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Saturday, December 20, 2008

From Naderite to Institutional Fatalist

Back in 2000, I and many other people who supported Ralph Nader and the Green Party were fond of calling the two major parties Dempublicans and Republocrats and were wont to deride the contenders with the single epithet Bush/Gore. Our critics, then and since, have caricatured our position as claiming that "the two parties are the same." I say "caricature" because such was not exactly the argument of Naderites, or at least was not exactly my argument.

If I'm not simply rewriting my own intellectual past, I believe I distinguished between the basic policy differences of the parties, but believed that the parties are largely pro-corporate, pro-business and intend very little "structural" change in society. In other words, for example, the Democratic party is largely pro-choice and the Republican party is largely pro-life, but neither is going to make aggressive efforts to either help indigent women get abortions or establish a polity that ensures support for children whose parents lack the resources to support them.

I still believe that neither party offers the "structural change" that I would have wanted back in the 1990s (or would like now). But my reasoning has changed and has become a bit more (shall I say) cynical and fatalistic. My hopes in 2000, and perhaps the hopes of many Naderites, was that Mr. Nader would garner the 5% of the popular vote necessary to qualify for federal matching funds so that, in the future, the Green party might be a challenge to the two major parties and, potentially, lead to a reconfiguration of the party system along the lines of what happened in the 1850s, when the Whig party dissolved and the Republican party replaced it. Such a view was naive (and not without a healthy dose of self-righteousness), and the analogy was not particularly apt. Still, the view was not completely unreasonable.

I am now more inclined to see the very basic similarities between the two parties as the legacy of the institutional structures of the party system and our constitutional system. The two-party system, the "first past the post" district system of elections, and the structure of government provided by the constitution and precedents lead the two parties to adopt the stances that I in the 1990s and 2000 considered so emblematic of what was wrong with our polity. In other words, I now believe that if the impossible happened and the Green party had won the presidency in 2000, very little substantially would have changed.

(I might add, in all this talk about "change" and "structural change," it is possible, even likely, to fetishize change as always something good and to use too much as a crutch the notion of "structural change" as something desirable without defining what the structures are or what the change would look like. I'll also add that I've now come to the conclusion that the same institutions that prevent change I would like to see also prevent change I would not like to see. But that's a conversation for another post.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shoe to the Chief

Readers of this blog (that is, if they exist....my sitemeter program claims that the few people who visit this site leave within seconds of reaching it....I sure wish I could speed read, too!!!) will no doubt recall that less than a week ago, Mr. Bush, at a press conference during what is probably his last visit to Iraq, suffered an "attack" by an angry Iraqi reporter who threw two shoes at him. In celebration of this event, the office mates at one of the places where I work accessed an internet site that surperimposes other items--besides shoes--being thrown at Mr. Bush during the conference. So, for example, a French person throw's "freedom fries" at the President, and then an English speaker throws a book of grammar at him. All's fair in love and war, and I guess that the US is at war; ergo, all's fair.

These courageous partisans--who are joyous to the point of near apoplexy about the election of Mr. Obama--celebrate the brave Iraqi reporter, who apparently shouted epithets at Mr. Bush to accost him for the deaths that resulted from his disastrous Iraq policy, shouting something like "this is for all the women and children you killed" or some such. (I do believe the reporter was brave, in that he had to have known that throwing a shoe would be considered an attack on a foreign head of state, which I imagine carries at least some jail time.)

What these Obamaists probably realize but don't openly acknowledge, however, is that Mr. Obama will likely choose to order the deaths of innocent people when he's confronted by an international crisis. He will do so not because he has an evil heart or because he is a hypocrite, but because he is (or will be shortly) president, and that's what presidents of a great power do. It's in their job description. It is not definitely set in stone, but if history is any precedent (and I'll be the first to admit we should be wary before trying to predict the future from history), the US or US interests will be attacked or otherwise opposed somewhere, sometime during Mr. Obama's presidency. In such a case, Mr. Obama will be faced with the terrible prospect of having to decide to use force that may and probably will cause "collateral damage." He and the military will, I don't doubt, try to make sure that as few civilians as possible suffer, but some will. There will be people who curse Mr. Obama's name because he will have effectively ordered the death of their loved ones in retaliation for something over which they had no control.

Let me be clear: I'm happy that Mr. Obama won the election, and I believe he has the potential to be a good president. But the demands of his office will compel him to do some very inhumane things simply because he holds the office. This is not a new millennium, and the sooner we realize it the more healthy will be our assessment of Mr. Obama. Worse, Mr. Obama will have to live with his decisions. Like the Beatle's song says: "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight / a long time...."

How to lose the health care debate

Yesterday, I spoke with someone who allegedly worked for someone important in the failed 1993-1994 campaign for health care reform spearheaded by Hillary Clinton. He was obviously very knowledgeable, and since I very much would like universal health care guaranteed by the government, I expressed to him some of my concerns about putting a universal health care plan in practice. (I do not quote exactly, but paraphrase the conversation.)

--Might there not be constitutional difficulties?

--Well, people really want health care. It's time has come and they're fed up with it. I think they're ready for the government to act.

--But if someone takes the health care plan to court and it goes all the way to the Supreme Court, will the court dismantle such a program as unconstitutional?

--In that case, the countersuit will point out that the financial system shouldn't be bailed out.

--But wouldn't a protest against the financial bailout be a separate case and not part of a countersuit?

--Well, I think there are enough precedents to justify the constitutionality of the program.

I didn't bother to ask this very knowledgeable person what those precedents were. Not being a lawyer, I don't know, but I seem to recall that constitutional concerns have shaped (and limited) the way Medicare and Medicaid were implemented. I also wonder whether the Court's New Deal precedents would stand in the face of an ambitious new program. I'm not convinced that most of the "liberals" on the court--let alone the "conservatives" (again, I think the split is more partisan than ideological)--would be comfortable with such an expansion of governmental power. Each wing's constituency, I believe, is centered on non-economic issues (although I suppose the Kelo decision might tend to contradict me). I also didn't bother to mention that even though he and I could very well find precedents to support a universal health care plan, those might not be the same precedents followed by the court, especially since neither of us is a lawyer who has good knowledge of what will pass muster.

The conversation continued, with my very knowledgeable acquaintance making a variety of arguments that tend to be strongest when used with someone who already agrees with you, including a reference to the "genius" of Michael Moore's movie "Sicko."

This is how to lose the health care debate: assume that the people who disagree with you are idiots; assume that anyone who raises sincere questions (questions which arise from a sincere desire to see a plan passed that will not be dismantled by the Courts in 5 or 10 years) is a contrarian who's not looking for an honest answer.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the way to win the passage of programs one likes is to insult the people whose support you might need in order to rally the support of people who are already on your side but might sit the fight out. It seemed to work for Karl Rove and his strategy of playing to the Republican base. So, I'm not completely against my very knowledgeable acquaintance's strategy.

Still, I'd much rather speak with an opponent of health care reform who will treat with respect people he disagrees with rather than speak with a very knowledgeable person who will just give me 14-year-old talking points.

Mr. Obama Shakes Up the Senate

The election of Messrs. Obama and Biden to the presidency and the v.p.'y and Mr. Obama's selection of Senators Clinton and Salazar to head the State and Interior departments might very well weaken the Democrats' hold on the Senate.

The Illinois seat, which might conceivably go to a Republican in the wake of Mr. Blagojevich's scandals. Even if a Democrat is named, he or she will have to face reelection in two years under the taint of corruption. Maybe if the General Assembly isntitutes an early election--effectively taking from the Governor the power to nominate the new senator--and a Democrat gets elected, that person may very well face a strong challenge come election time in 2010.

In the other seats, a Democrat will likely be named. However, it is a risky proposition whether the person so named will have the sort of constituency that will enable him or her to retain the seat. Such is possibly most likely in Colorado, where Mr. Salazar--a rather conservative Democrat--may be difficult to replace. I don't know enough about New York (Clinton) or Delaware (Biden), but it seems at least not at all implausible that the Democrats there might face certain challenges.

The first midterm election afte the inauguration of a new president can be either an affirmation or repudiation of that president's policies. At least, it can be read that way: cf. 2002 and 1994. Even beyond the first midterm, Congressional elections tend to run against the party in power. My point is that if Mr. Obama is as aggressive at pursuing his plans as he claimed he would be during the campaign--and if he actually tries to pursue those plans--he might very well need to weather a political reaction in the next two to six years (i.e., the Senate elections are staggered). And now, four senate seats are potentially up for grabs.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Institutional Constraints and the End of History

A recent article I found on Yahoo news recounts "liberals'" fears about Mr. Obama's imminent presidency. These fears are fueled by his recent cabinet choices and by his apparent reluctance to implement the tax plans he promised during the campaign. To quote from the article:

Now some are shedding a reluctance to puncture the liberal euphoria at being rid of President George W. Bush to say, in effect, that the new boss looks like the old boss.
(I'd like in passing to point out that I referenced the relevant Who song long before the Yahoo article did. But I probably stole the idea from somewhere else, so I oughtn't be smug.)

My argument--you (that mysterious "you" who reads my blog....i.e., me) guessed it--is not that Mr. Obama is a "sellout" or a moderate in "liberal's" clothing. Rather, it is my contention that the presidency imposes institutional constraints on he (or she, I guess) who holds the office. The president, largely by virtue of the fact of being president, is going to end up making choices that approximate the choices of his predecessors. There is wiggle room and there are extenuating and exceptional circumstances--such "wiggle room" and circumstances are, along with a president's personality and policy inclinations, what marks presidential administrations as different from each other--but each presidential administration must work within its history.

As I pointed out not too long ago (although perhaps long ago enough), my formulation risks being tautological in that it's true from its logical form alone: the main test of the correctness of my theory is what the president does: any novel action is seen as redefining the confines of the presidency and creating institutional pathways for later presidents to follow or repudiating a portion of other presidents' precedents while any not-so-novel action is seen as conforming to preexisting institutional pathways. If my formulation is indeed tautological--and I think it might be, or at least I acknowledge that it's possible to carry it too far--then its value lies as an explanatory mechanism. My main concern is to check the hysterical tone of some, both critics and supporters of Mr. Obama, who would have us believe that the end of history, for good or ill, is at hand. Maybe the world will end tomorrow, but the facts in evidence, by themselves, do not support that it will.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Darling, My Tautology

I have, in previous posts, made much of the argument that the presidency is bound by "institutional constraints" and that while it does matter who occupies the office, it matters less than one might think, given the imperatives of the office and the pathways carved out by previous presidents. (See here and here.)

The problem: isn't my insistence on the salience of these constraints tautological? If Mr. Obama does something similar to what Bush has done, I can call it a legacy of institutional constraints whereas if Mr. Obama differs, I can say he has "worked within" those constraints (unless, of course, he unilaterally--and successfully--abolishes the presidency and the constitution (and constitutional arrangements that have evolved since 1789) altogether....a move that is unlikely).

To my eyes and ears, this all sounds tautological because all conceivable evidence proves my argument about institutional constraints and therefore no evidence really disproves it. In that sense, it's like the theory of evolution (no matter the petitions signed by "progressive" religionists that say evolution is an "established, scientific fact.") But like evolution (to borrow from an article I read by an undergrad, even though I forget the author and title of that article), my argument about institutional constraints is a useful tautology. It demystifies the dangerous hero worship of Mr. Obama, who, I'm convinced, is an actual human being with the strengths and frailties of a human being. It also helps put in perspective and calms down the self-righteous and not entirely consistent denunciations of Mr. Bush as the "Rove-incarnate."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"The Emperor has no clothes" retort has no clothes

My college biology class was co-taught by an actual biology professor, who taught the actual science, and by a philosophy professor, who introduced us to the philosophy of science and to questions of ethics in scientific practice. On the last day of class, the philosophy professor admonished us to, "if the emperor has no clothes, say so."

Apparently, the jibe "the emperor has no clothes" refers to the supposedly brave and honorable tactic of calling a spade a spade, of speaking truth to power by pointing out what should be clear to everyone.

That's what I assumed, but then I actually read the Hans Christian Anderson story from which that retort is taken, "The Emperor's New Clothes." Apparently, a devious tailor enters town in the story and states that he has a cloth so fine that only the most noble could see it; to all others, it would be invisible. When the tailor "dresses" the Emperor in his new clothes, which of course no one can see, he is stark naked, yet neither he nor anyone else wants to admit they don't see the clothes. The Emperor goes on parade, and the spectators refuse to admit that they don't see the "clothes." Suddenly, a young kid in the crowd, who has no embarrassment about not seeing the extra fine cloth, cries out "The Emperor has no clothes!"

The story strikes me more as a parable on admitting the truth as we see it and NOT pointing out what everyone "knows" to be true. Ideally, the characters in the story should have not been so trusting of the tailor, and yet there's little reason (in view of their interactions with the tailor in the story, at least) why they should not believe him. People were afraid that they lacked the nobility of spirit to see what they thought was there. The young boy in the crowd was not afraid to admit to seeing what he didn't see. In other words, the people in the story are not to be criticized for not calling a spade a spade, but for refusing to admit they lacked the nobility of spirit necessary to see the clothes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Banning the Marriage Banns

Last night at a restaurant with some friends, the topic of conversation moved to the recent Proposition 8, which passed in California on election day and, if it stands, would forbid gay marriage within the state. Such a topic was not particularly controversial at this particular table, since we are all roughly of the opinion that banning gay marriage is a form of discrimination against gays and that discrimination against gays is wrong.

But one of my friends, an avowed Marxist-Trotskyite, advanced the further opinion that all marriage should be banned because marriages are merely--or at least ultimately--state sanctioned property relations that have their basis in the subjugation of women. He then cited what "we all know" to be the history of marriage and the vows which command the woman to agree to "love, honor and obey." He finished with an anecdote of someone he knew who "bought" a wife in Palestine/Israel (apparently that one example proves the general rule).

He stated his views so categorically and he gave such an impression of believing his views that I knew it would be difficult to talk with him. When someone's philosophy is so reductionist, they can't be talked to. So I offered only some minor objections and listened to the rest of the table opine on what they "knew" marriage to be.

Isn't marriage at least a little more complicated than as a vector for the subjugation of women? Sometimes, marriage can work to protect women in their property rights. Consider, for example, alimony requirements in cases of divorce. Of course, one may object that such requirements merely underscore the degree to which marriage is a set-piece of property relations; and also that celebrating the protections, such as they are, that women receive in marriage is merely buying into the rules behind those property relations . And one would be right. But it is not such a one-way street. Each of us lives in a world not entirely of our own making. We take the tools we have. Revision, reform, might be necessary and, where possible, desirable.

To the objection that one need not follow the property prescriptions of marriage and that marriage operates as a public affirmation of one's dedication to another in addition to (and in spite of and in contradiction of) any coercive property relations, my friend stated that doing so was akin to trying to improve slavery by being a kind master. (Those weren't his exact words, but his analogy was to slavery and involved the notion of someone trying to put a kind face on it.) Again, to this objection, I say that none of us lives in a world completely of our own making. For example, we were spending the evening at a restaurant that employs wage workers--a situation which my Trotskyite friend would heartily agree is one fraught with power relations meant to exploit the surplus value of one's labor--the mere fact that we were "nice" to our servers changes none of that.

The fact that he was as full-fledged a member of this property relation does not make him a hypocrite nor does it make him insincere. But it does illustrate that we cannot extract ourselves completely from such relations.

When it comes to marriage, as when it comes to a lot of things, there is simply a lot that we don't know.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

God's Gonna Cut You Down

President Bush, in a recent interview recapped in an article published on Yahoo news, admits that he made mistakes. The two the article mentions are his "mission accomplished" declaration shortly after the invasion or Iraq and his "bring 'em on" challenge to Iraqi insurgents. This is the first time that I'm aware of that Mr. Bush has publicly admitted mistakes. At any rate, the rest of the article comments on Mr. Bush's thoughts on his recent visit with President-elect Obama:

It was interesting to watch him go upstairs....He wanted to see where his little girls were going to sleep. Clearly, this guy is going to bring a sense of family to the White House, and I hope Laura and I did the same thing. But I believe he will, and I know his girls are on his mind and he wants to make sure that first and foremost, he is a good dad.
It is quite possible to see such comments as so much political hay. Anyone with a sense of public image--and I think Mr. Bush has a very strong sense of public image--knows that token expressions of humility and gracious acknowledgment of an opponent's virtues look good. But maybe his statements also signify a new, genuine humility.

I don't know and it's not my place 1) to decide if Mr. Bush has attained a new humility from performing his duties as president or 2) to judge Mr. Bush in that particular at any rate. Humility, to my mind the highest virtue (if properly defined), is an almost divine quality and only God (if he exists) has the prerogative to judge that quality.

As a random musing, however, I might state that it's possible that having a post that requires one to carry out any responsibility--let alone the office of the presidency--can be humbling, can create humility, a realization that one is not sufficient to oneself, nor "an island, entire unto itself." Maybe this is a positive development.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Army of Unalterable Law

Leon Fink has written a column for the Newsobserver in which he notes the awe-some feeling of joy and empowerment at the Grant Park celebration of Mr. Obama's victory:
For the first time I could remember, the power of a crowd seemed not merely unthreatening but positively intoxicating: We each felt connected to a power larger than ourselves and envisioned the world a better place than it is.

While this rally may have been much of what its supporters make it out to be--a democratic/Democratic moment of a new hope and a hope for new change--it is also an instance of a collectivist mentality that can have its malign, mobocratic effects. Mr. Obama's election seems to have reflected the hopes and aspirations of many who otherwise felt powerless. His election may yet provide substantive results to the good of the republic, but the election was also the product of a slick campaign, well-organized and heavily funded, well compromised and carefully worded. Mr. Obama's/Mr. Axelrod's strategy was simple and understandable: not to lose.

I believe my critique and words of caution ought to be well-heeded. Yet I cannot help recalling William Blake's admonition that

The questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to reply
And that

If the sun and moon should doubt
They'd immediately go out
There is hope, and there is realism. Hope, carried to an extreme and placed in an idol (be that idol a drug, a lover, or a politician), can descend into vicious fanaticism and self-righteous pride. Realism, carried to an extreme and placed in the idol of an immutable disbelief in the efficacy of action to improve society and to help others, can descend into a despairing cynicism and self-satisfied pride. I don't mean to go Ariostotelian on anyone, but either extreme is dangerous, and should we adhere to either too assiduously, our foot "shall slide in due time."

To throw yet another allusion and mixed metaphor into this hodgepodge, I might say that in such reflections on the Grant Park rally as provided by Mr. Fink, even a proto-cynic like myself can feel like the antagonist in George Meredith's sonnet, "Lucifer in Starlight". In that poem, Lucifer decides to take a trip away from his kingdom (the earth, the world) and when he attains the lower reaches of heaven,

....he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Institutional Constraints

Eric Posner has entered a very interesting (and in my view, correct) post at the Volokh Conspiracy about Mr. Obama's probable response to the arrogations of power to the presidency under Mr. Bush. In particular, Mr. Posner suggests that the new president will probably not openly repudiate assertions of executive privilege and executive power. He says, in part:

Veterans of the Clinton era know full well that unexpected circumstances require executive action where existing statutory authority is inadequate and adequate statutory authority is unforthcoming. Why tie Obama’s hands by repudiating the flexible standards that Bush lawyers have labored to enlarge? Obama should treasure this gift from the Bush administration rather than return it: it will come in handy when Republicans complain of executive overreaching over the next 4-8 years.
While I'm not sure I agree with Mr. Posner's normative assertion that "Obama should treasure this gift," I agree that the presidency seldom voluntarily cedes power. It might lose power (e.g., the War Powers Act, Truman at Youngstown, Mr. Clinton's impeachment), but it won't, usually, cede power. Even Thomas Jefferson, who had inveighed against the Alien and Sedition Acts, let them expire instead of asking the Congress to explicitly repeal them.

The new president will exercise a lot of power, but this exercise of power will take place within institutional constraints, pathways and incentives that will make his decisions resemble Mr. Bush's by and by.

Majority makes Might, Mandate makes Right

Much debate is going on over whether Mr. Obama's victory last Tuesday represents a "mandate" for his agenda or dissatisfaction with the Republican party's performance the last 7 and 3/4 years. The answer, probably, is a little bit of both, and the question settles on which characterization is most accurate.

Evidence of a mandate is found in Mr. Obama's garnering of about 53% of the popular vote and a large number of electoral college votes. Additionally, this map, which a friend has referred to me, suggests an even broader mandate, depending on how one interprets it. Further, circumstantial, evidence rests with the fact that Mr. Obama was quite clear about the tax plans he hopes to implement and about his health care plan. Presumably, anyone who voted for him (or against him) knew where he stood on these issues, and his victory represents approvals of his priorities.

Evidence of the "dissatisfaction with the Republicans" thesis rests in the lower than expected number of new House seats for the Democrats and the Democrats apparent failure to gain a "filibuster proof" majority in the Senate (although I suspect that even 60 Democratic seats in the Senate is only "filibuster proof" to the extent that these Senators can remain united). As for the claim that people knew who they were voting for, it is quite apparent that Mr. Obama will have much difficulty in enacting his domestic programs, and his foreign policy will probably (by my prediction) more closely resemble Mr. Bush's than one might have thought listening to Mr. Obama's campaign rhetoric.

Whether the victory is or is not a mandate, however, we must guard against the claim that rightness comes from majoritarianism: simply 53%, or 63%, or 93%, is not enough to prove that the "mandate" (if mandate it be) is the correct way to run the country.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bandwagon Effect

Notwithstanding my reservations about Mr. Obama and, especially, notwithstanding my prior declarations of my intent to vote for a third party, when I actually entered the booth on Tuesday, I cast my ballot for Messrs. Obama and Biden.

Grinch

In the TV presentation of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," the Grinch, after stealing the town's presents, looks on as the townspeople celebrate the holiday without presents. They see the joy and excitement of being together in a community.

As I look at the pro-Obama celebrants, I cannot help but feeling that my fears about this new order, this new coalition are just so many gifts I have stolen from the Obama supporters and that these supporters are part of a community of interest and affection from which for some reason I am divorcing myself in the name of "realism" (or cynicism).

Mr. Obama's victory is quite exciting, quite surreal. I live in Chicago and the knowledge that the president elect lives within 10 miles or so of me is quite exciting. I had a chance to go to the rally, but had too much work to catch up on, so I didn't go. Watching the excitement on TV, however, was quite a thrill.

I have, in the last few posts, criticized some of the more exuberant Obama supporters. For some reason, even though I cannot escape the feeling of general excitement, I feel as if on the outside of things. I feel a dread that we might be approaching just a new orthodoxy, a new coalition of righteous indignation and righteous certitude that is similar in tone and style to the "compassionate conservative" hypocrisy we've had to endure the last 8 years or so.

Note, my fears are about "tone" and "style," not about substance. I believe--and I believe I am quite reasonable in believing, or at least hoping--that the substance of Mr. Obama's administration and the Democratic congress's enactments will be an improvement over the last 8 years, or even the last 16 years.

But, as is perhaps inevitable, any criticism of Mr. Obama's choices are likely to be labeled "fascist" or reactionary, no matter how well reasoned. The timbre of the criticism against Governor Palin is another side of that same coin.

Maybe it's my old age, but I have deep reservations about Mr. Obama's ability even though I am glad that he won. Something is not quite right. Events may bear me out.

I wonder whether my criticisms, while valid in their own way, are just so many paper-wrapped presents I have stolen. And now I look on while the sincere and warm-hearted supporters of Obama celebrate a victory.

UPDATE 9-7-09: I have modified the text of this post somewhat to omit some extraneous wording and "tighten" up the language.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Apotheosis of Tolerance

On Too Clever by Half, one of the commenter-"progressive" celebrants of Mr. Obama's victory has this to say about it:
Cool. I loved the screenshot with McCain's yellow-sickly grimace. Rest in peace, muh'fukkah. Now let's sit back and watch the Republican bloodletting begin.
And this, too:
The spewing of venom and fascist diarrhea will begin again as soon as he gets elected. Fortunately, it looks like he's as skillful as Bill at outmanoeuvering these sociopathic [expletive deleted] on the Right.
In fairness to Mr. Obama and most of his supporters, such bigotry is probably--at least in my anecdotal experience--a minority viewpoint. I wish to point out only that this commenter's indignation at any potential criticism of the president elect is "venom and fascist diarrhea" and that his characterization of Mr. McCain's visage as a "yellow-sickly grimace. Rest in peace...." (apparently wishing him to die) is indicative of the fact that even progressive liberals can be "haters."

"Meet the new boss,
"Same as the old boss."

Update: I don't mean to suggest that Too Clever by Half necessarily endorses the views expressed by this comment. But he doesn't disavow them.

A Class Act

If you haven't seen Mr. McCain's concession speech, it's a class act. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A "Historic" Presidential Race

So many people keep saying how this current presidential race is "historic." Now, I've studied history quite a long time, and not one textbook--none--even mentions the 2008 election.

....Same as the Old Boss

As I write, the polls are just beginning to open. There will be a new president, assuming, of course, that Mr. Bush voluntarily cedes power come January. (Even if he refuses, I suppose our civil society would be strong enough to successfully oppose this particular arrogation of power, even if it has not successfully resisted the others.) It looks as if Mr. Obama will win, although I, for one, am far from certain.

Whoever wins, it will be best to keep in mind the closing words from The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again": "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss." As I've said in a previous blog post, the presidency constrains its occupant to certain pathways, and he who wins will be constrained in his choices.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Moving the Ox to Wrath, or the Curious Toxicity of Bigotry

An aphorism about "bigotry," which has been repeated so often that it's become a cliche, asserts that bigotry hurts the bigot as much as, maybe more than, the object of bigotry. Cliche though it be, it speaks true and truly speaks what I haven't seen explored except as a cliche. My working definition of bigotry is the belief that one is superior to others generally and is above the faults of others in particular. It's a sickness that cuts straight to the heart and isolates the bigot from the fount of love that's theoretically available to all.

For some reason, this reminds me of Blake's words:

He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov'd by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by woman lov'd.

Tit for tat and hatred for hatred. Resentment against others makes everyone your enemy. I don't know exactly what I'm writing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"The only poll that counts...."

It's often said that the only poll that counts is the one held on election day. However, I submit that by the time election day comes around, that poll is virtually worthless because the election is happening at the same time. In other words, once the numbers for that poll are crunched, we already know who won.

Maybe they should conduct that all-important poll earlier in the campaign.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The "Haters"

It is a common thing among some friends of mine to denounce "haters," people who are simply intolerant bigots and not "progressives" who support gay rights, abortion rights, and other things to convey universal compassion and love and respect for our fellow man. As for the first two items--gay rights and abortion rights--I'm inclined to support them; as for the catchall "universal compassion....," I have no complaint in principle.

However, what these friends don't acknowledge is that we all hate. We are all guilty of rash judgments and invidious prejudices. I have seen this in their attacks against many who disagree with them. Does someone oppose abortion rights? They're not wrong; they're misogynists. Does someone oppose gay rights? He's not wrong; he hates, a priori, other lifestyles that do not mesh with his own.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The "Business Lunch"

That good ol' symbol of the culture of professionalism--the "business lunch"--is actually a quite pernicious and invasive practice. Eating out with someone should be an enjoyable, relaxing event with a friend or with a group of friends. In the tradition of the "business lunch," it becomes an extension of work--I'm sorry, "career advancement"--by other means.

Often, maybe even usually, the "business lunch" is not a meeting of peers, but a meeting of some one person who has something the other person wants and is using the lunch to 1) get that something or 2) cultivate a professionally useful relationship. The subordinate must swallow her or his food carefully, order non-embarrassing food (spaghetti with any kind of red sauce, for example, dangerously risks blotches on the uncomfortable suit the hapless diner has to wear), watch his or her words very carefully, and be wary of how much one drinks.

Of course, heaven help the waitstaff if there's a slight problem with the meal. And heaven help the waitstaff if the "business colleague" one dines with tips only 5% (if at all), especially if the strategic architecture of the restaurant is such that it's impossible to inconspicuously slip the waiter/waitress some money on the way out without the honorable, professionally useful "friend" seeing the transaction.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Spite Vote

It is not quite unreasonable to suppose that people tend to vote out of spite. Not unreasonable both as an empirical fact--I have, and I presume most people have, known people who vote for someone simply to spite the people who support that person's opponent--and as a normative supposition. In short, it makes sense for people to vote out of spite because one person's vote does not really matter, a fact which I suspect most voters, at someone level, believe to be true. Why not, then, if one is to vote at all, vote out of spite? It's quite as reasonable as any other reason.

So, for example, I do not want John McCain and Sarah Palin to win the election. I think their election would set the US on a bad path. And yet, when I see statements like the following, I'm inclined, at some level, to want a McCain/Palin victory:
In other words, the GOP, right now, is a mob-rule party. The party has assumed, with the adoption of the totem Sarah Palin, its most animalistic and base characteristics as its public image.
Especially when one commentator has this to say, after a learned diatribe about how people misinterpret Edmund Burke, about critics of the cause du jour:
Somebody should aks these conservative losers to justify their own very existence from the ideological premises they peddle. C---s.
I have edited the "C---s" but I'll let the readers, if I have any, use their imagination. Now, here's a further exchange on that blog:
[Blogger] I vigorously applaud the masterful mixing of the vulgar and the sublime in the above comment. Bravo!

10:22 AM
Anonymous Marius said...

Much appreciated, kind sir. But really, these people make for easy targets, with their fourth-rate intellects. It's shifty rhetoricians like Hitchens that are harder to shoot.

10:41 AM
Blogger Bob Fortuna said...

You just need a bigger gun.
Apparently, a "bigger gun" is needed to take aim at these "loser intellectuals" who lack the fortitude to understand Burke or to vote "progressively." I'm sure that "Bob Fortuna" was speaking metaphorically--after all, only right-wing nuts believe in using guns. Still, comments like these are apt to give spiteful glee at a Republican victory to people otherwise inclined to want Obama to win.

I will not change from my original purpose to vote for a third party candidate. But the temptation to vote from spite is ever present.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Liberal Style in American Paranoia

Paul Campos, a law professor and op-ed writer for the Rocky Mountain News, has written quite a good article that compares Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign--with its reliance on "paranoia"--with Reagan's victory in 1980 and Mr. McCains presumptively losing campaign now in 2008. Mr. Campos cites Richard Hofstadter's famous (for historians) essay on the "Paranoid Style" to frame his points.

Yes, Mr. Campos is correct: the right in America relies, or has relied, to a large extent on paranoia to garner votes. Mr. Campos is wrong, however, insofar as he implies that the "left" in America (for the sake of convenience, I'll call Democrats and other descendants of New Deal liberals "the left," all the while acknowledging that they are not really "leftists" in most senses of the word) do not also rely on paranoia and are not also susceptible to it. Of course, Mr. Campos's article is about the right, not the left, so in one sense I mustn't criticize him for not doing what he clearly was not trying to do.

Still, let's set a few things to terms. First, I know at least a few Democrats (probably unrepresentative of most Democrats....and yet I don't charge most Republicans to be like the anti-Obama race baiters, either) who claim that in 2004, the Republicans stole the Ohio election somehow. As far as I know, the Republicans did not steal the election in that state--I have no proof one way or the other--but the fact is that my Democratic friends who made this charge would make this charge with or without evidence.

Second, I've heard at least one avid Obama supporter talk about how McCain betrayed his fellow prisoners while captive at Hanoi. I had never heard this before, and did not ask my friend to elaborate. Maybe Mr. McCain colluded with the Viet Minh to return to the US, run for the president, and surrender the country, a la Manzhouguo candidate. Maybe there's even evidence in support of this assertion (or in support of another such assertion). But the point is, some liberals are just as apt to believe such charges with or without evidence.

I'm not sure that Hofstadter really was aiming only at conservatives. Obviously, his discussion of Mr. Goldwater was a jibe at the new conservatism that Mr. Goldwater represented. But Hofstadter was concerned with a style of politics that, presumably, any political party might indulge in.

It is often said that just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not all out to get you. True, but it doesn't mean you're a conservative, either.

J---- the Plumber

When I watched the debate last night and Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama started bickering about J----- the Plumber, I knew--I could have predicted--that for the rest of the campaign, we'd have to hear sagas about poor J----- the Plumber and about the role of the everyday J----- in the campaign. Apparently, at least according to the debate (and not, for instance, according to the news exposes about the guy), good ol' J----- the Plumber has worked hard for x number of years as a plumber and would like to buy the business he works for. But Mr. Obama's tax plan would make buying the business more difficult, if not impossible, presumably because doing so would place J----- the Plumber in a position to earn more than $250,000 a year.

I know that J----- the Plumber's assertions have been challenged by a too nosy media who have published personal information about his work history and back taxes (this sounds like the kind of "leak" that people like T----- C----- by Half would denounce as K----- Rove tactics, but now that it helps a Democrat, I suppose it's okay), but let's assume that J----- the Plumber is telling the truth. My response is, "So?" Plumbers work hard, and, I'm told, they earn every penny of what they receive in compensation for their work. Fine. I hope they earn more. But someone barely scraping by at, say $15,000 and trying to support a family, too, earns every penny he or she receives.

I've met a lot of people like J----- the Plumber in my life, who are very quick to claim that non-entrepreneurs and the non-skilled laborers ("drones" is one of their favorite words) are a drain on the public, and the people who truly "make America great" are the small business owners and the "HONORABLE trades union workers." These people, not all of them but large enough number (at least in my anecdotal experience) to be disturbing, treat lesser skilled workers like s----- on the ground that these workers are lazy. I cannot count the number of times I, as a customer service worker, had to face lectures from a member of the "skilled trades" (another common culprit is school teachers) how he "works for a living," implying, without so many words, that I do not.

The cant about a tax cut for small business owners has some disturbing underlying tones. I accept as reasonable, even if I do not agree in all its particulars, the argument that supporting small business helps everyone by stimulating the economy. What I dislike, however, is the sense of entitlement, the sense that an "entrepreneur" deserves free money.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Demand and Without Apology

A few years ago, when John Roberts was being considered for his present post on the Supreme Court, I attended a rally organized by a friend of mine. The purpose of this rally was to demonstrate opposition to Mr. Bush's nomination of Roberts. (Since I live in Illinois, there was little question that the senators would vote against Mr. Roberts, but the point of the rally was to register popular disapproval of the policy considerations inherent in Mr. Bush's nomination....I do not, here and now, argue about the rightness of infusing policy considerations into the selection of Supreme Court nominations, although any qualms I may have obviously did not prevent me from attending the rally.)

At the rally, a man walked around and carried a big sign that said "Abortion on Demand and without Apology," apparently in reference to the threat that Mr. Roberts posed for abortion rights. That sign bothered me and the attitude it expressed bothers me still.

As a matter of policy, I support "abortion on demand." My view--for a variety of reasons I won't go into right now--is that abortion should be the prerogative of the woman who is pregnant and that the state should respect that prerogative.

But "without apology"? I'm certainly not going to insist that a woman apologize to anyone for choosing an abortion, least of all apologize to me. But the assumption behind the words "without apology" appears to me as follows: there is no moral consideration at all in the determination to abort a pregnancy.

I really don't know. I don't know when "life" begins and I don't know exactly when a living thing (for the unborn zygote/embryo/fetus is "living," at least in the sense that it is composed of live cells) becomes an object of moral concern so that one need consider its interests before acting on it. There are many things I simply do not know and I find it hard to believe that anyone could be certain about such matters.

The view implicit in the "without apology" slogan is the same view that paints pro-life people of good will as "misogynists" whose only reasons for questioning the right to abortion are "hatred" and "hypocrisy." The "without apology" view is also the cousin of the extreme pro-life view that paints any supporter of abortion rights as a heartless apologist for "murder."

Abortion is a tricky issue and we can do without professions of certainty.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

ANOTHER New Millenium

Too Clever by Half claims that with this presidential campaign, we might be seeing the disintegration of the Republican coalition that has existed for much of the past quarter century:

The inherent contradiction that has existed my whole life, of a party that encompasses fiscal conservatives, the self-styled "conservative intellectuals," and also the dumbest, most hateful, elements of American society has resolved itself, perhaps.

Where will the men of ideas go?
Perhaps. Now the party of "the dumbest, most hateful, elements of American society" will be ever more purely dumb and hateful [it's unclear to me if Too Clever means "that which ought to be hated" or "full of hatred" here]. And the Democrats will be the party of the intelligent and the tolerant....no haters there: people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds and (ahem) faiths (except the non-progressive ones) are welcome.

We are, I presume, facing the end of history. Another New Millenium with the ascension of Barack Obama.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Great Depression Analogy

In these days of financial panic people are wont to wonder aloud whether we are descending into another "Great Depression," and they refer, of course, to the depression of the 1930s. Might I say that such anaologizing is misplaced?

Maybe what will follow this financial panic will be something much worse than the 1930s. Maybe it will be only a "mild" recession. We don't know yet. Whatever it will be, it will be different from the 1930s because we are no longer living in the 1930s.

Today I watched the McLaughlin group and the moderator (McLaughlin) began with a description of the Great Depression. The title of his presentation was "October 29, 1929." He described the various features of the Depression: 13 million unemployed, 5,000 banks closing, factory closing, the dust bowl and of course, the stock market crash. He presented this as if to say on October 28, 1929, the country was prosperous, and on October 30, 1929, the country was on the brink of total economic collapse. It took three years for the depression to get as bad as "John" described it.

History cannot teach us much, except for maybe a bit of epistemological humility. We simply don't know.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Way-To-Go Ohio....

I have heard, and my readers (if I have any) have doubtlessly heard, that Ohio has voted for the winning candidate in every presidential election since 1960 or so.

Does Ohio always have to follow the crowd and vote for the winner? Why can't Ohioans think for themselves once in a while and vote for the loser?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Evil, Inconsiderate Palin

Too clever by half has this to say about an instance in the vice presidential debate. Joe Biden related a hurtful personal experience--the death of his first wife and the death of his daughter--to reiterate the fact that he indeed knows what it's like to be a single parent. On Ms. Palin's neglect to acknowledge Mr. Biden's loss, Too clever by half says:

But she couldn't even muster the simple decency or grace to acknowledge that Joe Biden had suffered a tragedy. A mere "I'm sorry, Senator, for your loss," would have sufficed before she began her irrelevant, wandering patter.

Yet if Ms. Palin had acknowledged Mr. Biden's loss, it would be not at all improbable to presume she would have been criticized for giving a "disingenuous," pandering response (with ample criticism to how she was in reality using "code words" to promote her conservative,traditional family agendy). I'm reminded of lawyer shows where the evil defense attorney tells the witnessed whose loved one has been murdered: "I'm sorry for your loss." It sounds fake on Law and Order and would sound just as fake at the presidential debate. My point isn't that Ms. Palin was right in not acknowledging Mr. Biden's loss. My point is only that it would have sounded insincere--what can one say to someone who has suffered such a tragedy--and it would have been subject to very similar ridicule.

UPDATE (10-6-08): I want to emphasize that while I disdain what I view as the hypocritical and mean-spirited attacks against Ms. Palin, I still believe she is a poor choice for vice presidential candidate and that it would be best if she were not elected.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Brooks, re: Ms. Palin

David Brooks wrote an excellent op-ed piece on the inadequacy of Ms. Palin for the post of vice president. He points out her lack of experience and her (apparent) inability to take the nuanced stands necessary to a responsible executive post. He closes with these words:


The idea that “the people” will take on and destroy “the establishment” is a utopian fantasy that corrupted the left before it corrupted the right. Surely the response to the current crisis of authority is not to throw away standards of experience and prudence, but to select leaders who have those qualities but not the smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.


Exactly! The vicious--and often misogynistic and otherwise bigoted--attacks on Ms. Palin are inappropriate. Criticize her for being wrong or being under-qualified, but spare us the condescension.

Viva Eire! Viva Progressivism!

I have a few friends who have that supposedly treasured item: "dual citizenship" in Ireland. These friends are "progressives" and fret that if things get so bad, they'll just move to Ireland, where, apparently, Jack shall have Jill, naught shall go ill, the man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.

So, these people care so much about their less fortunate fellow citizens--most of whom do not have dual citizenship--that they are willing to abandon them at their direst hour of need.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Show, don't tell

A friend of mine once said that as a matter of strategy, there's not a criticism of Ms. Palin that supporters of Obama can make without playing into the hands of the McCain campaign. He's right. As a matter of strategy, Obama supporters should demand as many debates as possible between Ms. Palin and Mr. Biden and in those debates, Mr. Biden should focus on the issues and not attack his opponent, even when parrying her attacks.

If she's unfit to be vice president, show that, don't just tell us.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin and "the haters"

After listening to Sarah Palin's VP speech last night, I really don't want her and Mr. McCain to win the election. I disagree with almost all of her substantive policy prescriptions. But I may say that members of the so-called non-judgmental left who I know have made a very poor showing of the type of tolerance and compassion they blame conservatives for lacking.

One friend, in a display of his detached, urbane academic wit, told me yesterday that Ms. Palin's daughter "needed an abortion" and her failure to choose an abortion demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of Ms. Palin's pro-life stance. (He did not use the word "moral bankruptcy," but I think that term is consistent with the point he was making.) Aside from facts that neither he nor I had access to--neither of us knows whether Ms. Palin's daughter actually wanted an abortion or if she chose to keep the baby--can't one at least recognize that abortion is a complicated issue and that sincere pro-lifers, who honestly believe that human life begins at conception, or some point before childbirth, might not advocate the outlawry of abortion solely out of misogynistic motives?

Another friend complained about a double standard: if Mr. Obama's daughters were, say, 16 or 17 and were pregnant, the media wouldn't treat him as lightly as they treat Ms. Palin. Maybe and maybe not, but probably. Still, what's the point: the Republicans would do it in a hypothetical situation and therefore we have the right to do it now.

Ms. Palin appears to be underqualified, at least if experience is taken into account (although I wonder if any experience can prepare anyone for the presidency), and her substantive policy issues (pseudo-tax cuts, oil drilling in Alaska, a pro-life policy that is just as bigoted and unreflective as--and almost certainly more dangerous than--some people's advocacy of pro-choice policies) leave so much to challenge that taken by themselves, in open debate, they should show her wanting.

Of course, political campaigns are not won on reason, and whether it is right or not, ad hominem attacks are, and have been for a very long time (at least since the election of 1828), within the pale of acceptable political discussion. The goal is to get as many people as possible to vote for your guy or gal, and my moralistic posturing (let's face it, I can be just as judgmental and as the people I criticize: see what I wrote above) probably contributes nothing practical to the debate. Still, one effect of the personal attacks against Ms. Palin will likely be to energize a heretofore more or less apathetic "base" of conservatives to vote for the Republicans in November.

UPDATE (12-2-09): Today I "struck" two phrases (above), the tone of which I believe was inappropriate and disrespectful.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kick 'Em While They're Down

Someone at the Volokh Conspiracy has printed a criticism of John Edwards's public statement acknowledging his affair. Apparently, the blogger at Volokh objects to Edwards's statement that he had been "99% honest" when he discounted the Enquirer's story, presumably on the grounds that that although that tabloid was correct in its allegation about the affair, it contained so many falsehoods that its account could be (mostly) truthfully denied.

The blogger at Volokh had this to say:

Though Edwards implies that he was being "99% honest" when he was lying, and that "I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it," he didn't just deny that the story was true. He said it was "completely false."

I have a hard time believing that Edwards is being 51% honest even now, let alone 99% or 100% honest.

The blogger then follows with a recounting of some evidence regarding the conduct of the affair that, he claims, suggests Edwards's duplicity. This blogger also leaves no room for readers to comment. (To be fair, I don't know if leaving no room for comment was intentional or a mere oversight. The effect, however, is to leave no forum for contradictory comments on a website whose chief appeal is to be open to reader comments.)

Edwards's statement was heartfelt: he gave as much information as anyone outside his family has a right to know, assuming, of course, that we have a "right" to know even that much. Surprise, surprise: he is human, just like you and me.

Edwards's "offense" is succumbing to temptation--to pride and to adultery. The first is a temptation common to all. The second is a temptation common to many. I have succombed to pride on many an occasion and in ways much more egregious than the ones cited by Edwards's own public statement. I have never succumbed to adultery, in large part because I have never faced that particular temptation. I have, I assure my readers (if I have any), given in to other temptations that are at least as bad.

I have been critical of Edwards in the past...for the tenor in which he advances his political causes. But I have a high degree of admiration for his honesty, and I refuse to join the likes of that Volokh blogger who goes for the cheap shot.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Dear Aunt Sallie

When people hear my arguments, such as they are, about how our individual votes don't matter, many of them probably think I am advocating something similar to the following view, taken from a thread on the Volock Conspiracy blog:

Elections are dog and pony shows to make the masses feel appreciated. That the intelligensia still seems to care makes me wonder how they became the intelligensia? Obama may win. McCain may win. Life in the USA is going to look indistinguishable under either administration. Idiot bureaucrats making decisions they don't understand. Increasing taxes, regulation, destructive wars, and a devaluing dollar. The process has continued unabated since the 30s.

Do yourselves a favor and a) don't vote and b) don't waste precious time on what is nothing more than a soap opera.
Such is not my view at all. My argument is not disdain for the "masses." It is disdain for the proposition that any individual makes his or her voice "heard" by casting a ballot. I admit that I have a lot of qualms about what I call "majoritarianism," or, by my definition, the belief that the majority is right simply because it is a majority. I also believe, albeit with little evidence, that when people become part of large crowds, they often lose the ability to think for themselves (I do not except myself from this claim). But I do not disdain the "masses" as such.

Moreover, I make no claim that it doesn't matter at all whether the winner of November's race is Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama. My argument is that whoever wins will be institutionally constrained and will not effect nearly as much change as his supporters hope. (I hold the same to be true if, by some accident, Ralph Nader or Bob Barr actually won the presidency.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Specter of Voter "Apathy"

Quite a few months ago, a friend explained to me that my attitude toward voting--that each individual's vote doesn't matter much, even if it's counted--was "dangerous" and showed I "don't understand how politics works." His argument was that my point of view plays into "conservatives'" hands because conservatives win elections by convincing people to stay home on the grounds that a single vote doesn't matter.

His argument seems to run afoul of the Karl Rove style of politics. One aspect of Rove's strategy was to put hot-button cultural issues (like gay marriage) on the ballot so convince people who might be inclined to vote for Mr. Bush but who might be inclined to stay home extra motivation to come to the polls.

I would not be surprised if the Democrats, who my friend champions, almost to the point of fanaticism, try to prevent such "cultural issues" initiatives from appearing on the ballot in part because they know (or believe) that these initiatives will encourage more conservatives to come to the polls.

In other words, whatever the other faults of my position on voting might have, my friend's particular argument needs a lot more evidence.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Idolatry of Struggle

I have had some "radical" friends, usually of a radical Marxist bent, tell me that life is one of constant struggle against the Power (usually, but I suppose not necessarily, "capitalism," which I have a hard time at any rate defining) . They say that ideally, all our actions should be directed to realizing "social justice." The art we patronize should advance "the cause," the poetry we write must have political purpose, the songs we listen too must not be reactionary, but "progressive."

Along with this frame of mind is an interpretive school of thought, epitomized, for example, by historians Tera Hunter, George Lipsitz, and Robin D. G. Kelley, that celebrates "working-class culture" as a continual act of resistance against the strictures of capitalism. I do not say here and now that such scholars claim that all aspects of working-class culture involve a struggle against the power, although some of their works , at the very least, imply that.

This insistence on life as a perpetual struggle (for "social justice" or, what is also a popular term, "survival" because "survival itself is a political act), whether it comes from the "gramsci-ite" scholars, Trotskyites, or even early 20th century anarcho-syndicalists, suffers from at least one major flaw. Most people, or at least many people, don't want to have to constantly struggle. They don't want to be on guard all the time. They want space and they want leisure. (True, scholars like Hunter claim that "leisure" time, because it's out of reach of the bosses' work time, is a "space" of resistance, whether the resistors see it that way or not. But isn't this stretching the issue a bit?)

True, the social justice radical might tell me, but in our present, oppressive system, people don't have that choice. Maybe, although I have my doubts; still, I think they want the choice.

The anarcho-syndicalists of the Industrial Workers of the World inveighed against the practice of unions establishing collective bargaining contracts because the contractual obligations, if observed, hindered workers from engaging in class-solidarity through general strikes and sympathy strikes. Still, a contract, if observed by both sides, provides some breathing space to relax.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

C. S. Lewis and Theocracy

Here are some of C. S. Lewis's thoughts on theocracy, taken from The World's Last Night and other Essays (p.40):

"Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments. All political power is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when its sanctions are most modest and commonplace, when it claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets itself strictly limited objectives. Anything transcendental or spiritual, or even anything very strongly ethical, in its pretensions is dangerous and encourages it to meddle with our private lives. Let the shoemaker stick to his last. Thus the Renaissance doctrine of Divine Right is for me a corruption of monarchy; Rousseau's General Will, of democracy; racial mysticisms, of nationality. And Theocracy, I admit and even insist, is the worst corruption of all."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The New Millennium

As the end of the disastrous Bush presidency approaches, some of his opponents anticipate what they see as the coming of a new president who will put an end to Bush's evil deeds and establish a new era of prosperity, respect for civil rights and world peace.....a new heaven and a new earth, or at least a new Washington, D.C.

Lest we be too complacent, I posit that Mr. Obama, if he wins the presidency, will not be much of an improvement on Mr. Bush. Yes, I like Obama, and he'd be some improvement. If I weren't voting for a third party candidate, I'd vote for him in November. I hope he wins.

But he is a man as any a man ever was, with his own virtues and vices. And if he wins, he'll assume an office institutionally bound to certain pathways. He'll be the head of a vast bureaucracy--the executive branch--over which he'll exercise important, but limited and by no means absolute, control. As the one responsible for America's foreign policy, he'll, sooner or later, be thinking in terms of raison d'etat and protecting "American interests" abroad. He'll make claims of executive privilege vis-a-vis Congress and, most likely, will not voluntarily abrogate Mr. Bush's arrogations of power to the presidency.

The person who occupies the presidency has much power for good and ill. A president can decide, effectively, to take the country to war, to issue executive orders with a wide impact on governance and of course to veto, sign and promote bills. But those who anticipate a new millennium shouldn't forget that the presidency bears the weight and the burden of its history.

Rock, Paper, Scissors....SCAM!

Many of you (if there are actually any readers) are familiar with the "rock, paper, scissors" game for making trivial decisions when there's a disagreement between two people. That game, I argue, is based on a faulty premise:

1: Scissors cut paper, so scissors win over paper.
2: Rocks crush scissors, so rocks win over scissors.
3: Paper can cover a rock, so paper wins over rock.

Paper covers rock? In the first two scenarios, the losing item is destroyed--the scissors shear the paper into two pieces, the rock crushes the scissors to bits--but paper "covers up" the rock?????

I fail to see how being covered by a piece of paper is all that traumatic a defeat, or how simply covering a rock with a piece of paper establishes supremacy over the rock. While I probably would not like to be covered up by a piece of paper (oh...the indignity!), I'd much prefer an unsolicited paper covering to being cut in two or smashed to bits.

Housing Finance Reform

My suggestion for the first step that needs to be taken to reform the housing/mortgage industry:

Change the names of "Freddie Mac" and "Fannie Mae" to something different. I mean, come 'on....these are serious organizations. These names seem more like the names of cartoon characters than financial institutions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Case against Mr. Obama

Here's a good argument against Mr. Obama's bid for the presidency that probably won't be used:

The last time we elected someone with so little experience in foreign policy, the U.S. ended up in a disastrous war in the Middle East.

Might Makes Right

It is often asserted that "the majority is always right," or, by those of a more reflective bent, "the majority is usually right."

Now, there are good reasons for positing that the will of the majority should be followed in some instances, maybe even most day-to-day instances. But I deny that it follows that the majority therefore is "right." One might as well say that the strong are right because they are strong and be done with pretensions of "democracy" altogether.

I Voted for Kerry

Yes, I confess I voted for John Kerry in 2004.

And I regret it.

Of course, I voted in Chicago, so if I had voted for anyone else, my ballot, if it had been counted at all, would in great probability have been counted as a "Kerry" vote anyway. (One secret for those of you who believe that voting is important: if you vote in Chicago, register as a Democrat to avoid any "accidents" happening to your ballot....doing so won't ensure your vote will be counted if you cast it for the wrong person, but at least your ballot will not be presumptively suspect to the poll watchers in the pay of the Daley-Stroger machine.) Still, corruption or no corruption, Chicagoans' veneration of the Democratic party and Chicago's stranglehold on the rest of Illinois would have probably ensured Kerry would take this state's (22?) electoral votes.

Kerry was the first Democrat I voted for for president. In 2000, I voted for Nader and in 1996 I voted for Dole. I didn't register in time to vote in 1992 (I turned 18 about a week before that election) but at the time my mindset was such as to vote for Bush Sr.

For voting for Kerry, all I got was the satisfaction of knowing I had marked a name on a ballot that several other thousand in this state marked. And my ballot made absolutely no difference in the outcome of the election.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"You Can't Take It With You"

People often say "you can't take it with you." I think it depends on the situation.

For example, yesterday I was at the grocery store and bought some food. The cashier put the food in a plastic bag. Guess what? When I went home, I took the bag with me.

A similar thing happens when I go to work. I like to bring my backpack, so I take it with me.

Now obviously, if I had a car, I wouldn't be able to take it with me inside a building, unless the building had very big doors or walls weak enough that I could drive through.

So, before you accept such aphorisms uncritically, think of some counterexamples.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"What if everybody felt that way?"

When I tell people that a major reason I vote for third party candidates is that I don't believe my vote really matters, they often respond with "Well, what if everybody felt that way." I don't know about "everybody," but I'm willing to wager that a significant number, perhaps even a majority, feel "that way." (And by the way, since we live in a "democracy," the majority is supposedly always right.)

Of course, what these people most likely mean is "what if everybody felt that way and acted on that feeling [presumably by not voting]." Although the rate of voter turnout is probably higher 'lo these past few years than, say, twenty years ago (I don't know, but that's my impression), something probably pretty close to a majority of people eligible to vote do not vote, so I'm not sure that a lot of people don't act on that feeling.

Still, the point is not that there are not a lot of apathetic, disaffected people out there--I think they'd be willing to concede that--but that voting matters and we must make our voices "heard." Okay, so, in a large contest (say, a presidential election, any statewide election, or city-wide election in a large or even medium-sized city), my one vote, out of several thousands cast, is going to make my voice heard.

So, to take a made up number, let's say that I vote for Mr. Obama, and he wins over Mr. McCain in Illinois this November, and the final tally is 371,852 to 302,501. (Let's also assume that every vote cast is counted, something highly unlikely, even if it weren't for Illinois's rampant corruption, because there are bound to be anomalies in the vote count.) My "voice" is heard loud and clear. Mr. Obama, instead of winning by a vote of 371,851, will have won by a vote of 371,852.

Now, there is the highly improbable, but still possible, situation wherein a candidate wins by one vote. In that case (again, assuming all votes are counted as cast), then yes, my vote would have an effect on the outcome. So, back to the Illinois example, let's say the vote turns out to be 371,857 (Obama) to 371,856 (McCain) , and that I vote for Mr. Obama. (Let's also assume that the automatic recount is done and the exact same result carries over.) On the surface, it appears that my vote matters. Yes, Virginia, I guess it does. Still, it only matters because 371,856 other people voted as I did. In order for my vote to matter, hundreds of thousands of people have to agree with me. I need to be on the side of the pro-Obama cheerleaders in order for my voice to be heard.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Supreme Court: Partisanship over Ideology

An oft-asserted claim is that the U.S. Supreme Court is ideological split between liberal or "leftist" (which appears to mean just "very liberal") and conservative factions, with Mr. Kennedy holding the balance (and before him, it was Ms. O'Connor). In other words, justices Souter, Stevens, Breyer, and Ginsburg are presumed to vote "liberal" while justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito are presumed to vote "conservative."

My hypothesis is that this split is not ideological, but partisan. The liberal judges vote along the lines approved by the Democratic party (yes, I know Stevens and Souter were appointed by Republicans) while the conservatives vote along the lines approved by the Republican party. I believe this is true at least regarding the "hot button" issues of gun rights, rights of the accused, takings, the president's war powers, affirmative action and abortion (and maybe not so much on other issues).

I realize I need evidence to support this claim. However, consider the recent gun rights decision of D.C. v Heller. The "liberals" voted against striking down a D.C. gun control law and the "conservatives" voted for striking it down, with Mr. Kennedy voting with the conservatives. The "liberal" justices are much more likely to strike down laws that challenge the first, fourth and fifth amendments (except when it comes to takings....see the Kelo decision of a few years ago), and the "conservatives" are much more likely to sustain such laws. Yet these are all "rights" guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Of course, when it comes to the second amendment, there is much linguistic confusion as to what that amendment actually guarantees. Still, if one reads Justice Stevens's dissent in Heller, even he acknowledges that gun ownership is an individual right (he might have been doing this as a tactic to sow the seeds of future qualifications on Heller).

I suspect that when future gun control cases come up that involve state laws (the D.C. law was technically a federal law), we will see "liberal" justices, who normally favor "incorporating" the Bill of Rights to apply to the states, will vote against such incorporation while the "conservative" justices will vote for such incorporation even though they generally dislike "incorporating" the bill of rights to apply to the states.

My hypothesis, then, is that at least on the controversial issues, the justices vote for constituencies and not for ideological preference.

Shout-Out to Afternoon Cookie

I'd like to introduce my readers, if I have any, to another blogsite. It is afternooncookie, and run by a friend of mine. I'm sure I won't agree with everything he says, but I think people should check it out. I read the two most recent posts, and they're quite good.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The False Debate: Sexual Orientation and "Choice"

One discussion that came up often when Colorado's Amendment 2--the anti-gay rights amendment--was up for consideration in 1992 was the debate over whether people "choose" to be gay. One still hears echoes of that debate (although it seems to me less salient than it was in the '90s) in respect to the prospect of same sex marriage laws. The debate is a false one that does not represent the real agenda of either side of the issue.

The debate goes like this: pro-gay rights advocates insist that no one "chooses" to be gay while anti-gay rights advocates insist that people "choose" to be gay. A variant of the pro-gay rights argument is that no one would choose to be gay because of the stigma, etc., attached to being gay. A variant of the anti-gay rights argument is the notion that homosexuality can be "cured."

Now, let's assume that incontrovertible proof emerged that people are, indeed, born gay. That being gay is an immutable trait just as skin color or biological sex is (I'll bracket the obvious counter-examples to immutability, such as sex-change operations). Let's also assume that anti-gay righters accepted this evidence as valid and conclusive (yes, I am positing a hypothetical). That doesn't answer their objection that homosexuality is immoral; that only underscores the degree to which preference is unavoidable.

Now, let's assume that incontrovertible proof emerges that people do, at some point, make choices that pre-dispose them to "become" gay, or let's assume that a discovery is made about a pill that can be taken one time to "cure" homosexuality. Such a proof would not answer their objection that discrimination is unfair and unjust.

For the record, while, as a speculative and philosophical proposition, I have my doubts about the assertion that absolutely no choice or act of will affects a person's orientation, I believe that if someone can find happiness with a person of the same sex, then homosexuality is a positive good. Homologously, I believe the state has no business sanctioning discrimination against gays.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gollum and the Sin of Pride

In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the ring is the worst sin of all....the sin of pride. And Gollum represents what pride can do to someone. It can take a peaceful, hobbit-like creature and make him into a hideous, self-loathing hermit with a bifurcated personality.

Then again, no. Nor pride nor the ring did this to Gollum, he did it to himself. He let the ring do it. The ring was so powerful that no being, even Frodo, could resist it (witness Frodo's attempt at the end to appropriate the ring for himself; witness also the fact he never recovered from his tenure as ring bearer).

Gollum is an example of pride. Pride is normally defined (i.e., when it is defined as a vice and not something to be, well, proud of, like good grades.....I once got a "Pride Scholarship") as inordinate self-love. Why do I characterize Gollum's pride as self-loathing?

Because "love" is the wrong word for what pride represents. It represents self-worship, and self-worship, when the self is not a fit object to be worshiped, becomes self-imprisonment, or worship of a fetish, in this case, the self. He imprisons himself with himself and hates himself for it.

Gollum was so enthralled with his "precious" that he structured his whole life around it, retreated to the dark recesses of "Middle Earth" to be alone with it, and saw himself as another, different from himself. He saw himself as the ring, and he worshiped the ring. Such was the meaning of Tolkien's choice to write Gollum's internal dialogue/monologue with "we" instead of "I" as the subject.

Gollum, when we meet him in The Hobbit and when we see him in the later works, is in Hell. He is caught up in his own cycle of self-worship and self-hatred.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

When Ad Hominems Are Valid

Ever accused someone of hypocrisy when that someone argued for a position you disagreed with? Well, you might be guilty of an "ad hominem," which is Latin for "[attack] on the person [making the argument]."

In my college introduction to logic course, we learned that ad hominems are irrelevant to the issue at hand. So, for example, if a professor who is wearing a leather jacket presents his argument about how we shouldn't be cruel to animals, the fact that he has purchased an article of clothing he didn't need (which, presumably, was made in a process cruel to the cow), it is irrelevant to point out the fact that that professor is a hypocrite. I.e., it is irrelevant to that professor's argument that we shouldn't be cruel to animals. If indeed we shouldn't be cruel, then his hypocrisy is no excuse to that argument.

So far, so good. But isn't the charge of hypocrisy relevant to some point? Maybe the fact that the professor is a hypocrite speaks to the feasibility and believability of all our protestations to the high ideals he claims to believe in.

Let's say that a moralist preaches up and down that adultery is bad and yet is found to be guilty of adultery. Adultery may be bad or not bad regardless of that moralist's peccadilloes. But his hypocrisy does speak to the very human difficulty in living up to that ideal.

Ad hominems are relevant, usually, to some argument. But they are fallacious when used to misdirect the argument in question.

"We" Invaded Iraq

It is common to say, as a shorthand phrase, that "we" did this or "we" did that when we're talking about some action of the United States. It is, of course, a part of idiomatic, conversational English to speak in this way. So, for example, when John Elway and several other members of the Denver Broncos won the NFL about ten years ago, people in my hometown (Denver....duh) were wont to say "we won the Superbowl!"

But this way of speaking is dangerous when we talk about military actions. I, certainly, never risked my life or had my life taken from me during the invasion of and subsequent "anti-insurgency" mission in Iraq. So, it is quite inappropriate for me to say that "we" invaded Iraq when it was quite the task and accomplishment of the U.S. armed forces. A friend of mine said a few months ago that speaking that way ("we") is part of living in a "democracy." Of course, she didn't explain what she meant by democracy, but apparently she meant that since our (again...the "we" language!....even I can't escape it) leaders are popularly elected, their decisions and the actions of those who carry out those decisions are common property. This isn't an unreasonable take on the whole matter, but I happen to disagree with it. I have not lifted a finger in armed service to this country, and while that fact may or may not be a reason to criticize me, I refuse to compound the issue by saying "we" carried out a military order when "I" never once risked my life for that cause.

Of course, the idiom of using "we" is so common, I may trip up every once in a while and slip into "we" language. I apologize ahead of time.

P.S.: At least one other person, Paul Campos, a law professor at CU who writes op-ed pieces the Rocky Mountain News, has made similar comments long before I ever thought of blogging them. So I do need to give credit where credit is due.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

C. S. Lewis and Hell

I have read elsewhere (and I don't have the time or inclination to look up the source) that C. S. Lewis supposedly believes that hell is "a state of mind." This assertion, at least in the location where I read it, was written by a self-professed evangelical Christian who wanted to discredit what he saw as his co-religionists' misplaced praise of Lewis.

While I do believe their praise is misplaced because he did not really espouse the causes or the outlook that many evangelicals claim to believe in (he once wrote....I believe it was in "Mere Christianity"....that even though he believed homosexuality is a sin, he had no right to judge homosexuals because he, not being one, was not himself subject to the temptations and virtues of being gay, not exactly the official, DOCTOR Dobson sanctioned stance), this person had it wrong about Lewis's conception of hell, at least if his work "The Great Divorce" is any indication.

In that story--I hesitate to say "allegory," because Lewis had a very precise definition of allegory and claimed that none of his writings, save for "Pilgrim's Regress" (unread by me) was properly "allegorical"--the narrator has a dream where he visits hell. He finds it is full of people who cannot live with each: they reside in isolation: no neighborhoods, no community. Each claims, more or less, to be self-sufficient and each is prey to blaming others for his or her problems. (In one scene, the narrator is on a bus in hell and a stranger tries to force him (the narrator) to read his (the stranger's) poetry.....quite humbling food for thought given my own poetic aspirations.) To top it all off, the people in hell either don't know they are in hell, or they vaguely realize it but find it so much more interesting than they imagine heaven to be. The story goes on when the narrator and a few of hell's inhabitants take an excursion to heaven, where everyone is much larger, much more "complete" and much stronger than the shadowy people from hell. Indeed, heaven is so much more "real" that it hurts the hellites even to walk upon the ground (as it might hurt one to walk barefoot along a gravelly road).

To me, this story suggests Lewis believed that hell is a state of being and not merely a state of mind. (In his other writings--I believe in "Mere Christianity"--he also says that hell is the principle of death counterposed to the principle of life, i.e., heaven. In other words, by focusing on what I see as Lewis's notion of hell as a state of being, I acknowledge that I am bracketing what for him was probably the more important distinction of eternal life versus eternal death, a distinction I'm not sure I believe in, since I don't know if I believe in eternal life.) The state of being is one of pride, or extreme introversion and egocentrism, the belief that the universe revolves around oneself (as, in the Christian scheme of the world, the universe revolves around God). In other words, the essential sin that lands people in hell is their choice to try to make themselves the center of the universe, to make themselves "as God."

How many evangelicals would fully buy into this notion of hell? Maybe a lot; maybe a majority. But I do wonder whether the DOCTOR Dobsons of the world would. They have, and I stand to be corrected, set up a universe that revolves around themselves.

Monday, July 7, 2008

When Bloggers are Bigots

I have made a point in the last two blogs about what I interpreted as the bigoted comments of Too Clever by Half. I stand by my assertion that those posts (and many other of Too Clever's posts) use bigoted language and deserve to be criticized on those grounds.

However, I should say that I know Too Clever by Half personally and he is definitely not a bigot (except in the sense that we all, from time to time, assume airs of superiority and intolerance toward those who disagree with us....see this prior post on my blog for an example of my own bigotry), and to the extent my previous posts suggested that he was one, I retract that suggestion and apologize.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

When "Progressives" are bigots, part 2

Too Clever by Half has arguably valid points in his post against the D.C. v Heller decision. Yes, the reason the D.C. law didn't work probably has a lot to do with the ease with which one can buy a gun in one of the bordering states. And yes, I suppose the decision does signal that who becomes president might have an impact on future court cases. (I'm ambivalent about this last point: apparently someone who voted for the first Mr. Bush was supposed to have anticipated that he would have named two justices to the Court, only one of whom would vote for Heller...still, I guess the point has some validity.)

However, the post descends into some of the more obvious caricatures of people who support gun rights: "gun nuts are running through the streets, firing into the air, and gettin' all likkered up and sheeeyit." And of course, the imminent sharp upturn is due to "the capricious morons who call themselves the conservative Justices" We'll have to wait until they "die off. Or get shot by some crazed DC-area Republican. Could happen."

I'm not saying I necessarily agree with the Court's opinion, but isn't it possible to admit that the second amendment can lend itself to the interpretation adopted by the Court? Now, it is quite healthy to see the ideological underpinnings of court decisions and to be free of the myth that the court is seeking only the "Truth." But aren't there more substantive critiques than simply painting anyone who disagrees with one's interpretation of an archaically worded constitutional provision as rabid nuts?

When "Progressives" are bigots

Too Clever by Half, who apparently read the same Wall Street Journal articles I read this morning, claims that traditionalist Amish and Mennonites (and, just to salt and pepper the pot, he adds in a n unsupported jibe at "fundamentalist Christians") should, in his infelicitous phrasing, have help getting "their heads out of their own a---es." He bemoans the travesty of a "premodern" people trying to escape their responsibilities in the world and yet "free ride" on the services and protections that the world provides. In other words, Amish and Mennonites should take out health insurance just like everybody else instead of seeking charity care and then complaining when the hospital sends their bills to collections.

Fair enough, but he misrepresents the WSJ article we both read. The article discusses a Mennonite farmer who has already paid over $400,000 of his own money (he is now, according to the article, in debt for about $287,000). That should be mentioned before that blogger writes that "they don't pay their debts." Of course, "seriously, these people have no sense of restraint, shame, or responsibility."

Yes, there are compromises that a traditionalist has to make and he or she should take those compromises in account. But the "progressives" of the world could do without Too Clever's condescension.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Varieties of Judgement

A well known dictum from the Bible (I believe it's a verbatim quotation, but I do not know the book, chapter, or verse, so I stand to be corrected) states "Judge not lest ye be judged."

What does it mean "to judge." For example, regarding the story about the teenagers who beat a homeless man to death while others watched, I am inclined to say that I should not judge the others who watched. Yet can I at the same time say that watching without assisting the man was wrong (a statement that is a judgment about right and wrong) and still be consistent? I think so, as long as I am clear about what sense of judgment I mean. Here are the following senses I can identify.

  • Judgment as to the truth or falsity of facts
  • Judgment as the choice between at least two possibilities
  • Judgment as to rightness or wrongness of a given act
  • Judgment as moral condemnation or as moral approbation
I am inclined to say only the latter meaning is intended by the Biblical verse. Still, obeying such a verse--if one is so inclined--strikes me as particularly difficult.

The "No Hidden Fees" Ripoff

Bank (and sometimes credit card) commercials often try to lure new customers by stating that with their accounts, there are "no hidden fees."

When are fees actually hidden? I understand that banks have disclosure requirements and could face lawsuits and, potentially, criminal prosecution if they do not disclose all their fees. In other words, almost any American bank can truthfully say they charge "no hidden fees," and if they can't do so truthfully, then getting new customers is the least of their worries.

The issue should be whether the bank has an easily understandable fee structure. In other words, it's a question of whether a layperson can look at the disclosures and be able to know with a high degree of certainty when a specific fee will be charged and what the amount of the fee would be. For this reason, it is often better, in my view, to have an account that charges a monthly fee but has a simple fee structure than to have a "free checking" account in which one cannot figure the fees. (Yes, I realize the federal government has certain requirements about what banks can call "free checking." Still, there are ways to charge fees on such accounts without violating the regulations.)

What would I have done?

Yahoo news has posted an AP report stating that a gang of teens beat a homeless man while passersby supposedly watched without intervening. Bearing in mind the caveat that such reports often tell only part of the story, let's assume the report is true.

Would I have intervened? Would you (assuming anyone actually reads this blog)? I would like to say that I would have, that I would have had the courage to stand up for someone else. But I really don't know what I would do.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Christianity and Buddhism are a lot alike, especially Buddhism

C. S. Lewis supposedly said this. I just think it's a neat quotation.

Clintonian Welfare Reform

Mr. Obama reportedly urges his supporters to help Ms. Clinton pay off her her debt. If this report is true, it reports a bad idea. Ms. Clinton knew the risks of running and incurring the debt and should be accountable for them without a bailout. She is not a George Bailey who is down on her luck and has "helped the town in so many ways." She is a politician who has done very well for herself. Yes, it is true that she may have done very well for others, too; I'm not going to gainsay her accomplishments. But especially with the upcoming election, which will probably require all the political capital possible, Mr. Obama should not be wasting it on appeals to bail out a person who is a millionaire many times over.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

C. S. Lewis and the Idol of Money

The protagonist in Perelandra, one of C. S. Lewis's science fiction novels, has the following ruminations shortly after landing on Venus (ellipses in original):

"The itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to work backwards...was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But money itself--perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defence against chance, a security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the unrolling of the film."

Critical Faculties

About a month ago several news outlets reported about some lost tribe in Brazil that had not any contact with the "outside" world. I remember thinking at the time the story came out that it was bs to make that claim about any "tribe." Apparently, I was onto something, as I just saw a blurb on Yahoo! news admitting that it was a hoax.

Before I get too haughty, I should admit that I never once questioned whether the story was a hoax. I questioned only whether this tribe could actually be truly "lost" as the supposed experts claimed.