Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

Bayou Borbeau Plantation, being run as a Farm Security Administration cooperative, Natchitoches, Louisiana, 1940

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ecuador Passes Constitutional Reform

Amid all of the chaos and political news this weekend, a major Latin American event has fallen to the wayside. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, Ecuador's constituent assembly approved a new Constitution, sending the issue to be voted upon by the people. This weekend, Ecuador's population approved the new constitution by a remarkable margin (early data have it at 63% in favor and 29% against). As Boz notes, the complete failure to get any mobilization against the Constitution shows how weak and unorganized the opposition to Correa is in Ecuador, and how much Ecuadorans are tired of the old, weak, imbalanced political system that has led to constant political and economic instability.

This is a huge deal politically and institutionally for Ecuador. Among other things, it will give Ecuador's presidents more power, which is actually a good thing, given how unstable their office has been in the face of a too-powerful Congress. Additionally, this is good for social justice in Ecuador, as it will offer more social programs, and as the shift in institutional power within Ecuador's governance will reduce the power of an extreme minority of landed, almost always non-indigenous elites. It's safe to say that the privileges and cronyism of elite politicians, and the resultant governmental inefficiency, should be greatly reduced, and the social and economic landscape of Ecuador's politics is much more wide open than it has been in the past.

The victory is also an obvious approval of Correa's administration among Ecuadorans, a widespread support that has geopolitical relevance, given the U.S.'s not-major-but-not-insignificant antagonism to his administration (Correa is closer to Chavez and Morales than to Uribe or the U.S.). The short-term and long-term significance this victory has for Ecuador, for Correa, for regional politics, and for even hemispheric geopolitics, cannot be overstated, and it will really be interesting to see how things go for Correa from here.

A Few Questions Concerning McCain's Rhetoric

Why does John McCain keep calling himself a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican?" What is he even trying to say with this? Does anybody actually care about, or even know what a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican" would be? Does Teddy have any significance or meaning to Americans today? Or should I just start making old jokes and "he's so out of touch..." comments about McCain?

(And I'm being serious here - does anybody have any insights on to what purpose this all might serve?)

New Comment Record

I want to point out that with a day + to go in the month, we have broken our record for comments in a month. We presently have had 522 comments this month, besting our old record of 520 set in May.

So thanks to everyone who comments. I know this isn't a big number by some people's standards, but it makes me very happy.

Update (10/1)--Final number for the month was 550.

Prop 8 and the bullshit machine

Here in California, we are readying ourselves to vote on a whole host of propositions, but Prop 8 is certainly garnering the most attention. Prop 8 is a constitutional amendment that would effectively trump the California State Supreme Court's May decision to allow same-sex couples marriage rights.

Happily, Prop 8 is behind in the polls. The most recent poll shows the measure failing by 17%. The opponents of Prop 8 have a very effective television ad running; I've not seen a single ad for the measure.

The loose coalition of self-righteous homophobes, self-loathing "ex-gays", and fundamentalist Goddies is in full spin mode. They point to the fact that polling may be wrong, because people may be reluctant to admit they are for Prop 8 (gee, out of shame maybe?), and that election day will bring more support. To an extent, this is probably somewhat true, though fairy negligible, according to NYU's Professor Patrick Egan:

Reanalyzing the data shows that the number of voters who are reluctant to share their true feelings about same-sex marriage is small -- and is certainly not on the rise. Since 1998, the gap between polled support for marriage bans among decided voters and Election Day results has averaged only 2.2 percentage points. In 2006, the gap declined to less than a point in the seven states holding initiatives for which data are available.

The other bit of spin from the Prop 8 proponents is this mantra about the margin of victory for 2000's Prop 22. Prop 22, which passed 61% - 38%, defined marriage in California as only between a man and woman. The Prop 8 machine keeps pointing to the above margin as if it means something. It doesn't, for a few reasons.

(1) That was 2000; 2008 is happily a different landscape for the visibility of LGBT issues and rights, if only for eight years of younger voters coming into the system. Many polls show overwhelming support for same sex marriage among younger voters.

(2) Prop 22 was a change to California State Law. Prop 8 in a constitutional amendment. Big difference; some opponents of gay marriage who gladly voted for changing (a now unconstitutional, thankfully) state law may be less willing to change the state constitution.

(3) This is perhaps the biggest reason-- in 2000, the election that Prop 22 was offered was the presidential primary, on Super Tuesday. Al Gore was already the presumptive nominee at this point; the Republican primary had not been settled, however. There were far more Republicans that voted in the primary than Democrats, so naturally Prop 22 was at an extreme advantage.

I'm thrilled to hear the recent polling on Prop 8., and I hope for not just a squeaker of a victory, but an overwhelming landslide (I'm thinking 15% or so) to shut these asshats up once and for all.

Historical Image of the Day

Ku Klux Klan rider, Tennessee, 1868.

Note that he is not wearing a white costume. This was a phenomenon of the 2nd KKK of the 1920s. Early Klansmen often wore garish costumes intended to scare their targets.

From Estelle Frantz Parsons' very interesting Journal of American History article, "Midnight Rangers: Costume and Performance in the Reconstruction-Era Ku Klux Klan."

If You Ever Had a Mind, You Have Officially Lost It, Sir

Not me, Mr. Fish, not me. I most certainly will never feel any kind of nostalgia for the past 8 years in terms of politics. Good day sir!

Bailout, etc.

Read this this morning. Some interesting tidbits in there.

Among them:

For the first time, the federal government will limit the compensation of some top corporate executives to $500,000 annually -- directly in the case of big banks that participate heavily in the new program and through limits on tax deductions for everyone else. There will be tough restrictions on golden parachutes and clawback provisions for bonuses based on profits that later disappear.

Of course, commie that I am, I think $500,000 is still way too much.

Finally, the legislation contains several mechanisms for the government to recoup all of its money, and perhaps even turn a profit, by collecting insurance premiums, demanding stock from participating banks and, should all else fail, slapping a new tax on the financial services industry beginning in 2014.

Somehow, I don't believe that.

I wish I had studied economics more. I wish I had a better suggestion, but let's face it: our economy is dependent on too many huge corporations that do nothing in essence but shuffle money around. We don't make things anymore, we've got ridiculous trade deficits, we in essence have nothing to offer but bombs and threats.

For all of McCain's tough talk on Russia and China, the fact remains that we can't be threatening large countries that own huge chunks of our national debt with much of anything. We can't bulldoze them into compliance--we can't even get Iraq and Afghanistan to do what we want.

I think this is the end of US global dominance no matter how we slice it--and that in itself doesn't bother me. The question is, can we just gently accept that, start to compromise and deal with other countries on a level, or are we going to freak out like spoiled children, provoke or start more wars, and end up collapsing in a bloody heap?

Somehow, I think the answer hinges on this election.

Scary shit, eh?


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Debate reviews!

Karthika and I both, independently of one another, wrote debate reviews. Of course, we did watch the debate together, along with some fried chicken and a bottle of really cheap champagne, so it may not be entirely surprising that we came up with similar conclusions. Though she's always been more skeptical of Obama than I have, so the fact that she agrees with me made me feel better. ;)

If anyone wants to see snark in real time, I live-twittered this debate and plan to do so on Thursday night with the Veep debate. As this one should offer even more opportunities for hilarity, I invite anyone on Twitter to play along. Suggestions for the Palin/Biden drinking game are welcome.

Until Thursday, then.

Karthika's review:

Often in debates, Barack Obama has been known to be a tad uncomfortable and evasive. He has been accused of being too deliberative in his responses, sometimes talking out loud while mulling over them, and answering in meandering fashion – a fashion that does not conform to the 30-second sound bite, the most effective quantum in presidential horse races. But on Friday night, the junior senator from Illinois defied these charges against him - he was pithy and to the point, calm and collected, effectively making the claim that he was ready to be president.

John McCain, on the other hand, slouched and glowered, sighed and snickered, and never once looked at his Democratic opponent.

I hate to put it down to gestures and posturing, but luckily, I don’t have to. For McCain wasn’t exactly winning on substance either.

If Obama has spent the last few weeks roping McCain in with George Bush on the campaign trail, at the debate, he firmly tied the knot on that relationship. “We [have] to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain,” he said in his very first answer to Jim Lehrer’s question on the financial recovery plan.

My review:
McCain’s repeated references to not being “Miss Congeniality” ended up a bit confusing—a veiled reference to his running mate? An attempt to paint Obama as shallow? Some sort of dogwhistle to beauty pageant parents that I’m not familiar with?

Or maybe it was just an acknowledgement that presidential campaigns since, at least, Kennedy have become a sort of beauty pageant interrupted by demands to know which candidate is a better drinking buddy. However, if this campaign is going to be a beauty pageant or an image contest, McCain’s got a ways to go on his appearances, and his command of substance isn’t nearly good enough to make up for it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Science, Obama and McCain

No presidential candidate offered to show up for the Science Debate at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute in April, but both candidates made it a point to visit evangelical pastor Rick Warren to answer questions on faith and moral values. It’s pretty clear where the candidates’ priorities are, and a little disheartening, considering stem-cell research promises to cure life-threatening diseases, and a rapidly warming world threatens life itself.

While the candidates may not be focusing on science, scientists certainly are keeping a close watch on them. McCain and Obama stare out of the cover in the latest issue of Nature, a prelude to a series of articles on the two rivals’ positions on everything from research to wireless Internet.

And boy, is there reason for it. The current administration has made a mockery of science by tailoring the EPA’s reports on global warming and manipulating endangered species lists to achieve its own political ends; NIH funding has seen a sharp decline from its glory years. It falls to the next American president to decide if stem cell research will be given the green light it needs, and whether mandatory greenhouse gas regulations will be instilled.

It is not hard to guess which of the two contenders in this race is more sympathetic to science. Well, it isn’t hard in any race, but this season, the difference couldn’t be starker. And not so much for McCain’s lack of support for science (after all, he’s proposed increasing NIH funding and voted to remove restrictions on stem cell research) as for Obama’s detailed positions on various issues dealing with scientific advancement in this country.

While Obama’s science advisory committee is a who’s who of academicians and scientific experts, McCain’s is a list of the usual suspects: political strategists, congressional staff, and corporate leaders. Obama intends to appoint a chief technology officer to oversee cross interactions, information sharing and improvement of technology among the various governmental departments. In addition he has proposed to counter the digital divide in America by expanding broadband access. One has only to look at his Web site to determine that the Illinois senator (and his advisers) know a thing or two about technology: the clean lines, abundant features, the seamless harmony, and the ease of use reflect a tech-savvy designer. As Noam Cohen deduced in an analysis – far too frivolous by New York Times’ standards – Obama would be a mac in the world of computers.

Add to that the scrupulous way in which the supposed novice to national politics has run his campaign – a true, Internet-style, power-distributive, bottom-up democratic approach. Josh Green of The Atlantic calls him this year’s hottest Silicon Valley start-up. The campaign’s use of the Internet to rally support certainly has to go in the books as one of the top reasons for Obama’s success, right alongside inspiring speeches, enviable charisma and good judgment.

Obama has spoken about conducting “online fireside chats” as president, has proposed a Google-like database for all federal money spent, and suggested putting non-emergency legislation online for five days for people to vote on. Most notably, in a Q&A with Nature (which McCain refused to participate in), Obama spoke of the necessity to invest in basic research, which can reap great medical rewards in the long run, despite the fact that specific projects are often unpredictable. Scientists often have trouble getting their heads around this unfortunate fact of science, with the NIH itself insisting on applicative proof and potential benefits when approving funding for research projects.

In addition, Obama has categorically stated that he will lift the ban on stem-cell research. That he has more than a cursory grasp of the subject is evident from the fact that he has distinguished between embryonic and adult stem cells and reinforced the versatility of the former. Obama’s endorsement of the America Competes Act, intended to increase research budgets and his proposal to use science and technology to address issues such as health care and climate change are reassuring to any proponent of science.

For a person who rarely refrains from invoking the name of god at the stump, he is quite firm in his rejection of teaching creationism in schools. “I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny,” he said to Nature. Joe Biden, also well known for his religious beliefs, but true to form, has been slightly more blunt on the subject of intelligent design. “I refuse to believe that the majority of people believe this malarkey,” he has said more than once. Biden has not so subtly questioned Palin’s position on stem-cell research despite the affliction of her youngest child with Down syndrome.

It is positions such as this, in addition to her refusal to believe that global warming is man made, that make Palin's presence on the Republican ticket more terrifying than it already is. McCain may not check email or the Google, but at least he gave a perfunctory nod to the Darwinian theory before launching into an ode to the hand of god in the Grand Canyon.

To his credit, and possibly to his political detriment, McCain has been more vociferous than most republicans on issues of energy policy, including removing tariffs for biofuels, and endorsing the cap-and-trade approach for emissions regulation. With regard to medical research, he has twice voted to remove restrictions on stem-cell research and proposed increased NIH funding.

However, the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket erases any confidence the scientific community had placed in the senator from Arizona. If there were danger that McCain might toss science into the proverbial frying pan, then Sarah Palin would not hesitate to drop it directly into the fire.


Jeremy Elton Jacquot frames the bailout in the right way. He notes that the Bush administration is happy to ask for $700 billion to help their rich friends but is willing to spend nothing on anything else. The case Jacquot mentions is a very reasonably priced $70 million plan to help save salmon populations.

While I agree that some kind of bailout is necessary, just what could be done with that money? Go catch Osama Bin Laden. A national healthcare plan. Subsidies for alternative energy technologies. Providing mass transit around the nation. Any number of small programs that would make life better for Americans. But this will never happen. For Republicans, there are 2 things worth spending money on. Giving it to rich people and fighting wars. That's it. McCain last night kept talking about cutting spending except for defense. He wants more defense spending. A terrible idea. Just horrid.


I am working from a bar this afternoon (shocking I know). They are playing Bob Dylan's Desire. Hearing this 1977 album all the way through for the first time in a few years reminds me that it is far and away Dylan's most underrated album. It's really very very good. "One More Cup of Coffee for the Road," "Isis," "Sara." These are great songs. I am somewhat less blown away by "Hurricane," but it is certainly the most famous song on the album and was a nice return to his more political days. The album suffers from "Joey" it is true. I mean how many 11 minutes songs about mobsters do we need? None. And at the time I am sure it was disconcerting to hear Dylan use his pen to immortalize thugs. But this disappointment fades over time and really the song is not bad as a song.

How does Desire compare to his other albums. I would probably put it at the lower end of the top 5. It isn't as great as the wonderful mid 60s work of Blonde on Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home, or Highway 61 Revisited. It isn't as good as Blood on the Tracks either. But I would rate it above the early material, which is more important than it is good or interesting. It's certainly the last good material he had for a long time, as soon after Desire he plunged into his horrible Christian period and then the 80s.

To me Desire and Neil Young's Tonight the Night hold similar spots in my mind, and not just because they both came out in 1977. They aren't considered classic albums by the more casual fans and they don't have a lot of hits. But they are mature albums from great writers who have lived through some rough times and expressing them through their art in extremely satisfying ways.

Paul Newman, RIP

I had heard that Paul Newman was sick so I was prepared for his death. It still makes me sad.

Has there ever been a more entertaining actor than Newman? Although the total sum of his films seems to be kind of lacking (was he ever in a truly great movie?), when did you not want to see Newman in a film? The Sting. The Hustler. Nobody's Fool. Hud. All of these are great roles. The Hustler is probably his best film. Maybe it reaches true greatness. It is unfortunate that he won his Oscar for The Color of Money, which is pretty bad. But good for him. Two of his most classic roles, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Cool Hand Luke, are in overrated films. But again, he was always entertaining, even in movies I didn't like very much. Even when he played a jerk, like in Hud, he was at least somewhat likable.

Newman's other legacy is the food products. Newman's Own products mostly aren't very good. They use way too much high fructose corn syrup and additives. But they occupy an interesting niche in food history. When Newman's Own salad dressing came out in the late 80s and early 90s, the only alternative was Kraft and Kraft-like products. Compared to the industrialized foods that were the norm at the time, this stuff sure seemed really good. Newman's Own eventually became pretty heavily corporatized and industrialized too. Maybe it always was. But it helped pave the way for better foods on our shelves. He deserves to be remembered for this as well, at least as a footnote.

Historical Image of the Day

Makah Indians killing gray whale off the northwest coast of Washington, 1999.

North Koreans are how much shorter than South Koreans?

So now we've had our first debate. We watched it on Fox (Fox 11 Los Angeles, not Fox News on cable), which was interesting for the post-debate spin. Of course, McCain won according to them. The point that one guy brought up was that McCain referred to Obama as "Senator Obama" and Obama called McCain "John". The "analysis" was something about how that would hurt Obama amongst people from the South.

The spin is pretty gross; I think it would be more responsible for presenting networks to have no "analysis" directly after the debate. Just show the debate and cut back to regular programming. The "analysis" will be there on the cable news networks and the internet if people want to hear it.

What matters more, though, is the public perception of who won (not that the debates made a difference in 2004; John Kerry, according to public polling, "won" the debates). The polls that have come out indicate an Obama win-- 51% vs. 38% in the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll. The CBS poll had it at 39% (Obama won), 24% (McCain won) and 37% (tie). The best news for Obama could be the following: 60% of respondents said that Obama was ready to be President, which is a 16% improvement over pre-debate polls on the same question.

I can't wait to see how Fox will frame the Palin "win" next week.

(In case you missed it, here's a link to a transcript. Also, Jim Lehrer is fantastic; most of these network media honks could learn a lot from his professionalism and integrity. Luckily, we get Gwen Ifill, another real professional, for the VP debate. Hard to imagine people like Lehrer and Ifill are in the same profession as hack asshats like Gibson, Kristol, Stephanopoulos, etc).

Friday, September 26, 2008

The $700 Billion

In case you were wondering why the bailout number is $700 billion.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Leadership we can believe in right there.

Historical Image of the Day

Harry Truman with horse, Missouri State Fair, 1955

The Banking Blob

With the news of bail outs, bank failures, congressional deals, and McCain's (to borrow from Barney Frank) "Hail Mary" (which looks like it will work about as well for him as for USC last night...), I've noticed that the significant and troubling conglomeration in the banking industry hasn't been exactly front page news.

Washington Mutual (which now ought to change its slogan to "D'oh!" from the pleasantly optimistic "Woohoo!") has been taken over in part by JP Morgan Chase (the company that took on Bears Stearns). This not only vaults them into second place in the Battle for the Biggest Bank, but gives JP Morgan Chase a great deal of retail banking outlets in the West (most of their branches at the retail bank level are in the Northeast). WaMu was one of the largest retail banks.

The biggest bank is still Bank of America, which recently got bigger by acquiring Merrill Lynch. There are still rumored to be several mergers and acquisitions being talked about behind closed doors. I doubt we've seen the last round of consolidation in the banking industry.

The question is, what does this mean? How will this affect normal people? I'm always wary of corporate consolidation; banks getting bigger and bigger seems to me a counter-intuitive move when weighed against recent events. JP Morgan Chase's purchase of some of WaMu's assets did save the FDIC some serious money, though. Who knows? And that, my friends, is the real crux of the problem for me. Who, indeed, knows what the best course of action is? If consolidation of the banking industry gives one pause, then the further consolidation of executive power (particularly in the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve) that President Bush is advocating should as well.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Could the U.S. Learn from Mexico?

There is an interesting article over at Bloomberg that talks about the bank bailout in Mexico in 1995 and what the U.S. could learn from their experience. Not the best article, but the main point is that there was no oversight in how the bailout money was spent Mexico. Sounds a lot like what the Bush administration wants...

Opposition March in Nicaragua violently attacked by Sandinistas

Quoted from the Nicaragua Network's NicaNet hotline:

On Sept. 20, people identifying themselves as Sandinistas prevented an opposition march and rally from taking place in the city of Leon. Attacks on opposition demonstrators wounded five people; many more were bruised and battered. Sandinista activists blocked highways to prevent busses from entering Leon for the planned march. National Assembly Deputy Luis Callejas of the “Let’s Go with Eduardo” Movement (MVE) told La Prensa that members of the Sandinista group broke the windshield of his car, stopped busses, and attacked with machetes three people who were taken to the Chinandega hospital. On the Pan American Highway between Nagarote and La Paz Centro, police intervened to remove Sandinistas who had blocked the highway with burning tires, boulders and tree trunks.

FSLN historic combatant, Benito Quiroz, who fought in the Sandinista war to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship, told La Primerisima Radio that the Sandinistas would not permit groups which would sell out the country to march in the city. “We are acting within our rights; it is our duty; they are not going to take the revolution away so easily,” Quiroz said, adding “Leon is FSLN territory.” Leon FSLN Political Secretary Evert Delgadillo told La Prensa that days previously it had been decided to “carry forward the battle to defend the red and black [the traditional Sandinista colors] people’s bastion [of Leon].”

On the campus of the Autonomous Catholic University, Sandinistas burned a car belonging to the president of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), Enrique Saenz, and threw bags of black oil at MRS and MVE politicians. Police officers protected the political leaders until they left the city a few hours later. Horacio Roca, sub-director of the National Police, said that they were going to “evaluate the situation” in Leon. Edmundo Jarquin, former MRS presidential candidate, said that the police had a dilemma “because they tried to protect the rights of the opposition group but were reluctant to suppress the aggressors because of their Sandinista links dating to their founding.”

The opposition march was organized by the Democratic Coalition of the West including the Movement for Nicaragua, which was created and funded by the US International Republican Institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as the United Citizenry for Democracy, the Civil Coordinator, the United Movement for Leon, the Pro-Vote Movement and other opposition groups whose sources of funding are unknown.

Saenz said that he placed the blame for the burning of his car directly on the FSLN candidate for mayor of Leon, Manuel Calderon. He said, “Calderon, accompanied by a red and black mob, began to throw stones and later entered private property to burn my car and destroy the truck of Felix Noel Garcia.”

I used to follow Nicaraguan politics as best I could online, but I haven't been paying close attention the last couple years. I find this attack somewhat surprising in the sense that political violence in Nicaragua has not been all that common in recent years. But, it seems the polarizing effect of the election of Daniel Ortega to the presidency in 2006 is leading to some increasingly ugly conflicts. 

Nicaragua is holding municipal elections in November, which are sure to be another polarizing affair. The municipal elections in 2004 were incredibly important for the Sandinistas in demonstrating the party's political comeback after several disappointing elections throughout the 1990s and Ortega's consistently poor election results in the three presidential elections prior to 2006. The Sandinistas are looking to increase the number of municipalities they govern in these upcoming elections, although they already control a majority of municipalities, including nearly all the major population centers of Nicaragua. If the party does do well in these upcoming elections, we may see more political unrest.

If you are interested in reading a decent summary of what has been going politically in Nicaragua since 2006, click here. (Please read this with a grain of salt, the biases are pretty apparent, but there aren't many options when trying to find information on any Central American country).

Scenes from my childhood

When I was a kid, we used to see commercials for this local guy who owned a chain of gun stores in Indiana. Sadly, I didn't realize how whacked out these commercials are until I was older. They have surfaced on YouTube, even some newer ones. The one below, though still looking like it was filmed in the 80's, has a website listed and also features information in Spanish, reflecting the cultural impact of the many Hispanic people that now live in Indiana.

Don's Guns

"I don't want to make money, I just love to sell guns."
Every kid in my elementary school knew this slogan.


(P.S. Renting out firearms is insane. Batshit crazy insane).

Racism? In the Pacific Northwest? Shocking.

People in Washington and Oregon never admit to racism. They act shocked that you would even ask them. They aren't southerners after all!

And then there's reality:

The president of George Fox University this morning denounced the hanging of a likeness of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama on campus along with graffiti aimed at minority recipients of a scholarship program.

The cutout was accompanied by the words "Act Six reject." Act Six is a scholarship program that was established two years ago and is aimed at including more low-income and minority students in the George Fox student body. Students are chosen for their leadership potential; all receive full scholarships.

Baker, the university president, said about seven of those students are African American. About 20 percent of the student body is minority, "which for us is a really significant achievement," he said.

If you pay attention to how white people in the Northwest act around black people, you can see the racism. To give one example, I was sitting behind home plate at a Seattle Mariners game once. People were coming and going. Obviously a lot of those people didn't actually have tickets to those seats. Many were sitting there for an inning and then moving on. For a bad game between Seattle and Kansas City, who cares. The ushers did nothing. Until a black guy shows up. They had him out of that seat in 10 seconds.

You don't really hear too many racial epithets up there. People claim that they are tolerant and wouldn't do something like that. But their actions when actually faced with African-Americans, which rarely happens in many communities, or Latino migrants, which is increasingly common, show this self-proclaimed tolerance to be a giant lie.

Historical Image of the Day

Acadian settlement along Mississippi River, late 18th century.

More on McCain's...

Erik said most everything. I had to rant elsewhere about it, and so I dug up some fun info on the votes McCain has missed and how little he cared about, say, the first economic bailout bill. Or the Webb GI Bill.

I wrote more here.

You know it's bad when I compare him unfavorably to Bush and Reagan.

Also? Letterman: (h/t Susie Bright, among others)

(Anyone find it funny that CBS, the "communist broadcast service" from last election, is now the softball network of choice for the Republican candidates?)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

There's Hate. And Then There's John LaBruzzo.

Satyam has an awesome post on this and I am openly stealing from it.

Louisiana Republican lawmaker John LaBruzzo, who represents the same district that David Duke once did, supports funding studies to pay poor women $1000 to have their fallopian tubes tied.

He said he is gathering statistics now. … “What I’m really studying is any and all possibilities that we can reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare,” he said.

He said his program would be voluntary. It could involve tubal ligation, encouraging other forms of birth control or, to avoid charges of gender discrimination, vasectomies for men. It also could include tax incentives for college-educated, higher-income people to have more children, he said

Wow. I mean, WOW! And you know damn well that in Louisiana, these "poor people" mean "black people." And he's just willing to admit it:

The black community will say this is some sort of race-based genocide. And there will be tremendous push back from the ACLU. They'll try to say these people are incapable of making such a decision when their life is in turmoil. That if you're dangling money in front of them, of course they'll make a decision that will affect them negatively. "My argument would be if they’re incapable of making a decision whether to cease reproduction are they capable of raising multiple children to be good citizens? And if they're incapable, maybe Social Services should take their children."

LaBruzzo would have been an awesome politician in 1911. He could have railed against race suicide, arguing that it was Anglo-Saxon women's duty to their country and race to have 14 children. He would have garnered support for forced sterilization of blacks, Italians, Jews, and other undesirables.

But whether it is 1911 or 2008, John LaBruzzo is a racist and a disgusting human being. I'd like to say he will resign, but this is the state of David Duke, Ethan Edwards, and David Vitter. I think you'd have to be caught sodomizing an alligator to get thrown out of office. And maybe not then.

What the Hell?

McCain is suspending his campaign because of the financial crisis? He wants to cancel Friday's debate?


This is arguably the most desperate and pathetic move in the history of American presidential campaigns. Seriously. #1. It's even more weird since it is a foreign policy debate, supposedly McCain's speciality in a format that is not Obama's favorite. Huh. Sounds fine to me.

As many others have pointed out already, including Obama--part of being president is dealing with multiple things at once. I guess the Republicans are saying that McCain really cares about the economy--more than being president. But this is both absurd and is not going to work. I think Americans want actual leadership. They want someone who can deal with a financial crisis and take care of Iraq and deal with Russia and health care and a bunch of other things. All at the same time. McCain is showing that he either can't or won't do these things.

Barney Frank said this about McCain's stunt: "It's the longest Hail Mary pass in the history of either football or Marys." Yes. This is true desperation. It's badly thought out and shows him to be entirely incapable of the office.

The first thing I was thinking was that there have been lots of presidential campaigns in US history. They have happened in good times and they have happened in bad times. And no my knowledge no one has ever actually called for suspending the campaign. Then, Eric Rauchway did my homework for me. He points out that on September 24, 1864, we were in the middle of the Civil War. Campaigning was intense that year and did not stop for a second. On September 24, 1932, we were dealing with the Great Depression, a crisis more serious by like a magnitude of 400 to this one. Yet FDR, Hoover, and their surrogates were trading blows left and right. And On September 24, 1944, in the middle of World War II, Thomas Dewey was attacking Franklin Roosevelt. I'm sure David Horowitz would call this treason....

See, this is how you campaign. You talk about the issues at hand. You try to demonstrate how you will deal with them. You don't stop campaigning and try to cancel the upcoming debate.

Commentary on this from around the intertubes has been pretty interesting. Aimai picks up some good stuff from The National Review. This guy gives McCain some advice:

I think McCain should show up for the debate looking reluctant and disheveled. He could apologize for this condition, saying he had to rush back from doing the nation’s business. He could be like Grant having to apologize to the impeccably dressed Lee at Appomattox for showing up all muddy and in an old private’s coat. There was, after all, a war that needed winning.

Huh. I thought all NRO readers supported the Confederacy. Learn something new every day.

Meanwhile, David Letterman of all people really nails what I think the public response to McCain's stunt is going to be:

"You don't suspend your campaign. This doesn't smell right. This isn't the way a tested hero behaves."
Yes, indeed.

The 2008 presidential campaign may well go down as one of the 2 or 3 most bizarre in American history.

And He Said It With a Straight Face...

Last night, I turned on the local cable news channel (NY1), and caught their late-night sports program. The topic of discussion was (of course) the Yankees' elimination from the playoffs. I watched for about 10 minutes of pure pleasure while Yankees fans tried to explain why it wasn't fair that they weren't going to the playoffs and whose fault it was (suprisingly, Giambi got a decent amount of blame from the fans, while A-Rod did not). Pitching was also a culprit, according to the callers, and many callers and people who e-mailed cursed Brian Cashman for letting Johan Santana go to the Mets, who, upon last examination, were still in the playoff race.

In response to those condemning the failure to sign Santana, the host tried to talk his listeners off the ledge, but methinks his tact might have been a bit off. His logic as to why it was OK that the Yankees didn't get Santana? "He's great, but if the Yankees had signed him their team salary would have entered the ridiculous."

Let's see: the Yankees spent $209 million dollars to not go to the playoffs, with a payroll $71 million dollars more than the next team (Tigers), were paying 6 men in their mid- to late-30s more than $15 million each, but Johan Santana would have made their payroll "ridiculous." And he didn't even miss a beat while saying this.

I always enjoy watching the Yankees not win the World Series, but being in New York when they don't make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years has made the pleasure even greater.

Go Mets!


From Congressman Barney Frank this morning on The Diane Rehm Show, regarding the Republicans' resistance to limiting corporate executive severance pay (a.k.a. the "Golden Parachute") for companies that will be bailed out by the U.S. taxpayers:

"The Bush administration continues to insist that they can't accept any restriction on executive compensation for those companies that are benefiting. Frankly, I talked to the people in the administration about this and they acted [as] if I told the chief rabbi in Jerusalem to eat bacon on Yom Kippur. I mean, it kind of just resonates in a way that threatens their whole worldview".

In other news, it seems a few million people have been restored to sanity. Several new polls have come out in the last 36 hours, all showing Obama once again ahead (some show fairly wide 8 - 9 point leads).

Another bright spot of the financial collapse has to be the sobering of media coverage that has resulted in a happy media absence of everyone's favorite lipstick-wearing, Russia-seeing, executive experience-having, pageant-winning, young Earth creationist hockey mom. So, you know, that's good.

Republican Hypocrisy, Exhibit 38,910,382

Republican leaders in New York are begging Vito Fossella to run for reelection to the House in his Staten Island district.

For those of you who don't remember, earlier this year Fossella was busted for drunk driving and was exposed for having a second family on the side.

But of course, actual social and sexual behavior doesn't matter to Republicans, despite everything they say. It's about which side of the fence you are on. So Eliot Spitzer has to resign in embarrassment. Bill Clinton is impeached. But Newt Gingrich is a Republican hero. David Vitter is still in the Senate (and he also purchased the services of prostitutes, the same thing Spitzer had to resign for).

Fossella rightfully decided not to run for reelection. But Republicans are about to lose the seat, which they have held for 30 years. So they've decided to throw the narrow thread of decency they were barely holding on to into the wind and beg Fossella to run.

No doubt, traditional family values would be a core part of his platform.

The Horror. The Horror.

In these times, what kind of sacrifices are our super-rich making?

It's rough out there

A nose job in a hospital with a private nurse in attendance had been something of a rite of passage for Joan Asher's children. But when her fourth and last child was ready for her own rhinoplasty recently, Ms. Asher asked her to postpone it.

The financial markets were simply more out of whack than her 16-year-old's proboscis.

"The other noses were more prominent," the stay-at-home mother from a tony New York City suburb in Westchester County told her 16-year-old daughter. She could get hers done when things settled down.

Ms. Asher was able to let her daughter get her nose job before school began after plastic surgeon Alan Matarasso said he could do the procedure in his office operating room on Manhattan's Upper East Side for about $2,500 less than if they went to a hospital, stayed overnight and hired a nurse. At home, Ms. Asher stayed up most of the night after the surgery, putting cold compresses on her daughter's eyes every 20 minutes. "She was fine," she says. "It came out great.

In other horrors:

For her 50th birthday, Annette Pucci, a New York retail manager, planned to treat herself to a facelift by cashing in $15,000 in stocks. But after consulting with her husband, a manger with Consolidated Edison Inc., she realized their stock portfolio had taken such a hit that it was out of the question.

"It was a very big disappointment," Ms. Pucci said. Her consolation: a $1,200 Botox treatment she had this week instead.

Expensive jewelry -- one of the few bright spots in the luxury-goods industry until now -- appears to be a new victim of the financial crisis. Patricia G. Hambrecht, who helps private clients buy and sell high-end jewelry, this week watched a client in the financial-services industry slash his budget for his wife's wedding anniversary present to $20,000 to $25,000 from $50,000.

It's nice that the Wall Street Journal is out there reporting on the real suffering going on in America.

Via Roger Ailes.

Historical Image of the Day

19th century image of 17th century Indian attack on New England settlers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

No Indians in the Playoffs, but No Yankees Either - It's Like the 1980s All Over Again!!!

While it saddens me that Cliff Lee was mortal tonight, if he had to lose another game, there is no more noble cause than losing the game that insures the Yankees will not go to the playoffs this year. Life is good.

Professor Loomis, Why Are Your Classes Always So Depressing?

This question was posed to me tonight after doing a showing of Toll of the Sea, a 1922 film about a Chinese woman who falls in love and has a child with an American man. He then leaves and brings back his white wife. His spurned Chinese lover gives the child to the wife to be raised as an American and then throws herself in the ocean. It's not a great film but it is a very interesting film to get at orientalism and race relations during the early 20th century.

The question is kind of disturbing. But I stand by answer--Because the past is depressing.

Seriously, is there any other way to teach history classes? I guess I could be triumphalist or something but I would be lying to myself and to the students. I don't want to be depressing, but I want to teach with passion. My passion and interest goes to the nitty gritty filth of American history. Sometimes this can be outrageous, sometimes it can be horrifying, but it doesn't give a very flattering look at US history.

The classes I teach don't help. Environmental history is not exactly a barrel of laughs. Neither is labor history. The Gilded Age and Progressive Era is fucked up in all kinds of ways, but for every powerpoint presentation of giant beards, hilarious advertisements, and ridiculous silent films, there is an equal amount of discussions on lynching, eugenics, prostitution, child abuse, etc.

What else is there to talk about? How awesome Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were? Not when I can't get over the fact that they were horrible individuals. How great the expansion of American democracy was? Not when in reality that meant brutally raping and killing thousands of Filipino, invading Latin American countries, and overthrowing elected democracies.

I guess it's my curse to teach like this. I just hope the students like it OK.

Forgotten American Blogging: Julian Mayfield

Among the many important African-American civil rights figures that are largely forgotten today is Julian Mayfield. This pioneer of pan-Africanism provided a radical critique of race in the United States at an early stage of the civil rights movement and migrated to Ghana in 1961. While he never saw most of his dreams fulfilled, Mayfield stands an important reminder of the strong history of radical opposition to racism and that there were many ways of fighting against racism during the post-war era. Each contributed to the civil rights victories.

Born in Greer, South Carolina in 1928, Julian Mayfield grew up in Washington, D.C. He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and soon became involved in acting and writing plays. Mayfield became a member of the radical Harlem African-American arts scene with such figures as Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, Lorraine Hansberry, Sidney Portier, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee. He continued his literary career after he moved to Puerto Rico to escape McCarthy-era repression in 1954. There he published his first novel, 1957's The Hit, to strong reviews. He followed that up with The Long Night in 1958 and The Grand Parade in 1961. All of these books dealt with African-American issues in the ghetto and provided Mayfield's strong critique of American racism.

Mayfield was also a big supporter of the NAACP radical Robert Williams, who advocated that blacks arm themselves for protection from whites. Mayfield was visiting Williams' North Carolina house in 1961 when a mob attacked. When a group of whites tried to ram his car off a bridge, he grabbed his gun and started threatening them, much to the horror of the non-violent SNCC members there. Williams, Mayfield, and the rest of the civil rights workers escaped that night. Many went into exile. Williams headed to Cuba. Mayfield and his wife went to Ghana.

Mayfield moved to Africa to serve Ghana's new president, Kwame Nkrumah, however he could. Nkrumah was one of Africa's decolonization heroes and was the obvious choice to become president when that nation became independent in 1960. Nkrumah faced many of the problems that many decolonization leaders dealt with when he took over--a nation patched together among different tribal peoples, a long history of exploitation, deeply entrenched poverty, a weak central government, and endemic corruption. But Nkrumah also served as a hero for many African-Americans who saw him and the decolonization struggles as deeply connected to the problems of the African diaspora. Seeing a black hero and a black leader made Ghana the leading destination for radicalized African-Americans who had given up on any hope that the United States would ever provide their people with equal opportunities. The most famous expatriate was W.E.B. DuBois, who died in Ghana in 1963. But none was probably more influential in Ghana than Julian Mayfield.

Mayfield strongly believed that the American Dream would permanently be denied to African-Americans. He did not believe that African-Americans would ever see meaningful change, and in fact, said in 1959 that he saw "a tragic future for the American Negro people." During the late McCarthyist 1950s, Mayfield and other radicals saw Ghana, and exile more generally, as an attractive option from the atmosphere of repression they faced every day. As historian Kevin Gaines writes, "Ghana afforded them what was impossible in America: the freedom not just to speak but to advocate democratic socialism and economic justice; not just a sanctuary from exile but an external vantage point that enabled critical insight into U.S. overseas propaganda and the nation's relationship to the world....Their skepticism toward reformist racial change in the United States was informed by their location in Ghana, at the front lines of not only the African revolution but also the formation of a new American empire as the United States sought to expand its hegemony to Africa and to replace European hegemony there."

Mayfield was central to this expatriate effort. He placed great hope in the Nkrumah experiment and hoped to spread it throughout Africa. He openly criticized the United States' increasing role in Africa, particularly its complicity in the overthrow and assassination of Congo's president and anticolonization leader Patrice Lumumba. He began a journal entitled African Review, which served to promote revolutionary African and African-American ideas in an international context. He was hired by the Ghanaian government to promote its ideological agenda and did so with aplomb.

Mayfield certainly didn't find all his time in Ghana fulfilling. The American expatriates were suspected by many Ghana residents of being CIA stools, and in fact some African-Americans were working for the CIA. He didn't find himself being used by the Ghanaian government very much and certainly not to his satisfaction. He frequently considered moving to one of the newly freed east African nations. Finally by 1965, he looked to leave Ghana and did so, spending a couple of years in Europe. Still though, he supported Nkrumah even after a US-supported coup overthrew him in 1966 and blamed the United States for his fall.

Mayfield returned to the U.S. in 1968, teaching at various universities, as well as serving for 2 years as an advisor to Guyana's prime minister, Forbes Burnham. He wrote important critical essays throughout his later years critiquing African-American life during and immediately after the civil rights movement. He died in 1985.

Mayfield's life was hardly perfect. He was an alcoholic, which helped him toward an early death at the age of 56. His fictional writing mostly disappeared after his move to Ghana. He defended Nkrumah to the end, even though the latter made a lot of mistakes that helped galvanize opposition to him. He found his return to the US rough; he was unable to find steady university appointments and those he did receive often included onerous teaching loads. But Mayfield was a very important representative of a particular kind of African-American liberation thought. He dedicated his life to improving the lot of his people and Africans more generally. He tried to accomplish good and he did to a great extent. I don't know how much more we can ask of a person.

Most of this information comes from Kevin Gaines' interesting book, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2006.

Poverty and Conservation

This is an interesting and useful story about Chinese biologist Pan Wenshi's mission to protect the white-headed langur and its forest habitat.

What is so useful about it is that it again shows that the way to protecting wildlife and ecosystems is alleviating the poverty of local residents. People use the forests to survive. They ate the white-headed langur for food. They cut down the forests for firewood. But Pan went in and built biogas digesters, which use the methane produced by domestic animal waste for fuel. By giving them these cheap devices, the people had much less reason to cut down trees. Now they could focus on other activities, making their lives easier and protecting the forest at the same time.

Alleviating poverty is not the only needed course of action. A huge problem in China is that newly rich and powerful people want to use wild animals for food and medicine as conspicious consumption. That had become a huge problem for the white-headed langur. But with the help of locals, newly interested in conservation because not destroying the forest was making their lives better, that has been curtailed for the present.

This story has larger significance for environmental efforts worldwide. Environmental organizations must make it worth people's while to protect nature. We can go in as westerners and try to save land and wildlife but without strong governments dedicated to that protection, local residents are likely to ignore those laws and go on trying to feed their families. Environmental protection must go hand in hand with economic justice.

Historical Image of the Day

Los Angeles street scene, 1950s.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Troy Davis

Is set to be executed tomorrow despite unreviewed evidence that he is not guilty.

The Supreme Court is set to review his case--six days after his execution date.

This is disgusting, it's immoral, it's basically everything that makes the death penalty a terrible idea. I'm opposed to it in any case, but in this particular one it's making me physically ill.

I wish there was more I could do.


Can we please put to bed the myth that oil prices haven't skyrocketed because of speculators? Yes, that is not the whole story. But the idea of supply and demand is just absurd. Today, oil jumped by a mere $16? Why? Because the Democrats aren't willing to give Wall Street a complete bailout with no questions asked? The response is to invest in oil and other commodities, thus further shifting the suffering for the financial collapse on the backs of working Americans. Speculators are now making Americans pay more for key commodities, despite the fact that there is no supply and demand issues driving such a price spike.

This should not be allowed to happen. While I'm not calling for the nationalization of resources or for governments to enact strict price controls on the international commodity markets, there should be more closely regulated rules. I am comfortable calling on price caps, shutting down the markets when prices go up (and maybe also down) more than a certain percentage each day. I also support a large tax on oil profiteering and speculation.

Moreover, I oppose and deeply resent how Wall Street is forcing poor and working-class people around the world to make up for their failings. Congress should not only be investigating why the economic collapse happened and more closely regulating the financial industries. They should also be investigating who is pushing commodity prices to unreasonable heights, who is getting rich of it, and why we have such a system in the first place.

This is class warfare.

Racism and the Construction of Hispano Identity in New Mexico

The recent comments by Bernalillo County, New Mexico, Republican chairman Fernando Cabezade Baca concerning why he thinks Latinos won't vote for Obama are outrageous :

"The truth is that Hispanics came here as conquerors. African-Americans came here as slaves. ... Hispanics consider themselves above blacks. They won't vote for a black president."
They are outrageous. But entirely expected to someone who has spent time in New Mexico. Not all Latinos think this way. But there is a very loud, if rather small, population of upper-class Hispanos who feel very strongly that this is true.

Moreover, these people engage in racism as part of their identity. They identify themselves explicitly as pure-blood Spanish, despite all evidence to the contrary. I taught the History of New Mexico twice as a graduate student. It's a dreadful class for many reasons. But one of the reasons is dealing with these students. There are usually one or two in each class. They very carefully separate themselves from the other, often poorer and at least partially Native American, students. They often insist the Spanish were benevolent rulers, turning conquistadors into heroes and denigrating Native American culture.

I believe that this was a direct response to the arrival of the United States in the 19th century. Business and local elites, seeking to retain their privileges in the face of hostile whites, declared themselves as white. By defining themselves as pure-blooded Spaniards, they could make a claim to whiteness in the late 19th century and thus keeping some grasp on political and economic power, even if they meant as junior partners to people more widely accepted as white at the time. This is not surprising to me. What is more interesting is the tenacity these ideas have. Almost inevitably in northern New Mexico wealthy Hispanics will define themselves this way. They are very proud of the pureblooded Spanish heritage, even if it is almost certainly totally false. They are equally dismissive of other races.

Dude, it's OK to be Mexican! Stop making false claims to a European heritage, particularly in a day and age when these claims do nothing for you politically.

Thus, it is not surprising that a leading Republican Latino in New Mexico would make such a claim about Obama. First, he really believes it. Second, he is racist as are a lot of the people he knows. There are lots of these supposed pure-blooded Spaniards who would never vote for a candidate from another race. They really think they are conquerors, the blacks are slaves, and the Indians are savages. They didn't just think that 100 years ago. They think it today.

New Mexico is a very strange place. Watching race work there was incredibly fascinating. Living there for 8 years gave me lots of exposure but I still don't think I understand all the bizarre subtleties of it. And while there might be some Latino racism that holds down their support for Obama (though the polls suggest this won't happen), it is different from what Cabeza de Baca is saying. He is racist in a very unique upper-class New Mexican way.

The Kennedy Myth Continues

The idea that John F. Kennedy was a great president is one of the strangest baby boomer narratives. Now we have a new film arguing that Kennedy would have kept us out of Vietnam. This despite the fact that there is no evidence suggesting such a thing. Kennedy was ready to begin a nuclear war with the Soviets over Cuba. His administration acted in a wide variety of loathsome ways in Africa. He ran on a platform that was to the right of Richard Nixon on foreign policy issues. Richard Nixon! Plus, Kennedy increased US presence in Vietnam!!!

I know that Kennedy is a more appealing figure to intellectual baby boomers than Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, but I'm sorry, there is very little difference between any of the three in how they approached the Cold War. JFK was not a peacenik, no matter how much you want him to be.

Conservatives and Colleges

The conservative attempts to take over colleges retains its hilarious ineptness.

It's so shocking that their attempts have failed so far! I mean, who could have guessed that Americans were generally completely uninterested in engaging in an ideological holy war against liberal professors!!!

I feel their new tact, to fund courses in the classics and triumphalist American history with right-wing funding but without overt ideological overtones, is also bound to fail. First, what is the connection between reading the classics and becoming conservative? Certainly it can happen--and there's no question that a larger number of conservative professors are classics or ancient historians than other fields. But there's not much of a correlation, as I am sure many of the writers and commenters on this blog know.

Second, who is going to teach these classes? The idea that there is this huge cadre of right-wingers with Ph.D.s floating around looking for jobs but being denied because of their politics is absolutely absurd.

And the reason is simple--what self-respecting conservative would go to school for all this time and make so little money?

The only hope these groups have is to take advantage of institutions' financial problems to become major funders that allow them to make curriculum changes. Which given the precarious funding for higher ed in many states is a real possibility.

Obama's Bailout

Obama's bailout plan makes sense. It is important to save the financial markets, but there needs to be punishment as well. Government needs to play a much more active role in regulation. Also, if there is going to be a bailout, the middle and working classes need to be bailed out too. For why should government only help the rich? Obama seeks to limit golden parachutes, which I completely agree with. He demands that homeowners facing foreclosure be able to stay in their homes, another sensible proposition. I would actually go a big step farther, and tie the repeal of the bankruptcy bill to the bailout. If the wealthy can screw up and then force taxpayers to bail them out, why can't regular people screw up and get help too?

Via Cogitamus.

Historical Image of the Day

French colonial map of St. Louis, circa 1800

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The connection between reason, information, and political ideology

The Washington Post has a story about a recent experiment conducted by two political scientists:

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

(You can read some more commentary about this article at Mother Jones, and find a link to the study)

This study adds to another recent finding in Larry Bartels' new book, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton University Press, 2008). Among the many interesting findings in Bartels' new book, he found using survey data that perceptions of growing economic inequality in the United States over the last twenty years were far different among liberals and conservatives. Not particularly surprising on the face of it, but he also found that political information had a substantially different effect among liberals and conservatives. The income gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. has increased over the last twenty years, this isn't a debatable fact. But, Bartels found that among liberals, they were increasingly likely to recognize increasing economic inequality as they became more politically informed. Among the least informed liberals involved in the survey, about 70% recognized that inequality had increased, compared to 80% of the least informed conservatives. Among the most informed liberals, about 95% recognized that income inequality had increased, compared to about 60% of the most informed conservatives.

Am I really surprised by these findings? Not particularly. But it is still pretty disheartening that the likelihood of rational debate and reasonable compromise between liberals and conservatives, especially at the elite level, is pretty unlikely given that factual evidence has no impact on the most die-hard conservatives. If you combine these findings with other research that demonstrates ideological polarization between liberals and conservatives (or Democrats and Republicans) has also increased since the 1980s, especially at the elite level, the implications for the quality of public debate and public policy in this country are downright depressing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cynic with a sign

So today I went to a rally for Obama on Temple campus. He wasn't there, but Howard Dean was, along with Mayor Nutter (whom I not-so-lovingly refer to as M. Nuts).

Political speeches are mostly all the same, but I've got a warm spot in my heart for Howard. I volunteered for Dean back in 2004, and wrote piles of emails to the DNC begging for his chairmanship. I still think sometimes that he would've been a better general election candidate than Kerry, but I absolutely do NOT want to argue that point here. Suffice it to say, it was nice for me to be able to shake his hand and tell him that I supported him four years ago and have him say thanks and look like he meant it.

The girl behind me in line actually said that she wasn't going to vote--I think I terrified her when I turned around and asked her why. I doubt I was very nice.

But what I really wanted to write about was the guy outside the rally with a sign. The gathering was in a big room in the student center, and of course there were a couple of protesters.

This particular guy had a sign that said "Billionaires for Obama" and had a list of corporate logos from companies that have donated to the Obama campaign. His friend had a sign that said "Vote McCain/Obama, More of the Same."

Now, they had a point to some degree. I obviously don't agree that McCain and Obama are the same. There are plenty of substantial differences at this point that I didn't see back in 2000 between Bush and Gore. But to be fair, back in 2000 I was the same age that these kids probably are now, and it was easier to be rebellious.

On the way out of the rally, I asked the guy with the sign what his message was. He said "I'm encouraging people to vote for McCain or Obama!" I asked again, "But what's your message?"

He didn't have an answer.

Now, I'm a huge fan of the First Amendment, as everyone here probably knows, and I absolutely support your right to protest, and occasionally, as my friend Denise says, "To make a total ass of yourself in public."

And I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Not only that, I wrote Op-Eds and donated money and slapped Nader stickers up around town.

But this guy, today? He wasn't encouraging a Nader vote. He wasn't encouraging a McKinney vote or a Bob Barr vote or a Ron Paul vote or even for people to write his own name in there.

His sole purpose in being there was, apparently, to point out to people like the girl in line behind me, already inclined not to vote because "it's pointless," that they have company in their cynicism. He was just there to be a cynic with a sign.

At that point, I wanted to ask him, like Ren does constantly, "But what's the plan?"

I mean, I probably agree with most of what that guy thinks. But at this point, I'm going to go with trying to change what I can actually change. And I'm not just standing outside with a sign. I'm walking door to door, knocking, calling, donating, writing, working my tail off to change things.

Now, maybe that kid with the sign is working that hard on something. He certainly spent time making his sign and standing outside and probably being subject to much more obnoxious comments than my simple question.

But at some point, I think protest and pseudoanarchism is just a cover for cynicism, so you don't have to get involved in a race that you have any chance of winning.

I knew Nader wasn't gonna come even close to winning back in 2000. Yeah, we were gunning for that 5% of the vote, which we didn't get. But I didn't have anything invested in election day. Not like 2004, where I volunteered for Dean and then for Kerry and spent all election day knocking on strangers' doors.

And not like this year, where I've traveled farther and given more hours to Obama from the primaries on.

When you put that much into it, there's the risk that you fail. That you wake up the day after election day feeling like you've had your heart broken. It's easier not to lose.

And it's certainly easier just to sit back in your safe middle-class white life and not think about the real humans that suffer while you wait for perfection in order to what, take maybe an hour out of your busy middle-class white life to VOTE?

Howard Dean, at the rally, said "You get a D for voting. That's the minimum effort." And he's right.

These kids today had the energy and the motivation to show up with signs to protest outside of the rally: GOOD. But when asked, they couldn't tell me what they wanted to come of it?

It makes me think of the All song:

You're tired of being pushed around
Want to tear the system down?
Hey bro - let's go!
Just quit your bitchin' about the situation

It's not that tough and it's not enough to point your finger
And I don't know why you should listen to me 'cause I'm just a singer
Your open mouth don't make you tough
I see you and I'll call your bluff

What are you for?
I want to know, why don't you tell me so?
What are you for?
Quit giving me negative, what makes you want to live?
What are you for?


This may in fact be the single stupidest thing I have ever read.

Kathleen Murphy slams on movie critics for actually, you know, thinking about movies and writing about what they love. Instead, they are supposed to mirror the general opinion and reaffirm whatever the public goes to see.

There are really so many choices for the worst part of this article. One great moment is when Murphy slams on movie critics for talking about old directors like Fritz Lang and then lists some of his movies. Oh, how ironic and cute!

But I think the low point is this:

Apologizing for his preference for Cinemah over popcorn movies, highbrow New York Times critic A.O. Scott actually had the nads to claim that he's doing us a favor by sharing the "pleasure, wonder and surprise we associate with art."
Don't bother beaming us up, Scotty. What we crave is consensus, write-ups that mirror the majority, the movie tastes of the teens and proles who rule the box office.
I feel like offering Murphy a copy of Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Because this piece is a perfect example of American anti-intellectualism. Not only is she opposed to what film critics say, she's opposed to anything that doesn't affirm the majority as she defines it. This article almost could only have been written in this country.

God Bless America.

Jun Ichikawa, RIP

I am sad to hear of Jun Ichikawa's demise.

The only Ichikawa film I have seen is "Tony Takitani." But for this beautiful movie alone, Ichikawa deserves to be mourned. Based upon a Haruki Murakami short story, this achingly sad film about a lonely man who meets and marries a fashionable woman is one of the decade's best. Spare and simple, it is basically about a man who doesn't realize how lonely he has always been until he is alone once more. I was completely awed by this film when I saw it a few years ago. I highly recommend checking it out.

Republican Socialists

In principle, I have no real problem with the Bush Administration socializing much of the financial markets, in particular the takeover of AIG. What I do have a problem with is the hypocrisy involved with supposed free-market, small-government Republicans acting like European socialists. If the Republicans would admit that their ideas are wrong and the socialization of important societal functions was a good thing, I would be happy. But of course they won't. They'll go on spewing the same rhetoric and like always they'll be a little man behind the rhetorical curtain.

Leading Republicans don't actually believe most of their rhetoric. For them, government exists to support their interests. So they can pay no taxes, make terrible financial decisions with the promise of huge short-term profits, and know that the government will bail them out time after time. They will learn nothing from their previous behavior and no doubt will again engage in bad investments and shady practices to maximize profit.

And they are also happy to use the government to screw over the little guy, pushing for the bankruptcy bill because Americans need to show "personal financial responsibility." Well, where's that personal financial responsibility you scumbags. And of course we can't have a national health care plan because that would be socialism. It would raise our taxes! Yet, what is this bailout of the financial markets going to do to our nation's economy? Will we have to raise taxes? Or will we just engage in the same kind of chimeric financial policies of putting off debt and sacrificing the long-term health of the nation for short-term solutions?

I predict the latter.

A Slogan for Palin?

If only Americans knew enough about old vice-presidential candidates to use such a slogan:

Sarah Palin. Combining the gravitas of Dan Quayle, the skeletons in the closet of Thomas Eagleton, and the beliefs of Dick Cheney.

To me that's pretty damning. But I realize that like 2% of Americans under the age of 35 know who Eagleton is and not as many more as we'd like to think know who Quayle is.

Oh well. I like my slogan.

Historical Image of the Day

Harriet Wilson statue, Milford, New Hampshire. Wilson was the first African-American novelist in U.S. history. Her 1859 work, Our Nig, exposed black indentured servitude in the North and was based on her own experiences as a girl. The work was ignored until Henry Louis Gates rediscovered it in 1982.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

Pennsylvania Hall Fire, 1838. This building was burned by a mob for having women and African-Americans speaking advocating for women's suffrage and abolitionism.

It also should be noted that this is an excellent example of the deep-seated hostility in the North to equal rights, especially for African-Americans, and that the history of northern racism is as long and painful as that in the South. But it doesn't get the same publicity.


Seattle Mariners pitcher Erik Bedard is unlikely to pitch next year after surgery for a torn labrum.

USS Mariner calls the trade bringing Bedard in last winter the worst in franchise history. Basically, we traded our entire farm system, along with the excellent reliever George Sherrill, to the Orioles for two years of Bedard. He wasn't any good in Seattle, was a pain in the ass in the clubhouse, wouldn't talk to the media, and then got hurt. He will be a free agent at the end of next season. For 80 innings of crappiness, the Mariners gave up three amazing prospects that they desperately need to rebuild from one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The Mariners were supposed to compete for the AL West title this year, though that was clearly ridiculous, even in April. Instead, they are trying not to lose 100 games.

Truthfully, the Mariners have a long history of making terrible trades--trading a couple of bums named Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb, trading Danny Tartabull to Kansas City for Scott Bankhead. So it remains to be seen if the Bedard trade is worse.

But in any case, this season sucks and I am glad it is almost over. The only redeeming thing is that Ichiro got 200 hits last night for the 8th straight season, tying the all-time record of consecutive 200 hit seasons set by Wee Willie Keeler between 1894 and 1901. Assuming he doesn't get hurt, we can expect him to break that record next year. Ichiro!

PS--I knew I was forgetting one horrible trade of the past. Walking to the office I remembered when the Mariners traded Carlos Guillen to Detroit for Ramon Santiago because they thought Guillen was a bad influence on Freddy Garcia. I wonder what happened to that Guillen fellow...

Peaking Early

There's a long way to go until November. A lot could happen. But it seems that the Republicans have peaked early. McCain's selection of Sarah Palin is turning into the disaster that I thought it would. She really is a Tom Eagleton-like choice. Although she energized the base, the rest of America is discovering that she is incompetent, corrupt, and just not very smart. The McCain campaign's desperate Hail Mary is coming up short. Plus McCain has gone so over the top negative (another desperate move) that it is starting to haunt him. The economy is tanking and if this election is about the economy, the Republicans lose big. The Democrats should be running commercials with McCain admitting that he has no experience on economic issues on a loop. Plus, 7 soldiers died in Iraq today. Probably a one-time uptick, but that doesn't help McSame either. Overall, things are not looking good for McCain.

The CNN Poll of Polls now shows Obama back up by 2.

Again, it's a long ways until the first Tuesday in November. And I still don't think Obama has run a very effective general election campaign. But I am feeling a lot more confident than I was 10 days ago.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ridiculous Movie Titles

As a result of a couple really ridiculously titled movies I’ve reviewed recently (namely, the top two in the list), I decided to put together a list of some of my favorite ridiculous movie titles. It’s not a ranking and it’s sure as hell not a quality judgment, but I’ve only listed movies that I’ve actually seen. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but here we are.

SURRENDER—HELL!: Nothing’s better than punctuating your title with an exclamation point. Never has there been a title more fun to yell out. This is the worst kind of ‘50s jingoistic war film.

: If you’re looking for nudity and Satanism, do you really need to go farther?

TORSO, OR THE CORPSE SHOWED EVIDENCE OF CARNAL VIOLENCE: Torso is the English language equivalent of the Italian I Corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale. I prefer the more descriptive original title for this ‘80s slasher flick but, with the English, you at least know where people are getting stabbed.

THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED UP ZOMBIES: Ray Dennis Steckler is one of the true kings of Z-grade films. The title became even more ridiculous than its original, The Incredibly Strange Creatures: Or How I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-Up Zombie, after Columbia’s threat of a lawsuit. Steckler stars in the film under one of the all-time great pseudonyms: Cash Flagg.

THOU SHALT NOT KILL…EXCEPT: Vietnam vets rearm themselves to battle hippy cultists. This anti-hippy Straw Dogs finishes with a man being impaled on a motorcycle...awesome.

FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY: This comes close to the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but there’s always Titanic. A Bond parody from the Philippines, it features little 003 ½ crack midget spy and ladies’ man. Really, without seeing it, there’s no explaining how insane this movie is.

EVEN DWARVES STARTED SMALL: The one film on the list I will defend on its merits and the second straight film to feature little people, this early Werner Herzog allegory is only the second all dwarf cast in film history. If I remember correctly, Erik really hates this movie, which clearly raises the quality a couple of notches.

YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY: A pretty standard, and fairly decent, giallo film from Sergio Martino, who also made the above Torso, based heavily on Poe’s “The Black Cat.”

JESUS CHRIST: VAMPIRE HUNTER: The cover for the DVD of this film features Jesus with wrestler El Santo doing karate. Indeed, the movie fulfills this promise as Jesus returns to protect the lesbian community of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, from vampires. A true modern classic.

PORNO HOLOCAUST: In the early ‘80s, when the cannibal film was hot in Italy, Aristide Massacessi (aka, Joe D’Amato) decided it would be a good idea to make one that included a couple of hardcore scenes. Brilliant idea for a brilliant movie, this is one of the most reprehensible films I’ve ever seen.

THE EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD: I’ve included a 10b here because this is almost the exact same movie as Porno Holocaust, only the brown people have put makeup on and are now flesh-eating zombies instead of flesh-eating natives. Massacessi covers all his bases here, zombies or cannibals, there’s something for everybody.