Sunday, August 03, 2008
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
I feel like it's a good sign. But who knows?
Paul Krugman's feeling it too, apparently.
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.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
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.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Are we cooked? Can Barack turn us around? Only time will tell.
Fucking Luxembourg. Fucking Norway.
The piece is full of stunners like:
"Some Americans are living anywhere from 30 to 50 years behind others when it comes to issues we all care about: health, education and standard of living.
"For example, the state human development index shows that people in last-ranked Mississippi are living 30 years behind those in first-ranked Connecticut."
Conservative probably think this is awesome. Those fuckers. They owe us liberals big time. They've been riding on capital we built up over decades.
Despite all the talk about Iraq being "calm," I'd like to point out that the month just before the last visit Barack Obama made to Iraq (he went in January, 2006), there were 537 civilian and ISF Iraqi casualties. In June of this year, 2008, there were 554 according to AP. These are official statistics gathered passively that probably only capture about 10 percent of the true toll.
I find myself wondering if I shouldn't assume the phenomenon isn't more prevalent than I generally imaging. Here's why:
I keep myself relatively informed about politics and the state of the world, but a lot of the time I'm just tracking the narrative. I recognize that what I'm reading for reasons both cultural and practical is just a small sliver of what's actually happening. (This is so obvious, given the scale of the universe, when you say it explicitly, but we seem in our doings to assume something different.) So -- if you take my Iraq post from yesterday as a small sample of how a relatively well informed person saw things yesterday and then you read that Juan Cole quote just above, it's hard not to be struck anew by the size of the gap between what we represent as the state of things and the state of things.
I think it makes the point I was making yesterday about the unacknowledged cost of the war even more pressing.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I never thought I'd enjoy reading so much concentrated argument, observation, and discussion on the subject of finance and credit, but I do. In fact, it occurs to me that my skepticism -- the idea that the deep lore of finance and credit are dry as dust, insignificant in relation to the real stuff of life, sex, love, art, politics, etc -- is misplaced. Maybe the sense I have that I'm understanding something important about the society I live in when I read a blog that mostly talks about real estate and the ways in which people make money off of money is not at all unwaranted.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
After the FISA thing, I was trying to figure out why one still has a good feeling about Obama, despite some of his irrationally centrist positions. What do we need from a president besides good policy? The answer, I think, has to do with how he thinks and how he influences our sense of ourselves as Americans. Obama in this case is showing a preference for good data. It's a small thing, I suppose, but better data means better government and better government means more confidence in government and more confidence in government means more opportunity for implementing good initiatives.
Friday, July 18, 2008
But now it's five years later and we find ourselves persuaded by all the IEDs and the sectarian violence that the war was a mistake. More recently its been quieter and you can feel the national media starting to wonder whether it should shift back to "pro-war".
What this says to me is that the only one which journalists (or perhaps I should say editors and television news producers and execs) seem comfortable using as a basis for judging the validity of the war seems to be the frequency of explosions and massacres. If stuff is getting blown up a lot and there is documentary evidence of slaughter, we tell ourselves, we can safely assert that it's going badly. If not, we owe the architects of this war some respect.
This is crazy. Even if the suicide bombings, the sectarian violence, and the IEDs never again resurfaced -- and they will, all of them, before and after we are gone -- the story of this war has already inflicted itself on the people of Iraq and the people of the United States. We will not escape that history.
The knowledge of those who died -- whether gained through abstraction or experience -- the wounded citizens, the dead soldiers, the destroyed infrastructure, the emotional trauma that the violence and the prospect of violence will have inflicted on the citizens of that country and ours -- these phenomena affect everyone and they affect everyone lastingly and acutely.
We have lost 4000 soldiers by violence in Iraq. Many more have been physically wounded. Some large percentage of all the soldiers will experience post traumatic stress disorder.
That's a clinical name for a collection of experiences and memories that to my mind to some extent defines the meaning of this catastrophe. It was stressful. It was traumatic. And the effects will linger -- in ways we are completely unaware of -- long after the last shot has been fired. We will never escape the history of this war.
I read the post. It's about a girl, an aspiring writer, who went to a party with literary types and found the people she met there sort of creepy and disappointing. She described the party a little bit. There were people in a house drinking, having stupid conversations, which isn't really any different from a lot of parties.
Anyway, she was sad. She thought they were all jerks. I was like yup, literature, novels, just one more damn thing. You can't be religious about it, but you can enjoy it's textures, the same way you can enjoy the textures of anything else.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
People walk around in need of something, some sort of articulation of emotions they feel, emotions which don't find expression in the discourse that rules America's conversation about itself.
They want -- and they say they want -- something smarter and better than what's available. Something that isn't cheap. Something that isn't just a sound bite.
Obama gave them that today.
And what amazes me, what bludgeons my sense of hope into a feeling of bewilderment, is that people don't seem to see it. While on the one hand, pundits, reporters beg for something authentic, they can't see it when it's right in front of them. The political coverage, to me, seems akin to the tabloid coverage of actresses with eating disorders. They do not see that the ugliness they want to judge and condemn is something they create.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
The significant example of this is their lie low strategy (which still has the potential to work, I think, should the delegate waters get murky enough), where instead of contesting primaries, they attempt to get the media to treat those primaries as insignificant.
And now, laughably, they're trying to set Obama's bar for success in Texas and Ohio ridiculously high.
Conversely, they're setting the bar for their own campaign incredibly low -- anything less than total, inarguable defeat is a momentum-swinging triumph. I understand that this is something they have to do, I guess, but it's sort of a sad statement.
I'm not saying that victory is inevitable for Obama in Texas and Ohio. It's just that it would be a his defeat in Texas that would spawn the Hillary's Not Finished Yet headlines, not these lame memos Mark Penn or whoever is sending around. The fact that her campaign is so invested in influencing the media narrative at the expense of actual campaigning is totally lame.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I do too. I think "correct" grammar is good and fine and I appreciate a graceful sentence, but I have encountered few people who are demonstrative about their horror at grammatical and linguistic "error" and who don't, at the same time, give me the sense that their interest in that subject is way of asserting their superiority to others, especially when the sentiment is couched in decline-of-civilization terms.
I would guess, furthermore, that for most of us, the sense of inherent linguistic conventions we've internalized is relatively stable once we reach adulthood. If that's correct, it's possible to think of an assertion of grammatical superiority as an assertion of superior education, which is one step away from an assertion of superiority based on class. I'm not saying that this is always the case, just that it behooves us to take the complexity of the issue into account before crapping on about what morons people are who can't distinguish between a restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Disagreement over ideology is displaced tribalism. The self-image of "civilized" parts of the world has evolved to the point where it is unacceptable to seek conflict with other cultures based solely on naked difference. As a result, we, s0me of us, seek to identify profound moral flaws in the political systems of other cultures in order to justify our desire to attack/fear them.
In a weird way, I can see how this makes me a believer in realpolitik.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
I still think I'm going to vote for Obama, but I like his healthcare plan less than ever. (This post, and particularly the comments, on Crooked Timber has the best analysis I've seen -- although there's also Krugman, reporting on a study that illustrates the difference between plans with and without mandates based on various metrics.
Obama's domestic policy is so much less progressive than his rhetoric, which is truly inspiring. That worries me. The sorts of things that he makes us think he's about -- unity, fairness, reconciliation, equality -- are incredibly important. It would be a shame if, collectively, we're willing to be satisfied by a telling ourselves a story about progress when the facts on the ground show that we're not doing as much for our fellow citizens as we could and should be doing.
Friday, February 01, 2008
But I have real doubts about the use to which he'd put that leadership capability. I know a lot of people see the mandate-no-mandate conversation as quibbling over details, but it really bothers me that Barack is pushing this point so hard when there's no really good argument for it.
People say that Krugman is overreacting to this particular issue, but what does it say about a candidate that his campaign is so fixated on this issue when there's no good argument for it. Sure, you might believe that no mandate is better than a mandate, but Barack is using this particular difference between his plan and Hillary's as a point of attack, when as far as I've seen the main argument for excluding a mandate from Barack's plan is that mandates are scary. This is understandable, but a mandate seems like good policy, and, given Barack's lauded communication skills, he should be able to explain, to convince folks, that the mandated insurance will also be subsidized and, therefore, made affordable -- so the government is not going to break anyone's bank.
Instead, and in light of the New Harry and Loise, it looks very much he's using it to score political points against Hillary.
I mean what the heck is the point of winning if the policy you win a mandate for is watered down? Shouldn't enacting good policy be the objective? And if policy is not the objective, what is?
In some ways, I can construe/rationalize this as a good thing. The ability and willingness to exploit an issue of relative inconsequence -- he still has a healthcare plan after all, thanks to John Edwards -- to wound his opponents could help him beat John McCain and then get legislation passed. And I'm still planning to vote for him in the primary. And I believe that his rhetorical approach, it's mellowness, is important and might be more effective in bringing around the other side. (Contra Krugman, I believe you can get good results by recapitulating the other sides points to show you've been listening.) But I'm sure as hell not going to buy the idea that Barack Obama truly represents a new kind of politics.
(Lastly -- I expect that this thing is going to backfire on him. And that makes me worry about his ability to read the landscape and know what's going to play well, especially given all the momentum he has right now.)
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I knew at the time that something extremely bad was happening in Burma. I knew that there were protests and that the military government was repressing them violently, but I didn't know the details.
(Much of what happens in the world I experience like this, as a vague set of images and curt, inaccurate narratives.)
Now that I know the details I am angry and astounded. It's sort of a strange way to react in that the world is full of badness which varies in degree but derives from the same essence, whereby the will and desire of the population is ignored and dissent is punished, in some cases with violence.
But whenever you consider any of these cases, as I've done with the incidents in Burma, and you bracket out the fact that they're not novel, it arouses a tremendous amount of astonishment.
I mean -- people, normal fucking people, gathered in the streets to protest some policy changes. And the government decided to get them to stop by shooting them. They shot students, they shot priests. Paramilitaries ran people over in the street.
How is that human beings arrive at the conclusion that these sorts of actions are a good idea? I realize that's a simplification. There are reasons that people do these things; in fact I think they're obvious. It's just that none of them are any good. There just isn't a case to be made that the benefit of shooting protesters in this sort of situation is worth the cost. (I realize that it's obviously wrong, I'm just trying to point out how there's no way to keep the justifications that government offered for their actions afloat -- the gov't could only offer a cost/benefit justification, since a moral justifications is pretty much a non-starter.)
But my point is that almost nothing, personally or collectively, is worth doing this sort of horrible shit to people -- using machines like guns to tear their bodies apart, to extinguish living beings. That's an obvious statement, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be repeated. In fact, given that it's so easy to be silent about something which is apparent to everyone, it's obviousness might even be a reason to be vigilant about repeating it.
One of the things I've learned about is how economists view recessions. There is a certain hard-line attitude that conservative (and some liberal) economists take toward recessions. In this attitude, the recession is viewed as a sort of cleansing -- people got too excited, investment went where it shouldn't have, and those who invested poorly must reap the consequences of their stupidity. It's a typical republican/conservative belief.
But the counter argument, which I find convincing, is that the suffering that results from recession is neither necessary nor truly instructional. Brad Delong gives a really good treatment of why this is the case, but I'm too lazy to look it up.
One way to think about the argument and counter argument about recessions is through the lens of the differing responses to the depression made by the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations.
Hoover said the government couldn't do anything and the market just had to sort itself out. Roosevelt felt otherwise.
My own feeling is that this idea that the people who suffer in recessions deserve to suffer is entirely repellent.
But . . . there is something about the disclosure, in extremely stark terms, by various investment companies, Merryl Lynch, UBC, that French company blaming half its losses on a rogue trader, of tremendous losses satisfying. I don't find it satisfying out of schaedenfreude. I find it satisfying because public language about the economy during a bubble is so profoundly opaque and evasive. I consider myself reasonably well informed and reasonably cynical, but when people, even flaks, even morons, argue points in public vigorously, they muddy the waters such that maintaining clarity about the state of the world is difficult. That's my experience anyway.
So when you have these almost confessional reports of huge losses, there's something of the triumph of reality over spin in that.
Even though this by no means calls for us not to act in the face of recession, I think it's good for our souls to have the ugly truth so nakedly thrust into the public sphere.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Just to add my own perspective on the turn the democratic primary has lately taken.
I'm disturbed by it. I was never as engaged in a primary as I am in this one, so I don't have a sense of how it compares, but Bill Clinton's attacks on Obama, vis a vis Las Vegas, and Hillary Clinton's dissimulation about what Barack Obama said about Reagan, and, finally, this strange move over delegates in Michigan and Florida, I find deeply disturbing. Maybe it's normal, but I hate it. It seems almost as if the Clinton's being smart people have seen what Karl Rove/Swift Boat Veterans for truth did, what the republican party did in Florida in 2000 and said to themselves, we understand that . . . and we can do it too.
I maybe didn't even realize it until I started writing here, but, in truth, I find it deeply demoralizing. I'm in tune with Clinton's platform, and I will vote for her against which ever Republican wins their nomination, but one of the most important aspects of replacing George W. Bush with a democrat has to be that it would represent a collective refutation of his politics above all else approach to governance. If the democratic nominee wins the general election with the same tactics Hillary is using in the democratic primary, we will have a better president and generally more just policies, but we won't have extracted ourselves from this postmodern, cable-tv-addled mindset that the present administration has pressed onto the national consciousness.
I don't think Barack Obama is any kind of transcendent figure and I have serious doubts arising from his occasional incoherence, but to the extent that he seems to me now to be more reasonablethan the Clintons, I'm leaning more strongly toward him than I have toward any of the other candidates so far in this race.
I'm actually deeply curious about the degree to which the present direction of the Clinton campaign will penetrate the non-internet-grounded political junkie segment of voting democrats. I wonder how other people are feeling.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I'm writing to express the depth of my dissappointment in your willingness to move forward with legislation that offers retroactive immunity to telecom companies that helped the Bush administration spy on citizens.
I understand that compromise is an important part of getting things done in politics, but this sacrifices too much. Why do we have laws if the president's word can immunize citizens and corporations who commit crimes?
Secondly, the Democratic majority has failed to produce the results that voters expected following the 2006 elections. Why do you let Republicans filibuster good legislation without paying any political price? You need to stand up to them.
I raise the above point because my enthusiasm for your leadership, which was once high, is close to broken, now that I read you're going to apply to Christopher Dodd measures that you should have been applying to Republican filibusters in the past.
I just don't understand why you're doing the things you're doing.
San Francisco, California
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I am taking care of a baby and watching TV and my back hurts and I have the following observation to make
There was a guy on an episode today named Chull. If I have another kid maybe I will name it Chull. Maybe Chull will be Gwen's new nickname.