Tuesday, July 29, 2008


That is an absolutely essential post and everyone should read it.

All I can say is, listen to your children (when we all grow up) when they tell you something's wrong.

In other news, this Tennessee tragedy continues to make me sick.

Basically, a bitter man who couldn't get a job, was about to be taken off food stamps, and had been divorced by a woman who attended a particular UU church decided to walk in with a shotgun and just start shooting. He killed a man and a woman, 61 and 60 years old. Some people there said the man protected others with his body.

His stated reasons for doing this were that he hates liberals, who are ruining the country, and gays. (The church had been supportive of LGBTQ members and hosted a sex ed event for teens, among other things).

I hope Karl Rove & Co. are happy. Not because they managed to BLAME TEH LIBERULZ OMG IT HURTZ but because, as always, these divisions are largely imaginary and created; and they are created in rhetoric, in language, advertisements, coded phrasing. Rove's electioneering tactics have been instrumental in furthering this one.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms," said Ex-British Parliament Member Oona King. Upsetting but not surprising, sadly. The need for a particular ore in making, among other things, PlayStations, has been fueling violence and conflict in Congo. (Note that the article emphasizes Sony's video game products--a frivolity--but glosses over the use of the same material in cellphones and other items that we aren't giving up, not from our cold dead fingers. Convenient, no?) You'd think in the Information Age these things would come up sooner. Oh, right, we don't care.

In other news, John McCain, supposedly the Second Coming of foreign policy, is seriously addled. Why, exactly, would we even bother talking about throwing Russia out of the G8? It's dumb, unproductive, and--oh, yeah--impossible.(The G8, for your edification, is the Group of Eight, a forum for the leaders of eight powerful nations in the world. They hold a yearly summit--the most recent was in Japan, where Bush made us all so very proud by signing off saying, "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter!" Aww, what an authentic, beer-drinking cutie!)

IllDoctrine is pretty much always the shit. Now, what he's saying here I know well, and many of you do too, but it's worth spelling out always. Especially keep it in mind next time a public figure/politician is called on any form of discrimination--racism, sexism, sizeism, ableism, heterosexism, homophobia, classism, any and all of them, this kind of thing applies.

Because that's the thing about oppressions--while they're all different in whom they affect, how they affect them, and how they feel, many of the patterns are the same. That's why intersectionality is so everpresent, and why the Oppression Olympics a) won't go away and b) are useless.

Those last two paragraphs are total duh obviousness for those who are into the study of any of the above isms and I'm almost embarrassed to write them, but I guess that's why this is a livejournal and not a real blog--I get to be as dumb as I want! Eat it! Sucka FOOL![*]

[Obviously, that was written when I was still writing on Livejournal.]
This is an absolutely fabulous and beautiful post on bodies and the ownership thereof that I found through the 61st Carnival of Feminists. (It's likely I'll end up passing on more posts as I work my way through.) A sample:

It also reminds me of a dance competition at my school. One of the female dancers did a not-quite-appropriate-for-school kind of dance, and some boys in the audience jeered, called out "slut" and the like. The boys were dealt with, but likely not enough for them to understand their error. I'm guessing they reacted to her power. Desire can be scarey business. And they couldn't have her themselves, so they tried to wreck her for everyone else by disparaging her. Standard. But they also misunderstood her performance as an offering to anyone watching. What they were being offered was the opportunity to see her dance, nothing more.

But I'm ignoring the sense of the line that suggests that if I'm showing off my body, then you have a right to stare or touch or whatever. So, it follows that if I don't want your specific attention, I must choose a tent dress, perhaps a bag on my head. That's just silly. Do we really want people to hide their beauty to keep a few lug-nuts from finding them too irresistible to look away? Beauty is to be enjoyed, not possessed.


I am in awe of the human body. I know that barely repressible urge to touch a stranger's body. It's exactly like the urge to touch the glasswork in a gallery. Because I really want to, because the stunning beauty is drawing me in, capturing my full attention, doesn't give me the right to without explicit permission. Art is on display for our admiration, not ownership.

You can't own me, but I'm sometimes willing to share myself, let you touch and taste. You can look but only respectfully, with appreciation, not appropriation. If you're standing too close, or reaching out to touch, I'll kindly ask you to step back.

In addition, because I've given up on self-restraint, you will find below a bunch of posts I liked from the Carnival. As always, go ahead and ignore if you like.

Bloke Coke -- the relationship between sex and food, and how it's gendered.
How it ought to be -- experiences of a former stripper and her boyfriend of five years.
Oh, bizarre.

Gender testing for women Olympic athletes, eh?

Basically, they want to make sure none of them are really men, and they do this by testing chromosomes (because that's the only place that gender is located, right? Right. No genderqueer consideration here!). Of course, some women have other chromosomal abnormalities, so if that comes up there's a physical exam (which makes little sense to me--why the chromosomes if we can just check up your skirt?), which is gross and invasive, and them some women are STILL barred from competing.

As far as I can tell, they don't test men this way. Because, of course, the assumption is that women couldn't possibly be that good at sports, so some of them are probably men in shorter shorts.


Sunday, July 27, 2008


That's an interesting article about Cash for Clunkers, an initiative where the gov'mint buys your old, polluting car (if you're poor enough) and scraps it, thus reducing car emissions, stimulating the economy, and making a small transfer of wealth to the economically disadvantaged.

Not a hundred percent sure how I feel about it, but there it is.
I, like Digby, am amazed that this article hasn't gotten more play.

When you're registered to vote, your place of residence is part of your registration. That tells the system what district you live in, etc.

However, when you're a beleaguered family in foreclosure whose house is gone and now you're living in an apartment across a county line, or with your mother in the next state, or something, probably updating your voter registration isn't the first thing on your mind.

These circumstances, in addition to the new, more stringent voter ID laws coming into effect in some states (Indiana the most recent and most prominent)--that is to say, what kind of identification you have to have on you in order to be allowed to vote--set us up for a whole lotta disenfranchised voters. Ballots will not be counted, votes will not be allowed, special ballots will get clogged in the system, and there will be mass chaos.

Note that these issues are particularly paramount in swing states. Economically (foreclosures), that's an unfortuate coincidence. Legally (voter ID laws), it smells pretty fishy to me. (Not to mention that voter ID laws disproportionately affect the poor, the less educated, people of color, etc.)

This is also part of the same meme as the right wingers trying to say that Obama's popularity makes him a fascist. Basically, since nobody wants to vote for the Republicans, they're trying to a) keep people from voting and b) imply that having people want to vote for you makes you Hitler (who is foreign, just like that black-Muslim-African-tooEuropean-latte-sipper of a Democrat), so vote reluctantly for the other (white, familiar, unfascistly unpopular--he's a Maverick, remember?) guy and be a Real American (TM) .
This is random, but.

I want to know when economists lost their souls.

If you go back to the great works of political economy, the founding works of the discipline--The Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital, Burke, Weber, etc. etc.--these men never forgot that they were dealing with people, and furthermore they never forgot what people were like. They were, inasmuch as they were able (and there's quite a difference on this front between, say, Smith and Weber) empirical in drawing their conclusions, and the evidence they examined was not only numerical or statistical.

I know that a lot has changed since their time. I know that financial markets have appeared, economies have grown and diversified, technology has taken off, and trade has expanded to an incredible degree. Of course we need analysts who can focus on the facts, the numbers, the trends, the uptick and the downswing. I get that. It's fine, even good (although, as we're seeing, it can all too easily become a sealed system that plays craps with the rest of us).

But I'm talking about the guys who write books. Not How To books about the stock market; books with titles like A Farewell to Alms. Philosophical economics.

Because, you see, the philosophical dimension of--well, just about everything--is what we've lost as the arts and sciences have developed, specialized, and diverged. Once upon a time, there were no biologists, chemists, physicists, economists, psychologists, etc.--there were philosophers, natural philosophers, natural historians. Such a broad scope allowed for greater vision (in certain ways) than what we have now.

This point can perhaps be better illustrated through a good old compare/contrast exercise. Here we go:

A Farewell to Alms is a book by an academic who studies economic history. It purports, in its introduction, to explain a) why the Industrial Revolution happened when and how it did (apparently one of the great smoking guns of economic history), b) how this phenomenon is actually the result of long, long trends in history rather than a concatenation of incidental factors, and c) why socioeconomic inequality persists after that Revolution--particularly the fact that the people of the poorest countries are actually worse off than they were in the Stone Age.

However, the book fails utterly to do this. The author spends endless pages on minute details of statistics, lists of numbers, huge amounts of tables and near-incomprehensible graphs--largely, I believe, because he's trying to impress "real" economists. He tries to struggle through and actually answer his own questions, which are really not numerical matters--they are best dealt with through broad analysis and some decent research, some of which would be the kind of data he deals with (there's only so many data points on the price of English vs. Polish cotton you need in a chapter, really) and some of which would not.

Significantly, the notion of culture or notions of labor within different societies as a potential factor peeks through his tortured analysis (in about as good a shape as cheese would be after forcing it through a screen door--you know what it is, but you wouldn't want to touch it). Of course, because this sort of thing isn't his purview (because only Western Europe has economic history, natch), he has no idea how to tackle it and talks about the productivity of Indian loom workers vs. British ones. Rather than getting at any larger points about cultural notions of work, the workplace, the separation of work and private life, and time, he basically perpetuates the racist and colonial idea that a British man is worth ten Indians and closes the book with no real conclusion.

(When I finished this book I threw it to the other end of the couch. Can you tell?)

By contrast, we have Development as Freedom, by Amartya Sen. Sen is a Nobel Prize winner, for the record, and I can see why.

Sen's book tackles the notion of "developing nations" and the way the institutions involved view and measure development. Generally, development is measured by GNP per capita (basically the wealth of a nation divided by its population). When that number goes up, we're doing good here, folks.

Sen argues that this measure and its similarly numeric companions can easily be misleading and, more importantly, are fundamentally misdirecting. "Development," he believes, is not a matter primarily of economic wealth but rather of "real freedoms" that people "have reason to value." That is to say, quality of life, health, longevity, freedom to work, freedom to marry and reproduce, etc are what constitutes development. (The "have reason to value" clause is key because it allows for the fact that ambitions and values can and should vary based on culture, circumstances, and so on.) Obviously, greater wealth can provide greater freedom, but it does not guarantee it and it cannot necessarily engender it. A striking example is the fact that while African-Americans are inarguably wealthier than Sri Lankans or Keralans (Kerala is a poor province of India), they are on average much shorter-lived.

I think it's important to note here that "development" and "human development" are separate in institutional and official calculus. Development is measured by dollars; human development is measured by lifespan, childbirth mortality, and similar statistics. I think it's fundamentally wrong that these two things have come to be seen as different--what's the point of development if not to improve the lives of citizens? It is, of course, argued that economic development will lead to better quality of life, but as we have seen with the World Bank and the IMF, attempts at development on an economic basis that has consistently ignored culture and more human measures like those of human development has, so far, largely failed.

Mr. Sen's book is almost completely devoid of charts, tables, and graphs, and certainly does not delve into pricing and labor details the way that A Farewell to Alms does. Yet it is not only a better read and a more coherent argument; it makes sense, in the common-sense way that Adam Smith's books did. It reflects our human reality, rather than the dogmas and conventions of financial analysis--a discipline that, in my opinion, should have been formally separated from the academic study of economics long ago.

I believe that financialism should certainly and always be grounded in the roots of economics; without that foundation, we end up with people making economic decisions and formulating economic policy that will not work positively or even functionally in the world. Indeed, I think that lack of grounding is how we have ended up with the pernicious economic doctrine and thinking we have today. Sen repeatedly cites Smith, Marx, and other greats of earlier economic thought as having considered humans, and the way we live, as more than rational economic pawns; and he argues that to consider people in the latter way--the way that economics has grown to view us--is not only false but also diminishing to humanity.

I remember a deep frustration, in reading this book, that it seems that so many economists--not just financial analysts or stock brokers, but people who deal with economic thought--seem to have lost these essential roots of their own discipline. This argument is (was--the book is several years old) important and reasonably novel in terms of development, but its basis is the same as that of the original works of economic thought. You can tell, because it's universally applicable (in my estimation). It's a perspective, a worldview, and it holds together. He says wryly at one point, and I agree wholeheartedly, that many of these people simply haven't read their Smith, or at least haven't done so with an open mind, and were they to do so their perspectives on what economics really is might change a great deal. The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, both written by Smith, have a great deal in common; and I firmly believe that much of the observation and thought that went into Moral Sentiments was essential to Smith's ability to invent a discipline that has grown to govern our world.

Economics is fundamentally the study of humanity. It studies human choice, human freedom, human action, human preference, and human resources (including ingenuity). The way these quantities are expressed is of their nature different in different circumstances and cultures, and economics' great theorists understood that (Weber is a strong example here). The modern economic establishment does humanity a disservice in focusing overmuch on numbers and disciplinary specialties; what's more, it often does a great many people serious harm. (This is why most people think economics is boring, but Freakonomics was a big hit--it gets at the stuff about economics that is fun, interesting, and familiar.) Economists would do well to step back and rekindle their inner philosophers if they truly have any interest in the quality of life for individuals, or for that matter in the beauties and subtleties of their discipline.

Friday, July 25, 2008



Biblical satire of Obama's world tour. It's pitch-perfect. LOVES IT.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

John McCain went on CBS News for an interview. He was asked about the surge, his signature policy on his (formerly) signature issue. McCain got the timeline and causality hopelessly wrong, and CBS covered it up. They edited out part of his bizarre answer and spliced in an extra question to make the rest of it look sane.

The page I linked to contains video of the broadcast and then a link the online transcript; the two are obviously different. Why they would fail to cover their tracks in this way is beyond me, but there it is. The supreme irony is that this took place as the McCain campaign was complaining that the media gives Obama more favorable treatment.

I hope the significance of this is obvious. If there was ever any question about whether the news media is a fundamentally broken system, I think that's over. As the author said, someone needs to lose their job over this.

Probably, though, no one will.

I urge you to tell everyone you know. The media cannot go on this way, and John McCain is in no way the right man for the presidency--he doesn't even seem to be compos mentis, at this rate.

ETA: If the original link doesn't satisfy you in explaining how McCain was wrong, go here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A very important point.

Okay, I'll be honest. Normally Kos (of Daily Kos) pisses me well off; most of the commenters there even more so. There are a couple of regular front page posters I like and every once in a while you get a great diary, but mostly I read it for the poll data.

However, this is one of those times when they manage to come up with a rose.

The point of this article is that for the past 30-40 years (i.e. the conservative movement, which started with Nixon) Republicans, small-government beliefs aside, have deliberately obstructed any real government solutions because people would then gravitate to the Democrats. This is because one of the fundamental principles of the conservative ideology is that government cannot. Government cannot solve your problems. Government cannot provide any workable solution to anything. Government offers you no hope. So don't try.

The post goes on to suggest that the rise of idiotic nonissues (flag pins, etc) has largely been as a result of the spread of this belief. If government can never solve your health care problems, it really doesn't matter what the two candidates say or plan to do; neither of them will ever make a difference. So you might as well vote on who you'd like to have a beer with or who has a funny name.

I have always staunchly believed that good government should fundamentally be about helping people (see John Dewey in The Crisis of Liberalism and, you know, the New Deal), and I have always considered that to be a bastion of liberalism and (in theory) the Democratic party. I have always felt, sometimes on a nonverbal level, that the right is about "freedom from" and the left is about "freedom to", and I know which one I prefer.

However, it never quite occurred to me in this way that Republicans would deliberately stop government from improving people's lives in their own self-interest. Not because they genuinely believed that, say, healthcare reform was impossible through the government and so those dollars should go to letting people buy their own, but because they knew it would probably work and decided that was bad for them. The former is called a disagreement--a disagreement with potentially huge ramifications, but nonetheless a debate in good faith. The other is called craven and shortsighted, a corrupt and self-perpetuating machine to no good purpose.

If you don't believe this is possible, follow the link at the top. Oh, and something to keep in mind--the man who wrote one of the memos that most nakedly demonstrates this? William Kristol. Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, which is of course a DISGRACEFUL BASTION OF LIBERALISM.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Hilarity from a Hungarian rapper (yes, that's what I said) and peacenik.

You have to watch all the way through to the end when the one guy starts riffing on the melody.
Okay, so.

A while ago, Nouri al-Maliki, the president of Iraq, said that he likes Obama's plan for a 16-month withdrawal of US troops. By name. He said "Obama."

So this leaves John McCain pretty well fucked. He's been arguing for a continued troop presence in Iraq, and the president of that nation just came out and said he was wrong. The campaign has argued that al-Maliki doesn't actually believe this, that he's just playing domestic politics, but that's a dumb-ass argument--all it says is that the Iraqi people, more than one man, want us out. Oh, well, then, guess we should settle on in.

On top of it all, Obama is expected to have a million people at his rally in Germany, making it the largest political rally in German history. Just think about that for a minute.

This is an ouchy weekend for McCain.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008


Okay, so I was reading this, nodding along thinking "Yup, typical. Association of Physicists posts one article by a few members arguing against client change + sloppy editing + same day as Gore speech = Right wingers start jizzing all over the place about how the rats are abandoning ship and the planet is doing just peachy."
And then I got to the end:

So, what happened here? Climate Progress explains the story very well, but it appears that one sloppy editor relied on one frequently-debunked British Lord — and conservatives reflexively pounced on a development that was far from what it appeared to be.

Kevin summarized this nicely: “Lord Monckton, who triggered the original article in DailyTech, may be a lord, but he’s also a longtime global warming skeptic. There’s nothing new here, and, as you might expect, scientists continue to believe that climate change is largely driven by human activity. Nice try, though.”


Also, have you ever heard of KBR? It's a subsidiary of Halliburton, and it's been doing the bulk of the contracting work over in Iraq.

Well, on top of the numerous suspicious incidents, rapes and killings of female employees which go unprosecuted, and the mounting evidence that they've been effectively stealing money from the government for years now, it turns out that they're shitty electricians.

The NYT has a piece about the electrical conditions in troop facilities in Iraq, and it's apalling. The conditions are unacceptable--getting electric shocks in the shower?!--people have DIED, more have been injured (this is troops, you understand), and on top of it KBR and the Pentagon seem to have been quite happy to do absolutely nothing about it even when they knew damn well what was up. The only reason this is coming out now at all is the family of a soldier who died in the shower pushed for answers.

Electrical issues are the number one non-combat risk to troops.

Further in the "horrific" department, part of how this happened seems to be that because the government contracted out so much work so fast to KBR, oversight officials couldn't keep up, and KBR couldn't do all that work fast enough and so subcontracted to other entities that often employed poorly educated Iraqis who made only a few dollars a day.

In other words, if the government hadn't been in such a tearing hurry to pour money into Halliburton, our troops would be better equipped, better housed, and in better health. And some of them might be alive today.

These are the ones who berate us for not supporting the troops.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Al Gore made a big climate/energy address today, challenging the nation to rise to the circumstances the way we did when Kennedy urged us to put a man on the moon. He wants all electricity from renewable resources in ten years.

Here is the text of the speech, with annotations from Andrew C. Revkin of the NYT.

Don't read the comments unless you want to be driven straight off the deep end. Sometimes I forget what a liberal bubble I live in.

Anyway, I say go. It may not be possible in ten years, yes, but the whole point of this speech--which everybody reading it seemed to miss--was that now is the time to mobilize. We can't figure out all the "when"s and the how-tos until we decide to start trying.

In other news, there's a brilliant post up at OpenLeft about why people feel the need to dump on Michelle Obama all the time. I think it's spot on. Oh, and the Miranda she quotes is, sadly, not me--it gave me a start when I read the name, though.

UPDATE on the abortion/contraception looming clusterfuck


Senator Clinton and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) are raising a ruckus.

See, this is why it's not completely stupid for women to want a woman in the Oval Office. Of course there's no guarantee that no woman would ever propose something like the ridiculous initiative coming out of the DHHS (Dept of Health and Human Services), and there's no reason to believe that every man would--but it's a hell of a lot less likely that a woman would come up with this idea, let alone think it worth implementing.

Senator Obama, meanwhile, remains silent. Thanks, Barry.

Here is an interesting post re: Obama on reproductive rights, as well as one about his tendency to be massively unhelpful on this front (rather than trying to figure out why, which is what the first one does).


Senator Clinton and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) are raising a ruckus.

See, this is why it's not completely stupid for women to want a woman in the Oval Office. Of course there's no guarantee that no woman would ever propose something like the ridiculous initiative coming out of the DHHS (Dept of Health and Human Services), and there's no reason to believe that every man would--but it's a hell of a lot less likely that a woman would come up with this idea, let alone think it worth implementing.

Senator Obama, meanwhile, remains silent. Thanks, Barry.

Here is an interesting post re: Obama on reproductive rights, as well as one about his tendency to be massively unhelpful on this front (rather than trying to figure out why, which is what the first one does).

And is an absolutely essential post (it's long, but worth it) on why women might not want to vote Democrat this year. (NOTE: She's not advocating that women not vote Democrat. She's explaining the "bitter Clinton supporter" and generally alienated lefty woman point of view.)

If you are an Obama supporter and you want him to get elected and, you know, be a good progressive president thereafter, you would do well to understand these issues.

This is really interesting. Obama's about to go on a grand tour of Europe and the Middle East. People there are really excited about it. He's got between 53% and 72% variables in England, France, and Germany. Leaders of Ireland and Lebanon complained he wasn't going to visit them, too.

The general line going around is that basically the world is totally ready and willing to love again. Specifically, to love the U.S. again, and Obama is the key to its heart.

Such a big deal is this that CBS, NBC, and I forget what other network are actually going to FOLLOW HIM AROUND and do their nightly broadcasts from campaign stops. I mean, damn.

The McCain camp is kind of hung from their own petard on this one. They made their overseas trips at the height of the Democratic primary battle, and they made a big deal of agitating for Obama to go overseas. Now he is, and he's getting massive amounts of attention for it, partly due to their hammering away at him for not having gone before. Oops.
Oh, also, I hope you all saw yesterday that MA lifted a law dating from 1913 that said any marriage that would be illegal in someone's home state, even if legal in MA, could not be performed for that person in MA. The idea was basically to prevent interracial couples from coming up from, say, Kentucky and getting married in Massachusetts.

Well, they lifted that law. New York recently passed a law saying they'd recognize same-sex marriages in NY that were made in other states, even though NY doesn't currently allow gay marriage.

So what we have is effective legalized gay marriage in NY. Every gay couple is gonna drive up to Boston, get hitched, have a party, and drive back. Or drive back and have the party at home. Whatever. It's awesome. I feel like Connecticut should just hop on the bandwagon so they can steal all Massachusetts' profits (gas, wedding planners, bakeries, wedding halls, and on and on and on).

You know what has poetic justice about this? The main reason anybody remembered that Massachusetts law existed was that when good ol' Mitt Romney was governor and trying to stop TEH GAYZ, he cited it as an argument against gay marriage. I think he also warned that Boston would become Gay Las Vegas or something (as if Las Vegas wasn't gay enough already). EAT IT, MITT. Also, while you're at it, please join the McCain ticket. It'll be the funniest, most ill-fated thing in YEARS.

I wonder if some random town just across the southern border of Massachusetts will suddenly experience a BIG GAY ECONOMIC BOOM.
There's a question I've been toying with for a while. Which is to say that I ask myself the question, think, "Huh, that's really interesting, I wish someone would write a book about that" and then go on my merry way and don't examine it.

The question, like so many things in my intellectual life, is provoked by Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. Since I don't carry this book around with me at all times (contrary to popular belief), I can't quote it exactly, but in it she wrote something which was worded differently but basically meant this:

What it ultimately means to be deprived of human rights is to have the events that befall you depend on what you are rather than what you do. Your opinions are irrelevant, your acts without consequence or effectiveness. Your life is determined by race, class, gender, nationality, etc. rather than by those things that you do--unless you commit a crime.

(The crime part is because those actions are already codified as criminal and there is a prescribed process and series of events that follow criminal acts. So by committing a crime you enter yourself into that system. That is the only action that one who has been deprived of their human rights and humanity can commit that is fully and properly connected to consequences.)

Now, I think this is a powerful definition because it gets at what human rights are really about: humanity. Being treated as an equal being. Not being generalized, stereotyped, discriminated against.

So here's the thing I've been thinking about. The people who have been running the country of late--the white, male, Christian Republicans, in the White House, the media, and the megachurches--are, by this definition,lacking in human rights. They do badly or are demonstrably incompetent, and yet they continue to rise in stature (William Kristol somehow got a job at the NYT despite being, well, wrong about everything ever) or suffer no consequences (President Bush, Michael "heckuva job" Brown, Scooter Libby, etc. etc. etc.). Their actions have no relation to their fates; rather, their fates are tied to their positions in life--being a certain kind of person born into a certain kind of family.

At the same time, can you really say they don't have their human rights? I mean, they're doing pretty well for themselves up there.

The question that follows is: Do they keep acting so egregiously badly, in the case of the government types, in some kind of weird effort to get their "normal being" status back by becoming criminals? Is it sort of the equivalent of a tantrum/cry for help, since they live in worlds of such profound unreality? Or is it less personal than that--more that every form of extremism inevitably oversteps itself, and is righted by the backlash?

I suspect that if I were to examine enough backgrounds, the applicability of the definition might break down--George Bush and, maybe, Bill Kristol, are the only ones here who were quite literally born into this situation--but it might be interesting to apply to monarchs of the past.

The larger question here is this: Is it possible for this particular human rights knife to cut both ways? If your actions have no consequence on your fate in a "positive" rather than negative way, are you still lacking your human rights? Do we care? Do you?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

oh shit oh shit oh shit


The government (the Bush administration) is trying to define many common forms of contraception--like, oh, the pill--as abortion. And cut off federal funding to hospitals and clinics that compel their practitioners to offer them to women.

If this kind of legislation ever passes in this country it would be one of the few things that would have me seriously considering hauling my ass off to Europe. I don't like fearing my government, and I don't like the idea of living in a country where such fundamental aspects of my agency and personhood are so restricted and vilified.

Seriously, why the fuck do they hate women so much? And why is women having sex--as a personal choice and for, oh, fun, pleasure, emotional connection, WHATEVER, rather than as a means to tying oneself to babies--so fucking scary to them?

I mean, for the love of god:

According to the HHS draft, “abortion” takes on a very broad meaning: “The Department proposes to define abortion as ‘any of the various procedures — including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.’”

That necessarily means that common birth-control methods — including the birth control pill and IUDs — would be designated as “abortion.”

IT'S AN ABORTION EVEN IF YOU WEREN'T FUCKING PREGNANT YET. ("Before implantation.") Basically, if you have sex and don't get pregnant for any reason other than sheer bloody luck, it was an abortion and ain't no federal money going there. (Don't know where they stand on condoms, but since that's something that men have more control over as opposed to women they probably aren't too bothered.)

And you know what follows. If it all counts as abortion then all the anti-choice activists can jump on it and find ways to restrict more and more aspects of "abortion" until birth control is effectively illegal or inaccessible--see South Dakota, where most women would have to drive three hours to get an abortion if they can have one at all.

Guys, donate to Planned Parenthood sometime soon. I know I am.
Okay, so according to a story that the NYT decided to bury on page 11 (because what we really need on the front page is a touching story about the harrowing links of death and violence between an Israeli and a Palestinian family--not saying it's not worthy material, but I think what I'm about to describe is a weensy bit more of an action item), the federal appeals court (fourth circuit) ruled 5-4 that the president can legally detain civilians in the U.S. as enemy combatants--indefinitely, without trial.

[That's military detention, by the way, not criminal or immigration-based. Someone should tell the government they can let go all the people they're holding for months and years for not having the right paperwork. Maybe that way fewer of them would die.]

From the NYT:

The decision was a victory for the Bush administration, which had maintained that a 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force after the Sept. 11 attacks granted the president the power to detain people living in the United States.

And a quote from one of the lawyers for the only person currently being detained in the U.S. as a military combatant:

"This decision means the president can pick up any person in the country — citizen or legal resident — and lock them up for years without the most basic safeguard in the Constitution, the right to a criminal trial,” Mr. Hafetz said.

However, it's apparently not that simple. The decision included seven different opinions, none of which constituted a majority. The VA appeals court is considered one of the most conservative in the nation, so this was surprising, but part of what makes this so complicated is that the man in question, one Ali al-Marri (a citizen of Qatar--I'm amazed they haven't been yelling about this) was here lawfully before being detained. The judges mainly differed on their criteria for whom the government could detain indefinitely:

1 opinion: members of organizations or nations against which Congress has authorized the use of force who also mean to harm people or property to further military goals.
1 opinion shared by four judges (minority decision): Indefinite detention by the executive is not lawful without a trial. Doesn't matter who you are, you get a criminal trial and then we figure out what to do with you.
1 opinion argued that if the government's accusations were true, al-Marri would be subject to detention, but that he had not received adequate process (others thought he had).

Things are currently very unclear as to what kind of precedent this case sets, but I suppose it's worth noting that every judge that wanted al-Marri still incarcerated was appointed by a Republican, and every judge in favor of his release was appointed by a Democrat.

Regardless of your opinion, elections certainly matter.

Side note: "al" in Arabic means "the." When it's part of a name, like for example "al-Asad," it forms a phrase ("al-Asad"="the lion"). You can't disconnect the two any more than you can disconnect Mc from Intosh--it doesn't mean the same thing in the original language and it's not the same name by any measure. (Or so my Arabic Lit professor taught us.)

So if the NYT could PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD figure that out, it would make me very happy. I don't want to hear them talking about "Mr. Marri" or "Mr. Bashir" when their names are al-Marri and al-Bashir. Thank you.

Good. I think Bernanke (Ben Bernanke, Chief of the Federal Reserve) is right on the money here in explaining why speculation (basically trading on what you think the future price of oil will be, which drives up prices in reality too) is not necessarily pure evil and insisting that energy prices are fundamentally about supply, demand, and the growth of the world economy. Other solutions--get rid of speculators, drill off Florida, gas tax holiday--are either demonstrably unhelpful or dealing with symptoms rather than cause. It goes like this:

-Gas tax holiday: remove the federal gas tax for the summer. All that happens is that since it's cheaper, people buy a little more gas, and the actual monetary benefits go straight to oil companies. It's a temporary non-fix and it helps consumers not at all.
-Drill off Florida: oil companies already have acres upon acres of of land they're not using and even if they did drill off Florida the (miniscule) price benefits--we're talking like maybe a few cents' difference--wouldn't show up for years anyway.
-Crack down on speculation: oil speculators can do what they do precisely because demand for oil is so inelastic--which is to say, people don't change how much gas they buy that much based on price variation--which is a consequence of how dependent our society is on oil. We could stop speculation and oil might get cheaper, but sooner or later we'd be back at square one and antarctica would be completely gone this time around.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This is about child marriage in Yemen.

And when I say "child," I mean "girl," of course, because strangely enough this only ever seems to happen to female children.

In Yemen, girls are often married as young as 8 or 9. Sometimes it's because their families can't support them, sometimes it's because their families are afraid they'll be kidnapped and forcibly married by someone else (the article just sort of mentions this offhand, but WHAT THE FUCK), but largely because, as the article says, the fight against Communism in South Yemen (back when Yemen was divided) was won with its replacement with fundamentalist Islam. Just like, oh, Afghanistan. What was that about containment again? Boy, the Cold War sure was great, huh? (More on this later).

When Yemen was still divided, there was a law in the South saying that girls could not marry before age 16, boys not before 18. Since reunification and the rise of hardline Islamism (I have no idea if that's how, say, President Bush would use the word, but I know what I mean by it--again, more on that later [I decided this was too long and I'd save it for another time]), the law was revised to say that girls could get married whenever so long as they didn't move in with their husbands till age 15. Right. Fat chance.

The article was spurred by the fact that Nujood, a ten-year-old girl, ran out of her husband's owner's house, hailed herself a taxi (in rural Yemen? Nobody explained how this was possible), and went to the courthouse. It was the first time she had ever traveled anywhere by herself. The judge granted her a permanent divorce--she was lucky enough to find a sympathetic judge, rather than one who would have disregarded her and had her husband or father stand for her in court, which would no doubt had left her still "married" (I refuse to dignify this situation with that term).

Now she wants to be a human rights lawyer like the one who took her case, or maybe a journalist.

It just breaks my heart. When I read that last bit I could just hear a little ten-year-old girl's voice saying, "When I grow up..." and it's so terrible. Neither she nor the other girl profiled in this article had ever even been told what sex WAS before they were repeatedly raped and beaten before even reaching puberty. Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (Afghanistan's still worse, though), because girls are having massive numbers of children before they're physically ready.

When challenged, conservative Yemenis defend the practice as traditional, etc (there's even a proverb about how an 8 year old bride guarantees a great marriage) and point out that the Prophet Muhammad married a nine-year-old. Now, from what I understand (although no one can really know), he married her for political reasons, not for domestic servitude or sex, and he did not use her as such. It would definitely be an incredible act of hypocrisy to preach what he did about marriage and women and then do such a thing. (Such acts have, of course, been seen, but rarely have they taken place among successful prophets to my knowledge.) He seems by many accounts to have been pretty much devoted to his first and primary wife.

All that aside, there are three two [same as above: got too long] things I want to discuss here.

1: I know you have all heard it before, but it cannot be repeated enough and it would be a disservice to omit it: women and girls are little better than property in places like these. They are domestic slaves. Rural Afghan men usually take a second wife when their first is too physically worn out to work the fields, haul water, grind flour, etc. day in and day out, let alone have more children. The first wife will stay in the house, take care of babies, and do some cooking and cleaning while the new, strong, young wife (anywhere from 8-18 or so) does these incredibly arduous chores--alone, or with other women in the family. The men hunt for prestige and chat with each other. Opium farmers marry off their daughters to pay off debt, for Christ's sake.

And if you think there is no relationship between that sort of thing, honor killings, etc. and the way women are framed as objects, prizes, and/or babymakers here in this country (amazing, isn't it, how starlets change overnight from WYLD PARTY GRRL to Loving!Mother! as soon as they show a bump), then in some sense I envy you because your life is a lot less depressing than mine.

2: I want to discuss the relationship to the Cold War. The containment policy has been repeatedly cited as a model of international policy that combined force with diplomacy, caution/restraint with courage, and pragmatism with principle. This is all true, and our lame duck president et.al. could have learned a lot from the practitioners of containment.

However, the fundamental flaw in containment and, in fact, in every bloody thing the glorious "West" has done since we first figured out we could take brown people's land, is underestimating or misunderstanding the people we are trying to manipulate.

The people fighting the Cold War didn't think it mattered who replaced the Communists when they got rid of them. This was because rather than seeing the Yemenis, or the Afghanis, etc. as people with a grievance in need of an outlet, a hope, and a strategy, they saw them as brainwashed pawns of Stalin and Mao. (There was a doctrine whose name I forget that promoted international development because poverty was the best seeding ground for Marxism, but even that--while on the right track--had a paternalistic overtone). And they figured once that brainwashing was dealt with, they would go back to being powerless, harmless, dumb-ass little brown people.

Only it doesn't work like that. Inequity among nations continued to grow, the people were no less poor and hopeless than they were before, and fundamentalist Islam took root in the wake of Communism--in part as a backlash to some of the Communist ideology (atheism, gender equality, sexual freedom, and so on). And guess what? Different name, same problem, they're still pissed at us and they still know how to shoot.

I just think it's incredible how little it is discussed in the public discourse the degree to which we have created our own problems. The West colonized. The West fought wars that it couldn't quite win (I'm talking about the British way back when, not us now) and left chaos. The West drew borders to fit its own interests, never stopping to think how those borders might affect the situation on the ground and how that, in turn, might cause it problems. And the West (with the U.S. having taken over from Britain) continues to strut around like everybody's cocky big brother who you're just itching to punch.

Yet we talk about "radical Islam" and terrorism and this and that like they're endemic. Like they just grew out of the ground without any help.

Someone on Shakesville once discussed the U.S.'s profound lack of a sense of history. I think it's very deeply tied to our political cycle ("What? That wasn't me, that was the other guy! Clean slate!") as well as to our constant conviction that we can create ourselves, as exemplified in the American dream, the lucky break, the second chance, etc. Our pasts do not have to define us, so our mythology goes.

It's a wonderful attitude, but sometimes it's just not workable. In the case of the Middle East, it's plain stupid.
Work continues to be interesting. It's a little bit crazy-making because nobody knows what we're actually DOING--we're kind of all figuring it out as we go along. We know there will be a meeting in Bellagio, Italy, of a bunch of very important grantmaking foundation types. We know it will last two days. We know Larry (President of this company and charmer/whiz extraordinaire) will tell them that every once in a while, an industry undergoes a fundamental change--and that their industry's moment was somewhere between 3 and 10 years ago and they missed it. We know we're going to try to figure out a way to help foundations and nonprofits and NGOs and all the rest share information, act collectively, etc., and that most of these people are not going to be thrilled about that. We know we're looking into some kind of predictive rating system.

We don't know what will go on at the meeting, we don't know what the rating system is measuring, exactly, or even how you go about measuring these sorts of things ("this organization purified 50 wells in Rwanda. I give it a...6?"), we don't know exactly who's coming, we don't know what the prototypes will look like (or even what Larry means by "prototype"), etc.

So we're all just kinda moseying along.

Banking panic


Okay, the above is an article in the NYT about the ripples coming from all the worry about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I'm not going to do a long analysis or anything because really there's nothing for me to analyze (maybe there would be if I knew more about financial markets). I'm posting it because I think it's important that people understand what's going on in the world around them, and please believe me when I say this is in fact important for everyone to know.

We live in an economic system. Failure to understand what's going on in times of economic trouble is just dumb.

Basically, what's up is that Fannie and Freddie, as I wrote a while ago, are looking shaky. The government is bailing them out, but all the nerves, as well as some bleak quarterly returns for a number of smaller and regional banks, are having a nasty effect. The government had to seize IndyMac, a CA bank, today as it turned out to be insolvent. Consumers are getting very nervous, though there have been no bank runs yet (unless you count Wall Street, where investors have been getting out of bank stocks awful fast). A lot of experts are definitely freaking. Comparisons to the Depression are definitely being bruited about, despite the fact that the SEC (Securities and Exchange Comission) has threatened to "crack down" (whatever that means) on traders who spread false rumors.

In other news, the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan has been formally requested by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

This is particularly noteworthy because it's the first time the prosecutor of the ICC has brought genocide charges. Against anyone. Also the first time bringing charges against a head of state (other heads of state like Milosevic were tried by other interanational entities). What's also interesting will be to see how the various factions in the civil war handle this--one already has said it will never negotiate with the government because it won't negotiate with war criminals. I can see good outcomes--he (allegedly) started it, after all, and instating a government committed to ending the war could only be good--but I can see bad ones too. Increased chaos, loyalists refusing to talk, opposition refusing to talk because they see it as an opportunity to keep doing what they're doing.

And for a totally mindboggling fact: The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for two people high up in the Sudanese government. Not only did al-Bashir scoff at the warrants, he promoted one of the men to minister of humanitarian affairs. Talk about a macabre fucking sense of humor.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Oil jumped past $147/barrel briefly today.

I don't drive, so I haven't been hit that hard by this, but I am not looking forward to the winter heating bill. At all.

Also, John McCain, who likes to saber rattle at Iran all the time, said he couldn't comment on I forget what military initiative because he didn't know "the nature, the progress, or the status" of...whatever our problem with Iran is (besides that they threw out our pet dictator back in the seventies and they're dirty dirty Muslims who don't like hold hands (literally) with the President like the Saudis do).

Just to recap, he also frequently has confused Sunni and Shi'a ("Al Qaeda is working with Iran!" "...um, sir, they hate each other."); he has argued for continued military presence in Iraq by comparing it to South Korea and Germany, which is like comparing apples and marmosets; he has professed ignorance on his own position on whether birth control pills should be covered by insurance; he has said himself that he doesn't know much about economics and then denied ever saying so.

I'm just trying to figure out what John McCain isn't confused about. I mean, I would say he was pretty clear on wanting to be president, but I feel like the only rational explanation for someone who managed to appear intelligent, competent, and principled for so long suddenly turning into a befuddled gaffe machine is self-sabotage. Maybe he decided he doesn't want the job after all.


I just--I can't--it's not just that he's stupid. He's socially inept and the man has NO FUCKING MANNERS. Maybe that's why we don't even try diplomacy anymore.

Maybe he's actually an actor from SNL or Second City and this whole thing has been satire. Maybe? Please?

Also, the fact that I just wrote "it's not just that he's stupid" is really really mindbogglingly symptomatic of how pathetic this situation is.

[If you don't feel like clicking through, we just had a G8 summit in Japan. Emissions control was discussed. The US was generous enough to say that it would "consider" halving emissions by the twelfth of never. And at the final meeting, as Bush was signing off, what does he say? "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter!" I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE.]

In other news, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two biggest mortgage lending companies in the nation, are looking pretty precarious financially. I won't go into all the details, but if either one failed, let alone both, the national housing market would come to a near-standstill, losses would be declared pretty much all over the world (the two banks were always secure enough that pretty much the whole world has stakes in them--big ones), and the credit crisis (which makes it hard to get student loans, housing loans, or any other kind of credit) would get another bump. Even a bit more instability would raise interest rates on pretty much all mortgages (because even mortgages not actually tied to the two banks are tied to banks that loan to them or that get loans from them, and the interest rates go back to the interest banks charge each other).

The government is considering putting them in conservation, which basically means that if they can't guarantee all the debt they launder, taxpayers have to. That sounds really fucking shitty (helloooo, deficit), but the alternative is worse: no bailout, or the government bailing the situation out further down the line for even more money (a few trillion dollars that taxpayers would still be responsible for). And just to be clear, no bailout = economic and housing disaster of epic proportions.

On a COMPLETELY UNRELATED note (cough cough), John McCain plans to continue the Bush tax cuts, add more tax cuts, expand the Pentagon's budget, keep both wars going (Iraq and Afghanistan) and, judging by his propensity to joke about dead Iranians, probably start fucking with Iran--but don't worry! He'll balance the budget by 2013! He'll have to do it by balancing a checkbook, though, because he doesn't know how to use a computer. (No, really. He said so.) Maybe a whiteboard? Or an abacus! That would look really presidential in the Oval Office, don't you think?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

TK is teh osm

I am really proud to have Ted Kennedy as my (former? native?) senator right now. Yes, I know, shady events in the past, yada yada, but the man has been an amazing advocate for health care throughout his career.


Despite his recent brain cancer diagnosis and current treatment, he flew into Washington against doctors' advice IN SECRET to be the 60th vote (meaning no more filibusters) on a really important Medicare bill. Basically, Medicare was scheduled to cut the pay of doctors who practice under the program, which would have led to disastrous cuts and reductions in Medicare care. The Democrats had sponsored a bill canceling the cut, allowing doctors to continue at current rates. It passed the house and got filibustered by Republicans in the Senate (seriously, is there ANYBODY whose lives the Republicans care about besides fetuses?). The American Medical Association has been going nuts about this, running ads and targeting Congresspeople while the government postponed the cut to give the Senate time to work something out.

Kennedy, who has been out from work lately due to, you know, a brain tumor, flew in in a move that was fabulously sneaky (read the link for details) to be vote number 60 to invalidate the filibuster. When Republicans saw they were beaten, 9 of them switched their votes (cute). The response of Senators from both parties to Kennedy's appearance, as well as the description of his entrance and his statement, honestly made me get a bit teary-eyed.

One of the last great statesmen in Congress, as far as I can see. Chris Dodd is definitely another, for the record.

Oh, and since I didn't mention it, Congress passed the FISA bill and we're all fucked. Just a heads up.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object of which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Darwin was an eloquent guy, it turns out. Who knew?

Also, the apparent fact that many evolutionary biologists never read The Origin of Species totally supports my suspicion that many economists never read Adam Smith until it's time to write their books, at which point they skim for support until they hit the infamous butcher quotation. I will recommence my righteous, crotchety anger.

Random Edit: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2008/07/200879114053172605.html

This is really just dumb, if you ask me. Not quite as monumentally dumb as not letting Palestinian Fulbright scholars not leave the country to make use of their scholarships, but that's a pretty high bar to meet.

I understand intellectually why people do this sort of thing: it falls into the same camp as refusing to talk to Iran, for example. But I can't actually comprehend it in my gut. What on earth makes people think that angry people who have nothing to lose will be made more reasonable and friendly by making them angrier and taking more things away from them? The surest way to get people to cooperate with you is to tie their interests to yours--economically, politically, whatever. That's why isolation never works unless you explicitly try to starve or bomb people to death (which isn't exactly isolation working, it's just isolation eliminating the problem--different things), which you're not allowed to do in international policy anymore. Unless you're in Africa, in which case no one will pay attention.

I understand that in cases like this one the point is definitely not cooperation--it's punishment and oppression. That doesn't change the fact that tantrums, as we all should have learned as children, will get you nowhere.
As usual, David Brooks falls half into making sense and half into making me want to punch him in the face.

The observation that Obama has a huge fundraising advantage among "creative classes," "information workers," and the educated is not all that unexpected except for the degree to which he's popular among hedge funders and corporate types. The key here, according to Brooks, is education and training--people who came up from liberal areas, went to "left-leaning institutions" like Harvard (excuse me?) and now want to see people like themselves--educated, liberal, savvy types in government, not "people who used to run Halliburton and are backed by evangelicals."

The crucial thing that I think Brooks is missing here is the following: All these people have access to information (information workers? get it?). They, I would conjecture, are more likely to follow the news closely, to be plugged into the state of the world around them, and to accept experiential as well as empirical evidence of inequity or problems in the country--their educations trained them to believe statistics and to believe an aggregate of experiential accounts. This is the picture the Democratic party is working with.

Meanwhile, the Republican party continues to harp on social alarm buttons like gay marriage and taxes without any reference to reality because that's the only agenda they have to go on. The Republican party has largely enacted the policy platform of the conservative movement, and it was a disaster for everyone but the management-employed, country club set (those who tend to give to McCain). Now they're reduced to OMG GAYZ smoke and mirrors to try to get the electorate to allow them to continue doing the same. I highly doubt that people whose education, training, profession, and so daily lives involve empirical analysis, adaptive thinking, and basic reality-based information analysis are likely to buy that kind of strategy, regardless of their various positions on abortion.

In no way is this meant to denigrate those who do not fit this description as somehow plebeian or dumb. All I am trying to point out is that the kind of occupation Brooks identifies is necessarily a predisposition in this particular political climate to vote Democrat.

Oh, wow. I took a break from writing this and found some really scary statistics totally by accident (well, okay, by reading a political and cultural blog, but without intent):

Only 2 in 5 voters can name the three branches of the federal government.

--Nearly half (49%) of Americans think the president has the authority to suspend the Constitution.

--Only 1 in 7 can find Iraq on a map.

--A majority (70%) continued to believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, even after the 9/11 Commission reported that the claim was groundless.

--Only 1 in 5 know that there are 100 federal senators.

Right now I'm primarily interested in "Nearly half (49%) of Americans think the president has the authority to suspend the Constitution." If you were of this opinion and you heard all the hullabaloo over FISA, for example, you might wonder what the big deal was. The President can do whatever he wants as long as he says so, right? Back to whatever I was doing. That's eminently logical and a fair allocation of one's mental energy, especially since approximately 98.24% of all political hullabaloo is bullshit.

But the kind of professional that Brooks describes is highly unlikely to hold this kind of misconception and so will understand fairly quickly and intuitively what the problem is, again chasing them toward a Democratic vote.

Going back to Brooks, his conclusion that this is "a battle of the elites" is not entirely wrong--information and education elites vs. (his words) country club and corporate elites. I'd say each does have a mistrust of the other. At the same time, the divisions between these two camps are not nearly as clear or as deep as pundits would like us to believe, and even if they were I think it's a misdirection of the information Brooks is using as a starting point. What's important here isn't that the latte-sippers are coming to take over the power of the country-clubbers; it's that the people with information and analytical occupations are trending Democratic.

In addition, Brooks' conclusion that once the power grab is complete, the claims of the liberals' re: unions, economic equality, etc. will fall by the wayside is almost certainly true to one degree or another--we all know about campaign promises. However, I think that this class of voter and politician is more likely to have a systemic understanding and positive valuation of how economic betterment for others results in economic betterment for them, too, in the long term, as opposed to robbing the bank in the short term a la BushCo. Whether or not such people are more likely to be governed by altruism is a question I will not mire myself with.


God, the McCain campaign just makes me sad sometimes. They can't come up with a logo and stick with it. When they do, it's a blatant copy of the Obama logo and iconography. They can't come up with their own slogan ("A Leader We Can Believe In" sounds an awful lot like "Change We Can Believe In"), and even then they can't stick with their choice of someone else's slogan: they're now using a line the Tories ran with in England in the '70s. "Don't Hope for a Better Life; Vote for One."

Also, McCain got 300 economists to sign a letter saying they like his economic plan. Only, in order to get them to do that he took out two big chunks of his policy (balancing the budget, gas tax holiday), and oops! Looks like a bunch of them signed without reading, or think it's a mistake, or basically don't actually support the plan at all.

He goes on CNN and when a reporter actually asks him how (gasp!) he plans to entrench the Bush tax cuts, add more tax cuts, expand the Pentagon's budget, keep two wars going (and likely attack Iran) and still balance the budget by 2013, he can't explain it. Fancy that. Not only that, he gets pretty freaking pissed off.

Oh, and he said Social Security was a disgrace and "broken" because it takes taxes from young workers and gives the money to old people. Translation: Social Security is a disgrace because it's Social Security and not something else. See, the thing is, "broken" implies that at one point it worked differently and properly. But Social Security has NEVER worked differently. That is HOW IT WORKS. (And if that's so unfair, well, young workers get their turn when they get older. See? Like magic!) If you want to privatize (which he does, but only if you don't call it privatizing), we can have that debate, but don't pretend like you're "fixing" Social Security. You're switching it out for something else.

Oh, and according to this list, McCain, who likes to accuse Obama of flip-flopping all the time, has changed his mind 61 times of late. On every issue imaginable. And that doesn't even count the ones where he changed his position on the same subject more than once--each of those is counted as one, not two or three.

So, yes, that makes me pityingly sad. But what makes me really fucking angry is a media who couldn't be bothered, knowledgeable, or ethical enough to actually TELL PEOPLE THIS.

ETA: I forgot to mention that every time someone like, oh, a decorated retired general (cough cough Wesley Clark) ventures to mention that McCain's military experience, while honorable, has nothing to do with leading, managing, or being president, the campaign runs to Mama (i.e. the media) and whines "He said I'm not a patriot! Why's he spitting on my shiny medals? Why does he HATE AMERICA? WAAAAAH!" The fact that this campaign simply cannot seriously and calmly engage with ANY CRITICISM is very telling.

Monday, July 7, 2008

1. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN, says:

"The world faces three simultaneous crises — a food crisis, a climate crisis and a development crisis,” he told reporters. “The three crises are deeply interconnected and need to be addressed as such.”

Thank you. Yes.

2. Jakaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania and head of the African Union, says:

"We are saying no party can govern alone in Zimbabwe and therefore the parties have to work together in a government and look at the future of their country together,” Mr. Kikwete said. “And as friends, at the end of the day we will come to an understanding.”

This is the best explanation for the relative silence or timidity of African leaders re: the situation in Zimbabwe I've seen so far. It's true, I think, and it addresses a more root aspect of the problem than the more common concern along the lines of "ROBERT MUGABE OUT NOW." Not that I disagree with that at all, because Mugabe is a scourge and an evil man, but if you just get rid of him there's no reason something similar couldn't happen again.

I thought the suggestion in the NYT the other day that Zimbabwe's parliament just get together and eliminate the office of president altogether (I mean, there's no prime minister already--thanks, Mugabe--so why not go all the way?) in order to get rid of Mugabe, get rid of executive abuses, and better represent an ethnically diverse nation through parliamentary representation was interesting, but again I don't really know enough to say.

Not that I really know anything about this. I'm kind of a babe in the woods when it comes to Africa; I just don't know very much beyond broad colonial history (and I mean broad), some more specific facts about HIV/AIDS, its spread, and its treatment, and a very, very basic (like factoid level) picture of the green revolution initiative. And I have a decent idea of the history of the Democratic Republic (hardy har) of Congo, but that's pretty random.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Okay, so Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair has apparently for quite some time been arguing that waterboarding is not torture. Somebody dared him to put his money where his mouth is, so he got himself waterboarded.

Guess what? his latest column proclaims. It totes IS torture! Golly!

Now, I applaud him for not being afraid to change his mind publicly, and any new voice which presumably had an "it's not torture" audience saying it IS torture and being able to testify not only to the experience but to the aftermath is certainly a good thing. But, as some have pointed out, the fact that he couldn't figure this out before with basic empathy and historical and ethical reasoning doesn't exactly speak well of his character. Welcome, Hitch, but no treat.

In particular, when I commented on the NYT report on this, I said "one would hope that our nation's leaders and thinkers would have the empathy and ethical capacity to figure this out without a reality-tv-style demo." That was when I noticed that Vanity Fair posted video of Hitch undergoing the "procedure."

With that I take unequivocal issue. Because they literally just turned torture into reality TV. I recoiled physically when I saw a photo of waterboarding; the last thing I want is a bunch of people watching video and going "WHOA, crazy! What else is on YouTube?" If they are repulsed, then that's good, but I have the feeling that like everything else, if this becomes widespread imagery it will be normalized and unworrisome.

I suppose I can actually see two sides to it. We have been inured to our wars and our nation's actions, and being forced to face what we actually do is valuable. I just don't want any numbing or trivializing.

You know what would make this whole thing easier? IF WE DIDN'T TORTURE. Jeez louise.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

We are not the red states or the blue states but the United states...

Oh lord.

Quotation from Mark Krikorian at The Corner (conservative group blog):
"Even Palin couldn't get me to vote for McCain, but her daughter's pregnancy just reinforces what seems to me a big part of her emotional appeal. It's more than her being a relatively normal person; rather, her family represents vitality and life — the men are virile, the women are fecund — as opposed to the effete, navel-gazing, metrosexual arugula-muncher heading the other ticket. The only downside is that her grandchild won't come before the election."

Emphasis added.

This seemed like a good introduction to a general line of thought I was having, which was:

I cannot identify with the Republican party. I mean, I know Republicans who are totally great people and with whom I can relate. But anyplace where that's a legitimate sentiment is just beyond me. It's not even meant to be condemnational (in this particular instance)--it's that I am generally an extremely empathetic person, I'm all about seeing the other side and putting myself in someone else's shoes, and when I read things like that all I can think is, "What planet are you from?"

Similarly, I've thought to myself a few times about the incredible disparity between the two parties in terms of diversity. Footage from the DNC showed a crowd of great diversity--both genders (I have no idea if anybody there was genderqueer, intersexed, or trans, but all I can go on is what's readily visible), all races and ages. The RNC is a sea of white (while both genders and all ages are represented--although I don't see so many children brought by their parents. I haven't watched as much, though).

What made me sad about this was that Chris Matthews (not that he's known for his great progressivism) referred to the Democratic party as "an incredibly diverse party." No. It's a party that reflects the diversity of the nation it seeks to represent. Rather, the GOP should properly be referred to as " an incredibly homogeneous party." Homogeneity--and in particular white homogeneity, which is the true media definition of unremarkable nondiversity--should not be the default. It's an inaccurate portrayal of the population of this country. (You know if a convention's audience was entirely black, or entirely Asian, it would be remarked upon. An entirely white audience, generally, is not.)

Probably more than the videos looking back on past Republican Presidents and achievements (George H. W. Bush? Really? The guy didn't even win reelection), more than all the sepia tint, more even than the reference to Reagan's having "saved our century" (you can have that one, we'll take this one, kthx) or the age of the Republican nominee, that all-white crowd screams to me that this is the convention of a party of the past.

Not because white people are suddenly going to become the underclass (white supremacists, calm down) or because miscegenation (oh noez!) will make everybody the same lovely shade of latte (weird)--because this country used to be white, by a huge margin. The majority is still white, but most likely only for a few more decades (at which point whites will become the largest minority, or maybe even be eclipsed by Latinos--I don't know, I don't remember the statistics). Either way, this country has never been completely white; and it ceased declaring that it would serve only whites decades ago. How well that change has taken root is a difficult question, although I think few would disagree that there is more to go, and that notwithstanding, Obama's nomination is a huge testament to progress. A perspective that sees and serves only white people is bound to be doomed, and at this rate by sheer force of market share alone the Republican Party as it is now will become obsolete. (This became certain when most Latinos, leaving aside Florida, figured out that GWB and John McCain weren't actually very good friends and started voting Democrat.)

Anyway. Something about that makes me sad too. Not out of love lost for the GOP, certainly; I just, I don't know. I look at all these very white, very classically American people getting so excited at their convention, and it has absolutely nothing to do with me, nor I with them. Partly, as Rachel Maddow indirectly said*, I have the feeling that most of those people wouldn't like me much if they knew me. Partly, we live in two different worlds within one nation.

*Maddow was talking about the Clintons back in 1992 when she was a fairly apolitical 19-year-old. She was saying that at the time she was glad to know they'd be around for a while, on TV and so on--because it seemed like if they met her, they wouldn't hate her. (What with her being a radical lefty butch dyke and overeducated to boot, and all.)

Actuallly (damn, epic footnote), that more than anything else humanizes the way some conservatives can react to national candidates who are not of their race or economic class (i.e. don't pretend to be of their economic class). Probably that makes me an elitist too. I don't know.
So I've had Pandora going in the background while at work, and I've noticed something: When I start a station with an artist featuring a male singer, Pandora never suggests anything sung by a woman. So far, having started a station with a female singer, it's suggested only women.

Does this mean that men and women make fundamentally different music? I seem to recall that starting with Suzanne Vega, a woman, does get me some men (though a relatively small number)--so is it just that some musicians are more gendered than others? What about genres? Is Mirah automatically "angry chick rock/singer/songwriter" and Voxtrot nothing but "vaguely classic-sounding-but-still-fresh dude rock" while Suzanne Vega is working in a less gendered genre (folk)?


Just in case everybody missed this, oil passed $140 a barrel the other day. It came down again, but still--remember when we were all freaking out about breaking $100/barrel? HA.

Also, apparently John McCain doesn't (didn't? I hope) know the difference between the Sudan and Somalia.

It fits perfectly with not knowing Who's Who in Sunnis and Shi'ites--they're all brown anyway, who can tell the difference, right?