Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Joseph Saperstein Frug

In a follow-up to the announcement of last week, I thought I should mention that my newborn son was (if you'll forgive the expression) christened at a brit milah ceremony yesterday in Ithaca, New York. His name is Joseph Saperstein Frug. He is named after my late mother, Mary Joe Frug (z'l). His Hebrew name, Yoseph Zvi, also honors my wife's paternal grandfather, Rabbi Harold Saperstein (z'l), whose Hebrew name was "Zvi".

Sara introduces Joseph and Snark

Posting will, as previously mentioned (and for the obvious reason), be light for the next few weeks. Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Baby Saperstein Frug

My wife's and my son was born Sunday evening, December 21, at 7:23 p.m., weighing 7 lbs. 13 oz. We just brought him home from the hospital. He and his mother are both healthy.

His name will be announced as part of a traditional Jewish brit milah ceremony next week.

Updates to this blog will be somewhat sporadic for the foreseeable future. I hope to post more baby pictures, and hope to resume regular blogging in a few weeks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Seem To Have Gone Mostly on Hiatus Here...

Sorry to have been absent. There hasn't yet been any particular reason -- I just haven't had anything pressing to say, and other tasks in life have taken priority over the non-pressing things.

"But the word 'yet'...". Yes: soon there will be a particular reason, and when there is, I'll announce it here. (This will make sense once I do, I promise.) So not only has posting been light, but it will continue to be light for a while.

My guess/hope is that I'll pick up the pace in the New Year. So check back in January for more bloggy goodness. In the meantime, you can always browse the archives; I'm sure there's something there you missed. (Really; yes, you too..)

But I will be back before then to clear up the cryptic comment in paragraph two.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Teachers' Job Description; or, The Nature & Purpose of Education Revealed

And that was the trouble. If you didn't find some way of stopping it, people would go on asking questions. The teachers were useful there.... They taught children enough to shut them up, which was the main thing, after all. But they always had to be driven out of the villages by nightfall in case they stole chickens.

-- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men, Chapter 1

Plus! Bonus quote from the subsequent lesson:
"Zoology, eh? That's a big word, isn't it."
"No, actually, it isn't," said Tiffany. "Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short."

-- Ibid.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I Surf, Therefore I LInk

Diversions, amusements and the like. Some take off of politics, but almost none are primarily political:

The next President of the United States: 35 photos from the campaign. There's a whole essay to be written here about the iconography of power: Obama is mostly shown either alone or with a huge crowd in which individuals are barely distinguishable; most of the rest are with his family. There are a few of (essentially anonymous) supporters. The only campaign operative, I think, is shown from the back. There's no sense of the real nature of political power -- its complexities, the many people who influence it and create it and have it -- in these images. But since I don't have the energy, right now, to spell any of this out, I'll just say that there are a lot of very beautiful images there. (via)

• I sometimes think my unbounded admiration for Borges's stories and essays interfere with my paying due heed to the brilliance of his poetry. (Or maybe it simply doesn't translate as well? In this case it seems to, anyway.)

An extraordinary video of probably the most famous excerpt of Harvey Milk's most famous speech: the visuals and music wonderfully complement his (very moving) word.

Worth it for the opening panel alone.

Famous paintings recreated using vegetables. Really well done, actually.

A kick-ass Haiku. I'm totally serious: a kick-ass haiku.

The onion continues its reign of reportorial brilliance.

Characters from The Wire redawn in the style of The Simpsons.

A fun video of Stand By Me. (via)

Criticising the criticism of James Wood. (Interesting even if you are, as I am, only moderately familiar with his work.)

Alone doesn't mean lonely.

These links have been piling up for a while, so in most cases I've forgotten where I saw 'em. My apologies for lack of back-linking.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Shame on the New York State Senate Democrats

Update (Weds. Dec 10): It looks like I may have spoken too soon. According to the latest news reports (via), the Senate Democratic leadership has called off negotiations with the homophobic three, saying "we would rather wait two more years to take charge of the Senate." Bravo for them!

(END UPDATE. What follows is the original (now superseded) post.)

It seems that the deal just reached to organize the NY State Senate with a Democratic majority was achieved by agreeing not to bring a bill to allow gay and lesbian citizens equal marriage rights to a vote. (Blog links via.) (Back story: The bill passed the house last term, and the Governor has promised to sign it, but the Senate has heretofore refused to bring it to a vote; the hope had been that the November Democratic capture of the Senate (32-30) would allow it to proceed.)

Shame on the Democrats of New York, who have achieved power by selling out the rights of our gay and lesbian citizens. And shame above all on Pedro Espada, Rubén Díaz and Carl Kruger who insisted upon the maintenance of this injustice. I have no doubt that these little Wallaces squatting in the doors of marriage rights will be, in the end, remembered with the disdain they have earned. But it's little consolation to a movement for equality that has taken far too many blows recently.

I had hoped for better from my state. I really did.

Now to target the supporters of bigotry, and elect people who will recognize the rights of all their constituents -- not just some.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Price the Memorious

Life imitates Borges. (via)

Update: Jonah Lehrer mentions a second real-life case, as well as the Borges story. (again via)

Update 2: On the flip side, a patient with the condition depicted in the film Memento (and as such a key figure in the development of neuroscience) died this week. His NYT obituary tells the (sad but fascinating) story.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is Now Available for Preorder on DVD

A brief announcement: The DVD of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is now available for preorder on Amazon, with an estimated shipping date of December 19. (via)

Of course, you can watch it for free online if you watch some brief commercials... but the online version doesn't have the commentary, aka "Commentary! The Musical" which Joss Whedon describes thusly:
"Commentary! The Musical" is the most painstaking and exhausting piece of whimsey I have ever mistaken for a good idea. It has nearly twice as much music as Dr. Horrible itself -- since you can't really talk that much during a commentary musical or it sounds like a regular commentary. (Which we also have, with the stars and writers, plus making-of's, ELE applications, and a few items left lying around by a notorious Bunny...) I can say without hesitation that I hesitate to say it's great. And by great I mean ridiculous. It's sophmoric, solopsistic, silly and the most fun I've had being exhausted since the fabled Mushortio itself. And everyone sings beautifullly. Which enrages me. I a little bit hate my friends now.

As for the show itself, my comments are as follows: A) it's just as silly as you'd expect from the title; B) my wife and I have been singing it at each other for months; C) it's probably not for everyone; D) I'll be preordering a DVD post-haste.

Ok, announcement over. As you were.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nailing It in a Sentence -- or a List

At the end of an otherwise rather dreary essay in the New York Review of Books,* Elizabeth Drew has a sentence which seems to do a pretty good job of capturing the Bush administration's nature in a list of adjectives. Of the selection of Obama in the last election, Drew writes:
The American people had overwhelmingly rejected the Bush regime's stupidity, cupidity, its wars, its lies, its torturing and its secrecy, its ineptitude and its power grab that threatened constitutional government.
That about captures it, doesn't it? In fact, let's take a look at that in list form:
Power grab that threatened constitutional government
Yes, very good. So the next question is: can anyone think of either A) any central aspects of the Bush regime's maladministration which is not captured in that list?, or B) any central defining characteristic of the Bush administration which deserves a place alongside those aspects?

I'm not sure if I have any answer to A, but I think I can at least propose a few candidates for B. Here's what I'd suggest:
Defiance of empirical reality
Corrosive politicization of technical areas
Adherence to a malignant ideology

All of these are, arguably, contained in Drew's list above. But I would suggest that they each deserve separate mention. (And after all, all of Bush's nearly inexhaustible negative qualities and effects, the damage he has done to our nation, our republic and our world which will take a generation to fully understand let alone repair, is interlinked.) The Bush regime's defiance of empirical reality -- its ignoring of (and often hiding of and lying about) basic facts about the world, from Iraq to global warming to the economy to Katrina to the constitution, is essential to a large number of its worst acts and omissions. Politicizing things that had never previously been politicized, too, is essential to various aspects of Bush's assault on the country -- the corruption at the justice department, to take a narrow example -- but above all describes the nature of his response to 9/11: using it to eek out political wins in 2002 and 2004 and debasing, in the process, our country's reputation and morals, any hope of a positive response to that crime, and the memory of those killed. And while wars, lies and torturing covers a lot, Bush's imperialism strikes me as separable from all of those.

But most of all it's about ideology. Bush's regime was particularly stupid, avaricious, warmongering, dishonest, secretive, inept and so forth, even by normal conservative standards. But a huge proportion of most of those flaws flowed out the Bush regime's ideology -- an ideology that was the distillation of everything that the conservative movement has strived for since Goldwater and before. Many conservatives have heretofore been in denial about the effects of various principles that they have espoused -- some even saw in the conservative movement a natural basis for opposing the criminality of the Iraq war on the grounds that it wasn't prudent (or whatever), despite the overwhelming bellicosity that has characterized the conservative movement's approach towards foreign policy for a generation. For many, a combination of stupidity, avarice, ideology and deliberate ignorance of empirical reality have disguised the deregulatory roots of our current economic crisis -- and, hence, its roots in conservative ideology. And ultimately the conservative contempt for governance has been basic to both Bush's incompetence and his corruption and cronyism, of which Katrina may be the most obvious example, although there are so very many to choose from. And so forth.

But if we ignore the fact that these manifold flaws are not Bush's personal problem, or even the problem of those he hired and appointed and was elected alongside, but rather the faults inherent in a set of ideas that guided Bush's regime, then we risk returning to it once the immediacy of the devastation it has wrought (moral, political, economic, etc) recedes from view.

I digress. At any rate, my proposed sentence is far too long, but it's more complete, so here is my revised version:
The American people had overwhelmingly rejected the Bush regime's stupidity, cupidity, its wars, its lies, its torturing and its secrecy, its ineptitude and deliberate ignorance of empirical reality, its imperialism, its corrosive politicization and consequent cronyism and corruption, its power grab that threatened constitutional government, and its adherence to a malignant ideology that led to all of the above.
What do you think?

But what is best about Drew's sentence is its recognition of a basic reality -- that in electing Obama, more than anything else, the American people rejected all of the maladministration the Bush regime perpetuated and represented, and that this rejection was the most important reason to vote for Obama and not McCain. To have done otherwise would have been to reward the worst governance in the history of the Republic -- a sure-fire recipe for its further desolation.

But we didn't. At long last -- four if not eight years after we should have, we rejected all of that. No wonder that -- as Drew says in her next sentence -- "the relief was palpable." Given the situation, it should have been.

* Dripping with enough conventional wisdom -- including the pretense that it was in places going against conventional wisdom -- to drown a medium-sized farm animal.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

In Which Thanks Are Given

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.... Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

-- Psalm 100:2, 4

ANYA: I love a ritual sacrifice.
BUFFY: It's not really a one of those.
ANYA: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.

-- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs" by Jane Espenson
A big electronic shout-out to my family in Chicago: I love you all, miss you all, and wish I could be there with you today.

To everyone else, I wish you a joyful Thanksgiving, however (and whether) you celebrate it, and whomever (and however) you give thanks.

As is true every year, I thank each and every one of you for reading. I know I always say this, but it's not just a ritual: it's quite sincere. I am thankful that you (all of you) take the time to come by and read what I have to say. It's an honor to have you visit; I hope you'll come back often.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Lieu of a Rant

For all my stated dread that the film of Watchmen -- a book that I really, dearly love -- would be terrible, I have to admit that I always thought I'd probably end up seeing it anyway, just because I'm a geek and this is my culture...

...until I saw the second theatrical trailer.

(I won't link. Google it yourself.*)

It made it look so bad -- not the look, strictly speaking, but the way they seemed to be approaching the movie, the metastasis of idiotic genre conventions into the film of a book explicitly and brilliantly devoted to subverting them,** the little turns of phrase which indicate that they are going to gut the book, stuff it with cotton fluff, and see if the mounted carcass can serve as well as the living animal -- that I think I am going to seriously try to skip it.

I didn't want even that much of their neutered version in my head or my ears my eyes -- let alone a full two hours worth.

(Oddly, the first trailer had made me want to see it more than I had: it made it look like they were keeping more of the book's spirit than I had guessed they would.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go wash out my mind with something. Bleach.

[This has been a test of the blogger ranting system. If this were a genuine rant, I would go through the trailer frame-by-frame and explain in exhausting detail why, how and precisely which details make the film look so mind-liquifyingly stupid. But to do that, I'd have to see the damn trailer again, and I'd rather watch Jar Jar Binks's reenactment of Birth of a Nation with a polka soundtrack.]

* If and only if you happen to have woken up this morning, looked in the mirror, and thought, "Gosh, I have far too many brain cells. How can kill a large number of them off quickly and efficiently?" Otherwise -- really -- give it a miss.

** In a slightly different genre: the book was about the conventions of the superhero comic as of its mid-eighties creation; the film seems to be falling into the (slightly different) genre conventions of the contemporary superhero film.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ode to the Sandwich Mysteriously Left Upon Our Back Stairs Several Days Ago

O sandwich
Neatly wrapped
In perfectly folded saran wrap
With studied casualness
At a forty-five degree angle to the edge
On the second stair from the bottom --

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ithaca's Protest for Marriage Equality

I just returned from the protest I mentioned yesterday -- Ithaca, New York's version of today's national protests against California's proposition eight, and for equal marriage rights for all citizens, straight and gay.

It went well, I think. There was a very good turnout -- more than a hundred, easily (I was up near the front, and couldn't easily see the whole crowd). This was impressive given the weather here: most of today has seen a heavy November rain, although it let-up for (most but not all) of the rally itself. (I was planning to bring a camera, but the rain dissuaded me; if I find any links to others' photos, though, I'll link. Update: here's a photo I swiped from the Facebook page for the event. (I'm in the second row, behind the woman with the "you can't amend love" sign.) More photos at the link.)

There were more than a half a dozen speakers -- three members of the "Ithaca 50", 25 local couples who sued (unsuccessfully) for marriage rights here; two of the organizers (one of whom identified as a Catholic "straight ally" with a gay father and transgendered cousin, and spoke movingly of her wish that her church support marriage rights); a local Tompkins County board member; two who read other people's testimony from the net... and maybe another one or two I forgot. We had the (apparently) nation-wide moment of silence at 2:00; lots of people waved signs. The sign I brought (pdf link) said "equality for all families", with little icons of three couples -- one straight, one gay, one lesbian.

Unusually for these events, I didn't strongly disagree with anything any of the speakers said; I wouldn't myself have waved all of the signs there, but most of them seemed reasonable. There was a pretty good avoidance of issue-drift -- a problem that some people have with left-sided protests in general -- in the speeches and the signs; and a strong appeal at the beginning for tolerance within the movement, and peacefulness and non-violence in protest. The strongest speakers -- unsurprisingly -- were the three members of the Ithaca 50: having a personal connection to an issue always adds a lot to a speech regardless of its content, and all three speeches were moving.

The one thing I would have liked to see was a greater focus on marriage equality in New York state. (It was mentioned a lot, but not focused on.) While the march was motivated by the defeat in California, it was about the issue generally; and New York is where we live. Also, as it happens, New York is arguably the new central front in this struggle: after the highest court here kicked the issue back to the rest of the state government, the state house passed an equal marriage rights bill, and the Governor said he'd sign it; the hold-up was the state legislature. Well, last week Democrats got a majority in the NY state senate for the first time in more than four decades (although not, alas, by defeating any of the anti-gay legislatures who represented this area). So, in theory, New York state should now pass -- in both houses -- equal marriage rights, and the Governor should sign it.* So I would I have liked more focus -- rhetorical and practical -- on trying to make that happen.

But a good protest.

I must admit these events bring out the cynic in me. Left-wing rallies have a very ritualistic feel to them, and it's not a ritual I always find easy to take very seriously, however much I support the cause. Additionally, I wonder about their efficacy in recent years (as opposed to in the 60's, say) -- the anti-war rallies in 2003 were IMS the largest in history, and had no visible impact whatsoever. I think that as a practical matter new strategies need to be devised -- and as a cultural matter, much of the feel of such events is silly. When one of the speakers started a chant about "the power of the people", I found my cynicism making out: wasn't it the power of the people that just voted against us? Isn't this -- alas -- a matter of justice in the face of popular opposition to it? I think the cause is just, and that we will, thanks to good demographics as well as changing minds, have a majority on the side of equality before long. But chants about power to the people felt like a really silly piece of misplaced 60's nostalgia (changed, ironically enough, by a 22-year-old who might have well been my student, since I taught at Cornell while he was there). And it's hard to get around the feel that these events are a ritual which always bring out the usual suspects, particularly in a town like Ithaca...

On the other hand, my wife recognized someone she knew, a law student at Cornell, who said it was her first protest -- ever, on anything; she'd come to support a friend of hers. And Ithaca being a small, liberal town that is practically a physical instantiation of silly misplaced 60's nostalgia, it probably isn't a good place to see the efficacy or importance of such events even if there was lots of it in the other marches today.

And, in the end, none of this matters: it's an important issue, an issue of justice and equality, and I think that going there was worthy, an act of political speech that has moral worth in and of itself, apart from the issue of efficacy or my cynicism about the culture of these things.

So I'm glad I went.

Now let's start pressuring New York to be third** after Massachusetts and Connecticut -- and the first state to establish equal marriage rights legislatively rather than through the courts. That'd be a landmark worth achieving.

And, of course, it's the right thing to do.

* Yeah, we have a new Governor since then, but he's said he'll sign the bill if it's passed.

** Alas, since it should have been fourth, had California done the right thing...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Protests Tomorrow in Favor of Equal Marriage Rights

In case any of my readers don't know, there is a national day of protests tomorrow against California's now-passed Proposition 8 (which removed civil marriage rights from gay and lesbian Californians). While the protests are aimed at specifically Prop 8 specifically, they are also (at least I presume) in favor of equal marriage rights for all citizens, straight and gay, in all states. The protests are meant to be simultaneous, taking place at 10:30 a.m. on the west coast and 1:30 p.m. on the east (and others as appropriate.*)

For me, as for many others, my happiness at last week's election was severely tempered by the terrible news about proposition eight. I am glad there will be an opportunity to voice continued commitment to equal rights on a national scale.

Note for any Ithaca readers: there is a local protest here, 1:30 p.m. on the Commons. (Web site here; facebook page here.) I plan (bli neder) to be there. Everyone else can find the protest in your area on this web site here.

Just watching the developing reaction to Prop 8 online (largely on these three blogs, although I'd love to hear about others; please leave them in comments (update: two more)) has been extraordinary. It's already been called a turning point in the gay rights movement equivalent to Stonewall or the founding of Act Up. For myself, I keep thinking about the renewed and expanded energy that took hold of the Civil Rights Movement in the early months of 1960 when the sit-in movement spread virally through the South from city to city (soon formalized with the reaction of SNCC). Whatever analogy you wish to use, this is, I believe (and have believed for a long time) the Civil Rights Movement of our day. Tomorrow is a day to stand up and be counted on the side of equality and justice.

I'll be there. I hope you will too.

*Poor Hawaii got stuck with 8:30 a.m. Ugh.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Proposal for a Minor but Worthwhile Constitutional Amendment

Salon is the latest news outfit (via) to speculate on the possibility that Bush will offer pardons to members of his administration -- for their role in torturing suspects, or possibly other offenses -- before leaving office.

Which leads to the following thought.

There may well be good reason to give the President the power to pardon, monarchical as it seems. But is there any good reason, whatsoever, for a lame-duck President to have the power to pardon?

Why not simply have a constitutional -- it would have to be constitutional, I presume, since the pardon power itself is, but IANALTG* -- limitation on that power ending it shortly before the election -- enough time, say, that the effect of the pardons could be taken into account by the electorate? The amount of time is debatable, obviously; it seems like at least a week would be necessary, possibly as much a a month. For the entirety of a Presidential term, up until a few weeks before the election, the President could grant a pardon; then, for a few months, that prerogative would be on hold. Presumably no pardons are so urgent that they could not wait a few months for a new President, with full pardon power restored, to take office. (In the very rare case that might be urgent -- a death penalty case, say -- presumably some reasonable judge would issue a stay of a few months if the possibility of a pardon really seemed likely.)

Note that I don't think it would be enough to simply require ratification by the Congress, or the incoming President, of any pardons in the lame-duck period -- let alone to simply allow reversal of the same; it would create a situation where the default was to let the lame-duck have their way.

One might consider extending this limitation on lame-duck Presidents to other powers, but I can't think offhand of any others which would require a specifically constitutional limit rather than simply a legislative one -- or which are so impossible to reverse.**

Note that there is precedent both for using constitutional amendments to deal with the practical difficulties of the lame-duck period (amendment 20) and for recognizing that some matters require an election to ratify their effects (amendment 27).

It seems to me that one ought to be able to get a good bi-partisan consensus on this matter -- Bush 41 gave out some unconscionable Iran-Contra pardons in his lame-duck period, and Clinton did some minor but slimy pardoning in his which conservatives were rather outraged about. And if Bush 43 does the same it would provide the occasion for this.

Overall the notion that a president immune from political consequences -- even for their party, save in a rather distant contest -- should have the power to grant pardons is inherently slimy and corrupting. Fixing it should be a no-brainer.

Some may want to go beyond this -- prohibit a president from pardoning themselves, say, or even any member of their administration for any action taken in the course of their official duties -- but the simpler form strikes me as far easier to get consensus on.

No lame-duck pardons! It seems a simple, even obvious idea. How about it?

* IANAL = I am not a lawyer. IANALTG = I am not a lawyer -- thank God!

** Except war-making -- but of course there the issue is not constitutional, since the power of war is already invested in Congress, not the President, but rather the utter abdication of that power by the cowardly invertebrates that have made up all of our national legislatures since WW2.

Friday, November 07, 2008

And the Angel Came in Unto Her And Said Hail Thou That Art Highly Favored

This passage in Luke (1:26-38) has been illustrated by some of the greatest artists of all time. My recent blogging hiatus was due to a long-planned trip to Florence where, among many other things, we saw many versions of it. Here are four.

Fra Angelico, painting on the wall of the San Marco abbey (now a museum):

Filippo Lippi, painting on the wall of the San Lorenzo church:

Sandro Botticelli, in a painting now hanging in the Uffitzi Gallery:

Leonardo Da Vinci, in a painting also in the Uffitzi Gallery (in fact in the very next room):

Truth be told, I don't have much to say about these works of art. But I saw them, and loved them and -- utterly inadequate as these jpg versions are -- wanted to show them to you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Full of the Faith that the Dark Past Has Taught Us, Full of the Hope that the Present has Brought Us

Two hundred years of American history edited into four images, at roughly 50-year intervals:




(The violence that was segregation. Image from here.)


(Little Rock, Arkansas: President Eisenhower has to call out the National Guard in order to get nine African American children their court-ordered place in a previously all-white school.)


"Have not our weary feet/Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?" -- If not even farther than they could have dreamed.

For all my usual focus on the negative, this was a historic election, and one that every American ought to be proud of, and pleased by.

Marriage, Rights and the Long Arc of Justice

In 1961, Barack Obama was born to an interracial couple, who would not legally have been allowed to marry in many states in the Union -- including Virginia -- because of racist laws.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court, overturning the will of the people in many states, ruled in the aptly-named Loving v. Virginia that laws banning marriages on racial grounds were unconstitutional.

In 2008, Barack Obama won the Presidency with the electoral votes of, among other states, Virginia, which would have prevented his parents from marrying at the time of his birth.

Also in 2008, the citizens of California decided to enshrine a new bigotry in their constitution, outlawing the marriages of many of its gay and lesbian citizens.

Perhaps one of the children of such a union -- or, indeed, one of those unions just annulled -- will grow up to become President of the United States.

At which time, all of us will see what many of us see now, that the laws just enacted in California in 2008 are precisely as contemptible as those in existence in Virginia in 1961.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


The timing isn't perfect, what with the election coming up next week and all, but for various reasons (personal, but nothing too exciting and nothing to worry about) this blog will be on hiatus until, well, sometime around Wednesday November 5. Ah well. Explore the fine blogs on my blog roll for more bloggy goodness.

And vote like your life depends on it. 'Cause it might.

Bli neder, see you on Guy Fawkes day.

Friday, October 24, 2008

All Worldviews Are Weird

In a yet-to-be-finished (and maybe never-to-be) post on the role the Mormon church is playing in support of the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California, I had a sentence about the interest (as a Jewish atheist) I had in the Mormons which noted their bizarre worldview -- by which I mean their cosmology, theology, metaphysics: stuff like that.

But of course all worldviews are weird.

An atheist would of course rush forward to say that the standard Christian view is no less strange than the Mormon one: it's just a different flavor of strangeness. And the same is true, mutatis mutandis, of the comparisons of the various views of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam -- whatever. I don't think that the world view of, say, Scientology is less strange than that of (say) mainstream Christianity (or any of its less-popular spinoffs); it's just less familiar.

But then, really, the same is true of the overall picture of the universe derived from modern science. I mean, quantum mechanics? It doesn't get any weirder than that. And lots of other areas are -- if you imagine explaining them to a person from a culture who knows about neither Christianity nor Enlightenment-and-thereafter science -- equally strange.

This is particularly true when those depictions of the universe are reduced to the summery summary form in which most of us are exposed to them (particularly those we don't subscribe to, but also those we do) -- but it is not exclusively true of summaries: it's just that more detailed descriptions of any given model of the universe will take enough time that we are apt to get used to the weirdness.

This is not to say, of course, that there aren't good reasons for preferring one picture of the world to another. There are.* It's just to say that prima facie strangeness is not a good reason for preferring any particular worldview, because they're all weird. For some we're just used to that.

This naturally leads to the question of why all worldviews are weird -- why isn't it that the truth makes intuitive sense? And while this is a question that libraries could be (and probably have been) written on, I think the first stab at an answer would be that the sort of issues I am intending to include under the rubric of "worldview" are all things that are decidedly outside our common frame of reference. Metaphysics, cosmology, theology, and so forth, all deal with issues that are broader in time, distant in space, differing in scale, and divergent in nature from the stuff of our everyday lives. Sidestepping the question of to what degree our common sense is instinctual and to what degree it is formed by experience,** that common sense is/was formed by things at a very limited scale: in time, in size, in nature, etc. So naturally any answer to the bigger questions is going to be weird, because the criteria by which we form our notion of what's normal are not calibrated to deal with those sorts of issues.

If this sketch of a reason is right, then not only are all known worldviews weird, but any possible worldview is weird -- indeed, if someone managed to somehow create a worldview that was intuitively plausible, reasonable at first blush, then we should be instantly suspicious of such a view, since it would involve projecting things from a common scale to ones upon which we have no experience.

*Personally, I think that science (and other secular studies as appropriate) is the best guide to questions such as what sort of things exist in the universe, how did they come to be and so forth because it is based on reasons and evidence. Others may use other standards, such as the teachings of their ancestors, a burning in the bosom, or what have you.

** I suppose, really, it's formed by experience either way: the only question is to what degree is that experience individual (having to do with our personal, psychological experiences) and to what degree does it reside in the species (the events that shaped the natural selection that gave rise to our instincts, the way our minds have evolved).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Compare and Contrast

No one voted for me in the 1964 Presidential primary who is anti-Negro. I am not myself, and I ran no such campaign, nor have I ever run a campaign that was anti-Negro.

-- George Wallace, "Hear Me Out" (Anderson, S.C.: Droke House, 1968), p. 120

While there are a few sick individuals who hate gay people, I have neither seen nor heard any hatred of gays expressed by proponents of Proposition 8. Not in my private life, not in my e-mail, not from callers on my radio show.

-- Dennis Prager (via)
...I guess going from total denial ("no one") to a broad-but-not-absolute denial ("a few sick individuals") is progress, of a sort.

(You can donate to the No on Prop 8 campaign here.)

Update: Oh, and while I'm at it:
Marriage has never been regarded as a universal human or civil right.

-- Dennis Prager, op. cit.

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

-- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (article 16)

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.

-- Chief Justice Earl Warren, Loving v. Virginia (1967)
Loving v. Virginia, incidentally, for those who don't know, is a case in which activist judges overturned marriage bans which were, at the time, widely popular in the U.S.... bans under which the parents of the current Democratic Presidential nominee could not have married (had they lived in one of the states with such a ban). If that case, decided by activist judges, had been put to a vote, it would almost certainly have been overturned. But I, for one, am glad that it was not put to such a vote.

Oh, and Warren's quoting there, from a still earlier case -- Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Annual Baseball Post, 2008 Edition

I'm not really a baseball fan (although I'm closer to that than I am to any other sort of sports fan); when the Red Sox, my team, were in the playoffs this year, I knew they were (after a while), and I'd check to see if they'd won or lost (if I remembered to), and was (mildly) disappointed when they lost; but I didn't actually watch any of the games. Nor could I name a single contemporary Red Sox player.

Despite this rather considerable handicap, I am a fan of Bill James's writing on baseball. I've read, or at any rate read in, several of his books, here and there over the years. This is not so much because he is such an important figure in the development of Sabermetrics (a term he coined), but simply because I find him a marvelously entertaining writer. His writing is lively, accessible, intelligent, and often funny. His style of argument is intelligent and knowledgeable without being (to my mind) in the least academic, and he has a very engaging pragmatism. (I grant, in all this, that I am a very poor judge of his arguments, since I know so little about the subject.) Some years ago I read his book on the baseball hall of fame, and found the style of thinking and arguing extremely congenial and compelling.

But that's all hard to convey, so I'll switch back to funny, particularly since this entire post was mostly meant as a preamble to the following gem I just stumbled across:
Dan Mossi had two careers as a major league pitcher, one as a reliever and one as a starter, and he as pretty darned good both times. No one who saw him play much remembers that, because Mossi's ears looked as if they had been borrowed from a much larger species, and reattached without proper supervision. His nose was crooked, his eyes were in the wrong place, and though he was skinny he had no neck to speak of, just a series of chins that melted into his chest. An Adam's apple poked out of the third chin, and there was always a stubble of beard because you can't shave a face like that. He looked like Gary Gaetti escaping from Devil's Island.

One of the problems with choosing ugliest and handsomest players is that a player who looks little short of grotesque in one pose or one photograph will look fine in another. Susie showed me a picture of Hoyt Wilhelm in which he looked positively handsome. I assured her it was just a bad shot.

You never have the problem with Don Mossi. Don Mossi was the complete, five-tool ugly player. He could run ugly, hit ugly, throw ugly, field ugly, and ugly for power. He was ugly to all fields. He could ugly behind the runner as well as anybody, and you talk about pressure... man, you never saw a player who was uglier in the clutch.

-- Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, p. 245
After that, of course, I had to go look for pictures of Dan Mossi. And the results, while not strictly speaking belying James's description, nevertheless can't help but disappoint slightly:

--although I will agree those ears are spectacular. And two more, just to cement the point:

I'm probably not well-versed enough in James's works to recommend any one in particular, but keep your eye out for his writing. He's definitely a good author in the clutch.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Link Round-Up: Can't Wait for the !@#$% Election To Be Over Edition

On the assumption that at least some of my Noble Readers might feel as I do -- namely, that I can't wait for this election to be over -- I present here a list of links, some recent, some not-so-recent, all but three of which have nothing whatsoever to do with once and future American politics. (That was one; it's a point Digby has made frequently, but Billmon, in the above-linked piece, makes it funnier. (And, oh yeah, that was two.))

Most of these links are so old that I've forgotten where I saw them. My apologies for the violation of blogosphere manners in the lack of specific link-backs.

The links this time are divided into three broad categories: comics, movies, and things that from a long way off look like flies.

1. Comics

This hilarious parody is the third and final political link in this post. I think you can enjoy it whatever your politics; a fairly good grasp on Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, on the other hand, is a prerequisite.

The unabridged novelistic writings of Snoopy.

Top ten mental illnesses Batman indisputably has.

• XKCD is probably my favorite webcomic. It has dozens and dozens which are great; this is not the best by any means -- it's simply one that made me laugh. As opposed to this, which is jaw-dropping. (Personally, I recommend the random button, with a warning that the strip didn't get good until circa #50.)

Mike Sterling' Things Not To Say to a Comic Book Shop Employee. Hilarious.

• I am not looking forward to the forthcoming movie of Watchmen. Nevertheless, it's cool how closely the posters for the movie track the old promotional ads for the comic.

The always-interesting Andrew Rilstone on the creation of the comic book character The Silver Surfer. Requires an interest in the topic, but wonderful if you have any at all.

2. Movies

• People are always rediscovering Bechdel's Movie Test (a.k.a. Mo's Movie Measure, a.k.a. the Bechdel/Williams Test, etc.); for instance, Charlie Stross discovered it recently, which led to some interesting comments (considering, for example, whether it's fair to apply the test to prose fiction, particularly first-person prose fiction). Well, it turns out there's a web site which analyses movies and opines to whether or not they past the test. One blogger proposes a somewhat parallel test which she names the Frank Miller test.

Monty Python's "Camelot" number from the Holy Grail done in Lego. (Also: the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.)

The always-interesting Andrew Rilstone (op. cit.) on the "Revenge of the Sith". Same remarks apply.

The Strange Obsessiveness of Stanly Kubrick.

Roger Ebert on why he gives out too many stars (if he does).

3. Things That From a Long Way Off Look Like Flies

Hamlet in the style of facebook feeds.

• I am very bad at learning foreign languages. If I nevertheless managed to pass the French test (atypically demanding as far as grad school language requirements go) for my Ph.D., a decent amount of credit should go to the Pimsleur Language Tapes, which, while expensive, are just extraordinary -- the best language tapes I've ever heard or heard of, bar none. But don't take my word for it: it turns out that the first lesson in each set is available for free as an online mp3. Each takes half an hour; you need to give it full concentration, and really respond to each prompt outloud, or you won't get what's great about it. The full sets are 30 lessons each, in many languages coming in Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced (for a total of 90 lessons). As I said, they're pricey; but try your local library -- ours, at least, has a lot.

• I expect that many of my readers heard about the tragic suicide of writer David Foster Wallace. In case you didn't see them, many of his essays (which a lot of people say are his best work) are online: all of his work published in Harpers, his essay "Host" from the Atlantic, and his essay about the morality of eating lobsters from Gourmet magazine.

Why did teachers start lecturing, and why do they (we) still do it?

• Other interesting recent posts from Charlie Stross's blog (op. cit.): an interesting discussion on whether one can write near-future SF today (with a follow-up here); and the story of a man who saved your (yes, your) life -- or, well, links to the story. Quite dramatic though. Worth clicking through.

Can flying survive high oil prices? (It turns out it's far more vulnerable than driving -- there already exist electric cars, after all.) If not, what then?

Elephants march right through the lobby of a hotel built on their customary migration trail. Good for them.

• Finally, via Ezra, an Adam Gopnik profile of John Stuart Mill, from the New Yorker.

Monday, October 13, 2008

All Hail the Shrill One!

The best mainstream media columnist in the US, Paul Krugman, won the Nobel Prize in Economics this morning.

I am utterly unqualified to comment on his academic work, but it's always nice to see great people get big prizes -- and it's quite clear that if there were a Nobel Prize for punditry, he'd deserve that, too.

His latest column -- required reading for the Bush years, but particularly the past few weeks -- is in today's paper, and is on the economic crisis.

So congratulations, and three cheers for the Shrill One!

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Connecticut Court in Equality's Corner

Connecticut has become the third state in the US to make marriage laws available equally to its straight and gay citizens. Hooray for them!

That's the good news. The bad news is that equal marriage rights are in trouble in California. The proponents of a constitutional amendment to strip marriage rights from gay and lesbian Californians are outspending the measure's opponents, and the polls have now shifted in their direction. As Kos says, "if this amendment passes, the cause of marriage equality will be set back decades." So if you can, help out the no on 8 cause.

It's great we're at 3. It'd be truly terrible to slip back to 2.

(Oh, and my fellow New Yorkers? Can we try for four? I mean, we've already been beaten by Massachusetts, California & now Connecticut. Waiting any longer could get embarrassing -- we have a reputation as a liberal coastal enclave to maintain, here. Plus, bonus: it's the right thing to do.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The People Crowded Around You Are So Disturbing That I Can't Hear What You're Saying

George Packer, after discussing the verbal (and intellectual) pollution that is cluttering the heads of news-followers in this election season, says that "On November 5th, you’ll need to clear your head of a great deal of accumulated nonsense. I would suggest a long, deep, surprising drink of Orwell."

Now, I love Orwell's essays -- and think that all the wonderful things Packer says about them are true. I'm also interested in checking out the two-volume edited edition of Orwell's essay that Packer is plugging in his blog post, even though I already have several collections of Orwell's essays on my shelf.

But somehow reading Packer plugging Orwell makes me cringe.

It's like hearing someone you know to be a rabid German nationalist and antisemite talk about the brilliance of Nietzsche prose and metaphysics. Nietzsche's prose and metaphysics are, indeed, fine and fascinating things, and Nietzsche is well worth taking long, deep, surprising drinks of. But when you hear someone you know to be a German nationalist and antisemite praise him, what you instantly think of are the misappropriations of Nietzsche by the proponents of those causes -- misappropriations because Nietzsche detested both German nationalism and antisemitism; but, still, powerful misappropriations because his writings were used by opponents of both of those causes.

Orwell has been held up in recent years as the patron saint of neocons -- particularly self-identified liberal (or formerly liberal) neocons. Former Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens, for example, wrote a whole book on Orwell. Now, I don't happen to think that promoting neo-imperialist American policies, aggressive wars and the rabid madness of the Bush administration are causes which Orwell would be glad to see his name raised in support of -- any more than Nietzsche would have been glad to have been cited as a foundational thinker for German nationalists and antisemites. But until Orwell's Walter Kaufman comes along and frees Orwell from his kidnappers,* there is a stink on his writings that bear no relation to the texts themselves, but are so strong that they make the texts themselves hard to stomach.

Now, I've liked Paker's writing since before he began promoting stupid, aggressive and criminal wars. His book Blood of the Liberals is a fascinating meditation on the shifting nature of liberal (and conservative) politics over the Twentieth century. -- And I've not read Packer's book on Iraq, The Assassin's Gate, which reportedly describes the occupation in scathing terms (without ever saying that maybe the opponents of the war were right to oppose it).

But George Packer supported the Iraq war -- a war that, it has been forgotten amongst all the raptures about the supposed success of the Surge (™ McCain campaign), resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings, most of them Iraqi. He wrote disparagingly of those who opposed the war before it started.

So I find that his recommendation that I read Orwell makes me rather want to avoid doing so. Not because Orwell would have been an American neo-imperialist, nor because I disagree with Packer about Orwell, but because the conjunction of an unapologetic Iraq war proponent, known for his disparagement of anti-war voices, with Orwell simply makes me queasy.

Perhaps Packer's two-volume selection is a good one. But I think he was a poor choice to edit it regardless. And perhaps it would be a good idea for us all to read some Orwell after November 4. But I think Packer is a poor spokesman for that notion, associating as he does with Orwell's appropriators, appropriators who have enlisted Orwell in a posthumous cause that has led to horrific results.

I'm probably being unfair to Packer here. Packer was a reluctant supporter of the war, and has been a fine journalist in Iraq (as well as elsewhere). He's a far cry from dead-enders like Hitchens.** Still --

Perhaps for a while Orwell should be promoted by different people.

* Cue reference to the famous first line of Orwell's essay on Dickens, that Dickens is a man "well worth stealing".

** On the other hand, he was one of those promoting a US invasion of Burma a short while ago, so who knows.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The "Biographical Sketch" Draft I Was Too Cowardly To Actually Use In My Finished Dissertation

Born in Cuba in 1899, son of a Cuban woman raped by an American soldier during the Spanish-American war, Stephen Saperstein Frug passed the first ninety-nine years of his misspent life struggling for the liberation of Spanish America from its Imperialist American overlords. In 1998, however, he accidentally wandered into a lecture by Newt Gingrich, during which he finally saw the error of his communist ways. Weeping for his lost years, he decided to pursue sheer selfish monetary advancement as the best means to further the moral interests of humankind. As the first step in pursuit of this goal, he enrolled in a Ph.D. program in the humanities at Cornell University -- perhaps a sign that after ninety-nine years as a communist guerrilla, his understanding of market forces left something to be desired.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Recent Quotes on Politics

Some comments that caught my attention. All of the quotes are from articles/blog posts that are worth reading, particularly if you find the sample to your taste.

I’ve been reading the GOP campaign as being not merely an assault on liberal elites—like I say, that’s old news—but a frontal attack on the very idea of standards of plausibility in argument.

-- Michael Bérubé

Both the [Israeli] settlements problem and the [$7 Billion] bailout problem remind me of something I wrote a while ago in reference to the Roman Republic. Simply because something must happen does not mean that it will happen. The Roman Republic faced a series of internal crises that were evident to all and that desperately required political solution; moreover, the contours of such solution were evident to most of the relevant political players, and in the abstract were achievable. The Republic had been designed to manage the political affairs of a small city-state. The achievement of Empire made those institutions quaint; provincial governors would make war on their own authority, and return to Rome at the head of Legions bound by personal loyalty and with more money than the whole of the Roman state. The institutions of the Roman Republic, solid enough for five hundred years, were insufficient to actually achieving the necessary solutions. In the face of crises that demanded solution, the Roman Republic crumbled, because the institutional structure created vested interests and veto points that prevented the achievement of any solution. The Republic could not save itself because its very structure prevented it from doing the things that were necessary to reform. Almost no one wanted this outcome, but no one could stop it from happening. It's not that people are stupid (although many are) or dishonest (although many are); its that the institutions make certain outcomes difficult to achieve.

-- Robert Farley

Present-day Wasilla is Palin’s lasting monument. It sits in a broad alluvial valley, puddled with lakes, boxed in on three sides by sawtoothed Jurassic mountains, and fringed with woods of spruce and birch. Visitors usually aim their cameras at the town’s natural surroundings, for Wasilla itself – quite unlike its rival and contemporary in the valley, Palmer, 11 miles to the east – is a centreless, sprawling ribbon of deregulated development along a four-lane highway, backed on both sides by subdivisions occupied by trailer-homes, cabins, tract-housing and ranch-style bungalows, most built since 1990. It’s a generic Western settlement, and one sees Wasillas in every state this side of the 100th meridian: the same competing gas stations, fast-food outlets, strip malls and ‘big box’ stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Fred Meyer and Home Depot, each with a vast parking lot out front, on which human figures scuttle with their shopping trolleys like coloured ants, robbed of their proper scale.... Wasilla is what inevitably happens when there are no codes, no civic oversight, no planning, when the only governing principle in a community is a naive and superstitious trust in the benevolent authority of the free market. Palin’s view of aesthetics was nicely highlighted in 1996, a few months before she ran for mayor, when a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News happened to light on her in an excited crowd of five hundred women queuing up in the Anchorage J.C. Penney’s, waiting to snag the autograph of Ivana Trump, who was in town to hawk her eponymous line of scent. "‘We want to see Ivana,’ Palin said, who admittedly smells like a salmon for a large part of the summer, ‘because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.’" The blot on the Alaskan landscape that is Wasilla is the natural consequence of a mindset that mistakes Ivana Trump for culture.

-- Jonathan Raban

Friday, October 03, 2008

Imperator Paulson

The bailout passed the house, and Bush signed it.

All your economy is now belong to Paulson, first among equals.

Couldn't resist.

(NB: Making fun of Paulson's power doesn't mean that passing the bailout wasn't the right thing to do -- if it was that or nothing. (Lots of smart people endorsed doing this.) But nearly everyone -- including those who were for the bill -- thinks that, however the vote should have gone today, this bill sucks. And we here in the US used to be against monarchical rule. Particularly by those responsible for the crisis they're brought in to fix. Hence lolPaulsons.)

Short Takes

A few quick thoughts, mostly on things approaching but not quite reaching the political.

• I bet Tina Fey has had a very weird couple of months.

Liveblogging was fun to try, but I'm not sure I'll do it again. If blogging runs the spectrum from fully-composed essays to a twittery stream of consciousness, liveblogging is obviously huddling close to the latter. On the other hand, the blogosphere is also a cultural artifact, with its own customs and traditions and folkways: and I was glad to try liveblogging out. (I wasn't the only newbie to do so.)

• If Lex Luther were real, he'd be Dick Cheney.

• The basic story on the debate is captured in James Fallows's post here. The optimistic take is here.

• How long will it be until the word "maverick" is once again usable in an ordinary context? I fear it may be a generation.

• I honestly don't have the slightest idea what to think about the $700,000,000,000 bailout being voted on in the house today -- opinions from those who know about the topic seem too divided to get a handle on, although even its proponents seem to agree it's lousy bill.

Bérubé's back. And there was much rejoicing.

• I blogged more in September than any month since I've been blogging. I doubt I'll keep up the pace. Meanwhile, a few posts I liked were buried quickly, so if you missed them, I'll draw your attention to:
- Our Politics Today (my basic reply to the Naderite claim that the Democrats are as bankrupt as the Republicans).
- Some Religious Ideas Are Subject to Scientific Investigation

Those are the two I'd pick out, but, secondarily: if you like a good rant, here's one on flying; this insta-reaction holds up fairly well I think; and while my post on it isn't all that much, Stephen Frug really does like the word "illeism".

• Given that Charles Krauthammer has been described by one of the sharpest observers in the blogosphere as not "just wrong... [but] transcendentally wrong about practically everything he writes," the fact that he just called the race for Obama makes me nervous.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Debate Live-Blogging

I wasn't planning to do this, but two things have struck me so far, and I can't resist.

9:16: (1) Sarah Palin sure knows how to stay on the talking points... even the lies, like the $42,000 one. Biden did a good job on parrying it though.

(2) Gwen Ifill's question on "class warfare" was terrible. Shame on her.

May do more later, I don't know...

9:21: The "what promises not keep" is not necessarily a bad question, but Ifill asked it in a terrible way. So far she's not doing nearly as well as Jim Lehrer.

Biden is doing a good job so far, though -- including in answering that question.

9:23: She's folksy, which I fear will play well. I think this particular answer is a bit incoherent, but I bet no one notices under the folksiness.

...And she can undo federal tax breaks? Huh?

9:26: Pitting Palin against McCain is a clever move on Biden's part.

...More rearing heads.

9:28: The bankruptcy bill was one of the things I hated about Biden. He did a good job of parrying it, I guess.

9:29: (1) It sounds to me like she's returning to the one or two things because that's all she knows, but I wonder if it will sound that way to undecided voters. Probably not.

(2) This live-blogging thing is weird.

9:31: She just said, again, that she wouldn't ascribe activities of humans to climate, not vice-versa. It's a simple glitch to make once, but twice is weird.

9:34: I fear the cute correction on "drill, baby, drill" undermined the solid point about percent of oil we have versus percent we use.

...And Biden's thing about "if free market takes care of it" [alternate energy] was badly mangled -- makes it sound like it could, and so people will say why not.

9:39: Neither Biden nor Obama support gay marriage... cowardly, bigoted schmucks.

9:40: My guess so far is that, as expected, she's exceeding expectations, and therefore winning, even though it's a tie. Or something. God our political system is !@#$%ed up.

9:42: "End this war": good for him.

...Long pause as Palin finds the right talking point: then she goes ahead on it full-steam.

9:45: Biden, "love" McCain, if you do, on your own !@#$%ing time. While running for Barack Obama's VP you're supposed to OPPOSE him.

9:47: Uh, Biden, isn't "Madrasah" just the Arabic word for school?

9:52: A good question by Ifill on the mid-east peace process.

9:55: A typical Republican talking point: "Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who..."

9:58: God she sounds like an idiot. -- To me. But I bet she's doing well with the undecideds.

10:01: I wonder if Biden's repeating himself too much.

10:02: Biden's vote for the war: the other reason I hated him. Good we hit both.

10:07: And here I thought that the biggest cliche on the Vice Presidency was that it wasn't worth a bucket of warm spit.

(Incidentally, this is one of those questions that ought to be good, but which is pretty predictably going to be silly.)

10:15: Is "principal" the standard word for the VP's P? I've never heard it before, but it's being used constantly tonight.

10:17: ...Isn't the VP's chief role to wait around for the President to die?

10:18: Another terrible question by Ifill. Not nearly as good as Lehrer. She has a much stronger tendency to go for the silly media-froth questions.

10:20: I guess Palin doesn't know that Reagan was quoting...

10:21: If I were drinking at "maverick" I'd be dead from alcohol poisoning.

10:29: Say no to energy independence? Is there any basis for that?

...And of course she doesn't like the media telling people what they just heard when she speaks, because what she does is tell lies. And if the media does that, she's sunk.

10:31: I didn't hear any major gaffs; I'd say it was a tie... which in practice probably means a win for Palin. I mean, again, she sounds like an idiot to me: but then, so did/does Bush. And he won twice. So what do I know.

10:32: Now we get to the "when I was a boy I wanted to be a baseball" portion of the evening....

10:33: Is she being overly friendly afterwards to counter the whole McCain-wouldn't-look-Obama-in-the-eye thing?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Snow on Mars

Really, really cool. Via Gary, who has more links.

Sneak Peak of McCain's Reaction To Journalists' Questioning His Honor

A lot of journalists have been saying that McCain has permanently damaged his reputation in this campaign -- torn the veil away from his pretense of honor. I suspect that, busy as he is with the pressures of the campaign, McCain hasn't really gotten a sense of how badly his reputation has collapsed. Some might wonder what his reaction will be when he finds out.

Well, we here at Attempts have gotten a sneak peak of McCain's reaction to these rumblings from his once-vaunted media "base", once the campaign is over and he finally hears about them. (Warning: as is fitting for McCain's famous temper, the language here is NSF.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Facebook Group to Join

Apparently Facebook just hired Alberto Gonzalez's Chief of Staff, Ted Ulliyot, as its new general counsel. (via) Follow the link to see some of the reasons that people who add value to a company -- and everyone who uses facebook adds value to it -- should demand that such a person not be employed by that company. I'll just focus on one aspect: torture. Ulliyot was a co-author of the torture memo that gave (psuedo) legal cover for this particular crime against humanity committed by the Bush administration.

Anyone who uses facebook, and who is outraged by the fact that John Yoo is once again employed at UC Berkeley (even if you think academic freedom protects that employment) should be against Ulliyot working for facebook. And here there are no academic freedom issues.

Fortunately, a group demanding Ulliyot's resignation has already been set up. I urge everyone who uses facebook at all to join the group -- and invite all your friends.

(To those who might counter that the logical implication of this stance would be to make Ulliyot unemployable the answer is: yes. Precisely. Ulliyot belongs on trial, to see if his actions rise to the level of a crime against humanity, or if he stayed within the law in aiding and abetting other's crimes. But since that is -- alas -- unlikely to happen, at the very least he should be unemployed and unemployable -- as a minor deterrent to future lawyers who would aid and abet torture. There's no reason that Ulliyot should be doing anything apart from begging for spare change on the street -- unless he's rotting in jail somewhere.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

So Why Not Try a Good Bill Now?

As I quoted this morning, folks who understood this mess were divided on whether this was just terrible or bad but barely good enough to pass. Since it failed, however, the thing to do is obvious -- so obvious that everyone's suggesting it:
Bring Congress Back into Session After the Election... and go for the Swedish plan: nationalize the insolvent large financial institutions: dare Bush to veto that after the election.

- Brad DeLong

For reasons I’ve already explained, I don’t think the Dem leadership was in a position to craft a bill that would have achieved overwhelming Democratic support, so make or break was whether enough GOPers would sign on. They didn’t. I assume Pelosi calls a new vote; but if it fails, then what? I guess write a bill that is actually, you know, a good plan, and try to pass it — though politically it might not make sense to try until after the election.

-- Paul Krugman

Given that the House GOP didn’t deliver the 80 (or whatever) votes that Democrats were making substantive concessions in order to achieve, now I really don’t see why the Democratic leadership doesn’t tear this thing up and start writing a progressive bill.

-- Matt Yglesias
Sounds good to me.

Update: A question from ignorance:

There may well be a good answer to the following question. But I'd like to hear it. It seems that the main problem that caused the bailout bill to fail was a populist feeling against it, that swamped the feeling of the bipartisan political leadership that something needed to be done. So why not go about this by bailing out the homeowners directly (in some fashion -- I have no idea how this would work), as has been suggested? Giving billions of dollars so people can stay in their homes strikes me as far more defensible against populist demagoguery than giving billions of dollars to wall street to buy off their bad investments. So why not try it from that angle? Let people vote for a package they can defend to their constituents?

Yes or No?: Today's Quotes on the Golden Fleece

I don't have any thoughts of my own on the current version of the Golden Fleece, so I'll -- once again -- quote others. More quotes may be added later today.

It passes my test of no equity, no deal; that, plus the danger of financial panic if it doesn’t go through, makes it worth passing, though celebration is not in order.

- Paul Krugman

There is no plausible scenario under which the no bailout scenario gives us a Great Depression. There is a more plausible scenario (but highly unlikely) that the bailout will give us a Great Depression. There is no way that the failure to do a bailout will lead to more than a very brief failure of the financial system. We will not lose our modern system of payments. At this point I cannot identify a single good reason to do the bailout. ...the restrictions on executive pay and the commitment to give the taxpayers equity in banks in exchange for buying bad assets are jokes. These provisions are sops to provide cover. They are not written in ways to be binding... Finally, the bailout absolutely can make things worse. We are going to be in a serious recession because of the collapse of the housing bubble. We will need effective stimulus measures to boost the economy and keep the recession from getting worse. However, the $700 billion outlay on the bailout is likely to be used as an argument against effective stimulus... If the bailout proves to be an obstacle to effective stimulus in future months and years, then the bailout could lead to exactly the sort of prolonged economic downturn that its proponents claim it is intended to prevent. In short, the bailout rewards some of the richest people in the country for their incompetence. It provides little obvious economic benefit and could lead to long-term harm. That looks like a pretty bad deal.

-- Dean Baker

...there’s just no way to get around the fact that the Bush administration will take the lead in implementing this legislation. And while the administration did cave on a couple of key points and allow in language that permits Treasury to take on equity in bailed-out firms and to do some mortgage modification, it seems likely from the differences between Paulson’s proposal and the Dodd-Frank counteroffer that the person who’ll be in charge of implementing this doesn’t really believe in doing that stuff. Under the circumstances, it looks like a bill that’ll be good enough to stave off collapse of the financial system, but probably won’t wind up addressing the full extent of the problem. This subject is going to have to be revisited after the election. But the unfortunate reality is that the current configuration of power in Washington still leaves the conservatives whose policies and ideology is largely responsible for the collapse in command of too many levers of power to simply implement a solution that’s not tainted by their misconception of the problem.

-- Matt Yglesais

It also seems to me to be really important to keep my anger focussed where it should be: partly on the people whose deals got us into this mess, but much more importantly, on the legislators who failed to do their jobs, or who allowed themselves to be seduced by idiotic economic theories which were, as it happened, in the interests of powerful lobbies. We're obviously going to have to pass some serious regulation to prevent this from happening again... We will also have to have some serious deficit spending. Regulation might prevent the next disaster, but it will not help with this one....

- Hilzoy

So is the package worth voting for? It is, in my view, but just barely and only as a stopgap. Congress did add tighter controls, and does not permit Paulson to go out and spend the whole $700 billion at once.... Given the choice of voting this rescue package up or down, the responsible vote is Aye. It's what's for breakfast. And we will have something else for lunch.... So the best outcome is that this bailout buys several weeks or perhaps months, that both parties' fingerprints are on this hasty and flawed package, that Paulson runs through only a hundred billion or two by the time Congress grasps that it's time to go back to the drawing board. And that the incoming president starts thinking now about how to do this right.... Think of this package as a bridge -- not an Alaska-style bridge to nowhere, but as a just-barely-viable bridge to the Obama administration -- which can then begin the arduous task of getting it right.

-- Robert Kuttner

I’m being asked two big questions about this thing: (1) Was it really necessary? (2) Shouldn’t Dems have tossed the whole Paulson approach out the window and done something completely different? On (1), the answer is yes.... On (2), the call is tougher. But putting myself in Barney Frank or Nancy Pelosi’s shoes, I’d look at it this way: the Democrats could start over, with a bailout plan that is, say, centered on purchases of preferred stock and takeovers of failing firms — basically, a plan clearly focused on recapitalizing the financial sector, with nationalization where necessary. That’s what the plan should have looked like. Maybe such a plan would have passed Congress; and maybe, just maybe Bush would have signed on; Paulson is certainly desperate for a deal. But such a plan would have had next to no Republican votes — and the Republicans would have demagogued against it full tilt. And the Democratic leadership cannot, cannot, be seen to have sole ownership of this stuff. So that, I think, is why it had to be done this way. I don’t like it, and I don’t like the plan, but I see the constraints under which Dodd, Frank, Pelosi, and Reid were operating.

- Paul Krugman 2

...if a rescue is really as necessary as informed observers think, then why shouldn’t the GOP’s friends in the business community have forced them to go along?... I think the Democrats had the strongest hand and just blinked at the thought of going “all-in” with it. Arguable that was the responsible thing to do. But on another level, you really can’t ever get anything done in the American legislative process if you’re not willing to engage in a little brinksmanship...

-- Matt Yglesias 2

If something really needs to be done, tell Paulson, the Republicans, and the Bush Dogs to eat shit and pass a bill Democrats can support.... Don't play football with Lucy.

-- Atrios, aka Duncan Black -- 2nd half from here