Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I’m just going to do some rough categories this year of some of the music I listen to most (see also the Best of 2007 here).
I had an odd year in music, filled with a lot of older Asian music – Thai pop; Indonesian gamelan-inflected psychedelic and prog (long live the great Guruh Gypsy’s 1974 masterpiece!); a revisiting of the legendary Cambodian Rocks and new discoveries in wartime garage psych from Cambodia and Vietnam and even Laos; some new Dylanesque folk coming out of China; Nepalese punk; old Chinese show tunes; and Korean and Japanese blues. Reiko Kudo, of the Japanese group Maher Shalal Hash Baz, produced some nice goodies on her own.
The great discovery of the year for me is nearly 40 years old: the Icelandic psych/prog group Óðmenn and their album of the same name from 1970. Awesome.
Latin. There was abundant Latin music on the plate exploring new ways of taking up traditional musical forms. There was the wave of old and new cumbia that washed over the more experimental outskirts of Latin music (check out Chicha Libre’s Sonido Amazonico, and Chancha Vía Circuito’s Rodante). But it came from all over Latin America: the Mexican punk band, Ratas del Vaticano (Mocosos Patéticos); the Venezuelan folk pop of Domingo en Llamas (Fledermaus); the new tango of Natalia Mallo and the Gato Negro Quinteto (Tango EP); the tejano cumbia of Grupo Fantasma (Sonidos Gold); Bronx River Parkway’s latin funk (San Sebastian 152); Banda de Turistas from Argentina (Mágico Corazón Radiofónico); and once again the Argentinean mashup artist Villa Diamante. Un Día by Juana Molina makes the main list – she’s likely to be on the list every year she makes a record. Oh, and the tune "Fala Tanto" by Open Foraina and Jack Quiñónez (from their 7") is one hot dance number - throw this one on and watch what everyone in the room does.
Brazilian. I adore Brazilian music as far back in time as recordings go, but it does seem collectively to go through creative phases. Although I don’t think we’re currently in a waxing phase, there were bits and pieces this year worth exploring further: Marcelo Camelo (Sou); Eddie’s Carnaval No Inferno is one of the best from the country; Márcio Local’s samba soul (Samba Sem Nenhum Problema); Rogério Skylab’s Brazilian rock (Skylab 8); DJ Tudo’s hip hop/house (Garrafada); the indie rockers, Júlia Says (self-titled EP); and the off-center psych-funk instrumentalists, Burro Morto (Varadouro).
French. Although there will be disagreement from the club crowd and from Filles Sourires, France had a slow year overall. The standouts, however, made the main list. Cherbourgienne Françoiz Breut can do no wrong and A l’Aveuglette once again proves it. The equally lovely Marianne Dissard, expatriatedly of Tucson, also produced fine work in L’Entredeux. Barbara Carlotti’s L’Ideal also did it for me. And one of the best-of-the-best is Mathieu Boogaerts’ I Love You.
Classics. Some of the older crowd came up with terrific, fresh work. The Pretenders (listen to the knockdown “Almost Perfect”), for example, as well as The Legendary Pink Dots, the great Al Green, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, and Alejandro Escovedo. And I’m really glad to see the tragic French powerhouse Noir Désir back with a new single and apparently an album to come in 2009.
Pop. Pop was a mixed bag this year and, for me, most of the indie stuff runs together into a murky slosh of musical conformism, however much the music earnestly tries to say otherwise. But… Deerhoof made another fine album with Offend Maggie and they make it onto the list, up near the top in fact. I also agree with the cool kids that Shearwater’s Rook is indeed a great record. Lykke Li made the catchiest pop album of the year in Youth Novels. I even like the much-ballyhooed Santogold and her self-titled record. A number of lesser-known bands show great promise for the coming years: Rocket Surgery; Tame Impala from Australia; Zoo Animal (try the stripped-down “My Lord"); Scotland's Eagleowl; Snake Flower II; the psych folk of Finland's Lau Nau; Spain's Cuchillo; and Colourmusic. On the electronic side of pop, Portugal’s Gala Drop and the Egyptian-Italian breaks of Mutamassik demand serious headphone time.
Miscellaneous. And then for oddities, try Thiaz Itch's stuff (get it free here). Or Ergo Phizmiz's neo-Dadaist Handmade in the Monasteries of Nepal /Eloise My Dolly. And, of course, the masterpiece: the digital 7" via WFMU, People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz' Music to Run Fast By, which sounds exactly like the title (more freebies here). That'll take care of you.
Alas, I’m babbling. Time to commit to the best. These are in no particular order since I have no idea how to rank them numerically, and I also can't say that many of the above albums shouldn't also be on this list. Nonetheless, here’s my stab at...
The Best of 2008
This unassuming fellow made one of the best records of the year:
* This is Joose Keskitalo from Finland. The album, which I highly recommend, is Joose Keskitalo ja Kolmas Maailmanpalo, a simple work of gorgeous little folk pop melodies. They're in Suomi. I hope he’s not singing about axe murderers or cheez whiz. Good luck finding the record outside of Finland.
* James Hunter, The Hard Way. The song that has stayed with me much of the year is the Englishman ’s lovely “Carina." I’ve hummed this beautiful piece of northern soul since July and have never once wanted it out of my head. Cheers, James.
* Mathieu Boogaerts, I Love You. Mentioned above, this is a fine work of French pop with a modestly experimental side. Really enjoyable, constantly interesting, and non-coying, despite his goofy imagery.
* Françoiz Breut, A l’Aveuglette. I think it is now clear that Françoiz is the true musical heiress of the beauty and brilliance of Françoise Hardy and Brigitte Fontaine. Françoiz will be touring in the US in 2009 with Marianne Dissard opening. The best of France right there.
* Juana Molina, Un Día. Perhaps an acquired taste, but to acquire it is to adore it. The labels applied to her music don't do it justice. Pop unfolding wintry psychedelic trances.
* Larkin Grimm, Parplar. Anarchist folk, somehow crossing into "a Tolkienian spaghetti western." Maybe. One of the most interesting voices of 2008.
* Pierre Bastien, Visions of Doing. Can we call these jazz compositions? The French composer and his electronic robots create a musical world detached from the known universe. Brilliant and strange. For more, see here.
* Dungen, 4. The Swedish garage-psych rockers create a more melodic album than their previous records. I think it works just fine. It was always going to be difficult to top Ta Det Lugnt, but I've really enjoyed 4.
* Daniel Melingo, Maldito Tango. I'm not big on tango, but when I heard Melingo's skewed Tom Waits-ian take on the tradition, I was ready for long, malbec-fueled dinners with the artist and whoever makes up his inner circle. This is life-grabbing music that adores life-grabbing music.
* Deerhoof, Offend Maggie. One of these days, we might just call Deerhoof one of the great rock bands of our times. Oh, maybe not. But who else would it be?
* Shearwater, Rook. The Austin-based folkish rock indie dabblers something or another (spun off from the band Okkervil River) - toss in an ornithologist - are justifiably praised for this perhaps unintentionally symphonic record.
* Toumani Diabaté, The Mandé Variations. The aging Malian kora player makes another beautiful record, a history of African music and hommage to his peers built into each song. This is Grammy-nominated, which might normally imply that this is insipid "world music." It's not. A nice review from Audiversity here.
* Don Cavalli, Cryland. The Parisian gardener makes a stunning little record of swamp blues filtered through tilted Parisian pop. Oh, happiness.
* Flying Lotus, Los Angeles. This is what post-hip hop looks like. And it turns out to be a fascinatingly complex piece of experimental electronica.
Support and enjoy. Happy New Year.
Juan Cole has more on the reactions throughout the Middle East.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
If a familiar bar moves to a new location, does it retain any of its identity from its prior incarnation? The NY Times asks a philosophical question this morning.
But if drinking and dining have always been a moveable feast in New York, is charisma cartable? Can the character of everything from venerable pubs to palatial eateries migrate with their names and owners? This portability issue has gained new urgency in a season of economic disarray, when property owners are less willing to extend the leases of even the most beloved old-timers.Setting aside the important cultural ramifications to the current economy, I think it's a set of questions with a fairly clear answer. A bar or pub is not solely its food and drink menu, its ownership and employees, and its clientele. It's also the place itself. Good bars become habituated and build a history of this habituation over time - that's their talent. Much of this history is physically manifested. Right? It seems that, once the basic requirements of food and drink are taken care of, it's the physical place itself and how its habitués have worn into the place over time that matters most to bar identity.
But, on the other hand, if a friendly and familiar bar, while remaining in the same physical place, suddenly took on a completely different clientele - say, shifting from a clientele of academics and artists and musicians to a clientele of club kids, or from long-term locals to the latest wave of hipsters - would we still say that it has retained its identity?
Maybe it's that the physical place must also have a relatively non-transitory clientele, at least in part, and that this combination of place and regularity gives the bar the core of its identity?
Monday, December 22, 2008
Human rights activists may call $1-an-hour sweatshop laborers slaves, regardless of the fact that they are paid and can often walk away from the job. But the reality of slavery is far different. Slavery exists today on an unprecedented scale. In Africa, tens of thousands are chattel slaves, seized in war or tucked away for generations. Across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, traffickers have forced as many as 2 million into prostitution or labor. In South Asia, which has the highest concentration of slaves on the planet, nearly 10 million languish in bondage, unable to leave their captors until they pay off “debts,” legal fictions that in many cases are generations old.
SACRAMENTO, CA—Activists on both sides of the gay marriage debate were shocked this November, when a typographical error in California's Proposition 8 changed the state constitution to restrict marriage to a union between "one man and one wolfman," instantly nullifying every marriage except those comprised of an adult male and his lycanthrope partner. "The people of California made their voices heard today, and reaffirmed our age-old belief that the only union sanctioned in God's eyes is the union between a man and another man possessed by an ungodly lupine curse," state Sen. Tim McClintock said at a hastily organized rally celebrating passage of the new law. But opponents, including Bakersfield resident Patricia Millard—who is now legally banned from marrying her boyfriend, a human, non-wolfman male—claim it infringes on their civil liberties. "I love James just as much as a wolfman loves his husband," Millard said. "We deserve the same rights as any horrifying mythical abomination." On the heels of the historic typo, voters in Utah passed a similar referendum a week later, defining marriage as between one man and 23 wolfmen.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Karl Rove, who refused to answer questions for years on the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA official, criticized Barack Obama on Monday for not being more forthcoming in the Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) scandal.
Rove, a former top White House adviser to President Bush, said on Fox News, “[Obama] should have, right from the beginning, been more forthcoming.”
(Via Balloon Juice)
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Everything feels unhinged on Lark Marvels; there's a jokey nonchalance to the vocals, and the percussion often manifests as a confined clatter. This is pop bent through the surreal lens of krautrock and cosmic psych.
The abuses at Abu Ghraib, GTMO and elsewhere cannot be chalked up to the actions of a few bad apples. Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable. The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees.But this is only really significant if we assume that context in which some rather uncomfortable actors - much of the media, Congress, and the Bush administration - all agree to pretend that we're getting to the bottom of some difficult topic where we first have to figure out (deliberately - we'll get to the bottom of this!) the terms of debate and the language of investigation. Again, those terms are not really in dispute at all in the real world. Just for reminders, here's Mary Ellen O’Connell in an interview with Scott Horton, discussing the real context:
The prohibition on torture is absolute in all circumstances—it is a jus cogens or peremptory norm of international law. There are no exceptions to the prohibition. This is clear in the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Civil and Political Rights Covenant. The United States is a party to all three. It is true that Israel’s Supreme Court in a very powerful decision upholding the prohibition on torture and cruel treatment did suggest that an individual interrogator might be able to mount a defense of necessity, but this part of the decision is against the clear weight of authority. It clashes with the fundamental reason for drafting the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT)–at that time no one doubted that torture as sport or cruelty was prohibited. The CAT was intended to clear away any last doubts that governments had the right to use torture or cruel measures to seek information for national security or to combat crime.
In an unexpected judicial turnaround, the Supreme Court this week reversed its 2000 ruling in the landmark case of Bush v. Gore, stripping George W. Bush of his earlier political victory, and declaring Albert Arnold Gore the 43rd president of the United States of America.
The court, which called its original decision to halt manual recounts in Florida "a ruling made in haste," voted unanimously on Wednesday in favor of the 2000 Democratic nominee.
Gore will serve as commander in chief from Dec. 10 to Jan. 20.
"Allowing this flaw in judgment to stand would set an unworkable precedent for future elections and cause irreparable harm to the impartiality of this court," said Chief Justice John G. Roberts in his majority opinion. "Furthermore, let me be the first to personally congratulate President Gore on his remarkable come-from-behind victory. May he guide us wisely into this new millennium."
Added Roberts, "The system works."
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
SYDNEY , Dec. 9 (UPI) -- An Australian astronomer says the Christmas star that led the three Wise Men to Jesus appeared in June, not December.
Dave Reneke, former chief lecturer at the Port Macquarie Observatory in New South Wales who now is news editor of Sky and Space magazine, said complex computer software was used to map the night sky as it would have appeared over Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.The research pinpoints the date of Christ's birth as June 17 rather than Dec. 25, The Times of London reported Tuesday.
"Venus and Jupiter became very close in the the year 2 B.C. and they would have appeared to be one bright beacon of light," he said. "We are not saying this was definitely the Christmas star -- but it is the strongest explanation for it of any I have seen so far."
Probably we should wait for the equatorial astronomers weigh in on this one.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
In 1953, he underwent an experimental brain operation...only to emerge from it fundamentally and irreparably changed.
For the next 55 years, each time he met a friend...it was as if for the first time.
And for those five decades, he was recognized as the most important patient in the history of brain science.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
...preliminary election results in Plateau State, Nigeria led to clashes on Friday between Muslim and Christian communities in and around the provincial capital, Jos. The city sits in Nigeria's "middle belt" at the point of contact between the Muslim north and the Christian / animist south. It had apparently been doing a good job living up to its nickname "the Home of Peace of Tourism" for the last few years, following riots in 2001 during which over 1000 people were killed. (Guess they'll have to reset the "Jos: 2630 days without religious violence" counter...)
Last week's rioting began after rumors spread that the largely Christian-backed People's Democratic Party had defeated the Muslim-supported All Nigeria People's Party in state elections. Several hundred people, some of whom were probably even the parents of young children, were killed and several thousand were displaced in the ensuing violence.
The gangs also burned down homes, schools, and religious buildings, demonstrating once again the universal truth that angry mobs - no matter their race, religion, or creed - love to set shit on fire. Isn't it nice to know that deep down we ARE all the same?
Thursday, December 04, 2008
But above all, people have repeatedly asked -- and people I love and respect, so I mean no criticism in making a trope of the question -- "How far is Pune from Mumbai?" It's about 90 miles, a three-to-four-hour drive, I say. I say "four hour drive," making it clear that an inflatable dinghy probably wouldn't quite cut it. But that question -- how far will you be from the site of these attacks -- doesn't fit the problem. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I've been reading the excellent recent translation of War and Peace, but the "how far" hasn't been the right question for a long time. I mean, it mattered how far Smolensk was from Moscow. Such things mattered to so many people for so long that the question probably comes to us from some Jungian depth. But a small group of trained attackers exploiting security holes one could find practically anywhere in the world is not an invading army. Mumbai is not itself a hot zone of ethnic or religious conflict; it's pretty much the opposite of that. It's just a great big city on the edge of a great big country.
So, over the past few days, what I have been saying is that what matters, what we're watching closely as we pack our things, is how India decides to address what happened: clearly, the attackers and their sponsors dislike the growing cooperation and commitment to dialogue between India and Pakistan. Will this attack derail that? Worse still, will it manage to provoke India into a state vs. state response against Pakistan? Can the Congress Party avoid taking "a tough stance" in the face of BJP criticism with elections approaching? Can India prove that it knows -- unlike the Bush administration -- that this is the twenty first century? These are the questions I'm preoccupied with now.
So I was pleased when a friend this morning passed along a link to the Juan Cole piece in Outlook India, as he, as usual, gets quickly to the heart of the matter:
The Bush administration took its eye off al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and instead put most of its resources into confronting Iraq. But Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Eventually this American fickleness allowed both al-Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup.Now I'm worried by the obvious: Juan Cole and many others made these same points after 9/11. Will India hear them?
Likewise, India should not allow itself to be distracted by implausible conspiracy theories about high Pakistani officials wanting to destroy the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai. (Does that even make any sense?) Focusing on a conventional state threat alone will leave the country unprepared to meet further asymmetrical, guerrilla-style attacks.
Monday, December 01, 2008
- Obama's plans for probing Bush torture
- Last Secrets of the Bush Administration
- An Inside Look at Islamic Militants
- Are Pirates the Problem of the Solution?
- The Live Piracy Map (extra cool)
- No Nukes as a Renewed Policy Idea
- Bracing for Environmental "Midnight Rules" from Bush
- Can Democracies Deal with Climate Change?
- My friend Oscar Reyes on the recent regional and local elections in Venezuela
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.
Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:
• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion
TOTAL: $3.92 trillion
data courtesy of Bianco Research
That is $686 billion less than the cost of the credit crisis thus far.
The only single American event in history that even comes close to matching the cost of the credit crisis is World War II: Original Cost: $288 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $3.6 trillion
Friday, November 14, 2008
The following day will be the opening of the exhibit, Los Desaparecidos, at the Art Museum of the Americas on the National Mall here in DC. Some of the artists will be there as well as some of the speakers (including myself) from the symposium.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
No. Let's hope this is a case of misrepresentation of Obama's views by the "current government official" or that it's an instance of the highly improbable side of the spectrum for a transition team "keeping all options open." If not, Obama's already wrong on one of the worst parts of recent US history. It would also be a sign either that he hasn't thought clearly about the issue of torture or that he's being advised by the wrong people.
As a candidate, Mr. Obama said the CIA's interrogation program should adhere to the same rules that apply to the military, which would prohibit the use of techniques such as waterboarding. He has also said the program should be investigated.
Yet he more recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.
The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Update: If I had serious readership here, I'd see if I could get people to photoshop Kim in all sorts of suspicious places, complete with BBC-like conspiratorial arrows pointing out the discrepancies. You know, Kim winning a hot dog eating contest, Kim drinking manhattans with Heidi Klum, Kim taking surfing lessons in Waikiki, etc.
One of the most interesting things about anti-intellectualism in American life is that it’s a very intellectual project. Real anti-intellectualism, the Family kind, you know, “Jesus plus nothing,” the systematic stripping away of history, of theology, of any kind of influence—that’s an intellectual project. Not for nothing does Doug Coe express some admiration for Pol Pot. In year zero, he did the same thing. Pol Pot had all the intellectuals killed. You only do that if you have an idea. That’s an extreme form of ideology that says: I can purify things.
There are two great traditions that have been written about before, which are American rationalism and American sentimentalism. What you see in the Family’s expression of power is that these are not two opposite poles, but the head and heart, the realpolitik of world power. The sentimental narrative, which is anti-intellectual—is absolutely interwoven with the rationalist Family agenda.
President-elect Obama's advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to ship dozens, if not hundreds, of imprisoned terrorism suspects to the United States to face criminal trials, a plan that would make good on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but could require creation of a controversial new system of justice.
During his campaign, Obama described Guantanamo as a "sad chapter in American history" and has said generally that the U.S. legal system is equipped to handle the detainees. But he has offered few details on what he planned to do once the facility is closed.
Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
I think the most important question about presidential candidates is not what kind of people they seem to be or what they promise to do if elected, but rather how they view the relationship between individuals and the government. Their characters are hard to assess from afar and will change in office; their policy proposals will also shift. But poor presidents always have vague, incoherent, or downright bad ideas about how citizens and the government should relate. Great presidents are elected with compelling new visions of this relationship, and they make those visions real...
Barack Obama launched his campaign by addressing citizens' relationship with government and he never stopped talking about it. It even came up in his 30-minute TV ad. I thought this theme was under-reported, even though it is always the most important question about a presidential candidate, and Obama has a distinctive view.
Obama's core idea is that citizens are at the center of politics. Not private individuals, not the government, not politicians, but people working together in public, on public matters. Campaigning in New Hampshire in 2006, he said, "There's a wonderful saying by Justice Louis Brandeis once, that the most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen. ... All of us have a stake in this government, all of us have responsibilities, all of us have to step up to the plate."
Obama broke away from the helping model that still guided Hilary Clinton and from the privatism that was the main theme of modern conservatism. On the campaign trail, he modeled his new conception in two important ways--by making his campaign maximally participatory (pushing power out to the network) and by lowering the partisan temperature a notch. He is a Democrat and he was willing to debate and compete with Republicans. But he never seemed to relish this difference. The reason is that citizens are both liberal and conservative, and they need to work together to solve any serious problems. Competition is appropriate in a campaign, but campaigning is a role for politicians, and they are not the heart of politics.
I would like to purchase some convenience, but it is inconvenient to have to raise the money to do so.
At Happy Lawson, a kid-friendly store that overlooks Yokohama Harbor, you can buy fresh sushi and carbon offsets, pay income tax and change diapers, book airplane tickets and sip vodka coolers. There's hot soup, cold beer, fresh bread, clean toilets, french fries, earwax remover, spotless floors, and a broadband-empowered machine that will order home appliances, book concert tickets and sign you up for driver's ed.
No Big Gulp, no Slurpee, no mini-pizzas sweating grease under a hot light, but you can drop off luggage for the bullet train and park a stroller beside the bar that abuts the toddler play area. "For mothers to maybe have a sip of alcohol while children play is, I think, welcome," said Kazuo Kimera, a spokesman for Lawson Inc., which has about 8,600 convenience stores across Japan...
"We have standardized the size of the store to 100 square meters and 2,500 products," said Tetsu Kaieda, managing director of the Japan Franchise Association. "We don't need anything more or anything less to sell convenience."
Friday, November 07, 2008
Obama just gave his first press conference, flanked by his economic advisers. Most of it was exactly what you've heard before -- economic crisis, deliberate haste, stimulus bill, putting politics aside. Then came a question about the family's new puppy. Deadpan, he replied, in full Obama voice, with phrasing precisely like his other answers, "we have, uh, two criteria for picking out a puppy." The first criteria is that the pup be hypoallergenic, as one of the little Obama's is allergic. The other is that they want a shelter dog, "a mutt," said Obama, "like me."
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I confess a certain impatience, on this poignant day, with all the earnest talk about how America achieved something remarkable yesterday by electing our first African-American president, as if the choice has been about race all along. I do not mean to diminish an historic first, like electing a Catholic in 1960; I, too, choked-up when John Lewis spoke. But relief today is not about Americans choosing an obviously black man over a white man, which proves we can come to terms with our past. It is about our choosing an obviously brilliant, reciprocal man over a thick, cynical one--a man who articulates a coherent vision of global commonwealth over someone advancing vague, military patriotism--which proves we can come to terms with our future.Obviously, as the election of the first black president, the occasion is momentous and the implications for American society run deep. For the first time in quite a long time, I really do feel proud about my country. And the reaction of the entire rest of the world is thrilling. But we shouldn't forget that we've elected a brilliant, intellectually agile, and obviously politically talented person, not just a black man. There's something amiss in making this exclusively an election about race, whichever your political brand. He is certainly the best presidential candidate fielded in my lifetime. Regardless of his blackness or whiteness or whatever, we would have been a truly sorry country to pass that up.
Barack Hussein Obama. Wow. A progressive, genuinely democratic, pragmatic, intelligent thinker with a background and perspective that reflects the fundamental reality of the variegated American soul.
Just smiling today.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Everyone who is voting Obama to punish the GOP thinks that there is some small chance that the GOP might change its ways. The diversity of views among Obamacons reflects how many different future directions are expected, guaranteeing that many will be disappointed, but it also reflects how badly the GOP has failed on multiple fronts that it is simultaneously losing so many prominent and obscure Catholic pro-lifers, libertarians, foreign policy realists, moderates and small-government conservatives, among others, to a Democratic nominee who genuinely is the most liberal of any they have had since 1972. Under normal circumstances, a vote for Obama ought to be unthinkable for almost all of the people on the right who have endorsed him, but the GOP has failed so badly that it has made the unthinkable mundane and ordinary. It’s reaching a point where the report of another Obamacon endorsement is no more remarkable than when the leaves start falling in autumn. Far more important in the aftermath than coming up with new and amusing ways to mock the Obama endorsers is an effort to understand and remedy the profound failures that made this phenomenon possible before a major realignment does occur.Yes, it's true that the Republican party is a mess. It is rife with corruption, demagoguery, and anti-intellectualism. It has led disastrous foreign and domestic policies over the past eight years. It has been the main supporter of one of the great moral stains on the history of the US - the exceptionalist institutionalization of torture. A viable GOP clearly has serious reflection to undertake. The promotion of Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate for 2012 is one key apparent direction of this reflection, which further demonstrates how utterly clueless the party has become.
But Larison misses the point. I would think that if you're a conservative, you would be less concerned about the GOP and more concerned about the state of conservatism as a fruitful political approach. The thoughtful conservatives still tie conservatism to the party, even while some of them seek to extract themselves from the party's grip. A party-less ideology has a tough road to follow for political saliency. But it's probably time to let that rotten GOP go, given the amount of damage it has done to itself, to the country, and to other countries. This is because conservative ideology has been captured by the GOP, turned dramatically to the right, and transformed into a religion of the GOP. Fidelity to the party has become the sole ideology. This is partially why you see Obamacons so harshly lambasted by their fellow GOPers. But that party-ideology has been losing any intellectual heft it ever had. It is now almost totally reactionary and based on membership and loyalty to the club. This makes it difficult to recruit new members other than the Sarah Palins of the world.
I think this kind of discussion about bolstering one side or the other of the ideological divide nonetheless misses something very important about Barack Obama, which both parties ought to understand better. It's uncontroversial to say that US political life is dualistic and polarized. Demagogues constantly prey on this polarization by reinforcing it. Thus, most of the pundit class can't see past the possibility of either a conservative-Republican ideology in power or a liberal ideology in power. For these people and their dualistic framework, an Obama victory is necessarily an ideological shift to the left. What neither the right nor many on the left get, however, is that Obama is not an ideologue. He's a pragmatist.
I don't mean "pragmatist" in the crass political sense of going with the socio-political flow or drastically diluting one's policy programs in order to get something-anything done or leverage support for some other attractive policy. I mean "pragmatist" in the philosophical sense, the form of philosophical critique that had its first generation in Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey and has been renewed with vigor over the past thirty years. These three thinkers were probably the three greatest philosophers to come out of the US., with deep roots in the longer lineage of American thought through Thoreau and Emerson, Jefferson and Madison and Franklin, and back to Jonathan Edwards, though naturalized and Darwinized by Peirce and Dewey in particular.
To put it simply, Obama seems to me an experimentalist problem-solver of a pragmatic stripe.
A pragmatist thinks in terms of problems and tools and experiments for solving them. A problem arises, which is such precisely because we don't have the conceptual or normative tools at hand to solve it. The pragmatist looks around for explanations, interpretations, analyses, arguments, and new understandings to try help us resolve the problem. If it's political, or a matter of policy, or a matter of ethics or legal interpretation, the pragmatist understands that we start from an irreducible pluralism of values that are crucial to even understanding the problem, let alone resolving it. In a pluralistic country such as the US, policy and political disputes are often disputes involving complex, competing values and ideas. They are problems of intelligent cooperation.
Ideological commitment of the sort that drives the US political system is problematic here - it may provide us with some useful interpretive tools, but it more than likely frames and constricts our understanding of the nature of the problem and the range of possible solutions a priori, prior to investigating the problem. This suggests that the truth of the matter comes prior to testing ideas and policies. The ideologist ends up, by default, resolving problems from a partial and usually self-interested perspective. Pragmatists think this has it all backwards.
The pragmatist seeks to suspend prior ideological commitments and focus rather on generating ongoing dialogue, attempting to build a community of public discussion, in order to gain the fullest possible view of the problem as well as in order to eventually engage the most democratic means for resolving it.
Proposed solutions are tested over and over against real, multi-faceted experience rather than against their fidelity to ideological commitments. Sometimes, we will hit upon policy solutions that work well enough given the constellation of interests. But we'll eventually, more than likely, need to revisit them at some point as new circumstances generate new issues to resolve. There are two crucial components to this process: 1) an assumption of the fallibility of any one view or idea combined with a pluralism of values entails a fuller, epistemologically robust, understanding of the nature of a given policy problem; and 2) the experimental, adaptive process through which problem-solutions are sought just is the creation and sustaining of intelligent democratic community.
Read these five articles on Obama:
- A Mother's Unconventional Life Is Reflected within Obama
- In Law School, Obama Found Political Voice
- Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart
- The Visionary Minimalist
- Cass Sunstein: The Obama I Know
What does this mean for Obama the president? I'd like to hope that the office doesn't convert Obama into yet another pragmatist of the crass, non-philosophical version I mentioned above. I'm not worried about him being an ideologue. Despite the right's best efforts to paint him as such, there's little evidence that he's that sort of person. He's going to make a lot of people unhappy on both the left and the right when he doesn't follow the rules of prior ideological commitments. That unhappiness will unwittingly reflect something profoundly wrong with the older and hopefully dying form of polarized ideological politics in the US. But, unlike how many pundits put it, the problem is less "polarization" than it is the epistemological backwardness of ideology-driven politics.
But can Obama function as a genuine philosophical pragmatist? I think so. Given the serious nature of the problems he'll be dealing with as president - from the wars to climate change to poverty and economic collapse to education and healthcare - we really do need someone who's not blinkered by prior ideological commitments and hackneyed policy ideas and tools. We need a philosophical pragmatist with a rich understanding of the complex diversity of the US and the world, a morally reflective person who's willing to listen, to experiment, to involve and engage, and to lead when it is time to lead. Everything in his background says this is precisely who Obama is.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
More at The Onion....
'I Would Make A Bad President,' Obama Says In Huge Campaign BlunderTALLAHASSEE, FL—In a campaign gaffe that could potentially jeopardize Sen. Barack Obama's White House bid, the Democratic presidential nominee told nearly 8,000 supporters Tuesday that, if elected, he would be a terrible president.
The blunder, captured by all major media outlets and broadcast live on CNN, occurred when the typically polished Obama fielded a question about his health care policy. Obama answered by saying he would give small business owners a tax credit to help them provide health care for their employees, and then added, "Now, I'm not completely certain that my plan would work because, overall, I think I would make a bad president."
Meanwhile, the McCain camp's November Surprise:
You may have noticed that the AP is reporting that Barack Obama's aunt (who he does not seem to have a relationship with) was denied asylum in the US four years ago and is now living illegally in Boston. Convenient timing, ain't it?
The real story, though, is down in the third paragraph of the AP story ...Information about the deportation case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one of them a federal law enforcement official. The information they made available is known to officials in the federal government, but the AP could not establish whether anyone at a political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been involved in its release.
That's about as transparent a red flag as an outfit like the AP is usually willing to give. And there you have it. Quite likely working in concert with the McCain campaign, a Bush administration official is leaking details on an immigration case to try to help McCain three days before the election. It's shades of Bush I's riffling through Bill Clinton's passport files just before the 1992 election in a desperate last minute gambit as they were swirling down the drain.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The gap between rich and poor has grown in more than three-quarters of OECD countries over the past two decades, according to a new OECD report.
OECD’s Growing Unequal? finds that the economic growth of recent decades has benefitted the rich more than the poor. In some countries, such as Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway and the United States, the gap also increased between the rich and the middle-class.
Countries with a wide distribution of income tend to have more widespread income poverty. Also, social mobility is lower in countries with high inequality, such as Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, and higher in the Nordic countries where income is distributed more evenly.
Launching the report in Paris, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría warned of the dangers posed by inequality and the need for governments to tackle it. “Growing inequality is divisive. It polarises societies, it divides regions within countries, and it carves up the world between rich and poor. Greater income inequality stifles upward mobility between generations, making it harder for talented and hard-working people to get the rewards they deserve. Ignoring increasing inequality is not an option.”...
An "atlas of hidden water" has been created to reveal where the world's freshwater aquifers really lie. "The hope," New Scientist reports, "is that it will help pave the way to an international law to govern how water is shared around the world."
This prospective hydro-geopolitical legislation currently includes a "draft Convention on transboundary aquifers."
"What the UNESCO map reveals," New Scientist adds, "is just how many aquifers cross international borders. So far, the organisation has identified 273 trans-boundary aquifers: 68 in the Americas, 38 in Africa, 155 in Eastern and Western Europe and 12 in Asia." One of these is the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, whose waters are nearly a million years old.
According – somewhat oddly – to the International Atomic Energy Agency:
The ancient system’s massive reserves, estimated at 375,000 cu km of water (equivalent to about 500 years of Nile River discharge), are confined deep inside the earth’s underground chambers – staggered, tiered, and pooled beneath the sands of the Sahara Desert, oasis settlements, wadis (dry riverbeds that contain water only during times of heavy rain), small villages, towns, and large cities.
Monday, October 27, 2008
...why would any middle- or low-income American object to the principle that the most affluent should assume slightly more of the burden? Is it that they imagine (fictionally) that this is where they will wind up eventually, and they won’t want the bigger tax burden when they get there? Do they give credence to the trickle-down theory that got this whole slide towards greater income inequality going in the first place in 1980? Plainly most people are deeply offended by the excesses of executive compensation that are now so visible; is that an impulse towards socialism? Or is it simply that they’re alienated by the label that is being thrown at this fairly ordinary tax proposal — which certainly gives a lot of credence to the irrational power of negative image marketing?UPDATE:
...For decades, ["socialism"] served mainly as a cudgel with which conservative Republicans beat liberal Democrats about the head. When Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan accused John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson of socialism for advocating guaranteed health care for the aged and the poor, the implication was that Medicare and Medicaid would presage a Soviet America. Now that Communism has been defunct for nearly twenty years, though, the cry of socialism no longer packs its old punch. “At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” McCain said the other day—thereby suggesting that the dystopia he abhors is not some North Korean-style totalitarian ant heap but, rather, the gentle social democracies across the Atlantic, where, in return for higher taxes and without any diminution of civil liberty, people buy themselves excellent public education, anxiety-free health care, and decent public transportation.
The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent.
This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Here's the Amazon link.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
A crisis mirrored the world over. More on this later. And earlier.
Many scientists agree. A vast flotilla of industrial trawlers from the European Union, China, Russia and elsewhere, together with an abundance of local boats, have so thoroughly scoured northwest Africa’s ocean floor that major fish populations are collapsing.
That has crippled coastal economies and added to the surge of illegal migrants who brave the high seas in wooden pirogues hoping to reach Europe. While reasons for immigration are as varied as fish species, Europe’s lure has clearly intensified as northwest Africa’s fish population has dwindled.
In recent years, we have increasingly perceived ourselves as a tolerant people, willing to think anew about the prejudices of the past. Much of the economic dynamism of the country—the vibrancy we cherish—comes not just from the fact of this openness but from our psychic investment in it. Even when the government lets us down badly, as it has in the recent past, we think of ourselves as a good and decent people. Misguided, perhaps, and easily fooled. But good. Even Arabs who hate the U.S. government under either party always insist that they like the American people.
So what happens if we wake up the day after the election to find that the nation has rejected an exceptionally intelligent, thoughtful, and eloquent candidate in a year when 80 percent of voters think we’re on the wrong track? To what would we attribute Obama’s defeat? The inescapable conclusion would be that, no, America is not ready for a black president after all.
Out, damn’d spot! The stain of America’s original sin would spread further yet, pushing us into a past we had hoped to transcend. The normal pain of one party losing an election would be intensified enormously by the pain of history. Republicans (who barely tolerate McCain) wouldn’t cheer much; they would know in their hearts that the party of Lincoln had completed its metamorphosis into the party of cynicism.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Health care is a sector where consumers are told what they need. Markets need information, and the folks with the information are the doctors. Health care, in other words, is a mediated market. If you want the "market" to work better, you need to focus on the folks who actually make it work. The problem is not in what consumers "want," but what they are told they need.
Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.(Photo from here, via The Field).
As you may remember, this is not a new obsession for McCain. Puzzlingly, the first thing he did after he clinched the Republican nomination, at the beginning of July, was to get on a plane and go to…Colombia. Or maybe not so puzzlingly. In the second paragraph of the New York Times story previewing the trip, Larry Rohter wrote:Since 1998, the lobbying firm headed until recently by Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s closest confidants, has earned more than $1.8 million representing the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the leading foreign producer of gas and oil in Colombia. The lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, has also represented Colombian textile and apparel manufacturers and a former foreign minister and presidential candidate who is also a prominent businesswoman.
The Times went on to note that human rights groups have accused Occidental of complicity in the killing of peasants and labor leaders believed (erroneously, in the case of the labor leaders) to be affiliated with guerrilla groups.
The week before McCain left for Colombia, Carl H. Linder, Jr., who made billions as the C.E.O. of Chiquita Brands International, hosted a fundraiser for McCain at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. It raised $2 million—a lot of money, though not much compared to the $25 million fine Chiquita paid for paying, under Linder’s leadership, more millions to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a bloodthirsty paramilitary group which the State Department officially classified as a terrorist organization. But, as Nico Pitney pointed out at the time in a well-documented report at the Huffington Post, Chiquita was an equal-opportunity terror funder in Colombia: it also made payments to leftist guerrilla groups, including the notorious FARC. Nothing to do with ideology, of course. Just a routine business expense.
Besides Black, at least four other McCain staffers or major fundraisers, including the campaign’s finance director and a former national finance chairman, have earned tidy sums lobbying for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
But John McCain is an honorable man. Therefore, it is inconceivable that any of these “associations,” to use one of his favorite words, had anything to do with the Republican nominee’s extraordinary solicitude for the Colombia trade pact, let alone the way he rolled his eyes when Obama spoke of the murder of Colombian labor leaders.