My god

To think the Republicans will get away with the rhetoric that fighting global terrorism is like fighting World War II or the Cold War kills me. A) The global terrorist movement needs to be attacked at its root, and destroyed no question, and September 11 was terrible, but no fucking way does it have anything to do with major industrial powers of the world uniting, or the 10s upon 10s of MILLIONS killed. It should offend anyone with a mild regard for history. Oh, but no one gives a shit about history, so I guess they'll do alright. B) It perpetuates EXACTLY the wrong way to fight terrorism...the idea that our specific global terrorist nemesis has anything to do with the act of terrorism, which, FYI, is never going to stop ever, because its what individuals do when they are kind of crazy and up against a massive organized power they couldn't hope to defeat. And the idea that you can 'beat' terrorism by making a "go to war" choice or "not go to war" choice. It's not like that!!! There is no war! It's a couple thousand people, not a state! I am going mad. Please stop Laura Bush, please. She is making me insane.


I like how Laura mentioned Bush's aborted Congressional run: "our first campaign 25 years ago" as though he's a career politician and didn't spend the intervening years as a worthless businessman propped up by nepotism. But whatever.

God she's awful. I hate to say this because I fear it means I am disconnected and naive, but on one level this campaign will have to come down to people with brains and people without. People who see her, her spouse, and her spawn and say, "Sweet God, I would never fucking vote for these people becuase people who run the fucking United States of America are supposed to be smart." And people who find her blue suit and stupid bovine face soothing. Sorry.


The Bush twins are such hose beasts, I can't stand it.



I feel that some very faint strains of discord have emerged between conservative "intellectuals" who have been pushing the Swift Boat controversy. It seems that many of the "intellectuals" who consider themselves a tad more serious (I'm looking at you, Glenn) would really like to make this fight about Kerry's antiwar activites. They know to some extent that the medals crap is kind of galling and a pretty transparent diversionary tactic. Kerry's antiwar position, however, they find more substantive, and they relish the prospect of a fight painting Kerry as a traditional liberal who dares to question the military in any way.

I think its a bit of a gamble, personally, and kind of pathetic they are so eager to get to that conversation. Maybe I'm too far in the bubble, but I think Kerry's speaking out against the war on his return home resonates with many more Americans than the right thinks. The trouble is that Kerry's opposition didn't have the cultural signifiers that many people really detest, i.e., priveleged hippies spitting on veterans and thinking they're so cool. Despite the Bush camp's fevered attempts to make it so. The pictures from that era show Kerry in his uniform, not in beads and a hemp shirt. And it should be hard for any American who didn't feel confusion and pain over that war to read Kerry's 1971 Congressional testimony and not feel some pangs of truth. If the last 30 years of popular culture are any guide, that's a good lot of them.

The right's gamble on this point, as it is on so many other issues this election, is whether they can convince the general populace that it shares their absolutist, see-no-evil hawkishness.


Olympic blogging

Random notes:

1. Women pole-vaulters are real cute.

2. American gold medal winners in beach volleyball (Walsh and May) are kind of trashy and fun.

3. The Moroccan who won the 1500m was delightful. He is also the world record holder for running the mile: 3:43. Damn.

4. Speaking of, what goes into the strategy behind the 1500m? What is the protocol of making your way through that pack? Are they secretly nudging each other and we just can't see it?

5. Carly Patterson still sucks.

6. I wonder if Paul Hamm has a media consultant or if his coach just tells him what to say. Becuase from a crisis management standpoint he has been so freakily on message through all of this. It's like watching an Exxon-Valdez spokesperson that you end up really wanting to believe.

7. What happened to the water polo? I totally missed the boat on that.


Oh good

The NEA has some encouraging news about reading levels among Americans of all ages.


Things are looking dismal across the board here and, as I watch the NBC commercials interrupting Olympics coverage for TV programs which will be replacing literature this fall, it's small wonder the country in general is becoming harder and harder to explain things to.

It's interesting to look at these numbers, specifically the consistent declines among educated people, and wonder what it means that education has no effect on reading levels. Is higher education just powerless against the cultural trends engulfing the rest of the populace? Or is higher education today doing less to encourage personal intellectual growth than it used to? Or does the indispensibility of a college degree for most any white collar job mean that the college-educated population is less concerned with personal intellectual growth than he/she once was?

The last possibility bodes very poorly for the liberal arts education model favored in the US. As traditional four year institutions become prohibitively expensive for everyone but the very well-off, the rest of the population will nonetheless expect a college education, as a good job is virtually impossible without it. But that education will look very different, and will encourage very different benefits and values from the model we are used to.


Sweet Mary

I worry this whole Swift boat thing might be corroding my stomach lining. The mind-bending rage which has built up over several days of reading charlatans and hacks gloat about how far they've been able to push a vicious dirty trick into the national conciousness may be starting to take its toll. Hewitt, Malkin, Reynolds, Oxblog, NRO...the list of fake media impresarios masquerading as journalists, academics, and legitmate political commentators goes on and on. Matthew Yglesias and Atrios appear also to be feeling the burn.

Why is this thing so wretchedly maddening? Because we're supposed to have a mechanism in our system for ensuring that flagrantly false allegations do not have undue impact on the political consenus. That this controversy has advanced so far, and that figures supposedly at the center of the establishment continue to advance it means this system is utterly broken. Abandoning all logic, scruple, and legitimacy, the conservative movement has figured out how to break it. And for anyone who still had a shred of faith in reasoned debate, the world on the other side of that precipice is terrifying indeed.


I mean, damn!

The Times has just posted for tomorrow's paper a, count-em, 5 page expose of every sordid connection the Bush entourage has to the Swift boat crap. I dare you to read the whole thing.

Besides debunking this mess beyond a shadow of a significant doubt, what else does this mean?

1) They suceeded in getting the New York Times to blow money and time on debunking them. That is no small feat, considering the principled silence major papers had initially chosen to treat this stunt with.

2) Bush ought to have little choice left about distancing himself from these ads or not. I'm not saying he will, but he ought to.

On a related note, I chose today for my semi-weekly troll of the conservative blogosphere, and I think I might have given myself an ulcer. The extent to which these people, none of whom have anything resembling a brain in their heads, will go to parrot the movement's talking points is unconscionable. It would be fine if they were dirty political operatives or fringey lunatics, but these people are considered prominent intellectuals!!! For a particularly dreadful example, see Michelle Malkin (author of that book 'justifying' Japanese internment camps) on Chris Matthews earlier tonight (via Atrios and Oliver Willis). She tries to insinuate that John Kerry shot himself in order to fool the military into giving him a medal. Matthews, for once in his sorry life, isn't having it. Sick, sick, sick. If you are appalled, by all means write this woman at malkin@comcast.net.


The wall

I haven't said much about Iraq lately, but I have been thinking about it, and I think this Juan Cole post is especially useful. The U.S. press has been somewhat blinded to the situation on the ground since the 'sovereignty' transfer (I have felt relief as well, I will admit). But recent events, particularly the endgame playing out in Najaf, should remind anyone who wanted to forget about it that our position in Iraq at this point is fundamentally untenable. We are now fighting Sadr's army on the holiest sites in Shi'a Islam. Not sort of holy sites that reasonable people will get over us blowing up and spilling their countrymens' blood on, but places that are inextricably linked to millions upon millions of peoples fundamental sense of what is sacred. He is playing us brilliantly, and we are falling for it. One has to plan for the fact that this will not end well.

Before that post, Cole offers a reading list on Iraq that is surely worth noting...

More on debt


I know this has been said better and earlier by people who care more about sports than I do...but whatever. How much is Olympics coverage a sign of the coming dumbed down apocalypse?

I remember being really, really into Olympics coverage when I was young, and part of the magic was that, for two entrancing weeks, you entered this special world that the entire globe was fixated on. And the beauty was that you sat there through everything. The gymnastics team from Guinea, the dead moments where the commentators had to make stuff up, and the "what it's like to hang out around the Olympic village" features with Bob Costas sampling haggis, or whatever. And then, when truly exceptional moments emerged, it was really a miracle that you had the privelege to experience with every other country on earth.

But these days, how can we be sure the sportscasters aren't just sitting in a studio in New Jersey somewhere? Any authentic 'sport' being performed has been sliced and diced into the most ruthlessly 'significant' highlight reels, puncuated by insufferable voice over videos and relentless commercials for reality TV shows, which it seems like NBC is really, really jonesing to get back to. The vicious circle of crappy, compromising coverage of the games causing crappy, compromising attitudes towards the games is so transparent its painful.

The least we can hope is that in another decade, the profit margin NBC gets out of its 1/2 hour music video version of the days events shown at 11 PM Eastern/Standard will become so negligible that they'll abandon it altogether. Then some cable channel will take it up, show it 24/7 in real time, and the IOC, released from the iron grip of U.S. television bullshit will be able to go back to the natural order of a 4 year rotation schedule. God willing.


Burn on Laura

I missed this at the time, but Charles Pierce's take-no-prisoners smackdown of Laura Bush's stem cell "offensive" in last Friday's Altercation must be read. Boy was that galling.

Are we all Kansans now?

I saw Thomas Frank talk about What's the Matter with Kansas? at Demos last month (note that I haven't actually read the book yet). Frank's persuasiveness lies in his ability to describe what he calls "inversions": the ability of very smart people in the narrative business to coopt an attractive, culturally valuable--authentic, if you will--story, in the service of an utterly opposite end than its original intent. In Kansas, he takes aim at modern conservatism, alleging that the rhetoric of popular conservatism is really a marvelous fiction constructed by the Republican party to protect their economic interests.

Frank argues that conservatives have staged something of a discursive coup over the past 30 years, coopting the natural architecture of class politics while draining it of economics. The capitalist or money-power menace that dominated American political rhetoric for much of the country's history has been replaced (for certain people, at least) with the ubiquitous "liberal elite." Conservatives have united disparate and competing class interests under cultural wedge issues, conspiracy theories, and a host of good old fashioned straw men which voters are invited to knock down time and again.

The crowning example for our immediate moment, of course, is George W. Bush's skillful positioning as a regular joe Texas cattle rancher despite his silver spoon fed life. The fascinating thing about Bush is that this metamorphosis is no secret. There is no deception as to his upbringing (which would be a bit hard), but rather conservatives openly argue that he is a class apart from that liberal elite by virtue of his cultural attitudes and style, regardless of the constituencies he favors economically. See this logic defying missive from Victor Davis Hanson for a taste.

Or see this Terry Gross interview with Club for Growth president Stephen Moore. He remains unruffled by Terry's attempts to pin him down on a definition of the liberal elite, naming journalists, policy analysts, university professors, "you know, people who look down their noses at others." The fact that Moore can casually identify his chosen enemy through buzzwords and then advocate in the harshest methods possible for tax cuts benefiting a section of the population so specific you could probably memorize their names if you really wanted to only goes to show how right-on Frank's thesis is.

But the reasons behind the appeal of today's conservatism go beyond clever marketing, information networks, and winning lowest-common-denominator messages. Because to investigate how politics could become all culture and no class in this country, one must begin with the decline of organized labor. That phenomenon is directly related to the weakness of the Democratic party as the party of the working class, and its ability to provide the natural counterbalance to the Republicans' trade and capital interests.

Conservatives saw a mighty political opportunity in the economic changes beginning in the 1970s. As the rewards of the postwar order thinned, they discovered that many low-income and middle-class people could--provided a potent brew of jingoist innuendo, moral outrage, and religious zealotry--be disabused of their class logic. Ever since, conservatives have raged against any suggestion that the super wealthy might be at odds with the factory worker, inventing all manner of preposterous economic theories to prove it and exploiting Americans' ingrained belief in social mobility.

Needless to say, it is a fascinating topic and of vital import to understanding what conservatives are fighting for in this election. Bush is the most extreme test this framework has faced yet. Other Republican presidents in recent memory from Nixon to Reagan, while no doubt capitalizing on these themes, have nonetheless hedged their bets with more traditional coalitions. But in Bush, the narrative's inherent contradictions have bubbled closer to the surface than ever before, and threaten to divide the vanguard of true believers from the merely sympathetic. At the same time, Democrats have shown stirrings of unity not seen in a generation. While their message is far from coherent or completed, one can argue we are moving away from rock bottom. If the Republican narrative machine is as fragile as it appears on paper, any new traction for a reinvigorated Democratic party could prove decisive.



Jonah Goldberg (via Kevin Drum) writes:

Bill Clinton pretended that everything he was doing was “working hard” for the American people, “doing the job” etc. Anyone who disagreed with him was being “partisan” as if A) partisanship is bad and B) that only one side was partisan. Also, the whole “move on” schtick – which we now know was a cynical partisan appeal made my hardcore leftwingers – took advantage of this attitude...It’s not clear to me that Bush has tried hard enough to exploit a similar strategy. The Bush-haters – who are just as extreme and nasty as the Clinton-haters were, and in many ways more so – offer a real opportunity for Bush...With the exception of Fox News there’s really no mainstream outlet available for the White House to get the message out that irrational Bush hatred is not only irrational but annoying. Bush needs a way to tell the Michael Moore fans to “move on.”

Indeed, Jonah, wouldn't that be bitter medicine for those hypocritical liberals. But oh no, they would never let Bush play Clinton's sneaky "move on" card, because they control the media and the media buys into Bush hatred so much easier than it ever did for Clinton.

That, and the fact that the primary complaint of Bush haters happens to involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers, billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars, and the security of the United States of America for the next generation. Maybe its just me, but I found getting over who sucked Bill Clinton's dick just a wee bit easier.


Report from Chicago

I spent last weekend in Chicago, and had the privilege of touring the downtown lakefront, which has been going through some enormous changes in the past five years. If you don't know, or have never been to Chicago, the city's relationship to its portion of Lake Michigan is unique among big-city waterfront.

In 1909, the Chicago Plan Commission, chaired by Daniel Burnham, published its comprehensive outline for fiddling up the city and creating public space. It was the first urban planning document of its kind, and its effects upon the city's aesthetics and the everyday life of its citizens continues to this day. Perhaps the Plan's greatest gift to the city was the recommendation that the lakefront, from the border with Indiana to Wilmette in the far North shore suburbs, should be reclaimed from private use and set aside for the public's use in perpetuity.

To understand the depth of foresight present in that decision, one has only to look to New York City's waterfront, the vast majority of which has stayed in private hands, and is accordingly almost entirely inaccessible, decrepit, and crime-ridden. While a movement has grown in recent years around the issue (my slice of Brooklyn in Greenpoint is currently attempting to reclaim its waterfront) the process is hideously expensive and time consuming. The city must contend with both private developers who own much of the land as well as the highways which butt directly against the shore.

But back to Chicago.

The centerpiece of my lakefront visit was the just opened millennium Park, which corrects one of the great items of unfinished business in Burnham's original plan. Grant Park, the "front yard" of Chicago, has always been blighted by open sunken railroad tracks running the entire length of the park and driving away pedestrian traffic. millennium Park is the first attempt to cover the tracks and restore vitality to this neglected space in the heart of the city. And it is spectacular.

How remarkable in this day and age, when "leisure" has come to mean an experience either crass or consumerist or both, that the city of Chicago created an enlightened public space in the best tradition of high-minded urban planning: populist, yet profound; filled with humanity yet supremely sophisticated.

The centerpiece of the Park (besides Gehry's bandshell, which is super-cool looking as expected but not necessarily interesting) are two grand sculptures along Michigan avenue. The first is by Jaume Plensa, a Spanish sculptor, and consists of two 50-foot towers covered on facing sides by gigantic LED screens which display faces of Chicagoans. At 11 minute intervals, the faces become spouts and send water into a long shallow basin running between the two towers. I admit that when I first read a description of this, I thought it sounded pretty trite, not to mention foolishly impermanent, as the LED screens require a huge computer system below ground to keep them running. But seeing it in person, on a warm summer's day, with children and their parents playing gleefully in the shallow pool, while surrounded by photographs of warm, knowing faces of all different shades, is a marvelous experience. Indeed, the very realization that the sculpture has been completed by experiencing it, and the knowledge that that experience is only possible with others present, is its true brilliance as public art.

The same can be said for Anish Kapoor's massive jelly-bean of polished chrome, titled "Cloud Gate". The piece draws spectators into its center, where one stands with other passerby staring up slackjawed at the distortion pushed to its limit. Exiting the other side, one realizes that the side of the sculpture acts like a wide angled mirror, brilliantly reflecting the canyon wall of Michigan avenue, and inviting the viewer to examine and dwell on the skyline. A sculpture which would be compelling solely on its formal merits invites its environment in, blending stunning aesthetic satisfaction with the resonance of the familiar. And, for the kids, its a pretty sweet fun-house mirror.

I think these two pieces really bring home what is special and noble about the new park, and it extends to the Gehry bandshell and lawn, as well as the 'formal' gardens which should be spectactular when grown in with native Midwestern grasses and flowers.

In the grander scheme of things, millennium Park represents a new step in the revitalization of Chicago's center city. For too long, the city has allowed commercial development to stand in for true public space. While that is certainly necessary, more Old Navy's and Borders outlets can only make a downtown an intriguing strip mall. They can never create a destination that restores real urban dignity and vitality. While smaller cities like Baltimore or Cleveland perhaps must rely upon malls and cookie-cutter tourist schlock to bring people back downtowns, Chicago can do much better. And this is one big step in the right direction.

P.S. If you live in Chicago and haven't been, Meigs Field has been totally dug up and replanted now. Just go out to the planetarium and take a right. It is amazing. You can walk or ride for over a mile through prairie grass, and when you turn your back to the skyline, you could be on any deserted strip of shore on the Great Lakes. A really remarkable experience, and more proof that the arguments for keeping Meigs were completely lame.



I've been out of town, ill, and without power for a few days, hence the posting dry spell, but each of those things are resolving themselves, so I should be back shortly. In the meantime, see this issue brief I wrote on household debt that got quoted in Bob Herbert's NYT column on Monday...



Ugh. See if you can make it through this profoundly moronic column from our glass-half-full friend at the New Republic. Easterbrook 'lashes out' at science, whatever that means, gloating about the fact that "science" can't answer questions like "What came before the Big Bang" and hasn't come up with a means of detecting dark matter yet. He roots his smugness in the sort of infantile 'gotcha' logic typical of a cranky fifth grader or a serial heckler. And yet, its not a fifth grader/tinfoil hat wearer problem. It is the attitude that many educated people across this country are encouraged to take towards science and inquiry. Whether creeping anti-intellectualism, or the campaigns of religious zealots hellbent on winning losing arguments, or the conservative intellectuals who provide the zealots strategic political cover, it is a shameful cultural trend unfortunately epitomized by the leader of the free world.

And furthermore, it is reprehensible that such a thing should appear in a magazine of opinion and thought like The New Republic, as though the editors feel the need to be fair to both physics professors and Pentecostals on the issue of black holes. This is what cultural regression looks like, people, and it should sicken anyone with a marginal respect for the value of reason over banging one's head against a wall.

But don't take my word for it. Prof. DeLong and his comments section pointed the way.



What the hell is wrong with swing voters anyway? Lehrer had one of those impromptu unscientific focus group segments last week following Kerry's speech and I wanted to put my foot through the TV. These morons went on and on about how they wanted more "specifics", how they didn't know whether or not they felt "safer", and how if only there was a candidate who would "really" talk to them.

I really don't think swing voting in general has anything to do with an independent streak or centrist outlook. It just means you are a whiner. They remind me of people who get mortally offended by poor service at some hole in the wall diner. There's no justice in the complaint, they are just so deeply self-involved that they will kvetch to make themselves feel good. You want specifics? Turn on a computer! But I guess this is what comes of too many years of the political parties (and especially the Democrats) telling voters to sit back relax while the party brings politics to you in nice little 30 second TV spots. Lazy bastards.

Furthermore, it is beyond me how anyone in this specific election who considers themselves even marginally aware of politics (which is what swing voters are) can not decide who they are going to vote for. People can surely change their politics over an administration or several, but to not know at a point in time as polarized as right now who's side you're on? And of course, this is why they say the swing demographic is so small this year. But to the ones left over: get a clue!