Thursday, December 18, 2008

Questions for the Explainer

Slate's Explainer column has dug through the bag of questions they never answered in 2008. Good fun.

Is it just me, or do all national anthems the world over, no matter how rich and exotic the culture, seem to sound like European marching-band music? Wouldn't one expect China's national anthem be more "plinky"? Shouldn't Iraq's national anthem sound a little more "Arab-y"?

I hope they pick this one to answer, because I've noticed the same thing. Years ago I had an Encarta encyclopedia on CD-ROM which let me listen to every country's national anthem, and they all sounded disappointingly similar.

When and why did the Communist Chinese change the name of their capital "PEKING" to Bazging? Sorry, I don't know how it is spelled. Thank you.

There are many opportunities for snark here (c'mon, "Bazging"?) but I just can't get beyond the fact that, with all the places to find information online, this person asked Slate a Wikipedia question. One might as well ask the Explainer what year Brazil became independent, or who was Prime Minister of Canada before Brian Mulroney.

If one gets a personal e-mail from a very famous or important person, such as the president, or the queen of England, or the Pope, or Paul McCartney, can that e-mail have monetary value? I guess not. It's just an electronic transmission on a screen. There's no original. There's no way to buy or sell it. Seems a shame tho.

I hate to be pedantic, but I'm not sure it counts as a "question" if you answer it immediately in the same paragraph. It's a shame; I'm intrigued and I can see a near-future SF short story exploring the idea.

I live in Washington, D.C., and we have very long escalators coming out of the Metro. If I grabbed the handrail when I first step onto the escalator and did not let go until I was at the top, my body would be almost prostrate across the steps. As I go higher on the escalator, I have to readjust the hand that is grabbing the rubber handrail. Why can't the companies that make escalators sync the steps and the handrails so that they go the same speed?

I lived in DC for a couple of years. This is absolutely true!! Escalators here in Taipei don't work that way. OK, this is another question I genuinely want answered.

How did early man deal with growing toe and fingernails?

Early man did not sit in an office all day long. Early man had to run around barefoot outside and find food with his hands. Early man scoffs at you and your delicate sense of personal hygiene.

If someone with DNA from the Stone Age were born today, would they be normal?

There are two ways to answer this question. The reasonable scientific answer would be to point out that the Stone Age was a really, really long period of time; it began at whatever point you want to arbitrarily designate as the beginning of the human race, and in some parts of the world it hasn't actually ended yet. If you create a child today with Homo erectus DNA (in some sort of unholy anthropological version of Jurassic Park), you're going to have yourself a poor kid who's going to be a freakish curiosity his whole life. But if you create a child who's got the DNA of the guys who created cave paintings in France, you'll have yourself a perfectly normal kid. The other way to answer this question is to refer to the excellent 1987 documentary The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones, in which actual Stone Age physiology can be compared directly with modern human beings.

During this weekend's football playoff game in Green Bay, the temperature at kickoff was 0 degrees, and by the end of the game was -4 degrees. When players get injured in such weather, do they bother putting ice on the injury? Wouldn't that warm up the injury to 32 degrees?

I'm not sure of the science involved here. I'd like to point out, though, that ice can become much cooler than 32 degrees. 32 degrees is just the upper limit, beyond which it will melt. Also, which will make your hand freeze faster: leaving your hand exposed to cold air, or sticking your hand into a snowdrift?

Burma's dictator has a chestful of bullshit medals. What's up with that, Explainer?

I like this question. Compare Burma's dictator with North Korea's Kim Jong-il, who wears the drabbest clothing ever seen on an evil dictator (assuming he hasn't died already). Someone should do a study of dictators' dress styles. I suspect the main fault line lies between (noninally) Communist and non-Communist regimes.

Can men eat the Activia yogurt that is advertised exclusively to the modern woman in khakis? Will it have the same internal regulatory effects on the male system that are promised for the female bowels? If not, why not?

I am a man and I have eaten Activia yogurt religiously for the past year. My bowels have never been more regular, although I do menstruate.

Can an average person not in politics get a pardon from the president of the United States? (Possession of forged instrument, October of 1989.)

Can you see what I'm doing? I'm making the "rubbing coins between thumb and forefinger" gesture.

Please explain the method of formation and origin of black holes. Are they located at the Bermuda Triangle area and why there?

The question that launched a hundred made-for-cable sci-fi movies.

Who made up the rule that if you wore a shirt all day, went home, and washed it, you can't wear it the next day?

This law was passed by Congress in the fall of 1882 and signed by Chester A. Arthur in the Oval Office.

Why don't humans have a mating season?

I think this is my favorite question of the lot of 'em.

Hi, I am Anna. I am only 11 years old! My friend told me about this black hole, and I have gotten really scared. I don't want to die! I thought if it didn't happen today, it wasn't going to happen. I did not know nothing about it happening in Spring! I find it unfair that scientists are making a machine that could possibly destroy the entire human race. Me and my friends have cried about the black hole, and I find it really upsetting. There has been barely nothing about it on the news. I am so nervous. I just think I am too young to die—is there any way we could stop it happening?

I'm leaning towards the assumption that "Anna" is male, a physics major, about 21 years old, thinks this letter is the funniest thing ever, and wrote it while helplessly giggling. I also assume "Anna" is referring to CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

Now, as I understand it, the scientists at CERN are trying to create a black hole in order to drop the Earth into a wormhole which will enable us to access parallel Earths at earlier stages of chronological development, enabling us to revisit bygone periods of our history. For example, a temporal assassin can kill Hitler while he is still a struggling artist in pre-WW1 Vienna, thus preventing the rise of Nazi Germany and saving the Jews who would have died in Holocaust.

I am 79 years old. I bring this up first to help explain my question. In the late 1930s or early 1940s, I was looking through an old stack of Life magazines, and there was a picture of an old couple sitting on the porch of a cabin (or shack) up in the mountains somewhere in Appalachia, with the notation: "The King and Queen of America?" The small article with the picture stated that if George Washington had become king of the U.S., these two would (under the usual custom) be our king and queen. I have thought of this from time to time, even doubted it. (It might have been part of the propaganda of the time, the Depression years, that we were all equal, etc.) I am dimly aware that George Washington had brothers, and that it is possible that the descent is known. As I remember, it was a lovely picture, the old couple looking out over a valley, with mist, and smoking their corncob pipes. Can you find the picture? Can you tell me whether there was truth in the assertion?

I love this idea. I have no idea how much truth there might be in it. But it inspired me to go to Wikipedia to look up:

The current German Kaiser. He's 32 years old.

The current Tsar of Russia? There are two claimants, this lady and this elderly gentleman.

The King of Italy is apparently a rather infamous figure in his homeland.

Ever wondered about the heir to the throne of the Qing Dynasty in China? I get the feeling he's led a relatively modest life. Living in the PRC, you can't blame him.

The French throne has lots of claimants, thanks to the multitude of royal houses they had in the 1800s. There's this guy if you're a fan of the House of Orleans; there's also this guy for you Bourbon fans. And of course there's a head of the Bonaparte dynasty.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Taxation Without Congresspeople

I used to live in Washington DC, land of license plates that proclaim "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION". Washington DC is a city of six hundred thousand people with no voting representation in Congress. The District has three electoral votes in Presidential elections, although it only earned those votes in the 1960s with the 23rd Amendment.

The debate over whether to grant the District full voting rights in Congress can be boiled down to three statements:

(1) Washington DC is an overwhelmingly Democratic city which generally elects Democratic politicians.
(2) Generally, Democrats support DC voting rights on principle and Republicans oppose DC voting rights on principle.
(3) There is absolutely no relation between statements (1) and (2) and to suggest otherwise is to be cynical, disrespectful and cheeky.

I happen to disagree with statement (3).

There are two commonly discussed alternatives to keeping with the status quo:

1. Make DC a state, or at least give it voting rights in Congress. This would (until the next massive tectonic shift in American party politics turns DC solid GOP or Green or something) give the Democrats two more Senators and one more Representative, since DC is so overwhelmingly safely Democratic.

I personally have no problem with this. A lot of people think there is something deeply unaesthetic about altering DC's status, or that it goes against the wishes of the Founders. People who say this tend to be Republicans who insist it has nothing to do with the fact that DC's Democratic leanings are pretty obvious.

2. Give DC back to Maryland already, if the residents can't stop bitching about having no voting representation in Congress. What would the political ramifications be? Maryland would get an extra electoral vote and a reliably Democratic House seat. Democratic Senate candidates from Maryland would find a more favorable electoral landscape. But the Democratic Party would lose its 3 safe electoral votes from DC.

Frankly, I don't have a huge problem with this idea either, although it would slightly hurt the Democrats around Presidential election time.

Both of these involve getting rid of the Federal District that's in the Constitution and everything. But either of the above solutions would require a Constitutional amendment anyway. And I don't fully understand the need for a Federal District in the modern United States anyway, given that we're no longer really the "federation of squabbling states" whose representatives needed a safe neutral ground for meeting and lawmaking.

But for those who want to retain the idea of a Federal District which doesn't vote in Congress, Matthew Yglesias has the idea of shrinking the constitutionally mandated "federal district" to a little rump that no one actually lives in. (Except for the President and First Family, who aren't legal residents of DC to begin with.)

This is a very odd idea and I'm not sure what I think of it, but now that I've heard of it I can't help myself from pondering it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


P. J. O'Rourke's got a retrospective up on how the conservative movement in America screwed up, crashed, and burned.

I disagree with a lot of what O'Rourke says, but it's impossible to totally dislike him when he comes up with prose like this:
Our attitude toward immigration has been repulsive. Are we not pro-life? Are not immigrants alive? Unfortunately, no, a lot of them aren't after attempting to cross our borders. Conservative immigration policies are as stupid as conservative attitudes are gross. Fence the border and give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry. Put the National Guard on the Rio Grande and know that U.S. troops are standing between you and yard care. George W. Bush, at his most beneficent, said if illegal immigrants wanted citizenship they would have to do three things: Pay taxes, learn English, and work in a meaningful job. Bush doesn't meet two out of three of those qualifications. And where would you rather eat? At a Vietnamese restaurant? Or in the Ayn Rand Café? Hey, waiter, are the burgers any good? Atlas shrugged. (We would, however, be able to have a smoke at the latter establishment.)

And this:
The left has no idea what's going on in the financial crisis. And I honor their confusion. Jim Jerk down the road from me, with all the cars up on blocks in his front yard, falls behind in his mortgage payments, and the economy of Iceland implodes. I'm missing a few pieces of this puzzle myself.

The main problem is that O'Rourke seems to think "liberalism" and "conservatism" are going to have coherent meanings to his reader. Maybe you're required to assume that if you write for The Weekly Standard. But I honestly can't say that I know what those words mean in the context of American politics. Maybe one or both of those words mean something to you. Maybe you can come up with high-sounding definitions of "liberalism" and "conservatism", and maybe those definitions might make sense for a while. But getting politically-minded people in the United States to actually behave in ways that fit your definitions will be like herding cats.

What is American "conservatism"? What do the philosophies of Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Arlen Specter, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin have in common that sets them definitely apart from the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Besides the fact that the first group thinks Democrats should be defeated and Republicans elected, and the second group thinks Democrats should be elected and Republicans defeated. That's not a philosophy.

So my eyes tend to glaze over when people talk about the state of "liberalism" and "conservatism". Using those blanket words just leads to easy stereotyping. Liberals want to subsidize lazy welfare moms! Conservatives enjoy beating up gay people and tossing them off bridges!

P. J. O'Rourke is a great comic writer, and I enjoyed the article I linked to. But he's better when he writes about real life.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where Patriotism and Stinginess Meet

From the Taipei Times:
A Chinese woman who immigrated to Taiwan through marriage earlier this week got into a dispute with a clerk at a convenience store in Kaohsiung City after saying that Taiwan is part of China.

The two-hour dispute occurred after the woman faxed a document to Xiamen, Fujian Province, and insisted that because Taiwan is part of China, she was only willing to pay the “domestic rate” for the service.

The woman said that since primary school her teachers and textbooks had taught her that Taiwan is a province of China and did not know why the store owner, surnamed Yen (顏), would not “admit” that Taiwan is part of China.

Rather than paying NT$85 per page for international faxing, the woman said she would pay the store NT$20 for domestic faxing, which the store owner refused, saying that yielding to the woman’s demand would be an affront to the nation’s dignity.

This amused me, although it will probably never be clear if that woman was motivated by Chinese patriotism or a simple desire to save NT$65 (about two US dollars).

I like how she "didn't know why" Mr. Yen would not "admit" Taiwan is part of China. As if, prior to walking into that convenience store, she had no idea that Taiwanese people were not proud citizens of the People's Republic of China.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Six Novellas

The other day I bought Seven Contemporary Short Novels, a collection of seven well-known mid-twentieth-century American novellas, at a local used bookstore. The novellas come complete with essay questions for the college English students who would presumably be the book's main readers.

Unfortunately, at some point in the book's existence somebody took a sharp implement and excised Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Fortunately, the structural integrity of the book is still holding together pretty well. So I got six novels for the price of seven, but the price was only about two US dollars so I can't complain too much.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers

Although the story made enough of an impact to inspire a play by Edward Albee and a movie starring Vanessa Redgrave, I found it artificial. It exists solely as a Work of Literature to be discussed and written about. McCullers infuses her characters with Meaning and Symbolism, but I never felt Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon and Marvin Macy to be real, living, flesh-and-blood people. But McCullers' writing is engaging and it drew me in, and I had no trouble finishing the story in one sitting.

Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Sometimes I wonder what I missed by growing up in America as a lily-white Western European with no discernible "ethnic" background. The thoroughly Yiddish Aunt Gladys strikes me as the epitome of the Jewish mother stereotype, but I have no doubt that there are many real women just like her, and Roth grew up surrounded by them.

Mid-twentieth-century American literature was much franker about sexual issues than movies or TV from that time. I found this novel (published in 1959) to be an interesting time capsule. Neil and Brenda become lovers almost casually. If either of them is having sex for the first time, it wasn't indicated overtly enough for me to notice. Brenda's mother's over-the-top reaction when she realizes her daughter has been having sex seems like it's from a wholly different culture. Goodbye, Columbus was written before the years we think of as comprising the "Sexual Revolution", but if the novel is any indication the generational shift in values was already well underway before Eisenhower ever left office.

I was also intrigued by the issue of birth control. There is one method of protection mentioned in the novel - the all-important DIAPHRAGM. I realize there were great strides in contraception yet to be made when the novel was written, but the world of Goodbye, Columbus is apparently a world without condoms. I thought that was odd.

Noon Wine by Katherine Anne Porter

A Southern farmer hires a taciturn, hard-working foreigner to help out on the farm. He becomes an accepted if enigmatic member of the household, but years later a stranger's arrival triggers a scene of violence that leaves two dead and the farmer's mental stability in tatters. A haunting little story.

Seize the Day by Saul Bellows

I must admit I never felt drawn in by this story of a middle-aged man with an estranged wife and children, an acquaintance who may have just swindled him out of money, and a general train wreck of a life. Maybe if I manage to re-read it all in one sitting it will cast its spell on me, but I read it in bits and pieces and that just didn't do the trick.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

By far the best-known piece in the anthology, Of Mice and Men probably holds the dubious distinction of being the work of serious American literature that gets made fun of most frequently. I suppose it was inevitable. For some reason we're wired to laugh when we a short, clever guy teamed with a big, stupid guy.

I'm intrigued by how Of Mice and Men is written. As Wikipedia explains:
Of Mice and Men was Steinbeck's first attempt at writing in the form of novel-play termed a "play-novelette" by one critic. Structured in three acts of two chapters each, it is intended to be both a novella and a script for a play. He wanted to write a novel that could be played from its lines, or a play that could be read like a novel.
I was halfway through when I realized I was reading a stage play in novel form. It's easy to see how the novel can be divided into scenes, and everything is communicated either through dialogue or action. There's hardly any introspection. Change the formatting, and you've got a script without having to alter a word.

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor was not a prolific author and she did not write big bloated novels. If you add up every bit of fiction she ever published, it probably won't come to one thousand pages. But think of the respect her works receive in American literature.

I find her fiction extremely compelling. Part of it is just her ability to tell a story, but there's also the impact of her religious beliefs. O'Connor was devoutly Catholic, and the Catholic perspective with which she viewed the world permeates every aspect of her fiction.

I grew up in a nonreligious family. I've got a thoroughly secular outlook on life. Reading Flannery O'Connor's work gives me a look at the universe and human beings through eyes that are very different from my own. And I think that's one of the most valuable benefits that reading fiction can give a person.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My brain's tied in knots

Fascinating little headline I just saw:

'Idol' Star Clay Aiken to Reveal He Is Gay

Now, I'm pretty indifferent to Clay Aiken. All I can say is I'm aware that there is a celebrity out there with that name.

But I'm very intrigued by the form of that verb "to reveal". Apparently it's known that Clay Aiken will reveal he is gay, but he has not yet actually revealed he is gay. How does that work?

The more I try to unravel this, the more my brain hurts. I must consult my secret cabal of linguists and logicians.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Comics Snarkiness

I've been a fan of The Comics Curmudgeon for some time, but I've been feeling lately that it's just not enough to satisfy my need for comics snarkiness. I need more.

Fortunately, I have happened across Angry Kem's Japes For Owre Tymes.

I know what you're thinking. "Not another blog that takes Blondie and Beetle Bailey and translates them into Middle English! I mean, granted it was a noble and much-needed service when the first couple of blogs appeared that translated comic strips into Middle English. It's generally accepted that the dot-com boom of the late 1990s was fueled by the need to make Middle English-language versions of Garfield and Dilbert available to every schoolchild in the country. But nowadays the market for this sort of thing is so saturated, how is one more blog that translates comic strips into Middle English going to survive?

Angry Kem, though, is an actual English professor who brings some much-needed rigor to the field.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Internet Morons

Thanks to the Internet, every day people who follow American politics get to read such eloquence as this:
It's pretty funny that how bad it is for Palin to be a Pentecostal BUT it is just fine for Obama to be Muslim.
That is ironic liberals...........

And this:
We need to deport McBush back to where he came from}PANAMA--no illegals allowed.

And I know intellectually, in that high cerebral cortex part of my brain, that it's not real. I know they're just Internet morons, doing what they do. This is why we have the expression "Do not feed the trolls."

But part of me doesn't realize that. Part of me thinks those are the real opinions of real people. And my tummy hurts.

I know Internet morons don't want me to be sad. So I propose that every comment like the ones above be preceded by an "Internet moron notice", to put it in its proper context. This is a voluntary plan that I hope all Internet morons will adopt.
**Internet Moron Post**
It's pretty funny that how bad it is for Palin to be a Pentecostal BUT it is just fine for Obama to be Muslim.
That is ironic liberals...........

And this:
**Internet Moron Post**
We need to deport McBush back to where he came from}PANAMA--no illegals allowed.

(Full Disclosure: I got those two comments from YouTube. Some may regard that as cheating, given YouTube's reputation, but I didn't want to waste too much time hunting for moron droppings.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

She Stole His Spleen!

She Stole His Spleen, Then His Heart is an absolutely wonderful headline which could even be adapted as a Lyttle Lytton contest entry.

But it turns out it's just a review of some novel where a girl steals a guy's spleen and then he falls in love with her.

Monday, August 18, 2008


If Barack Obama loses this election,* lots of political junkies, cultural commentators and op-ed pundits are going to say that the GOP's strategy of painting Obama as a "snob" or "elitist" worked.

Then they're going to over-analyze the situation and try to figure out what is it about Obama that makes people find him snobbish. That would be misguided.

When Republicans call Obama "elitist" or "a snob", it's not because they find him elitist or snobbish. It's so they can plant a seed of doubt in voters' minds.

Don't believe me? Go up to a Republican who says Obama is a snob, ask probing questions about why Obama is a snob and why McCain is not, apply some good old-fashioned critical thinking to the responses you get, and just see where the conversation goes. My guess: raised voices followed by the Republican leaving in a huff. People don't appreciate nerds who try to hold them to the literal meaning of everything they say.

Planting that seed of doubt is highly effective. Lots of political junkies and commentators think the average American voter is an idiot, but that's not exactly true. The average American voter has more going on in his life than keeping track of which politician said what, whether attack ad X is factually accurate, or whether his subconscious impression of Barack Obama can be rationally justified or not. Like it or not, following politics just isn't a high priority for most people.

Back in 2000 I was confused by all the Republican attacks against Al Gore calling him an exaggerator. Gore was running for President! Calling him an exaggerator, or even a liar, was like accusing him of breathing oxygen! Did any Republican with a mental age of more than six think Bush wasn't an exaggerator? I should have realized that the literal meaning of the GOP attacks was not important. What was important was creating the seed of doubt in a voter's brain.

This is why I enjoy likening political attacks to the insult "poopyhead".** "Poopyhead" has no literal meaning. Calling somebody a poopyhead doesn't mean anything. When the GOP calls Obama a snob, they are calling him a poopyhead. When they called Gore a liar, they called him a poopyhead.

On the national level, Republicans are much better at responding to this than Democrats.*** When Democrats said Bush lacked the experience, and knowledge, and maybe the sheer brainpower to be President, Bush took those criticisms and made them part of his image. I strongly suspect many of his "Bushisms" were deliberate. Heck, I'm totally open to the interpretation that Bush provoked the "Bush is stupid" criticism as part of a Rovian master plan to win over the hearts of working-class Americans suspicious of liberal elites.

I'm not sure whether it's a better idea for the Democrats to just focus on improving their responses to "poopyhead" insults, or if they should descend into the muck and focus on calling John McCain a poopyhead.


* Obama has slid a bit in the polls in the past two weeks or so, and I'm seeing the beginnings of panic in some Democratic blog comments. It's premature. Some Dems just enjoy bemoaning upcoming defeats. It's possible McCain will win. It's always been possible McCain would win. Whether he actually wins will largely be decided by what happens between now and November.

** If you find the word "poopyhead" distasteful, try the alternative "cooties". Republicans are saying Obama has cooties.

*** This doesn't seem to be true in local races, where cunning and scheming ability appear evenly distributed between Republicans and Democrats. Recent Virginia electoral history shows a Republican running an astonishingly clumsy campaign (Allen '06), as well as a Democratic campaign flat-out outsmarting their Republican opponents (Kaine v. Kilgore '05).

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm more cultured than you

This weekend I watched a Chinese-style Taiwanese-language opera outdoors on Dihua St. in Taipei. The opera was directly inspired by the Nicholas Cage/John Travolta movie Face/Off and takes place during the Ming Dynasty.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Obama Post

A fascinating nugget of wisdom from a Washington Post online chat about Obama rumors:
Cleveland, Tenn.: My Uncle Glenn, who raised me and with whom I would trust with my life, has heard on good authority that Obama is Muslim. Why does Obama keep suggesting otherwise? This makes Obama seem shifty and disingenuous. I could (maybe) deal with a Muslim president but (definitely) not a dishonest one.
Now, personally, I give this post about a ten percent chance of not being a troll.

Still, I absolutely applaud the use of Uncle Glenn as a serious source of information. In this history-making election between John McCain, a man brainwashed by the North Vietnamese to turn America into a Communist state[1] and Barack Obama, a fanatical Muslim intent on surrendering our country to terrorists[2], it's good to have reliable, impartial sources of information. An uninformed electorate back in 1992 elected Bill Clinton, a known child molester[3] who sold crack cocaine from the Oval Office[4] and had illicit relations with British Prime Minister John Major on April 16, 1995[5]. In 2000, George W. Bush, the son of a Nazi sympathizer[6] who fathered eleven black children and four Asian/Pacific Islander children between 1974 and 1978[7], was elected by a nation who was largely uninformed of his past. And he was very nearly unseated in 2004 by John Kerry, who paid a lookalike to go fight in Vietnam in his place[8] .


1. Uncle Glenn.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prince Caspian

I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on Sunday. I was a completely virgin viewer. Not only have I never seen the first Narnia movie, but I've never read anything by C. S. Lewis.

This is the ideal way to watch a movie that comes with loads of baggage. I had no way of knowing when the movie was making massive deviations from the book. I couldn't tell when a character came across quite differently from anything C. S. Lewis intended.

Instead, I just accepted everything as it came (Talking badger? Cool! Swordsmouse? Okay!!) and didn't worry about how it all fit together. Nothing like blissful ignorance.

I was vaguely aware that the movie series had some of C. S. Lewis' Christian symbolism. But if I hadn't already known that Lewis saw his Narnia as infused with Christian meaning, I'd probably have seen the religious aspects of the movie as Hollywood trying for a deeply spiritual meaning while still being vague enough to avoid offending anyone.

Miraz is the most wonderfully stereotypical Evil Overlord I've seen in a very long time. He is an utterly uncomplicated character. He has no eccentricities or odd character traits. He is simply an Evil Overlord. Period. I can respect that.

For all I can tell

Political bloggers are all abuzz over what Tennessee Democratic Party Executive Committee member Fred Hobbs (note party affiliation) has to say about Barack Obama:
“He’s got some bad connections, and he may be terrorist connected for all I can tell. It sounds kind of like he may be.”

Political discourse is great, isn't it? Thanks to his excellent use of qualifying statements, there's no way to logically argue with any of that.

Because of such wonderful phrases as "It sounds like" and "for all I can tell", it is absolutely impossible for any of the following statements to be proven wrong:
Fred Hobbs may be a member of the Illuminati, the Priory of Sion, and NAMBLA for all I can tell. It sounds kind of like he may be.
It sounds kind of like Hillary Clinton keeps a copy of Mein Kampf by her bedside. For all I can tell she might be a Nazi.
For all I can tell, George Bush might well have summoned Hurricane Katrina with his black magic. It sure sounds like the sort of use he'd find for his wizarding skills.
It sure sounds kind of like Randall Shelton, in Mrs. Glenburg's second period trigonometry class, has no friends. He sleeps in a barn and never takes a shower for all I can tell.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Curse You, Trash Talkers!

Wherever blog comment threads turn to politics, the general intelligence level takes a nosedive. I'm okay with that - I made my peace with it long ago. But here's something that makes me uneasy.

John Scalzi has some snarky things to say about FOX News calling Michelle Obama a "Baby Mama", and Michelle Malkin's bizarre little defense of same. I agree with Scalzi.

(Aside: I generally make it a habit of not worrying about what FOX News has to say. It's easy because I don't live in the USA, and I don't own a TV. Also, I try not to think of Michelle Malkin, ever. I used to think she was a real person. Then the Dunkin' Donuts thing happened, and now I feel dumb for thinking she was a real person.)

Ninety-two comments in, one "Charles" calls Scalzi's snark "one of the most hateful rants I’ve read yet this election year." He goes on to say:
I shouldn’t be surprised though that you secular-progressive socialists, borderline communists, smear tacticians continue to defame everything about Fox News. You complain that Fox News is the right-wing news channel…blah blah blah. Okay, so the conservatives have one tv channel that leans their way. Liberals control the rest of them. I am willing to bet the majority of the people commenting on this blog have never even watched Fox News long enough to form their own opinion (not one derived from someone else you heard talking about Fox News) about their reporting.
And then he goes on for some length, in which he also repeats some rather overdone anti-Obama talking points absolutely identical to what thousands of other overly dramatic Obama critics are also saying on the Internet.

Scalzi responds:

“That had to be one of the most hateful rants I’ve read yet this election year.”

Get out more, Charles.

Also, re: “token conservative,” there are lots of conservatives who visit and comment here, and rather more substantively and with fewer rote talking point cliches than you just have, so please get over yourself. Your problem is not that you’re conservative, it’s that your comment is unoriginal, boring and lame. Other conservatives here do better in their arguments. Strive to emulate them.

And Charles issues a rebuttal:

You call it cliche, I call it truth. Very typical of a liberal to sling insults to attempt to make a point.
And so on.

Here's what bugs me. What if Charles is serious? What if he's real?

Now, I understand the attitude of "do not feed the trolls."

And a few months ago I wrote a post (also inspired by a Scalzi thread) about how most "dissenting opinion" posts on political comment threads are basically just sports fans screaming trash talk at their opponents before a game. I wholeheartedly believe that trying to calmly discuss the issues on their merits with a trash-talker (regardless of the trash-talker's political orientation) is just insufferably nerdy.

But... I've got a smidgen of doubt in my mind. What if Charles is real? What if he's sincere, just not very good at expressing his opinions? What if John Scalzi made a mistake by not trying to have a real constructive dialog with him (or just ignoring him - Scalzi's presumably got more going on in his life than participating in his own comment threads)? What if Charles actually, genuinely meant it when he said, "Very typical of a liberal to sling insults to attempt to make a point"?

Okay, I know it's hugely unlikely. This is the Internet. I wasn't born yesterday. This isn't real. Charles may be a partisan fan of the GOP, but that doesn't mean he thinks everything (or anything) he says is literally true.

But still, that bit of doubt persists. And it's why I can't be a political blogger.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

An Obama Presidency

Zompist refuses to predict the Presidential race.
I think the November election is still wide open.
Well, I'm a lot stupider than him, and I predict Obama's got a 90% chance of being the 44th President of the United States.

It mostly comes down to this: Obama and his team are much, much smarter about the nitty-gritty of politics than the Gore or Kerry campaigns ever were. The mistakes and missteps he's made so far this year have been relatively minor. Some bloggers and commentators would have you believe his campaign's been a gaffe machine since March, but I just don't see it.

I'm also encouraged that he's showing every sign of putting the GOP on defensive in states like Virginia and North Carolina, which were supposed to be safe GOP locks.

That said, I'm worried about what will almost inevitably happen when Obama's core of True Believers figures out sometime in 2009 that the man's not perfect, and that the President of the United States inevitably has to make compromises.

It's almost inevitable that a newly elected President is going to suffer a catastrophic drop in popularity in his first year, particularly one who was elected as representing a New Generation or a New Kind of Politics. About the only sure way to avoid it is for some Massive Unanticipated Event to come along and change all the rules, which is how George W. Bush managed to end his first year in office more popular than when he started it.

Massive Unanticipated Events tend to be bad news. I'm going to hope one doesn't happen.

I guess this is the same kind of thinking that gave rise to the meme that's going around GOP-Bloggerland right now that an Obama Presidency will be reminiscent of Jimmy Carter's, in all the worst ways.

But now I want to make another prediction, one which is somewhat out-there but might make me look like a genius in eight and a half years:

Barack Obama will be a two-term President, but he'll do it Grover Cleveland-style. His first term will leave a lot of his base unhappy, and he will lose the 2012 election to some Republican. After a year or two of Republican rule, some remorseful Dems will begin thinking "That Barack guy, he wasn't so bad after all". And he'll be term-limited this time, so you know he'll be an actual leader rather than some dope just worrying about his own re-election. So Obama is renominated in 2016 and wins the Presidency.

(And just to make all the Obama-haters' hair stand on end: Even in this scenario, when Obama retires from the Presidency for good in 2021 he'll still be only sixty years old. Not too old for a Supreme Court appointment...)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Texas and Ghost Cats and Cubicles

I just read James Hynes' Kings of Infinite Space. An office satire. With undead creatures. And sex. (Not in the same scenes.)

My official Thoughts While Reading It:

- I never, ever, ever, ever again want to find myself earning $8/hr to pay for the food I eat and the apartment I sleep in. I've been there and it sucks. IT SUCKS. Have I mentioned that IT SUCKS?

- This Paul Trilby guy, he's not supposed to be an Everyman character, is he? If he is, he's not a very good one. He's borderline psychotic. He drowned his ex-wife's cat in the bathtub. His condescension towards Texas suburbia is a bit overdone even for my tastes, and I'm a snobby Blue Stater who prefers Belgian beer to American beer, foreign films to NASCAR, and who plans to vote for Obama this November. (I'm relieved to see I was right. Apparently Hynes considers Paul Trilby to be his "evil stunt double".) If there's a true moral center to this novel, it's Callie the Oklahoma Girl.

- I hated Olivia more than I have hated any fictional character I've come across in months. I wanted to see her cut up into little pieces and then I wanted to see the pieces eaten by goats. In other words: Olivia is a very effective character. I wish I'd seen more of her.

- (Not that this will make any sense if you haven't read the book, but...) Just for the record, I didn't know what synecdoche meant either. But now I'll never forget it.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Johann Hari experiments with this drug called Provigil:
A week later, the little white pills arrived in the post. I sat down and took one 200mg tablet with a glass of water. It didn’t seem odd: for years, I took an anti-depressant. Then I pottered about the flat for an hour, listening to music and tidying up, before sitting down on the settee. I picked up a book about quantum physics and super-string theory I have been meaning to read for ages, for a column I’m thinking of writing. It had been hanging over me, daring me to read it. Five hours later, I realised I had hit the last page. I looked up. It was getting dark outside. I was hungry. I hadn’t noticed anything, except the words I was reading, and they came in cool, clear passages; I didn’t stop or stumble once.

Perplexed, I got up, made a sandwich – and I was overcome with the urge to write an article that had been kicking around my subconscious for months. It rushed out of me in a few hours, and it was better than usual. My mood wasn’t any different; I wasn’t high. My heart wasn’t beating any faster. I was just able to glide into a state of concentration – deep, cool, effortless concentration. It was like I had opened a window in my brain and all the stuffy air had seeped out, to be replaced by a calm breeze.

I am torn between two diametrically opposed reactions:

1) Ha ha! Look at you, taking drugs that are doing who knows what to your brain. Don't come crying to me when you go senile at 45.

2) DUDE! Where can I get me some of this Provigil?

I'm not sure which will win out in the end.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Gene Weingarten's weekly chat at the Washington Post has brought us another wonderful pre-chat poll:

Which statement by a presidential candidate running in 2012 would MOST assure he could NEVER be elected?
a) "I support religious freedom for everyone, but I do not attend religious services and personally don't believe there is a God."
b) "At the age of 19, I robbed a liquor store at gunpoint. It was the biggest mistake I ever made and I have spent the rest of my life atoning for this terrible thing."
c) "I am a bisexual man, and in the distant past I had romantic relationships with men and women. I have been married to my wife, to whom I have remained completely faithful, for 20 years."
d) "I m a Christian fundamentalist. The world is 10,000 years old, dinosaur skeletons are a trick by God to test our faith, and, as much as this pains me, Jews and Muslims who have heard the word of Christ and rejected it are condemned to burn in hell."

Which person would be LEAST likely to win the 2012 presidential election?
a) A man who is 5'10" and 300 pounds.
b) A man who had an affair with a younger woman and left his wife and teenage children five years prior to the election.
c) A woman widely believed to be a lesbian, but who has never acknowledged or denied it: "My sexuality is a private matter unrelated to my public service."
d) A person who worships as a Muslim, but who has been a war hero for the United States. He is married to a Christian and his children are Christian.
e) A woman who is, by absolutely anyone's assessment, hideously ugly.

Of the same choices, which person would be MOST likely to get elected?
a) A man who is 5'10" and 300 pounds.
b) A man who had an affair with a younger woman and left his wife and teenage children five years prior to the election.
c) A woman widely believed to be a lesbian, but who has never acknowledged or denied it: "My sexuality is a private matter unrelated to my public service."
d) A person who worships as a Muslim, but who has been a war hero for the United States. He is married to a Christian and his children are Christian.
e) A woman who is, by absolutely anyone's assessment, hideously ugly.

And now, for something completely different:

If you had to do without one of these for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
a) Coffee and tea
b) Denim jeans
c) All nonalcoholic carbonated beverages
d) Any form of alcohol

As for the most important question, I voted denim jeans. I never wear jeans. I'd slow down into a stupor without coffee though.

Oh, there are some politics questions too. My hunch is that the atheist, the bisexual, and the Muslim will have an easier time getting elected as a Republican than as a Democrat. Those are the groups that the guys who write attack ads and "Please Forward To All Your Friends" emails have decided are the designated bogeymen for Republicans. So if one of them actually runs as a Republican, many of the GOPers who would have forwarded the nasty emails will decide to support their candidate instead.

The reverse goes for the Christian fundamentalist who thinks Jews are going to hell. He's the kind of monster that lurks under the beds of little Democratic paranoiacs, so if he runs as a Democrat, he'll get the votes of the partisan Dems and crossover vote from the Republican side.

This all pretends, of course, that these guys would stand a chance of making it through primary season. It would be a seriously weird year if the GOP nominate a bisexual or a Muslim and the Democrats nominate a fire-breathing fundie caricature.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Aren't we all just so witty

Over at Making Light, a discussion is going on regarding whether a certain commenter at is a troll or not.

Ah, Trollology. It would be the perfect subject for me to study in depth if I were sufficiently brain-damaged that I was unable to study anything else.

I've come to some very unsettling realizations about the bizarre side of human nature by paying attention to trolls. I think I once witnessed a very weird creative impulse at work in the comment section of Kevin Drum's blog.

Kevin Drum is a liberal Democrat. His blog has a lively and vigorous comment section. Most of his commenters are liberal Democrats. Trollery is inevitable in this environment. Post something that purports to be from a conservative point of view, and people are going to read it wondering if it's meant to be some sort of joke.

Now. There seems to be a long-standing tradition on Kevin Drum's blog that there be some designated "troll handles". They have names like "Al" and "egbert" and "American Hawk" and spout a conservative point of view.

Here's what deeply and profoundly disturbs me.

Sometimes, say, American Hawk (I haven't seen the name on KD's comment threads in a while, but he was a typical example while he posted) will obviously be a liberal parodist spouting dumb ol' Republican tomfoolery, the better to make fun of those stupid old Republicans. Sometimes American Hawk will sound like a somewhat unhinged right-winger. Maybe this version of American Hawk is a liberal parodist, but just as likely he really is a somewhat unhinged right-winger. And sometimes he sounds like a relatively reasonable conservative, maybe a right-wing version of Kevin Drum.

It's perfectly possible "American Hawk" is a handle shared by several people. But think about it: why would a reasonable conservative post using a handle that has previously been used to make fun of Republicans?

So I came to an unsettling conclusion: many people think that if you want to make fun of a certain subset of humanity, like Republicans or religious fundamentalists or progressives or vegans or whatever, then the thing to do is mimic them so exactly that no one can tell it's a troll.

Well, it was unsettling for me. Maybe this is old news for everyone else. I just think it's weird that I could be reading some apparently sane comment by an Obama supporter about what he should do to ensure victory in the Indiana primary, and for all I know it might actually be written by some snickering Republican wit who wants to see Obama lose badly because he's a Democrat, and who thinks it's the height of cleverness to pretend to be posting some level-headed analysis by an Obama supporter.

Not only is this something of an alien mindset to me, but it means anything I read on these here Intertubes could just be utterly fake, just someone's idea of scintillating wit. Anything.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Philosophical Correctness

I like to think I'm pretty tolerant and libertarian when it comes to social issues. (This has got nothing to do with political libertarianism. I live in a country with universal government healthcare, and I like it!)

This is a libertarianism that states that it's none of the President or Attorney General's business what my neighbor is doing behind closed doors, whether he's making a religious offering to the ancient god Gab'Shokoth, teaching his kids to hate Methodists, or having sex with his brother, assuming they're consenting adults.

Let's say the conservative religious couple down the street want to teach their kid that God created the world 6,000 years ago and modern science is a bunch of lies. Well, I don't approve of that, but ultimately it's none of my business.

Let's say these neighbors of mine want to teach their kids that Jews and Muslims are to be distrusted, gays are evil and people of other races ought to be kept separate. That's much, much worse, and I have every right to be offended, but I can't condone the State butting its head in and telling them to knock it off. You let the State go after racists and anti-Semites today, and you never know who it'll deem ideologically unfit next week.

Now let's say my neighbors down the street are physically beating the stuffing out of their kid every evening. Let's say they're sexually abusing the kid. Now most people would agree that they need to be separated from the poor child before they can inflict further harm.

OK, now does the State have any right to interfere in this, which involves two competent, consenting adults?
An Australian father and daughter who conceived an apparently healthy child are being monitored by police and social services after going public about their incestuous relationship.

John Deaves, 61, and his daughter Jenny, 39, say they want to be treated as an ordinary couple despite being biologically related, but their case has sparked outrage.

Court documents have revealed that a child they had earlier died from a congenital heart defect a few days after birth.

The couple, who have pleaded guilty to incest and been banned by a judge from having sexual contact, appeared on a television news programme in Australia to tell their story. They were shown with their nine-month-old daughter, Celeste, who they said was fit and well.
My reaction to the story of this loving couple was a slightly disbelieving "okaaaaaaaaaaaaay". Even so, I'm a bit uncomfortable with a judge banning two adults from having sexual relations with each other.

I suppose you could say that this kind of incest ought to be illegal because any kids who are born as a result would be at a very high risk of genetic defects. (This is where the history geek in me points out that Cleopatra was the result of several generations of sibling marriages.) There are all sorts of things mothers can do while pregnant, from drinking to smoking to eating certain foods, and I'd feel distinctly uncomfortable if the State decided to legally ban pregnant women from doing these things. I can't see a reason to ban close relatives from having a sexual relationship.

Then there's the recent government action against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Just to make my feelings clear: from what I've heard about this church, it sounds extremely creepy. But the U.S. Government is not my superego, and creepiness is not against the law.

But marrying off kids against their will is.

And yet, there's a bit of social libertarianism in my head that protests that no, the government has no right to come in and break up this little subculture that isn't hurting anyone in the wider world.

I think the government action is the correct thing to do. I think this subculture, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is actively harmful to many of its own members. I just need to convince all sectors of my brain that the government raid is the philosophically correct thing to do.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Meta-Fools!

The Featured Article blurb on the front page of Wikipedia today, April 1, 2008:
Ima Hogg was an enterprising circus emcee who brought culture and class to Houston, Texas. A storied ostrich jockey, she once rode to Hawaii to visit the Queen. Raised in government housing, young Ima frolicked among a backyard menagerie of raccoons, possums and a bear. Her father, "Big Jim" Hogg, in an onslaught against fun itself, booby-trapped the banisters she loved to slide down, shut down her money-making schemes, and forced her to pry chewing gum from furniture. He was later thrown from his seat on a moving train and perished; the Hogg clan then struck black gold on land Big Jim had forbidden them from selling. Ima had apocryphal sisters named "Ura" and "Hoosa" and real-life brothers sporting conventional names and vast art collections; upon their deaths, she gave away their artwork for nothing and the family home to boot. Tragically, Ms. Hogg (a future doctor) nursed three dying family members. She once sweet-talked a burglar into returning purloined jewelry and told him to get a job. Well into her nineties, she remained feisty and even exchanged geriatric insults with an octogenarian pianist. Hogg claimed to have received thirty proposals of marriage in her lifetime, and to have rejected them all. Hogg was revered as the "First Lady of Texas", and her name and legacy still thrive today—just ask Ima Pigg, Ima Nut, and Ima Pain, who have all appeared in the U.S. Census.

Now, the average human being is going to read that, look at the date, and think, "Oh, I get it. It's an April Fool's Day featured article. Ima Hogg isn't real."

But Wikipedia is actually practicing a subtler - and more sophisticated - form of humor. Ima Hogg was a real person.

And every individual fact in that featured article summary is true. They're just edited together in a way to make for some really loopy reading.

April Fool's articles aren't generally known for their subtlety. But I thought Wikipedia's was really well-done.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Selective Quoting

Nicholas Kristof wrote up a big long New York Times column on the alleged decline of American intellectualism, and I agree with parts of it. But not where he channels Susan Jacoby committing what I think is a major sin: cherry-picking.
“America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism,” Susan Jacoby argues in a new book, “The Age of American Unreason.” She blames a culture of “infotainment,” sound bites, fundamentalist religion and ideological rigidity for impairing thoughtful debate about national policies.

Even insults have degenerated along with other discourse, Ms. Jacoby laments. She contrasts Dick Cheney’s obscene instruction to Senator Patrick Leahy with a more elegant evisceration by House Speaker Thomas Reed in the 1890s: “With a few more brains he could be a half-wit.”

Susan Jacoby is trying to illustrate a point about the decline of American eloquence by choosing two quotes to contrast. But you could illustrate practically any proposition this way. There have been political insults in this decade that have been far more eloquent than Cheney's "go fuck yourself". There were undoubtedly political insults in the 1890s far coarser than Thomas Reed's cutting words.

Crude four-letter Anglo-Saxon words did not suddenly come into being from nowhere in the late 20th Century, as a little historical investigation shows.

You might think coarse insults may have been common among the Great Unwashed in the 19th century, but political discourse was characterized by high-minded, thoughtful, educated speech. Well then, I have the perfect counter-example all cherry-picked for you.

-- The Saga of Sumner and Brooks --

In 1856, Senator Charles Sumner (D-MA) denounced Senators Stephen Douglas (D-IL) and Andrew Butler (D-SC) for their support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Most notably, he accused Butler of taking a mistress (slavery) and mocked Butler's speech impediment (Butler had suffered a stroke some time earlier).

But there were even loftier heights of discourse to come. Congressman Preston Brooks (D-SC), Senator Butler's nephew, decided to confront Sumner personally on the Senate floor. What sort of political discussion ensued?

Did Brooks and Sumner talk through their differences amicably, in a highly literate discussion with frequent references to the Greek philosophers and the writings of Locke and Kant? Not really.

Did Brooks tell Sumner to go fuck himself, in a foreshadowing of Dick Cheney's verbal attack on Patrick Leahy? No, but you're getting warmer.

Did Brooks beat the bejeezus out of Sumner with his cane until Sumner was lying bleeding and unconscious on the floor?

Well, um, yes, that's precisely what happened.

Sumner did not return to the Senate for three years; he soon transmogrified from a D-MA into an R-MA. Southern newspapers opined that perhaps Sumner ought to be savagely beaten every day; that might knock some sense into him. Brooks, his self-preservation instincts operating at full blast, weaseled his way out of a duel with one of Sumner's political allies, but died of croup within the year (a hazard of living in the 19th century).

-- Thus Ends the Saga of Sumner and Brooks --

Obviously not every political argument in 19th century America ended with someone lying beaten and bloody on the floor, just as not every sharp exchange of words in 21st century America consists of "Go fuck yourself".

But by cherry-picking your quotes, you can make 19th century America seem like a land of glittering repartee and lofty erudition. Or you can make it seem like a country of cavemen thwapping each other with clubs. You can make the first decade of the 21st century seem like a digital wonderland of articulate wits exchanging eloquently phrased opinions on the Internet. Or you can paint it as a world where Eric Cartman clones trade barbs with like-minded imbeciles on political forums.

Anything is possible, if you cherry-pick your quotes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

An Idea I Had

If I had more creative energy:

I'd have a blog. All about politics and the 2008 Presidential election.

And it would be set in a world where John Kerry won the 2004 race, and is in the fight of his life running for reelection in 2008. It would be a world where Kerry has had a lackluster first term, and the GOP still control both houses of Congress. A world where US troops are still in Iraq, and the GOP is practically calling for Kerry's impeachment over how badly he's perceived to have screwed up the war. (Of course, the situation in Iraq would be no worse, maybe slightly better, than the Iraq situation in the "real" universe.)

A world where Kerry was eviscerated by GOP punditry for screwing up the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, with some commentators hinting darkly that it was all a plan to reduce the population and influence of Red State Louisiana. Meanwhile, Vice President Edwards' highly publicized involvement in rebuilding New Orleans has boosted his popularity, which led to months of speculation that he would actually replace Kerry at the top of the 2008 Democratic ticket.

A world where Kerry has acquired a Prince Philip-like reputation for saying unfortunate or vaguely insulting things on live camera, and Kerryisms have become as popular as Bushisms ever were.

Not that my parallel-universe blogger would explicitly explain all this, of course - the reader would be trusted to infer it. I would never break character on the blog.

My parallel-universe blogger might have a bit of a sarcastic streak, but I wouldn't allow his personality to take over the blog. No comments would be allowed - they would break the illusion. And all links to news stories and blog posts would be subtly fictional, so that they look authentic but, when clicked on, would lead to "Page Not Found" messages.

Ideally I would have started this blog before the GOP primaries had really gotten underway. I think I would have gone with a Mitt Romney nomination. Not sure if I would have given Kerry a primary challenger.