Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thinking Man FAIL

Good lord. The Thinking Man's Top Ten Sex Symbols is, well, a travesty.

I applaud the concept. I really do. But they fail, clearly, at being thinking men. Or, at least, at being non-heteronormative (all women on this list, of course, no homo here), for starters. (If you want to make an all-girl list, cool, but say the thinking straight man's sex symbols and then you get to avoid implying that no gay men are thinking! Bonus!) For the sexism, just see this introductory language:
A man has two minds. The lower mind is a brainless whore excited by any woman with breasts, curves, and a thong. The upper mind, which works with actual grey matter, is more persnickety. The upper mind, when employed, is moved by intelligence, success, power, self-confidence, a smart sense of humor, and, of course, not having a castrating nature.

And that’s the challenge. Can a woman be independent, creative, sharp, witty, strong, and self-empowering without making me feel like she wants to be a man?

Men as brainless animals enslaved by their hormones? Check. Men, even when being totes sensible, needing to be protected (the poor dears) from those scary castrating women? Supercheck. I mean, damn. You're not sexy if you threaten my sense of power (which comes from where? Oh, right, the fact that I'm a dude) AT ALL, girls! I hope you're taking notes!

To wrap up, here's our friendly reminder that anyone who is independent, creative, sharp, strong, and self-empowering clearly is a man or a wannabe man. Because only men are like that, duh! Oh, you chicks are so silly sometimes.


And then you get the comments on each sex symbol. The one that jumped out at me the most was what they had to say about M.I.A.:

"M.I.A. is one of my favorite musicians right now. It would be so fun to travel the world with her, viewing life as one big art project."

For one thing, that's all they had to say. They waxed poetic about any number of other women, but that is the entirety of what they have to say about M.I.A., who to me is far more interesting (and sexy) than Katie Couric. Hell, they talk about Meredith Vieira's SHOES about as much.

For another, I think this gets it entirely wrong. M.I.A. makes art about very real-life issues. Her dad was sort of in the Tamil Tigers. "Paper Planes," as far as I can tell, is entirely about illegal migration and the forms of gangsterdom and black marketeering that pop up in poor and oppressed places and groups. She has sat on buses and watched people shoot each other. She's not just some quaint arty type who "travels the world" (because she's exotic, don't you know) and quirkily sees things as art. She makes interesting art about life. This is the difference between a trust-funded performance artist who sees the significance in EVERYTHING ("It's just so...spontaneous, you know? You never know when art will happen. When I was watching the Orange Revolution from my safe vantage point in the Ritz while smoking Gauloises, I was wishing I could be out there with them just experiencing--for my next piece, of course") and a serious person blessed with talent that allows them to translate complicated and difficult experience into consumable art. It's, you know, an important difference. It is arguably a big part of what makes M.I.A. sexy, but screw that, Thinking Men--she's so ARTY! She can tell you the crazy shit she sees while you stare at her tits!

Finally, for a hint of general all-around crappiness, note their explicit congratulation of Sarah Silverman for figuring out a way to say horribly racist and otherwise problematic shit while passing it off as a joke. They literally call it "having her cake and eating it too." Because clearly her motivation is to get to say horrible things without consequence, not to create biting and effective satire that forces people to examine their prejudices--and that's so awesome! Hipster racism and so on at its finest. ("It's not racist, it's ironic.")

Illustrated political economy

There's a manga version of Das Kapital. And it's currently flying off the shelves in Japan.

In homage, I link you to the graphic version of The Road to Serfdom, which is ideologically the opposite of Das Kapital.

Trust the Japanese to restore balance to the universe of illustrated political economy.

Blago appointed a senator anyway.

Damn. This goes beyond chutzpah to a level approaching gangsta. Ta-nehisi agrees:

I didn't catch all of it but I did hear him say something like, "Don't see myself resigning, even if these feds house me/Big up to Jesse Jr. Big up to Jan Schakowsky..." And then he dissed Common.

What I want to know now is how Kanye and Lupe Fiasco fit into all this. You know they gotta be taking sides.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What killed Bush

This is a very interesting point, which I had missed largely because when the Terri Schiavo thing went down I was young enough and sensible enough not to be paying any attention:

I've long believed that what really killed Bush was the contrast between his handling of Katrina and his handling of the Terri Schiavo case, which had come only a few months earlier. It was just too stark. What the American public saw was that when the religious right was up in arms, the president and the Republican Party acted. Bill Frist performed his famous long-distance diagnosis; Tom DeLay fulminated on the floor of the House; Republicans tried to subpoena both Terri and Michael Schiavo; and President Bush interrupted his vacation and made his famous midnight flight to Washington DC to sign a bill transferring the case to federal court. It was both a whirlwind and a political circus.

And it showed that Bush could be moved to action if the right constituency was at risk. It wasn't just that Bush was mostly MIA during the early stages of Katrina, but that he was plainly capable of being engaged in an emergency if it was the right kind of emergency. But apparently New Orleans wasn't it. And that was the final nail in the coffin of his presidency.

Too right.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Milk

I saw Milk and I really liked it. I wish they would have addressed intersectionality a little more. They showed a few gay men of all races and a few lesbians, which is great--they can't change the facts of Milk's inner circle, which was primarily male and white--but every so often you would hear references to "the blacks" and "the asians" as a comparison with or distinction from "the gays" and I wanted to say, "What about the black gays? The asian gays?" etc. etc.

I also understand that intersectionality is complicated and has only gained purchase in feminist thought fairly recently (though it's been around much longer than that--mostly feminists of color have been largely ignored until recently, and even now intersectionality is only current in some circles), let alone in gay activism (which I know far less about), and it's not that I expect Milk himself to have been a paragon in this regard. It's a hard thing to tackle from a political perspective. I don't even know, exactly, what the movie should have done about it--I just sort of thought of all the people who had one part or the other of their identities erased by that formulation, and wished it wasn't so.
In the NYT article on resumption of full-scale warfare between Israel and Hamas, I was struck by this paragraph:

Israeli officials said that anyone linked to the Hamas security structure or government was fair game because Hamas was a terrorist group that sought Israel’s destruction. But with work here increasingly scarce because of an international embargo on Hamas, young men are tempted by the steady work of the police force without necessarily fully accepting the Hamas ideology. One of the biggest tolls on Saturday was at a police cadet graduation ceremony in which 15 people were killed.

The cycle of radicalization continues. Goddammit.

It is certainly arguable whether Hamas has pursued "all the peaceful options" as they say they have, though I'd venture that within their particular framework of jihad they've made a decently good-faith effort despite some more extreme rhetoric that is, in truth, more in line with their stated principles. (Rhetoric, of course, is political action and should not be discounted.) Regardless, from a realist perspective, the Israelis have done a remarkably bad job of providing Hamas--or any Gazan--with reward for more restrained behavior or incentives to chill the fuck out.

The paragraph alludes to the economic isolation imposed on Gaza by Israel with the cooperation and support of West Bank authorities, the U.S., and the international community (whatever that is supposed to mean). When Palestine is economically integrated with--which is to say, dependent on--Israel, Palestinians are far more likely to decry aggression by their representatives. They have much more to lose. In this situation, the only cost is really the size of the body count.

That is not nothing by any means, but the fact is that people die in Gaza from lack of medical care and from deprivations resulting from the embargo as it is. People die as a result of the violence that almost inevitably emerges from the lack of wealth and economic opportunity resulting from the embargo. People die from the ongoing, if sporadic, violence between Israel and Gaza, which is of course more politically feasible and useful for leaders when there is no quality of life left to lose, and nothing to gain from waiting out a siege that can go on indefinitely as far as its architects are concerned. Finally, people die or are crippled because Hamas is by no means perfect as a governing entity, but when Hamas is at war with Israel they have less need to subjugate the populace by violence, and it's easier for them to gloss over those incidents.

The surest way to prevent conflict is to unite your enemy's interests with your own. From the paper I killed myself over two weeks ago:

For Israel’s part, nothing of much use can be done in the current mindset. To deal effectively with this problem, Israel will have to change the basis on which, for the most part, it has acted since the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is understandable that Israel has sought to weaken the Palestinians as much as possible and to concede to them as little as possible. However, it must be clear by now that the only internationally acceptable end to this conflict will be a two-state solution of some kind, and that the Palestinians will not disappear through repression and warfare. It is now in Israel’s interest to have as stable, viable, and friendly a neighbor and negotiating partner in Palestine as possible....

I understand that Israelis object to aiding or even tacitly allowing the prosperity of an enemy that has repeatedly attacked and killed their fellow citizens. I understand that there is real concern that no matter what Israel does, Hamas will always oppose it and always violently. Hell, it's in Hamas's charter. But given that, Israel will never defeat or accomodate Hamas. Its best hope is to turn away the public's support for them and their mission, and bombing the fuck out of that public is probably the worst way to do it.

The only chance for success in this situation is to break the cycle that produces more and more radicals on both sides (the longer this goes on, the stupider and weaker moderates look). In my view, Israel has greater latitude and so greater responsibility in this matter as the more powerful actor. I'm sure this perception is colored by the fact that I live in the pro-Israel U.S., but to argue on any realist basis that Israel is not the more powerful actor is laughable. Furthermore, Israel's position in the Middle East would be strengthened, not weakened, by showing some clemency toward the Palestinians. The struggle against Israel is legitimated by its framing as on the behalf of Palestinians; when Israel is seen to be reasonable and generous toward them, its opposition in Syria and elsewhere starts to look much less righteous.

I don't mean to erase the real cost to Israeli security that would unavoidably accompany a softening toward Palestine. But I do think that in the long term, such a cost will be necessary if this equilibrium, which is painful and costly as it is and poisons nearly every other political question in the region, is ever to be broken.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The best meditation I've yet heard on Rick Warren's role at the inauguration, from Ta-Nehisi.

Semiotics of torture

Some interesting discussion on the political, moral, and philosophical consequences of the Bush Administration's torture agenda:
...it's not that torture had been non-existent in liberal states until the torture shown in the Abu Ghraib photos. The US torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Baghram, and elsewhere reflects the techniques developed through CIA documents dating to the 1950s. The liberal state, more generally, has always functioned on an opposition between its conception of civilization - grounded in a liberal conception of rationality - and what's beyond civilization.

[...]

That is, "barbarism." In the name of basic liberal principles and of rationality itself, the liberal state must be defended against its barbarian enemies. But since these principles - of, for instance, autonomy, liberty, dignity, etc. - in the liberal political-philosophical tradition are taken as universal (for Kant, for example, grounded in natural law), and since torture is a fundamental denial of those principles, the liberal state had to conceal torture. Foucault suggests something similar in Discipline and Punish. Torture, when practiced by liberal states, could never find a place in actual law. Otherwise, we’re no longer talking about liberal states, but something else.

Torture is fundamentally extra-legal in this sense and this is why there's so much talk of states of exception and states of necessity. But this is also why the Bush administration's institutionalization and attempted legalization of torture is so radical. It's an assault on the foundational principles of the liberal state.

Yup. That's why visible torture is so dangerous to America's international reputation, too. It's not about hypocrisy, it's about being revealed to be something other than what the country was supposed to be--including what it believes itself to be. It's revelatory and it's the kind of moral-philosophical shift that has real consequences.

I really need to read Discipline and Punish. There will never be enough time, goddammit.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Awkward

Apparently Condi, Bush and the first Lady have been raking in the swag from foreign leaders. The biggest chunk by far is Condi's $300,000+ worth of jewelry from Arab leaders.

All of which, at least, has to be turned over to the General Services Administration and government archives.

Except now I'm wondering what they've got stashed away in some Cave of Wonders. Possibly the same undisclosed location Dick Cheney hides out in all the time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sounds good in theory, but...

I actually kind of think this is a brilliant idea in a perfect fairy world:

Opiate painkilling drugs are in critically short supply across the developing world. So why doesn't the USA just buy the Afghan poppy harvest, process it into painkilling meds, and distribute them to poor countries?

1. This would cut off the Taliban's chief source of funding.

2. It would put the average Afghan farmer on the side of the US-supported government instead of the Taliban.

3. It would play to our strength -- money. The Taliban has more local knowledge, more time, more patience, more willingess to shed innocent blood. But we have more money. They might be able to outfight us, out-corrupt us, or out-terrorize us, but they can't outbid us.

4. It would put the US on record as alleviating suffering all over the world.

5. By fighting the Taliban with dollars instead of (as many) soldiers, we'd suffer a lot fewer killed and maimed Americans.

6. It might even be cheaper. Soldiers, tanks, planes, humvees, night vision goggles, bullets, Predator drones, etc. are really, really, expensive.

The brilliant thing about this is that it doesn't require Afghani farmers, who really don't need any extra trouble, to change anything about their farming practices; it provides a market for their product that doesn't fund the Taliban or lead to horrific human rights abuses within the structure of the transaction; it's a badly needed source of revenue.

However, it's clearly not that simple. First of all, you can't just buy the opium crop and remove--or even significantly reduce--the army. You need both. If the Taliban can't rely on opium revenues, in the absence of obstruction they'll just find another way to force the population to support them. Not everyone in Afghanistan is a poppy farmer, by a long shot, and clearly the Taliban have managed them before. By the same token, Afghani poppy farmers don't sell to Taliban-connected drug lords because they pay the highest--it's because these guys have incredibly harsh protection rackets going. This is a frequent reason girls set themselves on fire at a young age--sometimes their fathers can't deliver what they need to or they find themselves "owing" a drug lord in some way, and they end up giving them their daughters in payment.

If a higher bidder just comes along, the farmers aren't going to merrily switch business partners hey presto. They would need significant protection from retribution. So, yes, you need both security forces and poppy-buying. Keeping in mind that our forces there are already deemed insufficient, I don't think we could really draw down much (although if we get out of Iraq and had poppy revenue, our presence there would be less of a strain--for the budget and for the soldiers themselves, who hopefully could go on fewer and shorter tours of duty).

The other massive problem is the likelihood that a number of soldiers would suddenly turn into drug dealers. Let's face it, our armed forces have been taking whoever they can get lately (except gay people), including convicted felons, abusers, rapists, etc. (This is not to say that all soldiers are in this mold--far from it.) It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that if you get a bunch of burned-out Marines and whatnot together in a war zone and give them a bunch of opium, they'll either start taking it or, in a region riddled with connections, start dealing it. Or, that time-honored combination, both. Really, the last thing we need is the U.S. Armed Forces basically acting as the best, most secure drug convoy in the world.

Imagine the possibilities. The opiates have to get all the way from Afghanistan to somewhere where they can be made into something useful, probably in the West, and they'll change hands several times. Then, once they're drugs--drugs which can still get you high--they have to get all the way to Sub-Saharan Africa or similar. The second stage is no more risky than humanitarian medical aid already is. But oh, god, I can see the reports coming in now and they're not pretty. The second a U.S. soldier kills someone over drugs we are screwed. Plus, once the VA has to start implementing detox programs for soldiers coming home whose families are freaked out by their withdrawal symptoms, the Armed Forces start to look pretty damn bad--especially to parts of the population who have historically had strong respect and support for the military. I mean, if anything says THE OPPOSITE OF MILITARY DISCIPLINE AND HONOR in big red letters, it's a smack problem.

So I guess my point is that the above proposal is an admirable solution to several real-world issues that have been bungled or not addressed up to now; it just ignores a whole host of other real-world issues that would accompany it. That's the thing with policy: it always does a million things other than the things you designed it to do.

What I'm listening to

Kids by MGMT is the song I'm currently playing on repeat:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIEOZCcaXzE

I have no idea what the video or the song is about, but points for Charlie Chaplin footage. I've actually heard this playing in the coffee shops and so on a million times but never knew who it was by. I got the album the other day and was playing it and actually thought to myself, "I wonder if that song is going to be on here" and it totally was. Booyakasha.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Choice

I've been meaning to post this from Ta-Nehisi for a while. I think it speaks for itself.
...The case for/against gay marriage is hung-up on this idea of choice--i.e. we should frown on gay marriage because it's a deviant lifestyle. Or we shouldn't frown on it because it isn't a lifestyle, it's a biological fact. This is where the comparisons with race come in. But I always hated this argument. Whenever people say, "You should not discriminate against people because they didn't chose to be black," I hear the mild tones of wild liberal condescension.

Implicit in that logic is a kind of judgment, the notion that if I could choose, I obviously would choose to be white. But what if I just like being black? What if I could choose and would still choose black? Ditto for homosexuality. So what if you do choose to be gay? I understand that a lot of the science says you don't, but why do we accept this implicit idea that heterosexuality is, necessarily, what everyone would chose?

I'm not trying to minimize the bias and trauma that must come from being out, but a basic extension of humanity, a belief that those who aren't like me actually are like me, says that to be gay has to be more than coping with living beneath the boot of the ignorant. It's always about more than getting your ass kicked, no? What if you actually love the "more than?" What if it is who you are and what you choose?

Friday, December 12, 2008

What's in a name?

Change the name of the Dept. of Agriculture to the Dept. of Food?

I say yes, cautiously. Dept. of Food and Agriculture is a little easier to swallow (dur hur), but either way the sentiment is, I think, correct. We are not an agricultural country anymore and it would be better for us and for the world food supply if we stopped pretending to be.

Scattered thoughts

1. Finals was a really, really bad time for me to discover Polyvore.

2. Larison is making sense again.

I think we basically fundamentally agree on foreign policy, and furthermore I really value the fact that his perspective on those issues is completely outside of the usual Washington mindset. It helps me think a lot. His stances on social conservative issues (abortion, gay marriage) are completely incommensurate with mine. However, those positions are rooted in a very, very intellectually serious Christianity that I can in turn take seriously (which I can't with, say, James Dobson), and it's interesting to read his arguments about these things because they're usually different from the ones I've heard before; or if they're basically the same, they contain the scriptural and philosophical reasoning that can prop up such nonsense with something resembling an argument, which again is always interesting. He's also insanely well-informed.

Anyway, my point of view on the question he's engaging there is that it's not that Americans are insanely naive about governments harming people; I think Americans know that they always have and they always will. I think Americans are uniquely horrified by the idea of governments harming "their own." This is partly because I don't think we understand, really, what a "fractured society" is; and partly because, well, we're exceptionalists and we like to think our government would never do anything bad to us, and since we seek to export our style of government everywhere else we expect other governments to act the same. Aiding this, the dominant strain of American historical memory has a whole lot of race, class, and gender privilege (duh) and so conveniently forgets all about the times when the American government really has harmed its own.


Okay, speaking of fractured societies, back to my paper. I have now written one paper on the slave trade (tangentially), one on dead Chinese babies (less tangentially), and now I'm writing one about civil war, occupation, and suicide bombing. Maybe if I studied something else finals week would be easier. Alas. What's that quotation about wishing an interesting life on one's enemies?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Revolutionary language

Oh man, this is actually kind of wonderful.

I'm not actually talking about the economic plan--I'm talking about this:

Aside from the commitment to what sounds like a great progressive stimulus plan, one sentence struck me: Will your job or your husband’s job or your daughter’s job be the next one cut? Read that closely. In a speech about universal fears and hardship, he is addressing his primary listeners as women. Never have I heard sentence construction like that from a president -- women addressed directly in a non-"women's issues" setting as legitimate, fully fledged and very concerned and invested breadwinners. The effect is stunning.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

At last

Someone said it! What I've been thinking!

Through a convergence of terrorists' savvy with the structural changes in the mediasphere, an enormously disproportionate impact can be brought to bear by applying what really amounts to minute pressure to geopolitical faultlines. To give an idea, based on these World Bank automobile statistics, more people died of car accidents in India on the day of the attacks than in the attacks themselves. But we are now seriously and soberly considering the possibility of a worst-case scenario that involves nuclear war.

To my mind, this underlines the need to formulate a new paradigm for how we, by which I mean the global community, experience and respond to these kinds of attacks in order to defuse their asymmetric power. An approach that combines restraint, resilience and resolve, and that balances the need to protect ourselves from these pathological psychopaths with the acceptance that we can never be fully immune.

I don't know quite what that would look like, or whether it's possible. But I, for one, am tired of how much power is being handed over to so few people with so little imagination.
Once again, Larison is dead-on:

Looking at both policy and personnel in the new administration, the cynical Russian (or American) would have to work overtime lately to see where exactly significant change is in the offing.... Perhaps the Kremlin actually admires the ability to engage in such a theatrical display to promote the illusion of dramatic political shifts while not changing anything fundamental. It is something of an art form, I grant you, and we have been practicing it much longer than they have, and it is not hard to see why a political establishment would want to learn how to imitate it....

Even so, consider how debased and broken-down our standards must be that we consider it some kind of vindication of popular government that the two clans that have held executive power for the last twenty years did not happen to have a blood relative on either presidential ticket. Then we would remember that this was to some extent an accident on the Democratic side (had Clinton made any serious effort in the caucus states in early February, the “story line” above would have been almost entirely vindicated), and it was true on the Republican side perhaps only because of the unusual degree of incompetence shown by the current office-holder. Had Bush not been judged an utter failure as early as late 2006, how many of us really think that his brother would have stayed out of the presidential race? Except for his brother’s ruined reputation, how many think he would not have been seriously considered for a VP slot? Remember that a majority of the GOP still approves of George W. Bush even now--imagine what his approval rating among Republicans would have been had he not been quite as disastrous as he was! Does anyone believe that, between his establishment ties and governing record, Jeb Bush could not have won the nomination, had it not been for the great incompetence of his brother? For that matter, does anyone think that a relative outsider such as Obama would have stood a chance of winning the nomination of his party had it not been for the calamitous Bush Era and the complicity of so many leading Democrats in its calamities? Consider how fully this administration had to fail and how deeply unpopular Bush himself had to become to render the Russian “story line” invalid where it might have otherwise been all too accurate, and then tell me that there is not something rotten in our politics.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Prop 8: The Musical



See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

When it rains, it pours

There was a car bomb in Peshawar. (Peshawar being the capital of the FATA, or the tribal areas that are causing the U.S. so much trouble right now.)

So far 21 dead, 90+ injured. The electricity also went out and there were fires that destroyed a number of shops and warehouses due to an explosion in a nearby gas line.

Of course, everybody thinks this is India or Indians getting back at Pakistan for Mumbai, even though nobody actually knows whether Pakistan is responsible in the first place.

I would not be too surprised if this were the same group making sure they get what they want, which is conflict between India and Pakistan; or if it were unrelated (after all, this is the FATA, and there have been a lot of bombings and violence around there lately) and it's impossible for people not to construe it as a part of this narrative. After all, Peshawar is hardly analogous to Mumbai. While it is a center of arts and culture, something it shares with Mumbai, it's not the financial or economic center of Pakistan the way Mumbai is of India. It doesn't strike at the same pressure point.

A bomb in Peshawar makes much more sense in the context of the American war on terror than it does in the context of whatever chess game someone is playing with India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. (Unless, of course, we count this chess game as part of a larger one that has to do with Afghanistan, which seems eminently possible to me, although its similarity to a 24 plot makes me suspicious. Then again I continue to be no kind of expert or authority.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Slang and political journalism

Oh, wow. Ta-Nehisi Coates goes all out:

Slang goes out of style for a very good reason--at some point the words or terms of the day fail to properly describe a new day, a new situation, a new time. The reason why people who aren't a part of group sound stupid using slang, is because they often don't understand the words they're using on any deep level--they're just parroting what sounds cool. Ditto for all these cats running with this team of rivals notion. When you repeat that line--something which Obama is more than happy to see reporters do--what you're basically saying is "I quit. I refuse to respect my subject enough to think about what he specifically represents."

The best thing about the human brain is that it's original. None of us think the same. When thinkers amd writers refuse to employ that originality, when they opt against telling us what is particular, what is specific, what is unique about this moment in time, when they decide to go with the easiest received wisdom at hand, as opposed to deliberating, as opposed to banging their heads on the wall until they arrive at something new, than they are not writers or thinkers any more, but henchmen in the employ of propagandists. I say that as an Obama fan. Stop fucking pushing the cliches this dude is feeding you. Wake the fuck up and think for yourself. This is exactly how we got into Iraq. This isn't a damn game.

One thing leads to another

Daniel Larison says, Stupid Policies Have Consequences. How our ill-advised NATO goals have made our lives harder in Afghanistan.

Link dump

I have a bunch of links I've been meaning to write up and I haven't gotten around to it, so here they all are. I promise they're all interesting.

CNN declared that Susan Rice, Obama's Envoy to the U.N., had been the Assistant Secretary of State for African-American Affairs. Whoopsie--there is no such thing (no shit, Sherlock). Actually it was African affairs. Oof.

Seems Bush was warned about the prospect of a financial crisis and even received a few suggestions on how to avoid such a catastrophe--and ignored all that. Sounds eerily like the backstory on 9/11 to me.

A former leading interrogator in Iraq says he has a way better interrogation method than torture: treat 'em like human beings and they'll talk to you. This is how the U.S. got the information that allowed it to take out a leading Al-Qaeda commander-type. Whaddayaknow?

Some very interesting thoughts on who exactly perpetrated the Mumbai attacks.

More on Mumbai's attackers. Some interesting specifics on the Pakistani government's control or lack thereof here, as well as a discussion of methodology--comparing these attackers to a group that people seem to be heading towards crediting with the attacks.

I think this is pretty dumb: apparently we should be worrying about world obesity more than world hunger. Perhaps if we had the global food supply in better order both problems would be addressed, but really? My straw man alert is going off, LOUDLY. For some reasons to doubt whether we should even be that worried about teh fatties and their OMG HEALTH, see here, or read Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin.


There you have it. Now I have to figure out whether I have history class tomorrow.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Straight Outta Jidda

OMFG

GUYS, THERE'S A SAUDI ARABIAN GIRL BAND.

Do you understand the significance of this? Of course they're all rich girls and they can't perform in public or rehearse freely or any of that shit, and they're from Jidda which is a more culturally liberal city (not saying much), but they are a SAUDI GIRL BAND and apparently their song is an underground hit.

This is seriously a huge deal. This is a place where boys and girls can't even talk to each other. I mean, Saudi is pretty intense in terms of gender repression (I wouldn't rank it as high as Afghanistan or Yemen, or parts of Pakistan, but people in Saudi are richer--thanks, oil wealth!--which contributes to why they don't literally treat their women like slaves as much as in Afghanistan), so probably most of what you've heard about "the way Islam treats women" applies here. AND THERE'S A GIRL BAND.

Significantly, it seems they're college students.


(FYI, the song isn't particularly good and the video is just text, but the song is competent and the music is actually SO NOT THE POINT HERE.)

Target: Women





Oh, Sarah Haskins, how I love thee.

(Rachel Maddow is still my TV girlfriend, though.)

What are they for again?

The 9 Most Misogynist Print Ads of All Time

Some of those are really incredible. "The Chef (TM) does everything but cook--that's what wives are for!" I mean, wow. Also, what exactly does The Chef (TM) do, then?

Civic Literacy

So there's this Civic Literacy test going around, right? The aim clearly being to show that GOVERNMENT IS LIEK TOTEZ BOGUS, GUYS.

How do I know this? Because after you get your results they show you a table that tells you exactly how much worse "elected officials" who took the test did than average citizens, and many of the economic questions have a huge neoliberal/right wing bias. (Never mind that perhaps the fact that citizens got it about 50% right and officials were a few points behind suggests that maybe the government [BOOGA BOOGA] should spend a little more money on education and training. Oh noez!)

I got four questions wrong out of 33, giving me a score of 87.88% correct. (Does this mean I automatically get to be in civil service? Oh, joy!) On three of the four I almost picked the right answer, and on the fourth I'm pretty sure their "right answer" is a total fallacy--UNLESS you assume a number of economic right-wing utopia conditions (gov't taxes each citizen the same amount and then spends all its money on public goods that transcend geography/somehow manages to apportion all spending equally), which, let's face it, they very well may have. YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Or even worse, they didn't even get far enough to make assumptions: they thought, well, if spending = tax revenue (a condition inherent to the question), then obviously tax revenue divided by population = spending divided by population! Simple! Except for the failure to consider any remotely practical consideration in any way related to taxes or, for that matter, spending.

...Civic Literacy, eh?


Anyway, it's kind of fun to take the quiz. Have at it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Loaded question

Is Joe McCarthy the father of the modern Republican Party?

More on Mumbai

Glenn Greenwald makes an important point about revisionism, 9/11, the Mumbai attacks, and cycles of violence.

It turns out Pakistan was going to send its Director General or whatever of the intelligence forces to help investigate the Mumbai attacks, but now he's not going--they're sending a "representative."

Is the ISI trying to piss off India? I was hearing theories before this even happened that the ISI and/or army had essentially gone rogue (since it was assumed that no remotely sane Pakistani government could have any interest in starting something like this) and were behind the attacks. This is the kind of thing that is either a ridiculously bush league political/diplomatic mistake--which is not really what comes to mind when I think "ISI"--or a deliberate snub to India. Why would you do that?

Shocking as it may seem, clearly there are some things I'm missing here.


Finally, it seems that two of the terrorists may have been British-born Pakistanis. If this were a novel I would probably be clutching my skull at the sheer symbolic recursiveness of it all, but IT'S (potentially) REAL. WTF. Past not dead, not even over, amen.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

AMAZING.

This is the funniest thing ever (to me): http://counterterrorismblog.org/2008/11/frustrated_claims_of_proobama.php

Maybe the wingnuts and al-Qaeda can fight a battle of mutually assured destruction over who has been more egregiously victimized by pro-Obama media bias. Then I can laugh and laugh and laugh.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ah, demos.

Ta-Nehisi said this was the best photo collection of Obama's campaign around. I had no idea how right he was--these are fucking awesome pictures, as photographs and as a representation of Obama's candidacy. Go Boston Globe!

Also, I love the first two comments:

sigh....really? I don't see how any of you can trust a politician. The terms "politician" and "blood-sucking parasite" are synonymous, and yet for some reason, all of you people think that this man actually has YOUR best interests at heart, just because he tells you so? HA! Never believe ANYONE who tells you that they will put YOUR interests above their own. The country has been given to a man who lies for a living, and everyone is celebrating. Gee, I wonder why our nation is falling behind?
That said...the pics above are nice and dramatic, but can we get some that show reality, not glamour? Thanks boss.


and

Nothing in my life has been more thrilling than this Presidential experience! I love it beyond measures that can be explained!

I just love the measured and reasoned discourse of the public, don't you? John Stuart Mill would be proud.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In words and pictures

Here is a very important post about the potential Big Three bailout, the real vs. shadow economies, and the places that built this country into the economic juggernaut we all believe it to be. It's beautiful and the photography is, too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Post-feminist, bitchez

Melissa McEwan has a typically insightful post up about a political reframing that's taking place around women's reproductive health services.

Question: How long do you think it will take before history is rewritten so that the legislation which would "provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education -- services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies" becomes the sole province of the Very Serious Centrist Men (possibly including our new president-elect) who found the "middle ground" on abortion that extremists on both sides couldn't find, despite the reality that feminists have been advocating for exactly these social services for longer than I've been alive?

Don't answer that. It's rhetorical.

I find it fascinating (where fascinating = completely bloody infuriating) that these ideas will probably only now get a hearing at long last because the frame has switched from "things women need, irrespective of their circumstances" to "things that will ensure women make more babies."

Post-feminist, bitchez.

Nepal treating gay and transexual citizens like human beings

Fancy that.

Nepal's supreme court ruled to "grant...protection to gays, lesbians and transgender community in the country. It also open doors for gay marriage rights and end [sic] all discriminatory laws."

It's worth reading the article--particularly where they discuss the role of Hinduism toward the end.

It remains to be seen what this will mean in practice, and I haven't read the decision, but nonetheless: congratulations, Nepal!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Defender of what?

Whoa!

Prince Charles wants to change British law so that when he accedes the throne he'll be entitled "Defender of Faith," rather than "Defender of the Faith," to reflect Britain's multidenominational society. (Apparently he originally wanted "Defender of the Faiths," but that caused too much controversy.

It would be really interesting to look over the documents and statements surrounding this discussion and see exactly why and how "Defender of the Faiths" was more controversial than "Defender of Faith". My first thought is that simple, indefinite "Faith" can mean whatever the hearer or reader thinks it means, and so Anglicans can go on thinking it means Anglicanism, while "the Faiths" irrevocably and unavoidably acknowledges and validates other faiths. You can keep ignoring religious minorities with the former version, and indeed depending on how you define "faith" you can even argue that the title still doesn't describe them. It's harder (though still not impossible) to do that with the latter version.

Praxis

I went to the Prop 8 protest yesterday.

It was fucking fantastic. We marched down the middle of Michigan Ave. and stopped traffic.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Isn't it just so true?

In Soviet America, comik strip laugh at you!

Secrets, secrets are no fun

Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries

Doesn't sound too bad till you read this:

"The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.

"These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States."

Since 2004 they had this. They were already bombing Pakistan in 2006. I'm amazed Musharraf held on as long as he did.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Off-topic

http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/29/living-with-music-a-playlist-by-nick-hornby/?hp

THAT WOULD BE MY A CAPPELLA GROUP BEING MENTIONED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

BY THE AUTHOR OF HIGH FIDELITY.


I THINK MY ENTIRE WORLD JUST EXPLODED. BAAAAAAAA WHAT?!

ETA: By the way, if anybody wants the CD (ahem), you can buy it on iTunes. I know there are at least 3 people I said I would send CDs to and I never did; I'm really sorry about that. I'm terrible with these things. Anyway, the easiest thing to do is get it on iTunes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I confess

So I'm reading Augustine's Confessions for class and it's a profoundly weird experience--being up against someone's overflowing faith like that, when you have never experienced anything remotely analogous and feel no need to.

It's making it hard to focus on the book, because, well, I don't care whether God is in him or he is in God or both or neither. I'm impressed with his ability to maintain cognitive dissonance--I suppose that's a big part of what faith does--but in terms of the actual investigation? Yawn.

It's not a general allergy to religious texts. I enjoyed reading parts of the Hebrew Bible that have profound influence on his thinking--I recognize a lot of language. I suppose that's the difference between studying actual myth and studying a person's experience with that myth? Then again, maybe it's just that I'm tired and hungry. Plus, I was reading the Hebrew Bible in the context of a cultural history of myth and making a lot of connections to Mesopotamia and West Semitic gods, and we got to read all kinds of unorthodox variants that I'd never seen before. It's much harder for me to read Confessions as literature.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The middle

"[T]hat is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle."

--Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft


This is what I mean when I talk about language and naming in politics. This is why I follow politics as closely as I do (other than because I'm a junkie)--because I want to see not just what people are saying but how they are saying it. Because how they say it reveals how they think about these problems, how problems and their potential solutions are positioned in people's minds.

Probably my single greatest disappointment with Obama so far (though he may yet come through) is that he is uniquely well positioned to redefine the terms of American politics and has not done so. He is a candidate premised on "change" and a fresh perspective, coming at the end of a political and ideological era, with outstanding command of language. That he has not done more to obliterate Republican framing of politics, problems, and people and replace it with a more progressive lens makes me put my head down on my desk.

Homophobia motivating acceptance of transgendered children?

he Atlantic has an interesting article about transgender children which I've been switching off with my homework for reading material. I was struck by these paragraphs:

Catherine Tuerk, who runs the support group for parents in Washington, D.C., started out as an advocate for gay rights after her son came out, in his 20s. She has a theory about why some parents have become so comfortable with the transgender label: “Parents have told me it’s almost easier to tell others, ‘My kid was born in the wrong body,’ rather than explaining that he might be gay, which is in the back of everyone’s mind. When people think about being gay, they think about sex—and thinking about sex and kids is taboo.”

Tuerk believes lingering homophobia is partly responsible for this, and in some cases, she may be right. When Bill [the father of a transgendered child] saw two men kissing at the conference, he said, “That just don’t sit right with me.” In one of Zucker’s case studies, a 17-year-old girl requesting cross-sex hormones tells him, “Doc, to be honest, lesbians make me sick … I want to be normal.” In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death, but sex-change operations are legal—a way of normalizing aberrant attractions.

Overall, though, Tuerk’s explanation touches on something deeper than latent homophobia: a subconscious strain in American conceptions of childhood. You see it in the hyper-­vigilance about “good touch” and “bad touch.” Or in the banishing of Freud to the realm of the perverse. The culture seems invested in an almost Victorian notion of childhood innocence, leaving no room for sexual volition, even in the far future.

I don't have anything to add, really--I had just never thought of transgender as a comforting (for some) "escape condition" for homosexuality. It dovetails nicely with how focused parents of transgendered children seem to be on the biological rather than environmental explanations. Not saying yes or no particularly--just musing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Girl Effect

Gawd. Most people in my situation (having just ended a 1.5 year relationship) watch trashy movies and cry into ice cream. Me? I watch videos about international development and manage not to cry into my ice cream. (It is called "The Girl Effect," though, so I guess at least it's a chicktastic video about international development.)



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yet another bizarre video of McCain/Palin supporters. What got me about this one, though, is that this is a segment taped for Al Jazeera. This is what people are seeing of America in the Middle East (and around the world):



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Every day a little death

This is a really interesting piece on existentialism and conservatism. It opened up a whole intellectual community that I didn't know existed, and it was the first piece on or of existentialism that gave me some sense of what that philosophy (or, as he would have it, critique of philosophy) might really be about.

The author would probably say that I just haven't thought far down enough, but I still think it's a bit of a crock. To me, this is really what the God Gene (which, of course, does not exist as a matter of science--I'm using it as a shorthand for a kind of personal predisposition or need) is all about. Either the sheer experienced fact, objectively real or not, meaningful or not, of one's existence is enough, or it is not. For existentialists (at least of this stripe), it is not; the screaming abyss of unmeaning is pain and chaos, and the starting point for either a way out or a way to live with it. From the essay:

Am I living in personal despair? No. No, I'm not. Things are pretty great, actually. That's the other reason. For all my clever criticisms of Karras, and Dreher, and the pomocons, I don't live my despair the way pure intellect perhaps insists I should. That's the laurel that my pragmatic approach to human life has rewarded to Karras and her inconsistent, but humane, refusal to live in the mind. She will, I suppose, have this last laugh. This is also, by the way, why the intellectual love of my life will always be Simone de Beauvoir, who crafted a livable existentialism, far thorougher and more compassionate than anything approached by Sartre and Heidegger. She recognized the existential death at the heart of living life too seriously.

What The God Gene means to me is this: some people ask a kind of existential question. They may answer it with religion, with conservative tradition, with community, even with genetics (The Selfish Gene, anyone), or with existentialism, but it is fundamentally the same yearning for a meaning, an explanation. Some people may not have an explicit answer so much as a certainty.

I'm an atheist who can't stand conventional atheism. And it's for this reason: only God can rescue human life from meaninglessness, if not me, if not the ego and the I. Atheists love to say that most religious people actually think like atheists. I think most atheists think like the religious, because they have not yet begun to imagine the wasteland of meaning that the death of God has left us in. (I think of Bill Maher and his stupid sneering face, and I see a man who wields the truth the way a chimpanzee holds a gun.)

But some people don't ask. I am one of these. If there is an explanation, I'll admit to being fundamentally skeptical of it, but I will allow as to how it may well be--because if there is one, I am immovably convinced that it is far too big to see. But I am 100% fine and dandy with either not knowing what it is, or, far more likely in my opinion, simply not having one. We are born. We live. We die and then we rot. These things are simple objective truths, in my view, and they are...neutral.

I was going to say "They are enough," but that would be false. "Enough" implies a need to be filled or a standard to be met. I have no such measure. These happenings of existence can never be too little, enough, or too much--too much for what? They are. What can be too little or too much, and what we bear responsibility for, is what we do in between. No, I don't know what "enough" is, or what the standard is; I mean only that these things can be evaluated, while the above neutralities cannot.

The beauty of this divide, to me, is that it ultimately doesn't matter. Whether we're living an existence pasted over a painful abyss of nothing, an existence granted us by a God, or just existing (does this make me a nihilist? I wish I had time to just sit around and read everything), we all tend to come out in the same place--buying groceries. Getting on with things. It's the nutjobs at both ends who get us in trouble.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Your tax dollars at work

People suspected of terrorism (though not, of course, convicted), have been kept in detention facilities on US soil (in Virginia and North Carolina) and tortured to the brink of sanity.

Now recall what we found out about Qahtani:

At the end of months of sleep deprivation and other forms of torture, Qahtani, according to an FBI letter, "was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end)."

This isn't about intelligence. It isn't about national security. It's sadism. Treating human beings this way is simply evil.

Not going to the back of the bus



Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Oh, Foucault, I love you.

Oh, Foucault, I love you.

"...with sovereignty the instrument that allowed it to achieve its aim--that is to say, obedience to teh laws--was the law itself; law and sovereignty were absolutely inseparable. On the contrary, with government it is a question not of imposing law on men, but of disposing things; that is to say, of employing tactics rather than laws, and even of using laws themselves as tactics--to arrange things in such a way that, through a certain number of means, such and such ends may be achieved.

"I believe we are at an important turning point here: whereas the end of sovereignty is internal to itself and possesses its own intrinsic instruments in the shape of its laws, the finality of government resides in the things it manages and in the pursuit of the perfection and intensification of the processes which it directs; and the instruments of government, instead of being laws, now come to be a range of multiform tactics. Within the perspective of government, law is not what is important: this is a frequent theme throughout the eighteenth-century texts of the Physiocrats which explains [sic] that it is not through law that the aims of government are achieved."



From his lecture on Governmentality.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

File under "didn't see it coming"

Iceland is on the brink of financial collapse. We're talking grocery stores not being able to import pasta anymore, old-fashioned bank runs, the works. The currency is currently ranked just above Zimbabwe's.

Feminine wiles?

Andrew Sullivan sez:

The damage John McCain's baldfaced sexism and Sarah Palin's cocktail waitress act have done to American feminism has yet to be fully assessed. Palin has actually forced me to realize that, however much I despise Hillary Clinton, I have never doubted her professionalism and capacity to fight and win on her own terms in a male-dominated world by meeting and exceeding the standards of any male counterpart. (It was not her fault she ran against the political genius of his generation.) I cannot even imagine her winking and flirting on stage, although the New Hampshire tears were a bit of a stunt.

Thatcher remains the standard. She was not above using feminine wiles in charming individuals; but in public, in debate, in the Commons, she beat men at their own game, using nothing but knowledge, forensics, expertise, argument and courage.

From Thatcher to Palin is not a slide downwards for conservative women. It's a free-fall. And McCain did it.


I call major bullshit. I would be absolutely shocked if Andrew Sullivan has not attributed Hillary Clinton's success in part to Bill's coattails, as I hear many people doing in discussions of her merit. Guess what, male politicians benefit from nepotism as well--why is it suddenly a problem when it's a woman? Oh, right, she doesn't belong there.

And I love his description of Thatcher. Feminine wiles to charm individuals in (it is implied) not-public? Take that like a step further and then think about it real hard. Lovely, Sully. I'm sure Thatcher would be delighted with your assessment.

His larger point about Palin's winking and flirting is true. But I will be so damned glad when this election is over and the constant spewing of sexism from the media and almost all other directions aimed at any and all women in politics at least slows down to more normal levels.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tragedy large and small

The Taliban shot and killed an Afghani senior policewoman on her way to work in a drive-by.

I don't really know what to say about this without making it about ME ME ME, so I won't. I just ask that you take a moment to remember Malalai Kakar.

In among the sweeping geopolitical analyses and the totalizing numbers, we tend to forget the people involved.

Frivolous musings

Well.

Seems the British have to bail out one of their banks for 150 billion pounds (or about 300 billion dollars). All those behavioral economists and cognitive psychologists must be right that we measure our happiness by how we compare to others, because knowing that British taxpayers are paying out about as much as we are just now makes me feel better (when it really shouldn't).


Also, while I truly appreciate Dr. Montgomery McFate's work in bringing social science to the army (anthropology in counterinsurgency, for example), right now I honestly appreciate her name more. I mean, come on, it's like someone straight out of Watchmen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, our government at work:





They have no idea what's going on. Dandy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I have no words

So. Um.

John LaBruzzo, a State Representative of Louisiana, apparently thinks the way to get people off welfare is to pay poor women $1,000 to get sterilized, thus eliminating the chances that their offspring will also be on welfare! See, poor women of color have more kids than white people do, and the poor WOC are on welfare and the white people are taxpayers, so...


...

...I...I just...what fucking year is it?! This is racist eugenics in place of meaningful policy. (He also wants to create tax incentives for white educated people to breed more.) FOR THE LOVE OF--OF--fuck it, I'm not feeling any love right now.


And if anybody comes back at me with some bullshit about how it's totally the free choice of any woman who does this, I will reach through the screen and feed you your own reproductive organs.

Eek.

At the Banking Committee hearing today, Chuck Schumer—not generally known as someone who is tough on Wall Street—asked Hank Paulson a reasonable question: why do you need $700 billion right now? You said you were going to use about $50 billion a month; so why don’t we give you $150 billion now and then come back in 3 months?

And Paulson simply refused to answer the question.

H/t Balloon Juice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nipping it in the bud

conservatives are coming to campus:

Acknowledging that 20 years and millions of dollars spent loudly and bitterly attacking the liberal leanings of American campuses have failed to make much of a dent in the way undergraduates are educated, some conservatives have decided to try a new strategy.

Acknowledging that 20 years and millions of dollars spent loudly and bitterly attacking the liberal leanings of American campuses have failed to make much of a dent in the way undergraduates are educated, some conservatives have decided to try a new strategy.

[...]

Their goal is to restore what conservative and other critics see as leading casualties of the campus culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s: the teaching of Western culture and a triumphal interpretation of American history.

“These are not ideological courses,” said James Piereson, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, which created the Veritas Fund for Higher Education to funnel donations to these sorts of projects. The initiatives are only political insofar as they “work against the thrust of programs and courses in gender, race and class studies, and postmodernism in general,” he said.

...So they're only political insofar as their basis is a political fight over the tools students use to understand the world, divided along left-right lines. Right.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What she said

This.

Long form links: financial crisis edition

More on Lehman's end game:

This isn't like Y2K, when if computers were still working at 1am, you knew that they'd survived the test. If AIG (AIG) hasn't collapsed after New York markets open and the broader stock market is down less than 5%, all that will mean is that there hasn't been a systemic meltdown yet. It's going to take a long time to liquidate Lehman and unwind all of its positions, and nobody has a clue how that's going to play out. Specifically, there might well be a levered-to-the-eyeballs multi-billion-dollar hedge fund or two with enormous Lehman Brothers counterparty risk, and if they start defaulting on their derivatives contracts, delayed contagion could spread very quickly indeed.

It's not just hedge funds, either, which could end up being the vector by which crisis is spread. It could be a big insurance company, or it could be a series of failures of small and medium-sized banks. Or it could come out of left field entirely: the "shadow banking system" is now so big and so global that for all we know a series of bad decisions by a mid-level technocrat in Kazakhstan could precipitate cataclysm across America and the world.

An interesting point from Tim Duy.

"...the Fed has already pushed their legal boundaries; some would argue they have stepped well beyond those boundaries. And it hasn’t stopped – the Fed expanded the collateral it will accept in repo operations, putting taxpayer dollars at risk in a less explicit manner (I see no legal justification to open a credit line to AIG – if them, why not Ford or GM?). Still, despite the Fed’s creative efforts to date, the crisis is moving to a stage that is simply too big for the Fed; Congress needs to step up and define the parameters of any mass bailout of the financial sector. Some version of the Resolution Trust Corporation is the most likely outcome. I suspect that taxpayers will ultimately absorb significant losses, but it will be a crime if such a bailout does not entail a radical reevaluation of financial regulation. But to what extend will Congress be willing to perform a hard look as an industry that has brought the illusion of wealth that hides gaping and undeniable equity flaws in the US?"

Identity politics indeed

Ezra Klein at The American Prospect has a piece up about "Sarah Palin's Retrograde Gender Politics" that's really worth reading for its parsing of her political language. A sample:

And, in perhaps the most offensive display of her "wimp factor" agenda, she attempted to discredit community organizing by feminizing it. She sarcastically told conventioneering Republicans (along with millions of Americans watching on television), "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities." It was an eerie echo of what oblivious men in positions of traditional power have been saying for centuries: that the work of community building -- whether it be child-rearing, elder-caring, teaching, nursing, social work, or, yes, community organizing -- isn't really work at all. That, despite being the backbone of our economy and the heart of our civic life, it doesn't count because it doesn't involve power suits and bottom lines. What makes this ridicule of community-building even more ironic is that the GOP is simultaneously glorifying Palin's role as caregiver of her own sprawling family.

[...]

Men are, first and foremost, protectors in Palin's antiquated world. McCain is "not afraid of a fight;" he will "defend America." She assures the American voters that there is "only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you," discounting with one pithy line the 35-year political service of Joe Biden (many of them spent specifically focused on foreign relations) and all the ways in which Obama has tried to fight for the security and safety of this country, including his role in nuclear non-proliferation policy. The Palin worldview is clear -- real men are warriors and the rest of 'em are wimps.

[...]

Palin is standing by her new man, McCain, in the sugary-sweet manner of a '50s pop song. Sure, she's a little feisty, but only in the service of making her war hero look manly and her own heroics look momly. She was strategically chosen as the sidekick who can call Obama a sissy without fearing the repercussions, and sway disappointed women voters in the process.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Freaking creepy

From The Telegraph: Neoconservatives plan Project Sarah Palin to shape future American foreign policy

A sample:

Sources in the McCain camp, the Republican Party and Washington think tanks say Mrs Palin was identified as a potential future leader of the neoconservative cause in June 2007. That was when the annual summer cruise organised by the right-of-centre Weekly Standard magazine docked in Juneau, the Alaskan state capital, and the pundits on board took tea with Governor Palin...

Now many believe that the "neocons", whose standard bearer in government, Vice President Dick Cheney, lost out in Washington power struggles to the more moderate defence secretary Robert Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, last year are seeking to mould Mrs Palin to renew their influence.

A former Republican White House official, who now works at the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of Washington neoconservatism, admitted: "She's bright and she's a blank page. She's going places and it's worth going there with her."

Asked if he sees her as a "project", the former official said: "Your word, not mine, but I wouldn't disagree with the sentiment."

Guys, she is literally a bot. A mole. I mean, how creepy is this whole "she's a blank page" thing? She is a tool to them, and that's all. Remember that the next time they start bleating about sexism.

Truth in superheroes

Obama is Batman, McCain is the Penguin, and the liberal bloggers are Robin. GO!



Friday, September 12, 2008

The obligatory post on Sarah Palin

The experience argument isn't really what it's about. I don't think she's ready and I don't think this was a natural next step in her political career; and yes, Obama is also inexperienced, but has had many tests of judgement and grasp on the issues since he's been running. But do we actually think McCain is going to drop dead his first week in office?

Of course it's possible. But for many people, this really isn't about the dangers of having a neophyte running the country, because it's not actually imminent. It's about values, culture wars, and most importantly self-representation.

The Left can't stand her not because she's inexperienced but because they can't take her seriously. Obama signaled from the beginning that he was a serious and thoughtful person, and a big part of that for the Left was demonstrated intellectualism and curiosity. I don't see anything wrong with that; those are two qualities I would certainly want in my President. Sarah Palin is not about intellectualism. She's about biography and strategy and working her way up. Again, nothing wrong with that, in large part (for me) because she is in fact very smart--but intelligence is not what her persona is about. It's not how she defines herself.

Now, I keep hearing that Palin exemplifies Red State-ness, and that that's why she makes lefties nuts. Part of it, of course, is because Democrats have seen the last two elections slip away in a manner that was frankly baffling to us: George Bush was simply not a credible candidate, and Gore and Kerry were both smart guys and distinguished public servants. How the fuck, we wondered, could this be possible? There was a serious sense of alienation in our own country for many people who could neither stand nor credit Bush. The second time around, especially, was like a slap in the face: clearly half the country was living in a different world than we were.

I also keep hearing that many conservatives see themselves in her; that "she's just like us," "she's real," "she knows what we go through." Many media and blogger types have made the point that we should not want a President who's just like us; rather we should want a President who is exceptional. Fuck beer, the argument goes; get the smartest person you can for this job.

To be honest, though, here's what I think about that. I think it's the exact same thing on either side. I think a lot of the people who write those things are very smart and furthermore probably think that they wouldn't want to try, but if they had to, they could get a team together and handle being President. If I'm being honest, then yes, I think I am smart enough. Resilient and morally able enough? Perhaps not. Able to win an election, absolutely not. But once sitting there, could I manage to understand these problems and tackle them with the best wisdom available to me? Yes, I viscerally believe I could, no matter how much I try to foster greater humility in myself.

So of course people like me want to see, well, people like us in the White House. We want smart people who turn to their intellects above all else to tackle these massive problems, because that is the way the world makes sense to us and that is what has worked for all of us in our own lives. By the same token, people like Sarah Palin want to see people like them in the White House--people who believe in hard work, who have stories that they recognize, who draw on their culture and background in tackling these problems. (The intellectualist lefty types draw on their culture, too--we just don't admit that that's our culture, not just pure lofty rational thought. That's the difference between rationality and rationalism, see?)

I believe elections, underneath all the hoo-ha and the shitty advertising, are statements about who we are as a country and who and what we value. Within the nation, there are wildly varying views about what each statement really means, but at the very least we as observers interpret elections as such.

This is why the conservative movement began as a political insurgency: it was about resentment (which is not at all unique--if you think current liberals aren't feeling some resentment you are living in a very happy bubble), as Nixon's tactics from college on through Willie Horton demonstrate, and it was about saying that the people it drew on had voices, too. It was about saying that they still mattered even though the discourse had been about someone else for a long time. This is why Bush's elections hurt many of us so much: they said not only do we lefty intellectuals not matter, we're irrelevant and out of touch with the country, and everything we believe about how to make your way in the world (intelligence) is wrong (see: gut).

So the Obama campaign is precious to many as the campaign of an explicitly smart guy who owns his intelligence and has demonstrated its efficacy several times by correctly predicting the course of world affairs (don't go to Iraq; now that you're there, get out; we should really send more troops to Afghanistan; we're probably going to have to make ground strikes in Pakistan). In many ways, his inexperience speaks to us because it says that all you have to do is bring a sharp intellect and ravenous curiosity and do a lot of homework, and you'll be all right. Not just all right--you'll do pretty damn well. In a continuation of the bizarre yin and yang this campaign has turned into, Palin's inexperience appeals to the people who are "just like her" because it says that their ways of making their way through life and succeeding are valid.

Palin twists the knife further in the liberal ribcage because she is stealing our beat. We watch with disbelief as she twists feminism, populism, and concern for working people into shapes we don't recognize. It's like a bad dream where a friend is possessed and you're the only one who knows--beneath that familiar and beloved exterior is something completely different, something that doesn't speak to you; your greatest fear is that other people will take it for the real thing.


Now, this is an unusual amount of Republican empathy for me, and I still believe that a lot of the small number of people actually pulling the levers for the past eight years have been highly disingenuous. I also believe that the lefty brand of authenticity is much easier to possess in reality after spending years in Washington than the conservative brand is--it's just hard to remain working class, un-elite, etc. in that environment. Intellectualism, I believe, is easier to maintain. This may or may not have something to do with liberals' willingness to forgive personal transgressions of liberal politicians: their main qualification, intelligence and judgement that makes sense to us, remains untouched. Family values are more easily compromised, at least in the public eye.

At this point I'm just rambling. But my main point is this: we all vote based on who's just like us. It's just that intellectual types like me and many bloggers and liberals I've known remain convinced that our calculus is purely rational when it is not. If you ask me, it's that more than anything else that makes us vulnerable to elitism--because we pretend we are immune to cultural solidarity.

Oh, yeah, Sarah Palin--I completely disagree with her polital positions. But what this post is really about is this: what bothers me more than anything else about her is the fact that those positions might be approved of by enough people that she and McCain win the election, and I might have to go on living as a stranger in a strange land.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some odds and ends

1. Bob Herbert defends liberals. I think Obama should too. You want a strong argument for voting for "the most liberal Senator in Congress"?

Liberals have been so cowed by the pummeling they’ve taken from the right that they’ve tried to shed their own identity, calling themselves everything but liberal and hoping to pass conservative muster by presenting themselves as hyper-religious and lifelong lovers of rifles, handguns, whatever.

[...]

Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals — from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers — the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.

[...]

It would take volumes to adequately cover the enhancements to the quality of American lives and the greatness of American society that have been wrought by people whose politics were unabashedly liberal. It is a track record that deserves to be celebrated, not ridiculed or scorned.

Self-hatred is a terrible thing. [...]

Liberals need to get over it.


2. David Brooks has some campaign advice: Surprise Me Most. Weirdest takes all.

3. Finally, FiveThirtyEight (Polling Done Right) has some PR suggestions.

I think they're all correct. Which matters oh so much.


Finally, we've been so pathetic about waging any kind of sensible War On Terror that many in the Arab world don't believe we're really doing it. Instead, conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. and Israelis planned it as an excuse to invade Iraq for oil or wage a general war on all Muslims. NOW can we all agree that the efforts, prejudices, and rhetoric have been COMPLETELY MISDIRECTED? I mean, fuck. Whatever happened to hearts and minds?

ETA: Thank god for Robert Gates. We're not going to go poke Russia in the eye and run away giggling.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mommies and Mamis

I am quoting this post by Maegan “La Mala” Ortiz from
Racialicious
in its entirety because I think it's so spot on in terms of why Sarah Palin's being hailed as a progressive moment bugs me. [Note: I have placed all Spanish words in italics. I would rather not have done so as it violates the integrity of Ortiz's bilingualism and alienates the Spanish words, but I have seen people mistake them for misspellings or bad grammar before and I wanted to avoid that.]

Last night, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin accepted the nomination to the vice-presidency at the Republican National Convention.

Originally the buzz about Palin, focused on her having a vagina. Her presence was analyzed as a calculated McCain strategy to lure disgruntled, hard core Hillary Clinton supporters.

Then the shift went internal, to her uterus, her identity as a mother to five, the youngest with some form of developmental delay, and a 17 year old daughter, unmarried and pregnant.

So what does this Palin parranda of information and analysis mean to mamis of color, Latina mamis like me? Not surprisingly, nada.

Sarah Palin wants to put herself out there as “every woman”. She wants to be seen as “just your average hockey mom”, and other mommies see themselves and their reality reflected through Palin, except, mamis of color, that is.

The talk returns to mommy wars, not mami wars, because the entire conversation excludes Latinas and other moms of color. We are not even soldiers. Even for so called progressive white feminist, the war is fought by them and maybe, if mamis like me are lucky, we’ll reap some benefit. When I was a pregnant teenager, in a Latin American country where abortion was and still is illegal (Chile), there was no opting out of pregnancy or working. Which is why the debate of how Palin could go back to work after having a baby with special needs or how a pregnant unmarried teenage daughter is being used, feels like a sideshow with little significance in reality. The politics of choice is being raised, with the emergence of a woman who is anti-choice, even in cases of rape or incest and with no talk of how for women of color, choice goes beyond an abortion and means the very right to have children (forget 5!) Imaginate if Michelle Obama had five children? ImagĂ­nate if one of the Obama children were older and pregnant? Imagine the hate and stereotypes that would be unleashed? Oh wait, I don’t have to imagine, as a single mami of color, I live it. Palin’s large brood isn’t seen as a strain on the system. They are a beautiful portrait of an “American” family making every other family, families like mine, ugly.

And let’s talk about the perceived double standard, that if a man had five children no one would be making a big deal of it, that men are held to a different standard, as stated in the video above. Claro if you take race out of the picture, it’s easy to follow along, pero if Obama was the father to five instead of two children, you don’t think the media and politicos would be making all sorts of references to black men and their hyper-sexuality? Or black men and responsibility? I hear no one telling Palin’s husband to put on a damn condom.

Just as many of women of color couldn’t get behind Clinton and her campaign because of racist attacks on Barack Obama, attacks that asked women of color to choose a candidate based not on a complex and painful history and reality, but rather because of perceived shared genitalia. Palin positions herself as continuing Clinton’s struggle, as continuing the struggle set forth by Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run as a vice-presidential candidate. Let’s not forget that Ferraro called Obama “lucky” for being black. Is Palin then lucky for having five children, like my abuela did before being forcibly sterilized? You wanna talk about Palin’s uterus or the uterus of her daughter? I want to talk about my abuela’s uterus, how it’s power was deemed dangerous because of it’s power to bear brown Spanish speaking babies, my uterus and it’s abortions, miscarriages, and pregnancies, violations upon it, the uterus of an immigrant woman being viewed as a weapon in a culture war and the need to put those immigrant women in chains as they push babies from them and the need the U.S. government has to separate mamis and babies and deport and dispose.

My uterus and my head is tired.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

All I have to say about the RNC





That, and (not that anybody's listening, certainly not guilty parties that I know of): if you want Obama to win, lay OFF Sarah Palin. Because every time people sneer at her, or mock her accent, or her outdoorsiness, or her conservative Christian mom-ness, you reinforce the feeling that a lot of people have that you're laughing at them too.

That is "elitist" behavior (more properly: acting like you're culturally superior), and I fully sympathize with people who are turned off or offended by it. Hell, I'm turned off by it.

Also, shut up about whether she should be at home with the kids, and probably the safest thing to do is just not to mention Briston Palin's name.

Attack McCain, and emphasize, if you must, that she's so right wing she has to go in a full circle when she wants to turn left. But the last--THE LAST--thing to do is to allow this to turn into an argument about Obama vs. Palin. Because you just demoted the Democratic Presidential candidate.

Trans modeling goes public

So America's Next Top Model has a trans woman in the running this time around.

I think that's awesome. Isis has not had surgery (she can't afford it), but here she is, going for it. She has a lot of talent (she was a background extra in the "homeless shelter" shoot last season--which was INCREDIBLY problematic, but let's not get into it--and she did amazing), and she's just in it to win it.

It was interesting to watch the other girls' reactions. A larger number than I would have thought took it in stride, and one (that they showed) defended her place on the show. There was, of course, a sizable amount of just straight up shock and nervous laughter, and then the inevitable hostile faction.

But it was interesting to see. And I think the producers, or whoever controlled the editing, wanted to make a positive statement that Isis belongs here and that her female identity is valid. Because they showed a lot of neutrality; they showed a somewhat extended defense of her presence ("whoever has the most talent should win. It should be about your spirit and how much you want to be here." Also compliments on how strong and unconcerned with others' objections Isis was); they showed the "WTF?!" committee acting kind of childish; and the individual whose interview they chose as a negative reaction was the girl they've already been setting up as the overcompetitive, manipulative bitch.

I don't know what was left on the cutting room floor, but that sounds like a quiet endorsement to me. Cool cool.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Oh, when the saints/Come marching in...

From George W. Bush's speech (which I find a little sad--yeah, he's dangerous to their chances, but he was sort of exiled from the convention, and I don't know, that's sad) by satellite to the Republican Convention last night:

"I am optimistic because I have faith in freedom's power to lift up all of God's children and lead this world to a future of peace."

Honestly, this explains more about his foreign policy than anything else I've heard in the last eight years.

Of course we don't need to understand history and real people's needs wherever we're going! Of course we don't need to plan for after the invasion or for exit! Of course we don't need to worry what other nations think of us! Freedom will take us there, all by itself.

Honestly, the parallel that comes to mind is the Marxist doctrine that once one nation undergoes proletarian revolution and begins its utopian transformation, all others must inevitably follow. Is there any broad political theory involving inevitability that is not unrealistic, doctrinaire, and ultimately totalitarian in its cultishness?

Guh. It gives me the shivers that mainstream political figures talk like this.


I wonder what it's like to think this way. Does one ever get confused and downbeat because it didn't happen? Does one question the ideology? Or does one just conclude that Satan's still going strong and keep on truckin'?

(It depends, obviously, I'm just trying to comprehend.)

On that note, Sarah Palin called the Iraq war a task "that is from God" when speaking to her hometown church in Wasilla. I don't like this. I need the media to stop talking about the baby drama (which is what the McCain camp wants them to do) so we can discuss the fact that she's an utter far right wingnut (which is what the McCain camp doesn't want them to do).

Also, as Michelle Cottle points out, if Sarah Palin is so anti-abortion, it should follow that she's in favor of providing support for girls and women who choose to keep their babies, no? However, while Governor of Alaska, she cut funding for a state program providing shelter and support for single teen mothers--by more than 20%.

I'm sorry, but a politician who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and who opposes comprehensive sex education should be at the forefront of championing support systems that make it easier for young mothers to keep their babies.

I would have assumed Palin herself felt this way. After all, she is a proud member of Feminists for Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit whose stated aim is to give women a real choice -- that is, to make certain that women faced with unplanned pregnancies have access to the information and support systems that will enable/encourage them not to have an abortion. Surely a program aimed at assisting the most desperate of young mothers -- those whose boyfriends aren't amenable to a shotgun wedding or who don't have a strong family support system -- would be something a pro-life feminist such as Palin would work to expand not destroy.

Pro-life conservatives have for years faced accusations by abortion-rights activists that they only give a damn about a woman and her baby until the moment that baby is born. After that: Best of luck! Don't come looking to us for any help! Palin's rough handling of Passage House does nothing to combat that unfortunate image.


I have nothing to add.

Past not dead, not even over

Damn. Somebody tried to assassinate Pakistan's prime minister (Gilani).

Again. (Again for the office, not the man--as far as I know). This is the part where Ozair would tell me yet again that they've never had anyone democratically elected complete a term in all of 61 years and I would politely pretend he hasn't told me that eight times already.

Sigh. Conflict traps indeed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I don't know if you guys know about InTrade, but it's pretty cool.

Basically it's a futures trading market for political prospects. Rather than betting on trading on projections for the price of oil, for instance, people trade on their predictions of what will happen in the presidential campaign, or in Congress.

Because it functions as a free market, InTrade and other sites like it reflect aggregates of individual decisions (just like the actual market), and as a result they tend to be pretty damn good predictors of what actually will happen. Not perfect, of course--market failure FTW!--but given that politics, too, is in large part an aggregate of individual opinions (or individuals responding to an aggregate), it's not a bad crystal ball.

It predicts, so far, that Sarah Palin will be taken off the Republican ticket.


Personally, I think JMac is way too stubborn for that--not to mention it almost ensures defeat and it would piss off the religious right base, further ensuring defeat. She would have to be a really, really, REALLY huge liability for that to be feasible even to someone who isn't as proud and sulky as John McCain.

In addition, the people who tend to hang out on these sites, I wager, are some very politically savvy people--junkies, poeple who follow the media and the news cycle, the blogs, etc. Most people may not be aware of everything that's been coming out about SP lately. Many may not even know it's POSSIBLE to replace your VP candidate; I didn't, until all the Eagleton comparisons started popping up.

Anyway, I doubt it'll actually happen. But The Market that those fiscal conservatives love so much is telling them to lose her.