clap clap blog: we have moved
Friday, May 30, 2003
And then you see something like this and you really can't laugh:
A British soldier was arrested today after he left a roll of film at a photo store in Staffordshire that appeared to show an Iraqi prisoner being tortured, the Defense Ministry said today.
The film depicted a bound and gagged Iraqi inside a net that was suspended from a forklift, according to The Sun newspaper, which first reported the story this morning. The Sun also reported that the roll included pictures of soldiers performing sex acts near Iraqi prisoners.
The story came to light after a lab technician who was developing the film alerted the local police. The police arrested the soldier at his home in Tamworth, Staffordshire.
Damn unpatriotic film developers.
posted by Mike B. at 5:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I saw this headline in the New York Times and just had to laugh: Terror Threat Level Lowered to Yellow Outside New York. Ah yes. "It's safe EVERYWHERE BUT WHERE YOU ARE!" Sometimes I wonder why I live here, and sometimes the Times just doesn't help matters.
posted by Mike B. at 5:38 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In what can only be a good sign, the New York Times reports that liberals are mad at Hilary Clinton. Wahoo! Start making your "Clinton in '08" stickers now! If the liberals are grumbling, we hit gold, boys!
There are two main things complained about in the article. The first is her day-late-dollar-short condemnation of Santorum:
Matt Foreman, the former executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda and now the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said Mrs. Clinton was slow to respond to Mr. Santorum's comments. And, he noted, she refused to join a chorus of Democrats — including New York's senior senator, Charles E. Schumer — who called on Mr. Santorum to step down from his leadership post in the Senate Republican caucus.
Mrs. Clinton's aides acknowledge that she was not quick to respond to Mr. Santorum's remarks. But when she did, they say, she offered a forceful condemnation. Responding to criticism that Mrs. Clinton should have gone further and called for his resignation, Ms. Dunn, her spokeswoman, said, "It is the responsibility of the Republican Party to choose how it wishes to be represented."
Let's read between the lines here. First off, it has to be said that Hilary was right: no way was Santorum going to be pulled down, because not only does a majority of his party support his point of view, a whole lot of Americans do, too, certainly way more than supported Lott's "keep down the darkies" stance. (This has been discussed well elsewhere, but I am too lazy to link.) So while it was expected and good for GLADD and its crew to protest, you have to recognize that if you're serving a constituency that has a whole lot of fag-haters in it (and since Hilary represents upstate NY as well as the city, trust me, that's a good few million people) sometimes you just have to shut up about that shit and let the folks whose job it is do that. But this is just justification, and needless at that--she did condemn his remarks, as they should have been.
The issue then becomes that she didn't call for his resignation. Is the argument that if only Hilary had called for it, Santorum would be waxing beets in Mississippi right now? That seems unlikely. But like I say, read between the lines. The message in that final quote from her spokesman is: how great is it for the Democrats for the Republicans to have an unrepentant fag-basher so high up in their leadership? It's great! You can break out that quote in front of liberal audiences for years! A similar argument was made with Lott, and while there I think it was probably good for the left to flex its muscles a bit--and the new conservatives hate the old dixiecrats almost as much as liberals do--in this case, we have an attitude that is widespread through the party, and to have it so publicly represented is great when we're trying to keep the gay vote away from the Log Cabin folks. Santorum's continued presence in the party hierarchy is a good reminder of where their true allegiances lie.
The other complaint concerns welfare:
The disagreement involves the president's proposal to increase the number of hours that welfare recipients must work in exchange for cash assistance and other benefits. Many advocates for the poor regard this as one of the biggest issues Congress will take up this year and have been lobbying Mrs. Clinton and other Democrats to oppose such requirements.
But Mrs. Clinton has joined a group of moderate and conservative Democratic senators in supporting a bill to increase the work requirement to 37 hours a week, a significant increase over the current 30 hours and only slightly less than the 40 hours Mr. Bush would require.
Mrs. Clinton's advisers say that no one should be surprised by her position, noting that she supported the bill her husband signed in 1996 overhauling the nation's welfare program, despite opposition from many of her liberal allies. In addition, they say, Mrs. Clinton has insisted that any additional work requirements be tied to billions of dollars in child-care financing.
This is, of course, more difficult. Yes, we know that she's for welfare reform, but it was also a position strongly opposed by most Democrats, and indeed I think it was one of the sources of the rage that drove so many people away from Gore in 2000. It's a bad policy, and it's a position we'd like Hilary to change. Liberals shouldn't be surprised that she supports it, but she shouldn't be surprised that we're still pissed off about it. And I'm not sure it's the best bone to be throwing the opposition right now.
That said (and ignoring the issue of her not condemning the war, which is also understandable), all the stuff in there about her being very humble and recognizing the rules and traditions of the institution is very good. She recognizes that she has no interest in rising to the Senate leadership, since that's a position that inevitably fucks up larger political ambitions, so she builds goodwill with the right, which is, needless to say, desperately needed. It's no secret that she wants the top spot, and good for her if she can do it. I'm willing to wait until then for her big policy initiatives--at which point she will hopefully have learned something from the health care debacle.
This quote at the end sums it up nicely:
Philip Friedman, a Democratic operative in New York, said that criticism over these positions was not likely to hurt Mrs. Clinton, who is not up for re-election until 2006. Mr. Friedman said the state's sizable liberal base would ultimately stand by her, just as liberals stood by her husband, despite their complicated relationship with him.
"It's not going to mean anything," he said. "Democrats love the Clintons, and that's why her husband was able to get away with going off the reservation now and then."
Sigh, we do love the Clintons...
posted by Mike B. at 1:07 PM 0 comments Links to this post
A group of ex-spooks who are alarmed at the Bush administration's intelligence policy is called--get ready--Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
When former CIA agents are like, "Dude, you're NUTS!" you might have a problem. Apparently the intelligence community (ed: doesn't that seem like an oxymoron?) has begun "refer[ring] contemptuously to recent work as 'rumint,' or rumor intelligence." Ahem.
Meanwhile in the "why'd-we-go-to-war-again?" front, Paul Krugman relays the following quote from the Financial Times:
White House sources confirm that the decision to go to war was reached in December: "A tin-pot dictator was mocking the president. It provoked a sense of anger inside the White House," a source told the newspaper.
Argh. You cannot make foreign policy based on anger. It just doesn't work that way. It's not about you, George, or Donald or Dick or whoever, it's about all of us. Everyone. And when it comes to foreign policy, it's about everyone in the world, for better or worse. I mean, if you justify trampling over the diplomatic goodwill of our allies by saying that we don't care about the rest of the world, then you can't care if they think you're a pussy. And you can't fucking bomb a country because their leader is making fun of you. GO READ SOME MAX WEBER, YOU ASSHOLES!
Uh, what was I saying about anger again?
posted by Mike B. at 12:40 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Sorry I've been so sparse in my posts lately, but I have been busy in other arenas. So as compensation, here are two songs I've worked out in recent days.
First is a demo of a new song called "You Got Me" which I was listening to this morning and really quite like. I assembled it all by my lonesome, but it's a reasonably good recording. In the finished product, there will be a great Kristie leadline and obviously the drum pattern will consist of more than the same two bars repeated ad naseum. File this under "pop."
Second is a new entry in the long-dormant JFK project (which I've decided will now be named "The Kennedy Variations"): "Dealy (JFK #3)". The backing was made entirely from manipulated tracks on a lock-groove album I picked up a while back. File this under "experimental," obviously.
Enjoy! Comments are very very very welcome.
posted by Mike B. at 5:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Check the rhetoric here in this story about a budget memo.
Here's the story: a memo is written pointing out that under the current plan the U.S. will eventually accrue $44trillion in debt. An article is then written in the Boston Globe ("An Economic Menu of Pain", 5/19/03) charging that this memo had been intentionally omitted from the budget report. (It also came up in Thomas Frank's cover story in Harper's this month.) And it seems to me that this was mostly legitimate--it wasn't an internal document, but was "commissioned by ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and written by Jagadeesh Gokhale, a senior economic advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and Kent Smetters, a former Treasury deputy assistant secretary for policy coordination." Two ex'es plus one current adviser with a fed branch does not official make; I'm sure any economist will attest that being an adviser for the Federal Reserve in Cleveland (I know one or two) does not constitute being a part of the treasury department and definitely doesn't constitute being part of the White House's budget office. So it probably should have been more widely circulated, but its omission from the budget seems the least of that report's problems, judging by Frank's rundown.
What is damning, though, is the way the denial was made:
The White House on Thursday denied suppressing a report that projects the U.S. government faces a long-term budget deficit of more than $44 trillion.
White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels said the allegation was ``probably the most absurd thing that I can imagine.''
However, he said the looming costs of Social Security and Medicare, which make up most of the forecast gap between government income and spending, were an important issue.
``This is a very legitimate point,'' he said.
Uh oh. We all know what that means, don't we? Bye-bye social services...eek. Sure is in line with the current doctrine, isn't it?
(Side note: nice to see Daniels is holding the party line even while he's on his way out.)
posted by Mike B. at 5:05 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Daily Kos makes a connection that had eluded me: if Rumsfeld is saying that we're not finding any WMD in Iraq because it might have destroyed them before the war, it's not just more backpedaling, it means that the war was objectively a farce, since the whole thing before was liberals saying that we want inspections to see if there are WMDs and conservatives saying they are there even if the idiot inspectors can't find them, and then demanding that Sadaam destroy them, and then saying he didn't and invading. So if he destroyed them and we invaded anyway...uh, well, that's not good, folks. Regardless of whether or not the war was A Good Thing, that's gonna hurt us a lot in the future if it turns out to be true.
posted by Mike B. at 4:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm probably just being a worrywart liberal, but this kind of alarms me:
Backed by Congressional sentiment favoring a new approach to nuclear weapons, the Bush administration is taking steps that could lead to revamping the nation's cold-war-era atomic arsenal to meet what officials describe as more imminent modern threats.
The House and Senate last week approved a series of provisions sought by the White House and the Pentagon that could open the door to development of new nuclear weapons. Administration officials say the changes, which include relaxing a ban on research into smaller nuclear weapons, would not violate any existing arms treaties, though that is disputed by others.
Did anyone else's heart kind of skip a beat when they read that? Mine sure did. It's almost funny, y'know? Like, there's this stereotype of Bush as the warmongering Reagan-worshipper, but all the stuff has been kind of piddly so far, on a military scale anyway. (Iraq clearly not being piddly on a diplomatic scale.) So you might joke, "Oh haha, next thing you know they're going to be starting up with the atom bombs!" And then...whoops! There they go again! I mean...fucking nuclear weapons, OK? And how is that going to fight terrorism exactly? "Don't blow up Yankee Stadium, you towelhead motherfuckers, or so help us we've got some fucking neutron bombs strapped to this shit and we will obliterate the entire fucking Bronx!"
OK, OK. I'm overreacting. They haven't actually made any bombs yet, and like that. So let's examine what's going on. First, here is what they're actually doing:
Officials said that existing, congressionally imposed restrictions on research were chilling potential progress in the field of nuclear weapons science. Linton Brooks, chief of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said: "We want to look at advanced concepts, not because we want to do anything in the near term, but so that we can look at future options. But now we can't do any sort of research without getting the lawyers involved."
Yeah, the lawyers. You mean the public? So they can say, "Nuclear weapons? What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Sorry, sorry, getting worked up again. OK. Here's what the dems have to say:
Opponents are not reassured by promises by the administration that its sole aim is the study of nuclear potential. They point to position papers, testimony by officials and other declarations of the need for new nuclear thinking.
"It is unrealistic to think we are going to go ahead and even test but not use these nuclear weapons, particularly with the expressions and statements that have been made by the administration," Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said.
Mr. Kennedy and his allies, who in a series of votes last week were unable to block the provisions that opened the door to new nuclear research, say the push for new nuclear capacity is reckless and ill-conceived, given the White House demand that other nations disavow nuclear force. In a floor speech, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, called the juxtaposition diabolical.
As it adopted a larger defense measure last week, the House eased a 10-year-old ban on research into smaller nuclear weapons while the Senate lifted it entirely.
Uh...hmm. Well, I guess it has been a while since we've broken a treaty. OK, so why are nuclear weapons necessary now?
Administration officials say that they have made no decision to produce the first new nuclear weapons since the 1980's and that further Congressional debate and approval would be needed to do so. But they say an enormous nuclear capability to deter a rival superpower fortified with its own intercontinental missiles could be an outdated concept in the current world environment.
Instead, they say, a new generation of nuclear weapons may be needed to destroy facilities that could be constructed underground where biological and chemical weapons are being developed or stored.
What? Uh, how does that work, exactly? Maybe I just need to be more of a military nerd or something.
Does this administration have a public policy or is it just one long practical joke?
posted by Mike B. at 4:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Here is a good example of a bad Salon review, this one of Pete Yorn. It's just weird: there are so many complaints you could make about Pete Yorn, and the ones the review primarily makes are "he's pretty" (well, sorry) "he wants to be famous" (and somehow a lot of people know about him--weird, eh?) and "he is doing well after his second album and it took Lucinda Williams five albums." This is weirdly typical of Salon's reviewing technique--don't praise the merits or point out the faults, say "at least it's better than cultural product X, which is doing well" or "this is doing well when overlooked underground-ish cultural object Y is languishing in middlebrow semi-obscurity!" They did this with the book about id Software ("it's not as good as Looking Glass!") and I can't even begin to enumerate the movie reviews they do it with.
It's just such a weird technique. I don't know how it's supposed to work. Is it supposed to convey a moral weight such that people will stop buying Pete Yorn, thinking, "Well, I should wait another three albums, to be fair to Lucinda Williams"? Is it supposed to convince people that they actually don't like Pete Yorn? Is it supposed to help out Lucinda? What the hell? It's weird when critics don't just make a subjective judgment based on their own preferences, but instead try to extend it to some universal, organized societal wrong wherein the objectively good artists are only kinda famous whereas the objectively mediocre artists are kinda more famous. What the fuck?
The most confusing bit is at the beginning, where after saying that "Yorn is this year's Rock God in Waiting" that's a problem because he's not as good as "Brit hellraiser Ed Harcourt, Seattle's urban folkster Damien Jurado or Phil Elvrum of the weird and wonderful indie band the Microphones." Uh, what? Yeah, because Phil Elvrum would definitely like to be a Rock God. Nothing says "Rock God" like sticking with K Records and having the first song on your highly-anticipated new album be a 13-minute symbolist suite about the elements centered around a geographical landmark around where you grew up. Shit, why isn't that getting played on the radio?
Salon does some things well, but I do wish their reviewers would extract their heads from their rectums and try being less bitter about their grad-school degrees, know what I mean?
posted by Mike B. at 1:04 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So black residents of North Carolina were systematically sterilized as part of a eugenics effort justified by "official reasons ranging from mental handicap to promiscuity." If they did not accept sterilization, their families would lose their welfare benefits. Which is, of course, horrible and all.
But now I hear that they're getting compensated? What the fuck? I mean, c'mon, like three governors have apologized for it now, and it's been thirty years since it ended. Why are we still dealing with this? Why should the taxpayers of today--predominantly white people--have to pay for the mistakes of the past? It's been stopped, and apologies have been offered. I don't see the point of reparations--or compensation, or whatever you want to call it. It's just stupid. No money is going to untie their tubes, or whatever. And they're either dead, in which case what's the point, or still living, in which case it couldn't have been that bad anyway. Only 1,700 people were sterilized, and yet this is being made into some big "oh-it's-white-people's-fault" thing. I'm sure this settlement will be paid for out of the pockets of hard-working white people, many of whom moved to the state after the end of the program! And where's the justice in that?
I mean, read what one of them has to say: "When white people tell you you've got to do something, what are you going to do? What can you do? You've got to do what them white folks say, because they're going to give you that little bit of money to feed your kids with. That's the way it is." Oh, come on. What, were you intimidated by the big scary white people? Oh no, the white people are coming! Oh, they've exerted a system of social control that has terrorized and oppressed black people for hundreds of years! Whatever. Those years are over, and this kind of case just perpetuates the image of black people as victims. As a white person, I know a lot about the "civil rights" movement, and I know that this kind of effort is just going to set their cause back, maybe by thousands of years. They have to stop focusing on the past, and instead focus on the present, where black people are actually doing pretty good, and if anything are oppressing white people! What these "civil rights" wackos should be doing is helping whites dismantle the unjust apparatus of the "affirmative action" program so that when a black person succeeds, he knows it was on his own merits! That's racial harmony for you.
It just fries my cookies, is all. I mean, if this goes through, what other issues might be taken seriously?
posted by Mike B. at 12:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
While at Oberlin, I was supposed to play a show, but it never materialized. But I did end up attending two parties where we were to have played, and...oh man.
Look, I normally maintain that hipster-bashing is pretty pointless, and it's not a thing I like to see in myself. But these parties actually made me physically ill.
First you have to understand that Oberlin is in the middle of rural Ohio. And for that, it's remarkably connected with the surrounding communities--students are very involved with initiatives to alleviate poverty and housing shortages, which are rampant in one of the poorest counties (Lorain) in the nation, and the co-op system is a strong supporter of local farmers--but it's still in the middle of Ohio and not in Brooklyn or LA or anywhere else.
So I walk into this party at the new cool kid house. The old cool kid house (I mean "indie kid," but Rachel and most of the Oberlin students use "cool kid" instead, so I will defer to them) was alright, and I saw a few shows there, and most of the kids living there were decent kids. But this party...I'm sure the fact that I don't know any of them had something to do with my revulsion, as did the fact that we hadn't been able to work out a show. But still: I walk in, and trucker hat, trucker hat, trucker hat, ripped t-shirt, dirty hair, hair metal shirt, sleeveless shirt, striped top...it was like walking into a party in Brooklyn that was a parody of parties in Brooklyn. It was just sad. I have no problem with the fashion, but at least it came from Brooklyn and then gets taken other places and they put an LA twist on it or a London twist on it or whatever. But this was so straight it was like a costume party supposed to be 17th-century France, but it was Williamsburg 6 months ago. And these kids are not cool--I know enough about them to know that. (That's a compliment, by the way.)
It was very strange, and I'm not saying I'm proud of the reaction, but it did help me to understand the point at which that fashion annoys me.
posted by Mike B. at 4:40 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Matt Yglesias objects to the use of martial terms to describe non-military actions--specifically, in this case, the GOP threatening to use the nuclear option in passing judges.
[E]levating this rather arcane philosophical dispute to the level of "war" both coarsens the discourse on the substantive issue and trivializes actual war. Something similar could, I think, be said about both the "confirmation wars" and the "nuclear option" phrases which represent further instances of the tendency to turn every controvery in American life into a (metaphorical) war.
After all, while I think it would be unfortunate if the GOP were to manipulate Senate procedures to pack the courts with bad judges, the sense in which this would be unfortunate is very different from the sense in which it would be unfortunate if the Bush administration were to literally go nuclear and, say, obliterate the entire population of Iran. The stakes in American politics are pretty high, but they're nowhere near that high, and I think the country would be better off if that fact were more widely recognized.
Eh, I dunno. I mean, they use military language in football, too, and we don't complain about that overstating the case or debasing the language. (Well, we do, but for different reasons, most of them having to do with play-by-play announcers.) I guess the argument would be that politics is so close to war that confusing the two risks making them the same--right?--but that seems tangential to a more serious issue: the way extremist political terms get overused and are thus debased.
Here, y'see, I don't think anyone takes the term seriously, which is important. It's clearly being used as a metaphor, and a ridiculous one at that, but not necessarily an inaccurate one--the technique being described would essentially invoke a MAD scenario where the Republicans would only use it if they were aware that it might mean their own destruction. This is meant to invoke a Reagan-esque strength in the face of unreasonable (evil) opposition, the kind of fortitude we're supposed to supposed to have against terrorists etc. It also is a manifestation of the obvious Republican effort to turn the filibusters into political capital in the same way Clinton converted the Republican government shutdown to an advantage (and, er, a blowjob) by portraying the Democrats as so unreasonable--as unreasonable as redistricting outside of a census year, say--that an extremist measure is justified; if the Democrats weren't being bad legislators, then "going nuclear" wouldn't be necessary, would it? Finally, it's meant to promote the Republicans' desire to present themselves as the "Bad To The Bone" rebel party, an impulse (via their successful cooption of leftist rhetoric) that comes up in the NYT Mag cover story on campus conservatives--what we used to call "Young Republicans," I hear--which I'll comment on in a later post.
Anyway, what I'm saying is both that Matt's complaint is unjustified, since it's a legitimate political technique using a term metaphorically that's been used metaphorically almost since its inception, and ineffective, since it would take a lot to get people not to view nuclear war seriously, I feel, and so it comes off a bit like (no offense) namby-pamby leftist whining about language, etc. It's a good thought, though.
What concerns me is a different tendency. I just cringe when I hear things like "Republican revolution" or "a revolution in special effects" or, as a NYC-area billboard puts it, "the end of minimum balance oppression" or "overthrow the overpaid," to say nothing of "middle-class poverty," which deserves an entry all its own. Look, guys: "revolution" is a very specific political term with a very specific meaning, as is "overthrow" and "oppression." I guess this might all be brushed off as late-in-the-game complaints about the way New Economy ad rhetoric seemed to be weirdly coopting Marxist terms, but I think it's different. There, it was the "Fair and Balanced" technique of intentionally maddening cynicism, but in most of these cases, it's far more subtle. These people do really think it's a revolution, and that's a problem. First, of course, is the way revolutions have been fetishized, both through the American revolution and then subsequent anti-colonialist revolutions. It's moved from being the process by which group X, usually localized in a geographic region, forcibly breaks the power that group Y holds over them, but instead it's simply become, metaphorically and then literally, the process by which the old is replaced by the new, which is only a revolution in a very literal, "it's cyclical! It's a revolution!" way. I think what happens is it grows from advertising rhetoric which is taking its cues from social politics of the 1960's, c.f. Thomas Frank's oft-misinterpreted The Conquest of Cool, and is then retaken by the political sphere, except now it has all these bastardized connotations picked up from consumerism. So if buying choices now constitute a "revolutionary" action--and if you doubt that they do, check out some of the leftist globalization rhetoric--then you'd better be damn sure that the Republicans taking the House is revolutionary. Were any shots fired? Are the losers being shot in the street? Isn't the whole point of the American Experiment that we can change leaders without a violent uprising? This is the problem with degrading terms by using them to literally mean what they clearly do not: it then becomes much harder to actually talk about revolutions and oppression and overthrows. (Revolutions are different from revolts, for instance.) The left is, if anything, more guilty of this than the right, especially when it comes to stuff about oppression, but I think the danger is there, and everybody could stand to watch it a bit. Or maybe the damage has just been done.
Incidentally, I think that what sort of the problem with calling for "regime change at home." It's funny when you see it on a bumper sticker, but when a Democratic candidate for President says it, people tend to go, "Well, he clearly doesn't actually mean marching liberal troops up to the White House and bombing Bush into submission, so what does he mean?" Kerry's criticism of Dean might have been unnecessary, but I think it's hardly surprising that he got that reaction in the first place.
Matt also addresses the issue of calling things wars--the war on terror, on drugs, on poverty, etc. I don't think we're trying to "turn every controversy in American life into a (metaphorical) war," as Matt claims, but it is kind of funny. In that case, it's kind of weirdly straddling the line between literal and metaphorical, since it's not something where war is declared and we move in an army, but force is often used, and like the "nuclear option" thing, it's being used to justify more extreme action. Then again, if I were running a satirical website or program, I know what I would do right now: I would cover the war on poverty as if it were the war on Iraq in the style of Fox News. But maybe that's too brasseye.
posted by Mike B. at 4:12 PM 0 comments Links to this post
back in back
Well, I'm back from Ohio, and as soon as I break out of my interstate 80-induced stupor, I will post some music stuff culled from bumming around campus this weekend.
In the meantime, though, Paul Krugman is talkin' like Thomas Frank and me, too, and confirming the Financial Times' suggestion that maaaaaaybe this tax cut is designed to create a deficit so big that the much-hated social programs will have to be cut or eliminated.
On the bright side, so much of that money (more than US$400bil, yeah?) is tied up in sunset clauses that it will hopefully energize the Dems enough to both push hard for the next congressional elections and to keep making this cut (and the 2001 cut) an issue, so we can rip it back out in time. Maybe I'm being too optimistic there, though.
The Frank article in Harper's, again, is really good. He cites a study, for instance, that says that without the 2001 tax cut, we would still be in surplus.
posted by Mike B. at 12:09 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Aw, thanks Matt. Although for the record, I was saying everyone should be like you, but funny.
So anyway, hi there to the new readers and the old ones. I am about to go away for the weekend to watch some friends graduate from college, but as the Howler says, visit our incomparable archives! (Which are now comparable! Ha!) Here's some good posts from the past to keep you going until after the holiday weekend:
- Non-lethal weapons in Iraq, and the curious lack thereof.
- The State Department (response to the Gingrich speech).
- Response to a review of a Yo La Tengo album.
- Lengthy exchange of e-mails between me and a music critic about the White Stripes.
See you on Tuesday!
posted by Mike B. at 6:23 PM 0 comments Links to this post
the only (other) thing I'll post about the matrix, swear to god
There is always a point when I go to see a movie in a theater that I laugh and no one else does. [Brief side note: this reminds me of what one of my favorite teachers, Mike Reynolds, said about seeing Todd Soldonz's Happiness: everyone laughs, but no one laughs at the same time, so you immediately feel really weird about laughing at the pedophile joke.] And in the case of the new Matrix movie, there was a bit where I was laughing for a good minute, which was a minute longer than anyone else. I haven't seen it addressed elsewhere, and since it deals with two things not usually stressed in discussions about the movie--specifically, love and Krautrock--I figured I'd throw it up here to be spat at.
Unfortunately for this post, I can't quite remember whether this happens at the very end of the movie, after Neo rescues Trinity, or in the middle, after they leave Zion and are still debating prophecy stuff, but at any rate, Neo's doubting himself per usual, and Trinity turns to him and says, in this very clear, "this means something!" voice, "You made a believer out of me." And I laughed, because I couldn't help thinking of the Can song "Yoo Doo Right," whose chorus goes:
Once I was blind, but now I see / Now that you're in love with me / You made a believer out of me, baby / You made a believer out of me
(quoted from the Geraldine Fibbers' nicely loud cover, which is the version I'm familiar with.)
Now, obviously I have no idea if this was a conscious reference, but it really stood out to me, and regardless, it's interesting in context. Obviously there's the first connection between gaining visions of reality through faith as in the first movie, but then there's the implication that the cause is love and not some weird metaphysical conceit. There's also the negative interpretation of the statement: that the speaker is, in fact, blinded by love, and what he thinks is seeing is actually illusion, and the Matrix refs are pretty obvious there. It suggests as well that Morpheus' faith is kind of akin to obsessive romantic stalking, and Trinity's faith is sustained by a personal connection instead of an abstract belief, which is a very modern thing, of course.
But the really interesting thing is the way it reflects on the Christian imagery in the series, admittedly more present in the first one than the new one. They get the Jesus thing with being chosen, and the special powers, and the savior bit, but then they move on to Gnostic / Buddhist metaphysical riddles, and what's lost in the Christian tradition is the love. Love often gets lost when talking about Christianity--either fundamentalists want to turn tolerance into intolerance, or skeptics willfully ignore it in favor of the numerous abuses by its practitioners--and while that's hardly surprising for nerd-porn such as this (it's good stuff, but humanist redemption drama it ain't), it's also kind of unfortunate. You find this more positivist view of the Christian tradition (especially the xtian theological tradition) in writers like Chesterton and Voeglin, and there it's remarkably productive and, well, humanist. I guess the Trinity thing is already uncomfortably close to veering into Hollywood "love conquers all!" territory, but it is suggested by that line, and it shows what's lacking in Neo. That all-encompassing love for humanity is weirdly absent in the Matrix's cosmology--Neo seems to want to save them mainly out of obligation and guilt, or a love for Zion, and not because he actually likes them, a view encouraged by the mechanistic role humans take on in the Matrix's setup. I guess this is understandable and ties in with Neo's regular-guy (-with-super-powers) iconography, but it's still a bit weird.
Oh, and so is Can. What the fuck is that doing there?
posted by Mike B. at 4:34 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Bob Herbert makes what can only be described as a facile comparison between the Dixie Chicks and Halliburton:
Who's less patriotic, the Dixie Chicks or Dick Cheney's long-term meal ticket, the Halliburton Company?
The Dixie Chicks were excoriated for simply exercising their constitutional right to speak out. With an ugly backlash and plans for a boycott growing, the group issued a humiliating public apology for "disrespectful" anti-Bush remarks made by its lead singer, Natalie Maines.
The Chicks learned how dangerous it can be to criticize the chief of a grand imperial power.
Halliburton, on the other hand, can do no wrong. Yes, it has a history of ripping off the government. And, yes, it's made zillions doing business in countries that sponsor terrorism, including members of the "axis of evil" that is so despised by the president.
If you want to compare the two, you really should mention the ways they're similar: both have faced broad public outcry and threats of a boycott, but in both cases it has been unsuccessful because they both still enjoy broad institutional support (the Chicks were never really banned from that many radio stations, and most importantly, they're still being carried by retail). I guess this could pass for irony in some weird backwards universe, but c'mon Bob, we all know that what the Chicks are dealing with isn't anything approaching censorship, its stoking by media monoliths notwithstanding. (It's nice that he alerts us to the letter of protest Henry Waxman wrote to Rumsfeld, though.)
If you want a better comparison to illuminate the problems with Halliburton or Betchel in general, you might try something I was talking about earlier today: the educational system. When the educational system, or the FCC, or the EPA does something wrong, you a) know it's done something wrong, and b) can change its policy through political action. Sure, it might not always work, and the ways people might want to change these institutions might run counter to your interests, but the power is clearly there. It's accountability; even if, in the case of the FCC, there are structural barriers to change, those barriers can be removed through public pressure.
Call me a statist if you will, but I prefer that a thousandfold to Halliburton, a private industry doing government (i.e., public) work without any of the oversight we have with an actual government agency. In 99% of the cases where a civic activity is privatized or outsourced, the level of secrecy jumps, and the ability to make changes once the policy has been implemented is greatly reduced. (The main exception I can think of would be the computer industry, and that's mainly because of open-source doctrine and the fact that the NSA is the government's main agency computer-wise, and what would you expect from an organization with "Security" in its name?) So the problem with Halliburton isn't so much that it's getting these contracts, or even that it's probably getting these contracts due to the Cheney connection; it's that we have no idea how they're getting the contracts, and we have no idea what they're doing, ultimately.
So with the educational system, if you don't like the textbook they're using, you can, for better or worse, convince them to use a different one. If you don't like Halliburton's activities, you can, of course, vote Cheney out, but if you're a lawmaker you can't change the policy, and you can never really sever the ties the company has with the establishment. Worse, you can't even raise a good case for why they should be removed, because you don't know what the hell they're doing. John McCain made the excellent point in asking for the 9/11 commission to release its findings that "excessive administration secrecy ... feeds conspiracy theories and reduces the public's confidence in government." Damn straight. Most of the time the reality always turns out to be better than what you would guess given the secrecy, and so it's unclear why the secrecy was there in the first place. Of course some areas of government require secrecy to do their job, and sometimes private industry is going to be a lot more efficient than government, but as citizens I think we shouldn't be so eager to promote efficiency in favor of being able to know what our government is doing and to make changes accordingly, as seems to be the trend recently. We also shouldn't be so eager to throw up our hands at the thought of reforming government inefficiency and simply surrender the job to the private sector.
posted by Mike B. at 3:21 PM 0 comments Links to this post
brief personal bitch
So I've got one intern in the next cubicle blasting and singing along to some shitty MOR Matchbox 20 clone and another guy in the cubicle down the way blasting and singing along to soul. And he's white. And he can't sing. And weirdly, my Liars EP isn't drowning them out, and I don't have my To Live and Shave in L.A. album with me, which trumps pretty much everything. Any suggestions for what I could put on to really bring the noise-rock hurt? (And don't say Le Shok, because my last fart sounded better than them. And I forgot Deerhoof at home too, damnit.)
Hmm, maybe I should just put Fluxblog's John Wayne Gacy conversation on, but I've been playing that crazy DJ thing everyday to no avail...maybe it just reminds music-biz peeps of their friends? That's probably unfair.
posted by Mike B. at 1:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post
William Safire leaves the "I had a stroooooke!" linguistic tricks behind and makes the excellent point that conservatives should be against media deregulation just as strongly as libbers:
Many artists, consumers, musicians and journalists know that such protestations of cable and Internet competition by the huge dominators of content and communication are malarkey. The overwhelming amount of news and entertainment comes via broadcast and print. Putting those outlets in fewer and bigger hands profits the few at the cost of the many.
Does that sound un-conservative? Not to me. The concentration of power — political, corporate, media, cultural — should be anathema to conservatives. The diffusion of power through local control, thereby encouraging individual participation, is the essence of federalism and the greatest expression of democracy...That's why I march uncomfortably alongside CodePink Women for Peace and the National Rifle Association, between liberal Olympia Snowe and conservative Ted Stevens under the banner of "localism, competition and diversity of views." That's why, too, we resent the conflicted refusal of most networks, stations and their putative purchasers to report fully and in prime time on their owners' power grab scheduled for June 2.
Must broadcasters of news act only on behalf of the powerful broadcast lobby? Are they not obligated, in the long-forgotten "public interest," to call to the attention of viewers and readers the arrogance of a regulatory commission that will not hold extended public hearings on the most controversial decision in its history?...Let's debate this out in the open, take polls, get the president on the record and turn up the heat.
I mean, duh to all of this, but thank God. This is one of the few times when you can clearly see that big business is getting a big ol' sloppy french kiss from a government agency at the expense of the clear interests and wishes of the vast majority of people. And so much of it is structural, as Safire points out, but a lot of it is internal politics as well, especially the fact that the FCC has been underfunded for so many years that it now doesn't have the resources to investigate most citizen complains of media abuse, and thus pays attention to the people who do give it money, i.e. the media conglomos. The end of the Right to Respond doctrine, the spectrum auctions, radio deregulation...it's the trail of tears for people who believe that citizen access to media is a vital component of a free republic.
posted by Mike B. at 12:46 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Lemme lay out the points made in this NYT article and what it says about the "educational standards" movement.
- Federal gov't passes a law (the "No Child Left Behind" law) saying that states must require all students to pass standardized tests.
- The law also requires all students (i.e., 100%) to meet proficiency standards in reading in math by 2014, "a level they say has never been achieved in any state or country."
- No additional money is provided to achieve these goals, because conservatives don't like "big government."
- The states can set their own standards, because conservatives like "states' rights."
- If the standards are not met, schools lose funding, because conservatives like "accountability."
So what happens when you set higher standards (I thought conservatives liked deregulation?) and don't provide any new funds to meet those standards (I though conservatives didn't like unfunded mandates?) but allow states to set their own standards? Well, of course, they simply redefine what constitutes a passing grade, and everything's fine. Does it help students? Nope, not really. But then it can be reasonably argued that this is all the fault of the original bill. And, again, conservatives see an instutition they don't like, and instead of openly opposing it, they use the power of the purse to fund and legislate it out of its mandate.
I feel like conservative policy toward education is somewhat analogous to liberal policy towards gun control. They see certain problems in things they basically don't like anyway (c.f. the recent conservative quoted questioning "Who said we all get free education?...What is this, Russia?") and try and fix these problems largely through regulation. But enforcement is feeble because of certain biases in the ideology (righties don't like federal government dictating local policy; lefties are uncomfortable, despite what the NRA says, about the government having strong enforcement powers to seize private property) and practitioners on the ground generate constant work-arounds that end up little practical change beside having political battles supplant efforts at finding common-sense solutions, all supplanted by a public that has a hard time not supporting the dominant position ("Well, I like standards, and guns are bad...").
Then again, I'm a lefty, so I'm for gun control and against the standards movement. I don't understand how anyone who has spent any time in a public school can be reasonably for it, honestly--just saying that we're going to hold students to certain standards does nothing beside make the teachers teach to the test and take away from any opportunity they might have had to tailor their curriculum to the interests and abilities of their students. The problem everybody ultimately has seems to be with teachers (conservatives don't trust 'em), and if this is a problem, it can be solved, I think, through a combination of devolving power from the administrative level and getting the teacher's unions to agree to unequal pay scales so that better math and science teachers can be hired. And, I'm sorry to say, more funding targeted at schools that need it.
Well, that's not the most coherent argument I've ever put together in favor of the educational system, but you get the idea.
ADDENDUM: OK, didn't catch this on the first read-through:
The 600-page law, Mr. Bush's basic education initiative, was passed with bipartisan backing four months after Sept. 11, 2001. Many prominent Democrats, however, have since withdrawn their support, including Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who recently described it as "a phony gimmick."
"We were all suckered into it," Mr. Gephardt said. "It's a fraud."
Um. OK, Dick, I was willing to give you that line on PATRIOT. This one? Not so much. This is where electoral strategy divides from policy strategy: passing a popular proposal and then disavowing it when it turns sour is a good way to get yourself elected, but the policy damage has been done, and it's not like the implications weren't clear from the start. You've been in goddamn politics long enough to know that just because it has a "nice" name it isn't actually nice.
posted by Mike B. at 12:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
I just want to go over this Texas thing quick for anyone who hasn't been following the aftermath: I tend to agree with Josh Marshall who feels, in sum, that the Department of Homeland Security itself wasn't responsible for using its powers to track Texas Dems, but the fault can be laid at the feet of a Texas state trooper, who was almost certainly following orders from Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was definitely taking orders from Tom DeLay. So while the system didn't fail as such, it was deinitely abused. Go read some more of Josh's posts about the whole thing--he's especially good in pointing out that the Dems had every right to oppose the gerrymandering, which flies in the face of a century's worth of political custom.
Of course, then today's there's the revelation that the Texas Department of Public Safety destroyed all records of Homeland Security's involvement in the matter, which is just really, really bad, and I hope we can all agree on that. I don't care where you are on the political spectrum--having federal anti-terrorist resources used to track you down when all you're doing is breaking a quorum is not a weapon you want to have pointed at you, to say nothing of the moral reasons. And destroying the evidence just makes it look worse.
posted by Mike B. at 5:56 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Matthew Yglesias gives us a good example of a statement that is basically not right but still very funny:
"If the government doesn't have any better way of assessing the threat than watching CNN to see if anyone's been blown up lately, then I think we all have reason to worry."
Clearly not true, but still pretty good for what it is. So lemme ask the question: is this what the left needs, maybe? Matt was taken to task for an entry which seemed to be praising the Communists but I think was probably more meant to make the Greens look stupid, and this is a decent example of the kind of ironic (as opposed to sarcastic, which we have a lot of) humor you see in Rush Limbaugh but not much in any other leftist commentators outside of, weirdly, Dan Savage (and a few others). Yes, yes, Rush is a Big Fat etc., but as I've often said, looking back on his 90's stuff with the benefit of hindsight, a lot of that FAIR / "you say feminazi!" stuff was sort of missing the joke. And it's even kind of funny in retrospect. I think leftists are quick to jump on their own when they see them saying something "wrong," but sometimes you have to be willing to say something that's wrong in order to make a point and trust your audience enough to know that you know. Does that make any sense? I just think we have a bit too much faith in the blinding power of The Truth, and a bit of ironic humor and a nose-thumbing response to criticism of same (see the Blumenthal quote below) might be good for us. Like I say, the Fox News slogan is mind-bendingly cynical, but anything that gets the opposition that apoplectic can't be all bad. Too often the jabs we take at the opposition are half-hearted, self-congratulatory, and putting waaaaaay too much stock in the idea that we're being "subversive." I think you all know what I talk about--think about leftists who say things that you agree with in ways that make you want to slap them (i.e., Michael Moore at his worst). Well, I guess I'm just rambling on at this point, so maybe I should just try bein' funny like that myself, but maybe this will raise some thoughts in others.
posted by Mike B. at 5:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wanted to highlight this one answer from the Blumenthal interview from Salon:
Why were official Washington and the media establishment so anti-Clinton?
They didn't share his commitment to shaking up the old order. And then, at the beginning of his administration, he was too embroiled in political conflicts -- over the economy, gay rights, healthcare and trade issues -- to sufficiently stroke the Washington and media gatekeepers. The Bush administration's attitude of utter contempt toward the press seems to work better. The press is sociologically much closer to the Democrats. Everyone's always going on about the liberal media. It's no mystery -- there's a natural selection process that goes on, the profession attracts certain people for the same reason that some people become heads of pharmaceuticals. Why get all exercised about it -- it's like accusing bankers of having conservative leanings. But as a result of this sociological affinity, the press feels both closer and more competitive with Democratic administrations than they do with Republican ones. The competitiveness inherent in journalism was brought to bear on many of the media's peers in the Clinton administration.
I don't want to go on too much about Blumenthal--I'm not obsessed with the thing like certain other bloggers--but this is a very nice answer to a persistant question, and one I tend to agree with.
posted by Mike B. at 4:04 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thomas Frank is frequently wrong, but he is just as frequently right. (Like Christopher Hitchens, but with less pride in being an asshole, and less self-righteousness--er, although those two things may be the same.) And while examples of the former, especially an article in Harper's a few years ago about "ironic" music, can be painfully egregious, his cover story in this month's Harper's, "Get Rich or Get Out: Attempted Robbery With a Loaded Federal Budget," is unquestionably the latter. So goes Thomas Frank--he seemed a bit scattershot and shrill at times in his last book, One Market Under God, but the chapter on cultural studies is the definitive takedown of that particular bastard genre, and it's hard not to at least respect someone who attempts to engage with the market by seeking to understand its actors as fully as possible by being proficient in economics, scouring management texts, etc.
At any rate, this one's a doozy, and I am going to go so far as to type up the first section to entice you all to buy it, since it seems to end up being me but smarter and better-written and in Harper's.
FRANK: The Bush Administration's proposed budget for 2004 fills five phone book-size volumes; it is 2,866 pages long. The list of authors alone runs to hundreds of names, arranged alphabetically, occupying four pages of four columns each. The UPS man who delivered my copy had to carry it on his shoulder, puffing as he climbed three flights of stairs. When he plunked it down on the floor of my apartment, the dishes rattled in the cupboard.
The five-volume budget set includes a book of precise details in microscopic type, a book of tables showing how much was spent on the various programs over the years, a book of hints for unlucky staffers who have been assigned to think about matters budgetary, and a main volume--a reader-friendly book featuring a continuous prose narrative, full-color pictures of your government in action, items of interest set off in attractively typeset boxes, and a reassuring abundance of the familiar phrases of bureaucracy: "homeland," "stewardship," "caregiver." "Transition" gets used a lot as a verb.
I don't have too much of a problem with the budget's desk-crushing backup volumes. I find it kind of interesting to read seven pages of tables detailing highway expenditures from 1940 to the present. [nerd!!!! -ed] It's the part of the budget I'm supposed to like that I really can't stand.
Let me upgrade that remark: The 2004 budget is toxic. It is an epic of distortion and evasion and contradiction and misleading rhetorical ploys. The object of this malodorous epic is to outline the Bush Administration's plan for plunging the nation from surplus into deficit and to cast the blame for the ensuing disaster on the very people--the retired, the sick, the poor--who will feel the brunt of its effects. Whether Congress alters this budget, reduces its tax cuts, or rejects it altogether is beside the point. The document we will have always with us, an indelible reminder of what the Bush team would do if they possibly could.
There is nothing inherently wrong with deficits, even massive ones, as a tool of state policy. In wars and recessions it is right and even proper for the federal government to spend more than it takes in, so as to ensure that resources continue to flow to consumer and to those hardest hit, and to stimulate the economy. The 2004 budget is not concerned with any of that. Here war and recession are merely pretexts for getting the crudest social trends of the last twenty years moving again. This deficit is designed to enrich those at the very top of the social pyramid while cutting services for those lower down. This is not cyclical Keynesianism. This is not a helpful or even a merely benign program of deficit spending. It is a blueprint for sabotage. It is an instruction manual for how to power up a complicated machine and dash it headlong into a stone wall.
After which the president will turn to us and say, "See? I told you big government doesn't work."
And there's lots more good stuff after that, like when he critiques the idea of a businessman making a good political leader by pointing out that "management theory holds government to be a uniquely depraved social actor." Mmmm.
So yes, I tend to think that Frank hit this one out of the ballpark, and it would be a nice theme to see Democrats picking up on. Of course, underfunding and crippling agencies until the lose their mandate is a classic political technique (which has worked in a very weird way at the FCC, but that's a case study for another time), but if you're going to pretend like you're helping the agencies, you're gonna take some political shots, and it's up to our representatives (and erstwhile candidates) to deliver those, albeit in a tone that always avoids conspiracy theory. (You could wheel out the ol' "Lipstick on a pig" quote, if you'd like.) Let's not be unclear about the fact that the current administration is trying to run some agencies (State especially) into the ground in the same way, say, Reagan wanted to kill the EPA (James Watt) and the NEA. And these are services--like veterans' benefits, from which they wanted to cut US$25billion--that are the essence of what most citizens look to government to provide. So we should at least be honest in what we're doing.
He goes on to give some quotes from the budget summary where they basically just seem to be ripping on their own government--"here the White House can be seen confession, on behalf of previous administrations and, indeed, the entire federal workforce, to anything you care to think of"--which are just astounding.
"Federal agencies," for example, are said to be so out of touch that they have "not managed themselves well enough to know whether they had the right people with the right skills to do their work." Among federal workers "pay and performance are generally unrelated," which is apparently not a problem in the private sector.
Ouch. Anyway, it ties into that whole Arendt thing I've been going off on about respecting the civil service, their neutrality and their institutional knowledge. It makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose, for the administration to present their budget in these political terms, but I've written budget summaries before, and even when I did it for a company about to go under, there was nothing as skewed as this. The budget is, essentially, numbers, and for the spin to extend so far as to claim to be rehabilitating agencies intended to be gutted, it illustrates the need for there to be somewhere an enterprising citizen can go for straight facts. The flip side to an open government is that the government is much more open with its ambitions.
posted by Mike B. at 3:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
My boss, Danny Goldberg, has written a book called Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit published by Miramax Books (no homepage, but I did find out that they're also publishing Yanni's memoirs) and, while I haven't read it--well, except for a chapter or two that I helped his assistant format--it's a pretty good title, no? (He used to manage Nirvana, btw.) There are a bunch of copies lying around the conference room table and I might just have to steal one.
While I'm hyping things, I might as well mention that the TSC link at the top of the page is now active, because I got off my ass and made a website for it. TSC is The Song Corporation, the rock band I'm in (Galvanized being the electronic one), and if you go to the site you can hear two MP3s and read some very, er, familiar-sounding ramblings in the news section. The MP3s are very good, I think.
posted by Mike B. at 3:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Looks like the UN's starting to gain a little bit of ground back (and the US is beginning to admit what was obvious even to semi-educated leftists such as myself). From a Newsweek article on Kofi Annan:
U.N. officials spent some lonely weeks combing the papers for any mention of their organization, trying to reassure themselves they hadn’t been completely forgotten. Now they are back in the news, and with the Coalition struggling to cope with a society threatening to spiral out of control, there does seem to be a dawning realization among American officials that the United Nations, with its long experience in reconstruction efforts, may have something to offer after all. Americans are pushing Annan to appoint a candidate of their choosing, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, as a U.N. representative in Iraq, though Annan is not so sure he wants to be seen relegating human-rights issues to a back burner. The shift, in any case, is a step sure to gladden multilateralist hearts. “They want to share the blame with more people” in the complicated aftermath of the war, one U.N. official observes. “That’s what we’re here for.”
That's a pretty cynical way of putting it, but I guess it's good that they're considering the possibility. I dunno. When reading this story, I had a certain reaction, and I hope to god Kofi had the same one: as soon as it became clear that the UN was going to get shut out of the war, I hope he prepared both an internal political strategy and an external policy plan for when the US would almost certainly drop the ball during the reconstruction and admit that they needed help, so the Iraqi people could suffer as little as possible. This, after all, is what politics at its best is for--and, lest we get caught up too much in partisan accusations, why having not only a good policy but having a political strategy to successfully implement and maintain it is crucial to doing the kind of good works that (hopefully) everyone involved in politics want to do. But that's old-hat policy stuff, right guys?
Ah, but read on:
“The future of the institution depends on how he responds to the challenge,” says a former U.S. official, as much as on whether President George W. Bush ultimately sides with the hawks who call him “Kofi Annoying,” or with his more moderate friends in the State Department, who’d rather see the United Nations reformed than retired.
Is Annan up to the job?...Is he too tentative and polite to use the only real tool he has, the bully pulpit? People the world over were waiting for his big antiwar speech, but he never delivered anything of the kind. “He’s —not the missionary type,” says a key aide. “He’s very much about will it help the process, will it help the United Nations.” Which is why he is not about to do what his most adoring fans would like—spend some political capital and join Britain’s Tony Blair in making the case for multilateralism. His undramatic answer? Wait for passions to fade, and then wait some more, to see what jobs are actually offered the United Nations in Iraq, rather than risking rejection by volunteering for specific duties. For his critics, Annan’s under-caffeinated affect and tendency to go slow have only reinforced their feeling that the French-speaking, “dopey old United Nations,” as one Fox News commentator recently called it, should stick to worthy relief efforts and leave the masterminding to the guys with the guns.
What is not so dopey, however, is the alternative notion that Annan’s one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach is not only strategic, but actually quite shrewd. He has for weeks been resisting heavy U.S. and U.K. pressure to send an envoy to Baghdad, holding off until somebody tells him precisely what a U.N. representative would do at the postwar party. While insisting on a real rather than rubber-stamping role, he has also been trying to split the difference between the Coalition and the rest of the world in his public comments. Though this hasn’t satisfied those on either side of the Iraq issue entirely, it may be the best way to keep the United Nations alive in the long run. The long run, of course, being what the United Nations has been counting on. With Americans already tiring of the tedious, messy business of nation-building, the point seems valid. “You come from a country with a short attention span,” one of the United Nations’ top officials told me. Annan, on the other hand, is an exceedingly patient man.
Of course, it would be nice if the US were to take a more active role in the reformation of the UN, but it's also a nice testament to the fact that the UN is stronger than it would seem sometimes, and much of its strength lies in its institutional memory, I think. I mean, I usually disagree with the dumb party line that Americans have no historical memory, but with national institutions that change on a pretty short cycle, that kind of memory is (intentionally) lacking, at least when you get an administration in that seems determined to minimize the power of the civil services of career officials, like at State.
(apologies for the long excerpt, but I know mostaya blog-fans aren't exactly Newsweek readers...)
posted by Mike B. at 12:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Ah, this is why we read the NYT arts section: for exegesises on the (over)use of the melisma in current pop music. The melisma is that "Iiiii-eeeiee-ii-eee-EEEEEE!" packing of multiple notes into one syllable that you hear Mariah and Whitney use a lot, and which American Idol has apparently decided is the epitome of vocal talent. It's not, obviously, which the article points out adroitly:
Soul innovators like Mr. Charles and Ms. Franklin were capable of melisma that could singe the false eyelashes of divas like Ms. Carey and Whitney Houston, but they used the technique more sparingly, and more meaningfully — as fevered expressions of emotions beyond words. Listen to Mr. Charles's "Come Back Baby" (1954). He employs all kinds of vocal flourishes, whooping and growling, lagging teasingly behind the beat and sliding into an unearthly falsetto. When he does break into melisma, he does so in the service of his song: in his vocal hiccups we hear the pain of a spurned lover.
It is worth remembering that good popular singing is less about technical polish than personality amplification. Many of the greatest pop singers are freaks, cranks and technical ill-adepts; the bona fide American idols who would likely flop on "American Idol" include not just vocal eccentrics like Bob Dylan, Chet Baker and Billie Holiday, but even the definitive modern soul diva, Mary J. Blige, whose occasionally imperfect pitch is more than compensated for by her charisma and large lungs.
I would add that the worst example of this trend would be the way the national anthem seems to get sung these days, i.e. as a goddamn melisma-fest. I mean, I love American Idol, but I liked it more before, I think, when it was more honest in using strictly commercial standards. First season looks obviously mattered, while the rhetoric this season is that "talent" will win out. Well bull-shit. No one who's as nervous on stage as Reuben seems to be (to say nothing of his, er, questionable looks) is anything like an Idol, at least not without a few years of working crowds, and if you're going to put the emphasis on vocal "talent" then you're going to have to have a lot better musical arrangements to back them up, you know? It's fun and all, but I think I might have liked it better when it seemed to have more of a connection to the weird and evil standards of the music industry. Mmm. Yeah, I'm all for instant fame, but instant celebrities are only compelling in their downfalls. Although maybe that's the point. Justin, where's your arrest for snorting coke off a dead hooker when we need you in these troubled times?
posted by Mike B. at 3:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Two lovely bits from Gawker. First is an excerpt from a ["an"? -inner grammar Nazi] NPR interview with the editor of the Weekly World news:
PS: What's in store for Mr. [Jayson] Blair?
BD: We might be interested in hiring him, actually.
BD: If we could teach him to be real reporter. This whole nonsense of making up quotes, making up everything...he made up people. That's not the kind of journalism we teach here.
PS: Thanks for talking with us.
BD: Thank you very much.
PS: Mr. Dutter is the Executive Editor of the Weekly World News.
BD: ...and don't miss our next issue, Elvis is alive and we've got the photos to prove it.
Hmm--it's like what that Fox News guy said, except with some awareness of irony. Can I tell you how much I want to write for the WWN?
Also, this quote from Ewan McGregor is pretty priceless:
"I'm not an exhibitionist in terms of whipping out my penis at parties and waving it around. I was in the past. Perhaps that was something to do with my drinking at the time."
Hey, what was that about lefty bloggers being such committed statists that they only talked about institutional activity? Drunken celebrities, anti-psychotic medication, the Weekly World News--man, we gots it all.
posted by Mike B. at 2:57 PM 0 comments Links to this post
all the ladies in the house do tha thorazine shuffle
Allow me to engage in a bit of personal talk, albeit on a subject that relates to a larger issue.
The New York Times today published a story about the new generation of anti-psychotic medications and how studies are beginning to show that they're not the miracle cure they appeared to be at first. The old stuff, like Haldol or Thorazine, was given in massive doses to psychotics and resulted in a kind of zombie state of sedation and Parkinson's symptoms that caused muscle spasms and a signature stiff-legged walk, "the Thorazine shuffle." The new generation of antipsychotics, like Zyprexa and Risperdal, seemed much gentler and to have far fewer side effects, and patients and doctors embraced them eagerly, to the degree that they started to be prescribed for "Alzheimer's, personality disorders and nonpsychotic depression, and for conduct disorder and severe aggression in children." But it's become clear that the side effects these drugs (the "atypicals") have been known to cause, such as fatal blood clots and diabetes, require such expensive monitoring (mainly blood tests) that the benefits may not be worth it. Of course, the cycle of "New miracle drug!" -> acceptance -> "Oops, maybe it wasn't such a good idea..." -> "New Miracle Drug!" has been repeated ad naseum in the last fifty years, but it's a healthy reminder that this might not be the smartest practice.
Now, what they don't make clear is that all these drugs are essentially tranquilizers, as far as I know, and that the atypicals are just slightly gentler tranquilizers. They can talk about targeting specific brain chemicals all they want, but as far as I'm concerned, the class of antipsychotics basically works to slow down your brain in one way or another. You can see how this would work in the case of the other disorders for which antipsychotics are now being prescribed.
I was prescribed Risperidol by one of the top neurologists dealing with my condition, which is not psychosis, and even that was a fight--he wanted to put me on Haldol, which was "standard," but I assume you can see why this might not be the most promising option for someone who, say, writes as much as I do. (At least until the Thorazine shuffle becomes the dance craze I hope to one day make it.) Risperidol was gentler, as far as I could tell, and it seemed to work OK, although I was worried about it--depression was one of the most notable side effects, and I went on antidepressants at the same time as I started Risperidol. Still, it seemed the best thing at the time.
Then I gave some to a friend who was having trouble sleeping. And she took it, and reported back that she had slept for 18 hours and been depressed for a day afterwards. And I thought: hmm, maybe that's why I've been tired and depressed for the past six months. So I got off that as fast as I could and onto an entirely different class of medications--which cost $1000 a month and has thrown me into an insurance company pit of hell, but that's a story for another time. This is all to say nothing of tardive dyskinesia, which is, as the Times article puts it, "a disorder that causes repetitive movements — chewing motions, lip-smacking and contortions of the arms and legs — that sometimes persisted even after the drugs were stopped." More specifically, it's known to cause permanent eye tics, and when that's sort of the behavior the drug's meant to cure, it's a problem. My friend Liz did a study and found a distressingly high probability of getting a form of tardive dyskinesia if you take anti-psychotics for three years.
None of this is to say that the atypicals aren't great for people who, you know, actually have schizophrenia, and blood disorders and increased risk of diabetes aside, Risperidol et al are way, way better than Haldol ("Bretta M., 34, a Brooklyn woman, for example, said that the Zyprexa she takes is an improvement over Haldol, an old-generation drug that she said made her feel "like a zombie.") although, honestly, that wouldn't have been too hard. But to read that its use on other disorders isn't limited to weirdoes like me is troubling, especially when coupled with the assertion that "It's probably the best growth market in the business." It's an awfully blunt way of dealing with a lot of these things, and seems a strange substitute either for effective behavioral counseling or actual scientific progress in finding more specific treatments for these disorders. It also exposes patients to unnecessary side effects and does, to a certain degree, sedate them (a charge leveled at antidepressants which turns out to be largely untrue but which would seem to be the case here) which is problematic both because it lessens their social value and makes it much harder for them to get off the medication if it's causing problems, as happened in my case.
I guess I don't really know what I'm talking about here. I'm just a guy who took Risperidol, and I'm unfamiliar with the science behind them and the institutional context that leads to their acceptance and wider use for treatment of secondary disorders. But I do think that it's dishonest for the drug companies and doctors to push something in this way. That's all.
posted by Mike B. at 1:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Some scattered bits before I get to the "meat" (ahem) of the postings for today--although I suspect these may be slim as I am still reeling from seeing the Matrix last night, and I should, er, probably get some work done. But anyway:
Fluxblog gives me a shout out today, which is much appreciated, and so I'll just repeat what I said below: go read.
Salon has a good rundown of Ari's lies, although Helen Thomas is curiously absent.
Finally, the Times did a story on Cornel West's role in the Matrix. They repeat Baudrillard's grumbling that the first movie "stemmed mostly from misunderstandings" of his work (well duh Jean, but I would hope that a critical theorist would welcome the reinterpretation) and Cornel talks about how the second movie is kind of a critique of the first. I will stop here before I go off on a total geek-fest, as I have already been doing that in e-mail. Ahem.
posted by Mike B. at 12:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, May 19, 2003
JFK: the musical!
Y'all gotta get this: in today's Fluxblog post, Matthew (who has been posting some absolutely killer MP3s lately) gives us a song called "The Trumpet" from a record called "Sing Along With JFK" in which one of Kennedy's speeches is not only orchestrated, but repeated line-by-line in counterpoint by a choir. It's a mind-blowing bit of weirdness appreciable by the politics and music geek alike.
...just realized how weird a title "Sing Along With JFK" is. Man.
posted by Mike B. at 5:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So I made some rather nasty comments over at Eschaton on a post about liberals walking in lockstep, although it mostly refers to a weekend post linking to a thread wherein righty bloggers vent their assumptions about lefty bloggers. (Wshew. Link tracking can be exhausting.) That in itself is well worth reading, but I have been mildly challenged in my barbs against libertarians (though I feel I responded fairly wittily), so let me explain a bit more exhaustively. (And yes, I know that in my case that's the operative word.)
It always seems mean and kind of pointless to take on libertarians. I mean, when a feminist critic can demolish their entire ideology in a chapter of a book called Justice, Gender and the Family (shoutout to my man Rawls!), libertarians are the political philosophy equivalent of Fred Durst--yeah, he sucks, and he seems to be everywhere, but we all know he sucks, and what's the point? The fans will grow up or get married and get over it soon enough.
But maybe I'm wrong. Jason and I are embarking on a read-through of the latter two sections of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, a book which, although it's presented as a historical tract concerned with an era (the Cold War and World War II) that seems over, tied in even very loosely with some of Arendt's more straightly philosophical works like The Human Condition it both constitutes a statement of purpose and intent and ends up having a lot of resonances with our current dillemma. Try as we might to avoid inscribing our current historical moment onto Arendt's (and I think Jason and I both did), certain things keep popping up.
There's a lot to talk about here, which I might end up posting on another site, but it was very strange to go through the first chapter of the second book, "Imperialism," and see the ways that she was basically limning and condemning libertarianism years before it was officially birthed. After an absolutely mind-blowing runthrough of Hobbes, she then asserts that while his philosophy at the time seemed primarily to reflect on the English Civil War, the justification for tyranny he outlines comes to pass 200 years later at the hands of the rising middle class, who disliked and distrusted the state and correspondingly made every effort to stay out of politics until it became clear that they could not successfully expand abroad without the protection of force that could only be guaranteed by the state, and that protection would only be extended if the merchants were, in fact, running the state. She opposes these imperialists to nationalists ("statists" in libertarian lingo) who believed in the political neutrality of the civil service, a neutrality which became corrupted when moneyed interests began to intervene directly in government. Painting the bourgeoisie as a group of individuals perfectly exemplifying the Hobbsian model of man as a self-interested animal unconcerned with society or community, she asserts that their disdain of government and love of expansion and profit at any cost leads inevitably to the conclusion that they don't care for anyone else or believe in the essential commonality of humanity, and that this attitude leads irreversibly to the racism that so poisoned the conflicts of the twentieth century. Replace "bourgeoisie" with "libertarians" in that last sentence and the conditionals retain the same truth-value, even if it doesn't lead to the same conclusion (for obvious reasons), and turning that back onto the rest of the chapter, you begin to see a historical pattern of anti-statists becoming pro-statists and corrupting the very government they have so little regard for.
So maybe it's time to start worrying about libertarians. Certainly the libby bloggers seem to generally support the administration on most of the major issues aside from civil liberties, although I could be wrong. But at any rate, more troubling is the "political journey" many in the current administration have taken from businessmen (Bush, Cheney, etc.) or anti-gov't politicians (Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Rice) to committed statists. You can track this in the way their rhetoric still depicts them as outsiders even though they have near-total control over state policy at this point, and in the various ways they've been accused of using government connections to benefit private interests. Certainly this is not unique in American government, and the civil service was probably far from pure before, so maybe this is less the turning point that Arendt describes it as and more a cyclical thing, but at any rate, it seems like libertarians may be worth watching now.
If we're going to make the maybe not entirely valid charge that the neo-conservatives are Straussians, I think it's much more useful to start talking about libertarians as basically Hobbesians. It may be true that we do, in fact, live in Hobbes' leviathan, but as Eric Voeglin (more on him in later days) would point out, continuously describing the status quo does nothing more than reinforce it. Hobbes created something new hundreds of years ago, and all these folks are doing is reifying it, and perhaps using it, as Hobbes would expect, purely to further their own interests. It admits little hope, and much cynicism, and seeks to conquer those things it hates, including American political institutions themselves. And regardless of your policy positions, I think that's simply not good. The "Well how can they want democracy overseas if they don't want democracy at home!" thing is a little glib, but it does seem clear at this point that there are some profoundly anti-democratic wishes both among libertarians and the current administration; moreover, if you want to give foreigners the benefit of the free market much more than the benefits of free government, just say so. Libertarians and, to a degree, neo-conservatives think that business is more likely than government to create the greatest social good, and I do not think that is true, or at least it's not a good political philosophy, and Adam Smith would agree with me.
posted by Mike B. at 5:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Atrios points us to an almost distressingly honest interview with Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard. Eek:
JournalismJobs.com: Why have conservative media outlets like The Weekly Standard and Fox News Channel become more popular in the past few years?
Matt Labash: Because they feed the rage. We bring the pain to the liberal media. I say that mockingly, but it's true somewhat. We come with a strong point of view and people like point of view journalism. While all these hand-wringing Freedom Forum types talk about objectivity, the conservative media likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective. We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it actually.
Well, nice to see they know what they're doing--and that the Fox News slogan "Fair and Balanced" really is cynicism at its most disgusting. (Although kudos for picking something that sends liberals into unproductive paroxisms of rage.) This is, I guess, another bullet point in the pro v. con argument about whether conservatives are just fighting sincerely for their erroneous ideals or are evil, cynical manipulators. I generally tend toward the former (as I do with liberals) but there are some distressing examples of the latter these days.
posted by Mike B. at 4:02 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So I tend to think that the Daily Howler can get a wee bit over the top at times. And the 5/3/03 edition looked to be no different, calling the press "buttboys" (ahem) before enticing readers to view a recent Hardball transcript "if your stomach is strong." Well, I did, and read:
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that’s people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight?
And that’s the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously.
What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a super sonic plane, and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin, like an actual jet pilot?
...and I did actually have to stop reading, I was so appalled. Quite incredible, isn't it? I'm not even going to bother to comment on that last bit. Wow.
posted by Mike B. at 3:47 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Pete Hamil makes the excellent point that the best point of comparison for the trailer full of dead undocumented migrant workers might be the Irish immigrants who died on illegal passages to America 100 years ago. We figured out what to do about that problem, and we can figure out what to do about the issue of Mexican workers. In short: immigration reform.
Once upon a time, they'd have all been Irish. Their names would have been Liam or Seamus or Bridey instead of Jose and Maria and Panchito. Instead of trailer trucks, the Irish traveled in what were soon called coffin ships, jammed together in the deepest bottom decks, the air stained by the odors of excrement and urine and death. They died of hunger and thirst. They died of typhus. They died trying to get to America.
So when I read about those 18 Mexicans and Central Americans who died on the side of a road in Victoria, Tex., in a sealed trailer with New York plates, jammed with almost 80 other human beings, I hear the Irish pleading for a chance at life. I hear them begging for water and scraps of food for their children. I hear them praying. I hear their shallow breathing as the air runs out. I see them pounding in the dark, fetid air against sealed hatches, desperate to see the sky.
For the Irish are the true ancestors of last week's immigrant dead. The bones of those long-dead Irish, like the bones of so many Africans forced through the Middle Passage, are scattered now upon the vast floor of the Atlantic. Today, nobody knows their names. But we do know how they got to those unmarked graves - and why.
And the dreadful truth is this: It didn't need to happen. We have known for years that the policies governing migration from Mexico are irrational, humiliating and dangerous. Americans who want to go to Cancun simply show up at the airport and get a tourist card on the airplane. Mexicans can't do that. I've seen thousands of them lined up at the American Embassy in Mexico City, waiting for hours to go through the legal process of obtaining a visa to go to the U.S. Some eventually give up. Some go alone to the border. Each year, hundreds die making the crossing.
In February 2001, President Bush met in Mexico with Mexican President Vicente Fox, and an accord on a more rational immigration process was high on the agenda. There were followup discussions among American and Mexican bureaucrats. There was much talk that many undocumented Mexicans who had been living for extended periods in the U.S. would be legalized. There were discussions of new short-term work permits for Mexicans, a means of eliminating the coyotes from the process.
All that ended after 9/11. There was no record of terrorists crossing our border with Mexico as there was with the Canadian border. But the attempt was being made to seal both borders. All discussion of normalizing the status of Mexicans inside the U.S. ended. The Mexicans felt betrayed. In the runup to the war in Iraq, Mexico made clear that it could not be counted on as an ally at the United Nations.
Maybe it's worth pointing out that the corrolary to the "America should always have been aware of terrorism and 9/11 did nothing to change its actual status" argument is that since 9/11 didn't really change anything all of our previous policy initiatives should have continued unabated. (Except the Israel one of course, which was less a policy initiative and more a policy nap.)
posted by Mike B. at 3:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm not sure if this is old news or not, but this page makes a reasonably convincing case that the London Evening Standard made a crowd of celebrating Iraqis look larger by (rather clumsily) cutting and pasting. Of course, the Guardian doesn't believe them, so...
posted by Mike B. at 11:37 AM 0 comments Links to this post
The rock stars are not your friends, Liz.
posted by Mike B. at 11:31 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Does anyone else read William Safire and hear him talking in the voice of that guy on the Simpsons with a mustache who's almost always a waiter and says, "Yeeeeeeeeeees?" ("I had a stroooooooooke!")
I'm just curious. Like, try reading this passage in that voice:
Second, to paraphrase Henny Penny — the dollar is falling! Americans are proud of "the strong dollar," assuming that means a strong economy. But the dollar has been nosediving against the euro, which means the average out-of-work or raiseless American worker will be hard put to afford a bottle of French perfume.
(add "Mwahaha, I'm so witty!" at the end for the full effect.)
posted by Mike B. at 11:17 AM 0 comments Links to this post