Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Music Man

A fascinating article by John McWhorter in The New Republic on the changes in oratorical styles in the last century.
If Abraham Lincoln were brought back to life, one thing that would throw him, other than electric power and the Internet, would be that audiences disrupted his speeches by clapping after every three or four lines. As ordinary as this seems now, this kind of applause is actually a custom of our times: Wesleyan political scientist Elvin Lim has documented that, in records of presidential addresses since Franklin D. Roosevelt, 97 percent of the applause lines appear in speeches by Richard Nixon and his successors. To speakers in Lincoln's day, a public address was typically a lecture. In our time, it is more often a love-in, more about the speaker "connecting" with the audience than teaching it anything new; hence the constant interruptions for clapping....

Given the standard assumption that our political culture would be better off if everyone would just "stick to the issues," the heavy performative streak in modern political speechmaking could be seen as counterintuitive. Wouldn't we expect the average person, when behind the podium, to simply talk? Why do so many find it natural to slide into a dramatic speaking style alien to their everyday selves when speaking to audiences--and why do they say so little when they do?
(Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan refers to this impulse as "reaching for the marble," that is, the hope of every presidential wanna-be and might-have-been to hope that their rhetoric will be so high-flown and compelling that it will be carved on the walls of their national monuments some day. -ed)

Interestingly, modern speakers have discovered they can play down to their audiences without seeming to. The intonations of casual speech are a kind of music; and, when wielded effectively, they can satisfy in the same way as a good song. Steven Mithen at Reading University has even proposed that language began as strings of musical syllables, gradually reinterpreted as nouns and verbs. Thus, euphonious intonation has a way of sounding like grammar--i.e., logic. In fact, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig have discovered that the part of the brain that processes musical sequences is the same one that generates grammatical syntax.

If our expectation that a subject will be followed by a predicate is founded in the same process that leads us to hear the sequence of notes of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star / How I wonder what you are" as a proper tune, it's no wonder Obama can get so much out of the sheer melody of his delivery. With our brains configured in a way that makes melody feel like logic, the only question would be why Obama's savory intonations would not suggest leadership ability to his fans. In fact, intonation has arguably been as key to Obama's success as his heritage or intelligence. One senses that the women fainting during his speeches are overcome more by the way he talks than what he is saying: With his mastery of cadence and vocal texture, he could rouse an audience reading from a phone book.

However, we must be careful what we wish for. In our sound-bite culture, America not only does not, but perhaps cannot, process logos-based oratory the way it used to. Hillary Clinton's content-rich addresses during the primaries got her nowhere, and Obama's masterfully composed speech on race this spring left his detractors unmoved, many seemingly challenged in even following his lines of argument. For all the complaints from voters about Obama that they don't know "who he is," if he had stepped onto the national stage patiently explaining who he was, how many people would have even been able to listen?

H/T Allah

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Life Imitates Iowahawk

...In the latest issue of Tikkun, in an article titled “Election 2008: Why is it Close?” [Rabbi Michael] Lerner concludes “there is another factor operating that dares not speak its name: RACISM.”

His solution for helping Barack Obama put the election away? “Imagine the cultural impact if tens of thousands of Obama activists were to volunteer the month of October to go door to door in the contested states and ask people to discuss the issue of racism!” (Dear Barack Obama — Please heed Michael Lerner’s advice. — Sincerely, John McCain)
--Mark Hemingway in National Review Online

...With new polls showing Barack Obama's once-commanding lead over John McCain all but evaporated, the Obama campaign announced today it has begun deploying its vast volunteer army of downtown hipster douchebags to help reconnect the presumptive Democratic candidate with middle-American voters.

"Unlike Iraq, this is one surge that is actually going to work," said Obama campaign manager David Axlerod...

According to Lorenz, winning back fence sitters to the Obama column takes a disciplined three-pronged attack of sarcasm, irony and condescension, which he demonstrates on a diner at a Fond du Lac IHOP.

"Excuse me, who are you voting for?" Lorenz asks the elderly man.

"Oh, I don't know, McCain I suppose," the man answers.

"Yeah, I guess you senile old f*cks need to stick together," says Lorenz. "That way you can stay safe from those scary Muslim nee-groos."

"See?" observes Lorenz. "Now that he's been properly shamed out of his racism, he'll think twice before pulling any lever for McBush."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Misremembering Doctrine

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been chided here before for her quoting of Bible passages that no one, not even (nor especially) those familiar with the Christian scripture recognizes.

Now she is lecturing the Catholic Church on it's doctrine and dogmas.

Once again, she's wrong. Oh, so wrong on so many points. First:
REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child–first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There’s very clear distinctions. This isn’t about abortion on demand, it’s about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and–to–that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who’ve decided…

Well, first of all, Ms. Pelosi, your party (and you party's standard bearer, Barack Obama) have not been supportive of any distinctions between the trimesters relating to the personhood of the child.

Second of all, Roe v. Wade was based upon viability of the unborn child. Breathtaking medical advances in the last 35 years have kicked that crutch out from underneath that argument. (A problem with pragmatic judgements--the circumstances change and you are left clinging to an argument that is no longer valid.)

But I am concerned here with your understanding of the doctrines of your own church:

MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it…

REP. PELOSI: I understand that.

MR. BROKAW: …begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That’s why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must–it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take–you know, we have to handle this as respectfully–this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been–and I’m not saying Rick Warren did, because I don’t think he did, but others will try to.

Oooooh, that wascally Wick Warren! She's not saying Rick torpedoed her guy, but others will try to say he did!

Ed Morrisey over at Hot Air posts some historic Church documents:
“The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).

Tertullian wrote:

“In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).

“Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.

“There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. . . .

“[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).

I'm not large-C Catholic, so I will leave the heavy lifting to The Anchoress.

But Nancy, you know those churchgoer's votes you wanted this fall? I wouldn't count on them.

Taking the Fifth, Part 2

As a public service follow-on to my original Taking the Fifth posting, I present the following two videos. They are both from the law class of James Duane at Regent University. Professor Duane tells why he advises never to talk to the police. He then turns his class over to a police officer to give the other view of the Fifth Amendment. Hilarity ensues.

The videos are about 25 minutes apiece, but move very quickly.


I am a big fan of the Television show Firefly. I own the DVD box set and have watched it again and again. I have loaned it to friends and relations causing a few to buy their own sets.

Now the word comes out that the series will be released in Blu-ray. Well, here is the news item:
Firefly: The Complete Series drops on Blu-ray high-definition disc on Nov. 11 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in a three-disc set that includes all 14 episodes, a new Firefly Reunion roundtable discussion and a new episode commentary from series creator Joss Whedon and select cast members; the set carries a suggested retail price of $89.98.

I'd love to see the roundtable discussion and hear the new commentary, but nearly $90 for a discs that I already own...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Recognizing Quality

From an MSN Money article on knowing when to spend more on an item to save in the long run:

Americans in their 20s and 30s are now at least one generation removed from the era of homemade clothing and hand-crafted wood furniture, Underhill says. "In the 1950s, 90% of homes had sewing machines, which means women knew something about how clothes were put together. They could look at something in the store and tell if was of good construction or crappy construction," he says. "In my office, I don't know anyone who has bought a custom suit. They don't know the difference between off-the-rack and custom."
My mother had a Singer sewing machine, and, being a daughter of the depression, made lots of clothes for the family. Those she didn't make, she likely altered to fit the next-smallest child.

For one brief, shining moment I owned a wardrobe of hand-tailored clothing, including hand-made shoes. I was in Asia for a year and was buying clothes that weren't hand-me-downs. Alas, all my baggage was lost on the trip back to the United States!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Return of "The America I Knew"

Barak Obama is shown here using the "America I Knew" meme.

Let me plagiarize myself:
What I am annoyed about is that [this is] being intellectually and historically dishonest about where America is and where it used to be. [This is] attempting to appropriate a conservative, even reactionary, meme and use it to advance a point of view that is radically unconservative....

A few years ago John Stossel...played a couple of television commercials from the late 1950s and early 1960s for various products, laundry soap and canned coffee. I was aghast at their sexist bias and insensitivity. What was worse, I remember seeing the commercials when they first aired, and they were completely unremarkable in the cultural context of their day. Younger people who don't remember this time could fall into the "America I Knew" meme because they have no direct memory of those times. I do. Shame on those, conservative and liberal, who trot that old warhorse out.

America is a wonderful country. My favorite! And I have wonderful nostalgic memories of my boyhood. But I cannot generalize from the specific of my own experiences to say that America was better back then.

Look, if you are a progressive at least espouse a doctrine of progress. It is conservative to look back. It is silly, politically, for progressives to engage in nostalgia.

This is especially true if you are trying to sell a "post-racial" message!

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