Sunday, April 6

We up and moved...

click here, and we'll see you at the new digs.

Friday, April 4

Race in America

Years since Martin Luther King’s assassination: 40
Days since Barack Obama’s speech on race in America: 17

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial column this morning by Juan Williams (of NPR News fame). Mr. Williams argues that Senator Obama has broken with Dr. King’s spirit and message:

"So far, Mr. Obama has been content to let black people have their vision of him while white people hold to a separate, segregated reality. . . . [I]t is a key break from the King tradition to sell different messages to different audiences based on race, and to fail to challenge racial divisions in the nation."

–Juan Williams, "Obama and King," The Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2008, A13.

Mr. Williams’s essential point is that Sen. Obama has sold his campaign to blacks as "the fruit of the struggles of King and others," but when he talks to whites, "race is coincidental, not central, to his political identity." Dr. King, by contrast, "spoke about black people as American patriots who believed in the democratic ideals of the country, in nonviolence and the Judeo-Christian ethic . . . . [and he] challenged white America to do the same, to live up to their ideals and create racial unity."

Mr. Williams does grudgingly admit, however, that Sen. Obama "is a politician and, unlike King, his goal is winning votes, not changing hearts." And sure, that fact certainly accounts for some differences in approach. But overall, I think the truth of Sen. Obama’s political image is more nuanced than Mr. Williams asserts. Sen. Obama’s campaign is a triumph in our country’s racial history, precisely because so many voters are able to see Sen. Obama’s racial heritage as incidental to his politics. While I am not African-American, I venture to guess that the very universality of Sen. Obama’s appeal is precisely what thrills individuals of that heritage — because it is an unmistakeable indication that racism is no longer a controlling factor in the minds of the country's voters (well, at least not a majority of them).

I couldn’t agree more that America needs a transcending of racial divides — that is, a rising above. I just don’t think Sen. Obama is doing such a bad job of that as Mr. Williams claims.

Monday, March 31


The main paper back home, Raleigh's News and Observer, usually includes a sports column penned by Caulton Tudor. Because he's not biased towards UNC, it is difficult for me to entirely appreciate Tudor's columns.

Tudor's presence on the sports page is as the sort-of wise man of the block; reading him is like reading George Will. This is fine when he's writing positively about the heels, but is incomprehensible when otherwise...why would the wise man give grief to Carolina?

In any event, after talking about the interestingness of Roy Williams facing off against Kansas this weekend, he ends the column with the claim, I think, that Davidson's go in the tourney was the premier story this year. I don't follow.

The real story of the 2008 NCAA Tournament ended Sunday when the Jayhawks defeated Davidson, allowing all four regional No. 1 seeds to reach a Final Four for the first time.

Williams, Self, Memphis coach John Calipari and UCLA's Ben Howland for the next few days will extensively address the merits of their teams. But regardless of which school is still standing next Monday, the biggest winner of this tournament will be the little team from the Charlotte suburbs.

Maybe I missed something; if not, this is the kind of skipping stone logic that wise elder columnists like Tudor, and Will, are prone to employ I suppose...leaving us mortals scratching the head.

Wednesday, March 26

On speaking

It is too bad the Sophists are not around these days to offer insights into persuasive public speaking. One wonders if HBOified John Adams will fling his main man Cicero, with all his thoughts on rhetoric, into the public imagination. Some sorting out of rhetoric is in order this campaign season.

To be sure, some variations of talk versus action, youth versus experience, idealism versus realism, and so and so have been the contests of, well, maybe most political contests. But the attention to speech making—to Barack Obama’s speechmaking, by Hillary Clinton’s campaign—is a unique centerpiece this time around.

From the bits and pieces of talking points I hear, Obama’s opponents believe he is particularly gifted in the fifth of the old canons in rhetoric, actio; this being the final delivery of a speech. Without pulling up quotes, let’s just take agreed notice that we’ve plenty heard the dismissive: “he gives a good speech.” The criticism doesn’t really matter much unless you presume that abilities come at the detriment of other abilities. Such a presumption could mean Obama fails in other aspects of rhetoric, namely the inventio of a speech—coming up with an idea. Maybe the “he gives a good speech” criticism is meant to say Obama has no substance, no ideas, in those good speeches.

The other side to the criticisim is that, while Obama pulls off great speeches, a President is not the speechmaker in chief, but many more important things, like being the most experienced in chief. Such is the message conveyed in this, from Clinton’s speeches:

It's time we move from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions … We need to make a choice between speeches and solutions.

Amazing that a pitch against sound bites uses a triple play of political punnery to create a sound bite.

The reason this line is not working against Obama is at least two-fold.

First, there is no good argument being presented that Obama is unable to attain “solutions,” which I take to mean initiatives within Executive Branch agencies, Congressional votes for Democratic policy, retaining allies, and promoting U.S. interests abroad like not letting crazy states or organizations do US citizens real harm.

Simply saying Obama is unable to do these things doesn’t do the trick—the lack of a compelling argument as to why he can’t explains how a people to preoccupied with experience when voting up John Kerry over more charismatic speakers four years ago seem happy with Obama.

The reason Obama’s speeches are compelling to people does not rest on his eloquent delivery nor the starry eyes of his supporters. The fact is, as is the case with a lot of speeches that achieve delighted receptions, people like what the speaker says. Obama stuffs substance into his speeches that suggests a respect for the intelligence of his audience. The success of his speech on race at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia did not derive from a smooth presentation, but from the fact that he was intellectually candid. Refreshing, indeed, to hear a pivot from talking points.

Delivery does count for something as well—Obama’s delivery also achieves the sense of treating the audience as thinking beings that don’t go to bed each night repeating talking points to themselves. That, I increasingly think, is the real reason his speeches help him, and why attacking them hurts his opponents. People appreciate Obama precisely because they feel they are not pawns falling for one-liners.

So, fashioning one-liners to attack Obama’s candidacy is not the best solution to a second-place campaign.

Saturday, March 1

Let the Market Determine?

Seems a long time since we've debated the notion of the market on here...and even when we did, the 'market' debate was probably indirectly related to some other issue. If memory serves, the issue tends to be whether government imperatives or the market should dictate certain trends (like environmental regulation, say). The market, and for whatever reason it tended to be the GOPers in the room arguing this, is the great thing on which we ought to set policy, show what people will and won't accept, and so on. Should we require reduced air emissions? ban smoking in public restaurants? mandate health care? Opponents of government intervention generally cite the market as a better policy setter than agency staff.

Oddly enough, this morning the whole whether-or-not-the-market-adequately-reflects-reality debate came back to me, after all these years, while reading a slate article on the blu-ray vs hd-dvd war. I am re-convinced that theories relying on the market are rubbish!

This passage sums up why:
Even worse, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and BusinessWeek reported that Sony, perhaps having learned its lesson from the Betamax debacle, paid Warner Bros. between $400 million and $500 million to go with Blu-ray. Sony hadn't won because it offered the HD-buying public any other tangible advantage. It took down Toshiba because it knew whom to pay off.

Reckon I'll have to dig up the actual discussions we've had that go back to market theory. Or maybe I'll just read up on my Posner. In any event - the point here is that the market is hardly, in reality, a place of rational decision-making. Indeed, that's pretty much agreed upon all around...moreover, though, examples like the above point to the bigger problem of market-reliance: the market is rigged. It's a false display.


Monday, February 18

Seems to me that Frank Rich best describes why Obama stands a better chance than Clinton against McCain...not on policy, but on the other major issue on electioneering: appearance/persona/presence/whatever.

Wednesday, February 6

A Northeast Temperament?


For a moment last night, I wondered if there is (or a popular perception of) such thing as a sentiment in the northeast towards the thing that words of various motivation imply: establishment, elite, old money, snobbery, trusted, tested, old, known, institutionalized.


Top of the head, I can only remember defending Kerry against the "liberal snob" line; but it seems some of this was attached to his being a northeasterner.


Last night, I must have seen the New York and Jersey returns while also hearing some interviewee talking about Obama being a newcomer, and feeling more comfortable with Clinton. Indulging some stereotypography, I thought only predisposed snobbery can really trigger that approach. (After getting through that, though, I wondered if the GOP would (why wonder…yes) tag Clinton as a northeast snob, or whatever the thing is that is the object of the above words. And, further, would the Democrats again stick their collective heads up their butt? Whatever the thing is with this whole liberal/northeast elitism tag, I do know it is a favorite of the GOP in election season. And it is something Dems continually forget to ponder when contemplating electability. Kerry and Dukakis ought serve as useful reminders, but ah well.)


My first stab at finding some evidence at the northeastern thing, a Google search for "northeast elite," brings up a cheerleading squad called the Northeast Elite, regional, state & 32 X National Champions! Second link is to the Northeast Elite wrestling squad. So I really have no idea (1) if there is actually a stereotype on northeastern elitism/establishment/etc; and (2) if there is some historic basis (I imagine that basis would be something along the lines of our country's first institutions, establishments, and aristocracy were there.