Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Language Log has to be one of my favorite blogs

Language Log has long been among my favorite blogs. The linguists who contribute to it are radical dudes with an extremely healthy attitude towards prescriptivism -- they despise it.

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

The impossibility of political satisfaction

It occurs to me that one of the reasons no leader will ever provide the level of political inspiration which seems to, at times, serve as the unspoken standard of a politician who deserves our approval is that the public is to diverse for its instincts and interests to be satisfied by any one vision.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ideology, war, people

Here's something which is probably obvious but which also struck me with new force as I stepped, completely naked, out of the shower this evening:

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

More doubts

So, via the Reality-Based Community, I saw a musicalized version of Barack's stump speech. And while I am loathe to disparage its message, I worried that what I was watching was not a plea for change, but a commercial for a plea for change.

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

Man oh man

I really like Barack Obama's style and I think he has the charisma and intelligence to be a good leader for the country.

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.)