My Take on SOTU

After seven hours of downloading, I finally got to watch the State of the Union Address. After that much effort, I felt obliged to record my comments as they happened, thinking I might live-blog it three days late. Considering that a chronology would require you to either re-watch the speech or vaguely surmise context, though, I decided instead to present them topically and add a few notes.


Until last weeks ago, I assumed I was about the only American who found Barack Obama’s speaking style simply annoying. Then I had a chat about him with a Chinese student. It turns out I’m the only person in the world who finds Barack Obama’s speaking style annoying.Watching this speech reminded me why. Each phrase—of his speeches—is spoken—as if it is—it’s—own—sentence—worthy of—Bartlett’s. Each phrase also gets a falling tone, a vapid gesture (most often the left-handed pinch-point) reverting to folded hands, and a smug nod. Clunky. Pretentious. Annoying.

But something miraculous happened during this speech. Occasionally, he started talking in full sentences and with standard tones and rhythms. It turns out he’s conversant in normal English. I actually liked his style in parts.

Distractions other than the President

I’ve had my share of time onstage behind a speaker, so I know it’s hard. Pelosi did too. She was so self-concious that people were going to see her at the beginning she went out of her way to look engaged and engaging. She actually looked friendly—almost human. But that gradually gave way to making faces at the audience and then a glazed stare. Biden was tall enough to keep his face out of the picture most of the time, but he did randomly rub his chest for a few minutes.

Michelle Obama scares me.

I know audience response is the only way to express feelings, so I don’t blame Boehner for raising his hand or Alito for mouthing words any more than everyone else for obviously talking and making faces to could get camera time and making a point.

That said, where did the cheering come from? I thought I was watching a Presidential address, but at times it sounded more like a high school football game. I even got a distinct “U-S-A, U-S-A”.

I wonder if the recorder was trying to record the cheers, because he was definitely punching keys during an extended ovation.

Notable ovations

Happy with himself“The true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses.” Standing O. Seriously? That’s what we call a truism, people. It doesn’t really deserve an ovation.

“All this [activity that caused the economic collapse and subsequent deficit] was before I walked in the door.” Applause. They seriously applauded the budget deficit, since Barack said it wasn’t his fault. And just to make sure, the President paused and made faces until he got sufficient response. That, my friends, was disgraceful all the way around.

We’ll get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Huge, drawn-out ovation. We’ll get equal pay for women. Moderate applause.

Things he said that I liked:

He broached the bailout early and effectively in argument, rhetoric, and demeanor.

A focus on jobs is a good call. A really good call. I especially like one that pays attention to infrastructure needs. Sounds a little Rooseveltian, but it’s worthy.

“I know the Senate will [pass a jobs bill]. They will. They will.” I found this particularly effective. He was applying some pressure, while displaying support for the Senate he had already referred to as “gridlocked”. (Sadly, it was the last positive gesture toward political opponents.)

He was pretty heavy-handed with the lobbyists. While they are Washington’s most bipartisan whipping boys, I hope he actually does something about them.

Things he said that I didn’t like:

About those letter-writing children. Do kids really write letters asking the President why they have to move and how to afford homes and education and health care (and if they do, does he really read them every night)? ‘Cause those were either fabricated Obama talking points or some freakishly informed kids.

“[T]he best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.” Not really sure I agree, but coming from Columbia and Harvard, he obviously values world-class education. “So we’re going to improve community colleges and offer $10,000 to families trying to send kids to college.” (my paraphrase) Yup, world-class.

Anyone else pick up on the countless distinctions between himself and the American people? It started early as he told about how Americans faced a tough year, but “they” were resilient and “they” were staying busy and “they” were working hard.

“We won’t quit. I won’t quit.” Quite a way to finish a speech when you’re a President who already feels the need to deny a Messiah complex.

Things he didn’t say, but said:

If you really want to play a dominant part in the world, China, you have to join it. (Future trading partners have to “play by the rules”.)

Republican Senators, you’re the minority. Go away. (“If the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town—a supermajority [thanks, Mr. Webster]—then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.”)

Democratic Senators, let’s ignore everyone else and do whatever we want. (“Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades[.]”)

Things he said, but didn’t say:

America will double its exports over the next five years. (How, you ask? By finding new, developing markets.)

My exports plan will create two million jobs. (That exports plan he doesn’t really have. Ironically, that’s the same wildly unreliable number of jobs he claims to have created with his stimulus package.)

Things he said that didn’t make sense:

I’m not sure, but it certainly sounded as if he repeated the numbers from his famously inaccurate website to track job creation. I’d call that both deceitful and stupid. But that’s just me.

“We can’t afford another so-called economic expansion like the one from the last decade—what some call ‘the lost decade’.” Who, exactly? I’ve read a lot about the economy lately, and I’ve never heard that. Even from the most depressing pundits.

The CBO says the health [insurance] reform bill will reduce the deficit by one trillion dollars in two decades? Say it with me, Joe: “You lie!”

The Republicans’ response to deficits would be to make “fewer investments in people”—by giving tax cuts. To people.

Health care reform has been in progress for the last “century”?

Ways he contradicted himself:

He’s all about transparency. But the Supreme Court ruling that lets corporations make political advertisements with their names on them instead of doing it through a PAC is a problem.

“We could argue about who’s to blame for [lack of unity], but I’m not interested in re-litigating the past.” Other than when he just spent the last half hour blaming Republicans and Bush for all our problems.

“I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics.” “Democrats, let’s rock. Republicans, go home and die. [paraphrase—see ‘Things He Didn’t Say, But Said’ for the direct quotes])”


His agenda is worthwhile. His speaking style was lighter—almost relaxed and engaging at times. His rhetorical vision was grand, generous and participatory. His message was spiteful, dismissive and partisan. Despite my personal distaste for his delivery, I recognize that he has inspired millions to act in a way that might realize his vision. We’d be a lot better off if he could inspire himself to act in a way that might accomplish his vision.

Digest: Why the Health Care Reform Bill Should Be Scrapped

Thus I inaugurate what may become a staple of the blog—the Digest. The basic theory is that a real post should be well-reasoned and explanatory, probably with a lot of links. I have ideas for these kinds of posts. Generally, they grow more and more consuming and the related Google Reader tag gets longer and longer until the post would require countless hours of writing, several editors and a publishing agreement. The Digest is where I rattle off some of those ideas with minimal explanation, perhaps returning later to further explain a point. In other words, I just dump my thoughts out and let you run with them. Go ahead. Run.

  1. It’s not health care reform. It’s health insurance reform. While this may seem a minor complaint, it’s actually the key source of the problem. And it’s being ignored.
  2. No one has ever died for lack of health insurance. Despite all the claims of death-by-lack-of-insurance, it’s a bogus notion. Ask yourself when was the last time you saw an EMT carrying a briefcase full of insurance contracts or an obituary lamenting the lack of a signature on the appropriate form. People die from lack of health care. (cf #1)
  3. Forcing participation in a broken system doesn’t fix it. The current health care system doesn’t work. Insurance companies, rather than spreading costs and leveraging their size to lower prices, have become middlemen that complicate processes and raise costs. Throwing money at those companies (or forcing the citizenry to do so) doesn’t solve the problem. It’s simple, really: expensive faulty system + tons of money = really expensive faulty system.
  4. Socialized health care has the potential to work. Ask Europe.
  5. Socialized health care has the potential to fail. Resurrect and ask the USSR or just ask a real, live Cuban. Or rate the quality of care in China.
  6. But this isn’t socialized health care. It’s socialized health insurance. (cf #1)
  7. Insurance |inˈ sh oŏrəns| noun; a thing providing protection against a possible eventuality. (The New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
  8. It’s impossible to force a company to provide insurance for pre-existing conditions. That’s not providing insurance; it’s paying for health care. (cf #1 and #7, noting especially the term possible)
  9. If you think health care costs are too high and insurance companies are crooked now, imagine the state of affairs when everyone has coverage. Insurance involves risk. Insured people are gambling they will require expensive medical care; insurers are gambling they won’t. When it’s mandatory, it’s not gambling.
  10. Insurance is inherently wasteful. Think about this: insurance companies make money. They’re like casinos. Sure, some people win and the company pays out, but they’re still in business. That means lots and lots of people are losing. So let’s make the party bigger. And require yearly trips to Vegas while we’re at it.
  11. Taxing of cadillac health care plans is backwards. We have special taxes on cigarettes and alcohol not because they are privileges, but because they are dangerous. This is the opposite. People who pay out the nose to have every possible medical need and wish attended by young, handsome/beautiful doctors and pseudo-medical personnel are actually taking care of themselves. Now they need punished?
  12. I oppose robbing the rich to pay the poor. While I’m all in favor of those with means helping those in need, it should be a choice.
  13. Remember the American dream? People use to think America was the land of opportunity. Now they think it’s the land of ease and plenty. Everyone’s a socialist until they pull in an above-average income.
  14. It’s worth losing a year of legislative work to protect centuries of history and whatever future we have.
  15. (Oh, and I believe deficits actually matter.)

L1ttle Sh0ut 0ut

One of the questions I’m asked most often by students and other interested parties (often at interesting parties, such as last night’s) is ‘Do you cook for yourself?’ While I’m not sure what answer would most satisfy the questioners, I usually claim to prepare some of my own food while admitting my kitchen inefficacy.

That was before I added a powerful new weapon in the war against domestic ineptitude. gives you simple recipes from simple food. Bachelors, inexperienced kitcheneers who just entered cooking contests, and people too lazy to get out and get food, cooked or cookable—this is for you. Just select the foods you have, and it gives you recipes. Simple recipes with cool names. You’ll feel like a French chef just by swiping some egg on bread and putting it in the oven. And don’t worry, it gives you all the instructions you could need, too—from chopping an onion on up.

It’s obviously not for the master-chefs out there. Or the aesthetes. It doesn’t give you all the details or gourmet results. It does give you edible food, simple instructions and a sense of accomplishment. That’s good enough for me.

It used to feel like -30°.

I used to pay attention to wind chill—not because I actually cared, but because it gave me a much lower temperature to brag about having braved. It was hard to remember the right numbers, though, so I gave up after a while. Besides, I found it was easier to tack on ‘…and that’s without the windchill!’ And as it turns out, wind chill calculations are basically pointless, anyway.

Having lived in ever-colder climates (NE Ohio, Wisconsin, Changchun, Haerbin), though, I’ve always realized the utility of effectively communicating frigidity.

I mean, temperature is standard, but anyone who has lived in a cold place can tell you it has some shortcomings when trying to make others respect your hardiness. How do you make someone feel the difference between 15° and -15°?Obviously, the numbers are different, but they belie the vast experiential shift accompanying that minus sign. Plus, to blend into my non-US environment, I’ve adapted to the noting temperatures in Centigrade, which few Americans bother trying to understand. So we need new scales.

Some people try to explain their cold in experiential terms. I felt ‘like my feet were about to fall off’ or ‘chilled to the bone’ tell us you suffered, but we can’t know how much. For starters, these are only figures of speech. Your feet are still securely attached at the ankle, I’ll presume, and I rather doubt your muscles and subcutaneous fatty layers had failed to properly insulate your skeletal system, substantial though they may be (one or the other, that is). But more to the point—you’re probably just whiny anyway.

Thus I officially call for a sensory chill index (SCI).

Remember that scene in Farmer Boy when they tossed a bucket of water into the air and it would freeze before it hit the ground? That, my friends, is an SCI—something that instantly tells people exactly how the cold is affecting you in a way we can all appreciate.

As you live in colder climes, you develop an innate ability to note cold. It’s not exactly magic, but it almost seems like it. It’s actually just observing various phenomena. The goal of an SCI would be to quantify some of those phenomena.

Here is some groundwork:

  • Frozen noses. We’re not talking about your nose’s feeling cold here. No, I’m literally referring to the actual freezing of the fluid in your nose. A relatively recent post on some (southern-bred) friends’ blog noted their surprise when they found their noses freezing this winter. It brought back college days. Cold days were when your nose froze at first breath; when the freeze set in at Carey Dorm, you were experiencing just another winter day and making it to the all the way to the library with mobile nose hairs meant conditions were practically balmy.
  • Snow crunch to squeak ratio. Obviously, warm snow is melty and slushy. I’ve not seen that kind of snow before late April in many a year. I take it for granted that tromping through new-fallen snow sounds something like squishing a bag of corn starch. But when it gets cold, the crunch that renders autumn leaves sensually vapid gives way to a sharp squeak. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t ever try to tell me you have felt cold.
  • Longevity of visible breath. We all know what it’s like to see your breath. But, as it gets colder, that breath turns into a sort of ethereal scarf. Or it leaves a long trail, as if people were tiny jet engines on a clear summer day. The longer the trail, the colder it is.
  • Watery eye meltdown. I don’t think we can count eyes’ watering as a reliable indicator, since that varies dramatically from person to person. Shed tears are generally going to respond to conditions pretty reliably though, I’ll warrant. So did your tears drip from your nose, form a mini-icicle there, add icy war paint to your cheeks or threaten to seal your eyelids shut?

I’m no scientist, but I think this could be a start. Care to contribute?

*Sorry for a long post with no picture, but at the speed my internet is working now, a single picture would add a good hour to the already too-long posting process. Besides, it gives you a chance to exercise your imagination.