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Others, I laugh at anonymous reviewers of such limited imagination their predictions have become Monuments of Wrongness.  To wit:



It’s not often that a president manages a short, clear statement that also gets just about everything right, but here’s an exception:
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Everyone’s been all over the white-people-will-be-a-minority-with-no-stand-mixers-to-hug bedwetting story, but this is a really, really, really stupid thing to be panicking about:

The Census Bureau’s projections are likely to fuel debates over immigration policy, overpopulation and the changing electorate, and recall earlier eras when the Irish, the Italians and Eastern European Jews were not universally considered as whites. As recently as the 1960s, Hispanic people were not counted separately by the census and Asian Indians were classified as white.

So, let me get this straight: we redefine “white” to count only those of European, North African, and Middle Eastern ancestry, purposefully putting Hispanics into a new separate category, and then freak out that the numbers of white people are shrinking.

If we counted the way we did in 1960, America would be getting whiter, due to all the new Hispanic immigrants. If we counted how we did in 1910, whites have been a minority for a while, and only with the influx of Hispanic immigrants will we be white again.

Aside from that, all of the assumptions in the study presume that whatever demographic trends are true of 2008 will continue till mid-century and that’s just not something I’d put a lot of faith in.  What I would like to see is the same study, but done with 1950s data, projecting what 2008 America would look like, comparing it to how 2008 actually turned out.

I’ve put some video of my recent conference session on youtube. I make no apologies for my passion. Philosophy is a full-contact form of life, and if you can’t take the heat get out of the APA. (Not entirely work-safe for reasons of profanity. Lower your volume.)

(Via RYS, a site that would be better if meaner. More detail here. Anyone been part of a happening like that? I’ve heard stories, but haven’t been present at the trainwreck.)

In other video news, check out this discussion of moral realism between Peter Railton (Michigan) and his former student Don Loeb (Vermont). (I post this partly to make myself watch it. This is a good demonstration of why bloggingheads is so annoying: I would have read the transcript by now.) Anyway, both of these guys are hot. Back when I wanted to be a moral realist, I wanted to be a Railton-style stark raving moral realist. Now that I’m not convinced, I read some of Loeb’s stuff and wonder at his ability to steal my ideas then travel back in time to publish them.

I think Kelman can have this batch. Who says I don’t look after my people?

And yes, that’s a flamingo.


Cut to this day in 1942, when Walt Disney’s Bambi premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The huge audience was delighted; “from all over the darkened house childish laughter broke forth continuously.” Reviewers also typically appreciated the film. The Times, for instance, gushed:

In colors that would surprise even the spectrum itself, Disney’s cartoon craftsmen have re-created a woodland that shimmers and glows and darkens altogether magically. The wind over a green field, the morning light on the meadow, the hushed naves of the forest inhabited by all sorts of hidden folk, the artists have made with a simple and loving touch.

Still, many critics, even those wowed by the wonders of Disney’s spectacular animation, were somewhat put off by an animal cartoon that lacked madcap hijinks. And after its splashy release, even though Bambi ran successfully throughout the nation, it didn’t recover its enormous production costs. The film was, initially at least, a commercial failure. In the wake of World War II, though, subsequent releases and shrewd marketing made it into one of the top grossing pictures of the era. By 1988, it had earned its distributor more than $47 million. By comparison, Casablanca, also released in 1942, had earned less than a tenth that.

Returning for a moment to Radio City Music Hall on this day in 1942, the Times also noted that, scattered amidst the laughter, there were a few “tears and boohoos.” Which doesn’t surprise. Because, as the above clip suggests, Bambi‘s an extraordinarily sad movie. Given that, it seems odd, particularly with the war ongoing, that no contemporary critics wondered if children viewing the film could handle the thought of Bambi losing his mother. In subsequent years, this has become the pivotal question about the film. Pauline Kael suggests:

It is one of the paradoxes of the movie business that the movies designed expressly for children are generally the ones that frighten them the most. I have never heard children screaming from fear at any of those movies we’re always told they should be protected from as they screamed at Bambi and Dumbo Bambi’s mother is murdered, Dumbo’s mother is goaded to madness and separated from Dumbo; those movies really hit children where it counts.

It was almost much worse. Walt Disney originally wanted Bambi’s mother shot onscreen as Bambi ran away to safety. Bambi later was to have returned to the spot of his mother’s death, where he would have found only the imprint in the snow where the hunters had dragged away her corpse. Disney, of course, reconsidered. And so we are left with the relatively bloodless version above.

Perhaps more interesting, at least to an erstwhile environmental historian like me, is Bambi‘s depiction of the natural world. The film is based on Felix Salten’s Bambi: A Life in the Woods, originally published in 1926. Salten was a classic “nature faker,” an author who relied on anthropomorphized animals for his main characters, creatures who talked and imparted important life lessons to readers. Disney, even though he aimed for realism — he had one of his animators spend half a year sketching deer in Maine’s Baxter Park and later imported a pair of fawns to his studios so that his artists could study their movements — stripped away much of the ecological grit present in Salten’s novel. Disney denatured Bambi.

Disney’s animators famously cutified the animals they drew by exaggerating the size of their heads and eyes and shrinking their muzzles, giving them the proportions of human babies. Initially, Disney resisted this tactic with Bambi. But after his artists had trouble imparting dramatic expressions to Bambi and his friends, they reverted to form: “a smaller muzzle and much larger cranium finally created the new design.” Anthropologist Elizabeth Lawrence writes: “With a huge head dwarfing its trunk and a pair of oversized eyes with pupils and lashes Disney’s Bambi arouses sympathy and nurturance and a sense of parenthood.”

At the same time, Bambi’s is a woodland without predation. Whereas Salten’s Bambi encounters ferrets killing mice, crows killing a baby rabbit (the offspring of the character who inspired Thumper), foxes killing pheasants and ducks, and owls killing mice (mice don’t fare very well in Salten), in Disney’s Bambi, Friend Owl is best buddies with Thumper — unlikely bedfellows indeed. The only two instances in which nature appears to be even remotely red in tooth and claw are the difficulty of winter and the competition among bucks during mating season.

More telling, humans are entirely set apart from the natural world. Although they are never seen in Bambi, people wreak havoc throughout: hunters kill Bambi’s mother, they set fire to the forest, and their dogs attack Faline. The warning Bambi’s mother gives her son before she dies hangs in the air for the remainder of the film: “Man is in the forest.” Salten also depicted hunters as dangerous. But at the end of Salten’s story, Bambi’s father leads his son to view a dead poacher, the wound in his neck still fresh, “a small red mouth. Blood was oozing out slowly.” Bambi’s father, himself nearing the end of his life, then explains:

He isn’t all powerful as they say…Everything that lives and grows doesn’t come from him. He’s just the same as we. He has the same fears, the same needs, and suffers in the same way. He can be killed like us, and then he lies helpless on the ground like all the rest of us, as you see him now.

In Salten’s work, then, human and non-human animals alike are part of the natural world. Disney, too, hoped to end with the complex scene above. But test audiences reacted poorly — “four hundred people shot straight in the air” — to seeing a human corpse on screen. Thus ended Disney’s flirtation with a complex conclusion for Bambi. Commerce, as ever, trumped art in the Magic Kingdom.

Assessing a film’s impact is always difficult. But there’s little doubt that Bambi has shaped the culture. No less an authority than Kiefer Sutherland recalls that Bambi was the first film he ever saw and that “it taught [him] about — I guess on a broad scale — sexuality.” Getting into a bit more detail than may be necessary, Sutherland admits: “I was in love with Thumper’s girlfriend from the time I was seven until I was ten. She’s got all that eye shadow on and she’s looking real good.” Any movie that can make a furry out of a man like Jack Bauer is strong stuff.

More seriously, Bambi‘s portrayal of a natural world in which there’s no place for humans props up a classic and destructive American cultural dichotomy. As environmental historian William Cronon argues in his brilliant essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness, or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”, the ongoing opposition of the human and non-human worlds, the separation of people from nature in other words, often stands in the way of effective environmental stewardship. Only when people recognize that they are an inseparable part of nature, rather than fetishizing a nature set apart from themselves, will they begin to care for ecosystems ranging from gorgeous pristine wilderness to decaying urban landscapes.

In the meantime, though, that giant head, those huge eyes, so totally cute. No, I don’t mean Kiefer Sutherland, you sicko. I mean Bambi, the poor deer.

At a conference this spring, in a group of historians and editors, one historian mentioned that Arthur Link placed a photograph of Woodrow Wilson at his writing table to inspire him. This historian went on to say that she had a portrait of Abraham Lincoln for the same purpose, and she asked me if maybe I had a picture of Theodore Roosevelt for motivation. No, I said. I have this:

I know, perhaps not a sporting answer. But a true one!

What helps you write?

Give it up already, Mr. President.  Even Kissinger is cringing. 

This was linked in comments, but it reappeared in an email from a friend and I think it needs to be seen, even though no muppets. The following is actually quite dangerous to children and watching it makes me feel like I’m looking at flakes of lead-based paint falling into a crib.

Irked@: the New York Times faux bewilderment at the Chinese stadium cheer “加油!”, which translates literally as ‘add oil.’

Double irked@: the insistence of the New York Times on translating the equivalent Korean cheer literally, as “Fighting!”

It’s not hard, people. It’s an idiom. There are plenty of equivalents that give the appropriate sense and don’t make the subject look inscrutably foreign! This is something every child who learns the rudiments of a foreign language figures out! (Seriously. “My name is..” not “I call myself” or “The name given to me is…”) This should not be hard for the paper of record.

One wonders if the Chinese equivalent newspaper translates American cheers of “Let’s go!” as “I suggest we should depart! I suggest we should depart!”

(An Acephalous repost mired in optimism but apropos of nothing. I wouldn’t normally x-post this sort of stuff, but given the encouragement on the previous thread, it doesn’t seem out of place here.)

In “On Sad and Joyful Passions of Academia,” Anthony Paul Smith writes:

I get that people are unhappy with their advisors, with the lack of support from the university, and from the seeming glacial pace of publishing … But the complaints, especially from those fully funded at institutions I would imagine are very exciting, foster a different sad passion within me.  They even foster a kind of resentment that they have been given this opportunity while I have to scratch out a future … yet they seem to enjoy nothing about academic work.

The best way to talk about academic work is baseball.  This goes without saying.

I played third base and shortstop.  I played them well.  I had sure hands and quick feet.  When the ball screamed off the bat, there was no time to think.  There was only time to react.

Move the quick feet.  Catch with sure hands.  Throw the ball.

In between pitches, I would look to the man to my left to make sure we knew our assignments.  Then the ball would leave the pitcher’s hand.  Then the batter would swing.

Move the quick feet.  Catch with sure hands.  Throw the ball.

In the infield I felt like part of a team.  I could look to my left and catch the second baseman’s eye.  I could look across the diamond and catch the first baseman’s eye.  I was a player among players.  We all knew how to react and how to react together.

Then one year my coach wanted me to play center field.  Being a team player, I consented.  I’d shagged flies during practice, and was better than most at going back on a ball.  So why not?

I left the dugout and jogged past my teammates.  Then I kept jogging until my teammates looked like toy soldiers.

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On this date in 1676, the assassination of Metacom — known to New England colonists as King Philip — brought some measure of finality to a war that had been, at least as a practical matter, over for several months. As Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Confederacy, Metacom had organized a fearsome series of assaults against the English frontier beginning in the summer of 1675. Motivated by the completely sensible wish to drive the nettlesome European settlers into the sea, Metacom was also eager to reshape the balance of Indian power in the region and reverse a half-century of economic and political decline. Originally allied with the Plymouth colony, the sixty or so groups that comprised the confederacy had endured the gradual erosion of territory and cultural autonomy; as the Massachusetts colony evolved, its Puritan leaders pressed farther into Wampanoag land. The beneficiaries of this expansion included the Mohegan — a traditional rival — and the Iroquois confederacy, which menaced the Wampanoag from the west.

During the early 1670s, Metacom quietly recruited allies among the Narragansett, Nipmuck, and Pocumtuck among other tribes, urging them to retake their lands before it was too late. The plot nearly succeeded, as the Wampanoag and their allies came closer than any American Indian group ever would to eliminating the English from their midst. From July 1675 through March 1676, the Wampanoag and their allies pulverized the western towns and farming villages of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. More than half of the 90 English settlements were destroyed; Providence, abandoned by its terrified denizens, was reduced to ash. Avenging themselves against their historic English allies, the Wampanoag struck Plymouth in March 1676, A colonial counter-offensive — including a massacre at Great Swamp in Rhode Island — disrupted the Indian campaign, while assistance from the Pequot, Mohegan, and Mohawk deprived the Wampanoag of access to supplies and food. This proved to be one of several decisive factors in the eventual English victory. By late spring and summer of 1676, the Wampanoag were effectively defeated. On August 12, Metacom himself was shot to death at Mt. Hope, Rhode Island. His body was dismembered and his head donated as a trophy to the town of Plymouth, were it was hoisted on a pike and displayed to the public for two decades. The fate of the Wampanoag was extraordinary — survivors scattered throughout the region, while captives were executed or sold off to Enlgish sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

Metacom’s War was renowned for its almost unfathomable brutality. Hundreds of colonists and an even greater number of Indians — combatants and civilians alike — were tortured, mutilated and killed in the most extravagant ways. Even more than a struggle over land and power, it became for the English a race war, a campaign of elimination that carried God’s blessing. Upon hearing news of the Great Swamp massacre, where more than 600 Indians perished, Cotton Mather rejoiced at the “barbeque” and thanked the Lord for unburdening the world of so many devils. English soldiers later recounted their delight at discovering packs of famished stragglers, whose torture and execution they luxuriously described in private letters and public accounts. As the conflict progressed, the interior “Praying Towns” — consisting of Christianized (and segregated) Indians who adopted the language and culture of their colonial mentors — were evacuated and relocated to the coast. For generations to come, New Englanders assigned blame for the war to the schemes of a ”fifth column” of treasonous, Christian Indians. The war reinforced English racial ideology, which insisted that savages could never be successfully absorbed, no matter how earnest the effort.

The war also generated a renewable sense of English preference in the eyes of God. Unable to conceive of themselves as real-world aggressors, the settlers of New England convinced themselves that the Indian war was an affliction sent by God to chasten them for their spiritual errors — their high self-regard, their attachment to worldly possessions, their abandonment of righteous living. A gesture of paternal tough love, the war was seen as having rejuvenated English identity; it was not, in other words, taken as a geopolitical lesson on the consequences of empire. This interpretation of the conflict was articulated most famously by a minister’s wife named Mary Rowlandson, who was forced to join the “murderous wretches” and “merciless heathens” after her village of Lancaster was sacked in February 1676. As Rowlandson explained it in her famous captivity narrative, which has been in near-constant republication since the war’s end:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted. The Lord hath showed me the vanity of these outward things; that they are the Vanities of vanities, and vexation of spirit. That they are but a shadow a blast a bubble and things of no continuance If trouble from smaller matter begin to arise in me, I have something at hand to check myself with, and say, Why am I troubled? It was but the other day, that if I had had the world, I would have given it for my freedom, or to have been a servant to a Christian. I have learned to look beyond present and smaller troubles and to be quieted under them, as Moses said, Exod. xiv. 13. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Ross “I would do anything for love but I won’t” Douthat*, and Megan McArdle, among others, combine their powers to argue that the McCain ad that portrays Obama as a messiah figure cannot possibly be a sly reference to the Antichrist. McArdle sneers that once again, liberals are out-of-touch secularists, and points to Douthat for backup.

But the only people who seem to be out-of-touch here are Douthat and McArdle. That there’s a wackjob idea floating around that Obama is the Antichrist is hard to dispute. I won’t link to poor apostropher’s thread, but aside from that, when there’s a T-shirt for sale at the Redstate cafepress with ‘Obama is the Antichrist’, we can conclude that the idea has escaped at least one circle of looniness (though its escape velocity was not sufficent to escape Redstate.)

That the Antichrist is presented with well-known imagery is pretty clear from anyone who’s spent any amount of time in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. The Left Behind series was hugely popular (so no question there of whether the imagery would be easily identifiable.) Identifying bits of Revelation with various world powers and events is old hat.

Off the top of my head: growing up, the bear in Revelation represented Russia, and the eagle the United States. The locusts represent the gas masks worn by Israelis and American soldiers during Desert Storm.  ‘End times’ comes up in conversation like the word ‘recession.’ Talk of sacrifices was invariably framed in terms of abortion. Nuclear bombs could be anything. It’s something taken seriously. It doesn’t make you a loon in these circles.

So why does it seem so hard to believe that the McCain campaign would tap into this? It’s all right there! Douthat seems to think that the McCain campaign would only do so if the end result would be people literally believing that Obama is the Antichrist. He finds that implausible, so therefore liberals are out-of-touch.

But he’s badly missing the point. The intended audience doesn’t have to believe it literally, though I wouldn’t underestimate that contingent. All they need to believe is that there’s something off about this Obama character, something a little sinister. Perhaps it’s near idolatry to put that much hope in a mere man, when such faith should be reserved for God. Some reason just maybe to bother voting for McCain

It’s subtle, but it doesn’t need to write it in big block letters to be effective, even if it needs to be written in such a script to get through to Douthat.

*Never gets old. Never, ever, ever.

**I was going to speculate that as a Catholic, Douthat might not have run across this particular flavor of eschatology, but I managed to, so I conclude the problem isn’t with the Catholicism, but with Douthat. And he writes such good things about Chesterton, too! He can handle imagery there….

It’s sad that Hayes might be remembered for Chef and Shaft as much as for anything else, because he had a lot more going on musically than the parody-ripe lascivious baritone routine. Keep in mind this was the guy who co-wrote hits like “Soul man”* and “Hold on I’m comin” and also helped produce a lot of the Stax mid-60s output.

Samples from his solo career: try Walk on by from Hot Buttered Soul. (If it sounds familiar it might be because a loop of the intro is playing in Jizzy B’s club when Charles Johnson shows up to kill him. I hope hip-hop wrote him a big check.)

If you must, here’s a live Shaft with an intro by Jesse Jackson. But if you want something from that record, try Soulsville (Eric will enjoy the robust reality of this one) or a short version of Do Your Thing.

Never can say goodbye.

*it’s not the song’s fault, really.

You know, of course, that Yglesias has a new place. On the other hand, if you have an rss reader, he hasn’t moved at all. But he’s always such a nice boy, you should keep track.

So I’m mini-hiatus bound — dissertation to be “finished” this week, whatever that means — but I’ve run face-first into a vocabularian’s nightmare.  I need to talk about disparate political interests uniting under a common banner a la the Republican Party, but because I can’t slip into German I’m hard-pressed to find a verb that adequately accounts for “the processual quality of coming together for pragmatic political reasons.”

The word I need is “coalitioning,” but that’s not a word so much as a monstrosity.  The root of “coalition” is “coalesce,” i.e. “to cause to grow together, to unite, combine.”  Only “coalesce” doesn’t connote the unhardy politics of “coalition” my argument requires.

I think I’m stuck re-verbing a previously nouned verb to get my point across.  Next thing you know, I’ll be redeconstructionating the phallologodiscursive elementalariness of das Ding and then why haven’t you shot me already yet?

Suggestions as to how I might forestall death please?

On this day in 1965, according to the Governor of California’s Commission on the Los Angeles Riots,

California Highway Patrolman Lee W. Minikus, a Caucasian, was riding his motorcycle along 122nd street, just south of the Los Angeles City boundary, when a passing Negro motorist told him he had just seen a car that was being driven recklessly. Minikus gave chase and pulled the car over at 116th and Avalon, in a predominantly Negro neighborhood, near but not in Watts. It was 7: 00 p.m.

The driver was Marquette Frye, a 21-year-old Negro, and his older brother, Ronald, 22, was a passenger. Minikus asked Marquette to get out and take the standard Highway Patrol sobriety test. Frye failed the test, and at 7:05 p.m., Minikus told him he was under arrest. He radioed for his motorcycle partner, for a car to take Marquette to jail, and a tow truck to take the car away.

They were two blocks from the Frye home, in an area of two-story apartment buildings and numerous small family residences. Because it was a very warm evening, many of the residents were outside.

Minikus later recollected,

It was his mother who actually caused the problem. She got upset with the son because he was drunk. He blew up. And then we had to take him into custody. After we handcuffed him, his mom jumped on my back, and his brother was hitting me. Of course they were all arrested.

We were gone before the [rioting began]. That’s why I was upset when I was walking out of the substation, and I was asked by an L.A. Times reporter, “How do you feel about starting a riot?” I said, “Say what?”

Marquette Frye’s mother had a different recollection of the arrest:

The police pulled them over. One of the neighbors came and got me. I went out to see what was going on. They took us down. They handcuffed us and took us to the station…

[The arresting officers] lied. They said he was drunk driving, but he wasn’t drunk driving.

Tommy Jacquette recalled what happened next:

After they took Marquette away, the crowd began to gather and the police came in and tried to disband the crowd. The crowd would retreat, but then when the police left, they could come back again. About the second or third time they came back, bottles and bricks began to fly.

At that point, it sort of like turned into a full-fledged confrontation with the police. A police car was left at Imperial and Avalon, and it was set on fire. The rest was history.

I guess it’s safe to say — you know, I’m not sure of the statute of limitations — but it’s safe to say that I was throwing as many bricks, bottles and rocks as anybody. My focus was not on burning buildings and looting. My focus was on the police.

I was arrested, but I was released the same night with a promise to get off the street. [Instead,] I rejoined the struggle. The Police Department was at that time supposedly considered one of the finest police departments in the world. I know it was one of the most racist and most brutal departments.

People keep calling it a riot, but we call it a revolt because it had a legitimate purpose. It was a response to police brutality and social exploitation of a community and of a people, and we would no more call this a riot than Jewish people would call the extermination of the Jewish people ‘relocation.’ A riot is a drunken brawl at USC because they lost a football game.

With Governor Pat Brown overseas, Lieutenant Governor Glenn Anderson went to Los Angeles on the evening of August 12. Seeing relative calm, he flew the next day to a UC Regents’ meeting in Berkeley. Early in the afternoon, having learned of further outbreaks, he ordered out the National Guard. Eventually around 14,000 guardsmen arrived to occupy the neighborhood. On August 17, Governor Brown judged the area once more under law enforcement’s control.

The meaning of the episode remains contested, from the question of what to call it—riot, uprising, revolt—through the actual details of occurrences to its effects.

One of my favorite, because wildly idiosyncratic, essays on the subject is Thomas Pynchon’s “Journey into the Mind of Watts,” published in the New York Times the next spring. Pynchon begins with a story that suggests little has improved, at least in relations between police and citizens:

The night of May 7, after a chase that began in Watts and ended some 50 blocks farther north, two Los Angeles policemen, Caucasians, succeeded in halting a car driven by Leonard Deadwyler, a Negro. With him were his pregnant wife and a friend. The younger cop (who’d once had a complaint brought against him for rousting some Negro kids around in a more than usually abusive way) went over and stuck his head and gun in the car window to talk to Deadwyler. A moment later there was a shot; the young Negro fell sideways in the seat, and died. The last thing he said, according to the other cop, was, “She’s going to have a baby.”

Throughout the essay, Pynchon refers to Watts as “a pocket of reality” smack in the middle of the desert of the unreal that is Los Angeles.

For Los Angeles, more than any other city, belongs to the mass media. What is known around the nation as the L.A. Scene exists chiefly as images on a screen or TV tube, as four-color magazine photos, as old radio jokes, as new songs that survive only a matter of weeks. It is basically a white Scene, and illusion is everywhere in it, from the giant aerospace firms that flourish or retrench at the whims of Robert McNamara, to the “action” everybody mills along the Strip on weekends looking for, unaware that they and their search which will end, usually, unfulfilled, are the only action in town.

Watts lies impacted in the heart of this white fantasy. It is, by contrast, a pocket of bitter reality.

Pynchon closes with an image suggesting what a pocket of reality embedded in the midst of fictitious LA might mean, describing a work of art shown in an exhibition called “Renaissance of the Arts”:

Along with theatrical and symphonic events, the festival also featured a roomful of sculptures fashioned entirely from found objects — found, symbolically enough, and in the Simon Rodia tradition, among the wreckage the rioting had left. Exploiting textures of charred wood, twisted metal, fused glass, many of the works were fine, honest rebirths.
In one corner was this old, busted, hollow TV set with a rabbit-ears antenna on top. Inside, where its picture tube should have been, gaping out with scorched wiring threaded like electronic ivy among its crevices and sockets, was a human skull. The name of the piece was “The Late, Late, Late Show.”

The Obama campaign seems to have made a conscious choice lately to tell the truth about lying. When Sen. McCain, or one of his proxies, has lied about one of Sen. Obama’s positions, Sen. Obama himself (here), or one of his staffers (see above), says as much. And not with the usual hemming and hawing, the ever-so-carefully-couched-so-as-not-to-hurt-anyone’s-feelings rhetoric that we’ve all grown used to: “Well, if you look at the facts, they support our side of the story and not their contentions.” Nope, the Obama campaign appears to be saying that there are no stories, no contentions, just what’s true and what isn’t. It’s very pre-post-modern.

There are lots of ways to think about this strategy, if that’s what it actually is. For instance, there are the epistemological implications. About which, truth be told, I have very little to say (Neddy? Dana? Thoughts?). Other than, I suppose, that I’m cautiously optimistic that honesty, even about dishonesty, will elevate our political discourse by making it easier for knowledge to travel throughout the public sphere.

Meanwhile, I’m more interested in the historical precedents and the politics. On the former issue, I don’t think Eric Alterman’s book on presidential deception deals with accusations of lying during campaigns. So, absent a reliable source, I have to rely on my memory. And I’m drawing a blank. Come to think of it, the most telling example I can recall is of a candidate NOT calling his opponent a liar: during the 2004 vice presidential debate, when Dick Cheney claimed, falsely, that he had never met John Edwards in the Senate. Edwards, for some reason, didn’t reply by turning to the cameras and saying: “Vice President Cheney is lying. Like he lied about Iraq.” (I’m willing to admit that such a statement probably would not have worked out well for the Kerry campaign. But it would have made me feel better.)

As for the politics, I’m hopeful that the Obama campaign’s strategy is a good one. The time-tested reality is that Democratic decorum in the face of Republican untruths will be met with more spurious attacks. And the fair-and-balanced press, in recent years at least, hasn’t been much help. As a result, there have been very few consequences for lying about an opponent during a presidential campaign. At the same time, Sen. Obama himself has been careful thus far — as, I think, have his staffers — not to call Sen. McCain a liar. Instead, they’ve accused Sen. McCain, his campaign staff, and his surrogates of lying. As we’ve talked about here recently, this is an important distinction: between what a person does and what they are.

In the end, we’ll see how far Sen. Obama is willing to go with all this truth-telling. I have little doubt that Sen. McCain will stand on stage during the debates and lie about Sen. Obama’s positions. Will Sen. Obama then turn to the cameras and call him on it? That’s probably too much to ask. But one can hope — audaciously.

Update: Someone who actually knows something weighs in on this issue.

As a kid, I used to devour the Newsweek issue that came out just after the Presidential elections and told the inside stories of the campaigns.  All that’s changed as I’ve gotten older is that I can devour them faster, on the Internet, including this little teaser for an upcoming Atlantic piece about the Clinton campaign.    A couple quick thoughts:

This focus of the reaction to this story will surely center on the campaign’s decision to try to paint Obama as unacceptably foreign.  But I’m also curious to see the reaction to the claim that the Clinton campaign went into a “meltdown”, full of “anger and toxic obsessions.”

Such language makes me hesitate, because it sounds awfully close to saying that Clinton’s campaign failed because the candidate was such a crazy woman.  The articles I read as a kid almost always noted that the dignified, presidential candidate had a nasty temper. (Hey, I was a kid.  That was surprising! They looked so nice on TV! )  It was rarely cited as a reason the candidate lost.  Hell, half the time the winners are jerks, too.

Earlier in the campaign the rumors were swirling that Clinton’s problem was simply that her campaign had been banking on the race being over by Super Tuesday and were sorta surprised this Obama dude hadn’t gone away yet: a failure of strategy, not of personality.

Moreover, my ex recto sense of the campaign season isn’t that Clinton lost nearly as much as Obama won.  His campaign put together a really smart strategy, seeming to be the first campaign that really got that it was about delegates, not the popular vote.

So I’m hoping the final analysis has more to say about why the campaign fell apart, because it’s very easy to let pre-conceived notions about the character of the candidate shape the entire story.   And what’s particularly troubling in this case is that we know that angry men and angry women are perceived differently, and that angry women are thought of as less competent.

So when you read Joshua Green’s analysis when it comes out, do me a favor and just keep it in the back of your head: would the analysis of Clinton’s campaign be the same if she were male?


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