October 11th, 2012

Consistency in the opinions of politicians over time is something that is over-valued in American politics. Being labeled a flip-flopper is certainly a bad thing. However, it’s important to note that there are different reasons to change one’s opinions and they can range from extraordinarily honest to cynically opportunistic. For example, if you learn new things or have new life experiences, it’s reasonable to change your opinion about things. Those of you who have known me for a while have seen me do this on a whole host of issues. With that said, changing an opinion on something important out of pure political opportunism is bad, and changing your message dramatically when speaking to different audiences is worse.

Mitt Romney is doing a lot of the second type of this. He has had that reputation for a long time now (for example, on abortion), but it really showed during the first debate. Romney went from being a self-described “severe conservative” to acting like a moderate very abruptly. Steering towards the middle in the general election is normal, but Romney did it by flat-out lying about his platform. These aren’t misrepresentations or exaggerations or gray areas, they are lies. One example that stuck out is his unambiguous claim that “preexisting conditions are covered under my plan”. CNN followed up with the Romney campaign on this issue after the debate:

When pressed whether Romney would require states to include a pre-existing conditions stipulation in their legislation, Fehrnstrom answered: “We will give the state initiatives and money so that they can manage these decisions on their own. But, of course, we’d like them to see them continue that pre-existing band for those who have continuous coverage.”

Saying “we’d like states to do it” is not the same as being “part of my plan”, by any stretch of the imagination. Also, it’s not clear to me how you’d cover preexisting conditions without an individual mandate (i.e. why buy health insurance when you’re healthy if you can just wait until you’re sick?).

The sad part is, there are a lot of low-information voters who will hear Romney say this and will have no reason to question him.

Here are some more:


Countering hate speech

October 8th, 2012

The ad to the left is a response to the ad on the right:

What a great response! Instead of working to have the ad on the right taken down, the United Methodist Women put up their own message. This is how it’s supposed to work.

via andrew sullivan

Bill Clinton @ DNC convention

October 8th, 2012

Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC convention was one of the best political speeches I’ve seen. It’s relatively long, but he’s such a good speaker that it didn’t bother me at all. I was amazed at how well he was able to talk about policy (ACTUAL POLICY!) and make it interesting, with huge dramatic verbal emphasis on certain points (e.g. “now listen to this, this is important”). I’ve never been a big Bill Clinton fan, but this speech left me really impressed.


Columbus Day

October 8th, 2012

I wish Italian-Americans had a better heritage day than Columbus Day. I read something earlier today (I forget where) that suggested celebrating exploration in general while playing down Columbus’s story (you know, with all the genocide and what-not). Not sure what the right answer is here.. the positive aspects of Columbus Day do deserve to be celebrated, but it doesn’t seem right to ignore the truly awful things that Columbus did.

Louie on Daniel Tosh

July 17th, 2012

His interview on the daily show was focused on the issue I wrote about before:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Louis C.K.
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook


Pixar’s story rules

July 16th, 2012

Pixar’s rules for storytelling are worth reading. My favorite:

“Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”

Violations of this rule had bothered me in the past, but I had never seen it written out in this way. Makes perfect sense!

via kottke

Outside views of the US

July 16th, 2012

Whenever I travel to another country, one of my favorite things to read about is the cultural practices that may be surprising to Americans (e.g. how late people show up to things, what topics to avoid in conversation, etc). The Atlantic has an interesting article about how guidebooks in other countries portray the US. Some of our practices look rather silly when written out:

When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates. The host will usually refuse except among very close friends, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common. Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.

Also, Quora users were asked the question What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America? which got responses on similar subjects. One thing someone found surprising:

Immediate check and taking away empty plates. For me this was incredibly rude as back home you never take the empty plates before everyone who’s dining has finished their meals. Also, back home one asks for the check, so when waiters bring you the check here without you asking can feel very much like you’re being rushed.

The inverse phenomenon always takes some getting used to in other countries. The biggest surprising thing for me in Germany/Austria/Czech Republic was their distaste for tap water. In Munich, the water comes from the Bavarian Alps and is certainly drinkable, but it’s almost never served. For a country that seemed to be doing so many green things, their dependence on bottled water was a surprising omission.

Recommended Reading about the Daniel Tosh Controversey

July 16th, 2012

(this post and the links therein are likely not safe for work and contain crude language)

By now, it seems like just about everyone with an opinion has written about Daniel Tosh’s interaction with a heckler about rape jokes.

Two articles I read break down the issue (and relevant aspects of comedy) very well:
How to Make a Rape Joke
Surfing the Rape Wave: What Tosh Teaches About Humor, Power and Privilege

I’ve seen posts by several comedians I know and have discussed this issue with some. In short, my opinion is that both extremes are wrong here. As the articles I linked to above describe (with examples), there are funny rape jokes. They can be funny without being hurtful or threatening to victims. On the other side, if people claim that those who object to the jokes are infringing upon the comedian’s first amendment rights, that’s clearly absurd. First of all, they literally haven’t read the first word of that amendment (“Congress”). People aren’t proposing that modern-day Lenny Bruces be arrested for obscenity. Comedians are free to explore whatever dark topics they want, but when they mess up they suffer the consequences. Daniel Tosh wasn’t being smart, funny or “edgy” that night, he was being lazy and lame.

This got me thinking about how sensitive topics like rape can be used for really lazy “shock jokes” without much effort, but those same topics can take an extraordinary amount of effort and care to craft real meaningful, incisive, funny comedy. Many comedy audiences will completely shut down when they hear a word about a sensitive subject, even before the entire premise is explained. One joke I’ve been doing on stage involves a hypothetical black person, but isn’t actually a comment about race at all (it’s just for absurdist wordplay). Despite this, I’ve seen some audiences shut off as soon as they hear the word “black”. This might happen more with politically-correct San Francisco audiences :)

What is Obamacare?

July 9th, 2012

Reddit has the best distillation of the ACA (obamacare) that I’ve read. Based upon other things I’ve seen, this is quite accurate and well-sourced.

The legislation is not simple, but it’s much easier to discuss now that there aren’t 10 different variations on the plan floating around like there were before it passed. Distillations of this as “socialized medicine” don’t seem apt from my understanding of the bill. It does increase regulation and governmental control, but it is still distributing medicine largely through market mechanisms.

Also, some things in that summary left me thinking “wait, that’s not already the law?!”, such as “Insurers can’t just drop customers once they get sick.”

Maurice Sendak

May 8th, 2012

As you likely know, Maurice Sendak died today. His interview with Stephen Colbert was one of my favorites from that show:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 1
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 2
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

I love how playfully cantankerous he is in this interview.