flaminga in salzburg

on history

When I was in elementary school, Mom would work until five or six during the week, and afterwards she'd fix dinner. She liked to watch the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour while she cooked. I would hear snatches of world events from dusty-looking old white men while I did my homework at the kitchen counter or helped set the table, but I must have still been in my room when my mom turned on the TV on November 9, 1989, because I remember her calling to me: "Sweetpea, come watch this. This is history." I wandered out to see what had gotten her so excited, and on the screen, vast crowds of shouting, cheering Germans were pulling down a wall that stood not just between two countries, but between two ideologies, between two halves of the world. I was ten years old. That was the day I learned what history looked like.

History has looked like a lot of things since then. Sometimes it looks like a handshake, or the raising of new flag in Cape Town. Sometimes it looks like a plane flying into a skyscraper. Today, it looks a little like a black man who might be our next president giving a speech in Philadelphia. Across the street from the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution, Barack Obama gave an elegantly reasoned, fair, and forward-looking talk not only on race, but on the defining principles and struggles of our nation. It is the kind of speech that tears down walls. It is the kind of speech no American politician has made in my lifetime, given by a man who has not only studied the law and taught it, but also lived out the most painful and hopeful contradictions of our society. He talked for thirty-seven and a half minutes to the American people as if we were adults capable of grasping nuance and complexity and the kind of hard-won understanding which cannot be encapsulated in thirty-second sound-bites. Ironically enough, the media has spent all day trying to chop his words into exactly those kinds of easily-digestible tidbits, and it just doesn't work. Which is why I'm providing the text of the entire speech below. If you haven't already watched or seen this, read it. All of it. Not because I want you to vote for him. Just because it's that good. And he quotes Faulkner. So seriously. Read this now:

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post script

And while I'm on the topic, one more note about media coverage of Obama's speech today. While I have never suspected ultra-right-wing political commentators of being anything other than hypocritical, they have reached a whole shocking new realm of bullshit when they claim that a candidate should be out of the running due to friendliness with a controversial preacher who sometimes makes politically divisive remarks. But apparently it's only ok to be unapologetically prejudiced and virulently spiteful if you do it wrapped in an American flag, and always, always keep your right hand over your heart during the national anthem.

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flaminga in salzburg

how many kinds of nerd can you be at once?

Politically, I think this is sort of dirty pool.  But my inner Sandman geek was completely powerless to resist:

*for the record, I do not believe Hillary Clinton is the devil.
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    horrifically loud, terrible music emanating from somewhere in my neighborhood
flaminga in salzburg

Democrats against democracy

Geraldine Ferraro today shared this piece of wisdom with the humble masses of the NY Times readership.  It would be embarrassing were it not so outrageous. Look, I’m not opposed to partisanship, as anyone who’s read this blog lately knows.  But I believe in calling it what it is and not pretending it’s the truth of the ages, much less denouncing the other side’s bias while simultaneously twisting logic beyond all recognition in support of my own candidate.  It’s not a secret who I’m supporting in this election.  But I don’t think it would be a tragedy if the other candidate wins the nomination.  The tragedy would be if either candidate won through backroom politics and the machinations of superdelegates as opposed to the will of the voters.  The long history of politics in the United States has been one of increasingly direct democracy – Senators, you will recall, were originally chosen by state legislatures.  There is nothing in the Constitution about the electors in presidential contests having to vote for the person their constituencies prefer.  And that’s before we get into all the people who couldn’t vote at all.  But since then – though not without missteps and backsliding – we have granted more citizens the right to vote for more things as it has slowly percolated through our political culture that governance of the people, by the people, for the people, can’t really be achieved without occasionally asking the people who they would like in their government.

Ms. Ferraro apparently disagrees.  She argues that the system of superdelegates which she was instrumental in creating is meant to take the Democratic party one giant leap closer to oligarchy.  It is expressly intended to permit party elders to take the nomination away from the candidate chosen by the voters in primaries and caucuses in the name of the greater good and - mindbogglingly - increased party unity.  Because clearly, as any statistician will tell you, the judgment of 796 party insiders who comprise one hundred thousandth of registered Democrats is more representative of the will of the people than, let’s say, a sampling of tens of millions of ordinary voters from across the country who actually, you know, voted.  Because it’s undemocratic to just let the people who actually turn out determine the outcome of elections – we should take into account the will of everyone, whether or not they bothered to show up and vote, which can clearly best be done by entrusting this decision to the politburo party elite.  After all, superdelegates are meant to lead the electorate, not to follow it - or at least, that's what the appointed DNC committee members who wrote the rules meant when they made themselves superdelegates just in case those pesky voters picked the wrong guy again.  And rules laid down by party elites shouldn't be questioned unless they're ones that in retrospect turned out to disadvantage the wrong candidate, at which point there are do-overs.  For example, those quaint open primaries might result in taking into account the will of independents or Republicans who plan to vote for a Democratic candidate, and everyone knows their opinions don't matter when it comes to winning a general election.  And while we're discounting the importance of elections, we ought to discount all of them equally,  including that of a state stripped of delegates by those very same party elites so no one thought it mattered whether they voted and, oh yeah, in which only one candidate was on the ballot.  You’d have to be a crazy partisan hack to argue against logic like that, right?  Also undemocratic: changing your mind about which candidate to support over time as circumstances change and new information comes to light.  Because it's a universally acknowledged truth that while politicians only change their minds in the service of crass selfish machinations, their initial decisions are never prompted by anything but sage, disinterested concern for the good of the nation.

America is supposed to be a country where people speak through their political parties.  The alternate system – where the best interests of the people are divined by the party elite without elections, through closed internal meetings and, you know, crystal balls – has been tried elsewhere.  We called that place the USSR.  It turned out not to be such a great plan.

Honestly, Ms. Ferraro does make a couple of valid points.  It’s reasonable for those who are actually professional policymakers to have a greater say in negotiating the platform than pledged delegates who are more or less average voters.  Questions about the party platform aren’t on primary ballots, and it’s a little silly to have delegates from the general population determine the platform when they haven’t got any sort of public mandate or specialized knowledge to guide them.  So let superdelegates vote on platform issues but not on the presidential candidate.

And yes, it’s unfair that voters in Michigan and Florida were disenfranchised by an argument between state and national party officials.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the primaries they actually held were so flawed as to be meaningless.  So hold new elections in which both candidates campaign, both candidates are on the ballot, and the voters know that their votes will matter.

And I don’t think that superdelegates should commit to voting for my candidate of choice.  As I tell them in the letters I send, I think they should commit to voting for the candidate with the most pledged delegates at the end of the primary season, whoever that may be.  There are things worse than losing, and Pyrrhic victories which so undermine your own values that they’re actually setbacks.  Choosing the next person to allegedly be the “Leader of the Free World” through unrepresentative, undemocratic processes - particularly in the wake of the travesty of the 2000 election - would leave us little room to criticize, oh, China's electoral system.

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    irate irate
flaminga in salzburg

another Tuesday, another primary...

Cool Things on the Internet #84,397: the Superdelegate Transparency Project.  Go see how your local superdelegates plan to vote at the convention, how that compares to the way their constituents voted, and learn about their backgrounds.  Then write them letters and tell them that the course of this historic election, in which millions of Democrats are casting ballots with record turnouts across the country, should not be decided by 795 individuals.

And if you'd like some blatant partisanship with your link, here's an excerpt from a speech by Barack Obama:

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    some terrible show on ABC Family
flaminga in salzburg

mostly alive

As I'm currently on too many drugs to formulate paragraphs, today's entry will be in the form of a brief miscellany:
-A very happy birthday to Susan, my totally-not-evil stepmother.  In the last year she's finished her doctorate, completed a marathon, backpacked up the Quinalt River, and mastered the fine art of house painting.  I imagine by her next birthday she'll probably be winning triathalons in between ruling the world and lecturing at Harvard.
-Also this weekend: Sarah and Eamon's wedding, which was a lovely and fun-filled event complete with a band of Albanian-folk-dancing relatives, a keg of Guinness, a table of tipsy Kenyon alums reminiscing about housing lotteries and idiosyncratic history professors, a lot of very white women attempting to belly-dance when the DJ played Shakira, and a groomsman recovering from being kicked in the head by a stripper.  And also poisonous wedding cupcakes, which brings me to:
-A less fun-filled trip to the ER of the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center last night, which c_a and I located by driving down the 101 from the reception hall until we saw one of those blue "Hospital" signs by an offramp.  I once again demonstrated that the best way to get fast service at an ER other than getting shot is to walk in and say your Epipen didn't work and you're having trouble breathing.  Dr. Rob gave me a lot of drugs (fyi, massive doses of injected benadryl make you stoned out of your skull, but that only lasts until the next shot of Epi, when the shakes come back), checked periodically to make sure I wasn't turning back into a giant wheezing tomato, and then sent me home with about five prescriptions. 
-Also, p_b was in town for the wedding weekend and was my very own couch-surfer.  I told him why I want to go to Uzbekistan and he told me about his aspirations to get scuba certification.  Then we talked about how each of us had accepted the love of Obama into our hearts, spleens, and various other organs.  For further reading on that topic I recommend this article, which is the confession of an Obamaphile, and contains the line "I want the man to hope all over me."
-So, in conclusion, I am in fact still alive and will probably remain that way for some time, occasional respiratory pyrotechnics notwithstanding.  However, I may not be in top form for the next few days, which means you can probably expect my recent foray into poor social skills and general unavailability to continue uninterrupted.  Will attempt to call all you people I owe calls to once I'm off a few of the drugs and my throat recovers.
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    Laura Jansen - Trauma
reminds me of death

Barack the Vote

So it's Super Tuesday, and I started checking the news sites surreptitiously from my desk at work around 3 p.m.  Went straight to my polling place when I got off, only to find out that they didn't realize I'd moved to the precinct and I wasn't on their list.  So I called c_a and had her go online and find the polling place for my old address and drove up to Westwood to polling place number two, which had a completely full parking lot that I had to circle for about ten minutes before I could get out of the car.  Finally succeeded in voting.  Went over to c_a's apartment to eat leftover meat and watch grainy PBS coverage of the returns until Jim Lehrer finally logged off around 9:30, by which time it was clear mainly that the Democrats won't have a candidate for a while and the Republicans will get McCain only because Romney and Huckabee are taking so many votes away from each other.  There's a lot of spin, but here's the story I haven't been hearing - voter turnout.  In Missouri, much touted as a "bellwether state," Obama and Clinton each got more votes than McCain and Huckabee combined.  More people voted in the Democratic primaries than the Republican ones in Tennessee and Oklahoma.  And these aren't even the blue states, and aren't comparing open primaries with closed ones. 

But actually the most interesting thing to me was the talks the candidates gave this evening.  I didn't get home in time for Huckabee's, but I heard the rest, and three out of those four had basically the same theme.  Aside from McCain, who gave a rather smug "I'd like to thank the Academy and my mom" speech, everyone else talked about What America Needs.  If you ask Romney, it's a return to conservative American values (me, yelling at the TV: Values like torture and war-mongering and intolerance and the dismemberment of the Bill of Rights?).  If you ask Obama, it's a different way of doing politics.  If you ask Clinton, it's a twelve-point policy plan read off of notes.  And in a certain way none of this matters, because when you come down to it I'd probably vote for an orangutan if it had the Democratic nomination in November.  I've always had a lot of party loyalty, and that was even before seven years of the Fratboy in Chief. 

But in another way it does matter.  When I started following this race, I decided which candidates I preferred based on policy positions.  And honestly, neither Clinton nor Obama were in my top two.  Then the guys I liked best dropped out of the race, and Clinton and Obama both shifted to the left.  So I had to make another decision, and I found I couldn't make it based on issues.  I like Clinton on health care and Obama on the war and international relations, and on most of the rest they're practically indistinguishable.  So for the first time I can remember, I made a decision based purely on character and political style.  And the funny thing is, there was no contest.  Not even before Bill came out as a hypocritical jackass and it became clear that Hillary was a magpie of a candidate, stealing everyone else's shiniest lines to get ahead (this is the process she seems to call "finally finding her own voice."  In Bill's day, more honestly, it was called "triangulation").

Maybe it's because I'm a writer.  I'm more susceptible than most to the allure of words and how they're spoken.  I care about form as well as content.  Clinton has repeatedly trotted out the Mario Cuomo quote, "You campaign with poetry, but you govern with prose" in her own campaign to turn Obama's flair for rhetoric into some kind of weakness or character flaw.  She casts herself as the pragmatic workhorse to Obama's callow young dreamer.  But I have my own ideas about What America Needs.  And what I think we need - need, as much as universal health care and and a hike for the minimum wage and a revitalized  education system - is aspiration, and inspiration.  We need to re-imagine America.  To see ourselves and be seen around the world as that shining city on the hill again.  People used to love America.  We used to not be in a moral race to the bottom with terrorists.  When we talked about democracy and human rights, people used to take us seriously.  I miss that.  And I think we'll never get back to that place where America can stand for things larger than itself (much less achieve them) through policy briefs and twelve-step plans.  I think we need a president who can govern in poetry. 

Anyway, after the PBS news was over I went home and voted again.  Because that's the great thing about America.  You can only vote once at the polls, but you can vote as often as you like with your bank account.  So I went to Obama's website and tried to make a contribution.  The servers were so busy that I had to reload four times before I could get to the page.  

After I was done, just for reference, I googled Clinton's donations page.  It loaded on the first try.
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flaminga in salzburg

why is it always 2 a.m.?

Why is it always 2 a.m. when I'm done packing for a trip, no matter when I start?  It's not that I pack very slowly.  It's that in the midst of packing I remember other things I need to do - find that necklace I haven't seen in six months, clean my desk in search of a missing piece of paper, get distracted by reading when trying to decide which books to bring, mail off bills, etc.  And then it's 2 a.m. and I have to get up to catch a cab at some ungodly hour.

Anyhow, I am off to Europe tomorrow morning and shan't be back until next year.  I hope you all have joyous and festive midwinter type holidays.  And also, the fact that all of your Christmas/Chanukah/ etc. gifts are late is not actually because I am lazy and disorganized.  It is because you will be receiving loot from Austria (or an adjacent German-speaking country) which will be mailed out upon my return to this continent. 

Reports from the land of my foremothers will be issued in the coming week as Internet access permits.