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Pajamas Media: The Good One

[ 0 ] May 24, 2007 |

I was happy to see that the annual Fistful Of Euros Satin Pajamas awards were up–I’m always happy to be introduced to new European blogs I wouldn’t otherwise see. I was then surprised and gratified to see that L, G & M has been nominated for best non-European weblog (although I think it was my French name that put me over the top.) Make sure to check it out.

On the Beach

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

Reading this reminds me that I’m a bad coastal citizen since I don’t get beaches; I have no desire to go to one at all. I wouldn’t dream of a vacation to the Caribbean, say, when the money could be used to go to a real city. And I still have no desire to ever go to beaches even though a week in the Rhone Valley slightly softened my radical pro-urbanism. (I still don’t understand New Yorkers who use their wealth to acquire a house in the Hamptons, though. I mean, I’m sure that’s nice status and all, but presumably it entails leaving New York for significant periods of time to go to the Hamptons, which seems highly undesirable.)

The Vote Fraud Fraud: Potemkin Think Tank Edition

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

Richard Hasen has a must-read article about the “American Center for Voting Rights,” which was ginned up to varnish bullshit Republican claims of widespread voter fraud and has completely disappeared. It’s a classic 21st century Republican story, featuring incompetence, junk science and abuse of the justice system in the service of vote suppression. Hasen makes another point I think is important, noting the source of registration (as opposed to voter) fraud the fruit of an Americna electoral system that is badly designed from A to Z:

Second, there’s no question that there’s a fair amount of registration fraud in this country, an artifact of the ability in many states to pay bounty hunters by the head for each new registrant. Some unscrupulous people being paid $3 to $5 for each card turned in will falsify registration information, registering pets or dead people or comic-book characters—none of whom will show up to vote on Election Day (with or without an ID). (I, for one, would turn the whole business of voter registration over to the government and couple a universal voter-registration program with a national voter-ID card paid for by the government—but that’s another story.

Many apologists for Republican vote-ID legislation point out that many other liberal democracies have such requirements. Which is true, but it’s all about context. I, like Hasen, would have no problem with a requirement to show state-provided IDs in a system in which the government actively and consistently ensured the enfranchisement of its citizens and facilitated their ability to vote. Have the government (rather than private individuals with the incentive to submit fraudulent names) be responsible for registration, provide funding to ensure that districts have enough voting machines for their population and don’t allow wealthier districts to have more reliable equipment, make Election Day a national holiday, etc. — the kind of actions taken by countries with much higher turnout — you’d get much broader participation and you’d have less possibility for fraud, disasters like 2000. Alas, such a comprise won’t work because these Republicans don’t care about vote fraud — they care about suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. As Hasen notes, the lack of Republican concern with absentee ballots — which are considerably more prone to fraud and abuse, but whose users happen to skew to Republican demographics — gives away the show.

Hilzoy has more.

Where Brain Cells Go To Die

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

Shorter Maureen Dowd: Al Gore is fat.

Hillman Awards

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

I went to the awards ceremony (looking at the list of honorees, even as an indirect winner, my sense of things was pretty much “what the hell am I doing here?”) last night, although since I wasn’t a named winner I wasn’t charged with the task of speaking in between Spike Lee, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte. But Sam (flanked by 4 sharply dressed, corsage-appended colleagues) did a fine job. My feeling of being out of place did not really improve throughout the evening, although I was lucky enough to have chats with the brilliant journalist Rukmini Callimachi and (entirely in French) her Cameroonian boyfriend, as well as with Hendrik Hertzberg and a large number of other fascinating people. It was a surreal experience, but congratulations to Sam, Ann and my fellow bloggers for the honor.

Pre-Suffragate City

[ 0 ] May 22, 2007 |

Jill Filipovic points us to this Times article about the new strategy to justify using state coercion to force women to carry pregnancies to term by claiming that women are too irrational to know what’s good for them, and offers a modest proposal. I would also urge you to read Reva Siegel and Sarah Blustain (see also here.) Quite simply, these justifications are premised on 19th-century conceptions of women as not being rational agents. And such justifications evidently underpin a great deal of anti-choice discourse and policy (most obviously seen in the fact that the official Republican position is that abortion is murder but women who obtain them should be entirely exempt from legal sanctions.) At least Kennedy was decent enough to give away the show, admitting that these assertions are backed by “no reliable data,” leaving us with meaningless claims that some women may regret their decision to obtain abortions in retrospect. (If some women regret getting married, can we ban that too? How about anecdotal evidence about women who become depressed after becoming mothers, does this justify state-mandated abortions?) These arguments aren’t about women’s health; they’re about assumptions that women are incapable of making moral judgments, period. That this view is not only part of our national discoruse but has been endorsed by five Supreme Court justices at this late date is dismaying.

Bean connects the dots. See also Shakes, Jill2 and what Digby said.

[Also at TAPPED.]

History’s Greatest Monster

[ 1 ] May 22, 2007 |

Hmm, I think I could almost forgive Duke Cunningham sitting around naked in a hot tub filled with polluted water. (Admittedly, this is easier from a distance.) But this is far beyond the pale of human decency:

One of these parties started at the Capital Grille with Cunningham ordering his usual filet mignon — very well done — with iceberg lettuce salad and White Oak. Wilkes used the dinner to update Cunningham on the appropriations he wanted. Cunningham then took the whole group back to the boat where they drank more wine, sitting on white leather sofas while Cunningham told more war stories. Cunningham then took his clothes off and invited all to join him in the polluted hot tub that was hidden from the neighbors by a white tarp. There were no takers.

Filet mignon well done? Hopefully this was brought up at the sentencing hearings; I believe federal guidelines require an extra three years for that.

Great minds think alike. Well, this joke will still be original to the three readers of this site who don’t also read Atrios…

JFK: Really, Let It Go

[ 0 ] May 22, 2007 |

Hmm, I didn’t know that Salon founder David Talbot was a JFK conspiracy crank. According to Brinkley, his approach seems to be that JFK–like, er, every other president–had factions who did not benefit from his administration, one of them was probably responsible, but he doesn’t endorse any one theory because this would make it more easy to falsify. What I find especially annoying, however, are conspiracy theories that assume that a cautious, centrist president of unimpressive accomplishment was killed because he was some kind of dangerous radical, and this was a national tragedy because he found “some measure of greatness.” (Apparently the measure isn’t, say, consequential legislation passed under his tenure, idiotic wars not started, etc.) Really, can we please stop the Camelot mythologizing? Granting that he benefited from a halo effect, LBJ was also a more progressive and vastly more effective president. If the conspiracy that nobody can find evidence for killed JFK because he had “had made bitter enemies of conservative Southerners because of his embrace of the civil rights movement,” boy did they ever screw up.

Paging William Saletan

[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

Shockingly enough, the “pro-life case for contraception” continues to fail dismally among actual pro-lifers, as the Missouri legislature (with the strong support of Missouri pro-life, natch) voted down restoring funding for contraception because “it would have amounted to an endorsement of promiscuous lifestyles.” Which will mean more unwanted pregnancies and–as a comparison of abortion rates in the United States with countries that permit both access to abortion and birth control will demonstrate–more abortions. But what matters is that somebody will be able send a message about how evil the banal sexual behavior of consenting adults that one doesn’t approve of is!

I often talk about the flagrant inconsistency of American “pro-life” groups. But, in fairness, they are perfectly consistent about one thing: if they have a choice between reducing abortion rates and regulating female sexuality, they’ll take the latter, as reliably as Carrot Top is unfunny. And to state the obvious, obstructing certain classes of women from obtaining abortions as part of a general campaign to say that single people having sex is icky is completely indefensible.

To Sum Up

[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

In case he doesn’t expand this into a post, I think djw’s comment on the selling out thread deserves highlighting as similar to my final thoughts on the matter:

Jay B. wins the thread. It’s like this: capitalism does an awful lot of harm, and an awful lot of good. I’m going to lament those parts of capitalism that do real, serious harm to actual people. Helping artists make a living, while possibly harming a few of their sensitive middle class fan’s ability to aesthetically experience music on their own precise, demanding, and fairly incoherent terms, doesn’t really concern me in the slightest. My response to the line of reasoning Greg and others are pursuing here is akin to my response to those who complain bitterly about successful athletes drawing large salaries. I’m utterly baffled by it, and at a loss as to how to respond. In both cases it strikes me as a bizzare projection of purity (in it for the music/joy of the game) onto people you don’t know.

I think this is about right. The analogy with complaining about the salaries of athletes is in may ways apt, and indeed that the fact that so many people oppose players in labor disputes is indeed even more indefensible (context does alter the way we hear music, although I don’t understand the emphasis people place on its commercial use per se.) It’s not like the money paid to professional athletes would instead go to teachers or cancer researchers or sick kittens or something; the only question is whether the owners or the players keep it. People who romanticize the days in which players were paid at vastly below-market rates as a time when “things were a sport, not a business” or whatever are insane, and the sportswriters who reliably line up behind the owners in labor disputes are generally economic illiterates who fail to understand the basic underlying issues.

The Porkbusters Problem

[ 1 ] May 21, 2007 |

Jane Galt brings up a reasonable point with respect to the anti-”Porkbusters” position taken by a cross-ideological set of bloggers (including me) last week:

But seriously, while this is true on some level, isn’t porkbusters still a good idea? There are other reasons to want to cut pork, besides being worried about the budget deficit. Pork may well have a big dragging effect on the economy by the distortions it introduces. And more than that, it’s morally distasteful that senators and congressmen spend so much time–time we pay them for–trying to grab fistfuls of cash out of the public trough before the other pigs can get at it. The people pushing porkbusters may not succeed in paying for the Iraq war, but surely they’re still doing God’s work?

I would have a few points in response. First, I don’t think that Galt really adequately addresses Ramseh Ponnuru’s core point that it uses “enormous amount of political energy in the service of trivial goals.” Given the kind of amounts involved here, even if we grant Galt’s highly contestable libertarian premises about government spending the economic distortions involved here are negligible given the economy, particularly since some targeted funding is, for better or worse, an inevitable part of getting legislation passed in a Madisonian system. (If we’re getting rid on distortions to the market, I say we work to get rid of the capital gains tax cut first.) Second, I’m not convinced that the term “pork” is a terribly useful one. It’s not, exactly, that I’m “pro” pork–the term is ultimately a tautology–but what gets defined as pork is not self-evident. I would guess that Galt would consider, say, funding to help cities with mass transit expenses would qualify, while in my mind these are an extremely valuable investment of public resources. And, third, I insist that you have to consider the context–we are discussing not merely opposition to unwise spending per se but a specific set of arguments. To the extent that the “Porkbusters” project is designed to distort the very real financial and opportunity costs of the Iraq War, it’s pernicious rather than merely useless. And while this isn’t necessarily true of everybody who’s part of it, such distortions certainly are the type of argument embraced by its founder. But individual motivations are irrelevant; what matters is the effect of prioritizing this item as opposed to something else. And arguments that are designed to avoid the fact that we can’t keep both Bush’s upper class tax cuts and middle class entitlements favored by most Americans are part of the problem even if they might accomplish some (trivial) good on the side.

Art and Commerce

[ 2 ] May 20, 2007 |

Like many commenters, I have to offer a dissent from my colleague’s arguments here. I don’t really care about artists selling their music to advertisers, for a couple of reasons. First of all is my general agreement with the late Christopher Moltisanti’s dictum that unless they’re paying your nut nobody has the right to tell anyone how to earn a living. Professional musicians are, er, professionals, and I don’t see how this particular way of making money is worse than any other. I don’t think most Shins fans will associate them with McDonald’s, and those that do would otherwise not know their music at all. (And if Modest Mouse used the money to hire that mercenary old fart Johnny Marr, great–the artistic results were terrific.) The second is my well-known belief that “authenticity”–and I think most arguments about selling out are about this at bottom–is useless as a criterion of value. Art is what it is; the motives behind producing it are essentially beside the point. As I’ve said before, plenty of terrific music has been produced highly interested in using music to get rich, get famous, and get laid (not necessarily in any order) and lots of dreary music has been made by artists with pure motives for little money on tiny indie labels. Great songs used in ads are still great songs (you might get sick of hearing them, but that overexposure can happen in a lot of ways.) Lenny Kravitz songs suck on your IPod, the suck on the radio, and they suck as car commercials. Fugazi are a very fine band, but I don’t care about their concept of “artistic purity” any more than I care about the other parts of their unappealing “straight-edge” asceticism, except insofar as it lead motivated good music. Which would remain no better and no worse if MacKaye sells “Give Me The Cure” to Viagra.

The middle position staked out in comments seems to be that it might be OK for struggling bands who otherwise wouldn’t be able to earn a living, but bad for artists who don’t really “need” the money. My take is that Bob Dylan has accomplished more and certainly given me much more pleasure than most really rich people; if he wants to get paid in a capitalist society fine with me. (I note that his decision to start selling his music happened to coincide with a shocking artistic revival.) If this encourages people to focus on his music rather than on ultimately irrelevant “voice of a generation” bullshit, all the better.

…As part of the great conversation that Media Czech generated, Ina Iansiti says that “I bought into the whole ‘don’t sell out’ dogma as a kid. But the boundaries between high and low art, which have been blurring at least since the 19th century, are now indistinguishable.” I think a lot of this is about drawing lines between “good” non-commercial art and “bad” commercial art. This both a distinction that should be seen as odd within a discussion of popular music most of us think will live as art and also I think attributes a purity of motive to “high” artists that was never there, even among great artists that weren’t commercially successful. It’s not as if Melville didn’t want to be read or didn’t want to earn a living from his writing.

…of course, had I checked Pandagon first I pretty much could have skipped writing this.

Matt makes a good point here. I can see the argument that, all things being equal, a high level of artistic autonomy is better than a lower level. Let’s stipulate that this is true. Nonetheless, I think it’s true that 1)there are too many exceptions for this to be reliable (Matt may be appalled, but I think that not only In Utero and Nevermind but the gimmicky MTV unplugged thing are better records than Bleach, say) and 2)what matters in the end is the music, not the motivation. I see little reason to judge the a priori motivation when one can judge the finished work.