Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Spartan Ethic Redux, Take Two

In case you haven't encountered it yet, there's an unpleasant graphic that was emailed around from a staffperson to the Tennessee GOP chair / state senator for Gallatin, Diane Black. One Sherri Goforth was responsible for the distribution.

Nashville is Talking
has probably the choices initial responses.
I spoke with Sherri Goforth minutes ago to confirm she sent this email. She confirmed she had sent it and also said she had received a letter of reprimand from her superiors but said she will stay on the job.

When I asked her if she understood the controversial nature of the photo, Goforth would only say she felt very bad about accidentally sending it to the wrong list. When I gave her a second chance to address the controversial nature of the email, she again repeated that she only felt bad about sending it to the wrong list of people.

“I went on the wrong email and I inadvertently hit the wrong button,” Goforth told NIT. “I’m very sick about it, and it’s one of those things I can’t change or take back.”

Note the total indifference to - or perhaps celebration of - the impropriety of the image inherent in Ms. Goforth's non-apology. Note also the fault she perceives: it wasn't that she sent an offensive, racist image - it was that she sent an offensive, racist image to the wrong distribution list, delivering it to hypersensitive people without a sense of humour who obviously don't get the joke instead of the GOP in-crowd who'd think the image hilarious.

One more thing struck me reading through the noise on this incident. One of the comments at Nashville is Talking included this gem from a commenter calling itself Slimey:
First of all, this is not racism. Racism is the belief that one race is superior over another. This is plain and simple being stupid. Please people, stop calling this racism. Grow up! How many of you laugh during Blazin Saddles? Yet it’s full of racial innuendos and language. I don’t oppose the guy cause he’s black, it’s because he’s a socialist liberal.

Deconstructing for Slimey:

First off, the image. "OOH! A SPOOK! Visible only by the whites of its eyes (as opposed to the whites of the skins of the previous 43 MEN in the progression), here to rape your women / steal your stuff / take over your government." NEWSFLASH: that's what racism looks like.

Second, the "socialist liberal" bit. The US has moved quite far to the right on the political scale in global terms, so it all depends on one's position. To a Fascist, everything looks Socialist.

H/T Shakesville, BBWW et al.

Monday, June 15, 2009


... with the Moussawi voting bloc in Iran, against what the press that's interested in reporting on the election is calling a coup by Ahmadinejad in the elections there.

Pity about the US MSM. Today's leading story from TBO, for comparison, is here. I'm all for local news as a rule - but leading with a local story today is just irresponsible.

MB at BBWW has links to an interesting theory of the events here: well worth reading.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Right-Wing Violence

Yet another shooting spree makes the news: this time in DC, at the Holocaust Museum. It should surprise no-one that the suspected shooter is identified as someone who thinks the Holocaust was a good thing.

and Washington Monthly both have posts on this latest event. In the latter, Steve Benen states:
There are key differences between violent right-wing radicals and mainstream Americans who happen to be conservative.

I have to take issue with his statement. The mainstream of US conservatism may not be ready to run out and create the kind of mayhem reported of late, but the tone of the rhetoric that has predominated conservative spheres of late has at least been of apologist tones for such incidents if not overtly supportive of such attacks. There has been no-one in the group Benen presumes to exist who has denounced the violence in any believable fashion, called for an end to such assaults on such targets or taken any truly meaningful action to end the cycle. The closest we have heard to date is the sort of "horrifically regrettable necessity" language used by the far right to subliminally defend a "by any means necessary" approach to achieving their goals.

If "mainstream Americans who happen to be conservative" expect to maintain any respectability in the wake of the Tiller murder and today, they need to be more obvious in their distancing themselves - in deed as well as in speech - from the advocates of the recent violence. Without such steps, the acquiescing silence of such individuals will only reinforce the fringe's impression that their actions are condoned, and will encourage more such lunatics to indulge in similar violent episodes.

The Inmates Take Charge Of The Asylum

Musing on this post by Mustang Bobby over at Bark Bark Woof Woof brought me to this realisation.

It's becoming more apparent to me that today's GOP as an organisation is little more than a collection of extreme rightwing crazies with a veneer of passable politics over the mess. It's a bit like finding the "priceless antique table" you bought is really a paper-thin layer of mahogany glued over termite-ridden pine planks.

We all thought that ShrubCo was an aberration, a convenient ignoramus to cover the party machinery underneath. But the more recent actions indicate that the Bush presidency may have been more symptomatic than was previously apparent. The flurry of recent stories of recent GOP stupidity is far more telling than the worst of Shrub's candid comments - it spotlights a wilfully ignorant, cantankerous, consciously obstructive organisation totally unwilling to examine even its own counterproductive methods in its scramble back up to the top. I'm wondering whether the more recent efforts, more reminiscent of scorched-earth combat tactics than any real attempt at governance, is the work of a group with no interest in the national welfare at all or simply that of a group too collectively stupid to care.

No matter what the cause for the misbehaviour of the party, however, it is clear that any attempt to gloss over this bad behaviour doesn't adhere all that well. McCain was persuaded to select perhaps the least competent candidate for running mate not a year ago. The RNC chair, Steele, even with his gaffes presents a more articulate, informed image than the voices drowning him out. And even the voices of relative sanity within the GOP (Powell et al) are sidelined by the noisiest of the loons.

Fifteen years ago, Gingrich and his Congressional allies presented at least an intelligent front to the populace behind which to hatch their schemes. The cracks through to the rotten substance beneath were beginning, but far more difficult to penetrate. Today the equation is nearly reversed: the damage below the surface is readily apparent and popping up in ever more debates, and the attempts to find some respectable platform or spokesperson to make the nutsery seem rational are failing on an increasingly spectacular scale.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shorter Richard Posner

If Obama moves the Democrats further to the Left, then Republicans can return to Conservatism and stop playing Militant-Xtian-Fascists.

H/T Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Quote of the Day

Gee, I wonder what the (overwhelmingly Republican) surviving GM dealerships think about this?

From the comments on Steve Benen's delicious takedown of the wingnuts' calls to boycott General Motors.

Honourable mentions:
They're failures themselves, and failure is the only outcome they know how to produce.[1]

New Republican motto: If it's working, stop it![2]

1 - also from the boycott article comments
2 - from comments on Steve's shrewd take on the Republican insistence that, since the economy isn't collapsing as fast as it used to, things are going well enough to call off the recovery.

Perspective Fail

Heard this morning on Bay News 9 (and paraphrased here because I don't TiVo):
dealerships may have a reprieve.

Host Erica Riggins describing the lawsuit to halt the Chrysler-Fiat deal as apparently good for Bay Area dealerships. The lawsuit is jeopardising the agreement between Chrysler and Fiat which was put together to save what's left of the weakest of the Big Three's business in the US: pension funds are ticked that they're not getting what they perceive as their fair shake and want the entire agreement renegotiated. Fiat has said they'll bow out by the end of this week if the agreement cannot be finalised, and the current push to the Supreme Court could push settling the debate past that window. Apparently to BN9 losing the entirety of Chrysler to legal wrangling is a good thing, though, since it means local Chrysler dealerships will remain open (at least for a couple more weeks).
It's a lot of money, but it's in line with private summer camps.

A summer camp counselor for Hillsborough County describing the county's new (far higher) tuition rates for summer camp. Someone really needs to teach this genius the difference between public service and private luxury.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Democrat Pagan Party*

I suppose after years of the radical Left calling out the Republicans as God's Own Party - a moniker they have earned after decades of pandering to the Religious Right - it was inevitable. Former speaker Gingrich has branded any but God-fearing Republicans enemies of the United Christian States.

The headline for this post is not Gingrich's own. But the sentiment certainly is.

The sounds coming from the GOP - particularly the segment of the GOP still appealing to the XtianFundie set - are not new. We heard them in every philosophical debate that came to blows: the Christianity/Judaism split, the Catholic/Orthodox split, the Russian Orthodox on watching the fall of first Constantinople and then Kiev, the Cathars, the Papal Schism, the Reformation,... the list goes on. One of the reasons the Enlightenment was so powerful was that it ended the wars of the Reformation with the insistence that individual conscience was a private matter not worth warring over. It may not have stopped the Irish quite so quickly, but it certainly drowned the flames of religious conflict in Europe rather thoroughly.

Part of the Right's tactical playbook is Othering the opposition. If they can make otherwise reasonable policy proposals appear to be put forward by forces unlike the Good Americans they claim to represent, those proposals can be more easily dismissed. National health care? It's a wishy-washy quiche-eating European thing, not something a good red-blooded American would want. Environmental protection policies? They're a scam foisted on us by tree-huggers and foreign agents all out to destroy the US economy. Civil rights? They're a means for illegal immigrants and social deviants to overthrow American society. Every issue the Right sees comes complete in their eyes with an Other foisting it on the US.

Now Gingrich has given voice to a position the Xtian Right put forward some months back: Liberalism is not only UnAmerican, but UnChristian as well. The "Rediscovering God in America" tour is the means to the message.
I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator. [...] I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.

The only thing that saves Gingrich's bloviating from outright insanity is that, for many of the XtianFundie sects, only their particular flavor of Xtianity is "true," which conveniently disavows all of the mainstream Christian churches and effectively creates the impression of oppressed minority. But in holding that, these same sects relinquish any claim to spiritual community with the rest, and cannot claim "oppression of Christians" when those other denominations face adversity. Those not admitted by the Xtians in good times cannot be counted as in the fold in bad times.

Calling up paganism, however, as the demon for the new age, is simply preposterous. Paganism may be more visible today than fifty years ago, but most pagans are peaceful, live-and-let-live types disinterested in converting the planet, and resisting only the missionary zeal of the Xtians and not Xtianity itself. An organised pagan opposition to the other major faiths on the planet is a fantasy.

On the other hand, for a political philosophy that demands an organised intentional opponent, GOP-Xtianity is running out of forces to fight. Catholicism as an evil on a Protestant Earth went out the door ages ago, and Kennedy's election only nailed that coffin shut. The Eastern faiths - Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and the others - never presented much threat, as the early Asian American communities kept to themselves, and newer immigrants are as likely to be Christian as anything else. Shinto got spanked in World War II. Opposition to Judaism became nearly unspeakable after Nazi Germany. And Islam, long a favourite whipping boy of Christianity, has proved a poor choice of evils, as the resistance to US policies abroad have grown due to the prior [mal]administration's denunciation of Islam in the same breath as terrorism (as if the two were interchangeable), and as domestic flavours of Islam have proven to be far more mild-mannered than is necessary to brand them the Ultimate Evil. Even the no-faith-at-all Socialist label is failing to stick to the GOP's opponents as the ideals of a moderately socialist state become less unacceptable in the current economic climate.

So as the Xtian-Fundie subset of RightWingnuttia sets its sights on long-dead Druids or some other Great New Satan, the language it uses to incite the following shows just how its base has shrunk and how outdated its propaganda has become.

* H/T ThinkProgress and Washington Monthly, and to WM commenter Norwood Woman for the title.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

General Motors Car(nage)

The news from Detroit gets more confusing every day.

General Motors, now in bankruptcy and restructuring, seems to be following the least sensible strategy for its orphaned components.

First in line is Saab. Without Swedish assistance, the company looks to end its automaking days and concentrate on other revenue streams. Say g'bye to the 9-3 - not that the last few versions, little more than Opel Vectras in party frocks, were all that marvelous.

Then there's Hummer. Rumour has it a Chinese business is buying the uber-SUV maker.

Next comes Opel. A joint Canadian-Russian consortium is buying out the European arm of the company.

One would think that the same group that's buying Opel would get a shot at Saturn, since the latest models indicate that Saturn is becoming to the US market what Vauxhall has evolved into for the UK: a domestic rebranding of the Opel product line. The Aura and Astra both are basically Opel product, and the indications pre-restructuring were that Saturn would essentially be "Opel US" in the near future. Instead, however, GM is selling Saturn to Penske. How Penske expects to continue new model development without input from Magna and Sberbank - the new Opel owners - one cannot guess.

I can well understand GM shedding brands that have either lost their natural market (Oldsmobile, for instance), or which are finally admitting death-by-neglect (Pontiac). And somebody had to take on Hummer, which after the last gas-price spike is probably one of GM's least attractive properties either for GM itself or for any entity willing to take it off GM's hands. But the whole fragmentation of the one truly viable carmaking segment of the enterprise - Opel/Vauxhall/Saturn - just doesn't make sense to the casual observer, unless the goal is to punish those subdivisions for being better at making money than Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick.

Whatever comes of restructuring, the survival of GM and the makes it's spinning off should at least be interesting to watch.

Klein on Healthcare

Ezra Klein brings us this interesting thought on the costs of (private) healthcare in the US:

The mechanism here is simple enough. As the report says, "Since health insurance premiums are growing more rapidly than total compensation in percentage terms, an increasing share of total compensation that a worker receives goes to cover health insurance premiums."

But workers don't see it that way. That slumping line isn't normally called wages-minus-health-premiums. It's called wages. And most workers think stagnant wages mean their employer is paying them less. They don't know that the main reason for stagnant wages is that their wage increases are going to pay for their health insurance premiums. If they did -- if they realized that compensation is pretty much a zero-sum endeavor and their employers don't so much buy them health insurance as garnish their wages to pay for their health insurance -- you'd probably see a lot more general anger at rising health care costs.

The graph is illuminating in that very few studies of the last twenty years or so have factored in the costs of employer-sponsored health insurance in the compensation totals in this way: too many have focused on the direct wage component. By incorporating the expenditure on healthcare in the total compensation calculation, the study highlights both how US payrolls are at once over- and under- valued: overvalued in that total compensation has increased substantially over the observed period which makes a good case for the expense of the US worker, undervalued in that so much of the compensation is being consumed by the healthcare system.

I for one doubt strongly that anyone now making $50,000 thinks that his/her healthcare should cost $15,000 of that annually, nor would anyone making $35,000 be sanguine knowing roughly half again his/her salary goes toward healthcare, yet this is (roughly) the cost of those programmes camouflaged by the employer's contribution to the system. If the analysis is at all accurate then the trend needs to be stopped before healthcare costs equal the wage component of the compensation pie.

This is an arithmetic that merits far greater attention - particularly as the healthcare debate continues in the Capital.

H/T Andrew Sullivan.

Gotta Love Those Activist Judges

South Carolina's state supreme court is holding Gov. Sanford's feet to the fire and making him take the stimulus funds he swore he would refuse.
The state’s top court ruled unanimously Thursday that Gov. Mark Sanford must apply for the disputed $700 million in federal stimulus money.

The S.C. Supreme Court also took the rare step of issuing a writ of mandamus, which orders the governor to apply for the money.

Chief Justice Jean Toal and three of the four other justices — Donald Beatty, John Kittredge and John Waller — said a state law passed last month requires Sanford to apply for the money and doesn’t conflict with the federal law providing the stimulus funds.

“Under the constitution and laws of this State, the General Assembly is the sole entity with the power to appropriate funds, including federal funds,” the four justices wrote. “Therefore, the General Assembly has the authority to mandate that the Governor apply for federal funds which it has appropriated.”

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Costa Pleicones said state lawmakers complied with an amendment of the federal law — proposed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn in response to Sanford’s refusal to accept the money — by adopting a concurrent resolution accepting the funds and passing a law designating how the money will be spent.

I do not understand how Sanford can sleep at night refusing dollars targeted for education, when his own state's system is in such disrepair according even to students like Casey Edwards (a plaintiff in the recent case) that it merited a documentary on the terrible conditions.

And since this is a South Carolina court, and presumably the product of GOP appointments, it'll be interesting to see how the RWNM tries to spin the decision.

H/T ThinkProgress - who have a similarly scathing take.

Quiet Music for a Sleepy Saturday

Quote of Two Days Ago The Day

"Those people are different."

- a nurse in a Fresno hospital telling a patient why other patients' visitors were allowed where she was but her (same sex) partner was not.

Pam Spaulding has the horror story over at Pandagon. Well worth reading.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Yes, this is yet another Cunarder I've boarded in my time.

The QE2 is retired now, and lying in Dubai as a hotel and attraction similar to the Queen Mary. The Age posted an article last fall when she arrived. The two photos are of her arrival in Dubai, and sitting a few months later in port minus her orange "CUNARD" titles below her bridge.

No word yet from the press on how her new life is going so far; however, other stories from Dubai haven't been particularly rosy. Nakheel, her new owners, are apparently adamant that the ship will be retained and converted (the Times has an interesting PDF of the proposed alterations), but so far progress appears minimal.

Best wishes to a grand old lady.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Isn't It Too Cold For That?

Dateline Augusta, Maine.

A topless coffee shop, the Grand View (I'm still chuckling over that) in Vassalboro (just outside Augusta, the state capital) burned on the night of 2 June.

The daring business was unpopular with its neighbors, but apparently did a brisk business with clientele from the capital and surrounding communities. It was not insured.

In today's Kennebec Journal is a report that the investigation has confirmed that the fire was deliberately set. It also highlights some very interesting timing:
The fire came just four-and-a-half hours after [Grand View owner Donald] Crabtree had finished a meeting Tuesday night with the Vassalboro Planning Board.

Crabtree outlined proposals to extend the shop's hours of operations to 1 a.m., expand the parking lot for employees and have its wait staff dancing to the music of a disc jockey. Crabtree had wanted to expand the business into a strip club, but he had scaled back those plans Tuesday night to avoid needing a new permit.

The timing of the fire has left Crabtree with troubling questions.

"What gets me is, why now? Why not when we opened? Why is the time now? I don't know," Crabtree said.

I'm at once surprised that straight-laced Maine would allow such a business anywhere (with the possible exception of Old Orchard Beach) and disturbed that anyone would think that burning down a business would solve the perceived problem.

And I'm stunned that anywhere in Maine is temperate enough for topless anything.

H/T Petulant at Shakesville.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Labour Intensive

MSNBC's Morning Joe had quite the moment on camera today with Andrew Sorkin's challenge: "Name a successful unionized company. Think. You're going to go to [commercial] break before you come up with one. And that's the problem." Naturally, the panel couldn't come up with one. 'Cuz dem yoonyuns are wot's wrong wif Ahmurrcan bidness these days - it just goes without saying, right?

Maybe not.

Steve Benen and Jamison Foser took turns shredding their arguments, each with a particularly sharp cut to deliver:

Now, my first response was to wonder whether the folks behind the cameras, filming the media personalities, are union members. And the employees who installed and operate the on-set lights. And the folks who built the "Morning Joe" set.

But perhaps those unions don't count, since Brzezinski and others are specifically interested in unionized companies that "work" and are "successful."

GE is one of the world's largest companies; in 2006, its revenues were greater than the gross domestic products of 80 percent of UN nations. The company made more than $18 billion in 2008 -- again, billion with a b, and again, those are profits, not revenue. All that despite (or, perhaps, because of) the fact that 13 different unions represent GE workers.

Oh, and GE owns NBC-Universal, which owns MSNBC, which pays Joe Scarborough a handsome salary (and the unionized workers who help get his show on the air considerably less.)

Foser goes on, in addition, to point out a nasty little labor dispute between the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA and NBC as a possible reason for the morning crew's absentmindedness. Apparently the union and the network have been trying since September to negotiate renewal of a contract that expired two months ago, apparently without progress, and the union's become unhappy enough with NBC's efforts to start picketing.

I do hope that Scarborough isn't expecting his mic, or lighting, or any other of a thousand union-labor-supplied production items to work all that well on tomorrow's show.

On Why We Need To Fund Education, Part Two

ThinkProgress has this little gem up for consideration:
Yesterday on the House floor, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) launched into a nonsensical tirade against legislation aimed at addressing global warming by reducing carbon emissions. Akin demonstrated his lack of understanding of climate issues by erroneously celebrating the seasonal change from winter to spring as “good climate change” and confused “weather” with “climate.” He dismissed the threat of global warming as a “comedy” and wondered who would “want to put politicians in charge of the weather anyways.”

Who, indeed, if they know this much little about the subject.

Owning the Hatred

There are a lot of discussions out there about Scott Roeder, the man held in the murder of Dr. Tiller. Hilzoy, Friedersdorf, Balkin, MB and others bring up many good points about how to deal with a non-Muslim, domestic, Caucasian terrorist. Whether we deal with this incident within the sphere of the GWoT or as a matter of conventional criminal proceedings has become, thanks to the broad definitions applied to the former approach, a valid question.

My primary concern is less how to handle Roeder than how to handle those with whom he associated.

There is considerable evidence that Roeder was affiliated with at least one fairly militant fringe group with anti-choice sympathies (among other Conservatist positions). There is also some evidence that these groups did not entirely share Roeder's perspective, and may well have been less extreme as a whole. While they clearly were not active participants in Sunday's tragedy, they are clearly implicated as influences on Roeder's state of mind if not his precise actions.

Assuming the GWoT methodologies are appropriate, these groups with whom Roeder associated are implicated as condoning or supporting terrorism on US soil. They provided him with inflammatory literature, support - however conditional - for his views, and a forum for his extremism.

Naturally, the less-unhinged among the groups will instantly disavow Roeder and the worst of the militancy of their own group as outside the main of their organisations. That does not excuse them for failing to rein in Roeder and the others, failing to report Roeder to the authorities, or any of a hundred other steps they could have taken to prevent Tiller's murder. And those claims are already refuted by the leadership of larger organisations such as Operation Rescue - who, while denouncing the killing itself, are actively advocating nearly anything short of that to shut down clinics like the one where Dr. Tiller practised.

To those of us for whom the GWoT is an abomination of illegal, inhuman sadism, our chief difficulties have always been at once the Othering of the assailants and the perceived immediacy of the threat. Prior to September 11, 2001 there was only one successful attack by Muslim terrorists on US soil, and there have been none since, so regardless for the reasoning for such the potential of that threat is substantially reduced. Conversely, attacks on one segment of the US population by another, or on one organisation by members of another, are multiple: post-Katrina New Orleans is a prime example - and so is the murder of a physician in a church on a Sunday during worship. Consider that in each of the cases the community of victims goes far beyond the individuals directly impacted: the entire African American community of Louisiana has been effectively traumatised by the experience of New Orleans, and Dr. Tiller's entire parish was present to witness his killing and are equally affected. And in the cases of domestic activity in these cases, it is nearly impossible to Other the assailants: they look like Middle America, and the only thing differentiating them from the rest of the populace is their willingness - even eagerness - to use violence to achieve their ends.

Illustrating how the GWoT has been misused against innocent US citizens has been ineffective to date: the rage to vengeance of the early Noughties swept aside any arguments against the Great Misadventure. But these new events are hitting far closer to home: the mass killing of "liberals" at a Unitarian church, and now the "execution" of a physician at his church during Sunday services are beginning to resonate as beyond defensible to the point that GWoT-scale response may be justified.

This is how the scope of the GWoT broadens, and why it is dangerous to declare war on an intangible. I am not fond of the anti-choice movement in the least; but the fact that we can lump the violent fringe of the anti-choice community in the same "terrorist" bundle with the aparently intended targets of the GWoT shows just how dangerous the GWoT is both in concept and in execution. Tiller's murderer deserves the most thorough investigation, the most able prosecution - but also the most able defense; and the organisations that aided and abetted the party responsible for Tiller's death deserve careful scrutiny and sharp criticism, but no more than that if we even pretend to cherish the freedom of speech and assembly outlined in the Constitution. On the other hand, without a clearer illustration of just how excessive the GWoT is by definition, it may be instructive for those who advocate it to experience its application closer to home.

Of course there are threats to the peace and security of the US, both at home and abroad: these are the reasons we have law enforcement, intelligence agencies, alliances and treaties, Interpol and a host of other resources available to us. Those resources ought to be exhausted first. Failing to do so leaves us with the very real possibility that any one of us could be branded with the "threat to the Republic" language the GWoT employs and treated the same as GWoT detainees now in custody. We're supposed to be better than that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Governator Develops Davisemia

In 2003, when California governor Gray Davis was ousted in the now-infamous recall, the chief argument for his ouster was his inability to manage energy pricing and availability which led to massive state budget deficits. Arnold Schwarzenegger, campaigning on a vague anti-tax platform, won the largest share of the votes for Davis' replacement.

The initial drive for the recall was the horrendous California state budget forecast Davis published in 2002, following years of energy fluctuations nearly bankrupting the state.
On December 18, 2002, just over a month after being reelected, Davis announced that California would face a record budget deficit possibly as high as $35 billion, a forecast $13.7 billion higher than one a month earlier. The number was finally estimated to be $38.2 billion, more than all 49 other states' deficits combined. Already suffering from low approval ratings, Davis's numbers hit historic lows in April 2003 with 24% approval and 65% disapproval according to the California Field Poll. Davis was almost universally disliked by both Republicans and Democrats in the state and a recall push was high. - Wikipedia

We now know that much of the energy crisis of 2000-02 that afflicted California was the direct result of Enron and other providers abusing the quasi-deregulated energy market in California, and that Davis was their sucker in Sacramento. That knowledge, however, came too late to offset the appearance of mismanagement, and following an ugly campaign in 2002 it made Davis an all-too-vulnerable target for the anti-tax GOP machinery.

Six years later, Davis' replacement is learning the hard way that budget numbers like Davis' aren't necessarily the consequence of poor management:
In a special election on May 19, voters rejected a batch of measures on increasing taxes, borrowing funds and reapportioning state money that were designed to close a multibillion-dollar budget gap. The cuts Mr. Schwarzenegger has proposed to make up the difference, if enacted by the Legislature, would turn California into a place that in some ways would be unrecognizable in modern America: poor children would have no health insurance, prisoners would be released by the thousands and state parks would be closed.


Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is threatening to eliminate the Healthy Family Program, the state’s health insurance program that covers over 900,000 children and is financed with state and federal money, as well as the state’s main welfare program, known as Cal-Works, which provides temporary financial assistance to poor families and a caregiver for the severely disabled.

The $1 billion in cuts to programs for the poor would be met with $680 million in new cuts to education and a 5 percent salary reduction for state employees, many of whom are already enduring furloughs.

These proposals, as well as those that would make cuts to state parks, the prison system and other state agencies, are winding their way through Sacramento now, where they will be voted on by committees and eventually the full Legislature.

Some of the proposed cuts are clearly saber rattling on the governor’s part, but there is a nervous acceptance among lawmakers, advocates for the poor and outside budget experts that the state is out of money and time.


The Democratic-controlled Legislature has been uncharacteristically silent on most of the cuts, most likely because lawmakers know that tax increases are not politically palatable, that huge cuts in some form are in the offing no matter what, and that any program they wish to spare will quite likely have advocates among their ranks.

California recovered from the energy market shenanigans and the dot-bomb only to be hit by the financial crisis and skyrocketing foreclosure rates. The situation has become bad enough that voters there are revisiting Proposition 13, the provision passed three decades ago that locks property tax rates in at purchase and prohibits increases.

So less than six years after ascending over the corpse of Davis's career, Schwarzenegger is facing the same dire budget figures that tipped the scales against his predecessor.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I never would have thought of doing this to Julie Andrews.

H/T Andrew Sullivan.

Borrow And Spend Hangover

The New York Times has it right with this one: depressed asset values and reduced income are hitting domestic consumption hard in a trend that may be far more than just tightening our belts for the short term. - particularly when it comes to transportation. The graph (click to embiggen) shows the drastic drop in new car volumes and the median age of vehicles on the road over the last decade.
Baby boomers, the biggest group in the car market, are beginning to enter retirement, a stage of life when people typically buy fewer cars. Home values are down sharply, making consumers feel less wealthy, and also cutting off a handy source of money from home-equity loans for new cars.


Lifestyles have changed, too. As many people move back to cities from suburbs, they are swapping three-car garages for a single parking space. Public transit use is up.


Donald Grimes, an economist at the University of Michigan, is forecasting the lowest sales for the driving-age population this year since 1970.

From 1970 to 2001, there were 0.76 vehicles sold per driver in the United States. Now that figure has dropped to 0.4 vehicles per driver, and he does not see much of a rebound in coming years.

Coming just hours before the GM bankruptcy announcement, and hot on the heels of the Chrysler-Fiat agreement, this analysis is obviously worrying. What makes it worse is that we're looking at the last major domestic industry still producing tangible product for consumption. Were textiles and housewares still made in the US there might be a little more hope of producing our way out of the current mess; as it is, the best hope we may have had is falling flat because it has depended on the availability of capital - capital now denied the economy through a combination of consumer retrenchment and financial institution overcaution.

Quote of the Day

[T]he fact that lives are at stake is not enough to justify giving up on democracy. And be clear: when you think that when you lose out in a political debate in which lives are at stake, that makes it OK to kill people to get your way, you have given up on democracy.

Hilzoy, taking on the anti-choice voices that claim killing doctors is justified because it saves [the] lives [of all the aborted foetuses].

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"Our Most Effective Rhetoric And Actions"

That's what Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, is looking to preserve in the wake of the Tiller murder: the ability to "peacefully protest" abortion providers. Terry fears that, following Dr. Tiller's shooting in his Church yesterday that the authorities will seek to curtail anti-abortion protest efforts.

Hilzoy looks into those so-called peaceful protests. She found a chilling example in a Rolling Stone review of (also from Operation Rescue) Troy Newman's campaign against Dr. Tiller - which targeted not only the MD but his entire staff and any service enterprise even loosely associated with the clinic. This includes mass protests at homes, shopping and entertainment venues, mass mailings to entire neighborhoods, mailings and protests at spouses' places of employment, harassment of businesses that clinic staff frequented, and other reprehensible tactics.

From Rolling Stone:
Operation Rescue's smear campaign against [clinic administrative assistant Sara] Phares is part of a new strategy to shut down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting. Banned by law from blockading clinics as it did in its early days, Operation Rescue has taken its offensive to the front lawns and mailboxes of clinic workers. In Wichita, members of the group rummage through employees' garbage in search of incriminating information. They tail them around town as they run errands. They picket clinic staffers at restaurants while they're inside having dinner and castigate them while they're standing in line at Starbucks. Operation Rescue is also visiting companies that do business with the clinic and threatening them with a boycott if they don't sever their ties with the facility. This is America's new abortion war, and the objective, in military terms, is to cut off the supply lines to abortion clinics and demoralize their troops.

Troy Newman, the head of Operation Rescue, calls it the Year of Rebuke -- and if it works in Wichita, he plans to unleash the campaign of intimidation on abortion clinics all across the country. "I want these employees to realize that their lives have changed," he says. "As long as they're embedded in the abortion industry receiving blood money, they can't live a normal life. They just can't."

If you read the whole story, you can find out how Newman threatened the Tillers' dry cleaner and a cab company that sometimes took patients to and from the clinic:
Newman then tells him, in the most courteous tone imaginable, that he might see a few people outside the company holding signs. Just to let everybody know what he's participating in. "It's not personal," Newman says gently.

They also go through employees' trash, and offer rewards for incriminating information. They stop children on sidewalks and tell them their neighbors kill little babies.

The point made is very clear: organisations like Operation Rescue employ the sort of aggressive, intimidating tactics that their opponents are (to put it mildly) reluctant to use against them. Those methods are met with charges "religious discrimination," "harassment," "assault" and other inflammatory descriptors by the anti-choice league when used against them. Yet somehow they are "legitimate, peaceful protest" methods when used by the anti-choice groups to intimidate and harass anyone working for, or doing business with, an abortion provider.

If anyone thinks this is acceptable, imagine taking these tactics and applying them to the treatment of, say, a religious minority or ethnic group. Suddenly the offensiveness of these activities becomes more apparent. And once the offensiveness of the methods is made apparent, it becomes clear that there is no justification for them. The claims of the anti-choice groups that they are saving lives ring hollow when it becomes clear how many lives they are destroying in the process.

H/T Bark Bark Woof Woof.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Barbarians At The Gates - Or Not

Hilzoy points to an interesting little piece of opining by Rod Dreher, published in the American Conservative a couple weeks back, discussing the angst over the conservative soul and the possibility that, in pursuing "barbarism" the Right became barbarians themselves.

Dreher's work, while not nearly soul-searching enough, is certainly a good starting point for anyone on the Right who wonders why Conservatists no longer hold the high ground.
The barbarians of the Roman era wandered and marauded aimlessly. We accepted rootlessness as the modern condition. We defended our unrestrained consumer appetites by spiting those who would counsel limits as freedom’s enemies. Despisers of communism, we worshiped capitalism, naïve to its revolutionary power to dissolve bonds we ought to have cherished and things we ought to have conserved. Though we like to think of ourselves as apostles of excellence preaching against the depredations of Hollywood trash and academia’s political correctness, we have reduced ourselves to sneering at the concept of elitism and celebrating ignorance and vulgarity as signs of authenticity.

We cast aside the sense of temperamental modesty, of restraint and of fidelity to honorable traditions that have been conservatism’s philosophical patrimony, and exchanged it for a pot of ideological message.

The language Dreher uses, however, is vague and nebulous to the point that it can be used to defend virtually any "change" in Conservative thinking.
The political catastrophe the Republicans are living through, and the far more consequential cultural catastrophe we’re all enduring, obviously call for fresh political and economic thinking. But even more, they call for a renewal of our moral and spiritual vision.

This sort of general statement is what gave the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition and others with very narrow agendas, and very little in the way of fresh thought beyond their tactical planning, the impetus for their various efforts. Restating these generalisations is no great leap forward; the difficulty - the Devil, if you will - is in the details of how the generalisations are enacted.

Conservatism, defined in the absolute, is more or less a valuation of what is over what might be. It centers on: preservation of what is good in society; respect for tradition and historical legacy; the resistance to change for change's sake; and a certain skepticism toward policy, both public and private, to achieve a given objective. The GOP has stepped very far away from these principles. It no longer values what is unless what is is profitable. It sees nothing in society it finds valuable beyond ever-harder work, the unborn, and the continued health of Wall Street. The traditions it values are trimmed down to Church, self-defense, global power projection coupled with domestic isolationism, and the Puritans' obsession with repression of sex. Tradition has taken a back seat to the excesses of the entrepreneur and the adventurism of the conquistador. And the skepticism that marked earlier conservative thought has been turned into a biased political tool used to dismiss any suggestion the opposition might make; the party's own agenda is greeted with wide-eyed optimism, and any suggestion that there might be flaws in the programme is immediately shouted down.

The modern Conservatist would like the public to forget all that. Conservatism by their statements is eternal and unchanging. What we see now has always been. They would like us to forget that Conservatism once denied women the vote, denied slaves freedom, denied successive waves of immigrants the benefits of entry into a society that they themselves enjoyed as immigrants in their time, etc etc. The school of thought has evolved over time, embracing concepts once considered racically liberal. This is a virtue: had conservatism not evolved the world would not have known the myriad advances that brought us to a modern post-industrial democratic society.

Dreher is right to quote Claes Ryn in dissecting the response of the pundit to the cultural theorist:
I was behaving like the kind of conservative Claes G. Ryn once condemned in a TAC essay, disdaining poets and artists as “flaky” because they are unconcerned with politics and economics. Ryn criticized the failure of contemporary conservatives to grasp that
Traditional civilization is threatened with extinction because pleasing but destructive illusions have become part of the way in which most people view the world and their own lives. The hold on society of those who created and fed these illusions cannot be broken mainly through practical politics.

Ryn goes on:
What is most needed is a reorientation of mind and imagination. The great illusions of our age must be exposed for what they are so that they will start to lose their appeal. This can be done only through art and thought of a different quality.

Again, the nebulous nature of the guidance allows for almost anything from retellings of the Chronicles of Narnia right through a Riefenstahl film festival.

This is an interesting piece, particularly as it comes as one of a wave of articles that question what has happened to US Conservatism and where Conservatives ought to be headed. Most of the others I have read in this vein have covered the essentially anti-intellectual bent the Conservatists and the GOP have adopted over recent years: it does not appear that Dreher has reached that conclusion yet, though he does have an idea of why it would be so.

It is also clear that, while others such as Nate Silver and Richard Posner have lamented how the Conservatist machinery has shut out anyone but movement conservatist ideologues without delving into the cause, Dreher has a glimpse of why this is so. It takes a movement conservatist mindset to value safety over liberty, personal wealth over civic responsibility, imperial projection over common-sense conservation, and the fiction of the theological bases of the United States over the more sound strength through diversity recognised and celebrated by the Founding Fathers. Only movement conservatist thought could value the economic system over the family they tout as the moral salvation of the nation, or the "ignorance and vulgarity" Dreher denounces over the depth possible from an informed conservatism.

One thing, though, that none of these writers has addressed is the mindset driving the movement. Conservatism, in its purest iteration, is a skeptical, bordering on pessimistic, philosophy: it needs to have the benefit of change proven to it in clear terms before it will consider adopting the new in favor of the old, recognizable and functional. Movement Conservatist thought married all the reaction of classical conservatism with the Panglossian veneer of the "faith based society." All would be rosy, it claimed, and everyone would be happy, if only we didn't do anything those godless liberal demons asked. It opposed on principle anything outside its own tenets and held out a "feel-good" perspective of a nation saved from those "barbarians" Dreher mentions. The naivete involved in this approach is staggering: instead of holding to the old because it was proven effective with known consequences, movement conservatists did so out of doctrine and the promise of a bright sunny future if this were done. In the zeal of the movement, these people forgot that as much ill can be done by adherents to Conservatist doctrine as by followers of any other mindset, and in their willingness to believe in this bright, sunny illusion they actually enabled the likes of Lay, Skilling, Koslowski, Keating and the whole host of others who used Conservatist philosophy for their own self-aggrandisement and counted on the happy imagery the movement used to sell the philosophy to hide their intentions and misdeeds.

The 'blogosphere says much about the Bush maladministration in terms of the outright failures of conservatist policy. However, without the likes of the executives who gamed the philosophy, Bush would never have been able to achieve so much - either in policy-making or in the economic trainwreck that followed. And without the rose-tinted glow the movement conservatists used to light the new breed of right-wing thought, the movers in those worlds would never have been able to do as much damage as they did, nor fool the following as well as it is now known they were able. Without the image of the perfect nation, and the absolute demonisation of the opposition in the terms of those out to destroy every last shred of goodness and decency in the country, movement conservatism would never have been able to achieve as much as it has; conversely, without those illusions, those taking advantage of the movement would never have been able to do so much damage without being stopped. The willingness of the movement to believe its leadership and the fantasy they spun blinded one and all to the real activities behind the scenes. Those actions are being laid bare now, and gradually the thinking segment of the conservative school is waking up to that reality.

Silver, Posner, and their like look around themselves like someone rousing from a dream, seeing an unfamiliar, hostile landscape, and wondering where the calming, pastoral scene s/he remembers has gone. Dreher, for his part, sees the damage done and recognises the work of his own hand in part of the destruction. But none of them seem to have realised yet that the scene they all seem to remember was a projection of the movement, and that it never really existed in the first place outside movement propaganda.

Friday, May 29, 2009


In celebration of Carnival Cruise Line's announcement that they are resuming cruises to Mexico (I saw this on Bay News 9 this morning, but can only find the LA Times article online for the link), here's a shot of Tampa's own Carnival Inspiration.

At the moment she's still docked at the Port of Tampa, but next week she should resume her itinerary.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Less Is Something and More Is Nothing

... OR: WTF is it with hiring managers and the "overqualified" label?

As the US economy continues to circle the drain, an (apparently) increasing number of people are running into the curse of actually being able to do their jobs. There are articles in the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal and other publications discussing how skilled professionals are editing their resumes and discussions of their experience and training in order to appear more appropriate for the lower-paying jobs that are increasingly the best opportunities available.

I recall a similar trend, now a decade or so old, when the dot-com bubble burst and it seemed all of Silicon Valley got laid off at once. The same effect was visible at the time: former CIOs were dumbing down their resumes to get LAN admin jobs. This time around, though, the trend seems universal when discussing anyone with more than five years' history in the workplace, regardless of profession.

The articles all discuss editing one's resume or CV to minimise the appearance of experience and qualifications. More than a few sections, and several comments, discuss removing some dates and some durations to combat ageism as well.
Too much of a good thing is wonderful, said Mae West. But that's not how hiring managers see it. Relevant work experience, advanced degrees and credentials - while prerequisites for many finance jobs - can disqualify as well as qualify. If a candidate previously held a role at a higher level than the one she's seeking, or her education or certifications exceed a position's stated requirements, she's unlikely to pass the initial software-driven screen most employers apply before even looking at an incoming résumé.

Moreover, many employers blithely use the word "overqualified" as a barely concealed synonym for "too old." That's the evident meaning when a hiring manager or HR person says an opening is "too junior for you," when you know it pays four times what you made in your last job. (This happened to me a few times.)

Personally, this sort of rescaling one's experience seems at once dishonest and pointless. Dishonest in that if one is prepared to discount one's own experience and effort to achieve what one has achieved then the situations employers fear are more likely to be manifested than if one is honest about one's history and willing to take a perceived step backward. Pointless, in turn, in that so many of the current review processes require listing years of experience with particular tools or procedures as part of the screening process, and so many are willing to follow up with reference checks and other screening methods, that simplifying one's resume without conveniently "forgetting" about what one edits out will only exacerbate the hiring body's concerns - and may well show up the potential dishonesty in the resume by inadvertently referring to information edited out of the documents.

I'm also more than a little disappointed in the presumption that overqualification is a valid cause for disqualification. Unless there is a serious miscommunication between the candidate and the hiring/screening party at the outset, then the disparity between the job requirements and the offered experience and skill set is a known quantity well in advance of the point where overqualification even gets suggested. If it isn't an issue for the candidate by then, then it shouldn't be for the interviewer.

At the same time, there is the problem that one needs a paycheck in this society. And the discussions with recruiters and hiring managers on the subject tell a no-win tale:
In the past eight months, Jamaica Eilbes, an information-technology recruiter for Milwaukee employment agency Manpower, has had to weed out more overqualified résumés than usual from the stacks that cross her desk each day. "I'd never feel comfortable putting a really high-level candidate into a lower level position," says Ms. Eilbes, who recruits for Manpower and other clients. "We don't want to take you on if we think you are going to jump ship."

But in recent months, Ms. Eilbes has seen more master's and doctoral degrees at the bottom of résumés instead of at the top. She's also seen candidates omitting or trimming job descriptions that showed they had substantial years of work experience. Résumés on which job descriptions taper off as they progress down the page raise Ms. Eilbes's suspicions. "How do I know I can trust them later down the road if there's something on their résumé they decided to take off so they could have a better chance at getting that job?" she says.

And then there's this gem:
In some cases, job seekers are being told by hiring agencies to tone down their résumés if they want to get hired. When Bridget Lee, 29, moved to New York from Shanghai eight months ago and put her application in at three temporary agencies, she was told to play down her work experience before they would send her résumé to potential clients. The temp-agency version of her résumé changed titles like "manager" and "freelance trend researcher" to "staff" and "office support" and omitted entirely her title as partner of a small marketing agency. "It's been a lesson for how I present myself," Ms. Lee says.

So if you're overqualified, you'll be bored and unlikely to stay in the position. But if you edit your docs to sound less overqualified, then you're lying to the hiring party and can't be trusted. Oh, and by the way that distrust comes from your doing what we told you to do, or from our doing it ourselves on your behalf.

For me, though, the single most infuriating perspective on the matter comes from the Atlantic's own Daniel Indiviglio:
This is alarming news for the U.S. economy. If job seekers are accepting positions at lower levels than their experience should dictate, then their talent and experience is not being fully utilized. That, in turn, means economic growth will be stunted. For growth to be maximized, all workers should be making full use of their capabilities.

How much will this harm growth? It depends on how long it takes for the economy to begin to expand at a rapid pace. Once employment returns to the 95% threshold, these job seekers can begin trading up and returning to positions for which their experience is more suited. That is, of course, if their résumé is not tarnished permanently by spending several years in a position that is a step back on their career path.

Those of us currently looking for work aren't really all that concerned about how fast we can spring back: we're worried about making ends meet now. And we'd much rather be underutilized than unutilized, since as long as we can work, economic growth, however stunted, will still be greater for the US and for ourselves than if we all sit on our duffs (waiting for the job we aren't overqualified for) drawing unemployment and starving to death.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Notes On Car Shopping

When you're looking for a convertible, and planning to pay with cash, please remember that open air and paper money don't mix.

Just sayin'.

The Gas Tax Will Encourage Us To Do What?

I'm a cheerful proponent of public policy as behaviour modifier. You don't want people to drink to excess? Limit when the bars are open, where alcohol can be obtained, tax the beverage and crack down on DUIs. You want people to take public transportation? Put more buses/trains into service, cut the rates - and stop building garages and parking lots and raise the rates on the ones already in use. We may be uncomfortable with the shifts at first, but chances are efforts like this to modify how the citizenry handles undesirable behaviour will be successful in the long run.

However, public policy to change behaviour needs to be presented with rational goals which can actually be met without incurring more hardship than benefit. This is why the proposed gas tax, which I otherwise support, raises my hackles when its proponents talk about such things as "downsizing commutes" as if in the current economic situation downsizing one's commute were a viable option without other horrific impacts.

To be sure, Ryan Avent makes many good points about how energy demand brought us to this nasty place. And most certainly I agree with almost all his points about how we got here and how we can get back out again. But expecting the overextended commuter to relocate closer to work or find work closer to home, when the real estate market is in shambles and there are seemingly ten layoffs for every new hire, is remarkably shortsighted and ignores the hardships the consumer now faces even as it touts this idea as a solution to those hardships.

When The Daily Dish picked up this particular facet of the argument - that the gas tax might be worth reconsidering - I fired this off:

In this case, I must take issue with one point that keeps cropping up in the energy consumption debate: the idea that citizens of any country, particularly the US, can manage their commutes as described.

The Right's argument, that each citizen has the right to drive his/her H2 Hummer 100 miles each way to work if s/he feels like it, fails to distinguish affluence from waste. By elevating choice over practicality this argument panders to the same culture of decadent excess that other segments of Conservatist thinking denounce, and the philosophical disconnect seems invisible to the Conservatist theorists. Pop culture, when thinking of wealth, celebrates Larry Ellison and Donald Trump over Warren Buffett and Sam Walton, and made much of Lay, Skilling et al when Enron was in vogue. While FORBES may take notice of the distinction, the American Right as a movement does not, and pop Rightspeak continues to confuse excess with success.

The Left's argument seems to break down to some basic concepts. First, frugality is a virtue that ought to be encouraged. Second, wasteful habits can be successfully discouraged through public policy. Third, adjusting one's lifestyle in such drastic terms as shrinking one's commute is actually manageable in the short term. The first item is easily defended: the second, while less so, is still defensible. It's the third concept that really irks.

The current economic conditions in the US are savage: mushrooming unemployment, successive waves of commercial contractions, diminishing opportunity. Those of us left without employment by the recent turmoil are faced with difficult choices, and one of those is whether to remain in a given job market or relocate to better areas. Any commute in those circumstances is acceptable to the jobseeker. Conversely, however, employers are presented with a massive range of applicants for ever fewer openings, yet steadfastly holding on to the illusion that a given candidate from outside the immediate market is a risk due to the relocation or commute effort.

Were this any other economic crisis mobility wouldn't be such an issue. But as this one first exhibited as a real estate collapse, relocation for employment is a double-edged sword. Anyone lucky enough to be secure in his/her housing faces potentially catastrophic loss if s/he sells, and is forced to factor unemployment into that equation; this ugly arithmetic has to be weighed against the benefit of opportunity elsewhere. Anyone paying a substantial mortgage who becomes part of the newly unemployed faces foreclosure as a very real possibility if s/he remains in the local market and short sale at best if s/he moves. Anyone renting faces possible eviction and increased difficulty finding new housing in any market. In each case, prospective employers are increasingly disinclined to entertain candidacy from anyone not immediately available and within a very narrowly defined geographical radius.

Against this backdrop we have the argument that "downsizing commutes" is not only a worthwhile endeavour in the abstract but an achievable end of US energy policy within the next few years.

The electorate is beginning to understand that it is fortunate to HAVE a commute at all, and that making changes to it are beyond difficult: with the house worth too little to merit selling or the rental deposit too high to forfeit, and credit too tight to consider replacing the daily driver without angst, reengineering a commute on one's own makes little sense. For those without, employment is increasingly something to be found elsewhere: if that "elsewhere" is within an acceptable driving distance then it saves the personal disaster that moving has become in the current conditions.

For those still working, making ends meet with what they already have has become the order of the day: drastic changes are out of the question, and "downsizing" one's commute equates to either risking one's income in the ever-harsher job market or destroying one's net worth with a classically ill-timed residential move. For the unemployed, the net worth hit is a given at this point: the difficulty lies in convincing a prospective employer of that. Neither side is in any position to alter commute habits substantially without far more severe consequences.

I am tired of seeing US auto manufacturers obstruct energy efficiency in the name of short term profit. I am tired of civic bodies consistently failing to address public transport in a meaningful way. And I wholeheartedly support any practical means of encouraging energy efficiency. But suggesting that one's commute is a manageable part of that equation when housing values continue to gyrate and new employment opportunities are dwindling is ludicrous.

H/T Andrew Sullivan.

Amazing What One Word Can Do

Sam Shulman at The Weekly Standard has an interesting little rant about how Same Sex Marriage advocates are hijacking "romantic marriage" to advance their cause, and how marriage as an institution is really all about extended families, fertility and controlling protecting women.

As Mustang Bobby says over at Bark Bark Woof Woof, Wow. Just wow.

For me, Shulman's money quote is this:
When, in spite of current enthusiasm, gay marriage turns out to disappoint or bore the couples now so eager for its creation, its failure will be utterly irrelevant for gay people.

Given that Shulman also says this:
The entity known as “gay marriage” only aspires to replicate a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage. Gay advocates... are replicating what we might call the “romantic marriage,” a kind of marriage that is chosen, determined, and defined by the couple that enters into it. Romantic marriage is now dominant in the West and is becoming slightly more frequent in other parts of the world.

... the chief issue he seems to have is that marriage for love - gay or straight - is a fad, foisted on us by the Romantic movement, and destructive of civilisation in the long run. The fun I have is what happens to the first quote if "gay" is removed from the line:

"When, in spite of current enthusiasm, marriage turns out to disappoint or bore the couples now so eager for its creation, its failure will be utterly irrelevant for people."

Read like that, it's much clearer how divorce became so prevalent in our society: if "romantic marriage" has failed, and those who entered into it have become disappointed or bored, naturally terminating the disappointing or boring endeavour becomes more attractive.

Yet somehow, despite an easy progression from society's boredom with "romantic marriage" to the current divorce statistics as a measure for how transient "traditional marriage" has become, it's not "romantic marriage" that is the problem for Shulman, it's that Teh Gay is trying to own the concept - when in his reality marriage is really all about The Clan, The Sex, The Ownership and The Babies and Love and Romance have nothing to do with it. That one word - "Gay" - has become so powerful to Shulman that it can rewrite all of the history of modern marriage, overwrite Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte, Shaw et al, and totally dismiss the simple fact that "romantic marriage" is far more a construct of the straight world than the gay one and that LGBT folks just want a piece of what hets have had a monopoly on for the last three hundred years at least.

Just one word. That's all it takes.

Wow. Just wow.

UPDATE: MJWS at The Reaction brings up this little gem to rebut Shulman.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On The Economy

... and where I've been that I haven't been blogging.

As some of you may know, I'm currently "between jobs." I'm learning that means "laid off by a shrinking company, and competing with countless others just like me for the remaining scraps." For me, the econom y hasn't so much experienced a recession as outright imploded.

Tampa Bay was never a great leader in the technology sector, where I'm most at home. But now, with real estate and tourism (two of the largest moneymakers here) essentially gone, and finance (a third) in disarray, not only is there next to no opportunity but the resources necessary for independent VC-funded enterprises are mostly gone as well. In turn, the historically low compensation rates here make effective competition for employment elsewhere difficult: as one recruiter mentioned to me, it's difficult to present a candidate for a position that pays double that candidate's last one regardless of how well that person's skills match the vacancy.

At present, my job search is spanning the entire Atlantic seaboard. The best responses, in fact, have until the last week or so come from the Carolinas and the Northeast. I'm averaging 25-70 resumes a day, so far with just a handful of phone calls, and just four in-person interviews to date.

To add insult to injury, I'm learning just how false the impressions of Floridian economical living are. While researching residences elsewhere I found a lovely loft-style flat in a Northeastern state. This unit, marginally larger than my own and not substantially less expensive, is assessed roughly the same property taxes as my place - and mine is assessed half the usual value because of its particular status. The inevitable conclusion is that the tax rates in Florida are substantially higher than their equivalent in states denounced for their "high taxes." It's high time that those assumptions were revisited - and quite possibly refuted generally as my specific example leads me to think likely.

About The New Star Trek Film

Paramount has shown me more than once already that they have no feeling for story continuity throughout ST. The new film merely carries on that unfeeling attitude.

Make no mistake: I thought it was a marvelous piece of cinema. The modelmakers should all be fired and that ugly excuse for NCC-1701 should be retired as soon as possible, but the film was very well done.


The problem with each iteration of ST is that it is irredeemably a product of its time and the aspirations thereof. TOS was a truly 1960s creation: civil rights, the rights of women and minorities, and the questionable merits of war were all primary plot themes and drivers for the characters. The original 2 films drew on this as well with more than a little success. TNG was a product of the 1980s; plagues, epidemics, economics, rearrangements in the political sphere, unexpected upheavals and exploration of diverse cultural relationships and alien sexualities were the general replacements for the original emphases. It was, for example, much more interesting to have a ship's counselor (and a woman at that), and much less interesting to have a woman chief medical officer, in 1987 than it would have been in 1966. A Klingon security officer, though innovative, was perhaps predictable given Klingon militarism. ST6:TUC was an exploration of a post-cold-war galaxy only possible after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The list goes on.

With this new film, though, any chance of maintaining the continuity of the other series iterations and the prior films is now shot straight to hell.

To make matters worse, the technologies portrayed are equally disappointing. Not in their use on screen, which is actually very powerful, but in their application to a world not far removed from ST:FC and ENT when TNG onward did not exhibit such things. I will freely admit that neither real-world tech nor cinematography had progressed far enough to display any of that when the earlier versions were made, but that's not really the point. The Enterprise of TOS wasn't as technologically advanced - or designed to be as technologically advanced - as the Enterprise of the new film. The new film strikes me as The Matrix overlayed with ST symbols than a true original work standing on its own merits and on the shoulders of its ST predecessors.

The chief criticisms I have read of the film also conveniently forget one thing: TOS was a sixties creation at its core. The endearing womanizer Kirk, the irascible country-doc McCoy, and all the others were only truly possible in the time when the series was written: the seat-of-the-pants solutions that crew created are simply not possible in the more politically and culturally aware noughties: were this a completely new creature following ST ethics the characters would have been at least substantially different. By revisiting the sixties icons, without deeper analysis or more depth to the characters, what results is something of a might-have-been for characters who, for all their merits, are showing their age when viewed out of their context just as surely as Shakespeare's leading ladies so often do when viewed by a modern audience without an understanding of Elizabethan England. Paramount's pathetic attempt to cure these ills with snazzy special effects and a (dismally) redesigned ship only shows how lacking these characters are when transplanted from their native time to today.

I cannot fault the actors: the interpretations are remarkably true to the original characters, and give us a glimpse of what their younger years might have looked like without compromising the personas created forty years ago. But the studio should be ashamed for this poorly thought out tale. I cannot expect that they feel anything of the sort, since repeatedly they have shown as much feeling for a consistent storyline for ST as a vegan does for steak tartare. The less said about the Dominion War, the Cardassian War, the Suleiban and the Xindi, the better, in my opinion, and turning a genius on the inexplicably-human Alpha Centauri world into a drunken Terran in ST:FC was shockingly wrong no matter how well played. The new film carries on the studio's tradition of mythos-specific Alzheimer's when it comes to the franchise. And while I'm sure it will fill the seats, for those of us who watched ST looking for a better future, this surprisingly dark tale as the latest installation of the ST franchise is a severe disappointment.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


The more I use iTunes, the more I miss WinAmp.

I'm on my second iPod, which I purchased to increase my portable capacity. My library is significant (I passed 500 CDs years ago), and laptops are not practical to store so many music files, so I've relocated my music to a NAS. Relocating those files means adjusting the defaults for iTunes so it can find the data.

This is very manageable - for each specific version of iTunes. Upgrading, though, produces all sorts of chaos.

For some reason, every time I upgrade iTunes, the new installation loses all the marker information, including album artwork. It isn't readily apparent until I start downloading new data: new purchases, new imported CDs, new podcasts. At that point, the upgraded software begins storing these new files in the application's default location, and loses track of the NAS-housed data.

I can reconfigure the software to find the files on the NAS with little difficulty. But peripheral data, specifically the album art, is a far different story. It's not clear how iTunes stores this data, but every upgrade has lost something, and the latest one (to v8.1) lost about half my album covers. There's no apparent pattern, and whether the data was found through iTunes and the store or uploaded manually seems to make no difference. Worse, some albums downloaded from iTunes itself lose artwork, again with no apparent explanation. This is true from (and here one gets a glimpse of my library) a-ha through Yes, and varies without predictability: some Asia albums retained their artwork and some did not, and artists as current as Amber and as esoteric as the Wien Volksoper lost artwork while others did not. Some - including some very popular artists - had the correct artwork actually replaced by iTunes with completely unrelated material: iTunes really ought to know the difference between Wilson Phillips and Nathan Phillips, but at least with this upgrade did not.

I've always respected Apple as a desktop platform, and the iPod and iPhone seem like highly effective gadgets as well. But this regular data loss, however insignificant to the actual music files, is disturbing. A software publisher such as Apple should be able to manage upgrades without data loss of any kind. Further, regardless of the current availability of a product through iTunes, items purchased through Apple should be able to be maintained without having to go through these gyrations with each software update.

I've spent a good portion of the morning on Amazon and Discogs digging up replacement artwork - much of it either already uploaded to iTunes or obtained from Apple with the particular albums. Resync has only been partially successful: despite specifying artwork for an entire album, in at least two instances only some of the tracks display properly.

I've researched this on Apple's Website and found nothing. Apparently Apple doesn't see a need to provide support for functionality it clearly considers as secondary (despite having made considerable noise when the 4G iPod was released about this particular function). I'm still looking in outside sources for more information.

It's true that other music file management applications have similar features. And it's true that iTunes wasn't tailored for the audiophile, and some of its controls are less than ideal. But it is a useful tool for managing an iPod, and once a version is configured properly it's pretty stable. But upgrading iTunes presents far more difficulty than others - and here I'm thinking of WinAmp in particular - whose functions, while not completely iPod-compatible, were at least carried over in whole from version to version and required very little in the way of reconstruction of the database to resume normal operations.

If anyone from Apple is reading this, I would say that anyone familiar with databases would be most unhappy with iTunes in this respect - and that the lack of thought put into the product regarding management of secondary data and file location specification calls into question Apple's other database applications.

Excuse me while I go dig up some more graphics for the other items still without pretty pictures.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Somehow Strangely Appropriate

From ThinkProgress:
The AP reports that Fox has decided to stick with its regular line-up on Wednesday, meaning it won't air President Obama's prime-time news conference marking his 100th day in office. Instead, viewers will see an episode of "Lie to Me." ABC, CBS, and NBC will be airing the press conference.
Hmmm. Press conference or "Lie to Me." That's some choice. Thanks, Fox, for showing us both your position and your intention all in one place.

A Dream Deferred

Carl over at The Reaction has put up a very thought-provoking piece about the steps the Obama administration and Congressional leaders are taking to advance a progressive agenda. He's concerned - and with reason.
It's a radical departure from congressional precedent, in which budget rules have been designed and used to reduce deficits, not expand the size of government. And it promises bitter divisiveness under an administration that has made repeated promises to reach across the partisan divide.
For my part, I see the move as something rather different, and dangerous in its own way.

One of my longest-held political principles is that a budget process that can be balanced over time is critical tot the stability of any government. Keynes spoke to this eloquently: when the economy is weak, the government must spend to stimulate production, but when the economy is strong, the government must recoup those expenditures as preparation for the next downturn. Economists following Keynes, and economic policymakers, have made ample use of the first half of the principle. They have, however, conveniently forgotten the second.

Congress has presented multiple pieces of legislation to require the federal budget be balanced as a matter of practice. The amendments offered, however, were to require a balanced budget every year. This, if Keynes is correct, is not only impossible but massively unwise as it prevents the federal government from taking action to stimulate a faltering economy even as it likewise prevents the same government from recouping those losses and posting a net gain during times of prosperity. Balanced budgets under these conditions would enshrine a certain amount of debt: any obligation outstanding would necessarily be retained as a sort of credit line that once paid off could never be incurred again, preventing its closure just as the interest paid on it would become - as has become the de facto case - merely the cost of governance.

The GOP showed its hand in the 90s, demanding a balanced budget. It was no doubt to their chagrin that the Clinton administration, buoyed by a thriving tech sector, was able to oblige. However, the taxation required to maintain the progression was successfully presented as an excessive burden. Whether this was an ideological position, or merely maneuvering to sabotage the economic success of the Clinton years, is not clear. What is clear is that the Bush administration lost no time revising the tax code, sabotaging the balanced budget effort even as they made the burden less on the higher economic echelons of society.

I will freely admit that I have never had a particularly high opinion of the Bush presidency. There are many reasons for this, the brutality of the GWoT and radical rewriting of public ethics being chief in my complaints. However, the effective nuking of the federal budget is not far behind. Bush's policies did little to diminish the size of government except in areas of particular interest to the most radical of the administration's supporters. Reduced taxes placed an excessive burden on the existing infrastructure. And the various efforts of the GWoT squandered what little was left, leaving the US massively in debt and all hope of a short path to a balanced budget and reduced federal obligation in the dust.

This is the fiscal mess that Obama has inherited along with the economic collapse. Abandoning the irresponsible tax cuts of the Bush administration would in ordinary times be a responsible measure aimed at balancing the budget. Under the present circumstances, however, a balanced budget is as realistic as flying to the moon on a contraption built of string and sealing wax. The shattered economy combined with the enormous costs of occupation of two foreign lands make any attempt to balance the federal budget in the near future suicidal at best.

In turn, the radically increasing costs of healthcare in the US present the most likely source of bankruptcy, both private and public. Healthcare costs are increasing at multiples of inflation just as the average salary is shrinking and as employment is falling faster than the GOP's polling numbers. Social Security may not be an issue for many years yet, but Medicare is fast approaching a critical point where, between the needs of an aging population and the skyrocketing costs of preserving that population's health, it will be unable to meet the need.

Indeed, the pressures of keeping healthy under the US system are becoming so bad that medical tourism is fast becoming the avenue of choice for anyone facing major medical procedures. Walking with Ghosts has a fascinating projection on how many US citizens are projected to seek medical care overseas, not merely for the sake of the novelty of travel involved but also to save considerable expense. Should this trend progress much further, as the costs of healthcare abroad present an increasingly small fraction of the costs of the same care in the US, the healthcare system will either fail utterly - a tragedy for any nation - or outsource such procedures as a matter of course - which would deprive the US of major healthcare talent and needed tax revenue, producing a like result.

Under these circumstances, substantial review of US healthcare policy is not just a necessity but a mandate.

The recent step taken by the Congress - to include a new healthcare bill in the current budget legislation as part of the reconciliation process - is therefore most necessary, particularly if the long-term health of the US economy and the federal budget are to be maintained along with the long-term health of the US citizenry.

Carl's suggestion, that this is a less-than-usual method of handling such legislation, and that this is a substantial effort on the part of the federal government, is well taken. And were there a rational opposition party in place to advocate for a more appropriate or effective solution it would have substantial weight.

Unfortunately, the current crop of GOP congresspeople seem committed to opposing the Obama administration, and the Democratic majority in Congress, on every initiative and proposition. The level of spite and malice involved in their unthinking nay-saying is palpable. One need look no further than the initial budget debate to see proof: in response to a dense, carefully calculated budget proposed by the Democrats, the Republicans produced a couple dozen pages of theoretical waffle with not one single quantifiable alternative proposal to present. The recent kerfluffle with Somali pirates is equally indicative: no action taken, deferred or prevented has been met with anything but derision, and many condemnations overtly contradict the others. The GOP has indeed become the Party of No, squealing like a small child who has just discovered its new favorite word and ignorant of the meaning or consequences of its use.

Faced with circumstances like these, and able to present a majority government in both branches tasked with enacting legislation, the Democratic party has little choice but to use the methods available to it. If that means bypassing the irrationality presented by the opposition, then that is obviously what must be done to achieve progress.

I know too little of the new healthcare initiative to comment intelligently on it at this time. However, I know more than enough of the current system to say with conviction that it is well and truly broken, perhaps irrevocably. If healthcare is to remain a resource available to the citizens of the US it must be rethought substantially, and rethought soon. Should this new programme be at all productive I believe it worth the risks. And swelling the federal bureaucracy to achieve that, after the lessons of the last twenty years, is far more easily remedied than might be thought: the only uncertainties are in how that reduction would be accomplished and whether the resultant costs are worth preserving the small-government ideal.

UPDATE: As to the "radical departure from congressional precedent" Carl mentions, ThinkProgress has an effective rebuttal.