Tuesday, August 19, 2008

John McCain: Underdog

David Brooks wavers, it seems to me, between thoughtful philosophical conservative and Republican talking head. Today he writes in his capacity as the latter.

John McCain, apparently, is at a disadvantage. He isn't getting to play the kind of politics he wants, where he appears to be the post-partisan healer of the country to Barack Obama's left-wing nutjobness. His campaign is being forced against his will to have structure, and to attack people. This isn't the kind of good-natured, easy-going presidential race John McCain signed up for. And this means that he's fallen behind and has had to turn to a more nasty, traditional kind of politics. Now, this doesn't come naturally to him, of course, and he's really had to work at it, but after long last his newly minted tactics of personal attacks and mocking of truth and justice have paid off. He's nearly neck-and-neck with Obama, and so in Brooks's own words, "a long-shot candidacy now seems entirely plausible."
And the American Dream is saved.

No. No no no. John McCain is not a long shot. He has never been a long shot. John McCain has held office in the United States Senate for over 21 years. He ran a nearly successful race for the Republican nomination for President in 2000, and has had more publicity than nearly all other senators for many years. He has the endorsement and financial support of hordes of super-wealthy Republican donors, not to mention a little cash in the bank of his own.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, emerged recently from extremely local politics, is the first viable African-American candidate ever, and defeated the most powerful family in the Democratic party to become the nominee. I'm not going to say it's truly a long shot, because his family does have some background in politics and he has served in the Senate, but he's a hell of a lot closer than McCain.

I know that I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but it really does irritate me when people use John McCain's poor policy choices and lack of charisma to characterize him as some kind of David to Obama's Goliath.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Is LiveStrong dead?

I saw one today and remembered it--when did people stop wearing those LiveStrong bracelets, and the knock-off ones? I'm certainly glad it's over, but they lasted for a good while. How long does it take for fads like that to die? (Note: Stephen Colbert still wears his WristStrong bracelet.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I guess centralized power is centralized power.

I was in DC last weekend, visiting the nation's capitol and other things. My lovely tour guide took me through two of the House Office Buildings, the Capitol building, and around other bits of the city. It was all very pretty, but after my visit to Rome last month, I couldn't help but notice that a fair share of the architecture is decidedly fascist, in the style of Mussolini's constructions. Huge slabs of smoot gray stone rising out of the ground with angular edges and harsh columns. Ferociously stylized statues and reliefs of symbolic figures of power (eagles, men with swords, etc.). The similarities are really striking.

It makes sense, I guess. The purpose of Fascist architecture is to convey the immense power of The State, its monolithic ability to crush you and its inherent right to everything you have. Washington basically does the same thing, but I suppose its architecture is more revealing than its rhetoric. When you go to DC, you don't see the seat of a nation of the people, by the people, for the people; you see a collection of stern white and gray buildings crawling with armed guards who inspect you and bureaucratize you before you even walk in the door. If I were a crazy libertarian, this stuff would probably scare me, but because I'm sympathetic to the idea of a centralized federal aristocracy, I'm generally OK.

Still, they must have known about the Fascist thing. Mussolini's Rome was built largely in the 20s, and I'm pretty sure that most of modern Washington was constructed after that. I guess if you want to send a message, you aren't going to let a few negative connotations of authoritarian dictatorship get in your way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fight the power, or don't.

The pus-filled sore of women and Union leadership has now been scratched by many, so I figure it's my turn to take a stab at it.

There appear to be a number of questions at hand. A few of them are:
1. Do women and men have different roles/purposes in leadership?
2. If so, is this appropriate?
3. What should the Union do about this?

Are women being relegated to weak administrative positions instead of being allowed to develop intellectually? I say no. There are many very fine female speakers in the Union, just as there are many fine female administrators in the Union. Indeed, they are often the same people. The former President, Ms. Homer, was a fine example. As is the former speaker, Ms. Rittelmeyer. As is the current speaker, Ms. Lee. There are plenty of other examples. Does this mean that the Union is not inherently structured as a masculine-styled "old boys club?" Not at all. In the sense that it is most commonly meant, the Union and its agressive style of debate and socialization is exceedingly masculine. What these and other women have shown is that an organization's "masculinity" does not mean that it is impenetrable to women.

Ah, but as Kate says, the real power lies in the parties. While I would dispute her on this point alone (the past election cycle has indicated to me that there is clearly ideology and inspiration in Union leadership), I will go down her path. In the past two semesters alone, during my time at Yale (and hers), there have been six female chairmen of parties. Out of 14, that isn't bad, especially considering the male majority in the membership. Were these women inspirational leaders? I think their parties would say so. Kate's party, the Party of the Right, which has not had a female chairman since the fall of 2006, has its own roadblocks to overcome (or not, if it so chooses). But this is indicative not of a general failure of the Union system, or even of women as a gender to fulfill the dominant role in an organization.

It seems that there are a number of people, regardless of gender, who seek leadership roles for whatever reason, and fight until they assume them. Some have a harder time than others, either because of personal or environmental setbacks. But I would add that we have the great fortune of residing in a microcosm of privilege where practically everything is voluntary. If you choose to take part in a system that keeps you down, be prepared to fight harder or accept your assigned role. While the world may be big and bad, Yale is small and pretty, and your narrative is one that you have a part in writing, if there is a narrative at all.

Leadership is a trait, or perhaps a number of traits. Some women possess it, others do not. Some men possess it, others do not. Associating this trait with the realm of masculinity may be informative, but it is not a rule. At this point, I am willing to say that gender roles exist as an anthropological observation, but not as a cultural imperative.

And so I say to the postmodern world: know the power structure. Learn it. Embrace it, reject it, do with it as you will. But if you feel nurturing, nurture. If you feel dominant, dominate. Only the reactionary nature of the culture you embrace, coupled with your own self-doubt might hold you back. For the rest of us, we will live the world as we see it, honoring the victors and forgetting the weak.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Paternalism at its most familial: that's not good for you!

The city of New York continues to force its citizens to be healthier. First the smoking ban, then the trans fats ban, and now fast food and "casual-dining" restaurants are required to post calorie counts on their menus.
Is this okay? Probably. My initial reaction was, "they can't do that!" But they I realized that not only can they legally do that, it might be a good idea. So long as the four-star upscale restaurant doesn't have to measure the energy of each escargot, I applaud the effort to make people at least be conscious of the shit they put into their bodies.
The article posted above quotes a couple people saying that they won't be affected by this, that they'll still eat a Big Mac because "people don't go to McDonald's for a healthy lunch. They go for a fast-food burger and fries." But I don't think so. Many people go to McDonald's because it's convenient and cheap and (they think) they know what it is. But if I were even remotely conscious of my health, I'd hesitate before supersizing it if I saw the calories.

This has been driven home to me more recently, as I've been on a diet. I started it on a whim, deciding that I weighed somewhat too much and that I wanted to lose about 11 pounds by the end of July. It's hard, actually. I've been surprised. After the first week, I had only lost two, and now my discipline is lagging. Especially since I love Taco Bell. Now, I know how bad Taco Bell is, but only because I spend a lot of time on their website (http://www.tacobell.com/ - check out their ad jingle mixes at the top right). I used to pretend to think it was healthy (it's got meat, cheese, vegetables, and bread. Sounds like a great sandwich, right?), and I can easily imagine New Yorkers at least underestimating, if not ignoring, the actual fat content of their Crunchwrap Supreme (sooooo delicious).

So, good job New York, I guess. But I'll admit I'm not thrilling for New Haven to follow suit.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Wherever it is"

This is funny. I like it because it's amusing, and because it references Aliza Shvarts.
You have to be on your toes, because the next big repugnant masterpiece could happen anywhere, at any time. More and more I find myself traveling to Sweden, California, or wherever Yale University is just to get a glimpse of a duck being force fed pâté-filled Oreos.

I still maintain that the Shvarts piece was artistic, but I concede that when described, it sounds gratuitously silly.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Obama Phenomena

Tom Tomorrow (cartoonist extraordinaire, if you didn't know) has a rather clever strip this week about the varying perceptions of Obama. I probably fall in most closely with the "Obamanologists" who "strive to explain the difference between what Obama says and what he means." I have a feeling that most Democrats fall into one of these categories. Broockman is clearly a "disillusioned acolyte," and I know a couple folks would be fall in the "ubiquitous apostates" category.
Aside from being amusing, the strip also affirms Democrats' own perception of "I belong to no organized party, for I am a Democrat" (thanks, David). Obama's done a pretty good job of representing himself, but aside from the occasional email from Howard Dean, I haven't heard anything from other prominent Democrats since the primaries. The Party needs to revitalize its own clout and create a coherent image of its candidate that everybody can fall in with, instead of splintering off into their own incomplete ideas about him.