Blogs

Babel: How Racism Can Build Bridges

| Sun Dec. 30, 2007 11:50 AM EST

Andrew Sullivan posted this hilarious clip from a Brit named Catherine Tate, somebody or other. Never heard of her. Don't watch telly, you know, cuz I'm so cerebral. It cracked me up, aside from her comedic skills, because it reminded me of one of those 'signifigant emotional event' deals I had as a young adult.

I was originally trained as a Korean linguist during my GI days (USAF, of course.). In the beginning of our year long language training, we had a Mrs. Ahn, who was amazing but so serious. Koreans, like most Asians, take education beyond seriously. She was sweet but for six months, six hours a day that woman never sat down and never stopped moving around the classroom to interact with us and try physically to implant her love for her language into our thick skulls. That's how hard core, albeit maternal and loving, she was. If you're out there Mrs. Ahn, you da bomb. That poor woman, trying not to laugh, or die of shock, when we'd use the levels of politeness she'd just taught us to happily address her as if she were either a child or a shoeshine boy when a teacher is all but a god in Asia. Or when we'd try to wheedle the names of body parts out of her (she never broke) or free style sentences like "There's a land mine in my pocket."

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Selling His Foreign Policy Experience, Thompson Mispronounces Musharraf

| Sun Dec. 30, 2007 10:24 AM EST

This Sunday morning, the Iowa presidential race hits the television talk shows. Most of the leading candidates of both parties are appearing on one of the Sunday gabfests. Fred Thompson chose Fox News Sunday. In comparing himself with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, who both lead him in the iowa polls, Thompson repeatedly cited his foreign policy experience, noting that he had served on the intelligence committee during his eight years in the U.S. Senate.

But there was one problem with this sales pitch: Thompson mispronounced the name of Pakistan's leader. He called Pervez Musharraf "MOO-SHA-rav." The right way to say his name, according the Voice of America's Pronounciation Guide, is "moo-SHURR-RUHF." If Thompson is hoping for a late surge on the basis of his purported experience in national security matters, he ought to be more careful when drawling about current foreign policy crises.

Boy Oh Boy - Bill Kristol Hired by NY Times

| Sat Dec. 29, 2007 4:36 PM EST

bill_kristol.jpg Uber hawk Bill Kristol has just been signed up by the New York Times as an op-ed columnist, according to the Huffington Post. Here's a collection of some of Kristol's greatest neocon hits (also here, but suffice to say, the man's approach to foreign policy is that no problem can't be solved with an air strike or two).

The hire bugs me for three reasons. First, it highlights the fact that there simply isn't any price to be paid in punditocracy for being WRONG. Kristol was as wrong as anyone could be on Iraq, and continued to insist the war was going well long after anyone with a connection to reality (even the Bush Administration!) had stopped claiming success.

Second, it demonstrates how extreme conservatism has a place in the mainstream press, but extreme liberalism doesn't. The man advocates military strikes on Iran, Syria, and Burma (of all places!). That's extreme by even today's conservative standards. Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert don't balance that out. But will Dennis Kucinich end up on the Times' op-ed page? Of course not.

Third, if the Times wanted a conservative voice, it could have hired someone who has something interesting to say about the struggles conservatism currently faces in this country. Instead it hired someone whose approach is to repeat the most ridiculous and discredited pablum of the right, so as to help legitimize the illegitimate. And Kristol's willingness to say the indefensible is obviously a career move. Every time two people share a "Did you see what Kristol wrote??" moment, the man's star burns a little brighter.

In short, Kristol is intellectually dishonest and almost comically extreme. He is a caricature. He contributes nothing but increased polarization to the national debate. And now his writing will sit in the most hallowed space in journalism.

A (Partial) History of the Blog

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 9:18 PM EST

This week NPR posted Timeline: The Life of the Blog, a history of the blog as we know it today.

It's a fun trajectory to ponder, from the formation of the Internet's oldest online communities in 1979 to the launch of Cleveland's community network for residents, Freenet, in 1986, to the emergence of homepages and online diaries in 1994—and beyond.

The timeline includes the birth of podcasting, and it also chronicles blogs' effect on political campaigns, but it does not explain how the blogosphere has changed journalism.

Ditching the Holiday Cheer With Mahjongg

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 9:08 PM EST
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I love holiday music (Kenny Rogers' Christmas album is a family favorite. Seriously.) as much as the next person, but now that vacation is over, I'm ready to ditch the holiday cheer and get back to music that is rougher around the edges.

Mahjongg, a Chicago-based five-piece, is helping me do just that.

Ron Paul on the Theory of Evolution: "I Don't Accept It."

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 7:40 PM EST

Another example why Congressman Ron Paul, a former obstetrician who is known as Dr. No for his penchant to vote against nearly every government spending bill to cross his desk, is a curious breed of libertarian. News of his take on evolution comes via the libertarian magazine Reason, which has proclaimed: "Say it ain't so Dr. No!"

In reality, Paul is just being himself, and Reason's surprise has more to do with the gulf between self-proclaimed Cosmopolitan Libertarians (typically secular Reason subscribers) and the more religious Paleolibertarians (acolytes of Lew Rockwell, Paul's former chief of staff). To make sense of this all, check out our recent feature on the Paul campaign, and our breakdown of libertarian factions.

Ultimately, it makes little difference whether Paul is a Creationist. As a libertarian he's opposed to any government funding for scientific or religious endeavors. And that partly explains why the Ron Paul coalition is so elastic.

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Obama Presents His Closing Argument

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 3:01 PM EST

obama-profile.jpg After months of delivering a remarkably consistent stump speech, Barack Obama broke out a brand new one for his "closing argument" to Iowa voters. (Its unveiling yesterday was overshadowed by the Bhutto assassination.) The spirit of the thing is the same as the speech he has been delivering, which is more or less the same as the speech he delivered on the convention floor in 2004.

A couple thoughts. First, the speech is filled with the gently-drawn contrasts that have characterized much of the Democratic race. Aside for a period where Edwards went full bore on Clinton, and a very brief time where Clinton open fire (disastrously) on Obama, the Democratic campaign has been filled with statements like, "Some believe you make change by hoping for it, some believe you make change by demanding it, I believe you make change by working hard for it." Lines such as these require listeners informed enough (Obama=hope; Edwards=fight) to understand their connotations.

Second, Obama has included one of the better lines of the entire campaign. Responding to Hillary and Bill Clinton's accusation that electing him would be a "roll of the dice," Obama says, "The truth is, you can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience. Mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. I believe deeply in those words. But they are not mine. They were Bill Clinton's in 1992, when Washington insiders questioned his readiness to lead."

And third, it's kind of amazing that Obama has been able to ride this "new kind of politics" message for so long. It really hasn't changed for years. You can either attribute that to years of fawning, unquestioning press coverage or to a centeredness that hasn't shifted or been shaken by doubts. Plenty of people have said you can't hate American politics and still win in them (i.e. that you have to play the game, just a little), but Obama hasn't compromised.

Things immediately get much, much tougher if he wins the nomination, however.

A Meat-and-Potatoes Kind of Candidate

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 2:20 PM EST

ad891.jpgFrom an AP list of fun facts about presidential hopefuls, Grist has culled candidates' culinary preferences, which, by and large, don't include veggies.

This, in and of itself, is not surprising. I mean, everyone knows that only girls like vegetables, and confessing your love for green beans is basically tantamount to admitting you're a little too in touch with your feminine side. You might as well get it over with and say your favorite sport is figure skating. But the extent to which the candidates shun the greens in favor of hunks o' red meat borders on the absurd. Witness the republicans' favorite foods to cook:

Giuliani: Hamburgers or steak on the grill.
Huckabee: Ribeye steak on the grill.
McCain: Baby-back ribs.
Romney: Hot dog.

But my very favorite response is buried in the middle of the piece, in the section where candidates name their least favorite foods. Huckabee, it turns out, hates carrots. I mean, he really hates carrots:

Huckabee: "Carrots. I just don't like carrots. I banned them from the governor's mansion when I was governor of Arkansas because I could."

Now that's a manly move if ever there was one. Compared to the carrot proclamation, Edwards' response looks awfully milquetoast:

Edwards: "I can't stand mushrooms. I don't want them on anything that I eat. And I have had to eat them because you get food served and it's sitting there and you're starving, so you eat."

So he's going to choke down the offending mushrooms without a fight? Then who, under Edwards' watch, may I ask, is going to save America from emasculating veggies? This could be trouble.

—Kiera Butler

Rembering Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 1:38 PM EST

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By now we are all familiar with YouTube's knack for elevating the obscure amateur to star status. But for all you TV addicts bemoaning the writers' strike out there, here's yet another reason to turn to online TV: its ability to resurrect the great, unheralded classic.

Caught in strike-induced withdrawal, I recently discovered via YouTube Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest—not an album or a song, but a short-lived, self-financed TV show Seeger put on for about 40 episodes in the mid-1960s. The show (whose title is a variation on the lyrics of the folksong "Oh, Had I A Golden Thread") had a casual format, with Seeger chatting up his musician guests, many of whom were his friends, in between songs. Rainbow Quest's setting and tone are quintessential Seeger: He and his guests sit around a rustic living room set, discuss their craft in earnest tones, and, when it's time for a song, Seeger, clad in his proletarian clothes, often joins in on the banjo.

Have Yourselves a Kooky Little Kwanzaa

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 12:12 PM EST

A few years back, I wrote an op-ed about my feelings about Kwanzaa. Every year since, I politely decline offers to 'dog' Kwanzaa again and every year the 'afro-sphere' digs it out and dogs me for being a tool of The Man who "hates every drop of black blood in her veins". Yeah, the deep thinkers out there actually write things like that, let alone think them. That little nugget, by the way, came from a Ph D teaching at a leading black university and who heads an organization dedicated to racial progress. Makes home schooling seem reasonable.

That piece has zinged around so much in the last week, I gave up ignoring it. Here it is. Have fun.