Friday, October 31, 2008


Win, lose or draw, I think the blow-up over Rashid Khalidi will end up hurting papers like the National Review more than helping them. What it will show is the kind of bigotry and ignorance that a large portion of the American public has soured on and the intellectual dearth of of the neo-conservative right. The issue of Khalidi is a watershed moment, not just for its presidential politics aspect but for the wider shift in the punditry as to who gets attention by the actual players in foreign policy. If, as the polls tend to indicate, Sen. Obama does win the presidency then writers like Andrew McCarthy will find themselves locked out of any serious discussion on foreign policy. Not because of ideological reasons, but because everyone a President Obama would listen to and take their opinion into consideration would cite McCarthy at exactly the wrong kind of thinking needed to resolve any Middle Eastern crisis. The same goes for people like Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol.
That, perhaps, is the saddest thing about the way this election has been fought. Not only have so many of the rightist literati displayed an amazing inability for independent thought, but after the election is over how many of these gents will keep their cushy pundit jobs? I'm not saying that a win by Sen. Obama should obligate papers like The Weekly Standard or National Review to purge their ranks of blithering idiots, but that such a win will necessitate such a purge if those papers are to retain any credibility within Washington circles. A win by Sen. McCain, while emboldening those same pundits, I think would also embolden those opposed to such moronic ideas to the point that conservative intellectuals make a full and meaningful break with the party to form their own. And I think such a break would pull many members of Congress with them as it casts off the clearly broken ideology of neo-conservativism as well as the even more dogmatic social conservatives.
Perhaps such a third party would pull several members of the Blue Dog Democrats in as well, who find themselves more aligned in attitude with the break-away conservative intellectuals than with the Democratic party, which I actually won't mind. If the result of the actions by and on behalf of the McCain campaign force the creation of a third party with a genuine intellectual backbone and high profile support in both members of Congress and a donor base then American politics will benefit as much, if not more, than an Obama presidency. Leaving the remiants of the Republican party in shambles will force a rethink of their methods, but not their ideology. Instead you'll have a third party more in line with classical liberalism and libertarianism freed from the need to cater to the culture wars. You'll have a Democratic party free to push a more aggressive agenda while the old Republicans will have their own party to push their social and national security agenda.
I think a break-up of the Republican party is finally coming and will leave the social and neo-conservatives at the margins while the new party formed of moderates and intellectual conservatives will do battle and find compromise with the Democrats. It's all a matter of who is willing to take the chance at breaking away from the debunked platform of Republicanism and strike out in a new direction that focuses on business and liberty versus those willing to remain in their hybrid state as an old Republican. Either way, I like the idea of true conservatives returning to their ideological roots while letting the toxic parts of the party try and make it on their own. Not only will I have better blog posts to read, but we might actually get a government able to act and act in the interest of all Americans, not just those who swear fealty to the Republican leadership.

Know Hope

Oh, and here's some more from Ackerman via Digby via YouTube via the Obama campaign. This fellow sounds like my grandfather in a lot of ways. Couldn't the Obama campaign have just started buying up ad time and play this instead of the infomercial?

On Presidential Endorsements and Shooting Heroin

I have to say Spackerman makes a pretty convincing argument here that he's a far better American than Joe Perry. I mean, the whole not shooting heroin into your balls sells it for me, but there's always the fact that Spencer isn't Joe Perry. Just cause a guy's first name is Joe doesn't mean you need to take his endorsement. Has Sen. McCain ever listened to Aerosmith? Christ, at least the Black Crows haven't made an endorsement.

Diabolus Ex Machina

God, Ellis always seems to find a way to tack on an extra one percent to my brain power when he comes up with this stuff. Now I'm going to dream of angels rebelling against aliens.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hayden Panettiere Ain't A Bamboo Banga's alright if I find this more than a little odd? Plus, where's Diplo when you need him? I mean, if you're gonna go with a Jamaican beat, you need a serious grime to it. Panettiere needs to take it to Brazil by way of South London and Sri Lanka, M.I.A. style.

The Digital Twilight

I'm a little conflicted over whether to really worry about a "digital dark-age". One of the predictions of cosmology is that the universe will slowly drift apart until atoms become as large as galaxies; the cold death versus the big crunch. Eventually every form of human media and information will disappear. At the same time, I'm a historian and the collection and preservation of data is first among priorities. So you see the conflict here.
Even so, there's a good reason for worrying about the ability to read data from even a decade ago. The Y2K problem was made worse by the problems in reading the coding of systems built back in the 70s. It's not as if you need to continually transfer your data to the latest medium, but expecting a long-term back-up solution for digital data isn't in the cards. What you'll see is the same problem researchers of ancient Egypt had until the Rosetta Stone was discovered. Unless you can read the data it is worthless for all intents and purposes.
What might result from a digital dark-age? That's something I'm going to ponder for a while. With all of the ways civilization might end up back in the pre-industrial ages it is a necessary question. Too sleepy to give an answer right now though.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John McCain Wants the Poor to Pay

Let me see if I can get this straight: I'm supposed to pay a higher proportion of my income in taxes just so people who make more than me don't? Supposedly I don't work as hard as a lawyer or doctor or lobbyist? Supposedly, if I make less than 100k a year that means I'm lazy? Fuck That John McCain.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lolcats are Gonna Save the Day Again

Sometimes all you need is Ninja Cat.

Of Ponies and Robocop

Now this is the way to tell an audience that posting isn't quite up to speed. I don't know which I would want more, Robocop or the unicorn because the Stig fears unicorns.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Government as Socialism, or How Obama Got His Law Groove On

The argument of the day seems to revolve around the ideas of what a government actually does and the conception of negative liberty, of which a lot of people misunderstand. Jonathan Chait at the New Republic's blog makes the point that the basic function of a government is to take money from people and give it to other people. To complicate things a little beyond the simplicity of Chait's statement, government uses taxes and tariffs to fund government infrastructure, national defense, the court system and a myriad of other things like social services (Social Security, Medicare/Medicade and the like).
Now the basic things like police forces, fire departments, and other emergency services have to try and apply their work to everyone equally, no matter how much they pay in taxes, or at least that's the idea. Dallas has a serious shortage of police officers and trying to raise the needed revenue is difficult without having to raise some form of taxes, usually property taxes. That those who live on properties with a higher value pay a higher tax is just a basic thing. And then the money is redistributed to the police department and applied in a somewhat equal way to everyone.
What has spurred the argument over 'wealth redistribution' today has been the pulling of an NPR interview of Sen. Obama in 2001, several years before his election to the U.S. Senate. In the interview, Sen. Obama expressed the view that if one wanted, one could make the argument that the judical branch (re: the courts) could work as an avenue for affirmative economic equality. But really, why would one want to do that? The conservative punditry (and I hate to pick on Shane Vander Hart at the Culture11 blog, but well, I needed a conservative example and I'd rather give them the traffic versus blowhards like Drudge) has decided to latch onto specific parts of this interview as a means of arguing that Sen. Obama favors the courts legislating economic equality and redistribution.
Of course this is bunk as Chait's collegue, Cass Sunstein, argues. Sen. Obama, while saying it was possible to make the court-oriented argument, it's not a very good one and, more to the point, shows where the civil rights movement has gone wrong in relying on the courts to resolve every civil rights issue. Specifically, as Marc Ambinder notes, Sen. Obama was referring to the case of San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez where the issue at stake was education funding.
It's here though that Sen. Obama makes a point about the Constitution that few people, particularly the screaming parts of the punditry, understand. The Constitution, Sen. Obama points out, is a document of negative liberties. It's a Lockean idea that the most liberty comes from the least amount of government interference in an individual's life. More than that, it also means that the Constitution only specifies the limits of government interference in concern to certain rights and is not an exhaustive list of every liberty an individual is born with. In other words, whether the Constitution says it or not, a liberty exists, like the right to privacy, and does not need an amendment to assure its existence, since such liberties remain in the hands of the states and individuals, unless otherwise specified.
Both Ambinder and Matt Yglesias argue that Sen. Obama not only expressed a view contrary to the liberal positivist view of the courts, but supported a view that many conservatives did during the 80s and 90s--that the courts are the wrong place to make serious changes to the economic inequality in the U.S. As Ambinder continues, he makes the point that the conservative response to the 2001 interview has now elevated the presidential race into a referendum on conservative ideology when Sen. Obama has steered clear of making that part of his campaign platform. Thus, if Sen. McCain does lose on Nov. 4th, along with many of his conservative collegues, conservative ideology will suffer a serious but self-inflicted blow.
Redistributing wealth is not an anti-American nor socialist viewpoint in and of itself. As I pointed out earlier, it's a basic function of government. What Sen. Obama has argued instead is for legislative and executive powers being brought to bear on economic inequality versus relying on the courts that Sen. Obama claims are unable to fully deal with the issue, nor it is their place to. Tempest in a teapot? Yes. But also a sign of how the Republicans are grasping at straws as quickly as they can. Desperation can lead to screwy arguments and this is one of them.

Garden Paths, Or Why Andrew Sullivan Needs Better Reading

I really don't get the point of these posts from Crash Landing. They're intended as thought experiments to point out potential flaws in a Obama presidency, which has it's place as the voting public makes their decision as to whom the next president is. But that's not the point of Bob Murphy's posts. The question asked--what would a President Obama have to do to make you regret your support for him--verges on the absurd of 'what ifs'. Yes, I suppose if a President Obama decided to nuke Iran that would make me regret my support for him. I would also regret buying a car with an engine that might explode two years later. Neither scenario is plausible under current known and expected conditions.
It's a mug's game since the whole point of the word 'regret' is that you expected one thing but were disappointed later on for some reason. Do I regret my expectation of a Bush presidency filled with smart advisers and an open-minded president? Yes, of course I do, but I went with what facts were available to me at the time. Is it possible for a President Obama to do the same? Yes, of course it is. And this brings me to my second problem with these two posts: the attitude that you have more than just two options in voting for president.
This is silly. If I want to vote in the current election then for all intents and purposes I only have the option of either Sen. Barak Obama or Sen. John McCain. One of these two men will become the next president. Realistically, there isn't another option, because we have a two-party system. Do I regret that? Yes, I do. I would like more options, but unless we get together and decide to put our efforts into creating a third, fourth or even fifth party then we're stuck with the system we have. Arguing otherwise is denying reality in hope that a magic pony will arrive with new political parties in tow.
What Murphy has done here is posit a couple of 'what if' questions that are meant to make the undecided even more undecided. If you want to push the issue, I'd say that this thought experiment is designed more for fear-mongering than serious thinking. Look, here's a site dedicated to listing all the possible disaster scenarios that could befall Earth. It's a great bit of fun reading, but even those disasters that have a fair to good chance of happening are so remote as to make worrying about them the same as worrying your nose might fall off your face. Should we question the capabilities of Sen. Obama as criteria for whether we give him our vote or not? Yes, do so, it's what you're supposed to do when voting for president. But asking what would it take for you to regret that decision before the election, before we see a President Obama in action, is a walk down the garden path. You will meet devils there, but only because that what you expect to see.

I'll Put a Black Fist Under Your Chin

The morning has brought not one, but two gems of posts from our dear Spencer Ackerman (who I plan to eliminate and replace with myself one day). They're loosely related as the first is a bit on Bill "Kristol Meth" Kristol reassuring neoconservatives that the nation will survive an Obama Presidency while the second item is on the CIA's continued sour relations with the neoconservatives and the agency's hope for a victory for Sen. Obama. Ackerman reads the Kristol piece as implying an Obama administration could possibly destroy the country. It's good for a giggle considering if George W. Bush hasn't been able to do it, then I doubt Sen. Obama could. But you have to push the fear-mongering somehow and suggesting that the U.S. might disappear if Sen. Obama wins is as good as it gets sometimes.
The latter piece on the CIA's strained relationship with neoconservative partisans is a little more insightful as to the damage and distrust neoconservativism has sown within the agency. Apparently, according to Ackerman's unnamed sources, many in the CIA look hopefully to an Obama administration where their opinions might received due attention again. I'm not exactly sure why neoconservatives dislike the CIA but they do and the Bush administration has given them free reign to dismantle, disrupt and generally just dis the CIA at every opportunity. Perhaps it's due to the agency's continued conclusions that run contrary to neoconservative ideology. For some reason, ideologues tend to get annoyed when reality doesn't conform as it should.
Still, lovely way to start the day. You might get the same news from other sources, but damnit man, I need me a bit of the snark to make it palitable.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ellis Hears the Voice of Satan

For the counter-culture kids, the hipsters, the scenesters, the oh-so-cool of the world, Daniel Johnston is a name that comes with an almost mystical reverence. So it interesting to learn how someone like Warren Ellis came to know of his music as a gift of a tape from a friend in 94. I discovered Johnston about the same time through the Kids soundtrack and found my love for lo-fi music there. A compilation such as that soundtrack would turn most anyone on to the lo-fi scene as it ran through several Folk Implosion songs, one Sebadoh track (the producers must have had a fondness for Lou Barlow) and Slint's amazing "Good Morning Captain". But Johnston's tracks stood out for his childlike voice and simple melodies constructed from what sounded like just about anything he had on hand, including his hands. It resulted in the purchase of two of his albums that I listened to a lot throughout high school but generally pushed by the wayside as I got older. So it's nice to see him brought to wider attention again, particularly by a cultural genius like Ellis.

Making Light in Real Time

So it seems Bruce Schenier will do a running blog commentary on the election results as they come in on Nov. 4. Schenier is a name that get mentioned quite often when it comes to national security matters and technology on both the software and hardware side as well as the cultural implications of 21st century security issues. He's a brilliant thinker, but more than that, he's willing to go out on a limb and do what he can to prove his thought experiements. As I'm already hosting an election watching party, Schenier's commentary is a welcome addition to the in-coming flood of information.

Joseph Lieberman's Political Tar Pit

Oh this is so a mea culpa play for Sen. Lieberman. I can only imagine what he'll do after the election if Sen. Obama wins. I mean, after supporting Sen. McCain the way he has, there's a lot of bowing and scraping he'll have to do just to hold onto his committee seats, let alone chairmanships. Even if Sen. McCain wins, I think the rest of the Senate Democrats are ready to give him the boot and he knows it. Sad to see such a longtime member of the party sink so deeply and then realize the muck he's gotten into. He won't survive I'm afraid.