Joe Klein is struck how Democratic candidates have “emphasized women’s issues–equal pay, parental leave, abortion rights–in the hope of luring undecided, independent women to the fold”:

[Campaigning on women's issues] has been effective and still may be–but it has never before carried the electoral burden that it does this year. The alleged toxicity of Barack Obama has made it unsafe for Democrats to discuss much else.

The party was boosted by the failed Bush wars in 2006, 2008 and 2012, but Democrats have been boggled by what to say about ISIS in 2014. They’ve had no significant new ideas, foreign or domestic, on offer. And they’ve been too afraid to tout Obama’s complicated successes–the stimulus package that prevented a depression, the health care plan that may actually be working, and relative order at the border (a result of many years of security enhancements and a diminished flow of illegals during recent rough economic times). The argument on women’s economic issues is strong. It remains to be seen whether baby boomers who boast remarkable three-month, 3-D sonograms of their grandchildren will be quite so militant about abortion rights in the future. The fate of women’s issues, in the South and elsewhere, will have an impact on whether the party has to start rethinking its message going forward. It may not be able to count on Republicans’ continuing their boorish ways. Unless, of course, the conservatives win and overread the results this year.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown identifies why the Democrats’ War on Women demagoguery isn’t working very well:

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Book Club: Waking Up The Buddha

Oct 30 2014 @ 2:21pm


Our first installment of reader commentary on Sam Harris’ Waking Up addressed the question of the self’s existence – or lack thereof. More emails along those lines here and here. Many of the following do the same, while offering clarifications and critiques from a Buddhist perspective. The first reader emphasizes the practical effects of rejecting our usual notions of the self:

Twenty years of meditation in the Dzogchen tradition have convinced me that the self, as it is conceived in the West, does not exist. With regard to your reaching different conclusions from Harris based on the same experiences, there is an old Zen saying “Words are a finger pointing at the moon – be careful not to confuse the finger with the moon.” I might describe the experience as one of realizing immaculate Buddha nature, but the important question is: what effect does this experience have? Am I a wiser, more compassionate human being because of it?

The concepts about the experience are just that – concepts. They no more objectively prove your experience of the love and existence of God than they prove Harris’ rejection of God. The experience belongs to no belief system. It is what it is.

Another reader wants “to clarify something about Buddhist (Mahayana) philosophy that Sam doesn’t explain”:

In Buddhist thought, there are two sorts of frames of truth. Relative truth is the truth of bookclub-beagle-trappearance, and absolute truth is how things truly exist. Computers are an excellent example of this; there’s an apparent reality to email, blogs, the internet, but we know that those things don’t exist in any true sense – they are just conceptual representations of electrical activity. The key point is that relative reality is still real, it’s just real as appearance, in the same way that a dream or videogame might be real as a dream or videogame. Relative reality from a Buddhist perspective is all of the stuff we relate with, self, other, trees, greenery etc. Ultimate reality is reality free from concept, which is therefore impossible to describe.

When Buddhists talk about the non-existence of self, what they mean is that self is a mere appearance. In particular it doesn’t have the qualities of separateness, permanence, or solidity that we ascribe to it. From a relative perspective, self exists as an appearance, but it has no reality from an ultimate point of view. Suffering arises because we try to relate with this ephemeral, shifty, appearance of self and other as though they were more than appearances.

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Charles Pierce doesn’t want Hillary to get the nomination without a fight. He identifies “the worst thing about accepting as axiomatic the notion of the cleared field”:

It makes effective coalition-building beyond the mainstream impossible. Change within nothing but acceptable parameters is stillborn, and the really serious problems affecting the country get sanded over and obscured by tactics. People whose lives have been ground up over the past decade have their appeals drowned out by the hoofbeats of the horse race. …

To accept the idea that Hillary Clinton has cleared the field is not merely to put the Democratic party on the razor’s edge of one person’s decision. It also is to give a kind of final victory to tactics over substance, to money over argument, to an easy consensus over a hard-won mandate, and ultimately, to campaigning over governing. It is an awful, sterile place for a political party to be.

Meanwhile, Haberman and Thrush report on a meeting between Hillary and former Obama campaign guru David Plouffe. They discussed why she lost in 2008:

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The View From Your Window

Oct 30 2014 @ 1:35pm

Colón, Entre Rios, Argentina-828am

Colón, Argentina, 8.28 am

Catching Catcalls On Camera, Ctd

Oct 30 2014 @ 1:11pm

A reader pinpoints another unintentionally revealing aspect of that Hollaback video:

The elephant in the room here that no one is discussing is the racial aspect. It’s pretty clear that the vast majority of men catcalling in that video, and the most egregious examples, are displayed by minorities – either African-American or Latino men. I’m not saying that harassment like this is exclusive to non-whites, as any women that has encountered a gaggle of drunk frat boys can attest. But whether intentional or not, the video presents a particular theme that people seem to be conveniently avoiding discussing. This is somewhat reminiscent of the inconvenient truth of minority support of Prop 8.

Many more readers comment along those lines:

The desire to criminalize catcalling is a classic example of two progressive causes heading on a collision course, because it would almost certainly have a disproportionate impact on young minority males, particularly African Americans.

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What Do These Midterms Mean?

Oct 30 2014 @ 12:28pm

President Obama Delivers Statement In East Room Of White House

It seems safe to say that the GOP will pick up the Senate this year. No one can quite know the details yet, and the scale and extent of the wave (or not) remains again up in the air. But what this actually means – for policy and this presidency – is a more complicated question.

Here’s what we know empirically. The public is underwhelmed by these elections and engagement is low; the average Senate seat gain for a midterm in a second presidential term is six seats for the opposing party (which is a highly likely scenario right now); the president is unpopular and many Republican candidates have made this election about him, while most Democrats (as is their wont) are running fast away; the GOP itself remains, however, also deeply unpopular; wrong-direction numbers are at a high. No great policy debate has defined these races, and when such issues have risen – such as illegal immigration or the ACA – they tend to be virulent reactions to existing law or proposed changes, rather than a constructive, positive agenda. I see no triumph for conservative or liberal ideas here, no positive coalition forming, no set of policies that will be vindicated by this election.

So these midterms mean nothing? That can’t be right either. They seem to me to be reflecting at the very least a sour and dyspeptic mood in the country at large, a well of deepening discontent and concern, and a national funk that remains very potent as a narrative, even if it has become, in my view, close to circular and more than a little hysterical. So what is the reason for this mood – and why has Obama taken the biggest dive because of it?

Here’s my stab at an answer. Even though the economic signals in the US are stronger than anywhere else in the developed world, even as unemployment has fallen, and as energy independence has come closer than anyone recently expected, the underlying structure of the economy remains punishing for the middle class. This, in some ways, can be just as dispiriting as lower levels of growth – because it appears that even when we have a recovery, it will not make things any better for most people. This shoe falling in the public psyche – a sense that we are in a deep structural impasse for the middle class, rather than a temporary recessionary hit – means a profound disillusionment with the future. And the fact that neither party seems to have a workable answer to this problem intensifies the sense of drift.

Events overseas have had another, deeply depressing effect. The last great triumph of the US – the end of the Cold War, the liberation of Central Europe, the emergence of a democratic Russia – is now revealed as something more complicated. If Americans thought that the days were long gone that they had to worry about Russian military power, they’ve been disabused of that fact this past year. Then the other recent success: getting out of Iraq and defeating al Qaeda. For many of us, this was one of Obama’s greatest achievements: to cauterize the catastrophe of the Iraq War, to decimate al Qaeda’s forces in Af-Pak, and to enable us to move forward toward a more normal world. The emergence of ISIS has dimmed that hope as well. It does two things at once: it calls into question whether our departure from Iraq can be sustained, and it presents the threat of Jihadist terror as once again real and imminent. So ISIS is a reminder of the worst of 9/11 and the worst of Iraq. Any sense that we have moved beyond those traumas has been unsettled, at the very least.

So the core narrative of the Obama presidency – rescuing us from a second Great Depression and extricating us from a doomed strategy in response to Jihadism – has been eclipsed by events. And that’s why Obama has lost the thread. He has lost the clear story-line that defined his presidency. And he has, as yet, been unable to construct another, consumed, as he has been, by the pragmatism of the moment.

You can argue, and I would, that Obama is not really responsible for the events behind this narrative-collapse.

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The Gluten-Free Fad

Oct 30 2014 @ 12:12pm

Michael Specter tackles it:

While there are no scientific data to demonstrate that millions of people have become allergic or intolerant to gluten (or to other wheat proteins), there is convincing and repeated evidence that dietary self-diagnoses are almost always wrong, particularly when the diagnosis extends to most of society. We still feel more comfortable relying on anecdotes and intuition than on statistics or data.

Since the nineteen-sixties, for example, monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been vilified.

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Always Tell Kids The Truth? Ctd

Oct 30 2014 @ 11:55am

Dahlia Lithwick argues that it’s no longer possible to hide scary news from one’s children:

At a dinner party recently, pondering the tsunami of bad and worse news this summer, a group of parents I know wondered whether the world is just a much more terrible place than it used to be (ISIS, Ebola, Hannah Graham, Ray Rice, Ferguson, Ottawa) or whether our parents just did a better job of lying to us as kids (Watergate, the Challenger crash, the Easter Bunny, Iran-Contra). The consensus seemed to be that lots of awful stuff happened when we were children too, but access to information was limited and slow, and schools and parents managed crises in such a way as to shelter us from the gruesome details.

Those times are decidedly over.

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Races Called When

Silver calculates them:

Our model estimates that while Republicans have a 64 percent chance of winning the Senate eventually, there’s only a 27 percent chance they’ll be able to claim their victory within the first 24 hours or so after polls close on Nov 4. Democrats are even less likely to win a quick victory — they have just a 12 percent chance. The other 60 percent of the time, it will take days or weeks to sort everything out. The chart [above] lists the states that are the biggest part of the problem.

Catching Catcalls On Camera, Ctd

Oct 30 2014 @ 11:11am

Many readers are scratching their heads over this video:

Oh c’mon – street harassment? I watched the video, read the posts, and I don’t see what the fuss is all about. Yes, it is cringe-worthy, especially where the guy walks along beside her for too long, but she is on the crowded streets of NYC. I never felt any kind of actual fear for her, mainly because none of the comments were really all that threatening. They appreciated her young beauty, and expressed it, so what’s the big deal? OK, gee, she felt “uncomfortable”, but so what? We have all kinds of things to feel uncomfortable about – that’s life in the 21st century. Deal with it.

Now I’m of a certain age where I can say that I was in the more or less in the first wave of feminism. I was young, blond and attractive, and all kinds of comments were made to me at school, at work, and while traveling. They never really bothered me, and I’m certainly not psychologically scarred by it. As women, being told one is pretty is the least of our problems. Yes, I know, it “objectifies” us, but oh, gee, so do lots of things.

I’m not going to contribute to Hollaback, no thank you. My feminist dollars are better spent at Planned Parenthood, or any of the host of other worthy organizations that support women’s health and well-being.


I’d love to see the full 10 hours of footage. If all they could get is a boiled down two minutes of mostly guys saying hello, good morning, god bless, it seems like the world is not quite as hostile as they hoped it would be. I wonder how many thousands of men she walked by in that 10 hours that said nothing, didn’t notice her at all.

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