Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hillary Clinton is

The devil, from the 13th-century Codex Gigas.

Okay, I have had enough of Hillary Clinton's campaign. Today she called a press conference, and almost shaking with rage, denounced mailers from the Obama campaign:
"Enough with the speeches and the big rallies, and then using tactics right out of Karl Rove's playbook," she said, alluding to President Bush's former chief political advisor. "This is wrong, and every Democrat should be outraged."
Not as if her campaign hadn't sent out misleading mailers itself. The list of "tactics right out of Karl Rove's playbook" used by the Clinton campaign is very long. I've mentioned some of them before, but Kevin provides an extensive catalog of them. This move, like the absurd plagiarism accusation, reeks of desperation. I think she's just hoping that the splash made by the conference will bounce around the media echo-chamber just enough to tarnish Obama before the next primaries. Going negative has not worked for her before, and I hope it backfires this time. The hypocrisy of the Clinton campaign is breathtaking.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

brief comment on Islam

The Death of Musa, 14th-century Iranian manuscript

I'm very busy, as usual, but I wanted to bring everyone's attention to a good Speaking of Faith program called "Reflections of a British Muslim Extremist." It's an interview with Ed Husain, who, as the program notes state,
was seduced, at the age of 16, by revolutionary Islamist ideals that flourished at the heart of educated British culture. Yet he later shrank back from radicalism after coming close to a murder and watching people he loved become suicide bombers. He dug deeper into Islamic spirituality, and now offers a fresh and daring perspective on the way forward.
Husain's insights are very instructive. One of the points he made touched on something that I have been thinking about for awhile, which is the huge resource for change that is American Islam:

Ms. Tippett: Tell me what you discovered that really did change your life at this later point, as an adult, what you discovered in Islam.

Mr. Husain: Much of this goes back, I must say, to American Muslim influences in that you've got fascinating scholars such as Imam Hamza Yusuf Hanson from California who I was exposed to here in Britain in the late 1990s. In him and in others, I saw Muslims who were Westerners, who were American, who were English-speaking, who were intelligent and deeply erudite and connected to a sense of prophetic Islam, connecting themselves right back to the prophet Mohammed. And they embodied that persona of compassion, of justice, of love, of humanity, and it was really getting more and more sort of involved and close to people like Imam Hanson and others here in Britain that helped me intellectually come to terms with Islam, away from Islamism, the political ideology, and more importantly, discover a spiritual tradition that sits comfortably with other spiritual traditions and looking at human beings as just that, as fellow human beings, and it's not our duty to judge others and ultimately it's them and their relationship with God. It's having that inner sense of relationship with God that manifests in your actions on the outside that I personally found worked for me. I'm not suggesting this is a panacea for everyone, but it's something that worked for me, and it very much set at home with my parents and my family and friends.

Ms. Tippett: I wonder if you have a sense of why the North American Muslim experience is so different from the experience you had as a British Muslim?

Mr. Husain: My impression is that it's the fact that you have a very strong national identity that people who, as you say, fresh off the boat can come and sign up to something in America.

Ms. Tippett: And the fact that identity is more porous somehow?

Mr. Husain: Yeah, it's there. It's palpable. The American Muslims are deeply patriotic and deeply proud of being American and being Muslim. Here, we don't have that. You'd be hard pressed to find Muslims in the north of England saying that they're British Muslims. It just doesn't happen.

Ms. Tippett: So there's a different kind of foundation that new generations of North American Muslims are building on, um-hum.

Mr. Husain: Well, exactly, yes, and you see that. I mean, take, for example, the large conferences you have in America among American Muslims. I think one of the motions that was passed was that the Jewish synagogues in America were twin with Muslim mosques. Phenomenal.

Ms. Tippett: Right. The Islamic Society of North America.

Mr. Husain: Yes, exactly. ISNA conference. That's a fascinating example from which not just Europeans, but also Arab Muslims can learn in terms of maintaining positive ties between different faiths. Try suggesting something like that to the British Muslim Council here. Almost impossible. Only after six years of kicking and screaming have they decided to attend Holocaust Memorial Day. I mean, that's what we're up against. It's a good marrying up of English anti-Semitism, which is very much hush-hush, which is still out there, and then that's married up with that being very vocal from among certain sections of the Muslim community.
The creativity that a number of American Muslim have shown in reconciling an authentic approach to their religion with their American and Western identity could be a huge force for smoothing out the confrontation between the West and the Islamic world. Unfortunately, there seem to be too many people in the US that enjoy having a clearly-defined enemy so much that they refuse to let go of their misinformed prejudices. So a religion of one billion people with 1,500 years of history, two major divisions and countless numbers of schools is distilled into one simplistic formula that, to its detractors, is corrupt and violent by nature. Uninformed bigots
never tire of informing us about the danger of Islam. American Islamic groups such as CAIR are regularly demonized. Here at Columbia, the McCarthyite troglodyte David Horowitz held an event called "Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week" (imagine an event critical of the Israeli right wing called "Judeo-Fascist Awareness Week"? How well would that fly? Or an event aimed to raise awareness of how many Christians are fascist, except, of course, "the good ones"). Charlatans and lunatics command thousands of dollars in speaking fees and appear on CNN and (of course) FOX as "terrorism experts."

Of course, I don't underestimate the danger of Islamist terrorism nor do I consider that cultural differences between Muslim countries and the West are easily bridged. Still, when it is time to decide what Islam is, perhaps we should listen to the Muslims. Not Osama bin Laden or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the ones who aren't shouting so much, people like Ed Husain. The bigots will say that he doesn't represent real Islam, which is presumptuous --of course, non-Catholics have told me I'm not a good Catholic because I don't agree 100% with the pope on every issue. Putting one billion people in the same basket seems both foolish and dangerous to me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

radio sententia -- gran ganga

A bit of the eighties in Madrid. From Pedro Almodovar's Labyrinth of Passions:

"Calamares por aqui, boquerones por alla... Aaaaaaaaahhh..."

my uncle Gary weighs in...

... on the Bush legacy:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

international support: it's not just Kenya

Medieval Japanese nuns.

But what do the people in Obama, Japan think?

The girls from Obama today.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Krugman's out of control

Alfonso II of Asturias, who has nothing to do with this post.

William has written about how much Paul Krugman has been attacking Obama for Clinton's benefit, but today he has gone off the deep end. He begins by stoking old Democratic feelings by appealing to the classic hero and the classic villain:
In 1956 Adlai Stevenson, running against Dwight Eisenhower, tried to make the political style of his opponent’s vice president, a man by the name of Richard Nixon, an issue. The nation, he warned, was in danger of becoming “a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland.”
He goes on to say how he worries about division turning the Democratic party into "Nixonland." Of course, it's true that we've seen the race card pulled, threats of terrorism to inspire fear, and a desire to change the rules halfway through the race in Michigan, Florida, and Nevada, and all of this behavior is perfectly Nixonian. Still, who does Krugman see as the culprit?
I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.
I respect Krugman, but he must be smoking too much dope at this point. I think any one example of the Clinton's race-baiting can be explained away as misinterpreted (and of course he only refers to one), but you really have to have some blinders on not to see the whole set as calculated. The same thing goes for every low road the Clinton campaign has taken to counter Obama's success. To turn around and use the adjective "Nixonian" to describe Obama supporters is a twisting of reality that approaches doublespeak. I also think both Hillary and Obama have personalities and stories that raise a great deal of passion, much more than our last couple of Democratic nominees (Gore has developed a personality now that was not evident in 2000). Supporters of both candidates are truly inspired by them, and that's not a bad thing. By referring to a "cult of personality" and then bringing up "Operation Flight Suit," Krugman not only explicitly compares Obama to George Bush (!), but to Josef Stalin (!!!!). Paul Krugman is dangerously approaching an Ann Coulter style of "journalism," and that's way beneath him.

UPDATE: Almost immediately after I posted this, I checked sitemeter and saw that someone at Princeton had came by, connected to the site from a search on "Paul Krugman -- NY Times." I don't know if it was one of Prof. Krugman's students or the man himself, and as I said I do respect Krugman a great deal. I even share with him some of his reservations about Obama's health plan. Still, I think he did stoop low with this column. I checked out some of the other links on the search page, and it's interesting how emotional this is getting for supporters of both candidates. It makes me wonder what Krugman meant by "supporters of Obama" in his column. Most of the problems I have with statements supporting Hillary Clinton against Obama come from Hillary herself, her husband, from people in her campaign, or from people close enough to the Clinton campaign that it's hard to imagine their talking points were not vetted (I'm thinking about remarks made by Andrew Cuomo or Bob Kerrey, or the op-ed in the Times by Gloria Steinem). As far as other comments go, like the crazed rant against Ted Kennedy by Marcia Pappas of NY-NOW, who knows? I'm not sure it's fair to blame the Clinton campaign for those. I would like to know what supporters Krugman is talking about.

On my run through blogs concerning this column, it was interesting to see that there were people excoriating Krugman and others praising him. A comparison to Frank Rich's Sunday column came up a couple of times, which was either denounced as trash by pro-Hillary bloggers or held up as the good to Krugman's bad by Obamamites (I personally tend towards the latter opinion). One thing that surprised me was one pro-Hillary blogger who talked about how Obama's race-baiting was despicably low. Look -- the LBJ/MLK comment could have been misunderstood (though it was horribly insensitive to civil rights activists, black and white, who literally put their lives on the line during the Civil Rights movement, something that Krugman just does not get), and Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment may have been taken out of context (though once again, there is an insensitivity issue here), but there were just too many racial references coming out of the Clinton camp for it to be random. They introduced race into the campaign to brand Obama as the candidate for (and only for) the African-American population. That is wrong, and as one Clinton surrogate might put it, they can't "shuck and jive" their way out of it.

This column by Jason Linkins makes a couple of good points about Krugman's column: 1) he does not substantiate his claims in anyway, and 2) although it is true that some of the press has taken some nasty pot shots at Hillary Clinton, Obama's campaign has nothing to do with that. A side note: Linkins talks about how his wife has a problem with the chants of "Yes, we can." My wife, Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis (who is a fervent Obama supporter) couldn't help pointing out that the crowds at Obama's speeches chanting "we want change" sounded a bit too much like "Imhotep... Imhotep... Imhotep..."

(Although to tell the truth, just watching Obama's speeches on TV, I find the energy of the crowds almost as exciting as his speeches -- the energy of the "we" that Obama always talks about, as opposed to the "I" that Hillary tends to use).

Friday, February 08, 2008

friday varia

Psalter Mappamundi, 1225.

Lent: has a reading plan, with texts, of Church Fathers for Lent. There's a longer version and a shorter version.

Sports: The Mets have signed Johan Santana. The Utah Jazz beat their division rival Denver in overtime, and have now won ten in a row. Hope springs eternal.

Politics: John McCain appears to have the GOP nomination in his pocket. He is not an ideal candidate. A Time poll show him losing to Obama, but by a thin margin, and tied with Hillary. I still think Obama is the stronger candidate against McCain, but it's very early to see how the general election will play out. Conservatives have a huge problem with him even though he has been sucking up to him. Many of them are so intransigent that they may not vote for him, even against Hillary. Democrats should remind the independents who apparently still see him as a "maverick" that he has flip-flopped tremendously in order to get his party's nomination. They should ask him which John McCain he is: the liberal (!) that the right sees, or the man who is trying to appeal to people so ideologically blinded that they cheer when Bush tells them, now that the country is slipping into recession and mired down in two badly-managed wars, that they must vote Republican because "Prosperity and peace are in the balance."

Wise Guys: For those nostalgic for the Sopranos, read about the huge Cosa Nostra bust in New York and Sicily. The best part? The nicknames:
They included the Gambino family’s acting boss, John D’Amico, 73, who is known as Jackie the Nose, and underboss, Domenico Cefalu, 61, who is known as Greaseball, and the consigliere, Joseph Corozzo, who is known as JoJo, the officials said.
This is the internet age , so you can get your own Mafia nickname. Mine is "The Blossom."

Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Bada bing, indeed.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

S & C endorses: Barack Obama

Okay, I know everyone has been waiting for this. John Edwards and Bill Richardson have been calling me, saying they're waiting for S & C to make an endorsement before they make theirs. So here goes...

Please, please vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday if you have a primary in your state.

I had been torn between Obama and Edwards. Obama's policies do not always go far enough in the progressive direction for me. I prefer both the Edwards and the Clinton health care plans to Obama's. I am concerned that Obama might be too conciliatory to stand up to Republicans who are too accustomed to having their. Edwards is out now, though, and the choice for Democrats is down to two.

Hillary Clinton is intelligent, knowledgeable, and determined. She would make a better president than any of the candidates from the GOP. Many of those who oppose her do for the wrong reasons. Still, the way she has run her campaign has shown a disturbing lack of integrity. The use of surrogates to inject questions of race into the campaign, her attempts to change the rules halfway through the game, and the continuing misrepresentation of Obama's views and statements are far too close to the kind of politics employed by Karl Rove.

There are other issues that are important -- Hillary's connections to big business, her support of the Kyle-Lieberman amendment, and her inability to explain her vote on authorizing the Iraq war to name a few. Even putting these aside, Hillary has serious electability problems, especially against John McCain. Frank Rich has pointed out the dangerous shadow of Bill Clinton over Hillary, which seems even worse now that the Borat affair has been revealed. Hillary Clinton could also mobilize right wing voters who otherwise would be too demoralized to leave home on election day.

If John McCain wins the Republican nomination, which seems likely at this point, his aura of "integrity" will stand in sharp contrast to Hillary. I don't think that's fair, especially since I think McCain has sold his soul to advance his candidacy in the GOP, pandering to groups on the far right that are dangerous and that he previously denounced. Still, the press will continue to portray him as the "maverick," and it will convince a lot of independent voters. McCain would be a disaster as president. This is a man who has promised more wars, claimed that a hundred-year occupation of Iraq is acceptable to him, and tastelessly joked about bombing Iran. At a time of recession, he admits not understanding economics. McCain's approach to stimulating the economy is similar to George Bush's -- tax cuts. If he is more interested in reducing the deficit than Bush, as he claims, and he's paying for all of his wars, the only alternative is brutal spending cuts on social programs, infrastructure, and education, further widening the gap between the rich and the rest of us in this country.

So, back to Obama. The important question that is raised by his candidacy is that of substance. It's all very good to talk about change and hope, but don't we need more than talk? Yes, of course, and Obama has his policy ideas which are on his website -- some, not all, don't go far enough for me (e.g., his ideas on Iraq and his health care proposal). Like many other people, however, it's the intangible excitement around his campaign that gets my attention. Is that shallow? I don't know. I do believe, however, that Obama was right in the New Hampshire debate when he said, "words do inspire." Words and expressions like "if you're not with us, you're against us," "axis of evil," and "terrorist" have been very powerful over the past seven years. I think one of Hillary's low points was when, Giuliani-style, she invoked the threat of a terrorist attack to support her candidacy. I am tired of politics of fear and divisiveness, and for all my doubts, Obama can electrify me. He won't solve all the country's problems, but it's time for a change of style. If you have a few minutes, watch his victory speech in South Carolina:

Not bad, huh?

By the way, thanks to Kevin for many of the links. I highly recommend his blog, Ghost in the Machine, for those following this election.

Vote Obama on Tuesday, please.