Friday, April 25, 2008

The Race IS Over...

Why you ask? Because Superchunk endorsed Senator Obama. Since the indie rock legends from Chapel Hill have spoken, there is little any one else could say.

To celebrate this endorsement, and this glorious day in the Northeast, here is the video for "Hyper Enough."

Who will Dinosaur Jr. endorse? Buffalo Tom? The cast from My So Called Life?

On a more serious note, Obama's deals with the DNC over a joint fundraising plan and a nationwide voter registration effort adds more speculation about the democratic race.

Also, Politico, as others before them, reports that the Pennsylvania victory for Clinton did nothing for Super Delegates. Clinton has three problems: (1) she will unite Republicans against her; (2) to take the nomination away would alienate the base; and, (3) with the loss of the African-American base, the Dems would suffer great defeats in Congress. If Clinton is to be the nominee, Senator Obama will need to drop out because of a major problem. If Obama wins both Indiana and North Carolina, then the Supers will line up.

Why The Democratic Primary is Important

According to The New Republic, all signs point to the fact that the winner of the Democratic Primary will be the next President of the United States:
There are many factors that point to an across-the-board Democratic victory in November, including the extraordinary unpopularity of President Bush, the deteriorating condition of the economy, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, and the fact that Americans prefer the Democratic position to the Republican position on almost every major national issue. However, the most important Democratic advantage, and one that has received relatively little attention in the media, is the fact that for the past six years the Democratic electoral base has been expanding while the Republican electoral base has been shrinking.
There may be a few flaws with this article. For example, the article states that citizens that identify as Democrat has increased by 7% while citizens identifying as Republican decreased by 7% and that heavy Democratic turnout in the primary is a sign for heavy turnout in the state. This of course may not be true. For example, even if greater party identification leads to new voter registration and even if new voter registration may favor democrats, unless it occurs in the swing states it may not matter in terms of the electoral college. Also, heavy turnout in the primary may not make a bit of difference for the fall as it is not clear that the primaries serve as any indication for the fall general election.

Nonetheless, there are good signs everywhere.

Also, if true, this makes my last point irrelevant.

Interesting- Why Obama Should Drop Out

From Slate. Since Clinton plans on staying in the game to get the nomination, Senator Obama needs to drop out of the race. This would be the equivalent of turning the tables on the Clintons.
If Clinton had the good of the Democratic Party in mind, she would have given up her bid the day after the Mississippi primary, which Obama won by 25 points. The delegate math was as dismal for her campaign then as it is now, even after Pennsylvania, and she was facing down a six-week gulf before the next election....

Obama, on the other hand, is fully capable of it. And if he’s really serious about representing a new kind of politics, now is the time for him to prove it in the only meaningful way left. Moreover, were he to play it right, dropping out now nearly guarantees that he’ll be elected president in 2012. Here’s the roadmap:

Obama drops out next week, stating that although he could almost certainly win the nomination by fighting it out until the convention in August, he is simply not willing to drag the party through a battle that will cripple its chances against John McCain. He then pledges to help support Sen. Clinton in her bid—with full knowledge that she will not take him up on the offer.

In one stroke, Obama will regain his messiah creds by making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the party. His followers will be furious. The mere mention of Clinton’s name will provoke unspeakable acts. They will abandon Clinton in numbers sufficient to hand McCain the election in November.

Losing the presidency again after eight years of Bush will ruin the Democratic Party. It will become obvious that Clinton’s decision to stay in the race was the turning point in the election. The base will turn its wrath on party leaders like Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi, who failed to push Clinton out. Obama, as the de facto head of the party, will broker negotiations to install new leaders loyal to him.

It won't happen, especially if Senator Obama believes in his vision of Democracy. Further, his supporters, especially the new ones, may turn away from politics all together and not wait for four more years. But, the thought is out there...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Oh No They Didn't! is selling toddler tees that proclaim said munchkins to be "single and fabulous". Wild.

Edited to add: Where's the mini "Mr. Big" t-shirt? I would totally buy one for Supa-T :)

Free Speech and the National Day of Silence

Friday, April 25th is the National Day of Silence, when students attempt to gain recognition for anti-LGTB name-calling and bullying at schools. Throughout the day, students who desire to participate remain silent to show solidarity for those that feel they must remain silent everyday.

Students who participate, and they have the right to participate, may not disrupt education (i.e. they cannot use this as an excuse to remain silent during class though they could make an arrangement with their teacher beforehand).

Students may have a right to wear clothing or certain paraphernalia (buttons) to support the Day of Silence. Students also have the right to wear clothing that speaks out against homosexuality and the day of silence. Both will be subject as to whether or not they disrupt the educational process.

The National Day of Silence is not an official, school sponsored event.

Oddly enough, the Seventh Circuit just decided Nuxol v. Indian Prairie School District, in which the Judges ruled that a student had the right to wear "Be Happy, Not Gay" T-Shirt on the National Day of Silence. The Court ruled that this shirt, "is only tepidly negative"and, as such, would not disrupt the educational process.

In light of other recent decisions about T-Shirts in Schools and "Bong Hits for Jesus," the jurisprudence of free speech in public schools is becoming quite convoluted though I wonder how much education actually happens in schools anyway, regardless of whether or not students involve themselves in the day or protest the day.

Is the race over?

According to an editorial by Danial Henninger at The Wall Street Journal, the race ended when Senator Obama received the endorsements of former Sens. Sam Nunn of Georgia and David Boren of Oklahoma. While neither Nunn nor Boren are Super Delegates, the article suggests that they have sway with the Super Delegates that matter, as opposed to the younger, Freshman members of Congress or State Legislatures who have not declared.

Why Nunn and Boren? The article discusses their credibility by stating:
Both are what some of us nostalgically call Serious Democrats. They represent what the party was, but is no more: sensible on national security, spending and middle-class values. Obama receiving their imprimatur is like hands reaching out from the graves of FDR, JFK and LBJ to announce: "Enough is enough. This man is your nominee. Go forth and fight with the Republicans."

In order to win the general, the Democrats need the center in the ideological spectrum. Senator Clinton attempted this by hedging on Iraq and declaring the need for abstinence [which by the way, when Senator Clinton adopts this position, women do not roll their eyes and claim she is not pro-choice]. Even though she was "inevitable" she could not win the primary.

Why did she lose? Money, Henninger argues.

Only one of the Democratic candidates can reshape the party through fundraising. While Senator Clinton raised $10,000,000 since her win, she needs to purchase airtime in Indiana and North Carolina, her campaign costs on average $1,000,000 a day, she needs to repay a $5,000,000 loan to herself, and has an outstanding dept to Mark Penn for $4,500,000. The article also suggests that the Democratic Party may have grown tired of the prior Clinton fundraising scandals, e.g. Lincoln Bedroom, Bill's 60th birthday gala, the 1996 John Huang-Lippo-China fund-raising scandal, and Hillary's 2007 Norman Hsu.

While her previous fundraising opportunities raise questions and her main donors can no longer contribute, Obama not only has money in the bank but his online, grassroots organization is unparalleled. And this is the key. Senator Obama can expand the party in more ways than the Clintons. And, he represents a new vision of democracy for the Democratic party.

Is the race over? Not yet. Senator Obama could still make a fatal gaffe; Senator Clinton will not back down. However, the signs are there.

The choices and potential between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama are very stark, especially for our vision of democracy. However, I think the discussion of electability pales in comparison then fundraising and electoral expansion in the eyes of the Super Delegates, especially if the Supers are convinced the Dems will take the White House in the fall. While I am certainly troubled that this decision may develop because of money, at least Senator Obama's vision of fundraising is much more democratic than Senator Clinton's.

This is why people get plastic surgery

Following up on Supa's post on picture books explaining plastic surgery to little kids, I want to direct everyone to this slide show on MSNBC entitled "How Celebrities are Aging." In this slide show, there are pictures of celebrities, including Nicole Kidman, Diane Keaton, and Clint Eastwood, in their "youth" and in 2008. A well-known plastic surgeon offers his opinion on whether any of these individuals has any surgical or non-surgical procedures and on how good those procedures were. One ostensible purpose of the slide show is to point out how many celebrities look so youthful without surgical intervention. But in these photos, one can see every line, every blemish, every mark on these individuals faces. Thus, it emphasizes that there are in fact ways that we can make ourselves look better, only if we hire the "right" plastic surgeon.

Aliza Shvarts and the Slippery Slope Argument

It is most assuredly not for lack of interest that Harrogate has hitherto stayed out of Situation's discussions about the Yale student's art project. It is that Harrogate still has no idea what he thinks about it. It is, shall we say, fraught with complications.

You hate censorship, but then it is the Slippery Slope argument that does you in, in the end. Yesterday Harrogate asked Sarah, a regular contributor to the Situation, if Yale oughtn't to ban staged suicides by invoking the safety clause. Of course, even a hard-core lover of spectacle like Harrogate was implying that yes, Yale ought to ban the use of its facilities for staged suicide.

And so what Harrogate felt left with, in the end, is his old go-to hatred of slavishness to Rules. There is no such thing as a catch-all rule. As much as possible in the Law and in the enforcement of Rules, and even moreso in the realm of cultural critique, things need to be approached in their own particular context. An 18 year-old getting a blowjob from a seventeen year old assuredly does not deserve to labor for the rest of life with the sex offender tag. An 18 year-old getting the same thing from a twelve year old, on the other hand.....

No law, no law, no doctrine can cover it all, there is always the unforseen chink in the armor, fly in the ointment, choose your cliche. We still need people. When a rule is broken, we need to be honest about it and intercede, rather than hiding behind that rule. Witness the Michigan and Florida debacles, what fools we have as a nation made of ourselves, on that score. Consider Cool Hand Luke's sage words, "Calling it your job don't make it right, Boss."

Rule of law is better than rule of men, this is true. But men and women make the rules, and very, very often fuck things up in the process. It is up to all of us to retain the ability to look at things with our own eyes, instead of bowing to doctrine.

But anywho. The Shvarts case is a unique thing and the Yalies need to treat it as such, rather than desperately looking for a clause to safely apply. And again, crucial to how this phenomenon has been playing out on the blogosphere is the Slippery Slope argument. Here is Ben Shapiro using that argument as part of what can only be described a pro-censorship performance. The article, entitled "No Bodily Fluids in the Public Square," includes many nuggets that Situationers might want to incorporate into their ruminations, such as:

All rights have reasonable limits. The right to bear arms does not include a right to own a nuclear weapon. The right to free exercise of religion does not include a right to ritualistic child sacrifice. The right to free expression in art should not include a right to film yourself having an abortion; neither should it include a right to use feces, urine or any other bodily fluid in public, nor should it include a right to engage in sex acts before live audiences.

All of us will find Shapiro's erudite reflections symptomatic of something very familiar: that is, when it comes to how Americans think about and talk about Art, the traditionalist affect--expressed in part through the strong desire for an objective standard of what constitutes worthwhile artistic expression, is very strong indeed.

In a different context, Harrogate was very recently and (sniff, sniff) brutally reminded how strong that affect is, in the community he currently occupies, although this is to say nothing against that community, which he has in his own way come to affectionately embrace.

Shapiro speaks for a huge chunk of the populace that spans the entire nation, blue, red, whatever.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Breast is ruled best

In a quick turnabout from today's earlier decision to part mother's from the BF babies, the courts ruled in favor of nursing mothers, allowing them to stay with their infants.

Breast is best, except for FLDS?

It's difficult to live in TX and not get swept up with the drama surrounding the FLDS women and children. On one hand, 400+ children have just been separated from their mothers and families and placed in foster care. As a mother, this breaks my heart. On the other hand, 400+ children have just been rescued from a potentially harmful situation as stories of underage marriage and abuse circulate. As a mother, I hope the children are safe.

The situtation raises an interesting question about the rights of nursing mothers in FLDS, who at the moment are innocent-until-proven guilty. Do nursing FLDS women have a right to stay with their children? Or, as they are possibliy complicit in the charges of child abuse is it best to separate them from their children? Texas judge Barbara Walther ruled in favor of the latter, using as part of her argument the excuse that "women every day in this country go back to work after six weeks of maternity leave." Thus, she does not see the big deal in separating a nursing infant from his/her mother. However, those of us who have BF understand that this is a very big deal. Furthermore, many women continue to pump well after they return to work, ensuring that their babies benefit from breast milk. Will the FLDS women be allowed the same privlege? Or, will their infants be forced to wean suddenly and be denied the continued benefits of their mother's milk?

Texas judge Barber Walther responded to the FLDS women's plea by saying that women every day in this country go back to work after six weeks of maternity leave; in other words, get over it, it's no big deal to wean. She then placed the decision making in CPS's hands, who will deal with nursing women on a case-by-case basis. Currently, they'll allow teenage nursing mothers to remain with their infants, but not adult women. A blog of BF advocates has sprung out of this mess:

More Evidence that Boys are Better than Girls

A recent British study indicates that pregnant women "who skip breakfast and eat less are more likely to give birth to girls, while moms who consume more calories and a wider range of nutrients — including, specifically, those from breakfast cereal — are more likely to deliver sons." Hmmm. So, girls are the product of inferior nutrition? Then they really are the "weaker sex"! Proof at last!

Fortunately, actual scientists have pointed out that the sex of a baby is actually determined by genetics--not sexual positions, the moon's location at conception, the parents' desires, or nutrition. However, I ate the hell out of some breakfast cereal (and everything else), and I did give birth to a boy. Maybe it's true!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Clinton Wins Pennsylvania

The Final Margin-- 9.4%.

As expected, Clinton wins Pennsylvania though the margin of victory is still unclear at this point, especially in terms of delegates won and final popular vote total. As of now, rough estimates suggest a 6% - 10% victory in terms of popular vote. According to the five
scenarios I suggested earlier, this may fall in the worst scenario, the gray area where no one really wins. As exit polls suggest, the voters in Pennsylvania expect Senator Obama to be the nominee they just wanted to vote for Senator Clinton tonight. That makes sense, maybe.

Before tonight, Senator Obama possessed a 166 (rough estimate) delegate lead and a 700,000+ lead in the popular vote. After tonight, Senator Obama will possess a 150 delegate lead and around a 500,000+ lead in the popular vote if Senator Clinton wins by 10%. FYI- this does not include Florida.

Two weeks until North Carolina and Indiana. One will go to Obama, one is undecided.

So what will we hear from the candidates for the next two weeks?

Senator Clinton:
She is down in the the official standard (delegate count), the unofficial standard (popular vote), and the momentum from Super Delegates is not on her side. Her campaign raised questions on Senator Obama but could not provide a landslide in a state that heavily favors her. Most importantly, she is not only broke but she owes a lot of people & vendors millions. In addition, her campaign costs $1,000,000 a day to run.

But she did win tonight and that means the fundraising opportunities will open up for her. She needs enough to be competitive in Indiana and attempt North Carolina. For her to have a legitimate claim to the nomination, she needs to win both states on May 6th. According to Politico, since the news organizations called the elections, she raised $500,000.

She can only win the nomination by the Super Delegates, mainly on the grounds that only she can beat Senator McCain in the fall. To argue this point, Super Delegates will need to overlook the pledged delegate count, which she cannot conceivable win, and most likely the popular vote, which she will most likely not win as her campaign expects to lose North Carolina by 150,000. Yet, this means that the elections from the past six months matter little. Think about that.

She will also push for a resolution for Florida and Michigan so we can expect to hear arguments on every variation of "Count Every Vote" regardless of the legitimacy of the election. For these states to matter, she needs the popular vote and not the delegate count.

I imagine that she will attempt to push Senator Obama for another debate. Both candidates rejected a debate in North Carolina. If I were her, I would challenge him in her victory speech tonight. She must be aggressive if she wants to win. Tomorrow, The New York Times will publish an editorial, "The Low Road to Victory," that attacks her advertisements in Pennsylvania. As the first two paragraphs suggest, time is not on her side and she is not helping what time she has left.

Yet, while she must watch her techniques, she has to emasculate Obama by showing he cannot "close the deal." Look for every variation of this argument: can't reach Hillary Voters, voters are unsure, there are still questions, etc.

Finally, she needs the support of the Super Delegates. There are roughly 350 undecided right now. She will need well over 60% of them to break her way. If she goes negative though she may lose their support.

Senator Obama
First, hope that the margin of victory is under ten and as close to 6 as possible. If it is under six you still retain a symbolic victory though you lost a few news cycles.

Second, go to Indiana and campaign with your new best friend John Mellencamp. Engage in retail politics and talk to any person that will listen. But avoid the waffles. If you win this state, this ought to be enough to end this nomination process.

Third, ignore Senator Clinton and unofficially declare yourself the winner of the primary. Be very courteous and avoid the attacks on her. If Senator Clinton cannot win the pledged delegates and if some of her close supporters stated that they would support the winner of the pledged delegates at the end of the race, then the dynamics of the race will not change. This may mean ignore calls for debating and ignore the attacks from Senator Clinton. This will be must easier to do after North Carolina.

Fourth, turn your attention to Senator McCain and do a better job of saying that he will be better than Bush. I mean it is not exactly the Commander in Chief/ threshold comment but find other ways to define him.

Fifth, economy is looking to be the issue right now. Work on developing your policy and address it with a major speech. Gain a few news cycles.

Finally, provide a steady stream of Super Delegates beginning with your speech tonight.

Senator Clinton's Speech:
There are a lot of appeals to her audience (her father played football at Penn State) but she seems to be going through the motions. I know that she must be incredible tired but she does lack passion through most of the speech. The appeals to women (grandmothers and daughters) draw the biggest applause. This is the set up for her fundraising appeal- "the future of the campaign is in your hands" or, more literally, in your purse.

She spends the end of her speech attacking President Bush with the typical red meat issues for liberals (science, education, ending war, etc.) At the end of her speech, she has a few good puns with "Yes, We Will." "Hope will be reality." "Words will be solutions."

Too bad this was too late; it would have been effective in February.

Equal Pay Day

While today is Earth Day, it is also Equal Pay Day. What is Equal Pay day you ask? Equal Pay Day is:
Observed in April to mark the point in each year at which an average woman’s wages finally catch up to the wages earned the year before by the average man. And this year women, who make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes (63 cents for African American women and 52 cents for Latinas), reach that point on April 22nd.
According to Anna Marie Cox, Congress is working on legislation to overturn the recent Supreme Court decision that "restricted workers' ability to sue for pay discrimination to 'within 180 days after the original pay-setting decision, no matter how long the unfair pay continues.'" Here is a description of the legislation.

Neighborhood Breakdown of Manhattan

I needed to check out where the location of Hell's Kitchen was in Manhattan. In the process, I found two maps that attempted to explain the the location of neighborhoods. After examining this map, I am just amazed over how many neighborhoods exist in 22.96 square miles.

The Eyes of Texas are upon Pennsylvania?

Today is the day, the first day of the rest of your political lives. Or, maybe not. It depends mostly on how many people will get out to vote today, for whom will the undecideds break for in the primary, and what effect will the newly registered voters (350,000+) in Pennsylvania have on the primary?

If you are interested, The Washington Post has eight questions about the Primary today. Politico has five indicators for today's vote. From Slate, there will be no brokered convention because there are no brokers. Finally, from Ezra Klein at The American Prospect, if moderators were to conduct, a good, soft debate, read interview, (rather than the soft, ABC debate), the questions may focus on why Senator Clinton went from a Goldwater Girl to Wellesley radical (intellectual political development); ask Obama about lessons learned from working in an investment bank ("real world experience"); ask about the last book of fiction they read, an intellectual passion other than politics, a bad boss, major in college & why? These questions would reveal their personalities without focusing on gaffes.

For my purposes, I would like to focus on when is a "win" a "win"?

The scenarios for today are:

Scenario One: A victory by Senator Obama ends this game. This is unlikely. Though Senator Obama closed a 20 point gap from a few weeks ago and 33 from November, it is unlikely he could finish this game here. Senator Clinton has too much name recognition and institutional strength for a full victory. This has been the case for all large, Democratic strongholds (New York, California, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas) where Senator Clinton began with an incredible institutional advantage. For example, before the election started, Senator Clinton had a 100+ Super Delegate lead. Of her 262 Super Delegates, almost 100 Super Delegates are from New York alone.

Scenario Two: A small, one-point victory by Senator Clinton. In this case, a victory is not a victory as Senator Clinton will win the battle but lose the war. With this "loss," Senator Clinton will lose the ability to raise funds, which is important as she is in severe dept and, according to MSNBC's Chief Political Correspondent, Chuch Todd, she will most likely not contest North Carolina. This means Senator Obama will will push up his totals in North Carolina, which will most likely happen anyways, making the battle moot.

As for the Super Delegates, in scenario one and two, the Super Delegates will jump on mass to Senator Obama, as they will want to focus their attention on the general election. Further, if Senator Clinton does not leave the race, it would be best if Senator Obama acted as if she did and turned his attention to John McCain.

Scenario Three: Senator Clinton wins by 3 - 6 points. A victory in this range could mean anything though it still favors Obama. This may still be considered a victory by Senator Obama as he reduced the polls from a 20 point difference to a small difference. Senator Clinton will gain in the popular vote but this will be rendered moot by North Carolina. Further, it is unclear if Senator Clinton will be able to raise more money. Basically, Senator Clinton will win for another day.

Scenario Four: A Senator Clinton victory between 7 - 9 percentage points. This starts to look like a loss by Senator Obama but it is not a decisive victory by Senator Clinton. As Chuck Todd states, the $9 million spent by Senator Obama on advertising in PA would not have been as effective as it could have been. Maybe it would have been better spent in Indiana. Yet, a 7 - 9 point victory does not mean Clinton will pull ahead in the popular vote, gain more Super Delegates, or be able to gain enough funds to fight on to other states. When you are heavily favored and you receive mixed results, the campaign no longer looks like a wise investment, for political capital or monetary funds. The campaign will continue for another two weeks to await the results in North Carolina and Indiana but, without funds...

Scenario Five: A Clinton win by double-digits. With this, Clinton may seem viable, she may gain funds & Super Delegates, and she may raise doubts about Senator Obama. The most favorable result would be for the Clinton campaign to gain 200,000+ votes to reduce Senator Obama's 700,000+ vote lead and Pennsylvania is her best chance to do this. Further, she will need the "momentum" to win Indiana and decrease Senator Obama's victory in North Carolina. If she does not do the second, even a double-digit lead may not help her. Finally, Senator Clinton must press about Florida and Michigan, a battle she has not won because the elections were illegitimate under basic standards of fair and free elections. Senator Clinton may pick up delegates but they cannot include the popular vote. (Senator Nelson from Florida is on MSNBC now speaking will Mika and Joe and the discussion of Florida is just dishonest as they do not discuss what constitutes fair elections.)

Finally, according to Tim Russert on Morning Joe, in an interview on The Today Show, Senator Clinton stated that Super Delegates, I imagine, should make a judgment based on "feelings" and "history." At this point, when you abandon the official, legitimate standard of delegate count and even disregard the unofficial and inconsistent popular vote standard, you admit you cannot win either or both, disdain the democratic process, and do not have much "hope" for winning. If "feeling" and "history" is your standard, you do not have much argumentative ground left to argue your case. Why bother having elections in the first place?

This comment is just as asinine as former President Bill Clinton stating if the rules were different, the Clinton campaign would be wining.

If it weren't for those pesky rules, aye Bill?

Yale Art Projects

Two days ago, I wrote about s Yale Art Student's controversial art project concerning reproductive rights. According to Yale Daily News, the University will not allow Aliza Shvarts to display her art project unless she defines it as a work of fiction. Th school also disciplined two faculty members to allow the project to continue.

It seems that if Yale forces her to do declare this as fiction, then it diminishes the meaning of the art because, first, it ruins the ambiguity of the project-- is it real, is it not-- and diminishes the "shock value." Originally, I thought the art was only "shock value." Once you attempt to remove the "shock value," it, in a weird way, becomes art. Second, it forces a definition on her project, which reinforces her point about the rhetoric of definition, but eliminates the democratic nature of the work as the University tells us what to think. If the student expected this result, which I do no think she did, then she is very smart. However, I think her statement suggests she desired the shock value only. Third, it reflects why most people do not get to discuss this issue, reinforcing the view that politics, especially the culture wars, is a game only for elites.

Since Yale is a private University there are much different first amendment arguments in place as private universities possess a greater legal ability to restrict speech, though it would be unwise to do so, especially if this becomes "art" after the University's action.

The Volokh Conspiracy writes that first, a school can use content neutral approaches to regulate school projects, such as do not use human blood, protect the health of students, etc., however, because of the nature of modern art, there may not be a clear line; second, the school can employ a "tell the truth" policy i.e. students should state their projects are fiction or a parody, but this is much harder for a work of art (aren't representations, especially abstract representations, "lies") and eliminates the shock value of the message; and three, the university needs to set clear rules beforehand and it is not clear in this case if those rules were in place.

Though it seems that the University is attacking the student for her message and for a perceived lack of taste, I do not think that this will turn into a larger first amendment controversy. It certainly would not find a sympathetic ear with this Supreme Court. In fact, this controversy will soon go away as soon as people like me stop posting on it.

If there are further updates, I will let you know.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thomas Frank on Class and Elitism in American Politics

Thomas Frank, author of What's The Matter With Kansas, a new editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, and the "inspiration" for Senator Obama's "Bitter" and "Cling" remarks, wrote an interesting column on the problem with "BitterGate:"
But I know one thing with absolute certainty. The media flurry kicked up by Mr. Obama's gaffe powerfully confirms an argument I actually did make: That as they return again to the culture war, what the soldiers on all sides are doing is talking about class without actually addressing the economic basis of the subject.
Frank describes the complaints against Senator Obama as an attack on his "sensibilities," leaving him open to be attacked as an Intellectual (George Will), a Marxist (William Kristol), or an Anthropologist (Maureen Dowd). By providing presence to the attitude we can avoid examining the actual economic policies that ensure that people are elite. Instead, we focus only on attitudes.
The editorial attacks both the left and the right for overlooking the actually economic argument in contemporary American politics. Liberals, according to Frank, "perfume themselves with the essence of honest toil" to show solidarity but support programs that perpetuate the elite divide and deny that people could be bitter as, "That there is no place for such sentiment in the Party of the People."

Conservatives forget the democratic pretense and live for the bitterness: "hey have welcomed it, they have flattered it, they have invited it in with millions of treason-screaming direct-mail letters, they have given it a nice warm home on angry radio shows situated up and down the AM dial. There is not only bitterness out there; there is a bitterness industry." Yet, even though there is bitterness, economic equality will not develop from this spectrum.

It seems that Frank's candidate is not Senator Obama per se as his thoughts appear closer to supporting John Edwards. Unfortunately, while Edwards raised the class issue, one, very few bought his message and, two, he lacked some level of authenticity to pursue it, though his announcement message in New Orleans was excellent, even if highly staged. Here is the way the article ends:
The landmark political fact of our time is the replacement of our middle-class republic by a plutocracy. If some candidate has a scheme to reverse this trend, they've got my vote, whether they prefer Courvoisier or beer bongs spiked with cough syrup. I don't care whether they enjoy my books, or would rather have every scrap of paper bearing my writing loaded into a C-47 and dumped into Lake Michigan. If it will help restore the land of relative equality I was born in, I'll fly the plane myself.
The article is highly worth the five-minute read, especially as it implicates both parties in contemporary politics.

Big Day Tomorrow

To prepare for tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary, I suggest that all readers of the Rhetorical Situation head over to the Onion's page of PA coverage. Information abounds, most notably the following:
  • Pennsylvania and Ohio are usually compared to one another because they are both key hellhole states.
  • While the area's steel industry has struggled financially in recent years, it still wields a certain amount of influence over delegates who are suspended above vats of molten lead.
  • Pennsylvania has 188 Democratic delegates up for grabs, down from 211 following a tragic mine collapse in 2005.
  • Philadelphia, the state's largest city, is famous for its delicious, disgusting, delicious food.
  • Pennsylvania's late-April primary has traditionally been symbolic of the goddamn primary season almost being over.
Also useful are the site's issue pages, which cite, for example, Obama's position on abortion--" Did some crazy shit in the '80's, not going to lie"--Clinton's position on the economy--"We need to create new jobs in this country—green collar jobs that can help our economy and our environment. And I'd like to point out that that's my term—'green collar' jobs. See, I can come up with exciting phrases"--and McCain's position on foreign affairs--"Will not meet with with leaders of unfriendly states, unless it's to give them a head's up that the United States is about to bomb them."

Outsourcing in America

Following up on Supa's post on toxic toys made in China, I have been thinking a lot about outsourcing recently. Most of these thoughts manifest themselves when I must call the phone company or the credit card company. It seems that I, inevitably, end up talking to someone who is clearly not in this country, who doesn't speak English particularly well, and who is often unable to help me at all, especially when my problem deviates from the script the person on the other line has been given. My feelings about outsourcing are complex and varied. I really believe that many Americans simply do not want these jobs, and thus, as these are jobs that need to be filled, American companies have to outsource them. Outsourcing, of course, benefits corporate America in lots of ways--cheaper services + charging their customers the same prices=bigger profits. From their standpoint it is a no-brainer. From a customer service standpoint, outsourcing causes lots of problems.

Mr. M and I recently combined our phone, internet, and cable into one bill (yes, we decided to "bundle" all of these services), and I was told that the cable company would contact the phone company to turn off our phone line but I needed to contact the phone company to terminate our DSL service. I did all of this, but for months I continued to receive bills for DSL services that I had canceled and was no longer using. Every month I called the phone company and spoke with multiple people, each time my account was credited the amount they said I owed, and I was assured the account was closed. I was given confirmation numbers each time. With each phone call, I was bounced around the world, and I initially always spoke with some one who was clearly not American. Once this people realized I did not have a run of the mill problem they were wholly unable to help me. Each time I was transferred multiple times, and the problem was not resolved until I demanded to speak to a manager, who was then able to figure out the problem, put in the proper override codes (which makes me think that these companies intentionally make it difficult to cancel accounts), and cancel my account.

Here is my question: is outsourcing really so cost effective? My problem, which I would argue was aggravated by the fact that the initial employees were not prepared to deal with such a complicated problem and the fact that no one in these companies is cross trained (they have a separate department for everything, so I had to speak to someone about canceling the account and someone about crediting my account the amount the company said I owed), took over 5 hours during 4 separate phone calls to be resolved. Each time I spoke to at least 4 people. The $31 a month the company continued to charge me was barely enough to cover what these individuals earned in the amount of time they spent trying to correct this problem. Surely there has to be more cost effective way (and one that promotes better customer service) for companies to handle these sorts of issues.

Just in time for Mother's Day!

A new children's book, called My Beautiful Mommy, explains mommy's plastic surgery to kids--to "ease their fears." Seriously. I suppose it's a good idea, given the prevalence of cosmetic surgery these days, but it also teaches kids from a very young age that physical beauty is so important that we should go under the knife to achieve it. My favorite part, I think, is the mother's fantasy of being crowned Miss Beautiful Mommy in image #3--sets a great example for her daughter.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Feminist Case against Hillary Clinton

Eons ago in the campaign, January to be exact, Gloria Steinem wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times making the case for Senator Hillary Clinton.

In the Telegraph (UK), Camille Paglia argues the feminist case against Hillary Clinton. This argument attacks Senator Clinton's experience and competence arguments.
Whatever her official feminist credo, Hillary's public career has glaringly been a subset to her husband's success. Despite her reputation for brilliance, she failed the Washington, DC bar exam. Thus her migration to Little Rock was not simply a selfless drama for love; she was fleeing the capital where she had hoped to make her mark.

In Little Rock, every role that Hillary played was obtained via her husband's influence - from her position at the Rose Law Firm to her seat on the board of Wal-Mart to her advocacy for public education reform. In a pattern that would continue after Bill became president, Hillary would draw attention by expressing public "concern" for a problem, without ever being able to organise a programme for reform.

Hillary has always been a policy wonk, a functionary attuned to bureaucratic process, but she has never shown executive ability, which makes her quest for the presidency problematic. Hillary's disastrous botching of national healthcare reform in 1993 (a project to which her husband rashly appointed her) will live in infamy. Obama may also have limited executive experience, but he has no comparable stain on his record.

The argument, therefore, that Hillary's candidacy marks the zenith of modern feminism is specious. Feminism is not well served by her surrogates' constant tactic of attributing all opposition to her as a function of entrenched sexism. Well into her second term as a US Senator, Hillary lacks a single example of major legislative achievement. Her career has consisted of fundraising, meet-and-greets and speeches around the world expressing support for women's rights.

In the article, Paglia differentiates between the claims of sexism or misogyny against Senator Clinton and the claims against her abilities as a lawyer and politician, which have been muddled together on the campaign trail. It also juxtaposes her "anti-male" tone (boys clubs) with how she benefited from her husband.

Like Carl Berstein's piece against Senator Clinton, this seems personal. But, attacks on judgment and ability can be. Another Slate article, "For Better or for Worse," examines the marriage between Hillary and Bill reads the same way. The Slate article is good though as it attempts to explain how politics works as the bridge between the two.

But, does this just seem as another attempt to explain at how a group votes, or ought to vote, without considering a lot of other relevant information? How can one make a "feminist" case for or against a candidate? It makes solid points against Senator Clinton but that is all.

And just, think, in two days, Senator Clinton will win Pennsylvania and these Op-Eds will continue for at least another two weeks.

Hell, Yeah! (Or a Follow-Up to Carme Chacon)

Thanks, Supa, for alerting us to Spain's new Defense Minister. Since our discussion began, she has traveled to Afghanistan to review Spain's troops there. I think she's a superstar for taking the criticism in stride and getting on with the business of her new job. The linked article is interesting, however, for three major reasons:

1. Far from "silencing" critics, as the article claims, Chacon had to answer many questions regarding the safety of her unborn child on a trip like this:
The unannounced trip was criticised by some for potentially putting her child at risk. But Ms Chacon said her pregnancy was an easy one, and told journalists during a two-hour stopover in Kuwait "that she would never put her child's future at risk". Asked if she was tired by the 10-hour flight from Madrid, she replied; "The election campaign was harder, and longer".
2. The article notes that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero received lots of criticism last week after appointing a mostly female cabinet. The most notable comments were summarized in the piece:
Comments by Italy's new President Silvio Berlusconi about Spain's cabinet being "too pink" and "difficult to control", coupled with photos of him aiming an imaginary gun at a female journalist, have produced incredulity and derision among Spaniards.
These comments were also interesting and troubling:

"Chacon moves on to the attack in Afghanistan," wrote the daily ABC, a conservative newspaper that a week ago had sneered at Mr Zapatero's "battalion of seamstresses".

"Chacon fulfilled her role as Defence Minister, and showed she could command the armed forces despite her circumstances," wrote the male reporter in the equally conservative El Mundo newspaper. "The soldiers said they were delighted with her; not one made any criticism.

3. Finally, I was amused and disturbed by the article's description of Chacon's clothing and attitude as she met with Spanish troops:
The minister wore a white smock, loose trousers and military boots, and was serious and relaxed, according to journalists who traveled with her. At no point did she affect a military air as she received salutes from the troops.

The Performance of Reproductive Rights

Since a few posts this week have addressed reproductive rights and a few have addressed art, I found a story that combines the two. I have been reading around this post for a few days now and, for some reason, I finally decided to clink on the link. Here is the story.

For her senior project, Aliza Shvarts, Yale Art student, documented a nine-month process whereby she inseminated herself and then took miscarriage inducing drugs. She then filmed certain aspects of the exercise and the film will debut this week. There have been some conflicting reports on the details. For example, a report from The New York Sun states she only took herbal medicine and she seems sketchy on other aspects of the story.

According to Shvarts, she believes "strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity." Here is her description of the project:
For the past year, I performed repeated self-induced miscarriages. I created a group of fabricators from volunteers who submitted to periodic STD screenings and agreed to their complete and permanent anonymity. From the 9th to the 15th day of my menstrual cycle, the fabricators would provide me with sperm samples, which I used to privately self-inseminate. Using a needleless syringe, I would inject the sperm near my cervix within 30 minutes of its collection, so as to insure the possibility of fertilization. On the 28th day of my cycle, I would ingest an abortifacient, after which I would experience cramps and heavy bleeding.

To protect myself and others, only I know the number of fabricators who participated, the frequency and accuracy with which I inseminated and the specific abortifacient I used. Because of these measures of privacy, the piece exists only in its telling. This telling can take textual, visual, spatial, temporal and performative forms — copies of copies of which there is no original.

This piece — in its textual and sculptural forms — is meant to call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body. The artwork exists as the verbal narrative you see above, as an installation that will take place in Green Hall, as a time-based performance, as a independent concept, as a myth and as a public discourse.

It creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership. An intentional ambiguity pervades both the act and the objects I produced in relation to it. The performance exists only as I chose to represent it. For me, the most poignant aspect of this representation — the part most meaningful in terms of its political agenda (and, incidentally, the aspect that has not been discussed thus far) — is the impossibility of accurately identifying the resulting blood. Because the miscarriages coincide with the expected date of menstruation (the 28th day of my cycle), it remains ambiguous whether the there was ever a fertilized ovum or not. The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading.

This ambivalence makes obvious how the act of identification or naming — the act of ascribing a word to something physical — is at its heart an ideological act, an act that literally has the power to construct bodies. In a sense, the act of conception occurs when the viewer assigns the term “miscarriage” or “period” to that blood.

According to Associated Content, a University Spokesperson- the academic analogy to some say-- declared this was a hoax. The artists disagrees though she is unsure if she procured any miscarriages.

There seem to be quite a few points about this, ethical, aesthetic, and academic. If this story were true and not fictional, what would be the ethical standard for her audience to judge the performance? While the purpose of her piece makes sense (the last paragraph and not the other incoherent paragraphs), there are certainly other means to make this point. Of course, this would reduce her argument only to the shock value and emotional content of her piece.

Second, does this work advance the dialogue and debate of the abortion debate? While certainly provocative, The New Republic notes that this piece of art does not advance the pro-choice argument because it removes the safety and privacy aspects of the debate.

Finally, I would add that in terms of a debate, this performance art would offer the same effect as the large photos of fetuses from the pro-life group, Justice for All. Both "performative acts" apply the same appeal to pity fallacy in which the emotional aspect of the message cuts of debate on the topic. When relying on fallacies, it seems that dialogue won't advance. Consequently, her advancement of a political discourse would fail as no one outside her own community would engage her debate.

Paperweight writer, I expect your full attention on this post...