Friday, October 31, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I have been lucky to get to know Leuchtenburg over the last few years, to the point where I consider him a friend and something of a mentor. There is no finer historian or human being.
Then, when you're prepared to return to 2008, which will be the subject of its own inevitable features in years to come, you may want to look at the series of essays in The Washington Monthly on this year's election. The Stakes 2008 includes essays by eight prominent writers, including Jonathan Alter, Kevin Drum, Gregg Easterbrook, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, Stephanie Mencimer, Timothy Noah, and Nicholas Thompson.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Race has come to the fore in the 2008 campaign in the way that most of us could have expected. The racial attacks have not been frontal, and their racial nature has at least been couched in deniable manifestations. But racial, and oftentimes racist, they have been. John McCain is not a racist, but he has aligned with racists because, as McCain has shown, winning now trumps honor and it certainly trumps whatever true beliefs he once held.
Thus Charles Krauthammer's fatuous article accusing Obama of playing the race card (and that's what he does even though all of his examples are of others, many unaffiliated with Obama, alleging racializing the campaign) is particularly rich, but not especially surprising. Conservatives have managed to create a moral relativism whereby accusing someone of racism is a breach of decorum every bit as bad as racism itself and is thus itself subject to condemnation. This is actually a pretty clever gambit intended to enable certain kinds of words and behavior while at the same time chilling criticism. It is also demogaguery of the rankest sort.
I cannot help but wonder what Krauthammer thinks about GOP fundraisers joking about Obama's assassination or Republican officials in California distributing what I am certain they believed to be hilarious postcards depicting Obama on a food stamp voucher surrounded by foodstuffs such as fried chicken, watermelon, ribs, and Kool Aid. But of course this has nothing at all to do with racial stereotypes! How stupid do they think we are?
But the height of hypocrisy on the issue of racism comes in the wake of Colin Powell's epochal endorsement of Obama, which naturally led to Rush Limbaugh accusing Powell of racism. This yet again reveals an amazing amount of relativism that is all too common in the playbook of some conservatives. They are quite willing to claim moral equivalency between white racism, built on a historical foundation of white supremacy, and alleged assertions of "black racism," which is nowhere to be found in Powell's endorsement, even if that does not prevent the Limbaughs of this world from spinning their vitriol.
Of course there is another way to think of these matters. My tendency is to become enraged. But at The Atlantic, Matthew Quirk welcomes GOP race-baiting. It reveals the other side for what it is, after all, and when "That One" wins, it will be fun to see the response.
in the midst of all of this comes John McWhorter's piece in The New Republic in which he discourages readers from blaming racism if Obama loses. Matthew Yglesias quite effectively pillories McWhorter's peculiar preemptive strike on an issue that surely will account for some tiny slice of the opposition to Obama, whether it proves decisive or not.
Ironically enough, some of the same conservatives tapdancing around the race issue will be the first to use an Obama victory to claim that we are past race and racism. Having lived, traveled and worked in South Africa during the Mandela and Mbeki years I can assure you that a comparable assertion about racism being over because the country has black leadership would be laughable were it not both demonstrably false and blithely offensive.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I am feeling that old pre-2004 queasiness in the gut, a combination of sadness and hurt and loss and anger and annoyance (leaving the bases loaded in the 8th will haunt me all offseason). I guess that shows that I still love the Red Sox and that after 2004 and 2007 I did not become a devil-may-care fan. The 2008 Red Sox had a very good season. Just not good enough.
Tampa will beat the Phillies. It may not be that close. I'll be rooting for them.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
One of the things I like about Sullivan is his unabashed defense of a genre that still can garner eyerolling. Some time ago I received business cards from the Foreign Policy Association that simply give my title as "blogger," and it seemed a little silly to me, almost embarrassing. Since I have written a number of analytical pieces for them, I prefer the term "writer" or something along those lines. And yet this medium, however imperfectly I do it (as you well know), largely reflects the prevailing direction of media today and in the future. Sullivan's article provides a pretty good articulation of what blogging means and why it can matter, albeit mostly from the vantage point of the high-end professionals like himself.
I hope you are at least partly convinced by the power of my examples. Somehow, we’ve been sold a bill of goods about how literature empowers us. But the idea that great literature can improve our lives in any way is a con as old as culture itself. The University of Chicago’s Great Books course? Think Tammany Hall. “Willing suspension of disbelief”? Code for: distract him while I lift his wallet. The government regulates drugs, alcohol and (finally) bad lending practices. How long can we continue to allow the totally laissez-faire dissemination of literature? Not even a warning from the surgeon general or the attorney general, or some sort of general, on the back of every book?
Siegel's a crank, but he's my kind of crank -- critical but with tongue near enough to cheek to mitigate his most tendentious pronouncements.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Stone and I are on the same side of the aisle in that we will both be voting Democrat in this election, and in all of them. But you do not necessarily have to waste time on everyone on your side of the aisle. I'll simply nod in recognition and move on to more important things. (Though it does seem that no one will go to this movie who is not already convinced of its premises. And it might breed some resentment among not only the doubters, who are unlikely to vote for Obama anyway, but also from those cherished independent voters. This leads me to see a whole lot of solipsism in this movie's pre-election release date. Ultimately W seems to be as much about Oliver Stone as about its putative subject. In other words: It's a typical Oliver Stone movie!)
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Shall we deconstruct the sentence?
"Joe" - His name is Sam (But ok, given what follows I'll assume that he might be known as Joe, as that seems to be his middle name).
"the independent" - He is a registered Republican.
"plumber" - He is unlicensed.
"wants to buy the plumbing company he works for" -- But which is not apparently for sale, which Joe is not actually trying to buy, and which Joe could not afford to buy on his $40,000 income. Oh, and that damned licensing issue again.
"which earns $250,000+ a year" - Actually it's about $100,000, which is important given the supposed magic number of $250,000 based on Obama's tax plan.
"and he is concerned about the tax burden for which he will be responsible." - Obviously (well, maybe not so - people usually are unclear on the arcane tax code) any rate hike for those incomes above $250,000 would only count against the money earned above $250,000. But beyond that, my favorite part of all of this is that Joe has a tax lien against him. So he is not paying his taxes now.
So here is what is accurate in the sentence:
"Voter plumbing company he works for, and he is concerned." Actually, I think Sarah Palin uttered that exact sentence in her debate in response to a question about foreign policy.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
From Dad: "Upon hearing that the Red Sox were down 3-1 to the Rays in the ALCS he immediately tried to crawl back into where he came from but once he learned that the Yankees couldn't even make the playoffs, he decided this wouldn't be a bad world to live in after all."
Congratulations and best wishes.
Monday, October 13, 2008
He pirouettes like this constantly to maintain some intellectual self-respect, on the one hand, and to hold onto his market niche as a conservative Republican apologist, on the other. He has tried to square this circle with forced geniality throughout Republicans' Iraq War lying, torture and warrantless surveillance, borrow-and-borrow, spend-and-spend fiscal policy, bottomless corruption, and, lately, national socialism. But John McCain is stopping Brooks' game.
Ever since it has become clear that McCain is unstable and incompetent as commander-in-chief of his own campaign, not least by choosing his horror show of a running mate, Brooks has been squirming and stumbling furiously toward a reckoning that should be of some interest to every Times reader and would-be public intellectual.
This time, the choice facing Brooks is too stark and time-bound for his usual gyrations. He can maintain his intellectual self-respect only by breaking openly with McCain/Palin in the next couple of weeks.
It comes as no shock that David Brooks has little intellectual core. But as we watch him and other conservative columnists squirm as they wrestle with their intellectual barrenness, let us keep in mind that there are three weeks left in this campaign.
I would thus encourage my fellow Democrats not to be too effusive yet and not to start the touchdown celebration before we reach the goal line. Our party has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before. The polling data looks good for Obama supporters, but I would be willing to bet that those numbers tighten, that the gap closes, in the next three weeks.
Were the election to be held tomorrow, Obama would win handily, quite possibly in a landslide. But election cycles have their own nearly-organic development, and when hubris begins to build I try to remind myself of the 1948 election, when all polling data indicated that New York Governor Thomas Dewey was bound to win handily, a sentiment that prevailed until election night, when the pollsters were humiliated. Polling is methodologically better today and we have much more data to work with, especially for those of us who like to look at aggregates rather than place our faith in any single poll. But now is not the time to be planning victory dances for an endzone we have not yet reached and it certainly is not the time for complacency to prevail.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Look, John McCain is a mendacious opportunist who, in choosing Sarah Palin, utterly abandoned everything he once claimed to care about. Foreign affairs? Off the table. Nor can any serious case can be made for Sarah Palin giving a shit about anything related to policy within the United States. Why are we catering to these utter fucking morons? Why has the GOP become the party of not only stupidity (the last eight years have made that clear) but of willful ignorance?
I seriously challenge any conservative to explain to me this race, McCain's approach, the Sarah Palin phenomenon, or simply a rationale for a victory that, at least for now, seems elusive. Obama is smarter than McCain. But we've long known that. Would that we had the McCain from 2000. Instead, we have a McCain who loathes himself from eight years ago.
One might ask the obvious question: Why would anyone want to be president now? Other than so that Sarah Palin, Pied Piper of the fuckwit brigade, cannot be?
Remember when Republicans had integrity? OK, me neither. But remember when they pretended to? Vaguely? Me too.
Oh -- and if you actually know how to get Osama bin Laden, how exactly is it putting country before self not to, you know, make that plan clear? Granted: President Bush could fuck up adding the chocolate chunks to a chocolate chunk cookie recipe. Still: If you know how to solve the problem, shouldn't you either share the solution or recognize and acknowledge that the current regime always finds banana peels on which to slip?
Obama > McCain. But then sentient people have known that for a while.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Saturday, October 04, 2008
The Israel-apartheid analogy expresses moral outrage effectively but it is also counterproductive to Palestinian liberation and it encourages ways of thinking which are threatening to democratic politics. It portrays Israel as an evil, like the apartheid regime, and so implies that Palestinian freedom requires the dismantling of Israel – an aspiration which the overwhelming majority of Jews strongly oppose – and with justification.
The analogy is also a short cut to the conclusion that Israelis should be boycotted. In truth, a mass movement for the exclusion of Jews, even if not all Jews, from the academic, cultural, sporting and economic life of humanity resonates with an altogether different memory from the boycott of white South Africa.
There is a temptation to treat the Middle East as an empty vessel which we can fill with our own issues. In England thinking is often influenced by colonial guilt; in Germany Israel is understood through the lens of the Holocaust; in Ireland the Palestinians become Republicans and the Israelis Unionists. In Poland many sympathize with Israel as a small democratic nation threatened by tyrannical neighbours. In South Africa the conflict is increasingly thought of in relation to apartheid.
Israel cannot forever hold on to Gaza and the West Bank. A two state (or perhaps three state) solution has to come. But the Israel-as-Apartheid analogy is historically vacuous, a polemic without a serious intellectual foundation, and a barrier to coming to grips with the very real problems in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. A future Palestinian state or state must emerge, but not without Israel being able to be secure and safe from the states that surround it.
Talk about a trip down memory lane. "Conjunction Junction," "Noun is a Person, Place or Thing," "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here," The Adjective Song (probably my favorite -- what a melody!), and dozens of others come flooding down the memory banks. What is remarkable is how well written the songs are, how infectious the melodies, how varied the genres. We have our little godson/nephew with us for about ten days, and so this morning I got up and once the boy was up we put on the dvd to play through the whole history of School House Rock. The grammar songs are the best, the ones that really bring me back to Satruday mornings in the 1970s and early 1980s.
"Verb! That's What's Happenin'!"
Friday, October 03, 2008
Wednesday, October 01, 2008