Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why, oh why, must political campaigns be terminally stupid?

So, a reporter asked John McCain how many residences he and his wife own, and he (forthrightly) answered with something like, "I'll have to check with my staff and get back to you on that." It's fairly widely known that the McCains, largely because of her fortune, are really, really rich. Richer than the Obamas, who also are a good deal better off than any family that has to sweat out mortgage or rent payments.

OK, here's this public statement by McCain that's low hanging fruit. So low that even the media can be trusted to grasp it and do something, without any help. So why must the Obama campaign not just leave it there? No, they have to grab it and run, prompting McCain's people to chase after them with allegations that Obama somehow got his house through evil Chicago political machinations. So does the discourse of the campaign sink a little further toward cetacean fecal level.

Stick to real issues, not name-calling. It's not fatal. We're not the brain-dead lugs you think we are. Trust me, we'll listen, and judge accordingly.

Update: In a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle printed in today's paper, Jim Tulip, of Pacific Grove, California, struck a similar note concerning the role of media. Responding to an article with the headline "Revamp message, experts advise slumping Obama", Mr. Tulip observed that
the "experts" report that Sen. Barack Obama's thoughtful answers to complex questions are somehow inferior to Sen. John McCain's shoot-from-the-hip inanities.
He then argues:
If the role of the Fourth Estate is to bear witness to the truth, then shouldn't it be judging the candidates' statements by a higher standard rather than in a way that assumes those statements might be received by the lowest of the so-called low information voters. By accepting the idea that the democracy is in the hands of the uninformed, the media are creating a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. If we assume things need to be dumbed down, then they will be.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Wag the Dog" in the Caucasus?

My friend Geoff, ever alert for chicanery by the present Administration and the GOP, circulated an e-mail a couple of days ago speculating whether Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili might have been "baited" by U.S. assurances that there would be "strong action" by the U.S., and perhaps NATO, if Russia sent troops to respond to a Georgian military incursion into South Ossetia. By so doing, Geoff reasoned, the Bush Administration would have given the McCain campaign a boost by setting up a crisis with Russia that would appear to warrant electing a "tough" and "experienced" leader. If so, this may be working, considering the most recent poll result reported by Reuters.

Today, Mikhail Gorbachev weighed in on the New York Times, op-ed page. In his column, Gorbachev clearly is carrying water for the Medvedev/Putin government, putting the best face on Russia's actions and the worst on Georgia's and those of "the West", including western media. He observes:
If this military misadventure was a surprise for the Georgian leader's foreign patrons, so much the worse. It looks like a classic wag-the-dog story.
It's interesting that he uses the title of a 1997 movie (see trailer above) in which administration aides manufacture a foreign policy crisis in order to divert attention from a charge of sexual misconduct against the President. This movie, obviously inspired by the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, has since been regarded as oddly prescient in some respects, such as the inclusion of a WMD threat (by Albania!) in the invented crisis.

Another great wine blog.

My neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, is blessed with three very good wine and spirits shops. My "local", Montague Wines & Sprits, is but a few steps from the door of my apartment building. It's small, but stocks a well-chosen selection, and is managed amiably and knowledgeably by Big Jeff and not-so-big Michael. To the north, at the busy corner of Clark and Henry, is Michael-Towne, where I can sometimes find a former law firm colleague hosting a wine tasting, and can almost always find a chilled bottle of my wife's favorite white, Macon-Lugny "Les Charmes".

To the south, on Atlantic Avenue, is Heights Chateau (picture above from their website), the largest of the three. Here, Judy has been unfailingly helpful in finding good, inexpensive wines from various places, and Dominique guided me to some nice French artisinal reds that fit my budget.

On a recent visit to Heights Chateau, I got to chatting with a pleasant young woman at the checkout, during which I mentioned my admiration for Alice Feiring, and that I'd posted on my blog about her. She told me she also had a blog, and that she would e-mail me the URL. About an hour later I got the link to Elana's blog, So Many Wines...So Little Time. Her recent post on The Brandy Library sparked my interest, as I love good eaux de vie and single malt Scotches (the word "whiskey" derives from the Gaelic usquebach, which translates as "water of life", as does the Danish akavit, which derives from the Latin aqua vitae). Her series of posts about her visit to France, featuring Champagne and Burgundy, are informative and entertaining. Finally, hearty congratulations to Elana for completing the requirements for an advanced certificate in wine from the International Wine Center. I do like it that she resists the usual ways of writing about wine. As she puts it:
They teach you to describe [wine] with typical adjectives: fruit forward, oaky, tannic...but I still tend to tell our customers the following: so good it broke my heart, i want to put a straw in it and just drink, killer juice. Then there are my descriptions of some of my favorite spirits: made me break out into a jig, i love to wear it as perfume, or it's like a symphony (that can be used with wine as well). Sometimes you just have to go with that initial feeling.
Update: Eric Asimov, in his "The Pour" column in today's New York Times, praises California vintners, like John Williams of Frog's Leap, who are producing old school, subtle, balanced wines, as opposed to Parkerillas. I suspect Elana and Alice will join me in cheering Eric's espousal of terroir.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Equal opportunity defamer?

According to Frank Rich's column in today's New York Times, Jerome Corsi, author of the cleverly titled The Obama Nation (and earlier co-author of the Kerry smear book Unfit to Command), has accused the McCain campaign of accepting substantial contributions from a group with links to Al Qaeda (see here) and claimed that "McCain's personal fortune traces back to organized crime in Arizona" (see here). For what it's worth, Corsi has also insinuated a link between the McCain campaign and Russian organized crime.

Rich observes:
Corsi's writings have been repeatedly promoted by Sean Hannity on Fox News; Corsi's publisher, Mary Matalin, has praised her author's "scholarship."
Nevertheless, there are some people on the right side of the political spectrum, like Jon Henke, who characterize Corsi as a "smear artist" who has made "gross errors" and is one of the "hatchet men, bullies and political hit men" who "serve to discredit us [conservatives] all."

Then, again, if Hannity and Matalin are right about Corsi, should we, as Rich suggests, take him seriously about McCain?