Archive for September, 2004
OK, after a few technical difficulties, I’m up and ready for the blogging of the debate. By the way, nothing in the debate is going to match Jim Lehrer on the pre-debate C-SPAN feed telling the audience he’s going to break out the whoop-ass if they make a squeak. And then doing a Mickey Mouse impression.
9:10 p.m.: First mention of Osama bin Laden by John Kerry. One shot!
9:11 p.m.: Wait a second, Dwight Eisenhower endorsed Kerry from beyond the grave? “Just yesterday, General Eisenhower endorsed me.” Ohhhh, John Eisenhower. Wait. Who?
9:13 p.m.: Oh snap. G-dub just pulled out the “my opponent looked at the same intelligence I looked at” line. OK, but wait, all of a sudden, “Saddam Hussein was never going to disarm.” He was armed? Fossilized vials of sarin gas from when Iraq was called Mesopotamia don’t count.
9:25 p.m.: Uh-oh. Lehrer just asked the “when would you be ready to leave Iraq” question, and Dubs just had several very painful moments of sputtering consonants, scrambling to find an answer (which, btw, he didn’t). He looked as though he were in actual pain during this one.
9:30 p.m.: Umm, Senator Kerry, sir. You’re allowed to listen to the question before you answer. Lehrer just asked something to the effect of, “Are soldiers dying in Iraq right now for a mistake?” Before he could finish, Kerry cut him off with “No.” Soooo … Iraq’s not a mistake now? This is why you confuse people, John.
9:32 p.m.: My opponent says we don’t have allies in this war, says Dubs, what’s he say to Tony Blair? What’s he say to Aleksander Kwasniewski, of Poland? Sorry, G, when you have to specify the country, you get no coalition-of-the-willing points.
9:36 p.m.: Awwww, G sounds so earnest! “And there’s going to be a summit! And — and — Mr. Annan’s helping!”
9:39 p.m.: Behind the scenes at Kerry’s debate coaching… “OK, see, Mr. Kerry, sir, you can’t actually ever say the word ‘lying.’ You may use ‘beguile,’ ‘dissemble,’ ‘misrepresent,’ ‘forswear,’ and ‘prevaricate.’ But you may not use ‘lie,’ or any form of the verb thereof.”
Jim Lehrer in a question said STTEO (something to the effect of, for future reference), “Mr. Kerry, you’ve accused Bush of lying about Iraq.” Kerr-Kerr actually said, “Well, I never used the Harshest Word, as you just did.” The “Harshest Word.” The man is whupped.
9:46 p.m.: Behind the scenes at Kerry’s debate coaching… “OK, umm, Mr. Kerry, sir, the word ‘Vietnam’ is verboten. A no-no. You may refer to it as ‘The War in which I fought,’ ‘The conflagration that took place in the nation-state abutting the nation formerly known as Campuchea,’ or, even, ‘The War that continues to justify my political career,’ if you want to be candid about it. But never ‘Vietnam.’”
9:48 p.m.: Prez-by’s refrain this entire debate so far is, “You can’t say _____ when you’re the Commander-in-Chief! The troops will be demoralized!” As in, “You can’t criticize the actions of the Commander-in-Chief when you’re the Commander-in-Chief! The troops will be demoralized!” See, it doesn’t work that way, G. I imagine, were Kerry to become President, he’d probably be much less inclined to call into question the actions of the President. Which debate coach came up with this line of argument?
9:54 p.m.: Wow. Bush. SSTEO: “I never wanted to commit troops, and when I had the debate in 2000, I never thought I’d have to. But the enemy attacked us!” What? These words in this order make no sense in our language.
9:58 p.m.: Kevin Drum, I am your DADDY.
10:03 p.m.: OMG. President Bush is doing. So. Badly. He’s had several severe sputtering moments, total deer-in-headlights madness. Sample Prez-by response (thanks, WaPo!):
LEHRER: New question, Mr. President, two minutes. You have said there was a, quote, “miscalculation,” of what the conditions would be in post-war Iraq. What was the miscalculation, and how did it happen?
BUSH: No, what I said was that, because we achieved such a rapid victory, more of the Saddam loyalists were around. I mean, we thought we’d whip more of them going in. But because Tommy Franks did such a great job in planning the operation, we moved rapidly, and a lot of the Baathists and Saddam loyalists laid down their arms and disappeared. I thought they would stay and fight, but they didn’t. And now we’re fighting them now. And it’s hard work.
I mean … WHAT?!
In order to simulate his actual response, you have to insert a lot of faltering moments of dawning realization that these sentences, when strung together, miraculously lose all meaning. Prez-by also seems very kind of sad and stressed and tired.
10:09 p.m.: Kerry’s doing an excellent job of keeping this a referendum on Bush, I would say. As long as the President has to stay on defense, I think Kerry’s succeeding.
But the President is really almost worryingly inarticulate tonight. He is actually having trouble getting words out. Every time he speaks, I’m thinking, “Is he going to make it through this?”
10:15 p.m.: “I fully agree that one should shift tactics. And we will, in Iraq.” First debate acknowledgment by Bush so far that the current tactic in Iraq iis wrong? And when exactly does that tactic shift happen? I mean, it’s been a year-and-a-half.
10:17 p.m.: Kerry says G-Dub has secured less nuclear material in the two years since 9/11 than we had secured in the two prior. That’s one I hadn’t heard, but a great sound byte, if it’s as it seems. I want to see more reporting on this. From somewhere other than ChronWatch.
10:22 p.m.: Dubs is totally on a first-name basis with Vladimir Putin. I don’t know what that means exactly; it’s definitely neither positive nor negative, it’s just so weird to hear.
10:26 p.m.: Kerry’s closing statement. “I believe our best days are ahead of us. Because I believe our future lies in freedom, not in fear.” Meh. Could have been better.
10:28 p.m.: Bush’s closing statement. “If America shows uncertainty or weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy.” “We’ve climbed the mountain, and I’ve seen the valley below and it’s a valley of peace.” (Don’t metaphorical mountains typically symbolize success, and valleys typically signify defeat?)
My immediate impressions, pre-media spin: Before this debate, I was highly skeptical of the theories James Fallows cited in the Atlantic that President Bush has actually developed some neurological handicap that increasingly prevents him from speaking with articulation. Now, I could almost be convinced. I’ll rewind and transcribe one of his answers as accurately as I can, with pauses, falters, and hesitations. Each ellipsis is a pause of approximately a second, sometimes more.
Uhh actually we’ve increased uhhh funding for … umm … uh … f-for uhh … dealing with nuclear proliferation. By about 35% since I’ve been the President. And secondly, uhh, we’ve s-set up what’s called the … well, first of all, I agreed with the … my opponent that the … biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network. And that’s why … we’ve … put proliferation as the … one of the centerpieces of a multi-prong strategy to make the country safer. Umm … My administration started what’s called the Proliferation Security Initiative-ves-s. Over 60 nations involved with … disrupting … umm … the trans-shipment of information and/or … uh … weapons of mass destruction materials.
Listen for yourself, if you’d like. That was a typical sample of his speech quality the entire night. The transcription would be entirely invalid if not for the fact that if I attempted a similar transcription on Kerry, it would be entirely free of ellipses, logically structured, and generally near-flawless.
An argument could be made that any normal person would have had the exact same difficulties. I mean, I definitely sound more like that than like Kerry when I talk in public. But I’ve never been coached on this stuff, and I’m not the President of the United States of America.
It was almost difficult to pay attention to the substance of what each person was saying, after being completely distracted by the contrast between Kerry’s dead-on, pauseless diction and Bush’s shuffling rhetorical catastrophe.
But on the matters of substance, I’ll stand by what I said before. Bush was kept on the defensive the entire evening. Kerry deftly swatted aside the one criticism Bush predictably and ceaselessly kept making — that he flip-flopped on the war — essentially only answering it once, toward the end of the debate. And given the good quality of the answer he gave, it was the only time he needed to.
(from the New Yorker’s “Rules of Engagement”)
Paragraph Seventeen A: Bodily fluids-Perspiration.
Debate sponsors shall make every effort to maintain comfortable temperature onstage. Candidates shall make reasonable use of underarm deodorant and other antiperspirant measures, subject to review by Secret Service, before the debates. In the event that perspiration is unavoidable, candidates may deploy one plain white cotton handkerchief measuring eight inches square. Handkerchief may not be used to suggest that opponent wants to surrender in global war on terrorism.
(from NPR’s “Top 10 Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know About the Debates”)
(5.) All members of the studio audience must be certified as “soft” supporters of Bush and Kerry, under selection procedures they approve.
“It’s not enough to rig the debate — they have to rig the audience, too? The contract reads: ‘The debate will take place before a live audience of between 100 and 150 persons who… describe themselves as likely voters who are soft Bush supporters or soft Kerry supporters.’ We should crash this charade and jump up in the middle to declare ourselves hard opponents of this Kabuki dance.”
(4.) These “soft” audience members must “observe in silence.”
“Soft and silent… In what I’m calling the Silence of the Lambs Clause of this absurd contract, the audience may not move, speak, gesture, cough or otherwise show that they are alive and thinking.”
(from Slate’s article, “Daydreaming about Dean”)
A Dean general-election campaign would have contrasted Dean’s record with Bush’s in three ways: Dean being against the war versus Bush being for it; Dean’s record of balancing the Vermont budget while providing health care versus Bush’s largest deficits in history with no health care; and a new wrinkle that was only hinted at during the primaries, Dean’s mysterious, infrequently mentioned “tax reform” vs. Bush’s irresponsible tax cuts. Yes, Dean would have repealed the entire Bush tax cut, the senior adviser said, but he would have proposed replacing it with some Dean tax cuts, including the elimination of payroll taxes on the first $20,000 of income. The message: Bush cuts taxes from the top down, but Dean cuts them from the bottom up. Why didn’t Dean introduce this during the primaries, when his tax-hiking ways made some Democrats think he would be an electoral disaster, the second coming of Walter Mondale, in the fall? He wanted to wait until after the Feb. 3 primaries because “he didn’t want people to think he was pandering,” the adviser said.
So whenever someone asks me “Robin, who will win the election??” (and believe me… there is no one better to ask) I say something like: “Kerry, because it’s all going to come down to who votes in Ohio (and, okay, Florida and Pennsylvania) and the Democrats will get more people to come to the polls than the Republicans.”
I base this certitude mostly on the fact that my friend Jim Secreto is on the ground with the Kerry campaign in Ohio. And come on, Jim ran for and won the senior class presidency at Troy Athens High School. This deal is sealed, dudes.
But now there is some slightly more reliable verification, via New Donkey:
On the front page of the Sunday NYT, Ford Fessenden reports on a Times study of registration numbers in the two most crucial battleground states, Ohio and Florida. And it confirms two things I’ve felt strongly about, but had little more than anecdotal evidence to support: (1) this is going to be a high-turnout election (which in itself is helpful to Democrats), and (2) Democrats are way, way ahead in the ground game.
This is the wrong category for this post, but whatever.
Sensational piece of writing by my personal journalistic demi-goddess, Anne Hull. It’s a portrait of a naive, gay, 17-year-old boy and his equally naive mother. But I think it’s especially about the rest of us — the worldly, jaded, cosmopolitan, secular, sexxxtacular, post-post-bohemian creative-class-holes who think we know everything — who have to grapple with the exact same thoughts that seem so unformed coming out of the minds and mouths of Michael and Janice Shackleford:
Michael tried sending his mom a clue about his sexuality early on. He took her to a Cher concert in Tulsa, but she failed to make the connection.
“Apparently a lot of people don’t know she has a gay following,” Janice says, defensively. “The guys at work said how neat it was that I was going.”
She pauses, thinking back. “I have to say, it was a fantastic concert.”
Here’s part two.
Part three and four will be along next Sunday and Monday.
The history of our society has, in many (most?) ways, been the history of our energy. Everything hinges on it, in a sense more crucial than politics or policy: It’s physics, man! You wanna have cool stuff? You wanna make things happen in the world, like overthrow Middle Eastern dictators or move coffee beans across oceans or make shiny iPods? You need energy!
So this long-ish but very clear, very engaging piece by Caltech professor David Goodstein is required reading. He explains “peak oil,” a concept I hadn’t ever heard of before; he argues that an oil crisis is inevitable, and may happen soon-ish; he lays out the energy options before us, again including many I hadn’t ever heard of; and finally talks about the future:
As things stand today, the only possible substitutes for our fossil-fuel dependency are light from the sun and nuclear energy. Developing a way of running a civilization like ours on those resources is an enormous challenge. A great deal of it is social and political — we’re in the midst of a presidential election, and have you heard either party say a word about this extremely important subject? But there are also huge technical problems to be solved. So, you might well ask, what can Caltech do to help?
And the answer to that question may lie… in the spheromak.
Goodstein also mentions that Caltech’s provost recently stepped down to become Chief Scientist at BP. And that just seems somehow totally awesome to me, you know?
Thanks to worldchanging for the link.
The article basically just copies-and-pastes some of the funnier comments in a thread about whether or not to tip baristas. Example:
I will gladly tip the first barista who doesn’t try to correct me when I say I want a “medium” coffee. Not “benti” or “crumpo” or whatever the hell made-up word Starbucks uses, I want a MEDIUM coffee.
Ha! I love that!
This washingtonpost.com Q&A with Ben Karlin, executive producer of The Daily Show, could not possibly be any funnier. Really interesting, too. Read it. REAAAD IT.
Sorry, Jack Shafer. Your column today in Slate, calling for an end to White House background briefings, is not allowed. You gave up your right to complain about anonymous sources on Monday, Sept. 20, 2004, when you included this sentence in your column:
Sources inside the [New York] Times tell me that the paper’s leadership worried that excavating and analyzing the WMD stories would damage the institution.
Harsh? Tough. No, after your months of railing against anonymous sources, you do not get the luxury of throwing a few willy-nilly into article that wasn’t even about the New York Times, or WMD, or anything close. Sure, I agree with your main point, but when you totally undermine it, you live with the consequences.
It is the cruel luxury of unemployment that there is plenty of time to consume media.
So, I’ve already told you about this month’s Foreign Policy mag.
Also notable are the three movies I’ve seen in the last two weeks, each very much the product of a single visionary. First up:
The Stylist. Napoleon Dynamite reminded me of Wes Anderson’s movies: Meticulous production design; socially inept characters; thick retro vibe. Okay, it’s more than a vibe: This movie is set in a kind of distilled hyper-80s. (Or maybe Aaron is right and that’s just what small-town America looks like?)
It’s a trip to watch, and it hits some cultural touchstones — adolescent preoccupations with ninja skills, crude drawings on lined notebook paper, early Internet chat rooms — that I haven’t seen anywhere else. In those moments, Napoleon Dynamite feels fresh and fun and new.
In others, it feels too engineered — the title character, Napoleon himself, is funny, but kinda empty, you know? Watching the movie, you can never figure out what’s up with him. The climax is hilarious — hilaaarious — but not that triumphant, because you’re not sure if you’re on Napoleon’s side or not.
For a real human connection, we need:
The Voice of a Generation. Garden State also articulates some ideas that are very real, very familiar, and very current. This movie felt modern to me, and I appreciate that a lot.
It’s rougher around the edges than Napoleon Dynamite: Zach Braff’s vision doesn’t seem as meticulous as Jared Hess’s. But that’s fine. In fact, it’s great. Garden State doesn’t feel like the immaculate work of a genius auteur. Instead, it feels like the really cool movie your friend made.
If your friend was a dude with 1,000 Power Macs in his basement, then maybe he’d be:
The Technologist. I wanted Sky Captain to be good. I so wanted it to be good. It’s remarkable, after all: The first non-Lucasian instance of a Garage Kubrick making an entirely synthetic feature film. (We discussed it before on Snarkmarket.)
But it’s terrible.
This movie generates zero suspense and shockingly little wonder. Most special-effects movies succeed when you forget the computers and get into the story; Sky Captain, on the other hand, was only interesting when I stepped back to note its technical prowess. And man, the last thing you want to be thinking in a movie theater is: “Well, that mutant dinosaur certainly is a fine achievement.”
The movie’s director, Kerry Conran, nurtured his vision for years, and finally — remarkably — marshalled the resources to bring it to the big screen. But — for what? So we could see old-fashioned robots through a gauzy haze?
If you want retro-chic adventure, go rent Iron Giant, an underrated movie with a more original vision and a more exciting story by far.