Inhuman Swill : September 2004

The winner by decision: Kerry

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Laura and I were out earlier this evening at the Beer Garden drinking up a storm with friends, so I just finished watching the presidental debate on DVR. I found both candidates to be repetitive, continually falling back on the same arguments, statistics, and turns of phrase to defend their positions. I found both candidates to be inconsistent in the messages they delivered. I found the focus on the issue of nuclear proliferation ... an interesting choice at best.

However, I feel immensely better in the aftermath of the debate. For all that John Kerry is far from a perfect candidate, he demonstrated tonight that he has passion, intelligence, and poise. He rarely fumbled for words or presented anything less than a calm demeanor. While the President spoke, Kerry scribbled notes and seemed intent. His command of foreign policy issues was impressive, and he said the thing we need to understand as a people: changing your stance when new facts come to light contradicting is not wrong but necessary.

George Bush, on the other hand, looked impatient, distracted, and/or petulant during Kerry's remarks. One early shot (an angle I noted was not shown again during the debate) showed Bush tapping his leg nervously while he spoke. He frequently lost the thread of his thoughts, he repeated himself far more than Kerry did, he seemed entirely ill at ease, and most of his arguments added up to little better than "No, you're wrong."

There was no knockout punch, no moment of sudden insight or victory. But having seen this debate, I feel better about the the country's prospects in November. I'm sure there are still plenty of ways it can all go wrong, but tonight I feel something I'm not used to: hope.

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Bush on tribal sovereignty

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This is why I'm disappointed that the candidates don't get to ask each other questions in the debate this evening:

quicktime video
Bush sounds for all the world like a junior high schooler trying to pad out a 500-word essay with empty verbiage.

(And can you hear the quiet laughter in the audience? Does Bush think they're laughing with him?)

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Gore on Bush

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My subway reading yesterday was "The Wilderness Campaign," a profile of Al Gore from the September 13 New Yorker, by editor David Remnick. As I was reading the following passage, I was thinking to myself, 'Damn, I need to blog this.'"

"I wasn't surprised by Bush's economic policies, but I was surprised by the foreign policy, and I think he was, too,” Gore told me. "The real distinction of this Presidency is that, at its core, he is a very weak man. He projects himself as incredibly strong, but behind closed doors he is incapable of saying no to his biggest financial supporters and his coalition in the Oval Office. He's been shockingly malleable to Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and the whole New American Century bunch. He was rolled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was too weak to resist it.

"I'm not of the school that questions his intelligence," Gore went on. "There are different kinds of intelligence, and it's arrogant for a person with one kind of intelligence to question someone with another kind. He certainly is a master at some things, and he has a following. He seeks strength in simplicity. But, in today's world, that's often a problem. I don't think that he's weak intellectually. I think that he is incurious. It's astonishing to me that he'd spend an hour with his incoming Secretary of the Treasury and not ask him a single question. But I think his weakness is a moral weakness. I think he is a bully, and, like all bullies, he's a coward when confronted with a force that he's fearful of. His reaction to the extravagant and unbelievably selfish wish list of the wealthy interest groups that put him in the White House is obsequious. The degree of obsequiousness that is involved in saying 'yes, yes, yes, yes, yes' to whatever these people want, no matter the damage and harm done to the nation as a whole—that can come only from genuine moral cowardice. I don't see any other explanation for it, because it's not a question of principle. The only common denominator is each of the groups has a lot of money that they're willing to put in service to his political fortunes and their ferocious and unyielding pursuit of public policies that benefit them at the expense of the nation."  [full article]

It's an elegiac article, not at all fawning. Interesting and worth reading, particularly for its insight into the sort of people who are raised to be politicians. Or one sort of people of that sort.

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Dog or dandelion?

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You decide.

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Jeanne was here

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At least there are no major problems on the subway this morning (except for the G, but who cares about the G?), but the remnants of Jeanne sure made a mess of our back yard overnight. Nothing compared to Florida, of course, but Laura woke up and wondered who put in the swimming pool out back.

Ella is delighted.

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Airing things out

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Ladies, there's a rather delicate topic that's been weighing on my mind of late, and I feel it urgently begs addressing. I will attempt to be circumspect.

For about a year now, I've been hearing and reading in various places reports of women's disgust for men on the subways and buses who sit with their legs spread wide, airing out their, er, jewel purses. While I share these ladies' unease at the blatant and provocative display of these, er, squirrel hoards, and deplore the way practitioners of said sitting position so often take up a seat and a half or more on crowded conveyances with their callously splayed limbs, I feel it incumbent upon me to point out that your male fellow travelers are in all likelihood not truly attempting to impress you with the contents of their, er, fruit baskets, except possibly in an entirely unconscious evolutionary sense.

These men may indeed be clods, but they are clods in the sense of blithe social obliviousness rather than one of creepy cloddish lasciviousness. My attention having been called to the queasy-making effects of this practice on the distaff sex, I've been putting forth a concerted effort to monitor the degree of the interior angle between my own resting appendages, and I've been horrified to discover that even a male as relatively enlightened as myself tends to open his, er, equipment locker to public inspection during unguarded moments on the commute. I have striven mightily to keep my knees in close proximity but have discovered to my dismay that this necessitates concentrated effort. I'm sorry indeed to report that the airing of the, er, lumber bin would appear to be the natural state of the seated male Homo sapiens.

It's all in the construction of the pelvis bone, you see. The way our femurs connect makes the leg turn naturally outward when sitting. To draw our knees together, our thigh muscles must flex, must perform work, must burn actual calories. I say this not to excuse our troglodytishness but merely to explain that our wretched behavior is directed at you only on a genetic level, not a conscious one, and that when our, er, birthday parcels are pointing your way we've merely momentarily relaxed our vigilence, if indeed we possessed any in the first place, in exhaustion.

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A literal underground movement

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Intrepid Parisians have been taking the concept of urban exploration to new heights—or depths, rather, as explained in this Guardian story:

Paris's new slant on underground movies There are, at most, 15 of them. Their ages range from 19 to 42, their professions from nurse to window dresser, mason to film director. And in a cave beneath the streets of Paris, they built a subterranean cinema whose discovery this week sent the city's police into a frenzy.

"They freaked out completely," Lazar, their spokesman, said happily. "They called in the bomb squad, the sniffer dogs, army security, the anti-terrorist squad, the serious crimes unit. They said it was skinheads or subversives. They got it on to national TV news. They hadn't a clue"...

Huddled round a table in an anonymous Latin Quarter bar, the group's members—of whom only Lazar wanted to be named—relate past exploits: rock concerts for up to 4,000 people in old underground quarries; 2am projections in a locked film theatre; art and photo exhibitions in supposedly sealed-off subterranean galleries.  [full story]

I was familiar with the idea of urban exploration already, where people explore forgotten, sealed-off, or off-limits reaches of a city's or university's infrastructure—frequently trespassing in the process. But this is just mind-bogglingly cool. I wonder if anything of the sort is happening in New York? I wonder if the authorities here are now on the alert?

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La di da

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It's 7:30 am and I've been at the office for nearly an hour already. La di da!

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September's CD mix of the month

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The press conference for the big launch that's been killing us at work for a couple of months, happening now live on the web:

Access to Benefits Coalition Webcast
Thank god.
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