Archive for the ‘Palin’ category

Sunday Conundrum…What the Hell Does This Mean?

April 10, 2011

This being the following statement from unsuccessful national candidate and half-term former governor Sarah Palin:

“It’s not America’s role not to be out and about nation building and telling other countries how to live…”

This isn’t snark .(Or rather it is, but I am also experiencing genuine bewilderment.)

Treat this as an a self-amuse thread; one of the few genuine pleasures of the last couple of months has been watching Palin do the headless chicken, as she continues to strut, unaware that she’s well down Glenn Beck’s path, amirite?

So just give your babblefish a workout in an attempt to translate Palinese into coherence.

Image:  Francisco de Goya, Still Life with Chicken and a Pan of Fish, 1808-1812.


A Sad Note Sent to Mr. David Broder

February 10, 2010

Here is a slightly edited text to an email sent to David Broder, on the occasion of reading his thoughts (sic) on Sarah Palin’s ascent to political heavyweight status.  (h/t Josh Marshall)

Dear Mr. Broder,

I know it will pain you to hear this from a 51 year old reader, but I grew up on your political writing.  You were the best, and I learned a great deal that I’ve put to use in a writing career of my own.

But you share this with another former champion who fears the effects of too many more blows to the brain, Kurt Warner.

It’s time to retire.

Speaking, no doubt, as one of the elitists — or at least, certainly, as a member of an elite — excoriated by Ms. Palin, your assessment of the half-term governor missed on three levels.

1)  You got the affect wrong.  You have a sense of what is off in Palin’s presentation in your remark that she wore poorly in the suburbs in the last election.  Hers is not a populism of the mass against the few, but rather of one pissed-off minority against the many…and that’s what wore so ill last time out.

Her line “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for you” is not how Huey Long rallied his supporters, nor John Edwards, nor the best high-low campaigner of a generation, Bill Clinton.  Rather, it’s the language of the mean-girl clique in high school, striking out at those less fashionable than they, whom they yet suspected might win the marathon of life, however many high school sprints they lost.  Those who were stung by such jibes then haven’t forgotten, and there were a lot of them/us.

That’s why Tina Fey was so destructive to Palin — she has that vibe pitch perfect, and she knows why it grates….that you don’t suggests your ear is going…and that’s death for a columnist of the zeitgeist.

2)  You underestimate the meaning of seemingly minor slips.  That handprompter stuff matters for the same reason that Gerald Ford’s stumbles did, or Quayle’s “pototoe” gaffe did.

No one thought those were essential to the quality of either man, but they reinforced already present impressions:  those guys were dumb.  The dominant perception of Palin at the end of the campaign was of someone with enormous performance skills who was out of her depth as an actual prospective leader.  She’s already compounded that by her inglorious exit from a governorship that was already, within Alaska, seemingly taxing her powers.

Now, seemingly, she needs to be reminded that she is supposed to be able to talk about energy.  It may seem trivial to you…but when those Americans not overwhelmed by her ability to read a prepared speech think about Palin not as a kind of political entertainment — a role at which she undeniably excels — but as an actual leader tasked with, say, dealing with the Iran nuclear buildup or ensuring that FEMA doesn’t blow the next Katrina, then stuff like this matters. And it does, as I know you once knew, for reasons the “dean of the Washington press corps” shouldn’t need reminding:  because it reinforces what we already, as an electorate, think we know about Palin, which is that however rousing she may be on the stump, she’s a lightweight.

3)  You underestimate the American voter.  You quote her (and I’m editing the quote a bit) as saying:

“And then I do want to be a voice for some common-sense solutions. I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist, …I want to speak up for the American people and say: No, we really do have some good common-sense solutions.”

Well, fine.  But even if the Republican Party is putting this notion to the test, still, in bad times even more than in good, there comes a point in any campaign when you have to say more than you will provide common sense solutions.

You actually have to say something about what those solutions are.

In fact, Mr Broder, if you approached the job the way you once did, you’d wonder:  what would a President Palin do about the fiscal ramifications of the status quo in health care and pensions?  What does Palin plan for Iran and Afghanistan and relations with China., or salaries for Wall St. execs…and so on.

And you’d find out either that she wouldn’t tell you…which, over time, becomes an enormous vulnerability that a candidates as sophisticated as, say, Mitt Romney would exploit with glee..or that she would, which is, as you know, death to a persuasive populism, (and would give a debater as thoroughly expert as President Obama an enormous opportunity).

So — what I’m trying to say is that this column is both wrong and sad.  Wrong, because you have no idea what Palin sounds like outside the circles in which you already know all the changes to be rung.  You take a speech to 1,200 paying customers as an indication of her ability to transcend enormous real and atmospheric limitations…and you don’t ask if there is any other source of insight beyond your own gut feeling, and those of the same people you’ve hung with for way too long.

And that’s what makes it sad. You used to be a contender.  Hell, you used to be the champ — and that for years.  But this is tomato-can stuff.  There is no actual reporting (which is what made your old punditry so strong, that base of actual non-obvious information and experience sought from the ground up), there is no actual analysis, there is no thought given to whether Palin’s attempt at populism is modeled on the same lines as successful populist insurgencies of the past.  There’s nothing, in fact, except some guy’s response to an energetically delivered nasty speech.

You used to be good.  You could be still — but only if you put in the same kind of effort and distilled the insight captured in the arc that connects the two artworks I’ve chosen to illustrate this post.  But you’re not even trying anymore.  It’s time to go fishing.

Sincerly, and regretfully, from someone who’s read and admired you for the better part of four decades.

Tom Levenson.

Images:  Tintoretto, 1518-1594, “Self Portrait as a Young Man,

Tintoretto, “Self Portrait,” 1588.

Because it is still possible to laugh amidst the wreck health care and spectacle of GOP children, who, unchecked by grown-ups, vandalize the home we call America…

December 17, 2009

…that laughter this morning induced by this and this.

I could not resist typing the words “Sarah Palin” into both the Tiger Woods Mistress Generator and the Jersey Shore nickname generator.

The results?

From Tiger’s computer-modelled psyche:

Congrats, your Tiger Woods mistress is Candy Chin from Flagstaff, AZ. She is a 27 year old wedding photographer. You know she’s telling the truth because she has pictures to prove it.

And from Jersey:

Your Jersey Shore nickname is: S-Cat

(The code generates different results with each iteration, so, of course, YMMV.)…

Dumb, I know.  Pointless.  Trading in vile stereotypes and all that.

But sweet FSM I’ve been needing something to break the gloom, and this has, for the nonce.

Image:  Mary Cassatt, “Children on the Beach,” 1884.

More Mental Health…Inspired by Sarah Palin Edition

May 19, 2009

I was browsing (procrastinating) over at John Cole’s place when I came upon DougJ’s post about the odd and incurably C-list crowd trying to come up with some plausible path to a national role for Sarah Palin, even as she sinks steadily in the estimation of those who know her best.  

Thinking about this perfect marriage between loud but clueless donors/consultants/fading media personalities (it’s impossible to think of  Greta van Susteren as a journalist any more, if ever she was one), I flashed on the following video, presented here for your morning pleasure while I try to crank out some more substantive stuff:

The Science Vote: An Entirely Unsurprising Endorsement by Your Faithful Blogger

October 29, 2008

The past week or so have seen a number of significant endorsements for Barack Obama coming from moderate Republicans (endangered, yes — perhaps less than a hundred breeding pairs in the wild), and in a few cases, genuinely much further right than those, (see Adelman, Kenneth, self described as not a neo-con, but a con-con.)

Adelman’s endorsement and that of the big dog on the block, Colin Powell, both emphasized the larger question of the qualities of the two men running for President over policy specifics. Adelman even allowed that he disagreed with Obama more than McCain on a point by point basis, but that he nonetheless will vote for Obama “primarily for two reasons, those of temperament and of judgment” — as evidenced by McCain’s erratic lurching during the onset of the financial meltdown and his choice of Sarah Palin respectively.

Those are reasons a national security voter would seize upon, and I agree that they are, or ought to be, sufficient to secure Obama an unprecedented unanimous vote next Tuesday.

But it occurs to me that in my discussions of McCain’s disqualifications for the office he seeks from the point of view of what would be best for American science, I’ve tended to focus on process, on political nuts and bolts, to the partial exclusion of the kind of overarching “quality of his mind” arguments that the Powell and Adelman endorsements emphasized.  See especially this post for what I mean, this, and this besides if you are a glutton for punishment.

So it’s a fact that in all likelihood McCain will gut science spending, and pick winners and loser for reasons outside the judgment of professionals as to the promising areas of pursuit (think of it as executive department earmarks) is amply supported by the evidence.

But the deeper danger for US science research and education that a McCain and Palin adminstration lies with their catastrophic failure to understand what is required to do science in the first place.  They lack the understanding, the breadth of knowledge and experience, the judgment to be stewards of the single national endeavour that matters most to our longterm security and  prosperity.

Why do I say so?  Because that conclusion seems to me by far the most reasonable interpretation of the statements made by Sen. McCain and Governor Palin, both recently and over much longer time frames.

These statements are by now familiar to most folks likely to be reading this blog, so I won’t go into my usual logorrhea here.  But the highlights bear remembering.

John McCain repeatedly, and Sarah Palin very recently confirmed that they do not understand the connection between specific inquiries and broader research programs.  McCain has made a habit of decrying research into bear DNA.  Palin, more catastrophically, recently made insufficiently ridiculed remarks about “fruit fly research in Paris France,” adding “I kid you not.”*

Kidding she wasn’t; celebratory in her ignorance she was.  Not to belabor the point, but if you like the prospects of modern gene-centered research in particular and molecular biology in general, you have to do a ton of research just like the two maligned projects.

Elect Palin and McCain if you want put perhaps the single most fruitful research area in all of current science into the category of things you laugh at because they sound wierd.  This is a case where the two candidates demonstrate that they lack  ability to understand and interpret the connections between particulars and the bigger picture.  I can’t think of a worse attribute in potential Presidents.

Then there is the ability to hold contradictory ideas in one’s head without noticing.  There are too many examples of this to list.  Some of them, I think, merely expedient willed ignorance — think of McCain’s hopelessly impossible budget proposals, with its freeze that isn’t a freeze, a promised end to the AMT, renewed tax cuts for the wealthiest, increases in military spending, stimulus and financial bailout to add to the half-trillion dollar current deficit and a promise to balance the budget in four or eight, or four, or eight years or wherever Douglas Holz-Eakin has left his abacus rightnow.

But others are either truly cynical — lies told to gain political power, again, not a qualification for the office such behavior is intended to secure — or signs of real intellectual blindness.

A simple and obvious case is McCain’s attempt to suggest that he is at once serious about controlling climate disruption and increasing fossil fuel use — see e.g. the gas tax holiday, still promised on his website, and drill, baby drill.  The two categories are incompatible.  You can’t control human impacts on climate unless you create incentives to cut carbon use — that is to say, make the price of fossil fuels go up.  McCain has said he supports a cap-and-trade mechanism to do just that (though one of the posts linked above describes just how hollow a promise that is), but such a mechanism is meaningless in the face of determination to expand the availability and drop the price of fossil fuels.  You can’t do one and have the other.

And promoting such policies, as McCain did just today in Florida, means, just to repeat it, that he is either lying when he promises one outcome or the other, or he simply cannot process the fact that the two policy goals are incompatible.  You choose which explanation you like.  It doesn’t matter.  No such person can be trusted to make sensible decisions about the future of science (or much else for that matter) for the United States.

Again: the point I am trying to make is not that McCain and Palin have articulated bad policies for American science, though they have, but that the way they think, their poor judgment about technical and scientific matters, their lack of capacity to grasp how the actual daily work of science proceeds matter more.  Their willingness to ridicule specific bits of research they don’t understand exacerbates the problem by diminishing the value our culture as whole places on inquiry and discovery.

The bottom line:  a President McCain or, should the plausible succession occur, a President Palin, do not possess the qualities required to nurture the future of American science. Their ascendancy would rob the enterprise of both the hard cash and the oxygen of cultural approbation it needs to survive.

On the other hand, if you care about the ability of the United States to retain its narrowing pre-eminence in scientific and technical research, you would do far, far better to vote for Senator Barack Obama and his Vice Presidential partner, Senator Joseph Biden.

*I don’t mean to say that Governor Palin wasn’t ridiculed for her fruit fly idiocy.  It’s just that she wasn’t derided enough.

Image:  Joseph Wright, “An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump,” 1768.  Source:  The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202.

Against Ta-Nehisi Coates…

October 24, 2008

…or rather, against his defense of white racism. The post is a meditation on why women are, in his perception, so harsh on Sarah Palin; his epiphany came when he tried to imagine a black equivalent to the Palin candidacy — and he couldn’t:

A brother in that position not only would not be considered for 2012, he would be impeached when he returned to governorship for embarrassing the state, and then have his ghetto card revoked for embarrassing the local Negrocracy.

For this, the writer is grateful, which makes perfect sense.  It’s better by far to have a strong sense of standards than some unthinking identity commitment.

That’s the implication of the Yiddish phrase, “A shande fur de goyim” — a shame before the non-Jews. Nothing could be worse than to be such a schande; it’s why Jews, or at least  those I hang with, wince with every Jack Abramoff or, to channel a different era, why Abbie Hoffman’s use of the phrase to describe Judge Julius Hoffman during the Chicago Eight trial was such a potent barb.

More deeply, we have a lot of history that tells us it is better on every level, from the moral to the practical, to be not merely no worse than the majority societies in which most Jews live, but to be closer to blameness, to bring no scandal to our names and homes. So, thus far, I’m with Ta-Nehisi.  But then he goes on to write who he could or would wish to credit for the existence of such internal correctives:

White racists have taken a lot of heat on this blog. But the truth of the matter is that they may be the single biggest promoters of black excellence in this country’s history. There is a reason Tony Dungy was the first winning coach in Tampa Bay’s history–he had to be.

Again, from where I sit looking over the ethnic/race/identity sorrows of history, I know that there is a partial truth here.   I’m enough older than Ta-Nehisi to have Jackie Robinson’s story as the archetype of the pressure on the standard-bearer.  There is no doubt that Dungy did a very hard thing — much harder than most watching him grasped, I think — but Robinson was literally in a league of his own on the need to combine superlative performance with extraordinary internal strength and self-control.  (For the record, I’m not so old that I ever saw Robinson play; but his was the story we read in grade school.)

The same dynamic played out time and again in public and in private Jewish lives — including the importance of public heroes finding someway to express both a particular and a universal greatness; think of Sandy Koufax refusing to pitch on Yom Kippur and you have a hint of the balancing act involved.

But where I think Ta-Nehisi goes wrong is in giving racists themselves credit for the excellence of a Dungy or anyone else.  I don’t doubt that there is a forged-in-fire power to the notion of proving oneself despite the efforts of those with evil intention to thwart you. But Ta-Nehisi goes astray (IMHO) when he writes this:

… A little bit of bigotry would have prevented all of this [the Palin debacle]. So to all the Ferraros out there I have one request–more racism please. It improves our stock. It makes black people, a better people.

No, it does not.  I don’t think you could or should credit racism for what Dungy can claim as his own achievement, nor that of Einstein, perhaps — or more on point for a science-and-public life blog — the life Percy Julian lived.

Percy Julian is not as well known as he should be.  Get introduced to him out here, and or watch the excellent two hour biography that NOVA broadcast a year or so ago.  Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who plays Julian, is worth the price of admission on his own, and to brag a little, my wife, Katha Seidman won her second Emmy for her design of the show.

The short form:  Julian was one of the pioneering synthetic chemists of the between the wars period and just after WW II.  If you have ever used a cortisone cream, other corticosteroid medicines, or birth control pills, you owe Dr. Julian a debt of thanks.

He had a great career; he was honored (belatedly); he got rich — all good.  He also was bedeviled by racist constraints from childhood through to the time he was getting his own company off the ground, and in particular institutional and individual bigotry kept him from the first career he intended to pursue, that of an academic chemist, pursuing whatever research that seemed to him most promising.

That he made an enormous contribution to his field as an industrial chemist is a tribute to just the kind of determined excellence Ta-Nehisi celebrates in Dungy.  But the price paid, the cost in opportunities not just lost, but actively barred has to be accounted for too.

I’ll stipulate that Ta-Nehisi knows this very well indeed. For my part, I’m lucky that my ethnic identifier, in this country at least, is farther removed than his from our own versions of the ghetto and Jim Crow.  It was my great-grandfather that made it out of the old country, and his stories have not survived the passing of the last of his own children.

I am not completely tone-deaf to irony and sarcasm either, nor the echoes of that supremely useful phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” as applied both to Governor Palin and such sometime-symbolic figures as the athlete formerly known as Pacman and Mike Tyson.

But I still think that Ta-Nehisi is undercounting the persistant tax that bigotry imposes on its targets.  You could call it the Julian tax, the daily toll exacted in the pursuit of excellence constrained within limits not of your own choosing.

I’ll stop here — but for a truly beautiful meditation that touches on this theme (and much else) look to Bill T. Jones’ memoir The Last Night on Earth.

Image:  Ben Shahn “Sign on a Restaurant, Lancaster Ohio” 1938.  Library of Congress [].  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Oh — and one more thing about Palin’s Closet

October 23, 2008

This is really a side show — but you know what really got me about the RNC shmatta shopping spree on Palin’s behalf?

I’ve got some rag trade history in my family — my great uncle Moe was a reasonably successful button and thread man, and my uncle Irving was a sadly rather unsuccessful shoe maker — and what gets me is not that Palin wanted the good stuff.

It’s that she paid retail.