Runcible Blog

everybody does it

It's tiring to hear well-meaning people say that this election is so nasty because both campaigns have turned negative. Maybe it's a liberal desire for fairness or moral equivalence, but whatever the motivation, when asked for evidence to support the claim that both candidates dish similar negativity, the equivocators usually turn up empty. I think we need to face the fact that the GOP has, for many years running, turned toward the politics of division, xenophobia, fear, anti-intellectualism, and racism. The party is at its worst when it's behind in the polls, no matter who is steering the ship.

Some pundits claim that the only reason McCain has employed such an ugly campaign is that he needs to win, but once elected, McCain will be the even-handed moderate that we're lead to believe. This insightful blog post puts that ridiculous claim to bed:

Where is Reihan deriving the notion that this candidate and his apparatus are in a position to bring this new ecumenicalism? This candidate, with this running mate, is someone interested in, or capable of, uniting the country? The one whose campaign has dedicated every available resource to rhetorically dividing the country into the pure and impure sections? This candidate, whose rallies without exception involve incitement against some supposedly malign segment of the American people? This candidate, who literally said there is a real Virginia, and a fake Virginia? It's incredible. Sarah Palin, the second-in-command of a great uniter?
We are in a part of the calendar when people are fond of saying "your side does it too." Well, both sides do most things that the other side does. But it simply is not true that the Democrats or the Obama campaign has engaged in the same kind of cultural war that the Republicans and McCain have. That is just not true. I find few people with the gall to suggest it is. So I read with great confusion when Reihan insists that it is John McCain who can heal this gulf.

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama

In 2004, I held my nose and voted for John Kerry hoping for an end to the disastrous four years of Bush's reign. Kerry, an uninspiring and dusty, ineffectual senator, was the lesser of two evils. He didn't put up much of a fight and faded back into irrelevance.

This election, no candidate excited me during the primaries — the Republicans ran a bunch of caricatures and empty suits, while the Democrats fielded a gaggle of dissembling senators. Although Barack Obama's choice of running to the right of Hillary Clinton on many issues rubbed me the wrong way, I couldn't vote for Clinton because she exemplifies the carpet-bagging politician with more raw ambition than sense of morality, and I thought we could do better than to elect another familiar name as president. I didn't start paying much attention to Barack Obama until he clinched the nomination.

Three things stand out about Obama:

  1. When he talks about his campaign being not about him but about us, and when he issues calls for national unity and cooperation, I believe him. A country facing enormous challenges in the coming years needs a president who can identify with real people and their problems, not one who plays the populist only on the campaign trail.
  2. Obama can finally get us past the same tired issues from the 1960's because he didn't live through them. Frankly, I hope we never see another candidate running based on his experiences in Vietnam or a candidate bitter about conflicts and scandals long dead to the majority of Americans.
  3. He acts like an adult, which seems shocking for a presidential nominee. It takes a massive ego to run for president, and either Obama hides his well, or he's restrained enough not to act like a baby when things don't go his way. His coolness under pressure, a sharp contrast to McCain's kamikaze attitude, will help restore the damage done from Bush's blundering in the world and help Obama to enact his agenda at home.

On the issues, Obama comes across as centrist but progressive. He'll get us out of Iraq, and we'll likely not have another Cold War with Russia or invasion of Iran (which seem much more possible under a McCain administration). On energy, I hope that he'll point us toward conservation and innovation, even if it takes *gasp* Federal funds to get us there. The nation has stuck its head in the sand on global warming for far too long. He has a more credible healthcare plan, which, if it weren't for the failing economy, would've been the biggest issue of the election, I think.

When dealing with the current economic meltdown, Obama is in a much better position to do whatever it takes to dig us out of the rut we've found ourselves in. Wages have decreased over the past 10 years, and the divide between the richest and poorest Americans is the highest it's been since the 1920's. The only thing "trickle-down" economics has brought most Americans is the same unhealthy lust for debt that has busted both Wall Street bankers and Wal-Mart shoppers alike. Obama knows that cutting funding for scientific research (as McCain and Palin love to tout) and giving more tax breaks for huge corporations aren't going to get us out of this mess.

In fact, it may take massive spending (in the right places) to stimulate the economy. I believe that Obama is up to the task of steering the country responsibly, even considering the likely Democratic majority in Congress. We're due for another New Deal, where corporations can take a back seat to citizens, for once. If the unencumbered Democrats can finally invest in our infrastructure (including public transportation, please!), bring us closer to universal, affordable healthcare, spur development in alternative energy (I've got money in GEX!) and other non-evil industries, and provide relief to America's workers, then I say, "Bring it on."


See the New Yorker endorsement for a much more eloquent argument. Or, The Economist, for a view from across the pond. Or a Conservative's list of reasons for choosing Obama.

Also, I'm sad to see that my home-town paper and former employer, The Eagle-Tribune, continues to grasp onto its jingoistic right-wing mantle by endorsing McCain, against the economic interests of the vast majority of Essex County's citizens. If it weren't for the fact that the company still employs family and friends, I'd be wishing for its swift decline into print-media irrelevance and an end to the hostage it's held on the Merrimack Valley's collective consciousness for the past 100 years.

finding the mode

One of my neighbors has been practicing a saxophone piece for the past few weekends.  He's been struggling but has improved over time.  Today I picked up my guitar to try to figure out what he's playing.  It's a fairly straight-forward, faintly Klezmer, D Aeolian mode spanning three octaves, broken into four phrases.  It's not too difficult to play on the guitar, physically, but its twistiness must be more challenging on the sax.  It's fascinating to hear him keep hammering on the piece and bursting out with a chromatic flourish whenever he screws up.  I can't wait to hear him play it without error, one of these days.

seeing color differently

Saul Leiter: Paris 1959

Nate and Sarah just visited France and brought me back a book, Saul Leiter from the Louvre. Although I hadn't heard of Leiter before, I was immediately impressed with his subtle, dream-like street photos. I'm especially drawn to his color work. He apparently used expired film, which, combined with the immaturity of color film technology during the 40's and 50's, would've produced the kind of washed out, low-contrast images shown in the book. Seeing such color detail and attention to fine color gradations has opened my eyes toward a different way of shooting.

For a while, I have felt more attracted to high-contrast, rich images, and when "developing" my photos, I would consider how much contrast I could add before losing too much information. I enjoy throwing away much of the data that the camera dutifully recorded while retaining enough detail to convey the image I intended. That philosophy has lead me to come up with portraits like this one:


Or (less successfully) cityscapes like this:


After looking at Leiter's work, I'm going to try to think about color more intentionally and attempt a nuanced look. There can be just as much beauty in subtlety and flatness as there is in saturation and deep blacks. Here's a recent portrait:


And an old landscape near work. The coming autumn and winter light lends itself to this kind of lovely sky:


As much as I might try, however, it will be difficult to rival Leiter's wonderfully soft colors combined with abundantly detailed composition.