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June 18, 2008

An ambulance crashes, and I'm not surprised

I'm surprised we don't see this more often.

During the year that I drove an ambulance, I had to deal with a) oblivious drivers, for whom my lights and sirens were like the sound of falling golf clubs to Tiger Woods, and b) crazy-ass Denver Health paramedics who drove like nutjobs.

Needless to say, I wouldn't be surprised if either vehicle was at fault for this crash.

June 12, 2008

FISA "compromise" bill a Democratic surrender to George W. Bush

As is often the case, Glenn Greenwald's latest blog post must be read:

The New York Times' Eric Lichtblau has a long, prominent article today on the pending debate over FISA and telecom amnesty -- headlined: "Return to Old Spy Rules Is Seen as Deadline Nears" -- that features (and endorses) virtually every blatant falsehood that has distorted these spying issues from the beginning, and which is built on every shoddy journalistic practice that has made clear debate over these issues almost impossible. The article strongly suggests that a so-called "compromise" is imminent, a "compromise" which will deliver to the President virtually everything he seeks in the way of new warrantless eavesdropping powers and telecom amnesty.

June 10, 2008

Academics and politics

There's an excellent discussion going on over at Stanley Fish's NYT column about the role of political beliefs among college professors. I tend to agree with Fish. The University of Colorado's attempts to recruit conservative faculty members are misplaced and should embarrass all Coloradans.

In my own experience, I've found that a diversity of political views within the student body is far more important for a student's experience than that within the faculty. As Fish argues, most competent professors can and do bracket their own political views in the classroom. But students, in conversations outside of class, can't and shouldn't do the same thing. This means that if you're on a campus where 98 percent of your fellow students are liberal (or conservative), you're unlikely to encounter a serious challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy in your conversations at lunch and in the dorm.

I speak from experience. As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I couldn't make any political statement wihout being strongly challenged by some fellow student who profoundly disagreed with me. After transferring to Reed College, all the students were so overwhelmingly liberal that my left-leaning statements were given a free pass, while my right-leaning statements were appropriately and skillfully attacked. Fifty percent* of the arguments that I would have had at Chicago, disappeared at Reed. I loved both schools, but the politically more diverse student body at Chicago made for a more interesting intellectual experience there.

As for the faculty at both schools, I couldn't tell a thing about their personal political beliefs from their classroom teaching.

*I like to think that orthodox liberals would strongly object to about half of my political positions.

June 06, 2008

Got bass?

Waiting for my girlfriend's plane from L.A. to land, I listened closely to Stool... uh, Tool, in the parking lot at O'Hare airport at 5 am after I'd worked all night in the ER. It was sublime:


And then this always makes me think of those cold nights camped under the stars in Wyoming:

June 05, 2008

Obama, the Chicago guy

Via Michael Froomkin comes this great piece from Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland. Anyone doubting that we've made some progress in race relations should read some of these letters written by white Chicagoans during the civil rights era. Read their letters, feel their fear. (And note, please, how often their racism was defended by appeals to "property rights" and "freedom.")

Our history of racism makes it delicious that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. But his nomination is delicious for more reasons than just race. After so many years of ceding the nation's political culture to candidates who feel compelled to identify themselves with rural Texas or Arkansas or some other Southern locale, I'm thrilled that Obama's acknowledged political home base is the city of Chicago. And after so many years of ceding our political culture to the rednecks, it's refreshing that Obama is obviously an intellectual who couldn't bowl his way out of a paper bag. It's about time! Of course, all of this is useless if Obama loses to McCain, but I'm still hopeful that that won't happen.

Now, I shall set forth upon my cultural rant -- apologies in advance:

Start with politics. The free-market and social conservativism that dominates our political discourse needs to be checked. Our long love affair with conservatism has led to the middle class disappearing, our bridges collapsing, our cities drowning, and our civil liberties evaporating. Our military is in Iraq on false pretenses, waging a war of choice, and may now be settling in for the very long-term. These depressing political developments have been aided, if not caused, by a political culture that has privileged the yahoo and the redneck over the erudite, urbane, and intellectual.

What do I mean by that? Consider that for decades, politicians won by ridiculing "effete intellectuals" and more recently, "latte liberals." Reagan the Rancher beat Mondale the Minnesotan. Bush 41 beat Dukakis in part because the latter seemed more urbane, and thus more wimpy -- mostly because of that unfortunate tank helmet, but also because Dukakis looked like the product of civilized Massachusetts. Clinton turned the tables on the Republicans by being more rednecky than both Bush 41 and the witty but non-redneck Bob Dole. That Gore and Kerry both came close to beating the most anti-intellectual president ever suggested that our national infatuation with yahoos continued, but that it might have limits.

Conversely, I challenge you to name a successful national politician who won by casting his opponent as an uneducated redneck. Who mocked his opponent's Ford F150 with the gun rack. Who held up his Starbucks proudly while denouncing his opponent's preference for Diet Coke and fries.

I thought not. Intellectualism hasn't fared too well in American politics of late.

I'm not saying that the right wing doesn't have its share of intellectuals. In fact, the left has long envied the academic output of the partisan right even as they denounce the specific arguments for endless tax cuts as ideological extremism. Despite George W. Bush's appalling lack of curiosity and aggressive anti-intellectualism, the real damage of this presidency has been done by the highly-educated David Addingtons and John Yoos in the administration who use their skills to push pernicious policies: the "unitary executive", the GWOT, signing statements, deregulation and tax cuts. These days, everyone across the political spectrum wants their own Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation.

What I'm saying is that as we've been seduced by the politics of the right wing, we've also been seduced by the culture of the redneck. I don't think this is a coincidence. They often go hand-in-hand. The pejorative term "redneck" conjures up images of people more zealous about the literal truth of the Bible than about their own reason, more attached to their pickup truck than to the health of ANWR, more committed to their hatred for gays than to their appreciation of diversity. These are the cultural markers that right-wing Republicans have been celebrating for decades.

Moreover, these cultural markers are sadly much more visible in rural areas than they are in big cities. This site stereotypes the difference too much, but there's a core of truth to the general claim that liberalism flourishes in big cities and withers in the hinterlands. If you doubt this, look at the map: there aren't red and blue states; there are red rural areas and blue cities. John Kerry won every city in the country with more than 500,000 people.

Republican campaign success over the past twenty years has hewed more or less loosely to the formula: praise the the rural and the redneck, villify the educated and and the urban. Thankfully, things are changing. We'll have to see how Barack Obama does in November, but this time around, my money's on the intellectual guy from Chicago. Delicious.

Why Chicago wants the Olympics

Chicago Stays in Running After Early Vote to Decide Host of 2016 Olympics

. . . .

The transportation along Lake Michigan, where some of the Olympic sites would be located, needs to be improved because there is no link to rail lines, the evaluation said.

“We are going to study the report and we’re going to learn from that and correct all the deficiencies,” The Associated Press quoted Chicago’s bid leader, Patrick Ryan, as saying.


This, folks, is why Chicago's fight for the Olympics is a good thing.

June 01, 2008

The winner of the popular vote is...

Here's a great post on the Daily Kos that sorts out the controversy over who's winning the popular vote.

Why old white working-class people voted for Hillary

After eight years of George W. Bush, almost all of us want some kind of change. Unsurprisingly, then, Barack Obama’s campaign theme of change has been more successful than Clinton’s theme of experience. What surprises me is the number of Democrats who have voted for Hillary Clinton nevertheless. One frequently-offered explanation for why these voters have preferred “experience” to “change” is that they remember that things were better for them when Bill Clinton was president, and that their experience of change over the last decade has been mostly painful. This really doesn’t explain much, because many of Obama’s supporters can be described in exactly the same way.

Reading Richard Sennett’s book today, I found an explanation for Hillary’s appeal that makes more sense. It also suggests what Obama must do to appeal to many of Clinton’s supporters.

Sennett describes the new corporate culture that has exercised a disproportionately large influence on the rest of the economy and on politics. This celebrated “new economy” (so familiar to readers of Richard Friedman) puts a premium on short-term relationships and eschews continuity and stability. The days of lifelong employment at General Motors are gone, and with them any expectation that you can count on your employer for a pension and for health care. Firms that try to operate this way are ridiculed by investors as old-fashioned, and are the frequent targets of hostile takeover attempts. The goal for apostles of the “new economy” is to rebuild old stolid companies as a nimble, quick-footed enterprises that can respond quickly to changing markets, and are not weighed down by excessive commitments to particular products, workers, or worker benefits.

Older workers have experienced the transition from the old world of lifetime employment and generous pensions to the new world of temporary employment and no job security. These workers have moved over the course of a few decades from a world of mutual commitment between themselves and their employers to a world where there is no long-term commitment and stability is ridiculed in favor of fast-paced evolutionary change. These workers hear “change” and they don’t think merely of a change from the policies of George W. Bush; they think of the loss of stability and predictability that the new economy has unleashed. What these people want, and rightly so, is to slow this destructive change and to protect a world governed by commitments and characterized by long-term stability.

Younger workers, and to a large extent workers from the professional class who have tended to vote for Obama, haven’t had a similar experience. Either they’ve lived their entire work lives in the context of the new economy, or they’ve worked in jobs that haven’t yet been affected to the same extent by the new economy’s upheavals as the blue-collar jobs have been. For them, Obama’s call for change is nothing less than obvious -- of course we have to change what we’ve been doing under George W. Bush!

The question becomes whether Obama can make himself more appealing to Clinton’s older, whiter, more blue-collar supporters than John McCain can. I think he can if he decides to use the language of stability, safety, commitment, reliability, and trust in the context of the government’s relationship to them. He should remind voters that the Republicans are the ones most eager to extend the culture and values of the new economy into the public realm. The Republicans want to privatize Social Security. The Republicans want to make each individual fend for themselves when they get sick and need health care. The Republicans want to remake government in the image of the new lean, efficient, nimble, but commitment-free modern corporation that has so successfully shed jobs and pension commitments in the name of competitiveness and quick profit.

Obama obviously isn’t going to turn the clock back to 1955, but neither is Clinton. John McCain most certainly isn’t going to do it. Obama must persuade Clinton’s appalachian supporters that he values the kind of stability they’ve lost, and that he’s more likely than John McCain to preserve the reliability of the federal government and its ability to competently perform basic government functions.