Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 31, 2011

The war on women continues.

Just wondering: anyone making this kind of stink about subsidized Viagra? To ask the question is to answer it.

A skirmish won. J. C. Penney seems no longer to be selling this shirt, designed to teach young women their proper place in life according to some.

And it's encouraging to see young women starting to recognize that, yeah, things can slip backwards.

Meanwhile, money may not be the answer either. Duh. Here's some more thought on why it's never enough for some people.

The media can't give up the freakshow. And hey! There's nothing else going on in the world. Actually, this week is blessedly calmer than most lately. Knock wood.

Even some good news!

Finally, I haven't had a chance to look at the paper this article describes. My immediate reaction is that I'll bet it's the change in mood that provokes creativity rather than the anger itself. It would be gratifying to be able to think that this morning's irritations have contributed something.

Doing Stuff Is Hard

And requires a bit of knowledge. Of facts, rather than dogma.

Maybe I'm touchy about this because I had to start out the week in a meeting where the suggestions were in the form of "I think this subject would be good," not followed by any practical ideas on how to execute that. Or "If you [note that you] got a good title and a great speaker, it would be a really good program."

So I snapped at Joshua Foust (@joshuafoust) this morning when he tweeted, "This reminds me of the Aral Sea, or more precisely Lake Baikal" The link is to a piece on the Salton Sea, in California. He and I then had a back-and-forth about this analogy. Part of his argument was that "the Aral is more about the dehydration than the direct chemical poisoning, which is what Baikal has to deal with." Which betrays multiple misunderstandings of the problems and history of the Salton Sea, the Aral Sea, and Lake Baikal. All in 140 characters.

Or we can consider far too many of the organizations advocating the end of nuclear weapons. That's their whole argument: the end of nuclear weapons. Which to them means no more funding, now, for anything to do with nuclear weapons.

Nice ideas, all, from getting a super title and speaker for a program to removing nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. And all just words, no consideration of what steps are needed to get to those worthy goals. Identify and contact speakers; work them all into a single schedule. That's many e-mails and phone calls. Remediation of the environmental problems in those three bodies of water requires understanding their ecology (size, local temperatures and surrounding vegetation, depth and extent) and the natures of the problems; those problems include removal of source waters to irrigation, inflow of agricultural chemicals, and dumping of manufacturing wastes. Or eliminating nuclear weapons requires handing those large physical objects and disassembling them. Or shooting them into the sun, or whatever. But they don't disappear by themselves.

The advocates who don't bother to think about the details are not different from the Republcans who want all problems to be solved by no taxation. Words are simple. But the politics, history, and sheer physicality of the world have to be considered as well if you actually want to do something about it. And who is to do it? Certainly not the silver-tongued advocates. As I was told on Monday, you do it.

I'm not sure that any of these well-meaning people recognize the disconnect betweeen their advocacy and getting something done. Talk and internet bits almost feel like doing something. And if you've never set up a program, never planned and executed an environmental project, never seen a nuclear weapon, it's easier to feel that that talk is something real.

Update: Or we could consider Germany's instant decision that nuclear power is bad and frightening after Japan's monster earthquake. Just take the nuclear plants off line. Easy, huh? Maybe not so much. Those plants were generating electricity because people used it in their homes and factories. If the plants aren't generating electricity, it needs to come from somewhere else. Renewable! What a nice green word, words again. Solar cells and windmills must be manufactured and sited somewhere. They must be knitted into the electrical grid in a way that works to get the power where it is needed. At the very least, all that takes time. And some of it may simply not work as well as it needs to, like solar cells in Germany's cloudy climate.

But it was an easy decision.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 30, 2011

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has been looking at Rick Perry. She's a Catholic and is including his religious claims in her evaluation.

The moral basis for an extensive state. Daniel Little's response to the Libertarian/Tea Party selfishness.

This is the value of nonviolent action: the enforcers don't like to kill their fellow citizens.

Vacations and breaks make you more productive. So go ahead and read this blog.

A blog that frequently seems alarmist to me concludes that terrorists are unlikely to make or acquire WMD of various sorts. Good job, guys!

Three charts to send to your right-wing brother-in-law. Actually, it's my brother, and we've got a moratorium on this sort of e-mail, but these are tempting.

As I tweeted the other day, why should we believe anything Dick Cheney has to say? Conor Friedersdorf gives a long list of reasons why so few are willing to endorse Cheney's time in office.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Words and Deeds

Ross Douthat this morning says some things about candidates' religions and how he thinks journalists should deal with those beliefs. James Joyner recounts a Twitter discussion that centered on two questions:
First, how should one apply the term “extremist” in the context of the American religious debate? Second, what are the contours of “mainstream” religious thought in America?
Those are, I suppose, interesting questions, although I'm concerned that they distract from the issues he seems to be addressing when he evaluates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in the terms of those questions.

The issue of religion in politics is whether religious beliefs should be imposed on nonbelievers by political means. Both Bachmann and Perry, and likely most of their adherents, seem to believe that this is essential. Whether this counts as extremism is an argument I'll leave to others. Certainly it is what many on the right accuse Islam of in the anti-sharia laws that are being proposed across the United States. If it's wrong for Islam, it's wrong for their version of Christianity, too.

So in one sense, that's all I have to say about this great debate. But I'll add a bit about "mainstream" religious thought in America. It's hard to find what the mainstream is these days. If we take numbers of adherents, Catholics plus mainstream (old-style?) Protestants probably still outnumber evangelicals and charismatics. The numbers are hard to figure out, because many people will tell pollsters that they belong to a particular church, but they seldom attend. Catholic and mainstream Protestants have developed a body of theology that has been checked and rechecked for consistency with the Bible, their foundational document. There are disagreements among them, but there are also large swathes of agreement.

The "new-style" Christians disagree with a great deal of this theology. They need to make arguments that go beyond "God told me so" in order to convince the rest of us (well, me, anyway) that their cruelty and selfishness is justified. There is a tradition of prophecy in Christianity, and they may be right that God has spoken to them. But they have an obligation to explain themselves better, especially in their zeal to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.

They certainly are louder than the old-style Christians, who I would like to hear more from them too. But is loud mainstream? Would a majority holding a clear set of views be mainstream? And even if they were a majority, one of the things the Constitution tries to protect against is the tyranny of the majority. But they seem to think that God has told them how to deal with that, too.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 26, 2011

Three big pieces today.

Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America. From the Center for American Progress. This network is part of what informed Andres Breivik's inspiration to kill all those people. Warning: big pdf file, although it loaded reasonably fast for me. Update: I'm reading more of this, and it's a really good report in the "follow the money" tradition. Will be interesting to see if journalists pick up on all the work that's been done for them here. But see the next item.

Jay Rosen on Why Political Coverage Is Broken. Short version: reporters shouldn't be insiders.

Two American hikers who strayed into Iran have been sentenced by an Iranian court to eight more years in prison, in addition to the two they've been there already. And US commentary has been largely harsh on the hikers. I have to admit that my initial reaction was along those lines. But c'mon, Iran, show a better face to the world!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 24, 2011

Earthquake reactions from animals at the National Zoo.

After the Las Conchas Fire, floods of black water. The Dixon apple orchard has a much-beloved place for New Mexicans to visit in the fall.

Who's in charge of Gaddafi's weapons now?

Juan Cole on how to avoid Bush's Iraq mistakes in Libya. Point 2 is particularly important and obvious to any serious student of the breakup of the Soviet Union, a model much proffered during the Iraq war and its aftermath, but not understood.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting the Priorities Straight

Influence peddlers who once worked for Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi's regime are scrambling to publicly sever ties with the strongman while their competitors are helping his country's rebels gain a valuable foothold in Washington.

After years spent working under the radar, public-affairs firm Brown Lloyd James and the consultancy Monitor Group this summer disclosed millions of dollars earned working on behalf of Qaddafi's government, according to disclosures filed retroactively with the Justice Department.

On the other side of the fight, Patton Boggs and the Harbour Group have signed on with the Libyan Transitional National Council, which the United States, Canada, Britain, Spain, and Germany now recognize as the country's legitimate government. Both firms worked to help the council gain that recognition after being retained this spring.
Chris Frates at The Atlantic Blog

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Decision To Intervene

The Decision to Intervene, George F. Kennan, Athenaeum, New York, 1967. Original copyright 1958.

The last time I went through the Milwaukee Airport, I found about twenty pounds of used books, mostly on Russia, that I had shipped home. The Milwaukee Airport may be the only airport in the world with a used book store, and it’s a good one.

But I carried with me The Decision to Intervene by George Kennan. Anything by Kennan is worth reading, and I wasn’t aware of this one, which is particularly timely.

The decision that Kennan was writing about was the decision of the United States to intervene in the Russian Revolution. Some background first, because much of this isn’t widely known.

In 1917, the war in Europe was in full swing. The Allies (Britain, France, Russia, several other European countries, the United States) were fighting against the Central Powers (Germany, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, and Bulgaria). America was late to enter the war; only after German submarine warfare had caused American losses did Congress declare war on Germany on April 6.

Russia had been becoming progressively more unstable as the war progressed. Political movements against the monarchy had been growing for decades; a partial revolution in 1905 introduced some elected representation into the government, but the Tsar was reluctant to give up his autocracy, and the government was not running smoothly by 1917. The war was a further stress in multiple dimensions: casualties, shortages of civilian goods, and dealing with the Allies.

Another revolution broke out in March 1917 (February by the Julian calendar, which Russia was still using). A provisional government was formed, and the Tsar abdicated. Several political parties leaned toward socialism and organization based on local soviets (councils). However, there was great disagreement over principles among and within the political parties. This further weakened Russia’s ability to participate in the war.

In October, the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government and took control, as much as they were able to, which was mostly in Moscow. The politics across Russia’s wide expanse broke into Red (Bolshevik) and White (anti-Bolshevik) factions, and civil war ensued.

Recognizing that they could not establish control of the country and fight a war with the Central Powers, the Bolsheviks negotiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918, to remove Russia from the war. The Allies were alarmed that this might mean that Russia had gone over to Germany’s side. Certainly it allowed Germany to concentrate on fighting its Western Front.
Kennan examines the American decision on how to respond to this development. Britain and France wanted Allied intervention in the Russian civil war on the side of the Whites. President Woodrow Wilson took a long time to make his decision. Kennan focuses on the actions and correspondence of Americans in Russia – the ambassadors and their embassies and the Red Cross mission.

Complicating the decision was the presence of the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia. Czechs and Slovaks who had been living there before the war were in the army; so were a large number who had been fighting for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and had deserted to the Allies. All were incorporated into the Czech Corps of the Russian Army. When the Bolsheviks took over in October 1917, the Czech Corps was in the Ukraine, near the fighting front. The Czechs proclaimed their neutrality. In December, the Allied governments recognized an “autonomous Czechoslovak army” as a regular Allied force now subordinated to the French High Command. France and Russia agreed that the Corps should be evacuated to France as soon as possible.

But, of course, they could not get there by going west, through the front and Germany. So the Corps was, after some difficulty extracting itself from the fighting, put on trains moving east across Siberia to Vladivostok, there to board ships for France. The trip did not go well, and the Czechs wound up fighting on the side of some of the numerous forces rebelling against Bolshevik rule. So the question of intervention was also whether and how to aid this Allied force in a country that had made peace with the enemy, or perhaps the question of how to use the Czech Corps to help remove the Bolsheviks from power, depending on the temperament of the questioner.

Kennan gives the most complete history of the Czech Corps I’ve yet found. He’s got a big story to tell, and he tells it skillfully, almost novelistically.

It’s necessary, in reading this book, to reset one’s modern assumptions about communication. Phones and telegraphs, often unreliable, are the fastest means of communication. But the greatest communication difficulties seem to be those that still operate: individuals’ prejudices and egotism; lack of full information; and decision-making without consultation of relevant parties.

President Wilson seems to have made the decision with little consultation, although it appears that Kennan may not have had access to all the documents or that Wilson didn’t document his thinking. Eventually he agreed with the Brits and French to land Allies at Vladivostok and Archangelsk, the east and west of Russia, with too-small forces poorly equipped, which were rather quickly withdrawn, their biggest effect to convince the Bolshevik government that the Allies meant them no good. The Czech Corps was in control of parts of the area around the Siberian railway at various times, even as far as from Irkutsk to Vladivostok. But the Bolsheviks eventually took it away from them, and what was left of the Corps left Vladivostok in 1920.

Kennan’s objective in examining this decision was to find the roots of US-Soviet animosity. Certainly invading a country on the side that eventually loses is not a positive, but the treatment of Allied embassies by the Bolsheviks exhibited what Kennan calls the anti-social tendencies they inherited from earlier Russian officialdom:
the governmental xenophobia, the exaggerated concern for prestige, the compulsive fear of foreign observation and influence, the persistent tendency toward over-suspiciousness, dissimulation, and deception in dealing with an outside force[.]
On the American side:
The reasons for this failure of American statesmanship lay…in such things as the deficiencies of the American political system from the standpoint of the conduct of foreign relations; the grievous distortion of vision brought to the democratic society by any self-abandonment – as in World War I – to the hysteria of militancy; the congenital shallowness, philosophical and intellectual, of the approach to world problems that bubbled up from the fermentations of official Washington; and the pervasive dillatantism in the execution of American policy.
Of course, in today’s world, a book called The Decision to Intervene is likely to have additional relevance. The decision must be made in a cacophony of contradictory voices arguing for their interests. France and Britain, in the decision to send NATO to help Libyan rebels, showed some echoes of the Allied case for intervening on the side of the Russian Whites.

The difficulty in the question of intervention is determining where national interests lie. The desire and perhaps need to oust a tyrant may be clear; it unifies factions with differing interests. But once the tyrant is gone, the factions may ignite another civil war, or their interests may not coincide with those of an intervening power. Then there are the questions of how to make an intervention effective and being on the winning side.

The Decision to Intervene is on Google Books, and it looks like it’s still in print. Definitely worth reading, if for the adventure story alone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Just Wondering

whether it is inevitable that pundits asymptotically approach the bland centrism of David Broder as they become more, um, successful. Successful being defined, I guess, as their writing being placed in high positions at the Newspapers Of Record and equivalent places in other media.

Jim Sleeper eviscerates Fareed Zakaria, one of those climbing the ladder, for a Broder-like condemnation of Drew Westen's non-centrist op-ed of a week or so ago, calling for President Obama to make that Speech That Will Turn Everything Around. I have little sympathy for Westen's point of view, but making it doesn't make him a bad guy. And he might even turn out to be right.

I saw someone comparing Ezra Klein to Broder the other day, but I don't have the link.

I'm not sure Zakaria ever espoused opinions much different from those he opines now, but Klein used to be more pungent when he blogged.

As one goes higher into the realms of Important Journalism, one learns that a certain soporific tone, not making bad guys of either side, is useful, even popular. Most people don't like conflict. And in those realms, one is exposed to others who have vested interests in keeping that journalistic conflict down. I linked the other day to Emptywheel's quoting a poll in which Washington, DC, was the only region of the country in which the predominant opinion was that things are getting better.

As one goes higher, things get busier. Obviously Klein has had interns researching his material as he joined the various magazines and newspapers. Lately, he's added a bunch of bloggers, with a promise of some Great New Thing for his blog. Anyone who has a television show, like Zakaria, depends on many people to bring him material and has little time to do his own research. So the anodyne opinion becomes easier to hold, less work.

So is it inevitable that opinions become diluted as one climbs that ladder of success?

Update: Some observations of tv punditry from a talking head.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 18, 2011

Page van der Linden (aka Plutonium Page) writes two posts on interviews with people for and against the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. President Obama made this one of his priorities in his speech in Prague in 2009 on nuclear issues, and he's recently said he intends to raise its ratification with the Senate. Good reading to prepare for the idiocy we're likely to hear when that happens.

Woot is now officially a word.

This Culture War Is Over: We Win

Another culture warrior, Andres Breivik, however, is more likely to be sane than psychotic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Confederate Party

That's what one of the Balloon Juice front-pagers (I think DougJ?) has been calling the Republican Party, with a nice elephant logo emblazones with stars and bars.

Today David Campbell and Robert Putnam put some statistics behind that.

And Wisconsin voters back up their contention that the Tea Party is not particularly popular.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and others have been contemplating the role of slavery in the Civil War. It's worth thinking more about this turning point in the nation and how some part (that 27% that always seem to hold the views of the demented right?) of the country has never given up the ideals of the Confederacy.

It has seemed to me for some time that the Republican Party is building up to its George McGovern moment. Nice to see Campbell and Putnam pointing this out. And maybe President Obama is going with the dictum that when you see your opponents destroying themselve, you should let them do it?

Update: A view from Ohio.

And Yet Another Update: Daniel Little illuminates "possessive individualism." That's an idea I've been trying to work out here as one of the very divisive tenets of excessive free-marketism. Great to know that someone else has done the heavy lifting.
The Tea Party seems to be a contemporary descendent of this ideology. Taxation is theft; the state has no legitimate role beyond protecting individual security and property; government regulation of private business activity is an immoral intrusion on liberty and property; individuals possess liberties and property that the state cannot limit; individuals deserve what they own and owe nothing to society or other citizens.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 16, 2011

The latest in the Murdoch scandal: a four-year-old letter by Clive Goodman, formerly royal correspondent for now-defunct News of the World, indicates that higher-ups at News International were fully aware of the phone hacking. And investigation of whether NI hacked phones in the US continues.

More infrastructure fail. But hey! Having clean water piped into your house is an unwarranted government intrusion, right?

Does your ketchup come from China?

Washington really is disconnected from the rest of us.

I've been disturbed lately at how much rhetoric reminds me of the bad old sexist days of the sixties and before. Part of the reason is that the rightwing is obsessed with sexual issues as a way to keep women down (nicely commented upon by Molly Ivors)

That makes it easier to blame women in pieces like this. I saw something along these lines yesterday and almost posted on it. I haven't had time to read the report itself. The reasoning in the popular articles, and perhaps the report, is that women act this way, so they are making choices (or are driven by hormones? That's a nice old trope.) to avoid science and technology. Silly women! We certainly can't do anything about their choices! And they have cooties, also, too.

The article I've linked at least considers that men may have something to do with this too. I recognize that data is not the plural of anecdote, but my experience is that the quickest way to end the possibility of romance, long before one gets to that stage, is to talk about even the light side of your lab work. Some younger men seem to be more tolerant of such aberrations, but I wouldn't be surprised if younger women's experiences had some points of similarity with mine.

Update: Getting a little closer to the report, but not all the way there. Here's a quote the popular versions leave out:
"Gender scripts discourage women from appearing intelligent in masculine domains, like STEM," Park says, "and in fact, studies show that women who deviate from traditional gender norms, such as succeeding in male-typed jobs, experience backlash for violating societal expectations. On the other hand, men in gender-incongruent occupations don't experience the same degree of backlash as women do."
What I said.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The American Community

Yes, whether I like it or not, I live in a community with Rick Perry, the people who bought the house across the street and stopped renovating it in the middle of things, the people who drive crazy on Cerillos Road, and all those people who will clog the streets during Indian Market.

There are various ways to define community - the immediate area around my house, my city, my state, my country, or even the world. But at whatever scale, it's in contrast to the free-market concept of the autonomous man [sic] that has been the basis for far too much discussion of society over the past thirty years.

A group of people living together have certain needs - transportation, garbage and sewage disposal, schooling of the children - that aren't well-served by markets. This has been proved over and over again, but thirty years ago, loud voices decided to ignore that.

The consequences of the triumph of autonomous man over society have included bridges that fall down under the weight of traffic, financial bubbles, excessive debt, the withering of the middle class, and a political party that is ready to destroy the country in order to save it.

But perhaps we're seeing a turnaround. Today one of that infinitely privileged class suggests that he and his fellow gazillionaires might pay some more taxes. A financial commentator observes that the support of Wall Street for the craziness of the Tea Party may be turning on Wall Street's interests.

It seemed bizarre to me that, after many months of hearing about how the long-term national debt must be solved NOW, with only a few commentators like Paul Krugman saying that the economy needed stimulation, after the debt-hostage austerity budget was passed, The Markets decided that Krugman was right. Or something. It may be that The Markets hold one opinion on odd-numbered days and the opposite on even-numbered. BTW, isn't it a bit silly to refer to The Markets as a sentient being?

Finally, a last little bit of hope left in the box. Edward Tenner looks at a last vestige of community, the Postal Service, semiprivatized by those free-marketers and still not a success, and decides that the connections it provides are important to all of us. Most people in America still don't have internet service and are dependent on the mail, more so in rural areas. Or, if we want to deep-six the Postal Service, maybe we should build an internet network to everywhere.

That would help to link us all together.

Update: Shortly after I wrote this post, it was announced that the federal stimulus legislation will provide for extending high-speed internet to several counties in rural Northern New Mexico via fiber optic lines. Good job!

Just Wondering

Why it is that when someone with a gun and explosives thinks that a single act will fix everything, he's crazy, but when the pundits think that the President can fix everything with a single speech, they're published and referred to as Serious People?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Prayery Perry

“Now, therefore, I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.”

Then the governor prayed, publicly and often. Alas, a rainless spring was followed by a rainless summer. July was the hottest month in recorded Texas history. Day after pitiless day, from Amarillo to Laredo, from Toadsuck to Twitty, folks were greeted by a hot, white bowl overhead, triple-digit temperatures, and a slow death on the land.

In the four months since Perry’s request for divine intervention, his state has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Nearly all of Texas is now in “extreme or exceptional” drought, as classified by federal meteorologists, the worst in Texas history.

Lakes have disappeared. Creeks are phantoms, the caked bottoms littered with rotting, dead fish. Farmers cannot coax a kernel of grain from ground that looks like the skin of an aging elephant...

“I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this,’” he said in a speech in May, explaining how some of the nation’s most serious problems could be solved.

I hope he's praying for a Republican victory.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Yes, But

As long as we're on the topic of how many people need to die for a story to break into the news cycle:

On Sunday, July 10, at least 64 people were killed in a train wreck in Fatehpur, in northern India. Maybe more died after. I remember reading the following day that perhaps a cow on the track had inspired some injudicious emergency braking, which in turn led to the thirteen-car derailment. After a few days, I didn't hear anything else, here in India or elsewhere. I can't recall seeing anything in the NYT, but surely there were a couple paragraphs in International?

Two weeks later -- July 23 -- a high-speed train derailed in China, in Wenzhou. 40 people were killed. I haven't stopped hearing about it, yet. Admittedly, this has mostly been meta-news, regarding the short-lived triumph of the thousands of Chinese 'micro-bloggers' who managed to express something like indignation and even outrage at the PRC for its hasty, corruption-riddled approach to major infrastructure projects. Of course, that undercurrent -- the barely-concealed Schadenfreude (mostly here in India and in the U.S.) resulting from our own fears about the rapid infrastructural development in China -- is the story we're supposed to read anyway. Nobody really cares about the microbloggers, not really. I mean, come on. Reuters wants us to believe it suddenly cares about citizen journalism?

(In fact, try this, as I just did: search for "India train wreck." None of the four stories were about the July 10 derailing. Two of them were, in fact, about the Wenzhou accident!)

I know it would be cynical (or, ironically, naive?) to expect that the sense of a train tragedy -- and the corresponding degree of international interest/scrutiny -- might have anything to do with the body count. But I can't help thinking there's something seriously skewed about the attention to these two wrecks.

Is it just what we expect from India? The national train system here is a nightmare of a populist mess (the victims' families were, in all probability, awarded jobs with the train service). The trains themselves are dirty, badly worn, overcrowded. Millions upon millions of Indians depend upon them every day. The 'superfast' long-distance trains, the cream at the top, travel at an average of just below 35 miles an hour. Sometimes they derail and people are killed. More often, people run over at train stations, where they walk across the tracks because the overpasses are in disrepair. The wreck in July was only the biggest accident so far this year. There will be more.

Could India be better at this? Yes, but it won't, until people who matter ride the train. The people who ride the train now? Pffff. A bunch of nobodies. Their comfort? Really? Seriously? These people should be comfortable? They're lucky we subsidize the vada pav at the train station. In spite of its best efforts -- it really is making efforts -- India can't seem to overcome the VIP (and, I'm not kidding, VVIP) culture that frames its way of understanding its public services.

But the official story is: India is a democracy, the world's biggest. It's free. Anyone is welcome to talk about the train wreck, but, awful as this is to say, it just isn't really news. It's good for a few column-inches of hand-wringing and mud-slinging. But 64, in a train wreck? The country is too free, too democratic, for this to be important internationally?

China, on the other hand, I don't know so well. For obvious reasons. But that train that crashed looked really nice. I understand that some of the work has turned out to be sub-standard. Shoddy. I get that there are real problems under that shiny surface. But there's a genuine, and menacing, push for serious infrastructure in that country that is hard to ignore.

Until, you know, microbloggers manage to evade censors. Now that's news.

Finally, speaking of riots and police shooting people and stuff, d'yall hear about the unarmed farmers gunned down by cops here the other day during a protest just outside of Pune?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Is To Be Done?

I've been thinking about a blog post based on the latest blogospheric uproar over President Obama's failure to find the One Big Speech that will Turn Things Around.

That post will be a thing of beauty, but it seems timely to reveal the basic message: the people and their elected representatives have to be prepared to hear and act on that speech.

Steven Walt has written a post with some of the elements I would use in my post. Particularly
And make no mistake: what is needed now is a foreign policy that is based on a clear and hard-headed strategy, one that identifies key priorities, writes off liabilities, and marshals the relevant elements of power to preserve what is vital first and foremost. Instead, we get a foreign policy based on wishful thinking, lofty ideals, or an endless list of global projects offered up by policy wonks and special interest groups, along with more bad advice from the people who got us into our present circumstances.
Walt is talking about foreign policy, and he is right enough about that, but I was thinking the same sorts of things about domestic policy as well.

What is to be done?

I'm taking that in a different direction than Vladimir Lenin did; we need a vision of the future we want, not just sparkly ponies, but a hard-headed strategy toward the society we want to live in. And that's all of us, not just the folks with 72-room mansions who fly on private jets. As we're seeing in Britain, all those folks who don't fly on private jets can begin to make things unpleasant, just one of the reasons for looking toward better lives for all.

But I don't see the political parties or the think tanks coming up with a vision of the future. Policy pronouncements and ideology abound, but not a whole-society vision.


Anyone else notice that the U.S. is averaging a mass shooting (something like 7-15 victims) every week or two and it isn't even headline news anymore? A guy caps 8 people in the crown in Ohio and it's like Page E10 news these days. It's nice that we're so used to workplace rampages and general spree killings that they fade into the background of the news cycle, reported like the weather – and treated to the same degree of retrospective analysis.
Gin and Tacos

On and on. Morbidly:
Mark Ronson, "Bang Bang Bang" (feat. MNDR & Q-Tip)
Nancy Sinatra, "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)"

Monday, August 08, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 8, 2011

I've got another project I'll be spending a lot of time on for the immediate future. You will hear when it is ready. I have a number of posts I'd like to write, but they will have to wait.

In the meanwhile, some quotes.

Gershom Gorenberg:
When people pour out into the streets in these numbers it is very exciting, but it also means that representative democracy has broken down. No one actually has any scenario for how these protests could bring to power a government committed to a more equal distribution of wealth, to schools for everyone, to health care that everyone can afford, to the end of hiring everyone but the CEO as a temp worker.
RIP Mark Hatfield, once Republican Senator from Oregon:
Is there no ethical dimension to our decision, our conscious decision, to add more and more weapons to our stockpiles, while millions of people in our own country have no roof over their heads, when we cannot fund our war on drugs? Is there no ethical dimension to the violent examples we are setting for our children? Is there no ethical dimensions to the definition of national security that we are passing on to the developing nations of the world, where arsenals are now as bloated as the bellies of the Third World's children?
Economics of Contempt:
To say that S&P analysts aren’t the sharpest tools in the drawer is a massive understatement.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Bits and Pieces - August 7, 2011

Since it's Sunday, let's start with a Bible verse:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. – Matthew 6:5
This verse keeps coming back to me as the Republicans stage their various prayer-fests. Anne Laurie nails Rick Perry, only the latest and probably not the last.

And it's not just the Arab states that are seeing big demonstrations. Check out this photo of last night's demonstration in Israel.

Once again, the infallible market seems to have failed. Oh, wait! That's only the cancer patients it's failed; Big Pharma is doing fine.

Is America no longer part of the West? This article in Der Spiegel is being widely linked across the blogosphere. I find maybe half of it wrong, but it's worth considering how we look to the rest of the world.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Kesar Mangoes

Espèce de Conard

The French, connard, meaning asshole, jerk, dickhead, and so on, actually takes two "n"s. Yet, it turns out that Romney's PAC-man is, as we might say for adolescent kicks, un espèce de Conard.
Edward Conard came forward this weekend as the man behind the donation from New York firm W Spann LLC, founded shortly before giving the $1 million check to Romney-leaning Restore Our Future PAC. W Spann dissolved three months later, business records show, prompting outrage from campaign-finance watchdogs who said the secret contribution violated the law.

Conard is a former executive at Boston-based Bain Capital, which was co-founded by Romney in 1984. Conard could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday.

Federal Election Commission records show that in May, Conard and his wife, Jill, gave to Romney's presidential committee $2,500 each — the maximum allowed under federal regulations by individuals to presidential candidates. Edward Conard also gave $2,300 toward Romney's 2008 White House run, records show.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Bits & Pieces - Helmut Edition August 4 2011

Is there water on Mars? A couple good leads (NASA photo above). And weird striations. But I couldn't fit the striations into Bowie lyrics.

Colleague Adi Ophir on "the politics of catastrophization." And former colleague Herman Daly on rethinking economic growth.

Taibbi: OMG! Krugman: WTF! But Krugman as political rookie?: Meep meep?

Bioprospecting or natural products development. On the other hand, illegal wildlife trade to China through organized crime. Because you can never have enough rhino horn for your goiters.

The "I was really drunk at the time" excuse. Mayor in New Mexico says he signed $1 million in architecture contracts while plastered: "The day I signed ... I had way too much to drink. It was after 5 p.m. and I signed it (the contracts) and I didn't know what I was signing," Resendiz wrote as a response to questions from lawyers for the firm. "My sister had to pick me up."

So, what's up down on the border with the Latin hoards coming to steal our cattle, women, and illegal-wage jobs while acting all swarthy and not speaking Amer'can? Nothin'.

Write a review of any album ever released (I doubt that, but still pretty cool).

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

How Democracy Fails

I agree with Jared Bernstein's analysis and Kevin Drum's gloss:
Public opinion is everything. Ronald Reagan was successful because public opinion supported him: he wanted to cut taxes and raise defense spending and so did big chunks of the public. He was leading in a direction that they already wanted to go.

But no matter how many times we try to kid ourselves with one poll result or another, liberals just don't have that advantage. The public is mostly in favor of raising taxes on the rich — though I suspect its support is pretty soft — but on the bigger issues they mostly aren't on our side. They think deficits are bad, they don't trust Keynesian economics, they don't want a higher IRS bill (who does, after all?), and they believe the federal government is spending too much on stuff they don't really understand. Conservatives have just flat out won this debate in recent decades, and until that changes we're not going to be able to make much progress.
Yes, the Republicans have a well-funded propaganda organ in Fox News.

Yes, their messages are simple and reality is more complex.

Yes, our politicians are much less than we might want in their qualities of statesmanship.

But there is a limit to what those in power can do that is contrary to public opinion. The Republican message of isolated individuals all acting each in their individual interest has penetrated much too far into liberal thinking. - I'm staying home from voting in 2010 because President Obama didn't make all the changes I could possibly have wanted in two years since his election. - So we allowed the Tea Partiers to win too many seats in Congress, and this is what we get. But each individual who didn't vote can feel perfectly justified in his or her personal purity.

Democracy is a corporate venture. Liberals have to get better at working together and getting out a clear message. Like the way the economy really works, for starters?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Meep meep...?

The leaders may think that they have the votes in hand to pass this debt ceiling deal and send to the President -- but there is a lot of opposition. Much could still happen to undermine the appearance of progress announced by President Obama last night.
This may not be over.

Obama may then still get a chance to show that he is a real, FDR-style leader and invoke the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution protecting the commitment of the country to resolve past debts and then do so on his own terms -- which should include not throwing the jobless of this country under the bus.