Creative Destruction

November 24, 2007

Lessons of History

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Brutus @ 3:02 am

The oft-repeated trope is that those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it, to which most most of us laconically reply “So what? Big deal.” We’ve taken our eye off the ball and don’t really care anymore about history, being contented with the illusory belief that our current stage of historical development can and will continue undisrupted into the middle of the century, which is probably the longest time horizon we really care about. But there are still plenty of academics and pundits studying history, drawing lessons from it, and sounding the klaxon regarding some threat or imminent transformation or collapse. Actually rousing citizens out of their satiated lethargy is undoubtedly too difficult a task just yet, but the alarm calls at least make for some interesting reading.

Three recent articles make comparisons between the current state of America and historical conditions here and abroad in an attempt to draw out the lessons and perhaps inspire changes necessary to stave off the collapse of our cherished institutions (read: the American way of life). In no particular order, the first in The Guardian appears to be a prepublication summary by Naomi Wolf of her new book The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, which compares fascist shifts in history to current America. The second in The Philadelphia Inquirer is an opinion column by Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, which column describes the decline of the so-called American Empire. The third is a transcript in The American Prospect of Robert Kuttner, author of The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity, giving testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services regarding parallels between fiscal policy in the 1920s and now.

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November 22, 2007

Code Blue: Paging Dr. Thompson

Filed under: Election 2008 — Off Colfax @ 4:55 am

I just can’t do it. The iron has been in the fire for too long. The pigs have yet to come out of the tunnel. The political zombies have marched on their roads of bones, and then went out for barbecued brains.

I believe every political junkie passes this point in time. Too many long hours pounding through databases to find that one perfect moment that will, for the love of God, finally let you make up your mind. Too many meaningless speeches in front of county fairs, local Kiwanis, and roadside diners. Too many press releases, those myriad tons of utter and complete garbage foisted upon the unsuspecting voter.

Too much feeding the fix, begging for that political smack dripping from our USB cables and oozing into our hearts and lungs and toenails and tonsils, drugging us into that vague stupor caused by imagining that we actually could possibly know what the hell is going on in the universe, much less our own minuscule corner.

But why. That is the question. Why.

Simple question. Simple answer.

We started too early. My God, was it too early. Normally, by this sheer concentration of political news, the fat lady would be warming up while the rest of us are staggering our way towards the voting booth, looking for that magic lever that will end it all. We seek it. We want it. We caress it like a lover waiting in the moonlight. We desire it like it was a loaded shotgun, there to finally end our agony after decades of pain.

But we are denied. Eleven long months of the political season gone, and we aren’t even to the halfway point yet. Even after all this, we still have 47 miles of barbed wire left to crawl, and that live cobra around our necks is still waiting for us to move too fast. Or too slow. Or blink. Or force-feed Wolf Blitzer into a secure-systems document shredder.

Feet first. So we can hear him scream.

Lord, how long? How long must we suffer? Like Aquitaine after the Vandals. Like Londinum after Boudica. Like the floor of a Dropkick Murphys show. Like a confused emo with the complete discography of Sunny Day Real Estate on his iPod, plus Jimmy Eat World’s first album.

Okay. Scratch that last one. We aren’t that bad. Yet.

But there is still time, Bubba. Still time left for the Chinese water torture to take full effect. And it will. It’s been going for almost a year now with no sign of slowing down. He said. Drip. She said. Drip. They said. Drip. We said. Drip. Every. Drip. Single. Drip. Second. Drip. Every. Drip. Single. Drip. Day. Drip.

And we call waterboarding cruel and unusual torture. Should make them actually listen to all the feces-coated garbage being hoovered up by the junkies of the world.

And I… I need a news vacation. A media break. A stay at the Betty Ford Clinic for the Incurably Informed. A brief spell away from the political porn that suffocates our lives.

What do you mean, Bubba? Why do I say “our lives”? You mean you ain’t crawling through this one with me? You mean I did all that for me? Wait, Bubba! Why did you write “Blow Me, Kemosabe!” on this fax! I have to know! Thousands and thousands of people depend on us! We make the news! They just star in it! C’mon, Bubba… I’ll even let you take the next few miles. But I’m keeping the cobra. He likes me.

No deal, huh? Figures. Didn’t think you were that dumb.

When the weird turn pro, the going gets weird. Isn’t that how it’s written? If not, it should be. And the weird have turned pro for this one. So the only truth is that not only have things gotten weird, but there is more weirdness yet to come.

Death to the weird. I’m on vacation.

November 18, 2007

The Strategic Vote

Filed under: Election 2008,Politics and Elections — Brutus @ 1:34 am

Over at Wash Park Prophet, Andrew Oh-Willeke cites the one-word dismissal of so-called vanity candidates at Daily Kos’ round-up of Democratic presidential candidates and offers his agreement, though with a bit more explanation. I’ve been planning to blog on this rather bizarre notion for about a month, and Andrew has provided the nudge I needed to sit down and do it.

I simply don’t accept that the only worthwhile vote is one for the eventual winner or one that reflects a strategy to defeat an opposition candidate by casting a vote for someone nearly equally wanting. We complain perpetually that we don’t have good options, then we adopt Machiavelian strategies or misconstrue the results, thus ensuring that our options remain limited.

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November 16, 2007

Got Abs?

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 12:07 am

This post is truly about navel gazing. (Just trying to push Fuck Jew down the page ….) I learned about a new service called abdominal etching, which essentially gives the appearance of a washboard stomach without the need for crunches, sit-ups, and low body mass index. This WSJ article tells the story. This part in particular is pretty scary:

The procedure takes an hour or two. But pain can persist for days afterward. Swelling can last for weeks or even months. (The after picture was taken a little over a year after the surgery.) And there can be complications, such as infection and bleeding.

Here’s the picture that accompanies the story if you’re too lazy to click through:

abs

The part I really like about this is the obvious (yet unforeseen?) result when the 30-year-old guy who has this done turns into a 45-year-old couch potato with an etched beer belly. I want to see that picture in a few years.

November 15, 2007

Shameless self-promotion

Over at Sophistpundit I’ve written up a pretentious little call to arms against media regulation.  Enjoy!

November 10, 2007

Fuck Jew!

Filed under: Content-lite,Political Correctness — Daran @ 6:53 am

I haven’t permanently abandoned CD. Honestly, it’s just that I’ve been struggling to do any blogging at all recently. But while I’m passing through, here’s the first of a couple of quickies for you.

This is old, but probably still current:

Following is a table of the offensive language, this year’s ranking and its chart position two years ago…

WORD 2000 1998
Cunt 1 1
Motherfucker* 2 2
Fuck 3 3
Wanker* 4 4
Nigger* 5 11
Bastard 6 5
Prick 7 7
Bollocks* 8 6
Arsehole 9 9
Paki* 10 17
Shag 11 8
Whore 12 13
Twat 13 10
Piss off 14 12
Spastic 15 14
Slag 16 18
Shit 17 15
Dickhead* 18 19
Pissed off 19 16
Arse 20 20
Bugger 21 21
Balls 22 22
Jew 23 24
Sodding* 24 23
Jesus Christ 25 26
Crap 26 25
Bloody 27 27
God 28 28

The list can be divided into two groups: expletives, such as “fuck!” and “Jesus Christ!”, some of which have acceptable non-expletive uses; and epithets, such as “Nigger”.

But where does “Jew” fit in? I’ve never heard of it being used as an expletive, for Jew’s sake! So it must be an epithet.

But if we can’t call a Jewing Jew a “Jew”, what the Jew can we call him?

Suffer the Rich

Filed under: Economics,Geekery — Brutus @ 2:27 am

In his short story “The Rich Boy,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” I haven’t read the story in a long time, but as I recall, Fitzgerald goes on to describe the character of the very rich with an acute perceptiveness hard to imagine with today’s cluttered, distracted literary aesthetic. Writers simply don’t have the time and focus anymore to work out character the way writers of the past did. Being a product of this era, I’m also at a loss to describe the character of the rich accurately. But like power, I’m pretty well convinced excessive wealth has an absolutely corrupting influence.

Forbes magazine recently released its 25th annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans, so the idea of what constitutes being very rich thrust itself upon me with some renewed vigor. The article states that it now takes $1.3 billion just to make the list. So, um, pardon me, and believe me when I say this is not out of envy, but isn’t it rather obscene that there are 400 people in the U.S. who each possess that much wealth? Forbes says the collective amount is $1.54 trillion.

Numbers like those are just a snapshot, and I certainly don’t possess the wherewithal to comment meaningfully on something so far beyond the reckoning of an average wage slave. Still, what is one to make of this article by Reuters, reporting on the sorry fact that living well — that is, having a super luxurious lifestyle — now costs more than ever? Forbes actually keeps an index, not unlike the Consumer Price Index, called the Cost of Living Extremely Well Index (CLEWI), which tracks the price of a selection of luxury goods. That cost is apparently rising faster than the Consumer Price Index. So let me be among the first to shed a few crocodile tears that it’s increasingly difficult for the superrich to distinguish themselves from the merely rich.

If citing Fitzgerald isn’t obvious enough to the uninitiated, he lived during the Jazz Age, which followed behind the Gilded Age (roughly 1870s to the 1890s). The Gilded Age was characterized by radical polarization of wealth, not unlike our situation today. So Fitzgerald had the advantage of perspective and hindsight on the peculiarities of a certain class of people. If we’re currently in the midst of another Gilded Age, it may take a decade or two for some insight on the those whom we might think twice before admiring.

November 7, 2007

And Truth Comes Out

Filed under: Reproductive Rights — Off Colfax @ 2:19 am

Abstinence is out.

Programs that focus exclusively on abstinence have not been shown to affect teenager sexual behavior, although they are eligible for tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, according to a study released by a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce teen pregnancies.

“At present there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence or reduces the number of sexual partners” among teenagers, the study concluded.

The study, conducted by Douglas Kirby, a senior research scientist at ETR Associates, also sought to debunk what the report called “myths propagated by abstinence-only advocates” including: that comprehensive sex education promotes promiscuity, hastens the initiative of sex or increases its frequency, and sends a confusing message to adolescents.

None of these was found to be accurate, Kirby wrote.

And I hear about social conservatives that complain about liberal policies being based on junk science. Yet what I have read from the study [PDF warning, 5.7Mb] is well-researched, with all the scientific method’s Is dotted and Ts crossed.

Read the study and see for yourself.

November 1, 2007

Horserace Politics

Filed under: Blogosphere,Election 2008,Politics and Elections — Brutus @ 11:33 am

I picked up the term horserace politics from Ampersand (who may have found it elsewhere). The term describes political coverage framed not in terms of the issues or platforms of the parties and candidates but in terms of the sheer competition, the race. I’ve opined that such thinking has made the practice of politics into a perpetual campaign. If the reorientation of the political sphere into a contentless swamp of personality and misfocus is not fully apparent, a report on a new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism paints a pretty stark picture of how the mainstream media covers politics. This table shows what the public wants:

table 1

This graphic shows what the public gets:

table 2

It may be impossible (and probably pointless) say whether this discrepancy is more the fault of the media or the candidates themselves. No doubt, both are contributing to the syndrome. (Specifically, the avoidance of many candidates to take positions on political topics makes it impossible for journalists to restate the candidate’s positions coherently.) The blogosphere may be an antidote to the failure of the mainstream media to provide enough useful political coverage. Indeed, many believe that the blogosphere has at least partially revitalized the public sphere, which has been largely corrupted in the for-profit media. I tend to agree.

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