Why Obama won the debate

On Friday night, Hassan and I raced home in the rain from a dinner to catch the debate.  We came in just as Obama was warming up, and were very pleased to see he was doing so well. We had both been slightly worried – we felt Obama’s performance in the primary debates had been inconsistent, a bit too professorial and nuanced. On Friday he was still his natural nuanced self, but his sentences were shorter and clearer, with far fewer “ums,” and with a fair dose of phrases like “Senate inside baseball” and “hard to swallow.” 

I thought the debate was a victory for Obama for a couple of reasons.  First, he won the “body language” debate.  He looked relaxed, presidential, and even personable in the way he looked McCain, Lehrer, and the audience in the eye, and called McCain, “John,” speaking directly to him.  McCain’s scowling, muttering, and inability or unwillingness to look Obama in the eye came across looking petulant and contemptuous.  The lack of eye contact, in particular, may go down in history with Al Gore’s sigh and HW looking at his watch.

Second, McCain’s major goal was to paint Obama as naive and inexperienced on foreign policy, and it completely backfired.  First of all, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is a risky strategy to begin with. Democrats tried this on W., and it didn’t work, because it came off as elitist and condescending.  Now McCain is coming off that way, especially since he’s being so blunt about it.  Following the “show-it-don’t-tell-it” rule, Obama never directly responded to the accusation of being naive, but his clear fluency and mastery of every major foreign policy issue (down to the names and correct pronunciation of relatively less known foreign leaders) were far more effective than any direct response.  If anything, McCain’s accusations of naivete only highlighted the fact that concerns about Obama’s lack of experience and knowledge were completely misplaced.

On a not entirely related note, one of my favorite moments of the debate was when McCain accused Obama of having a liberal voting record, and Obama responded that most of that was just because of his opposition to the failed policies of the Bush administration. I don’t think the L-word has been an effective attack for Republicans since it shot Michael Dukakis out of the tank, but this was an especially effective response.

A bunch of the pundits immediately said McCain had won, but so far it seems like voters, especially uncommitted voters, were more impressed by Obama.  Several polls have indicated that folks thought Obama won, and the early results of the tracking polls in the past day show Obama maintaining or expanding his lead. One focus group in particular said that the dials for McCain went way down every time he said Obama was naive, though I can’t seem to find that link at the moment.

UPDATE: Thanks to Hassan, I found that link on focus group ratings, which was from Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic.

Funny stuff, Politics

Economic bailout or banking scam spam? You decide.

This is an email that’s apparently making the rounds, which I came across on the blog of Walter Jon Williams (writer of the speculative variety and teacher extraordinaire):

“Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude. I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America.

My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully, Minister of Treasury Paulson”

One more interesting note:  The true author of this missive is unknown, but according to the Washington Post one of the first known places it was circulated was from someone at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Observational blogging

Why GoogleReader stresses me out

(For those of you unfamiliar, GoogleReader is one of Google’s many ingenious tools. It lets you sign up for all your blogs and other web sites, and it automatically sends you blog entries and other updates as messages, like an email inbox for the entire world wide web.)

So today I logged into my Google Reader account for the first time in many months, and in the upperleft hand corner it says, “All Items (1000+ Unread).”  As if it’s not enough that I have 400+ messages at my work email account, and 4797 unread messages in my yahoo account (not as bad as it sounds, mostly spam or listserv messages – I hope), now I have 1000+ unread items in Google Reader? 

This is particularly tragic, because reading blogs is primarily a tool for procrastination.  (You are procrastinating about doing something else you should be doing right now, aren’t you?)  GoogleReader takes this lovely, joyous activity of pure procrastination and transforms it into another stressful obligation: “Oh no, I’m more than 1000 posts behind on all my blog reading!” That’s just not right.  Plus, part of the fun of blog-related procrastination is the physical act of clicking on all the different sites.  Right?  Okay, maybe I’m alone on that part, but still…

Not that I’m against GoogleReader.  It’s actually a really good tool, with a really nice user interface and everything….

Funny stuff, Politics

John McCain’s 100% true ads on SNL

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.1586037&w=425&h=350&fv=]

This is one of those sketches that really don’t have to exaggerate too much in order to be funny – some of John McCain’s real ads are pretty much this ridiculous.

It’s interesting that the sketch shows McCain sort of naively going along with the misleading ads.  There’s this narrative out there that McCain really still is a nice guy with integrity, and it’s really the Republican machine that’s dragging him down into the mud, but I’m skeptical of that. John McCain is the one calling the shots of his campaign, and he’s too smart a guy to be tricked by his own advisors into playing dirtier than he wants to.  His campaign is running the way it is because that’s how he thinks he can win.

Pop culture

Miss Piggy vs. Mickey Mouse

My last post reminded me of when Hassan and I went to Disney World, like two years ago.  (It was the first time I’d been – there were no trips to Disney World in my deprived childhood.)

When we were there, we saw a Muppets 3-D show, which featured the Muppets alongside Disney characters, and throughout the show all the Muppets kept talking about how excited they were that Mickey Mouse was going to make an appearance on the show, as if Mickey were this big star and the Muppets were just a bunch of second stringers.  And as this went on, I felt increasingly annoyed and even hostile toward Mickey, because the Muppets are just so way cooler than Mickey Mouse.  

Let’s take Miss Piggy.  She is headstrong and bossy, vain yet insecure about her appearance, she says “moi” too much, she’s perfectly willing to lie and scheme a bit to get her way, but she’s extremely loyal to her friends, and she’s desperately in love with Kermit.  Those are building blocks for an awesome character.

Whereas Mickey…. has a squeaky voice and … is a mouse.  I’m hard-pressed to think of a duller, more two-dimensional character that exists in cartoons or puppetry.  This is why Disney and the Muppets don’t go well together.  Disney characters tend to be squeaky clean, with few interesting quirks and no moral ambiguity, and the Muppets are all about the quirks and the ambiguity.

But maybe I’m being unfair to Mickey.  I can’t remember the last time I even saw him featured in anything story-like, and at this point he’s more a logo than a character. And as a logo, he seems to have been pretty successful.

Fantasy & scifi, Places to submit fiction

Interfictions 2 Seeking Genre-Bending Fiction

Interfictions 2 is looking for submissions of “interstitial” fiction, or stories that bend genres, defy categorization, and are just all around weird. The first Interfictions anthology was high-quality stuff, so this will be a cool anthology to be part of.  It’s edited by Delia Sherman and Chris Barzak, both amazing writers who have been known to break genre rules now and again, and the whole thing is a project of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the idea of interstitial art.  (The IAF’s official address is a PO Box in Boston,  but I believe that the organization’s true headquarters may actually exist at the nexus of several parallel universes, like in the DC Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths and sequels; however, this has not yet been confirmed.)

Fantasy & scifi, Fiction, Recommended books

Benjamin Rosenbaum rocks!

Last Sunday I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival with the very cool Dan Braum, and we hung out at the Small Beer Press booth for a while.  Gavin Grant, the shrewdest capitalist and slickest salesman in all of New England, talked me into buying The Ant King, Ben Rosenbaum’s new collection of short stories (as well as some other goodies).

I started thumbing through it, and ended up reading a whole story, and then read another whole story, and now it seems to have bumped its way to the front of the line ahead of two other books I’d been in the middle of reading before.  (Alway a sign that a book is hottt stuff with at least three t’s.)

In the title story, this poor guy’s girlfriend turns into a hundred gumballs just when they were about to have a romantic first-kiss moment, and then he has to rescue her from the evil Ant King’s hideout deep in the bowels of a water park.  How can a story not be amazing with a plot like that?

In another story, an orange takes over the world.  Metaphor?

Ben’s stories (we Bens have to stick together) are definitely of the slipstream/surrealist school, of the best kind.  A good surrealist story is like a good drag act: it bends conventions in unpredictable and interesting ways but never takes itself too seriously.  Plus, sparkly outfits.  That’s exactly what Ben Rosenbaum’s collection is like.