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Archive for January, 2007

Why Inequality Matters

[ 0 ] January 30, 2007 |

Sam beat me to it, but I’d also like to recommend this piece by Brad Plumer:

The statistics on inequality are well known and–setting aside Reynolds’s dissent–present a clear picture. Between 1979 and 2004, the richest 1 percent of Americans saw their after-tax incomes triple, while those of the middle fifth grew by only 21 percent and those of the poorest fifth barely budged, according to Congressional Budget Office data. By the late ’90s, the richest 1 percent of American households held one-third of all wealth in the U.S. economy, and took in 14 percent of the national income–a greater share than at just about any point since the Great Depression.

In politics, this all matters a great deal. Larry Bartels of Princeton has recently studied the voting record of the Senate between 1989 and 1994–a time, note, when Democrats controlled Congress. He found that senators were very responsive to the preferences of the upper third of the income spectrum, somewhat less attentive to the middle third, and completely dismissive of the policy preferences of the poorest third. In one striking example, Bartels discovered that senators were likely to vote for a minimum wage increase only when their wealthier constituents favored it–the views of those directly affected by the hike had “no discernible impact.”

Nor is this pattern limited to domestic policy. Lawrence Jacobs of the University of Minnesota and Benjamin Page of Northwestern have found that the foreign policy views of the executive and legislative branches are primarily influenced by business leaders, policy experts–whose think tanks are often funded by businesses–and, to a lesser extent, organized labor. Jacobs and Page found that the views of the broader public have essentially zero impact on the government when it comes to tariffs, treaties, diplomacy, or military action.

And another problem is that the system becomes largely self-perpetuating. The most important means of redressing the problem (given current First Amendment law) is robust public financing of campaigns–but the pre-existing structural inequalities essentially make this virtually impossible.

The Stupidity, It Runs Down Gullets Like Rain After A Dry Spell

[ 1 ] January 30, 2007 |

When I hear that someone has combined perhaps the two most annoying contemporary American ideologies–gun nuttery and communitarianism –for some reason I’m reminded of Billy Martin telling a fellow manager that if he ever saw Martin put Shooty Babbit (who was apparently to playing second base as Reynolds is to political analysis) in the A’s lineup “I want you to shooty me.”

Also, how can someone call himself both a “communitarian” and “libertarian”? That’s almost as incoherent and silly as calling yourself a “libertarian Jacksonian Whig.” Oh wait…

…thinking of “libertarian communitarianism” reminds me of John Holbo’s classic discussion of David Frum. I guess you can reconcile the two via “dark satanic Millian liberalism”–i.e. that capitalism is good only insofar as it reliably produces cowering conformists.

How Somebody So Well-Regarded Was Oh So Wrong

[ 0 ] January 30, 2007 |

Sawicky rounds up some analysis of Milton Friedman.

Empathy

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

Goldy:

I suppose the crusty, cynical response would be to berate the American people for lavishing so much love and affection on a freakishly talented $30 million race horse, at the same time our nation is busy spending its blood and treasure on a brutal, dehumanizing war in Iraq. During the months of Barbaro’s failed rehabilitation, how many Iraqi civilians and US soldiers lost their lives or limbs? How many children lost their parents? How many parents lost a son or a daughter?

[...]

But I see another side to this seemingly misprioritized compassion, and while it may not paint our species in the most flattering light, it does portray a human quirk that I find oddly endearing. I’m talking of course about our innate ability to distract ourselves from the horrors of everyday life, and to find beauty in a world filled with ugliness… much of our own making.

It’s almost charming.

Quite. I can’t say why, but the most affecting section of Imperial Life in the Emerald City regarded the cats. Many residents of the Green Zone had adopted local cats, fed them, given them names and shots, and made plans to take the home. At some point, it was decided that the cats were a menace. Security forces in the Green Zone went from apartment to apartment, tracking down and removing the cats without permission of the owners. It was odd that, in all of that death, it was the plight of the cats (and their distraught owners) that really got to me. I think d’s discussion of the pigs gets us in the same place.

Birthday

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

On Erik Loomis’ 24th’ birthday, Eric Rudolph bombed an abortion clinic in Alabama. Wikipedia erroneously reports that on Erik’s 30th birthday, a dead sperm whale exploded in the center of Tainan, Taiwan. The bloating carcass had been removed from the beach and was being carted by truck to National Cheng Kung University when it suddenly burst, spilling its contents into the streets as hundreds of gawkers watched. The stench, they say, was unreal. As nice a birthday gesture as that might have been, however, it actually happened on January 26, 2004 — not January 29.

Loomis shares his birthday with Tom Selleck, a right wing nut; Edward Abbey, a xenophobic eco-anarchist; and Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the screenplay for Network, in which the character of Howard Beale declares on live television that life is “bullshit.”

Chayefsky also wrote Paint Your Wagon, the jaw-droppingly awful musical starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood that only underscored the important point Howard Beale was trying to make.

It’s also the fifth anniversary of Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech. Over the past half-decade, some people have seen fit to mock the president for uttering such bold words. Those people hate freedom almost as much as the proprietors of Alterdestiny.

Happy birthday, Freedom-Hater.

Random Observation and Pointless Tirade

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

Random Observation: When I saw Jarhead in Fall 2005, I thought it was quite good. Few others seem to have shared that view, and I didn’t think too much about it afterward. Watched it again tonight, and I must say that my first impressions were confirmed; Jarhead was a damn fine film. Mendes certainly has his limits, as Road to Perdition was just plain terrible. American Beauty is deeply flawed, but after the initial warm glow wore off I think we may have gone too far in condemnation; it also has some serious strengths.

Pointless Tirade: What the hell is up with Charmed? It was a terrible show, relentless awful, and not a semi-watchable train wreck CSI-Miami kind of terrible, either. The acting was bad, the plotting bad, the dialogue bad, and the special effects poor. I have never watched an entire episode, but every snippet I glimpse as I surf by confirms the impression. Nevertheless, it appears to be on TNT during all non L&O timeslots, which, I can only presume, means that there are morons out there who like it. Said morons please step forward; why do you enjoy this dreck? Adding insult to injury, Angel is a genuinely excellent show covering the same subject matter, yet I have to get up at 6am if I want to watch it.

Random Observation II: Good article on House and Hugh Laurie in particular. There’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to like House. The plotting is predictable almost to the point of cliche, and none of House’ assistants really stand out (although Robert Sean Leonard and Lisa Edelstein are both quite good). There’s no point, for example, to reading a TWOP summary of House, since every episode is essentially the same. The longer arcs are also repetitive, as House’ conflict with the police detective this year was essentially just a replay of his conflict with the Edward Vogler in the first season. In the end, it all comes down to Hugh Laurie, whose performance as House is about as close to perfect as you could imagine. I find it difficult to even conceive of another actor in the role; I can’t think of anyone else who could pull it off. Especially given the nature of House’ dialogue and Laurie’s experience in comedy, I wonder how many of the sarcastic quips come from the writers and how many from Laurie himself.

I Don’t Like Mondays

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

On Oprah Winfrey’s 25th birthday, 29 July 1979, a 16-year-old girl named Brenda Ann Spencer shot eight children and three adults at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. She fired the shots from her house — located just across the street from the school — with a rifle her father had gotten for her for Christmas. (She later claimed to have waned a radio instead and took the gift as a sign she should kill herself).

Remarkably, none of the children at Cleveland were killed, although the school’s principal, Burton Wragg, and the custodian Mike Suchar died trying to protect the kids. Asked to explain her motive after the six-hour seige at her house came to an end, Spencer told police that she didn’t like Mondays. “This livened up the day,” she added.

In October 1979, The Boomtown Rats released “I Don’t Like Mondays,” a song based on Spencer’s unfortunate spree.

Cootie Patrol

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

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Echidne inducts Andrew Sullivan.

Kentucky Mourns

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

Barbaro euthanized.

Oh, come on — you’d never heard that parable before The Crying Game

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

I know it’s uncouth to evaluate a blogger based on the revealed wisdom of his or her commenters. After all, when Tough Guy Jules Crittenden writes a post entitled Clearing the Earth of the Depraved”, I’m sure he’s putting to use a very specific definition of “depraved” — honed through long nights of moonlit contemplation — and that the phrase “clearing the earth” wouldn’t have anything to do with, say, lining people up against a wall and shooting them before bulldozing their corpses into a massive hole. If his readers mistake his point, the fault surely rests elsewhere.

Crittenden, of course, is mystified by the violence in Iraq:

These guys look like they’re on their own crazy program. It’s like Iraq has officially turned into a playground for murderous wackjobs. Hold on. It already was. That’s why we’re there.

Jules’ commenters, sadly — one of whom is this guy, one of the barflies at Confederate Yankee — aren’t quite so down with the simple message of peace he bears.

These are the same kind of loons Saddam’s gang machine gunned in waves until their barrels melted. That’s really about you can do with’em.

It’s the scorpion and the frog parable. These people can’t be “negotiated” with.

Too bad we cauldronized the country and allowed some of these “loons” to lynch Saddam before he finished writing his counterinsurgency manual. Surely we could have used his help “clearing the earth.”

Ongoing Reports From the Death Of Satire

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

J. Goodrich: “Of course [Joe] Klein is not alone with these feelings. Joan Walsh at Salon points out that other commentators were also relieved to finally find someone that matched their idea of a manly Democrat…Cooties are scary. And girls have them.”

Andrew Sullivan and Howard Fineman, this week on the Chris Matthews Show (“Millionaire Pundit Values on a Cable Access Budget!”):

SULLIVAN (1/28/07): I think she’s been a very sensible senator. I think—find it hard to disagree with her on the war. But when I see her again, all me—all the cootie-vibes resurrect themselves. I’m sorry—

PANEL: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

HOWARD FINEMAN: That’s a technical term!

SULLIVAN: I must represent a lot of people. I actually find her positions appealing in many ways. I just can’t stand her.

Somebody may also wish to inform Linda Hirshman that all of the people in question who vote junior-high personality impressions over policy in fact have penises.

[Also at TAPPED.]

Slightly Delayed Karma!

[ 0 ] January 29, 2007 |

So if someone had tapes of themselves having sex released to the general public because their idiot partner forgot to pay her storage bill, well, you might feel some sympathy for this person. If the person is question is “Girls Gone Wild” asshole-in-chief Joe Francis, however, I’d say not so much.
(More on Francis’ legendary respect for privacy and personal dignity here and here.)

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