31 October 2012

Summer's end

Halloween's true and original name is Samhain, somewhat surprisingly pronounced "SOW-win" (first syllable rhymes with "cow"), with some variation in different times and places. The word is Irish Gaelic for "summer's end". The ancient Celts recognized just two seasons, summer and winter, and Samhain was actually the first of November -- but they also counted each night as being part of the following day, so the night of October 31st was the true beginning of Samhain.

Chalice Centre (where I found the charming image above) has an overview of how Samhain was observed in pagan times. Hearth fires were extinguished and re-lit from a sacred source, and people danced around great bonfires into which goods sacrificed to the gods were cast. The reverence for fire undoubtedly dates back to the Aryan conquests of more than five millennia ago, and is found in many cultures sharing the same origin. Fire was similarly held divine in Zoroastrian Persia, for example, and many modern-day Iranians continue to observe the fire-festivals in defiance of the mullahs' dour edicts of condemnation.

In the British Isles, similarly, Samhain rituals survived the coming of Christianity. As it did with so many other traditional European sacred days, the new alien faith out of the Middle East sought to Christianize Samhain and co-opt it, rather than to eradicate it entirely. In the seventh century Pope Boniface IV declared the first day of November to be "All Saints' Day", and the preceding night became "All Hallows' Eve", from which the name "Halloween" is derived. Yet the bonfire dances continued -- in some parts of Britain, as late as the early twentieth century.

Samhain was observed under different names in various Celtic lands. The practice of "apple magic", mentioned at the end of the Chalice Centre post linked above, survived in the Cornish festival of Calan Gwaf or Allantide (found via Mendip) and in more diluted form in the game of apple-bobbing. Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating, which play such a central role in our modern concept of Halloween, are foreshadowed in the festival of Hop-tu-Naa on the Isle of Man, a small island between Britain and Ireland.

Modern Christian fundamentalists remain profoundly suspicious of Halloween, and with good reason. Unlike Christmas, Halloween was never successfully infused with Christian significance; to this day it remains, in its symbolism and imagery, the most boldly pagan observance in the Celtic- and English-speaking world.

[Re-posted from Halloween 2010.]

Political link mini-round-up

There is one man who could defeat Romney.

Yes, the status quo is killing people.

Two campaigns, two caps, two labels.

Vote Republican or burn in Hell -- but religious hypocrisy is OK.

Don't be fooled -- a Romney victory would endanger abortion rights.  See posts on Republican rape / abortion weirdness from Echidne of the Snakes, Teresa Hill, and Jason Easley (with a Maddow video).

Christie is doing his job.  Green Eagle sees him as a leading indicator.

Here's why the right wing thinks Romney is winning.

Our modern polarization may be an after-image of the Civil WarCultural history may also play a role.

Jack Jodell has a round-up of Romney/Ryan lies for October.

Oliver Willis looks at the attacks on Nate Silver.

Here's an encouraging report on early voting; see also news from North Carolina and pictures from Florida.

Romney's flagrantly-dishonest jeeps-to-China ad is getting blow-back from the media and from Chrysler.

We're on track for record-breaking high Hispanic turn-out.

The People's View thinks an Obama landslide is still possible.

A conservative looks at what happens if Romney loses.

Andrew Sullivan looks at why Gallup and Rasmussen portray the race so differently than other pollsters do, with follow-up here.

Romney used an accounting trick I've never heard of to dodge taxes for 15 years.

30 October 2012

Republican America

Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station reports from the Florida panhandle.  To anyone who's been to the same area or other similar parts of the country, or lives there, I'm genuinely curious -- is it really this bad?

29 October 2012

Quote for the day -- post-election meltdown

"There is some number of people out there – I have no idea if it's ten, a hundred, or a million, but they exist – who are going to, for lack of a classier term, completely and totally lose their shit if Romney does not win. It has little to do with Romney and everything to do with confirming their paranoid suspicion about what has happened to Their country. It has been stolen from them by the Muslim Usurper, who of course will have stolen the election (how could he win legitimately?) with busloads of illegal immigrants and Welfare Queens bribed with Obama Phones and the New Black Panthers and the U.N. and every other neo-Bircher boogeyman in the modern pantheon. If you thought the 1990s were bad under Clinton – Waco, Oklahoma City, the Michigan Militia, the Montana Freemen, etc. – I don't want to think about the level of anti-government insanity we might be primed to see in the next four years."

Gin and Tacos

Also worth a look:  Obama's chances in Arizona, and Wonkette on right-wing hysterics over the Lena Dunham ad.

28 October 2012

Link round-up for 28 October 2012

Romney may take Umbridge at this comparison.

Murr Brewster looks at sustainability, values, and prehistoric giant corgis.

Hurricane Sandy is screwing up Mendip's Halloween.

Obama connects with kids.

Bob Larson casts out a gay demon.

Park workers in Kenya rescue a baby elephant.

Rachel Held Evans spent a year living in accordance with the Bible (found via Republic of Gilead).

Booman Tribune predicts a Senate landslide.

Romney's favorite Republicans are severely conservative.

A Planned Parenthood employee described an encounter with anti-abortion protesters (see also my own experience here).

Wingnut vandalism of Obama signs gets scary in Lubbock, TX.

A trigger-happy Alabama cop tases a diabetic teen (see links at right for more tasings).

Green Eagle suspects Republicans' propensity to lie is rooted in religious apologetics.

This phone-banker is doing it for Stacy Lihn.

Sununu has a history of racist remarks about Obama.

Here's some hidden-camera footage of those secret Mormon rituals -- watch it fast before the bad guys make them take it down.

Democrats are better for the economy.

Andrew Sullivan makes the moral case for Obama.  Here's a case against Romney.

US economic growth speeds up despite the drought.

Romney is different from Bush.  Vote for him and you'll regret it.

In the war on women, Kathleen Parker is on the wrong side (found via Booman Tribune).

Here's the complete Republican rape advisory chart in one handy image (click to enlarge); see these quotes too, and Tommy Christopher's overview (found via Uzza).  A blogger describes her "gift from God" at 14.  Republicans are just following the example of God, who hates rape victims.  Pennsylvania Republicans are getting tough on victims, but Utah party bigwig Greg Peterson went all the way and actually became a rapist.

The Electoral College favors Obama.  Robert Shrum explains why he'll win.

Andrew Sullivan looks at Mormonism and racism; readers react here and here.

Polls may be under-counting Democratic-leaning Hispanics -- it's happened before.

An initiative battle in Michigan highlights the corrupting effects of big money.

Mourdock plummets, Dick Morris stays in denial.

Republicans' dishonesty shows liberals are winning the war of ideas.

Get your money out of Wells Fargo, now.

On Ryan's poverty speech, check the record.

On Nov. 10, stand with Malala.

Take the national quiz of shame (party is easy to guess).

There exists a place where the "pro-life" dream is a reality.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard thinks Britain is already on its way out of the EU.

Oh, for a land without wingnuts -- France's Socialist government will fully fund all abortions and make contraception available to minors.

The Greek economic situation is still a confusing mess.

Malala's father speaks out. A women's college in Pakistan is being named after her (found via Lady Atheist).

Feng Jian's wife had an ugly baby -- so he sued her.

Global warming is a factor in the unprecedented power of hurricane Sandy.  Here's a guide to what precautions to take, and the election impact.

The prehistoric giant woodlouse Fuxianhuia protensa had a pretty sophisticated brain, at least by prehistoric-giant-woodlouse standards.

A paleo-porn scientist talks about spiked penises and why catfish swallow.

26 October 2012

Videos of the day -- a lot at stake





Must-read: John Scalzi's fan letter to conservative politicians.

Romney still hasn't withdrawn the ad he made for Mourdock -- the only ad he's made for a specific Republican Senate candidate.



Needless to say, I've already voted -- we have vote-by-mail here in Oregon and I sent mine in the day after I got it.

24 October 2012

Trump stinks

While we're waiting for whatever dirt Donald Trump thinks he has on Obama, here's a tale of how he behaved like an utter shit in Scotland, with links.  (Fun fact:  In British slang, the word "trump" can mean "fart".)

As for the Allred thing, here's a little more info, reinforcing my sense that it's some sleazy muckraking which is as likely to backfire against our own side as to hurt Romney.

Flowchart: How to avoid saying something stupid about rape

The latest, this time from Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.  The teabaggers dumped Richard Lugar for this bozo.

23 October 2012

From Big Bird to binders to bayonets

Our guy thrashed their guy, again.  Romney returned to his strategy from the first debate, morphing into "moderate Mitt", a persona utterly at odds with his record -- but this time Obama called him on it, and overall the Republican was clearly out of his depth.  In snap polls, CNN/ORC gave Obama the victory by 48%-to-40%, PPP by 53%-to-42% (in swing states), CBS by a crushing 53%-to-23%.

It's too bad the debate focused so much on the Middle East, a region of which most Americans know little and would probably prefer to know even less.  How many caught this geographical howler:

I mean, does he really not know that Iran includes the whole north side of the Persian (!) Gulf?

Russia, China, Europe, and Latin America got little mention.  It would have been interesting to see Romney flounder through a discussion of the EU, many of whose economies are being devastated by the same kind of austerity policies the Republicans advocate for our own country.

Andrew Sullivan live-blogged the debate and has a round-up of pundit reactions.  See blogger commentary from Liberal Values, Juan Cole, Booman Tribune, The Reaction, Politicus USA, Bob Cesca, and Taegan Goddard (for right-wing views, see Hot Air, David Frum, and Race42012).  And, yes, horses and bayonets is the top zinger of the debate.

22 October 2012

Romney scandal?

Rumor has it that Gloria Allred is about to unveil some big Romney scandal (found via The Immoral Minority), possibly a sex scandal involving him and one of his servants.  Nothing on Daily Kos, Crooks & Liars, TPM, Huffington Post, etc. yet.

If it is something like that, it had better be something bigger than just conventional adultery, which is far from being a deal breaker for voters these days -- recall the Republicans' effort to take down President Clinton over Monica Lewinsky, to which the public reacted mainly with exasperation that they were distracting the government with trivia.  And it had better be credible.  Romney has had the career of an economic parasite, but a philanderer or sexual predator?  He just doesn't seem like the type.  It wouldn't be easy for the average voter to believe.  A hit story that lacks credibility would likely backfire and create sympathy for Romney.

Or the rumor could be just a rumor, with nothing backing it up at all.  We'll see.

Update 1:  A report from Britain suggests the Republicans are nervous about whatever it is.

Update 2:  Birther attention-hound wingnut Trump is now saying he's got some dirt on Obama.  Can't say I'm feeling very concerned.

Update 3:  According to this article (sent by Parsley's Pics), Trump's big revelation is just some old Obama divorce papers.

21 October 2012

Quote for the day -- a war ago

"Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land—young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes.  There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a Congressman, or a Senator, or a President to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us."

George McGovern, 1970

Link round-up for 21 October 2012

No Presidential candidate has ever blah blah blah.....

Don't mess with Big Bird.

I'll hug your elephant and you.....

Romney's binders spawn a meme, but Lady Atheist doesn't want to end up in the wrong one.

Don't do Halloween, it has demons and fags.

Writer says "vagina", fundies freak out (found via Lady Atheist).

A wingnut who can barely write coherent English calls Obama mediocre.

Abercrombie & Fitch Chief Executive Officer Michael Jeffries is odd.

Scott Brown's asbestos gaffe may have killed his re-election hopes.

One of those quacks who "cures" gays has been arrested -- for sexually assaulting men (found via Republic of Gilead).

Charts illustrate the decline of religion in the US since 2007.

Yes, Obama's starting to see a post-debate shift. More here.

Libby Anne looks at the anti-abortion nutters' "sex implies consent to pregnancy" argument.

A dozen unsolved murders in Los Angeles may have been the work of Charles Manson's gang of thugs.

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa's Benghazi document dump endangers Libyans who were working with the US.

So far, there's no evidence that the Benghazi attack was pre-planned or involved al-Qâ'idah (but this guy thinks it was caused by fags and abortion).

Atheists and Christians are targeted for persecution under Egypt's blasphemy laws.

87% of Egyptians want their country to have nuclear weapons.

Malala Yousafzai is making progress.

That near-death experience that made the cover of Newsweek was probably just a ketamine or DMT hallucination.

18 October 2012

Video of the day -- what's at stake

16 October 2012

Pakistani spring?

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani activist blogger who was shot by the Taliban for opposing their campaign against girls' education, has been moved to New Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK.  The hospital is a leading center for treating gunshot wounds and head injuries, and since it partly specializes in British casualties from the Afghan war, it has built-in security against terrorist attacks on patients.

Though she is no longer in Pakistan, her presence there looms larger than ever.  The attack on her seems to have galvanized opponents of Taliban-style religious extremism across the country into taking a public stand, despite the danger.  Her case is being compared with that of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose fiery suicide in 2010 in protest of official oppression helped trigger the Arab spring.  Girls across Pakistan are participating in an "I am Malala" campaign, the country's media and national leaders have condemned the attack, a group of clerics has issued a fatwa against the shooters, and rallies and prayer vigils have been held, including one in Karachi which drew tens of thousands.  The Taliban, apparently stung by all the criticism, have begun threatening the Pakistani media over their coverage of the case.

If -- and it's a big if -- this outpouring of revulsion against the attack is sustained and grows into a vigorous expression of public disgust at the interminable religious violence afflicting Pakistan, then it's possible that some real change could be achieved.  As with the Arab spring, half the battle is coming together in reassuring mass numbers and banishing the fear which people naturally feel at standing up to violent thugs, whether those thugs be a dictator's enforcers or religious terrorists.  And as with the Arab spring, one should not expect too much.  Getting rid of the Taliban will not transform Pakistan into Denmark any more than getting rid of Mubarak did so with Egypt.  But girls' right to education (Malala's cause), and the right of citizens to express their views without being gunned down by troglodytes from the Dark Ages, are very basic principles; unless they are firmly upheld, it's hard to see even a glimmering of hope for Pakistan to have a decent future.

In the meantime, the Taliban have re-affirmed their determination to kill Malala, and have also declared their intention to kill her father.  The flames of decent people's hatred for these murderous fanatics will not soon be lacking for fuel.

14 October 2012

Link round-up for 14 October 2012

The fugitive is in safe hands.

Is this a new trend -- barfing celebrities?

Add some chaos and horror to your Christmas with a Cthulhu ornament (found via Mendip).

Could you fill this balloon?

Obama is to blame.

What if Captain Ahab had used satellite imaging?

Scientists can now produce pure gold from gold chloride using bacteria.

What a bunch of crap.

Romney is listed in two national animal-cruelty registries.

It's time for women to get angry.

The haters glom onto Sally Ride's death.

Here's why nothing gets done.

Stand with the Walmart strikers.

Even here in Oregon, sensitivity to rape victims needs work.

As President, Romney would wage war on contraception.  And his foreign-policy ideas are just stupid.  He should listen to Ambassador Stevens's father.

C'mon, slavery wasn't so bad.

Obama's stand on gay marriage has brought a real shift.

This is not the behavior of a normal person -- it's pathetic.

Here's a handy Obama-Romney comparison on energy policy -- a field where Germany and the US are both number one.

Christian women read this.

Why should we believe the "Obama 2016" film?  These bozos were totally wrong about the first term.

Recent weird right-wing statements about rape may be rooted in the nature of conservative communities.

Spare the rock, spoil the child (sent by Mendip).

Cannonfire looks at another Romney tax lie.

No, we are not "borrowing from China".  But Bain Capital is still sending our jobs there.

Secular students score a win in Canada (found via Lady Atheist).

Austerity has brought Greece to the brink of collapse.  Strapped police are sending crime victims to neo-fascists for protection.

14-year-old activist blogger Malala Yousafzai, shot by religious fanatics, is doing well after surgery.

Modernity makes you smart.

2012 will probably be the warmest year on record for the continental US.

Melting ice could be more dangerous than we think.

13 October 2012

Quotes for the day -- evolution schmevolution

"All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior."

Rep Paul Broun (R-Georgia)

"Well, I've taken a look at both sides of the thing. And it seems to me that evolution takes a tremendous amount of faith.  To have all of a sudden all of the different things that have to be lined up, to create something as sophisticated as life, it takes a lot of faith. I don’t see it as even as a matter of science, because I don’t know if you can prove one or the other."

Rep. Todd "legitimate rape" Akin (R-Missouri)

Both of these guys are on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which is the kind of thing that happens when we let the Republicans get a majority.

12 October 2012

We owe Joe

"My new idea for Obama's next debate is to have him locked in a room with Joe Biden and Bill Clinton for three days. After he emerges he will be eating lightning and crapping thunder."

Blogger "Gryphen" at The Immoral Minority

The enthusiasm is back.  The liberal blogosphere saw Biden pummel Ryan into the ground yesterday, and most pundits seem to agree.  Even Andrew Sullivan, whose meltdown after the Obama-Romney debate became something of a joke, gave Biden a solid win.  As for voters, undecideds went for Biden in a snap poll and focus group, while the only broader survey I've seen so far is more equivocal (though the party ID suggests a sample more Republican than the general population).

Will it shift the overall race much?  Probably not -- if Presidential debates seldom do (and I'm skeptical that Romney's bounce will last), then Vice-Presidential debates are even less likely to do so.  But Biden fired up the troops and dispelled the panic and hysterics which had engulfed the flittier elements of the left.  He put last Wednesday into perspective as just one bad day in a broadly effective campaign.  He shifted the narrative from ZOMG WE'RE DOOMED AARGH to "If Obama can do that well next time, this thing is back on track!"  For that, we owe him.

Here's another electrifying Biden moment from Memorial Day this year (found via Smartypants, who has more Biden clips):


11 October 2012

Read the Bastard!

Blogger "The Bastard" says what all Democrats and liberals need to hear after the first debate.  Just go over there right now and read it.

In other news, Obama's still leading in the swing states, Nate Cohn looks at evidence that Romney's bounce is receding, and the much-hyped "Obama donation scandal" turns out to be based on a faulty translation from Norwegian.

09 October 2012

Videos of the day -- the yellow peril


Analysis of the ad here and here.  And, just for fun:

Still fighting, still winning

Toldja it wouldn't last.  A spate of scary post-debate polls had the wingnuts exultant and some on the left, who ought to know better, in full-blown panic mode, with a few even going all ZOMG OBAMA LIKE TOTALLY SUCKED I HATE HIM GNARG GNARG, as if the President were superhuman and should never ever lose even one fight ever.  But now, perhaps aided by a guardedly-positive jobs report on Friday, there are already signs of Romney's debate bounce deflating.  Gallup and Rasmussen are showing movement back to Obama, and swing-state polls are mostly showing him ahead, even if the margins are still smaller than before.  Every Electoral College map I've seen (here's a good one) continued to show him with a sizable lead right through the alleged meltdown.

Gallup will show a shift against Obama today, but that's because they're switching their sample from registered voters to (their assessment of) likely voters, and LV samples are usually more Republican-leaning than RV samples.  It's a change in the pool being studied, not in the actual state of the race.  (Most other pollsters have already been using LV samples for some time).  As for that Pew poll showing Romney four points ahead, there are some substantial issues with its sample.

Our candidates are still ahead in most of the swing Senate races, including MassachusettsHeidi Heitkamp has even brought the North Dakota seat within reach.

Romney is still the same tone-deaf gaffe-prone arrogant kleptocrat he was a week ago.  He's still the man of the 47% speech, the smirk, the laundry list, Seamus the dog, etc., etc., etc.  His debate performance is material for a wealth of new ads.  His party is still a freak show.  And it's time to unleash the Klinton!

Last week was, as I said at the time, a useful antidote to complacency.  We don't have this thing in the bag.  It won't be in the bag until November 7.  But nobody ever won an election (or anything else) by panicking and giving up.  We win it by fighting for it.  What are you doing?

07 October 2012

Video of the day -- why Obama now?


Found via Smartypants.

Link round-up for 7 October 2012

Big Bird is in Romney's gunsights.

Boo, hiss!  The spread of evangelical Christianity undermines Brazil's signature string-bikini look (found via Lady Atheist).

Bullet flowers -- cool!

Just look at these union members destroying our economy.

This person is trying to save Republicans embarrassment.

Could God kill himself?

When Jesus comes back, wingnut TV will be ready.

Spectacular photos show bears fishing in the Russian wilderness.

Take calcium -- it's good for your skeleton.

Why don't students read?  The textbooks are crap.

Here's a breathtaking photo from Italy (source).

Did Romney cheat at the debate?

It's not much of a weapon if it just makes the enemy warm and comfy (found via Mendip).

Hunters bridle at a California agency's name change.

Vaccinate your kids against charlatanry.

If it's a joke, it can't be racist -- right?

Unemployment drops, Republicans go bonkers -- they could learn something from doctors.

Secularism can do better than Justin Vacula.

PBS responds to the attack on Big Bird.  Charles M. Blow piles on with a personal touch.

Obama's already working on doing better next time.

Read the words of the haters, then watch what they're talking about.

Rosa Rubicondior looks at a journey from the depths of barbarism to sanity.  She also has an easy question for Christians and Muslims.

The US media are unique in giving a platform to the global-warming-denialist scam.

Liberal Librarian has an optimistic view of the debate.

Religious parents torture their dying daughter.

No, Romney's plan would not preserve Medicare.

The percentage of Americans who believe the government should promote "traditional values" has dropped substantially in just two years.

There's something worse you could do than molesting kids (found via Squatlo Rant).

The mentality of abortion-banners is just disgusting.

Generally speaking, undecided voters give Obama the benefit of the doubt. The Republican "brand", not so much.

Here's why we must uphold the right to blasphemy.

Nate Cohn looks at Romney's poll gains.

Jewish kids in the South face bizarre, ignorant attitudes from classmates (found via Lady Atheist).

The Catholic Church says I'm not fully human.

Canada has fired all its prison chaplains -- except the Christian ones.

It's been a very long time since England was mostly forest.

In Europe, catastrophic austerity policies continue to wreak havoc.  (And look who wants to bring those policies here.)

Finally a serious response to honor killings: five murderers are sentenced to death in India.

American manufacturing booms while China contracts.

Israel may have a surprising ally against the Iranian theocracy's nuclear program.

The Syrian civil war goes international: This week two Syrian shells landed in Turkey, one of them killing five civilians in the town of Akçakale.  Turkey has retaliated and its Parliament has authorized wider military operations within Syria if necessary.

George Dvorsky looks at the consequences of China's one-child policy.

Iranian cartoons dramatize the value of reading.

An entire country will soon need to relocate due to rising sea levels.

The Great Barrier Reef is rapidly being destroyed.

[Image at top found via Progressive Eruptions]

05 October 2012

Romney's empty victory

Conventional wisdom has it that Romney succeeded in avoiding any significant gaffe during the debate.  I'm not so sure.  The "Romney wants to fire Big Bird" meme is rapidly going viral.  It won't overshadow Romney's debate win the way Eastwood's chair fiasco overshadowed his convention speech, but will have legs because it symbolizes a broader reality about Romney -- that he wants to cut the deficit by taking away relatively-inexpensive things that are highly popular with ordinary people, while leaving the huge military budget and historically-low taxes on the wealthy intact.  And Big Bird is a beloved, harmless, somewhat vulnerable character, evoking the Romney-as-bully meme.  (Update:  Yes, it looks like Big Bird is the big story of the debate -- found via Smartypants.)

In broader politics, there's some good news this week.  Obama's Gallup approval rating has shot up to its highest level since 2009.  Both Obama and Romney made gains in favorability ratings, but Romney's gains were mostly among Republicans, while Obama's were mostly among independents -- that is, Romney gained among those who would have voted for him anyway, whereas more of Obama's gain is among swing voters.  (Actually independents have skewed heavily pro-Romney in polling so far, but that probably reflects the fact that many Tea Party types now self-identify as independents rather than Republicans -- and makes Obama's gains among independents all the more impressive.)

Those results aren't so surprising if you think about it.  The kind of left-wing purists who criticize Obama while ignoring how much worse any Republican would be, may well have been jerked awake by Romney's debate win and realize that Obama doesn't, in fact, have this thing in the bag -- and have decided they like him after all now that they're forced to take account of the alternative.  After watching Romney flounder for months, it's not surprising that Republicans would be enthused at seeing him finally win something.  Obama's quiet if plodding fact-based performance might well appeal to thoughtful independent voters (not the teabaggers-turned-independents I mentioned).

It's easy for political junkies to think that the mass of ordinary voters are rather simple-minded creatures, easily swayed by glitter rather than substance, and just not capable of the kind of analysis and insight we ourselves bring to bear on politics.  It's a comforting attitude (especially when our side loses), but it's a dangerous trap.  Yes, someone can always edit together a YouTube clip of people who don't know what continent India is on or whatever (and would you do any better in a quiz on, say, electrical engineering or car repair or plumbing, in which those people may be earning a living?), but I'm convinced most people are much better at knowing bullshit when they see it than political pundits and bloggers give them credit for.

Yes, Romney won the debate, but the debates are only a means to the real end in view, which is to win the election.  And I don't think the debate will help Romney much toward that.  Even most Obama supporters agree that Romney won, but I can't see any Obama supporter voting for Romney on that basis.  If anything, as noted above, some independents are moving to Obama.  It will take a few days for the debate's effects to show up in the polls, but I'm betting they'll be small -- and temporary, once Obama starts using the massive arsenal of lies and flip-flops which Romney handed him.

Romney has won a battle.  But it wasn't a very important battle in the broader war, and the victory will prove Pyrrhic.

04 October 2012

A setback, perhaps a useful one

The debate snap polls make it pretty clear that viewers judged Romney the winner.  While I doubt most of us are freaking out as badly as Andrew Sullivan did, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Debates rarely move the needle much in the over-all race.  That will be especially true in a highly polarized electorate like this, where there are relatively few undecided or easily-swayable voters left.

2) There are two more debates to go (three counting the VP debate), and now Obama and his team know they need to do better.

3) Romney's performance was based on the same thing his whole campaign has been based on -- lies.  The public already mistrusts him, and Obama now has a new array of lie-vs.-fact contrasts to exploit in ads.

4) The factors which have lately been moving the needle our way, such as the 47% speech, were obviously not uppermost in the minds of snap-poll respondents just after watching the debate -- but they will continue to work.

This analysis comes close to my own view of things.  It will take a few days to see whether the national or swing-state head-to-head polls have been moved at all, and if so, whether it will last.  Until then, there's no grounds for panic.  We've gotten used to seeing Romney floundering, so much so that it's almost a shock to see him do well at anything, but the man couldn't have gotten where he is if he were totally inept.  If anything, this setback could even serve as a useful antidote to the complacency that risked setting in as we watched Obama's poll leads widen over the last couple of weeks.  Complacency can be even more dangerous than panic in discouraging effort.  We need to remember both that we're in a real fight and that we're most likely to win -- if we all do what we can for it.

[Image at top found via Mashable.]

03 October 2012

Zingers on standby!

The day of the first Presidential debate has come -- but even though this has been billed as Romney's last opportunity to turn the race around, I'm not worried.  From the wordsmith who gave us "I didn't ask you a question" and "the trees are the right height here", I shall fear no zinger.  Indeed, when I first read that Romney's team had "equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized" and that he had even been practicing them on his aides, my first thought was not only to agree with Booman that "I don't think this will go well", but also to wonder why the campaign would even let this out.  The image it evokes -- a clumsy and thoroughly phony effort to appear spontaneous -- just reinforces one of the worst aspects of how Romney is perceived.  How many people watching the debates will be distracted by waiting to detect a zinger?  Won't that make them sound even more forced and phony when he emits them?

As with Eastwood's empty-chair schtick right before Romney's convention speech, the campaign has once again created a pointless distraction right before their man's big performance.  Although it is kind of fitting.

We all know that debates rarely have much effect on a Presidential race; neither do zingers.  The greatest debate zinger ever was Bentsen's "you're no Jack Kennedy" line against Quayle, but it didn't change the outcome of the election.  If these "sneak preview" zingers are anything like what Romney has in his debate arsenal, he'll fare no better.

Watching this debate could be an almost painful experience, but you can always play Zingo to keep your spirits up.  And based on Romney's track record, I'm betting that by the end of the debate we'll all be spelling "zinger" as G-A-F-F-E.

UpdateFunny write-up on Romney's debate prep.

01 October 2012

Video of the day -- TSA stands for.....


A song for the national-security state.