Friday, October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel, RIP

Saddest Halloween ever.

Terkel lived an amazing life. He was a strong voice for progressive politics through some great times and some terrible times. He was also an amazing chronicler of the times in which he lived.

But damn it, why couldn't he have lived a week longer to not only see an African-American elected president, but also a man from Chicago.

We should all make a toast on election night to the great Studs Terkel.

Say What?

A buddy-cop TV show? Written by the guy who penned "Fuck tha Police"? Truly, the power of money to make one forget one's previous radical stances never ceases to amaze me.

Thoughts on DeNixonification

I've been thinking quite a bit about Trend's post of a couple of days ago where he argued that Obama could start the deNixonification process in America.

I think there's something to it. It is possible although it is a long row to hoe.

But I also think it is worth considering this matter historically. There is the fact that Nixon semi-permanently damaged the American political system and body politic by his cynical acts. These actions were then built upon by other cynical politicians such as Reagan and Clinton and followed up with Congressional corruption and other acts that disillusioned a large section of the American public.

But there is also a sense of myth to this. To believe this entire construction, as I did before I really thought hard about it, is to ignore the Gilded Age. This is not the first time that the voting public has hated politicians and had no respect for the political system. Between about 1870 and 1901, most Americans had nothing but contempt for the people who ran their nation. This was a period of weak presidents and a strong but corrupt Congress. It was almost assumed by most Americans that if you were in Congress, you were probably taking bribes. And both parties essentially did whatever corporations wanted. I know this sounds nothing like the present.

The Credit Mobilier scandal of 1872 was just one of many times when the American public had little reason but to show contempt for their politicians. To be brief, the Union Pacific railroad decided to create a nonexistent company that they could funnel money to in order that they could be paid more for building the Transcontinental Railroad. They charged at least $23 million extra dollars for building the railroad, all of which went into the hands of executives and the politicians needed to make the scheme work.

Among the politicians implicated: Vice President Schuyler Colfax, future president James Garfield, future presidential candidate and powerful Maine senator James Blaine, and about 10 other congressmen and senators.

You can imagine the contempt and cynicism such actions, particularly when repeated time and time again, would have on the American public.

The difference between the 1880s and 2000s is that people still voted in large numbers, often over 80% turnout of the voting age population. And while I am not an expert on voting patterns of the Gilded Age, I believe this had more to do with local politics, patronage, and left-over feelings from the Civil War than any real belief that the person at the top of the ticket was worth a damn.

In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt came along and was a refreshing figure that took America in a new direction and really changed how Americans looked at the presidency and politicians in general. Don't get me wrong, I really despise TR. But he does show that a young, idealistic, activist president can make a difference in how people see politicians.

So why do we have this strong myth about everyone respecting politicians and looking up to the president before Nixon. Even during previous periods of high political engagement with low levels of corruption or other cynicism-producing activities, there was significant discontent with the government from large groups of the population.

Thus, I am wondering if this idea of a pre-Nixon past where everyone looks up to the president for leadership isn't a result of McCarthyism. The erasure from public space of real opposition to national leadership was a part of that plastic 50s world of Leave it to Beaver, Mom having Dad's martini ready when we walked in the door, and using your school desk to protect you from the atomic bomb. Of course this was the same world where we killed Ethel Rosenberg, where redbaiting was a part of life, when Mom was killing her own pain and boredom through Valium, and where Dad was the man in the gray flannel suit.

I think that this idea of a heroic political past is a specific historical phenomenon of the 1950s that doesn't really stand up to historical analysis. Like so much of baby boomer culture, this idea has been made normative and the lack of it defined as abnormal. But I would say that the last 35 years are at least as common in American history as the idealized Cold War world.

New Comment Record

For the second straight month, we have set a new comment record. Right now, with almost a day to go, we have had 583 comments this month. Last month we had 550.

I want to again thank all of our commenters. The real value of writing on the blog is entering into interesting conversations. So keep commenting! And for you lurkers out there, start commenting too!

I hope to have a similar post up at the end of next month.

Note: The final number was 604

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NFL @ Week 8--NFC (Anti-Cowboy Edition)

Since the Broncos had their bye week, I was able to have a stress-free day of football. That will end this week as they go up against Miami and their wildcat business. It could easily smash up Denver's "defense" so, if you play fantasy football and have Ronnie Brown on your team, I'd say this would be the time to play him. Enough about the Broncos, it's NFC time.

NFC EAST:
Though the Giants won their ugly, ugly game against the Steelers, Eli is looking like the Eli I remember from last year. He looks lost once again, like he just left the outhouse at night but dropped his flashlight down the hole. It makes me happy; the only good Manning is a bewildered Manning which, luckily we're getting from both conferences. Dallas may have won, but they look delightfully crappy in their game. Could I outperform Brad Johnson? I know I could outrun him, and that makes me like Tony Romo or, as they call him these days, Li'l Tony Pinkie.

NFC NORTH:
With Chicago and Green Bay tied up, this looks like a fun division going into the back half of the season. It's hard to believe that Kyle Orton is playing decent football, but there you have it. Since Aaron Rogers has been playing as well as he has (while hurt), I don't hear a lot of people discussing Old Man Brett. It's too bad, too, I'm missing hourly reports on what he ate for dinner last night. I hope it was meatloaf. Speaking of meatloaf, do you think that a really nicely done meatloaf could beat the Lions. Hell, even the Cowboys could probably beat the Lions if they tried and they aren't nearly as good as meatloaf.

NFC SOUTH:
Tampa should be stricken from the league for losing to the Cowboys in one of the worst games one could ever see. Jeff Garcia played fairly well, put just couldn't put away that crazy Dallas secondary. Maybe Gruden should consider signing receivers that are younger that fifty. I'm very happy that Carolina is doing well. I have no love for Jake Delhomme or Steve Smith or anyone else on that team besides Jonathan Stewart. I say that, if the Panthers win a playoff game, Stewart is way better than Marion Barber. GO DUCKS!!

NFC WEST:
How much worse can this division get? The bottom three teams in this division together could merely tie the top two in the East and that division features the Cowboys. I know...that level of bad makes me shutter, too. On a better note, I like seeing Mike Singletary freaking out. If there's a man who looks crazy, it's Singletary. I hope he gets into a brawl with his players sometime during the remainder of the season; it'll give me a reason to watch anybody in the division. And, look, the Seahawks won a game. Good luck to Jim Mora, Jr. net year, this is a team headed in the direction of the Bengals. But, you know, when you hire Cowboy castoff running backs, it's what you get.

Two quick final notes: 1) Fuck the Cowboys and 2) GO BRONCOS!!

Good Idea/Bad Idea

Good Idea: getting Joe Morgan off of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

Bad Idea: replacing him with chauvinistic idiot Rick Sutcliffe.

I'm going to really explore the studio space this time and just say: WTF? You're going to replace an arrogant, uninformed, lazy, often-wrong, more-often-with-little-interesting-to-say announcer with another one who has the added bonus of being a sexist pig and occasionally broadcasting drunk? When you have way better broadcasters, like Orel Hershiser and Tony Gwynn? Both Hershiser and Gwynn are absolute revelations. I've been watching televised baseball games for about as long as I can remember, and it had been years since I'd ever heard a broadcaster say anything meaningful or teach me anything. Yet one Sunday night, Morgan was out, and Hershiser and Gwynn joined with Miller to "replace him." That night, I learned more about baseball, both generally and that particular game than I probably had learned in over 10 years. It was just amazing, and interesting, and fun! They bring back Hershiser periodically when Morgan can't make it (usually Hall of Fame weekend, which would eliminate Gwynn, too), but the idea of even just a Hershiser/Miller combo is so.......awesome!!! And yet the rumor is Morgan's replacement would be idiot-faux-redneck-sexist-uninteresting-self-absorbed RICK SUTCLIFFE?

Getting rid of Joe Morgan - GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Replacing him with (and continuing to employ) Rick Sutcliffe - BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!!!!!!!!

Neo-Confederates for Obama?


















I don't even know what to make of this. There can't be that many self-identified Confederates who support Obama. But it is kind of mindblowing.

Via Civil War Memory

Why I Support Barack Obama

I thought I would give the all-important Erik Loomis presidential endorsement to one Barack Obama. Here's why.

1. I am excited about the imposition of sharia law on the United States.

2. I am a socialist.

3. I want to engage in class warfare against the rich.

4. I hate white people.

5. I want to commit race suicide.

6. I hate America.

7. I hate real Americans.

8. I want black men to rape white women.

9. I want God to damn America.

10. I want a secret cabal of ex-Weatherman to run the nation.

11. I want him to lead the anti-American wing of Congress into power.

12. I am an anarchist.

13. I am a member of the PLO and I want death to Israel.

I am sure there are other reasons too. As I continue to read right-wing media, I will remember what they all are.

Historical Image of the Day


Early 20th century intracervical and intrauterine pessaries.

I think the point of early 20th century birth control was to make it too painful to have sex.

And believe it or not, these devices were considered a significant improvement when they came out in the 1890s.

I realize that people might want to know about just what these things are. Here is the link to the article where I got the picture. Anyone on a university account should be able to access it for free. It's a great article on the history of birth control that I recommend for anyone. It's at least worth a look for the pictures. And if this link doesn't work, it is from the September 2000 issue of the Journal of American History.

The Decemberists Are Playing Where?

Tonight, I am seeing the Decemberists play.

In the gym at my school.

Why are they playing here? I have no idea. It is the only show they are playing in the South on this tour.

It's going to be like Elvis in the 50s when he used to play gyms in small towns all over the South. It's also going to be the weirdest show I've even been at. Not only am I skeptical about the acoustics of the gym, but I will be at a show with all of my students and some of my colleagues. I don't exactly expect anything to happen, but the atmosphere will be very strange.

I'm sure not complaining though! This will be the only thing happening in Georgetown all year.

Films for US History Survey Class

In the spring, I am teaching 2 sections of the recent U.S. history survey course, which here is defined as 1865-present. I should note that I think 1865 is a really bad time to end the first half of the survey. 1877 makes so much more sense. But whatever, this decision was probably made decades ago.

Anyway, I am including a film element in the course. I will be showing 6 films outside of class. The students must watch 4. The question is which films to show. It is so hard narrowing it down.

Here is what I am thinking right now.

1. A silent film of some sort. There are so many to choose from.

2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

3. Do the Right Thing

4. Red Dawn

5. Sullivan's Travels

6. The Day the Earth Stood Still

I think all of these films are good choices. However, I am not thrilled about the group as a whole for some reason. I'd like to have a good feminist film in there. But, and quite sadly, the canon of really good films about women's issues is slight in American film. No doubt this has a lot to do with the never-ending sexism of Hollywood. So something to fill that hole would be nice.

Anyway, I'd like to hear what suggestions you all might have, particularly if you think there are better choices that what is on the list above.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies

Normally, I'd snark about whiny Philadelphia fans complaining about no title since 1983 and say something bitter like "Cleveland - 1964."


But a true, heartfelt congrats to the Phillies, their fans, and the city of Philadelphia. Every year, watching the sheer joy of the champions, I get a little tearful, imagining how great it must feel to be that team's fans (except, of course, when it's the Yankees - then the tears are for a completely different reason), and this year is no exception. I have no doubt if my beloved Indians ever win a World Series, I'll bawl like a baby, but as I can't do that this year, I'm happy for the Phillies and their fans. Congrats, too, to the players, and a particularly meaningful congrats to Charlie Manuel, beloved former Indians' manager - it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy not named Eric Wedge.

And again, Congrats to a great season and a World Championship.


And....Indians, 2009!!!!

Can Obama (or Anybody) "De-Nixon-ify" the U.S.?

Watching the Obama half-hour program tonight, I admit, I was pretty excited, not that he's going to be president (we still have to vote), but that there's any politician like him right now. I'm far from a giddy, emotive person, yet I've been excited about Obama, as a politician and then as a candidate, since his 2004 Democratic Convention address. I have repeatedly admitted that this is the first time in my life I've ever been excited about voting for anybody, and it will be the first time that I vote not against a candidate, but for one.

Tonight, hearing just the first two minutes, where Obama expressed how people still have hope, in spite of the economy and the wars and all the things facing the country, a thought crossed my mind. Is it possible that Obama, or any other politician, may be able to "de-Nixon-ify" the U.S. public's attitude towards politics? What I mean by this is, ever since Watergate, the public attitude towards American politics and politicians has been one of cynicism, skepticism, sarcasm, whereas that hadn't always been the case. For all the legacies Nixon left, no doubt the most impressive one to me is how his administration fundamentally shifted the way we the American people view politicians today.

Will it be that any politician, Obama or somebody else, might be able to reverse the damage that Nixon to our image of politics and politicians? What do others think - will Watergate be "undone" somewhere down the line? Or are we too partisan at this point for anything to be "undone" or improved?

The Hideous and Appalling Violence and Tactics Colombia's Paramilitary Groups Employ

I have written several times before about how paramilitary groups are responsible for a not-insignificant amount violence in Colombia. This article shows just how repulsive and appalling the paramilitaries' tactics are:

Prosecutors and human rights researchers are investigating hundreds of such deaths and disappearances, contending that Colombia’s security forces are increasingly murdering civilians and making it look as if they were killed in combat, often by planting weapons by the bodies or dressing the corpses in guerrilla fatigues.
With soldiers under intense pressure in recent years to register combat kills to earn promotions and benefits like time off and extra pay, reports of civilian killings are climbing, prosecutors and researchers say, pointing to a grisly facet of Colombia’s long internal war against leftist insurgencies.
The deaths have called into question the depth of Colombia’s recent strides against the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and have begun to haunt the nation’s military hierarchy.

The whole article is depressing, but must be read. The U.S. tacitly supports these tactics via its financial support for the Uribe administration and its funding in the "drug war," whose funds often end up in the hands of these paramilitaries. Additionally, the complete failure to categorize such tactics as "terrorist" simply because Colombia is the U.S.'s biggest ally in the region, while nothing new, is no less inexcusable.

And then there's the issue of Uribe's leadership. He can insist he has nothing to do with these groups, and make public demonstrations of his "intolerance" for such actions, but they ring hollow, considering how closely paramilitary groups have been tied to Uribe's administration and friends, allies, and cabinet members.

This is in no way an apologia for the FARC or its actions; still, it has become increasingly clear of late that the FARC is far from the sole responsible agent for the civil war that plagues Colombia, and at times it seems the paramilitary groups are willing to go even further than the FARC in their "war." It's things like this that make me suspect that the disappearance of the FARC would not lead to the disappearance of violence in Colombia, in spite of what many both in and outside of Colombia may believe. As long as these groups act with relative impunity, and as long as there is a president who is unwilling to go after these groups in anything but a symbolic fashion when things get too appalling, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of hope to me that the violence in Colombia will go down anytime soon.

That's Not a Contradiction; That's a Failed Method

Just whittling my time away while waking up to coffee this morning, I read this meaningless, fluffy little article on the "reddest" and "bluest" cities in the U.S. Among the "reddest" cities, they included Lubbock, Texas (No surprise here; 3 of the 4 they listed were in Texas, and the fourth was Provo, Utah). One of the ways they described Lubbock was "contradictory," and one of their two examples of Lubbock's "inherent" contradictions? "The city has a high rate of teenage pregnancy but an abstinence-only sex education policy."

There's nothing contradictory about this, and these aren't mutually exclusive things. Time and again, people have shown that abstinence-only sex-ed doesn't stop teenagers from having sex. While I have no expectations for an article of this type, it's still really frustrating to me that this article can espouse abstinence-only as a valid form of sex-ed even while its own evidence (Lubbock) shows that the approach doesn't work. It's one thing for right-wing nutjobs who believe people and dinosaurs lived side-by-side and that the rapture is dependent upon Israel's independence to espouse this crap, but for an "article" of this sort to also blindly accept and puke up abstinence only as a valid program and remain befuddled as to why teenagers get pregnant so often in a city with such a program is just mind-numbing and counfounding.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Totalizing Ethnic Stereotypes from How the Other Half Lives

My Progressive Era class tomorrow is reading Jacob Riis' classic 1901 expose of tenement housing, How the Other Half Lives. Figured I'd keep a tab of some of the more egregious totalizing ethnic statements.

1. "With all his conspicuous faults, the swarthy Italian immigrant has his redeeming traits. He is as honest as he is hot-headed."

2. "Like the Chinese, the Italian is a born gambler."

3. "The Jew runs to real estate as soon as he can save up enough for a deposit to clinch the bargain... But abuse and ridicule are not weapons to fight the Israelite with. He pockets them quietly with the rent and bides his time. He knows from experience, both sweet and bitter, that all things come to those who wait, including the houses and lands of their persecutors."

4. "The Irishman does not naturally take kindly to tenement life, though with characteristic versatility he adapts himself to its conditions at once."

5. "The Irishman's genius runs to public affairs rather than domestic life."

6. "The Chinaman does not rise at all; here, as at home, he simply remains stationary."

7. "Between the tabernacles of Jewry and the shrines of the Bend, Joss has cheekily planted his pagan worship of idols, chief among which are the celestial worshipper's own gain and lusts. Whatever may be said about the Chinman being a thousand years behind the age on his own shores, here he is distinctly abreast of it in his successfu scheming to 'make it pay.'"

8. "Ages of senseless idolatry, a mere grub-worship, have left him [the Chinese] without the essential qualities for appreciating the gentle teachings of a faith [Christianity] whose motive and unselfish spirit are alike beyond his grasp."

9. "It is not altogether by chance that the Chinaman has chosen the laundry as his distinctive field. He is by nature as clean as the cat, which he resembles in his traits of cruel cunning, and savage fury when aroused."

10. "Thrift is the watchword of Jewtown, as of its people the world over."

11. "The Czech is the Irishman of Central Europe, with all his genius and his strong passions."

12. "Cleanliness is the characteristic of the negro in his new surroundings, as it was his virtue in his old. In this respect he is immensely superior to the lowest of the whites, the Italians and the Polish Jews."

13. "The German has an advantage over his Celtic neighbor in his strong love for flowers."

I could go on.

Say It Ain't So, Coors!

I think I'm going to be sick.... The economic crisis has finally reached critical mass. Coors has decided to finally discontinue Zima for good. Stock up people, this amazing beverage will only be in stores until December and it will be gone for good. Oh, how I'll long for the days of listening to my Boyz II Men and Blues Traveller CDs while sitting down to a couple frosty, refreshingly clear malt beverages. I was going to tie a sweater around my neck and relive those days tonight, but now I'm too sad. Please, Coors, please restart the clear revolution. In these tough economic times, won't somebody think of America's thirst?

Diego Maradona to Coach Argentina

If this report (in Portuguese) is true, then Diego Maradona is going to be the new coach of the Argentine national men's soccer team (and as I write, it's now confirmed in English, here). It's daring and bold, to say the least, and no doubt a major PR move, guaranteed to get Argentina completely wound up about their team in a way they haven't been since Maradona was on the national team. He is an individual whose popularity is rivaled only by Evita. Imagine if Derek Jeter were a national hero rather than just a Yankee fan idol (with Jeffrey Maier as the Hand of God), and you only begin to get into the hero-worship of Maradona. When I was in Argentina, I seriously saw a soccer game on TV which was split-screen: on the left was the actual game, and on the right was a camera focusing on Maradona (in the stands that day) the entire game, just to capture his reactions.

This will be interesting, to say the least. Among other things, Maradona is a former coke fiend with an explosive temper whose most basic life events make national headlines in Argentina, where the population holds him as highly in Argentina as Evita. He could be great, though I hope not; I like him about as much as I like Jeter, and his fans are perhaps even more obnoxious (Maradona is not, never was, and never will be the greatest soccer player; that was Pele. You'd think a goal total of 307 vs. 1280 would be enough to settle that). I just don't see this working out, and if it's as embarassing for both the men's team and Maradona as I hope it will be, then this should be fun. However, if Maradona is successful, this will be really ugly, and Argentine fans will become even more intolerable than they already are (which is really hard to even begin to imagine).

...UPDATE: Given the coach and the player, guess we're virtually guaranteed of seeing this again...

Yuck

For my globalization class today, we are going to spend some time looking at mail order bride sites as part of our section on globalization and gender/sexuality.

I am going through this stuff in preparation. I feel gross just looking at it. The sites are so full of misogyny that I want to puke.

I think I need a shower.

Shorter Cultural Anthropology

Shorter cultural anthropology: "I am going to go, like, do some shit. And then I am going to write a book about it."

From, a crabby historian.

Historical Image of the Day


Marines, 1911

Interesting story here according to the Library of Congress site where I got it.

Evidently, these Marines were sent to Cuba as a way of intimidating Mexican revolutionaries by showing that the U.S. could move its troops around very quickly to deal with any problems on the border.

Random Video - Jackie Kennedy Campaigning in Spanish

With one week left to the elections, here's a fun little video from a campaign.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Drill, Baby, Drill

Evidently, many people believe that we can drill our way out of all of our problems.

And if the resources aren't here? Well, we'll drill the rest of the universe.

Starting with the moon according to Julia Levitt
.

She writes:

The New York Times reported last week that on October 22, India launched its first unmanned spacecraft to orbit the moon.

The craft is expected to remain in space for two years. During that time, it will do something undeniably cool:

prepare a 3-D atlas of the moon.

The other part of its mission, however, is something I find pretty unsettling:

and prospect the lunar surface for natural resources, including uranium, a coveted fuel for nuclear power plants, according to the Indian Space Research Organization.


Um, this is a really stupid idea. Not only is it logistically insane and prohibitively costly, but it is yet another example in humans' belief that there is always more where that came from and that technology will solve our problems.

But there's not more of a lot of things. And if we are seriously looking to find our resources from the moon, we are in very big trouble.

Tacos

Poncho Won Ton muses on tacos, possibly the greatest food in the world. We can only hope he continues to rate tacos around the Americas.

Seriously, what is better than a good taco? Anything? Anything at all?

I should also note that Poncho took a sound beating from me in fantasy football this week, so maybe getting some hits will ease him back from the edge.

Historical Image of the Day


School, Hohenwald, Tennessee.

I don't have a date on this but I would guess 1870s or 1880s. However, in backwaters like this, basing a guess on clothing can be tricky, so it could be later.

Tensions between Brazil and Paraguay

The New York Times has a story up about "mounting tensions" between Brazil and Paraguay. This week, Brazil is conducting military training along their border with Paraguay. Paraguay is rather nervous over this, and Fernando Lugo this week made some strong statements about what would happen if Brazil violated even "one inch" of Paraguay's territorial sovereignty.

I must say, the tensions mentioned in this story seem to fall far more on the Paraguay side of the equation than the Brazil side. I think the implicit connections that the story tries to make between the training practices and the Paraguayan landless' efforts to seize land owned by Brazilians in Paraguay is tenuous at best. Yes, there is the possibility that naturalized Brazilians' ownership is at risk in Paraguay, and it is in the Brazilian government's interests to make sure its citizens are not harmed, be it in Paraguay or elsewhere. Still, I'm not really convinced that the Paraguayan landless movement and the military training have led to heightened nervousness in Brazil. That may be the case, but the article really offers nothing in the way of evidence to back that up.

As for Paraguay, I have little doubt that their tensions are very real and a bit more pervasive. None can fault Paraguay for being a bit worried about the fact that, just as there is a growing movement to remove foreign (mostly Brazilian) farmers from there lands in Paraguay, Brazil is training its military along Paraguay's border. Although it was nearly 140 years ago, the War of the Triple Alliance, in which Brazil (with nominal and brief aid from Argentina and Uruguay) invaded Paraguay. The 6-year war (1864-1870) ended up with nearly half of Paraguay's population dead, and more than 80% of its men over the age of 20 casualties of war or disease. It's not hard to understand why, even if so much time has passed, Paraguay might still be a bit on edge over this.

Still, I really don't think much is going to come of this, at least for now. Brazil does often train troops in that region, and it (along with the Amazonian basin) is a major site of illegal smuggling of drugs, weapons, and especially products like electronics and housewares, whose smuggling helps circumvent Brazilian taxes and tariffs. What is more, if there's any single word that could describe Lula's foreign policy, it's "diplomatic." Even when popular opinion in Brazil calls for sabre-rattling and takes a more aggressive stance towards its neighbors, Lula has practiced a calm, peaceful foreign policy. In short, "cooperation" has been the word for the last 6 years under Lula, and there is absolutely no good reason to see the military training as a sudden shift in that policy over what amounts to a domestic issue facing Paraguay.

That said, this does raise the specter of uglier regional politics in the post-Lula era. There can be no doubt that, since the beginning of the decade, Brazil has come to assume a new role as regional leader in South America, gaining a very real presence as the major power of the region, rather than a nominal presence (which is what Brazil's role as a regional leader often was throughout the 20th century). While Lula's administration has been one of reasoned diplomacy and cooperation, there's nothing to guarantee that future leaders will be as calm and patient in dealing with their neighbors, particularly when said leaders perceive Brazil's own interests to be at risk. In light of Lula's foreign policy over the past several years, I really don't see much aggression in and of itself in Brazil's recent definition of foreign aggression as "whoever threatens or commits “hostile prejudicial acts against Brazilian sovereignty, territorial integrity or the Brazilian people”. However, it is open-ended enough to leave room for future leaders to interpret it in a far more aggressive fashion than Lula probably would. And while it may seem strange to suggest that Brazil would provoke a war with another country over a perceived threat, geopolitics is strange, and it's not like countries haven't unilaterally declared war over "perceived threats" before. Thus, while I don't think there's much to the Mercopress article right now (and, like the New York Times article, I think the connections it and the Estado de Sao Paulo are trying to make are a bit tenuous), it does raise the interesting specter that, down the line, Brazil could become a bit of a regional bully in South America as the regional, hemispheric, and global geopolitics shift.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Socialist" scare tactics (at GlobalComment)

So the McCain campaign won’t let go of Joe the Plumber. He’s still being trotted out in speeches by McCain and Palin. They mention again and again how Obama wants to “spread” Joe’s wealth.

Aside from the condescension (yet again) implicit in McCain’s reduction of Joe to a stereotype (and leaving out any of the frenzied investigations into just who Joe really is), I want to look a little closer at what the Joe the Plumber rhetoric really means.

Joe, of course, is white. He’s from Ohio, a state connected with middle-American whiteness, as opposed to the cities that McCain likes to emphasize in reference to Obama (”I don’t need any advice from a…Chicago politician!”).

The city is black; Middle America is white.


Read the rest. Because you love me.

Shorter Ralph Nader: Forget about Issues, I've Got Records to Set!!!

I don't know which is more embarassing/hilarious: that Nader wants this to show up in the Guinness Book of World Records (way to be concerned about the issues there, Ralph!), or that 2/3 of America is apparently unaware he's running again.


And people say he's only an egomaniac who is more concerned with himself than with any real establishment of a legitimate third party.....

Historical Image of the Day


Man with hair. Biloxi, Mississippi, early 1970s.

So, Exactly What Kind of Questions IS Sarah Palin Good At Answering (Besides Scripted Questions)?

Of all the delightful parts of this story, there's one portion that leaves me confused:

A Palin associate defended her [over allegations she's "going rogue], saying that she is "not good at process questions" and that her comments on Michigan and the robocalls were answers to process questions.

Um....what the hell is a "process question?" Is it a question that was formed in a process in which Palin could never take part (and therefore not be prepared for the answer)? Is it a question that requires basic cranial processes to work normally? Just what is a "process question?"


Given how Palin's history of "answering" questions has played out over the last 2 months, it's hard to see "not being good at process questions" as anything other than a jargony euphemism for "she lacks the basic brain functions and/or mastery of the English Language necessary to answer simple questions." And when your own "associates" are saying that, that's not a good sign.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The States

Here's a question--what is going on in state elections? According to this Times article, Republicans think they can win in a lot of the state legislatures. I don't know how true this is, the reality is that not only do I not know, I don't even know how to know. All these national political websites seem to be ignoring the states. I haven't seen a single thing on either Kos or 538.com on any state races. Even the governor's races, which are really important.

Obviously, the national elections are more important and the focus on the Netroots have been on these races. But one thing the Republicans know is the value of low-level down-ballot races. School boards. Judges. County commissioners. Things like that. The left has never focused on these races to much extent. For all the talk of the grassroots, we haven't done a very good job at actually building from there to bigger races.

This really matters because of congressional realignment in 2010. In Texas, we need to flip 5 House seats. That might happen. But if Republicans are making gains in other states, that's a problem. And if they win governorships, that's even worse. Hopefully, one place the Netroots can build in the next 2 years is to a greater focus and publicity machine for these state and local races.

Historical Image of the Day


Alfred Kazin, American writer and literary critic

Latin American Dictators, Counterrevolutionary Groups, and John McCain in the 1980s

It's no secret by now that John McCain has kept and still keeps company with unsavory characters, to put it mildly. Additionally, by now, it's highly unlikely that anybody who hasn't made up their mind about the election yet will be persuaded by any of this. Still, this month has seen a few stories come up with a couple of damning stories involving McCain and Latin America in the 1980s.

First, there was a report on McCain's role with the U.S. Council for World Freedom. The USCWF was a direct offshoot of the World Anti-Communist League, the latter of which "had ties to ultra-right figures and Latin American death squads" and that was charged with, among other things, anti-Semitism. As the article states, although the USCWF claimed to purge these elements from their own organization, it still "claimed to support "pro-Democratic resistance movements fighting communist totalitarianism." And during the 1980s it became a vehicle for the Reagan administration to prop up some of the more totalitarian, anti-communist efforts in Central America," most notably in financially aiding the Contras to the tune of more than $5 million. The USCWF became one of the main means for the Reagan administration to illegally fund the Contras, circumventing Congress. That McCain was involved with this board is thus problematic not only because he, as a member of Congress at the time, was involved with a group that was directly helping Reagan to violate the Constitution; it's also troubling because, as Stein says, "it firmly associates him with a foreign policy that was, at the time and still, controversial." And this is all involving a man who's claiming to be better prepared and on the moral high ground over his opponent in terms of foreign policy.

Additionally, the story about McCain's 1985 "friendly meeting" with Pinochet, revealed in declassified embassy records has been making the rounds this week. As Boz points out, that McCain met with Pinochet in and of itself isn't necessarily an issue today; many politicians met with Pinochet. But there are problems that Boz raises:

First and foremost, McCain disagrees with the view I set in the above paragraph. He's made his disagreement with Obama's willingness to meet with "dictators without preconditions" a major part of his foreign policy. Has his policy changed since the time he met Pinochet, did he believe Pinochet to be a US ally in 1985 (by '85, even most Republican leaders had turned against Pinochet), or was there some sort of precondition to this meeting that we remain unaware of?

Second, additional documents indicate McCain and his wife stayed on the farm of a Pinochet ally for three days prior to the meeting, vacationing and fishing. That's not exactly an ideal circumstance to then meet with a dictator and demand better human rights or the release of political prisoners.

Finally, no attempt to publicly call for democracy? No public repudiation of Pinochet's human rights record? No meetings with pro-democracy opposition leaders (like Ted Kennedy did around the same time McCain met with Pinochet)? Why did McCain stay so quiet back then? [Answer: because Pinochet fought the "communists." - Mr. Trend.]
Certainly, neither of these stories will change much in the election, nor should they necessarily - there are manifold reasons why not to vote for McCain besides these. Still, they do reveal a really troubling side to his past activities that do give an important insight into how he might potentially deal with Latin America and in his foreign policy relations more generally.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A letter of which the Unabomber could be proud

The battle over California's Prop 8, already ugly, has gotten a little bit uglier this week. The Prop 8 initiative, funded by the likes of James Dobson and the Mormon Church, would establish a constitutional amendment in California defining marriage as only between a human with a penis and a human with a vagina. The Prop 8 proponents are still lagging in the polls, but have closed the gap significantly due to their deep pockets and significant advertising expenditures.

The Prop 8 zealots have a new tactic-- threatening businesses that have donated to groups that oppose Prop 8, like Equality California. Here is an excerpt from the linked letter, received by San Diego firm Abbott & Associates:

Were you not to donate [to ProtectMarriage.com] comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. You would leave us no other reasonable assumption. The names of any companies and organizations that choose not to donate in like manner to ProtectMarriage.com but have given to Equality California will be published. It is only fair that Proposition 8 supporters to know which companies and organizations oppose traditional marriage.

I'm surprised that the asshats who sent this letter didn't paste it together from letters clipped from magazines and newspapers. This is certainly a new low in this campaign, which features a highly motivated group of people with nothing better to do than be professional assholes. With all of the problems this state faces, one would think groups like the California Catholic Conference would be focusing on issues like foreclosures, poverty, education, child care, etc. I guess those issues just don't give one the same self-righteous jolt of disgusting, ugly piety that these bigots are getting from this campaign.

These fresh, new bloggers are really green!

I’ve been in India this past week, and contrary to what most Indians do here, I’ve surrounded myself with intense green foliage and very little technology, but today I decided to combine the two - or rather a Japanese scientist decided to combine the two, and I decided to write about it.

What would a plant blog about if it could?

"Today was a sunny day and I was able to sunbathe a lot... I had quite a bit of fun today," chimed one member of the plant kingdom from a café near Tokyo.

The plant's leaves, which respond to light and human touch, are attached to a sensor that measures bio-electric signals. These are then translated into blog posts using a computer algorithm. The plant entertains visitors to the café by talking about its health and mood on any given day. This is part of an effort from scientists at Keio University, who are studying communication with plants.

The site is somewhat lost in translation, what with its sole member being a plant talking in Japanese and all, but you could check it out yourself.

Since everything’s supposedly going green these days, why leave out the blogosphere?

Mr. Trend's Random 10

For those wondering, the seventh song's title translates as "Catechism, Toothpaste and Me." It's off Ze's debut album from 1968, right in the heart of the Tropicalia movement, and it really is a great (if unknown compared to Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, or Gal Costa) example of the multicultural questions it raises both musically and lyrically (in this case, the title implies the mixing of Brazilian culture with the image of modernism promoted by the U.S.). If you haven't heard any Tom Ze, find ANY and give it a chance.

1. "Long Walk Home" - Bruce Springsteen
2. Petrushka - "The Jovial Merchant with 2 Gypsy Girls" - Igor Stravinsky
3. "Feio" - Miles Davis
4. "Best Foot Forward" - DJ Shadow
5. "Three Women Blues" - Blind Willie McTell
6. "Fixin' to Die Blues" - Bukka White
7. "Catecismo, Creme Dental e Eu" - Tom Ze
8. "Lazy Line Painter Jane" - Belle & Sebastian
9. "1000 BPM" - Beck
10. "Snowstorm" - Galaxie 500

Link of the Day: Deadwood and Language

Deadwood is one of my favorite television shows of all time. It appeals to me on so many levels. Not only is the acting great, but, for once, a western tries to be historically accurate in ways that matter to me. Filth, language, social relations. Welcome to the Old West.

But of course the greatest part of the show is the language. Combining the conventions of Victorian Era American English with the most vile swearing known is genius. While the actual swear words have changed some over the last 130 years, making an actual recreation of the period's language untenable for a television show, Deadwood captures the spirit of language so well.

Over at Acephalous, there is a great post on this
, made greater by the fact that Jim Beaver, who played Ellsworth, writes in the comment thread. Which would pretty much be the greatest thing ever if that happened to me.

Also, fuck HBO for canceling Deadwood. Cocksuckers.

Historical Image of the Day


Launching of Minuteman III ICBM. Date unknown.

Senate Races: New Hampshire

(posted at my blog a few days ago, sharing with you guys)

Like everyone else, I've been wrapped up in the presidential election. Pennsylvania doesn't have a governor's or Senate race this year, and Philly is such a Democratic lock that the primaries back in the spring pretty much decided who the state reps will be. If I get outside of Philly I see Patrick Murphy signs everywhere (which make me happy), but I've realized how little attention I've been paying to some of the really fun congressional races this weekend when I was in New Hampshire.

In addition to the Obama signs (and yes, McCain/Palin signs), I saw loads of bright green Jeanne Shaheen signs. Jeanne Shaheen is the former 3-term Democratic governor of New Hampshire and she's challenging John Sununu for the Senate. She would become New Hampshire's first woman senator.

Emily's List has a rundown on Shaheen on the issues. Opposed to the Iraq war, pro-choice--those should be enough for any of us, right? But Shaheen is also a former public school teacher, committed to public education, and lost the Senate race to Sununu back in 2002 by only 19,000 votes. In addition, Democratic GOTV phone banks were jammed by Republican operatives on election day--two were convicted and served jail time.

Sununu is an old familiar name in New Hampshire--John Sununu Sr. was governor. The current Sununu is an anti-choice hawk who has taken tons of money from oil companies (no surprise there, right?)

Plus, Jeanne Shaheen is a fun name to say.

New Hampshire is close to my heart--as I stated below, a lot of my family still lives there and every time I go to visit, I obsess over its beauty and small-town-USA perfection. The tiny downtown where my grandmother lives has a Thai restaurant, a coffee shop, and the best used bookstore (also with an amazing selection of records) that I've ever been to. I don't go there without coming back with gems: bell hooks, this time, and this book as well. Couple that with a train station and a Dunkin' Donuts, and I'm good to go. If the town were a little less white, it'd be heaven.

The "live free or die" state has been a swing state for a while now, and that's part of the reason I love it. I actually adore the fact that a McCain sign is next door to an Obama sign, and the division between neighbors isn't ethnic or income-based. I like that New Hampshirites take their early primary seriously, and even though as Jon Stewart pointed out, they're "cold white people," they care about voting.

So Jeanne Shaheen's lead in the polls makes me happy. And I hope it grows, and that she heads off to the Senate in January.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bloomberg, New York City Council Ignore Majority of New Yorkers' Opinions, Decides They Deserve More Time In Office

After a weeks-long PR battle, the New York City Council today voted 29-22 to extend term limits for mayor and for council members to 3 terms (they had been limited to 2 terms). Mike Bloomberg began pushing for this several weeks ago, citing the "major financial crisis" the city was facing, and Council President Christine Quinn was quickly on board with the plan. Not coincidentally, both would have had to vacate their positions next year when elections rolled around. Instead, Bloomberg, Quinn, and about 2/3 of the City Council will be able to run for re-election for a 3rd term next year.

Although I'm relatively new to the city, this smells pretty bad to me. Voters already had a chance to turn down the 2-term limit twice (in 1993 and 1996), but both times, New Yorkers voted to keep the term limits in place. Yet Bloomberg and Quinn used a loophole to place the vote directly before the council today, without consulting voters, and the council rejected a measure earlier in the day to send the issue to voters in a referendum. I realize that it's been 12 years since the last time such a referendum was voted upon, and perhaps this time the citizens of New York would have turned over term limits. Still, the fact that the Council and the Mayor took it upon themselves to shut off that channel is disturbing, to put it mildly.

Also disturbing is the possible conflict-of-interests at hand. When you have 2/3 of a governing body that would have to vacate their positions at the end of the next year, leaving the vote up to them and not the regular citizens to decide whether or not they should stay in power seems a bit...problematic. Of course, Bloomberg, Quinn, and supporters of the 3-term-limit have been defending taking the issue out of voters' hands by saying that if the voters don't like it, then they can vote against Bloomberg and their council representatives next year. However, that seems disingenous to me, particularly given how much money Bloomberg has. As anybody with half a brain knows today, elections in largely-populated areas, be they cities, states, or countries, are determined in no small part by how much money the candidates have to spend, and there's no question that Bloomberg can and probably will outspend any opposition. That's not to say Bloomberg's (or other council members') opponents are guaranteed to lose, but they are facing a pretty big mountain to climb.

As for Bloomberg's argument that the financial crisis hitting the U.S. makes this an "exceptional" time, he's not necessarily wrong. Yet September 2001 was also an exceptional time, and even Giuliani "only" suspended elections for a few months. While that too was an appalling move, it was nowhere near as vulgar as the power-grab Bloomberg may be pulling now (though I'm certain Giuliani is sitting at home, kicking himself and saying "Why didn't I think of that???"). Bloomberg's gotten backing from (suprise suprise) Quinn and others, who insist that his business acumen makes it imperative the city have him at the helm of the ship while it tries to navigate this financial crisis. However, if Bloomberg is such a financial genius, one can't help but wonder why he didn't see this coming sooner and try to prevent it any way he could. I'm not saying he's necessarily the wrong man in the way, say, that McCain's just the wrong guy right now, but I'm sure as hell not convinced he's the right guy, either.

If there's any silver lining to this issue, it's that Bloomberg most likely will not make a run for governor of New York in 2010. There had been talk that he would try to replace David Patterson, the current Democratic governor of the city, running as a democrat. I like Patterson, and I like the job he's done overall (though I'm not thrilled about his refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to address the state's deficit problems).

Still, this is a pretty ugly local example of the mechanisms of politics. I hope people will remember this next year in November, but I doubt it.

The $150,000 Clothing Budget

I can't believe I am saying this, but I actually sympathize a little bit with Sarah Palin on this $150,000 clothing budget thing. Unfortunately, women in public life are judged on how they dress. And considering that her real national constituency is right-wing males like Rich Lowry who see her as a sex object as well as a political figure, it was not unreasonable for the Republican Party to make these expenditures. Plus, it is totally legal. If Obama or McCain don't look super great all the time, it's not nearly as big a deal as if Palin had a bad fashion day. Plus, those guys do look good. They wear expensive suits and clothes.

So this is a total double standard. Frankly, it's sexist.

However, there is one important caveat. And this is where I lose most of my sympathy with Palin. She based much of her appeal around the bullshit political construction that she was like you and me. This is completely absurd. She almost nothing in common with regular people. She is like W in this way. One of the most frustrating things about the 2000 election was the whole "who do you want to have a beer with" thing. It wasn't just that it was an asinine question; it was that the obvious answer was Gore. Bush is a stupid asshole frat boy. He's like a guy in a beer commercial. You think you might want to have a drink with this person. Until you meet him. Then you realize that he is a jerk. Gore on the other hand might actually have something interesting to say and would probably want to chat with you a little. And he probably has better taste in beer.

Obviously, Palin's background is less elite than Bush, but she still lives a lifestyle that is far distant from that of "average" Americans, whatever that means. So the significance of the clothing budget is not the clothes themselves. It is the exploding of the bullshit media narrative the Republicans constructed around her.

Regulating Prostitution, Past and Present

This November, San Francisco is voting on a proposition to decriminalize prostitution. I doubt it will pass. A similar effort failed pretty badly in Berkeley a couple of years ago. And if it fails in Berkeley, I'm not sure where it can pass. If anywhere, I guess it is San Francisco.

Decriminalization and regulation would do one very important thing: make prostitutes' lives safer. For that alone, the measure should pass.

Ruth Rosen, in her first-rate book on prostitution in the Progressive Era, The Lost Sisterhood, demonstrates that prostitution was a widely tolerated part of 19th century American society. This was not an entirely good thing of course (it had a lot to do with the sexual standard of Victorian America and few good job opportunities for women). But by the late 19th century, prostitution was regulated in many American cities. It was contained (only to some extent successful) within red light districts. Madams generally controlled the houses of prostitution. This kept women off the streets, making their lives significantly safer, if not exactly great.

But Progressive Era female reformers saw prostitution as the Social Evil that needed eradication. They weren't entirely wrong; the spread of venereal disease from prostitutes to them through their husbands was a major problem and chafing at the sexual double standard was quite reasonable. However, these reformers (as Progressives tended to be in my view) were moralistic and simplistic thinkers. They had no sense of what would happen to prostitutes were the activity criminalized. They mostly assumed the women would go to work somewhere else and reach for middle-class moral standards. But prostitutes largely rejected these ideas, particularly the condescending way the reformers treated them. Many prostitutes turned to that profession because it paid far, far more than factory work. They faced sexual harassment and rape in the factories anyway; some felt they might as well get paid well for the sex they were forced to give.

Between 1900 and 1920, these reformers did largely succeed in criminalizing prostitution. They closed down the brothels and eliminated the red light districts. Did this end prostitution? Of course not. It forced women into streetwalking. Murders of prostitutes went up. Like with the prohibition of alcohol. criminal forces took it over, making the lives of women even worse. The prostitutes were heavily prosecuted and faced jail time, but johns hardly ever dealt with any serious charges. Pimps became dominant in organizing prostitution, which usually was a situation far worse for the women than the madams they formerly worked under.

Again, the Progressive reformers did not think through their actions. By chance, last night the great U.S. historian Linda Gordon gave a talk here at Southwestern. She argued that child-first policies throughout the last 100 years generally led to child-last results. Because of the focus on the purity and innocence of children, anyone supposedly harming those interests was evil. While of course some people are evil, being unfit for taking care of children could also mean having a boyfriend, buying clothes for yourself, or eating Italian food. Literally. Garlic and tomato sauce was seen in the Progressive Era as bad for children. So children were taken away by these reformers without them having thought through their actions. The children went into underfunded brutal orphanages, sent to horrid foster homes that put the children to work, or even shipped across the nation on orphan trains. Despite the fact that they had mothers.

We are living with the legacy of these Progressive reformers today. We also still believe in the prohibitionist ideas they did. We might make fun of Prohibition with a capital P. But outside of alcohol, we act in ways Progressives might recognize. We still think drugs should be criminalized, leading to a hugely expensive and overcrowded prison system filled with people convicted of nonviolent crimes. We still see prostitution as something best forgotten about, condemning women working in the sex trade to the margins, where they can be raped and murdered with little public concern. Yet our own sexual double standard allows for a huge pornography industry.

Yesterday in my Progressive Era course, we read Rosen's book on prostitution. Much to my surprise almost all the students who cared to give an opinion supported regulation of prostitution rather than prohibition. Given that I am teaching at a nominally religious school in central Texas, I did not expect such a result. And certainly this is not as conservative a student body as many other nearby schools. However, I think these opinions reflect an increasingly libertarian view on social matters. Sexuality is increasingly embraced, whether it is pornography or gay marriage or even legal prostitution. I have to believe this is a good thing. Maybe we are finally breaking away from the Progressive legacy of prohibition and forgetting.

They're still trying to execute Troy Davis

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Historical Image of the Day


Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, giving a speech in Portland, Oregon, 1966

Volunteering for Obama: What it's Really Like

I’ll say it right away: the campaign trail is not for the thin-skinned.

You will have doors slammed in your face, sometimes by sweet old ladies who take one look at your button and scream “NO!”

You will see people peer out through a crack in the blinds and then pretend they’re not home.

More than that, on a presidential campaign, you will have to use the things you like least about your candidate as selling points to “swing” voters. You will have to choke down your anger at blatant racism and sexism to try to keep smiling and convey your point.

You will have to keep yourself honest.

Read the rest at GlobalComment.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NFL @ Week 7: AFC Edition

I’ve decided to alternate NFC to AFC every week. There’ll still be one every week, but it won’t be so damned repetitive. I’m only slightly less disgusted about the Broncos today than I was yesterday (though this is still quite disgusted), so I can think about football again.

AFC EAST

The Patriots’ trashing of the Broncos is not a sign that New England is back. Given that the first team to throttle them was KC, this should not be a sign of hope for New England fans still reeling from the kick in the gut Tampa gave them. The Pats will be back to their usual crappy Cassel-led team soon enough. It was great to see Buffalo derail the Chargers little comeback, keeping them a game back from Denver. It’s hard for me to believe that the Bills are an elite team and this will bear out in the second half. There’s no doubt that Miami’s “Wildcat” offense is a gimmick, but I love gimmicks and I love what they’re doing on the field. I never would have thought in a million years that Chad Pennington would line up at receiver, but there he is a number of times every game. I hope the Jets are happy with Favre. He’s playing moderately well but, like the Packers before them, Favre is quickly bringing them down.

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh is a good team with bad injury problems, but they’re all there is in the North. They’re winning games, and that’s obviously the most important thing, but they’re putting on some of the most boring games I’ve seen. Running teams are great, but when you’re working with the likes of Najeh Davenport, there isn’t a lot of excitement in the runs. It’s amazing to me how similar Baltimore looks, year after year, no matter who runs the team and who mans the positions. Crappy offense, top defense. This keeps them right around .500 over the long-haul but they’ll never be a consistent playoff team this year. I like Joe Flacco’s name, so I’m rooting for them more or less. Mr. Trend has something to be happy about in Ohio sports this year: the Browns aren’t the Bengals. Ohio on Ohio violence is hilarious, and so was their game. But Derek Anderson beat Ryan Fitzpatrick in the worst chess match in history. With the Cowboys, these two teams could almost make a full division out of extremely talented, yet worthless teams. Those would be some amusing division games, I’m sure.

AFC SOUTH

The South is, by far, the toughest division in football this year, and this has been consistent over the last couple (no matter what the loser NFC East fans want to think about themselves). The Texans may not be in the running for the division, they are a good team with a lot of offensive weapons and a great, young defense. That they are in last place, 0-3 in the division and 2-1, while playing tough teams, is evidence of this. I’m thrilled that the Colts look as bad as they do, but I’m not convinced that they won’t turn it around. I’m also not convinced that the Titans are actually 6-0. I mean, seriously, Kerry Quitter? How does a guy like that lead anybody to do anything but quit. This must be a huge liberal-elite media conspiracy to make them look good for some obscure reason.

AFC WEST

From the best to the worst. Sad as it is to say, you’re in a terrible division when this Denver team is leading and has tie-breakers. There is no doubt that this is the worst Bronco defense the team has ever fielded. Injuries to both Champ and Boss Bailey hurt badly and the pass D should be that much more terrible. Still they won’t be at the bottom of their division at the end of the year like the Cowboys and the Seahawks, so there’s always a positive outlook. The Chargers look like a Norv Turner-coached team. High on talent, low on brains. He’s an idiot and here’s to the San Diego organization giving him a fresh new contract this year. The Chiefs and the Raiders still play football, I suppose. At least their QBs don’t run out the back of the end zone, so this is more than some teams have, but KC is fielding Tyler Thigpen for the rest of the year, so the comedy should quickly ensue. Go Broncos!...no matter how bad they fall apart against stupid New England.

The 2008 Presidential Longshots: Belly up to the Barr for smaller government and more moustaches!


I wouldn’t want to be a Libertarian today. The financial meltdown that has shaken the core economic gospel of even the current administration has dealt the Libertarian movement, if not a mortal blow, at least a fairly rounded whoopin’. Granted, the public anger over the government bailout could inject some excitement and interest in the Libertarian party and their candidate, but any sense of long-term intellectual authority seems damaged.

My guess is that Bob Barr doesn’t see it that way. The irascible, outspoken candidate for the Libertarian Party is trying very hard to capitalize on the public resentment over the government’s bailout plan (though interestingly enough, less has been made about the government buying shares of banks; it is the free ride that stokes the rage, and many people seem to accept government investment). A cursory glide through his website yields all of the traditional Libertarian talking points—smaller government, foreign isolationism (include pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, etc.), low-to-no taxes, no government regulation of the economy (!), eliminating welfare, privatizing social security, and tax credits for home schooling.

Bob Barr the Republican and Bob Barr the Person are much more interesting than Bob Barr the Libertarian Candidate. Like most 3rd party hopefuls, a great deal of his website is dedicated to issues relating to ballot access (one of the most important fights that the 3rd parties en masse are fighting) and attacking the mainstream candidate that is closest ideologically. Barr mentions McCain quite a bit, and offers this lovely bit about Governor Palin:

But there’s been nothing I’ve seen in her academic background, in her business background or her husband’s business background or in the relatively short time she was mayor of Wasilla and the Governor of Alaska that would indicate to me a depth of experience that would make me feel comfortable having her sit across the table from Vladimir Putin and not be taken in by him or some other leader. We paid a heavy price for those sort of miscalculations with the current president.

Barr has a reputation for being something of a loose cannon. He was a leading figure in the impeachment trial of President Clinton, though his zeal was not always appreciated. In fact, many other Republican leaders involved in the impeachment process urged caution and patience—people like Dick Armey, Henry Hyde, and John Boehner. Barr didn’t listen and published daily updates on the inquiry on the internet (or, as the linked Washington Post article phrased it in 1998, ‘his World Wide Web site’).

I would be remiss were I not to mention the very public escape in 1992 where Barr licked whipped cream off the “chests of two buxom women”. At a leukemia benefit dinner. Remember that this is the guy that was the quickest to pull the trigger on the Clinton impeachment. He has been married three times but worked hard for the Defense of Marriage Act (which he now opposes in his second life as a Libertarian).

Initially, many thought Barr could play spoiler, especially in his home state of Georgia. Thus far, the polling doesn't seem to reflect that. He would need to pull 7 - 9% of the vote to really swing Georgia for Obama. Part of the problem is Barr's credibility with Libertarians; he is something of a flip-flopper. After years of working for rock-ribbed GOP positions, he switched sides on many issues when he joined the Libertarian party. He was one of the most adamant and zealous opponents of medicinal marijuana and a major player in the so-called "War on Drugs"; he now supports marijuana legalization. He voted for the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, votes he now regrets. He even apologized at the 2008 Libertarian Convention for championing DOMA.

I must admit, it is really hard to see how many of his positions on the economy and energy policy make any sense in the real world. With energy policy especially—the Barr-Root ticket’s energy policy is basically whatever—when energy becomes prohibitively expensive or destructive enough environmentally to harm the economy, something will be done by someone that will help somehow. That’s really the big problem with the Invisible Hand of the Market argument—it is only ever reactive. There is no mechanism for heading off problems before they start doing damage to the economic system, even if you have an awesome moustache that makes you look like Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show.

Tempus Fugit

JP Stormcrow pointed out two radically-different-yet-equally-startling things in this thread.

1) The Cleveland Indians' (1948) and Cleveland Browns' (1964) last championships are temporally closer to the founding of their respective leagues (1901 and 1950) than they are to today. (The Cavs have never won a title, so that eliminates them from this little game).

2) John McCain's birth-year (1936) is closer to Appomatix Court House and the end of the Civil War (1865) than it is to this year's election. John McCain: older now (72) than the abolition of slavery was when he was born (71).

Yikes.

Life in New York - Electoral Politics

The Times has an interesting article about a very strange phenomenon here in New York: a street with four houses displaying McCain signs.

That may not sound weird anywhere else, but, politics, as with so many other aspects of life, in New York is definitely different. Here we are, 13 days away from the election, and I have yet to see any McCain-Palin signs or buttons or anything. About a month ago, I saw my first and only "McCain-Palin" bumper sticker; it was surreal, because my first two simultaneous thoughts were, "Oh, so that's what their layout looks like," and "How bizarre is this? It's September, and I hadn't seen any propaganda for McCain-Palin!" And the kicker to the bumper sticker? I saw it on a car from Jersey - not even a New York resident. (And I love the fact that, in the article, the Olson family had to go to New Jersey to get their McCain signs, too).

That's politics in New York. There are of course people who will vote for the Republicans here this election; after all, Vito Fossella was elected, and this is the home of Giuliani and Bloomberg (though to be fair to the latter, he at least became independent; to be unfair to him, he's also seeking to remove term limits, a move even Giulani didn't push for in the wake of 9/11, even if Giuliani did postpone elections). Still, you really don't see people waving around McCain-Palin propaganda on the streets or in front of their homes here. I've never been in a place during an election where I could remain so unaware of Republican voters and trends. That's not necessarily bad, but it's not necessarily good, either, because it makes it really easy to think that things are going great for liberals in the country if you don't pay a lot of attention to other regions' elections. In a lot of ways, you can't avoid a bit of the insularity that many people in the country accuse New York of having, but when there's so much going on in your own city, it's easier than you'd think to not focus so much on Pennsylvania, Georgia, Idaho, or Arizona.

Recession and Environment

Brad Plumer makes a good point about the recession being bad for the environment. Some theorize that because recession means less building and less traveling, that it is good for nature. But this is short-sighted. It might mean a temporary reprieve for some land that is slated for development. It might mean a tiny reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (or more precisely, a smaller rise). But as soon as the economy picks back up, those slight changes will reverse themselves.

Moreover, lower oil prices are likely to dampen Americans' move to change their life styles. That SUV doesn't look so bad now, especially if it is close to paid for. Americans are incredibly short sighted on environmental issues. If scarcity is directly affecting their pocketbooks, they'll consider green alternatives. But as soon as they don't have to think about, they will revert to their most environmentally unfriendly habits.

Plus, we see the credit crunch slowing the building of wind turbines and other alternative energy projects.

The problem is that environmental issues are simply not central to our political narratives. They are not national priorities. In the 3 presidential debates, I believe the environment has been discussed for 5 minutes. Which is actually more than I thought it would be. It is not sufficient to leave alternative energy and larger environmental issues to the market. They need to be made national priorities that require direct federal intervention, along with the military and the economy. Each day we ignore our environmental problems is one day closer to them becoming a national emergency that will be incredibly difficult to handle.

Historical Image of the Day


William Jennings Bryan

Is Mr. Trend Sleeping with Ted Turner?

I simply ask because for the 3rd time in 2 weeks, cnn.com has picked up on his posts directing large numbers of readers to our site. Thanks CNN--I promise we will never criticize you again....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shorter Sarah Palin: Making Alaska Pay for My Kids' Flights Also Is Not a Breach of Ethics!

If a report my home-state's legislature issued had already found me guilty of a breach of ethics in public office (despite my flat-out lie that the report said I wasn't guilty), I don't think I'd really be billing my home-state for my kids' flight expenses on PR jaunts around the country. After all, I'm pretty sure that 7-year-old Piper Palin is not conducting any "official state business" by attending hockey games or anything.

Updated Pointless Maps

I haven't updated these in like 2 years and have done a decent amount of traveling since then. In a desperate attempt to put off grading, I might as well do it now. So here we go.


visited 42 states (84%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or determine the next president



visited 13 states (5.77%)
Create your own visited map of The World or determine the next president

It Was A Different Time....



Although the interview featured within is terrible, check out the beginning of this Mike Douglas Show clip from I guess the late 70s. The three guests: Frank Zappa, Kenny Rogers, and Jimmy Walker. The topic they start with: classical music.

Certainly classical music is not being discussed on talk shows today. But I am not sure that this is such a bad thing. Do I need to hear what kind of classical music Kenny Rogers likes? No. In fact, hell no would not be too strong of a statement.

Before the 1980s, so-called "high culture" was much more prevalent in the media. Any perusal of magazines shows this to be so. Even TV featured these sorts of figures and topics. Truman Capote, even though he was a bad imitation of himself by this point, was on TV all the time at the end of his life. Is there any equivalent today?

Why did these cultural references disappear? I suspect it is because nobody cared. One analysis of this kind of thing is to say that "Oh, we just aren't as cultured anymore. TV, movies, internet--all of this has made us stupid." But I don't think so. I think that stuff disappeared because the American public never knew much about Shakespeare, Bach, or Nabokov. And frankly, they didn't want to know. People figured this out and dumped for more coverage of Brittany, Paris, and Amy Winehouse. Lots of people are happy with this. I certainly am not. But we aren't stupider because of it.

Also, the animation in the last 2 minutes of the clip to the Zappa song might be of interest to people. I guess it is kind of cool, though I really don't care about animation as an art.

You're A Moron

You wrote a book that explicitly named people who were tied to illegal activities (purchase and consumption of steroids) in order to enhance their career. You had to know (from the questions fired at Barry Bonds even before you began writing your book) that people do not generally approve of "doctoring" any sport via drugs and "performance-enhancers." You most likely knew that America, in all of its contradictions, likes its sports exciting but hates knowing that their players aren't perfect. This all could have crossed your mind at some point while you named names in your book. You presumably spent months writing stuff that was obviously going to throw up a giant question mark over 15+ years of baseball and throw into question a generation's worth of "great" baseball players. Yet only now do you realize that "this was going to blow up and hurt so many people"???

Hey! Jose Canseco!

You're a moron.

The Absurdity of Flying

I guess it is almost a cliche to complain about the airlines. But I can't help it. I'm still jet lagged.

Kos links to a great piece on how freaking stupid TSA security regulations are. Why do we have to take our shoes off? This is incredibly dumb. Nobody is going to be lighting shoe bombs on planes. For that matter, no one is going to be hijacking planes anymore. Why not? Because who would let them live? Who would not sacrifice their own lives rather than let the plane be flown into a building? If you are going to die, die honorably. And I think virtually every person in the country believes the same thing.

That doesn't mean we don't need security. But we need smart security. Forcing people to take their shoes off is not smart security. Putting liquids in 3 oz. containers is just idiotic. First of all, 3 oz. of a lot of liquids is plenty to blow something up if that is what you want to do. Second, no one is actually checking what those liquids are. They can be labeled as one thing and in reality be an explosive device.

Meanwhile, in the most predictable move ever, the airlines are not cutting any of their new fees after the price of jet fuel has plummeted in the last 2 months. And they probably never will. I understand that they lost a tremendous amount of money over the past 2 years. And I think they need to make some of that back. But these fees are never going away. On a basic level, I don't mind a few fees. If you are checking 2 bags that each weigh 50 pounds, well, maybe you should pay more than I do with my 15 pound bag. But if we can't take liquids on planes, it is impossible to get away with no paying a baggage fee. This is utterly unfair. There should be no fee on a first bag in any circumstance. If you need to raise rates, just raise them.

The only thing that could roll back some of these fees is a Democratic government, which could threaten regulation if the airlines don't start playing fair. The Republicans certainly will never do anything, as they don't care about consumers. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is starting to raise a stink about this and I think other Democrats will hop on board. First, it is politically popular to do so. Second, it is the right thing to do, especially if fuel prices remain low.

Jerry Jones, NFL Antichrist

Peter King has an excellent piece up at the Sports Illustrated website about how Dallas' trade for Roy Williams was the opening salvo in the upcoming NFL labor war. Jerry Jones wants to turn the Cowboys into football's New York Yankees (and in so many ways they already are). He is pushing for no spending limits and no salary caps. I don't think this will lead to success but that is beside the point. Williams' new contract is incredibly frontloaded. Why? It is quite possible that the owners will pull out of the current collective bargaining agreement after the 2010 season. That season there will not be a salary cap. The players' union have stated that if there is no salary cap that season, they will never submit to one again.

Jones is assuming this is true. He has several heavily front-loaded contracts that would lead to an enormous salary cap burden after 2010. He is betting that there will be no salary cap and is acting on it. He thinks he can win now by adding all these big-name players and won't have to pay later. If there is a salary cap, the Cowboys will be a terrible team for several years as they won't be able to sign any players.

The problem with this is that a lot of NFL owners don't want this to happen. They want a salary cap. But Jones, along with a few other of the richest owners, are trying to change the league to help themselves out. They don't want the parity of the last 20 years; instead, they hope for a league where the richest teams can buy themselves championships. But the majority of owners won't accept this and are likely to lock out the players for the 2011 season rather than play with no salary cap.

Thus Jerry Jones just took the NFL on a big ol'step to a work stoppage.

Thanks Jerry.

Historical Image of the Day


Edward Curtis photograph of Apaches on horseback, 1905

Monday, October 20, 2008

Performatives redux: Colin Powell

Colin Powell was always one of those Republicans I had some respect for (like McCain used to be, but I digress). Powell seemed to have at least some awareness of the world around him and especially of the importance of diplomacy. Like everyone else, I was disappointed when he went before the UN and, well, lied. When he stepped down in the wake of Bush's re-sort-of-election, I was really angry, because I felt that residual respect and affection for Powell in this country could've swung the election for Kerry if he'd resigned before the election. He wouldn't even have had to make an explicit endorsement--his leaving the ship would've been a sign.

Powell was head of the State Department--the department that relies most on performative language, according to Cook. The Secretary of State and his underlings do their job mainly by making statements. Approval, disapproval, etc. are expressed through the media as well as through direct diplomacy.

Powell, then, knew exactly what he was doing when he took to Meet the Press to make his endorsement of Barack Obama.

He didn't appear on stage with Obama and probably won't (though you know the ad people are working overtime to cut his words into a spot). He sat in a chair, comfortably, and spoke honestly. He didn't invoke race once. He prefaced his statement with both respect for and criticism of John McCain, and especially of the choice of Sarah Palin, and then spoke of Obama as a potentially transformational figure.

And most importantly, he called out the Republican party on scare tactics and fearmongering, on xenophobia and hatred. Powell of all people has tremendous power to make the comments that there's nothing wrong with being Muslim. As a general, as one of the architects of several of our recent wars in the Middle East, he will be accused by no sane person of being a terrorist sympathizer. When he spoke of an American Muslim soldier who died in Iraq, he sounded sincere, unlike McCain's phony invocations of a bracelet from a soldier's mother.

Implicit in those statements was an endorsement of Obama as the better leader on Iraq. He didn't have to say it outright. He invoked Iraq and a fallen soldier in a way that if I didn't know better I'd call a left-wing dogwhistle. I felt for just a second as if Powell had whispered in my ear, "I'm sorry about that, guys. I'm trying to fix it."

Powell's appearance on a news talk show was itself the top headline on the New York Times and the third headline on the Washington Post today. While I'm not going to go into what that says about canned news events and the corporate media here, suffice it to say that once again, we can see that speech is itself a form of action, especially in the executive branch.