Tuesday, June 08, 2010 3:56 PM
Should a journalist be friends with the subject(s) of his or her reporting? The Columbia Journalism Review ponders the question in the wake of a weekend party hosted by Vice President Joe Biden. The gathering saw both White House staff and Washington journalists chilling out and shooting squirt guns. In every single one of the pictures on Gawker, there is what appears to be a Super Soaker. Which begs the question: how many departments of the U.S. government are controlled by toymaker Hasbro? Indeed, Mr. Potato Head’s idiotic grin suggests a governmental budgeting strategy that overwhelmingly prioritizes the promotion of corn and corn subsidies, protecting his own dirty little starch.
Source: Columbia Journalism Review, Gawker
Image by World Economic Forum, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 2:58 PM
The Fall-Winter 2008 issue of Oregon Humanities is all about civility—that virtue too often confused with its less polished cousin, politeness. That’s a shame, Amanda Waldroupe argues in her feature article “Not Rocking the Boat,” since politeness is the Great Destroyer of democracy—hamstringing intellectual exchange—whereas “civil conversation” gives us “the opportunity to. . . critically discuss and fully understand a political issue.”
“In [civil] conversations,” Waldroupe writes, “we are not necessarily polite, but we do have respect for the other’s political positions and opinions. Neither party thinks that the opposing view is necessarily illegitimate or flat-out wrong. Rather, each willingly makes an effort to understand the premises of the other’s views.”
Waldroupe’s assertion evokes something now-Vice President Joe Biden said back on the campaign trail, during his debate with Governor Sarah Palin. The question posed was how each candidate would endeavor to “bring both sides together,” how he or she would “change the tone” in Washington. Biden answered by sharing a vivid lesson he learned in his first year in the Senate: Don’t question people’s motives. Question their judgment.
In other words: Be civil.
This isn’t just a critical lesson for Washington, however, it’s an ethos equally employable in cities and neighborhoods, among family and friends, even around the lowly kitchen table. When President Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address, he asked Americans to embrace “a new era of responsibility—a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly.” That starts with coming together, and coming together starts with civility.
For more sage advice on how we can talk (meaningfully!) when we disagree, check out our Nov.-Dec. 2007 issue, when I had a chance to catch up with Stephen Miller, author of Conversation: A History of a Declining Art. Plus, in our next issue (March-April 2009), I’ll be writing about reconnecting the public with its public servants.
Monday, October 27, 2008 5:07 PM
Wednesday, October 22, 2008 2:02 PM
Wordsmith.org, whose “Word.A.Day” emails dispatch daily doses of rare vocabulary, has taken up the election as its theme this week. Specifically, creator Anu Garg is featuring words that contain the candidates’ names.
These words have been on the books since long before this never-ending campaign began, but let’s see if we can force some creative connections and use each in a candidate-related sentence.
Here’s the list so far:
noun: A poem in which the author retracts something said in an earlier poem.
From Greek palinoidia, from palin (again) + oide (song). It's the same palin that shows up in the word palindrome.
Please use the word in a sentence:
If Sarah Palin had apologized for her recent bilious musings on the “Real America” in poem form, rather than as a hypothetical hedging, it would have been a Palin palinode. (For Palin-inspired poetry, check out the submissions to our Great Writing Salon.)
adjective: Having two teeth or toothlike parts.
From Latin bi- (two) + dens (tooth).
Please use the word in a sentence:
One wanting to caricature Biden’s latest campaign-trail gaffe might show him as a bucktoothed, bidentate goofball.
verb intr.: To walk about.
From Latin ob- (towards, against) + ambulare (to walk). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ambhi- (around) that is also the source of ambulance, alley, preamble, and bivouac. The first print citation of the word is from 1614.
Please use the word in a sentence:
This one’s too easy. Any candidate can obambulate a stage at a rally, so: Obama will certainly ombambulate in Richmond, Virginia, today. Perhaps it’s a more fitting word, though, to describe his opponents’ wanderings during their second, townhall debate. (You can relive those moments with The Daily Show video below, starting around 7:20.)
Check in tomorrow or Friday with Wordsmith for the McCain edition.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 12:11 AM
With a notoriously “faith-based” presidential administration in its last throes and a race for the White House boasting a varied slate of Christians—a man who’s been called a “semi-Baptist,” a Pentecostal conservative, a Catholic Democrat, and a member of the United Church of Christ whom some insist is a “secret Muslim”—it’s surprising that faith and religion aren’t playing a more central role in the presidential and vice-presidential debates.
There’s been a relative lack of religious talk during the presidential face-offs, and various spirituality blogs are wondering if tonight’s will be any different. Both Christianity Today and the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life noted a dearth of religious talk in their liveblogs of last week’s debate, with the notable exception of Tom Brokaw’s zen question. GetReligion also called attention to the fact that the latest presidential debate’s only spiritual reference was to Buddhism, after the website live-blogged the Palin-Biden debate and its own lack of religious language.
One explanation is that Iraq and the tanking economy have largely pushed aside religious and social issues that dominated previous debate cycles. Nathan Empsall at the Wayward Episcopalian is glad the candidates are addressing the economy, but still frustrated by both candidates’ remarks in that regard. With McCain foundering in the polls and in need of a game changer, it’s questionable whether Christianity will make an appearance in tonight’s debate.
Image by Ricardo Carreon, licensed by Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 3:30 PM
A wiry thirtysomething guy bikes out of the Whole Foods parking lot, a pannier of organic produce strapped to his rack. He’s on his way home to make dinner after a couple of hours volunteering at the local Obama campaign headquarters. He inches down the driveway, waiting for an opportunity to turn right into the busy rush-hour traffic.
He sees an opening and jumps into the lane, pedaling quickly. But he’s not moving fast enough for a hulking SUV whose impatient driver doesn’t want to change lanes. She tailgates him for several yards, laying on the horn, then swerves into the other lane and tears past him, yelling something about getting on the sidewalk. The cyclist gives her a one-fingered salute, then notices a McCain-Palin sticker on her bumper.
We are all guilty of certain prejudices. In the escalating (and increasingly dangerous) tensions between car commuters and bicycle riders, battle lines are drawn. As an avid cyclist leaning fairly hard to port, I had very little reason to interrogate the stereotypes embodied in the scenario above. But eventually a few needling questions penetrated my insulated sphere of thought: What if there are conservatives who ride bikes? What the hell do they look like? And where can I find them?
On the Internet, of course.
“I am a gun-owning, low-taxes, small-government, strong military, anti-baby murder, pro-big/small business, anti-social program, conservative Democrat,” wrote Maddyfish, a poster on Bike Forums, an Internet discussion forum where everyone from the casual hobbyist to the obsessive gearhead can discuss all things bike-related, from frame sizes to the best routes downtown. There are dozens such forums for bicyclists and I recently crashed three of them—Bike Forums, MPLS BikeLove, and Road Bike Review—with a simple question: Are there any conservative cyclists out there? Maddyfish (an online pseudonym) was one of the first to reply: “I find cycling to be a very conservative activity. It saves me money and time.”
And just like that, biking conservatives came out of the cyber-woodwork, offering their own mixtures of bike love and political philosophy. “I do not care about gas prices or the environment. I care about fun and getting where I am quickly,” wrote Old Scratch. “I’m a Libertarian,” wrote Charly17201. “I am extremely conservative, but definitely NOT a GOPer. … I ride my bike because it provides me the opportunity to save even more money for my pleasures now and my retirement in the future (and my retirement fund is NOT the responsibility of the government).”
The more liberal bikers in the forums repeated some variation of this formulation: “Drive to the ride = conservative; bike to the ride = liberal.” In other words, conservatives load bikes onto SUVs and drive them to a riding trail, while liberals incorporate their bikes into every aspect of their personal transportation, whether utilitarian or recreational. For moneyed conservatives with a large portion of their income budgeted for recreation, high-end bikes and gear have taken their place along golf as a rich man’s leisure activity.
But there are conservatives who integrate bikes into their lifestyle just as thoroughly as their liberal counterparts. Mitch Berg is a conservative talk-radio host whose blog, A Shot in the Dark, is divided between political content and chronicles if his experiences commuting by bicycle. “I grew up in rural North Dakota, and biking was one of my escapes when I was in high school and college,” he told me. “It’s my favorite way to try to stay in shape. And if gas fell to 25 cents a gallon, I’d still bike every day.”
Berg doesn’t believe there’s anything inherently political about riding a bike. “But people on both sides of the political aisle do ascribe political significance to biking. The lifestyle-statement bikers, of course, see the act as a political and social statement. And there’s a certain strain of conservatism that sees conspicuous consumption—driving an SUV and chortling at paying more for gas—as a way to poke a finger in the eyes of the environmental left.”
The impression that bikers are liberal is reinforced, Berg feels, by the most vocal and political members of bike culture. These are the folks who corner the media's spotlight (and draw drivers' resentment) with high-profile events like Critical Mass, a group ride that floods downtown streets in many cities at the end of each month as riders zealously reassert their rights to the paths normally traveled by cars. Similarly, when the price of gas climbed to $4 over the summer, the media couldn’t run enough stories about the unprecedented popularity of bike commuting. Activist bikers leveraged the newfound media attention to promote certain messages: that bicycling is an inherently political activity; that cyclists care about traditionally progressive causes like environmental protection; that more tax money should be allocated for bike paths and a transportation infrastructure that takes vehicles other than cars into account.
“The faction of bikers that is fundamentally political has done a good job of tying [bikes and politics] together,” Berg says. “The Green Party has wrapped itself around the bicycle.” But for many, biking is political because everything is political: “You need a public infrastructure to [bike],” wrote Cyclezealot, on Bike Forums. “So, cycling will always be affected by politics, like it or not.”
When politics does bleed into cycling, does it create tensions? I asked Berg if he ever feels outnumbered on group rides dominated by liberals, and if those differences ever come to the fore. “Of course,” he replied, “On several levels. I’m a conservative. I don’t believe in man-made global warming. I’m biking for reasons that are partly personal and partly capitalistic; I don’t want to pay $4 for gas.” But he has made liberal friends based on a common love of cycling. So has William Bain, a retired Naval officer living in the Pacific Northwest whose bike commute is a 43-mile round trip. “Cycling is the common bond I have with my liberal friends,” said Bain. “We can get in a heated passionate argument about politics and then go out and try to ride each other into the ground. Good clean fun.”
Berg and Bain have allies in the government who see bicycle advocacy as a nonpartisan issue. Take Republican Greg Brophy, a Colorado state senator and an avid cyclist who competes in road bike marathons and uses his mountain bike to haul farm equipment. Brophy worked with Bicycle Colorado to pass Safe Routes to School and is supporting a “Green Lanes” bill to give bicyclists safer routes through metro areas.
Conservative cyclists don’t tend to get help from all their political allies, however. Some right-wing personalities know that biking is a hot-button issue and make pointed attacks on cyclists while reinforcing the liberal-cyclist stereotype. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s hard-right columnist Katherine Kersten earned the ire of the Twin Cities bike community in 2007 when she characterized Critical Mass as a mob of “serial lawbreakers” bent on ruining the lives of honorable citizen motorists. “Are you rushing to catch the last few innings of your son's baseball game? Trying to get to the show you promised your wife for her birthday? Critical Mass doesn't give a rip.”
Last fall, Twin Cities talk-radio host Jason Lewis made on-air remarks decrying the “bicycling crowd” as “just another liberal advocacy group.” He recycled a common anti-bike canard—that bicyclists have no rights to the roads because they don’t pay taxes to service those roads—before issuing a call to arms: “The people with the 2,000-pound vehicle need to start fighting back.” Lewis’ comments seem especially reckless in light of recent events: In September alone, four Twin Cities cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles. One conservative blogger celebrates bike fatalities and gleefully anticipates more. “Keep it up,” he tells cyclists, “and the law of averages says we’ll have a few less Obama voters in November.”
While such critics tap into right-wing rage at all things liberal, conservative bikers appeal to a saner tenet of their political tradition: the free market's invisible hand. “Let the market roam free,” Berg exclaimed. “The higher gas goes, the more people will try biking.” And where there’s money to be made, bikes and bike-share programs will emerge. When the Republican National Convention came to the Twin Cities in September, for example, a bike-share program was there to greet it. Humana and Bikes Belong made 1,000 bikes available for rental during the convention, with 70 bikes staying behind as part of a permanent rental program.
Conservatives on bikes represent the breakdown of party-line stereotypes. They are heartening examples of crucial divergences from the lazy red/blue dichotomy the pundits are relentlessly hammering in these last frenzied days of campaign season. They are a microcosm in which a stereotype falls away to reveal an actual individual. What's more, they represent not just the abandonment of tired clichés, but more bikes on the road—something all of us on two wheels, regardless of our political idiosyncrasies, can agree is a good thing.
, licensed by
Tuesday, October 07, 2008 12:18 PM
By the time Tina Fey emerged onto the cultural landscape in 2000 as an anchor on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment, the Second City alum was already the show’s head writer, quietly shepherding the comedy institution into its late-'90s renaissance and noticeably improving its ratio of funny-to-bad sketches.
Her star continued to rise with the razor-sharp satirical sitcom 30 Rock, which premiered in 2006 and solidified her status as the embodiment of geek chic in an entertainment climate where brainy, funny women are tragically undervalued. Fey has carved out a career in which she accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of injecting savvy cultural and political commentary into mass entertainment, with her cerebral, rapid-fire monologues on “Update” and then with the surprisingly subversive 30 Rock.
But no one could have predicted Fey’s next act until August 29 of this year, when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. The world pounced on the striking similarity between Fey and the VP candidate, and Fey didn’t disappoint. She has returned to Saturday Night Live to lampoon the candidate’s disastrous interviews with Katie Couric and her debate against Joe Biden, and delivered a speech with Hillary Clinton as played by longtime collaborator Amy Poehler. For her part, Palin has joked about honing her own Tina Fey impression, telling reporters she dressed as Fey for Halloween. (When? Last year?)
This week, Fey signed a multimillion-dollar book deal for a collection of humorous essays in the vein of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. She appears undaunted by relative missteps like the box-office flop Baby Mama or her shilling for American Express, and now wields enormous cultural influence—as writer, performer, and human barometer of that uniquely American nexus of politics and entertainment.
Fey doesn’t necessarily relish her newfound cultural clout, however. As successful as her Sarah Palin gig has been, Fey hopes it doesn’t last long: “I want to be done playing this lady November 5,” she said backstage at this year’s Emmys. “So if anyone could help me be done playing this lady November 5, that would be good for me.”
We’ll do our best, Tina.
Image by David Shankbone, licensed by Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 02, 2008 9:50 AM
As political junkies across the country eagerly await the Biden-Palin showdown tonight, On Faith, a joint project of the Washington Post and Newsweek, asked a panel of contributors what they would want to know about the candidates' faith. A few of these spiritual thinkers said the debates would be better if the questions left out religion all together.
Michael Otterson, head of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said:
I would ask Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin absolutely nothing about their religious beliefs… The media, political pundits, and many of the public have gorged themselves on religious issues of almost complete irrelevance while the country, deeply divided by everything from the Iraq war to how to control the price of gas, has spiraled toward economic meltdown… As long as respected news organizations treat religion like this—presenting it like it's a public policy issue or giving platforms to extreme voices to generate controversy—more people will become disillusioned until matters of faith lose their relevance altogether. Please! Let's grapple with the real issues of an election and leave the candidates to pray and worship in whatever way they choose.
Deepak Chopra, founder and president of Alliance for a New Humanity said:
If Joe Biden and Sarah Palin aren't asked about religion in their upcoming debate, that would be healthy. The fact that the right wing has profited handsomely from the religious issue doesn't make it fair or even constitutional. Nor does it offset the harm they have done. The Constitution kept God out of politics in order to avoid the inflamed conflict that has mired this country since the Reagan revolution.
Susan K. Smith, senior pastor at Advent United Church of Christ said:
Quite frankly, I am tired of all the discussion about religion and beliefs in this campaign. Being "religious" doesn't make one a necessarily better president. George Bush is religious, but neither the world nor this country seems to be the better for it. So, I really don't care about Palin's and Biden's religious beliefs. I do care, though, about what they think about what is the best way to help “the least of these” in this country and in this world. I hate religion. I hate how it makes people think they're better than others, or how it seems to make people think they have the right to stuff their beliefs down the throats of other people... and still treat people really badly. I think some of the nicest, and most moral people, are NOT religious. So, given the chance, I would not ask Palin or Biden about their religious beliefs.
Saturday, August 23, 2008 3:09 AM
Cell phones across the land just woke folks up with the news that Barack Obama has chosen Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware to fill his VP slot.
More to come soon, when it’s not 3 in the morning.
UPDATE (8/23/2008, 11:00 a.m.): OK. Now that it’s a civilized hour for discussing such matters, here’s some choice reaction from the blogosphere.
Here’s Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish:
The biggest emerging problem with the Obama campaign is Obama’s reluctance, lack of talent and lack of will to get into lively, feisty, pissing matches with his opponent. This was brought home in the Saddleback forum. What he needs is a plucky, fun, free-wheeling attack machine, with the necessary gravitas to express adequate contempt for the Bush administration's fatally misguided foreign policy without in any way seeming defensive.
Greg Sargent at TPM also focuses on Biden’s attack dog creds:
Rather than whine about how mean Republicans are when they hit Dems on national security, as so many Dems do, Biden has a real talent for responding with an appropriate mixture of mockery and contempt.... Biden, ultimately, shares and embodies one of the core convictions driving Obama's campaign: That Democrats can win an argument about national security with Republicans, and shouldn't run from a fight on the topic or concede any sort of presumed GOP superiority on it.
On the downside, Sargent notes:
The choice of Biden introduces a loquacious and occasionally gaffe-prone figure into a campaign that's largely succeeded because of its extraordinary message discipline.
, reposting from his June case for Biden, makes the point perhaps most succinctly about what Biden brings to the Dems’ ticket:
Joe Biden is an incredibly arrogant jerk. And that’s exactly what Democrats need.
Other than being the designated Pub flayer, Klein astutely points out another plus: Biden’s been in the Senate a while, knows it well, and can work its levers—something, we noted in our July-Aug. issue, either candidate looking past November 4 would be wise to consider:
And Biden, who’s got a long history of bipartisanship in the Senate and deep ties to the institution, would probably prove a pretty effective emissary when Obama needs a couple more votes for this or that piece of legislation.
On the other side of blogtown, Townhall.com fronts the analysis of the AP’s Ron Fournier:
The candidate of change went with the status quo.... The picks say something profound about Obama: For all his self-confidence, the 47-year-old Illinois senator worried that he couldn't beat Republican John McCain without help from a seasoned politician willing to attack. The Biden selection is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative—a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens to run counter to his image.
Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin and Ed Morrissey lambaste the soon-to-be-infamous middle-of-the-night text botch. And Morrissey adds a few other dirt-digging zingers:
Biden told serial lies on the campaign trail in 1987 about his background and education, rudely dismissed a voter by telling him that he (Biden) had a “bigger IQ”, and most notoriously plagiarized a speech from British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. All of this will come out in this election.
My two cents: Malkin and Morrissey have my vote on the text timing. Obama didn’t want to be woken up by Clinton’s red phone at 3 a.m., and I feel the same way about the O-Team text that buzzed me out of my slumber. But onto more substantive affairs.
Obama does need an attack dog, so Biden seems fitting, but less as a designated hitter and more as someone who can teach Obama to throw a few punches himself. More importantly, Biden’s smart, and that’s how Obama and his crew have gotten as far as they have: by picking the smartest folks in the room and corralling them into a strategy corner.
I agree with Klein, Biden is an arrogant jerk. The Dems may need some of that, but being an ass brings with it the baggage of alienating some folks. I also worry that the Obama team may have been rattled by a bad August and made their pick from the mindset of being against the ropes. And that’s never a good thing. (I for one am glad they had a bad August. They needed to force the media to put McCain in the spotlight for a while. The fact that the only thing that spotlight hit was negative campaign ads is telling.)
Now it’s on to the McCain VEEP speculation race. You’ll have to stay tuned, but at least this time you won’t have to stay awake.
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