Archive for the ‘rambling’ Category

another break.

October 24, 2008

It is already halfway through fall – unbelievable. The election is two weeks away, and I’m feeling more calm about it generally (did you know Obama played fantasy football?). But, I think I’ve reached a turning point in my own work that means I’ll be offline a bit more (I know I say this from time to time, but … well, I’m saying it again. but I think I have better motivation this time, since I’ve figured out an important component in what I’m doing…)

Here are some links so you didn’t waste time visiting …

This is an interesting story about Einstein.

Here is science about sunspots.

Plus, slate reviews books about English.

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economics

October 5, 2008

I’m not an economist. I have a dad who teaches economics, but who I don’t always agree with, a sister who studies economics, but who I usually disagree with, two half brothers who are in the private sector and have some practical familiarity with how economics works, but who I don’t talk to that often, and I’ve read stuff here or there that might count as economics, but nothing too technical. I am really trying to understand what is going on at the moment, but it seems as if very few people have much of a clue, to be honest.

This article actually seemed to hit the nail on the head, for me. The problem is we don’t really know what kind of economy we’re in anymore. It’s not really free market capitalism as we envisioned it ideally at some point in the past. But it’s not socialism or communism or the other end of that false dichotomy either. And it’s not fascism or something either.

The thing is that so-called “free market capitalism” has hardly really existed, at least not on a large scale; it was an ideal that didn’t actually play out in the real world – well, maybe Marx was kinda right about that at least; it -was- too turbulent, but that didn’t result in a revolution or a communist state, but just regulation and restructuring. We started printing money that was government-backed in the 30s; that isn’t the free-market capitalism that 19th century economists were talking about anymore, it’s already something else, although what exactly isn’t clear. And ever since then we’ve been reconfiguring the economy in a variety of ways.

So this market freeze up – not a market collapse, by the way, but a lack of liquidity – came about because of a series of decisions made over the last number of years that have resulted in a more homogenous market. According to a lecture I attended a couple weeks ago, the answer ought to have been fairly simple – transparency is a bad idea (it’s basically allowing banks to know how they’re being judged before they’re assessed, so they can sort of cheat the test, so to speak); we should always target leverage for regulation, equally in all markets; and we should have contra-cyclical provisions, since there will always be some natural cycles. This sounds a little different than the bill that got passed, so I dunno what the lecturer I heard would have said about the bail-out, and I would have loved to have heard debates over it.

Instead I just heard Obama / Biden make some bullet point lists and McCain say he was a hero for goin’ to Washington and Palin ??? …yeah anyway. Bill Clinton did talk a little bit when he did the talk show circuit but never with someone who understood what he was saying enough to have a real back and forth.. There were a few politicians on other news shows (like brian lehrer) who got into a little detail, including Hillary Clinton, who were a little more coherent, but usually to promote the passage of the bill, so about the consequences of doing nothing rather than about doing something different. I didn’t hear any economists argue for doing nothing, only people online who had a sense of righteousness but not necessarily a sense of rational understanding.

The idea that putting $700billion into the economy through wall street now is just a favor to wall street and we’re basically helping out rich folks and screwing decent regular people who have to pay for it seems to misunderstand the interconnectedness of everything. If the banking industry falls apart, then universities with endowments will have less money (since endowments are usually invested), so your school won’t be able to offer as much financial aid to you next year, or build that new science lab; and hospitals with endowments will have the same problem – fire some nurses or drop the MS research or the free clinic – something’s gotta give. These things will reverberate as people who would have been employed, educated or assisted aren’t any longer… While non-profits that rely on endowment funds usually invest very safely, looking to the long term, they will still feel the pain if things go south, and if the entire banking industry were to implode, it would implode on us…

Now, if that’s what you want – if you’re hoping for capitalism to fall apart to see what happens next, that’s one thing. But if you’re just hoping for some bankers to learn their lessons and for you to be fine, that’s another. I don’t know that capitalism would fall apart -it would probably just morph into some kind of plutocracy or new kind of capitalism, as it’s been doing for the last century, since, like I said, and that article linked above laid out, it hasn’t really been straightforward laissez-faire capitalism for a long time, if such a thing ever really existed. Even Wikipedia agrees that capitalism is “confined to theory” and only “mixed economies” really exist.

As for those who believe the market will just start itself up again because it’s the market and that’s what it does, perhaps it would eventually. But if everyone is in debt and left to be in debt, with no new money pumped in by an outside source (and the government, by the power of the people, is the creator of money – which is why taxes are important), what will get things moving again? Basically, I imagine things would get moving again when they get low enough that it will be a good enough deal for someone to feel as if they can afford to make an investment (if they still had the money). That means that the market will get moving again when things get bad enough for someone to make money off it… So is it fair to let real people suffer through all the pain of the difficult times if we could possibly do something to prevent or lessen it? That could be a long time, and very real to those whose lives it affects. Or I guess eventually China could buy us out or something…

debates

September 27, 2008

I don’t think anyone really won any votes with that debate. It seemed to me that the best anyone could have done was retain votes – swing voters who were considering switching sides might have been convinced to stay with the guy they were leaning toward, because both guys sort of did well enough if you were sort of inclined toward them to start with. But I don’t think either side did well enough to reach out to pull someone across from the opposing side, to swing voters who really didn’t know which side they were going for, or swing voters leaning one way to switch to the other way. So I think it was a wash, ultimately.

Basically, no one was inspiring. I thought Obama was marginally better, but I’m biased toward Obama’s views to begin with, so I can hardly count that as an objective perspective. His manner was still a bit too Gore-bot, and somehow he didn’t seem to really get into the material, excited or interested in explaining it, but rather just listed answers and told tired stories (that bracelet war was pathetic). McCain was meaner and generally more simplistic, which didn’t win any points with me, and his repetition of the “maverick” and “miss congeniality” stuff was stupid. His condescending attitude and refusal to even look at Obama bothered me, but could be a useful strategy among some voters, I suppose.

But it seems as if Obama could have responded a little more sharply and energetically at times – like, McCain used Madelaine Albright as an example of how we send the Secretary of State to negotiate with axis of evil states – that’s the Clinton administration, pre-no-tolerance position – the question is whether Colin or Condoleeza has met with these guys. Or on the economy and overspending, why did Obama not bring up how much the war has cost us, and how much bad strategy and poor military planning have cost us overall? He could have framed that in a way that wouldn’t just have been “liberal peacenik”, if that’s what he was trying to avoid. It seemed like he wasn’t in the moment, but just turning to parts of his speeches. I liked that Jim Lehrer tried to get them to go at it, but overall the whole thing felt tired… It got a little better toward the end, and it did seem as if they were sort of warming up, so maybe future debates will be more interesting, but I’m not impressed.

You want an energetic debate, by the way: check out NYPL: Zizek v Levy, e.g., reminds you of what it’s like when people who actually care about topics, and think deeply about them, talk to people they disagree with. What a completely different world that is from presidential debates…

not very useful analogies, really

September 23, 2008

Hitchens accuses Obama of being another Dukakis… The comparison I always thought of was that Hillary/Obama were like Ted Kennedy / Carter in 1980, where Carter went on to be a somewhat weak though well-intentioned leader, and Kennedy went on to serve as a powerful senator who in retrospect many people wonder if he could have had a greater impact on history… but the ties to family and the implications of corruption were things democrats were eager to get away from. I just hope we don’t end up with another Reagan if Obama isn’t able to deliver on the “hope” he’s been selling.

Carter wrote a lot of books and had that religious connection, too, but it turned out he wasn’t really able to get the country behind him, even if in many ways he was a great man. He was just better at running a non-profit, in the end. Seems like so much of being president really does have to do with how the country feels about you, and though a lot of college students love Obama, what will matter is how the corn farmers and walmart workers and accountants and gas station attendants and electricians and retiring pharmacists think of him…

I can run for president now…

September 22, 2008

It’s my 35th birthday today, so I’m technically eligible. Not that I’d ever be remotely interested, even if I’m apparently almost as qualified as some of the people in the pool these days :).

Numbers not changing too much, though over here things are looking better for Obama…

Speaking of whom, one of those head-shaking articles that just feels like, ah geez… it’s like he’s only just figuring out why politicians do politics the way they do. Oh, and last week, I went to a pretty cool lecture that sort of psychoanalyzed Obama (*I should be clear that I certainly don’t imagine Barack any sort of perfect candidate, just the better option, and I do think it’s better to use a vote than to protest vote etcetc but again it doesn’t even really matter in my state, one of the few solidly D*)

Aaanyway. What about this bail out crap, huh? No one seems to know how to respond at this point; people on the left and the right are both coming down hard against it, but there are also people on both sides of the aisle saying it’s the only thing to do at this point. And who’s to blame? That also seems unclear. Even the original question of regulation is kind of a mess, since defining what exactly is meant by regulation is not as simple as it may sound… much of what was considered government “regulation” in this case was really inter-banking agreements, since the government has decreed that there has to be so much “transparency” – but that very transparency means that the government isn’t setting limits, it’s telling institutions that they have to tell each other what limits they are willing to work with… There is no external overseer keeping things in check at this stage.

The sad thing is that no one will learn anything from this – everyone will claim “it would’ve worked out” if some other solution had been followed. Of course, probably no one would have learned anything in any case: whatever happens, people always find a way to interpret events to match the story they want to see.

Also: This is a nice piece on teaching philosophy, along the lines of how I’d like to, tho’ so far I’ve only been an adjunct, where it’s hard to create anything of a community or presence…

updating on downturning

September 16, 2008

Election projection does a new map each monday, and yesterday’s was one of the heaviest trending toward McCain in a long time – there was no movement in Obama’s favor, and 16 states moved toward McCain, by his tallies. However, only one (Nevada) actually crossed a line from Obama to McCain – the rest just crossed lines like “solid Obama–>strong Obama” or “weak McCain–>moderate McCain”. So the electoral college numbers went from 260 – 278 to 265 – 273, with Obama still winning by 3 votes. The next projection at this site is on my birthday. Isn’t that reason enough to …

ok, maybe not, anyway.
Things look much worse over at 538, where supposedly election projections are “done right”: McCain’s ahead by 37 electoral votes, 287 to 250. And at electoral-vote.com, McCain’s got a 10 vote lead, 257 to 247, but no one is winning, since you need 270 to take the race: this site calls 34 votes “exact ties”, which means the race is basically in the hands of PA (21) and VA (13), so Obama either needs to take both of those states, or one of those and one other which is currently “barely GOP” (like OH)…

Now, it looks like some people may be losing their love of Sarah Palin, as it becomes more evident, Charlie, that her capacities are pretty thin.
And it’s possible that the current economic crisis will focus people a bit more toward an issue which is usually (scroll to “important issue”) more widely entrusted to democrats (though that may be a fallacy of assuming the consequent; maybe democratic voters just care more about the economy).
Slate discusses how Obama should handle this.

Of course, we still don’t know about the race issue. I’ve discovered the hidden racism I’ve been worrying about has got a name: The Bradley effect, after a black gubernatorial candidate in 1982 in CA who polled ahead (even in exit polls) but ultimately lost the race. The wiki seems to suggest that things are pretty different now than they were 25 years ago, and that a biracial candidate has a different situation, andandand, but of course, it was written by wikipedia nerds, not swing voters.

* * *
BY THE Way… I recently discovered my spam file has been catching some commenters who are not spammers – I de-spammed a few people today, but it only goes back about two weeks, so I apologize if you’ve commented in the past but nothing happened. Please try again.

david foster wallace

September 14, 2008

Apparently he hanged himself. Reading this made me cry. I have had trouble eating this morning, and it’s even possible I am premenstrual so we can blame this on various physical weaknesses, but nonetheless, I … This is really hard for me.

I feel like this is my Nirvana moment, the way my musician friends felt when Kurt Cobain killed himself. For me, that was sad, but nirvana wasn’t really my thing anyway… But I remember stopping by the guitar shop where my friend Jason worked that day, and seeing him near tears. DFW isn’t so much one of my favorite authors as just a voice of a generation, one of the original definers of the meta-ironic overly-self-conscious intellectually wittily effusive, that others have tried to copy but few have really achieved.

God. Maybe I’ll try to clarify what I’m thinking later… [1]





[1] RIP

voting by impression

September 13, 2008

What is amazing to me is that some people honestly do think we should elect someone based on ‘identifying’ with them. THis article quotes voters who like Palin because “she’s one of us” and who see no fault in this method of choosing a leader. They don’t want someone who has studied and thought about the issues and worked on the problems all of their life – that’s just “east coast elite”. No, take a self-proclaimed “hockey mom” who rose up from the PTA of a small town to become mayor, then was unemployed, then won the governorship of the 3rd smallest state in the union…

And it’s evident when she’s interviewed by charlie gibson that she isn’t ready to run a country, let alone the most powerful nation on earth. I mean, I’m all for democracy and giving people a voice and so forth, but, no, you don’t just jump in there when you haven’t got a clue and start flying a jet plane. This isn’t a disney movie.

And anyway, Obama on Letterman or O’Reilly comes across as competent and thoughtful person who is capable of handling this job. But people don’t care about someone seeming smart. They just “love Sarah”. They still want the guy they would have a beer with more than someone who actually has good ideas or good judgment. They aren’t asking, Is this who you would hire to run your company or defend your case or handle your money? THey’re thinking, who would be fun to have “around the house”, on TV, telling the world where to shove it if the world starts acting up…

The NYTimes article about her makes it seems like she’s all about ambition and personal favors, which I guess fits in with at least one interpretation of government. And I have to say, I am very much worried that that portion of the population that don’t really care or read the details will still be convinced she’s a solid choice because Obama’s not “down to earth” enough for them, and they know McCain’s barbeque recipes…

Aaaaugh.

7 years

September 11, 2008

This cartoon does a pretty good job of capturing how america should probably be dealing with today’s anniversary. Mostly I just like the drawing of the 9-11 character I think.

But wow, can you imagine having a president who told us “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”? Can you imagine if 9-11 had happened under Al Gore? All this bullshit about living in a culture of fear reminds me of growing up in the 80’s under Reagan when I would lie awake at night worrying about nuclear war. Republicans seem to thrive on this. “no attacks for 7 years” is such crap! We hadn’t had attacks for 7 years before 2001 either! We had never had anything like 9-11 before in our history! In 1993 there was an attempt that failed. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh, an American, killed 168 people in Oklahoma – nothing to do with international terrorism or the middle east or really anything but timothy mcveigh.

And really that’s what middle east terrorism is too. We can escalate it to all out war, but you’re just getting more young excitable kids more excited to terrorize, just like McVeigh was, and in the end they’re the same. It should just be treated like police action…

mean girl feminism

September 11, 2008

I’ve been thinking about whether Sarah Palin is a feminist, and what that means, for a while now, at least since it came up in the comments a while back. This commentary at Slate is good, and the comparison to Ann Coulter had occurred to me as well, before I read that piece. And Ann Coulter seems to be 100% behind Palin, whereas she questioned Harriet Miers as a pick for the Supreme Court. Which at the time I took as evidence that when it came down to the line these people would back off from clearly questionable picks. But maybe the problem was just that Harriet Miers wasn’t fiesty enough. She wasn’t going to get out there and throw a zinger at you; she wasn’t going to smirk and toss her hair and skin a moose and show ’em who’s boss. She was just an ordinary crony of the most ordinary sort. Palin knows how to play the sexy lady while being seriously bitchy (by her own analogy) about the other side. Is she qualified for VP? No one even knows what it is anymore. They just want hot + badass.

So is this feminist? Is Ann Coulter feminist? These are people who have certainly gained a lot from feminists, but who either don’t appreciate what was done, or think it no longer matters. Regarding abortion, they believe that women cannot be trusted with that decision on their own. The government must make it a law that every woman who becomes pregnant must carry to term every pregnancy from the moment of conception. It doesn’t matter what your personal beliefs or religion tell you: if you believe life begins at the quickening or later in the pregnancy, as a matter of faith, too bad; if you believe human consciousness isn’t formed until birth and viability is the important turning point, too bad. The government dictates faith. I can’t see how this can be read as feminist…

But Feminists for Life is doing a good job of trying to reframe the argument as not about the will of the woman, but about how realistic the choices really are – if you’re going to stay in college, can you really have a baby without day care, changing tables, and all the rest? So should colleges be changed to handle couples ready to reproduce? Or if you’re anti-abortion here, should you just be pro-birth control / pro-abstinence, and try not to start families at a point when it just isn’t yet a good situation. Most dorm rooms don’t even allow pets! Still, the literature does set up a good selling point that goes with the general brand, that this kind of feminism allows for women to still be women, whereas the other kind of feminism, the kind with abortions and pantsuits and life-partners, is forcing women to try to become men.

Of course, pro-choice feminists would say it’s all about having choices, and not having to conform to roles predetermined – being a mother isn’t automatically what defines you, although you can embrace it if and when it works for you. But going to college as a mother isn’t a choice a lot of people make because going to college as a parent isn’t a choice a lot of people make. That isn’t due to gender roles, but the place of parenthood in modern society. So perhaps we are fighting for the zeitgeist a little bit.

Still, calling this feminism is weird, as Ann Coulter herself even stated that women shouldn’t have the vote… So it is sort of hard to think of her as any sort of feminist. Palin couldn’t be outwardly misogynistic with a vote to win, but she hits some of the same notes, and it’s clear Coulter’s readers love her… I don’t want to just equate her with someone as crazy and fucked up as Ann Coulter just because of a general …attitude… but I have to admit once I thought of it, my heart sank and I felt like I recognized the problem. So she can sound reasonable on Charlie Rose, but that is not what she is doing for the base, that is not what she was brought in to do, that is not what McCain wants from her. She was brought in to be a sexy bitchy crazy anti-feminist.

Ann Coulter makes Republican men hard because she is a doable blonde who says women shouldn’t vote and liberal fags are wrong on everything and jesus is the answer, and if you agree with all this, then you can vote, but basically, only for the republican christian men. (Or something like that; when it’s hypocritical it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t really believe any of it anyway). So Palin is sort of trying to be a kinder gentler version of this, also appropriating anything that worked for democrats, but all in all, trying to reframe feminism as being a hot chick who can do what she wants because the boys think she’s cute and the girls think she’s bitchy. It is no longer about getting outside of gender roles, about honor, integrity, ideas, intelligent exchanges, solutions, proposals, about being taken seriously no matter what your sex. Instead, it becomes about snippy exchanges and phrases about lipstick