Archive for August, 2008

Less prurient thoughts about Sarah Palin

August 31, 2008

It’s all Sarah all the time today! Some of what passes for analysis with me:

  • She has what could be a devastating Girl-Next-Door affect: she’s just like you, only better (much better). People are naturally going to like her.
  • Which means that the Democrats need to be careful attacking her, if they don’t want to sound just plain mean. The Obama campaign seemed to figure this out pretty quickly, after an initial blast. Much better to see what she’s really like under pressure—sadly, that might will be pretty formidable—and let her do or say something stupid.
  • Not all the liberal blogs have figured that out; the knives are out for her at DailyKos et al. (but see Digby for a counterexample).  I fear mostly what they’ll do is lower expectations, making her look even better. But maybe it doesn’t matter; their audience is the True Believers, and their purpose is to rile up the Faithful.
  • I can only hope that Newt and Cindy and the wingnuts at Fox continue to defend her “executive experience” by pointing out that Alaska is really near Russia and has a National Guard. Unless I missed the Russo-Alaskan War of 2007, that seems a rather more devastating critique than anything we lefties might lob at her.
  • There’s been a certain amount of commentary along the lines of “this transparently political pick of a manifestly unqualified candidate shows that McCain cares only about winning the election and has no regard for the good of the country.” I don’t buy that at all (although actually I do tend to think that McCain cares only about winning the election etc)—I think she really is exactly the sort of mavericky independentish buck-the-rules person he truly likes (and obviously as he sees himself being—and may have been, in his better moments). You may of course question his judgment in picking her for that reason.
  • Especially given that she’s under investigation for abuse of power. What on earth? Nominating someone with a scandal? Sure, it might prove to be a big nothing in the end, but then again it could blow up on November 3.
  • I still think Obama will win the election, so the real result of the nomination, assuming she does well in the spotlight (and again, I think she will), will be to make her a serious contender for PILF in 2012 or 2016.

OK then, enough for now. I look forward to seeing what she’s like in the public eye for the next week. Maybe then we can have some actual informed commentary!


August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin I’ve been saying for months (sadly, not in writing) that I thought the Republicans ought to pick Sarah Palin for VP.1 I never thought for a second they’d actually do it.

So here’s my thoughts. As usual, none of them are particularly original:

  • McCain is desperate for attention (the real subtext of that “Celebrity” ad was that McCain was jealous–he thinks he should be the world’s biggest celebrity, not just the oldest). He needed an interesting VP pick, and there weren’t a whole lot of possibilities. McCain and Mitt despise each other, and anyway Mitt owns too many houses (although he can probably count them). McCain might have liked to pick Lieberman, but he would energize both Republicans and Democrats against him. Tim Pawlenty and Tom Ridge are major snoozers.
  •   Miss Wasilla 1984She’s a social conservative, which the base will like; and being a woman she won’t annoy moderates as much as the typical White Male Phallocrat would.
  • Yes, she should appeal greatly to the lunatic Hillaristas. But I don’t know what to make of that. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone could support Hillary but prefer McCain to Obama, no matter how ticked off. Estrogen poisoning? Anyway, the Hillaryites are loud and entertaining, which means their numbers are probably vastly overstated.
  • This really does undercut the “experience” argument. Ordinarily wouldn’t be a big deal: lots of things trump experience. But in this case Experience is McCain’s only quasi-concrete anti-Obama argument.
  • It was There’s an excellent possibility she will compare well to Biden, despite his decades of experience blovating in the Senate. She did after all take on Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens and win.
  • Shouldn’t “Track” and “Trig” be Romney children?
  • It seems awfully risky to pick someone currently under investigation for a scandal (being under investigation for a scandal is de rigueur for Alaska politicians). Mind you, I think it’s a pretty minor scandal–her state trooper ex-brother-in-law sounds like a real scuzbag who ought to have been fired, if not beaten up.

1 Remember, I’m a Democrat.

Movie Trailers; The Brothers Bloom; Brick

August 24, 2008

Is it just me, or has Apple’s movie trailers site really been pretty awful of late, possibly since its last redesign? I’ve been getting lots of timeouts; none of the trailers seem to load the first time (or the second, or the third…); the inexplicably fancy viewer interface strikes me as more trouble than its worth. Does it work better on a Mac? I’ve tried it on multiple browsers, including (ecch) Safari.

Just now I did get the trailer (good luck with that link) for The Brothers Bloom to work, and it looks worth checking out (“So what kind of stuff do you do?” “I collect hobbies.”). Especially as it’s written and directed by Rian Johnson, whose previous film, Brick, was among the more improbably fascinating movies of the last couple of years.

Brick is a film noir with high school students. I don’t mean that it’s “like a film noir,” or that it’s some sort of noir-junior; I mean it really is a full-blown Double Indemnity/Big Sleep/Laura-style film noir, that just happens to be about high school druggies. There’s an anti-hero who adheres rigidly to a moral code only he understands, constantly in trouble with a cop vice-principle; there’s a femme fatale, beautiful and wildly untrustworthy; there’s an informant, who mysteriously seems to know something about everything. And best of all, until the end it’s pretty much completely incomprehensible. In a good way, as in The Big Sleep. There’s even a whole slang dialect to add to the opacity—I have a weakness for that sort of linguistic atmosphere.

The Vision of Gabriel and early Christianity

August 22, 2008

April DeConick is skeptical of Israel Knohl’s new article in the Biblical Archaeology Review:

I am a bit disturbed about Knohl’s argument in the BAR piece, since the second temple passages that he quotes as evidence for a Jewish suffering messiah are from texts that have clearly been revised by later Christians.

Professor Knohl doesn’t think so, but in the article he acknowledges that others do. Indeed, his point (or one of his points) in the article seems to be that the Vision of Gabriel (in his interpretation) supports his thesis that those second temple passages are not so influenced by Christianity:

Several scholars have argued that these late passages should be traced to Christian circles.5 A leading rabbinic scholar, Saul Lieberman, has argued otherwise.6 I have agreed with Lieberman.7 I believe “Gabriel’s Revelation,” now published in BAR, supports the view that the tradition of the Messiah son of Joseph who is killed goes back to the late first century B.C.E. or the early first century C.E. Although much of the text of “Gabriel’s Revelation” has not been preserved or is difficult to read, enough is there to make these points.

So there seem to be two takes on this:

  • [Knohl] The idea of the “Suffering Servant” Messiah already existed in Judaism, or at least in some strains of Judaism, by Jesus’s time. The Vision of Gabriel is evidence for this.
  • [DeConick] The Messiah as Suffering Servant Messiah was either new with Christianity, or at best an obscure and unpopular idea that the early Christians, desperate to explain their leader’s shameful death, latched on to.

Not that these are necessarily all that incompatible: I don’t see Knohl claiming that the Suffering Messiah was a particularly popular idea.

I have nothing intelligent to say about the cited second-temple-era sources, and I have no idea what the arguments Professors DeConick and Knohl cite are (heck, even if I had easy access to the article Knohl cites, I couldn’t read them, because they seem to be in Hebrew). I will say something (not necessarily intelligent) about something else he says, though (please forgive the extended quote):

This may shed new light on what has been a puzzling Gospel tradition. In parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospelsb (Mark 12:35–37; Matthew 22:41–46; Luke 20:41–44), Jesus is teaching on the Temple Mount. Surprisingly, he rejects the idea that the Messiah is the son of David: “How can the scribes say,” Jesus asks, “that Christ is the son of David?” (Mark 12:35).

To demonstrate that the Messiah is not the son of David, Jesus quotes Psalm 110, attributed in the Hebrew Bible to David himself. As the text of Mark (12:36) recites, David speaks in the psalm: “David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared …” Jesus then recites a passage from the psalm:

“The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
till I put thy enemies under thy feet.”

Jesus then uses this passage to prove his point: “David himself calls him [the Messiah] ‘Lord,’ so how is he his son?” That is, David speaks of the Messiah as “my Lord,” rather than as “my son.” The Messiah therefore cannot be a son of David. Using Psalm 110 as his proof text, Jesus here refutes the scribes’ view that Christ, the Messiah, should be a son or descendant of David.

This seems strange in light of the fact that, as I noted earlier, in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ lineage is specifically traced to David. I am inclined to regard the passage in which Jesus quotes Psalm 110 as a historically reliable passage in which Jesus rejects the view that the Messiah will be a descendant of David. Not only do versions of this incident appear in all three Synoptic Gospels, but the very fact that it runs counter to the genealogies of Jesus suggests that this contradictory version must be authentic. Otherwise, the authors of the Gospels would not have included something that so blatantly clashes with their frequent reference to Jesus as the Son of David.8

The inconsistency there does seem real, but, well, the Gospels (like the rest of the Bible) are not noteworthy for their consistency. And in fact in the Gospel of Mark, presumably the original source of the passage, it’s not terribly inconsistent—only once in Mark is Jesus called the son of David, and then it’s neither Mark nor Jesus who uses the term (it’s blind Bartimaeus, if you’re curious). The (inconsistent!) Davidic genealogies are only in Matthew and Luke. And really I think much of the point of the passage, especially in the Matthean version, is to emphasize Jesus’s is confounding the scribes and Pharisees (“scribes” in Mark and Luke, “Pharisees” in Matthew).

More to the point, I think it’s a bit useless to speculate about the historicity of the passage—we really are pretty much completely clueless about The Historical Jesus. Those second-temple documents may or may not have been influenced by early Christians trying to explain Jesus’s death, but the Gospels certainly were (um, that’s an understatement, isn’t it?).

The Purpose-Driven Pastor

August 18, 2008

I failed to mention the other night that the real winner of Rick Warren’s “Civil Forum” was Rick Warren. He came across as articulate and intelligent, as a devout man of God, and as a genial regular guy you’d want to be your pal. Evangelicals already knew who he was and (as far as I know) held him in pretty high regard; but I should think this exposure will also score him major points with the rest of us. His affect is nothing like that of the vile televangelists that so sully evangelical Christianity’s reputation.

Since he apparently is on good terms with both candidates, I would imagine he’s headed towards being the next Billy Graham, only without the anti-Semitism.

Mind you, this is only based on my superficial observations on Saturday. I know little about him beyond that. I started reading one of his books once, but didn’t get very far; I didn’t find it all that interesting, and pretentious type weenie me had troubles with the dreadful font1

1Actually, it’s a fine display font, which is what it was intended to be. It’s dreadful only when abused as a text font.

A Javascript bug in NBC’s Olympics Website

August 17, 2008

Hey, I found a bug! The schedules in NBC’s Olympics website are supposed to be displayable in either Beijing time or your local time. This works only in IE7—so Firefox-using me ran into it the night trying to find out when Michael Phelps would win his last medal.

Here’s the problem:

    var mts = document.getElementsByClassName ( 'timeConvertible' );
    mts.each(function(mt) {
        if(mt.readAttribute( 'title' ) != null && mt.readAttribute( 'title' ).length > 0)
            // etc

The error is in line 6: “mts.each is not a function.”

What’s happening here? The website uses the prototype js library, which provides many nice features (although I’ve decided I prefer jQuery; I’ve been meaning to write about that for a while now). The js developer here didn’t read the prototype documentation cautioning against getElementsByClassName. In Firefox (and Opera), that is a native function, but in IE7 it’s not, so prototype defines it. And prototype defines a more useful version, returning a prototype Array object rather than a native unmunged array. That prototype Array has the “each” function; the native one doesn’t. Firefox and Opera’s superior js implementation leads to a worse result.

The Purpose-Driven Candidates

August 16, 2008

Just watched (more or less) Rick Warren’s forum with Barack Obama and John McCain, and I thought I’d get my impressions down quickly before I’m polluted by pundits.

Though it pains and surprises me to say it, I thought McCain won the evening. He was both genial and decisive, in that folksy way of his. He seemed much more comfortable than Obama, who seemed unsure just how much to pander to Warren’s crowd—McCain had no doubts there. Obama suffered from the curse of the intellectual liberal, wanting to eschew easy and popular but fundamentally silly soundbites, and trying to give reasonably nuanced answers. Alas, the American People do not seem particularly interested in nuance.

And nuance not something with which McCain is noticably burdened. Asked whether they believed in Evil and what they would do about it (multiple choice, something like “understand it, contain it, defeat it”), Obama rambled for a bit, while McCain answered “defeat it” without having to think. Then he said something about going to the gates of hell to capture Osama bin Laden. Seriously. Not a terribly realistic or useful answer, but I fear it’s what people like to hear.

I also remain annoyed with Obama for being against same-sex marriage. Mere political posturing? Don’t know, I think he’s been pretty consistent about it. Interestingly, he and McCain’s stated positions on that tonight were pretty similar—they’re both against it personally, both think it should be left to the states, both oppose a constitutional amendment (with McCain adding a proviso about whether states should have to recognize marriages from other states)—although again I think McCain sounded decisive and Obama waffly.

The pandering question is sort of an interesting one—the setting was obviously evangelical, but I presume this had a much wider audience watching on TV (e.g. me). How did all the God talk go over in America’s living rooms? Probably pretty well, actually.


August 12, 2008

I’m with Hilzoy1: to neocons it’s always Munich in 1938.

I don’t have much to say about Russia and Georgia, other than the obvious—it’s scary (maybe a little less so this morning). Others have said everything I might want to say, much better than I would. Do read this—I don’t know enough to have a real opinion about Georgia and South Ossetia, but God knows we could use some counterbalance here, and I’m inherently very leery of nationalist “territorial integrity” arguments (on which, see Ilya Somin). (I am also leery of nationalist pro-secession arguments. I am leery of pretty much everything here.)

But I do have a tiny bit to say about Neville Chamberlain and Munich. All we seem to have learned from that is “appeasement bad”—not, I admit, altogether a bad lesson, at least in that case. But Chamberlain’s problem wasn’t that he was a wimpy appeaser. He was no wimp. Chamberlain’s problem was that he was an arrogant pig-headed narcissist, convinced of his own infallibility, who apparently thought he could look Hitler in the eye and get a sense of his soul. Remind you of anyone?

Yes, I should cite something for that. An excellent book on the years leading up to World War II is Ernest May’s Strange Victory; its real subject is how France managed to lose so quickly, but it’s very good on what went before, including Munich.


1. “I wish I had said that.” “You will, Oscar, you will.”

The Recency Illusion

August 10, 2008

From Language Log, here‘s a post about the “Recency Illusion,” “the (often inaccurate) belief that a usage you have recently noticed is in fact a recent development in the language.” Not something I’d ever thought about in particular, although I suppose it’s not surprising—prescriptivist grammar pundits tend to be very much in the “we’re going to hell in a handbasket” mold, and hence are predisposed to think that “bad” == “new” (where “bad” means “not to their liking”). (Curmudgeons have said civilization has been going to hell in a handbasket ever since there was civilization, and probably before there were handbaskets. We have yet to arrive. Unless maybe we started there.) The standard examples seem to be “singular they” and “between you and I.”

Here are a couple of usages that seem recent to me. Can you, dear readers, tell me that I’m wrong? Please do, I’m genuinely curious.

  • The “historical present”: “Caesar now crosses the Rubicon.” Not that using present tense for past actions has ever been unusual in certain contexts, but it now seems universal among, for example, talking-head historians in TV shows. I don’t remember that being the case at all before the advent of the History and Discovery Channels, and their low-budget endearingly-cheesy-reenactment shows. I figure it’s out of a (false) sense that the present tense is dynamic and interesting while past tense is dull and stuffy. But maybe I was just missing it before.
  • “Gone missing”: that sounds very British to me, and I don’t remember hearing it in common American use until the last few years. Was it? According to this article, no—it cites Chandra Levy as the turning point. Is that right?

On the subject of Briticisms crossing the pond, I nominate “shambolic” to be the next one. Any others?


For the record, I’m fine with “singular they,” as English really has no good alternative construction. “Between you and I” annoys me, but I don’t think I ever thought it was new.

Also for the record: I say Condit called his no-good brother Darrell in a panic about Chandra being pregnant and wanting Gary to be her forever lover, and Darrell said something to the effect of, “I’ll take care of it.” This he then did.

Death Race 2008. Plus, Cthulhu!

August 10, 2008

I just saw the trailer for Death Race, and my immediate reaction is that it’s just another Jason Statham move, with absolutely nothing to do with the old beloved Death Race 2000. Which is probably just as well. Something like DR2K probably couldn’t be made today—certainly not by PWS Anderson—and really, why would you want to? The original is pretty great just as is. Paul Bartel, we hardly knew ye!

Not that the new one is necessarily a bad thing, as long as you look at it as an enjoyably mindless and violent timewaster and try not to think of the gleefully nasty satire of DR2K. I quite like the idea of Evil Joan Allen. And Jason Statham seems to be pretty good at this sort of thing; he’s just no David Carradine—who is?

Bonus David Carradine quote, from an Onion AV Club interview:

I tend to do that. I blow people’s minds with my performances. Sometimes it’s a little too subtle for people to face.

And while I’m watching trailers: here‘s one for Cthulhuand it looks pretty good! Why was I not informed? It appears to be “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” reset to the Pacific Northwest, but doubtless has other Lovecraftiness thrown in—I’m not as up on HP as I once was. Well, off to swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, there in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn for now, y’all!