Unified theory of Palin

Really, I’m not obsessed with Sarah Palin, but I am pretty intrigued by what she represents (in a very negative way) in the current state of our politics.  Slate’s Jacob Weisberg has a terrific analysis of her.  Some highlights:

But the best Palinisms of all result when the huntress encounters something she wasn’t hunting for—that is, when Sarah Palin comes into contact with most anything to do with domestic, foreign, or economic policy. It is this situation that generates those priceless let me tap-dance and, also, sing for you a little song while you think of a different question moments. One such was the juncture in her mind-boggling 2008 interview when Katie Couric asked Palin to name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, other than Roe v. Wade. Surrounded by hostile forces, out of cartridges for her Remington, she bravely held her ground and kept pulling the trigger, to no effect:…

Tina Fey’s caricature of Palin as an unprepared high-school student trying to bluff her way through an oral exam by mugging and flirting hit its mark not merely because of the genius of the mimicry, but because of its fundamentally accurate diagnosis of Palin as bullshit artist. Palin’s exuberant incoherence testifies to an unusually wide gulf between confidence and ability. She is proud of what she doesn’t know and contemptuous of those “experts” and “elitists” who are too knowledgeable to be trusted. This curious self-regard echoes through her book, Going Rogue, described by the critic Jonathan Raban as “a four-hundred-page paean to virtuous ignorance.”

The issue is not that Palin, thrust upon the national stage with little warning, still doesn’t know all the details. That’s understandable. The issue is that she rarely appears to have the slightest grasp of what she’s talking about even when she’s supposed to know what she’s talking about.

Sure, being smart clearly isn’t everything in a politician, but the embrace of ignorance by Palin and her supporters is downright depressing.

Borrowed Rant

This, from John Sides at the Monkey Cage is awesome and spot on:

I learn today — belatedly — that Michelle Obama took a trip to Spain with her daughter. This is apparently controversial. Megan McArdle writes “What Was Michelle Obama Thinking?” And of course this is a topic tailor-made for Maureen Dowd.

Let me be clear. It does not matter where presidents or their wives go on vacation. IT DOES NOT MATTER. Presidential approval, election outcomes, support in Congress — nothing that does matter depends on where presidents go on vacation. It did not matter when Clinton apparently polled to figure out where he should go. It did not matter when Bush decamped to Crawford. It did not matter when the Obamas went to Martha’s Vineyard. It does not matter now.

Dowd writes:

In politics and pop culture, optics are all.

By that she means, “In politics and pop culture, optics are all that matters to me.”

You could not ask for a better distillation of why so much political commentary is so completely and utterly detached from what actually affects political outcomes. War and peace, economic prosperity and hard times, real scandals — these things pale beside the fact that the Obamas once went to New York City on a date!

If doctors were like Maureen Dowd, they would look at a patient who was unconscious, not breathing, and bleeding profusely, and say, “Oh my god, his shoelace is untied!”

Wish I’d written that myself, but sharing it here is the next best thing.


Meant to highlight this overblown NYT story on plagiarism and Kevin Drum’s take on it last week.  Here’s the Drum version:

he New York Times, in one of its patented trend stories about the ultra privileged, says that plagiarism is on the rise. Here’s the explanation:

Digital technology makes copying and pasting easy, of course. But that is the least of it.

Wait. Just stop. Why is this the least of it? I’m willing to bet large sums of money that this is, in fact, virtually the entire explanation.

Compare this obvious explanation to the other claims offered up:

[not particularly credible claims here]

Seriously? College kids are redefining authorship? Old style physical books seem more like they’re really written by someone else? Students no longer think of term papers as ways of expressing their unique and authentic identity? High schools suck?

Maybe so. God knows I can’t prove any of these theories are wrong. But I’d sure guess that if you make something about a hundred times easier than it used to be, that’s a pretty good guess about why that something is on the rise.

Yeah, that.  I’m sure I’m a “victim” of plagiarism from time to time, but I’ve been pretty happy with my approach.  I typically have assignments that are 1) fairly narrowly tailored; and 2) demand that they show knowledge of course material with their analysis.  Hard to accomplish either of those through plagiarism.  I do think it actually happens, occasionally, but more often than not it’s going to end up as a D or F anyway, as it is unlikely anything they are copying to any extensive degree is going to help them given the way I have structured the assignment.  Here’s a sample.

Or, maybe I’m just delusional and my students are plagiarizing all the time and getting away with it.

“Judicial Activism”

I always like to use the following rhetorical question with my intro class.  Q: What is an activist judge?  A: A judge that makes decision conservatives don’t like.  May not be the scholarly definition, but it’s pretty much how it’s (mis)used these days.  Anyway, nice article from Emily Bazelon on the matter discussing recent decision on Arizona immigration and gay marriage in California.  She makes a really nice point towards the end, which I’m fond of as it is awfully similar to how I explain things to my classes, and in this case, I think is a nice explanation of how the timing matters in the gay marriage case:

It’s not the job of the courts solely to mirror public opinion. But increasingly over time, since the beginning of the 20th century, they have come into line with it, as Barry Friedmanshowed in his book Will of the People. Once same-sex marriage has majority support, it will harder to see court decisions supporting it as judicial activism. And it will be easier for the judges in the middle to move to the left. Ultimately, of course, that means Justice Anthony Kennedy. In the endless speculation about how Kennedy will treat the Proposition 8 case if it reaches him, timing may matter most. Gay rights groups held off challenging Proposition 8 because they didn’t think Kennedy was ready to strike down a same-sex marriage ban. Ted Olson and David Boies charged ahead, anyway. What if they’d waited five years? In that time, more states will probably join the handful that have already made same-sex marriage legal. More older opponents of gay marriage will die and the polls will count more younger supporters. That’s not the only way to influence Kennedy or any other justice. But it helps.

Reunion addendum

I almost forgot one of my more intersting observations:

8) I don’t think I really like who I was in High School all that much.  I was a good person, loyal friend, funny, and generally enjoyable to be around, but damn I was clearly insufferably arrogant (maybe not quite “insufferably” or else my friends were masochists).  I know that I thought I was the smartest person in my class, but I didn’t realize the degree to which I felt everybody else had to know I was the smartest person in the class (not saying I actually was– I’m wiser than that now– but I sure thought so at the time).  I’m sure I still like for people to know that I’m smart, but you don’t have to worry about that too much when you’re a college professor.  And after spending the past 20 years in academia around lots of people a lot smarter than me, I’m a lot more humble (not saying I’m humble, just relatively 🙂 ).

Perhaps the most interesting moment of the reunion was when a reasonably good friend in HS who I have not had any contact with in 20 years, launched a very drunken semi-tirade against my high school arrogance.  I tried to explain that my believing I was smarter than her was nothing personal– I thought that about all my classmates at the time– but, wow, I had clearly gotten under her skin back in the day.  Quite the reunion moment.

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