Archive for February, 2010

February 09, 2010
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Filed Under (Politics) by justin

I would like to think President Obama read my reactions to his State of the Union Address, but I won’t delude myself. And yet, it seems almost possible.1

I finally got around to watching his Q&A session with House Republicans. I hadn’t given it primacy because from my pundit reading I had gotten only four things:

  1. There really was no reason for things like this to be televised.
  2. The President “won” the event.
  3. The President’s only gaffe was using the wrong name for the congressman from Texas.
  4. The Republicans made a tactical error by giving the President the primary microphone, allowing him to outyell them, in effect, and still look good. And, as always, they were stupid.

In other words, nothing to see here.2

I’m glad I disregarded their gloss.

The event was a primer on American politics. The President has frequently spoken over the last two years–with little or no effect on Republicans, Democrats, his administration or, indeed, himself–about the need to move beyond political posturing. In this event, he gave that argument a test case.

First, he tried to have an honest debate. He refused to be cajoled into spewing partisan talking points and, instead, used fact, truth and open conversation as more than campaign slogans. He restated his desire not to “relitigate the past” and acted accordingly. He pointed out factual inaccuracies, but left room for policy differences.

Second, he wouldn’t let the conversation be squeezed into pre-defined molds. He mashed together taxes, health care, jobs and deficits so much they almost seemed inter-related. Apparently he forgot politicians only change topics to avoid difficult questions, not to worry about some bigger picture.

Third, he dropped the ‘if clause’. Two nights earlier, he’d told Republicans if they demand a supermajority vote on all action, “then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well” (emphasis mine). At the Q&A, he treated them as if they had a responsibility to govern because they had been elected, and he attempted to engage them accordingly.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the night was the President’s response to the final question. A former Illinois state senate colleague had engaged the President relatively congenially, providing too accommodating a finish for what Republicans hoped would be a clash of prepared talking points, so the congressman from Texas stepped up with his list of misleading grievances and fired off a closing missive. The President smilingly but clearly questioned the rant’s divisive intent, corrected the false claims, and provided a concrete example of how it could have been done. Diplomacy made politics looked stupid.

All this is not to say political problems are over. One freshman congressman notably pointed out that for all the President’s talk of engagement, the congressional Democrats were extending a hand only to stiff-arm Republicans. The rest of the Republican speakers spent their time posturing, posing and generally ignoring his calls for honest conversation (after all, they’d invited him there to make their points, not to get their questions answered). And, honestly, the President was breaking new ground by making his bipartisan rhetoric seem realistic. Change I can believe in? I’m not sure. But it at least gave me hope.

I finished my SOTU notes pointing out, “We’d be a lot better off if he could inspire himself to act in a way that might accomplish his vision [of politics that are generous and participatory].” We’re a lot better off after this Q&A.

  1. He even referred to the health insurance reform bill. I mean, really.
  2. I found it interesting that President Obama had predicted the relative silence of the media, in effect daring them to report his engagement of political adversaries. I should not have had to watch this to find out that President Obama likes Paul Ryan and his family–unless it’s politically detrimental to the congressman, of course.


February 06, 2010
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Filed Under (Politics) by justin

If you liked (and understood) my take on the State of the Union Address, you might be interested in James Fallows’s take. He has a similar take on some issues, though he comes from a different perspective.

If you didn’t like my thoughts, you might like his. Though he has a similar take on some issues, he comes from a different perspective. He more elegantly notes some of the things I pointed out, but his evaluations differ from mine in some respects.

If you like the idea of individual responses to particular statements or actions, you’ll like his article.

If you didn’t like my brief, hurried composition, you’ll like his long, detailed form.

If I haven’t addressed your feelings yet, you might want to go read someone who does.

In other words, I’d recommend Fallows’s annotated SOTU to any interested parties.



February 03, 2010
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Filed Under (Life, Travelog) by justin

Why do Americans eat more chicken than pork?

If you’re like me, this is true of you, but you can’t really explain why. So when my dinner companions asked me this the other day, I wasn’t really sure what to say. In China, pork is probably the most common meat.  It’s the fallback meat–the meat you turn to when you don’t have anything particularly meaningful for it to do. For you, it might be ground beef, but for me it’s always been chicken.

I was a little surprised that they’d even ask. So, I simply confessed my ignorance and shifted over to why we don’t really eat much mutton in America.1

Then I went shopping. For the first time in months (literally), I bought meat to prepare. Chicken.

Perhaps it was curiosity I’ve been fostering during this holiday. Perhaps it was excess time being domestic (i.e., sitting at home). Perhaps it was hunger. I decided to cook.

Saturday night, I made plum chicken and rice–a personal creation inspired by the common availability of plum juice here and my rather uncommon taste for it.  I should have replaced the rice with mashed potatoes, but I didn’t feel like going back out to the store. And the rice was pretty good too, I must say.

Sunday night, I made a sort of chicken and brocolli risotto. Sort of. While the concept is common enough, the method is personal.

Monday night, I made chicken parmesan. Drawing upon vast experience in eating it, none in making it, I created my own version, starting with crumbing my own bread (don’t get too excited–I had canned spaghetti sauce).

All from scratch. Without recipes. With nothing more than a hot plate, a microwave, and a rice cooker. I just did what seemed appropriate. None of them was perfect, but each of them was worth eating.

Now, those of you with cooking experience are waiting for the point. Those without it are rather proud of me.

I’m just grateful to the chickens, without whom none of this would have been possible.

  1. I’m glad I’ve been abroad enough to find out that mutton is good. Also, lizard.