Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh Boy, Wasilla...

Cross-posting this on facebook, too. Apparently all that extra footage from the Couric-Palin interview really was horrible: Sarah Palin could not name another Supreme Court case other than Roe vs. Wade. Now, I dunno about you, but that's "damning" as they say in the media game.

You can say it's all biased since it's a DailyKos diary citing a Huffington Post article. Shit, I mean, it couldn't be any more biased than a Sociology grad student from York citing Lenin, but I digress. As it seems that us libs have been right for the past few months, I think this one will pan out to be only diffusable by a shotgun wedding... Now, who could possibly get married?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trying, Among Other Things

Two nights ago, I pulled an all-nighter to finish a conference paper. Let's just say two things: my paper sucked, but for reasons I won't say, I don't think I needed to try so hard. But in any case, that little rush of fun gave me a tiny, tiny break and I decided to clean my room a bit today and wire the cable connection to my computer. I will never have to leave my room ever again.

But I feel like I've been letting you (all three of you) down. Hardly anything insightful here as of late (as if you came here for insight), but I'll try to give you a paragraph's worth of stuff more regularly. Sadly, now that I'm back in Providence, the likelihood of me having any sort of adventure or seeing anything really "new" is pretty slim now. So I guess I really AM back.

As for the election, last Sunday I phonebanked for MoveOn with Jen, and donated $100 to Barack a few days before that. I sorta don't want to turn this blog fully into a bad DailyKos diary, so that's why I've been hesitant to say much. I have, however, been posting links to my facebook page, which is the quick-and-dirty way to get the point across.

But I'll cross-post this one. From the DailyKos, a chemical irritant was sprayed into a mosque in Ohio where children were waiting for their parents at prayer. The diarist linked that incident to the distribution of an anti-Muslim scaremonger DVD in swing states, with the tacit support of the McCain campaign. For whatever reason the attack occurred, I agree with the diarist: this is American terrorism, which I guess here we call that shit a "hate crime."

Ohio. I've driven through you once. You can't be that bad.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator

Stolen from DailyKos. Find out your Sarah Palin baby name here!

If Sarah Palin were my mother, I'd be named
Fleck Rookie Palin

Well Hello, Please Donate to Obama!

Hi. So it's been awhile. Let's get back to work.

I've been stretching and stretching out a due date for a conference paper, so I've felt a little guilty about blogging. Of course, I've been dicking around on DailyKos (I signed up so I could make comments and to start a diary, but I've felt guilty about doing that, too). Sliding around on the surface of the liberal blogosphere for a bit got me pretty riled up, more on that later.

But I've settled into a pretty reasonable rhythm back here in the PVD, minus of course the moments when instead of waking up at 8, I get up at 11:30. I'm TAing every day of the week, more or less -- class Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and office hours in the mornings on Tuesday and Thursday. Conceivably, I should have a lot of free time to work on my dissertation, but well, you know (or you will know, I guess). I set up a "schedule" with Jose, where I'd finish a chapter or two each month, with January off (probably to finish all the crap I didn't finish). That plus going back to a free gym and my basketball friends, things are rhythmic.

Last week, I got pretty fed up with the McCain campaign, and really with McCain and Palin. It started with this story from the sfgate politics blog about how McCain released an ad called "Factcheck", which cited factcheck.org. Factcheck.org then proceeded to factcheck the ad, and found out that they lied about factcheck.org. I can only assume that the reason why they pulled that shit was because both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report were off last week, because they couldn't have made that stuff up. That and how they continued to repeat some pretty idiotic lies -- lies that if you knew how to google (which isn't hard) -- that you could poop on.

So I talked to Patrick about making a "cheat sheet" to e-mail out with the claims and a link to disprove each of them. I figured that somehow this wasn't going to get picked up in the media and I wanted to do my part to help Obombs, especially considering how he was polling poorly against McCain, too. We got a few things listed (I'll put what we got at the bottom here), but it looks like that the "MSM", as they call it on DailyKos, has picked up on the lies, turned it into a meme, and following the lead of "The View", they're all abandoning the McCain ship pretty quickly.

Well, sort of quickly. Even if Karl Rove admits that McCain is going too far, he did manage to get in a "...on both sides", which plays into the grad-student-like insecurity about "balance" with the media. Just to be sure, when people call Obama on stretching the truth, he fixes himself, and really, he's not even close to McCain. Really, "on both sides" is stretching the truth: McCain is turning pathological, and compared to that, Obama looks like a typical politician.

Anyway, look, here's some stuff we can do. McCain now has $84 million dollars in federal funds for his campaign and can't spend or collect any more, unless it's through the the GOP. Because Obama didn't opt in to the federal system, he can collect and spend a whole shitload more.

The thing is, we're short a bit. The last funding update from the campaign from last month said that Obama collected $77 million. So to make sure Obama has a financial advantage, we've got to donate, especially in this last stretch.

Here. I made it easy for yas. I did it.

-------

Crap, I can't find the list! Ok, I'll dig a bit on my desktop.

Friday, September 12, 2008

35 Years Since The Coup, Chileans Make Out More

Thanks New York Times. A solemn rememberance of Augusto Pinochet's bloody coup against Salvador Allende would be great, and appropriate. But it's ok, you've turned Chile into some sort of pedophile's dream, with 18-and-under parties and "making out" running rampant.

It's too bad that Bristol can't study abroad in Chile. 'Cuz she'll be raising her child.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Well, "My Dad Worked in a Mill" Didn't Work

As it's seemed to be once again, this election is about empathy vs. biography. Now after how many years of being beaten over the head with "narrative" from the Republicans, one would think we'd finally understand what it is that narrative does so well. Since POW vote isn't so big, we keep assuming that John McCain the War Hero should have no bearing on what really matters -- "the issues."

But the thing that the Dems and maybe even the blogosphere don't quite get is that McCain was telling a redemption story as a means to describe two things. First, he was trying to show that he's a different kind of leader, not simply someone who was a POW (which is what we're all fixated on, his characteristic of being a POW), but someone who's POW experience humbled him -- humbled him enough to return to the states and give his life up to public service. This allows him to contrast his biography to Obama, who cames from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of "celebrity", and to basically make him appear as St. Paul: a man who was born into status, but was cut down by his own pride, saved by the kindness of others, and then returned to serve, to reform -- in his own words (well, let's assume that he wrote it), he was "anointed by history" to "save the country." While it sounds fairly egocentric, the redemption story is pretty familiar to Americans as the "American Dream" story, and like I said yesterday, it's the political equivalent of Bush's born-again/rehab story: a man born into privilege, fucks up out of his own arrogance, gets saved by those who teach him what's really important, and emerges both a servant and warrior for the cause. And what it says about McCain is that his path to leadership, to his anointing by history to save the country, allows him to see things differently -- he is purified by his POW experience, not exhalted by it -- and as such, he will be the ultimate servant -- a contrast to his assertion that Washington does not serve the people, but itself.

And look, think deeply enough about it, and it suggests that this purity through humility allows him to overcome both wonkishness and elitism. This recalls for me the narrative of the pasyon as used by Philippine revolutionary movements at the turn of the century. If Ileto was right about how movement leaders believed only through purity could one bring ilaw (light) to others, John McCain made his case for why he was not only the ideal Republican leader but also why he was a maverick -- because his moral compass was set to true north by his POW experience.

But secondly, McCain's biography is a metaphor for the Republican Party this year. If Washington serves itself (and though, unspoken, Washington might as well be synonymous with the Republicans), the downturn for the Party this year is its Hanoi moment. That's why their platform is filled with this stuff about grassroots Republicans taking back Washington, because for them, this isn't about multiplying a thousand points of light, but conversion and purification, of multiplying a thousand St. Pauls. Of course, in the framing of this projection of McCain's story, we've already come back from Vietnam and divorced our first wife, so the only way to go from here is up. It's not simply an underdog story, it's a story of purification -- perhaps not unlike the 1964 convention where they basically told the moderate Rockefellers to fuck off.

Now, when I say "purification", I do not necessarily mean ideological purification. Again, this is why McCain's campaign manager keeps saying it's not about the issues. Narrative, as Francesca Polletta points out, is open to interpretation, and as such, it can unify people with disparate beliefs as they take different things away from the story. Now, not explicitly dealing with policy in his speech helped -- the more vague the narrative, the more people can come up with ways to identify with it. But pace Polletta, the plot itself can do as much work to convince as the process of identifying with it. What McCain's purification narrative signifies perhaps across interpretations is his moral leadership -- literally (literarily?) his "character", and, when projected to the Republicans as a whole, their agency-through-purification in the midst of recent history hating on them so badly and the RNC was their revival meeting. When McCain says he is anointed by history to save the country, he suggests his story is not over, and when projected to the Republicans as a whole -- regardless of their beliefs on the issues -- the point is that the journey is not over.

Does this then make Palin look a political decision, not a narrative one... Or, well, it's both. Palin's story hews much closer to testimony rather than redemption, which is why we see her as "telling a story" (i.e. screeching on about nothing, or at worst, lying). It feels particular to lots of us because of how she's being presented as an empathy candidate, versus a narrative one. But, don't discount what her narrative attempts to do: it's a right-wing Obama-Clinton mash-up. For one, it's the American Dream narrative, but explicitly drawn to a smaller scale than Obama's. This has the effect of making Obama's Harvard-lawyery-confusing-Kenya/Kansas goodness a liability by showing a pretty much the lower-middle class White (I mean, seriously, hockey?) version of the same story. Second, it's the feminist politician narrative, and it's had enough of an effect to get even progressive feminists to question their own assumptions.

Now, the Democrats from what I can see, have been a party of empathy at least since FDR. Empathy is not quite biography, though they're related a bit: empathy focuses on more characteristics than on plot, it's not about twists or drama per se, but about identifying with people (and connecting them) through a shared condition. It's forming common cause. As you can tell by the first day of the RNC, the Republicans kinda suck at empathy. But, the Democrats are pretty good at it. Even when they deploy narratives -- for example, Obama's American Dream life story -- it's used to show that there are muliple paths to the same condition (i.e. "I'm an American like you!") All the stories might be different, and that's the point: the only thing in common is the last line of the plot, and that's what matters. Why trot out four or five different people talking about their lives under Bush if ultimately the point is to show that life under Bush sucks for everyone? Or, why suggest that Joe Biden go at it in Pennsylvania: his roots, his narrative, allows him to connect to people who's narratives might be similar to his.

Empathy as it's deployed by the Democrats also lends itself to being about "issues", and the battle for Democrats has been to frame these issues in such a way as to build some sort of consensus around them (the economy, the environment, etc.). Of course, consensus requires deliberation, knowledge of the facts, and the great mystery of rational thought, which is why we get so pissed off when we assume that "Kansas" is not voting for its "rational self-interest" when it votes Republican. All this is not to say that Democrats don't care how you got to be poor, but just that you're poor. Rather, what I'm suggesting is that when Obama talks about "change", it really is the progressive, liberal image of equality he's pushing for -- a state in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve some standard of well-being and dignity, which is always lower than it should be, lest "change" or "progress" mean nothing. It's equifinality, to use a horrible term from comparative history (that always reminds me of horses...) When Obama says "we are the change we've been waiting for", it means our agency is built on collective action, and when (or better said, "if") we get our act together, we can move "the story" forward.

And so the ultimate frustration for Democrats is essentially their modernism. When they (I should say "we") see biography, we see characteristics so particular that it cannot be abstracted to others -- "so what?" in other words. So what if John McCain was a POW? What Eugene Robinson in the cited piece in that link, and Kos diarist teacherken who linked it (and, maybe even sadly Joe Biden too) can't grasp is that stories have the potential to provide more than just dressing to a salad, no matter how stale the lettuce is -- they put you right in the middle of things, in a sense. Time will tell if McCain's narrative works, but we really miss out when we assume that biography has no pull, no effect, and -- worst of all -- "dupes the masses".

Like I said, there's a relationship between empathy and biography, but it's not just putting one's characteristics into plotted form. The plots have to be familiar, and they can change to fit one's needs, but they have to have some grounding in plots already existing. What we still haven't done as social scientists is figure out under which conditions do particular plots work the best. Will we (this time, the Democrats) be able to trot out our single-plot empathy narratives with enough force to counter the McCain biography of self and collective redemption and purification?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Asleep at the Podium

OK VANITY TIME
Apparently people still notice that I pooped out 15-20 pounds back in January. My new roommate Kenny has a scale in the bathroom and today's fun-with-negative-body-image fact is that I'm 140.5 pounds. The thing is, I feel a whole crapload better at this weight and all its attendant not obsessing over eating and gaining weight. Plus, when you can outlift bigger dudes or are proportionally relatively as strong, your penis doesn't feel as tiny.

OK BRAIN TIME
Without snark, I have to admit that I could not figure out what "Country First" meant at the beginning of the week. Now, with snark, I think that "Country First" means that the Republicans hate themselves. I mean, I could be thoughtful about it and say that there's some sense of promises unfulfilled from 1994, but there's something strange that if the original intent of "Country First" was to emphasize John McCain, some liberal arts major decided to shoehorn the title into everything and now it seems so weird to see the convention essentially saying "que se vayan todos" -- a pretty common refrain in the ole LA among right-wing "anticorruption" parties there too.

So America's problem is that we know how it's done, but we've elected idiots. McCain is the self-proclaimed "anointed by history" to save us. If we elect him, he'll make government more accountable by making it less effective. I love liberal democracy. Someone is an idiot, and it's never me (or you).

Or Obama is the idiot. If McCain puts country first, then Obama puts himself first -- the "uppity" kinda guy he is. Voting for Obama would doom us, not so much that he's inexperienced, but that he'll act just like one of these other self-serving folks. So the battle is over the narratives, and not about the issues.

Case in point: Charlie Rose asked one sympathetic-to-McCain-dude if the election was about issues or personality, and the response was, yes, it's about personality and that's the way it should be. That entirely explains why the policy stuff -- or rather the explanation about McCain's maverickiositousness -- falls by the wayside for stories about his POWness. So he's trying to appeal to us by a redemption story. If Sarah Palin is "King Ralph", John McCain is "It's a Wonderful Life" with evil Asians (but we're friends now)?

So a quote from Judith Warner, who's quoting Doris Kearns Goodwin

... in the past, it was possible to fill that need through empathetic connection. Few Depression-era voters could “relate” to Franklin Roosevelt’s patrician background, notes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “It was his ability to connect to them that made them feel they could connect to him,” she told me in a phone interview.

The age of television, Goodwin believes, has made the demand for connection more immediate and intense. But never before George W. Bush did it quite reach the beer-drinking level of familiarity. “Now it’s all about being able to see your life story in the candidate, rather than the candidate, with empathy, being able to relate to you.”

And just as Warner suggests "We’re not likely to get a worthy female president anytime soon," based on those criteria, we're not likely to get a minority president, either. Until, of course, we speed up our already-insidious plan to turn America brown (I'm comin' to get you, Sam Huntington!)

But seriously, if all this shit about narrative is true, then when we say that "John McCain just doesn't get it", we've already lost the battle. His POW story is nearly political equivalent of Bush's born-again-rehab story, and we're not looking for him to empathize with us ('cuz fuck if either of them do). Why else would we find the Daily Show so funny, or watch failed American Idol auditions, or go to a convention to hate on yourself? Hubris is funny, but with a side of redemption, is sexy.

PATRICK SAYS
(in regards to McCain's "I'll do this, Obama will do that" and the boos)
krunkle: sounds like a baseball game
Teh Bosslec: boooo!
krunkle: i will kiss babies, he will eat them!
Teh Bosslec: hahahaha

(on McCain's rousing "stand up" conclusion)
krunkle: stand up for puppy chow
krunkle: and healthy puppies
krunkle: stand up for fabreeze and the freshness it brings
krunkle: fight for extra meat for the hamburger helper
krunkle: finally this shit is over

Indeed.

ps.
Teh Bosslec: i'm not sure what this speech accomplished
Teh Bosslec: at the end of it
krunkle: you have to fight efor everything
krunkle: wehter its health care, a chic fil a sandwich or a code red mountain dew
krunkle: you have have to stand uip
Teh Bosslec: haha

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

RNC Message: Sarah Palin is a White Jock and You Can Be Too

I've been back in Providence for about a week, with nothing too amazing to note. Well, maybe except the bachelorette party-goers who asked for my underwear at a bar in Portland, Maine ("why won't you give me your underwear? Do you have really expensive underwear or something?").

And there's Sarah Palin. I heard about her nomination while I was in Venezuela and did as much hand-to-forehead-slapping as any Obamaite could have done. Viscerally, Palin reminds me of my mother (pro-life, religious, homeschooled my brothers, does it all) except not as smart (my mother voted Green the past two presidential elections). She makes McCain look cynical and calculating, which in the Clinton-Gingrich-Rove world, isn't a bad trait for a politician. If "maverick" means doing things that no one expects you to do, then there might be such a thing as a bad maverick.

But as much as we're laying into her for justified reasons (and for unjustified, but deliciously ironic ones, too), she embodies one vision of the American Dream that will certainly resonate with a lot of people, not just Republicans: you can overcome any obstacle -- gender, children, not having gone to Harvard, childbirth, etc. -- with stick-to-it-iveness. Slate.com nails it:
More subtly, Palin embodies a notion that Republicans can create a society like Alaska—where the culture has a heavy working-class influence, state taxes are nonexistent, economic prospects are good for people regardless of formal education, and bricklayers can make the same money as urban lawyers (and have more fun in their spare time)
In short, the American Dream for White People, a dream easily shattered when us immigrant kids manage somehow to do better in school (or do worse); when our parents "take all the jobs"; and when language, race, and all those other hard things to think about get in the way -- and to which the current response is "build a fence".

It's also the American Dream for Jocks -- vigorously engage nature or face the wrath of knowing that your college degree means nothing if you can't skin a moose (after killing it... to death!) No wonder that Palin wanted to ban books, hadn't "thought about Iraq," and wished that someone "would tell her what the VP does" (i.e. have someone else do her homework for her). I guess in some way she taps into the narrative of the young black person who leaves the projects to go to college, then goes back only to have to dance-off with Wesley Snipes.

But back to serious shit. As a Filipino nerd, I have nothing in common with Sarah Palin. Her story is of all the idiot jocks that my own mother told me I could finally beat when I went to college. Her "narrative" (which even Peggy Noonan thought was "bullshit" [thanks Patrick]) which, when she tells it, involves a list of her children, spoken in reality-show-makeover voice, isn't inspiring: I want kids, I'll raise cain at a PTA meeting, but that will never make me uniquely qualified to be President. That, I think, is a delusion for Hollywood (King Ralph, to be exact). I've also disliked sports parents, especially since my mother begrudingly allowed me to play sports, and after seeing some great 8th graders get ground into the ground by their dads.

But to all those families out there that over-schedule their kids' time -- an outcropping of overscheduling their own time, which is an outcropping of latter-day capitalism -- which is the new, fun trend in America, even they aren't the same kind of hockey families of which Palin's is the archetype. The relentless pressure to succeed, the music lessons, the sports, the tutoring, the SAT courses -- I would not be surprised if in Palin's family does not do this. After all, in Alaskamerica, it's not achievement that matters, but values (and values like to do it young).

But ok, let's assume that I've been taken over by the hegemon and I'm convinced that my, you know, nearly-completed doctorate in sociology from an Ivy League school is going to lead me to a world of frustration and that I'm just all mind-warped. Why shouldn't I be cheering for the sort of equality that Palin's place on the ticket represents? Because, unlike Alaskamerica, the rest of America does have poverty, it does not have people gleefully prancing around some middle-class dream, and partly because we aspire for more, even if we are searching for serenity.

But with both Palin and Giuliani smacking Barack around for being a community organizer -- for helping poor people make claims on government -- most of all insults me as a sociologist (and even if I'm an armchair sociologist, it still pisses me off). And, I think she might have forever gained the emnity of every single Americorp, Peace Corp, and Teach for America volunteer for a generation. Here's a better rant.

Let Patrick and I take you home:

krunkle: she sounds like simcity
krunkle: we're gonna start with coal
krunkle: then go to nuclear
krunkle: then explore wind and solar
krunkle: did she read that off gamefaqs?

...

krunkle: mccain remidns me of mumma
Teh Bosslec: momia?
krunkle: kinda of gets up and yellows
krunkle: mum-ra
krunkle: from the thudnercats
krunkle: gets up and yells
krunkle: but runs out of energy and has to leave
Teh Bosslec: and is Palin Mumm-Mutt?
krunkle: well she did comapre hockey moms and pitbills
Teh Bosslec: this is very true
krunkle: I thought an ancient evil coming out of pyramid and being mostly annoying douche was an apt comparison
Teh Bosslec: and obama is clearly lion-o
Teh Bosslec: so is biden pantro?
krunkle: yup
Teh Bosslec: and michelle is cheetara
Teh Bosslec: and the kids are the twins
Teh Bosslec: so who's snark?
krunkle: hmm
krunkle: dennis kucinich?
Teh Bosslec: that works