig up Dutch, the question remains: How did he ever beat this guy?

Seriously, WTF?

[Sans research, I recall that Jimmy Carter was a Naval Academy alum, nuclear physicist, down-home peanut farmer, genuine Christian with serious human rights and humanitarian aid cred (I'm against religion, especially in public life, but at least he's lived up to the principles he espoused as a candidate before, during, and after his political career), prophet of energy policy, Nobel Peace laureate, etc. He lost to Reagan, the American-born predecessor of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Seriously.]


Non sequitir: Are you kidding me?




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Dr. Wii

I'm going to lean on this really hard during medical school.


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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Hampshire




Here's one on Tenet that's great. I must have missed it.



If I had known that you could write a book about sucking at your job and then calling your boss a dumbass, I could have writ thousands of books!






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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Show Us The Body

For if we allow that to happen to anyone
then we invite it to happen to us.
If our freedoms can be suspended
they can be ended, and we must not pretend it's
okay that our rights can be taken away.
For in that notion, tyranny is reborn.
Be warned: America will fall or rise as we defend it.
It's what we do, not what we intended.


Sound familiar? (?)

By the way, this whole ACLU-inspired/promoted spoken word project is freakin awesome. This is probably my other favorite, but they are all incredible.




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