Archive for September, 2008

Bill Kristol, II

September 29, 2008 Leave a comment

Earlier today, I wrote about Bill Kristol’s column in today’s New York Times. The New Yorker’s George Packer, in light of the column and today’s defeat of the bailout, writes, “I’ll always think of September 29, 2008, as the day the conservative movement brought down the institutions.” After reviewing Kristol’s column, Packer observes:

When a party, a movement, and its shills unravel, the panic leaves behind a pretty bad smell. Kristol, born with an impressive pedigree, long ago sacrificed his intellectual independence to the Republican Party. His career is a cautionary tale of the mental corruption that comes with political power, and it has degenerated alongside the conservative movement for which he’s been a tireless publicist.

And after reviewing the defeat of the bailout, Packer concludes:

Watch Kristol forget that he just told McCain to take credit for getting the bill passed; watch McCain and Palin claim to have killed it on behalf of the outraged taxpayers. However low you bend, you won’t find a standard of truthfulness with this ticket and its backers. The Kristol Plan is the triumph of tactics over everything. It takes years and years spent writing propaganda to achieve that kind of purity.

Meanwhile, it’s left to a relatively young black man, charged by his opponents with being a radical, a liberal, a community organizer, a Muslim, and the anti-Christ, to save the establishment on Wall Street and in Washington.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Bill Kristol

September 29, 2008 Leave a comment

In his New York Times column today, Bill Kristol describes McCain as “on course to lose the presidential election” and lays out the path McCain should take to “turn it around, and surge to victory.” His advice includes the following step:

In the debate, Palin has to dispatch quickly any queries about herself, and confidently assert that of course she’s qualified to be vice president. She should spend her time making the case for McCain and, more important, the case against Obama. As one shrewd McCain supporter told me, “Every minute she spends not telling the American people something that makes them less well disposed to Obama is a minute wasted.”

I try to take Kristol seriously. I really do. But I just don’t get him. Suppose Palin does “confidently assert that of course she’s qualified to be vice president.” Does that make it so? Should we accept her at her word and ignore all the competing evidence? If she makes the desired assertion and then goes on the attack, would this prove that she is prepared for the job?

Kristol is a college classmate of mine. I didn’t know him when we were in college, but I did hear him speak in October 2003 at our 30th reunion (on a panel with fellow classmates E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Benazir Bhutto), and I was convinced that he’s a smart guy, even a thoughtful one. Why is so much of what he writes and says publicly not so thoughtful? Perhaps the explanation was provided this morning by Andrew Sullivan, who wrote, “He has long since stopped thinking about ideas and reality, focusing on short-term tactics and marketing for his company brand, the GOP.”

Categories: Politics

McCain-Obama, II: Kissinger

September 29, 2008 Leave a comment

Much has been written since the first McCain-Obama debate Friday night about which of the two candidates more accurately quoted Henry Kissinger on the conditions appropriate for holding talks with world leaders. I thought it most unfortunate that Obama shared the desire of McCain and Palin to have Kissinger’s blessing.

Christopher Hitchins has addressed the issue well in Slate. I’ll pass over the details and skip to his conclusion:

But the true farce and disgrace is that this increasingly glassy-eyed old blunderer and war criminal, who has been wrong on everything since he first authorized illicit wiretapping for the Nixon gang, should be cited as an authority by either nominee, let alone by both of them. … the debate would look more intelligent, and be conducted on a higher plane, if it excluded a discredited pseudo-expert who has trampled on human rights, vandalized the U.S. Constitution, deceived Congress, left a trail of disaster and dictatorship behind him, and deserves to be called not a hawk or a dove but a vulture.

Categories: Politics

Bad Dreams

September 28, 2008 1 comment

Each of us must be plagued by certain families of recurring dreams, dreams we are happily free of until the next time we awaken from one of them. For me, there are the elevator dreams, the low-flying-airplane dreams, and perhaps worst, the not-prepared-to-teach dreams.

Mind you, thanks to a variety of administrative jobs, I haven’t taught a regular class in years (though that will change soon). But I remain shaken by dreams in which I find myself in front of a class of math students with no idea what I’m supposed to cover that day. There is no better feeling than waking up to realize that I don’t actually have to teach, that I can escape the humiliating experience of standing in front of a group of people with no idea what I’m doing.

Maybe Sarah Palin is hoping she will awaken with similar relief. “No, John McCain didn’t really ask me to be his vice-presidential running mate.” Or, “No, I didn’t really say yes when I was asked.” I do wonder how she feels.

One thing about mathematics: you can’t fake it. The subject is unforgiving. If you have a statement you wish to prove, either you have a proof or you don’t. And if you don’t, saying everything you can think of that is germane is no substitute for a proof. Sometimes silence really is golden. (I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a bad thing to state everything you can think of as part of the process of searching for a proof. But searching for a proof is not the same as having a proof, and it is important to know the difference.)

Categories: Math, Teaching


September 27, 2008 Leave a comment

In Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column in tomorrow’s paper, she chides Senator Obama for doing “a poor job of getting under McCain’s skin.” For example:

McCain kept painting Obama as naïve, and dangerous, insisting that he “doesn’t quite understand or doesn’t get it.”

Obama should have responded “Senator, I understand perfectly, I’m just saying you’re wrong.”

On the surge, he could have said that McCain was the arsonist who wanted to be praised for the great job he’s doing putting out the fire he started.

I find Andrew Sullivan’s analysis earlier today the more penetrating one. He says in part: Read more…

Categories: Politics, Today's News

The Story Behind the Bear DNA

September 27, 2008 Leave a comment

Early in the McCain-Obama debate last night, Senator McCain yet again brought up the issue of the $3 million Congressional appropriation (“earmark”) for a bear DNA study in Montana. This was the one example he gave (maybe there were more, but it’s the one I latched onto) of wasteful governmental spending on pork, or earmarks. Of course, focusing on an earmark that cost $3 million in the context of a discussion of a $700 billion bailout suggests an insufficient sense of scale, either on Senator McCain’s own part or in his expectations of the audience. But what I find more troubling is his continued use of this expenditure as an example of self-evident waste, without making any effort to educate the audience (or perhaps himself) on why it’s a waste.

Anti-intellectual and anti-science currents run deep in this country. I am not sufficiently informed to address the history of this, but I can at least refer as a start to Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 Puliter-Prize-winning book Anti-intellectualism in American Life. As to the issue at hand, Coco Ballantyne provided some background on the bear study last February in Scientific American. Excerpts follow. Read more…

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Droppin’ g’s

September 26, 2008 Leave a comment

As I have listened to Sarah Palin in her interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, I have given some thought to how much her style of speaking English affects my judgment of her. I have tried to focus on the actual content of her remarks, not her accent. For instance, we all drop our g’s from time to time. It isn’t in itself a sign of education or lack thereof, of intelligence or lack thereof.

In this context, the linguist Arnold Zwicky has an interesting post today at Language Log, entitled What Palin’s gonna do. Zwicky begins by taking Philip Gourevitch to task for using the spelling ‘gonna’ in quoting Palin in the recent New Yorker article The State of Sarah Palin (September 22 issue).

What stands out here — for a linguist, anyway — is the five occurrences of the spelling gonna for written standard going to. I’ll take Gourevitch’s word that this is the way Palin pronounced the expression, but why did he transcribe it that way? …

First point: gonna is an entirely standard, though informal variant of going to, at least in American English. … Instances of gonna from standard-English American speakers in relaxed contexts are all over the place, and it’s not hard to find the occasional instance from such speakers (even prestigious ones) in formal contexts. Normally we’d expect such occurrences of gonna to to be represented as going to in print.

Zwicky also addresses g-dropping, and refers back to an old post by Mark Liberman, which I highly recommend, for a discussion of this practice. I’ll summarize a few of Liberman’s points below.
Read more…

Categories: Language, Politics