First, ABC's Elizabeth Vargas asks Sarah Palin is she has aspirations for 2012. Her response: "I'm not doing this for naught."
Second, and this one deserves to be quoted at length, George Will's column today, the headline of which reads "John the Careless." Will hits hard the missteps of the McCain-Palin campaign, and gets at what he sees as the problematics of both of their attitudes and agendas.
From the invasion of Iraq to the selection of Sarah Palin, carelessness has characterized recent episodes of faux conservatism. Tuesday's probable repudiation of the Republican Party will punish characteristics displayed in the campaign's closing days.
Some polls show that Palin has become an even heavier weight in John McCain's saddle than his association with George W. Bush. Did McCain, who seems to think that Palin's never having attended a "Georgetown cocktail party" is sufficient qualification for the vice presidency, lift an eyebrow when she said that vice presidents "are in charge of the United States Senate"?
She may have been tailoring her narrative to her audience of third-graders, who do not know that vice presidents have no constitutional function in the Senate other than to cast tie-breaking votes. But does she know that when Lyndon Johnson, transformed by the 1960 election from Senate majority leader into vice president, ventured to the Capitol to attend the Democratic senators' weekly policy luncheon, the new majority leader, Montana's Mike Mansfield, supported by his caucus, barred him because his presence would be a derogation of the Senate's autonomy?
Perhaps Palin's confusion about the office for which she is auditioning comes from listening to its current occupant. Dick Cheney, the foremost practitioner of this administration's constitutional carelessness in aggrandizing executive power, regularly attends the Senate Republicans' Tuesday luncheons. He has said jocularly that he is "a product" of the Senate, which pays his salary, and that he has no "official duties" in the executive branch. His situational constitutionalism has, however, led him to assert, when claiming exemption from a particular executive order, that he is a member of the legislative branch and, when seeking to shield certain of his deliberations from legislative inquiry, to say that he is a member of the executive branch.
Palin may be an inveterate simplifier; McCain has a history of reducing controversies to cartoons. A Republican financial expert recalls attending a dinner with McCain for the purpose of discussing with him domestic and international financial complexities that clearly did not fascinate the senator. As the dinner ended, McCain's question for his briefer was: "So, who is the villain?"
Plans have come together for a Halloween party this Friday. My parents, Anna and company, and miscelaneous friends and neighbors. Menu: walking tacos, Brier Hill pizza made by my folks, some baked fish with fresh lime for anybody not wanting to dig on the tacos, and some version of the salad I usually make when my sister comes over (romaine, hearts of palm, walnuts, and tart apples with a yogurt dressing). Agenda: hand out candy; go check out over-the-top, scare-the-local-kiddies yards in our neighborhood; and who knows what else? Should be fun.
Also cooking (not in the kitchen): Tonight is election town hall down on my campus, to be televised locally on public tv. Many of my students are attending, some are participating, and I told them I'd be there. Almost caught up on paper grading. I can't recall feeling so overwhelmed by the paper load in years. What's going on? And on a serious note...shout out to Bill H. from my Peace and Justice group who's giving a kidney to another parishioner at our church this afternoon. Be well!
I've already made what Nicole and I consider the ultimate fall dish: pumpkin pasta. A delicious combination of diced bacon, fresh pumpkin, sage, chicken stock, parmesan cheese, and a little heavy cream, served over rigatoni.
We also had walking tacos. I'm not sure if this is a fall thing or not, but we made them on Sunday and they tasted great. Never had a walking taco? Take a single-serving bag of frito's and put taco fixins (seasoned ground meat, veggies, cheese, sour cream, whatever you like) right into the bag with the chips. Stir and eat with a fork while walking around. Walking taco.
I couldn't bring myself to watch HSM3 (and yet I can bring myself to type the abbreviation?) so while Jenna and Nicole dug on the musical I wandered next door at the multiplex and saw 'W,' the Oliver Stone pic about our current prez. W--the film that is--had no discernible point, no consistent vision, no sustained insights into W or his inner circle. W amounted to two hours of actors doing (mostly very good) impressions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. More an exercise in mimicry than a narrative or even a character sketch, the film was, in short, pretty bad.
Thandie Newton's performance as Condi Rice was bizarre. She just kind of sat there and quaked a little bit, neverously and robotically glancing around the room. She looked animatronic, like she belonged in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World. Anytime I've seen her on television, Rice has looked confident and stoic, so the portrayal made no sense to me at all.
And I didn't think the film was a hatchet job on Bush either. At least a hatchet job would have had a clearer vision. The representation of W didn't strike me as skewed or distorted. If anything, it struck closely to a well-documented mythology of W that is very familiar to even casual observers of the political process. W. didn't do particularly well in college or in the business world. He drank way too much when he was in his 20s and 30s. He struggled to please his dad. He became an Evangelical Christian and fell in with a social movement bent on moving the GOP away from fiscal convervativism and toward a family values-driven agenda. He surrounded himself with more experienced folks and gave them more power than vice-presidents, cabinet secretaries, and deputy chiefs of staff usually have been given. If you haven't seen the film yet, I just ruined it for you. I left the theater with an overwhelming sense of "no shit, Sherlock."
I also left the theater wondering about the film's target audience. Lefties and Bush bashers? If so, I should have liked the film more. A heavier-handed or more salacious film--one that showed W doing hard drugs or foregrounded the illegalities of pre-emptive war and U.N. violations, for instance--would have had a more affective, rally-the-left-base relationship with its audience. Undecided voters as audience? Maybe, but I don't think anybody stuck in the middle of this presidential election would be swayed by anything in the film. There's little if any polemic. This isn't a Michael Moore film. The best comparison would be The Queen (about Queen Elizabeth II during the week that Princess Diana died), a much, much better film that managed to reveal something in the psyches of its main characters. In addition to containing more internal landscapes than W, The Queen also concerned itself with public figures who had enigmatic characteristics. By virtue of media exposure and scrutiny from the left as well as the superficial nature of his own personality and intellect, there's not much we don't know about W. There's nothing to peel back.
'Get out the vote' canvassing on both Saturday and Sunday with our town's democrat club. Not since '96 have I felt like I'm voting for a guy, as opposed to voting *against* the other guy.
Great line from The Wire (I'm almost through season one on dvd): "In this town, there's a thin line between campaign poster and photo array."
My students in the two service-learning, pilot sections of comp start their group projects this weekend, researching and writing neighborhood field reports for the Homeless Action Network of Detroit. Gearing up for the first round of research, the students seemed genuinely excited about doing something real. They're designing GIS maps, conducting interviews with neighborhood merchants, and writing reports that will hopefully help HAND in its census efforts.
Must get back to reading student papers...
Maybe the best birthday present yesterday was being called a good writer. Our writing faculty gave a "strategic vision" talk to our dean and her executive council, outlining our long-term plans, hopes, etc. My piece of the talk: how the field of writing studies developed and evolved over the past few decades. A lot to cover in five minutes, so to conserve time and stay organized I used the old "read the presentation right off the paper" method, eliciting several compliments. Thank you, people who are deciding whether to give me tenure in this next new months.
I can't bring myself to care much about the cost of Sarah Palin's wardrobe. I'm not sure why anyone is outraged about this, unless maybe if you gave money to the RNC and don't think a six-figure wardrobe is a good use of your donation money. Right now I'm wearing a pair of pants I bought for two bucks at a thriftsore, a sweater that I think I got for Christmas one year when I still lived in Arizona (98-02), and a pair of tennis shoes with holes...and I wouldn't know one designer dress from another if my life depended on it. I wouldn't opt to spend any sizable amount of money on clothing, but why do I care if Sarah Palin's "people" do? I'm not paying for it. I think many of her political positions are reprehensible, but her clothing isn't. In fact, the more energy expended on criticizing her clothes, the less energy expended on criticizing her reactionary political beliefs. Come on, ya'll.
On campus, then, for a meeting of the steering committee of the Civic Engagement Project, which means free lunch. Yay. Next, must mark a big fat stack of papers that I should have read over the weekend. Oh, and an article that must be peer-reviewed by Wednesday. Also happening Wednesday: tenure-track members of the composition discipline must give a presentation before the executive council of the dean's office. We're working on a "strategic vision" for the college. I'm responsible for preparing the part of the presentation where we talk about how the discipline of "writing studies" developed and subsequently went through various paradigm shifts. I've got two minutes to tackle that topic. How about that? And, and, and a hundred other things.
Yet despite the busy-ness, I must say something about Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. First, she was funny, although she mostly sat back and let others make the jokes. Still, what a good sport. Maybe the ultimate goal was for her to seem likable; mission accomplished. The NYT piece (use link above) rightly points out that she probably didn't do much to improve her reputation as a lightweight. Bopping one's head while Amy Pohler raps about shooting moose does not equal gravitas, especially nine hours before a prominent and well-respected republican like Colin Powell endorses your opponent. So you get the GOP ticket joshing around on SNL and you get the democratic ticket dominating the Sunday a.m. news shows. I'll take that weekend. Obama continues looking infintely more presidential and McCain-Palin continue looking desperate.
Curious that Palin's people consented to some of the Alec Baldwin jokes. Baldwin angrily, bitingly calls her "that horrible woman" in the bit where he pretends to think the real Palin is Tiny Fey. Baldwin's bit was almost nostalgic, harkening back to a (probably non-existent) time when SNL represented a less diffuse set of counter-cultural worldviews. "She goes against everything we stand for," Baldwin implored Lorne Michaels, invoking a mythic, post-Watergate "we" that SNL represented for about twenty minutes in the mid-70s (if at all). And the punchline of that bit: "you are way hotter in person." I'm sure her handlers figure the jokes are another way to signify Palin as the anti-feminist, the one who can "have it all" without the "radical" and "angry" rhetoric and agenda.
Driving back to Michigan last night from a weekend in Ohio, Nicole made the observation that Palin's nicely setting herself up for a job hosting a tv show and, sure enough, the NYT piece speculates on that very possibility. That Nicole, she's a smarty. In the (blessed) event of a McCain-Palin loss, Palin certainly is set up to write a book, command a huge speaker's fee on the far-right lecture circuit, and, yes, maybe go into showbiz (maybe a Fox News--an entity that's got absolutely nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with showbiz--talk show with what's-her-name from The View serving as her Ed McMahon?). She has continually looked foolish and shockingly unprepared over the past two months, but she's going to be a very rich woman regardless of what happens on November 4.
Talked to many, many Ohioans over the weekend, the vast majority of whom support McCain-Palin. Mainly due to the "Obama sounds good but how will he pay for it all?" argument. As if indefinite military comittments five-thousand miles away; newly imposed taxes on health care; and social service cuts that will result in greater poverty and greater reliance on ERs for basic services are cheap. I did notice--and this is WAY anecdotal--a generational split, with the 40-and-under crowd seeming to lean Obama. (Thank God for absentee ballots for college students!) I suppose they have more years to benefit from optimism, positive social change, and a belief in common good and more years to feel the negative effects of division and cynicism. You know, McCain's inability to look Obama in the eye or even say his name is increasingly seeming like the epitome of what election '08 represents. Maybe those of us under a certain age feel as if we're the ones who'll foot the bill--in terms of both moral cost and fiscal cost--for years and years of Iraqi occupation. We're the ones who don't want to be what the angry McCain signifies.
On a happier note, another awesome Apple Butter party at my parents' house this weekend. Good food and drink, good company, good hayride, good campfire, and a good game of football. 136 people in their backyard...what a fiesta!
I was wrong. McCain, in what seemed even to McCain supporters like desperation, actually tried to stear the conversation away from issues and toward Obama's "associations." Ugh. One of the things that made Obama effective last night was his calm but imperative statements about wanting to get back to talking about, you know, the candidates' platforms. Finally, when neither McCain nor the moderator thought that was a good idea, Obama zinged, "You've made Bill Ayers the centerpiece of your campaign." Bingo. An education professor who both republicans and democrats in Illinois frequently work with due to his expertise on school reform. I'm not on any boards, but I'm on a boatload of committees and action groups and I don't vouch for the beliefs and past actions of all the people with whom I serve.
Other McCain moment of desperation: "I'm not George Bush." Um, okay. That had to make W feel good, when his own party's candidate was so explicit about the need to establish that distance.
McCain, he of the hurt feelings, knows damn well that John Lewis wasn't comparing him to George Wallace when Lewis said that the atmophere at recent Sarah Palin events feels like a Wallace rally. How is that a stretch? People at a political rally yelled "kill him" about an African-American public figure. How is it a stretch, how is it even a personal attack, to say that such a moment is reminiscent of segregationist ideology and much worse? Unlike a lot of lefties, by the way, I don't hold Palin responsible for those comments. I don't know for certain that she heard them. I don't know for certain there's any causation between her campaign rhetoric and the "kill him" chant. If Lewis had said that Palin reminds him of George Wallace, then Palin and McCain would have a substantial beef, albeit a beef with Lewis, not Obama. McCain feigning hurt feelings = moment of desperation number three.
I would have liked to have heard even more logocentric stuff from Obama. He seems to be winning on the issues, so why not talk policy even more? He did a very good job on health care, I thought, although a conservative dude at the watering hole last night resopnded to that moment in the debate by saying "go to Canada then." I don't know if he was talking to Obama, or our democrat club. He didn't like us any more than he liked Obama.
In fact, at one point, this guy said something to our group like "shut the f#@! up so people in the thinking man's [sic] party can listen." Clever. He also threatened to take a woman in our party "outside to the parking lot." Her response: "Let's do it. I'll keep my arms at my side and watch you hit a lady, big man." On the way home, Nicole colorfully commented how her response would have involved a less passive strategy out in the parking lot. That Nicole.
The place of partisan politics on college campuses. One point often lost in the debate is how the arguments, on both sides really, tend to infantilize college students and puff up professor influence. We have to mold these young minds and show them how to be civically active adults. Really? Aside from the troubling and monolithic way such an argument invokes student need, much research about civic engagement on campus suggests students engage differently (through places of worship, for instance) from professors but at no lower a rate. Others , like Fish, argue: We abuse our position of influence and neglect "real" teaching when we "bring" politics into class. I have been interested in the rhetoric of this debate for a decade and I have yet to see solid evidence establishing the influence we allegedly have over students.
College students are adults. They can make up their own minds. They do make up their own minds. They bring experiences, habits, literacies, and ideas with them. Hopefully they continue to gain new experiences, habits, literacies, and ideas. Hopefully we are effective enough to expand their repertoire as thinkers and doers. Are we talking about partisan politics this semester in my rhetoric classes? You bet. Do I have partisan bumper stickers on my car and a button on my backpack? You bet. Do I take "public" stands on issues and candidates, both on and off camps? You bet. Do I wear a button to class? No. Exercising both my first amendment rights and my academic freedom as well, I choose not to. Given my teaching style (discussion-oriented, informal, open) , I think such a symbol might distract. For some teaching styles, such a symbol might help.
The policy is bogus because it removes those aforementioned liberties and because it suggests that college students are something other than adults with prerogatives who have chosen to enter into an arena of competing and new prerogatives.
Experience-as-proof has its limits and I don't mean to generalize here, but let me invoke my own story. As an undergraduate, I knew a great deal about the politics of many of my professors. Some, not so much. But a lot of my professors displayed symbols, on their office doors for instance. And a lot of them brought not only the issues but also their perspectives into the classroom. Certainly in courses like ethics and women's studies, but also in courses like postmodern fiction and philosophies of God. I studied with a lot of outspoken public intellectuals. Many were far to the left, but not all of them. I took several philosophy classes with an extremely conservative Catholic, a member of the religious right who incorporated his views on abortion to illustrate various lessons: a priori argumentation, for instance.
Now, granted, I was at a private University. Also, it was the early 90s, the height of the campus multi-culturalism movement. But the point is: I never felt coerced, never felt victimized by indoctrination, never felt like a child incapable of making up my mind. I felt challenged to consider new things. It's called adulthood.
After Chinese take-out from a Michigan Ave. dive, we headed to Cobo, saw a long line on the sidewalk between Cobo and Joe Louis Arena, and so parked on the Cobo roof thinking we could avoid the long line. Down in the lobby, security shuffled us outside to the end of the line. Outrage! We immediately worried we were experiencing an "oversell" situation. Kind of like when radio stations have free movie tickets (what can I say? Nicole and I love cheap dates) but give away three tickets for each seat and you have to get there like an hour early but it's totally worth it because the people watching is so awesome and the price is so free.
Anyhow, we were on the verge of outrage because it was cold and we had now spent ten bucks to park on the roof. Plus, we hosted a debate-watching party for the campaign and canvassed Berkley. Getting shut out would seem completely...Keep cool--plenty of seats available, assured the young Obama campaigners with their clipboards and their Barack The Vote t-shirts.
Finally, the doors opened. Concert-goers shuffled past about two dozen of Detroit's finest wearing...wait for it...shirts that said "Detroit Police Department Gang Unit." I'm all for safety, but did they have to wear the gang unit gear? Wouldn't regular uniforms have been just as effective? We grabbed a couple good seats in the lower balcony and enjoyed the stylings of a DJ whose name they never gave, who spun some Detroit house music while the Obama logo flashed on a screen behind him.
After a quickie campaign film (good but generic, probably recycled from the national convention--would it have killed them to put together a motor city version?), two local radio personalities from two competing hip hop stations MC'd a series of very brief speakers including Diane Hathaway who is running for Supreme Court and a trio of young field organizers from the campaign. I had expected a little bit higher wattage (maybe our governor who played the role of Palin during Biden debate prep? maybe the new mayor? maybe Beyonce?), but the line-up revved up a crowd that didn't need much revving.
Jay-Z hit the stage like an explosion. Clad in dark shades and his trademark NYC cap, he didn't let a raspy voice weaken his swagger-y delivery of one-two openers "Say Hello" and "U Don't Know." Inexplicably, the screen behind the stage showed the opening credits of "Reservoir Dogs." The crowd went wild. Much dancing. Much singing along.
The cool thing about a Jay-Z show (at least this one) is that the audience is a LOT less self-aware than at most shows I attend. Go see, say, Yo La Tengo and audience members have two priorities: 1) enjoy the show and 2) look like you're not enjoying the show. Not necessary in that order. I love Yo La Tengo live, where the music is unpredictable and intense and the set-list is always full of surprises, but, man, loosen up, audience. I know you're pissed off that the My Bloody Valentine re-issues didn't include the b-sides to the import-only, Japanese versions of the singles, but smileforgoodnesssake.
Anyway, Jay-Z doesn't waste a lot of time. Speeding through over twenty songs, he played a lot of hits: "Izzo," of course, and "99 Problems" and "Big Pimpin'" and highlights from the Black Album. Cool to hear something closer to the original versions (albeit sped up versions) of those Black Album tracks, since Nicole and I always listen to the gray album mash-ups. By far, the highlight of the night was "Roc Boys," where Jay-Z's live band--especially the horns--finally had a chance to shine.
Early on, Jay-Z told the crowd of 12,000 not to hold anything he says against Barack Obama. "I'm just a free citizen exercising free speech." Amen. Great show.
What I wonder most of all is how she might feel on November 5 and beyond about the good-cop bad-cop game John McCain is playing with her. McCain says Obama's ex-pastor is off limits. Palin, who is on video with her own minister exercising witches, questions McCain's hands-off attitude and goes after Rev. Wright. (I have no beef with Palin's beliefs--as long as she doesn't impose them on public schoolkids--but the irony deserves mention.) For the next four weeks, Palin's job is to call Obama unpatriotic and traitorous and untruthful.
Make no mistake, her dissent from McCain is orchestrated. She captures headlines every time she "questions" the top of the ticket. Political theater. She is Dennis Franz to John McCain's Jimmy Smits. We're perps in the interrogation room, noses bloodied, and she just pushed a steno pad at us and barked, "write down what happened!" Maureen Dowd is the FCC cracking down on too many bare asses and uses of the S word during the show...What? Enough with the NYPD Blue metaphor? Okay, fine.
I saw the film in Spring 92, a few weeks before graduation. I went to Seminary in rural Wisconsin, an all-boys boarding school that had made a post-Second Vatican Council broadening of its mission from training future priests to training future "active Catholics," ordained or otherwise. The school attracted an odd mix. White, black, lots of Hispanics and Vietnamese, a good number of kids from thankful, devout immigrant families who felt they had to "give back" to God (maybe by sending a son to the priesthood). The common bond was a reason and/or a willingness to leave home at fourteen. One of the populations: kids from pretty rough areas of Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans who wanted to avoid poor schools, troubled neighborhoods.
Senior Trip meant spending a week in Chicago, mostly hanging out with Franciscans who did gang ministry and ran soup kitchens and community literacy centers. The week was kind of a cross between a sociology class and an intensive lesson in Catholic social teaching. The priests and brothers knew a lot about gentrification, violence, racism, drugs, police brutality, and such, and they all thought Boyz 'N The Hood was something we had to see, something we had to see in the hood. I was used to spending a lot of time with priests, so I probably didn't think twice about the odd site of us walking into that theater: Franciscans in their long brown robes, alongside a group of seventeen-year-olds, some of whom got their knowledge of gangsta life from NWA (on cassette!) and some of whom grew up pretty close to scenes like those on the screen in front of us.
What continues to make the film great is its ability to speak to both of those audiences and exist somewhere betwee those two modes of understanding. Watching Ice Cube on the screen wasn't all that different from listening to Ice Cube. Hell, his character in the film mirrors his persona from "Straight Outta Compton." But the film's tragic climax (Ice Cube's little brother gunned down and bleeding to death while his mom and his boys look on), even with its sentiment and heavy-handed irony (he's about to escape the hood on a football scholarship), transcends the narrative of gangsta rap, the camera lingering on the blood and the dead kid's baby boy screaming in the middle of the chaos, in a way that song lyrics (even brilliant ones written by Eazy E) can't. No gangsta rap song I know has a moment like the coda of the Boyz film. The 'Cube character, who just got revenge on the gangbangers who killed his brother and already "haunted" by his own ruthlessness, tells Tre he made the right choice not riding along during the shooting.
One thing Salon neglects is Biden's specificity. I'm not a big fan but I admired the moments where he cited extremely specific legislation and demonstrated ease articulating details of the voting records of Obama, McCain, and himself. His responses were remarkably logocentric and, aside from when he referenced the death of his first wife, flat in terms of affect. Facts.
Sharp contrast to Palin who is all about affective connection: winks, raising a hand everytime she says "middle class" or "American people," the accent. Her definitive moment: she's called out for not answering the questions and says she doesn't plan to answer the questions the way the moderator wants her to and will instead speak to the American people. Brilliant move. A license to evade. Everything is a "gotcha" question, even if posed by an "American person" (like the voter who asked her about Pakistan) as opposed to reporter. "American people" does not include reporters, professors, actors, scientists, and people who live in California or NYC. Out of fairness, it's a continuum. Socially conservative, working-class, Christian, undecided voters in swing states are definitely "American people."
In happier election news, Nicole and I scored tickets to see Jay-Z tomorrow night at Cobo Hall, a free show that's doubling as a pro-Obama voter-registration event. I.E., only registered voters could score tickets. H to the Izzo.
Last week McCain performed ingeniously. Leading up to his first debate, he crafts an erratic persona. Call off the debates... suspend the campaign (insert outraged voice of Bonasera the undertaker: "suspenda da campaign?!"). Talk of McCain as unprepared and overwhelmed ensues. Expectations lowered.
Now Sarah Palin hits the big media outlets. It appears she can't name a single newspaper. She can't think of any Supreme Court cases except Roe v Wade. She proudly refuses to answer many of the questions Katie Couric (!) asks. Katie Couric...she's more softball than Jennie Finch.
People...she's playing the expectations game. Hello! At this point, folks have NO EXPECTATIONS for her performance this evening. At this point if she can enunciate the words "New York Times" or "Dred Scott" we're going to be impressed.
In a stunning reversal of their long-stated reluctance to take it, members of heavy-metal band Twisted Sister announced Monday that, after 24 years of fervent refusal, they are now willing to take it. "I acknowledge that we promised not to take it anymore, but things change. The world is a different place today, and with that in mind, we would like to go on record as saying that, starting right now, we are going to take it," read a statement released by the band's lead singer, Dee Snider. "To clarify, we would still prefer not to take it, but as of now, taking it is an option that we would be open to. That is all." Bassist Mark "the Animal" Mendoza also stated that, in regards to what he wants to do with his life, he no longer solely wants to rock, but would instead prefer doing other things, such as raising a family and working as a claims adjuster in Rye, NY.