Saturday, February 28, 2009

Death and taxes

If there's one thing I've come to accept, it's that other people simply don't agree with me about death and they never will. To me it is Just Not That Big a Deal. Obviously I don't want to die, but I don't believe in any sort of afterlife or reincarnation or continuation of the soul--I believe we rot, and that's it, and I'm really okay with that.

For some reason this notion freaks a lot of other people out, and as I said I've sort of learned that for whatever reason I just think differently about this than they do and that we are never ever going to agree. (I'm okay with that, by the way.) Furthermore, the basis of our various feelings on this isn't exactly super-empirical/logical, and so arguing and reasoning with each other will never bring us into agreement.

Again, that's okay. I bring it up only because I am increasingly starting to believe that the same is true over taxes. Andrew Sullivan's reader writes:

I'm one of those “wealthy” people who will be pinched hard by Obama’s tax hike. I came to this country legally 17 years ago with $300.00 in my pocket but with good education. I struggled at the beginning but nevertheless, worked my way up in the high tech world. I too think that the Obama’s tax proposals are extremely unfair as if I don’t pay already enough to Uncle Sam.

Sullivan himself says:

I feel the same way. I came from a modest background in another country and arrived in the US with barely a cent of my own money. I've worked hard and earned the American dream - and now have to work for the government for well over half the year (a government that still persecutes me for being an HIV-survivor). Obama will take more of my money - and much, much more in the future. Liberalism believes in punishing hard-working successful people in this manner - and the more you succeed, the more they will punish you.

I have encountered similar sentiments from my roommate and her family. And I fundamentally can't comprehend it.

I mean, I understand it. The words make sense. I get the logic. It's not that I feel like people who feel this way are spouting gibberish. I just can't relate at all. It's not how I experience the same phenomenon. In my view, it's not punishment--I don't think anybody's out to get me, and I don't feel as if I'm being told I did wrong. It's more along the lines of something Joe Biden said during the campaign--neighborliness. I take it more or less for granted that not only do we all pay for certain services and benefits of living in a nation-state, but that if some people (myself included) can spare a little more toward that they they/we ought to contribute it.

It comes back, I think, partly to an issue we talked about a lot in the class I took on sort of the greatest hits of liberalism (which included Burke, Hayek, and Smith as well as Rousseau, Mill, Locke, and Dewey--this is liberalism broadly, rather than politically, defined). Are we most concerned with fairness in methods, or fairness in results? Put another way, do we want everyone to be treated the same even if they're starting from different places, or do we want people to be treated differently such that they come out more even?

"Fair" was a word we got into endless arguments about in that class, and I really think that it's something deep-seated and emotional enough that it's all but impossible to reason across camps because it's not actually about reason at all. That's okay, and I'm not sure either side can be said to be right or wrong (economic theories can be found for both camps, and in any case that kind of ostensibly empirical basis isn't really what I'm dealing with here). In a sense, it's like kids on a playground yelling about what's fair and unfair. We know unfair when we see it, and it makes us nuts, but it can be very hard to articulate why or how something is unfair to someone who doesn't feel the same way.

I have gone the proverbial fifty rounds with my roommate on this and we simply don't agree. We've accepted that that's the way it is and most of the time it's not an issue (although the time another housemate commented that she thought it was "selfish" of Rommate 1's family to vote for McCain solely on taxes was definitely a rough moment). I just think it's fascinating that taxes--an issue you might think would be the driest, wonkiest, most mathematical of all policy--are so political and so bound up in people's politics.

There's a lot more I could go on to say about the state's relationship to the economy (hi, Foucault) as well as relative identification of the individual with the state vs. the community in Western political liberalism, and furthermore I have notions of how to map that--or not--onto Islamic notions like the Ummah and jizya, but this is getting long so perhaps another time.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oh god.

Larison is starting to sound like me:

There are no words sufficient to express my bewilderment.

If you're wondering what has reduced him to something resembling my own pitiful state, look no further than this.

Michael Steele: Absolutely. There’s a lot of bling bling — the bling bling’s got bling bling in this package. That’s how bad it is.

Captains of Industry

You may have heard about Sir Allen Stanford? Madoff-style scandal, except way worse? That guy?

Well, it turns out he's managing to take an entire country down with him. [H/t TPM]

Must have been nice, having his own backyard island empire, eh?

It was Antigua where Stanford located all his off-shore bank shenanigans. But he had so many different operations going on down there (a recent report said that he was "a chief financier of government projects" in the island) that he and his businesses were the second biggest employer in the country after the Antiguan government.

...As a funny illustration, a few days ago I went to the website of the local newspaper, the Antigua Sun, to try to find out the latest on what was happening down there. And I couldn't find anything about it, which struck me as weird. And then I dug a little deeper to discover that ... well, the Antigua Sun is owned by Sir Allen. So maybe that explains it.

This entire story sounds like one of those fun anecdotes you get in a shaded box in your history textbook in the British Empire chapter. It's not supposed to happen anymore.

This reminds me of something my class briefly almost talked about today--which is to say that we would have talked about it if the class weren't quite such a waste of time. Colonization and imperialism in the 16th-20th centuries, as a phenomenon, didn't start out with actual states actually going out and conquering places just because. Didn't even start with states going out and conquering in search of resources. It started with companies. Trading companies. Like the East India Trading Company, which actually used force to coerce local governments into trading with it and granting it access to resources. And, in many ways, like the multinational conglomerates we see today that contain both security and mercenary forces and mining companies--to take advantage of all those diamonds the security forces get paid in for their work in Sierra Leone.

Depending on where we see cases like PMCs and Stanford types going in the next few decades--and on the degree to which finance, production, and outsourcing catch up in non-Western countries--this could be an example of history not repeating itself, but thumping out a really heavy rhymed couplet. I guess it remains to be seen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I was doing an Arabic exercise that requires you to listen to a character (Khaled Mahmoud Abu Layla, in this case) tell you a story. You have the paragraph of what he's saying written in the textbook, which most of the important words blanked out; your task is to fill them in.

As is usually the case, this chapter has been structured such that we've had to listen to and answer questions about this same passage before; it's not uncommon to understand things more clearly or more perfectly this time around, since you're required to know what every single word is.

So my general understanding, it turns out, was correct--Khaled hangs out with his cousins once a week, they tell each other news and update each other on their love lives; Khaled feels shy around them because he's not as experienced in the romantic department; he knew this girl once when he was a 3rd-year student but then they couldn't see each other anymore.

I had thought the reason they couldn't see each other anymore was because she moved to Saudi Arabia to be an engineer (Khaled is in Cairo). Turns out, it was because she got engaged to an engineer who worked in Saudi.

That whole situation raises a whole slew of questions for me, but mostly I just think it's telling that I heard "cut off" "engineer," and "Saudi" and assumed she was the professional, not that she was marrying one. Oops. (I did consider it surprising given that even Egypt, with some of the best gender politics in the region, is still, well, fairly conservatively Arab and Muslim, but I wasn't going to argue. Alas.)

I beg your pardon?

Once again, I am slack-jawed in awe at what ridiculous everloving poorly evolved jackasses inhabit the same universe as I do:, a Dallas-based business that sold wife-beater T-shirts, has been shut down after a San Antonio man complained to the company hosting the site.

The Web site sold white tank tops, commonly referred to as “wife-beaters,” and gave a discount to anyone who could prove they were convicted of wife beating.

No. Words.


Marc Ambinder reports that the climate lobby is now only 45% composed of emitting industries and restricting environmentalists. The rest? banks, just looking to make a buck trading carbon credits, man.

Truck, barter and exchange, indeed.

Off topic awesome

BOOMBOX from Ely Kim on Vimeo.

This man is my hero in SO MANY WAYS.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I have no comment on the substance of this exchange. All I know is that a reporter got hardcore pwned and I very much enjoyed the pwnage.

Not all of us are sports fans, okay?

Withdrawal and the SOFA

Eric Martin makes some important points about the current U.S. debate over the timeline for withdrawing forces from Iraq: everybody who's saying we can't pull out in 16 months, or two years, is ignoring the SOFA--Status of Forces Agreement--that the Bush administration negotiated with the al-Maliki government, which just had quite a strong showing in the recent elections.

Rather than delaying the commencement of withdrawal under the theory that we can, or should, ignore the SOFA, the US should put a downpayment on withdrawal by beginning the pullout now as suggested by Marc Lynch for the following reasons: (1) it would reassure the Iraqi people of our intention to leave Iraq, which would make the SOFA more palatable; (2) it would strengthen Maliki's hand, and the hand of those advocating nationalism/centralism without, in the alternative, empowering the extremism of some of the Sadrist elements; and (3) even if such overtures do not convince the Iraqi people to endorse the SOFA, withdrawal over 12 months will be easier to accomplish if we've already begun to pull out some of our forces.

Martin is fast becoming one of my favorites for his detailed and insightful analyses of Iraqi politics.

Tough all over

This is an interesting blog post from what appears to be a Pakistani journalist at Thinking Out of the Box.

It's interesting because he's arguing that the Pakistani media is irresponsibly demonizing the government and military and in so doing is helping the terrorists. It reminded me of some of the American blogosphere's complaints about our own dear MSM. (On the left, at least.) I'm not at all savvy to what goes on in the Pakistani media, so I can't nod sagely in agreement nor argue that he's wrong, but it's still interesting to me to see this kind of discontent arising over there.

This is why I keep Global Voices on Google Reader. Even though the vast majority of their seemingly endless posts are not interesting to me, and sometimes I feel like I'm getting clogged up or overwhelmed with it, I consistently find things through GV that I would never have seen anywhere else. Plus their omnibus compendia of various posts on the same subject can be invaluable, and they're a good source for cool uses of new or newish media.

Like, oh, this: Global Health: Mobile Phones to Boost Healthcare. I haven't even read it yet, but I want to know about that, don't you?

School is killing me, which is why I haven't been posting. It's pretty sad that that's the case, given that neither midterms nor finals are currently happening, but I guess that's third year for you. Ugh, back to Arabic worksheets.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


From ThinkProgress:

Yesterday, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) delivered “a lecture on Islam” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Hoo boy.

Santorum said he believes Muslims’ religious views cannot be changed or altered, so Middle Easterners reject American, democratic ideals.

“A democracy could not exist because Mohammed already made the perfect law,” Santorum said. “The Quran is perfect just the way it is, that’s why it is only written in Islamic.”

My head hurts with a splitting pain I did not know was possible without going three days on only energy drinks and Smartfood and no sleep. Congratulations, Mr. Santorum, you have managed to replicate the sensation of finals week with only 30-odd little words.

Take it away, TP:
Santorum concluded, “I think that if every citizen was fully informed about the war, it would create a commonality between faiths.” Indeed, much work remains to be done.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


California has to shut down all construction and start firing people because Republicans wouldn't raise any taxes.

I understand the rationale that if you really believe less government is better, then being anti-tax isn't just something you play around at until the rubber hits the road and then you have to rush in to save the state. I get that. What I don't get is how the huge numbers of people who are going to lose employment, contractual (construction) or more permanent (20,000 state workers?), and who will decidedly not be absorbed by our ailing economy, is just fine and dandy.

This is one of those things that you see coming but always assume will be averted. It is going to be hard as hell for a Republican to get elected in most of California for the next few cycles if the world makes any sense at all. (Not holding my breath, I'll admit.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Disproportionate force

An essential piece from SabbahBlog on Israel's tactics in the latest Gaza offensive.

That first weapon they describe (DIME) sounds like something out of 24. Something the bad guys use. Gave me the shivers:

Most of those who survive the initial blast quickly succumb to septicemia and organ collapse. "Initially, everything seems in order but it turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all their organs," says Dr. Jam Brommundt, a German doctor working in Kham Younis, a city in southern Gaza. "It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particles that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically." According to Brommundt, the particles cause multiple organ failures.

If by some miracle victims resist those conditions, they are almost certain to develop rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a particularly deadly cancer that deeply embeds itself into tissue and is almost impossible to treat.

The piece goes on to discuss the white phosphorous issue and to speculate about whether Israel got DIME directly from the U.S. (who invented it, natch) or copied it themselves, and whether Israel will be prosecuted for war crimes.

It won't, of course, if only because the U.S. will veto any such move by the U.N. However, I would be surprised if things ever even got that far. I just have the sense that there's no juice in this particular criminal system--at least not for prosecuting the powerful. I have next to no faith in the international justice system, such as it is.

Civil unions

Are a different issue in Lebanon than they are here:

Renewed calls for Lebanon to allow civil marriages were made in a Valentine ceremony at a Beirut bar over the weekend.

Several inter-religious couples staged mock weddings at a bar in Beirut's trendy Gemmayze district to protest the country's stiff marriage laws.

As it stands, civil weddings between inter-religious couples are only recognised if the marriage did not occur on Lebanese territory. For a country with a handful of religious sects, this makes for a sticky situation for many cross-sectarian couples.

It's a war on family values! A war on religious traditions! Next thing you know they'll be allowing beastiality! BOOGA BOOGA!

It's all happening

I'm having one of these "we're living in the future!" moments just now, so forgive me while I platz.

I was scrolling through my Google Reader and a post entitled, "Blogging Positively: Join the Global Conversation about HIV/AIDS" popped up. Thinking one of my roommates (a global health type) would want to see this, I read the excerpted blog posts and clicked through to the Google Map of HIV/AIDS-positive bloggers. I randomly clicked on a point in the map, and I was faced with this:

The thing that really got me?

It's enough to make a person break out in "I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke" or something equally mushy-brained. I just--there's this blurb right there about how the bloggers want people to get to know Nata Village, know the lives of the people who live there, etc. And then that little link, innocently offering me directions halfway around the bloody world.


Violence, domestic

The leading cause of death for African-American women aged 15-45 is partner abuse. Jesus H. Christ. Is the world listening yet? How bout the country? The men?

I don't really know what to say about this either. In both this case and the case of the Iraqi suicide bomberesses all I can say is that it's wrong. It's dehumanizing, it's weaponizing or panaceazing, it's using. It's awful. It makes me sick.

Women are human beings, goddammit.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


It's a national poll.

I'm sorry, only 53% of college graduates believe in evolution? I understand that some college graduates are graduates of, like, Bob Jones University, but not almost half of them.

Also, how does one not have an opinion? Do people just not know what evolution is? Are they getting confused by the "theory of" phrasing and thinking the pollster is referring to a more technical concept than what they know? Are that many people that profoundly unconcerned with understanding the world they live in?

I am baffled.

Check it

The Financial Times has a lovely interactive chart of the three stimulus bills--House, Senate, and final versions.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Normally I love lolcats. However:

Yeah, that's racist as all get out. Lovely.


Here's the BBC with today's reason to curl up and cry (emphasis added):

In an apparent video confession, the middle-aged woman [Samira Jasseem, "Mother of Believers"] described how she identified potential bombers, helped supply them with explosives and led them to their targets.

She also explained, in a separate interview with the Associated Press, how insurgents used rape as a tool, with the "shamed" women persuaded to redeem themselves through suicide attacks.

Her apparent confession could help throw light on the recent increase in attacks in Iraq involving female bombers.


Insurgents use female bombers because they can hide explosives under their robes and are less likely to be searched by male guards at security checkpoints.

That last bit is fairly common knowledge, but I think it's important to include anyway in terms of understanding how central gender oppression is to this whole tactic.

I have a lot to say about this, but I can't right now. I'm too overwhelmed just now. I'm angry at the men who did these things, but even more so I can't think of anything but how profoundly sad I am for the women who have been used in this way. I can't find a word to describe it other than grief.

As for Samira Jasseem...I will have to think about her.

The Israeli elections, Palestinian edition

More from Levy's excellent piece, this time on the peace process:

For the Palestinians too, this should act as something of a clarifying moment. President Abbas’s response to the Israeli elections, namely that the international community should only work with the new Israeli government if it meets the same criteria applied to Hamas (i.e. accept a Palestinian state, continue the peace process, and the equivalent of nonviolence, which in this case would be no settlement expansion) seems on the face of it not unreasonable. But Abbas’s admonition might make more sense in reverse; in other words, the international community should work with whatever government Israel elects to advance a two-state solution just as they should have worked with whatever government the Palestinians elected. If there were ever a time for a more serious effort toward Palestinian internal reconciliation, this is surely it. Indeed, were Abbas able to deliver a unity government now and an arrangement with Hamas, then it would be difficult for the international community to continue to apply the existing and unreasonable conditions for working with such a government. This may not be the first choice for President Abbas but after last Tuesday, the other options make even less sense, especially with Hamas gaining in popularity.

The entire Fatah political platform has been predicated on Palestinian independence and de-occupation being achieved exclusively via the negotiations with Israel– an already discredited and now desperately implausible premise. The Palestinian false binary choice of only negotiations or only armed resistance needs to be refreshed as the attempt at rebuilding a national movement, including the reform of the PLO, goes forward. There are also more urgent reasons to advance the Palestinian unity agenda, notably the immediate challenges posed by the destruction in Gaza and the need for an address for the international community in pursuing reconstruction efforts there. The forthcoming Arab summit in Qatar at the end of March should be seen as a target date for a breakthrough on Palestinian reconciliation efforts. That will require a team of Arab mediators, including but not restricted to the Qatari host and encompassing supporters of both the so-called moderate and resistance camps (including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and almost certainly Turkey as well). A quiet and discrete [sic] clarification by the US and Europe that they are encouraging such efforts might be crucial. If the Palestinians do take this as a clarifying moment then it could also create a more constructive backdrop against which the new Israeli government will have to make its decisions on whether to move forward toward confrontation or to pursue a somewhat unexpected but certainly more promising track.

The Israeli elections

Daniel Levy explains:

The power that has now been accrued by Lieberman’s party is one of Tuesday’s most stunning outcomes – he appears to be the king or queen-maker. What is more sinister and disturbing is how muted a political effort there has been to draw a red line in front of Lieberman’s racist rhetoric and policies and to place him beyond the coalition pale (for an excellent discussion of the Lieberman phenomenon, see Gershom Gorenberg’s piece at The American Prospect). Yisrael Beiteinu ran on a platform that would have Israeli Arabs needing to pass a loyalty test to Israel in order for their citizenship not to be rescinded. Lieberman is an almost bizarre Israeli twist on the European model of the populist, ethnonationalist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant parties that have done so well in France (Le Pen’s Front National), Austria (Heider’s Freedom Party), Belgium (Vlaams Blok), Switzerland (Blocher’s Swiss People’s Party), and elsewhere. Why the Israeli case is so special does not concern the level support for Lieberman or how hard-line he is but rather lies in the following two aspects: In Lieberman’s case, he himself is an immigrant (hailing from Moldova), and the targets of his invective are the Arab inhabitants whose presence here long preceded his. More importantly, in most other instances, a cordon sanitaire has effectively been erected around the racist right to exclude them from governing coalitions. In Israel, the opposite path is being pursued with Livni and Netanyahu both wooing Lieberman as a potential coalition ally. It’s still possible that Lieberman may be excluded from the coalition and he may even overplay his hand, though it is unlikely.

In a sense, something deeper might be at work here. Israel describes itself as a Jewish democratic state, and the Lieberman phenomenon in part may represent the extent to which Israel in practice has emphasized the Jewish part of that definition over the democratic part. The Israeli political establishment, notably including the Zionist left, has failed to create a more inclusive notion of Israeli-ness or even a political system that confers a real sense of democratic belonging on its non-Jewish, Arab minority. In very real and important ways, the challenge of marrying Jewish and democratic has not been addressed whether that be in terms of budgetary allocations, equality of opportunity, or in Israel’s national narrative. When the peace camp tried to win Jewish majority support for the idea of two states and an end of occupation, it focused on the demographic argument (Israel will only remain Jewish if it leaves the territories). It is not such a long journey from that line of logic to Liebermanism. In this moment of clarity, Israel will then have to decide whether Liebermanism is the Zionist end-game or whether a more inclusive and democratic Israel can flourish. I think Israelis can rise to the challenge and create a more open vision for Israeli society, and that will certainly be one of the issues to address for what is left of the left in Labor and Meretz. The Palestinian Arab minority in Israel and its leaders also need itself to think through how to best contribute to a more inclusivist vision of the future.

The Gorenberg piece he mentioned is here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

That's one way to put it

Bangladesh: Exploring New Markets for Manpower

Bangladesh Corporate Blog is in favor of the Bangladesh government's decision to explore new markets for the Bangladeshi manpower, “why should we remain squeezed back to back against each other in (…) one of the smallest countries of the world?”

"Explore new markets for the Bangladeshi manpower," eh? I thought that was called labor migration.

I mean, there's a lot I could say about what tends to face migrant or expatriate workers in their lives abroad, but I suppose conditions in Bangladesh aren't that great either. I just find the phrasing hilarious. I think George Carlin might approve.

The stimulus as it stands, and some news from Afghanistan

Marc Ambinder has "the latest summary from the House Appropriations Committee" of the stimulus bill.

The New York times informs me that Congress has (publicly) learned what we already knew: Karzai not working out so good. For some details on Afghanistan, see here, and here, and on the spreading of extreme Islamism around Pakistan outside of FATA (that's the semi-autonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan that we're always fretting about), see here.

I could very easily go find like fifty more links to throw up here, but I feel rather ill and am going to go lie down with The Culture of Sectarianism. So there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.
The first time I saw it I was touched, but for some reason when I watched it just now I totally cried all over the place.


So. I was happily reading this Racialicious post about some archived images from Jet and Ebony from the 50s and 60s, when these magazines actually mentioned LGBTQ African-Americans and in fact covered the drag balls in New York and Chicago. (The pictures are great, check it out.)

In the comments, people began discussing the question of why these magazines used to cover such things and now they don't. And then I hit this comment:

As you allude to in your post, during the Black Renaissance the LGBT community wasn’t just tolerated, we were a part of the community. I mean Zora and Langston were major players.

It’s just so sad that we haven’t continued along that trajectory of acceptance. Imagine where we’d be now

I had to read it twice. Because while I studied both Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston in high school, nobody ever thought to mention to me that either of them might be anything but straight. And it has never come up since then, even though they as writers have certainly cropped up.

I did a couple quick Googles, as the kids say, and while clearly there's some doubt about Langston (though speculation seems to be sort of fun for people the way it is about Shakespeare), it seems like the case for Zora is more settled (though, interestingly, much less discussed). So, yes. There we have it.

And I am shocked. Not at their sexualities; at the fact that nobody ever saw fit to mention it. Black men and women who identify as LGBTQ have a tough enough time getting their intersectional identities recognized without having their communal histories erased. I can't help but ask why it was necessary to erase the gay identities of two such beloved luminaries of black literary history; and why the topic seems to be more acceptable to giggle over for the man than for the woman. (References to Hurston's lesbianism crop up almost exclusively in scholarly or literary works made by and/or for lesbians. It's enough to make a person storm the Wikipedia page.)

I'm sure part of this is that I haven't delved into black literary history or the lives of any of its stars. I have to acknowledge the white privilege at work there--though part of it, honestly, is that I'm not very into ANY literary history--and I'm certainly glad that high school had me read what bits and pieces it did. But again, nobody mentioned it, and I am still mulling over the ramifications for my understanding of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Would that not have been worth discussing, given the protagonist's highly convoluted relationship to men as romantic partners, and to gender norms (by the end)? Or was that too "edgy" for the ninth grade? (Because teenage pregnancy and marriage, sexual abuse, death, violence, and slut-shaming are just squeaky clean.)

As commenter to the Racialicious post A.D. Nix wrote: that is some violent invisibility.

Randoms: this is what happens when I take a study break

I have slept something like twelve hours in the last 66; midterms are killer this quarter. I just finished a bear of a paper and I'm about to do my Arabic homework before class at 10:30, so this won't be much of a post, but I needed to take a second and just consume some information in between bouts of producing it.

The Rep. Armey/Joan Walsh ridiculousness is several days old, but I only just watched the video instead of reading a transcript, and it's truly heinous:

The impact of the video over and above the transcript is partly just the sheer disgusting condescension on his part, but it's also the way he dismisses her on at least vaguely relevant terms up until that misogynistic bolt from the blue. He went on not taking her seriously, viewing this segment as a conversation between him and his boy Chris Matthews plus some annoying girl, until he couldn't run from her logic anymore, and then bam.

I find the fact that she started addressing him as "sir" after that wifey comment fascinating. It's not that she's submitting to his ridiculousness, no, not at all. I'm trying to decide what it means. I can see it as one part distancing--"you're no friend of mine, sir" kind of deal--and one part heightening the contradictions--you just utterly deprived me of respect and so I am going to address you in terms of respect as a near-sarcastic marker of how completely despicable what you just did was. I feel like there's some third thing there that I'm not getting, but I don't know what it is.

Some other stuff:

Klein and Coates on centrism
Tannenhaus and Sullivan via Coates on conservatism
Hilzoy: The Market Case for Nationalizing the Banks
Hamas continues to fight for allegiance in Gaza--now by stealing from the U.N.!
Whaddaya know, Sadly, No! is still funny. “Americans are angry at Democrats” explained a liberal-leaning liberal. “Muuuuuh” added bipartisan analyst Zombie Ronald Reagan" cracked my shit up.

Okay, I'm going to finish my bibliography, make myself some food, and get cracking again. People actually miss student life?

Friday, February 6, 2009

My other hobby

YouTube videos of my a cappella group's International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella performance are up at long last!

Don't Bring Me Down


Afternoon Delight

Musically it wasn't 100% of what we can do, particularly the second song, but given that we had three weeks to learn two of those songs plus all the choreography, and given that many of us were sick or just wearing out our voices from practicing so much, I'm quite happy with it.

We came in 4th of 8 groups and I happen to know that one of the three judges thought we were the best group competing, so we did quite well for the first UChicago group ever to compete in anything, let alone at this level (ICCAs are a big deal). We didn't get to advance to semifinals, but that was just fine with us--we needed to have lives again at some point.

I'm the one in the blue tights. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The stimulus needs stimulus

dday writes:

The upshot is that this bill, with the entire goal of stopping a careening disaster in the economy and putting people to work, is seriously off the rails. And I've got to say, a lot of it is because the Obama Administration isn't answering the critics with any kind of force or action plan. Now the job numbers for January due out on Friday - which could be astronomically bad - will create more of a sense of urgency, but that won't create action on Washington unless people are knocking at the gates. The bad timing of the Daschle withdrawal ruined Obama's media blitz yesterday, as his "I screwed up" line got all the headlines. But even the content of their pushback when they've bothered to do it has been suspect.


Finally, as Chris Bowers notes, the Obama team is asking shockingly little from its constituents. There was an organizing call last night that asked for some input, and they're setting up house parties, but that's EXTREMELY late in the game. This is the biggest legislation of the year, which will set the tone for all of the future promises Obama made. That he's not effectively using the bully pulpit or organizing his cadres is astounding. It could be that they are working so hard on all these simultaneous crises that they forgot how important it is to bring the people along.

Frankly, the degree to which the Obama camp seems to have forgotten about the media is really surprising to me; it feels out of character. Beyond that, I honestly think the Congressional Democrats have been downright embarrassing. There's no united front, nor does there ever seem to have been any effort to put one together, let alone get it out on TV where people can see it. I read about Obama and the Republicans reaching out, out, ever reaching, but I never hear about Obama falling back on Democrats when that doesn't work, nor do I hear of Democrats, well, doing much. Doesn't necessarily mean they're not, but it does mean that nobody is getting it into the public eye.

This is the part where many would throw up the "Everybody chill the fuck out, I got this" macro and point out that "Every time you/we/I/they second-guessed Obama in the campaign, you/we/I/they were wrong, and look how it turned out!"

I suppose that's possible. But this is a different game, for two reasons:

1. Media management. As dday pointed out, the Obama people now have to walk and chew gum at the same time on a much grander scale than ever before. While Obama did some work in the Senate while campaigning, he was still generally able to focus on managing public opinion at not too high a cost elsewhere. Now he has to do a lot of policy work as well as PR work, and a number of people in the campaign who did one or the other are doing both, and the policy work can't be limited to three or four big issues that voters care about, and it may be that they just haven't figured it out yet.

In addition, the campaign was all about Obama the individual, as it should have been. But the administration needs to have people other than President Obama himself that they can put on TV to defend the agenda. Again, this is where Democratic Senators should come in, since much of Obama's communications Dept. isn't familiar yet. I'm not saying it was a bad idea to trot out the President; this is a really big deal and it's important that people outside the Village pay attention, and he's the best way to do that. But there needed to be preemptive selling of the bill, and there needed to be damage control before and after the President made the rounds so that there is someone pushing back on the Republicans when the President, you know, has other things to do. Where are they?

2. The goals are now radically different and Obama hasn't yet changed his methods. The "11-dimensional chess" and bipartisan outreach that the media love and many bloggers are rolling their eyes over doesn't surprise me. It's who Obama is. Obama likes to be liked, he likes to be the reasonable one, the one who can sit everybody down and get a handle on the situation. He played that role all through campaign--even when it was just down to him and McCain, there were enough hysterical people around that he didn't need any hysteria of his own--and sure enough, people liked him for it.

The problem is that before, the goal was to be liked. That's a useful and ever-present goal, but it's tangential now and it's not THE goal of this fight. This disaster is unreasonable. Anything we do that has a chance of helping us with it will seem unreasonable. If Obama's goal is to seem reasonable and likeable, then he will be reasonable and likeable right up until we all move into Hoovervilles. There comes a point when you have to sacrifice the (truly fulfilling) work of changing the tone in order to beat your fist on the table and stop the whole damn conversation because it's going down the wrong road.

In my opinion, whether Obama proves willing to do that or not will make the difference between a decent, or maybe a failed, presidency, and a strong one. Right now he really doesn't look like a leader. He looks like he's in over his head. He's the guy at the head of the table that everybody is yelling over and he needs to bring this meeting to order right quick if the stimulus is to have a chance, and if he is to have much chance going forward.

You have got to be kidding me

NYTimes: Both Parties Move to Aid Homeowners.

The title seems innocuous enough. Half of what's in the article is innocuous too.

Apparently the stimulus is being recrafted to include provisions intended to a) help reduce foreclosures and allow bankruptcy judges to renegotiate mortgage payments for homeowners in default, and b) stimulate the housing market because that is the cause of all of our troubles.

A) makes sense. B) is insanity.

The housing market is in a slump because there was a housing bubble. Trying to get people to buy more houses will not change the fact that the bubble must deflate. All you do is delay the inevitable.

There is an argument for doing so--that if you can spread out the pain and make the deflation longer and slower, the economic pain won't be as catastrophic. That's basically the argument for bailing out banks, or it was when "bailing out" implied breaking up businesses, restructuring, selling off bad assets, or anything else that involved dealing with economic pain rather than sending everybody off on a three-month cruise and hoping they all get drunk enough that they won't remember this "crisis" business by the time they come back.

But the problem with that argument in terms of the housing market is that people are not perfectly rational and no one is going to buy a fucking house right now. I don't care what tax credits you throw at them, it's just not going to happen. From the article:

Even though home-building has been depressed for almost two years, the soaring number of foreclosures has continued to drive prices down and kept the supply of unsold homes at extremely high levels.

See? Home-building has been depressed for two years, guys. That's because demand for houses has been down for longer than that. Nobody wants to touch a mortgage right now, and the number of people for whom the government can make a difference on this is negligible in terms of economic healing and/or stimulus.

The article in general is an odd read--it keeps lurching back and forth between reasonable things (make it easier for people whose mortgages are killing them to stay in their homes) and this housing market madness. Ah, but all becomes clear:

But beneath the consensus over helping the housing market, there are huge differences over who should benefit under the competing plans. Democrats want to aim money directly at people in the greatest distress; Republicans want to aim money at almost all homebuyers, on the theory that a rising tide will eventually lift all boats.


The Republican approaches are aimed much more at boosting the entire housing market, and would only provide indirect relief to families about to lose their homes.

Of course. The Democrats want to do something potentially sensible and the Republicans are yammering on in supply-side clich├ęs.
And--don't forget!--it manages to simultaneously come with a hefty price tag:

But senior Democratic lawmakers are staunchly opposed to the plan, warning that the costs could climb as high as $1 trillion.

It's amazing the duds these people can come out with. This is one case where bipartisan outreach is really, really not a good idea.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Changing odds

The Economist, in its special report on the future of finance, included a nice little box called "When markets turn". I was quite struck by this point [emphasis added]:

After Wall Street bailed LTCM out, Mr Meriwether quoted his colleague, Victor Haghani, on how other firms had traded against it: “The hurricane is not more or less likely to hit because more hurricane insurance has been written. In the financial markets this is not true. The more people write financial insurance, the more likely it is that a disaster will happen, because the people who know you have sold the insurance can make it happen.”

It was an example of something that Mr Soros calls “reflexivity”. Once people come to believe that house prices never fall, they will buy too much property—and house prices will fall. When they believe that shares always do well in the long run, they will buy too many shares—and the market will do badly for years. When funds believe that diversification always pays, they all invest in the same exotic instruments. Diverse markets suddenly have something in common: the funds that have bought into them.

People often talk about financial markets as if they were casinos, but reflexivity makes them much more dangerous than any gambling den. The numbers on a roulette wheel never change, but markets offer no guarantee that yesterday’s odds will be the same tomorrow.

I haven't seen this said anywhere else, and it makes a lot of sense to me in terms of financial fads and the nature of bubbles. The report discusses the inevitability of bubbles quite a bit and this is a nice encapsulation of why they're so unavoidable. In these cases, every good idea is a bad idea when it becomes universalized, and competition dictates that good ideas will be universally applied.


Daschle withdrew. I didn't think it would happen, honestly.

I started to write a post yesterday about how Daschle's lapses didn't seem that big a deal to me. In the course of listing my caveats and "on the other hand" clauses, I convinced myself that actually there was a much stronger argument against him than there was for letting it slide, so to speak.

But I can't seem to get riled up about it on a gut level. I don't know.

At any rate, having gone through that exercise and now reading the NYTimes on his health care industry connections, I'm content with the withdrawal of his nomination.

Frankly, I think it's ridiculous that Geithner got a pass and Killefer got axed, given that Killefer owed less than a thousand dollars and Geithner owed tens of thousands, but I guess Geithner got there first and used up the one free pass that was available this time around.

Finally, to echo Hilzoy, what the hell is going on with these people and their taxes? And how much tax revenue is going unpaid by people who aren't being vetted for Cabinet posts? And how is it that you can discover you owe huge amounts of back taxes and then just go on not paying them without any sort of enforcement by the IRS? How much taxpayer money are we losing here?

...Perhaps a better way to put it would be that I can't get riled up about it in relation to his eligibility for HHS. It would appear that I can, in fact, get riled up about it in itself.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Right on

I can't understand how anyone is confused---it's obvious to me that she's a woman. Then again, I live on a campus where I swear half the girls have short hair and a good number of them don't bother to femme up their clothes. It doesn't read as unfeminine to me; it's quite common.

I love that, by the way. I could tell, when we were at the ICCA afterparty at U of I, that a lot of people were taken aback by my lack of luxuriant tresses. I could see it in the boys' eyes--"I think you might be cute, but I'm really confused by the two feet of hair you don't have." I could see it in the girls' faces--"What does she think she's doing? Is she gay?" Even the way the guys who were interested in me were acting just seemed a little bit halting, a little odd; I was a strange creature, and they weren't sure how to approach me. In every way, my haircut marked me off from their ideas of normalcy, of attractiveness. I was Not Like Them, because for them it was important to look like everyone else. They succeeded--they all really did look the same. I encounter that odd sameness every time I visit another school, and I always find it bizarre. It always reinforces how glad I am to be where I am.

All the Voices girls talked about this the next morning, and we all felt the same way. Even though we don't all have short hair, we all have strong personalities that show in our appearances, and all of us stood out in the sea of long hair, eyeliner, babydoll tops and black stilettos as different. We were all happy to have it that way, even if those girls got more action than we did at that party. We know who we are and we love who we are, and we are all happy to have chosen an institution and a community that supports that and sees that as "normal." I was at a frat party on Friday where I had a long conversation about Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and international aid to Israel, and where a total stranger informed me that he liked that I had short hair because it was "different". That wasn't happening at any of the U of I frats that night.

I wouldn't have it any other way.