Archive for August, 2008

One of the defenses of John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate is that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were each also in their 40s and relatively inexperienced when running for President.

The problem with that defense is that Clinton and Obama each prepared for their presidential runs by networking extensively, asking the right people the right questions, and reflecting on the answers they got. Palin seems to have done none of that preparation (and, to be fair to her, she had no reason to do it).

Beyond that, Clinton was tightly networked into Washington before 1992 and Obama has served there as a senator for three years. Palin not only lacks even that experience with Washington, but she has also been in Alaska. Living in Portland, Oregon, I feel isolated from the rest of the country. Alaska? She might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

We don’t want our presidents to be “creatures of Washington”. The surest way to become a creature of Washington, though, is to not know how things work there and not have a trusted group of advisers who can help you. That’s where Sarah Palin is today.

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Hello, Goodbye

I was sitting in the Green Dragon yesterday afternoon (with a book, in the corner, with the lights down low) when the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye” starting playing, and I couldn’t help stopping to listen to it. What a great little piece of fluff that song is! Light, funny, clever, poppy. Easy to overlook because the Beatles did so many better songs; but for a lesser band, it would have been a career-maker.

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The DC5 has landed

The entire Dave Clark Five catalog has been out of print for more than a decade (it appears that Dave Clark just likes it like that), but one of their greatest hits albums is now available on iTunes.

In case Clark changes his mind again, I have taken the precaution of purchasing:

  • “Glad All Over”
  • “Catch Us If You Can”
  • “Bits and Pieces”
  • “Can’t You See That She’s Mine”
  • “Because”
  • “I Like It Like That”

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The 3am phone call

To answer the question asked by that Hillary Clinton commercial…

Of Obama and McCain, Obama is the one I would want to answer that 3am telephone call at the White House.

Obama has the even temperament, keen intelligence, and mental vigor that I would want a leader to have when making tough decisions on little sleep.

McCain is hot-headed, incurious, and increasingly befuddled. On a good day, his ability to effectively carry out the duties of the presidency is questionable. On a day when he is awoken at 3am and asked to make a snap decision of historical importance?

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  1. The GOP is focusing on tearing down Obama rather than building up McCain.
  2. To the extent that the GOP does talk about McCain, the talk rarely refers to anything he has done in the last 35 years.
  3. The Democratic National Convention was well-managed, if somewhat boring.
  4. Biden was the right choice for VP.

I have no regrets about supporting Obama over McCain.

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The first major college football game of the season starts in about four hours.

One of these years, I will get cable hooked back up, buy a big-screen TV, and lose myself in football season the way I did when I was a teenager. Every summer, I ask myself whether this will be that year; and every year, the answer has been that I have other things I ought to do with my time and money.

So, not this year. Probably not next year. But it might be the perfect thing to do the year I turn 40—it would be a much less embarrassing response to that milestone than buying a sports car or chasing college girls.

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In Book I (345e-347a) of the Republic, Socrates distinguishes between one’s ability to succeed at a craft (to be a craftsman) and one’s ability to succeed in being paid (to be a wage-earner); and states that the two abilities should be considered in isolation from one another. One can be a craftsman without receiving a wage; one can receive a wage for doing nothing.

We naturally tie the two together because they are so often paired, but it is worth remembering (and worth hammering home in school) that just because you are skilled at your craft does not mean that you will be paid to perform it.

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The High Priestess (Card 2)

Some say that 20-year high school reunions are the best reunions. By then, your classmates have sloughed off all they will ever lose of what they unconsciously copied from their parents; and reveal those true facets of their personalities that they once kept hidden, whether from fear or from ignorance. After 20 years, you can see the people you grew up with and know them for the first time.

The High Priestess card in the tarot deck symbolizes what is shrouded and what is occult—in other words, what is hidden in ourselves from others, whether unknowingly or deliberately.

That which is hidden is an essential part of life, if only because almost all of the world is hidden from us. We know so little, and there is so much to be known. Part of the wonder of life is its mystery; the sense that there are hidden depths to everyone and everything you see, including yourself; and that even what you know today might not still be true in a year, as people grow and things wear out and new connections get made. Life has an infinite capacity to surprise, and that surprise is nothing more than the hidden becoming the seen.

Beyond what is hidden without artifice is that which is hidden with artifice, the occult, of which I have little to say. Gnostics, kabbalists, Scientologists, Straussians, etc.…if the wisdom you claim to possess is truly transcendental, then prove it in the open. Until then, why waste the time?

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One down, six to go

I have a list of seven things I want to accomplish while I am on vacation.

I finished one this morning: Cleaning out the cul-de-sac of my L-shaped bedroom. I had had a big, wobbly desk back there for as long as I had lived here, and I have finally cleaned everything off it, dismantled it, and hauled it out to the curb. I have not yet decided what to do with the space yet, but I will probably move my other desk over there, then talk with my uncle (who is a carpenter) about building some shelving for the space where that other desk now is.

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A satisfying lunch

The best, best, best, best, bestest thing about having my weekdays off work this week is that I can eat at Pine State Biscuits without waiting in line for an hour.

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American freedom

The land of the free! [America] is the land of the free! Why, if I say anything that displeases them, the free mob will lynch me, and that’s my freedom. Free? Why I have never been in any country where the individual has such an abject fear of his fellow-countrymen. Because, as I say, they are free to lynch him the moment he shows he is not one of them.


[People emigrated to America] largely to get away—that most simple of motives. To get away. Away from what? In the long run, away from themselves. Away from everything. That’s why most people have come to America, and still do come. To get away from everything they are and have been.


Which is all very well, but it isn’t freedom. Rather the reverse. A hopeless sort of constraint. It is never freedom till you find something you really positively want to be. And people in America have always been shouting about the things they are not. […]

Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away. Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealised purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom. Men are freest when they are most unconscious of freedom. The shout is a rattling of chains, always was.

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes.

— D. H. Lawrence, “The Spirit of Place”, 1924.

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Democratic unity

Tonight’s Democratic National Convention lineup is scheduled to include Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.

To continue the theme:

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During the summers when I was a kid, I would watch two old television shows every weekday: Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone. The first one would have been no surprise: I loved mysteries and puzzles, and had an unhealthy fascination with Los Angeles. The latter one, though…I have always steered clear of things (roller coasters, horror movies) that I thought would scare the hell out me, and The Twilight Zone gave me nightmares for years and years and years.

The Twilight Zone appealed to me, though, because it made me think. It taught me irony. It taught me tolerance. It taught me how to see events from multiple perspectives. It taught me to be so careful for what I wish, lest I get it good and hard.

But above all, I liked Rod Serling. I used to imitate his mannerisms and his clipped way of speaking. When in a certain mood, I still love to write the way he spoke—in bitten-off phrases punctuated with semi-colons. In retrospect, it’s a miracle I didn’t take up smoking.

Here’s Rod Serling just before his prime, introducing a new television series called The Twilight Zone to the people who would sell ads for it.

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Newspaper control

Newspapers have a much greater importance in America than they do in Europe. You must not conclude, however, that the press is more free in the New World than in the Old. With us it is the government that watches over and controls the newspapers; in the United States, the religious sects and political parties tyrannize over the editors, who, it must be said, rather cultivate this servitude and even take advantage of it.

— French composer Jacques Offenbach, 1876. Had he been alive to visit the United States 50 years later…well, he would have been a marvel for being so very old; but, aside from that, he could have added “department stores” and “car dealers” to his list of tyrants.

(Offenbach, by the way, was the composer of the “Can Can”.)

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James Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, writes about his research into the costs of having more research materials available online.

The benefits of having the materials online are obvious: Ease of finding, ease of searching, ease of printing.

Evans wondered whether there were costs along with those benefits. He found that the ease of using online research materials seems to make scholars less likely to use print materials—even ones that are not replicated online—and thus more likely to narrow the scope of their research to materials from the Internet Age and materials from “high-status” journals, each of which is more likely to be available online.

My summary does not do justice to Carr’s blog post, much less his actual article, which I…um, have not yet read because it is not available to me online (but what do you expect from a superficial cat?). If the subject interests you, then go read the post.

(H/t to Nick Carr.)

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