Monday, November 26, 2012

Quotes, With Occasional Commentary

Recent readings from around the web.  Starting with Andrew Sullivan on Israel:
I'm slowly reaching the conclusion that we cannot stop them [Israel] from committing suicide, if that's what they want. They're a sovereign state. And I can't keep hoping for a two-state solution when it is in fact a shiny object meant to distract from Israel's determination to occupy one-state on the original Ben-Zion Netanyahu lines. My only caveat (and even that is quixotic) is: not on our dime. And the premise of any re-engagement with a two-state solution should be immediate dismantling of every single settlement outside of the 1967 lines, including East Jerusalem. The Israelis can maintain military control of the West Bank for legitimate security purposes, without continuing the ethnic social engineering being imposed by the settlements.

-- Andrew Sullivan, "Why Does Greater Israel Block Gaza's Exports?"
I must say that "a shiny object meant to distract from Israel's determination to occupy one-state on the original Ben-Zion Netanyahu lines" is a bitter but sadly plausible description of the current state of the two-state solution.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates continues his extraordinary, Joe DiMaggio-level hiting streak of blogging brilliance with a post on male desire and misogyny and humiliation and it's brilliant, go read it.  But stick around for Coates's added brilliance in the comments, for instance:
At the end of the day we are, as we always are, discussing power. The presence of power, and its absence, shapes belief and modes of thinking. We generally are very comfortable discussing what the absence of power does to people. I have long maintained that it is just important to discuss what the presence of power does as well.

This isn't new. I've spent as much time on this blog discussing the psychology of slave-holders as I have discussing the psychology of slaves. I think you have to do that. We are not the products of the same ends of the system. We are equal. We are not the same.
And also:
[Earlier commentator:]So does any person actually HAVE power here, I guess is what I'm asking.

Yeah they do. But power isn't omnipotence. And it isn't boundless. I don't believe that being oppressed means an absence of power. And the presence of power deriving from class, does not mean that every individual has the same access to the same amount of power.

Peter Still was a slave in Alabama. He worked hard and was thought to be highly moral. He was so trusted that his master gave him the right to "hire out" his own labor, and negotiate contracts away from the farm. Still's master was (like most slave-owners) an avowed white supremacist convinced that blacks--and thus Peter--were happy in slavery. Peter manipulated this belief and actively plotted to gain his freedom. He used his master's trust to hire himself out to someone who believed he deserved to be free. After two years of laboring, Peter escaped.

His escape was aided by the belief that Peter was happy. This belief was not a side-effect of slavery, but a necessary precondition. It was part of what it meant to be a member of the master class. But it was also the source of weakness for Peter Still's master, and great power for Peter, himself. Peter so manipulated his master that he not only escaped, but subsequently returned--right under his master's eye--to visit his family by using his master's presumptions against him.

Telling this story, and highlighting Still's "power" does not mean he and his master were equal. It does not then follow that his enslaver had no power. But my sense is that the dynamic between oppressors and oppressed is rarely absolutist.

I would find it hard to accept that women never have any power in this dynamic, nor ever use such power. And I don't think admitting as much compromises a critique. On the contrary I think rendering women as "powerless" is dehumanizing.
And yet again:
It's something I've noticed in my studies of race and slavery. The smalles point can't be conceded. Power wants more power, and wherever it finds itself lacking it sees the seeds of its doom. In slavery literature you see people who seem to have absolute power over their slaves, convinced that potential doom is right around the corner. In art you see dudes who undoubtedly wield the power of gender attempting to proscribe the right to say "No."
So not only should you read the whole thing, but read beyond it, too.

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Aaron Brady (a.k.a. Zunguzungu) has seen Lincoln and has some things to say about it:
Slaves were not and could not be “given” their freedom because they had always had it: it had required a great deal of violent force and political work to keep them enslaved, and when that force was removed—as the South collapsed politically and militarily—they began to act like the human beings they always already were, organizing, moving, and seizing their destinies in their own hands. At this point, the game was up; just as the institution of slavery had always depended on substantial governmental enforcement and support, it would have taken a substantial amount of violent force to re-impose it, a concerted project to re-establish slavery that no one in the north had any particular stomach for. At the end of the Civil War, to put it simply, the North had a simple choice: re-imposing slavery by force or accept the new reality. They chose the latter....

Spielberg and Kushner are interested in a kind of scrupulous (almost farcical) accuracy about things that do not matter, while working very hard to place everything else that was going on in the period—and everything else Lincoln was responding to—off camera....

And to put it quite bluntly, I think the filmmakers made this choice because they wanted to make a polemical point about moderation over radicalism, and I think they picked the story they wanted to tell because it seems to support that position. And yet the historical story they tell only supports that claim if you very selectively frame out most of the context around it, and so they do. And passing a single bill in Congress only comes to seem to represent the broader field of social change and progress—“things” getting “done”— if we ignore the big picture.
I always get a lot out of these big movies, not from seeing them, but from reading the commentary that comes out about them.  You can read the rest of Brady's piece here.  Oh, incidentally. Brady's read Tarzan, too.

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And Bruce Bartlett seems to have a strange idea of what "proved correct" means (via):
I know that it’s unattractive and bad form to say “I told you so” when one’s advice was ignored yet ultimately proved correct.... I think I’m at ground zero in the saga of Republicans closing their eyes to any facts or evidence that conflict with their dogma. Rather than listen to me, they threw me under a bus. To this day, I don’t think they understand that my motives were to help them avoid the permanent decline that now seems inevitable....

I thought I had a nice thesis to put forward. All successful schools of economic thought follow a progression of being outsiders and revolutionaries, achieving success when economic circumstances cannot be explained by orthodox theory, acceptance for the dissidents, followed by inevitable failure when new circumstances arise that don’t fit the model, leading to the rise of a fresh school of thought. It was basically a Thomas Kuhnian view of economic theory.

I thought I had two perfect examples that fit my model of the rise and fall of economic ideas: Keynesian economics and supply-side economics. I thought at first I knew enough about the former to say what I wanted to say, but eventually I found the research I had previously done to be wanting. It was based too much on what academics thought and not enough on how Keynesian ideas penetrated the policymaking community....

After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion. It didn’t affect the argument in my book, which was only about the rise and fall of ideas. The fact that Keynesian ideas were correct as well as popular simply made my thesis stronger....

Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.

For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades....

The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal—and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right....

I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.
So Bartlett thinks that he was right about what conservatives needed to do because he's embraced contemporary liberalism, and he thinks they should to?  And this proves his conservatism was correct?  Or something?  I'm confused.

And I didn't even quote the part where he was going to break the shocking news that nobody knows that, prior to 1964, when Southern whites were mostly Democrats, the Democrats had a lot of racists in the party and did racist things to cater to them -- and that, now that all of those people (first specifically, and then as a larger demographic block) have become Republicans thanks in large part to the Democrats (belated) embrace of equality, African Americans (who somehow don't know all this shocking history) ought to vote for the party to which the racists fled rather than the one whose embrace of Civil Rights drove them out.  And they have to make that argument since, after all, the intense fear and hatred of illegals (read: Hispanics) is so strong that they can't possibly modulate by embracing amnesty or other sensible immigration policies.  --  Yeah, that's the answer to the Republicans' troubles getting minority voters.  I can't believe the Republicans didn't listen to this guy!

Of course, Barlett is now right -- Obama is a center-rightist, and any ideas that are to the right of that are simply so absurd as to be not worth considering.  But why Barlett thinks this is a vindication of his version of a conservatism, rather than simply a confession that he was on the wrong side, is deeply puzzling.

Update: The blog Whiskey Fire puts it succinctly: "'Finally, after much inner struggle, I realized that the Rush Limbaugh view of the world has its flaws' is not, in the final analysis, a very impressive intellectual manifesto."

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A long interesting article on the current state of the drug war, with particular emphasis on recent developments (via):
The long boom in American demand for cocaine, the economic fact that shaped the modern traffic, is declining, rapidly, by many measures. According to the federal government’s preferred measure, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people abusing cocaine has halved since 2006. No other illegal drug has replaced cocaine: Heroin, far less prevalent, has held steady, and methamphetamine use seems to have peaked nearly a decade ago. “This decline,” says Peter Reuter, professor of public affairs at the University of Maryland and a leading thinker on drug policy, “is very much real.”

Cocaine addicts are aging, and they aren’t being replaced. In the early nineties, the average age of an addict, Reuter says, was about 27. Now it is about 40. Plenty of people are still trying the drug—the rates of first-time use haven’t dropped—but for reasons that haven’t fully been discerned, “they aren’t becoming addicts,” Reuter says. The epidemic has now been waning for fifteen years, long enough to think the trends will last and that the florid paranoia, broken families, and death of the crack-cocaine epidemic will not be a permanent feature of American life but a cultural artifact of the ugliness of the eighties.
(That quote is from page four.)

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The first sentence:
A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive.
'nuff said.  (Needless to say, this applies.)

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And lastly, a video (via): dumb ways to die -- in song!.

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