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November 28, 2008


Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.

November 24, 2008

Use me!

It's still too early to know whether President-Elect Obama (!!!) will be a split-the-difference politician in the Clinton mold, or if his rhetoric about "changing Washington" means he'll fight for transformative policies once he's inaugurated.

But if it's the latter, I have a small request. Use me.

Washington is all about the status-quo, so if Obama wants to change anything he'll have to draw on reservoirs of support outside of the beltway political class. George Packer puts the problem thusly in his New Yorker piece:

Transformative Presidents -- those who changed the country's sense of itself in some fundamental way -- have usually had great social movements supporting and pushing them. Lincoln had the abolitionists, Roosevelt the labor unions, Johnson the civil-rights leaders, Reagan the conservative movement. Clinton didn't have one, and after his election, [Robert] Reich said, "everyone went home."

Packer argues that Obama doesn't yet have any social movements behind him -- his supporters came together for the purpose of electing Obama and not for any particular reasons of policy. But Obama does have a huge list of email addresses linking him to people who could be persuaded to support transformative change beyond the simple fact of a President Obama. If he keeps us informed of what's going on; if he explains to us what he wants to do and where he wants to go, he could build a power base outside Washington with enough pull to get the Congressional wankers to actually change something. It does happen -- the recent House votes against the bailout bill come to mind as an example of how constituent anger can thwart the establishment leadership (for a week, at least).

In the meantime, we'll try to hold on until Bush is gone. First things first.

UPDATE: I meant to link to the transition team's site, http://change.gov, which shows a lot of promise as a way for the Obama administration to communicate directly with citizens.

November 23, 2008


Reading this article about Daniel Barenboim, I come across this:

I have a card in my favor, which is the ability to concentrate. The act of mental preparation didn’t ever exist for me. As a child I used to play soccer, shower, then play a concert.

Now that I think about it, concentration is one of the qualities that all the most impressive people I've met in my life seem to share. And almost all of my own successes can be attributed at least in part to the fact that, for some period of time at least, I was able to concentrate on what I was doing.

So concentration's a good thing, if you want to succeed at something.

On the other hand, my life would be much less rich and interesting now if I hadn't had long periods where I just spaced out and wandered mentally (and sometimes physically) from place to place, with no particular goal or destination. Most of the folks I've met who can't wander around at all are -- sorry -- boring as fuck.

So I think you've got to have some kind of balance between the two. Still working on getting the balance just right, but I'm glad there's lots of room for progress...

November 20, 2008


“We’re not Little Rock and we’re not Texas,” said Rick Bayless, a friend of the Obama family, who owns Frontera Grill and is among the city’s celebrity chefs. “It’s easy to put on your cowboy boots and eat all that barbecue. You can’t do that from Chicago. We’ve got a lot of muscle and it’s far too complex of a place for that.”

Goddamn right, and amen to that.

Don't bail out or prop up, rebuild

Timothy Egan: "Why not go green, go for universal health care, go for economic stimulus — all with one big vision? Imagine if the $700 billion were there for a fresh overhaul of the American economy, rather than being siphoned off by the very people who created the problem?"

What if, instead of shoveling more money at current enterprises and industries that have been pursuing unsustainable polices for so long, we take this opportunity to get rid of them and rebuild on a sustainable foundation instead? When auto companies pay more for retiree benefits and health insurance than for steel, and when municipalities grant lifetime benefits to five-year employees, the question is when, not if, we will suffer for our foolishness.

Yesterday would have been the best, but today is much better than tomorrow.

No civil libertarians here

The most interesting thing about this quarrel between New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly and attorney general Michael Mukasey over the surveillance of terrorism suspects is what they agree about: the public is safer with more surveillance.

Kelly's argument is that the DOJ has been dragging their feet on asking the FISA court to approve NYPD surveillance requests.

Mr. Kelly complained that Justice Department lawyers imposed a needlessly high standard to be certain that every surveillance application submitted to the court would be approved. “Intelligence collection operations against potential terrorist threats to the homeland often involve considerable uncertainty,” he wrote. “D.O.J. should not hesitate to present judges with close cases. Some requests for warrants will inevitably be denied.”

Mukasey's argument isn't that the surveillance is excessive, but that the court will scrutinize surveillance requests more closely if too many of them are submitted.
But Mr. Mukasey said that submitting such cases to the court would be a mistake. “The less the FISA court comes to trust the validity of the applications, the more inclined the judges will be to impose on all applications the kind of scrutiny that doubtful applications merit, which of course takes more time and causes more delay because the court’s resources are limited,” he said. “The greater the delay, the fewer the applications can be processed and granted within a given time. The fewer successful FISA applications, the less intelligence can be gathered. The less intelligence gathered, the greater the danger to all Americans, including New Yorkers. That is not a complex formula.”

So this argument is just a tactical one over how to extract the widest latitude for law enforcement surveillance from the FISA court. Unsurprisingly, both sides assume that more surveillance = greater public safety. There's no civil libertarian side to this squabble. The good news, I suppose, is that both officials still seem to think getting the court's approval to eavesdrop is a necessary evil.

November 18, 2008

George Will

It's not too often I can say this about a George Will column, but I agree.

Will it be painful if GM goes belly up? You betcha, but happens. Life is a bitch. A bailout will just delay the inevitable. Let's just get it over with.

November 16, 2008

Better sell your tri-level in the suburbs now

Via Slow Home, an interesting piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

We are witnessing the beginning of the end of sprawl. Like much of the rest of the country, the overproduction of automobile-driven suburban development at the fringe of the Atlanta metropolitan area has reached its limits. The combination of outrageous commutes, environmental degradation and the increasing number of consumers preferring a “walkable urban” way of life have combined to start the end of the geometric increase in land consumption of the past half century.

Christopher Leinberger is reprising his lengthier article for the Atlantic which came out back in March. His arguments make a lot of sense. When you combine high fuel prices, disillusionment with long commutes, and government policies that are dispersing violent crime from the inner city to the suburbs, it's hard not to think that the post-WWII migration to the suburbs may have started to reverse itself.

If this is correct, I don't think there's any doubt that this will be good for the country's urban centers. Philadelphia and Chicago, your decades-long decline may be over. It'll be good for the environment. Whether it'll be a good thing for our rural areas is not clear. The only losers will probably be property owners in the outer suburbs, which may turn into the slums of the the 21st century.

November 14, 2008

Cats -- gotta love 'em!

November 11, 2008

In american politics, it's urban vs. rural

It's amazing what you can learn with a good map. The standard map of red and blue states suggests that the U.S. is politically divided between the coasts and the interior, or between the north and the south.

These geographic divisions don't, however, explain my own experience. For example, I can go to almost any rural part of Oregon or Colorado, both of which are "blue" states, and starve before I find anyone who voted for Barack Obama. What gives? We may be only 200 miles from Denver, but it feels as if (politically speaking) we're in Alabama.

Fortunately for us, Mark Newman of the University of Michigan gives us better maps:

What's striking about Newman's maps is how divided we are between urban and rural areas, with urbanites going Democratic and rural voters preferring the Republican. The really exceptional areas of the country are the backwoods regions of Wisconsin and New England, and the big cities in Texas. Pretty much everywhere else, the urban/blue, rural/red divisions hold up.

November 09, 2008

F*** Rahm Emanuel!

According to Naftali Bendavid, Rahm Emanuel has a colorful way with one particular word.

Signing off a phone conversation with a candidate, Emanuel says: “Don’t **** it up or I’ll **** you. I’ll kill you. All right, I love you. Bye.”

“In my house, when you say **** you, it’s a sign of endearment.”

On election night, he shouts to a boisterous celebration that “the Republicans can go **** themselves.”

He refers to Washington as “****nutsville” and to an opponent as “knuckle****s.”

To a reporter: “Don’t rat**** me!”

(HT, Roeser)

I hope Emanuel doesn't completely clean up his language now that he's Obama's Chief of Staff -- along with the president-elect's gift for soaring oratory, it'll help make this one of the the most linguistically accomplished administrations ever.