Tagged in: politics


Bill O'Reilly

I like politics. I hate punditry. I’m interested in the way public policy is conceived, debated,  and implemented. The ins and outs of political sausage-making fascinate me. Theoretically, at least. In practice, the problem is that the only way to keep up with the K Street wheeling and dealing of our elected representatives is to consume some manner of (and I use the term loosely) news. And right now, there’s no such thing.

The tenor of the national conversation tends to be such that reasoned debate or thorough reporting never actually happens. The television replaces it with shrill, shrieking talking heads who take turns yelling at each other and making disingenuous attempts at “balance” by having shrill, shrieking talking heads from the opposing political party yell at them. And then they cry. I’m not calling out for some standard of objectivity, or news outlets. A certain amount of lean or bias is an inescapable aspect of the human condition, and as long as they own up to it I’m fine with that aspect of the media. I know that in the early days,  political reporting was done by the most viscious of partisan hacks and I don’t see a big gap between the libelous pamphleteers of the 1700s and Fox news, say. And that doesn’t bother me

Bias is fine, but at least give us some reporting somewhere in between the shouting and bullying. Even if it’s biased reporting, give us some facts and some depth not just regurgitated talking points and press releases. Whether its the conspiracy theories and calculated histrionics of the Glenn Becks, the aggressively dismissive shouting of the Chris Mathews,  or the smarmy condescension of the Rachel Maddows, watchers of news get nothing but punditry. Blogs are even more brazenly partisan, and the echo chamber effect means that links and links give lots of cross-pollination but outside of a few serious outlets there is even less room for actual reporting. Newspapers. meanwhile are heaving the last choking sobs of their death spasms.

As fake news becomes the only palatable outlet for keeping up with the day-to-day political landscape, Americans lose something important. As much as I love the Stewarts, Colberts, and (to a lesser degree) Mahers of the world they are a poor substitute for substantive news reporting, told in manner meant to educate more than it entertains.

The Rundown for Sunday, June 7th 2009

Mistress Internet reveals her hidden delights in response to my tender ministrations:

  • The Busy Person’s Guide to International Relations Theory
  • Harvard Professor Stephen Walt compiles a greatest hits of articles to help you understand the modern world.
    Filed Under:[politics international theory academia international-relations ir ]

  • Top Ten Foreign Affairs Articles
    And the Lone Gunman handily makes (most of) them available as .pdfs.
    Filed Under:[foreignpolicy politics international ir ]
  • 54 Tips For Writers, From Writers
    Vonnegut, Stephen King, and others share their advice.
    Filed Under:[Writing tips ]
  • Lifehacker Pack 2009: Our List of Essential Free Windows Downloads
    Some essential and some not so essential applications.
    Filed Under:[free downloads tools lifehacker software productivity ]
  • A hundred million mistakes: Microsoft’s Bing search engine
    Filed Under:[google microsoft internet ]
  • California First Amendment Coalition
    A guide to getting info under the public records act.
    Filed Under:[california law journalism government ]
  • Brand New Day


    On my way to school this morning I passed a crowd gathered in the Civic Center park to watch President Obama’s inauguration. Hundreds of people huddled close leaving no gaps in the crowd. They all faced the giant screens set up in the center of the field to broadcast the swearing in of our nation’s 44th President. I watched the ceremony and subsequent speech at school, soaking in the rhetoric with fellow future lawyers and the professors who teach us. There were few dry eyes and several people wept openly.

    I wouldn’t begrudge anyone an upwelling of emotion. It was a great speech from a great speaker and he gave it on what is undeniably one of the most historic days of recent memory. People will be talking about Obama’s presidency for years to come and it all started today.

    But underneath my joy at the dawning of a new day in America with its unwritten pages (and other hackneyed metaphors for hope, renewal, and promise) I can’t help but feel a little tickle of apprehension. To be clear, I supported Barack Obama from the first primary. I even involved myself in his campaign above and beyond buying a t-shirt and casting my vote by working for his campaigns voter protection effort in my native Florida. I am happy that he won and hopeful for our future.


    But despite the strength of his rhetorical abilities I still feel the pull of the cynicism he has campaigned so strongly against. As inspired as his speeches are and as much as they evoke the feeling of change and progressive action for a beleaguered country, I still feel like Charlie Brown. I am afraid that the change in administration is a new football Lucy sets upon the tee and we the people are lining up our kick because this time, this time it is for real. She won’t pull it out from under us and send us toppling ass over our collective elbows. The challenges are many. The obstacles are high on several fronts. I worry about blowback from President Obama’s messianic reputation and whether that will prove to be more of a hindrance than a help.


    But despite my own clinging mistrust of the ability of our leaders to lead us effectively I will place my trust that we get the government we deserve and that we desperately deserve someone who can nudge us toward fixing the problems we created and give us the tools to do so.  I truly believe that President Obama is capable of providing the leadership we need and that he will help us overcome the obstacles in our path. So I for one am more than willing to really step into this kick and whether we end up falling flat, splitting the uprights or bobbling the whole thing it feels good to dig in and have something to look forward to.

    But someone said it better:

    “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world. Duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

    We all have to work in the garden.

    (photo by Vanessa Naylon, via Laughing Squid)

    Internet Goodies for Sunday, January 18th 2009

    Just because I have other things to do (like my Professional Responsibility reading) doesn’t mean I don’t have time to waste on the internet.

  • Our world may be a giant hologram
    Filed Under [science ]
  • superuseless superpowers Things like being impervious to the 13th bullet fired at you (and not the first 12) or being able to teleport one inch in any direction. Filed Under [humor superheroes ]
  • Readingon on the Rise
    A new report from the NEA: more Americans are reading and more Americans are reading Fiction! Filed Under [books Culture america ]
  • Inside the Savant Mind: Tips for Thinking from an Extraordinary Thinker
    An autistic savant discusses how his memory works. Filed Under [psychology neuroscience mind ]
  • Whitechapel – Postmodernism – your views?
    A forum discussion of everyone’s favorite subject of academic wankery. Filed Under [literature philosophy postmodernism ]
  • Joe the Plumber = Homer Simpson?
    Some action shots of everyone’s favorite two legged political prop captioned with Simpsons quotes. I like Homer. Filed Under [politics ]
  • Internet Goodies for Sunday, October 19th 2008

    Linking and driving, only without the driving.

  • The Smart Set: The Term Paper Artist
    An academic mercenary gives a behind the scenes look at writing term papers for money.
    Filed Under [plagiarism essays education academia ]
  • The climate change unbelievers
    In spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, some very smart people think climate change isn’t happening.
    Filed Under [environment climatechange ]
  • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: The Economic Crisis Hits the Markson Family Monopoly Board.
    “I realize Bethany is only 6, and you find it cute that she writes “$5,000″ in crayon on the backs of the Chance and Community Chest cards when she runs out of funds and uses them to purchase houses, but, if you recall, that is exactly what led to the inflation that crippled our Friday fun.”
    Filed Under [satire economics ]
  • Interview with Noam Chomsky:
    Saying the things Chomsky says, like: “Nobody should have any illusions. The United States has essentially a one-party system and the ruling party is the business party. ”
    Filed Under [politics election08 economics ]
  • 900-Pound Giant Squid Joins Cast Of ‘The View’Filed Under [humor ]
  • Late Bloomers
    Malcolm Gladwell questions our equation of precociousness with genius, and asks if maybe we shouldn’t appreciate the creators who have put in the time.
    Filed Under [none]
  • Bill Clinton talks about Fight Club
    “But you know, so it was a little too nihilist for me, but I thought it was very compelling. I thought that those two guys were great and I think that Helena Bonham Carter was in it and she was a very compelling figure in it. I thought it was quite good.”
    Filed Under [none]
  • Adam and Steve?

    gay marriage

    photo by Jim Herd

    On my way to school this morning I passed through a crowd of protesters outside the California Supreme Court. It seems that California is considering the issue of same-sex marriage today, and these folks have a problem with it. When I got to school, I found that Hastings is running live footage of the arguments in the student lounge, to be followed by a panel discussion on the constitutionality of people with the same configuration of X and Y chromosomes marrying. This is San Francisco, so I can pretty well imagine the general reaction locals have to the debate. That made the protesters stand out all the more. Despite their placards warning of the spiritual perils filing joint tax returns with someone who wears the same kind of underwear as you do, I don’t think they’ll be changing too many minds. One well-meaning protester dropped some mathematics on passers by with the helpfully simplistic slogan “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman.” I can’t fault him on his arithmetic, but he forgot to show his work so he can only receive partial credit.

    Gay marriage is an issue that is hard for me to get worked up about, despite my zip code. On the one hand, of course homosexuals couples should enjoy all the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as other citizens. It offends my notion of justice and fair play to suggest homosexuals don’t deserve to receive tax breaks, insurance benefits, or any other freedom guaranteed to every other American. Civil Unions may grant all those same rights. Is that enough? Is marriage by another name just as good? I don’t know.

    For many people in this country (though not me personally) “Marriage” means something very specific, as the arithmetical picketer I spotted this morning demonstrates. Not all of them are closed-minded assholes of Phelps-ian proportions. Marriage is a social construct, and it operates in both a secular sense and religious sense. Why not let these people (of which there are many) reserve the language of marriage for a church-sanctioned act and let homosexuals enjoy the same benefits through a secular civil union? Let marriage be the province of the church if that’s what it takes to appease the minds that differ.

    Such a compromise reeks of the separate but equal doctrine, which was neither. The idea retarded the civil rights of blacks in this country for too long a time and it seems like an overly restrictive way to approach a personal freedom. And what could be more personal than deciding who you want to spend your life with? But it may be a necessary semantic concession to the more stringent conservative elements that also make up American society. It may be the cost of doing business in a pluralistic society, as it were. California voters approved a ballot initiative eight years ago that put the kibosh on any gay marriage, and the electorate has not reversed its position.

    The whole froofera has never sat particularly close to my heart, since I am both heterosexual and pathologically afraid of commitment. I think though, if I were an Adam wanting to commit to my Steve I would be more concerned with getting the same rights than getting to use the same word.


    Here’s some footage of the douchebags in question:

    via SFist (where I also found the above photo)

    At the Intersection of Politics and Geekery, A Duel Between Obama and Clinton

    Morpheus on Politics

    This is the coolest political ad I have ever seen. It repurposes the dialogue from an old issue of The Sandman (Season of Mists, I believe) . The words are a magical duel that plays out exactly as above, with Barack taking the role of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams and Hillary as a demon. Awesome.

    Even if I don’t totally agree with the sentiment, I think it encapsulates the message well and I think I’ve been waiting my whole life to see comic books appropriated into  the political discourse.

    via The Seminal

    What Happens in the Men’s Room Stays in the Men’s Room, Unless You are Senator Craig

    It seems everyone has something to say about the most recent congressional sex scandal, in which Idaho senator Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting some hot man on man lovin’ in the men’s room of the Minneapolis airport. Why is it that the dog days of August always seem to bring out the sexual peccadilloes of the high and mighty? Last year we had the fun and games surrounding the Mark Foley sex scandal, and then there was the great Condit affair which broke in August of 2001 and involved not only sex but murder as well. Not to mention the Long Dong Silvering of Clarence Thomas (Summer 1991) and the granddaddy of them all, the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal. Is there something in the air that makes those who walk the halls of power into horny bastards in the summertime? Or is there something about the news cycles that makes this kind of thing more likely to break at the end of summer?

    Toilet Stall

    I don’t know. But as far as the most recent example of political perversion, I understand the impulse to come down on Craig for being a hypocritical asshole. He did plead guilty to soliciting sex from a man after having voting for the Defense of Marriage Act and otherwise acting as a family values type while cruising the crappers of our nations capital in search of man-love. It’s always fun to watch hypocrites get outed for their hypocrisy, especially when they are conservative and the scandal that brings them down involves toilet trysts. But have you looked at the actual complaint?

    It’s ridiculous. The officers state that he tried to solicit sex by means of salacious foot-signaling.

    At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.

    Now even if it is true that the reason Craig tapped his foot so saucily was not, as he claimed, because he “ has a wide stance when going to the bathroom” but rather to indicate that he wanted to get it on with the guy one stall over, what’s so wrong with that? It is now a crime in this country to indicate to another adult that you are willing to have sex with them? I’m not saying that we should turn our nation’s restrooms into bathhouses or advocating that we give the larger handicap stalls at airports over to gay orgies but where is the harm in tapping one’s foot? The whole thing is just ridiculous. Is Senator Craig an asshole and a hypocrite? Almost certainly. But that doesn’t mean that Minneapolis should be wasting valuable police resources in elaborate bathroom sting operations in the hopes of exposing hypocritical congressmen.

    Senator Larry Craig

    Hypocrisy is bad. Cheating on your wife is bad. Tapping your foot in a bathroom stall is a ludicrous charge. There’s no real sex scandal here. How could there be? There was no sex to call scandalous. Which is not to say there isn’t something fishy about Senator Larry Craig…

    Nevertheless, we heterosexual men should take care lest we send the wrong signals to rabid homosexuals and find ourselves embroiled in a similar scandalous debacle as Senator Craig. I used to keep a grey rag in my pockets because the job I worked meant my hands got dirty. If the signals are this subtle, what are we telling others? It turns out that I had inadvertently been telling the world that I am into bondage by waving my (unknown) freak flag. I shall have to be more careful in the future.

    Encouraging Ennui

    I’m as glad as the next guy that people are getting excited about politics. Presidential elections are always a sight to behold, and the next one promises to be a real horse race as opposed to the 2004 debacle. The fieldf is wide open on both sides of the aisle and everybody seems to be getting pumped for their favorite frontrunners. And that is great. But the thing to remember is that the election is almost two years away. The first primary is (probably) a full year away.

    I know the American people have to poked and prodded into elctoral action and the infusion of relatively new and exciting figures like Obama as well as popular old school possibilities like McCain and Clinton has got the hoi polloi actually getting psyched about politics. This is generally a good thing, but I am wary of electoral burnout. Americans are not known for their long attention spans and the glut of media coverage of these candidates is likely to stretch beyond it. I don’t know if I have the stomach for the intensive coverage of every step on the electoral trail. From the exploratory committees to the the fundraising trips, in the struggle to fill 24 hours, the news networks have given us story after story about the minutiae of everything. Even the most wired of CNN-junkies will start tuning out and stop checking the blogs if they have to keep this intensity for another 20 months. The people will get bored and then excitement they feel now will wilt slowly away and we’ll end up with another apathetic turnout in November 2008. Mark my words. Throttle down, CNN. Throw the brakes on, Fox News. Surely there is other stuff you could be reporting on.