Showing posts with label President Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label President Obama. Show all posts

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"Choking It Back"

Today I happened to be
watching a cat choke back
the urge to vomit
a hair-ball just
as I was thinking of
the sheer number of Americans
who, first, consider themselves
White and, second, simply
cannot abide even the thought
of a Black man as President.
I want to say to them,
Vomit up that hatred, first,
and, second, read a
goddamned history book.

hans ostrom 2013

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Graphic-Novel About Senator Kennedy

A couple recent posts noted a favorite poem and a favorite song of Edward M. Kennedy's. Concerning literature about the late senator, writer Patrick Gavin at reports that a graphic-novel about Kennedy has been in the works but will now, of course, need to be revised.

The working-title of the novel, to be published by Bluewater Productions, is "Political Power: Ted Kennedy." Bluewater Productions has already published graphic-novels about Ronald Reagan and President Obama. Here is a link to Gavin's article:

Monday, April 13, 2009


Paradoxically (or so it seems), I listen to "talk-radio" regularly but not a lot. My commute to work is so brief that it hardly qualifies as a commute: 8 minutes.

To save even more fuel, I drive at the speed-limit, and if I'm absolutely sure no one is behind me, I've been known to drive below the speed-limit, partly because I like to take the idea of "limit" literally. One is limited to 25 miles per hour (for example); one is not obliged to drive that fast. However, whenever there is a car behind me, I don't care to test the extent to which that other driver shares my theory of speed-limits. I assume he or she has places to go quickly, people to see soon, and at least the potential for exhibiting road-rage.

So for a few minutes, I listen to talk-radio: Air America, sports-talk, conservative-talk, pretty much in that order. I don't ever listen to Rush Limbaugh, but I've listened to such lesser conservative lights as Michael Medved and Mark Levin.

Rush, I gather, has something like 20 million listeners--or about 8 per cent of the U.S. population. That's a lot. I don't know how many listeners these other fellows have, but to hang to their audiences, they seem to feel the need to get more outlandish all the time since Obama defeated McCain. Medved referred to Obama's foreign policy as "insane." It may, but how does it differ radically from Bush's (Medved advanced no argument at the time).

True, Obama is behaving more conventionally as a president; for example, he does not give prime ministers uninvited back-rubs in public. Also, he wants to remove a lot of troops from Iraq, but so does the military, which is exhausted. I'm not aware of any massive policy-shifts that might account for a sharp contrast, especially one in which Obama's side of the contrast would be "insane" to Bush's "sane." Oh, well.

Of course, some talk-show hosts on the alleged Left are merely mirror-caricatures of those on the Right. Rachel Maddow, Thom Hartman, and Ed Schultz are exceptions. Their tone is more moderate and thoughtful, and they not only take calls from people who disagree with them (and treat the people respectfully), but they also regularly schedule guests who disagree with them. This practice is refreshing. As far as I know, Rush takes no calls now, certainly takes no opposing calls, and never schedules guests that would disagree with him. At least that's what I've heard about his "format." I could be wrong and often am.

Talk Radio


She "called in" to talk to a talk-show, radio.

A screener screened her call. She held the

phone to her left ear while her call to the

call-in show was held in a queue. Finally she

found herself talking to the talk-show host,

who behaved inhospitably and with hostility,

and who'd abandoned listening long ago in

exchange for talking. She opined briefly,

sensibly, and cordially. He interrupted,

opened the bays of his word-bomber,

and dropped a rant on her for the benefit

of his loyal listeners lying in their bunkered

opinions with flashlights and non-perishable

items. After the unpleasant, anti-conversational

experience talking to a talk-show host, she

tuned to the station no longer.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Murray Edelman and President Obama

A colleague introduced me to Murray Edelman's book, Constructing the Political Spectacle, a while back. I wish I'd read it when it came out, in 1988, U. of Chicago Press. It is superbly written, well argued, terse, and just plain smart. As the title suggests, Edelman applies social-constructivist theory to the political spectacle, the highly complex social performance we call politics or government.

Here's one paragraph:

"Whatever its current connotation, talk about a leader is an ideological text. Like all terms that appear often in discussions of politics, 'leadership' introduces diverse language games that vary with the social context. References to leaders of one's own country, interest groups, friendly or hostile foreign countries, bureaucratic organizations, riots, or revolutions initiate disparate chains of associations that vary with the current situations of observers and are often multifaceted and contradictory. In each case the leader personifies a range of fears of hopes. As a sign, 'leadership' combines wide ambiguity and strong affect" (p. 37)

I thought of President Obama's first formal, official press conference when I re-read this paragraph. What did Obama do to that piece of the spectacle, "the presidential White House press conference"? Well, as Edelman suggests, that depends on whom you talk to. ("Wide ambiguity and strong affect"). I'm guessing that among the first responses from most of those who voted for Obama and some who didn't was one of curiosity ("how will he 'do'?"), and/or one of relief or celebration ("our guy won"; "he's more articulate than Bush"); and/or one of advocacy, inwardly cheering on the President.

My first response to the press conference was that it seemed staged pretty much like the old ones. The staging and lighting look the same as they did for Bush II and Clinton. The press sits well below the president, who stands in front of "the inner sanctum," as it were, of the White House. The effect is that the press is "let in," but not too far, and in an inferior (physically) position.

My second response was that Obama seemed so professorial. He answered only 13 questions in about an hour, and he often spoke in paragraphs, the way Clinton did, but mostly without Clinton's wide-ranging diction, which was sometimes quite folksy (at calculated moments), sometimes not. Obama didn't sound all that different from people I've learned from and worked with for a long time. --A bit long-winded, truth to tell--and it's an occupational hazard of professors to which almost none are immune. After all, in a basic sense, we're paid to profess, just as a plumber is paid to fix pipes.

In the front row, next to Helen Thomas, sat talk-show guy Ed Schultz, a former Division II football player who led the nation in passing yardage one year. Schultz occupies an upper-Midwest, centrist, good-old-boy, union-friendly niche on Air America, although his show is actually distributed by the Jones Network, if memory serves. But he still has "the jock" about him, and I caught him looking down an awful lot, as if he were thinking, "Wow, when is this answer going to be over?"

My third response was that I felt Obama did what all presidents do in such situations: not answer direct questions, pivot, and then launch into answers that are mostly general, predictable, safe, and only specific when specific unilaterally useful. One difference from Bush II, perhaps, is that the rhetoric is still essentially argumentative (as in making arguments, not bickering), while Bush II just seemed to toss out talking-points; he rarely constructed answers, as it were. Bush provided mostly morsels. Obama seems to build answers with well considered parts.

Obama is certainly different from Bush II, Clinton, and others, but this small part of the spectacle has hardly changed at all. Whereas Bush used blunt talking points and a kind of twitchy nervousness to avoid answering questions, Obama essentially filibustered as a way of controlling the situation. When Helen Thomas asked him whether he knew of any Middle East countries that possessed nuclear weapons, he, like presidents before him, didn't get within a hundred miles of answering the question, even though Israel's possession of nuclear weapons is common knowledge. She was playing by press rules; he was playing by old presidential rules. One simply doesn't answer that question. When she pressed him, he moved on to another questioner, just as presidents have done before him.

But as Edelman might have noted, others "constructed" this part of the spectacle each in their own ways, although of course there are large patterns of response. I've enjoyed hearing how others responded to the press conference, just sort of to observe the construction, to to speak. Like poems, political spectacles are built, in a way, but their scale is so much larger, and there's obviously more at stake, at least in worldly terms.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Poet's Political Questions

(pie chart from
Time now for another highly infrequent (thank goodness) installment of "A Poet's Political Questions."
1. When will a cut-to-the-chase discussion of the federal budget finally occur? Almost all the money goes to the military, health-care (Medicare), and interest on the debt. Of course, we can get in pie-chart wars (one imagines the pie-throwing denouement of a Three Stooges move), and we can put in or take out such things as interest on the debut and money for Social Security, but even so, the pies look roughly the same, even when you account for pie-chart bias. Arguably the biggest decision facing Americans (to the extent Americans make such decisions) is how much to keep spending on the military.
Yes, I'm aware of the arguments in favor of a "strong military." Even if some of those are granted, however, we still have confront the fact that military-spending is sucking the federal budget dry. We could also debate the health-services and Social Security part of the pie, but I don't think people are going to stop getting sick and old. Let's put the question this way: How much of the military-budget is discretionary? Let's also ignore debates about whether to cut the Dept. of Education (or whatever). The filling in the pie is composed almost entirely of health services, the military, and interest on the debt. Debates about other stuff are merely distractions.
2. Why don't the media cover in greater detail those companies and corporations which make weapons and therefore profit from war? Even if you support the wars in which the U.S. is engage, you would probably have some interest in who makes what and how much they make. Is G.E. the parent-company of NBC? Does G.E. make weapons? I don't know the answer to these questions.
3. Not to throw cold water on the election of Obama (for many reasons, that was a good day for the U.S.), but will he retract the almost unprecedented expansion of the Executive-Branch powers achieved by Bush and Cheney (signing statements; refusal to turn over any documents; governing by fiat)? Oddly enough, when Obama was, during the campaign, chatting with the pastor from Saddleback Church, and when Pastor Rick asked him about Supreme Court appointments, Obama (without being prompted) said he disagreed with some of Roberts' rulings about what he, Obama, thought were excessive Executive powers that didn't seem supported by the Constitution. Now that he's president, will he retract some of those powers? I don't think he will. Why is it in his interest to do so?
4. Now that Obama is president, will the U.S. stop "renditions," a euphemism that would have made even Orwell gag? It refers to the CIA's kidnapping suspects and transporting them to other nations. A rendition is a version of a song. This is kidnapping, false imprisonment, and--once the kidnapped area abroad--torture, no doubt. This morning newspaper had an answer to this question: No. No, the U.S. will not stop "renditions." Close Guantanamo? Yes. Return to previous rules and treaties regarding torture? Yes. Stop renditions? No. Should we stop renditions? Yes: that's my opinion. I'm willing to hear opposing views. I think I know one of them, which can be phrased as a rhetorical question, "What is the CIA supposed to do when it discovers a person who is clearly a potential terrorist--let him or her walk around free?" My rhetorical response is, "If the evidence is clear, why not prosecute him or her as a criminal, in a court?" Another retort I ofen hear is this: "You're naive." I agree. In many regards, I'm naive. Does my naivete justify "rendition"?
5. I think that's more than enough political questioning from a poet, and I'm sure you'll agree. I would, however, like to ask why pie-charts never represent a pie-crust. I understand the crust is not crucial to the visual representation of data, but in the spirit of verisimilitude, I think there should be a crust. I might also add that my financial advisor made some pie-charts for me. They represented our personal finances. What was missing (in addition to a crust) was the filling. Cut up the pie as you will, but if there's no filling, you're just playing with percentages of almost nothing. You have dough, but you have no dough (nyuk, nyuk). Don't kill the messenger (in this case, the financial advisor), and don't blame the pie chart.