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August 26, 2009

The Senator from Netscape


Ted Kennedy was the first member of congress to have a website.

More from Sunlight.

Posted August 26, 2009 at 3:09 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

August 13, 2009

The Health Care Meltdown

Matt says,


I've been an independent contractor for the past year, and my boyfriend's been unemployed. So I've been getting acquainted with the intricacies of the US health care system outside of employer-provided care, the universe affectionately known as the Wild West. Firsthand familiarity led me to seek a bit more policy familiarity - reading some books and think tank reports, following the health reform battle as it wends its way through Congress. And I've been itching for a while to create something that I hadn't been able to find - a stark, straightforward overview of why health reform is happening and where it's heading.

This week, when the hysteria seemed to reach a fever pitch, seemed like the right time to get this project done. So starting Tuesday night, I put together a quick little site, on the order of The Money Meltdown:

Hope you enjoy it. Please send it to your crazy grandpa.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:59 PM

July 15, 2009

Two Different Ways of Looking At "Simple"

Two different blog entries about health care ended up in my RSS reader at the same time. They argue for diametrically opposite positions based on what appear to be identical principles.

One is by Conor Friedersdorf, who's filling in for Andrew Sullivan. It's essentially a follow-up to his earlier post about requiring Congress to read the laws they pass, which I commented on here.

The worst thing about "comprehensive reform" efforts are that they shut the average citizen out of the legislative process by making bills so complicated that it is nearly impossible for the average citizen to properly evaluate whether on balance it is a wise or unwise measure. Who can predict all the effects of a 3,000 page bill spanning all manner of issues? Often times not even the legislature itself. Certainly not the press, which often focuses on bits of the legislation that won't actually have the most impact, sometimes because legislators themselves are deliberately obscuring what's actually at stake.

It's a conservative lesson: we should make "small, piecemeal improvements to public policy, rather than the kind of sweeping efforts that flatter vanities but fail citizens."

And here Ezra Klein presents an argument from a reader named Lensch, who compares the current reform bill being considered to the old Ptolemaic epicycles in astronomy:

We want a "uniquely American solution." So we have weak plans, strong plans, coops, exchanges, individual coverage, community ratings, etc., etc., etc. I still haven't seen we are going to handle the problem of people with pre-existing conditions. If we cover them, people will take out minimal insurance until they get sick and then switch. We need some more epicycles.

If Copernicus were alive today, I am sure he would say, "If you simply give everyone Medicare, you wouldn't need all this complication, and I'll bet it would be cheaper, too."

The practically radical answer turns out to be intellectually conservative; it's a back-of-the-envelope solution.

I don't think one answer trumps or refutes the other. I think there's another meaning of "simple" here, which both arguments ignore. The health care proposal floated in the House, is intellectually complex not only because it's designed to please different legislators and constituencies, but because it's designed to have a minimal impact on most people, particularly those who already have some kind of health care. If by a stroke of law, we switched everyone from private insurance to Medicare tomorrow, it would be chaos. That's why you get epicycles - because it turns out that asking the earth to move in this case might actually make it change its orbit.

And really, the same thing could be said about the plan to make Congress read their bills out loud and then take a day to deliberate about them. It would actually introduce a great number of brand-new complications into the legislative process, not just for them, but for us, particularly if we actually cared enough to pay attention. You mean, my politicians actually want me to pay attention to what they do and weigh in on complex issues and hold them accountable? Wouldn't it be easier just to complain that they're all crooks who don't represent my interests?

Posted July 15, 2009 at 1:24 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolicy, Snarkpolitik

Jay-Z and The Fog of Rap Battle

Tim says,

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy goes there:

See, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is the closest thing to a hegemon which the rap world has known for a long time. He's #1 on the Forbes list of the top earning rappers. He has an unimpeachable reputation, both artistic and commercial, and has produced some of the all-time best (and best-selling) hip hop albums including standouts Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and the Black Album. He spent several successful years as the CEO of Def Jam Records before buying out his contract a few months ago to release his new album on his own label. And he's got Beyoncé. Nobody, but nobody, in the hip hop world has his combination of hard power and soft power. If there be hegemony, then this is it. Heck, when he tried to retire after the Black Album, he found himself dragged back into the game (shades of America's inward turn during the Clinton years?).

But the limits on his ability to use this power recalls the debates about U.S. primacy. Should he use this power to its fullest extent, as neo-conservatives would advise, imposing his will to reshape the world, forcing others to adapt to his values and leadership? Or should he fear a backlash against the unilateral use of power, as realists such as my colleague Steve Walt or liberals such as John Ikenberry would warn, and instead exercise self-restraint?

But here's the other question: are Jay-Z and Beyoncé really in the same game? What about The Shins? In other words, maybe one set of actors are in the sphere of realist power politics, and another set are acting under a completely different set of assumptions - maybe idealist, maybe postmodern, maybe not based on the nation-state/single artist framework at all.

This was always my issue whenever we examined competing explanatory frameworks in political science: the assumption that whatever assumptions you made, they had to apply to all actors equally and individual actors consistently.

To me, it seemed (and seems) perfectly consistent to suppose that rational actors could be operating under different frameworks of rationality at different times, or even in some instances scuttling rationality altogether due to misinformation, contradictory internal forces, or misguided teleologies. "You can't build models that way," my freshman poli sci teacher said, half-joking but half-serious. No, I guess you can't.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:56 AM

July 14, 2009

Robin's thoughts: A timeline of movie protagonists talking to the camera -- with video clips. This would be a Very ... >>

Boy, If Life Were Only Like This

Ezra Klein writes that "I imagine that when Sonia Sotomayor is putting together her scrapbook of memories from the time she was nominated for the United States Supreme Court, this will be a page she'll particularly treasure":

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), seeking to discredit Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, cited her 2001 “wise Latina” speech, and contrasted the view that ethnicity and sex influence judging with that of Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, who “believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices.”

“So I would just say to you, I believe in Judge Cedarbaum’s formulation,” Sessions told Sotomayor.

“My friend Judge Cedarbaum is here,” Sotomayor riposted, to Sessions’s apparent surprise. “We are good friends, and I believe that we both approach judging in the same way, which is looking at the facts of each individual case and applying the law to those facts.”

Cedarbaum agreed.

“I don’t believe for a minute that there are any differences in our approach to judging, and her personal predilections have no affect on her approach to judging,” she told Washington Wire. “We’d both like to see more women on the courts,” she added.

Oh yeah? Well that's funny, because I happen to have Mr McLuhan right here:

Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:20 | Comments (10) | Permasnark
File under: Movies, Snarkpolitik
Betty Ann's thoughts: This could help a bit now S... >>

Reading the Riot Act

Legislators - in the US, but probably elsewhere too - don't read bills before they vote on them. No one could.

Congress passed the gigantic, $787 billion “stimulus’’ bill in February - the largest spending bill in history - after having had only 13 hours to master its 1,100 pages. A 300-page amendment was added to Waxman-Markey, the mammoth cap-and-trade energy bill, at 3 a.m. on the day the bill was to be voted on by the House.

Conor Fridersdorf proposes we require that politicians read laws before they pass:

Simpler, shorter laws more accessible to the citizenry would result. Legislators couldn't plausibly claim ignorance about an egregious measure slipped into a bill for which they voted. Special interests would have less ability to hide advantageous language in thickets of subsections. The majority party couldn't game the system, using timing and parliamentary procedure to pass measures that wouldn't survive scrutiny. Powerful politicians would demand better, clearer writing if they had to wade through it themselves. An ability to consider fewer total pieces of legislation might even encourage the House and Senate to better prioritize their time. Finally, the average citizen wouldn't regard the reality of their legislative system as a corrupt sham.

Okay, let's imagine this. Laws - maybe even laws above a certain threshold, whether for dollars, or years, or whatever - must be given a full public reading before they are passed. That is, read out loud.

I don't really care if or even want that every member of Congress should have to sit there and listen to it. It's a *public* reading. It's not for them, really - it's for us. In the meantime, you've got journalists and citizens liveblogging and reporting the thing, so people can check out what's inside.

Then after the public reading is finished, there's a day of deliberation before the vote, during which time folks can vet the bill and voice their opinion to their representatives.

Most people won't care. Most don't know. Maybe the laws will still be just as long, the language extra-confusing, just to obfuscate things further. That's true now. But there's a great deal more potential here, I think, for good things to happen - smart things, dramatic things, democratic things. Anyways, it's worth a shot.

... Read more ....
Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:00 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

July 13, 2009

Ferguson/Fallows on China

Robin says,

This 75-minute dialogue between Niall Ferguson and James Fallows, about China and its relationship with the U.S., is nuanced, detailed, and thought-provoking.

(My view here is colored by the facts that a) James Fallows has been my favorite journalist since I started reading his Atlantic articles back in college and b) I want to somehow, somehow, learn to speak like Niall Ferguson. Scottish accent and all? I think so.)

Anyway, Ferguson and Fallows really argue here—in the way two smart people argue over dinner, not in the way that people argue ("argue") on cable news. It's always surprisingly thrilling to see people actually think on camera.

To set it up, the point they don't dispute is that, right now, the world's most important entity is "Chimerica"—the blended economies of China and America. At this point, even after the economic shocks of 2008 and 2009, they are still inseperable, and incoherent without each other.

Ferguson and Fallows disagree on what happens next. Ferguson says Chimerica is doomed, and get ready for a painful disruption. Fallows, fresh off of three years living in China, is more optimistic—he thinks the relationship is flexible, durable, and many-faceted.

I saw Niall Ferguson debate Peter Schwartz here in San Francisco, and all I gotta say is: I wouldn't want to face off with this guy across a stage. He is erudite, to be sure; but he also carries and deploys his erudition in a particularly cutting way—like an Oxford don James Bond.

Anyway, I emerged from the 75 minutes mostly on the side of Fallows—but I always appreciate Ferguson's gloomy, ultra-realist point of view. Also, Fallows follows up here.

Comments (11) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:10 PM

Ordinary Everyday Crisis vs. Cartoonish Super-Crisis

Tim says,

California, strapped by an insane budget crisis, is issuing IOUs to its employees and creditors, and will soon likely be willing to accept these IOUs as payment for taxes and other state obligations. Nothing like a little extra-constitutional currency creation to spice up the economic picture of the U.S.A!

The Economist's Free Exchange offers this take on the consequences:

The highly uncertain long-term value of the IOUs may make anyone reluctant to accept them, preventing them from rising to de facto currency status. On the other hand, if enough people and institutions begin accepting them, Gresham's law may apply. Consumers may be anxious to hold on to dollars and spend their funny money wherever they can, until circulation is dominated by the IOUs.

But then, of course, economies that do business with California would have a demand for the IOUs, and other states—Nevada, and Oregon, say—or countries might begin accepting them. A constitutional challenge likely wipes all this out, but it is interesting to consider.

Another question—what to call them? I nominate the term "props", in honour of the ballot initiatives which landed California in this mess in the first place.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:38 AM

July 4, 2009

The Problem Is the Wall

Matt says,

Ezra Klein recently moved from the American Prospect to the [depending on your perspective] loftier perch of the Washington Post. I'm guessing this has also gotten him better access to the halls of power; he seems to be snagging higher-profile interviews more often (e.g. Atul Gawande, Ron Wyden, Tom Daschle, Bernie Sanders).

But his heightened proximity to the legislative sausage factory might be having a depressing effect. Lately, he's gotten more and more negative about the deficiencies of our government structure. Most of our biggest problems, he's been saying, can't really be pinned on individual actors like Obama or, say, Tom Harkin. They're systemic.

To illustrate, he offers a nice fable:

Imagine a group of men sitting in a dim prison cell. One of the walls has a window. Beyond that wall, they know they'll find freedom. One of the men spends years picking away at it with a small knife. The others eventually tire of him. That's an idiotic approach, they say. You need more force. So one of the other men spends his days ramming the bed frame into the wall. Eventually, he exhausts himself. The others mock his hubris. Another tries to light the wall on fire. That fails as well. The assembled prisoners laugh at the attempt. And so it goes. But the problem is that there is no answer to their dilemma. The problem is not their strategy. It's the wall.
Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:13 PM

July 1, 2009

What Canadian Expats Miss About Canada

Tim says,


The NYT asked:

In history class, in seventh grade (or as we like to say in Canada, grade seven) we learned the story of the American Revolution — from the British perspective. Turns out you were all a bunch of ungrateful tax cheats. And you weren’t very nice to the Loyalists. What I miss most about Canada is getting the truth about the United States.

— MALCOLM GLADWELL, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author, most recently, of “Outliers: The Story of Success”

I also liked this quip from Simpsons writer Tim Long:

I miss the snow. Yes, I know the United States gets snow, but to my Canadian eye, American snow is like American health care: sporadic, unreliable and distributed unevenly among the population.
Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:21 PM

June 27, 2009

Sanford's Odyssey, Book III

See Books I and II here.

But now, O Muse, you must sing of how Sanford, so handsome and competent as to appear on television like unto one of the deathless Gods, and like them possessed by a lust both mighty and confused, came to this pass.

As Dawn rose from her couch beside Tithonus- harbinger of light alike to mortals and immortals- the press met in council and with them, State Senator John "Jake" Knotts, the lord of thunder. Thereon Knotts began to tell them of the many sufferings of Sanford, for while he was Sanford's enemy, he also secretly pitied him away there in the house of the nymph Maria Belen Calypso.

"O Press," said he, coyly, "and all you other gods of media that live in everlasting bliss, I hope there may never be such a thing as a kind and well-disposed ruler any more, nor one who will govern equitably. I hope they will be all henceforth cruel and unjust, for there is not one of his subjects but has forgotten Sanford, who ruled them as though he were their father. Now, if there were an emergency in this state of Carolina, there would be none who could rule in his stead; for our Constitution has invested the power only in him. There he is, lying in great moral suffering in Argentina where dwells the nymph Calypso, who will not let him go; and he cannot get back to his own country, for he can find neither ships nor sailors to take him over the sea. At least, this is what rumors have told - no one, not his wife Jenny nor even his loyal security retinue, knows where exactly he may be. Furthermore, wicked people are now trying to keep his only lieutenant governor Andre Bauer, who is coming home from Charleston, where he has been to see if he can get news of the governor, from exercising constitutional authority."

"What, my friend, are you talking about?" replied Leroy Chapman, editor of The State, "does no one know where the governor is? Because we had heard that he was hiking the Applachian trail, where all princes of Hellas return to clear their head, relieve their burdens, and ejaculate their noblest utterances. Besides, someone should be perfectly able to protect Sanford, and to see him safely home again, before the press has to come hurry-skurrying back to meet him at the airport, or wheresoever he may be."

When he had thus spoken, he said to his junior reporter Gina Smith, whom he had nicknamed, for reasons of his own, Mercury, "Mercury, you are our messenger, go therefore and tell Calypso we have decreed that poor Sanford is to return home. He is to be convoyed neither by gods nor men, but after a perilous voyage of several hours upon a plane he is to reach fertile Atlanta, the land of the Georgians, who are near of kin to the gods, where you will look for his car, and then surprise him with an interview. He will then take his car to his own country, where we will pay him more attention than he would have brought back from Minneapolis, if he had been named nominee Vice President and had got home without disaster. This is how we have settled that he shall return to his country and his friends."

Thus he spoke, and Smith, who, I've just said, is sometimes known as Mercury, guide and guardian, scooper of Argus, did as she was told. Forthwith, in this telling of the tale, she did not merely look for Sanford at the airport, but she bound on her glittering golden sandals with which she could fly like the wind over land and sea. She took the notebook with which she writes down her interview transcripts or makes notes just as she pleases, and flew holding it in her hand over the Caribbean; then she swooped down through the firmament till she reached the level of the sea, whose waves she skimmed like a cormorant that flies fishing every hole and corner of the ocean, and drenching its thick plumage in the spray. She flew and flew over many a weary wave, but when at last she got to Buenos Aires which was her journey's end, she left the sea, and the majestic coastline of Buenos Aires, city by the river called by the men of that land de la Plata, and went on by land till he came to the condominium where the nymph Maria Calypso lived.

She found her at home. There was a large fire burning on the hearth, and one could smell from far the fragrant reek of burning cedar and sandal wood. As for herself, she was busy at her loom, shooting her golden shuttle through the warp and singing beautifully. Round her condominium there was a thick wood of alder, poplar, and sweet smelling cypress trees, wherein all kinds of great birds had built their nests- owls, hawks, and chattering sea-crows that occupy their business in the waters. A vine loaded with grapes was trained and grew luxuriantly about the back door of the condominium; there were also four pretty terrific restaurants grouped pretty close together, and turned hither and thither so as to make a kind of outdoor courtyard over which they flowed. It was really, really nice, even for Buenos Aires. Even a god could not help being charmed with such a lovely spot, so Mercury stood still and looked at it; but when she had admired it sufficiently he went and knocked on the door.

Calypso knew her at once- for all gods and journalists all know each other, no matter how far they live from one another- but Sanford was not within; he was on the sea-shore as usual, looking out upon the barren ocean with tears in his eyes, groaning and breaking his heart for sorrow. Calypso gave Mercury a seat and said: "Why have you come to see me, Mercury- honoured, and ever welcome- for you do not visit me often? Say what you want; I will do it for be you at once if I can, and if it can be done at all; but come inside, and let me set refreshment before you."

As she spoke she drew a table loaded with ambrosia beside her and mixed for her a really tasty nectar and ambrosia cocktail, with just a little bit of lime and mint, so Mercury ate and drank till she had had enough, and then said:

"We are speaking as goddesses - and journalists - to one another, and you ask me why I have come here, and I will tell you truly as you would have me do. The State sent me; it was no doing of mine; who could possibly want to come all this way over the sea where there are no Starbucks full of people to offer me mochaccinos or choice cookies? Nevertheless I had to come, for none of us other reporters can cross the Press, nor transgress its orders. We say that you have here the most ill-starred of all those who fought before the state aid of President Obama and sailed home in the fifth month after having refused it. On their way home they sinned against Public Opinion, who raised both heckles and cackles against them, so that all his brave companions perished, and he alone was carried hither by wind and tide. The Press says that you are to let this by man go at once, for it is decreed that he shall not perish here, far from his own people, but shall return to his house and country and give us conferences again."

Calypso trembled with rage when she heard this, "You gods," she exclaimed, "ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You are always jealous and hate seeing a goddess (or god) take a fancy to a mortal man, and live with him in open matrimony, of the shacked-up, sometimes long-distance, sometimes quickly in the bathroom kind. So when the rosy-fingered pages sweetly enticed Mark Foley, you precious reporters were all of you furious till you went and defeated his reelection in Florida. So again when Ceres fell in love with Vitter, and yielded to him in a thrice ploughed fallow field, for thrice three hundred dollars, the Press came to hear of it before so long and tried to killed Vitter with their thunder-bolts. And now you are angry with me too because I have a man here. I found the poor creature sitting all alone astride of a keel, for he was lonely, and had no adventures, in the bubble of politics you made for him, while he himself was driven by wind and waves on to my land. I got fond of him and cherished him, and had set my heart on making him immortal, so that he should never grow old all his days; still I cannot cross the Press, nor bring his counsels to nothing; therefore, if he insists upon it, let the man go beyond the seas again; but I cannot send him anywhere myself for I have neither ships nor men who can take him. Nevertheless I will readily give him such advice, in all good faith, as will be likely to bring him safely to his own country."

"Then send him away," said Gina/Mercury, "or we will be angry with you and punish you."'

On this she took her leave, and Maria went out to look for Sanford, for she had heard the message. She found him sitting upon the beach with his eyes ever filled with tears, and dying of sheer home-sickness; for he had got tired of Calypso, and though he was forced to sleep with her in the cave by night, it was she, not he, that would have it so. As for the day time, he spent it on the rocks and on the sea-shore, weeping, crying aloud for his despair, and always looking out upon the sea. Calypso then went close up to him said:

"My poor fellow, you shall not stay here grieving and fretting your life out any longer. I am going to send you away of my own free will; so go, put some pants on, and use my credit card to buy a plane ticket, coach or business class, that it may carry you safely over the sea. I will put bread, wine, and water on board to save you from starving. I will also give you clothes, and will send you a fair wind to take you home, if the gods in heaven so will it- for they know more about these things, and can settle them better than I can."

Sanford shuddered as he heard her. "Now goddess," he answered, "there is something behind all this; you cannot be really meaning to help me home when you bid me do such a dreadful thing as to fly coach. Not even a well-found ship with a fair wind could venture on such a distant voyage: nothing that you can say or do shall make me get on board that plane unless you first solemnly swear that you mean me no mischief."

Calypso smiled at this and caressed him with her hand: "You know a great deal," said she, "but you are quite wrong here. May heaven above and earth below be my witnesses, with the waters of the river - and this is the most solemn oath which a blessed god can take- that I mean you no sort of harm, and am only advising you to do exactly what I should do myself in your place. I am dealing with you quite straightforwardly; my heart is not made of iron, and I am very sorry for you."

When she had thus spoken she led the way rapidly before him, and Sanford followed in her steps; so the pair, goddess and man, went on and on till they came to Calypso's condo, where Sanford took the seat that Mercury had just left. Calypso set meat and drink before him of the food that unadventurous Americans eat; but her maids brought ambrosia and nectar and delicious tapas for herself, and they laid their hands on the good things that were before them. When they had satisfied themselves with meat and drink, Calypso spoke, saying:

"Sanford, noble son of, um, Sanford, so you would start home to your own land at once? Good luck go with you, but if you could only know how much suffering is in store for you before you get back to your own country, you would stay where you are, keep house along with me, and let me make you immortal, no matter how anxious you may be to see this wife of yours, of whom you are thinking all the time day after day; yet I flatter myself that at am no whit less tall or well-looking than she is, for it is not to be expected that a mortal woman should compare in beauty with a super-hot Argentinian TV reporter."

"Maria," replied Sanford, "do not be angry with me about this. I am quite aware that my wife Jenny is nothing like so tall or so beautiful as yourself. She is only a woman, whereas you are an immortal. You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light -- but hey, that would be going into sexual details..."

"While all the things above are all too true -- at the same time we are in a ... hopelessly impossible situation of love. How in the world this lightening strike of Zeus snuck up on us I am still not quite sure. As I have said to you before I certainly had a special feeling about you from the first time we met, but these feelings were contained and I genuinely enjoyed our special friendship and the comparing of all too many personal notes...

"Nevertheless, I want to get home, and can think of nothing else. If some intrepid reporter wrecks my political future when I am on the way to the airport, I will bear it and make the best of it. I have had infinite trouble both by land and sea already, so let this go with the rest."

Presently the sun set and it became dark, whereon the pair retired into the inner part of Maria's condominium and went to bed.

To Be Continued...
Posted June 27, 2009 at 9:27 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Gleeful Miscellany, Snarkpolitik

June 25, 2009

Tolkein in Tehran

Tim says,

Salon's Tehran dispatch, "The regime shows us movies":

In Tehran, state television's Channel Two is putting on a "Lord of the Rings" marathon, part of a bigger push to keep us busy. Movie mad and immunized from international copyright laws, Iranians are normally treated to one or two Hollywood or European movie nights a week. Now it's two or three films a day. The message is "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Let's watch, forget about what's happened, never mind. Stop dwelling in the past. Look ahead.

Frodo: "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish that none of this had happened."

Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."...

Who picked this film? I start to suspect that there is a subversive soul manning the controls at Seda va Sima, AKA the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It is way too easy to play with the film, to draw comparisons to what is happening in real life...

On the television screen, Boromir, human of Aragon, falls. He dies an honorable death defending the lives of his compatriots.

"In edame dare." This is to be continued. The phrase has become our hesitant slogan, our phrase of reassurance. "In edame dare." People are not going to let up so easily.

God. Wait until they get to the Battle of Gondor.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:42 PM

Sanford's Odyssey, Book II

A Continuation of Book I...

Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Two or Two-Thirtyish, appeared, Sanford rose and dressed himself. He bound his sandals on to his comely feet, girded his flag pin about his shoulder, and left his room looking like an immortal god. He at once sent the criers round to call the people in assembly, so they called them and the people gathered thereon; then, when they were got together, he went to the place of assembly comb in hand- not alone, for his two aides went with him, for his wife would not go for fear of looking like Silda Spitzer or Dina McGreevey. Minerva endowed Sanford with a presence of such divine comeliness that all marvelled at him as he went by, and when he took his place at the podium, even the oldest councillors made way for him.

Sanford rose at once, for he was bursting with what he had to say. He stood in the middle of the assembly and the good herald Pisenor brought him the microphone. Then, beginning in media res, "Sir," said he, "it is I, as you will shortly learn, who have convened you, for it is I who am the most aggrieved. I had not got wind of any trip to Appalachia about which I would warn you, but I do love hiking there. I used to organize hiking trips, actually, when I was in high school. I would get a soccer coach or a football coach to act as chaperone, and then I'd get folks to pay me 60 bucks each, or whatever it was, to take the trip, and then off we'd go and have these great adventures on the Appalachian Trail..."

Here Sanford began to ramble. Finally, he returned to the matter at hand. "But I guess where I'm trying to go with this is that there are moral absolutes and that the law of the gods indeed is there to protect you from yourself, and there are consequences if you breach that, even if you tie yourself to the mast and plug your security detail's ears with wax so you can hear the sirens' song. Killing the sun's oxen is a consequence. This press conference is a consequence.

"My grieveance is purely personal, and turns on two great misfortunes which have fallen upon my house. The first apology is to my excellent wife, who was chief among all you here present in being dicked around with by me. She was made to tell a ridiculous story about my going 'to be alone,' 'to write,' 'to be away from my boys' on Fathers' Day.

"I would also apologize to my staff, because as much as I did talk about going to Argos, Rome, or the Appalachian Trail -- those were each one of the original scenarios that I'd thrown out to Mary Neil, that isn't what -- where I ended up. And so I let them down by creating a fiction with regard to where I was going, which means that I had then, in turn, given as much as they relied on that fanciful song of the bards, let down people that I represent across the Peloponnese. And so I want to apologize to my staff and I want to apologize to anyone who took in a poor wandering stranger who was secretly a war machine, anybody who lives in Carolina, for the way that I let them down.

"But the last is much more serious, and ere long will be the utter ruin of my career. The press, all the chief men among them, who thought I might work in the White House someday, are pestering my chief of staff to verify that I am a real, live, Republican. They are afraid to go to Mitt Romney, asking him to choose the one he likes best, and to provide interviews to them, but day by day they keep hanging about my office, sacrificing our oxen, sheep, and fat goats for their banquets, never giving so much as a thought that someone may desperately need a break from the bubble wherein every word, every moment is recorded -- just to completely break out of it, and go off and have adventures, just fly different places around the world; get myself a job; carry a hundred dollars emergency money, and either find a job there with the locals and come back, or come on home. This is not justifying, because, again, what I did was wrong, period, end of story. But still... I mean, hey. It's a bubble.

"No national political career can stand such recklessness; we Republicans have now no Reagan to ward off harm from our doors, and I cannot hold my own against it all. I shall never all my days be as good a man as he was, still I would indeed defend myself if I had power to do so, for I cannot stand such treatment any longer; my house is being disgraced and ruined. Have respect, therefore, to your own consciences and to public opinion. Fear, too, the wrath of heaven, lest the gods should be displeased and turn upon you. I pray you by Jove and Themis, who is the beginning and the end of councils, [do not] hold back, my friends, and leave me singlehanded- unless it be that my brave father George W. Bush did some wrong to the country which you would now avenge on me, by aiding and abetting these rumors, which are all true. Moreover, if I am to be eaten out of house and home at all, I had rather go ahead and caress some erotic curve of the hips in Argentina, for I could then take action to some purpose, and serve Meet the Press with notices that I've split the country to get my Johnson wet, whereas now I have no remedy.

"And so I've been back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. And the one thing that you really find is that you absolutely want resolution.

"And so oddly enough, I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina, so I could repeat it when I came back here in saying, you know, while indeed from a heart level, there was something real, there in Argentina with Calypso, it was a place based on the relationship I had as host of the feasts to the people of Carolina, based on my sons, based on my wife, based on where I was in my life's journey, based on where she was as measured by the fates, a place I couldn't go and she couldn't go.

"And that is, I suspect, a continual process all through life, of getting one's heart right in life. And so I would never stand before you as one who just says, by Zeus, I'm completely right with regard to my heart on all things."

"But what I would say is, I'm committed to trying to get my heart right. Because the one thing that -- (and here the goddess made his voice inaudible) -- and all others have told me is that the odyssey that we're all on in life is with regard to heart, not what I want or what you want but, in other words, indeed this larger notion of truly trying to put other people first."

With this Sanford dashed his staff to the ground and burst into tears. Every one was very sorry for him, but they all sat still and no one ventured to make him an angry answer, save only Antinous, who spoke thus:

"Sanford, insolent braggart that you are, how dare you try to throw the blame upon us members of the press? It is the Republicans' fault not ours, for they are very artful dudes. These eight years past, and close on twelve, they have been driving us out of our minds, by encouraging each one of us, and sending him messages without meaning one word of what she says. And then there was that other trick they played us. They set up a great tambour frame in the press room, and began to work on an enormous piece of fine needlework, with a picture of WMDs in Iraq. 'Sweet hearts,' said Rove, Cheney, and Bush, 'Al-Qaeda is indeed dead, or at least sidelined; but still do not press me to marry again immediately, wait- for I would not have skill in needlework perish unrecorded- till I have completed an invasion of Saddam's country, to be in readiness against the time when he might maybe attack us, or maybe someone else. He is very rich with chemical and even nuclear weapons, and the soccer moms of the nation will talk if he is laid out without a pall.'

"This was what they said, and we assented; whereon we could see them working on their great web of intelligence all day long, but at night they would unpick the stitches again, saying they were fooled by the CIA. They fooled us in this way for three years and we never found them out, but as time wore on and she was now in her fourth year, one of their aides who knew what they were doing told us, and we caught them in the act of trying to cover up their work with tortured confessions, so they had to get us to think that torture was actually okay, whether it really was torture or no.

"And when you're not lying to us about war, you're picking up undercover officers in airport bathrooms, frequenting prostitutes, having affairs with your staffers' wives, or hitting on the underage interns. What are you guys, Democrats?

"The press, therefore, makes you this answer, that both you and the Republicans may understand-'Quit dicking around with us, and we might not think that everything you tell us is a fucking lie'; for I do not know what will happen if you go on plaguing us much longer with the airs you gives yourself on the score of the accomplishments you made, and how you kept the country safe because Cheney is so clever. We never yet heard of such a Republican; we know all about Gonzales, Brownie, Miers, and the famous hacks of old, but they were nothing to Sarah Palin, any one of them. It was not fair of Palin to treat us in that way, making us think she was actually a serious national candidate; and as long as the Republicans continue in the mind with which heaven has now apparently endowed them, so long shall we go on calling you on your obvious bullshit; and I do not see why you should change, for you still get all the honour and glory, and it is we who pay for it, not them. Understand, then, that we will not go back to our lands in New York or Washington, neither here nor elsewhere, till you, your wife, your lover, your sons, your staffers, and everyone who knew anything about this has made their choice and given an exclusive interview and (we can hope) incriminating photos and juicy anecdotes to some one or other of us."

To be Continued...
Posted June 25, 2009 at 12:33 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany, Snarkpolitik

June 24, 2009

Robin's thoughts: (Please make this a recurring format/series. Auto-Tune the News is good. Homerize the News is GRE... >>

Sanford's Odyssey

"The odyssey that we're all on in life is with regard to heart." - Governor Mark Sanford, June 24, 2009
Sing, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the school system of South Carolina. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own ass and bring his staff safely home; but do what he might he could not save his staff, for they perished through their own sheer folly in telling one lie after another to the Sun-god The Press; so the god prevented them from ever reaching better jobs in Washington. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever liveblog you may know them.

So now all who escaped death in elections or by men's room encounters had got safely home except Sanford, and he, though he was longing to return to his wife and country (on Fathers' Day, no less), was detained by the goddess Calypso, who had got him in Buenos Aires, into a large condominium, and wanted to marry him. But as the days went by, there came a time when the gods settled that he should go back to Carolina; even then, however, when he was among his own people, his troubles were not yet over; nevertheless all the gods had now begun to pity him except Neptune, who still persecuted him without ceasing and would not let him get away with a bullshit story about just where the hell he'd been.


The press secretary was still singing, and his hearers sat rapt in silence as he told the sad tale of long hiking trip in the Appalachians, and the ills Minerva had laid upon the Republicans. Jenny, daughter of Icarius, heard his song from her room upstairs, and came down by the great staircase, not alone, but attended by two of her handmaids. When she reached the press corps she stood by one of the bearing posts that supported the roof of the cloisters with a staid maiden on either side of her. She held a veil, moreover, before her face, and was weeping bitterly.

"Douchebag," she cried, "you know many another feat of Governors and Senators, such as poets love to celebrate. Sing the press some one of these, and let them write their stories in silence, but cease this sad tale, for it breaks my sorrowful heart, and reminds me of my lost husband whom I mourn ever without ceasing, and whose name was great over all the Carolinas and Sullivan's Island."

"Mother," answered the governor's son, confusingly also named Marshall, "let the douche sing what he has a mind to; staff members do not make the ills they sing of; it is Jove, not they, who makes them, and who sends weal or woe upon men according to his own good pleasure. This fellow means no harm by singing the ill-fated woes of the Republicans, for people always applaud the latest songs most warmly. Make up your mind to it and bear it; Sanford is not the only man who never came back from sex scandals, but many another went down as well as he. Go, then, within the house and busy yourself with your daily duties, your loom, your distaff, and the ordering of your servants; for speech is man's matter, and mine above all others- for it is I who am master here."

She went wondering back into the house, and laid her son's saying in her heart. Then, going upstairs with her handmaids into her room, she mourned her dear husband till Minerva shed sweet sleep over her eyes. But the press were clamorous throughout the covered cloisters, and prayed each one that he might receive her exclusive interview.

Then Marshall the Younger spoke, "Shameless," he cried, "and insolent reporters, let us feast at our pleasure now, and let there be no brawling, for it is a rare thing to hear a man with such a divine voice as this douchebag has; but in the morning, meet us at a full press conference that we may give you formal notice to depart, and feast at another family's misery, turn and turn about, at your own cost. If on the other hand you choose to persist in spunging upon one man, heaven help me, but Jove shall reckon with you in full, and when you fall in Gannett's forthcoming bankruptcies there shall be no man to avenge you."

The press members bit their lips as they heard him, and marvelled at the boldness of his speech. Then, Antinous, reporter from the Washington Post, said, "The gods seem to have given you lessons in bluster and tall talking; may Jove never grant you to be a Presidential hopeful as your father was before you."

To be Continued...
Posted June 24, 2009 at 12:52 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

June 17, 2009

Strategic Nonviolence

I am completely floored by these scenes of silent protest in Iran. From an eyewitness report:

...the cry goes up: Shoar nagoo! Don't shout slogans! Hands are up held up instead. It is quiet. Here and there a voice, unable to restrain itself, begins to scream "Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" He is met instantly with hisses and whistles---saket! saket! quiet! quiet!---and the voice falls silent again.

Such calm confers dignity -- and also utility, of course. Matthew Yglesias explains:

If you were to try to fight the security forces -- shoot some policemen, say -- you'd encourage a more serious crackdown. It's through nonviolent resistance that you heighten the psychological contradictions, and encourage the regime and its enforcers to blink. From the Velvet Revolution to Tiananmen Square to the Orange Revolution to what's happening today in Iran, the brave dissidents are essentially daring the security forces to beat or kill them.

If you haven't read Unconquerable World by Jonathan Schell, now's the time. It's about, among other things, the world-shaking changes that have been wrought by nonviolence in the 20th century.

I don't read too many books more than once; I've read this one three times. Schell is not -- I need to emphasize this -- not a pacifist, and he's not naive. But even so, he looks at the evidence and concludes: There exists in the world an unstoppable force. And it looks something like this:


Posted June 17, 2009 at 2:19 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik, Society/Culture, Worldsnark
Tim's thoughts: Yep -- "Twitter" -- too dumb and too simple to stop.... >>

Media = Freedom?

Joe Klein on Iran and the USSR:

Pete Wehner has a post at the Commentary blog comparing Iran in 2009 to the Soviet Union of the 1980's which, of course, is completely ridiculous. I visited Russia back in the day and I've now visited Iran twice. There is no comparison. The Soviet Union was the most repressive place I've ever been; its residents lived in constant terror. I'll never forget my first translator in Moscow telling me that his parents had trained him never to smile in public--it could easily be misinterpreted and then he'd be off to the Gulag. There was no internet in those days, no cellphones, no facebook or twitter.

Iran, by contrast, is breezy with freedom. It is certainly freer now, despite Ahmadinejad, than it was when I first visited in 2001. There are satellites dishes all over the place, which bring accurate news via BBC Persia and the Voice of America. The place is awash in western music, movies and books. The Supreme Leader has a website; ayatollahs are blogging. You can get the New York Times and CNN online. (I was interested to find, however, that most blogs except those, like this one, that are associated with a mainstream media outlet, are filtered by the government.) There is, in fact, marginally more freedom of expression in Iran than in some notable U.S. allies, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia--although the danger of imprisonment always exists if a journalist or politician takes it a step too far for the Supreme Leader's watchdogs.

I wonder, though -- to what extent can media consumption, or even production, be a proxy for (or index of) material freedom? I mean, the reformists in Iran are actually fighting FOR a loosening of some of the more oppressive restrictions. In particular, women almost certainly had more day-to-day freedoms (apart from media consumption) under the USSR then they do in present-day Iran.

I appreciate Klein's point here, and trust me -- I don't in any way underestimate the power of the free circulation of information as constitutive of some degree of liberty. I just worry when people who deal in information - especially journalists - confuse the freedom of information with freedom as such. (Klein's B-story about the two states, which explains the likelihood of getting imprisoned for arbitrary reasons or dissent - is way more relevant.)

Posted June 17, 2009 at 5:50 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism, Snarkpolitik, Society/Culture, Worldsnark

June 16, 2009

Howard Weaver's thoughts: Also wholly inexplicable: the way the NYT cropped this photo on its front page earlier this week ... >>

To Shame Them For the Rest Of Their Lives

i17_19370165.jpg A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mousavi is beaten by government security men as fellow supporters come to his aid during riots in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 14, 2009. (AP Photo)

And curse the men's cowardice with the light of their courage.

Posted June 16, 2009 at 8:04 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism, Snarkpolitik, Worldsnark
Tim's thoughts: ABC has a report that the... >>

What Is The Revolution?

i29_19360635.jpgA backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi helps evacuate an injured riot-police officer during riots in Tehran on June 13, 2009. (OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Gavin at Wordwright, responding to this photo, via The Big Picture:

This is beyond words. A demonstrator is protecting a man sent to attack him. There are photos of the wounded and dead, but there are more pictures like this as well.

When you no longer need to kill your enemy, then the revolution becomes possible.

Posted June 16, 2009 at 4:27 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism, Snarkpolitik, Worldsnark

June 12, 2009

Tim's thoughts: "This one goes out... to all my pragmatist homies in Tuscany... Holla at your boy!" -- DJ Devasti... >>

The Original Technocrats

Alexis Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) points to an article by John G. Gunnell about the history of technocracy:

The term "technocracy," though originated in the United States in 1919 by an engineer named William Smith, first became common when it was adopted by a movement that developed in the early 1930s as a response to the Great Depression. That movement, which for a time gained considerable notoriety and a substantial following, began with a group of technicians and engineers dedicated to social reform whose concepts were modeled on the technological republic in Edward Bellamy's late-19th-century utopian novel Looking Backward. They were also influenced by the economic theories of Thorstein Veblen and the principles of scientific management growing out of the work of Frederick W. Taylor, both of which suggested, much like the later work of James Burnham in The Managerial Society, that politicians and industrial entrepreneurs should, and would, give way to technical elites. Although the movement may have appeared somewhat bizarre, it reflected a characteristic American faith in the compatibility of technology and civic vitality. The aim was to abolish corrupt politics and an obsolete economic system and expand administrative and technical rationality. "Technocracy" has been applied retrospectively to many of the technological utopias and dystopias that are so persistent a feature of Western literature and political theory.

It's sometimes easy for us to forget that the early twentieth century was a time of huge media revolutions -- radio, cinema, phonographs, among others -- and that the engineer was very much at the center of it. There was also, I think, a really powerful charismatic quality associated with scientists, inventors, and capitalists, of the secular-aristocracy-without-history mode previously available probably only fully to generals. I mean, Steve Jobs had nothing on Thomas Edison. That dude literally appeared to be a magician. (For a great take on Edison-as-magician-inventor, see Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's novel, The Future Eve -- part of the inspiration for Fritz Lang's Metropolis.)

Also, something I try to keep in mind is that then as now, "bureaucracy" is really used in two senses -- both pejorative, sure, but functionally distinct. Bureaucracy can be cold, efficient, disciplined -- in short, inhuman. But bureaucracy can also be petty, irregular, inefficient, feudal. You can be subject either to the impersonality of the machine or the fickle whims or incompetencies of an individual.

Traditionally, bureaucrats were minor officials, positions traded within and among families, indifferent to rules guiding their idiosyncrasies -- think about Kafka's The Trial, and it's pretty clear that this is the kind of bureaucrat most of us truly dread. Max Weber's model for the perfect bureaucracy wasn't the modern office but the modern army. And when you think about the idea of a civil servant -- professional, well-qualified, uncorrupt, willing to sacrifice for the public good, fastidious about following process and law -- you can see the ethos of military discipline in a positive sense.

I wonder whether the idea and ideal of the technocrat - the true social engineer - is dead for us. What kinds of technologies would genuinely revolutionize -- aw, that's saying too much -- substantively improve our politics, communities, society? Could an inventor genius somehow come along and charm us all once again?

Posted June 12, 2009 at 6:32 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik, Technosnark

May 18, 2009

Tim's thoughts: I love everything about Lilburne's story, especially his hedge: "in these very words OR to this e... >>

A Messe Of Pottage

So there's this huge political money scandal in the UK. The Telegraph's Simon Heffer says, let's get Puritanical -- as in the real Puritans:

An unfinished  miniature portrait of Oliver Cr...

Image via Wikipedia

What is now needed is the Cromwellian touch, for I do not believe Parliament's standing has been lower since Oliver dismissed the Rump in April 1653. Mr Cameron should sack from his front bench all those exposed in unacceptable use of taxpayers' money. Central Office should ask chairmen of constituency parties whose MPs have behaved disgracefully to consider whether the chances of the seat being held at the next election would be helped by the selection of a new, financially untainted candidate. To take this swift action now would secure Mr Cameron's moral advantage; it would greatly damage the Prime Minister and the Labour Party; it would put pressure on Mr Brown to do precisely the same.

Heffer even busts out one of my favorite Cromwell stories:

However, we all know what Mr Brown should do, and again Cromwell provides us with our lead. Remember the words he uttered to the Rump, in his anger at its failure to consolidate the new England after the second civil war: "It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt for all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage... Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your god; which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes?... Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; ye were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, and are yourselves gone... In the name of God, go!"

The trouble is, this is EVERYBODY's favorite Cromwell speech, and he probably never said most of it. Mercurius Politicus has got the goods:

The earliest record I can find of it is in Thomas Mortimer’s The British Plutarch (1816), which gives this source for it:

The following piece said to have been found lately among some papers which formerly belonged to Oliver Cromwell is supposed to be a copy of the very words addressed by him to the members of the Long Parliament when he turned them out of the House. It was communicated to the Annual Register for 1767 by a person who signed his name T Ireton and said the paper was marked with the following words Spoken by Oliver Cromwell when he put an end to the Long Parliament.

I've had a look through the Annual Register on ECCO but can’t trace the original source. It's true that various letters and other Cromwelliana were turning up during the eighteenth century and onwards into the nineteenth, but a few things make the speech seem too good to be true. The fact that it purports to be a direct transcript, when it's unlikely anyone would have been recording it verbatim, is one. The reference to T Ireton is another -- perhaps an attempt to suggest authenticity by implying a descendant of Henry Ireton had got hold of the speech, but of course Ireton had died in 1651. So without wanting to be a spoilsport, the version of the speech being quoted in the press may not be what it purports to be.

I would look myself to confirm or refute MP's findings, but an injection my dissertation advisor gave me when I kept on doing research on "blood and treasure" instead of writing about Ezra Pound means that when I look at EEBO or ECCO for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch, my eyes begin to bleed.

For the record though, my all-time favorite Cromwell story involves another speech he purportedly gave, this time about torturing (probably) the Levellers (which Leveller John Lilburne somehow managed to overhear AND get to the printer while he was still in prison):

Lt. General Cromwell (I am sure of it) very loud, thumping his fist upon the Council table, til it rang again, and heard him speak in these very words or to this effect; I tell you, Sir, you have no other way to deal with these men, but to break them in pieces; and thumping upon the Council table again, he said, Sir, let me tell you that which is true, if you do not break them, they will break you; yea and bring all the guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent in this kingdom upon your head and shoulders; and frustrate and make void all that work, that with so many years' industry, toil and pains you have done, and so render you to all rational men in the world as the most contemptiblest generation of silly, low-spirited men in the earth, to be broken and routed by such a despicable, contemptible generation of men as they are; and therefore, Sir, I tell you again, you are necessitated to break them.

Cromwell certainly did have a way of speaking his mind.

(Via Mercurius Politicus.)

Posted May 18, 2009 at 6:53 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Language, Learnin', Snarkpolitik, Worldsnark

Now That's What I Call "Inventio"

Tim says,

James Fallows, "On eloquence vs. prettiness":

[Obama's] eloquence is different from what I think of as rhetorical prettiness -- words and phrases that catch your notice as you hear them, and that often can be quoted, remembered, and referred to long afterwards. "Ask not..." from John F. Kennedy. "Blood, toil, tears, and sweat" from Winston Churchill. "Only thing we have to fear is fear itself" from FDR. "I have a dream," from Martin Luther King. Or, to show that memorable language does not necessarily mean elevated thought, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" from the early George C. Wallace.

At rare moments in history, language that goes beyond prettiness to beauty is matched with original, serious, difficult thought to produce the political oratory equivalent of Shakespeare. By acclamation Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is the paramount American achievement of this sort: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right..."

The reason to distinguish eloquence of thought from prettiness of expression is that the former tells you something important about the speaker, while the latter may or may not do so. Hired assistants can add a fancy phrase, much as gag writers can supply a joke. Not even his greatest admirers considered George W. Bush naturally expressive, but in his most impressive moment, soon after the 9/11 attacks, he delivered a speech full of artful writerly phrases, eg: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." Good for him, and good for his staff.

Rhetorical polish, that is, can be a staff-enhanced virtue. The eloquence that comes from original thought is much harder to hire, or to fake. This is the sort of eloquence we've seen from Obama often enough to begin to expect.

(Sorry for the long quote, but I wanted to include all of Fallows's examples.)

Also --

Inventio is the system or method used for the discovery of arguments in Western rhetoric and comes from the Latin word, meaning "invention" or "discovery". Inventio is the central, indispensable canon of rhetoric, and traditionally means a systematic search for arguments (Glenn and Goldthwaite 151).

Inventio comes from the Latin invenire, meaning "to find" or "to come upon". The same Latin root later gave us the English word inventor. Invenire is derived from the Greek heuriskein, also meaning "to find out" or "discover" (cf. eureka, "I have found it").

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:45 AM

May 8, 2009

Obama's Promise To A Soldier

Tim says,

Shhh -- don't ask, don't tell's days are numbered:


H/t to Howard Weaver.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 6:04 PM

April 22, 2009

Criminal Incuriosity

Tim says,

How did we get here?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved -- not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees -- investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans...

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was "a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm," a former C.I.A. official said.

Hilzoy writes:

In general, I wouldn't think it was a problem not to know the origins of a technique, except for political reasons. But not knowing that the SERE program was designed to help soldiers withstand interrogations that had produced false confessions is inexcusable, especially since this was our program. Not knowing that the psychologist who persuaded the CIA to go for this had never conducted an actual interrogation is similarly mind-boggling. The fact that no one knew what the actual interrogators thought of all this is standard for the Bush administration, but it should not have been.

There are all sorts of experts in our government, including experts on interrogation. There's also more than enough institutional memory to inform the administration about the origins of the SERE program. But the Bush administration, typically, did not bother with them. They preferred to make things up as they went along, because, after all, they always knew better.

This is what happens when we stop demanding minimal competence in our Presidents; when we start caring more about who we would rather have a beer with than, oh, who would be most likely to seek out the best advice and listen to all sides of an argument before making an important decision, or whose judgment we can trust. We end up with people who toss aside our most fundamental values because someone who has never conducted an interrogation before thinks it might be a good idea, and no one bothers to do the basic background research on what he proposes.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:46 AM

April 19, 2009

Brothers In Arms

Tim says,

Most people who know me well know that I have two brothers, one older, and one younger. We're all oversized, bigbrained, bighearted, redheaded guys with Irish names (Sean Patrick, Timothy Brendan, and Kevin Daniel). Sean's a high school math teacher and football coach; Kevin is a counselor/advisor at a liberal arts college. Sean's two years older, and Kevin's a year and a half younger. They are honestly more like each other than I am like either of them, but since I'm in the middle, I was probably equally close to both of them. Kevin and I shared a room together until I was 16; Sean and I went to college and lived together for three years.

This is a long way to go to say that whenever I read about Rahm Emanuel and his brothers, I smile and smile and smile.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:40 AM

April 8, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Yeah, Dylan talks specifically about the Odyssey quite a bit on No Direction Home, which is part ... >>

An Odyssey In Reverse

Bob Dylan on what intrigues him about Barack Obama:

He's got an interesting background. He's like a fictional character, but he's real. First off, his mother was a Kansas girl. Never lived in Kansas though, but with deep roots. You know, like Kansas bloody Kansas. John Brown the insurrectionist. Jesse James and Quantrill. Bushwhackers, Guerillas. Wizard of Oz Kansas. I think Barack has Jefferson Davis back there in his ancestry someplace. And then his father. An African intellectual. Bantu, Masai, Griot type heritage -- cattle raiders, lion killers. I mean it's just so incongruous that these two people would meet and fall in love. You kind of get past that though. And then you're into his story. Like an odyssey except in reverse.

Dylan obviously knows a thing or two about 1) being a fictional character and 2) being on an odyssey. He was drawn to Obama early after reading his memoir, Dreams From My Father. "His writing style hits you on more than one level. It makes you feel and think at the same time and that is hard to do. He says profoundly outrageous things. He's looking at a shrunken head inside of a glass case in some museum with a bunch of other people and he's wondering if any of these people realize that they could be looking at one of their ancestors." This also sounds like Dylan to me.

(PS: Link to the Times of London interview fixed.)

Posted April 8, 2009 at 4:36 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Music, Snarkpolitik

April 5, 2009

Star-Eyed Idealists Burning The House To The Ground

Last week, Jack Shafer called out the idea that newspapers are essential to enlightened democracy as a big bunch of self-deluded hooey:

Until the current newspaper crisis, you rarely heard politicians or activists bleating about how important newspapers were to self-government. They mostly bitched about what awful failures newspapers were at uncovering vital data. The only group that holds a consistently high opinion of newspapers is newspaper people. They're the ones who do the bragging about how newspapers enrich democracy by uncovering pollution, malfeasance in office, abuses of power, and unsafe consumer goods...

The insistence on coupling newspapering to democracy irritates me not just because it overstates the quality and urgency of most of the work done by newspapers but because it inflates the capacity of newspapers to make us better citizens, wiser voters, and more enlightened taxpayers. I love news on newsprint, believe me, I do. But I hate seeing newspapers reduced to a compulsory cheat sheet for democracy. All this lovey-dovey about how essential newspapers are to civic life and the political process makes me nostalgic for the days, not all that long ago, when everybody hated them.

Me, I think journalism is (among other things) good for democracy, and newspapers are a pretty good way to read things in print. So I took Shafer's rant as half a useful corrective and half an enjoyable self-contained bit of contrarian crankiness.

But then I read this striking juxtaposition in LISNews, and I thought -- hmm: maybe something less wholesome is going on with all this hymn-to-democracy talk:

At the end of last week, the New York Times Company threatened to close down the Boston Globe unless the employee unions agreed to $20 million in cuts. This comes on the heels of comments by NYT executive editor Bill Keller speaking to an audience at Stanford in which he stated "saving the New York Times now ranks with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause." (He clarifies his statement to relate it to the relative level of interest in the survival of the Times, not as a human rights intervention. This doesn't change the extraordinarily poor choice of comparative terms.)


See also Brian Tierney, publisher of the now-bankrupt Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, who made a whole lot of noise about the virtues of a locally-owned paper while taking on a ton of debt, extracting pound-of-flesh concessions from labor, and awarding himself raises and bonuses before it all kinda fell apart.

So to review:

  1. Sometimes when people are going on-and-on about how virtuous and essential their industry is, they're actually trying to Mickey-Finn you into letting them do whatever they want;
  2. A lot of people who really like the idea of good local journalism and even really like newsprint in their hands really don't like their local newspaper -- either because of what they read (or don't read) or because of what they know the paper is doing or has done, in many cases to people they know. We can't lose sight of that.
Posted April 5, 2009 at 10:01 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Journalism, Snarkpolitik

March 30, 2009

Marco's thoughts: We don't have much choice, non?... >>

A New Birth of Freedom

We will rebuild America the same way we built the Brooklyn Bridge:

When Brooklyn and New York’s population was booming at the end of the 19th century, the best way to get to and from Brooklyn was via ferries. As solutions were considered, I’m sure there were those who simply thought, “More boats!” These ardent defenders of the status quo were not engineers — they were the business. Their goal was not to build something great, but to make a profit.

It was an engineer named John Roebling who proposed a suspension bridge. We take bridges for granted now, but back in the 1800s, bridges were in beta. They fell. One out of every four bridges… fell. He convinced them by designing a bridge half again as big as any before it that was six times stronger than he estimated it need to be. Roebling designed the complete specification for the bridge in a mere three months and then died of tetanus from an injury he received surveying the bridge site...

We are defined by what we build. It’s not just the engineering ambition that designed these structures, nor the 20 people who died building the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that we believe we can and decide to act. I’m happy to report our new President agrees when he says,

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

Someone, sometime soon is going to start describing the climb out of this impressive hole we’ve dug for ourselves, and they’re going to call it “America 2.0”. Clever, yes. We need a new version of ourselves and that’s going to involve bright, unexpected ideas from those we least expect them from, and they’re going to strike you as impossible. All you need to do to understand these terrifyingly ambitious ideas is to look back at what we’ve already done to understand what we can do.

I don't know what version of America we're on. But this is a heartening idea. And the fact that we've built and rebuilt ourselves not just once, but many times over, is heartening too.

Posted March 30, 2009 at 7:38 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Design, Recommended, Snarkpolitik

March 29, 2009

Tim's thoughts: No, Robin -- I think you're right! It's true! Most people don't know how compensation works, and ... >>

The Bonus Armies

Brian Tierney - PRSA International Conference ...

Image by hyku via Flickr

Hilzoy figures out why folks are so p-oed about executive bonuses. It's not totally about the douchebags who ran AIG into the ground (even if they were hard-working, profitable, probably actually fairly competent douchebags). It's about the douchebags who ran the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News into the ground (and hundreds of other major businesses like it.

Philadelphia Media Holdings CEO Brian Tierney and his two underlings both got raises and bonuses just before the company declared bankruptcy and just after the papers' unions voted to give back raises to help keep the company solvent. They still laid off hundreds of people and even stiffed the government by failing to turn over the payroll taxes, insurance premiums, and union dues they collected from their employees.

On top of that, Tierney went batshit crazy:

According to Newspaper Guild representative Bill Ross, Tierney once shook up a management meeting by barking "I will not lose my f*cking house over this!" And Ross says a couple of people emerged from a private meeting with the CEO claiming that he'd spoken to them, in his 12th-floor office, with a baseball bat in his hands. Ross also adds that in January, Tierney took to patrolling the parking garage, watching to see what time employees were arriving to work and asking managers about those who were late. "That’s what I'm getting calls about now," says Ross. "He’s walking around the parking garage. If he gets hit by a car, it'll be his own fault."

You know, I live in this town, and I never heard any of these stories until now. Obviously, my two local newspapers didn't report them.

I think Hilzoy has a real point, though; outrage over lucrative bonuses paid to executives of companies in trouble IS in part a transference of anger coming from other places. But it's not just general anger about the economy or plebeian ressentiment. It's anger about this, about looting the store while pleading empty pockets.

Posted March 29, 2009 at 2:54 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Language, Snarkpolitik

March 24, 2009

Hidden Heroes of the Cold War's End

Historian of Europe Karl Schlögel on the molecular movements of history:

The grand moments with which history usually preoccupies itself are inconceivable without the molecular events that make them possible. And the Europeans who make a career out of standing and speaking for Europe are nothing at all without the unknown Europeans whose stories are never told. We all know the stages of Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris or Maastricht, upon which "Europe's representatives" play their parts. It's not enough that that we're kept up to date on all their entrances and declarations. It's always the same names, the same faces, the same gestures. In 1949, a group of townspeople from Aachen, Europeans of the first hour, created the Charlemagne Prize for "persons who have advanced the ideas of European understanding in political, economic, and spiritual relations."

In the list of those honoured since 1950, one more or less finds all the great Europeans, from Count Coudenhove-Kalergi to Vaclav Havel, from Jean Monnet to the Euro. One can extrapolate this line and list easily and without a great deal of imagination. But one could also award the prize to people who were indispensable to the Europe that has evolved since 1989. There are more than a few claimants for these honours: the transportation ministers and the engineers who built the bridges, streets, and rails that paved the way to a new Europe and brought Europeans closer to one another. The shippers and logistics experts who have made careers out of shortening distances and creating a sense of proximity should also be eligible. Nor should one leave out the transportation companies and founders of discount airlines who have radically altered the map of Europe in our heads. Now, we not only know where Palermo is, but also Tallinn; not only Lisbon, but also Riga and Odessa. They have established lines of transit between the Rhein-Main area and Galicia, between Warsaw and the English Midlands, between Lviv and Naples. The discount airlines have made Berlin a neighbour of Moscow and contributed to an increase in cosmopolitanism. Krakow now has a connection to Dublin.

Entire economies can no longer function without this flow of traffic. The renovation of apartments, the care for pensioners and for the infirm in cities - even those located far from the border - now lie in the hands of personnel crossing over our borders. The Aachen Prize Committee could easily get an idea of the eligibility of candidates by looking at their timetables, price lists, and bookkeeping methods. They would determine that there's not a place in Europe that can't be looked up. Every act of research would become a joyous virtual journey to the New Europe.

One of the arguments that Schlögel makes is that the fall of the Berlin Wall mattered less than the mid-1980s institution of an express train line between Moscow and West Berlin, connecting the Communist states to the allied "island" in West Berlin, enabling all sorts of traffic of black-market goods, ideas, and people across what had seemed like impermeable borders. "To this day, there is no memorial for the anonymous black marketeers of Patrice Lumumba University at the Zoological Garden railway station. Instead, a freedom memorial is being planned for the exact spot where absolutely nothing happened."

I really like this idea that a city is not only a place, or a set of people, but also a mental/kinetic map of all the places, people, and things connected to that place -- a perpetually unexhausted, evolving set of possibilities.

Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:09 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Language, Snarkpolitik

March 18, 2009

Tim's thoughts: Is this boring? Could I punch this up a little or a lot more? Because I think this story ... >>

Blood and Treasure: Genealogy and Contexts

About three years ago, Robin noticed a strange phrase making the rounds in political talk about the costs of the Iraq war: "blood and treasure." I'd noticed it too, and when he posted about it, I started to do some digging into its origins. I thought that it would be a nice tidy little search, make for a fun thread and discussion, and we'd figure out that it came from Washington, maybe, or Lincoln, or Clausewitz.

As it turned out, I spent the better part of a year trying to find out where "blood and treasure" came from. I exhausted databases. I learned languages. I asked everyone I knew about it. I gave lectures on it. I contemplated scrapping my planned dissertation to write about it instead, and when that seemed like a bad idea, I contemplated leaving graduate school to write a book about it instead.

"Blood and treasure" is in its own way the key to all mythologies. Tracing the phrase traces the history of human thought about violence, whether in politics, history, religion, philosophy, or literature. I wanted to share here a fraction of what I have found so far.

... Read more ....
Tim's thoughts: More lessons from Athens to democratic readers: "First, they would receive an emphatic re... >>

Democracy As An Information Technology

Sparta had a great army, lots of places had great olive oil, and plenty of city-states had plebiscite democracy. So why was life in Athens so great?

[Josiah] Ober's hypothesis is that Athens's participatory institutions essentially turned the city into a knowledge-generating and knowledge-aggregating machine, and also supported the effective deployment of useful knowledge over time. Athenian institutions and culture functioned so that the right useful knowledge made it to the right people at the right time, resulting in the production of consistently better-than-average decisions. Athenian institutions and culture also functioned to provide an effective balance between innovation, on the one hand, and, on the other, learning or routinization, which brings efficiency. To overcome the problem of dispersed and latent knowledge, the Athenians used "networking and teaming." To overcome alignment problems, they built up stores of common knowledge through extensive publicity mechanisms and an emphasis on "interpresence"--frequent and large public gatherings--and "intervisibility" in public spaces, the capacity of all members of an audience to see each other as well as the speaker; and these stores of common knowledge worked particularly well to sustain systems of reward and sanction able to motivate ordinary citizens. To minimize transaction costs in areas such as trade, they standardized rules and exchanged practices and widely disseminated knowledge about them. The Athenians invested more resources than did their competitors in ensuring that their laws did not contradict each other, and in archiving and widely publishing final versions.

One particular example that the reviewer Danielle Allen (aka The Smartest Classicist I Know) examines is a ship-building competition authorized by the citizens of Athens: not only did public competitions like these encourage innovation in building, but since they were publicly judged, they helped disseminate expert knowledge throughout the populace, as the people learned what made one ship better than another.

Allen also looks long at what lessons American democracy can learn from Athens; one big (if obvious) conclusion is that the polis is a lot more nimble than an empire or even a republic, but from the interconnected micropolitical structures of the polis, one might actually be able to sustain a the macropolitics of a democratic republic:

As Ober notes, the immediate usefulness of the Athenian model pertains not directly to nation-states that are vastly larger than the city-state of Athens, with its population of approximately 250,000, but to the wide variety of smaller scale organizations that make up the sub-units of any given nation-state. To unleash the full value of participatory democracy at the level of the nation-state, a citizenry would do best to focus on tapping participatory democracy at the local level and throughout the variety of organizational types that make up modern society. Then there would be the further question of how well each of these sub-units is connected to the rest. If participatory democratic practices on a smaller scale and in various contexts do indeed increase the knowledge resources of the citizenry of a nation-state as a whole, then the structures of representative government, too, should function better.

It's a very Athenian conclusion, that democracy is a function of knowledge (and vice versa), but I think it's a welcome one.

Posted March 18, 2009 at 6:39 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Journalism, Recommended, Snarkpolitik

March 17, 2009

Twelve Angry iPhones

Robin says,

Pretty sure this is what you call a conceptual scoop:

The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.

Last week, a building products company asked an Arkansas court to overturn a $12.6 million judgment against it after a juror used Twitter to send updates during the civil trial.

Suuuper interesting. Great work by John Schwartz and the NYT.

Comments (4) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:26 PM

Arise, Father Coughlin

Tim says,

David Frum, Christopher Shea, and Scott Horton look at Glenn Beck and say, yep, here we go.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:05 AM

March 1, 2009

The New Media and the New Military

Whoa -- retired Marine officer Dave Dilegge and military blogger Andrew Exum (spurred by Thomas Ricks's new book The Gamble) look at the effect of the blogosphere on how the military shares information and tactics:

Ricks cited a discussion on Small Wars Journal once and also cited some things on but never considered the way in which the new media has revolutionized the lessons learned process in the U.S. military. [...] Instead of just feeding information to the Center for Army Lessons Learned and waiting for lessons to be disseminated, junior officers are now debating what works and what doesn't on closed internet fora -- such as PlatoonLeader and CompanyCommand -- and open fora, such as the discussion threads on Small Wars Journal. The effect of the new media on the junior officers fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was left curiously unexplored by Ricks, now a famous blogger himself.

It seems clear that blogging and internet forums disrupt lots of traditional thinking regarding the way information is generated and disseminated -- but it's a testament to how powerful it can change readers'/writers' expectations that that disruption can carry through to the military, the top-down bureaucracy if ever there was one.

In related news, the recent New Yorker article about the low-recoil automatic shotguns mounted on robots was awesome.

Just as at a certain point, the military decided it was a waste to have a professional soldier cook a meal or clean a latrine, we'll come to see it as a waste for a professional soldier NOT to provide decentralized information that can help adjust intelligence and tactics: all soldiers will be reporters. Soon all of our wars are going to be fought by robots, gamers, and bloggers. Our entire information circuitry will have to change.

Posted March 1, 2009 at 12:57 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism, Media Galaxy, Snarkpolitik, Video Games

February 26, 2009

"The Stock Market Is Not A Good Metric Here"

So says Joseph Stiglitz on CNN: "The stock market is not a good metric here... If we give money to the banks, the stocks will go up. That's not what we're concerned about."

As Peter Dreier at TPM Cafe says, "the reliance by TV and radio newscasters, newspaper reporters and columnists, and quick-with-a-conclusion pundits on the stock market to assess the merits of a policy prescription, or even the health of the economy, is incredibly misleading."

Now, normally, what's good for the economy is good for Wall Street. Shareholders place bets on the economic future of their companies. If companies look like they'll do well, the stock goes up. On aggregate, a rising stock market suggests that a lot of companies will do well, and ditto the overall economy.

But it's an index, not a picture. Let's take a situation where what's good for the economic health of the nation involves, or even MAY involve, forcing shareholders to take losses. Now shareholders' interests are in conflict with good economic policy. In fact, in this case, the BETTER the policy is, the worse shareholders are likely to view it.

The banks, in this case, are like Allen Iverson. Normally, you want this guy on your team -- if he plays really well, your team plays well. Now let's say he's got a gimpy knee, but he can still shoot. Let's say you've got a lame fantasy draft that only ranks players by points scored. If you've got Allen Iverson in your fantasy draft, you want him to play, and you want him to chuck up as many baskets as possible to get his PPG high, at least until they can swap him off to somebody else before he REALLY gets hurt.

But if you're coaching the team, you want to sit him down on the bench or put him into rehab until he's ready to play again. Nobody would say that the fantasy draft players in this case have the team's -- or the game's -- interest at heart,

I can't tell you how many times I used to turn on the news to see that Iverson scored forty, but the Sixers lost. Who cares? I just want the game to be good again.

Posted February 26, 2009 at 5:04 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Media Galaxy, Snarkpolitik, Sports

February 17, 2009

Tim's thoughts: I really do think that there's a powerful religious element to Hedges's thinking -- because the U... >>

Livesnarking: Chris Hedges at Mizzou

Posted February 17, 2009 at 3:15 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

January 28, 2009

The After Party

Robin says,

Joshua Cohen -- philosopher, thinker on global justice, occasional blogging head, and co-editor of the super-smart Boston Review -- writes about the difference between liberals: the "classical liberals" that are now (more or less) called libertarians and the "egalitarian liberals" that are now (more or less) called progressives.

Mostly I link to it for his (almost snarky?) conclusion:

With respect, classical liberals were in the rearguard in every one of [the great achievements of democracy in the 20th century]. And for a simple reason: in each case, the struggle depended on a willingness to fight against inequality, subordination, exclusion through political means, through the dread state. And if you mix your classical liberal values with the classically conservative predisposition to think that politics is at best futile, at bad perverse, at worst risks what is most fundamental, then you will always celebrate these gains when the fight is over: always at the after party, inconspicuous at the main event, and never on the planning committee.
Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:30 PM

January 18, 2009

Memphis Machiavellis?

Matt says,

Did anybody notice this ingenious little political maneuver in Tennessee last week?

Republicans stood poised to take control of the Tennessee General Assembly for the first time in nearly 140 years. Even Gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp roamed the halls. ... When lawmakers returned from break, now an hour into session, they tackled the Speakers position. Representative Jason Mumpower of Bristol received the first nomination. Republicans hoped to end the nomination process there, but after more political wrangling, allowed Democrats to submit a candidate.

What happened next some may describe as the political play of the decade as all 49 Democrats backed Kent Williams, a Sophomore Republican from Carter County, a district just miles from Mumpower's hometown.

Found at Political Animal.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:12 AM

January 14, 2009

Tim's thoughts: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.... >>

The Inaugural Inaugural

The Milestone Documents blog is counting down the top five inaugural addresses. (Even the act of assembling such a list sounds like the nerdiest bar game ever, the kind I would play with Sarah Vowell in my fever dreams.)

So number five is Jefferson's inaugural, number four FDR's, and number three, unveiled today, is George Washington's. (It's gotta be Lincoln and Kennedy for one and two, right? Okay, I'll stop.)

[Edit: Indeed, on the Milestone Documents front page, Kennedy's speech is today's "Spotlight Document," along with the tagline: "From George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy, presidents have used the inaugural address to outline their agendas and provide a vision of how they intend to govern. Which addresses have had the biggest impact?" So what's the suspense here? Which one is number one?]

... Read more ....
Posted January 14, 2009 at 7:39 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Learnin', Snarkpolitik

January 8, 2009

The Seminary Co-Op

Man, all of my old haunts in Hyde Park are now famous. The Los Angeles Times writes up Barack Obama's favorite bookstore:

"Just a few days before the election, Barack was in here with his daughters," Cella recalls in a soft voice. He smiles. "I suppose I should say, 'the president-elect,' right? People around here are just so excited.

"There was a crew from 'Good Morning America' in here the other day," he adds. Journalists have been stopping by regularly to get a sense of the place that feeds Obama's intellectual hunger.

What makes the Co-op appealing to discerning customers such as the Obama family is the atmosphere and eclectic yet also wide-ranging selection of books. Credit for those virtues, many say, belongs to Cella, who has run the place since 1968. The Co-op is like a theme park for the mind: Walking through it, each twist and turn is likely to reveal a new intellectual thrill. You might come across a book you didn't know existed -- but whose theme instantly intrigues you -- or a book for which you've been searching all your life. The store is an adventure in itself, a series of forking, book-lined paths that wind around through room after room after room, and each subsequent area brims with amazing volumes. There is the philosophy room, the religion room, the history room, the language room -- and on and on it goes, an enchanted forest of multicolored spines and preoccupied customers.

The Co-Op does bring the goods. I love David Derbes's rat-a-tat catalogue of treasures:

"Want the 'Oxford Classical Text of Tacitus'? 'Annals'? The standard Freud in German? The Steinsaltz Talmud? A Hittite dictionary? Five volumes of Michael Spivak's 'Differential Geometry'? George F. Kennan's memoirs? Carl Sandburg's life of Lincoln? Sara Paretsky's essays? They're all on the shelves of the Seminary Co-op."

Rachel Leow bookporned the Co-Op in March. You have to see her pictures for the close attention she pays to the (ahem) unique architecture of the shop. And I want Good Morning America to ask some hard questions about the strength of the Southeast Asia section!

Posted January 8, 2009 at 8:05 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Snarkpolitik

January 7, 2009

It's What's Good In the Neighborhood

I lived in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood for a year in 2001-2002. My state senator was this guy named Barack Obama.

My favorite show on local TV there was called "Check, Please." Three people from all over Chicago would recommend their favorite restaurants -- everything from casual neighborhood hangs to places with wine lists longer than your couch -- and they would each go to all three, then review them together.

Well, Ezra Klein got a hold of an early, unaired episode of "Check, Please" featuring -- yes -- Barack Obama. He's plugging the Dixie Kitchen, one of my favorite places for catfish. So this just made me happy today.

Posted January 7, 2009 at 12:58 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Gastrosnark, Gleeful Miscellany, Snarkpolitik, Society/Culture

December 18, 2008

Obama As Writer (Well, Co-Writer)

Tim says,

I'm fascinated by Barack Obama's conception of himself as a writer, and doubly fascinated by his partnership with younger-than-me speechwriter Jon Favreau. This Washington Post article by Eli Saslow ("Helping to Write History") indulges both fascinations to the hilt. Enjoy.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 6:30 AM

December 10, 2008

Gender and Public Corruption

The Blagojevich scandal presents a familiar tableau: embattled man defends corrupt behavior.

Why is it so rarely a woman?

Replaying political scandals over the past year, tons of names come to mind: Rod Blagojevich, Tony Rezko, Jack Abramoff, John Edwards, Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer, Alberto Gonzalez, Ted Stevens, David Vitter ... I could go on. Off the top of my head, I can think of three female names: Sarah Palin, Monica Goodling, and Rachel Paulose. (And men figured prominently in all three of their scandals as well.)

Of course, there are a few instant provisos here:

  • Fewer women in politics: This is the obvious one. The most female governors we've ever had in the U.S. has been nine. Perhaps if women were equally represented, they'd be equally scandalous.
  • Lower likelihood of female sex scandals: Most of the men I mentioned above were exposed in a sex scandal. For several reasons — differing behavioral tendencies towards sex among men and women; possibly harsher attitudes towards women caught in sex scandals — women may just be less likely to be involved in sex scandals.
  • Statistical noise in a small sample: The U.S. doesn't have all that much corruption, comparatively speaking. (At least as it's commonly measured; we can talk Chomsky later.) If we had more cases to deal with, perhaps we'd see more equivalence between the sexes.

But these caveats aside, there are reasons to suppose women might make for less corrupt politicians. Women tend to be more responsible stewards of household money. Partially as a result of that, efforts to deliver financial support to women in poverty tend to have a more uplifting effect than supporting men. Studies seem to indicate that women perform more altruistically in group situations.

I was able to find three studies that addressed gender disparities in political corruption. Two — Dollar, Fisman and Gatti (1999); and Swamy, Lee, Azfar and Knack (also 1999) — found that women are less prone to public corruption. However, a follow-up study in 2003, by Hung En-Sung, suggested that the correlation between more women and less corruption was essentially a happy accident.

And even if we were to prove conclusively that having more women does lead to cleaner government, where does that get us? What course of action does that suggest? Already, I think most of us inclined to trust such a study are strong advocates for better representation of women in politics. Should we institute a quota system, like Rwanda?

Of course, I think diversity in the political system is a valuable goal in itself. A more representative and heterogeneous political body would probably be less corrupt for all sorts of reasons.

But as these scandals parade before us, this will linger in the back of my mind.

Posted December 10, 2008 at 7:36 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

November 20, 2008

Silver Meets McLuhan

Nate Silver reflects on his crrrraaazy interview with John Ziegler and comes to the conclusion that the medium is the message:

[A]lmost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they're in the process of doing something else. (If they weren't doing something else, they'd be watching TV). They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes -- and you have to work really hard to sustain their attention. Hence what Wallace refers to as the importance of "stimulating" the listener, an art that Ziegler has mastered. Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.
... Read more ....
Posted November 20, 2008 at 7:58 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Media Galaxy, Snarkpolitik

November 2, 2008

'I Had Grown Too Comfortable in My Solitude'

Robin says,

Great, great post on Obsidian Wings:

Obama doesn't play the game the way it is usually played. He also seems to have an unusual personality for a politician: early on in Dreams From My Father, he writes: "I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew." Immediately afterwards, he tells the story of an elderly man who lives in his building, who he sees sometimes, helps with the groceries, but who has never said a word to him. He thinks of the man as a kindred spirit. Later, the man is found dead; his apartment is "neat, almost empty", with money squirreled away throughout. It's clear, from the way he tells the story, that this seems to him to be one of his possible fates, and though his description of the man is kind throughout, it's also clear that Obama thinks: his fate is to be avoided.

Ask yourself when you last heard of a politician who had to warn himself away from solitude, or who saw dying alone, without friends or family, as among his possible fates. Imagine how unlikely it is that, say, Bill Clinton ever thought: I have grown too comfortable in my solitude. Politicians normally crave attention. Obama seems to me not to. That's probably one reason why he can afford to underplay his hand sometimes, and to hold back. And it's certainly part of what makes him so interesting.

(Yeah, I realize it's been blockquote-o-rama lately. Cut me some slack. I'll write more when Obama's president.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:50 PM


Matt says,

I laughed, I cried, I read the whole thing.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:53 PM

October 12, 2008


Matt says,

Marc Ambinder's right, this piece on the Obama campaign's organization in Ohio is fascinating.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:18 PM

October 9, 2008

Improving the debates

Matt says,

Last Thursday's Presidential debate was widely panned for its ridiculous format. Seriously? Two-minute responses and one-minute followups? And this is supposed to transcend talking points?

The Lehrer debate felt much meatier to me. It clearly showcased two men who had very different (but both quite substantial) views on foreign policy, and allowed them to contrast those views at length. Still, any amount of time spent paying attention to the moderator in a Presidential debate is wasted time, and Lehrer had to do a fair amount of refereeing to keep the candidates in line.

CJR's got some excellent ideas for shaking up the debate format. I've got one more:

What if we allotted to each of the candidates a block of time — say 40 minutes — and allow them to apportion it however they'd like? Engage a moderator merely to pause the debate and send the candidates in another direction if they get stuck on a particular topic, but mostly allow them to steer the debate where they'd like. Each candidate could be wired with a mic that detects when he's speaking and winds down the clock, and both the candidates and the viewers can see how much time each one has left.

You could even take this a little further by employing a team of fact-checkers who work furiously during the debate to spot misstatements of fact. If a candidate is discovered to have fudged the truth, the misstatement is revealed during the course of the debate and the candidate is docked a minute. (This would be difficult to enforce and cause a lot of partisan sniping, so the plan might be better without, but I offer it as a possibility.)

What say you, Snarkmind?

Comments (9) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:57 AM

Conflict in the Middle East

Matt says,

Infosthetics points to this well-done short about the standoff in the Middle East. Being five minutes long, of course it dispenses with a lot of the actual geopolitics of the matter (leaving the prophetic religious elements of the conflict entirely unmentioned, even), but it's pretty.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:13 AM

October 8, 2008

Political Landscapes

Matt says,

Cf. my post on "America in speeches": BLDGBLOG has a thoughtful essay on the geography of political rhetoric. (Via CJR.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:21 PM

September 5, 2008

Tim's thoughts: I always preferred 1 Corinthians 12 myself: 14 For the body is not one member, but many.... >>

America in Speeches

I've gone back and read through eight of the major speeches from the past two weeks (Joe Biden | Bill Clinton | Hillary Clinton | Barack Obama | Rudy Giuliani | Mitt Romney | Sarah Palin | John McCain). Among the two sets of familiar and predictable elephant-and-donkey-tinged themes expressed, all the speakers paint one surprisingly consistent portrait of America. I find that portrait significant and a bit sad for how much of America it excludes. This is nothing new, of course, but it stands out for me after two straight weeks of this stuff.

You are eligible for positive mention in a convention speech if you are a member of the middle class. Fortunately, "middle class" is a vague enough term that it might characterize as much as 73 percent of the American population. Still, with John Edwards in exile, it's striking how infrequently the poor are mentioned, given how much poverty is a part of America. Convention-watchers may also be surprised to discover that several Americans are quite rich.

You may also merit positive mention if you labor in one of the following professions: steel working, the clergy, farming, loading dock operation, military service, politics, small business entrepreneurship or pre-secondary education. Employees of the service or retail industries, information technology companies, the media, higher education, science, medicine or law — to name a few examples — are unfortunately invisible.

... Read more ....
Posted September 5, 2008 at 7:30 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

September 4, 2008

Hard-Hitting RNC Commentary

Matt says,

Random Twitterer is right, yo. Sarah Palin's suit is the surprise hit of the night. I'm the guy that has long hated coverage of female candidates that insisted on mentioning their clothing choices, but seriously, I want that suit. Even my potential appearance in Steve Schmidt's talking points about male blogger misogyny cannot prevent me from complimenting that fierce piece of gun-metal grey hottness.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:30 PM

August 25, 2008

Matt Bai Talks Up The Argument

Matt says,

The Believer interviews Matt Bai. (Oh, and speaking of the NYT Magazine, I highly recommend David Leonhardt's cover story on Obamanomics if you haven't read it.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:28 PM

July 10, 2008

Robin's thoughts: Ah! What's that you say? Real-world experience? Shocking... Yeah, I actually think the fo... >>

New Representation

So I'm completely enchanted with the little flurry of activity around Congressman John Culberson. Let our Congress tweet, says Sunlight! "[A] Congressman starting to use Twitter just made our representative democracy real to me" says a Culberson constituent (in the comments)!

I know it sounds hopelessly over-the-top.

But stuff like this -- a once-live Qik video feed from somewhere inside the U.S. Capitol, with Culberson turning the camera around on a Fox News reporter -- gives me a deep civic thrill.

Deeper than Barack Obama, believe it or not; because for as stirring as Obama's speeches are, and for as neat as is, I still feel the undiminished distance. Could our presidential candidates get any more remote? Everybody wants a piece of Obama; everybody wants a glimpse. There are layers of advisors, layers of staff, layers of reporters, layers of bloggers, jeez now layers of users who are more into it than I am!

It's a pyramid, not a mesh.

It's exactly how I felt about traditional news, back when I was considering working at a newspaper or magazine: How disconnected. How distant.

Contrast to John Culberson's tweets and his technical difficulties.

Let me be clear: I am not down with Culberson on the issues. But man do I like his style.

And if I had to pick, right now, whether the future of American government is a smart, sophisticated president consulting with his smart, sophisticated staff and making smart, sophisticated decisions in isolation, or a bunch of Members of Congress twittering live to their constituents and making videos for them and connecting them to each other -- I'll take the nerds in the cloakroom.

That sounds reductive, and it is. Probably irresponsible, too. The truth is that Barack Obama as president is going to affect more people, in deeper and more positive ways, than any number of social-media-powered legislators.

But I really do think the long game looks different.

And now Culberson has forced my hand. I've been sitting on a future-of-politics scenario for a bit, deciding how best to release it into the wild. But reality is moving faster than my imagination (disconcerting!) so I'd better just let you take a look.

The ballad of Matthew Smoot is here. He's a Congressman from Michigan, and as our story begins, he's having a tough time.

I'd love to know what you think.

Culberson update: Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano has an articulate, sensible reply to Culberson. But don't let this meta-scuffle obscure the fundamental coolness of Qik-streaming from Congress.

Posted July 10, 2008 at 1:54 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

June 24, 2008

The Gentleman from Twitter

Robin says,

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is twittering. Like, really twittering:


He's the best thing since the Mars Phoenix!

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:07 AM

April 16, 2008

Tim's thoughts: Yeah. You know how I <a href=" >>

Somebody, Please Make Some News Tonight

For somebody who works in journalism, I really strongly dislike the American press sometimes. It boils over into out-and-out gall during Presidential elections, when news is scarce, and reporters start slavering after the musings of pundits like starved dogs. We find ourselves incapable of sustaining any significant focus on issues, or even stylistic distinctions between candidates that have real implications on how they will lead. Instead, we seed these manufactured clouds of perceptions and expectations over and over, hoping against hope to produce a storm. And if we should happen upon a gaffe or a gotcha moment, we actually praise the gods and we feast.

Bittergate, day six.

... Read more ....
Posted April 16, 2008 at 8:39 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism, Snarkpolitik

April 13, 2008

My Excuse

Matt says,

I've been in St. Louis. So I pass you off to Mr. Carmody for canny political commentary.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:18 PM

April 9, 2008

Four Days in Denver

Matt says,

Delightful. Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr., a West Wing writer, serves up a little speculative fiction on a brokered Democratic convention.

Hillary’s car is pulling away from the hotel. She spots Oregon senator Ron Wyden getting into his car. She has her car chase Wyden’s car. At a traffic light, she jumps out with a gang of Secret Service agents and they surround Wyden’s car. She climbs into Wyden’s car and rides with him, working on him to vote for her. When Wyden finally says he thinks only Obama can beat McCain, Hillary is ready for that. She tells Wyden that McCain’s winning the White House is the best thing that can happen for Wyden’s reelection in 2010, because the president’s party always loses seats in midterm elections. A Democratic president is going to make Wyden’s reelection that much tougher.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:21 PM

March 22, 2008

Tim's thoughts: Since I am almost precisely the color negative of Matt -- a straight white man with a black wife ... >>

Just Under the Surface

Nicholas Kristoff:

[Quoting Melissa Harris-Lacewell.] "One of the things fascinating to me watching these responses to Jeremiah Wright is that white Americans find his beliefs so fringe or so extreme. When if you’ve spent time in black communities, they are not shared by everyone, but they are pretty common beliefs." ... What’s happening, I think, is that the Obama campaign has led many white Americans to listen in for the first time to some of the black conversation — and they are thunderstruck.
Speaking as a fully assimilated Negro, with a white boyfriend and a surfeit of white friends, living in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood, it's hard for me to write about Obama's speech. There's a lingering note in Kristof's column that threatens to narrow and polarize this conversation just as it begins -- "You white folks just don't get it." Some even heard it in the speech itself, and it instantly deafened them to what was said; it sounds so much like assigning blame to non-blacks for something that they just cannot help. And for me, inhabiting the whitest world a black American man can inhabit, it's even more awkward to say that the note rings true. From the severity of the reaction to Jeremiah Wright's speeches, it seems that a large number of Americans, including many of my colleagues in the press, just had no idea.

In black communities, words like Wright's are commonplace.

Those words you're hearing over and over again on YouTube are not the rantings of a lunatic fringe, they are the frequent utterances of a sizable segment of black America. It's just that this time they've spilled out of our closed conversation in a dramatic way.

... Read more ....
Posted March 22, 2008 at 3:22 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Self-Disclosure, Snarkpolitik, Society/Culture

March 7, 2008

Samantha Power's Resignation

Matt says,

Such a bummer. I cringed when I read the remark last night. Now one of my favorite figures in any candidate's campaign is out. I don't know how these things work at all, but I really hope she'll still be his unofficial foreign policy adviser.

Also: Why is it I love Samantha Power so much? First, there was her book, an exhaustive and exhausting account of the unchanging pattern of genocide, and why, despite our ability to recognize that pattern, we never stop it before it's too late. Then, there was hearing her speak about the book at the Nieman Narrative conference a few years back. Although she was young (34?) and vibrant, she had this weariness about her. Maybe she was just exhausted for reasons completely unrelated to the subject matter, but you couldn't help thinking, "God, the things this poor woman is cursed with knowing." To speak at length for years with the survivors of genocides all over the world, to see it happening again and be utterly powerless to stop it -- how do you have that kind of experience and not despair?

I was as excited as Robin about the prospect of Power in a major foreign policy position (which I really hope might still come to pass). When secretaries of state commonly can't bring themselves to utter the word "genocide," how amazing would it be to have a cabinet-level official with not only the experience to recognize the pattern of genocide, but also the moral will to call it by its name?

Of course, all these pretty things I'm saying about her shouldn't erase the fact that calling Hillary Clinton a monster was not only boneheaded, but really lowers the threshold given some of the actual, human-slaughtering monsters Power has known. But it really sucks when a mistake redounds to such an ill and public effect.

Update: Marc Ambinder cites anonymous sources from the Obama campaign who say Power was not asked to leave, in case you were wondering.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:48 AM

March 5, 2008

Politics, Emotion, and YouTube

Robin says,

Henry Jenkins and Stephen Duncombe talk Obama, YouTube, and emotional politics. (Second video down.)

Duncombe on the Obama video: "It uses a language of emotions which one couldn't articulate in a logical sentence." He continues with an extended analysis of the "rhetoric that's embedded in the video" that is quite smart and revelatory.

Heard a new term from Jenkins in this exchange, too: "collective intelligence culture." I like it.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:21 AM

February 13, 2008

The Morning After

Matt says,

It’s the morning after the election. The President-elect calls you up and says, “You know, after this grueling, absurd campaign, I now see that the state of our democracy is something we have to grapple with right away. What should I do?”
The Brennan Center for Justice posed this question to fifteen widely regarded personalities, including Hendrik Hertzberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dahlia Lithwick, and David Rakoff. Check out their answers here. And add your answer here. (Via Hertzblog.)
Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:29 AM

February 6, 2008

Behind the Candidates

Having seen the name of Obama's chief economics adviser Austan Goolsbee appear on a few blogs recently, I've become curious about who else is on the teams of the two lead candidates. Here's what I've found:

The Chicago Tribune wrote a nifty round-up of Obama's team of advisers. In fact, it seems they wrote two.

Meanwhile, here's a brief Telegraph piece on Team Hillary. Here's a wonderful Washington Post write-up of the Clinton squad, "Hillaryland." An additional WaPo rundown. The articles themselves give you such an interesting picture of the candidates' leadership styles and expertise. And from these articles, here are some links on some of the big names (I'm likely to refine this list as I get time to look into it):

Team Hillary:

Team Obama:

... Read more ....
Posted February 6, 2008 at 1:38 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

February 5, 2008

Ethikai Aretai

Robin says,

I'm a sucker for Aristotelian lingo, and a sucker for Zephyr Teachout, so that makes me doubly susceptible to her endorsement of Obama's "ethikai aretai."

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:35 PM

January 4, 2008

thomas's thoughts: hey matt, I followed that mefi thread with great interest. I can't believe how much I le... >>

Astroturfing: Always Bad; Usually Obvious

"Astroturfing is a neologism for formal public relations campaigns in politics and advertising that seek to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior."

For example, say you founded a non-profit dedicated to vetting charity organizations and grading them on their effectiveness. Your org is attracting some high-profile attention, but you're hankering for more. So you create accounts on a few well-trafficked websites. First, you pose as a naïf, adrift in a galaxy of charities, desperately seeking guidance. Then, under different accounts, you guide your little sockpuppet and any other interested parties right to your org. Step three, profit. Right?

Right, unless you attempt your ruse at the wrong site, where the users are savvy enough to see right through your act and call you on the mat. Now, your follies are on Digg and everywhere for all the world to see, and no amount of groveling will make amends. For shame.

I have to deal with minor astroturfing all the time on (and pretty ridiculous astroturfing occasionally), and it's always a forehead-slapper. It's generally easy to spot, no matter how clever the offending party seems to think s/he is, and it cultivates a heaping mess of ill will. If you ever have the urge to misrepresent yourself online in a manner you think will advantage your company, don't do it. You will be found out, and it will be very unpleasant. Your exploits may even be exposed in New York Magazine. Just remember this mantra -- "Astroturfing makes an ass out of -- never mind, just don't do it.

Posted January 4, 2008 at 12:27 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik, Society/Culture, Technosnark

January 3, 2008

Into the Fold

Robin says,

Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson on Obama and Iowa:

Obama's been drawing record crowds from San Francisco to Des Moines -- but there was always the question of whether he could produce a similar effect among real live voters.

He did so in a way that no one predicted. 57 percent of the caucus goers tonight had never caucused before. Most impressive: As many people under thirty showed up as senior citizens.

That's fucking nuts is what that is. That's the Rock the Vote political wet dream that never ever comes true... actually coming true.

What this portends for Obama as a national candidate is something truly special. He's not only proven that he can draw the support of independents and open-minded Republicans. He's the one guy who can make the Democratic pie higher, bringing new, unlikely voters into the fold. If he could replicate this kind of support among young people in a general election, it's game over.

Super awesome.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:59 PM

November 30, 2007

China's New Markets

Robin says,

Interesting notes over at Tim Johnson's McClatchy blog on why China is just going to keep growing and growing and growing. He quotes a former Morgan Stanley economist:

Everybody in the world has too much money except the United States. Think about it. Even Russia has a $500 billion in foreign reserves. Even India has over, like, $200 billion in foreign reserves. India never had that kind of money before. This has very important implications for what happens next year. Emerging economies do not need to cut back. They can expand. [...]

Even Africa has a lot of money. So emerging market trade in China is already half of China's trade growth. As American consumers need to rest, need to pass, suddenly emerging market trade is happening. And emerging market trade is right up China's alley because emerging markets export commodities, exactly what China needs -- oil, copper, iron ore -- exactly what China needs. And China exports cheaper consumer products and on top of that cheap capital goods, like pumps, like trucks...

This is truly the dawn of emerging market trade development.


Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:53 AM

November 7, 2007

No Democracy for You

Robin says,

Hey, speaking of revolutions, democracy, etc.: Read this harrowing NYRB piece on the triumph of Putinism in Russia. It's all terrible, but this part seems particularly bad:

Putin's team quickly accomplished their most important task -- the capture of television -- and once it had been completed, the country was subjected to pervasive, incessant propaganda that was far more skillful, effective, and all-encompassing than anything the Soviets ever conceived. The mass media have relentlessly hammered home images of Putin as a charismatic ruler leading a national renaissance, while portraying Putinism as the guarantor of stability and order. [...] In short, they have transformed all the diverse hypotheses about Putin's popularity from partial explanations into a single, dominant, and overwhelming reality.

"The capture of television." Wow. Worth remembering (for us internet nerds especially) that TV is still the medium that basically defines reality anywhere on earth that has, like, electricity and is not San Francisco or Tokyo.

P.S. "... more skillful, effective, and all-encompassing than anything the Soviets ever conceived" -- jeez!

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:23 PM

October 23, 2007

A Good Hour

Robin says,

So I've mentioned Larry Lessig's new ten-year project on corruption before. Now I just finished watching his inaugural "alpha" lecture on the topic and it was terrific. An hour long, but well worth it, both for a glimpse of Lessig's cool, patchwork presentation style -- I'd heard it was great but never actually seen Lessig-slides in action -- and also for the framework he provides. He is an A+ presenter and an A++ thinker, and this is an A+++ subject.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:15 PM


Robin says,

Fareed Zakaria on Iran:

We're on a path to irreversible confrontation with a country we know almost nothing about. The United States government has had no diplomats in Iran for almost 30 years. American officials have barely met with any senior Iranian politicians or officials. We have no contact with the country's vibrant civil society. Iran is a black hole to us -- just as Iraq had become in 2003.

Gahhh! How is it that such walls can endure?

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:41 PM

September 11, 2007

We Can Imagine a Better Democracy

Robin says,

Sure, they're just words, but even so: Nice words. From UK prime minister Gordon Brown, via the civic-minded Peter Levine:

At this point, Brown begins to outline practical ideas for increasing citizen voice in policy. "We have already taken the step of publishing the legislative programme in draft, inviting comments and views, and for the last six months I have been discussing and working through how to do in a more consultative way that involves people in debating the issues that matter -- drugs, crime, antisocial behaviour, housing development or even foreign policy issues like Iraq where there are public discussions."

The first step will be to "hold Citizens Juries round the country. The members of these juries will be chosen independently. Participants will be given facts and figures that are independently verified, they can look at real issues and solutions, just as a jury examines a case. And where these citizens juries are held the intention is to bring people together to explore where common ground exists."

Brown explains that "Citizens Juries are not a substitute for representative democracy, they are an enrichment of it. The challenge of reviving local democracy can only be met if we build new forms of citizen involvement to encourage them in our local services and in new ways of holding people who run our services to account. So we will expand opportunities for deliberation, we will extend democratic participation in our local communities."

The Citizen Juries sound similar to deliberative polling, an idea I've always liked. Honestly though, we don't even need anything as formal and involved as all that to get better at democracy. A little more openness would go a long way, along with a corps of legislators more interested in communicating than... whatever it is they're interested in now.

It's totally possible, especially if the internet keeps sort of reformatting social assumptions at the same rate it has been, but it is a project on the scale of a generation. Things won't magically get better in 2008. (Well: No, actually they will. But that's only because things are so bad right now. There will still be lots of work to do. Insert analogy about a house with leaky plumbing and bad insulation, but also, the roof's on fire, etc.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:42 PM

September 3, 2007

The Sheltered Star

Robin says,

Historian Daniel Aaron on America:

To a nation hitherto self-contained and confident, the new responsibilities do not come easily. We have never bothered to understand alien ideas ('isms' were something to fear or deride), and 'selling America' had simply meant dispensing American largesse. We now see the extent of our involvement and the vulnerability of our talismans: natural resources and 'know-how.' We see that world problems are not merely American problems writ large, that it will take more than a little common sense and a few 'man to man' talks with the Russians to solve them. Finally, we can appreciate the degree to which our strengths and weaknesses as a people have been conditioned by the American past, how we have been blessed and victimized by our history. Because of our wealth and isolation and our vast inland empire, because of the advantages we have enjoyed as a result of European rivalries, we did not develop some of the qualities and abilities we now so desperately need.

Written in 1952.

It's just one salient bit from the latest edition of David Warsh's Economic Principals -- definitely worth a read. The last two grafs in particular are pretty tremendous.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:07 PM

August 19, 2007


Robin says,

Still undecided on my 2008 pick, as it is still 2007 and there's, er, no rush -- but I have to admit, Barack Obama's willingness to go meta and discuss the very framework of politics in the U.S. is pretty awesome.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:35 PM

Pragmatism, Politics, and God

Matt says,

Stop reading this post right now and go read Mark Lilla's stunning NYT Mag article adapted from his forthcoming book. The past year has seen a horde of devout atheists -- Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris -- gathering arms against religion and its place in the civic sphere. But no matter how they title their books, Harris et al aren't speaking to a Christian nation, but to a small subset of fellow thinkers. Lilla's scholarship as summarized in this article feels like the scaffold for a bridge between the staunch secularists and the political theologists. Put him in a room with Reza Aslan, and you have the makings of a serious conversation, one that might begin to answer the question, "How do we live together?" Much better than this beautiful-but-doomed dialogue, at least.

Are you really still reading my rambling? GO READ LILLA. Then read No god but God. (Then read Rousseau's "Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar," which I'd never heard of until reading Lilla's piece. It's fantastic.) Then get into a conversation with an open-minded person on the opposite side of the secularist/theologist divide.

Comments (8) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:45 AM

August 11, 2007

The Challenge of Authoritarian Capitalism

Robin says,

Argh! Must read this Foreign Affairs article! But it is available only to paying subscribers! Oh well -- the blockquote's pretty good on its own:

Today's global liberal democratic order faces two challenges. The first is radical Islam -- and it is the lesser of the two challenges. Although the proponents of radical Islam find liberal democracy repugnant, and the movement is often described as the new fascist threat, the societies from which it arises are generally poor and stagnant. They represent no viable alternative to modernity and pose no significant military threat to the developed world. It is mainly the potential use of weapons of mass destruction -- particularly by nonstate actors -- that makes militant Islam a menace.

The second, and more significant, challenge emanates from the rise of nondemocratic great powers: the West's old Cold War rivals China and Russia, now operating under authoritarian capitalist, rather than communist, regimes. Authoritarian capitalist great powers played a leading role in the international system up until 1945. They have been absent since then. But today, they seem poised for a comeback.

Authoritarian capitalist states, today exemplified by China and Russia, may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about liberal democracy's ultimate victory -- or future dominance.

The EU is also a noteworthy model. It's of course not authoritarian by any stretch, but it's not exactly democratic, either.

The question will soon be posed: Do we favor democracy simply because it is effective? Or do we favor it because it is, in some deeper sense, right? And are we willing to defend the latter proposition even if the first is subverted -- that is, even if nondemocratic systems demonstrate equal or greater effectiveness?

Not well-worded, but perhaps you get the idea.

My answer to the latter question, for the record, is yes. And you?

Comments (13) | Permasnark | Posted: 4:45 PM

August 10, 2007

The World Heavyweight Champion... of Politics

Robin says,

I like the analogy of politicians as prizefighters near the end of the post. Well, actually: I don't like it... but I suspect it might possess some truth.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:45 PM

July 30, 2007

Liberals, Progressives, and the Future

Robin says,

Noah Millman on the temperamental difference between liberals and progressives over at the new American Scene. I interpret it thusly: Liberals like poetry; progressives like science fiction.

Comments (7) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:13 AM

June 22, 2007


Robin says,

Pardon the byzantine link, but if you click here, choose "Launch Fora Player," then click on section four, "Philosophical Perspective of Democracy in the U.S.," (whew) you'll get a neat run-down of the "skyboxification" of American life from Michael Sandel, whose book Democracy's Discontent was and still is a big deal to me. I'd never heard him talk before and it's pretty fantastic.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:22 AM

June 13, 2007

The Lamest Duck

Robin says,

Another slideshow: This time it's President Bush's recent trip to Europe. Most of the images aren't of Bush at all, though; they're of the weird moments and empty spaces that surround any State Visit.

No idea if this is intended, but it feels a lot like a photo op-ed. The pictures definitely seem to make an argument: about the hollowness of pomp, about the scene behind the TV cameras, about being alone in the world.

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:20 PM

June 8, 2007

This Will Be Hilarious for 18 More Months

Robin says,

The SuperNews soundboard. Awesome.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:09 PM

June 4, 2007

Cut the Flow of the Cola

Robin says,

The Apologist commented on my pizza concession, which reminded me that I wanted to give a shout out to his post on cola diplomacy. Who knew Sudan could lay claim to such a strategic resource?

"I want you to know that the gum arabic which runs all the soft drinks all over the world, including the United States, mainly 80 percent is imported from my country," the ambassador said after raising a bottle of Coca-Cola.

I love the world.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:58 AM

May 20, 2007

Database Democracy

Robin says,

This sort of statement --

"You look at the people you have to motivate, and what motivates them, and sometimes it's a negative message," said Blaise Hazelwood, another veteran of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign who served as political director for the Republican National Committee. She set up her business, Grassroots Targeting, in 2005, offering research to campaigns. She has begun branching out to corporate clients, including a major airline.

-- sums up more and more of our political process, especially on the (unsexy but crucial) state level. Campaigns are just database queries now.

I know, I know, it's just advertising -- smart, sophisticated, data-driven advertising -- but there's something so mechanistic about it. I think I prefer heavy-handed TV ads to this kind of stuff.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:24 PM

May 2, 2007

Complicated Characters

Robin says,

I totally agree with Ross Douthat that this:

... the cast of characters in what is arguably the worst administration since Nixon's strikes me as devoid of literary interest. totally wrong. This cast of characters -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, the Bushes -- is full of literary interest! Reading Barry Werth's 31 Days, it struck me how long and strange their story has been. And the cauldron of spite, idealism, conniving, and hubris that is Iraq: It's tragedy in the deepest sense.

But this is not a confessional crowd, and that's unlikely to change even after they're out of office, so it is precisely the job of the modern novelist (as opposed to the journalist, or even the historian) to give us some insight into their psyches.

A good, honest, complicated psychological novel about George W. Bush? I would read that in a second.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:10 PM

April 13, 2007

Democracy Deferred

Robin says,

Yeah yeah, I know nobody's interested in Bangladesh, but that's why I keep posting these links -- it's the seventh most populous country in the world! And it's a moderate Muslim state! Come on people!

In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina is one of two women locked in a bitter, corrupt struggle for power that has spanned decades. Now she and other members of her party, the Awami League, stand accused of murder. Somehow I gotta believe the reaction in Bangladesh is something like: "Yeah... no kidding!"

There is actually no elected (or even quasi-elected) government at all in Bangladesh right now; since early this year it's been under the rule of an interim military government. They're the ones making the accusation, and cleaning house in general. Details from Foreign Policy.

Back in 2001, I remember hearing many, many Bangladeshis say all they really wanted was a Musharraf-style military dictator: a strong authoritarian who could ensure stability. Looks like they might just get it.

(Murder link via Activate, which is consistently sharp and surprising.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:18 AM

March 10, 2007

Epistolary Espionage

Matt says,

The National Security Letter has always been a laughably frightening proposition, even for us post-privacy types. This is the one that FBI officials could issue legally requiring any organization to secretly hand over records on individuals. There may be an FBI file containing your work e-mails, bank records, and telephone contacts, and you will never know. Very Lives of Others.

Of course it would be revealed that the FBI's insidious use of the NSL has gone far beyond the boundaries permitted even by the licentious Patriot Act. To hear it described in the news reports, FBI agents are using NSLs like we use Google. One imagines a New Yorker cartoon depicting two agents chatting over coffee: "This guy asked me out on Yahoo. I NSL-ed him, he seems clean."

The WaPo's story has a chatty, charming tone to it: "The FBI collected intimate information about the lives of a population roughly the size of Bethesda's." "A report released yesterday by the department's Office of the Inspector General offers the first official glimpse into the use of that impressive tool, and the results, according to the report, are not pretty." It's maybe a Reagan-era East Berlin cocktail party vibe. Check it out.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:03 AM

February 26, 2007


Robin says,

Super awesome new site from the makers of the Democracy Player. What's interesting is that all of this information was already available online -- it was just obfuscated. Eet eez ze power of design...

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:33 AM

January 1, 2007

Hawks on the Brain

Robin says,

Are policymakers predisposed to believe their hawkish advisors more than the doves? Maybe -- and some pretty basic natural biases built in to our brains might help explain it. Foreign Policy mag, back with a vengeance.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:23 PM

December 5, 2006

Techno-Triumphalist Takedown

Robin says,

Ezra Klein offers a good reminder: The internet only goes so far. The source post he links to is pretty sharp, too.

Comments (7) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:52 PM

November 8, 2006

The Wit and Wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld

Robin says,

This is a pretty snarky photo essay for TIME! Familiar with the meme, of course, but have never seen it so well-executed.

Slide four sorta sums it all up, doesn't it?

Also: a somewhat less-snarky photo essay on China. You can get 'em in a feed, you know!

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:00 PM

November 7, 2006


Robin says,

This video is a pretty blunt instrument, but even so, it's the coolest thing I've seen so far this Election Day. Of course, the George Michael song is key.

And, importantly, the link was emailed to me by a random friend. In fact, I've gotten more election-related emails this time around than in any previous year. It almost feels like there might be some sort of public deliberation occurring...

This democracy thing, it just might work out.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:24 AM

October 4, 2006

Daily Show vs. Broadcast News?

Matt says,

Which has more substantive political coverage?

Would you believe neither? That's what a telecommunications professor at Indiana U. found when she analyzed the content of The Daily Show and put it up next to a network newscast. (Card-ial.)

Comments (3) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:20 PM

October 2, 2006

You've Got to Read It With a British Accent

Robin says,

Tony Blair's recent speech to New Labour, besides carrying a rather appealing message, is an exemplar of brisk British rhetoric: lots of parataxis, one-word phrases, fragments. Charming.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:44 PM

Boring Revolutions Are the Best Kind

Robin says,

Romania and Bulgaria are in the EU now, by the way. I still think the slow, unsexy growth of the EU might be the sleeper story of our age.

Previously: Europe's culture and creativity.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:22 AM

September 24, 2006

Unresolved Nation of Consequence

Robin says,


Well-established China fascination here on Snarkmarket. I went to Orville Schell's Long Now talk on China last Friday (proof) and it was great. Even better, though, was Stewart Brand's email summary of the talk -- it amounts to a killer executive brief on China today. Encyclopedic but short.

Take a read for yourself.

Oh, and in the Q&A session, Schell confirmed: China's leaders really are all technocrats, and will continue to be for some time. In fact, getting involved in politics in China is a horrible career move if you ultimately aspire to, um, be involved in politics in China: It's too easy to make a misstep and remove yourself from the running completely. The whole political environment there is like a minefield, so fortune favors the slow.

Also: Pictures of Shanghai twenty years ago! (From which the image above is taken.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:49 AM

August 30, 2006

Suspended Citizenship

Robin says,

Good post from Saheli on this situation:

[T]he United States has denied re- entry to two American citizens--one naturalized and one-native born--unless they first agree to be interrogated by the FBI abroad without a lawyer and take a polygraph test. They have not been charged with any crime.

As always with S.S.R. Datta, the analysis is nuanced and, it seems to me, correct.

Comments (1) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:49 AM

Meet the Panopticon, Age 21

Robin says,

Bob Kerrey gets interviewed in Foreign Policy. Here's an interesting prediction:

FP: How will college students affect November's election and the U.S. presidential race two years from now?

BK: They're likely to have a very large impact as a result of this 'macaca' type of an event [involving Sen. George Allen]. They're going to be out with cameras and tape recorders and blogs, and they'll be carrying a larger part of the debate itself. I think it will likely be a relatively small fraction of young people who turn out and vote. [But] in the blogosphere and beyond, there will be something that will be comparable to this remarkable story of George Allen -- it was, I think, a 20-year-old who [broke that story]. I think you'll see a lot more of that.

Worth reading.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:24 AM

August 9, 2006

It's Inevitable

Robin says,

I was just checking out Google Video's new ad system and happened to click on this video, a Charlie Rose episode featuring Thomas Friedman.

And it struck me: This man is going to run for political office.

Maybe not soon, but some day. Just listen to the way he talks! And come on, he's rich!

When it happens, just remember: Snarkmarket called it.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:58 AM

July 23, 2006

Justice and Statehood

Robin says,

Peter Levine, whose blog is one of my very favorites these days, has a smart and well-wrought post on Israel and the burdens of being a democracy.

P.S. Look out, the next Snarkmarket post is about reality-show superheroes! It might make your head explode if you read it too soon after this one...

Comments (4) | Permasnark | Posted: 9:28 PM

July 5, 2006

Bill Gates... for President?

Robin says,

James Fallows (one of my all-time favorites) is part of The Atlantic's crew liveblogging the Aspen Ideas Festival. Here's an interesting note on the prospects for an independent presidential candidate sometime soon. (For the record I think Bill Gates as candidate is a horrible idea. But it makes a good headline!)

Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 10:34 AM

June 20, 2006

A House Depleted

The best article in the brand-new Democracy: A Journal of Ideas is Brad Carson's review (reg. req'd) of a book called The House: The History of the House of Representatives by Robert Remini. And it is so good because it is so sad:

The distance from [Henry] Clay to [Dennis] Hastert can only be measured along a steep descent. It is for this reason that Remini’s new history of the House of Representatives reads like a chronicle of degeneration, a well-wrought record of the decay of American politics and, perhaps, of American character, too. The House once was the very heart of democracy; such was its prestige that Clay himself left the Senate to seek election to what he called the "people’s chamber."

Carson is particularly well-suited to write this review because... he was a congressman! As he says, he reads Remini's book as the tale of an institution that was really good and interesting for a while -- the first half of the 19th century, Clay's time -- but has been sliding into the sea ever since.

... Read more ....
Posted June 20, 2006 at 9:49 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

May 19, 2006

The Reality-Based Conservative, Part II

Matt says,

Sad that Peter Viereck died. Good that The New Yorker put the awesome article about him online. (See also.)

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 12:57 PM

February 9, 2006

Politicizing a Funeral

Matt says,

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., eulogizing four girls murdered by a bomb at a church in Birmingham. Just sayin'.
Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:51 AM

December 16, 2005

Retail Politics

Matt says,

Jay Bookman tells it like it is:

Think back a little more than a year ago, to the political campaigns of 2004. One of the hottest issues in presidential debates and congressional campaigns was the threat to traditional marriage posed by gay people seeking the right to wed. ...

But a year later, it seems pertinent to ask: Have you heard or read a single word about a federal gay-marriage amendment since the election?

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:22 PM

October 28, 2005

Scott McClellan, You Paying Attention?

Matt says,

I was very impressed by how lucid and straightforward Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference was today. My eyes have insta-glazed for two years now whenever I've encountered the words "Valerie Plame." He managed to lay it all out in a way that makes me feel I actually understand what just happened. Of course, he can probably do that better than anyone since he's apparently the only person in the world who actually knows what happened, but still. Good show.

Comments (2) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:07 PM

August 18, 2005

The Same Thing He Does Every Night, Pinky

Matt says,

Today's read of the day is this New York Magazine profile of Bill Clinton. This man has got to be the best real-life tragic hero of the last three decades:

I ask Clinton why the Bush administration has gotten much softer press coverage than he did. He gives a variety of explanations, including September 11 and the rightward drift of the media. Then he gives an explanation that’s surprisingly tart: “The Bush people didn’t have anybody working for the White House who, as far as I could tell, had an inexplicable, craving need that a lot of the young people did who worked for me in that first year to talk to the press—even when they didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Wow. Kids, you know who you are.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 3:34 PM

July 19, 2005

Political Videos

Matt says,

From Robin's alma mater comes this excellent Flash repository of footage related to political events. Try looking at political ads with the theme of flip-flopping and viewing Hubert Humphrey's "Wind" ad attacking Nixon next to G.W. Bush's "Blowing" ad attacking Kerry. (Via David Weinberger.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:00 AM

July 11, 2005

acline's thoughts: Tim re: 1. Agreed. But rhetoric is always open to re-evaluation. It was today's headline.... >>

Mum's the Word


When I read the transcript of today's White House press briefing with Scott McClellan, I knew someone was going to pull this "McClellan's a rhetorical genius" bit. Nonsense. People did the same thing with Ari F., and I call foul. Dogged question avoidance does not make one the second coming of Cicero.

In fact, from The New Republic last March (subscription required):

Fleischer was in this sense the perfect Bush press secretary. His ability to prevaricate and dodge, without betraying himself through physical or verbal tics, represented a kind of genius. Alas, what came so easily to Fleischer utterly eludes McClellan. If the two of them ever sat down at a poker table, Fleischer would probably walk away with all of McClellan's money and the shirt off his back.

Again, nonsense. In many of Fleischer's most heated press exchanges, he reverted to the exact same rote repetition thing McClellan does here. Both men do a perfectly functional and transparent job of stonewalling the White House press corps. Wouldn't a true rhetorical genius be so slick and insinuating about his point that you wouldn't even recognize it was just the same thing with different wrapping paper?

... Read more ....
Posted July 11, 2005 at 9:10 | Comments (7) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

July 1, 2005


Matt says,


Comments (5) | Permasnark | Posted: 8:24 AM

June 4, 2005

The Real United Nations

Robin says,


Try this on for size: The U.N. as robust war-fighting alliance. According to Dan Plesch, that's how it really began:

The "United Nations" had been the official name for the coalition fighting the axis powers since January 1942, when Roosevelt and Churchill had led twenty-six nations, including the Soviet Union and China, in a "Declaration by United Nations".

Lots of cool images. Link via MeFi.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 1:45 PM

February 19, 2005

Bush ♥ Clinton

Matt says,

Is The New York Times celebrating the Presidents Day weekend with touchy-feely stories about Presidents and their buddies?

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 2:15 PM

February 10, 2005

Governing Without Google

Robin says,

Here's a fun anecdote and sharp observation from Neil McIntosh of The Guardian. Go read it, it's short and worth the click.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:33 PM

November 4, 2004

Let There Be Light

Robin says,

Well, I think this page basically shows that everyone with electricity voted for Kerry.

Ooh, so maybe that's why the Democratic candidates are always pushing for alternative energy? More porch-lights = more progressives!

Okay, this probably didn't deserve to be an entire post.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 7:40 PM

September 28, 2004

Matt's thoughts: Bah. If "polls" and "ground game" actually meant anything, Howard Dean would have spoken ... >>

Who Will Vote?

So whenever someone asks me "Robin, who will win the election??" (and believe me... there is no one better to ask) I say something like: "Kerry, because it's all going to come down to who votes in Ohio (and, okay, Florida and Pennsylvania) and the Democrats will get more people to come to the polls than the Republicans."

I base this certitude mostly on the fact that my friend Jim Secreto is on the ground with the Kerry campaign in Ohio. And come on, Jim ran for and won the senior class presidency at Troy Athens High School. This deal is sealed, dudes.

But now there is some slightly more reliable verification, via New Donkey:

On the front page of the Sunday NYT, Ford Fessenden reports on a Times study of registration numbers in the two most crucial battleground states, Ohio and Florida. And it confirms two things I've felt strongly about, but had little more than anecdotal evidence to support: (1) this is going to be a high-turnout election (which in itself is helpful to Democrats), and (2) Democrats are way, way ahead in the ground game.
Posted September 28, 2004 at 12:34 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

June 25, 2004

The Plan in Iran

I'm not sure I have anything intelligent to add to this op-ed on Iran's nuclear ambitions, save that I found it fascinating. It's by a former Iranian former minister:

Anyone with any knowledge of Iranian politics would know that the present regime in Tehran is strategically committed to developing a nuclear "surge capacity" if not a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. The real question, therefore, is whether the region, and the rest of the world, feel comfortable with the idea of a revolutionary regime, claiming a messianic mission on behalf of Islam, arming itself with nuclear weapons.

A peaceful Iran with no ambitions to export an ideology or seek regional hegemony would be no more threatening than Britain, which also has a nuclear arsenal. The real debate on Iran, therefore, can only be about regime change. And this is precisely the issue that the Europeans are loath to acknowledge as a legitimate topic of discussion.

The author, Ardeshir Zahedi, explains quite a bit about Iran's nuclear past.

Now, read this --

... Iran's first nuclear reactor was installed in Tehran in 1955 and the first batch of Iranians sent to Europe and the U.S. to study nuclear physics and related subjects were back home by the early 1960s. By the mid-1970s, Iran had a well-educated and motivated corps of nuclear scientists who, backed by substantial financial resources from the government, undertook research into all aspects of the new technology, including its military applications.

-- and tell me that planning on that scale doesn't blow your mind. "Okay, guys, we need to learn nuclear physics. Sooo we're going to send a generation of scientists overseas and then have them return. It should only take about ten years."

Posted June 25, 2004 at 5:12 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

June 20, 2004

The Emerald City

An eye-opening description of the Coalition Provisional Authority's "Green Zone" in Baghdad, from the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in the prismatic first part of a series on the U.S. occupation of Iraq:

Life inside the high-security Green Zone -- what some CPA staffers jokingly call the Emerald City -- bears little resemblance to that in the rest of Baghdad. The power is always on. Shiny shuttle buses zip passengers around. Outdoor cafes stay open late into the night.

There is little effort to comply with Islamic traditions. Beer flows freely at restaurants. Women walk around in shorts. Bacon cheeseburgers are on the CPA's lunch menu.

"It's like a different planet," said an Iraqi American who has a senior position in the CPA and lives in the Green Zone but regularly ventures out to see relatives. "It's cut off from the real Iraq."

Because the earth-toned GMC Suburbans used by CPA personnel and foreign contractors have become a favored target of insurgents, traveling outside the Green Zone -- into the Red Zone that defines the rest of Iraq -- requires armored vehicles and armed escorts, which are limited to senior officials. Lower-ranking employees must either remain within the compound or sneak out without a security detail.

Although the CPA has tried to bring Iraqis into the CPA headquarters for meetings and other events -- there has even been an "Iraqi Culture Night" in the Green Zone -- the inability to mingle with Iraqis has isolated the Americans. "We don't know the outside," the senior adviser to Bremer said. "How many of us have gone out to buy a bottle of milk or a pair of socks?"

What a catch-22: You can't go outside and get your work done 'cause it's so dangerous; it's so dangerous (in part) 'cause you can't go outside and get your work done. For example:

The Daura Power Plant in southern Baghdad was supposed to be a model of the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Bombed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and neglected by Hussein's government, the station could operate at no more than a quarter of its rated capacity, leading to prolonged blackouts in the capital.

After CPA specialists toured the decrepit facility last summer, they vowed to bring it back to life. German and Russian firms were hired to make repairs, and it was placed atop a list of priority projects intended to achieve a 6,000-megawatt goal for national electricity production. More power, Bremer hoped, would improve the economy and daily life enough to reduce violence and stabilize Iraq.

Today, the Daura plant is indeed a model -- of how the U.S. reconstruction effort has failed to meet its goals.

The German contractors fled for their safety in April. The Russians departed in late May, after two of their colleagues were shot to death by insurgents as they approached the plant in a minivan.

Inside the facility, parts are strewn on the floor, awaiting installation. Iraqi technicians in blue coveralls lounge around, smoking cigarettes and waiting for guidance. In the turbine room, graffiti on the wall reads: "Long Live the Resistance."

The CPA intended for the Daura plant to be producing more than 500 megawatts of power by June 1. But the best it can do at the moment is 100 megawatts -- half of its output of last summer.

"We were supposed to have improved," said Bashir Khallaf, the plant director. "But we have gotten worse."

I finally got around to reading James Fallows' "Blind Into Baghdad" from the January Atlantic, which makes it clear that things could have been very different from the beginning.

Also, WTF?: "The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House."

Posted June 20, 2004 at 12:41 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

May 27, 2004

Gavin's thoughts: I suppose it doesn't really shed much light on Obama, but here's another one to file under Jack R... >>

Politician With a Halo

This New Yorker article, essentially a hagiography of an Illinois politician, brought out in me a cynicism about the American political process I didn't even know I had. The politician in question, Barack Obama, is half-black, grew up in Middle America, rose from modest circumstances to become a star at Harvard and teach law at UChicago, and claims to want to practice clean, civil, on-the-issues politics. Why am I so skeptical of this guy? Some grafs:

Abner Mikva told me, “Barack is the most unique political talent I’ve run into in more than fifty years. I haven’t been this excited about a candidate since Adlai Stevenson first got me into politics.” As an illustration of Obama’s gifts, Mikva said, “I’ve seen him speak on Israel in front of a Jewish audience—a very, very tough crowd. And he was incredibly thoughtful, saying, basically, ‘There are a lot of people in that area, with lots of different interests and points of view, and they all have to be taken into consideration, and we can’t just rally around Sharon,’ and so on. And the crowd was just wowed. I’ve fluffed that question so many times myself—and I’m Jewish. Kerry fluffed it on ‘Meet the Press’ the other day. But Barack managed to make those people who disagreed with him feel comfortable with the disagreement.”

This is a regular theme with Obama: supporters who disagree with him. The two big Chicago daily papers both endorsed him enthusiastically in the primary, even though they disagreed with him on major issues—his opposition to the war in Iraq and, in the case of the Tribune, his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This seems to be a pattern in Illinois. Paul Simon was the most respected political figure in the state for decades. He was a liberal Democrat who came from a conservative downstate region where his name remains political gold. The universal explanation for Simon’s near-universal popularity is “integrity,” and this spring I heard the word a lot from people discussing Obama.

It's page after page of this stuff. And here's another schoolgirlishly fawning offering from The New Republic.

The article ends with a segment about Obama's opponent in the race for the Illinois Senate, Jack Ryan. Ryan seems like a total blowhard -- pretty boy, silver spoon, hired the sleaziest campaign strategist ever, has swipes at Obama all over his site, supports the Federal Marriage Amendment -- in short, Worst Ever.

Still, all I can think of Saint Obama is, "Yeah, OK, whatever. I bet he's killing babies on the side or something." I'm just wondering if this reaction is

a) my rootless cynicism about all things political
b) a sad commentary on the state of democracy in America
c) a backlash against the article's relentless positivity about its subject
d) all of the above?

Posted May 27, 2004 at 11:36 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

April 2, 2004

Menand Does McCarthy

As usual, Louis Menand takes a topic I have no special interest in and makes it fascinating. The closing paragraph is really beautifully written:

The vortex of the late nineteen-sixties swallowed up not only Eugene McCarthy. It consumed a whole generation of liberal politicians and radical thinkers and culture heroes, from John Lindsay and Marshall McLuhan to Tom Hayden and Buckminster Fuller -- a long list of "an idea whose time has come" types whose time abruptly ran out. The survivors wandered, as McCarthy did, through the decades that followed, caricatures of their former world-historical selves, like old heavyweight champions working as greeters in casinos. You could say that these people failed; but what would success have looked like? McCarthy was seized by the moment. He deliberately sacrificed his career to stand on ground that no other Democrat had the courage to venture out on. He was entitled, in the decades that followed, to a little resentment.
Posted April 2, 2004 at 11:44 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

March 16, 2004

Resolved: To Resolve Something

I posted this on a blog I maintain for work, but I'm kind of amused by it, so I'm reposting here:

Today's story idea is resolutions. The House of Representatives seems to make a lot of them.

So far today, from what I can tell from the current floor summary, the House did this:

They met at 12:30 p.m., had 27 minutes of rollicking "Morning-Hour Debates" (whatever those are), then took a break. Then, they reconvened at 2 p.m., and spent the next 68 minutes debating resolutions. There's one resolution thanking C-SPAN for 25 years of service. One resolution from the Senate permitting the use of the Capitol Building's rotunda for next year's Inauguration Ceremony. Another to rename a Kansas post office the Myron V. George Post Office. Yet another to honor the life and legacy of FDR, it being his 122nd birthday.

Then the House took another break, and they're supposed to reconvene at 6:30, possibly to vote on yet more resolutions.

Tomorrow, according to CQ's Midday Update, the House will consider a resolution to commend our soldiers in Iraq for the good job they've done and assert that the world is safer with Saddam Hussein's regime deposed. (Note: CQ is owned by The Poynter Institute, which owns this website.)

Why all these resolutions? Is this a typical day? Given that there are 435 members of the House of Representatives, each of whom makes a not insubstantial yearly salary, how much does it cost taxpayers to have these folks spend an hour renaming post offices and singing "Happy Birthday" to FDR? How much effort do House staffers spend drawing up these resolutions?

A quick gander at Georgia's list of recent House resolutions shows that state Congresses are probably the same story.

Posted March 16, 2004 at 6:16 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

February 26, 2004

Rumsfeld vs. Blanka

Matt says,

Go! (Via MetaFilter.)

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 11:21 PM

February 24, 2004

Point Counterpoint Counterpoint

Matt says,

Am I the only one who's never seen WatchBlog? It's three political blogs side by side, one blog edited by a Democrat, one by a Republican, and one by an Independent. Who knows, maybe I haven't heard about it because it isn't any good, but it's an intriguing idea. Unfortunately, the giant three-column wall of text is pretty unreadable to me.

Comments (0) | Permasnark | Posted: 5:30 PM

January 21, 2004

It's the Context, Stupid

What's that? Daily news is caught up in the moment, you say, with little or no context to explain what is going on and why it matters? is here to help with a State of the Union analysis called "Behind the address: A reality check on what Bush said on key issues."

Okay, this piece isn't all it could have been. I wish it didn't read so much like a dispatch from the Center for American Progress, intended only to debunk and counter-spin.

However, a story that breaks such an important public statement down issue by issue, each one with the subheds "What Bush said" and "Context," is clearly a big step forward.

I'd love to see one of these pieces (they're so short and easy!) every time the President -- or a Presidential candidate -- gives a major speech. Something about the clear division really makes sense to me. I've no doubt that many good politics stories contain this information; I just like the fact that USA TODAY makes it so plain.

(Sudden depressing thought: What if USA TODAY has been doing these all along and I've been missing them??)

Anyway, props to the authors of this story, and to The Campaign Desk for linking it up.

Posted January 21, 2004 at 10:39 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

December 31, 2003

Finally, Some Mediclarity

I toyed with "Making Medicare Mediclear" as a title, so be happy with what you got.

Anyhoo, I've been known to occasionally advance the completely unfounded assertion that Ruy Teixeira only got where he is by telling liberals exactly what they want to hear. But he's taken some strong strides towards accomplishing something I've been loudly pining for for some time now -- writing a readable, interesting article about Medicare.

There's a little eye-glazing that happens during his big numbers graf, but pound for pound, this piece pretty clearly lays out the problems seniors are currently having with this bill, that the deductibles, premiums, coverage gaps, and co-pays spotted all over the bill's 600+ pages mean that it doesn't help the average senior all that much:

The average drug spending by Medicare beneficiaries is projected to be about $3,250 in 2006, when the benefit takes effect. Under the bill just passed, a beneficiary will wind up having to pay 70 percent of this typical drug bill.

The rest of Donkey Rising, Teixeira's "WebLog," looks to have some pretty good stuff also. Check it out.

Posted December 31, 2003 at 2:40 | Comments (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik
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