Throat-Clearing: On Politics

Back in action in the new year. Let me throw out some unusually short or brief comments just to stretch my blogging muscles.

1) Roland Burris. I suppose the first thing with Burris that bugs me is: who would take an appointment under those circumstances? Would Illinois as a state suffer that badly if it didn’t have a second senator until after the governor is impeached? I’m sure that a very good, ethical, upstanding guy could nevertheless talk himself into drinking from that tainted cup on the grounds that if he doesn’t do it, the governor is just going to keep on going until he finds someone who will. But there’s a kind of vaguely unwholesome self-appraisal involved in that logic: to think that way, you really have to believe that you’ve got to be better than whomever the hypothetical person is who will accept later on. It might be better to just wait and hope that by the time Blagojevich has to start robocalling households in the greater Chicago area looking for a Senator, he’ll either give up or be impeached.

2) One other thing about Burris: at least some African-American politicians in Illinois pretty much responded in just the way that Blagojevich must have hoped that they would, by insisting that continuing to have misgivings about the process by which Burris was appointed was tantamount to wanting to keep the Senate without any black representation. It’s hard to be a powerful political bloc if you’re that easy to manipulate or that predictable in your positions.

3) I’m sure many of you are still getting a barrage of emails from the Obama campaign. I’m ok with that, up to a point. The volume of the communications, this long after the election, is starting to have the vague stench of spam. However, I’m way more concerned with one email that landed in my inbox today. It’s purporting to be a follow-up by David Plouffe to a message with the subject line Midnight Deadline that purportedly comes from Obama himself. The thing that makes this email notable in my view is its subject heading, which is Re: Midnight deadline. Why does that draw my eye (and ire)? Because it’s a slightly sleazy social hack designed to make you open up the email. Most of us have developed heuristics for coping with full inboxes, in which we spot quasi-spam or things we can ignore and delete them unread, quickly. A message with Re: in the header implies an ongoing communication, as if someone is responding to something we sent to them. The eye lingers on that heading, and maybe we open it just in case. This is a social hack that sophisticated spammers figured out a while back. Competence in digital communications, which the Obama people have certainly demonstrated, is sometimes thinly separated from a cynical misuse of digital tools. If the staff responsible for these communications knows anything about online culture, they ought to know that if you provoke people too often with that kind of misuse, the firestorm of negative reaction can be very hard to dampen.

4) I think the selection of Panetta as CIA head is a pretty good one. Quite aside from the complicity of the agency in the worst aspects of security policy in the last eight years, it’s an agency that has long had a pressing need to be restructured and rethought, as well as managed competently on a purely financial basis. The CIA one of the most legendarily insular and self-protecting bureaucratic fiefdoms in Washington, often to the detriment of its own mission, not to mention its responsibilities to the government and the nation.

5) My guess is that the next coming story in the development of the recession is going to be a wave of small business closings and bankruptcies, which will probably have more visibility in the everyday life of many Americans, in a more evenly distributed way, than any of what has happened so far.

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7 Responses to Throat-Clearing: On Politics

  1. G. Weaire says:

    Who would take an appointment under those circumstances?

    Pretty much anyone who really, really wanted to be a US Senator. Which is to say, most ambitious politicians, which is to say, most politicians. Burris has been a perennial hopeful for higher office in Illinois political circles for a long time – back into the early ’90s, when I was living there. At his age, this is his last chance.

  2. Just a quick thought about point #2: I completely agree that the argument that Burris must be seated to avoid not having any African-Americans in the Senate carries little weight under the circumstances. But shouldn’t the real outrage of this particular political constituency be that, in 2008, the United States is still so behind on issues of race, that, when a black Senator leaves the Senate to become President of the United States, there’s no one left? In other words, it’s the fault of the other 49 states, to put it crudely, that there’s no other black senator and, under the circumstances, Illinois can’t be the solution.

  3. Rana says:

    I agree with you about the increasingly spammish nature of the Obama emails. I’ve already flagged them as “Junk” in my inbox and delete the vast majority of them without reading them.

    I find it interesting that the “RE” in the subject line is so successful a spamming strategy; for me, it actually serves as a flag that the email IS spam – I’m pretty specific and clear in my own communications, so if it just says “RE: Our conversation” or something similarly vague I’m not going to click on it unless I recognize the name of the sender. But then, I’m also immune to phishing attempts from faux banks, because I belong to an obscure credit union, so all “bank” emails that get through my filters are by definition spam. The current spam that frosts me is one that uses my own address as the From address – it looks like a message has bounced, and it took me a while before I got wise to it.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    Oh, yeah, I agree, Rana. That’s why I spotted it: not as something I wanted to read, but right away as something that stepped over a line into being spam. E.g., it caught my eye as sleazy. It’s kind of as if they’d send me an email saying, “URGENT VIRUS WARNING”.

  5. Re. #1: I had the same question until I saw Burriss’s tomb–and, more seriously, read about his behavior in the Rolando Cruz case. The latter suggests that Burriss is one of those people who simply refuses to admit that he might be wrong about anything.

  6. jpool says:

    #5 seems like a pretty safe bet. I have only a vague understanding of what experts were expecting, but was anticipating that smaller mid-sized businesses would likely be hit first, since they seemed most vulnerable to the credit freeze. Since that didn’t happen, small businesses seem the likely next victims as we consumers retreat into our shells.

  7. David Chudzicki says:

    Not to mention fanning the race flames while publicly claiming that’s not part of the issue for him.

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