Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rough draft of history

And it's pretty fuckin' rough. Bush's least repulsive surrogates, his wife and Condi Rice, have been out trying to lay the groundwork for the rehabilitation of his reputation, but something like this -- fourteen pages of the man's every failure and inadequacy -- laid out in a prestigious magazine is devastating, particularly at this point in time, when the question of where Bush fits in the presidential pecking order is becoming an issue. The format of it -- quotations from people who knew him and worked with him, many of them Republicans -- is designed to appeal to a Washington culture that is conditioned to dismiss any criticism of the right as "partisanship." Won't be so easy with this piece, and the events it covers, and the descriptions of them, are vivid, just the sort of things that our dullard press corps will remember when they need to fall back on a narrative to tell a story they are too lazy and brainless to write themselves. The really sad thing is it takes something like this to make one sure Bush will get the reputation he deserves -- his actions themselves, with a corrupt and lazy press corps like ours, weren't enough.

Inside out

We thought we were going back to the old days of Bush 41. And ironically enough Rumsfeld, but even more Cheney, together with Powell, were seen as indications that the young president, who was not used to the outside world, who didn’t travel very much, who didn’t seem to be very experienced, would be embedded into these Bush 41 guys. Their foreign-policy skills were extremely good and strongly admired. So we were not very concerned. Of course, there was this strange thing with these “neocons,” but every party has its fringes. It was not very alarming. --Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister (emphasis added)

How unamusing. To Mr. Fischer, the neocons are a "fringe" group; to establishment Washington, neocons are the mainstream, while those who challenge them are the fringe -- this is still true, to an extent, today. Anyone who doubts this need only look at the evidence of the Republican presidential primary, where a bunch of guys spent most of their campaigns trying to out-snarl the other guys to the rest of the world, while the punditry uttered not a word of criticism, but only asked whose snarl was most convincing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Reader

Of all the films I've seen in 2008, this, just ahead of Let The Right One In, is my favorite. Kate Winslet: sexy, stupid, worldly, maddening, decent, amoral, strong, pitifully weak -- she was perfect, in every way. The message of the movie -- perfect.

The key to the entire film -- the key to everything related to the Holocaust -- is the question asked by Hannah Schmitz in the film: "What would you have done?" The collective failure of the world to honestly answer that question is the reason we have Rwandas, and Darfurs, and Israel choking the life out of the Palestinians, and then bombing the shit out of them when they hit back. We just haven't learned the lesson of that period: Nazism wasn't about evil per se, it was about cowardice, and groupthink, and tribalism, and taking the easy way out. Deep down we're all Nazis in one way and to one extent or another; some of us just haven't found our own personal Fuehrer yet.

Reagan vs FDR

I have to share Steve Benen's amazement that such a comparison would even be made, let alone taken seriously:

I can appreciate the fact that fawning, sycophantic, and generally embarrassing conservative cheerleading has helped bolster Reagan's image in the wake of his presidency. I also realize that Reagan, more than any modern leader, is the only GOP figure who's claimed by every wing of the Republican Party as their own -- from New England moderates to Deep South far-right conservatives.

But up against FDR, how is this even a contest? Reagan's economic policies were largely unsuccessful; propaganda notwithstanding, he was not responsible for winning the Cold War; his White House traded weapons for hostages in Iran-Contra; and no president before or since oversaw a White House filled with so many officials convicted of felonies (32, not including 30 who resigned in disgrace or fired following charges of legal or ethical misconduct).

However, I must point out one thing: this is a poll of who was most influential, not who was most effective. Reagan, while not particularly effective, was quite influential, and in fact, the image of Reagan, and Reaganism -- his penchant for belittling his opponents with a never ending stream of wisecrack non sequiturs -- still maintains a deathgrip on the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent, the media itself. The image of Democrats as a bunch of soft-on-everything, elitist, head-in-the-sky pansies originated with Nixon, but it was under Reagan that it really took hold in the nation as a whole.

If you look at Reagan's influence on policy, he left a mark there, too. Clinton's presidency was essentially a defensive battle against the policy prescriptions of the extreme right. Welfare reform, entitlements, deregulation of industry -- the whole "the era of big government is over" thing -- were all Reagan initiatives, that he himself was unable to enact, but that had huge residual staying power, particularly when the Republicans were able to assume control of Congress. And of course, we saw the real influence of Reagan once the Republicans took control of everything, and a swaggering buffoon was able, in a few short years, to ride the country headfirst into the ground, feet in the stirrups of Reagan campaigning and Reagan policies.

Was Reagan as influential as FDR? That's absurd. Even to this day, we're still operating in FDR's world, as we make our retirement plans with FDR programs like Social Security and FDR-inspired programs like Medicare at the center; and our entire concept of what government is and should do has been permanently changed by FDR's 14 years in office. And it was FDR who put an end to isolationism on the international front, got the ball rolling on the UN -- he shaped much of, not just U.S. policy, but world policy, both directly and indirectly through his chosen successor, Truman. Reagan chose no successors, while those who won in his name did abysmal jobs -- in fact, this Bush has done a wonderful job of pushing the country away from the policies Reagan was ostensibly for. No way was Reagan even close to as influential as FDR was -- and that's leaving out the concept of effectiveness. I'm perfectly content to call Reagan the second-most influential president of the 1900s, but only if you keep in mind the notions that 1) in this case, it's rather like being the second tallest guy on Kareem Abdul Jabbar's high school basketball team; and 2) "influence" can be a good thing -- or quite a bad one, and still be influence all the same.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ain't it grand?

In the past two weeks I've seen two films, Doubt, and I've Loved You So Long, starring actresses who, 40-odd years ago would have been reduced to running ads in Variety begging for work. Instead, we get to continue to see performers like Streep and Scott Thomas in first rate films, and will be able to for years to come. A black man in the White House, all the information I could ask for, right at my fingertips -- this is a fantastic time to be alive. We just need to fix the economy and scrub some of the stain of mindless jingoism out of the national psyche and this could be the best time in history to be alive. That's something that every generation ought to be able to say, but right now this one can't quite do that -- the first time since the 30's that's been true, I think.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Jack Johnson

To some people, today is "Jack Johnson Day," the celebration of the anniversary of the first black man winning the heavyweight boxing title, which happened one hundred years ago, today. Alas, boxing isn't what it was in those days, when it was the sport of men, not just kings, and the thought of a black man being better than whites at anything was enough to send the entire nation into a decade-long tizzy, and a desperate search for some white boy who would put things right. They finally found him in Jess Willard, who would beat the 37 year old Johnson, recaiming the heavyweight championship for the white folk, and their racial pride along with it.

Some odd points:

1)Johnson, a smart, defensive fighter known for his counterpunching and defensive handspeed, was derided as a cunning coward by the press of his era; Jim Corbett, who'd held the title several years before Johnson and had a similar fighting style, had been lauded for being smart. Heads we win, tails you lose.

2) Why was Johnson allowed to fight for the heavyweight championship, while baseball remained segregated for another 39 years (Jackie Robinson), football, with some fits and starts, 38 (Bill Willis and the great Marion Motley)? Superficially it would seem to make no sense.

3) Back then racism took a reasonable form: blacks were inferior to whites in all ways, athletically, morally, intellectually. Nowadays, black people are assumed to be athletically superior to whites, and this is a sign of inferiority, as superior physicality is is the natural result of black people being one step closer to the animals. Heads we win, tails you lose.

Anyway, one of the encouraging signs about Obama's win, besides the thing itself, is that the nation hasn't been thrown into a tizzy. So here's to you, Jack Johnson. And Jackie Robinson. And Marion Motley. And Tiger Woods. And Jesse Jackson. And all the other firsts who combined to make this first possible. It took a century of fighting worse than anything Johnson went through in the ring, but because of all those fights, the world is a much better place, at least in some ways, than it's ever been before.

And above all, here's to a world that doesn't need any more firsts. I don't know if we're there yet, but we're damn close.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No comment needed

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish man got the shock of his life when he visited a brothel and spotted his wife among the establishment's employees.

Polish tabloid Super Express said the woman had been making some extra money on the side while telling her husband she worked at a store in a nearby town.

"I was dumfounded. I thought I was dreaming," the husband told the newspaper on Wednesday.

The couple, married for 14 years, are now divorcing, the newspaper reported.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

First things first.

Number of posts Josh Marshall has made regarding the media's relentless attempts to tie Obama to Blagojevich: 0

Number of posts Josh Marshall has made defending his friend Matt Yglesias from criticism from another blogger: two.

We all have our priorities, of course.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wouldn't it be nice?

After reading this, that's the theme song for Bush's presidency:

“The Bush administration took a lot of pride that homeownership had reached historic highs,” Mr. Snow said in an interview. “But what we forgot in the process was that it has to be done in the context of people being able to afford their house. We now realize there was a high cost.”

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone owned a house? Wouldn't it be nice of all the countries we don't like in the Middle East could be made America-loving democracies? Wouldn't it be nice if you could stick a bunch of your incompetent cronies in important posts in government? Wouldn't it be nice if you could ignore the laws of science? Wouldn't it be nice if you could cut taxes and increase government spending with no adverse effects? Wouldn't it be nice if you could preserve freedom by alternately ignoring and then subverting the Constitution? Wouldn't it be nice if you could ignore the will and interests of the rest of the world and suffer no repercussions? Wouldn't it be nice if you could brand domestic dissent with your disastrous policies as treason? Wouldn't it be nice if you could improve the educational system merely by demanding kids score higher on tests? Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where there are no consequences?

It's as if a bunch of wide-eyed children were given control of their lives, only to learn the hard way that all the limitations placed on them by their dolt parents were rooted in the hard realities of life. No, kids, drinking and driving has costs. Taking drugs has a cost. Plopping down in front of the TV for eight hours a day instead of learning something useful has costs. Irresponsible sex has costs. And letting a bunch of dimwits run your country has costs. And we're paying them. Boy, are we ever paying them.

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true....

Run run wooooooooo

The Democrats and the military

Wes Clark:

...Obama is off to a promising start with the Pentagon, steering clear of a reprise of the fight over "don't ask, don't tell" and picking pragmatic, non-ideological leaders whom top military officers will find highly reassuring -- especially since so many may have discovered from personal experience that a particular partisan label is no guarantee of good leadership. Retaining Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, designating Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (with her six years of experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee) as secretary of state and appointing James L. Jones (a retired four-star Marine general) as national security adviser should go a long way toward assuring members of the armed forces that their concerns will be given a fair hearing at the very highest levels.

But the incoming team and the Democrat-dominated Congress still need to work hard to understand the lower ranks and the culture of today's military. Perhaps as many as 75 million Americans have either served in uniform or have family members who have done so. At any given time, the armed forces total some 2 million Americans on active duty, in the National Guard or in the reserves -- all volunteers. Most read military-focused newspapers, such as the Army Times, and many live on bases, relatively isolated from nearby communities. The majority are married, and almost half have children, creating a subculture of families that endure frequent moves and frightening absences. Most Americans just can't fathom the stress and pain this lifestyle imposes (although Michelle Obama can -- as the future first lady showed by reaching out to military family members during the campaign).

Our military is a values-based institution. Don't think of it as Republican or Democratic. Sure, occasionally someone will pop up, like the radio talk-show host I met while traveling in Arizona, who assured me that he had become a dues-paying Republican while serving as a Marine officer and thought that everyone else should, too. But most of us are uncomfortable with partisanship. True, many in the military, especially those who have served longer, lean toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. (What would you expect? The military must obey the orders of the commander in chief and follow the chain of command, which means giving up one's own liberties and spending time in difficult and often very dangerous circumstances.) But the real military values aren't partisan values; they're service, loyalty, honesty, patriotism, respect, achievement and personal responsibility.

Which brings us to one more core military value, one that Democrats can easily embrace: fairness. Military leaders take care of their troops -- and their unit's families. They don't take advantage of their authority. Captains eat after their troops do, not before. Good officers get to work earlier than their subordinates and leave later. I used to joke on the campaign trail that the Army was a socialist organization: The government owned the housing and all the equipment I worked with, everyone's children went to the same schools and used the same hospitals, and the highest-ranking person (after more than 30 years in uniform) earned only about 10 or 12 times the salary of a raw recruit. In the military, we don't like favoritism, show-boating or elitism.

That's a good base upon which to build. But Democrats must also realize that the military's respect has to be earned. We don't consider ourselves an "interest group." Sure, we will always appreciate more pay, better housing and stronger veterans' benefits. But that isn't how the Democrats will win over the military. They'll win by being straight-up, clear-eyed and professional about national security. And if they are, the military will trust them, even with a painful withdrawal from Iraq and the inevitable defense cutbacks.


We have a president-elect who has set out a pragmatic, nonpartisan, visionary course. It's time to lay to rest the old stereotypes about feckless, pacifist Democrats and authoritarian, war-mongering soldiers. If there were ever a time to get the relationship between Democrats and the military right, this is it.

The whole piece is well worth reading, and I have to wonder (again) how Obama can't find a direct use for Clark; instead, Clark always has to work from outside the system, where he has to put much more effort in to get any results.

Anyway, as I've said before, the Dems don't need the military to switch sides, they just need the perception of mutual animosity to go away. I think Clark points out the road here very well: stress respect and the many areas of mutual areas of agreement, and push on with your agenda, which is, in the end, a military friendly one.

As an aside, Clark said in his piece that 75 million Americans either served themselves or are related to someone who has. Is it that small a number? Except for me, my entire family served, probably a majority of the people I grew up with served. And now that I think about it, I grew up in poor and working class areas -- the military was a way out when you couldn't afford, or otherwise felt unready for, college, and didn't know what else to do. Now that I move in the more rarefied airs of the middle class, it is unusual to find someone who's done time in the military. In fact, I don't personally know of a single person among my acquaintances who's served. But these are also some of the most jingoistic, superficially "pro-military" people on earth. What an odd thing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Trusting the president

"Puff Graham"

"I'm for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven't been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future." -- Billy Graham

Steve Benen:

I will gladly argue, and have repeatedly, that the Warren invitation is a mistake, and I'd hoped Obama and his team would have known better, but Cloud's criticism strikes me as excessive, not because it's intemperate, but the disparagement doesn't match the error. Obama, to my mind, is poised to become the most progressive president in history on social/cultural issues, including gay equality.

That would have been true with or without Warren, and would have been true of any Democrat at this moment in time, so Dems who buy into this line are being bribed with their own money. The question is, does elevating Warren make it harder for Obama and his successors to push a progressive agenda? Clearly, to the extent that Warren's stature as some kind of moral authority is enhanced by all this, it does. Warren stands against the entirety of the left's social and foreign agenda -- Obama is basically building up Warren, already a speedbump, into something that could become a wall. And Warren, as a moral authority, will be around for a lot longer than Obama, as a president (Billy Graham has been "pastor to the presidents" since 1950). Is the tradeoff here worth it? I don't think so. I think you can go too far in trying to appear "reasonable," and Obama has done it with Rick Warren.

Overall, unless you're gay or a woman, this is no big deal -- and who cares about those minor interest groups, anyway? But the left has got to draw the line, or watch it continue to be obliterated. Anyone who wants to just let this stuff go in the name of expediency and clever political maneuvering needs to answer a question: If endorsing Rick Warren isn't crossing the line, what is, and how long do you think it will be before Obama does it?

If Darwin was right, which is survival of the fittest then homosexuality would be a recessive gene because it doesn't reproduce and you would think that over thousands of years that homosexuality would work itself out of the gene pool. -- Rick Warren on evolution

We all have biological predispositions. I'm naturally inclined to have sex with every beautiful woman I see. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. -- Rick Warren on homosexuality

Thursday, December 18, 2008

If you can't smile at this...

A five year old white kid spontaneously breaking into The Jackson 5's "ABC" while shopping with his parents. That song is what, almost 40 years old? From the look of his parents, I doubt they were the ones he heard it from, and I wonder if some musically-minded teacher hadn't used the song as part of a lesson plan or some such. I wonder how the kid learned the rest of the alphabet.

Beyond hideous

After all the destruction they've delivered these past eight years, shouldn't these people collectively curl up into a quivering, defensive, fetal ball in anticipation of the savage beating karma is sure to inflict? Instead, it's business as usual, right up to the end, as if there isn't a thing wrong.

The picture of laura holding the animals like that brings up a question: what do you call a human shield's (Laura) shield (the animals)?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Maybe it doesn't take all kinds...

A friend who's known me forever sends me this link:

Do you love to play Super Mario Brothers on the Classic Nintendo System? Do you like to get tagged from behind while you do it? This is the post for you then.

You must know your way around the game before we meet, must be open to anal sex, also able to fake an orgasm is a plus.

I will send you the address to a hotel and a room number. When you arrive the door will be open. Please come in close and lock the door and close the shades if they are still open. I will be in the bathroom and the door will be closed. Turn on the TV and the Nintendo. Remove all of your clothing. Turn off all lights in the room and kneel down on the bed so you are directly in the light of the TV. You need to be facing the TV with your butt in the air pointed toward the pillows on the bed.

Press the start button on the controller when you are ready. I will hear the sound and turn the light off in the bathroom and come out. You will not look directly at me, only look at the TV. When the first level starts I will begin to finger you and lick you. I will be using lots of lube as well.

When you reach the end of level one, make sure to trigger the fireworks. This is vital to the entire experience. I must hear the fireworks. When level 2 begins and Mario walks into the pipe, I will penetrate you. You may say things like, "MORE", "HARDER", "YES", "FUCK ME", but nothing else. I will continue having sex until the level ends. DO NOT take the secret level skip. If you die I will pull out and spank you until the level restarts.

When you reach the flag you must again trigger the fireworks, and also orgasm. I will pull out. When the 1-3 starts I will penetrate your ass. You are allowed to say something like "OH GOD", "YES", OR "IT HURTS" no other conversation is allowed.

When level 1-4 starts I will alternate between holes as I see fit. You may beg me to cum inside or outside of you, depending on what you want. When boss falls and you reach the princess I will pull out and blow my load where you have convinced me I want too. You may then say something like "Thanks", "It was great", "I loved it", "Don't stop"

If I am impressed you may continue playing and I will continue to pleasure you. If I am not, I will turn the Nintendo Off and return to the bathroom. At this time you may clean your self with the towel that is beside the bed. Turn the lights on, redress yourself and leave.

I may come back out and talk to you as you dress but the conversation will most likely be short and revolve around scheduling another time to get together.

Once upon a time, I was embarrassingly good at Super Mario Brothers. We would hold contests, dozens of people would come to play from several cities, and I don't think I ever lost: it's fair to say I knew the game then about as well as anybody could. I cannot, however, remember a damn thing about the game now, but this person knows it so well he can weave different levels into a narrative that I assume -- maybe it's just a hope -- is meant as a joke. While it is pretty funny -- as a joke -- what kind of person remembers a 20-odd year old video game that well?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Nate Silver, getting the hang of drawing eyeballs, makes a(nother) provocative post:

Firstly, the Democrats have a pretty strong buffer against Republican gains at the margins, which might be pretty useful to them since parties taking over the White House typically lose seats at the next midterm election. For example, suppose that Republicans gain 5 points across the board in 2010 (so that, for instance, a district which they lost by 3 points in 2008, they'd win by 2 points in 2010). If the Republicans managed to do this, the Democrats would lose just 15 seats, still holding 242 to the Republicans' 193. Suppose instead that the Republicans gained 10 points across the board. Surely that would give them back control of the chamber, right? Not really -- it only nets them 7 additional seats, giving them 200 to the Democrats' 235. Finally, suppose that the Republicans gained 15 points across the board. Even then, the Democrats would retain possession of the House by a narrow 219-216 margin. Put more succinctly, an outright majority of the House is now controlled by Democrats who won their elections by 15 points or more. Even if the political climate shifts back toward the Republicans, they may have trouble getting much bang for their buck.

The second advantage that comes into play is redistricting, which will take place after the 2010 census is completed. If the Democrats' voters are less efficeintly allocated now, they would seem to have more to gain once redistricting takes place and reshuffles them.

The third advantage is resource allocation. Seats that are won by 40+ points require next to nothing to defend, allowing the Democrats to concentrate their resources in more competitive areas.

Finally, there is a synergistic relationship between the vote margin in a particular district and the ideology of the congressman. That is, districts that are won by wider margins can support more progressive policymakers. The Congerssional Progressive Caucus now has 71 members, considerably larger than the Democrats' 47 Blue Dogs. Many congressional districts are so blue that the congressman is theoretically under more threat of losing to a primary challenge on his left than a Republican challenge on his right.

Although the Republicans face an arduous task in crafting a path to 270 electoral votes, finding 218 viable seats in the Congress might represent the more difficult challenge.

The work is first rate, the writing typically fluent, the thinking lucid, but at the end I found myself thinking, "So what?" OK, given the past decade, it's pretty clear that we are better off if the Republicans don't control anything more responsible than a small mayoral position -- somewhere, and God help that town -- but other than that, I'm not seeing the positive benefits of a Democratic Congress. The Blue Dogs plus the Republicans seem pretty much able to bully, bluster, and beg the majority to indulge them and not do anything "radical," and if Congress can't start driving progress, how will things get done?

Well, you say, that's Obama's job. And you're right -- it is. But it's an awful lot of responsibility to put on one guy, especially one guy of limited experience who will, if history serves as a guide, have no more than a year or so to effect meaningful change (name one major accomplishment of a president not named Roosevelt that happened in their second term). After that, the Democratic majority in Congress will be nothing more than one big firewall waiting for the Republicans to hack through. The Dems need to find a way, not just to maintain their majority, but to use it, even to expand it. Making Congress something more than a static body would also have the benefit of undoing some of the damage Bush's "imperial presidency" has done to both institutions. Congress has got to be able to lead, at least some of the time, or else it almost doesn't matter who's in charge of anything except the presidency.

Put that in your shoe

I wonder if the shoe thrower guy will start a trend. Flipping people off is boring. Cussing? Eh. But throwing a shoe? In our country, it carries with it the intoxicating scent of novelty. And since Bush is already despised, importing this insult is a way of perpetuating the original insult to Bush. I'm going to keep an eye out for this sort of thing in the future. As a new breed of insult, it just might have legs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Paper money and paper tigers

Krugman wants the Germans to play nice:

We start from the proposition that Europe is, or soon will be, in a position where interest rates are up against the zero lower bound. This means both that fiscal policy is the only game in town, and that we can use ordinary multiplier analysis.


You can play with these numbers, but I don’t think that conclusion is very sensitive to the details as long as you keep the large intra-EU trade effects in there. The lesson of this algebra is that there are very large intra-EU externalities in fiscal policy, making coordination really important. And that’s why German obstructionism is such a problem.

Strip away the wonkery, and the bottom line is the Germans, 80 years after hyperinflation, are caught up in Austrian School, "government spending is worse than useless, it's bad" style economics. But. They are locked into the Euro along with everyone else in the EMU. I don't know the intricacies of the EMU bank well enough to be sure, but it seems to me they could force the Germans to play ball by threatening them with their greatest fear: the devaluation of the money supply. Either they go along with fiscal expansion like everyone else, or the rest of the EMU, trying to compensate for (not punish, of course) Germany's recalcitrance, revs up the printing presses. I imagine the Germans would shit saurkraut and brats, swallow hard, and start spending, because from their inflation phobic perspective, it's better than the alternative.

Really, all this makes me wonder how long the EMU will hold together, though. A union that requires constant threats and arm twisting to make it act like a union isn't much of a union. Maybe the Brits et al were right to steer clear. And if they're like this now, with an economic crisis on hand the likes of which we haven't seen in 70 years, how would they be if they had to militarily cooperate? Talk about a paper tiger.

Just when you think you really are unique.

I've been buying stuff at Amazon, literally, since there was an Amazon. One of the creepy things about the experience to me is their "personal recommendation" algorithm is amazingly accurate -- they consistently recommend to me books I already own or have already read, and music I already own, but most of it things I haven't bought at Amazon. This wouldn't be so creepy, except that many of the books they end up recommending are in genres I've never bought or browsed at Amazon -- IE, there must be some kind of "type" out there that reads mystery books, classic literature, listens to classical, New Age, R&B, classic pop, and jazz music, who also has an interest in some of the more arcane subjects I do, subjects that are entirely different from the sort of literary tastes you'd expect from the things Amazon should know about me based on my behavior with them.

What's really interesting to me is that the other day I did a search for Space Food Sticks (a childhood thing), ended up at Amazon, and now their suggestions, which used to be all books I'd already read and music I already owned, are dominated by a bunch of survivalist stuff -- freeze dried and canned foods, tents, matches, and the like. Now, how many survivalist types read John Grisham, Michael Connelly, George Orwell, listen to Beethoven and Basie, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and Doris Day? I assume there really is such a type, based on the accuracy of their recommendations in the past.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Attractive, warm, command of the issues, which she breaks down into easily understood chunks, and sincere. I think Warren has a big future in politics if she wants one.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Get ROTCs off campus!"*

Reading around the liberal internets for reaction to Shinseki's appointment.

A few bullet points, as it were:

  • Another good pick by Obama. Shinseki is a competent guy whose pick sends a message to the military: "Your concerns are important to me, and I know it was Bush, not you, who fucked everything up."
  • People who speak their minds with integrity and passion will be rewarded in the Obama administration.
  • Picking Shinseki might also be something of a sop to the left, which made a martyr of him as soon as he spoke up on Iraq and was punished for it. Which brings me to,
  • The attitude of the left towards the military is a helluva lot better than it was just 4.5 years ago when Clark ran. Back then there were a whole lot of left wing yahoos who clearly hated the military and everything it stood for, and saw nothing wrong with saying so -- loudly. I don't think it stretches things at all to give Clark's courageous candidacy, and subsequent efforts on the behalf of Democrats, some of the credit for the change of that attitude.

This last point is the most important to me. Hilzoy made an excellent post about Shinseki today, but something she said, or didn't say, actually, bugged me:

I think this is very important -- as I've said before, with all Obama wants to accomplish, he needs strained relations with the military like he needs a hole in the head. But Obama's choices to date also raise the serious possibility that he could end (or at least mitigate) the Republican tilt of the senior officer corps. They have already experienced life under George W. Bush, and by all accounts, they did not care for it. But their distrust of Democrats might easily have prevented them from seriously considering drawing the obvious conclusion from Bush and Rumsfeld's trashing of the armed forces. If Obama can get past that hurdle, he could, just possibly, cause a very significant change.

I don't expect that the senior officer corps would go Democratic the way they are now Republican, nor, frankly, would I really want them to. I think that it's bad for the senior officer corps to be overwhelmingly aligned with either party. I would just like the two parties to be on a level playing field, as far as the officer corps goes. Obama might actually achieve that. And that would be a very big deal.

Notice what's missing? There is no attempt here to examine why the generals went Republican.

A few more bullet points:

  • Obama isn't going to establish a level playing field with the generals. Many of them come from the South, most of them come from backgrounds -- white, male, and Christian -- that are naturally conservative Republican, and they come from background that establish a rigid, orderly thought process which doesn't really lend itself to the liberal world view.
  • That being said, the combination of Republican incompetence and extremism, and shifting Democratic attitudes towards the military, can soften the military's hostility to the Democratic Party and the broader left in general. The left doesn't need to win, or even tie, the military battle -- they just need the image that the left and the military are inherently hostile to each other, and the cost that has on the left with the patriotism factor, to go away.
  • The ability of Hilzoy and some other liberal bloggers to make posts like these and not have to clean up after a vomit of anti-military rage from their posters is an encouraging sign that we can get to some kind of accomodation with the military.

I am increasingly optimistic about Obama, and the kind of president he's going to be. I like his cabinet picks, like his response to the financial crisis, like the sense I get from him that he isn't shrinking at all from a giant set of challenges. He just might be the right person at the right time -- a Lincoln, a FDR. At the same time, I think anyone who would put their trust in him and hope for the best -- not constantly push him from the left so he'll stay near the center -- is insane. Politics is a pressure game, and our side needs to learn how to play.

*The title of the post is from a particularly vivid memory I have of being a kid hanging around on a certain college campus, watching a bunch of students hurl rage at a ROTC formation. "Get Rotsies off campus!" was one of their chants. And they were chanting -- they were clapping and stomping in time to the chant, almost like a dance. Or a twisted kind of march of their own, a way of mocking the ROTCs.

Anyway, it shocked me, that this bunch of white people at an elite public -- that is, taxpayer-funded -- institution could harbor such blind anger towards a bunch of people they didn't know, and who were doing something that in the end was public service, no matter what you thought of it. This was in the years after Vietnam, so the war wasn't directly responsible. It was just a bunch of people needing a target for their dumb anger, and the ROTC was there. Ever since seeing that I mistrusted the left on all matters military, and if that stuff had that sort of effect on me, I can only imagine what it did to other people who saw it. That's got to change.


Gretchen Rubin:

It's nice to be nice, of course. It's not BAD to practice random acts of kindness. But if you want to build your happiness based on the happiness you bring to other people - the noblest ways of boosting happiness - I think it's more productive to be targeted. Hold the door open for a person pushing a stroller. Give your seat at Starbucks to an elderly person. Help a co-worker even when you're rushing to meet a deadline yourself.

Except for the "Help a co-worker" part, these are things I always considered expectations, not "kindness." Helping a woman with a stroller -- what man wouldn't do that? In fact, I always hold the door open for women, stroller or not, and see this behavior in other people as well. I wonder if this is a situation where Rubin, a New Yorker, is used to a different set of behavior norms than the rest of us.

And talk about awakening fears of "reciprocation" -- helping a co-worker is the single best way I can think of doing that. You should only do it if you know them well and are already friendly with them, they are in no position to do you a favor in return down the road, or they know, and accept, the notion that eventually there's going to be a favor called. Anything else and you are risking uncomfortable personal dynamics in the one place nobody needs them. That's just the way the real world works.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Visionary Leadership

Congress at work:

Faced with staggering new unemployment figures, Democratic Congressional leaders said on Friday that they were ready to provide a short-term rescue plan for the cash-strapped American automakers, and expected to hold votes on the legislation during a special session next week.

Details of the rescue package were not immediately available but senior Congressional aides said that it would include billions of dollars in short-term loans to keep the automakers afloat at least until President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Ending a weeks-long stalemate between the Bush administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, senior aides said that the money would likely come from $25 billion in federally subsidized loans intended for developing advanced fuel efficient cars.

Ms. Pelosi had resisted using that money, which was approved as part of an energy bill last year, and Democrats had called repeatedly on the Bush administration or the Federal Reserve to act unilaterally, using existing authority, to aid the auto companies.

On Friday, Ms. Pelosi said that she would allow that money to be used provided “there is a guarantee that those funds will be replenished in a matter of weeks” and that there was no delay in working toward higher fuel-efficiency.

Word of a breakthrough came as Congress wrapped up two days of hearings at which lawmakers grilled the chief executives of the companies, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, and experts warned that GM could collapse by the end of this month.

But it was the Labor Department’s report of 533,000 jobs lost in November that seemed to put a final halt to the hand-wringing on Capitol Hill and prompted the Democrats to announce that they would draw up legislation for votes next week.

Wait until after everything is fucked beyond recall, then do something. That was the pattern with Iraq, that's been the pattern with the housing crisis and the subsequent, broader meltdown: on every major issue these people are behind the curve, babbling about nonsense while the country goes down the drain. The Republicans have no governing philosophy, no will or desire to do anything besides obstruct progress and bomb weak countries, while the Democrats have lost all ability to take the sorts of risks necessary to govern.

Yes, part of this is that the public and their media pushers are ignorant about economics and always on the prowl for something to sneer at and attack, and an auto bailout would have been a perfect target for sneers and attacks. But what kind of leader wouldn't, staring straight in the face of a new Depression, decide to say, "Fuck it, we're going to act and deal with the public afterwards"?

This whole thing could almost certainly have been averted several months ago with an aggressive bailout of Lehman, and the creation of a rainy day fund of a few hundred billion. Instead, we are here, and the total cost will run well over a trillion when all is said and done, and even that might not be enough. This is a broken country, and even if the economy is put back together again, it will remain broken until our leaders are capable of leading.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bob Gibson, philosopher

My ex, a 100% dyed in the wool, Rush listening wingnut who two weeks ago was calling Obama a "socialist," was today praising him for his moderateness, and made the brilliant point, "You know there's hardly any difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, don't you?" It's like someone pulled a switch somewhere, and what was black is now grey, what was up is now in the middle, what was intolerable is now hardly any different than the alternative. I don't understand the mindset that allows that switch to be made so quickly and unconsciously -- she has entirely forgotten what she thought of him two weeks ago. It's frightening, is what it is.

If I were on the Obama team and all these people, my sworn enemies two weeks ago, were suddenly praising me, I'd be taking a hard look at my actions. There's such a thing as too much bipartisanship, and as we've discovered with Bush, too much support can be almost as bad as too little. If the conservatives don't start pushing back some, it means Obama is not crowding the plate like he should. It all goes back to Bob Gibson: "Show me a hitter who can't be jammed, and I'll show you a horseshit hitter."