Archive for the ‘Sarah Palin’ category

More on Obama’s Speech in Tucson – A Gift a la John Keats

January 13, 2011

John Keats' Tracing of Grecian Urn

The man has a gift.

He can wade through painful murk and leave a balm of clarity in his wake.  (No, he can’t change water into wine, but he sure can change whine into water.) 

Like many types of gifts, this one may not always be at Obama’s disposal.  He’s human, he gets bogged down and worn down.  But when he’s inspired, he’s inspirational.

It’s so interesting to compare Obama’s speech in Tucson with Palin’s delivered via Facebook earlier in the day.  I don’t mean here to express any particular animus towards Palin—she was speaking in a totally different context—an actual memorial service tends to bring out eloquence in a way that a home video does not.   Still, the differences are striking.  Even her calls to unity feel a bit like bludgeons—there is a defensive “or else” tone to her voice, and she seems to jump from catch phrase to catch phrase as if they were foothold rocks in a rushing steam.  (Unfortunately, some of these catch phrases, a/k/a ‘blood libel’ proved, like foothold rocks, to be a bit treacherous.)

Obama also uses age-old phrases at times—“a more perfect union”, references to Giffords’“updated version of government by the people, for the people, of the people.”   Even, I suppose, the remarks about rain puddles in heaven and the juxtaposition of the “hands over our hearts” has a certain very traditional rhetorical cleverness – but he manages to use these phrases in a way that is resonant and not catchy; he captures a kind of poetry.  This poetry not only has emotive force, but a certain rightness, the human mind (as noted by John Keats in his Ode to a Grecian Urn) seeking always to equate truth and beauty, beauty and truth.

It’s an amazing gift that Obama has, and that he gives us.


December 15, 2010



I was thinking last night about past topics/obsessions of this blog.  Two came to mind:  Sarah Palin and Robert Pattinson (who, for the non-cognoscienti, plays Edward Cullen, star vampire, in the movies based on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.)

So, what do Palin and Pattinson have in common?

  1. Big hair.
  2. Careers in which they act out the part of  ordinary Americans.   (Rob, of course, pretends to be a blood-sucking ordinary American, Sarah to be a non-money and celebrity-sucking ordinary American.)
  3. Close relationships with dark-haired teenage girls (or just past teenage), which have somehow augmented their celebrity.  (Okay, that one’s a bit silly.)
  4. Media vehicles that promote fantasy, the bare suppression (or not) of intense (seeming) passion, and (ahem) abstinence.  (Twilight/Fox).
  5. Fortunes that have been made from such media vehicles.
  6. Exuberant fans who do not seem to question what skeptics view as possible deficiencies–Rob’s acting, Sarah’s governing.   (Query–is it the hair?  Or the fantasy?)

Legally Blonde- Legally Brunette? Palin and Popular Culture

November 7, 2010

Legally Brunette?

Taking a brief break from Nanowrimo with some thoughts re the mid-term election and the seeming ascendency of Sarah Palin.   (I say, seeming ascendency because the failure of Palin-picks, Joe Miller in Alaska, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, would indicate some question about Palin’s  influence.)

Commentators have given all kinds of reasons for the “tsunami” of Republican/Tea Party victories: Obama’s failure to communicate, resistance to health care legislation, a still-faltering economy.

To me, part of the appeal of Palin and certain Republicans, and the corresponding disaffection from Obama, comes from the popularity of a “Legally Blonde” approach to the world; the triumph of the cutesy outsider over the elitist professorial.

Now I liked Legally Blonde as much as the next person.  (As an unlikely blonde female matriculant at an Ivy League law school, who roomed with a top-notch though even more unlikely blonde female matriculant, I probably liked the movie even more than the next person.)

But the movie’s immediate lessons that (i) a thorough knowledge of hair care, (ii) shoes, and (iii) sassy toe-tapping combined with (iv) a fervant belief in one’s client/cause are sure tools not only to success but to justice should not, in my view, be taken as perfect paradigms for modern governance.

Of course, good hair helps everything.   (I say this as a person who does not have it.  Thankfully, unlike certain politicians, a/k/a/ John Edwards, I don’t obsess over it. )

But there is a big tendency in popular culture to label any deliberate thoughtfulness, balancing and expertise, as narcissim, obfuscation, and venal elitism.  Such qualities are only truly acceptable in the fictional world if they are coupled with a great body or a hyperbolic ability to inflict corner-cutting violence; see e.g. Lizbeth Salander, Bones, Robert Downey as Sherlock Holmes, any of a whole host of movies I’ve not actually seen (due to my dislike of violence.)

To be fair to “Legally Blonde”, the movie does show Belle balancing big books on her stairmaster, but what ultimately saves the day is her knowledge of permanent waves and, oh yes, Pradas.

Great for the silver screen.

Questions of the Placement of Man (And Woman) In the Grand (or not so grand) Scheme of Things – Tea Party/Here and Now

October 23, 2010

At a kind of center

Dashing across Broadway to the corner of Fulton, late for work, and thinking about my next blog post–an off-shoot of “Lord Help Us!”, about the Tea Party’s doubts in man-made climate change.

One major distinction between Tea Party types and students of science and history is their view of Man’s place (especially the place of American Man) in the whole big scheme of things.

Swing past the thick green posts at the top of the train entrance, the heavy iron scrollwork now muted by a zillion and one paint jobs; to my left, a T-Mobile (I think) store, petals of yellow ad flash in the darkly reflective glass.

Tea Partiers, pattering down the stairs, especially those who identify themselves as Christians (with a capital “C”), believe that Man (particularly American Man) is made in God’s image, the apple (only not the apple) of His eye.  As a result, creation revolves around Man; the Earth is at his disposal.

By American Man, I also mean Woman. I grimace in frustration as I slow for one carrying a baby carriage.  (I usually do offer to help women with carriages but this one is already mid-stairs, and taking up the whole stairs too–no way will I get past her.)

Few serious students of science or history can truly believe this.   Scientists tend to be conscious of the fact that the Universe (and even the Earth) have had a long life span that didn’t include Man in a starring role, and also that it’s possible for Man to write him/herself out of the future script.  Serious historians, for their part, cannot truly believe that all of human history has been one big build-up to Sarah Palin.

I chuckle inside, feeling suddenly energized by snarkiness.  But now I see with absolute certainty, even though just from the corner of my eye, the dull sliding silver of the train.  Still moving, meaning it’s pulling in, but there’s that baby carriage and mother, and now an older lady too, and it’s a narrow entrance, but there are three turnstiles–THREE!–the rectangular lights of the train windows slow–

If all of the Earth is supposed to be FOR man, how can we wreck it, thinks the Tea Party–

I really don’t want to be rude, but oh come on–train doors opening–I jog to the left of the baby carriage, the mother, the older lady in black wool coat, slightly bent, carrying a bag, Christ–got to get around that too–determined not to discombobulate them,veering to the farthest turnstile that I never use–what did someone say the other day?–that that turnstile didn’t work, no, that the closer one didn’t work?  Random notes of random sentences depress the fervor of my Metrocard slide until the green “GO” magically appears and I push the heavy slots (it’s one of those floor to ceiling turnstiles), galloping towards the bright rectangular squares at the end of the dim concrete–

Ohnoohnoohdamn.  On hands, ouch, knees, face burning–I really should never wear a scarf–this purse–did I break anything?  The older bent lady in the black coat alarmed–I try not to think about how my hands sting and what kind of germs are crawling onto them, looking up  around tangle of neck–

The doors are still–open–I scramble upright, lunging stiffly, mumbling apologies to the old lady–oh no, my necklace unclasped, my lucky necklace, about to fling itself–grab it with one hand as I stumble into the white light of the car, the other holding open the door, turning back to those left behind.   The mother with the carriage hasn’t yet gotten through the turnstile, the old lady at the far edge of the platform–

“No no.”  She shakes her head with a smile.  I can’t tell if she’s wise, or heading for a whole different line.

I let go of the door, reclasp my necklace, resettle my scarf, wipe my hands on my pants, then don’t wipe my hands, then–ah–sit down, pretending that no one is looking at me.

Head in the clouds, theories, egocentric snarkiness, leads to–scraped knees, stinging hands, I bend down over my notebook.

Wait–that’s my stop!  Already??!!!

(Isn’t the “here and now” part of what science is all about?)

Hurry hurry hurry out the door.

I Know I Should Be Happy About All the Women Candidates

October 17, 2010

Maureen Dowd today compared some of the “new” women candidates to the mean girls at school, the ones that painted your locker and made up stories that you were pregnant.

I am lucky not to remember a a big contingent of “mean girls” at my high school.  (The minute that I write this the fear arises that someone from my high school will post a comment saying that the reason I don’t remember the mean girls is because I was one of them.  I really really hope that’s not true.)

My high school, an all-girls’ school, was not a social Shangri-la.  There were girls that were more popular than others, more sophisticated, more cool.  But it was a relatively small school, and during the time I was there (the early 70’s), most of our emnity seemed focus on an external rival–the boys’ school, our brother school, which was only about a block away, but infinitely richer, with more land, buildings, more equipment, and far more edible food.  (Male alumni had money and power, women didn’t.)

The boys’ school, an in-our-face symbol of societal unfairness, not only quelled our internal bickering, but also made us conscious of a certain kind of responsibility.   If we wanted to get to the very same places as those boys across the green, we couldn’t afford to be just as good as they were, we were going to have to be better.

I don’t know if this turned out to be true.  When we first graduated, it was probably harder to progress as a women–to get a coveted place at certain Ivy League institutions, or, let’s say, the Supreme Court.  Later, as things burst open in certain ways, women were probably sought after.

Even so, politics has been a particularly difficult field.  There the narrow range of what is deemed acceptable in the female, and too, the demands of biology and family life have seemed particular obstacles.  Even women that got boosts from spousal connections (e.g. Hilary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole) traditionally felt bound to develop strong policy expertise and a reputation for an extremely solid work ethic.

And then came Sarah Palin, and this current host of female politicians.

Their success seems to illustrate that women have advanced to the point where they are as free as men to be idiotic, mean-spirited, uninformed.

I know I should feel happy.

R U Really Talking of Orwell This Labor Day Weekend?

September 5, 2010

Some Animals Are More Equal than Others (And Some Don't Want to Hear About It)

Sarah Palin tweeted, after Obama’s Iraq speech, something to the effect that ‘u should get out ur old Orwell books.’  She was implying, I guess, that Obama was trying to steal Bush’s credit for the invasion of Iraq.

I, for one, am happy to give Bush credit for Iraq.  If Obama was trying to claim credit for anyone else, I think it was mainly U.S. troops and commanders.

But my real interest in Palin’s tweet–aside from the “u’s” and “ur’s” (how can someone make any claim to thoughtfulness with “u’s” and “ur’s”?)–is the mention of Orwell.

On a Labor Day weekend, the Orwellian phrase which most comes to my mind is the modified commandment from the Stalinist-type commune satirized in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

We live in a society that is increasingly stratified.  While equality is touted, and each human life is (on a speechifying level) deemed equally priceless, the fact is that some people’s lives are valued exponentially much more highly than others.  Some people’s work, for example, is deemed to be worth millions, others less than minimum wage.  These values don’t seem to always correlate to talent, effort, difficulty==sometimes they simply arise from the luck of being in a job that generates cash.

The ability of certain people to make stupefyingly large amounts of money in our culture seems to be viewed by Palin and other Tea Party types as a sign of our freedom.  But it’s unclear to me that the rank and file American, especially those angered by what they view as handouts to the poor and underserving, fully understands the level of wealth of some in this country and the increasing disparity between classes.   It’s also unclear whether the damage such disparity inflicts on both a society and an economy has been much thought through.  (Both Robert Reich and Bob Herbert have interesting articles about this in the last day’s NY Times.)

Another new mantra appears to be “Taxes Bad–Any Business Good”.    People seem to forget that taxes fund street lights, firemen, schools, police, our national defense–all those troops everyone wants to support–parks, clean food, clean water, help for the handicapped, Social security, Medicare;  taxes also give people access to such services.     And, of course, a progressive tax system is one means of redressing some of the issues of wage and access imbalance, i.e.  the differences between the equal and more equal.   But woe (or should I spell it, WO) to any politician who dares mention such an idea – U R risking instant Orwellization.  (Or worse.)

Double Standard re Facts – Tea Party – Obama

August 23, 2010

See Footnote 1*

Footnote 1*. Mamas do often know, but this knowledge generally arises from careful (both short and longterm) observation, attentive listening, even spying, and not from “just kindaness.”

More Double Standards – Re Health Care (Crossing the Border to Canada)

August 22, 2010

Double Standard re Constitutional Rights (Palin/Obama)

August 21, 2010

Double Standard Re Blessing America

August 20, 2010

(For those too young to know, Kate Smith was barrel-chested/voiced singer who helped popularize Irving Berlin’s now-perhaps-oversung ballad.  For those too young to know, he – Irving Berlin – is the guy who wrote God Bless America.)