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Postcards from home? I think I’d rather stay then, please.

[ 14 ] April 21, 2010 |

As I’m currently trapped not only in England (by a volcano) but inside (by a rampaging cold), I thought I’d reconnect with the American political discourse I miss so much by reading a transcript of Sarah Palin’s speech in Hamilton, Ontario last week.  For a little under two hundred grand, some lucky Canadians were treated to some theater whose absurd circularity does Beckett proud.  More on that in a moment, though, as I first want to make something absolutely clear: Sarah Palin does not scare me.  No one whose speech twists into modernist thickets while ordering coffee counts as a worthy political opponent; but as she is a political force amongst people who think no sandbox is complete without a couple of blowtorches—the parenting equivalent of having her serve as Commander in Chief—I feel it my duty as an American to condense her Hamilton speech down to its Platonic essence:

This is such a melting pot.  This is so beautiful.  I love this diversity.  There were a whole bunch of guys named “Tony” in the photo line.

It is so good to be here tonight.  We’ll kind of shift gears tonight.  Having a conversation with so many of you is something that I look forward to.  And not being so political tonight, I will talk a lot about energy, because I want to talk about some of the things that both our countries can do to ramp up production so that we can ramp up our economy, because the better our economies do, the better we do in terms of having opportunity to help children and those who are less fortunate, the better the rest of us do.  We will talk a little bit about energy.

I’m wanting to kind of shift away from the political.  The shift from the political, so now that I have that shift from the political but still have that desire to talk about the political and the economy and talk about energy and resources and national security and all those things.  I was telling Todd, this is like on the the Vice Presidential campaign trail, where you never really knew what you were getting into when you get into that line before you get interviewed.

Obviously, sometimes I never knew what I was getting into in an interview.  Obviously!  Whenever we do something big in life, like a Vice Presidential campaign, I like to say a prayer about it.  I need some divine inspiration and I need to remember what it really is all about, so that evening before the debate I remember being back stage and looking around for somebody to pray with, and looking around at the campaign staff and there’s nobody to prayer with. Not that I would think that God would speak through me, but wanting to leave you with a little bit of inspiration and encouragement and maybe on a personal level have a conversation with you about some of the things that Todd and I have been through in the last year and a half, the last couple of years, that hopefully you can learn a couple of lessons from, because we’ve been through quite a few challenges, quite a few battles and you all too, everybody goes through battles, everybody has challenges.  Some are played out in the newspapers, some of ours have been.  Maybe yours have not been, but everybody has to make tough decisions and prioritize things in life and here we are tonight, given an opportunity to come together to reach out to help others, to help children, who are in need.  We don’t want to squander this opportunity, we want to be inspired and encourage and remember that though we all do go through some tough challenging times, we talked at the head table tonight that we need to be able to count our blessings, not our problems.  We need to share our blessings, so we’ll do a little bit about that tonight.

I pause to ask the pressing question: do any among you have any clue what this woman is talking about?  Does she?  My answer, as you might figure, is a vehement: “No, with thunder.”  She is making me uncomfortable with her words and what she says not because of their content, as they’re free of that burden, but because of their form; or, more accurately, their formlessness. Nine hundred poor Canadians purchased $200 tickets to listen to the segue-free ramblings of a woman who forgets the subject of her sentence by the time she reaches the verb, then the verb by the time she reaches the object but keeps talking anyway.  Such is, after all, the beauty of talking points: so long as you say them all, the coherence of the speech containing them is inconsequential.  “Sound bites” are called “bites” instead of “meals” for a reason now.


Kill Whitey!

[ 16 ] April 21, 2010 |

In response to overwhelming popular demand, we have finally figured out how to change the background from white to cream. I hope you people are happy now.

More importantly, we have begun to try a series of fixes for the slow/no page load issue. Please indicate in comments if you continue to have problems.

He’s Not Artistic, And He Has No Integrity

[ 2 ] April 21, 2010 |

The cottage industry of liberals who were convinced that John McCain’s brief fit of pique against George W. Bush reflected his Real Authentic Moderate Liberal self (I still think this installment of Jacob Weisberg’s McCain hagiography project is definitive) was an especially silly episode in our dubious political discourse. You’d think it would be over for good, but since it never made any sense to begin with, who knows?

You Have No Expectation of Privacy in Your Own House

[ 6 ] April 21, 2010 |

Jeebus. If the webcam revealed Advil in the medicine cabinet, hopefully this was accompanied by plenty of strip searches — I mean, won’t someone please think of the children?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Jazz Notes

[ 6 ] April 21, 2010 |

Megan’s post about Lindsay’s high fashion for little money reminds me that I’ve forgotten to congratulate Darcy for earning a well-deserved Juno nomination for Infernal Machines even if he was robbed in the final vote. Since he and Lindsay are among the oldest friends of the blog you may not take my word for how terrific the album is, so instead take the word of such obscure sources as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, Downbeat, and Newsweek.

As I fool around with iTunes to facilitate best-of-decade lists that may or may not appear on this blog before the end of this decade, I’ll also note that despite the snub of Infernal Machines there’s plenty of stuff I love in Fred Kaplan’s best of year and decade lists (I’ll give especially strong uninformed recommendations to Sound Grammar, Road Shows Vol. 1, Sky Blue, Footprints Live, and For All I Care.) While I’m plugging CanCon also let me say I’ve derived considerable pleasure from Parkdale and Amor De Cosmos.

And finally, I’m not sure if even he is willing to bet against the Yankees this year, but since I’ve only thanked him privately I’d like to belatedly thank Howard for sending me Never No Lament, Tone Dialing, and Speak No Evil last year; uniformly great stuff.

The Road to Serfdom

[ 24 ] April 21, 2010 |

Conservatives have evidently worked themselves into something of an incoherent snit over the FDA’s plans to limit sodium in processed foods. If I understand the anxiety correctly, a cooperative effort between the federal government, industry representatives and public health experts to gradually (and I would imagine quite modestly) reduce sodium levels over a ten-year period is pretty much the sort of thing that Pol Pot did before depopulating the cities and having everyone gouged to death with bamboo.

As a public health matter, reducing sodium levels in the food supply seems like a perfectly decent idea and would be the most efficient way of addressing the problems caused by a diet overloaded with salt. Americans consume more sodium (by most estimates twice, by some estimates three times) than we need; most of our sodium comes from processed food; the epidemiological data demonstrate a compelling link between excessive sodium intake and unpleasant health outcomes like coronary heart disease and stroke (among other misfortunes); gradual reductions sodium intake seem to have measurable benefits for blood pressure; and the best available evidence suggests that we might reduce deaths from CHD, stroke and heart attack by tens of thousands (if not more) simply by knocking back average sodium consumption to the levels currently recommended by the CDC (i.e., 2300 mg/day for the general population). Although there’s the usual degree of uncertainty and qualification in the science, critics of the policies being mulled over by the FDA — most notably Michael Alderman, who has long been the go-to guy for salt regulation skeptics — are well-known within the field for overstating the ambiguity in the data and for undervaluing the weight of randomized clinical studies that support the public health consensus on sodium reduction. (That’s not to say he’s a hack, or that the debate about sodium is anything as nonexistent as the “debate” about climate change. Indeed, when boneheads like Ed Morrissey cite his work as “the latest research” — while completely botching his academic affiliation — it’s difficult not to take pity on the guy and wonder if he’s not being ill-served by the attention.)

in any event, there’s obviously always room for debate about the potential efficacy of public policy — but it’s probably not a debate worth having with people harboring primal fears that Barack Obama is coming to steal their Funyuns. Unfortunately, that seems to be the level at which the public discourse about food and public health usually takes place, so wingnuts should at least take heart in that.

UPDATE [SL]: In today’s installment of non-sequitur theater, William Jacobson announces that this plan to set modest limits on the amount of sodium in pre-processed foods totally vindicates his fear that isolated legislators will be able to completely ban the use of salt in restaurants. And, also, giving consumers the ability to control the amount of salt in their food is just the prelude to banning the private use of salt, or something. As a mere political scientist, I must confess that I can’t really follow the logic here.



[ 3 ] April 20, 2010 |

Climate Change Quiz

[ 7 ] April 20, 2010 |

Readers asked for more of these philanthropic quizzes, so here you are. For every quiz taker who leaves a name and email address, $2 will be donated toward the purchase of 20,000 solar powered flashlights – providing energy efficient light to the people without access to electricity living in camps in Haiti.

On this one, I scored 80%: can you beat me?

Kaus Kampaign Kronikles

[ 13 ] April 20, 2010 |

In an unusual move for his campaign, Mickey Kaus has done something. In this case, issuing a press release venting some resentment over the fact that the Democratic Party’s leader is supporting the Democrat in the state’s Democratic primary. You will be surprised to learn, however, that Kaus believes that unions (rather than say, its horribly designed institutions) are solely responsible for California’s fiscal crisis. Thank God Mickey is using his primary campaign to get these fresh ideas out there! By the way, I seem to remember Kaus strongly endorsing a certain Republican serial sexual harasser on the basis that he would provide the bold leadership that would solve the state’s fiscal crisis. How’s that working out?

Anyway, in the spirit of Kaus’s campaign allow me to outsource the rest of my coverage to the great Roger Ailes:

Kaus’ newest campaign issue is himself: He’s not getting to speak at the California Democratic Party Convention. Kaus suspects that the “machine” fears his oral abilities. Sane people suspect that Kaus doesn’t have any platform or policies to run on. Perhaps the Golden State’s electorate is looking for a bold leader who will link to an anti-union article every odd-numbered day. A solon who will beg for campaign contributions before offering solutions. A statesman who will do nothing for weeks except issue a press release about about how mean his party is.


Senator Boxer can manage to spell out what she stands for on a whole range of issues, including labor issues, even though she faces no competition in the primary. Sure she has financial support beyond the rolls of adult video store tokens Kaus’s wingnut pals are sending in, but Kaus pretends to be a professional journalist/blogger. Surely he could manage to pinch out a single page of policy positions and “common sense” ideas — if he had any. (Maybe Ruth Shalit could plagiarize such a page for him from a Tea Party website.) Right now, Kaus’ sole articulated message is that Democrats suck. Sure, it’s the only thing he believes, but it’s not much of platform.


The Kaus Kampaign rolls on with yet another three-day hiatus.


Mickey Kaus has taken some campaign advice from Fred Thompson. And rejected it on the ground that it involved too much effort. Cuts into his naptime, perhaps.

Worst. Vanty campaign. Ever.

[Picture courtesy FMK.]

Clouds With Ash Silver Linings

[ 1 ] April 20, 2010 |

Inspirational email of the day from the HURIDOCS list-serv:

The True Heroes ‘International Conference on Human Rights and the New Media’ was meticulously planned for 6 months, to be held on 19-20 April in The Hague. Then the ash cloud came and flights to the Netherlands became almost impossible. As a result 25 human rights defenders could not reach their conference and risked to be robbed of the chance to learn more about how to use images and new media to better protect human rights in their own countries.

However, the organisers decided to turn the difficulties into an opportunity: to show the world that with NEW MEDIA we can still connect and communicate, exactly what the conference aimed to achieve. So the programme is being adjusted in a ‘2.0’ way, and could be followed on a live-stream. There you can also see the programme. Continues until this evening.

Plymouth Argyle 0 – 2 Newcastle United: Relegation.

[ 20 ] April 20, 2010 |

Something I’ve always loved about the way soccer football is organized virtually everywhere not called North America is promotion and relegation.  For the uninitiated, league “systems” are set up in a pyramid fashion.  England’s is the most elaborate, extending down 21 tiers, and in theory, a team at the bottom tier could some day be playing in the English Premier League.  In practice this is virtually impossible, of course; however there is a team in the EPL this season who were playing “non league” football a generation or two ago (“league” football is considered the top four divisions in the English structure).  Wigan Athletic, for example, were only first added to the Football League in 1978, and have been in the EPL for several seasons now.

An easily understood analogy is baseball.  Imagine the constituent teams in the minor leagues to be independent entities, with promotion and relegation existing between the divisions.  The lower teams in the “major leagues” would be relegated to AAA, with the top teams in AAA promoted to the “major leagues”, and so on down the divisions.  Of course, while I favor promotion and relegation, as a fan of the Seattle Mariners I’ve long realized that they would have been playing beer league softball by the early 1980s.

There are several strengths to this system.  Most notably, towards the end of the season, not only the teams towards the top of the table have something to play for, hence attract crowds.  With relegation, fans of teams at the bottom of the table also have reason to show up: their team is fighting for their very survival in their division.

When I moved to Plymouth in 2003, the local side, Plymouth Argyle, was in the midst of a period of sustained success.  From flirting with relegation from the bottom tier of the Football League (the fourth tier overall) in 2000-01, Argyle were promoted two out of three seasons to the “Championship”, the current brand name of the second tier.  Argyle won the fourth tier in 2001-02, and the third tier in 2003-04.  I arrived in the midst of that season, and the talk in the pub was not if, but when the then manager would be hired by a higher ranked club (Paul Sturrock did leave before the 03-04 season ended for a brief spell with Premiership side Southampton).  Argyle even flirted with the play off spaces for the Premiership a couple seasons ago under Ian Holloway.  Then, the discussion in the pub wasn’t whether or not Argyle would finally be promoted to the top flight of English football, but whether or not that season was “too soon”.  As Argyle had never been in the top division, the consensus was “too soon”.

And it was.  As of tonight, Plymouth Argyle have been officially relegated down to the third tier of English football with their 0-2 home defeat to Newcastle United.  As Newcastle won the division with this victory, Argyle fans back in Plymouth suffered the distinct ignominy of watching Newcastle fans celebrate an immediate return to the EPL following only one year in the second tier while considering a return to the third tier following six seasons in this division.

What does this mean?  Rather than the visit of Newcastle, Middlesbrough, West Brom, Nottingham Forest, Reading, Crystal Palace, or other recent rejects from the top division, they will now enjoy away journeys to Brentford, Walsall, Brighton, Oldham, and possibly (assuming that they survive in this division) Exeter.

The local paper hasn’t picked it up yet.  However, in an article on how the local airport and the airline based in Plymouth (with a fleet of five, and yes, I’ve been on every one of them) are shut down five days running, they offered this bit of optimism:

But Plymouth Argyle could benefit from the mayhem, after tonight’s opponents Newcastle United were forced to make the 400-mile journey to Home Park by coach.

Wishful thinking, it turns out.

Advocacy Campaigns and the ICC

[ 3 ] April 19, 2010 |

Part of what I do is track emerging issue campaigns. Apparently the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court has become a focal point for some such campaigners. The conference, occurring later this Spring, includes a reassessment of “crimes under the court’s jurisdiction.”

Well turns out British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins has launched a campaign, arguing that the willful destruction of habitats should be considered a fifth crime punishable by the court.

The eruption of this new cause in the spotlight confirms an insight emerging from my focus group data: one trigger for the emergence of issue campaigns is a forum for pressing them. Just as natural disasters or unexpected events can focus attention on specific problems that had heretofore festered unnoticed, the availability of a specific forum provides a political opportunity that can focus activist attention on specific solutions.

However, it’s apparently the perception that a forum is appropriate that matters, not whether the forum actually makes objective sense for the issue at hand.

Consider Higgins’ argument: that corporations should be penalized for undertaking actions that decimate the environment. Fair enough. But the ICC is a court to punish individuals, not corporations. It’s a site for punishment and deterrence, rather than solving global policy problems per se. And it’s for punishing only those who commit the gravest crimes known to humankind, crimes of universal jurisdiction. The concept and the campaign make sense; certainly the environment could use its share of good global governance, but how likely are global policymakers to be convinced that contributing to the degradation of our habitats should land individuals in the dock alongside those who toss children into bonfires? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, note that the ICC was not evoked this week by a different issue entrepreneur where it actually might have been. At the recent nuclear summit, Dutch prime minister Peter Balkenende proposed using trials for states who proliferate nuclear materials. Only he’d like to create a new court altogether. This is interesting, since nuclear non-proliferation is the kind of crime that might actually make sense to try at the ICC, as it’s generally undertaken by specific individuals and the NPT might be considered part of existing humanitarian law. (Julian Ku has some helpful dissenting points.)

I guess there’s no accounting for strategy, and the existence of a forum is only as helpful to advocates as their understanding of whether it matches the problem they’re trying to solve.

Meanwhile, no sight yet of any organized lobby to add maritime piracy to the ICC’s jurisdiction. A cause ready for an advocacy campaign if I ever saw one…