Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How to Catch Hillary

There was a moment in the debate last night that might well come to be seen as a defining point in the campaign. It was when Chris Dodd challenged Hillary for wanting to have it both ways on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Why? Because it crystallized a whole narrative about Hillary: the calculating, straddling triangulator.

Obama and Edwards have been calling out Hillary on the issues, but they have not extracted a narrative out of the issues. If they are smart, they will let the issues speak about their opponent. Every time Hillary hedges on a question with an eye on November (as she did on Rangel's plan, Social Security, and many other times last night) they will bring up decisiveness and conviction. It's the one chink in the armor of the Clinton franchise: both historically and in their current circumstance. Change vs. Experience is a dead draw, or favors Hillary. Authenticity vs. Calculation is a clear loser for her.

It's been observed that Democrats are not good at creating narratives... we'll see if Obama and Edwards have the guts, brains and finesse to pull this off. If they don't, they won't win the nomination, and they won't deserve to win.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Psycho Killer... Qu'est Que C'est?

I just finished seeing season one of Dexter, the Showtime dramatic series.

Some people don't like Dexter because they watch it as if it were a police procedural and complain about its implausibility. It's really not that -- Dexter is a superhero narrative. The hero had a formative experience in his childhood that resulted in a secret identity. This identity gave him great powers, but it also placed a great burden on him. It set him apart from a world to which he brought a mighty boon. This is the same story as Superman, Spiderman, Daredevil.

Dexter is the Superhero as Serial Killer... a really great twist on an American narrative form.

And by the way, is it just me or does Showtime seem to be overtaking HBO on the heat scale?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Right Brain or Left Brain?

This test purports to discover whether you are right- or left-brain dominant. I'm not sure whether it does, and I'm still less sure about the traits they list under right and left brain. Still, it's a lot of fun... try it.

At first I saw her turn clockwise (from the top.) With quite a bit of effort, I did learn to reverse her direction. Here's some tips I've read from people online on how to reverse her direction: use peripheral vision; look away and then look back; cover her with your hand, previsualize her turning the opposite way, then slowly uncover her; use the eye opposite to your brain side.

From 3D perspective, this test takes advantage of an orthographic view... a view without perspective. Closer objects don't appear larger, and faraway objects don't appear smaller. This allows for the confusion in silhouette.

(Via Kos, where a poll shows that about 70% see her turning clockwise at first, and 30% see her turning counter-clockwise.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Seven-Year Twitch

49 Up is the latest in a series of documentaries, most directed by Michael Apted, which chronicle the lives of a number of Britons at seven-year intervals, starting when they were seven years old.

Those of you who haven't seen the series definitely should -- they are worthy films. However, I am struck at how much darker the movies are getting. 7 Up was meant to be an exploration of class issues. By the time they got to 28 Up, the films had turned into a meditation on the eddies and flows of life and fate; one could celebrate the victories and grieve the failures of the protagonists. But by now, the movie seems like a mass performance of Krapp's Last Tape. Even the happy, well-adjusted subjects seemed tortured by the documentary process. It's become quite apparent: confronting middle-aged people with the dreams of their youth is an exquisite form of sadism.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

S-CHIP on their Shoulder?

It's nice when blogger mean-spiritedness gets a deserved backlash. Here's the rant version of the story.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Baby Bonds Take Steroids

Matthew Yglesias defends Hillary Clinton's baby bonds initiative. Briefly, the idea is to give every child a $5,000 savings bond to help pay for college.

Frankly, the idea has little appeal to me.

I would prefer to let parents invest the money in an IRA-like vehicle, so that they could put it into equities. Assuming a historically modest 6% after-inflation yield, $5,000 would become $13,463 when the baby is ready for college. But I would prefer to not let them cash it in yet: the money would grow to $208,231 when they are ready to retire at 65. Invested in an annuity, that would provide a monthly income of about $1,400, far more than the average Social Security check, which today is only $895. At a cost of $20 billion a year today, we could ease our children from life's greatest financial liability, old age.

Seems like a deal to me.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Iraq and the History of Civil Wars

Kevin Drum leans on some research on civil wars to scan our options on Iraq. A good post.