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January 2010 Archives

January 4, 2010

Half baked: worse than raw

This is a blog post by Nobel pocket giant Paul Krugmantel (who seems to have become my de facto practice serve and volley backboard these days).

This time he's throwing light and logic on the US vs China exchange rate fuddlement. "Consider the real exchange rate", he says: Rx = E(Pu/Pc), where Rx is the dollar's "real" rate of exchange against Chinese products, E is the currency exchange rate (here, dollars over yuan, $/Y), Pc is China's price level and Pu the US price level.

Play around with this and you quickly discover what changes in any one or combo of these three variables do to the real "dollar" exchange rate Rx.

Here's Krug's crucial example: "appreciation of the yuan is a fall in E" -- i.e. yuan up against $ means $/Y falls, so Pu/Pc must rise in order to keep Rx constant, which of course must happen, because as Paul tells us ex cathedra,

[T]here is a “natural” level of the real exchange rate, determined by trade competitiveness and international capital flows. And the economy “wants” to get to that real exchange rate.
Result: a dollar buys less Chinese goods, eh? Just the thing to close a trade gap... maybe. Gotta love that "natural" exchange rate, huh? Natural like Planck's constant. Can a disembodied dimensionless ratio buzzing in a void eat Peking duck? It's as if Paul had satire in mind, but hey, he don't, gang. He just speeds on completing his reification with this clincher:
"If you have a floating exchange rate you get there via a rise or fall in E... But if you have a pegged rate, there’s pressure on prices instead."
Get there? Where's "there", Paul? Balanced trade, balanced payments, or some higher optimal meta-balanced balance? But okay, let him have his pretend time, and yup, if the formula defines the edges of this universe, by definition you can't get around it: either E changes or the ratio of Pu/Pc changes... and if you gotta change Pu/Pc to reduce Chinese imports and save our poor little Nell of a manufacturing sector, China's Pc has to rise faster or fall slower then our Pu, no?

Now that the basics are clear, Paul briars up the story some: China is "deliberately keeping E higher than it would be under floating" exchange rates. Heavens, yes, China is foul-pegging and foul-pegging so low, so very un-naturally low, shouldn't oughta naturally the great and powerful market forces driving the formula and handing down the golden ratio Rx as it were from Sinai, lead ineluctably to higher prices in China?

To bolster his parable, Paul notices two other instances of bad pegs leading to price level pressure: one up -- Germany in '72 (then a forex fiddle dollar pegger, albeit a relenting one, unlike China today); and one down -- poor Spain right now, trapped inside the hideous Euro vise and facing deadly deflationary pressures.

"So China [by maintaining its low peg] is basically trying to keep water from flowing downhill."
So... well, ummm, Paul, then we got no sweat here, right? China can't do that, obviously, I mean make water go uphill. That's supernatural.

But... she's succeeding at this, no? And has been succeeeding at this for a decade or more.

Conclusion: something unnatural has been hatched here a ways back, and maybe not for the first time. So, Paul, maybe instead of silly just-so cherrypicking and formula facilizing, you oughta let this unnatural baby, this 666 of a baby, back into the bath tub and let it splash and glower at us like the demon it is. And let's give Baby a name: he's the trans-nat limited-liability hi-fi system, which by a concatenation of sluices, pumps, cisterns and levees, can make water flow uphill (specifically from north to south) and keep it flowing uphill till... well, till the moment comes when "letting spontaneous international market forces" run their "natural" gap-closing course is the better "collegial" trans-nat run or pass option.

There is no law of gravity for relative price levels, none, at least, that Trans-nat Man in his diabolic ingenuity can't overcome.

Moral of tale: spontaneous market forces are not about to rescue our utterly shitkicked industrial sector. So I suggest Paul put this Rx = E(Pu/Pc) half-baked cake back in the oven. It ain't ready to eat till the fat trading-profit demon now riding it gets caramelized away into brown drippings.

But then again -- when is the oven going to get get hot enough to do that?

The unknown monkeywrencher

Hats off (though bags stay on) to the droll chap who sauntered yesterday through a "security" gate -- the wrong way -- at Newark Airport, then apparently sauntered back out twenty minutes later. The subsequent Keystone Kops kwest for this Scarlet Pimpernel (or some item he might possibly have left behind) emptied Terminal C for several hours and knocked a large part of US civil aviation into a cocked hat for most of the day.

This is the sort of thing we need more of.

January 6, 2010

Even the Sierra Club...

... the nation's most sedate and compliant environmental organization, is shocked:

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would sign off on a Clean Water Act permit for Patriot Coal Corp.'s Hobet 45 mountaintop removal coal mine in Lincoln County, West Virginia.

"The Obama administration rings in the new year by allowing coal companies to bury more miles of streams," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice. "There is no excuse for approving this permit when the science is clear that mountaintop removal coal mining permanently destroys streams. The administration claims to be making progress on mountaintop removal, but in reality they are still following the flawed policies put in place by the Bush administration.

Needless to say, that rather trenchant second paragraph was buried at the end of the Sierrans' communique. One also gets a slightly sour laugh at the implication that George Bush is responsible for mountaintop-removal mining, which has been going on for decades and enjoyed a huge expansion during the Clinton years.

Ceterum censeo Muralem esse delendam Viam(*)

The cost of keeping the commanding heights private property, episode 79: guest star, James Kwak of Baseline Scenario:

" Visa has been increasing its market share by increasing the prices it charges to merchants; it takes those higher transaction fees and passes some of them on to banks ... giving them an incentive to promote Visa debit cards over other forms of debit cards. Not only that, there are different fees on debit cards depending on whether you use them like a credit card (signing for them) or like an ATM card (entering a PIN). Signing costs the merchant more, so the banks and Visa give you incentives to sign instead of using a PIN. The end result is higher costs for merchants, who pass them on to you.

Ordinarily this should create the opportunity for a new entrant (say, NewCard) to offer lower fees. But there are three problems.... First, individual customers would have no incentive to use NewCard rather than Visa, since any savings get distributed across all customers of a given merchant (through lower prices). Second, there are massive technological and marketing barriers to entry. Third, even if merchants and customers want NewCard, the banks–the distributors of debit cards–don’t."

"Tell me again, how does this benefit society? Theoretically having a couple of big transaction processing networks could lower costs... because of economies of scale. But we’re probably talking a couple of pennies per transaction there, while the fees that Visa charges are an order of magnitude bigger... It struck me that I have in the past cited the debit card as an example of a beneficial financial innovation.... But I’m not sure those benefits are worth the amount that the networks and the banks are sucking out of the system (resulting in higher prices for everyone)."

We need a Gosplan for hi-fi -- and we won't get one this side of the Red harvest moon.


(*) And foidermoah: I t'ink Wall Street must be destroyed.

January 7, 2010

The gift of the Magi

The Larry and Ben show -- America's beloved stagonomic twins -- have a neat new trick in store for us and it's coming to wageling job sites near you. By means mysterious and confabulating these master magi will telepathically induce the total once and for all disappearance of... one trilllllion simoleons, and all of it straight out of the 'umble wages of us rubes.

Here's Dean "the dream" Baker:

"We use Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on the economy since 2007 and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections of economic performance through 2012 to estimate the total loss of wages and salaries resulting from the decrease in employment in the current downturn.... We find that the fall in employment from its 2007 levels will cost U.S. workers just over $1 trillion in lost wages and salaries during the five-year period 2008-2012.

The estimated lost wages and salaries exceed – by about $150 billion – the CBO’s estimate of the full ten-year cost of the health-care reform bill that recently passed in the House of Representatives.

From the standpoint of jobs – the economic variable that most concerns Americans – the recession is not even one-third over. Cumulative wage and salary losses so far (2008 and 2009) constitute less than one-third of the total expected missed earnings through 2012.

We have not yet seen the bottom of the labor market. Lost wages and salaries in 2010 will be more than 25 percent higher (after adjusting for inflation) than the losses experienced in 2009. Lost earnings in 2011 will be higher than they were in 2009; and 2012 will be almost three times as bad as 2008, the first full year of the recession...

We do not include the cost of lost health insurance or pension contributions, lost earnings resulting from declines in the usual hours of work for those workers who manage to keep their jobs, or any cuts in wages and salaries stemming from cost-cutting pressures brought on by the recession."

Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work's in vain...

... but then I visit Daily Kos, and realize that though I am no General William Booth, shown below --

... nevertheless somebody needs to keep trying, however vainly, to rescue these poor souls, wandering in an intellectual and spiritual desert, and doing violence at every turn to the better angels of their nature. Here's an example:

In recent days, Dick Cheney and his Republican buddies have been claiming that President Obama not only refuses to say we are at war with terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, but won’t even talk about terrorism at all. Their claim, however, has no basis in reality. In fact, as this brief compilation of video clips from 27 different Presidential speeches shows, the exact opposite is true.
The clip is well worth watching. Our Kosnik is so eager to defend Obie that he makes the prez look like a man with a brain tumor, mechanically babbling some word or phrase at the unquenchable urging of a diseased misfiring neuron. Obie's weird annoying glottal barking tone becomes even more noticeable, and grating, than it usually is, in this lovingly chosen and carefully stitched-together sonic quilt. He's even started to syncopate the second syllable of "terr'rism" and "terr'rist" the way Bush did.

There's a probably unintentional family resemblance between the robotic talking points of the reactionary jerks who introduce the clip, and the stilted zombie-like terr-terr-terr gabble of "President Obama", as our Kosnik obsequiously calls him. What's strange is that the wingnuts at least get to speak full sentences, but the version of Obie we get from his admirer has boiled the discourse down to its essence: who can say the terr- word faster and more frequently, and with the fewest other words nearby to obscure its dark glory and hypnagogic power?

In this clip at least Obie wins hands down. Makes sense. That's the greatest triumph a Kosnik can conceive: to beat the Fascists at their own game.

Which is, of course... Fascism.

January 9, 2010

When you don't have anything new to say...

... you can always make fun of Daily Kos.

Owen recently mentioned that he'd like an update on the state of the Kos cult, but he wasn't willing to do the legwork himself. Smart boy, that Owen. It's dreary.

Every so often you find something written by somebody interested in something that matters -- war and peace, death and life, that sort of thing. This is a rare experience, though, and daily more rare. The site is increasingly obsessed with microscopic technical electoral minutiae -- weighing a gnat's eyelash against a red cunt hair, if I may be pardoned a coarse old phrase from my engineering days.

And polling! Boy do they love polling! Every other post seems to be about a poll. The most recent one I saw had the wonderful headline, "2010 Opens With Relative Quiet." (This sounds pretty good to me, since I never had a quiet relative, and two different sets of in-laws have both proven highly voluble as well.)

Trolling the site for something that might amuse Owen, though, I do believe I may have hit pay dirt.

This needs a little setup: "Netroots Nation" is the grandiose new name for what used to be the Daily Kos national convention, held in a downscale Las Vegas hotel which no doubt finds ways to help line Harry Reid's pocket. It's a sad spectacle, all these schlubby Internet shut-ins assembling to pat each others' suety backs. Here's a bit of burble from the chap in charge of organizing the festivities this year:

Netroots Nation: What I Love About This Job
by Adam B

"Adam," I've been asked (by the voices in my head), "What do you enjoy most about serving as chairman of the board of directors of Netroots Nation? Is it being backstage with folks like Bill Clinton? Is it the site selection process?...

And the answer is no. My favorite part of all of this is what's just started -- our proposal submission and evaluation process....

When you're brainstorming, here are a few things to think about:

  • How does my idea help the broader progressive movement?
  • How will it empower activists to take what they've learned and use it for the greater good?
  • Do my proposed panelists represent diversity — of ethnicity, gender, geography, age and viewpoint?
Click here to read the full list of guidelines and submit your idea. (We take these guidelines seriously -- there are numerical grades, spreadsheets, conference calls, the works.)
*Begin senile irrelevant personal reminiscence*

Guidelines! I can never hear this word without thinking of an ex-boss of mine, back when I had a well-paid and undemanding corporate job. This guy loved the word "guidelines" and used it in just about every sentence that came out of his mouth, but he had the strange tic of pronouncing the 'd' as a 't': "ghitelines".

He was a man of modest origins, I think, who had risen to an exalted corner office by virtue of affirmative action. Not a bad guy -- as a boss he was generous, indolent and inexigeant, a real King Log, apart from a mad devotion to staff meetings -- but this verbal peculiarity was strangely grating. Or not so strangely, perhaps; there's just nothing worse than hypercorrection. "Whom shall I say is calling?"

Curiously, "ghitelines" echoed for me another such hypercorrection, from a rather posh Southern white guy I knew years before, who really had no excuse at all. He did the same d-to-t thing with the word "body" -- it came out as "botty".

*End irrelevant senile personal reminiscence*

It was certainly fun for me, and I hope Owen likes it too, to see Daily Kos acting like a big corporation. "Guidelines, numerical grades, spreadsheets, conference calls, the works!" Wow, have these wankers arrived!

January 10, 2010

A thing of beauty, in its way

Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., formally entered the race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Barbara Boxer.

Those with an interest and memory for such things, will recall Fiorina's tenure at Hewlett-Packard. It was unmitigated disaster throughout. She almost destroyed the company, a flagship of corporate liberalism. There was the greed, of course, but there was also an element of spite; she taught the rentier heirs of the founders a lesson in schoolyard punking. She was, on a small scale, what Larry Summers was to Russia, the United States, Harvard, the United States again, etc. There's something about these people, I'll tell you. Nominally liberal or nominally conservative, their salient characteristic is a highly destructive looting rampage that is incomplete without an effort to shock the more staid bourgeoisie.

I doubt Fiorina will be able to unseat Boxer, who is pretty solidly entrenched in spite of Obama's best efforts to regain a legislative minority, but passage through the media shitstorm of Fiorina's horrible lumpen preppy rage, constantly irate ambition and sense of entitlement may make her sweat a little.

Aside from the appropriately mean-spirited glee at the prospect, this offers a fine example of the inter-party "worse the better" strategy. The Republicans will reliably come up with someone so vicious and nasty that even a time-serving, glad-handing corporate hack of a Democrat looks good by comparison; at least in the take-it-or-leave-it binary game. If she wins, after some judicious half-assed beautiful losing, the corporate hack will immediately return to engorging her sponsors, and everyone who matters to either of them is happy. Me, I get to use lots of emdashes, which yields its own happiness.

My prescription for those concerned is, as always: stay home. It's bad for you to engage this kind of this freak show. If you believe in anything at all, you've already lost.

January 12, 2010

The power of negative thinking

Let the record show that I intend no disrespect to the wonderful book shown above, which I loved when I was a kid and was delighted to find still in print, with the same illustrations, when I was buying books to read to my own kids.

But neither my kids nor I were ever able to take in the message. We're more negative thinkers. And pace the Little Blue Engine, there's something to be said for negative thinking.

Sometimes the great discoveries are negative -- it turns out that what seemed self-evidently true, isn't. Which can be hugely liberating. And sometimes the great historical task is simply to destroy something -- like, say, the American empire -- without worrying too much about what comes next.

I was trying to explain this the other day to an old friend and co-conspirator of mine -- let's call him Kodaly. Kodaly got it, and laughed that delighted laugh you hear from people when you've put into words some lurking semi-conscious thought they already had. Kodaly is not by any means as negative as I am, but he definitely has a foot in my camp.

He was so delighted, in fact, that his usual tact slipped a bit and he blurted out, "That's why Jocasta doesn't like you!"

Jocasta is Kodaly's wife.

Let me tell you a little about Jocasta. She's an incredibly energetic, competent, committed woman, and I bet she's well-liked in her yoga class and her women's group. She probably sleeps about an hour and a half every night. Her kids get fed fresh super-healthy food every day of the year. Once when my wife and I were at a party with her, she disdainfully referred to some other parents in her kids' preschool who sent their offspring off to this credentialling feedlot wearing "mismatched socks".

No shit, "mismatched socks."

Now I'm sure Jocasta has never worn mismatched socks, and I would bet my left testicle that she has never sent one of her kids out the door with mismatched socks. But my wife and I exchanged a guilty sidelong look when we heard this mild little sneerlet. Madame is less of a fuckup than I am, but even she has sent kids off to school with mismatched socks -- more often than not, in fact.

After my pal K. let slip his observation about Jocasta not liking me, he was of course horribly embarrassed. But I wasn't offended. I already knew she didn't like me; guys know when their pals' GFs and wives don't like 'em. K understood all that, so after he bounced back from his initial mortification, he was willing to keep the ball rolling, to represent Jocasta and articulate her objection; which was all the more easy for him to do, since he has the other foot in her camp.

What the objection boils down to is that I never have any "positive alternative" to propose. You've all heard this a million times, right? "So what's your alternative, Mr Smart Guy?"

There are lots of possible responses to this, but here's the one I like:

Many people, from Thomas More to Rousseau to Trotsky, have proposed "positive alternatives". The menu is full of 'em; take your pick. Why should anybody try to enter that already rather crowded market?

Jocasta would. She's really good at matching socks, and no doubt quite good at her job. She could easily design, on her lunch break, a blueprint for future society that would be a huge improvement on what we've got. And no doubt an improvement on anything I could come up with, and she might even give Rousseau a run for his money.

And having done that -- having come up with the plan -- it's over to you, groundlings. Execute! A very managerial, white-collar mentality: I've done my job. You have the blueprint.

The problem of course is that before Jocasta's plan, or Rousseau's, stand any chance of implementation, there are some obstacles that need to be dealt with: like, oh, Wall Street, and the Republican and Democratic parties, and Harvard and Yale and the Educational Testing Service, and the Pentagon, and the cops.

Now I may be a negative kind of guy, but not negative enough to believe that these obstacles can't and won't be dealt with. Maybe not in my time; but sooner or later people will find a way.

Here's the crux, though: the people who deal with the obstacles will be the people who decide what comes next. And there's no reason to suppose that they will consider Jocasta's plan, or Rousseau's, or mine, to be authoritative. In fact, they will make their own plans, and more power to 'em.

So it seems to me that for Jocasta and me to tell the people who win the war how to conduct the peace, is, well, presumptuous. At least.

And in fact, actually, it's worse than that. Demanding the "positive alternative" is in effect a defense-attorney strategy for the status quo. It turns the critique away from what is, and onto your sadly naive constitution for Shangri-La: this won't work, that won't work. Your "positive alternative" has to sell itself -- a burden which the status quo does not bear.

Owen knows from of old my love of extravagant analogies. Allow me to indulge myself.

Imagine that Jocasta and I have both gone to Hell, and our punishment is to make dinner together. We look in the pantry and there's a Tupperware container (what else? This is Hell) with some stew in it. We open the container and there rises from it a suffocating fetid stench, with top notes of dead polecat and a long finish of junior-high locker room.

"Yeccchh!" I say. "Let's toss this vile mess!"

"Not so fast, Kemo Sabe," says Jocasta. "What's your alternative?"

January 13, 2010

The Treadmill

There's lately been an outbreak of micro-pathologizing on the Buyer's Remorse suffered by Obama voters. It's got all the usual stuff; they're so angry! they're unrealistic! they're melodramatic! and so forth. It's all true as far as it goes, which is not very far, and as usual it elides the denouement to these affairs: the Remorseful always return to the fold. It is, in short, dull stuff.

But the outbreak does have a tiny bit of hilarity, in this very odd article by Hendrik Hertzberg, in which he appears to be warning us not to anthropomorphize the Obama regime and the Democratic majority. This is somewhat interesting, and very tempting... although it too quickly returns to familiar ground. I gather it's the system, man, the mean old system that's making everything so appalling, but not too appalling when all is said and done. We still have complete sentences. The system takes the fall for the worst of it. Human agency takes the credit for the not so worst of it.

I readily confess to reading human motivations and actions into the freak show's stars and supporting cast. It's hard to resist. They look like humans doing human things in a system designed by humans. None are being held there at gunpoint and, while there are qualities to the show that could be characterized in organic or mechanistic terms, the actors at least theoretically retain the ability to stop doing what they're doing. Methane does not choose to rise from the swamp, but Obama could resist giving speeches. I don't personalize either of those activities and I can, with some effort, tell the difference between them. Perhaps the Buyer's Remorse people can't. Perhaps they're anthropomorphizing the Obama regime. Then again, they could conceivably be genuinely alarmed, by the cruel occupations and bankster looting rampages, even if the alarm isn't going to effect any profound change in their activities.

As a footnote, there's not a lot to those complete sentences.

January 14, 2010


My lucky charm, the People's Sellout, comes through again, this time with a real kool poser.

Follow me into the electoral strategy of my fellow Stalinoid remnants in Chile, the PCC. Round one is over and the runoff about to begin between tweedledee and tweedle... deadly? Here speaks the party's "cut-out" of a Frente:

"Our pledge during the campaign was always to raise ideas from the left, to struggle to bring down the wall of exclusion, and to prevent the right from taking power... although our program is quite different from that of Eduardo Frei, a government led by him would clearly provide greater guarantees of democracy and better conditions of struggle."
Now this is predicated on a right alternative with quite a nasty past:

Hence today's poser of the week: is our Palin party that sort of threat?

Could the Palin party in the White House abridge the great American left's "guarantees of democracy" and crumple our "conditions of struggle"?

Le mot juste

The Corrente Wire bloggers sometimes link to us. They have coined some useful terms.

They call the scab liberals "Access Bloggers". I find that term very amusing. It's understated, it can be used when calling someone a scab would give everyone the vapors, and it's pointed right at the heart of the scab liberals' fatuous self-importance.

The access bloggers really believe that their accommodationism creates an implicit obligation. It will be honored because that's what social contracts are all about. It says so right there in the Cliff Notes. If the party of the first part, them, has sufficient merit mojo, which they do, then the party of the second part, Democrats, will cross seas and climb mountains to fulfill the commitments entailed by receipt of the support.

Needless to say, this has never happened and never will. The Corrente Wire bloggers call the belief that it will "Persistent Ponyism". The magic pony will arrive any day. All the scab liberals need to do is stand ready to sign for it.

When the magic pony fails to arrive on schedule, the access bloggers produce a hamster from the taxidermist's reject pile. When it refuses to gallop, they recite their merit bromides and Nader-bait the skeptics.

Quick Links

Owen suggested I might want to try a link post. I'm getting the feel of the thing and have a couple I think will do.

Splintered Sunrise will appeal to comrades who know or can guess what Norn Iron is without needing an explanation.

The Cedar Lounge Revolution has a bunch of sticks, and a whole lot more. An excellent place to visit for lefties too stubborn to quit.

January 16, 2010

I was a blog troll for the CIA

I have the feeling Lambert doesn't expect a pony.

That's a really great post. Our favorite double-domed merit crackpot, Cass Sunstein, wrote an "academic" paper on cognitive interventions, which normal people call trolling. Sunstein, needless to say, would send out the flying monkeys for good reasons, not bad ones, and the interventions would target conspiracy theories, e.g. the belief that wealthy people get together to plan regulatory capture, and successfully carry it off.

Sunstein's libertarian paternalism and nudge-o-nomics are, apparently, not so self-evidently wonderful that they can sell themselves to the public. People need their psyches groped and fondled a little before the benefits become clear.

Folks, this is what comes of letting super-intellectuals hang out together. They come to believe they're the defenders of cognitive health.

Unwholesome Cross-Pollination

In the finest tradition of corporate copy-catting, David Cameron is a change we can hope to believe we can... oh, to hell with it. The picture says it all.



Hasn't Haiti Suffered Enough?


I don't think I need to say very much about the decision to have Clinton and Baby Doc Bush take an interest in the relief efforts. Instead, I want to talk about growing up. Adulthood doesn't come easily for some people. Peer pressure and an eagerness to placate authority can make judgments on right and wrong very difficult. If they say the wrong thing, for example "why is he sending those psychopaths?!" in response to authority's decisions, their peer group might come to believe they have cooties. Yet, it's important to ask, to question and to doubt, developmentally speaking, otherwise adolescence and the shame of the apple-polishing reflex will go on forever. The sunk costs of servility become insurmountable, and they'll grow up to become moral cretins, just like those wacky wingnut kids.

I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the plight of access-bloggers, scab liberals, recidivist nudgees and the victims of libertarian paternalism. I do want to help. The sight of them flailing around breaks my heart. I wuv you, wibwubwools and pwogs, weahwee I do.


Not up to code

I listened to NPR -- I know, I know, why do I do that? -- yesterday morning in the kitchen, waiting in the gray dawn light for the kettle to boil. They were interviewing Timothy Carney, who was US ambassador in Haiti for a couple of years under Clinton, and has a long record as a faithful Foreign Service legionary in many other places where our country has indulged its penchant for bloodshed over the years.

This isn't a transcript -- just a scribbled back-of-the-envelope shorthand for what I heard:

NPR: Ambassador, you know Haiti. What will it take to remake the country?

Carney: Both the international community and the Haitians need to do a better job. First: Who's got the money? Who's going to pay for this? Second: Where are the contractors, who are going to do the work? And third, what's needed is more supervisory structures of enforcement... building codes... zoning...

I didn't hear the rest of the broadcast; at this point I threw the radio out the window against the wall of the Reform synagogue next door, with its "Save Darfur!" banner.

Not for the first time, it occurred to me that the job of liberal media like NPR is precisely to patrol the outer limits of permissible discourse.

Not only permissible but obligatory is the idea that "remaking the country" -- Haiti in this case -- is our job. Hmm. We have remade Haiti several times in our sad shared history, and it hasn't worked out very well for the Haitians.

What a wonderful liberal notion it is, though, that better building codes are what Haiti needs. Hell, give 'em a little zoning and a better building code, and the place would look like Scarsdale in no time.

Oh and by the way: here's Mr Building Code Carney on Haiti, during the runup to Bush's coup a few years back:

Aristide Has No Future : Haiti Democracy Project Adviser Amb. Timothy Carney

dimanche 29 juin 2003 (Date de rédaction antérieure : 27 novembre 2002).

"The big question is whether Aristide is going to understand that he has no future," said Timothy Carney, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti. "Without massive reform, Haiti is once again headed for kind of chaos that has intermittently dogged its history."

... Eight years after sending in troops to invade Haiti and restore Aristide to power, U.S. policy on Haiti revolved largely on avoiding avoid a mass influx of refugees, Carey said. Washington can ensure this as long as the Coast Guard continues to intercept and repatriate boat people trying to get to Florida, he said.

This "Haiti Democracy Project" that currently pays Ambassador Burns' salary is well worth a Google. As always: when one of the least democratic regimes in the world starts funding "democracy" somewhere else, it's time to count the spoons.

January 17, 2010

The unspeakable David Brooks...

... that puddle of dog's vomit, that burglar's turd on the living-room carpet, has attracted some well-earned opprobrium with a recent finger-wagging sermon directed at the people of Haiti, whose suffering. Brooks tells us, is their own damn fault:

Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion...

We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others...

[I]t’s time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.

These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.

It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.

Presumably Haiti should be more like Israel --
[Israel] is a tough, scrappy country, perpetually fighting for survival. The most emotionally intense experiences are national ones, so the public-private distinction was bound to erode....

As an American Jew, I was taught to go all gooey-eyed at the thought of Israel, but I have to confess, I find the place by turns exhausting, admirable, annoying, impressive and foreign....

[T]his argumentative culture nurtures a sense of responsibility. The other countries in this region are more gracious, but often there is a communal unwillingness to accept responsibility for national problems. The Israelis, on the other hand, blame themselves for everything and work hard to get the most out of each person.

-- though whether the world should or can accommodate more than one Israel, or even one if it comes to that, is a question well worth asking.

Familiar stuff. My man Noam Chomsky read the record and gave us Brooks' progenitors some years ago -- nothing has changed, particularly at the callous, brutish propaganda mill that pays Brooks' salary, the New York Times:

Haitians and Dominicans were described as "coons," "mongrels," "unwholesome," "a horde of naked niggers," the Haitians even more "retrograde" than the Dominicans. They needed "energetic Anglo-Saxon influence." "We are simply going in there...to help our black brother put his disorderly house in order," one journal wrote. Furthermore, The US had a right to intervene to protect "our peace and safety" (New York Times).

Times editors lauded the "unselfish and helpful" attitude that the US had always shown, now once again as it responded "in a fatherly way" as Haiti "sought help here." Our "unselfish intervention has been moved almost exclusively by a desire to give the benefits of peace to people tormented by repeated revolutions," with no thought of "preferential advantages, commercial or otherwise," for ourselves. "The people of the island should realize that [the US government] is their best friend."

The US sought only to ensure that "the people were cured of the habit of insurrection and taught how to work and live"; they "would have to be reformed, guided and educated," and this "duty was undertaken by the United States." There is a further benefit for our "black brother": "To wean these peoples away from their shot-gun habit of government is to safeguard them against our own exasperation"....

January 19, 2010

The National Insecurity State

Professor Sunstein was kind enough to send a staffer to help us with a cognitive infiltration. In the interests of full disclosure, as forward-thinking compensation for posting this I was given an opportunity to purchase a discounted voucher that gives me points towards a genuine DNC logo mousepad... So, without further ado, Dr. Benweigh.

Are you unhappy? You might be a bad person. Ha, ha! Just kidding. You might think you're a bad person. But that's just crippled epistemology. What's needed is a nudge. And access-related program activities. It's all about self-esteem. This is where the science of psychometrics can help. Once you find your place in the social darwinist shakeout nurturing dynamics of liberal capitalist democracy, you will know what you have to work with and institutional guidance professionals will know what they can get away with will know how to help.

Here's a sample question to get going.

When good people are systemically blocked from doing the good things they want to do, and the things they actually do look like bad things, do you:

1) Become an empirical sourpuss and ruin everyone's day
2) Blame the wingnuts
3) Blame the filibuster
4) See the ponies
5) Blame Ralph
6) Recite your affirmations

You can pick more than one, by the way, but if one of the ones you pick is Number 1, then you might have low self-esteem. If you have low self-esteem, there's a chance you're going to shoot everyone at work, school, whatever.

Here's another helpful question.

When you and your peer consumer group vote for a positively progressive person who is less than perfect and the wingnuts eat the pony, do you:

1) Wonder what hell this question came from
2) Blame the wingnuts, who are stupid
3) Blame Joe Lieberman, the human filibuster
4) Mourn the pony and pull up your socks
5) Blame Ralph
6) Buckle down to an honorable effort to take back the country

It's important to remember than in a system based on vindictive irrationality, you only get one answer. Here, you get more than one. You can even pick answer Number 1, you negative nellie you, and people will put up with your low self-esteem. You might get a nudge, but no one is going to hate you or punish you savagely, with pepper spray and tasers when you're hogtied in jail. You can still look for work, too, and when opportunity knocks—it sounds like the clatter of pony hooves—you can get financing for the high quality personal appurtenances you'll need if you want to give the correct impression to potential employers. If, however, you're a self-loathing nudge-resistant epistemological cripple...

Don't do us any favors, please

The gruesome dance of our humanitarian pwogs prattling on about Haiti in extremis cries out for the big "NO MAS".

For days now I've been muttering under my breath: Listen, you foursquare swell-hearted googoos, take it from the class Grinch, "relief aid" is nothing more than... well... gateway imperialism. And listen to me now, believe me later, charity leads by steps uncounted right on to harder stuff like... well, like blasting Iraq back a couple-three generations.

But suddenly this morning, while reading Paul Krugman, I realized just how much renunciation is really needed here -- just how deep it must go -- and why the whole damn googoo gig's gotta head for the chopping block along with crackpot realism and other noblemen of the ancien regime.

Face it, rangers, liberal interventionism begins right here at home. Take universal health care as a dembot pwog-base priority item -- higher than a fast job recovery.

Uplift and a helpin' hand offered by the Fortunate Ones has just gotta go, gotta go.

Maybe I'm kinda slow at this, but now I see the light. Here's my advice, Mr and Ms Bobpo: Anytime you or anyone else you know has an altruistic urge, shout: "Stifle that, citizen... no more of that boohoo googoo 'may I help you child ' crap." Just say no.

Next time your conscience pokes its smug little head into your thoughts, scream "Scram, weenie!" Give in to your dark side; be selfish, you overcredentialed ghoul.

We're all better off in the long run if you just stay a yuppie. That's right, go on, live it up. Better that than gabble on about the poor poor whodos out there groping through the mean streets of America. When the old ayenbite of inwit hits, say to yourself, "What's in this for me, anyhow? I mean, somethin' really tangible?"

Either you start taking things strictly by the my-me-I handle, or the next thing you know, you'll be backing a bombing run over Venezuela.

As super Al often points out to me when I ask him for a light or a bite of his chocolate danish --

"No, Owen, no. Not that I don't want to. But the harm, my dear derelict friend, is right there up front, in the simple wholesome desire to help others."

We help others best if we stick to helping ourselves -- and others in our same boat -- first last and always. Enlightened self-interest means economic class interest. It makes horse sense to figure that out and abide by it. But beyond that, we got no higher calling, in a society so full of moving social fault lines it shakes itself apart more often than not.

No more pleas for universal this and universal that -- not education, health care, welfare, or same-sex dating.

Altruism is a corporate pimp. The habitual other-improver instinct is a source of continued corporate power, the boy Robin to the for-profit executive-suite Batman.

And the outcome of this diabolical synergy between boardroom Benthamism and merit-class salvationism is, err, today's America, the free-soil land where millions of our fellow joblings find their body parts baking away into lumpen crisps inside papa Sam's no-job no-credit pizza oven, occasionally basted with a squirt of soothing altruistic butter by some meddling conscience-struck meritoid.

The Big Dog spews

The all-seeing mind of Bill Clinton is facile, rubbery, and stuffed with the leavings of endless Sunday supplement meme-kriegs. Now that he's about to jointly save Haiti, I thought we could use an update on where his great grey thing is at these days; so here's a recent -- and very gaga -- fan-mag sampler, published in Global Meddlers Review. I think it nicely captures the bells, the smells, and the treacly tart flavors of our great ex-potus, and his nonstop mama's-boy 24/7 360-degree unsolicited opining. Behold, citizens: still in fightin' shape, ever at ease, the wunder-yokel yakatron:

  • On the sovereign state of mini-me:

    "Which... places in the world could still surprise us by doing something really smart and good? I still think there is some chance the Israelis and the Hamas government and the Palestinian government could make a deal. Because I think that the long-term trend lines are bad for both sides that have the capacity to make a deal. Right now, Hamas is kind of discredited after the Gaza operation, and yet [the Palestinian Authority] is clearly increasing [its] capacity. They are in good shape right now, but if they are not able to deliver sustained economic and political advances, that's not good for them. The long-term trends for the Israelis are even more stark, because they will soon enough not be a majority. Then they will have to decide at that point whether they will continue to be a democracy and no longer be a Jewish state, or continue to be a Jewish state and no longer be a democracy. That's the great spur... I spent a lot of time when I was president trying to make a distinction between the headlines and the trend lines. If there was ever a place where studying the trend lines would lead you to conclude that sooner is better than later for deal-making, it would be there."

  • Meme titans I digest with nutritious effect:

    "Paul Krugman -- I don't always agree with him, but he is unfailingly good. David Brooks has been very good. Tom Friedman is our most gifted journalist at actually looking at what is happening in the world and figuring out its relevance to tomorrow and figuring out a clever way to say it that sticks in your mind-like "real men raise the gas tax." You know what I mean?... They are thinking about how the world works and how it might be at the same time. At this moment in history, we need people who have a unique understanding of both how the world works and how it might be better, might be more harmonious."

  • On the GWOT's shelf-life:

    "How long it lasts depends on whether the places out of which really big, effective terrorist groups are operating remain essentially stateless... we are de facto, no matter what the laws say, becoming nations of mega-city-states full of really poor, angry, uneducated, and highly vulnerable people, all over the world,... terror -- meaning killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority and go beyond national borders -- could be around for a very long time... on the other hand terrorism needs both anxiety and opportunity to flourish. So one of the things that the United States and others ought to be doing is trying to help the nation-state adjust to the realities of the 21st century and then succeed."

  • Is there a third world leader with a good gig goin'?

    "Paul Kagame... in Rwanda. It is the only country in the world that has more women than men in Parliament (obviously part of the demographic is from the genocide). It may not be perfect, but Rwanda has the greatest capacity of any developing country I have seen to accept outside help and make use of it. It's hard to accept help. They've done that. And how in God's name does he get every adult in the country to spend one Saturday every month cleaning the streets? And what has the psychological impact of that been? The identity impact? The president says it's not embarrassing, it's not menial work, it's a way of expressing your loyalty to and your pride in your country. How do you change your attitudes about something that you think you know what it means? How did he pull that off?"

  • Bill in fugue state:

    "... it's worth looking at Colombia. How has Medellín been given back to the people of Colombia? We all know President Uribe has faced criticism in the U.S., but how did Medellín go from being the drug capital of the world, one of the most dangerous places on Earth, to the host city of the 50th anniversary of the Inter-American Development Bank? I would look at that.

    "I would look at another guy, José Ramos-Horta, the president of the first country in the 21st century, East Timor. Is it too small to be a nation? Can you get too small? Can your courageous fight for independence and freedom lead you to an economic unit that is not going to have a population or a geographic base big enough to take care of your folks? How are the Kosovars going to avoid that?"

  • Wishing on a star:

    "I want to go to Mongolia and ride a horse across the steppes and pretend I am in Genghis Khan's horde -- but I'm not hurting anybody! I want to go to Antarctica.... "

Had enough? Much more on the end of the link, but best for last:
"I would like to take Hillary to climb Kilimanjaro, while there is still snow up there. "
Dream headline:

Hillary Splattered!

Slips from Bill's Embrace

Tumbles, Slides, Rolls Down
3,000-Foot Cliff

Of course it would turn out that she was only slightly bruised and shaken up, and plans to visit Israel soon.

Three vultures ...

... Limbaugh, Robertson, Maddow.

Oddly enough, though, the clip that infuriates me the most is the goddamn' Rachel Maddow clip -- starting 52 some seconds from the end, if you'd rather skip the lunacy of Robertson and Limbaugh, and Stewart's virtuosity at shooting fish in a barrel.

Granted, my esteem for the likes of Hillary Clinton and USAID is in negative numbers, and one of my first thoughts was of how the US helped shove Aristide out of the country and of the wretched behavior of the UN occupation force since the mid '90s, but, still... please, Rachel, pleeeeeease -- no wonkery tonight. Please, I beg of you, Rachel.

Oh, and did I neglect to mention that I now officially hate Rachel Maddow? Yeah, I know, I'm not being a good Leftie, but the woman just annoys the shit out of me with her self-important manner, her cold impersonal vibe, her compulsion to show everybody watching how goddamn' smart she is.

I liked her for about the first two weeks she was on -- smart, witty, cute, what wasn't to like? Then, she starts bashing me over the head with her policy wonk creds, and her pro-Donkeycratic partisanship.

The last straw for me was after the report of the robot attack drones being hacked by the Afghan resistance, where she suddenly starts waxing all hawkish about Obama's war in Afghanistan -- apparently to Rachel Maddow, Bush's wars=bad, Obama's wars=good -- and, after the NWA 253 bombing attempt, where she suddenly starts getting all hardline on security and "terrorism".

Apres Ted, le deluge

Starting to look like 1994 all over again. Massachusetts -- Massachusetts! -- with an unusually high turnout, has elected a Republican to replace good old steak-and-Scotch Ted Kennedy, the only halfway likable member of his family.

All the pundits seem to agree that this happened because "independent" voters deserted the Democrats in droves.

Well, why shouldn't they? They voted for the Dems in '06 and '08 because they were disgusted with what the then-incumbent malefactors were doing.

What they got, once the Dems were in, was, of course, more of the same.

I can't tell you how happy I am. At this point the best I have to hope for is that the Democratic Party evaporates entirely, and this particular banana republic becomes a downright one-party state, like Mexico in the palmy days of the PRI. Then at least nobody will be able to expend any mental energy on elections -- everybody will know they're a joke.

I look forward to reading the geschrei and gevalt, and the whistling past the graveyard, on Daily Kos and Firedoglake, but I'm saving that treat for tomorrow.

Goodnight, Mr and Mrs America, and all the Arks at sea.

Ex-president seeks gainful employment

So when Obie gets turfed out of office in '12, which path will he follow? Will he build houses and tell some home truths about Israel, like Jimmy Carter?

Or will he turn into a garrulous prosing prating platitudinous bore, hobnobbing with witless actors and soulless billionaires, like Bill Clinton?

Presumably he will split the difference. That's what Democrats do. When the difference gets down to the quantum level -- what then, one wonders? Flip a coin - a loaded coin?

January 20, 2010

Welcome, liberators!

Upper-left-hand story this morning, in the paper copy of the New York Times we get each day:

Patrolling Haiti, US Troops
Are Welcomed Into A Void

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — American military helicopters landed on Tuesday at Haiti’s wrecked National Palace, and troops began rolling through the capital’s battered streets, signs of the growing international relief operation here(*). But the troops’ presence underscored the rising complaints that the Haitian government had all but disappeared in the week since a huge earthquake struck.

Haiti’s long history of foreign intervention, including an American occupation, normally makes the influx of foreigners a delicate issue.

But with the government of President René Préval largely out of public view and the needs so huge, many Haitians are shunting aside their concerns about sovereignty and welcoming anybody willing to help — in camouflage or not.

Gotta love the Times. How many times have we read this story -- they're so glad to see us! Then a year later, the sequel:
Suicide Bomber Destroys US Embassy

What's The Matter With These People?

Of course, one has to ask: How are troops "rolling through the streets" supposed to be "signs" of a "relief effort"? Well, they're Amurricans, aren't they? Heavily armed Amurricans? What's wrong with that picture? You got a problem, pal?

Interestingly, perhaps, the online version of this story had a less cheerleading headline:

U.S. Troops Patrol Haiti, Filling a Void
Oh to have been a fly on the wall at those meetings.

The New Talking Points Are Out

They look exactly the same as the old talking points.

"Republicans have an obligation to the American people to join us in governing our nation through these difficult times and to help clean up the mess they left behind," reads the memo obtained by TPMDC. "It is mathematically impossible for Democrats to pass legislation on our own. Senate Republicans to come to the table (sic) with ideas for improving our nation and not obstructionist tactics. Ph'nglui mglw'nfah Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"

Via TPM.

I added a little something for verisimilitude.

January 21, 2010

Couldn't happen to a nicer...

...worthless, brown-nosing, excuse-making, water-carrying, Donkeycratic mouthpiece:


Air America: 2004-2010

Air America Media, the liberal radio network... has filed for Chapter 7 and will cease broadcasting this evening. All employees have been let go....

The news came a surprise to, well, everyone....

Not to us, Gawker. Not to us. Break out the champagne.

B. Obama Mesopotamicus triumphans

Juan Cole recently wrote an odd piece:

One Year Later: Did Obama Win the Iraq War?

Obama's biggest practical foreign policy success has been in keeping to his withdrawal timetable in Iraq....

Over Gen. Ray Odierno's objections, in June 30, 2009, US troops ceased independently patrolling major Iraqi cities. Iraqis celebrated this change as 'sovereignty day.'

... Critics of Obama often charge him with failing to end the Iraq War. But there is no longer an Iraq War. There are US bases in a country where indigenous forces are still fighting a set of low-intensity struggles, with little US involvement.

... The attention of the US public has turned away from Iraq so decisively that Obama's achievement in facing down the Pentagon on this issue and supporting Iraq's desire for practical steps toward sovereignty has largely been missed in this country.

... Obama was handed a series of catastrophes. He has done better in handling some than others. But his decision on Iraq was the right one, the one that allows the US to depart with dignity, and allows Iraqis to work out their own internal problems. It is in this sense that Obama won the Iraq War.

Maybe Cole's sunny (definitely not Sunni) outlook is right and Iraq will stay quiet enough, in the near term, for Obie's "timetable" to go as planned. Who knows?

But in that case, surely we would have to say that it was in fact Bush who "won" the Iraq war? I mean -- "the surge worked," right?

Credit where it's due, of course. Obie in Iraq, as in every other area of policy, has proven himself exceptionally capable and consistent in carrying forward the initiatives of the Bush years, with that cool lucid competence which is, after all, his finest quality.

January 22, 2010

Another paper chase, from Michelle Obama

No, those aren't Michelle's, as far as I know. Sorry.

One of our correspondents writes:

I nominated Monica Lewinsky because the BJ she gave Bill led to the Clinton administration abandoning it's drive to privatize Social Security. All hail Monica! Truly a citizen hero.
Our man is referring to a letter from Michelle -- which he got and I didn't, Lord knows why:
For over 40 years, the President of the United States has awarded the Citizens Medal -- the second highest civilian honor in our nation -- to Americans who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens."

Now for the 2010 Citizen's Medal, the White House is opening up the process to include an exciting source of nominations: you.

... Past winners of this prestigious honor have included respected public figures like Colin Powell, Bob Dole and Rosa Parks... As you can tell, the bar is set pretty high -- only a handful of nominees will be chosen, so be sure to read the criteria closely and make the best case you can for your nominee.

Golly, she makes it sound a lot like an application essay for an Ivy League school, doesn't she? Dot those i's and cross those t's, folks.

Oh and don't you love the pedantic precision of "second highest civilian honor"? What's the first? And do military honors outrank civilian ones, or is there some intricate interlarded table of precedence?

Michelle's very grand email address, as it appears in this message, is

First Lady Michelle Obama <info@messages.whitehouse.gov>
Her note -- in HTML, of course -- incorporates another grandiose little touch, this cartouche:

It's interesting to me how successive administrations have emphasized that temple portico, and photoshopped it forward about fifty yards in their representations of it, and put our POV about six feet below grade. Fall on your knees, peasants, before that mighty jutting pediment!

Admittedly, the actual portico, even without exaggeration, is grossly disproportionate and over-emphatic. We seem to have decided early on that Palladio was a little too restrained for our empire in embryo; US civic architecture from the first is Palladio on steroids, pimples and bad temper and all.

January 23, 2010

Angels of mercy

From Mike Flugennock:

Say what?

The AFL-CIA -- sorry, CIO -- commissioned a poll after the Massachusetts debacle. Some of it makes for interesting reading:

1. This was a working-class revolt, and it reveals the danger to Democrats of not successfully addressing workers’ economic concerns.

Coakley won this election by five points among college graduates, but lost the non-college vote by a 20-point margin. This represents a huge swing among non-college voters since 2008, when Obama won by 21 points, for a net swing of 41 points. (The comparable change among college graduates was a net 25-point decline, from +30 to +5).

Non-college men voted for Brown by a 27-point margin (59% to 32%), and non-college women also voted for Brown by 13 points (while college women went for Coakley by 13 points).

Gender dynamics were less important than the class dimension: the 15-point gender gap (men voted for Brown by 13 points, women voted for Coakley by two points) was actually considerably smaller than the 24-point gap in 2008.

2. Voters still have the same goals they had in November 2008: fix the economy and provide affordable health care. But they don’t see the job being done.

Economic dissatisfaction played a large role in Brown’s victory. The majority of voters who said the Massachusetts economy is not so good or poor (52%) voted for Brown by 56% to 39%. However, voters who said the economy was excellent, good, or fair supported Coakley by 52% to 43%. Brown even won voters in the 20% of households in which someone had lost a job in the past year (50% to 45%).

Voters believed the federal government has helped Wall Street—61% say government recession policies have helped Wall Street and large banks a lot or a fair amount—but not average working people (only 18%).

The most important qualities voters were looking for in electing a senator were someone who will (1) fix the economy and (2) reform the health care system. Sending a message to President Obama and Congress about the size of government was much less important.

“Electing a candidate who will strengthen the economy and create more good jobs” (79% single most/very important factor).

“Electing a candidate who is committed to controlling health care costs and covering the uninsured” (54% single most/very important factor).

“Sending a message that President Obama and Congress are going too far in expanding government's role in our lives” (42% single most/very important).

3. Massachusetts voters say that President Obama and the Democrats have done too little, rather than attempted too much.

Voters were not worried about Democratic “overreach”—47% said their bigger concern about Democrats is that they haven't succeeded in making needed change rather than tried to make too many changes too quickly (32%). Even Brown voters are more concerned about a lack of change (50%) than about trying to make too many changes too quickly (43%).

Massachusetts voters significantly are more concerned about Democrats doing too much to help banks and Wall Street (54%) than about imposing too many regulations on business (22%). Even Brown voters are more concerned about Democrats’ helping banks (55%) than about imposing government regulations (36%).

4. The results of this election were not a call to abandon national health care reform.

82% of voters were aware of Scott Brown's opposition to health care legislation supported by President Obama and congressional Democrats, but it had virtually no net impact on the Senate election. Those who knew Brown’s position were as likely to say it made them less likely (39%) to support him as to say it made them more likely to support him (41%).

Brown actually lost among the 59% of voters who picked health care as one of their top two voting issues (50% Coakley, 46% Brown). Brown voters (55%) were less likely to cite health care as a top issue than were Coakley voters (66%).

Two-thirds (67%) favor the Massachusetts health insurance law that ensures nearly universal coverage, including 53% of Brown voters. However, Massachusetts voters did show deep concerns about the possibility that health care reform would tax employer health benefits.

Fully 42% of voters believed the health care bill would tax employer health benefits, and those voters voted for Brown by two to one (64% to 32%) while voters who knew the plan would not tax benefits voted for Coakley (54% to 40%).

Among voters who believed the health care bill would tax employer benefits, half (48%) said this issue made them more likely to vote for Scott Brown (just 14% were more likely to vote for Coakley).

So far so good, eh? Of course it all falls apart at the end:
5. Considerable evidence exists that this election was largely about the individual candidates, Coakley and Brown, more than a referendum on President Obama or the Democratic agenda.
Oh, well, that's all right, then.

* * * * *

This poll caused a bit of head-scratching on some of my lefty mailing lists. For example, one of my rabbis -- call him Pullignus -- wrote:

* Brown voters are mad that Obama hasn't delivered "change" - a largely contentless thing, since the change he {sc. Brown?] would deliver is very different from the fantasies that many Obama voters had about the change he would deliver.

* They liked Brown better than Coakley. They liked Bush better than Gore too.

* They want Brown to be "bipartisan," though he's on the right wing of a party that isn't the least bit interested in cooperation.

In other words, this election was as meaningless as 2008's.

Well, of course it is, P. It's an American election, after all.

But come to think of it this phenomenon is hardly unique to us. Voters have exhibited apparently perverse behavior at least since Aristides the Just was ostracized, when a primitive and aleatory exit poll, with a sample size of one, gave us a glimpse into the mind of the punter.

Pullignus also wondered

Why should likability matter? We're not drinking beer with them, we're giving them state power.
Pullignus is a very smart guy, but I fear he was trained as an economist.

Likability matters if there's not much else to go on -- if there's no real reason to believe that one party is more likely to do anything meaningful for you than the other. Which seems like a pretty well-founded belief; much evidence was served up in recent memory after the '06 midterms, with a big steaming second course of ordure in the last year, B. Obama consule.

Combine that with a general -- and also well-founded -- "throw the bums out" mentality, which is not such a bad heuristic if you accept the limited range of options your civics teachers taught you, as most people unfortunately still do. Then the Mass voters' behavior seems quite understandable.

Incidentally, it isn't just rednecks and Massholes who vote for likability. It's also one of the reasons liberals keep voting for Democrats who never do anything to advance the liberals' pet causes. People of every class vote for candidates who they think are what an aunt of mine called PLU -- People Like Us.

This fact explains a lot of the self-deception that fueled Obamania. In all fairness to Obie, he made it quite plain early on that he wasn't really for many -- any? -- of the things that his rah-rah Mouseketeers wanted.

January 24, 2010

Muscular or not...

... They're coming to get you. A kindly reader sent this link:


Restaurant Reduces Carbon Footprint by Serving Local Squirrel

The Famous Wild Boar Hotel in North West England is serving up free grey squirrel pancakes to hungry diners.

The restaurant at Crook, near Windermere, in Cumbria, is giving diners the chance to try the canapes free of charge. The grey squirrels were caught in the hotel's 72-acre woodland grounds and have been prepared by head chef Marc Sanders.

* * * * *

I have eaten squirrel, back in my hardscrabble Southern childhood. It's not bad, especially with a lot of pepper. It's a little stringy and the flesh-to-bone ratio is low, even worse than bunny-rabbit and almost as bad as pigeon, but perhaps if there were some nice Muscular Squirrels(*) in the pot....


(*) At the risk of spoiling an in-joke, newcomers might want to investigate the topic of Muscular Squirrels.

Mocking the GWOT -- without even meaning to

Another entry in the Security Comedy chronicle: A US Air flight from New York to Lousville was diverted to Philadephia -- horrors -- because a 17-year-old Jewish lad was incautious enough to put on his tefillin in flight and try to pray.

So many layers of irony here, I've run out of fingers and toes.

January 25, 2010

Choose your victim, Obie

One of these two self-preening banksters' boys must go -- or at least, if I were George Axelrod, that's what my memo to the Obester would say.

The pleb rage that elected Scotty Brown, nude male model, Senator from Kennedyville -- is it now heard loudly enough in the White House that maybe maybe a high-placed head or two must roll?

Let's ponder the choice:

They could simply let Bernanke twist in the wind. See to it no one sees to it, and Ben simply never gets reconfirmed. In a few more weeks, as I understand it, if not reconfirmed, Ben becomes just another board member, and this barely animate human paperweight,

... a chap named named Kohn, gets to play standin Chairman until an obvious champion of the people can be found to nominate, after a month or two or six.

Harry Truman did just this to famed New Deal-era pump-priming loon and anti-inflation nut case Marriner Eccles, shown below:

It could be fun; but hey we're not looking for chaos here, I mean real chaos, market-convulsing galloping-Gertie chaos. Nope, we're looking for just some nice headline-stealing chaos in a tea cup.

That's why i'd pick off Geithner myself, and right now. Get him the hell out, on still undisclosed revelations surrounding the seamy AIG affair. I'd recommend firing him and a few totally unknown helpless underlings scattered around the various executive departments, as part of a well-publicized housecleaning, a vast sweeping-out of all Wall Street secret agents inside the administration.

You can just hear it, can't you? --

"I am saddened. By these abrupt. And drastic. Measures. But. My fellow Americans. We have been betrayed. By these men. And their secret cabal. Of entenched kleptocrats.

Yes. It's my fault. I was on. The quarterdeck. I selected. These folks. But. They must go. And they must go. Now."

(Tried to get a little of Obie's Scotch-terrier speech cadence there. Did it work? )

He should really play it up. Hang 'em from the yardarm. There's no popular backlash to be feared on this caper. Turfing these pen and ink geeks would never come off like that hideously venal Uriah Heepish Richard Milhous Nixon firing dignified Yankee souse Eliot Richardson, or, even more devastating, Harry T bunging General of the Armies, Navies, and Flying Saucers, George Cakewalk Macarthur.

Far from wrecking Obama's mojo -- provided he handles this right of course -- he comes out the other end with a total do-over. Barry O, blazing six-gun sheriff of Wall Street!

Sheriff? Mr Merit Badge, wear a silver star? Yes, I agree, sounds more like a role on Scotty Brown's audition list. But it's the ticket the White House oughta buy. Jump out in front of the power wave. Fire the traitorous impy mouseman Timmy, and then just stand clear for a while, and let the little band of angry elves over on the Hill (and up for re-election) get in a nice session of Jericho-like hornblowing at the dark towers up there on the tip of Manhattan.

They'll be grateful you gave 'em the space, and by sitting back on your hands you can let Chairman Of All Teh Banks, gentle Ben, now safely reconfirmed, and in position, to act with impunity 100% as he's told to act, by... err... those very same Wall Street orcs.

Ah, the beauty of divided governance... almost as kewl as party politics itself.


Weee're baaack. Sorry that comments and posts were not do-able for a while there. No idea exactly what went wrong, but mySQL's "repair table" command works more often than not, fortunately.

Oh yeah: If you've been monitoring comments on some particular post and all of a sudden they've disappeared, let me know: stopmebeforeivoteagain (at-sign) yahoo.com. I may be able to recover them.

Another one bites the dust...

Thus a sorta well-known former blogger, whom I think Owen used to read, on one of my lefty mailing lists:

Just heard my ex-colleague Jared on Rachel Maddow defending the proposed Obama spending freeze. I felt like I was fixin to die.

It won't balance two dead flies on the scale of eternity, but I am officially off the Obama bus. I am sorry I ever said a good word about him. I will be putting my two cents onto TPM Café. It's about all I can do.

It tickled me that's going to loose the fateful lightning of TPM Cafe. Admittedly, its a bigger site than this one, but it still seemed funny to me, somehow. A cat can laugh at a king, to mash-up two old proverbs.

The "Jared" that my mailing-list comrade is talking about is, of course, Jared Bernstein:

I love the way Maddow keeps yammering about "responsible economists." If you ask me, they're all responsible.

January 26, 2010

Masters of cliche

Mike Flugennock writes:

...Michael Moore's getting totally down on the Democrats -- again. "Disgusting," he sez here. So, will he get so pissed off that he campaigns for the Greens again, costs the Donkeycrats the White House in '12, and publicly apologizes in four years -- again -- in time to tell us all to vote for Hillary in '16, no matter what? One can only hope.

Sorry, I'm still on my first beer. Here's the "offending" link:


I guess we should be glad that Moore has rounded a bend. The last few days seem to have done that for a good many people.

But it's a long long road a-windin'. Here's Moore's incisive analysis:

... the Democrats are essentially a bunch of wimps. They don’t have the guts. They don’t have the courage of their own convictions. They’re disgusting. I’m embarrassed. I want really nothing to do with them. And if they don’t find their spine, well, they’re in for a huge surprise in November.
It can't be said too often that this is just dead wrong. The Democrats aren't cowards, they aren't stupid. They're just doing their job, and doing it quite well.

Moore is not alone; many people have this picture of the Democratic party -- they mean well, but then they lose their nerve.

Wrong. They don't mean well, and they hardly ever lose their nerve. They're the understudy to the Republicans' prima donna, the hyaena to the Republicans' tiger. Not identical, but complementary. They take up the slack, hold the position, keep the chair warm, enjoy the leavings of the tiger's kill while the tiger sleeps it off.

They are not the Gazelle Party.

It's time, I guess, for my annual reference to the ratchet effect.

January 27, 2010

Dear Mr and Mrs Kettle:

The bag of rotten organ meats called Baucus-care is often sold to us by large-souled but deeply insightful humanitards like Nobelista Paul Krugman, he of Times Square and Nassau Hall by way of Nassau County, as in this toss-off back in late fall '07.

"From the beginning, advocates of universal health care were troubled by the incompleteness of Barack Obama’s plan, which unlike those of his Democratic rivals wouldn’t cover everyone. But they were willing to cut Mr. Obama slack on the issue, assuming that in the end he would do the right thing.

Now, however, Mr. Obama is claiming that his plan’s weakness is actually a strength... The central question is whether there should be a health insurance “mandate” — a requirement that everyone sign up for health insurance, even if they don’t think they need it. The Edwards and Clinton plans have mandates; the Obama plan has one for children, but not for adults."

Yes, folks, this pre-emption aimed at the still innocent was then, as now, sold to us as the mandatory mandate, and of course, Team Obama, now solidly in office and scrupulously statesman, is right in there with the rest of the meritoid chorus, singing the praises of a full court universal mandate... Why it's a crucially necessary sine qua non of a thang, folks.

As seen in our dear PK 's Xmastide sum-up of the Baucus Concoctus,

"This plan combines three main elements: community rating, so that premiums can’t be based on medical history...

subsidies, to help lower-income families afford the premiums...


... an individual mandate, so that healthy people are in the pool, keeping premiums down..."

"Individual mandate"? Better known as "compulsory participation".


Well according to our other loving meritoids, a mandate will forever bar... (a still largely undemonstrated)... "adverse selection process", which can only emerge in the single person policy market anyway. Seems even the faint possibility of some insignifigant body of antisocial shoeless souls "gaming the system" sends our great philanthropists like Lord Paul into fits of anxiety.


When it comes to the recent White House push on hi-fi reform -- the saddling of mustangs on Wall Street -- where the system itself is by sacred mission always about, and only about, gaming the system -- behold, there's no such fear.

The bastards expect us to buy their never-again bullshit without putting any teeth in it -- without hacking a few of these giant redwoods into mulch.

Nope, all the federals gotta do, according to Team Barry is, well, freeze things just as they are.

Surprised? Or like that pretentious hillbilly, Father Smiff, are you slapping your knee and imagining the mythic kulak morons out there keyed in on their commute radio:

"Listen up, fellow critters: never fear, the DC rangers are on the case. The gold-collar crime-bustin' team, gentle Ben and twitchy Tim the Wall Street Romulan, got a bead drawn on this beast. So stop this silly thinking man's hysterics here -- why, that's just sissy bullshit. Uncle's got this all well in hand. Just go back to yer den chair, maybe turn on the super bowl prelims and pass around the Old Milwaukee. We'll... freeze things in place."

I see Pa turning to Ma -- "why shucks, honey bun... that sounds like a pretty damn small-fry-friendly default position to me."

Here's convincingly indignant self-appointed people's watchdog Simon Johnson:

"To freeze the banks at or close to their current size, this makes no sense at all. Why would anyone regard twenty years of reckless expansion, a massive global crisis, and the most generous bailout in recorded history as the recipe for creating “right” sized banks?"

Stop the slaughter!

Harvard has spoken:

Lack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,789 deaths per year in the United States.
What a claim, eh? That's far more deaths than Nixon/Kissinger produced by delaying the withdrawal from 'Nam to a decent interval (just counting "our people", that is).

Of course observational science and its attendant measurements have limits, both by design and by ungovernable desires. this study was by a batch of single-payer enrages.

A "finding" like this unfortunately sounds hysterical to the untutored imp-mind of a person like... well, me. are undetected and or untreated morbid processes really killing off that many of us each year? Unlike seat belts, the life-extending benefits of wearing health insurance can't be quite so simply and directly counted.

The grail number here in this study is 1.4 -- i.e. the uninsured are 40% more likely to die this year then their corresponding insured fellow citizens. Now no one can sanely deny that folks cruising through their daily routines with undetected hypertension, diabetes, or testicle tumors are in the same potential category of quart-a-day bourbon drinkers and sky divers; but how would one go about measuring this added mortality risk?

You'd have to check out death rates among the uninsured and a corresponding cohort of insured -- in effect compare each uninsured person to his covered twin -- "covered" here meaning insured for the prior three to five years, and twin meaning -- ideally -- "identical" in age, sex, income, ethnicity, education, blah blah blah... you know, corrected for the basic dimensions such sociostats usually include.

I guess the scarcity of these studies in ready public supply prolly proves "we got a problem, Houston", since one can probably conclude that the information shortage occurs because any interested party with bucks enough to fund such work prolly would find any death claims are death claims too many, to paraphrase tail gunner Joe.

But be they what they may, these numbers -- do they increase the collective urgency of the 85% of us McJob smurfs already covered? Do we hear these numbers... if we hear these numbers... and go "Oh my God, stop this insanity! Uncle! Plese cover the other Americans out there uncovered! Where do i send my check?"

Or is it like earthly climate change, to people living on another, climate-controlled planet?

Sit levis terra

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

I was always a little cranky about some of Howard's take on things. But this last Christmas, I was casting about for a present to give a 16-year-old friend of the family, a lad interested in history and politics but very naif. Zinn's famous book seemed like just the ticket.

What can you say? He fought the good fight, and probably did more good than most of us.

I'm sorry he's gone, and grateful for what he did.

January 28, 2010

Gyro Gearloose, back in the workshop

Remember this chap, Gauti B. Eggertsson?

Gyro here has cranked his model machine and concluded: Anything but a payroll tax cut! That would cause a rise in job supply and reduce money wages!

"Tax cuts can deepen a recession if the short-term nominal interest rate is zero."
According to what, one might well ask? Umh err, according to "a standard New Keynesian business cycle model."

Imagine a model that loathes tax cuts! What a weird new Kansas we're in, that can turn tax cuts -- the Reagan-era panacea -- into a "growth" disaster.

The payroll tax cut would defeat itself by causing a massive rise in "job seekers" (supply), and of course this could only reduce money wages for the select legion to get actually hired, given the a priori self-evident demand-side constraint on employment, eternally decreed from before all time and forever.

And hey, the blade cuts both ways: "a cut in capital taxes [also] deepens a recession because it encourages people to save instead of spend at a time when more spending is needed."

Paul Krugman has a crush on this guy... is he only interested in him for his results? Maybe so, since they "confirm" his own anti-tax-cut remedy for our slumpfest.

See, what does work in this model-train economy, we're told, is "Fiscal policies aimed directly at stimulating aggregate demand... These policies include... a temporary increase in government spending."

Great! Sez googoo Klug: more parks, more campus museums, more cultural infrstructure of all kinds; or "... tax cuts aimed directly at stimulating aggregate demand rather than aggregate supply."

Better "an investment tax credit or a cut in sales taxes." Ugh! Job creation and machine purchases as sold to us by Obama's Austen Ghoul's-bee, eh? Or uncle-sponsored "take an additional x% off", or cash for clunkers, or anything but money in people's pockets.

It's a calculation only an uber-nerd like Krug could fancy. My favorite part (this is the Krugster):

"The general point is that we’re really through the looking glass."
Indeed, you and your crush Gauti are, Paul.

Oh, here's the paper's caveat:

"The results are specific to an environment in which the interest rate is close to zero, as observed in large parts of the world today. "
In other words: feel free to follow this up NOW!

Rex quondam et fututor

I have spent a not inconsiderable hunk of my time on a self-appointed mission to scold the ever more obviously benighted creatures of light over at Doc Thoma's comment cages.

Recently one of that site's leading statesmen pasted up this thoughtful reply to a footloose series of run-and-gun jobs by yours truly on... the Bill Clinton legacy. I thought you all might get a bit of a laff over it:

Get a grip, Paine.

Clinton was, among other things, an earnest policy wonk. There's a lot to be said for technocratic competence.

It doesn't mean that Clinton was, ever, anywhere near my heart's desire, in policy preference terms. My nostalgia for Clinton is not based on forgetting that I thought him too conservative at the time. My nostalgia is for a time, when leading politicians still thought policy mattered, that the consequences of policy mattered.

Republicans, our feckless Media, and dishwater Dems have... dumb(ed) our politics down to the point, where we don't even realize that consequences are not being considered.

... Few uses of the past are ever entirely honest -- every one is highly selective, by necessity as well as convenience.

Clinton actually did constrain the growth in Defense spending, and realized something of a peace dividend. Clinton actually did shift the tax burden upscale a bit -- not much, but some. Clinton actually did reduce an irresponsible budget deficit.

I don't want to get bogged down in rehearsing whether he should have tried to stop the conservative stampede instead of just turning it a few, ultimately inconsequential degrees. (That's what I thought at the time; now, that doesn't matter to me.) Probably he couldn't have, and probably he had no desire to do anymore than he did -- again, irrelevant to my concerns now.

It disturbs me that there is now so little reasoning about policy consequences in our politics and political discourse.

... out of touch with basic principles of right reason about policy. We fall very fast into the ditch of counterfactuals. We're praising the Great Man for an admirable performance one moment, and claiming he had no choice in the next, without even noticing that, unless he had choices, he cannot be credited with performing well, and, if he did have choices, and those choices had consequences, we might want to examine those choice and their consequences -- assuming, of course, that the Great Man decides to release the relevant information before 2018.

For me, touching Clinton is all about remembering a time, when we were not all completely insane.

Someone could weigh military and political interventions in a chaotic foreign country, with some kind of actual strategic purpose, a sense of proportion, and with a concern for practical questions, like minimizing the number of U.S. soldiers killed, as well as a concern with consequences in a complex situation.

I think about the care, and reason and anxiety that went into the intervention in Kosovo, and I compare it to Obama and Afganistan or Bush in Iraq and I just despair. The most basic markers of rational policy-making -- ex: proportion -- are gone, completely absent.

I am not interested in rehearsing arguments about whether he intervened too late to save thousands, or whether the bombing of Belgrade was humane, etc. There were many things I didn't like about the policy, in detail, at the time. I don't necessarily mean to endorse it, now. But, costs and consequences and national strategic objectives were actually being considered, weighed, resolved where in conflict, means appropriate to ends, sought, etc.

Nothing like that is apparent in discussion of the continuing war in Afganistan. We haven't advanced beyond the point at which Bush was declaring that our objective in Iraq was success.

Clinton was too DLC for my tastes, to be sure. But, that's not the point.

Splendid in many ways, don't you agree?

January 29, 2010

The discreet charm of the Borg-oisie

Does his mighty armada drain Uncle's long run staying power?

I contend this much-footballed "pwog living paradox", like chicken soup for colds, confuses comfort with cure. Yes, 'twould be nice if uncle's hegemonic world class sky fleet, with their trillion-dollar price tags, these hideous instruments of global oppression, were also the slow but sure means of Uncle's eventual decline and fall.

But it ain't so, alas.

Example at hand of this folly meme-laying? I call world citizen Petras to the stand, with a recent installment of the goo-goo death wish upon Uncle's death star:

Perry Paine: Senor Petras, would you please tell the jury what's with this article anyway? I mean, you've titled it 'The US and China: One Side is Losing, the Other is Winning'. Can you tell the jury who's who here? And why who is losing?

Citizen Petras: Uncle Sam's losing. And why else -- because Uncle, as I write here in the piece, 'pursues a strategy of military-driven empire building.'

PP: Wrong! I see... ignorance!

Mr Justice Smiff: Out of order!

PP: Perhaps so, Yer Honor, but not incorrect! [turns to the jury] Over the course of this hearing I will prove to you conclusively that Uncle Sam, your uncle and mine, gains handsomely from his armada. And foidahmore, I shall show uncle is not "losing". Nor is he foolhardy nor is his guardian class, our guardian class, foolhardy for designing hi-fi hi-tech "surplus value" snares vs. useful everyday products!

Mr Justice Smiff: [yawns] It's time for my nap. Court is adjourned until 10 AM tomorrow.

PP: But Yer Honor...!

MJS: Write up a brief and file it with the court clerk, Mr Paine. Ad-journed! [bangs gavel with unnecessary emphasis, gathers voluminous silken robe, sweeps majestically from the bench]

The bailiff: [belatedly] All rise!

January 30, 2010

Good riddance

I'm so glad to see the end of Sun:

Scott McNealy, the co-founder and long-running leader of Sun Microsystems, has penned an email to staff who are set to become part of Oracle.

Under the subject line "Thanks for a great 28 years" McNealy said that it should have been Sun that was the great and surviving consolidator and not been eaten up by a bigger outfit.

However since he loved the market economy and capitalism more than he loved his company it probably did not matter.

Sun was a horrible company, and it's quite fitting that it should be devoured by Oracle. Orakaka -- as we always used to call it -- is the Jabba the Hutt of the tech sector, its clunky top-heavy cobbled-together product overconsumed by hive-minded corporate bureaucrats with a deep love for the conventional choice and the path of least resistance -- the same class of people who kept IBM in the oxygen tent so long, with gear that was ten years out of date and software that was twenty years out of date.

I had a number of occasions over the years to do battle -- always on the losing side -- with pilotless remote-controlled drones from Sun, in the IETF. Sun was always like a Microsoft wannabe. McNealy's paeans to "the market" are the usual managerial bullshit -- Sun's whole game plan, like every other tech company's, was to become a monopoly as quickly as possible, and they were very happy to manipulate the standards process to that end.

Oh, and Java really bites the big one, with its pinch-faced type-checking Inspector Javert compiler and its Plato's Beard of abstraction layers. How many new abstraction layers can you fit between any two existing abstraction layers? Answer: we don't know yet.

But don't get me started.

Dives and Lazarus; or, No room at the inn


No comment needed,surely:

U.S. halts airlifts of Haiti patients, citing space

MIAMI – The U.S. military has halted flights carrying Haitian earthquake victims to the United States because of an apparent dispute over where seriously injured patients should be taken for treatment.

An American doctor treating victims in Port-au-Prince warned that at least 100 patients needed to get to better hospitals or they could die, while the U.S. government said it was working to expand hospital capacity in both Haiti and in the U.S.

It was unclear exactly what prompted the Wednesday decision by the U.S. military to suspend the flights, or when it would end. Military officials said some states were refusing to take patients, though they wouldn't say which states.

Please call if you cannot locate your icon

A young friend of mine, now in her third year of high school, recently received the following letter from a functionary at her academic feedlot -- let's call it Creekvalley Prep. The letter is addressed to her and her mom, and far too long to transcribe in full. I'll just give the best bits, with some tactful name-changing:

Dear Giudecca and Ms. Llewellyn:

I am delighted to welcome you to the College Office. Although I have had the opportunity to see many of you... throughout the year, I now can turn my attention -- and the resources of the office -- to you as we enter the formal part of the college counseling process....

We will initiate the counseling process in an exploratory meeting with you and a counselor from our office. This meeting is important and parents should make every effort to attend.... Parents should get a copy of the student's schedule and call Mrs Litotes in the College Office at XXX-XXXX to make an appointment that does not conflict with class obligations. [Underlining in original -- MJS] To make the meeting most productive for all, students and parents are asked to complete the College Information Sheet and College Counseling Parent Questionnaire, both of which must be downloaded from the College Office Conference located on Giudecca's First Class desktop. Please call Mrs Litotes if you cannot locate your icon. Both documents must be returned to her in the College Office three days before your meeting so they can be reviewed in advance....

Each student brings a combination of many traits and talents, and a college environment should meet the full range of those needs....

In your work as a student, Giudecca, strive to develop the best possible academic profile. This record of achievement will be the "bedrock" of your college application. Commit to extracurricular activities that you find meaningful and fulfilling. What is important to you --along with your ability to reflect on that in an articulate way -- is what will make your application distinctive.


That's the actual signature -- no shit -- which I felt free to reproduce, because nobody could ever get back to the actual person or school from this wildly overconfident, megalomaniac fuck-you scrawl.

There are, it seems to me, several interesting things to note about the text: its semi-literacy, its vast length (the original is a closely-printed page and a half), and above all its minatory presumptuous tone.

This encyclical emanates from a fairly prestigious New York private day day school. The author is some poor drudge in its placement office. She is addressing people who (except for the scholarship kids of course) make a lot more money than she does; many of them make more money in a week than she will make in her whole life. Others are household names, men and women of repute and renown. They're each paying (except for the scholarship families, again) as much as she gets paid every year to send their offspring to Creekvalley. And yet this schoolhouse appendage, this nematode, this remora, this liver fluke, feels entitled to address her patrons and paymasters de haut en bas.

Isn't it amazing how the colleges and their outriders -- like Miss Scribble above -- have gotten the injun sign on all of us? I don't suppose that any of the movers and shakers who received Scribble's dictatorial missive will resent it a bit. "Yes," they'll say, shaking their expensively-coiffed heads, "this is a serious business. Quite right, that Miss Scribble. Little Giudecca needs to buckle down!"

January 31, 2010


Of course I'm revealing my hopeless old-fartery here, but I don't get Twitter. The stuff is so ugly for one thing -- all those '@'s and '#'s; what's that about, anyway? And the abbreviations -- it's worse than IM.

Why follow anybody?

Why let yourself be followed?

I don't get it.

One of my favorite Pwog buffoons, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, gets it, though. A soul-mate of mine -- that is to say, another dyspeptic old fart -- recently emailed me:


That's Prof. Melissa Harris-Nieman-Marcus-Bloomingdales-Bergdorf-Goodman-Lacewell.

My theory is that all trendy "social software" is designed for and targeted at the most self-involved alpha consumers, with a view to harvesting their bootlickers. Her presence on that site is all the proof needed.

She has 10,000 "followers"! Why, for God's sake?

* * * * *

When your vein of invention runs dry --
When your Muse says you need not apply --
When the Kosniks are dull,
Yielding nothing to cull --
Time to give Harris-Lacewell a try.

And she never disappoints. Here's her Twit "bio" -- where you've got to confine yourself to your bare-bones most-essential characteristics:

Princeton Prof, MSNBC regular, contributor to The Nation.
Combing for a minute or two through the Twitcruft on her page did turn up this gem, sparkling in the riviere-des-diamants of gormless fatuity that is The Nation these days:
Watching Barack Obama become President of the United States made me proud and hopeful, but I also found the experience somewhat amusing. I think many of us who were his Hyde Park neighbors and Illinois state senate constituents feel the same way.

I don't know Barack Obama personally, but I had a kind of political intimacy with him during the years I lived in Chicago.

I distinctly remember the last time I had a personal interaction with him. We were both standing in line at the 55th Street Walgreens. He was wearing flip-flops, short basketball shorts, and an old t-shirt. He was buying ice for a family picnic. Hardly the icon of fashion cool he became within two years of that moment....

These early encounters with Obama remind me that he is President not solely, or even primarily, because of innate gifts, but because he moves up a learning curve more swiftly and fully than anyone else in public life....

Today, as I watched President Obama interact with Republicans during the televised Q&A I saw another Obama that I remember: the law professor.

During the years that I was on faculty at the University of Chicago, my graduate students in political science often took courses with Professor Obama. They universally reported that he was a fair, but exceedingly tough practitioner of the Socratic method. He was willing to entertain any idea, question or observation, no matter how outrageous. But he always subjected the students to a series of logical interventions and arguments that often left students exhausted and sometimes a bit embarrassed. They quickly learned to challenge Professor Obama only if they had fully considered the implications of their arguments and prepared significant evidence in support of their case.

That Barack Obama showed up today. The President put on a clinic in public discourse, political argument, intellectual dexterity and moral courage. It was a reminder of what democracy could be if we engaged our opponents with substance, patience and civility rather than invectives, gamesmanship and boorishness.

"Political intimacy"! You wish, Melissa. Those short-shorts certainly stuck in your mind, didn't they?

But of course what one loves best is that Obie's prime qualification for the presidency is that he's a) a good student and b) a tough teacher.

About January 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in January 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2009 is the previous archive.

February 2010 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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