Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jeri Ryan, 44, Star Trek actor who played a bit role in the rise of Barack Obama. Which I suspect is not what she wants to be known for, so my apologies to her as well, but we are all political junkies around here. Meanwhile, I hadn't meant for this feature to be so Star Trek intensive, but I've actually passed on two or three others already; apparently being born in February is a prime qualification for getting a role. Perhaps I should just get on to the good stuff.

1. John Sides attempts to correct the record by pointing out the minimal effects of negative advertising.

2. Another remembrance of LBJ staffer Harry McPherson, this one from presidency scholar Matthew Dickinson.

3. Did you know that there was a work-sharing provision in the extenders bill passed last week? I didn't -- but Jared Bernstein gets us up to date.

4. Brad Plumer examines the evidence of connections between gas prices at the pump and presidential approval (and re-election). Citing Brendan Nyhan, he concludes that it's not apt to matter -- unless it derails the economy, in which case it matters a lot.

5. And the best news for blog readers this week is that The American Prospect has given Jamelle Bouie and Paul Waldman their own blogs. Both are highly recommended! The bad news is that the Prospect continues to make blogs difficult to read. Hey, American Prospect! They're blogs. We want to read the full item on the main page, or at least any item that's, say, three paragraphs or less. Or at least I do. At any rate, however you like reading blogs, make sure you add them to your rotation. long as I'm at it, I don't know that I've ever specifically recommended E.J. Graff's terrific blog, also at the Prospect. Here's a sample of her stuff.


  1. "Happy Birthday to Jeri Ryan, 44, Star Trek actor who played a bit role in the rise of Barack Obama. Which I suspect is not what she wants to be known for, so my apologies to her as well, but we are all political junkies around here."

    You think she'd rather be known for playing a robot who walked around in a catsuit with every pasty-faced nerd's eyes on her?

  2. Hey, speaking of negative advertising, this piece currently on the front page of the HuffPo just about made my jaw hit the floor. In the great and sordid history of dazzlingly inappropriate political news stories, the linked one is surely a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

    When I got to the part of the article that this exquisitely ill-timed act of idiocy was at least the 10th such effort in the last 20 years (not sure why you hypothetically need more than one), I immediately had two reactions:

    1) Throw out your models, political scientists, and fasten your seatbelts: the next nine months are gonna be really really entertaining for reasons none of us ever anticipated.

    2) I really like Barack Obama, because his is clearly a charmed life, and far be it for a humble nobody like me to stand athwart the efforts of said charmers.

    1. Act of idiocy, yes. Political news story, I don't know. I can't really see this turning into anything. Romney's connection is pretty tangential (beyond reminding people that Mormons have some odd practices).

      As I recall (I'm no expert, but I grew up near the birthplace of Mormonism in Upstate New York and occasionally ran into this sort of thing), it's one of the tenets of Mormonism that you can save your ancestors' souls by converting them posthumously. For that reason, they maintain one of the most extensive genealogical databases in the world. (A lot of genealogists use it for regular purposes, too.) This posthumous conversion is only supposed to be done for ancestors, though, so how Anne Frank fits in I can't say. Probably some self-styled do-gooder trying to save extra souls. I assume the reason for doing it ten times is that it keeps getting expunged.

    2. Scott, I take your points, I was ranting a bit. Don't know much about the process, or whether its common to repeat it so often (I tend to doubt such records get expunged, if only because of the Mormon reputation for record-keeping).

      As far as being a piece of political dynamite; well, I suppose that partially depends on how typical it is for these sorts of things to be repeated. I suppose there's a decent probability that an obscure character like Akiba Drumer, the mystic who perishes at the end of Night, has been subjected to the process.

      But 10 times? Perhaps, but its hard to shake the impression that Anne Frank's perpetual baptizing has something to do with her fame, which is distasteful for anyone; for a religious organization it is pretty much unfathomable.

      You're probably right that its nothing, but there's some chance it turns into something really negative for Romney.

    3. Maybe it's partly because I'm a younger-generation American Jew and lack perspective, but I've never gotten too upset about this Mormon practice. The way I see it, it's their religion, and if they want to believe they can "save" the souls of people who are no longer around to care one way or the other, that's their prerogative. It's a heckuva lot better than the orthodox Christian belief that if you don't accept Christ while you're alive, you're automatically doomed to eternal hellfire (which would be somewhat longer than a googol years). At least they aren't going door-to-door--well, actually they are, but at least they've got an insurance policy for those they don't reach.

      Now back to the topic.

    4. From the article, it sounded like it was expunged on purpose in her case because she was no one's ancestor (she died so young) and a lot of people were upset about it. What I don't know is how much the church as an organization has to do with the process and how much its done by individuals. If it's done by a centralized authority, then yes, it's pretty hard to explain.

      By the way, feel free to rant. It's good for you.

    5. Interesting conversation, guys, and as is often the case, it led me to helpful insight. First, I take Kylopod's point; compared with the sorry history of Christian persecution of Jews, posthumous baptizing is a pretty benign practice.

      I also take Scott's point that it might be the work of do-gooders. I'm too cynical to think that naturally, but you might be right. I worship with the Lutherans, whose theology is steeped in human hopelessness in comparison with God. (Luther was asked whether he felt satisfaction at living a relatively long life that allowed him to witness what would be the first fruits of the reformation. He replied that, like everyone else, he would face his maker trembling, like a beggar on his knees.)

      We had a pastor once who, in a very Lutheran manner, pointed out that emergency baptism for severely ill babies was unnecessary, since "We don't baptize babies in case they die, that's in God's able hands. We baptize them in case they live".

      So to a Lutheran, the notion that Anne Frank waited in some sort of limbo for several decades after death, in hopes that a Mormon ceremony would unlock the keys to the Kingdom, seems thoroughly absurd. But maybe that's our problem. Maybe if we thought our rituals had that importance, we would take them more seriously; heck, maybe we'd even get out there and evangelize the way the successfully evangelizing religious (the Mormons) do.

      Lot to think about, interesting.

    6. Kylo -- I'm just the opposite: as a younger-generation American Jew, I reserve the right to be insulted even though I am not being oppressed! It's my friends and relatives who have had more serious things to worry about who don't feel it's worth their while to care about this kind of thing. Me, I've only had someone feel my head for horns once, so that I can relish the experience as bizarre as well as insulting ...

    7. I can see the logic to that. It reminds me a little of the Chris Rock routine where he talks about elderly African Americans, and he says (I'm quoting from memory), "They saw real oppression, none of this can't-get-no-cab. THEY WERE THE CAB."

      Sometimes I do find myself more bothered by certain things than the older generation are. For example, after the Lieberman selection in 2000 there were news stories celebrating the fact that only 10% of Americans say they won't vote for a Jew. I was like, "10% openly admit to pollsters they won't vote for a Jew? That's outrageous!"

      Part of the reason baptism-of-the-dead doesn't affect me as much is that I am offended by Christians who believe I'm going to Hell, and the Mormon doctrine actually seems to soften this idea somewhat.

      It's been my experience that older Jews seem more likely to get upset over it. I wasn't surprised one of the people at the forefront in trying to stop it is Elie Wiesel. I'm sure my grandmother, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, would feel the same way. Most of my Jewish peers would not.

      I think it's because the older generation are more likely to find practices like this ominous rather than simply insensitive, because they directly saw what these kinds of beliefs could lead to.

    8. I guess for me it's the double-whammy: the cruel assumption that because of my self and life I'm going to Hell AND the patronizing attempt to alter that fate by negating my self and life.

      In light of your comment, I wonder how important proximity to the Holocaust is to this kind of perception. My great-grandparents all fled Tsars (and Stalin), not Kaisers, and then all of my closest relatives were safely ensconced in English-speaking countries well before the start of the War. So perhaps not having grown up under a shadow of that intensity or recentness makes a difference. -- Meanwhile, my husband wasn't born Jewish (or raised with any religion), and he is more offended by the idea of a Ruben with cheese than by posthumous baptism. That's what makes horse races!

    9. This turned into a great conversation, and how appropriate for Ash Wednesday. I'd never really considered the implication of the Protestant idea of Justification by Grace through Faith, well, beyond its putting paid to the historic Roman Catholic concept of justification by works (a somewhat weak basis for any of us sinners to believe we're justified).

      I never thought about it outside the community of (sinful) faithful. Today I imagined myself relieved to show up in Heaven, per Christian orthodoxy, and at the intake table, as St. Peter and others are shuffling papers, I innocently ask if Elie Wiesel is here.

      Mmmm, we're sorry, Peter says, he was a Jew.

      My look grows stern. True, I say, but you do realize he was a profoundly important spiritual man? You've read Night - I add - well, everyone's read Night, but up here you can see everything, and so you know that Wiesel's 360 degree view of the degradation from the Holocaust, including the shredding of the faith, from terror, of Wiesel's friends and neighbors...well, that pretty much makes him one of the greatest spiritual leaders of the 20th century, doesn't it?

      And Peter sighs and says sure, call it a technicality, call it what you like, but still a Jew, so...sorry.

      Then I grow quiet. In a small voice I add You all certainly know that he was a much better man than me, and much more deserving of eternal reward than I.

      And the men on the other side of the table laugh! You're telling us, they say, when the laughter finally subsides. Peter motions me into a room and says, if you have any additional questions, take them up with your room monitor, thanks....

      ...back from the imagining, I think tonight the Protestants were correct to dispense with the Catholic focus on works, the indulgences/'quantify your sin' stuff that Guido Sarducci mocked so viciously on SNL. But faith that's predicated on being in the right church is little better than superstition.

      There's a middle ground, a life lived oriented toward a spiritual/faithful dimension, which is really what lent is supposed to be all about. A place where the details of the religion aren't irrelevant but aren't show-stoppers either. Where Elie Wiesel remains in front of me in line.

      Where he belongs.

  3. About the American Prospect: I don't read it as much as I'd like only because I can't get it's RSS feed to work. I use RSS to organize all my reading and it's hard to work in time to read sites on a regular basis that I am not subscribed to. I also have the same problem with the Nation. Anyone having the same problem? Any suggestions?

  4. Jonathon, can you offer an estimate of the effectiveness of negative ads relative to positive ones or other campaign efforts?

    Sides says the media is overstating the effectiveness, but doesn't exactly say it's minimal. He just says the research is inconclusive.


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