Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Cult of Sarah

The August 2009 issue of Vanity Fair contains a can't-miss piece about Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's rise to become Senator John McCain's runningmate during the 2008 presidential election. The article is part bio-sketch, part historical narrative, part gossip column.

Here is just a taste: "The caricature of Sarah Palin that emerged in the presidential campaign, for good and ill, is now ineradicable. The swift journey from her knockout convention speech to Tina Fey’s dead-eyed incarnation of her as Dan Quayle with an updo played out in real time, no less for the bewildered McCain campaign than for the public at large. It is an ironclad axiom of politics that if a campaign looks troubled from the outside the inside reality is far worse, and the McCain-Palin fiasco was no exception. As in any sudden marriage of convenience in which neither partner really knows the other, there were bound to be bumps....By the time Election Day rolled around, the staff had been serially pummeled by unflattering press reports about the gaps in Palin’s knowledge, her stubborn resistance to direction, and the post-selection spending spree in which she ran up bills of $150,000 on clothes for herself and her family at high-end stores. The top McCain aides who had tried hard to work with Palin—Steve Schmidt, the chief strategist; Nicolle Wallace, the communications ace; and Tucker Eskew, her traveling counselor—were barely on speaking terms with her, and news organizations were reporting that anonymous McCain aides saw Palin as a “diva” and a “whack job.

Or how about this: "Election Night brought what McCain aides saw as the final indignity. Palin decided she would make her own speech at the ticket’s farewell to the faithful, at the Arizona Biltmore, in Phoenix. When aides went to load McCain’s concession speech into the teleprompter, they found a concession speech for Palin—written by Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, who had also been the principal drafter of her convention speech—already on the system. Schmidt and Salter told Palin that there was no tradition of Election Night speeches by running mates, and that she wouldn’t be giving one. Palin was insistent. 'Are those John’s wishes?' she asked. They were, she was told. But Palin took the issue to McCain himself, raising it on the walk from his suite to the outdoor rally. Again the answer was no."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Twitter in the College Classroom

A post over at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub highlights the use of Twitter in a history course at University of Texas at Dallas. In large college courses it is near impossible to have any kind of coherent discussion and most instructors are left to use a lecture-only format at all times. Plus, there is a time problem--most classes are only 50 minutes or 75 minutes long making the trade off between moderating discussion and getting through the course material via lecture one which usually favors lecture. Finally, as class size increases, so does the intimidation factor and many students who are shy or not self-confident will choose to remain silent even if they want to engage in discussion.

Use of Twitter may alleviate some, but not all, of these problems. Count me intrigued. Perhaps Twitter will be making an appearance in my Fall classes...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

All Eyes Will be on Ohio Again in 2010

John King of CNN has a report about the 2010 races for Senate and Governor in Ohio. Once again, the Buckeye State will be in the bull's eye.

The Republican field looks set. As expected, former Congressman from Southwest Ohio, OMB Director, and U.S. Trade Representative, Rob Portman, will be the GOP nominee. Portman's experience is deep and his resume is impressive. John Kasich, the former U.S. Representative from Central Ohio, Wall Street executive, and television pundit will likely be the GOP nominee for Governor.

On the Democratic side, Governor Ted Strickland will be the nominee running for a second term. Viewed as unbeatable just a few months ago, a very tough budget fight and controversial plan to fix education in Ohio leaves Strickland vulnerable. In a recent Public Policy Polling survey, Strickland's lead was only within the margin of error in a match up with Kasich, 44-42%.

The race for the Democratic nomination for Senate could be murkier. Though Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher is the choice of the Democratic establishment, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is a big name and is thought to be have an advantage with powerful women's groups such as EMILY's List (though EMILY has yet to go all-in for Brunner). If Brunner is able to close the fundraising gap with Fisher and hang on until Spring, this could be a tough battle. Based on current polling, either candidate beats Portman in a match up; however, expect that to change and the race to significantly tighten in coming months, regardless of the Democratic nominee.

Historically, the president's party struggles in congressional midterm elections as the president makes tough choices which angers supporters and mobilizes critics. There are of course exceptions to this general principle, 2002 being the latest example as the GOP was able to capitalize on a post-9/11 pro-security environment. Expect both races to be tough, long, expensive slogs.

Friday, June 26, 2009

LOC Blog Gets Facelift

The Library of Congress is America's library so I suppose their blog should be considered America's blog. Well the LOC's Blog has gotten a face lift:

"The Web Services team here at the Library (who are doing some simply amazing things) has given the blog a fresher look and new functionality. First, there’s a cleaner, more aesthetic look to it, and I like how the collections are now highlighted in the banners. In the sidebar, we’ve added links to our archives. Hard to believe we’ve been at this for more than two years now! There’s also a new box called “Find Us on the Web,” which links to the growing number of social-media sites on which we have a presence. Among other changes, they’ve upgraded to the newest version of WordPress, which makes it a lot easier for us to bring posts to you. And “under the hood,” there’s one especially significant change: The new back-end supports multiple users, which means the door is now open to additional blogs on LOC.gov."

The Library of Congress' history and origin is quite interesting. Having been established by Congress in 1800, housed in the Capitol, and summarily burned by the British in 1814 on their march through Washington, the holdings were replenished by purchasing former President Thomas Jefferson's personal library of almost 6500 books for almost $24,000. "Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books....His library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States. In offering his collection to Congress, Jefferson anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, 'I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.'"

Whether by visiting in person or via the Internet, most will find that the Library of Congress is a vast and impressive resource.

Intraparty Scuffle on Floor of U.S. House: Waters Versus Obey

In one corner: Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat representing California's 35th District since 1991. In the other corner: Rep. David Obey, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, representing Wisconsin's 7th District since 1969. Both are 70 years old but Obey clearly had a height and weight advantage in this battle.

This doesn't happen on the House floor everyday. At least it didn't end like the Preston Brooks-Charles Sumner battle in 1856.

I haven't found a video on the incident yet but am still looking. If anyone has a link, please put it in the comments.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Hall of Presidents' New Addition

American Presidents Blog reports that the Hall of Presidents, the iconic Walt Disney World attraction, will be unveiling a 43rd robot this Independence Day: Barack Obama. According to APB: "The entire exhibit has been undergoing a face lift and will be ready on the 4th as well. President Obama helped in the creation of this robot and recorded its audio for it. Presidents Clinton and Bush also added their audio to this exhibit in the past."

I'm a huge fan of the Hall of Presidents. As a kid, I always wanted to visit the Hall and Pirates of the Caribbean over and over. As I grew older, I still wanted to go to those two places over and over. As a parent and husband, I drag my family there multiple times every time we are at WDW. I look forward to seeing the new addition...again and again and again...

A Bad Day in Hollywood

My head is spinning.

Hollywood lost two icons today. Farrah Fawcett died at age 62 after a long battle with cancer. She was an icon of the 1970s and her famous poster (seen here) hung in teenage bedrooms for years. Fawcett's death was followed shortly by the news that pop icon Michael Jackson died of a massive heart attack at age 50. No one quite captured the hearts of pop music fans like Jackson did in the 1980s, or divided the public like Jackson did in this decade.

It's not quite the same in magnitude as Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both dying on Independence Day in 1826, but for Hollywood, it's pretty significant.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Gravy Train Just Pulled Up to Cleveland State

At a time when many public universities, including those in Ohio, are hurting financially, some are willing to open the wallet and pay enormous sums as an enticement to lead them out of the wilderness. Cleveland State University, not exactly the Ivy League, recently hired a new president, Ronald Berkman, to take over the institution. A report in the Plain Dealer lists the perks and costs of the new president's compensation package.

  • $400,000 a year base salary

  • $160,000 in bonuses

  • $60,000 annual retention bonus

  • $1,000-a-month car allowance

  • $70,000 a year in deferred compensation

  • First-class airfare on flights of more than two hours (you wouldn't expect him to fly coach would you?)

At a time when Ohio is struggling to close a $3+ billion budget deficit, students in Ohio are paying record tuition rates, and every public university in Ohio is tightening the budgetary purse strings, CSU trustees hand out this kind of largess: "Berkman's base pay outshines most of his peers at Ohio public colleges. Only the presidents of Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati make more."

Monday, June 22, 2009

White House Interactive

In conjunction with the two-part series that aired earlier this month ("Inside the Obama White House"), MSNBC created an interactive blueprint of the White House which allows you to scroll over areas of the White House campus for information and pictures. I think it's pretty cool and allows for those who have never resided or worked there an interesting perspective on where the offices are located and how the campus is arranged.

I have also included the first part of the entire series which was posted on You Tube.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Harry Truman, Grandpa

I came across an amazing article in Prologue magazine about Harry Truman, written by Clifton Truman Daniel, the President's grandson and Margaret's eldest son. Imagine being six years old when you find out that your grandfather had been president of the United States. Daniel's portrait of Truman provides an fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Truman the man, as well as some interesting tales of Lyndon Johnson. Here is just a taste:

"My favorite story is about the man whose car blew a tire on Delaware Street, right in front of the house. Not knowing where he was or whose house he was approaching, the man walked through the unlocked gate and up to the front door where he rang the bell. Grandpa answered in his shirtsleeves. 'Can I use your phone, please?' the man said. 'I have a flat.' 'Sure,' Grandpa said. 'Come on in.' The man called a local mechanic, who said it would take 20 minutes or so to get to him. 'I'll wait outside,' he told Grandpa. 'Nonsense,' Grandpa said. 'Have a seat. Relax.' As far as we know, they spent the next 20 minutes chatting amiably in the living room. When the tow truck arrived, the man stood, shook Grandpa's hand, and thanked him for his hospitality. 'Not at all,' Grandpa said, showing the man out. 'It was nice talking to you.' The man got halfway down the front steps before he stopped and turned. 'I hope you won't take offense,' he said. 'But you look a lot like that son of a bitch Harry Truman.' 'No offense at all,' Grandpa said with wide grin. 'I am that son of a bitch.'"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Obama, the Fly, and PETA

President Barack Obama, during an interview with CNBC, swatted and killed a fly that was bugging him. (He showed excellent form and reaction time by the way--much like President George W. Bush did when the Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at him). True, the media spent way too much time fawning over the swat but one would think this is a pretty non-controversial act. After all, who wouldn't crush that annoying fly if given the chance, especially one that can't leave you alone.

Well, it appears that “'We support compassion for the even the smallest animals,' says Bruce Friedrich, VP for Policy at PETA. 'We support giving insects the benefit of the doubt.' Friedrich says PETA supports 'brushing flies away rather than killing them' and was disappointed that the President had gone ahead and squashed the pesky fly.'"

Did PETA really say we should give insects the benefit of the doubt? So, the bees that like to make a nest in my newspaper box I should just politely ask to leave? Perhaps I could ask the mosquitoes that like to prey on me when I'm cutting the grass to stop biting me. The ants that like to invade my home from time-to-time--maybe I could just say to them: "can't we all just get along?" How about the fly that my dog snatched and swallowed out of thin air (true story)? Should I have shoved my finger down his throat to try and rescue the poor critter?

Sorry PETA, you just don't get it. Your message of not being cruel to animals (a good one) is totally eroded by your over-the-top tactics, antics, and overall foolishness. My guess is that there are many people who eat more burgers, hot dogs, pork chops, and any other meat because of your craziness. Speaking of burgers, where was PETA's outrage over President Obama's recent trips to the hamburger joints? Too bad you didn't jump into that mess--you and Sean Hannity would have been on the same side--wouldn't that have been ironic.

I wonder if President Obama ever has second thoughts about wanting the job in the first place. At a time when the United States is involved in two wars, the economy is in a sorry state, the American auto industry is near extinction, the Lunatic Left is criticizing his insect-killing and Right Wing Nut Jobs are skewering him for ordering fancy mustard on his burgers. Have we lost our minds in ths country???

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rookie Representatives: CNN's "Freshman Year"

CNN has an interesting web-based series documenting the experiences of two rookie members of the class of 2008: Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Jared Polis (D-CO). Both are not your cut-from-a-mold Members of Congress. Chaffetz is the cherub-faced family man and former college place kicker who upset a six-term incumbent and now sleeps on a cot in his office. Polis is a former Internet entrepreneur and the first open gay man elected to the House as a freshman.

I, along with my American Congress students, will be watching this series and looking forward to future installments.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day, 65 Years Later

Today is the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy Beach in France, a turning point in World War II. The successful allied invasion did not come without huge costs: the Allies suffered 215,000 casualties on D-Day and the Normandy campaign which followed (9000 on D-Day alone), though exact numbers are impossible to figure out.

Anyone interested in reading more about D-Day and the Normandy campaign should check out John C. McManus' The Americans at D-Day: The American Experience at the Normandy Invasion and The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944--The American War from the Normandy Beaches to Falaise. McManus is an associate professor of history at the Missouri University of Science and Technology and a prolific writer on American military history. McManus appeared this morning on C-SPAN's Washington Journal to discuss D-Day.

Full disclosure: Professor McManus and I are close personal friends but he did not ask me to plug his books. The guy is a true expert--move over Stephen Ambrose.

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