Finding the beauty (sort of?) in a relentless torrent of campaign pamphlets
Day after day they come to my house. By mail. By hand. Borne along with an urgent smile by canvassers who stalk the neighborhood looking for opportunities like me. Stuffed into the handle of my door. Blown around by the wind when I walk the dog. With an eye toward this piece, toward perhaps making some meaning of the insanity of it all, I started keeping them only about a month ago, after I had already received (and promptly tossed out) at least 200 more. They will continue to come, I know, until early November, until the eve of the coming election, when the people who send them will finally realize that it's just too late.
As the resident of a swing state, evidently in or near a swing district, I live today in a pamphlet world. Every politician seeking my vote this election cycle seems to have decided that the best way to reach me -- and to reach me -- is to send me colorful, high-gloss, thick-stock political pamphlets pitching me on this or that. What the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling has done for the television and radio industries -- think those television campaign commercials are free? -- these pamphlets surely have done for the printing industry. I don't remember ever receiving as many mailed election pitches as I have this year.
One day, all of the pamphlets I have, and all of the ones I will collect between now and November 6, will either be recycled or will help me start wood fires in my fireplace on the days when I can. Some of this garbage may make a difference in the races on which it touches. Some, no doubt, were as wasted on me, and on the related campaign, as all the other junk mail that comes. In the meantime, since I have them here, I thought I would go back through them to give you a sense of the language of the race, far away from the glare of the debates or the cheers of the crowd.
Political operatives are spending millions upon millions of dollars this cycle -- more than ever before, I reckon -- to get their message into my home, figuratively and literally. And what those messages say tells us an awful lot about the awful nature of politics in America in 2012. On balance, I would say I've received many more mailings from Republicans and conservative operatives than I have from Democrats and liberal operatives. Sometimes, it's impossible to tell, so couched in dog whistles and focus-group-speak is the language of the pamphlets. Here is just some of the poetry of the campaign, taken directly from the text of the mailings:
Straight from the horse's mouth.
The road to prosperity is not paved in debt.
The truth washes it off easily.
In scary situations, trust someone who knows what they're doing.
They're not on your side.
If Penn State happened in your elementary school, would you want to know?
Who betrayed our children's safety for a campaign donation?
Which [state] politician thinks money grows on trees?
She paid into Medicare and Social Security all her life. But [politician] wants to leave her out in the cold. Who's tired of politics as usual?
[Politician] knows that good jobs don't grow on government trees.
[Politician] is a weaselly politician. He raised our taxes but dodged paying his own.
[Politician] is fed up with politicians ignoring our community.
[Politician] didn't raise her taxes. But she is happy to raise yours.
[Politician] creates jobs on Main Street, not Wall Street.
More runaway spending. Higher taxes. More jobs lost.
And to bring better jobs to [state], we need [politician].
We need to focus on getting people back to work. We're better together.
Where in the world did all our jobs go?
New industries demand new jobs.
[Politician] is just plain selfish.
[Politician] was caught red handed dodging his fair share of taxes.
[Politician] supports real education reform.
[Politician] would allow big insurance companies to deny women access to life saving preventative care like mammograms. [Politician] has the experience and values we need.
Unemployment worse. Taxes worse. Income worse. Mortgage worse.
Working to build a better [state].
Standing up for our small businesses
She would like to be working. But there are no jobs.
Working toward common sense solutions. Working for you.
[Politician] wants to cut taxes for millionaires like himself but raise taxes on the rest of us.
[Politician] knows that what children learn today determines their bright futures.
[Politician] wants to give politicians unlimited spending power.
[Politician] will follow his party bosses, even if it means raising taxes for middle class families. [Politician] is still treating us like his own ATM!
As it’s moved beyond the George R.R. Martin novels, the series has evolved both for better and for worse.
Well, that was more like it. Sunday night’s Game of Thrones finale, “The Winds of Winter,” was the best episode of the season—the best, perhaps, in a few seasons. It was packed full of major developments—bye, bye, Baelor; hello, Dany’s fleet—but still found the time for some quieter moments, such as Tyrion’s touching acceptance of the role of Hand of the Queen. I was out of town last week and thus unable to take my usual seat at our Game of Thrones roundtable. But I did have some closing thoughts about what the episode—and season six in general—told us about how the show has evolved.
Last season, viewers got a limited taste—principally in the storylines in the North—of how the show would be different once showrunners Benioff and Weiss ran out of material from George R.R. Martin’s novels and had to set out on their own. But it was this season in which that exception truly became the norm. Though Martin long ago supplied Benioff and Weiss with a general narrative blueprint of the major arcs of the story, they can no longer rely on the books scene by scene. Game of Thrones is truly their show now. And thanks to changes in pacing, character development, and plot streamlining, it’s also a markedly different show from the one we watched in seasons one through four—for the worse and, to some degree, for the better.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
Readers share their own experiences in an ongoing series.
Prompted by Emma Green’s note on the Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, for which a group of lawyers filed a document openly describing their abortions, readers share their own stories in an ongoing collection edited by Chris Bodenner. We are posting a wide range of experiences—from pro-choice and pro-life readers, women and men alike—so if you have an experience not represented so far, please send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
The star Daily Show correspondent is moving on to make her own scripted comedy, and her gain is the show’s huge loss.
When Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show last year, many fans lobbied for Jessica Williams to replace him, pushing one of the show’s standout performers into a limelight she deemed herself not quite ready for. “Thank you, but I am extremely under-qualified for the job!” Williams tweeted. Comedy Central eventually picked Trevor Noah for the gig, and in the following months, Williams’s star has only risen higher. It’s no huge surprise, then, that on Wednesday she told Entertainment Weekly she was moving on from The Daily Show to develop her own scripted series for Comedy Central. It’s great news for Williams, but a huge loss for the show she’s leaving behind.
The discussion over Williams becoming The Daily Show host in 2015 turned into a minor political maelstrom. Williams publicly pushed back against the idea that she had “impostor syndrome,” as suggested by one writer, for calling herself “under-qualified” and pointing to her young age (25 at the time) as a reason for her disinterest in the position. Indeed, there are a thousand reasons to not want the daily grind of a TV hosting gig, and the heightened scrutiny and criticism Noah has received in his year on the job is among them. But as Williams’s popularity and talents have grown, and as The Daily Show has struggled to retain its critical cachet after Stewart’s departure, it’s been hard not to mourn a different outcome in which Williams took the host job and steered the series in a fresher, more relevant direction.
People in Great Britain felt their leaders weren’t treating them fairly. Politicians in the U.S. should take note.
Britain’s Brexit vote has shocked the political elites of both the U.S. and Europe. The vote wasn’t just about the EU; in fact, polls before the referendum consistently showed that Europe wasn’t top on voters’ lists of concerns. But on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, large numbers of people feel that the fundamental contracts of capitalism and democracy have been broken. In a capitalist economy, citizens tolerate rich people if they share in the wealth, and in a democracy, they give their consent to be governed if those governing do so in their interest. The Brexit vote was an opportunity for people to tell elites that both promises have been broken. The most effective line of the Leave campaign was “take back control.” It is also Donald Trump’s line.
Questions about the presumptive Republican nominee dominated a press conference of North America’s top leaders, culminating in a rant by President Obama.
NEWS BRIEF Wednesday’s energy summit in Ottawa began awkwardly enough when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rather clumsily tried to finagle a three-way handshake with United States President Barack Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. It only got more awkward when reporters began peppering the North American leaders with questions about Donald Trump.
All three men have harshly criticized the presumptive Republican nominee over the last several months in their home countries. Peña Nieto has compared him to Hitler and Mussolini, Trudeau has said he practices the politics of fear and division, and Obama has denounced his rhetoric on immigration, national security, and just about everything else over the course of the presidential campaign.
Their degrees may help them secure entry-level jobs, but to advance in their careers, they’ll need much more than technical skills.
American undergraduates are flocking to business programs, and finding plenty of entry-level opportunities. But when businesses go hunting for CEOs or managers, “they will say, a couple of decades out, that I’m looking for a liberal arts grad,” said Judy Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.
That presents a growing challenge to colleges and universities. Students are clamoring for degrees that will help them secure jobs in a shifting economy, but to succeed in the long term, they’ll require an education that allows them to grow, adapt, and contribute as citizens—and to build successful careers. And it’s why many schools are shaking up their curricula to ensure that undergraduate business majors receive something they may not even know they need—a rigorous liberal-arts education.
As explained back in item #18 of this series, I’m using “the Resistance” and “Vichy Republicans” as useful shorthands for, respectively, the GOP figures who are fighting the hostile takeover of their territory, versus those who have acquiesced to a conquering force — which no doubt they’ll criticize once someone else has dealt with it. (And to make this clear every time, of course the analogy does not extend to likening this era’s conqueror, Donald Trump, to the historically unique Hitler.)
A psychology professor sketches a debate that captivates many in his field.
Asked what propositions are worthy of wider debate, Dan McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, wondered how humans arrive at their personalities.
I am a personality and life-span developmental psychologist. Thus, my main activities are teaching, writing, and research. In my field, there are many ideas that are widely and vigorously debated. But it is not clear to me that the public at large is aware of these debates. Actually, “debate” is not quite the right word, because it suggests two diametrically opposed sides who take each other on. A better way to characterize it would be “conversations” among psychological scientists of different persuasions and inclinations, all of whom study the phenomenon of human personality. We may think of personality as the distinctive set of psychological characteristics that distinguish one person from the next. The back-and-forth among psychologists regarding the nature of human personality draws mainly from scientific research and theory, but it is also informed by ideology, culture, and personal experience.
A central question in the field of personality psychology today is this: To what extent is our personality given to us, and to what extent do we make it ourselves?
This is not the same thing as the old “nature versus nurture” debate. It is not so much about genes and environments as it is about the role of human will in the formation of personality. It seems pretty clear that certain foundational features of human personality – such as our basic dispositional traits – feel as if they are given to us. For example, as people move through life, from one situation to the next, they do not typically choose to be, say, “extraverted” or “anxious” or “especially kind and considerate.” “This is just how I am,” an especially extraverted person might say, regarding her tendency to be outgoing and socially dominant. “I can’t help it, I am just a very nervous person,” an individual with high levels of the trait neuroticism might conclude.
People tend to feel that their dispositional traits are given to them – by genes, past experiences, luck, whatever. (And research supports the claim.)
At the same time, there are other features of human personality that feel chosen or made, such as one’s life goals and values and, especially, the story that a person has constructed about life. Life stories – or what psychologists call narrative identities – are a very hot topic today in the psychological sciences.
A person’s life story is an internalized and evolving narrative of the self that reconstructs the past and imagines the future in such a way as to provide life with some sense of meaning and purpose. The story provides a subjective account, told to others and to the self, of how I came to be the person I am becoming. With respect to human personality, people’s stories about their lives (their narrative identities) layer over their dispositional traits. To understand a person well, even if that person is the self, one must understand the basic traits that inform everyday social behavior and the inner story that gives meaning to the person’s life.
The traits are given, it seems; but the stories seem to be made. Human beings, therefore, are simultaneously social actors whose behavior is shaped by given traits and autobiographical authors who make meaning out of their lives through narratives.