Category Archives: Instructional

Embrace the E-Reader

Sales for e-books now make up about a quarter of the book market. That’s huge. The market share is increasing and it shows no sign of slowing down as time progresses. E-readers, quite clearly, are becoming an important part of the future of the “book” as we know it. While I enjoy my Kindle and all that it entails, a large group of people remain on the fence or are staunchly opposed to the advance of the digital text.

In an effort to bridge the digital divide, I have made a list!

Reasons to Embrace the E-Reader

  • No more trips to the store. Do you want a book? Turn on your device and download it. Simple! As much as I love a good bookstore, I love the convenience of instant gratification more.“Aha!” you say, thrilled with the discovery of the blog author’s fatal flaw, “you are nothing more than a product of the digital age — you are a seeker of instant gratification! Instant coffee. Instant meal. Instant movie. Instant life! How can you forsake the traditional bookstore and its steadfast business owners and employees for a cold piece of machinery?”

    Look, I get it. Change is hard… and, in this case, it is particularly hard on the classic bookstores around the country. Progress, however, inevitably causes casualties along its path into the future. What is the point of a bookstore if a better alternative exists? Although it is a classically romantic notion to read a physical book, the physicality of the book does not make the reading of “the book” a worthwhile enterprise — it is the content of and the act found within the action that makes it worthwhile. In the end, the physical copy of any book is only a thing.

  • It is fiercely convenient. Most dedicated e-readers now weigh less than a mass market paperback. That’s nice. They’re small, sturdy, and they can even fit inside a large pocket if need be (and I constantly find the need). I have over three hundred books currently loaded onto my Kindle, my PC, as well as on my cell phone. It feels very liberating to carry my entire digital library around with me wherever I go. If I need to look up a quote or if I simply decide to read something else (you know the feeling), then I have that capability. I don’t have to dig through shelves or shelves to find just the right fit.
  • It is easier to read than a real book. Bear with me here. I currently use a Kindle Paperwhite for my e-books needs. It has a backlit screen that glows (based on whatever intensity the user desires) through the e-ink display. This innovation renders the need for a glaring booklight completely nonexistent. That’s not an insignificant change.The ability to turn a page with one hand also increases the usability of the e-reader over a physical book. If I am reading a “real” book in a chilly environment, for example, I quickly find one or more hand becoming quite cold! A one-handed book reading experience is the better experience. (Yes, I know … #firstworldproblem … No shame.)

    Adjustable font size on the fly? Changeable typefaces? Custom highlights for notable passages that can be shared or stored? Sign me up.

  • E-Books have become an amazing platform for aspiring authors as well as for authors who wish to divorce themselves from the classic publishing market. Case Study: Hugh Howey (Author of Wool)

    Howey first began the series in 2011, initially writing Wool as a stand-alone short story. He published the work through Amazon’sKindle Direct Publishing system, choosing to do so due to the freedom of self-publishing. After the series grew in popularity, he began to write more entries for it. Howey began soliciting international rights in 2012; Brazil has been one win. Film rights to the series were sold to 20th Century Fox, with Lionsgate also expressing interest.

    Howey recently signed a print-only deal for in the neighborhood of a half million dollars with Simon and Schuster to distribute Wool to book retailers across the US and Canada. Unusually, Howey retains full rights to continue distributing Wool online himself

    Howey’s rise to fame came as a direct result of the shifting authorship paradigm that has been created through the introduction of e-books into the mass market. Now, if you were to traipse over to the Kindle Store to check out the cheapest books to download, you would see countless pieces of fiction and non-fiction from independent authors looking to make a mark in the literary world through their own means.

    No matter your opinion of the rise of the e-book, it has to be acknowledged that it has been a positive experience for new authors struggling to break into the caustic publishing world.

In the end, I know that I’ll never really convince those who are staunch traditionalists to switch to an e-reader. They are a divisive device (Har!). All I wish is that they are viewed with, at the least, a fair amount of criticism. If you wish to hold onto the physical realm of the book, feel free to do so! Do not, however, castigate the digital version unfairly in your quest to maintain the status quo. A book, in the end, is primarily experiential.

If people are reading, does it really matter how the content is engaged?

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What is Literature?

Many Freshman level English courses offered in universities and colleges across the country pose a simple question at the start of every year: What is literature? 

27.024000,27.024000

That’s a whale, or something.

Honestly, it is difficult to come up with a complete answer to that question. Literature is a living notion — one that ebbs and flows along the tides of time. What is considered literature today, for example, may not be considered literature in the future. Moby-Dick and Wuthering Heights, for instance, were both maligned when they were initially released. Why, then, do we seek to so rigidly define the indefinable? Why are some books given the grand label of official “literature” over other books that are equally worthy? Although it is bad form to pose hypotheticals with no ready answer, I will commit that deadly writing sin for this case — these questions must be asked.

The word “literature” literally means “things made from letters.” Not very helpful. Is a stop sign a work of literature? While I’m sure some student somewhere has argued along that line, the literal argument for literature remains hopelessly broad.

Naturally, many famous figures of “literature” have (over the years) attempted to define what literature truly is. While many of these attempts were self-serving (as their specific works just happened to land into the newly created category), the quest to define literature is what, in turn, creates literature. Bear with me.

The search for an answer to any question often creates meaningful dialogue. The dialogue surrounding literature is intrinsically linked with the idea of inherent value or worth found in a text. For example, it is easy to declare something like Moby-Dick literature today because of how highly we currently regard the writing ability and style (the mechanisms by which we give worth to a text) of Melville.

But (as they say), therein lies the rub. Did people admire Melville’s style when he wrote the great novel? Certainly not. Will his style be admired two hundred years into the future? It is impossible to say. To declare what is literature today, then, is to make an immediate value judgement about the piece of work, and subsequently apply it, in perpetuity, to the work.

backtothefuture

Great F. Scott Fitzgerald!

We can get around this thorny problem, of course, by applying temporal labels to literature. University courses tend to handle this issue well, as literature is often broken into very regimented time periods for the sake of discussion and analysis. Does the system work? Pretty much. Is it perfect? Of course not . The fact stands that we must compare the texts of the 1700’s or 1800’s or 1900’s to our current knowledge and understanding of literary theory because we are unable to time travel. The value of any given text, then, is entirely based upon contemporary valuation.

This is a problem! If one takes a relativistic approach, on the other hand, to define what literature actually is, one will be stuck with a realization that value distinctions are ultimately pointless — anything “good” can be called literature. Time does nothing but cause issues of determination and distinction. Do you enjoy the text? Did you gain something from it? Call it “literature.” Call it “good.” Call it whatever you like — as long it is a determination of your own.

While labels and designations must be followed for the sake of academic discourse, do not feel the need to accept them as the only rules to define and categorize your own thoughts.

Define literature, then, as you see fit.

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Uncle Ben Was Right

With the absolute deluge of political ads littering the airwaves during this election season, it is a small miracle that not every voting citizen is an expert on presidential politic and policy. Of course, the information that we are presented with in political adverts is useless. It is accusatory and inflammatory. They talk above each other; across each other.

It should be no surprise, then, when the “electorate” is composed of individuals like this:

I have lots of respect for the folks at NewLeftMedia (the makers of above video). During the last election cycle, they produced a series of well-reasoned shorts like the one above that featured the ignorance of the voting populace. This is not a phenomenon that is restricted to the Republican party, either — all political parties are equally guilty of willful ignorance.

While it could be true that the ignorance displayed in the video is the consequence of selective editing and not an indication of the electorate as a whole, it is nevertheless disturbing that any individual could spout the worthless drivel that spews from the mouths of the aforementioned.

Where has fact-checking gone? Why are politicians not held accountable for the statements that they make in a meaningful manner? I attempt to stay fair in my political analyses for the sake of discussion and argument. At this point, however, I will simply state that Mitt Romney and/or his campaign folks are liars. They lie. Constantly. And what do people do? They listen to it, they believe it, then they regurgitate it.

“Jeeps in China”:

The Romney campaign ad says Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China” at the cost of American jobs. The ad leaves the clear impression that Jeeps built in China come at the expense of American workers.

The ad miscasts the government’s role in Fiat’s acquisition of Chrysler, and it misrepresents the outcome. Chrysler’s owners had been trying to sell to Italy-based Fiat before Obama took office. The ad ignores the return of American jobs to Chrysler Jeep plants in the United States, and it presents the manufacture of Jeeps in China as a threat, rather than an opportunity to sell cars made in China to Chinese consumers. It strings together facts in a way that presents an wholly inaccurate picture.

“$4,000 Tax on Middle-Class”:

The Romney campaign ad says Obama’s policies are a $4,000 tax hike on the middle class. But their evidence is a study from the American Enterprise Institute that looks at public debt.

The campaign makes a giant leap when it assumes the debt will be serviced with increased taxes on all income levels and in the time frame it suggests. We actually don’t know how the tax code will spread around the pain of paying for the debt; right now, Obama is proposing tax increases only on higher income households.

Finally, we should point out that debt payments would rise even if Romney wins the presidency. If you accept the ad’s logic, then you’d have to accept that Romney too plans tax increases for the middle class.

The campaign distorts the meaning of the study to score political points.

“Regulations Quadrupled”:

Romney said that regulations and the rate of regulations quadrupled under Obama. He was basing that on the Heritage study, but he did not include important caveats about how the study was conducted.

And more importantly, the actual data on regulations show Obama’s rate of regulations is no different from the past 18 years.

This is a broad claim describing its own evidence inaccurately. False.

“Apology Tour”:

Once again, Romney has accused Obama of beginning his presidency “with an apology tour.”

Our reviews of Obama’s 2009 foreign travels and speeches showed no such thing. While he criticized past U.S. actions, such as torture practices at Guantanamo, he did not offer one  apology.

It’s ridiculous to call Obama’s foreign visits and remarks “an apology tour.

These talking points have been repeated, ad nauseum, since the beginning of this election cycle. They are all entirely false and purposefully misleading. Has the president told lies during the course of this campaign? Of course. He has been misleading with regards to Romney’s immigration policy and stance on the auto bailout, for example. But these lies and mis-quotes on behalf of the president and his campaign are nothing compared to the repeated attempts of the Republican party to mislead the voting populace. (Disagree? Prove me wrong.)

The strange truth of the matter is that the Republicans probably did not have to lie in order for their message to be successfully transmitted to the American public — there are valid criticisms to make of Obama’s economy. Instead, they have focused on a slightly bizarre strategy of painting the current president as “un-American” or “weak.” These are transparent claims. They hold no weight when based against reality. (Of course, Republican strategists are wishing that reality will be conveniently forgotten about on election day.)

Reality shows that economic numbers are improving. Reality shows that Obama’s favor-ability numbers are strong. Reality shows that the world would much rather have the current president in the White House than Romney.

So … what will it be? The malleable Romney? The steady Obama? Polling displays results across the board, although most respected and well-researched statisticians are beginning to report positive election prospects for Obama. 

In the end, the result of the election will be entirely dependent upon the whims of the general population of the United States. Do we deserve such political clout when coupled with our weak grasp of policy? Of course, we should have the power. That power defines representative democracy. However. Just because our constitution gives us this great right of election does not mean that we can afford to be an ill-informed public. Great power does beget great responsibility.

We can do better. Read the issues. Become informed. Participate.

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Momentous “Momentum”

In less than two weeks, this country will be blessedly free of political ads. Ever try to watch Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy during election season? It’s a minefield of attack ads and misinformation during commercial breaks. I get it — the targeted demographic of voters (read: elderly) tend to watch the nightly antics of Pat and Alex. Nonetheless, I will be greatly relieved when I can again enjoy commercials about car insurance and questionable food chains in peace.

Unfortunately, I live in a state next to the (surprisingly) contentious state of Virginia. I live so close to that state, in fact, that most of the information relayed through political commercials is related to Virginia. There is a close race there for the presidency, of that there can be no doubt, but is it worth the drama? The utter inundation?

It’s a thorny issue. You see, the race is not as close as the media wants you to think it is. While the popular vote (in the end) will be close, the electoral college has another outcome in mind.

Nate Silver runs a mindbogglingly complex blog here that painstakingly calculates the potential outcome of the election based on all of the reputable polls in the country, economic indicators, senate/presidential approval ratings, and historical trends. While the calculations involved are beyond my admittedly meager grasp of the field of statistics, I can at least appreciate the level of effort involved in the formulation of such a model.

According to Silver (as of October 25th), President Obama has a 71% chance of winning a second term. 71% is quite a larger number than the number represented by the constant stream of polling that declares this race to be nothing more than a “horse race” now. Do I put all of my cards with Silver? Of course not. While I agree with his methods, I cannot speak to his level of prescience. But I do think that his model is a better indicator of what will happen in November than what is provided to the public through the media.

Here’s why: Ohio and Virginia (along with one or two others) will absolutely determine who the next president is. You live in a state that is not one of those two? Too bad. Although your vote is still important for the base of the voting block for your party, it is not important enough to have a direct outcome on this election. Why is this?

From Wikipedia:

The Electoral College is an example of an indirect election, consisting of 538 electors who officially elect the President and Vice President of the United States. The number of electors is equal to the total voting membership of the United States Congress, 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, plus three electors from the District of Columbia.[1]Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution specifies the number of electors to which each state is entitled and state legislatures decide how they are chosen.

Voters in each state and the District of Columbia cast ballots selecting electors pledged to presidential and vice presidential candidates. In nearly all states, electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state. Although electors are not required by federal law to honor a pledge, in the overwhelming majority of cases they vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged.[2][3] The Twelfth Amendment provides for each elector to cast one vote for President and one vote for Vice President. It also specifies how a President and Vice President are elected. The Twenty-third Amendment specifies how many electors the District of Columbia is entitled to have.

Critics argue that the Electoral College is inherently undemocratic and gives swing states disproportionate influence in electing the President and Vice President. Proponents argue that the Electoral College is an important, distinguishing feature offederalism in the United States and that it protects the rights of smaller states. Numerous constitutional amendments have been introduced in the Congress seeking to alter the Electoral College or replace it with a direct popular vote.

It is a confusing system that places far too much weight on individual “swing” states. This creates unhealthy political atmospheres in those states, granting them with special legislative attention before and after election season while simultaneously flooding them with insulting levels of political propaganda during the heat of the season. Remember Florida in 2000? Nothing more really needs to be said.

President Obama stands at a 71% with Silver’s model precisely because of a simultaneous rise in general polling from Obama coupled with a constant and appreciable lead in Ohio. But have you heard about this probability on the news or radio? Of course not. Silver attempts to break down the cognitive dissonance:

Some of the polls, especially the Time magazine poll which had Mr. Obama five points ahead in Ohio, seemed to set off a lot of discussion on Twitter, as though people were surprised that Mr. Obama still held the lead there.

But these polls are really nothing new. Since the Denver debate, Mr. Obama has held the lead in 16 Ohio polls against 6 for Mr. Romney. In Nevada, Mr. Obama has had the lead in 11 polls, to Mr. Romney’s 1. Mr. Obama has led in all polls of Wisconsin since the Denver debate, and he has had five poll leads in Iowa to one for Mr. Romney.

Part of the confusion (and part of the reason behind the perception that Mr. Romney is still gaining ground in the race) may be because of the headlines that accompany polls.

Conspiracy Theory Time: The media wants to portray the race as a close one. Close contests beget higher ratings for those broadcasting them. Who wants to watch a moderate victory unfold? It isn’t very exciting. So — in order to get ratings — the media actively promotes the misleading notion that the popular vote numbers are the numbers that will decide this election.

Naturally, these predictions of who will or will not win any given state are only as good as any other predictions — which is to say that they should all be taken with a heaping spoonful of salt.

It is important to remember, however, that the system through which our president is elected is not as cut-and-dry as a simple up and down vote. That would make too much sense! That said, it should still be emphasized that your vote absolutely matters — it just matters more if you live in one of the “chosen” lands.

My prediction?

I think that President Obama will win. He will probably win Ohio .. and that will be enough for victory, assuming that he picks up a few of the so-called swing states out West.

Mitt Romney could win as well, though his path to victory is decidedly more difficult. He requires almost all of the swing states in order to collect a victory. Obama requires a mere few.

All of that aside (after election day), ask yourself: Do you like the way in which we elect a president? Does it seem fair to you? If it does, keep rolling.

If not … make some noise.

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Presidential Debate Two: Honesty Versus Denial

The second presidential debate of the 2012 election season has passed into the annals of political history and theater. Was it worth the ninety minutes that millions of citizens of the world spent watching it? Almost. Did it sway the (questionable) number of undecided voters in the room? Probably not. Did it sway my vote? Certainly not.

It is my opinion that the candidates were not seeking to really engage or influence the undecided voters in the room or at home. They want to mobilize their bases in order to ensure solid turn-outs come November. As Romney and Obama are (historically) moderate in actuality, they must distance themselves from each other over the bread-and-butter topics of politics in order to create an illusion of difference that will excite the public.

Because of this, the debate was remarkably contentious. Before the so-called “debate season” started, both candidates agreed to a set of rules that would govern how they perform in the debates to come. One of the hallmark notes from that agreement stated that the candidates were not allowed to ask each other direct questions during the town-hall format debate. Clearly, this rule was not upheld during the Hofstra event.

President Obama and Governor Romney repeatedly asked each other questions, not allowing the other to gain the argumentative upper hand, if there can be such a thing. Obama, fresh off of his lackluster performance during the Colorado debate, was prepared to be significantly more aggressive toward Romney during the debate, and it showed. He refused to let Romney control the flow, and (more importantly) the tone of the debate.

President Obama: He was measured. He maintained a calm demeanor in order to portray an image of quiet assertiveness that is naturally associated with the office of the presidency. After Governor Romney accused President Obama of politicizing the Libya event, there was genuine anger in the president’s eyes at the accusation. Obama, however, did not lose his cool — he stayed calm and delivered a sharp retort to the governor that was one of the strongest moments of the debate.

Was this tactic effective? I would tend to think so. The Hofstra Debate Obama matches the 2008 Campaigning Obama that the Democrats fell in love with. It was a much-wanted return to form for the democratic contender.

Mitt Romney: He, on the other hand, maintained his usual demeanor of disbelieving republicrat. He did an excellent job of transmitting his message to the audience about the economy. It is in the economy that Romney has his strongest argument — it cannot be denied that the economy (right now) is not well. Whether this is Obama’s fault is another question altogether, but correlation is causation for the purposes of politics.

Romney’s other positions were not as well expressed. That said, it was not really the fault of Romney that his messages about immigration, foreign policy, taxes, and the role of women were not as eloquently expressed as were his views on the economy. It was Obama’s fault. President Obama, not Governor Romney, was the one in control of the flow of the discussion through his insistence that the truth be told.

Was, then, the truth told?
Here’s what FactCheck.org states (to see citations, view the link):

The second Obama-Romney debate was heated, confrontational and full of claims that sometimes didn’t match the facts.

  • Obama challenged Romney to “get the transcript” when Romney questioned the president’s claim to have spoken of an “act of terror” the day after the slaying of four Americans in Libya. The president indeed referred to “acts of terror” that day, but then refrained from using such terms for weeks.
  • Obama claimed Romney once called Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law a “model” for the nation. He didn’t. Romney said that of an earlier Arizona law requiring employers to check the immigration status of employees.
  • Obama falsely claimed Romney once referred to wind-power jobs as “imaginary.” Not true. Romney actually spoke of “an imaginary world” where “windmills and solar panels could power the economy.”
  • Romney said repeatedly he won’t cut taxes for the wealthy, a switch from his position during the GOP primaries, when he said the top 1 percent would be among those to benefit.
  • Romney said “a recent study has shown” that taxes “will” rise on the middle class by $4,000 as a result of federal debt increases since Obama took office. Not true. That’s just one possible way debt service could be financed.
  • Romney claimed 580,000 women have lost jobs under Obama. The true figure is closer to 93,000.
  • Romney claimed the automakers’ bankruptcy that Obama implemented was “precisely what I recommend.” Romney did favor a bankruptcy followed by federal loan guarantees, but not the direct federal aid that Obama insists was essential.
  • Romney said he would keep Pell Grants for low-income college students “growing.” That’s a change. Both Romney and his running mate, Ryan, have previously said they’d limit eligibility.

The answer, as usual, is “sort-of.” They sort-of told the truth. They danced around the truth in way that made pundits around the country either dance with glee or froth with rage. It was, in its own way, a beautiful display of truth-dodging. While Obama came out ahead on the overall fact-count, he still had a few decent mis-truths evident in his debate.

In short, it’s expected. Typical. Disappointing.

What, then, is there left to discuss? They were adequate performances from seasoned politicians. I just happen to agree with the positions of the current president more than those of the contender.

A few short notes:
Benghazi Moment: Yes, Romney stepped in it. But — who cares? Why does it matter when Obama stated that it was a terror attack? How can that have any effect on anything, ever? It cannot. It was a waste of time.

Interruptions Abound: While heated arguments are exciting, they are also confusing. I hope that this fast/furious debate style does not become the norm for future events of this nature. They both talked over the moderator (though Romney did not manage to make it look as cool as Obama did).

“Binders Full of Women:” The internet is already in love of that quote. Expect to hear endless memes and jokes about it. And, to be honest, it was a genuinely strange choice of words to refer to resumes of potential employees.

I look forward to the last debate. Hopefully it will be a little bit more controlled, and (even more) hopefully, it will be more full of substance. As the debate is, ostensibly, supposed to be about foreign policy, I expect more candor. It is much harder to fudge the facts on war and the world at large than it is to stretch the truth on the minutiae of economic policy.

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Presidential Debate One: Style Versus Substance

October 3rd met the country with the first presidential debate of the 2012 election season. Anticipation going into the evening in Colorado was extremely high, although both candidates were downplaying their forensic skills before they took to the actual stage.

Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the debate, announced that the format would be a loose one: there were predetermined sections about domestic policy that focused (almost exclusively) on the economy. Two minute statements would be allowed at the beginning of every section with open discussion following.

Before I discuss how the candidates performed, I want to make a statement about the debate format and its moderator: the format was abysmal and Lehrer should retire to the green pastures of PBS. It was awful. While the idea of a structured (but open) discussion between the two candidates is a nice one, both Romney and Obama completely controlled the pacing and content of the debate, constantly talking over and interrupting Lehrer, who was about as effective as a child trying to chime into an argument between his parents.

While the candidates should not be excused for their behavior towards the moderator, the moderator is still the one who is absolutely responsible for the debate. He unequivocally failed.

But — to the most important question of all! Who won the debate?
Here’s a hint: Nobody.

How can an individual win a debate that is not a debate at all? There are no points. There is no proper form of argument taking place. Contemporary “debates” in the political sphere are glorified campaign commercials. Talking points and obnoxious “zingers” are focused on with a heavy emphasis on repetition of key phrases. How many times did we hear the words “716 Billion,” “taxes,” “deficit,” or 5 Trillion” last night? Too many to count.

To “win” a modern debate, one must focus on established lines of dialogue and (unfortunately) act. Ever since Nixon lost to Kennedy in the first televised debate, appearance and decorum have come to mean almost as much as what is actually said.

So, then, how did they perform?

Barack Obama: Obama’s strategy during the first debate appeared to be one that focused on maintaining the status quo. He did not approach Romney with anything close to an aggressive nature — he remained his distanced, intellectual self. Early in the debate, he actually said “Listen to this; this is instructive.”

That alone should tell you about the tone with which he carried himself during the debate. While I am perfectly happy to listen to Professor Obama extol the virtues of Plan A or Plan B, it was not the correct strategy when facing an opponent who was so clearly attempting an aggressive political move (more on that in a bit).

The president stuck to his constant political message of “forward” and “middle-class” with a heavy focus on detail and statistics. It was substantive. It was also boring.

While numbers and details are vitally important during an election season (as can be seen from Romney’s complete lack of them), they are not effective or engaging when thrown into the faces in the audience who are not particularly looking for them. People want substance, but they want understandable substance. Barack Obama very much failed to deliver relate-able content.

From a factual perspective, the current president did fairly well. From FactCheck.org (see link for citations):

  • Obama again touted his “$4 trillion” deficit reduction plan, which includes $1 trillion from winding down wars that are coming to an end in any event.
  • Obama again said he’d raise taxes on upper-income persons only to the “rates that we had when Bill Clinton was president.” Actually, many high-income persons would pay more than they did then, because of new taxes in Obama’s health care law.
  • Obama said 5 million private-sector jobs had been created in the past 30 months. Perhaps so, but that counts jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics won’t add to the official monthly tallies until next year. For now, the official tally is a bit over 4.6 million.
  • Obama oversold his health care law, claiming that health care premiums have “gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years.” That’s true of health care spending, but not premiums. And the health care law had little to do with the slowdown in overall spending.

Mitt Romney: Romney came into the debate with a decidedly aggressive stance. He was almost always on the offensive, and his constant practice from the past week clearly shows through his performance. His demeanor was one of a confident man, and he was clearly primed to make a move against the common public perception of him as a weak individual.

His strategy, however, was a bit harder to pin down. Romney refused to be pinned down into any one stance or view on any given policy during the debate. When he did make unequivocal statements, they were statements of typical Republican policies that nobody asked a question about in the first place, like military spending and the role of the constitution.

When pressed for details about any of his plans, he avoided the question (perhaps intelligently). By not allowing himself to be bogged down in minutiae, he was able to rise above detail in order to embrace the meta-narrative of the debate: that Romney was not who he was being painted as. While this was a success in the eyes of Republicans and Romney fans, it was not a success from a rational standpoint.

Unfortunately for Romney, his stances from the debate do not appear to coincide with his political stances from the past year or so. They are almost entirely different. By embracing a .. fluid .. definition of his own platform, Romney was able to effectively seize the moment.

How was he, however, on the facts?
Not so good. From Politifact.org:

Romney sometimes came off as a serial exaggerator. He said “up to” 20 million might lose health insurance under the new law, citing a Congressional Budget Office study that actually put the likely number who would lose employer-sponsored coverage at between 3 million and 5 million. He said 23 million Americans are “out of work” when the actual number of jobless is much lower. He claimed half of all college grads this year can’t find work, when, in fact, an AP story said half either were jobless orunderemployed. And he again said Obama “cut” $716 billion from Medicare, a figure that actually reflects a 10-year target for slowing Medicare spending, which will continue to grow.

As for one of the most-repeated Romney talking points about Obama’s so-called “destruction” of Medicare:

Romney went on to say, “I want to take that $716 billion you’ve cut and put it back into Medicare.” But the fact is, the money isn’t being taken away from Medicare. Instead, Medicare would spend it, but over a longer period of time than was expected before the health care law. The law extends the solvency of the Medicare Part A trust fund.

And about jobs:

Romney overstated the number of unemployed Americans when he said that there were “23 million people out of work.” There were 12.5 million unemployed Americans in August, the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So what does this all mean?
In my opinion, Mitt Romney performed better. Barack Obama had better things to say. Neither of them, however, did a spectacular job when the total picture is looked at. Romney will find increased support numbers out of this debate, I am sure, though I am not sure that it will make a difference in the long run.

The president will likely find no change in his numbers, as he played it about as safe as it can get. The lasting impression of this debate (as has been painted by the media) is that the gap between the candidates is closing. The cynical me views this as a tactic to encourage people to watch their programming.

The logical me says that it just doesn’t matter. People have already decided who they will vote for — this debate was just an exercise in controlled confusion and message transmission.

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The Art of Speechification (Pretty Words)

Speeches at the DNC and RNC are, for the most part, terribly formulaic. Humans are very adept at finding patterns in the “noise,” so it becomes easy for us to tune out speeches that sound like broken records. Here’s the general template for a political rabble rouser:

  • Personal introduction with pleasing anecdote.
  • Possible attempt at humor (usually not well received).
  • Call/Response of some pithy catch phrase created in order to gain audience participation.
  • Small mention of the political candidate that the speech is (ostensibly) about.
  • Another personal anecdote: family/religion/war/all of the above.
  • (Raise volume of voice) “And the next president will be … “

That’s about it. The formulas work so well because the speeches really do not hold any information that matters. If you were to examine most of the speeches from the RNC, you would find that they did not hold much information that was important for listeners to actually know. There were incredible appeals to emotion, yes. These were effective moments! If that is what the audience really needed to hear, then there would be nothing to complain about.

These moments, however, were not nearly enough. We deserve substantive content. Appeals to emotion can only take you so far in the real world. Although they are pleasing, they are not useful. They are worthless. How can the public make an informed decision if they are not informed? Sure, the Republicans have (deserved) differences between themselves and Democrats. That’s why the parties exist. But why did they not discuss actual plans for the future, aside from broad strokes? It should have been better.

What, then, did Mitt Romney deliver during his RNC keynote? This:

To quote from FactCheck.org (source on link):

In a speech heavy on anecdotal history but short on policy details, Mitt Romney avoided major falsehoods in making his case to the American public while accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention.

In essence, Mitt Romney gave the formulaic speech. The safe speech. Although this is not bad, it is not good. He managed to give a speech without a bevy of lies (much unlike his running-mate) and was then praised for his comparative truthiness. If I have ever seen a case of damning with faint praise, this is clearly it.

The American public deserves information and reason, not rhetoric and emotion. The rub, though, is that the Republican base located at the RNC truly enjoyed the complete lack of information in favor of rabble-rousing Americanisms. Do we not deserve better than blatant lies (Ryan) and avoidance of truths (Romney)?

In contrast, I present to you Bill Clinton’s speech:

To quote from FactCheck.org:

Former President Bill Clinton’s stem-winding nomination speech was a fact-checker’s nightmare: lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about.

Republicans will find plenty of Clinton’s scorching opinions objectionable. But with few exceptions, we found his stats checked out.

President Clinton managed to give an (albeit lengthy) speech about the real issues through use of actual facts. He spoke to his audience — not down to them. The patented Republican Rosy Glasses of Yesteryear were gone as Clinton took a brazen path forward in a mission to educate the American public about Obama’s presidency. Although this was only a necessity because of the sheer amount of misinformation that is being transmitted through the Republican party, it was still a brilliant exercise in speech-giving.

Clinton has always been a strong speech-giver, and this keynote was a perfect example of his style. He respects his audience. He assumes that they are capable of rational thought, not just emotional knee-jerkage (‘MERICA). The tone, therefore, was elevated while also being inclusive.

Does it matter how well President Obama does tonight during his speech? Not really. All he needs to do is ride the wave created by Clinton and some of the other speakers into a charismatic finale. I fully expect a Clinton-esque level of discourse with a usual smattering of crowd-pleasing one-liners. Whether he makes the grade does not matter at this point — the tone and legacy of this DNC has already been established through its strong difference of the RNC.

Though it is difficult for me, I am attempting to step back from my party in order to compare the conventions. Truly, the DNC is a far better representation of what the American population needs in order to move forward as a democratic body than the RNC was. The message was more positive. There was no old man yelling at a chair.

What does it mean about the election? Probably not very much. This is not an election about the middle, unfortunately. It is an election about turn-out.

Vote.
I don’t care who you vote for.
Just vote.

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