Archive for December, 2008

For the National Republican Congressional Committee, Anh “Joseph” Cao was a diamond in a shitpile.  The 41-year old Vietnamese lawyer, (pronounced “Gow”), knocked off scandal-plagued Democratic incumbent William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson in a bright blue, majority black district.  Cao’s three point victory made him the first Vietnamese-American in Congress, and the NRCC immediately trumpeted his success as a harbinger of better days.

So who is he?  Cao was born in Saigon, son of an ARVN officer.  His father was captured by the Communists, and spent seven years in prison as his mother fled with her children to the United States.  After being released, his father rejoined the family in America.  Joseph moved to Louisiana in 1997 for law school, and lives there with his wife and two daughters.  Thus, your template:  A refugee from a Communist country, member of a politically conservative ethnic group, also happens to be a convert to Catholicism.  On the surface, Cao has all the trappings of a far-right Republican.

Thing is, he’s not.  Cao has a fascinating background.  Following his Jesuit training and MA in Philosophy at Fordham (Go Rams!), Cao moved to Virginia where he worked with Boat People S.O.S. (BPSOS).  BPSOS is a community-based organization dedicated to helping Vietnamese refugees in America.  After earning his J.D., Cao took a position as BPSOS’ in-house counsel.  After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and office, Cao returned to New Orleans where he joined the board of the Mary Queen of Vietnam (MQVN) Church’s Community Development Corporation.  MQVN has earned a strong reputation for community development work in the aftermath of the hurricane.  Its leader characterized the situation:

“Before the storm, I guess you could call us libertarians,” Father Vien said. “Our attitude toward government was: ‘you don’t bother us, we won’t bother you.’ But Katrina changed all that. We had a responsibility to speak out.”

With MQVN, Cao fought to have utilities turned back on as quickly as possible in storm-damaged neighborhoods.  He also worked against a landfill project that would have dumped a quarter of Katrina debris in New Orleans East.  Eric Tang’s excellant Huffington Post profile notes praise for MQVN’s work from African-American leaders including local progressives.  Senator Obama visited the church in February.  Overall, Cao’s religious perspective informs a social gospel:

“When I was in Mexico helping the poor, I had a struggle with the issue of poverty and of evil in the world,” Mr. Cao said. “I told my spiritual director about my struggles, and basically he told me that God sends good people to help with human suffering – people like Gandhi and (the Rev.) Martin Luther King (Jr.). I thought the best way I could effect social change was to go to law school and into politics.”

Until 2007, Cao was registered independant.  He frequently cites Aristotle’s definition of virtue: “To walk in the middle line.” Cao says he “is not a hardcore conservative,” and there’s absolutely zero Republican branding on his website.  In an interview with the New York Times, the incoming Representative explained his overall view of things:  “Life is absurd but one cannot succumb to the absurdity of it.”  How often do Republicans channel Camus?

What about social issues?  Whither God and gays?  Cao spoke with U.S. News:

How important were traditional family values issues, like abortion and marriage, in your race?
Very little. I was focusing on the need to rebuild the Second Congressional District so the issues of abortion and marriage were not the focus of my campaign at all.

That’s refreshing, as was this follow-up:

Are those values issue high priorities for your first term in Congress?
My main priority in the first couple of years is to focus on rebuilding the Second Congressional District in Louisiana. Three and half years after Katrina, there are areas that remain devastated. The healthcare system is in need of reform. The educational system is in need of reform. We need to develop economically, need to look at the levies and at coastal restoration. Those are the issues right now that concern the majority of my constituents, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on.

As a devout Catholic, Cao will likely be a reliable pro-life vote.  That said, he strikes me as someone who would vote against gay marriage but might just oppose a Constitutional ban.

Most importantly, the tone of his campaign has been heavily focused on the needs of his constituents.  This might be a matter of necessity in the 29th-bluest district in the country, but his record does show a powerful commitment to community development.  Cao has expressed interest in joining the Congressional Black Caucus, arguing that he represents a majority-black district.  It won’t happen, (outstanding progressive Steve Cohen of Memphis already tried it and failed), but Cao’s record suggests this is a real, good-faith effort to strengthen the voice of his voters.

The incoming Representative is noticeably new to the political game.  He admitted to CNN that his victory was aided by low voter turnout due to Hurricane Gustav.  (Note to new members:  You are happy with turnout, you think it represents a strong mandate for change, etc. etc.)  Republicans have crowed about Cao with tacky headlines (“the future is Cao!“,) but he is unlikely to be re-elected if the Democrats offer a strong challenge.  Besides which, he’s hardly a useful model for future races.  All Cao’s victory proves politically is that Republicans can win blue districts if the Democrat has been caught with $90,000 cash in his freezer, is under indictment on election day, and if a hurricane drops turnout to approximately 1/3 of the 2004 vote total.  If that’s Boehner’s plan, well, good luck to you, sir.

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Something lighter

What if the song actually described the video?

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The drop in postings was related to travel and career crises.  Now realizing that I should live on Bleeker Street instead of this swamp, expect a little more frequency again.

Other things I learned over the last several days:  College theatre is frequently terrible; there are now buses with free wireless; Washington Heights is actually pretty nice above 180th Street; the man on the A train knows that the end is near; Cornelia Street Cafe is excellent; my great-grandmother’s FBI file is 180 pages, including clandestine photos; there is a Bible museum on 61st and Broadway; those ubiquitous Bank of America ads are really annoying, though one of the girls is pretty cute.

Anyway, the thought for today is political appointments.  Not the Obama debate, not the late, unlamented burrowing Bushies.  Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy and blameless inspiration for this tripe, officially wants Hillary’s Senate seat:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Caroline Kennedy told New York’s governor on Monday that she’s interested in the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her the highest-profile candidate to express a desire for the job. Democratic Gov. David Paterson will choose the replacement.

Caroline jumped into the national spotlight in January 2008 when she described Senator Obama as “A President Like My Father.”   She had not endorsed a candidate since 1980, when she supported her uncle’s primary challenge to President Carter.  Caroline campaigned for Obama, and  eventually joined Attorney General nominee Eric Holder on the Senator’s Vice Presidential search committee.

In 2010, Governor Paterson’s interim pick will stand for election.  There are a number of state Democrats with strong legislative backgrounds, but none with Caroline’s fundraising power and name recognition.  She’s a rock star, and her uncle is pushing the idea of a new Senator Kennedy.  New Yorkers seem receptive, with Kennedy the Younger polling even with State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.  Cuomo, himself a legacy, has never been able to break through in electoral politics.  He blew a lead in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary.  Cuomo and Kennedy lead a crowded pack of Democrats including:

  • Catskills Representative Kirstin Gillibrand, a Blue Dog who stole a red district from the horrid John Sweeney;
  • East Side progressive Carolyn Maloney, former co-Chair of the House Caucus on Women’s Issues and recent N.O.W. endorsee;
  • Long Island County Executive Tom Suozzi, a moderate type who lost a quixotic gubernatorial primary bid to Eliot Spitzer by 60 points; and
  • African-American Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, previously the first black State Senator from a district outside of New York City, who has scored 57%, 62%, and 67% victories in three Mayoral campaigns.

Whoever gets the Democratic nomination may face a well-known Republican challenger (the Divine Miss Rudy denies it, but former Governer Pataki or Tsar Michael might be in if they don’t prefer to take on Paterson for Albany.)  Even with Schumer a lock for re-election, the state could have high-profile races for both the Senate and Governorship in 2010.

Paterson has kept quiet on his decision thus far, with an aide leaking that Caroline remains a long-shot.  The Governor noted Kennedy’s interest in the position, explaining “It’s not a campaign. She’d like at some point to sit down.”  Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman harshly dismissed her candidacy, claiming that she lacks qualifications “except that she has name recognition — but so does J. Lo.”  Republicans also seized on her short resume, with the generally absurdist Congressman Peter King arguing that “[no one] has a right to a seat.”

I like Caroline Kennedy.  She brought an impressive energy to the campaign trail.  But, mark it down for posterity, I’m completely with King on this one.  It isn’t necessarily Caroline’s fault.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault an Illinois-born Arkansan was basically handed this seat back in 2000.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault that the New York Congressional Delegation got in line like puppies, Moynihan, Rangel et. al. anointing their new best friend.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault that we haven’t had an upstate Senator since Charles freakin’ Goodell.  As good a carpetbagger as Hillary has been, her and Wall Street Chuck don’t much speak for anyone beyond Metro North range.  (Full disclosure: I grew up just past the last stop on the Hudson Line.)

This is a name and power seat, and I for one don’t want another candidate handed to the state pre-packaged and ready to go.  New York has an impressive backbench of Democratic Congressmen and Mayors, all of whom stepped aside for Hillary, all of whom will struggle badly if forced to face an incumbent Caroline and her money in 2010.  Although Cuomo is also a legacy, he has at least been active in state politics for a long time.  While Caroline’s fundraising work for New York schools has been commendable, there’s no reason she can’t run for her uncle’s seat down the line.  There’s no reason, other than the fact that she has a name and endorsed the right Presidential candidate, that she’s even being considered for this position.

Caroline Kennedy has every right to run for the spot, and I think she’d make a perfectly decent Senator.  However, appointing her now would all but ensure her election in 2010.  Whoever Paterson appoints becomes the obvious frontrunner, but her money and name recognition would make Kennedy particularly unchallengeable as an incumbent.

Paterson ought to appoint a caretaker Senator, someone with no interest in running in 2010.  (Either a House member planning to retire, or a low-profile member of the state government.)  Then Kennedy, Cuomo, and the rest of the gang can poke eachother with sticks two years from now in a competative race.  If Caroline really wants it, if she’s prepared to fight for the seat rather than simply accepting it, she’ll run; if her interest faded with the possibility of a long, competative process, we have plenty of qualified candidates waiting in the wings.

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NY Mag has a really great article on young woman and alcohol. Apparently we (the ladies) are have taken to imbibing–with coworks, friends, alone–in more copious amounts.

A couple of disjointed things that struck me about the article:

-Third Wave Feminism is painted as being the spoiled, bratty daughter of the last two waves, doing little more than empowering women to thoughtlessly booz and fuck just like the guys. To this I respond: Yes and no. Thirdwavers are not a cohesive group, and for all the thoughtlessness of the louder popcultury types (I’m looking at you, Jezebel) the strides women of color have made are probably the hallmark of this wave. Not that has anything to do with the article really, but I like to throw it out there whenever I can.

-Speaking of boozin’ and fucking just like the guys,  lets talk about the gender assimilation. As women enter highly competitive male-dominated spheres such as high education and certain sectors of the work force, they adopt (consciously and unconsciously) the attitudes and behaviors of their male counterparts to survive. Its a kind of acculturation, adopting the values and norms of the dominant group in order to be allowed to particpicate.  This is not necessarily a good thing, espeically when the norms adopted are as highly dysfunctional and predispossed to perpetuating inequality as those of professional middle class white men (remember, just because they’re the most powerful and pervasive does not make them right–or even rational).  In the article, one of the women interviewed said something akin to ‘I had to be seen as a bitch to get things done, but the drinking made me appear more personable, less lame than the other women unwilling to party and more appealing to work with’.To get ahead professionally, she had to overcome the gender sterotype of ‘the bitch’ by proving she could be as rowdy and drunk as the next guy.

-The author asserts that the sexual component comes in only so much as it is another aspect of choice. Drinking is an expression of control, because women now have the power to choose when and where they allow themselves the loss of control. Sounds sort of convoluted, but its a sentiment not foreign to me. The author downplays the idea that some women drink so that they may allow themselves sexual dalliances they would otherwise think themselves too shy or morally upstanding to engage in. It is my nonobjective and unscientific observation that this behavior is actually rather typical, even if unintentional. I never thought of myself as the kind of person who got especially trigger happy when intoxicated because I’m generally the very forward go-get-’em sort to begin with. When I stopped to recall how many times I engaged in sexual contact with a new partner during or after consuming alcohol, however, I was totally shocked (but not embarrassed–in fact, I laughed myself to sleep). That isn’t to say that these were isolated incidents, the majority of my sexual relationships are relatively longterm, its just they were helped along initially by alcohol. Stop for a second and think about how many times you were drunk the first time you had sex with someone, not just one night stands but with a significant others or long term hookup–you might just find a curious pattern of behavior.

-Oh, and lets also discuss the place of higher education: the more prolonged the period of education, the more deeply ingrained the questionable drinking habits become. Now, why do we hardly talk about the alcoholism of the well educated? Because, as members of the cultural elite, we have the cultural clot to normalize our habits, no matter disruptive to ourselves/our social group they might become. We can stigmatize the poor and less educated’s alcoholism/drug use as deviant because clearly is perpetuates their cycles of economic deprivation, but let ours slide as simply the youthful antics of undergrads, grads, young professionals harmlessly cavorting because we perceive they have no larger social consequences.

As someone who planed on spending her winter break in a state of near-constant intoxication, I must admit this article made me reevaluate my drinking habits in terms of ideology, biology and interpersonal consequences. Some of the best advice I every got was from a Scotsman on a cruise ship: Be good. And if you can’t be good, be safe.

Paternalism asside, they’re words to live by.

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The other day, Mireille introduced the weird philo-semitism of Ajax Football Club.  Ajax fans, however, are not alone in appropriating Jewishness.  A number of teams worldwide identify with Judaism.  Among them are M.T.K. Hungaria and England’s Tottenham Hotspur.

There are multiple reasons a club gets tagged as “Jewish.”  MTK was founded in 1888 by Jewish businessmen.  Through the end of World War I, this held little stigma.  However, post-war nationalist politicians explicitly attacked MTK in the press, and the team was shut down in the 1940s.  Although the Communists revived the club under a series of political patrons, it still remains identified as the “Jewish” team; which may explain their poor attendance despite an impressive league record.

Rival club Ferencvaros is considered the “authentic” Hungarian side.  It’s a pretty explicit link, framed openly in the political discourse by right-wing MPs:

“Those who consider themselves proper, working-class Hungarians oppose the spirit of business conduct practised by upper-class Hungarians with foreign roots.  The upper- class supports MTK, and Fradi [Ferencvaros] supporters have always felt that they are the oppressed, ordinary children of the nation, while the Jews have secured their place in high society.”

Ferencvaros fans chant “the trains are leaving for Auschwitz,” among other things, and through the 1990s celebrated goals with Nazi salutes.  These days the club has bigger problems, having been demoted to the Hungarian second division due to financial mismanagement.  Predictably, supporters blamed the “red media” and the Jews.

Tottenham is a different animal.  The club has no particularly Jewish roots in its founding.  It earned the badge of Zion either because of the large number of Jews in the White Hart Lane neighborhood; or because of a 1970s television show.  Whichever the cause, opposing fans have long targeted Spurs supporters with chants about Hitler and gas chambers.  Obviously, the great majority of Tottenham fans are gentiles.  They have met these taunts by building the “Yid Army” identity, a strange co-optation of Jewishness if there ever was one.  Franklin Foer, whose book is the source for much of this post, relates the story of Manchester City fans chanting the following during a game against Tottenham in the 1980s:

“We’ll be running around Tottenham with our pricks hanging out tonight,

We’ll be running around Tottenham with our pricks hanging out tonight,

Singing I’ve got a foreskin, I’ve got a foreskin, I’ve got a foreskin and you ain’t

We’ve got foreskins, we’ve got foreskins, you ain’t.”

How did Spurs fans reply?  A handful went around their group identifying Jewish supporters, and then brought them together to simultaneously drop their pants and wave their dicks at the Manchester City crowd.  Statement made.

What does it mean when a largely gentile group decides to identify as Jewish?  Michael Brenner, author of Emancipation Through Muscles: Jews and Sports in Europe, notes that Spurs fans also began flying Argentine flags during and after the Falklands War.  The co-optation of Jewish identity is an attempt to build solidarity and kinship through victimhood.  Marginalization, real or perceived, adds depths to the supporters’ emotional ties to their club.  Unlike MTK, there is no historical Jewish context for Tottenham supporters to draw on.  Simply, as Brenner cites one fan saying, “Spurs supporters…really like putting two fingers up to the rest of the world.”

Judaism is useful shorthand for any number of things: defiance, group unity, or even hipness.  Witness the counterculture philo-semitism of Holland’s greatest club.  During the 1960s, it was Johann Cruyff and Ajax whose “total football” trashed traditional formations and forced players, coaches, and fans to rethink the game.  Cruyff, who was not Jewish, had a pregame ritual of eating Kosher salami and decorating his pep talks with Yiddish phrases.  The club’s Jewish physiotherapist recalled, “the players liked to be Jewish even though they weren’t,” and Cruyff himself has been spotted wearing a yarmulke in Israel.  Foer suggests a link between the cultural radicalism of Amsterdam in the 60s and the faux-Jewishness of the Ajax clubhouse.  While it is obviously impossible to prove directly, it can’t be a coincidence that the one club revolutionizing football was the one trying hardest to look like outsiders.

It’s strange watching non-Jews revel in Jewishness, probably not unlike how Chuck D must feel knowing that rap is mostly consumed by suburban white teenagers.  Fake Jewish identity gives the gentile fan something to cling to, a sense of victimhood and authenticity without the historical baggage that would actually justify those feelings.  (All the sympathy, half the Holocaust!)  There’s an old saying that a philo-semite is simply “an anti-semite who loves Jews.”  That may be a little unfair, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of those gentile Spurs fans voting BNP before donning their Yid Army gear for match day.

Go out and get Foer’s book for more on this and other random social insights drawn from the beautiful game.

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Sometimes, you win

Good news out of Chicago this morning.  (The story sort of broke yesterday, but the details just came out).  The Associated Press reports:

“CHICAGO – With cheers and chants that echoed President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign of change, jubilant workers agreed to a $1.75 million settlement that ends their six-day occupation of a shuttered Chicago factory that became a symbol of the plight of labor nationwide.”

The deal, negotiated in part by Representative Luis Gutierrez, will provide the laid-off workers with eight weeks salary, all back vacation pay, and two months of paid health care.  The union says the workers are “very, very satisfied” with the outcome, and they were seen leaving the factory Wednesday night chanting “Yes We Can.”

So yeah.  Keep that in mind.  Sometimes, the good guys do win.

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Revenge of the nerds


“President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be the next Energy Secretary, Democratic sources said today. He also has picked veteran regulators to fill out his environmental and climate team…

…The son of highly educated Chinese immigrants, Chu won the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work in the “development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”

But, in an interview last year with The Post, Chu said that he began to get more interested in energy and climate change several years ago. “I was following it just as a citizen and getting increasingly alarmed,” he said. “Many of our best basic scientists realize that this is getting down to a crisis situation.”

He sought and won the top job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in order to focus on energy issues. Chu is in London and was unavailable for comment, but the physicist has been, in the words on his Web site, on a “mission” to make the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory “the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.”

Damn, it’s nice to have people in charge of agencies where they actually understand the material.

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