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 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.