Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stand By Me

I have several essays in my head at the moment, but they'll have to wait for the grading to be done.

In the meantime, here's a very sweet rendition of Stand by Me played by musicians around the world at PlayingforChange.com. I'm a big softie for this stuff, and it touches the soul.

'Tis the Season for Giving.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Crisis at SUNY

Today, I attended one of the townhall forums hosted by the President, Provost, and CFO. I thought I was up on the latest budget happenings, but the information provided by CFO Kathy Lowry about UAbany's budget situation is far worse than I'd realized.

A few notable highlights:

--The University is increasing tuition for students by $300 in the spring semester. This money would help offset a small portion of the budget cuts exacted by the governor. The problem is that the legislature did not vote Nov. 19th to allow the SUNYs to spend that revenue. So, the money, as of now, cannot be spent.

--The University is bound by contract to pay union negotiated salary increases, but the state is not going to provide the University the additional revenue to pay for those salary increases. That money will then have to come from somewhere in the budget.

--The SUNY system is considered a state agency, and the governor has sole discretion to increase or cut higher education at his discretion with no input from the legislature. So far, Patterson has cut the budget for SUNY by over 10%. President Phillips described it as: a university research center, a four year comprehensive center, a technical center, and the entire SUNY central administration would need to be dissolved in order for the SUNY system to break even under the current budget constraints.

--Before the current budget cuts, Ualbany was receiving approximately 18% of its operating funds from the state. After the cuts, it's 15%. If more cuts come, then even less (and yet we're called a state school. Cornell gets more revenue percentage-wise from the state than we do, yet they're considered private).

--I asked about adjuncts. Provost Phillips said that the University cannot respond to this crisis with an increase in adjuncts to replace tenure track faculty. We are already ranked poorly because of our 1 to 21 tenure-line faculty to student ratio. With the budget cuts, we're likely going to increase to 1 to 23, which is bad. The Provost underscored that she does not want to see the entire university become mediocre as a result of this budget cut. She mentioned that rather than increasing the number of adjuncts, they are going to shrink the incoming Freshman and transfer populations next year (we're currently at an unprecedented 18,300 students) to try to hold down the faculty/student ratio, and to look at cutting whole programs.

There are a number of problems that the budget situation is highlighting. One of the biggest structural problems for the SUNY system is our designation as a "State Agency" under the Executive. We are the only higher education system *in the country* that is structured this way. It means that even though only a fraction of our budget comes from the state, we are under the budgetary whims of the governor, yet cannot raise tuition without legislative approval. It means that the SUNY system is especially inflexible to find new ways of increasing revenue, such as tuition, when the executive branch decides to de-prioritize higher education spending.

In short, things are grim.

If this pisses you off as much as it does me, the UUP is urging faculty, staff, students, and parents to fax their representatives. Information can be found here: http://www.uupinfo.org/. Do NOT use campus resources (your work computer, the department's fax) to make your voice heard to your state legislators.

If you're not part of the union, but you're worried about what the budget cuts mean for higher education in New York State, then contact your representatives, write letters to the editor, and talk with friends and family about this crisis.

Everyone needs to share the burden in a bad economy, but it is cutting the nose to spite the face to cut higher education in a downturn. It is affordable higher education that gives people the opportunity to enter or re-enter the marketplace as skilled workers and productive citizens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More from Yes Men

I got another Press Release this evening from the Yes Men about the NYTimes hoax.

November 12, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
writers@nytimes-se.com
917-202-5479
718-208-0684
415-533-3961

"SPECIAL" NEW YORK TIMES BLANKETS CITIES WITH MESSAGE OF HOPE AND CHANGE Thousands of volunteers behind elaborate operation

* PDF: http://www.nytimes-se.com/pdf
* Ongoing video releases: http://www.nytimes-se.com/video

* The New York Times responds: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/12/pranksters-spoof-the-times/

Hundreds of independent writers, artists, and activists are claiming credit for an elaborate project, 6 months in the making, in which 1.2 million copies of a "special edition" of the New York Times were distributed in cities across the U.S. by thousands of volunteers.

The papers, dated July 4th of next year, were headlined with long-awaited news: "IRAQ WAR ENDS". The edition, which bears the same look and feel as the real deal, includes stories describing what the future could hold: national health care, the abolition of corporate lobbying, a maximum wage for CEOs, etc. There was also a spoof site, at http://www.nytimes-se.com/.

"Is this true? I wish it were true!" said one reader. "It can be true, if we demand it."

"We wanted to experience what it would look like, and feel like, to read headlines we really want to read. It's about what's possible, if we think big and act collectively," said Steve Lambert, one of the project's organizers and an editor of the paper.

"This election was a massive referendum on change. There's a lot of hope in the air, but there's a lot of uncertainty too. It's up to all of us now to make these headlines come true," said Beka Economopoulos,
one of the project's organizers.

"It doesn't stop here. We gave Obama a mandate, but he'll need mandate after mandate after mandate to do what we elected him to do. He'll need a lot of support, and yes, a lot of pressure," said Andy Bichlbaum, another project organizer and editor of the paper.

The people behind the project are involved in a diverse range of groups, including The Yes Men, the Anti-Advertising Agency, CODEPINK, United for Peace and Justice, Not An Alternative, May First/People Link, Improv Everywhere, Evil Twin, and Cultures of Resistance.

In response to the spoof, the New York Times said only, "We are looking into it." Alex S. Jones, former Times reporter who is an authority on the history of the paper, says: "I would say if you've got one, hold on to it. It will probably be a collector's item."

Sarah Palin Africa Hoax

Last week much noise was made about Sarah Palin and a "fact" that she didn't know that Africa was a continent. Turns out that story was a hoax.

It's complicated, but in a nutshell the McCain aid the reported that Palin didn't know this basic geographic fact was not a McCain aid.

Read about it in the New York Times, and shame on journalists and bloggers for reporting a story from a guy who was KNOWN to be a huckster (details of this at the bottom of the story).

The Yes Men are at it Again

I got an email message this morning from the Yes Men informing me of their distribution of a New York Times parody around the country.

Here's the text:

November 12, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SPECIAL TIMES EDITION BLANKETS U.S. CITIES, PROCLAIMS END TO WAR

* PDF: http://www.nytimes-se.com/pdf
* For video updates: http://www.nytimes-se.com/video
* Contact: mailto:writers@nytimes-se.com

Early this morning, commuters nationwide were delighted to find out that while they were sleeping, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had come to an end.

If, that is, they happened to read a "special edition" of today's New York Times.

In an elaborate operation six months in the planning, 1.2 million papers were printed at six different presses and driven to prearranged pickup locations, where thousands of volunteers stood ready to pass them out on the street.

Articles in the paper announce dozens of new initiatives including the establishment of national health care, the abolition of corporate lobbying, a maximum wage for C.E.O.s, and, of course, the end of the war.

The paper, an exact replica of The New York Times, includes International, National, New York, and Business sections, as well as editorials, corrections, and a number of advertisements, including a recall notice for all cars that run on gasoline. There is also a timeline describing the gains brought about by eight months of progressive support and pressure, culminating in President Obama's "Yes we REALLY can" speech. (The paper is post-dated July 4, 2009.)

"It's all about how at this point, we need to push harder than ever,"
said Bertha Suttner, one of the newspaper's writers. "We've got to make sure Obama and all the other Democrats do what we elected them to do.
After eight, or maybe twenty-eight years of hell, we need to start imagining heaven."

Not all readers reacted favorably. "The thing I disagree with is how they did it," said Stuart Carlyle, who received a paper in Grand Central Station while commuting to his Wall Street brokerage. "I'm all for freedom of speech, but they should have started their own paper."

Monday, October 20, 2008

On Radio Shows and Racial Politics

So, I've been mulling around the McCain ads and Republican strategy to connect former Weather Underground member turned college English professor Bill Ayers to Barack Obama.

It has struck me as deeply problematic that the McCain campaign would do this, because I read it as a fear tactic. Specifically, that in connecting Ayers, Obama, and terrorism it creates a cognitive and emotional link between the three of them, with the residual affect in the minds of voters, especially white voters, is that Obama is dangerous, scary, and "other".

I've been thinking of blogging about this for awhile, but I have over-the-top busy at work combined with unreliable childcare.

But, today, some radio station called while I was getting ready for a 2 hour faculty meeting to talk job candidates. The female reporter wanted to know what I thought of the presidential campaign ads. So, I blabbed on a bit about the unprecedented nature of the volume of advertising given Obama's massive spending abilities, and the high level of negativity, akin to the 1988 campaign.

She then asked if I'd like to be recorded, and I told her fine, but quickly.

So, she then asked me to tell me what I'd just said, so I did, but I wandered onto this subject of the McCain campaign's Ayers/Obama attack, arguing that the ads were designed to make people afraid of Obama.

At the end, the journalist asked me what my party affiliation is. I told her it was irrelevant and asked her why, and she said that I seemed pretty biased. I told her that when the dust settled and academics had a chance to really analyze this campaign, they would find exactly what I told her. I also told her to check out the University of Wisconsin's advertising project to get a fix on the amount of negative advertisements running right now by both campaigns. We then hung up.

Well, tonight I got this email from "ChuckWagon":

In what way has the John Mccain ads been negative?
I dont believe pointing out someone's voting record and history/
asscoiations is negative. Hillary Clinton raised these same questions?
I am a little confused by your accusations.


Oh. Here we go, I think to myself. I'm an idiot for answering the phone.

But, I penned a response. I'll share it with you:

Hi anonymous emailer,

You're quite right. It is legitimate and important to raise questions about voting records and about history. We need to know who these people are that might be our next president.
The problem is this. The advertisements and the attacks that link Obama to Ayers create a cognitive and emotional connection in the minds of voters, especially white voters, that Obama is scary and that he's a terrorist.

Now, if Obama were, indeed, "palling around with terrorists," I would want to know about it. But, several credible sources have provided useful evidence for how much of a link there is between Ayers and Obama. Factcheck.org, for example, has researched this connection, and has found 2 connections. 1) Obama when he was running for Illinois congress was invited to attend a coffee at Ayer's house for fundraising. 2) Obama and Ayers were both invited by Walter Annenberg (a Republican, a friend of the Reagans, and the endower of my alma mater), to participate in an ongoing panel dealing with education problems in Chicago. That's it. To my mind, drawing the connection between Ayers, Obama, and terrorism is therefore not a genuine effort to highlight a problematic relationship that the country should know, but instead is an effort to scare voters into thinking Obama is a terrorist.

I'm going to guess by your question that you are a McCain supporter, and there are lots of good reasons to support McCain. I just don't believe his advertising has been "playing fair." I don't think Obama's has either, but in this election McCain's ads have been more egregious in fear tactics than McCain's. [Ooops, should've typed Obama's there]

If you're interested, there are a couple of great books on political advertising that I'd recommend. One is The Race Card by Tali Menderlberg that maps out the argument I just made on race, fear, and negative ads in prior elections. Another terrific book is In Defense of Negativity by John Geer. In that book he makes a cogent argument about why negative ads are good for us.

By the way, I never actually caught what radio station was interviewing me. I was running late for a meeting when the reporter called, and I was ill-prepared to speak clearly on the ideas that I'm trying to do a better job here of explaining. Would you tell me where you heard the clip?

Best wishes,

~Jenny

I'm probably still not articulating the idea clearly or well, and it's tricky. As soon as one brings up scare tactics and those that have a racial message, then people like me get attacked for either being biased or for being too sensitive.

But, I feel quite confident that I'm right about the ads' and the campaign message's intended effect: to scare voters, and to do so in a racial twinged way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tenure Docs

An hour ago I turned in the bulk of my tenure documents.

It's oddly anti-climatic.

I feel relief, but only because it's one thing that's off my plate. Friends have told me I should do something nice for myself or celebrate, but today's my full day and night of teaching. In addition, the last presidential debate is tonight, and like last week I will be at the Campus Center with about 120 undergraduates watching the debate. By the time I get out of there, I'll be exhausted and ready for bed. Maybe this weekend, when I'm not reading job applications . . . . .

I think the bigger celebrations will come as various people vote on my along the way.

Oy. What a process.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Watching the Second Prez Debate

Tonight, I'm sitting at the Campus Center Ballroom surrounding by about 100 students watching the second presidential debate. It's heartening to me to see such enthusiasm for politics in the students in this hall. The College Republicans have their McCain/Palin signs that they wave periodically when they find McCain saying something rousing. The College Democrats have been more reticent but on occasion have raised their Obama/Biden signs. At a few moments, there were loud cheers and applause for answers and even for questions asked by citizens in the townhall.

I've written about this before, but I enjoy seeing people viewing politics like they do Sunday Football. Some may say that's problematic, as it's emotional and irrational; but I think such participation can ultimately be good. Football or politics, when you watch, you learn. You pick up names, dates, events, you learn about problems and issues and strategies. Exposure is a good thing. Even if the exposure is motivated by a desire to "root for your team."

Root away, students!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A New Way to Predict Election Outcomes

I don't have time to go into why public opinions polls are so problematic at election time.

But, there's a new predictive model out there, that's worth some attention. Fivethirtyeight.com is the brain child of Nate Silver. He takes a large swatch of polls, their current results of the "if the election were held to today, whom would you vote for" question, then plugs it into a statistical model that is then re-run dozens of times to establish the likely outcome of the election. His poll was an excellent predictor of actual outcomes during the primary.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My favorite poem

I'm in a poetry mood.

My favorite poem is by Theodore Roethke. This one reminds me of my dad.

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.


The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.


You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Kay Ryan, Poet Laureat

I heard Kay Ryan on a show last night. I went hunting for a few poems of hers. I found this one. It speaks to me. Makes me think of my mom and my grandmother.

THINGS SHOULDN'T BE SO HARD

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small —
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn't
be so hard.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Trying to Vote in the Primary

Today is primary day in New York. I just went to vote. The poll worker pushed the reset lever on our ancient pull-lever voting machines too hard, and it jammed the system. No voting. The poor guy whose vote was now screwed up had to vote absentee.

Will New York ever get its new voting machines?!? We're the last state in the country still voting on 50 year old (or older!) machines. Incredible.

Friday, August 29, 2008

More Me on (in?) the News

Today, I was on Northeast Public Radio's WAMC for their 2pm call-in show.

I must confess, it was great fun fielding calls from listeners on the Democratic Convention and McCain's VP pick.

One of my former students even called in. He said I had been his favorite professor at UAlbany. I must put him on the payroll!

Listen if you wish.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Me on the News

Last week, in the run up to the Obama VP announcement via text message, I got calls from a couple media outlets to talk about this strategy. You can watch the video or read the transcript of the rather quirky news story here.

Soup

I have a cold, have had it for over a week now. Today, I'm working for home, and so made myself some quick chicken noodle soup using Ramen noodles, some left over chicken, and some old carrots lingering in the fridge.

I'm now at my desk, trying to finish coding deliberations, and supping.

I find it remarkably comforting. The warmth of the broth, the slippery-ness of the noodles, the sweetness of the carrots.

When I think of soup, I think of my mom. I ate a lot of soup thanks to her. When the cupboards and fridge were bare, and they often were, she could pull together a soup out of anything. One I remember most vividly is a carrot hamburger concoction.

We were living in a trailer that was part of a tiny little trailer park sandwiched in a narrow valley outside of Rapid City, S.D. in the Black Hills. This was around 1984. I was 12.

The crazy 1970s era trailer was one story in front and two stories at the back: teeny bedrooms above and below. It was blue. There was a hole in the roof in the living room where a wood stove should have been. The kitchen was at the front. It was summer.

At lunchtime one day, my brother and I came in from playing with the other kids in the trailer park, mostly illegal Mexican immigrants. We were starving. Mom hunted through the cupboards and fridge and found some beef broth, some wilty carrots, and a package of hamburgee. Twenty minutes later we had soup.

It was delicious.

I still think fondly of that soup. I've tried to reproduce it a few times, but it never tasted as sweet or as salty as what my memory says it should be. When you have little, such simple fare becomes all the more satisfying.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Conventions are Cool

I'm streaming the convention on my computer while doing various and sundry things for work. Mark Warner has just taken the podium. But, before he did, there was about 5 minutes of downtime from the prior speaker. During that time the song "I'm so excited" played, and the cameras showed pictures of enthusiastic Democrats in the hall dancing, singing along, wearing silly hats, talking to each other, and shaking hands.

I've always found Conventions reassuring, because it shows a swath of America that really cares about politics, that is so completely energized by their party, and who have as part of their identity being political, being part of a party.

I know there's much hand wringing about the red/blue divide, and I have done some of that myself. But, it's also nice to see excitement for politics expressed in smiles and by bodies.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Response

One of my students (thanks, Mike!) sent me a link to an editorial cartoon that is the McCain equivalent of the New Yorker cover of Obama.

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Interpretation

So, the big brouhaha today is the latest New Yorker magazine cover, which depicts candidate Obama in traditional Muslim clothing fist bumping Michelle Obama who has a massive afro and an assault weapon slung on her back. They stand in the oval office with a U.S. flag burning in the fireplace and a portrait of Osama Bin Laden above the mantel.

According to Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post, Barry Blitt the creator of the satiric cartoon aimed to convey the extreme views out there of the Obamas:
I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.

The problem is interpretation. The Obama campaign issued a release condemning the cover as tasteless and offensive. The McCain camp followed with their own condemnation.

It created such a stir that it even got time on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

So, is it a message highlighting the absurd rumor-mongering of the right or is it a tasteless and offensive portrayal of the Obamas?

Perhaps, a title would have helped?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Paying up for Weak Oversight

The bad financial news at the end of this week focuses on the weak foundation of the two largest mortgage brokers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. These two businesses buy mortgages from originating banks, bundle them together, and then sell them to investors as mortgage-backed securities. As more and more Americans foreclose on their homes, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have had to dig into their cash reserves to continue to pay out the interest on the mortage-backed securities, even though they're no longer taking in the money from mortgages-gone-bad. In turn, the companies are having a hard time borrowing money to pay the interest owed to investors. It's another Bear Stearns.

Unfortunately, according to an article in the New York Times, it seems that tax payers may end up bailing out and paying investors their guaranteed interest on the mortgage-backed securities if Freddie and Fannie fail. The article argues that the two companies lobbied hard over the past decade for little oversight as their fortunes grew.

Now that there's been a reversal of fortune, they turn to the government for a bailout.

Not only will the taxpayers pay, but people trying to secure mortgages, and stockholders who are being hammered by this current unstable market (earnings over the past 2 years have been erased in a matter of months) will pay.

The problem is that if the government doesn't do something, and the companies tank, it means the credit market will freeze up. And, that will hurt Americans broadly, too.

If there had been oversight. If government regulators had been doing their jobs. If Congress and the Fed had been engaging in proper oversight, perhaps we wouldn't be in this economic quagmire today. Regulation and regulators have a place in the free market. When they don't, the consequences can be dire.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Can John McCain be President?

Floating around have been questions as to whether John McCain constitutionally can be president. He was born on a military base in the Canal Zone in Panama in 1936. The Constitution requires that the president be a "natural-born citizen." McCain didn't become a naturalized citizen until 1937 the year that Congress passed a law granting citizenship to military personnel living in the Canal Zone after 1904.

The debate is over whether that Congressional law in 1937 entails that McCain is "natural-born." According to the analysis by Professor Gabriel Chin, the law was conferred a year too late to make McCain "natural born." Others, including liberal legal theorist Lawrence Tribe argue that it's preposterous for Congress to have created a loop-hole of this sort.

Congress in the spring passed a non-binding resolution that declared McCain eligible to run for the presidency and to hold that office if elected. But, there's a legal case in New Hampshire brought forth by a citizen, Fred Hollander, against McCain, challenging his constitutional right to run for president. The problem here is that generally such lawsuits are thrown out, because the plaintiff can't prove direct injury, and therefore cannot sue.

It's a fascinating legal paradox that likely will go unanswered. My own sense of this is that McCain may not be constitutionally allowed to be president, but that to prevent a guy who was born to American citizens, born on an American military base, and that if he had been a born a year later would be considered "natural-born", as being absurd. But, I'm not a legal scholar. Just a citizen thinking about what is the right and fair thing.

Read the details at the New York Times.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tony Schwartz

For a terrific audio profile of Tony Schwartz, listen to the Kitchen Sister's terrific compilation of interviews and sounds of the great audio genius (and man behind the 1964 Lyndon Johnson "Daisy Ad").

DCCC's Bush Impersonation Ad

[Okay, so I've been a little busy . . . . The end of semester unloaded its torrent of papers to grade and theses to read, then to ICA in Montreal, at which I learned my grandmother on my dad's side had died, so a quick return to Albany to collect Isabel, and then off to Rapid City, South Dakota to attend the funeral, and then grappling for a week with a nasty cold, and since then trying to keep my NSF funded project running, and cranking out manuscripts and juggling other research projects. Tenure review is coming . . . .

AND: Rest in Peace: Tony Schwartz, George Carlin, and Tim Russert]

The Benton Foundation is reporting that a Philadelphia radio station is refusing to run a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advertisement. The ad features a President Bush impersonator who thanks the local Republican congressmember for supporting "Big Oil". They're refusing the run it on the ground that it impersonates President Bush.

I first heard about the ad a few weeks ago, and my reaction was: not cool. No matter what one thinks about President Bush, it's over-the-line to hire an impersonator to put words in the President's mouth. There will be people, either who aren't terribly aware or perhaps who catch only bits of the ad, who think that President Bush is actually saying those things. It's a deceptive ad. The DCCC shouldn't have created it. Surely, there are better, more compelling ways to critique the Bush presidency.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Race and Religion

This morning the New York times has an article analyzing the dynamic of race in the Democratic primary. Given that Obama was unable, again, to "seal the deal" with blue collar whites, the New York Times investigated what factor his "blackness" is having on white voters.

The article quotes independent pollster Peter Hart:
"The big question about Barack Obama from the very beginning has been, Is he safe? . . . . Safe in terms of both the cultural values that he has, and about whether he is strong enough to be commander in chief."


I think Hart is on to something, but neither he nor the article articulate the other dynamic: religion.

Specifically, I think it is far more pervasive than talked about in the news media that Americans believe in their heart-of-hearts that Obama is Muslim. So, Hart is right that people want to know if he's "safe," but with regard to whether or not he's really one of "them," one of our enemies, the people we're fighting "over there", the people who attacked us on 9/11.

This notion of his Muslim roots crops up everywhere. A church in South Carolina posted on their church sign the following:
Obama Osama Hmmmm. Are they brothers?

When asked about the sign, the pastor of the church said that he didn't mean to offend anyone, he just thought it was worth thinking about the connection, suggesting that they were "brothers" because of a shared faith.

My own neighbors ask me whether I think that his "past" and his "background" will surface during an Obama presidency. When I asked what they were referring to, they mentioned Obama's Muslim father and step-father, his education in Indonesia at a "madrasa" (another name for school, by the way, not ultra fundamentalist, Islamist school). When I explained what I knew of Obama's background and his current alignment with the Christian faith, they were still unconvinced that Obama was really who he seemed to be.

So, I think another strong undercurrent that explains Clinton's continued success and Obama's failure to win over a specific demographic in the Democratic party, has as much to do with religion as it does race.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"As Far As I Know"

Last Sunday, Hillary Clinton was on "60 Minutes." In her interview with Steve Kroft, he asked her about the comments a supporter had raised of Obama during a campaign rally. The supporter had said that he thought Obama did not know the national anthem and that he was a Muslim.

Kroft asked her if she thought that Obama is Muslim. Clinton's response:
No. No. Why would I? No, there is nothing to base that on, as far as I know.
As far as I know.

That's one hell of a qualifier: With those five words, she left open the possibility that there might be something in his past that would make one suspect he is or was Muslim, as far as she knows.

It's worth noting that her campaign was behind the claim circulated a year ago that Obama was educated in a madrasa as a boy in Indonesia (in American lexicon that means terrorist training camp; but in Arabic it simply means school; he was educated in a madrasa, but in the Arabic, not the American sense).

The insinuation that Obama is Muslim is being used as a slur, an attack. The implication is that it's a bad thing to be Muslim. To be Muslim is to be a bad guy, a terrorist, one of them. Wanted: Dead or Alive (In Bush's worldview).

Can you imagine if "Jew" were being used in our public discourse in the same way? [I grant that sometimes it is . . .]

I have yet to hear any outrage over the use of the label "Muslim" in this way. The only outrage I hear is over the attempt by various forces, including the Clinton campaign, to label Obama Muslim when in fact he's Christian. The response is more than simply to correct the record: "No, he's not Muslim, he's Christian." It is an attempt to redeem him or clear him from being one of them: "No, he's not a terrorist, he's one of us."

So, I am disgusted by the Clinton campaign for attempting to smear Obama by insinuating that he's Muslim. I am equally disgusted that such a tactic works in this theoretically inclusive culture.

[I can imagine a critic reading this blog post and calling me a stupid idealist, a softy, who does not understand that they are, indeed, the bad guys out to get us. But, for every radical terrorist who might wish Americans harm there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims who want nothing more than what Americans want: security, love, sustinence, life.]

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Demeaning Internet-Savvy Voters

I've gotten in the habit of reading the "inside baseball" of politics website Politico.com. It's not a place to find in-depth reporting of pressing national issues, but a place to read what the insiders' perspectives of the presidential campaign are.

Today, Politico reported on Clinton's efforts in the days ahead. The article notes that Clinton aims to compete in states like Wyoming and Mississippi, states that Obama is predicted to win.

Of Wyoming, one of Clinton's lead supporters in the state, Kathy Karpan, a former candidate for Governor, said
“We are going to do very well with the rank and file. The question is, will those people who get captivated by e-mails” — Obama supporters — “be willing to sit through the call to order, the nominating and seconding speeches. It takes a little bit of patience and interest in the process to do this,” she said.

Let's unpack what's being said here. Obama supporters, especially young supporters (since presumably, they are the ones "captivated by email," and also more likely to support his campaign), don't have, at best, the attention span, at worst, the intelligence to follow the voting process in Wyoming. Ouch.

There's another implication here, too, which is that Obama supporters are not "rank-and-file members of the party." That is, they are outsiders, and don't really belong.

Where did the inclusive, big tent party go?

Sad.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Isabel Faye


Isabel will be 7 months at the end of this week. Hard to comprehend how fast she is growing and changing!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Politicizing 9/11

Yesterday, the big news was that the U.S. plans this year to prosecute 6 suspects involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Although I am glad to see the U.S. moving forward on an effort to exact justice on detainees, I am deeply suspicious of the timing.

I am not alone in this suspicion. The New York Times is reporting today that the timing "suits Bush" as he works to improve his record in the history books. The article also notes it likely will help the Republican nominee. Indeed.

Justice ought not be politicized. But, I think we have another example of the Bush administration politicizing the judicial process (recall the firing of 9 federal attorneys two years ago, and the implication that they were fired for political reasons).

If we had evidence on the 6 defendants before now, then there should have been a military trial before now.

Instead, the Bush administration is going to try one last time to maximize Americans' fear of terrorist attacks by forcing us to relive 9/11 just in time for the presidential elections.

The implication, of course, is that John McCain (the presumptive Republican nominee) will benefit by public attention on fear, security, and 9/11.

Disgusting.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday --

--is my Super Bowl Sunday!

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Sunday Morning Talk Shows

I have become a religious watcher of the Sunday morning talk show Meet the Press. I "DVR" the show and watch it when I'm up and Isabel is mellow. I enjoy Russert's unblinking questions of our major politicians, and I enjoy the roundtable commentary of the pundits who speculate on polls, campaign strategies and political stumbles.

One thing that has been bugging, me, though, is the lack of independence of the pundits Russert has on. This last Sunday he had on his usual roundtable of Bob Shrum, Mike Murphy, James Carville, and Mary Matalin. All of them have ties to some of the current candidates running for office (Carville worked for Bill Clinton; Murphy worked for John McCain). Their own current and former loyalties seem to interfere with their abilities to look squarely and evenly at the contenders. Carville, for example, loves Hillary Clinton, so when he starts to question Obama's abilities and talents, one wonders if he's not trying to help Hillary out a little by singing her praises and questioning Obama.

Indeed, the New York Times wrote an article analyzing this very issue. So, clearly, I'm not the only one bothered by this picture.

I think what worries me is that people less knowledgeable about the insiders has no idea what the allegiances and alliances of the pundits are, and so take them at their word. I wish that more was said during their introductions to highlight their relationships, and possibly to even question their assessments because of their relationships.

I don't think that they should be disqualified from being part of the pundit class, but I do think it should be clearer what their historical relationships are. That way, viewers can judge for themselves whether the pundits are being thoughtful or simply loyal.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Race and Politics

One of my former grad students emailed me this morning to note how negative the press has been in their coverage of the presidential primary campaigns, especially the Democratic campaign. As usual, the news media have focused on the negative and the horse race and have failed quite strikingly to cover the issues, especially now that voters are trying to decide for whom to vote.

I typed him a long email that I want to share, because I've been thinking about this quite a bit:

I agree that the media is completely fixated on the negative: it's such a juicy story to see a female candidate and the former president going after a black candidate. Race and gender, especially race, are two topics that are highly controversial. The news media loves a good controversy. It helps when the black candidate fights back. Even more to cover!

Now, in my estimation, Bill and Hillary get some of what they deserve with regard to all of the negative coverage. When major political elites, John Kerry, Representative Clymer of South Carolina, Ted Kennedy, Tom Daschle, etc. all speak publicly about Bill Clinton needing to town down his rhetoric about Barack Obama, you know that even political elites of the Democratic party thought he went too far in pushing race onto the agenda.

But, you see what Bill's doing, right? He's trying to marginalize Obama by turning him into "the black candidate." The spin from the Clinton campaign, from Bill, who is playing "bad cop," before and after South Carolina was to say that Jesse Jackson won South Carolina, too. That's code for "blacks vote for black candidates" or "Obama's a black guy and won't have mass appeal across the rest of the country."

Hillary's statement before MLK's birthday that it took LBJ to sign the civil rights legislation that MLK advocated for made my jaw drop. It could be read as a sincere statement that underscored the importance of the president in establishing law. Or, it could be read as "it takes a white president to get things done." I don't believe the Clinton's do anything innocently or with good intentions (and I don't think journalists think so either, which is part of why they're covering this so heavily).

So, you can see why this is such sexy news to cover. Nothing like watching the former President of the U.S. turn into a knock-em-down, drag-em-out street fighter for his wife against a black candidate (which, then brings up the story line of a female candidate being overshadowed by her husband -- another compelling story line that seems to repeat itself over and over again in campaigns with female candidates). The former "black president" against a potential future black president. That brings eyeballs to advertisers.

And, as far as the journalists are concerned, there aren't any real differences between the candidates, and their issue positions are old news. They announced their health care plans and plans for Iraq nearly a year ago. Their plans for an economic stimulus got some coverage, though, which is good.

One other thought, Tali Mendelberg wrote a book that came out last year titled The Race Card. I've read bits of it. It focuses on race in political campaigns. I think it's why I read the Clinton's as playing dirty pool with race. In it, she argues that when white candidates make subtle allusions to race when the opponent is black -- using code words, invoking images that speak to whites' fear of blacks, or that invoke and underscore the "blackness" of the candidate -- those appeals work very effectively at turning white voters against the black candidate. UNLESS: the white candidate is called on it, either by the media or by the candidate, and the allusions, the implicit racial appeals, are rendered explicit. When that happens, white voters (and the news media) tend to turn on the white candidate, because, although whites may have concerns about blacks subconsciously, consciously we have a sense of justice and rightness that apparent racial appeals violate, and voters punish the candidate who violated our sense of rightness.

I think that's some of what's happening here. The news media and some of the political elites cried "foul" on the Clintons. I think it's some of the reason why Hillary lost the white vote in South Carolina (as well as the black vote). Whether that loss continues is an open question, though.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Farewell Fisher

Today I had to say goodbye to my best cat, Fisher.



We had noticed over the past month that she was losing weight, and this week we noticed that she was walking quite stiffly. So, today Jon took Fisher to the vet to see what was the matter. He called me about an hour later choked up and handed the phone to Dr. Cheever who told me that Fisher weighted all of 3.5 pounds and that she was "loaded" with cancer. She also believed that Fisher suffering. There really was not anything to be done. So, this afternoon at 4:30, we put Fisher down (the euphamisms for death are so annoying, but to say that we "killed" her is overly dramatic, yet she didn't just die. We had a hand in it, we made a choice to end her life -- it's a remarkably difficult act, at least for me, who would rather toss a bug out the back door than squash it).

Fisher was such a great cat. Not only was she simply a terrific companion, she also is part of a significant set of events in my life, formative events that set me on the path that I continue to walk today.



And, she was unique. Not only in her appearance and her manners, but in her origins. When I was 19 years old, in December of 1991, I packed up my old Buick Regal with all my possessions and headed West to San Francisco from St. Cloud, Minnesota. It was the sort of stupid, poorly thought out adventure that teenagers are known for. Within a month, I was nearly homeless, unemployed, and alone. My luck turned when I landed a job "canvassing" for abortion rights. I basically went door-to-door with the California Abortion Rights Action League, trying to get people to give me money, half of which I kept and half went forward to the League. I did that work from February until June of 1992, if my memory services. March and April were the high points. I was raking in the dough (I even canvassed a $500 check once, from a pro-choice Republican woman who was unhappy with the anti-abortion direction her party had headed). And, then, by May my luck had ended.

I remember an especially grim afternoon in the suburbs south of San Francisco. I was in a relatively new suburb, with large houses (the larger the house, the less likely to get a contribution), and SUVs in the driveways. I had wandered around for about 2 hours without getting any contributions or even any remotely friendly interactions. I was disheartened, and thinking seriously that my time as a canvasser was drawing to a close, when I came to my next house on the street. I noted as I walked up to it that it was more modest, and a Volvo was parked in the driveway. A Volvo was generally a good sign. I noted the pro-environment bumper sticker. I knew I would get something from this house.

So, with some renewed enthusiasm, I knocked on the door. A middle aged woman with long, salt and pepper hair opened the door. I opened with my pitch: "Hi, my name is Jenny and I'm with the California Abortion Rights Action League. Are you pro-choice?"

She replied "Yes, I always give to you guys. Come in."

It was protocol to not enter homes, but I broke it when the scene was right, and this scene was right.

The woman ushered me to the back porch and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I declined, but she brought me water anyway as I sat down. I remember she and I talking about the upcoming presidential election and George Bush and Bill Clinton's politics. I also vividly recall the white fur ball of a kitten that moved along the picture window before which the porch sat.

I commented to the woman how cute her kitten was. She explained that her kids had found the kitten and two siblings in a ravine, and had rescued them. One had died, the other two had lived, and now she was trying to find a home for the white one (the other one had already been spoken for), because her cat was unhappy with the kittens around. I made appreciative noises, and she paused, looked at me, and asked if I wanted the little white fur ball?

I said "yes" without thinking.

So, she proceeded to pack up this little white kitten into a wicker picnic basket. In another bag, she gave me kitty litter, and the formula she was still hand feeding the kitten. She was only 8 weeks old.

I didn't canvas another house, but instead went back to the van and hung out until it was time to pick up the rest of the canvassers and head back to base. Back at base, we customarily each wrote down how much we had made that day. Next to my name, I wrote:
$50 + 1 kitten

She was by far the best contribution I received.

Her appearance was always striking, at least to me. She had big blue eyes that were mottled, like they were somehow slightly damaged. She had some fire-tipped Himalayan in her, and some other breed or breeds. She was slight. At her heaviest she was no more than 7 pounds. And she had terrific long hair. At play, she would fluff out and pounce around the house, like Peppie Le-Pew from Saturday morning cartoons. But, she was terrible at cleaning herself. If it hadn't been for Shadow, Fisher would have been a seriously ratty cat, because Shadow, whom we got a year later, kept Fisher clean.

And speaking of Shadow, those two were such buddies. Shadow nursed from Fisher when we first brought Shadow home. Now, mind you, Fisher didn't have any milk to offer, but Shadow nursed anyway. So did Hailie, whom we got a few months before Shadow. Fisher was the nurturer and ruler of our cat roost. She could put the smack down on Hailie, who was almost twice her size, without a hesitation.


Fisher is at least some of the reason why Jon and I are together, or at least that's what we say now. In October of 1992, I decided to move back to Minnesota. I was unemployed, broke, and had no apparent future in California. I'd applied to UC:Berkeley, but had been rejected. At the same time, I had been accepted at the U of M. It was time for my San Francisco adventure to be done.

I met Jon in late January, and over the subsequent months we became very good friends. In May, we progressed to something more. But, Jon was scary (Not axe murderer scary - to be clear). He had asked me to marry him, and I had declined. I knew that if I let myself fall in love with him, we would marry, and I was not ready for such a dramatic event. Jon was patient, and incredibly supportive.

When it was time for me to fly home, he helped me pack, helped pay for my airfare (did I mention how broke I was?), and drove me to the airport. I had given Fisher a sedative to help her cope with the flight, because she tended to freak out in a cage. When we arrived at the airport, Fisher was acting very strange -- like she was having a bad trip. She was tumbling around in her cage, and making dramatic noises. When I had checked in, and the baggage handlers came to get Fisher, they saw my anxious face and told me not to worry. An hour or so later, I boarded my flight after a teary-eyed goodbye to Jon. The plane took off, and I gently wept in my seat. Soon after, a flight attendant came by and asked me if I was Jenny Stromer. I told her I was, and she handed me a slip of paper "from the captain." It was a note telling me that Fisher had not been placed on the flight, because she was acting too erratic. They needed a contact number for someone to pick her up and take her to a vet. I gave them Jon's number. I heard nothing the rest of that anxious flight.

As soon as I landed, I called Jon to learn of Fisher's state. Jon laughed and told me that she was fine, that she was sitting on his chest as we spoke. Apparently, when he arrived at the terminal to pick her up, the baggage handlers were playing with her; she was fine. He put Fisher a flight the next day, and she and I stayed at my mom's until , well, until Jon and I moved in together in Minneapolis in February of 1993, and then wed in August.

I think Fisher was trying to tell me what a bad move I was making in leaving Jon behind. I just didn't get it initially.



While she lived with my Mom, she learned to fetch empty cigarette packs. She loved the crinkly sound of the cellophane wrapping. When Jon and I moved in to our first apartment together, it had a long hallway. Jon would sit at one end and I the other, and we'd toss the empty, balled up pack back and forth over her head. Fisher would do tremendous leaps and twirls in the air to get the pack.

She also loved to be on top of people. She had a terrible habit of jumping on visitors, especially men. You'd be standing in the kitchen chatting away, and all of a sudden, a cat would be flying at you. I had to apologize to more than one guest for the apparent attack.

When we got "the kittens," Tillie and Little Boy, she nurtured them as she had Hailie and Shadow. Tillie and Fisher bonded after Shadow died. Tillie and Fish would curl up in a cat bed on the rocking chair. "Curl up" isn't quite right. Tillie would sleep on Fisher -- even though Tillie weighed twice as much.

I'm a side sleeper, and nearly every day of her life she slept on my hip. We got so used to each other that when I would roll over, she knew how to roll with me such that she'd end up back on top.

And, she used to clean me, especially in the early morning. She would sneak up, sit on the pillow, or on my head, and run her tongue through my hair. Sometimes it was cute and funny, but most of the time it was seriously annoying.


She loved pizza, pasta sauce, and ice cream. She went crazy for Cheddar Bunnies.

I would blow on her face, and she would lick the air.

I loved the smell of her.

I write down these memories in tribute to her. As I get older, I am realizing how fragile memories are. In time, they decay. So, I want to, need to, codify these memories in printed words, so that I will remember and others will know how essential a cat can be to human life. I love all my beasts. I especially loved her.