Sunday, August 03, 2008

Yemen

The internet really is really great.

Did you know that there are, right now, in Yemen, numerous seven-story buildings clustered tightly together, like in Manhattan dude, that are made out of mud and that have been standing for 500 years?

Neither did I, but now I do, thanks to the internet and some idle moments on an early August Sunday afternoon, my belly swollen with pudding.

Hat tip should go to Whimsley.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Going After McCain

A lot of people on the left want Barack Obama to go after John McCain in the spirit of Josh Marshall's "Bitchslap Theory of American Politics."

I'm among them -- I wish he'd go after him in a substantive way, but aggressively. McCain is a terrible candidate and would be a terrible president and there's no reason Obama or his surrogates shouldn't point this out.

I was wondering why I feel this way, however. I think the answers is that there are SO MANY OPENINGS AT WHICH TO GO AFTER MCCAIN.

The dude just leaves himself open to this stuff.

Scary

So the governator is slashing payroll. This is a foretaste of the cuts in actual funding he's eager to make.

My impression is that we're all sort of living our lives in California, rolling with the punches, distantly aware of a budget crisis, not sure what it all means, but the effects of actions like these are going to start pressing in on us in the near term, especially if the governor gets his way.

I don't think very many people understand how sharply they're going to press, how badly our education system is going to suffer, how badly our infrastructure will suffer, how much the poor will suffer, how much the ill will suffer, how much law enforcement will suffer.

And I don't blame the governor -- I expect he would raise taxes if he could; he's hinted at it and it makes sense -- but the Republican party in our state, like a bunch of automatons, mindlessly addicted to a dead idea, are holding the budget process and the administration of the state hostage.

Given those circumstances, what the governor is doing is something like honorable. It seems to me that we are on the path to rehabilitating the publics understanding of taxes. There's this meme out there that taxes go to nothing but waste. People seem to really believe that no good can come of raising taxes. At the very least that's an talking point the right uses fairly often.

"Do you think the government knows how to spend this money better than the taxpayer?"

But until we start experiencing firsthand the real meaning of tax cuts and revenue shortfalls, we won't understand that taxes serve a legitimate and pragmatic purpose.

You want fire stations? You pay taxes. There's just no way to get around this.

If we can get through these tough times with the result being a mandate to sensibly fund the government, we'll have gone a long way toward discrediting the supply siders and the reactionary libertarians for a good long time.

And that's the optimistic take on a situation that could take a turn for the tragic.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Urgh.

I find this -- a poll showing that the public prefers John McCain to Obama on foreign policy completely frustrating. Do people not recognize what an absolute disaster it would be in terms of foreign policy if John McCain were elected?

If you take a few moments to reflect on the stuff he's said during the campaign, the real and appreciable lack of knowledge he's demonstrated about the middle east, the advisors on his team -- Norman Podhoretz, Randy Scheunemon -- you've basically got an administration for whom war with Iran is a real priority and a Commander in Chief without the competence to manage the consequences of such an obscenely stupid action.

Obama is a young candidate, and, in the most literal sense, inexperienced in executive management of foreign policy, but he is at least, at least, as expert in foreign policy as we should expect a president to be. John McCain has not demonstrated that he's even close to meeting that qualification.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Faces Behind the Voices

A Mother Jones photo essay on phone sex operators. I wish the written statements were less brief, but still -- hearing what phone sex operators have to say about their work, and seeing the faces behind the voices is really interesting. There is of course, the always striking moment of seeing the reality behind an object of fantasy -- I'm reminded of the sad episode in Robert Altman's Short Cuts (based on the work of Raymond Carver) -- but, in particular, I'm impressed with how thoughtful these folks are, how philosophical, about their work.

Candor

I can't help it. I just fucking like Barack. Sometimes he gets policy wrong for the wrong reasons -- Cass Sunstein, for instance, needs to go -- but, I guess, I believe in him. I believe that he wants to do good for the country just as much as he wants to be president.

This exchange with David Cameron, which was picked up by a mic Obama didn't realize was on, reinforces that for me in an indirect way -- there's something very disarming about a super charismatic presidential candidate engaging in some earnest small talk when he doesn't know the press is listening.

What the Heck World Do I Inhabit?

So -- I was at the bookstore today and I'd picked out a novel to buy and read and I started looking at the non-fiction. I was looking for The Dark Side, by Jane Meyer, which is a book that tells the story of how the U.S. state came to torture and kill any number of men classified as detainees, suspects, enemy combatants. I didn't find it. But I did come across a book whose title I don't remember at the moment. The book purported to tell the story of a conspiracy to elect Ted Kennedy president. There's a distinct frisson that comes with the idea. Ted Kennedy has been a senator for decades, he last ran for the democratic nomination for president in, I think, 1980, hasn't been talked of as a potential candidate in ages, not even a potential VP, and he was recently diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

His story, in other words, has mostly been told. It's not as if his life involved significant historical events which have gone unexplained. He was elected and he legislated. That's pretty much it. I suppose this doesn't make it impossible that there was a conspiracy to make him president, but his life has been so straight forward that it seems to me impossible for such a conspiracy to actually be interesting. It's a pretty bland conspiracy, in other words, that would result in events so inconspicuous that they have not even registered on the public imagination.

Most popular conspiracy theories have been imagined in order to explain events that actually happened. People like to explain the lunary landing as a conspiracy to delude the public. People like to explain John F. Kennedy's assassination as any number of things -- a coworker just yesterday told me it was the mob getting back at him for bucking their directives after they gave him the election in Chicago.

Ted Kennedy was never finagled into the office of the presidency through deceit and political maneuvering. So I just can't understand what would motivate the author of this book to write it.

I flipped through a few pages, trying to get a taste for the style of the book. Was it sober? Was it hysterical?

It wasn't hysterical -- the prose was intelligent and smooth. There weren't any explanation points, but it wasn't quite sober.

I read a sentence along the lines of the following: "With Watergate unfolding, the Kennedy's smelled blood in the water."

That's a little nuts. Whenever a narrative starts representing a group of people's state of mind in figurative terms, that narrative loses a great deal of my confidence. The sentence requires you to accept that the Kennedy family was as focused on dethroning Richard Nixon as a shark is focused on its prey. Now -- maybe the preceding parts of the book were filled with mountains of evidence that they were sending letters to one another detailing how they were going to get Nixon impeached -- but whether they were or not, lots of people wanted to impeach Nixon, once the facts about Watergate came out. I'm sure any number of Kennedies wanted Nixon to stop being president. Not only were they politically opposed to him, he broke the law, he cheated, he was a vicious political campaigner. To contend that their desire to content with Nixon politically and gain power for themselves is some sort of grave transgression doesn't make a lot of sense.

So the book was silly. I glanced at the back cover to learn about the author. He looked sober, kind of like a professor from the 1950s. He had a fair number of impressive sounding credentials in his bio, credentials that didn't seem to jib with the tone of the book.

I flipped through a few more pages. There was some commentary about John Dean and some other member of the Nixon administration. I don't remember the exact language, but the author's affection for these guys was obvious.

The narrative and its assumptions about the rightness and wrongness of the people and the events of that time period were so seamless that they didn't even admit the possibility of contradiction.

"What's that, you say?" the author might say if you were to suggest that the Kennedy's were not so much a dark and sinister cabal as your standard powerful political family. "I've never heard of such a thing. Sounds zany if you ask me."

I asked myself how a person could have such a different view of things from me and from what I understand as the historical record. I don't know the answer but the fact that it's so disturbs me for a number of reasons. One is that this guy represents some percentage of the population that is opposed to progress and which is very hard to talk to.

The other is that the mindset of this book is so deluded and so unconsciously confident of its assumptions that it brings into question the possibility of truthful understanding itself. I don't mean the sort of black and white truth and certainty that everyone knows is a pipe dream but the kind of established and qualified representations of history and facts based on evidence that you might share with a really good journalist, or professor of history, or a scientist.

I mean if this dude can right a whole book that demonstrates he's cleary living in lala land and he doesn 't have clue one that he's not living in factville, what the heck world do I inhabit?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Michael Berube is Feeling the World's Pain Too

EARTH, July 25, 2008 -- The entire world drafted an open letter to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) today, asking him to drop out of the U.S. presidential race and concede the presidency to Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois).

Those Poor Europeans

Imagine how disappointed they'll be if Barack doesn't win! They just had this whole wonderful taste of what it would be like to have him being president -- and they loved it, rightly so. Their minds must have been dancing with visions of a mature, cooperative, communicative, and productive relationship with an extremely powerful and influential nation. My god, they must be thinking, we might actually get something done. We might actually meaningfully improve the state of the world.

I have the same hopes myself, over on this side of the pond.

Do you -- does anyone -- think that such things would be possible with a McCain presidency?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Great Speech, Great Post

I've always understood the technical definition of dramatic irony -- ie when an audience knows something the characters, in whatever narrative, do not -- but I've never grokked it so well as I do now, after reading Isn't It Ironic by publius from Obsidian Wings.

The post is worth reading for the explication of dramatic irony on it's own, but it also contains some really sharp insight into Obama's nearly transcendent appeal as an orator.

Counting a Whole Lot of Chickens

I keep having to mentally correct the unconscious assumption that next January Barack Obama will be sworn in as president. I notice myself thinking things, like, "When Obama's in office..."

I feel like it's a good sign. But who knows?

Paul Krugman's feeling it too, apparently.

Why do we refer to ourselves as Americans?

So -- I understand the objections to the practice of referring to U.S. citizens as Americans and the United States as America. I also feel like it's no big deal, since it's just an established practice and more of a crime of verbal inspecificity than pure chauvinism.

One significantly mitigating factor in this usage, though, which doesn't receive that much attention, is that there isn't an easy way to refer to the state of being a U.S. citizen. What do you use in place of American in the sentence, "He's American"?

Actually -- it occurs to me extemporaneously that there are probably folks out there promoting alternatives. Usian or something. (Although in that, you have the immediate sense that the phrasing contains the assumption that everyone else is Themian, which seems at least as problematic as the assumption that the U.S. = the American continent.)

Maybe I'll have to look into what's out there. I bet there are some good ideas -- and some really ridiculous ones.

More on Josh

You know -- any number of players have gone from the NBA to Europe, American born and foreign born alike. I'm wondering what it is that sets Josh Childress apart from those others. I think the thing with him is that his decision utterly falsifies the assumption that all things being equal, and perhaps even if he'd get paid less in the NBA, an American-born player would prefer to stay here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Globalization Realization

So, after years in which the NBA siphoned off the best european players, the first high profile, high quality NBA player has chosen to head east and play in Greece.

There's some ridiculous part of me that was sort of distressed by this -- not sure exactly why -- but after a small amount of thought, it's actually kind of exciting to think of where this trend is headed: a network of basketball leagues with players, nations, and teams overlapping the way they do in soccer.

In addition to the raw variety this will produce, the thing that makes it exciting is the unpredictability we'll start to see in the basketball tournaments. In the NBA, you kind of know which teams are best, or at least which four, with some measure of consistency. When teams are playing in separate leagues, you won't know with the same level of certainty who the top teams are. Teams will come from nowhere and surprise everyone.

Also -- the sheer number of teams and players competing will make victories that much more meaningful. Maybe we're on our way to a World Cup of basketball.