June 11, 2008

Crunchy raw unboned real dead frog

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 11:12 am

Hey, you’re still coming here! That’s sweet.

Seriously, I’m sorry that we’re in another blogging furrow. Now that I’m at a writing rather than a reading stage of my dissertation, the thought of additional writing makes me feel tired. (On the plus side, I have started reading for pleasure again.) Hopefully I’ll be able to get into a groove where I can do both; don’t delete me from your RSS just yet.

Anyway, sorry for the fake-out, but this isn’t a real entry. I only logged on to make sure you all know about Modern Mitzvot, the newest blog by (in part) Girl Detective. It’s a blog about Jewish social and political issues, or more accurately, social and political issues seen from a Jewish perspective. I’m not Jewish,* but I find the site really thought-provoking, especially regarding Israeli and Palestinian issues; two of the best entries so far have been about the definition of Zionism, and a proposed solution for those who want to visit Israel without supporting the occupation. So don’t think me a bad person when I tell you that the entry that finally got me off my duff to add it to my blogroll was a brief, impassioned plea for Jews not to eat giraffes just because they’re kosher. If you plan to read only fourteen sentences this year, you’ll find them there.

*In junior high a classmate did call me a Jew, pejoratively.

April 20, 2008

Everybody’s talking ’bout the new sound

Filed under: Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 9:32 pm

Cakeboof; or, A Good Anagram Is Hard to Find

-A brief parable on the electronic age

Scene: The electronic mailroom.  Tomemos approaches the Postmaster.

Tomemos: Hi there.  I don’t think I’m getting my mail.

Postmaster: I’m terribly sorry, sir.  What makes you say that?

T: Well, I keep hearing about events that I was supposed to be invited to, but I never get the invitations.

P: Hmm, that’s odd.  Is your membership in Cakeboof current?

T: …Cakeboof?

P: You know, Cakeboof, the social club.  Pictures, hatching eggs.  Lots of Scrabble.  Don’t tell me you’re not a member of Cakeboof!

T: I guess I’m not.

P: That explains it! Nowadays, no one uses the mail anymore when they need to communicate.  They just go into Cakeboof, write out a message, and yell it as loud as they can.  That way, all of their friends who are members will know!

T: Couldn’t they just put invitations in the mail, like everyone used to do?

P: Oh, listen to Mr. Big over here!  They’re already contacting everyone who’s a Cakeboof member; is it fair that they should have to use a whole new way of contacting people who aren’t Cakeboof members?

T: No, I mean, couldn’t they just mail everyone who they want to come?

P: How are they supposed to remember you?  They never see you down at the Cakeboof!

T: That’s fair, I guess.  So is it easy to be a member of the, uh, that club we’re talking about?

P: Sure!  Just go down and register as a member.  They’ll give you your own room, which you meticulously decorate.  Then you just have to come to the club every day to see if you have any messages from your friends or from anyone who’s known you since high school.  Also, watch your walls carefully in case someone comes into your room and writes something on them.  It’s that simple!

T: I don’t have time to devote to some social club!  I’m a very important person—I’m a widely-published author, plus the manager of two baseball teams!

P: Well, sir, I tell you what.  If you won’t join Cakeboof, your friends could just mail you a picture of the message they sent everyone else via Cakeboof.  That would probably be the most efficient thing.


April 8, 2008

Not the preferred nomenclature

Filed under: Dissertation, Funny Stuff, Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 9:59 pm

Sorry for the blog outage—that was my longest in a while, huh?  Mainly I’ve been working on my dissertation, and that doesn’t give me much blogging material: partly I don’t want to bore anyone, partly I don’t want to write anything twice if I can help it.  Plus, Acephalous casts a long shadow over anyone wanting to write something entertaining about their dissertation reading.  But enough throat-clearing, here I go already:

As I may or may not have mentioned, I’m writing about spy literature in the early twentieth century.  Some of what I’m reading is interesting in its own right, and some of it is just interesting as material for the project—it’s the laughing with/laughing at distinction, basically.  It turns out that some thrillers lose their ability to inspire over ninety or a hundred years.  In general, the appalling writing I’ve seen takes one of two forms.

The first is the “Tom Clancy Effect,” where the author abandons the pretense that what you’re reading is a novel, and just makes it an earnest argument for increased British military spending—imagine an episode of 24 that just consisted of Jack Bauer reading an article from Foreign Policy Magazine.  Here, from William Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910 (1906), is an exchange between two young Englishmen following the shocking revelation of the German invasion of England:

“…to-day is surely the blackest day that England has ever known.”

“Yes, thanks to the pro-German policy of the Government and the false assurances of the Blue Water School.  They should have listened to Lord Roberts.”

The second type of bad writing masks its rhetoric and predictability with exotic characters and details.  The results at least look much more like what you expect from a thriller, except when, pardon the cliche, the author jumps the shark.  Late in E. Phillips Oppenheim’s The Mysterious Mister Sabin (1902), Mr. Sabin’s Chinese servant Foo Cha (who is introduced quite out of the blue 3/4 of the way through the book) reports some suspicious activity that he’s observed:

“Master, I was followed from the house of the German by a man, who drove fast after me in a two-wheeled cab. He lost me on the way, but there are others. I have been into the street, and I am sure of it. The house is being watched on all sides.”

Sabin tries to reassure him, but apparently doesn’t do a good job, because not only is Foo Cha still agitated, he forgets how to speak English:

“Me afraid,” he admitted frankly. “Strange men this end and that end of street. Me no like it. Ah!”

Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, if you were wondering what your books would look like a century from now, wonder no more.

March 4, 2008

What makes a man turn neutral?

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 1:00 pm

(Updated below)

I figure I may only have time for one more post about the Democratic nomination, so here it is:

Following the Democratic primary has given me a new political experience, which is the experience of being nonpartisan. Normally, whenever a news story breaks, I know exactly how to feel, who’s at fault, who’s the victim: the left is right, the right is wrong. In the back-and-forth between Clinton and Obama, though, I don’t have a strong preference (as I’ve mentioned before), and thus I don’t have a strong automatic response when one of them (or, more often, one of their supporters) takes a shot at the other side. Sure, there are things that I disagree with: I roll my eyes and spit when Clinton releases a fearmongering ad, or when Obama lets it be known that he might appoint Republicans to his cabinet. And lest you think that I’m dedicated to the idea that the candidates are exactly equal, it does seem to me that the Clinton side has been making more reprehensible attacks of late (ahem). Of course, if Obama were on the brink of defeat, he might be taking some desperate steps too…but if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass a-hoppin’.

But my non-partisanship does make me feel qualified to say: a lot of what people are complaining about is just manufactured outrage, tortuous transmutations of ambiguous or poorly-worded statements into supposedly clear examples of “dog-whistling.” I don’t feel that, when Hillary Clinton answered the question “You don’t think Senator Obama is a Muslim,” by saying “Of course not, there isn’t any basis for that—I take him at what he says and there isn’t any reason to doubt that,” that she was trying to imply that he may be a Muslim. I don’t feel that, when Obama said “I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal,” that he was trying to imply that Clinton makes attacks when menstruating (though it is still a patronizing comment). Both explanations are feasible, I suppose, but the simplest explanation in both cases is the innocent one. Beyond which, if you think that millions of people can be swayed by commentary that requires PhD-level analysis to unpack, then the electorate is either much smarter or much stupider than we’ve previously supposed.

From a position like that, I’m very sensitive to commentary that claims to be objective, but in fact is anything but. At Days of Industry, Hungarian Great Bela Tarr links approvingly to just such an article, by Paul Jenkins at the Huffington Post, entitled “Clinton and the Vast Media Conspiracy.” I don’t agree with Jenkins’s premise—that contrary to her claims, Clinton has not been treated unfairly by the media, and in fact has been favored by them—but I’m not interested in discussing that here. Indeed, I would rather pound a nail into my eye than get into another debate about media coverage of this campaign. I’ll simply link to what Digby said, not just about the obvious sexism Clinton has faced but also about the left’s failure to demand that she be treated fairly:

…I would warn that if unfair and biased press coverage is now a disqualification for elected office, then I think we’d better think long and hard about whether the Democrats are going to be viable as a political party. Bad press for Democrats is part of the package. (And I would also add that I think it was part of the Netroots job to help fight back this kind of bias against all Democratic presidential candidates, even if as individuals we were pulling for a different one. That did not happen and I think the Netroots failed miserably in one of its primary missions this time out.)

Digby is right. No one has an obligation to like Clinton or to want her to be nominated, but to actually rejoice in her public stoning (and to pretend that the reporting really is Fair and Balanced) because it benefits your candidate of choice is to sell out, not just one candidate, but the party itself—anyone, and that includes Obama, who wants to succeed as a Democrat in defiance of right-wing attack. Which brings us to what I am interested in talking about: Jenkins’s first sentence (emphasis added):

Hillary Clinton has convinced the media that it is biased against her, one of the great (and rare) successes of her presidential campaign, akin to her creation of the vast right-wing conspiracy responsible for conceiving a string of sexual and other disgraces in her husband’s White House.

And I’m thinking: wow. Jenkins has gone so far against Clinton that he has become a 1998 Republican: sneering about the vast right-wing conspiracy, saying that the real problem is the “sexual and other” (which other?) scandals that the Clinton presidency committed. When Molly Ivors at Whiskey Fire says that some Obama supporters “do not seem to know whose framing they’re adopting,” I assume she refers to something like this. (H/T to Mithras, about whom more in a bit.)

I hope I never hear another person wondering why so many Democrats don’t seem to trust hardcore Obama supporters, why they strike us as a little bit of a cult of personality. Anyone who will side with Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr over Bill Clinton, all to score points against Hillary Clinton a decade later, is no Democrat. They should register Republican and not talk to me about politics; they should not talk to anyone about politics, frankly.

Also, the camel’s back having broken, I’ll go ahead and say it plainly: if you hate Hillary Clinton, hate her like the Republicans hate her (and Jenkins, though he puts it most directly, is hardly the only “liberal” who feels this way), it is because she is a woman. I can’t pretend otherwise anymore, and it was cowardly of me to do so in the first place. Reasonable people can disagree on the impact of her war vote, her compromises with the center, and her effectiveness as a speaker and politician, but speaking as an impartial observer, there’s nothing rational that bridges the gap between those objections and finding her repellent, at least not if you didn’t recoil from Kerry and Gore and Bill Clinton (and if you did, shouldn’t you be voting for Nader?). Mithras, who is a dedicated Obama supporter, puts it well:

Some Obama supporters have made it clear that they are not against Hillary because she is a woman, but because of what kind 0f person she is. I don’t think there is any way to know, really, whether that’s true or not. My gut tells me it’s largely bullshit. I doubt these Democrats loathed Bill Clinton in 1996, by which point you knew what you had in the Clintons. Electing a woman to legislative positions seems to be problematic enough. Electing a woman to be Commander in Chief stirs up anxious masculinity all over the place. You can hear it in the vitriol directed at her that isn’t aimed at her husband. Women hear it and know where it comes from. They’ve heard it before.

So that’s why I’ll have trouble feeling very excited when Obama (who is largely blameless in this) wins the nomination: if it means that the Democrats can’t nominate anyone who has a political history, who has established political connections, or (worst of all) who is a woman, then (as Digby says) our long-term viability may be in question. The Yes We Can generation better stick around until 2016, is all I’m saying.

Now, having said all that…I’m aware that the nonpartisanship I feel (between Clinton and Obama) is not the same as neutrality; in fact, I am still being quite partisan, defending both candidates against attacks that could harm them in the general election. This means that I tend to play down the importance of even those attacks, on both sides, that have merit. A nonpartisan viewpoint is not necessarily the wisest or most unclouded—if it were, Michael Bloomberg really would be what this country needed. So I think I can corral my strong feelings, which are the result of a long and trying primary fight, long enough to say (returning to Jenkins): Obama supporters, let us not go down this road. The vast right-wing conspiracy is real; it was real in the 90’s and it’s real now. How else do you explain the coordinated questioning of Obama’s patriotism, at exactly the moment that he became the front-runner? Do you think that they’re not going to find or manufacture some scandals—as Whitewater was manufactured—starting at about 8 pm Central Time today, if Obama wins the nomination?

I think Obama is great, I really do. But let’s not miss the forest for this one very exciting tree. It’s not just a matter of not alienating female voters and other rational people this November; it’s a matter of understanding, in the long term, who the enemy is and who it isn’t. If we don’t hang together, we’re going to hang separately—maybe in November, maybe further down the road.

Update (3/5, 10:15 a.m.): What’s the word for the kind of prescience where you predict something, and it turns out it already happened?  Above, I wrote that Obama would have to deal with manufactured scandals, just as the Clintons had to deal with Whitewater, a complete boondoggle and fishing expedition in which the Clintons were cleared of wrongdoing but nonetheless acquired a vague association with financial scandal that persists to this day.  (Indeed, it is almost certainly part of what Jenkins is referring to with “other disgraces.”)  Well, Obama is already dealing with this, in the form of this Rezko nonsense, and it’s just going to intensify if he gets nominated.  Glenn Greenwald lays out not only the utter hollowness of the non-allegations (“…Obama isn’t even accused of — let alone proven to have engaged in — any wrongdoing at all”) but also discusses the similarities to the Whitewater Technique.  Digby has more on this.

Now, this is not a point in Hillary Clinton’s favor; indeed, her campaign has tried to benefit from this and other phony “scandals,” to its and her discredit.  It is, however, a refutation of the fairytale that Obama is immune to groundless attack (as if the various ethnic canards haven’t already proved that), as well as an argument for opposing specious allegations regardless of which candidate they affect.

February 20, 2008

It’s too close to home and it’s too near the bone

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff — tomemos @ 12:02 pm

So you might have heard about this blog Stuff White People Like. (You might have heard about it from Girl Detective’s post about her ambivalent feelings about it; I echo some of that ambivalence here.) The blog isn’t a take on all white people—no jokes about C&W music or mayonnaise sandwiches here—but rather on the educated, liberal, urban or pseudo-urban white person, what you might call the Hipster-Yuppie Complex. You also might call it “me and many, many people I know.” For instance, the top entry right now (#71: Being the only white person around)…I swear to God I’ve been in that exact Dim Sum place. It’s in Artesia or something, and yes, we drove 45 minutes to a lunch spot exactly because of its amazing authenticity. (Other entries that describe me pretty well: Apple Products, Kitchen Gadgets, Apologies. And the one about the Sunday New York Times is a dead ringer for my family, except for the part about listening to music while reading it.)

In general, I think the blog is really good, and going through the archives suggests to me that it’s just been getting better. It ranges from simple observational humor (#63: “Remember that whenever a white person says they wants to go to a sandwich shop you are looking at at least a $15 outlay after tip and drink … Also note: white people will wait up to 40 minutes for a good sandwich”; #24: “Wines that are acceptable: Red, White (less so)”) to incisive critique (#62: “It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things”). Sometimes it’s not as funny as it could be—usually this happens when it lapses into mere sarcasm—but what is? In general, I think it deserves the hype.

Predictably, one strain of the blog addresses privileged liberal self-righteousness about the everyday steps they take to advance liberal causes (or Awareness): Priuses, Vegan/Vegetarianism, and what seems to have caused the most internet-wide dismay, Recycling. The joke is generally that these “50 Simple Ways to Save the ____” steps are ways of mollifying liberal guilt without actually changing one’s lifestyle, as in this excerpt from the Recycling entry:

Recycling is fantastic! You can still buy all the stuff you like (bottled water, beer, wine, organic iced tea, and cans of all varieties) and then when you’re done you just put it in a DIFFERENT bin than where you would throw your other garbage. And boom! Environment saved! Everyone feels great, it’s so easy!

There are two over-reactions to this kind of joke/critique, and this applies to all sorts of comedy and commentary besides SWPL (which is my broader point). The obvious one is to huff and puff that these things aren’t funny, because they’re really important: are you saying people shouldn’t recycle? These are the same people that hold that South Park or Team America are conservative, because they [the angry liberal viewers] can’t tell the difference between pointing out the flaws or foibles of one position, and endorsing the opposite position. In other words, while you should take positive steps that may be minor or symbolic, it is possible, and in fact important, to recognize the limits of what you’re doing, so that you can remain humble and motivate yourself to take more substantive steps. Later I’ll get to how this happy medium works.

The other overreaction is to say, “Absolutely right—all that stuff is phony liberalism, and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.” This is where that ambivalence I mentioned comes in: it’s right to take comic positions seriously, but one should never forget that those positions come from a comic persona, and absolutism is often part of a comic persona. It generally should not be part of how we actually formulate positions.

For instance, one of my favorite comedy routines of all time is, brace yourself, Chris Rock’s “Niggas Versus Black People.” The reason it’s so funny is that it’s so startling: not just because Rock uses profanity and racial slurs, but because he adopts an extreme persona that casts American racial politics in a stark light. Whereas, when people (invariably white people) talk about how much sense that routine makes, they not only sound racist; they generally are racist. (Here’s a Sadly, No! post about one example.) This has nothing to do with the question of who can say what words; it has to do with the difference between comedy, which is based on extremes, and real-world decisions, which should include nuances. Chris Rock is not “just joking”—his position is not a total fabrication—but he is definitely joking; he’s exaggerating for comic effect. Anyone who fails to see that is mistaking the moment of laughter for the moment of truth.

Similarly, we have this post by Ogged about how really true SWPL is. He abandons the comic persona (“Now I realize that this really isn’t funny”) but thinks that what remains is still just as valid. Here’s an excerpt (thanks to Mithras for the link):

You can’t sit at the top of the empire, particularly an empire that fucks over millions of its own citizens, and not be a villain. I’m sorry, those are the breaks. … That’s why things that are well-intentioned, like recycling, are absurd, because nobody cares if you spit shine the bullet before you put it in someone’s head.

This is where I get off the bus. First of all, it’s obvious that if recycling and choosing a car with good gas mileage doesn’t make a difference, neither does littering out the window of your Hummer H2. So essentially this is a Get Out of Jail Free card for the people, and they are legion, who believe that they don’t have to do anything for anyone because it’s all bullshit; they see what a joke personal responsibility is, and what sheep we all are for trying to make a difference. As Mithras said (sardonically): “So there you go, folks: You may as well act as evilly as you care to, because it doesn’t matter what you do. Isn’t that the moral of this story?”

Second, actions that are not efficacious in themselves often are when taken en masse; furthermore, sweating the small stuff is how you stay primed for the big stuff. For instance, on a personal level, being frugal when you buy groceries or go out to eat isn’t going to help your bank account very much except over the very long term, but it puts you in the mind-set that you’ll need when bigger financial decisions arise. Similarly, voting in an election isn’t going to affect the outcome—if everyone I know even casually had skipped the primary earlier this month, the result would have been the same—but it’s the kind of behavior that makes change, and keeps you connected to the world of politics rather than detached from it. So it’s important to sort your recycling, because it keeps your mind on the importance of environmental change over convenience; at the same time, you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that recycling is change. What SWPL is critiquing is the idea that driving the Prius, or taking out the recycling, clears you to live guilt-free and smug and buy all those Apple products. I’ll stop a moment to let you think whether you’ve ever known anyone like that. (One of the places where the site loses me, incidentally, is its take on non-profit organizations: aside from the canard that “the sweet side of non profits is that you are paid a competitive salary for your field,” it seems to me that working for change as a career is above this kind of scoffing. So this parenthetical just proves that everyone has their humorless side.)

We—the universal we, but especially we privileged, well-intentioned people—need comedy to poke fun at our values, which is to say at us, because otherwise we risk missing the forest for the trees: the echo chamber of our good-natured friends and our feelings of self-satisfaction needs to be punctured every once in a while so that we can see the bigger picture. That said, the difference between comedy and mere cynicism is that comedy sees another way. The people like Ogged who have figured it all out feel just as superior as the yuppie recyclers, but they’re content to simply sneer at the idea of political efficacy. That’s a form of smugness we can’t afford.

(And yes, I know that another overreaction to a joke is to go on and on about it on your blog. “Overthinking” should really be the next Stuff White People Like entry.)

February 6, 2008

Win one for the Zipper

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Gray Lady, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 11:00 pm

So, I voted for Obama.

I came to the decision on Monday, and became more comfortable with it as the day went on. I realized that, all else being equal—and it really is, for me—Clinton’s vote for the war pretty much trumps everything else, especially her claims to be more qualified than Obama. For instance, this letter to the Times, writing in favor of “experience,” makes a pretty good point…

J.F.K. was far more experienced than Mr. Obama, having served 14 years in Congress, winning a Pulitzer Prize and being a decorated war hero. But right after he was elected, the Bay of Pigs, one of the biggest military debacles in United States history, occurred.

…until you remember that Hillary Clinton voted for the biggest military debacle in United States history. I don’t know whether to believe the best or the worst about either Obama or Clinton, but what’s certain is that Clinton didn’t have either the foresight or the conviction to vote against the war, and Obama—facing much less pressure, yes—did. That gets him my support, for now.

But overall I’m enthusiastic about both candidates, which means that, having chosen one, I’ll gripe about him incessantly. I’m still skeptical about the Obama cult of personality—I’m not charmed by people who can only be bothered to vote in November if their Bestest Candidate is nominated, for instance—and every time I came across an ad hominem attack on Clinton before voting, I almost changed my mind and gave her my support instead. For instance, Maureen Dowd—never the most grounded of columnists—has completely lost her mind. If this column had been published on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, I would have voted for Clinton without a second’s hesitation. (More on that column here, here, and here, by the way.)

And now, the waiting game. I do believe that either of these candidates can beat John McCain in a walk, and that having more exposure due to a protracted contest will be good for the Democrats’ chances…unless one side goes negative or dirty and starts tearing the other down. (And yes, I know all the things Clinton is supposed to have done. No sale.) If they can keep the lovefest going to the convention, and avoid some ugly floor fight, we should be in good shape. Just ask Tomemos, the guy who predicts a Democratic victory in every single election.

February 3, 2008

The decision is yours! The decision is yours!

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 12:59 pm

I’ve been a registered California voter since the 2000 election. Living in the most populous state in the union should make a guy feel pretty influential in an election, but because Iowans are so much more important than we are, I’ve never had the chance to vote in a meaningful presidential primary; by the time it gets to us, it’s all over. This year, for the first time in my adult life, a Californian can make a difference in the primary, and what a difference: we’re the crown jewel of OMFG Tuesday, and the race is too close to call. So who am I voting for?

I have no idea.

Voting in the general election is like being a vegetarian in a standard American restaurant: the decision is quick because the options are limited. I didn’t necessarily feel like voting for Kerry in 2004, but it was that or go hungry. It turns out that voting in a primary is like going to a vegetarian restaurant, and in both cases I’m not prepared to deal with even the concept of choices: even though, in this case, there are only two options, I find myself totally paralyzed.

Luckily, I have an easy forum for people to tell me what to do: this blog. I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far, and I hope you’ll weigh in with some ways to make this decision easier. Here’s how I see it:

Opportunity to elect the first female president: Attractive.
Opportunity to elect the first black president: Attractive.

Opportunity to nominate someone who has weathered the right-wing attack machine: Attractive.
Clinton’s connections to a corrupt, entrenched centrist Democrat establishment (personified by Mark Penn, say): Unattractive.
The dynasty thing: Totally indifferent.

Opportunity to take a bold new direction by nominating a candidate with an attractive message and without serious baggage: Attractive.
Thought of nominating an unknown quantity in an election with such high stakes: Unattractive.

Obama’s health care plan in comparison to Clinton’s: Unattractive; equivocal.
Clinton’s stance on immigration in comparison to Obama’s: Unattractive; equivocal.
Other decisive policy differences: N/A

Clinton’s vote for the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq: Unattractive.
Clinton’s refusal to call that vote a mistake: Unattractive.
Clinton’s vote for the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution calling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organization”: Unattractive.
Mitigating factors: Hardly any.
Indications that Obama has his own history of equivocation: Troubling.

Opportunity to take part in historic grassroots movement of young, progressive voters: Attractive.
Sense that we should all calm down about this guy, because he might be a big disappointment: Pervasive.

Obama’s charisma and dry wit: Attractive.
Arguments that Obama is the candidate, at long last, that the right wing will not attack with undiluted vehemence and nastiness: Unpersuasive.

Frank Rich’s uncritical pro-Obama hackery: Extremely unattractive.
Maureen Dowd’s petty anti-Clinton mudslinging: Extremely unattractive.
Commentators on the left, whom I will not name, who have argued that Clinton should not be nominated because she somehow radiates pure insincerity and unlikability, comments that are hard to attribute to anything but sexism: Extremely unattractive.
Chance to prove them all wrong by electing Clinton: Extremely attractive.
Sense that spite may not be a good enough reason to vote for someone: Grudging.

Chances, in my view, that the victorious candidate will put aside bad blood and pick the other as a running mate, creating a no-white-males ticket: Nil.

* * *

So what do you think? Whom do I vote for? You have 48 hours; after that, I’m going to the polls and I’m following my gut. Which is the last thing anyone should want.

(I also don’t know how to vote on the Indian Gaming Compacts, but that’s a list for another time.)

January 14, 2008

Wanna be startin’ somethin’

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, Wrong Place Buddy — tomemos @ 10:41 pm

Checking our blog stats, and in particular the Google searches that lead misguided “readers” to our blogs, is something of a hobby among small bloggers, or at least me and my wife. This being the case, I’d like to inaugurate “Wrong Place, Buddy,” a recurring feature wherein I’ll note some of the more memorable search terms that made people realize that tomemos was for them. Here are the first two:

“having a decent dump”

“crotch shot of girl patting a snake”

Of course, posting these only makes it more likely that people (how many can there be?) will find this site with these searches. So, let me say to those people: Jesus, guys, haven’t you heard of Google Images?

January 8, 2008

Save the drama for Obama

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 11:59 am

(Updated below)

(title courtesy of Bad Gods)

Here’s how it went down. First, Hungarian Great Bela Tarr, who resides in Iowa, posted his predictions for the caucuses at his blog, Days of Industry (previously plugged in this space). His Democratic predictions went like this: Obama 40, Edwards 26, Clinton 24. Having seen polls showing a dead heat between the three candidates, that struck me as unlikely, so I posted a comment:

I think we’re seeing a little extravagant optimism here—if Clinton does that badly, I will wear the silliest hat I own everywhere I go for two days.

(I used the word “optimism” to reflect HGBT’s dislike of Clinton, not my own; see below.) HGBT asked if that was a promise, and if there would be pictures; I replied that yes, if Clinton finished in third with more than a fifteen-point deficit, as the post predicted, I would honor my promise and take pictures.

Well, you know how it actually shook out: 38/30/29. Obama did better, and Clinton worse, than I predicted, but she still finished well above the 15-point gap I specified. Nevertheless, HGBT had the temerity to send an e-mail to, like, everyone, with the subject line “The question is: will Tom man up?”

I did not wear my hat everywhere (or anywhere) I went; I consider myself vindicated by the results, if just barely. Nevertheless, the exchange (and the election itself, obviously) forced me to clarify my thoughts about the candidates, and I thought I would share those. And I did end up making a concession regarding my vow—read on for details.


January 3, 2008


Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Laws and Sausages, Travels — tomemos @ 12:22 pm

(Updated below)

Two great posts have just gone up that have some bearing on my last, so I wanted to point you towards them if you haven’t seen them already.

Girl Detective just posted about an encounter we both had with a politically-minded drunk, who lambasted me for my laziness, privilege, and selfishness in getting a PhD rather than (for instance) volunteering in New Orleans, and then urged GD to make me understand what’s really important (by taking me to see Charlie Wilson’s War, mainly). One of the points GD makes in her post is that, despite our interlocutor’s avowed progressivism, she was actually embodying the anti-intellectualism (and, in her dealings with GD herself, the sexism) that is such a staple of the right wing. Now, most of the progressives and radicals who level accusations of liberal privilege are not drunk and belligerent, but rather thoughtful, committed, and intelligent. Nevertheless, the same kind of duping is often present: at the Shrub Blog, I observed that some criticism of Yes Means Yes, in dismissing the link between women’s sexuality and rape, was echoing right-wing opposition to (for instance) The Vagina Monologues. One of the right wing’s great triumphs has been to use privilege as a wedge issue against the left—think of the emphasis on Kerry’s billions and Edwards’s haircuts, while Bush and Cheney are allowed to be as rich as they want—such that ambition and idealism are both considered superfluous and inauthentic.

•After reading about my brief meat-eating stint, Uncomplicatedly posted her own solution to being a vegetarian in a meat-heavy locale, New Orleans in her case: simply to ask the chef to prepare something vegetarian, which can be more intimate than simply picking something off a menu:

You see, ordering a vegetarian plate gives you a unique relationship to the chef. Some will just give you a collection of their side dishes, which can be a bummer, but some will look around at their kitchens, see what’s on hand, and improvise something special for you. If taste is the most transitory aesthetic experience, it is also one of the most intimate, and I am grateful to all the chefs who have ever taken extra time to consider my needs. While my family members struggled with difficult choices, I would be sitting serenely with a closed menu, waiting to see what delightful thing the chef would do for me. I didn’t feel restricted — I felt more free.

Uncomplicatedly also writes movingly about the ways those with good intentions towards animals can reconcile themselves to the times when we can’t help them as we’d like. This seems to me applicable to other attempts to help the disadvantaged, and provides a link between what the two threads of my last post, threads which at the time I thought were unconnected. We should do what we can to help, and we should absolutely criticize those who harm. (To slip into the specific for a moment: some may feel this way about Yes Means Yes; I disagree, but more power to them.) But energy is almost always better spent doing, than it is lambasting oneself or others for not doing more.

Update (1/4): Joseph Kugelmass gives his take on all of this over at his blog, in an ambitious and thought-provoking entry.  It includes, among other things, the only defense of meat-eating I’ve seen that goes beyond “The lions do it,” “The cavemen did it,” “It tastes good,” or “How do you know PLANTS don’t feel pain?”  Highly recommended.

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