2nd Presidential Debate: Answering questions in the town hall setting

In this debate, Obama was very good at answering questions. He listened very attentively, and then focussed coolly on individual aspects of the question, answering each in turn to showcase his position. He uses a relatively simple tactic in answering, namely to give highly structured and “signposted” answers – signposting meaning adding words and phrases to highlight the structure of the argument. It’s illuminating to listen to the way the candidates respond to the initial question by Jeremy Epstein, the college student who asks for reassurance that he will find a job after his studies.

Romney refers back to the last four years and says “I know what it takes to get this economy going”, repeating “I know what it takes” again and again as he starts new phrases. This is an example of hollow, unfounded repetition, which is completely ineffective as a political rhetorical device.

Obama by contrast accentuates the details: i.e. creating not just new, but good jobs, those that support the family, detailing the areas that need special attention. He signposts each one explicitly (“number one”, “number two”…), which makes him seem completely in control, and able to make transparent what he is doing and thinking.

In many questions, Romney evades the question and tells general stories that accentuate the difficulties that people are currently in, and uses the general argument “I know what it takes to make the economy work.” By contrast, Obama focuses on a key area of the question and picks up on related specific policy decisions, and then explains the effects these have on the citizens’ lives in that area, creating emotional and intellectual involvement that puts Romney at a disadvantage. These micro-policy-presentations must surely be extensively rehearsed, and Obama can retrieve them from memory at will, when he needs them.

In the debate setup, when one speaker has gone, he does not get a chance to respond to the response. In Romney’s case, this in several cases causes him to lose his cool, to the point where, after he has been “beaten” by Obama in an exchange, he can’t move on directly to answer the next question. Back-paddling at the beginning of the following question, and saying that the opponent’s statements are false, is ineffective in a debate, where each point is a separate entity and must stand on its own – unlike in a less structured discussion. The second speaker on each point has the advantage of being able to pick out the weaknesses of the first. This is something a good listener can do far better than someone who simply repeats his beliefs or states unrelated “facts”. In a debate, both candidates have to think on their feet, but the second respondent has to think more deeply and in greater complexity.

This debate was much more aggressive, and emotions flared, despite the town hall setting, where candidates often avoid divisive, head to head debate. After all, citizens want to look up to their presidential candidates. Overall, after the first debate went to Romney, Obama supporters really wanted their candidate to get into the ring and show Romney who’s President. And he did.

Who will win this election? The polls say it’s very, very close, but I’m betting on the incumbent, and I hope his supporters all go out and vote. My ballot goes out today.

John Prine: Dear Abby

The wonderful singer-songwriter John Prine turned 65 yesterday (thanks Eamonn).
Dear Abby” was an advice column founded in 1956 by Pauline Phillips under the pen name of Abigail Van Buren, and was syndicated in the Washington Post. Or was it in the evening paper, the Evening Star (later the Washington Star)? We got both. I never missed reading her column, and Peanuts. John Prine’s “Dear Abby” was on Sweet Revenge (released 1973), and it was one of the few songs I actually attempted on the guitar, sitting on the front stoop of our house on A street. Prine’s brand of humor, to me, still defines “home”.

  • listen up, buster/kiddo! listen up good! = hey, come on, listen properly!
  • shoot the breeze = chat, engage in idle conversation

Dear Abby, Dear Abby
My feet are too long
My hair’s falling out and my rights are all wrong
My friends, they all tell me that I’ve no friends at all
Won’t you write me a letter, won’t you give me a call?

Bewildered, Bewildered
You have no complaint
You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t
So listen up, buster, and listen up good
Stop wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood

Dear Abby, Dear Abby
My fountain pen leaks
My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks
Every side I get up on is the wrong side of bed
If it weren’t so expensive I’d wish I were dead

Unhappy, Unhappy,
You have no complaint…

Dear Abby, Dear Abby,
You won’t believe this
But my stomach makes noises whenever I kiss
My girlfriend tells me It’s all in my head
But my stomach tells me to write you instead

Noise-maker, Noise-maker
You have no complaint…

Dear Abby, Dear Abby,
Well I never thought
That me and my girlfriend would ever get caught
We were sitting in the back seat, just shooting the breeze
With her hair up in curlers and her pants to her knees
Just Married

Just Married, Just Married,
You have no complaint…
Dear Abby

Ruby’s shoes, ruby shoes

“The Problem We All Live With”  by Norman Rockwell is currently on display at the White House, just outside the president’s office. It shows Ruby Bridges, the most famous of the children who in 1960, at the age of 6, walked into an all-white school and helped desegregate the schools of New Orleans. Daddy’s brave little girl, indeed. Never forget. I’d like to believe that the Civil Rights Movement has become a part of the core of our civil religion.

Ruby’s shoes. Ruby shoes.

In the song Ruby’s Shoes by Lori Mckenna, from 2002, it seems to me her story has become almost generic. Ruby is Everygirl, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, whose ruby shoes in the film help her get back home to Kansas. Ruby is Everygirl, just like Anne Frank.  – Ruby Bridges recollects:

Scenes from a Disney, made for TV movie. Some very nice Norman Rockwell-like scenes of the intact black community.

Ruby’s Shoes, 2002

by Lori McKenna

Ruby’s shoes would take her
A mile or so to school every day
Where the white people hated her
They’d scream and hold signs and tell her to go away

But Ruby’s will was stronger
Than the bigots with the signs could ever know
She stopped every morning on the corner
And prayed that someday the pain would go

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Ruby sat alone in the classroom
She never dreamed the other children wouldn’t come
They hated her for the color of her skin
Well color is such an amazing illusion

She’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Now Ruby knew about Dorothy
And the ruby shoes that she wore
She wondered about Oz sometimes
Well, well no other child ever walked her shoes before

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She was only six years old but she knew
Walk a mile in Ruby’s shoes

Ruby, if birds can always fly
Why oh why can’t you and I?

Ruby’s shoes would take her
A mile or so to school every day
Where the white people hated her
They’d scream and hold signs and tell her to go away

And she’d stop and she’d pray
That all the hatred would go away
She’d stop and she’d pray
That no other children would be raised this way
Ruby’s shoes

If birds can fly
Then why oh why
If birds can fly then why oh why can’t I

Features of connected speech:

assimilation: when words are spoken together and the sounds at the word boundaries change
s can change to sh: this shop => thish shop or Ruby’s shoes =>rubysh shoes
t, d, n at the end assimilate to the place of articulation to become bilabial: in bed => im bed
d can change to g: good girl =>goog girl
voiced can become unvoiced: have to go => haf to go
d and y can fuse to j: how d’you do => how jou do

elision: omitting sounds, esp. d and t, between words
next please => nex please
Ruby’s shoes =>ruby shoes

vowel reduction and weak forms:
You and me => You
ənd me
If birds can fly => If birds cən fly

She should əv known better. She shəd ə known I’d wait.

laison: her English => her ringlish
brother and sister => brother rən sister

intrusive r and w:
no other => no wother

Remember Reagan? Seriosity plus humor

He was called “The great communicator”. At the time I wasn’t willing to listen to any of his speeches, because he was at the opposite end of the political spectrum, and I was out in the streets demonstrating against cruise missiles, Star Wars and all that. But I was just reading Vicki Hollett’s very interesting analysis of the current BP crisis yesterday and have been thinking about her idea that Americans are expected to demonstrate “seriosity“, a lack of which is seen as cynical and subversive. Vicki thinks that seriosity doesn’t play the same role in the UK. I don’t know much about the British take on this, but I do have insight into the American side, and I think the magical formula to demonstrating that you are 100% engaged and really care about an issue in the US must be seriosity plus humor. For me, Reagan telling Russian jokes in 1988, the year before the wall came down, epitomizes what Americans cherish in their public figures. Reagan’s timing was brilliant, he knew the exact moment and situation when humor would seal his commitment.

America 100 years ago on film

The Library of Congress a few days ago uploaded a playlist to its YouTube channel entitled America at Work, America at Leisure, containing 150 motion pictures from 1894 to 1915. “Highlights include films of the United States Postal Service from 1903, cattle breeding, fire fighters, ice manufacturing, logging, calisthenic and gymnastic exercises in schools, amusement parks, boxing, expositions, football, parades, swimming, and other sporting events.”

I watched in amazement the videos relating to the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 which featured, among other things, the “Esquimaux village” where Eskimos showed off “typical Eskimo games” like leapfrop for popular enjoyment, and a sham battle between Native Americans and, I guess, the US cavalry (part 1 and part 2). The things people found exciting back then. I once almost wrote my PhD on shows like that, you know.

But it also contains this lovely little scene, children in the surf at Coney Island. Remember, Helmut, that Russian bar on the boardwalk?

Don’t miss the boats from minute 3:02!

I stumbled across these short silent films while checking what Uwe Klemm at Eventualitätswabe is up to. And you can bet I’ll be using them for storytelling in the coming weeks. But enough for now. Happy weekend to everybody!

Right-wing hate moves into the mainstream

The violence against elected officials by hate groups in the USA this past week was a real shocker. Racism and homophobia are penetrating into the mainstream. “Rage on the Right” is certainly nothing new, it’s long been a part of the right-wing militia movement, the militant wing of the “patriot movement” who say they are protecting civil liberties against a government they see as an enemy (see Rage on the Right, 2003.) But a new study just published, Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism (summary here), shows that various streams are mingling.

Listen to this interview with the author of the new study, Mark Potok, on NPR. A survey on Republican political opinions shows that

  • 2/3 of Republicans think Obama is a socialist
  • 47% of Republicans believe the “birthers'” idea that Obama was not born in the US and is therefore not legally eligible for the Presidency
  • 38% say that Obama is doing some of the things Hitler did
  • 24% say he may be the Antichrist

Today, the face of the government is the face of a black man. That draws the anger, fear and frustration of the white racist militiant right. And coincidentally, the Democrats are losing support among white men. The next Republican presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, has the uncanny ability to play to exactly that crowd.

All the news of home just gives you the blues

WTF? “Senate Republicans succeeded early Thursday in forcing a change in a measure altering President Barack Obama’s newly enacted health care overhaul, meaning the bill will have to return to the House for final congressional approval.” How is that possible? It’s enacted. Something that is signed into law IS law. I just don’t get it. Deeply depressing. Joni, sing us a song of hope.

Joni Mitchell: California

Sitting in a park in Paris, France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won’t give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in it’s ways here
Oh, but California
California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California, when I get home

I met a redneck on a Grecian isle
Who did the goat dance very well
He gave me back my smile
But he kept my camera to sell
Oh the rogue, the red red rogue
He cooked good omelettes and stews
And I might have stayed on with him there
But my heart cried out for you, California
Oh California I’m coming home
Oh make me feel good rock’n roll band
I’m your biggest fan
California, I’m coming home


Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
Just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues

So I bought me a ticket
I caught a plane to Spain
Went to a party down a red dirt road
There were lots of pretty people there
Reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue
They said, “How long can you hang around?”
I said “a week, maybe two,
Just until my skin turns brown
Then I’m going home to California”
California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home


Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
More about the war
And the bloody changes
Oh will you take me as l am?
Will you take me as l am?
Will you?

song of the week 🙂 englisch lernen mit liedern