Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Obama vs. Clinton

Andrew Sullivan has a great post today on one of the biggest reasons Obama is so much more exciting than Hillary. Excerpt:

They are of different Democratic generations. Clinton is from the traumatized generation; Obama isn't. Clinton has internalized to her bones the 1990s sense that conservatism is ascendant, that what she really believes is unpopular, that the Republicans have structural, latent power of having a majority of Americans on their side. Hence the fact that she reeks of fear, of calculation, of focus groups, of triangulation. She might once have had ideals keenly felt; she might once have actually relished fighting for them and arguing in thier [sic] defense. But she has not been like that for a very long time. She has political post-traumatic stress disorder.

I also liked this evaluation of Obama's campaign, from Marc Ambinder:

Probably the best way to describe this campaign right now is that Clinton is going 75 mph; Obama is going 50 and has plenty of gas to spare. Obama looks like he can eventually go faster in his campaign car, but he's not doing it yet.

My impression is that Obama is content to let Hillary be the front-runner for most of the campaign, then he'll really turn it on when the time is right -- there's no sense in peaking early.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Facebook group of the day

Group name: Shaky Jake
Network: Global
Members: 880
Description: Ann Arbor's lovable hobo.

If you're on Facebook (and I imagine almost all of you are), check out the "Jake is not a 'hobo'!" thread for a lively discussion on the celebrated busker's mysterious lifestyle.

There are plenty of competing theories -- some insist he has a summer home in Florida, while others say Ann Arbor pays for his lodging. As far as knowledge of Shaky Jake goes, it's a real battle of the titans over there -- every third post or so is from someone who gave him a ride once or whose dad met him in the '70s.

For more on Jake, check out these three sample tracks from his record On the Move and this 2006 report from NPR's Weekend America.

A throw-down to Wes Anderson and his fans

Alyse asked reader Kingson what Wes Anderson "represents." He responds:

i could do a really good take down of him, but it's too hot in my room to think. in short, wes represents the fashionable caustic irony that is ruining america.

i can see his appeal to certain types - he describes his fans as "outsiders" and "misfits". his message is irresistible, i guess, to those who pride themselves on standing apart.

but there's no heart to his movies. it's all set pieces and synthetic awkwardness and idiosyncrasy and moments held for so long that they fall apart. his camera is mean. his movies pucker my soul.

Is that so, Kingson? Well, I just checked my Google Analytics: 58% of this blog's readers use Firefox as their Web browser, and Ann Arbor is their second most common city.

That sound you hear is people grinding their Rivers Cuomo eyeglass frames into knives.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I guess I'm a couple of years behind

In today's Times, an apologia for adult emoticon users:
“In a perfect world, we would have time to compose e-mails that made it clear through our language that we are being cheerful and friendly, but we’re doing these things hundreds of times a day under pressure,” said Will Schwalbe, an author of “Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home” (Knopf, 2007), written with David Shipley, the deputy editorial page editor at The New York Times.

Mr. Schwalbe said that he has seen a proliferation of emoticon use by adults in delicate and significant communications. “People who started using them ironically are now using them regularly,” he said. “It’s really in the last couple of years that the emoticon has come of age.”
I still haven't used an emoticon non-ironically. I'm sure it would save me time, but I just can't get past the "dignified as dotting one’s I’s with kitten faces" thing.

By the way, maybe it's just me, but this passage rings false:
But after 25 years of use, emoticons have started to jump off the page and into our spoken language. Even grown men on Wall Street, for example, will weave the term “QQ” (referring to an emoticon that symbolizes two eyes crying) into conversation as a sarcastic way of saying “boo hoo.”
I've never even heard of QQ. And it doesn't even look like two eyes crying. Who are these Wall Street nerds?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Republicans are wusses

The GOP front-runners are backing out of their CNN/YouTube debate. Why? The second point here is a good one. (via Dan Savage)

"Short shrift"

I just used this phrase in a conversation, then realized I had no idea what a shrift is. Turns out it's a penance, and the phrase has really cool medieval Catholic roots:
In early medieval times penances were long and arduous—lengthy pilgrimages and even lifelong exile were not uncommon — and had to be performed before absolution, not after as today. However, less demanding penances could be given in extreme situations; short shrift was a brief penance given to a person condemned to death so that absolution could be granted before execution.

Good to know.

Out of touch much?

I think U-M is often unfairly criticized for being out of touch with the rest of the state. But from a PR standpoint, buying foreign cars for administrators while the Detroit auto industry withers away is just stupid.

This is typical of Michigan, though:
U-M would not release the make and model of the vehicles employees drive. U-M was the only university to deny The News' Freedom of Information request, saying the release would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"The use of letters is often used to falsely express a hierarchy of oppressions"

I'm a big fan of the U-M LGBT office, but this is just silly.

UPDATE: Thanks to Dan Savage at The Stranger for the link. There's an interesting debate going on in that blog's comments section over whether Michigan's LGBT office is, in fact, being silly, and whether Savage and Andrew Sullivan are being assholes for making fun of it. Check it out.

This was my contribution on Savage's blog, by the way:
My two cents: I've dealt with Michigan's LGBT office a bit (I used to edit the campus paper), and I always found them much more competent and effective than most university bureaucrats. I'm sure they're perfectly capable of carrying out this crazy process without getting distracted from actual work.

My only problem with this is that, to an outsider reading all of these high-minded Audre Lordeisms about this nitpicky, P.C. mess -- well, it makes gay-rights activists look ridiculous. It gives the impression that they're whiners who spend all their time looking for exclusion where none really exists. Which I think undermines them when they point out instances of actual exclusion.

One more thing about the debates

The more I think about it, the more excited I get about these YouTube debates. It's one thing for a moderator to ask the Republican candidates to explain why they still support "don't ask, don't tell," but it would be quite another to have this guy ask them.

A cool Detroit map

I hadn't seen this until just now. Seems useful. There are also maps of Royal Oak and Birmingham. (via Metroblogging Detroit)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Liberal vs. progressive

Something else that bothered me from Monday night's debate was when Hillary Clinton pulled out this "I'm a progressive, not a liberal" deal. I don't know if this is new for her, but I don't like it.

Being a liberal means something -- it implies a set of values and a political philosophy going back to the Enlightenment. Saying you're a progressive, from what I've seen on campus and among progressive commentators, basically means you're willing to go along with whatever the left is into at the moment.

On Michigan's campus, at least, that's my main problem with the progressive movement: It seems to demand a kind of lock-step, uncritical way of thinking. People who call themselves progressives give the impression that they're part of a team, and they generally won't criticize the other members of their team, even if what they're saying doesn't make much sense or is actually objectionable.

Maybe I'm just sensitive to this because I've been a follower of campus politics for a few years, and I've seen how illiberal progressives on campus can be. The classic example is the United Coalition Against Racism, which pressured administrators into adopting hate-speech codes in the late '80s. Courts quickly struck down those policies, but the attitude behind them -- that in fighting racism, it's OK to ignore things like civil liberties and academic freedom -- is still pretty widespread on the campus left. And the tendency for demanding loyalty to the "movement" and discouraging self-criticism is one of the defining characteristics of the progressive blogosphere.

Is any of that relevant to Hillary Clinton? I don't know. More likely, she just thinks not calling herself "liberal" will play well in the general election. (Although, as a friend noted, this points to one of Hillary's annoying qualities: her tendency to accept conservative narratives -- in this case, "liberal = supporter of big, expensive, intrusive government" -- and use them to position herself as a moderate.) Either way, I'd prefer if we could just call ourselves liberals -- it's easier to keep ourselves honest that way.

Attention Wes Anderson fans

In case you haven't heard, the trailer for "The Darjeeling Limited" came out yesterday. (via Alyse)

Good day for students' voting rights

The Michigan House just passed a Democratic package of bills that would, among other things, make it easier for college students to vote.

The most important bills here are HB 4447 and 4448, sponsored by Ann Arbor's freshman Rep. Rebekah Warren. They would effectively overturn "Rogers's Law," which requires people to vote at the precinct for the address on their driver's license.

(That law makes it harder for students to vote while on campus -- they have to either drive home on Election Day or have the Secretary of State change their permanent address to their campus address, which is inconvenient for students who move year-to-year. Also, there have been reports of students being told at Secretary of State offices that changing their permanent address would remove them from their parents' insurance coverage. Students and other observers have long speculated that Mike Rogers, the Republican U.S. congressman who sponsored that bill, used it to depress the mostly Democratic student vote in his Lansing district.)

Democrats say they expect to pass another bill soon that would allow voters to get absentee ballots without meeting one of six qualifications. That's also helpful, although I suspect few students want to use absentee ballots.

The bills to repeal Rogers's Law passed mostly along party lines, and the Republican secretary of state still opposes them. So it's not clear that they'll get through the Republican-controlled Senate. Still, this is encouraging, and it's good to see that Warren is following through on her promises to bring student issues to Lansing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The debate

Just watched the Democratic CNN/YouTube debate. A few thoughts:
  • I expected this format to be worthless, especially after some hipster doofus opened the debate by lecturing the candidates on how to answer questions. It's actually not bad, though. This Reggie Longcrier guy, who called out the candidates for using religion to justify opposing gay marriage, was fantastic -- you'd never see a moderator ask a question like that.
  • All of this talk about whether American soldiers died in vain in Vietnam or Iraq is pretty irritating, because it leads candidates to say inane things to avoid admitting that's the case. (That would be a Kinsley gaffe.) For example, does John Edwards really believe soldiers can't die in vain if they're following their commander in chief's orders? Does that mean there has never been a war that wasn't worth the human cost?
  • Richardson had one good moment: his answer on gay marriage. By talking in terms of what is achievable, he at least seemed to acknowledge that full marriage rights should be an eventual goal. His actual position is the same as the others, but at least he's a little more honest about where he's coming from.
  • Richardson also had one awful moment: his answer on pulling out of Iraq. I know he's trying to set himself apart from the other serious candidates by urging immediate withdrawal, but the formula he used -- that saving Bush's legacy isn't worth American soldiers' lives -- was pathetic. I hope he doesn't really think the fate of Iraq and the humanitarian crisis there are only important to Bush's legacy.

Ann Arbor is weird

Looking through the "missed connections" on Ann Arbor Craigslist today reminded me what a strange, confusing sense of humor Ann Arborites have. Sometimes I can't tell whether they're sharply ironic and self-effacing or just oblivious and bizarre.

A few highlights:
  • "It was during the art fair weekend, but it wasn't near the fair, as I suspect even though both townies (either transplant or native), we abhor the art fair and the cookie cutter wares they sell there." It gets better. (Later, some kind of critique from a third party.)
  • Moose seeking moose. Clearly a joke, but why?
  • Vampire with an Asian fetish.
  • This one is pretty humdrum except for the closing line, which cracked me up.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Give us your huddled masses whose country we dicked over

I rarely agree with Nolan Finley, but I liked his column today urging Detroit to offer incentives to lure in Iraqi refugees. This comes after the mayor of Warren threw a hissy fit over plans to place Iraqis in his city.

Maybe it's just me, but after reading this essay, I couldn't care less whether Iraqis will take jobs from Warren residents.

Fourth Street Fair, Detroit

Fourth Street Fair last night was fun. I recently got a little camera, so I was the obnoxious picture-taking guy. Now I'm going to be the obnoxious pictures-on-his-blog guy.

This car-monster was huge. I couldn't really capture its enormity.

The Midnight Cowboy. "Nectar of the Gods," by the way, is a cocktail that people sell out of this house. They put a piece of dry ice in it, which makes it bubble and smoke. I thought it seemed dangerous, but had one anyway.

There was a lot of this, as you might imagine.

This guy was promoting some kind of satirical religion called Subgenius. He said the point of Subgenius is to attain slack, which is something that floats your boat. He asked me what gives me slack; I told him that's private.

On the way to the parking lot. Alyse thought this sign was hilarious.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

U-M vs. MSU: Facebook network stats

Have you ever compared the Facebook network stats (where they show the top movies, interests, etc. listed in people's profiles in a given network) for Michigan and MSU? It's pretty remarkable. In most cases, they're almost identical -- our top three or four in most categories match up exactly -- so the differences are telling.

A few observations:
  • Michigan students skew a little more toward the highbrow. For example, Radiohead and "Little Miss Sunshine" are #4 and #3 on Michigan's top music and movies, and neither appears at all on MSU's lists.
  • Our favorite books are roughly the same, except the Bible is #3 at Michigan and outside the top 10 at State. Also, Michigan students aren't such big Dan Brown fans. Infer what you will.
  • For relationship status, "none listed" is easily the most common at Michigan with 38%, while it's third at State (behind "single" and "in a relationship) with 27%. Weird.
  • Michigan students are also slightly more likely to list "married," but I think that only means we're a little more ironic than State students on average.

At the News

Ah, copy editors.

Great moments in campus conservatism

Justin Zatkoff, noted idiot and chair of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, posed for some racy pictures at the College Republican National Convention last weekend. Scroll down to the comments for some hilarious intraparty backbiting, hand-wringing and anti-Semitism.

This raises a serious question, though: How does a person like Justin Zatkoff get elected chair of his party's statewide youth organization?

My personal experience with Justin has been limited (I wrote about him, briefly, here), but from what I gather, he's the prototypical YAF type -- loud, obnoxious and obsessed with "un-P.C." political theater.

(My impression of YAF has always been that it's a manifestation of the Ann Coulterization of the campus right -- it's interested only in offending the left and otherwise amusing its own members and sympathizers.)

I guess maybe YAF members feel entitled to act like assholes because the campus far left is similarly loony. And sometimes they do manage to provoke BAMN and the like into looking like kooks, which they probably think reflects poorly on the left.

But we already know BAMN is crazy. And unlike YAF, BAMN doesn't control its party's statewide college organization. So how is YAF helping its side, again?

Here's the bio of Steve Japinga, Zatkoff's opponent in the MFCR chair election. (Yes, he had a campaign website.) He seems like a pretty typical College Republicans sort of guy. I've met enough of them to know that, for the most part, they have very little in common with YAF.

So can someone explain to me why this guy is their leader in Michigan?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Compulsive clickers, unite!

When I read on a computer, I do this thing -- I click on the words. More specifically, I double-click and highlight words on either edge of the text, in a sweeping pattern that roughly follows my eye movement. If you're not a clicker, I can't explain to you why I have to click on the words. It's just how I do.

Why do I bring this up? Because we compulsive clickers are being persecuted. News websites, starting with nytimes.com, have been adding a "feature" that displays a pop-up dictionary entry for any word you double-click in a story. Kriston Capps explains how tragic this is for "screensifters" who read the Times here.

Now I discover that my college paper, The Michigan Daily, has joined the dark side. And this iteration of the pop-up dictionary is even worse than the original: It evades pop-up blockers by using Flash or something to display a definition from Answers.com instead of opening a new window.

The Daily's current editor tells me College Publisher, the paper's Web provider, added the pop-up "feature" a few days ago. He's not sure whether it can turned off, and he thinks he'd probably leave it on because, in his estimation, the only people who obsessively highlight random text are current and former Daily news editors. His other comment for the record was vulgar but quickly retracted.

This raises two questions:
  1. How much money is College Publisher (which is owned by a division of MTV Networks) getting from Answers.com in exchange for adding the pop-ups to its 450 or so sites?
  2. Why not let users turn the pop-ups off? I would go so far as to call this an accessibility issue.
I'll report CP's response when I get it.

The GOP's tuition hikes

Students at U-M and MSU are organizing to protest this summer's tuition increases -- but they're putting the blame on Mike Bishop, the Republican state Senate majority leader, for forcing cuts to higher education funding. Seems like a good tactic to me.

Here is the YouTube video, and here's the Facebook group ("I'm Pissed that Mike Bishop is Raising My Tuition").

God bless the Internet

Here is a list of Catholic patron saints arranged by topic. My favorite: Maximilian Kolbe, patron saint of journalists and drug addiction.

In today's News

Two stories I particularly liked: Cindy Rodriguez's piece on young professionals who are fiercely loyal to Detroit (all of the subjects she profiles are Michigan alums), and Neal Rubin's hilarious column about the Detroit City Council.

Ann Arbor and warm beer

For this week's issue of Metro Times, the editorial staff took a thermometer to 104 Detroit-area bars to find the coldest beer around. In first place was Lime Light Grill & Bar in Warren, which sells an aluminum bottle of Budweiser cooled to 25.1 degrees for $3.50. (The bar uses Anheuser-Busch's "Chill Chamber," a sophisticated machine that makes shitty beer in aluminum bottles unnaturally cold and expensive.)

Five Ann Arbor bars made the list, and the results don't look good:

  • #9 - Conor O'Neill's (Coors Light, bottle, $2.50, 31.7 degrees)

  • #89 - Rick's (Bud Light, bottle, $1.50, 43.7 degrees)

  • #91 - The Brown Jug (Miller Lite draft, chilled glass, $2.95, 43.9 degrees)

  • #94 - The Arena (Pabst Blue Ribbon, glass, $2.00, 45.7 degrees)

  • #103 - Ashley's (Stella Artois draft, glass, $5.00, 50.3 degrees.

In the interest of fairness, I called Rick's, the Jug and Ashley's for a response. (I didn't call the Arena because, well, who gives a shit about the Arena?) Bartenders at Rick's and the Jug didn't sound too concerned -- nor should they be. I love Rick's and the Jug for the atmosphere (delightfully trashy and comfortably Michigan, respectively), the $2 pitchers and the $4.25 40s. I won't begrudge them their warm beer.

Ashley's, whose Stella Artois was the second-warmest brew on the list, is the big disappointment here. I couldn't get a bartender on the phone -- after two rings, I got what I believe was a recording of Paul Giamatti asking for bartender applicants -- but I'm assuming they keep their beer above 50 degrees because that's how their specialty Trappists, porters and stouts are meant to be served. Ice-cold beer would clash with the bar's sniffy, grad-student image.

The problem: Stella Artois, like Budweiser, Miller and their ilk, is a pale lager -- a weak-flavored category that, as any beer nerd will tell you, demands to be served near-freezing.

So Ashley's is serving bathwater-warm beer, presumably because they and/or their customers think it's more highbrow that way. Such is Ann Arbor.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Get depressed

The News is in the middle of a very good series on race relations and racial equality in the Detroit area 40 years after the riot/civil disturbance/rebellion. There's some surprising new polling data, and if you don't know much about the riot, it's a good primer.

The series also reminded me I need to man up and read The Origins of the Urban Crisis. From what I understand, you're not even allowed to talk about Detroit's problems until you've read this book. I borrowed it from a friend a few months ago, and I haven't been able to bring myself to start it -- there are too many other books around that are way more fun.

Jack Lessenberry's column on the riot is also worth reading, as usual.