Context, Lipstick, 9/11

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Just because I'm too responsible about language and narrative to stay quiet, I have to say something about context. And context is important - if you want examples of that, all you have to do is look to the world of comedy. Jokes work because there's a setup before the punchline. In order for people to laugh, there has to be groundwork laid so people understand what is going on - who is doing what. So. 

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Interrupting lawyer.

Interrupting lawyer wh--

--I object!

But not only does that joke function on the level of setup and punchline within the joke itself, it relies on a cultural context where we understand this about trial lawyers from all the films and TV show about trial lawyers - they object in court to improper lines of questioning, or sometimes just because it's Tuesday.

Now, if you watch the film The Aristocrats, about that particularly filthy joke, you realise that at the core of it is the story of Gilbert Gottfried. He had tried to tell a joke at the roast of Hugh Hefner on Comedy Central. More importantly, he was doing it not that long after 9/11 2001. The joke he had planned to tell was a joke about 9/11, but the crowd stopped him, shouting "too soon" - and it was that response that got him to tell The Aristocrats instead.

So if people want to talk about context, then we should talk about context. Yes, in the context of the speech, the remark about lipstick on a pig is at best unremarkable. He had probably used the line before. However, in the context where people laughed when he said, it, the audience in the room reacting, in the context of Sarah Palin's remarks only a week earlier and since about lipstick, the cultural context placed lipstick in that odd category of something that's funny now that wasn't funny last week.

So just as Lincoln's assassination demonstrates that comedy=tragedy+time, and that it's just started being funny again after it abruptly stopped for a while, the lipstick line was funny - and well beyond why it would have been anyway (oh those hilariously lipsticked pigs). If we're talking about context, it's clear that the line was intented to be an applause line in the speech, to be a subtle or not so subtle jab at the candidate for VP, given her recent remarks. Whether it was meant to mock the idea that she represents any real kind of change is probably open to interpretation. But in a cultural context where Shakespeare, our linguistic forefather writes so scathingly about makeup as pretence and shallowness and deception, the use of makeup in the context of a female politician does have sexist connotations.

Does that make Obama a sexist? Please. With the extent to which he's whipped? He might laugh about it secretly while watching 2.5 Men in a house full of women, but not in public, not consciously. Though that's insidious as well. Let's put it this way. African Americans rightly say that given the context of American history, there are words that are "their word", and in the context of anyone else using that word, it's offensive. And perhaps because of how our linguistic cliches are set up, amongst other things, sexism against women it also all too easy in the context - evidence Hillary Clinton.

Anyway, I propose a replacement phrase, suggested by 2.5 Men. You can toll a turd in powdered sugar, doesn't make it a jelly doughnut.

Palin Jerky

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Every once in a while I mention my frequent correspondent. He recently sent me an e-mail talking about how offended he was and how he hated Palin now because of how dismissive she was towards community organizers. He also sent out a long letter written by a resident of Wasilla who has detailed knowledge of Palin and her record. I of course responded in my inimitable way.

Hush now, don't get fussy :P.

I'm sorry, I'm not trying to belittle your reactions - I'm really not. What does strike me though is that your reaction is at least part of why Republicans win. Joe Scarborough (he of Morning Joe on MSNBC) helped me understand this. Every 4 years the democrats think they're going to win. More than that, they think they're Right so they Should win. When they don't win, they raise holy hell and claim the election was stolen from them by dirty tricks. When writing about it online I compared it to an Alzheimer's patient in a whorehouse (obviously a line from 2.5 men) - Dems are constantly getting screwed, and they don't want to pay for it.

Of course the Republicans are going to be mean spirited and cut at the very heart of what Democrats hold dear. Of course they're going to demean things that Democrats think are holy. Because whenever they do that, the Left gets all puffed up and anal, go off on one and claim the Republicans have shit all over everything that's Right. Why do the Reps do this? Because they know that Dems take this stuff way too seriously - take themselves too seriously. And whenever that uptight self-righteous streak comes out in the Left, the right just doubles over laughing.

Unfortunately this is what Ann Coulter thinks she's doing, she just manages to do it incredibly badly. Palin was pitch perfect. Land enough punches to be tough and look like a fighter, but make sure that the backlash from the other side makes them look worse than you did landing the punch. And if they don't respond, you just got in a free hit.

In the end, sticks and stones can do some harm, but slander is just fun. The Republicans, if nothing else, aren't too self-righteous to win - and want to win. That said, do you imagine John McCain will be able to do anything except meet the Dems in the middle when he's faced with a Dem congress and senate?

I've said it before and I'll say it again - my bet is that he'll be the best Democratic president the country has ever known. On policy, he's right where most of the country is. He's going to be good on immigration, he's going to be clear-eyed about the labour market and helping people retrain, which is all/the best you can do when you have a globally competitive market for labour (one of the best parts of his speech, I thought), he's going to move on health care in some form or other, he's not a bigot, he'll be good for the environment, he'll finally do something about social security and medicare (private accounts are a fantastic thing, really - it's something Singapore has proved with great conviction) - what more could you ask for? He is right down the middle, and in terms of foreign policy, he has nothing to prove (unlike Barack Obama) - people talk a lot about JFK and the Cuban missile crisis, rightfully so; but before that was the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs. It's the tough guys who most are able to be peacemakers - look at Ariel Sharon, or any other right wing Israeli PM. There's a reason why they say - "Only Nixon could go to China."

As for the woman from Wasilla, whose letter you forwarded - some of her accusations I think come from a little too personal of a place, and for better or worse, I don't think they are big enough issues anyway to stick (not listening to disparate views etc.).

My sticking point with Palin is with her stance on social issues, since obsession with reproductive issues (Economist-speak) is just silly. But if she's going to talk about it but not actually do anything about it (like GWB on abortion) then more power to her. In terms of gay rights, she's just too young to be too bigoted. McCain is the same way. For all his talk, I'd be shocked if he didn't end up nominating someone like Souter to the bench - someone who looked conservative but ended up being liberal. In the end for me it matters less how it happens then what happens. Palin did turf out and call out people who were corrupt - is there anyone who's going to say "I wish my public officials were more corrupt?"

As for banning library books, that was stupid. But it sounds like really what suburban moms do yes/no? If it taught her than implementing social norms on people who don't want them is more trouble than it's worth, all the better. I'm more pissed off about her not being for sex education, especially when her daughter gets knocked up. I know most people don't want to go there, but it's not a small thing, and if you have to hand out condoms in school, so be it.

Experience to me only matters inasmuch as it gives you a record for how they're going to act vis-à-vis their own party. Obama has never never never proved he can stand up and shove it in the face of the one who brung him to the dance. McCain - again and again and again, was a thorn in Bush's side, fighting him on issue after issue even if he was the only Republican doing it. This is someone who because of his left leaning stances on immigration, his right (and Right) choice on the Surge, left on campaign finance etc. had made himself politically radioactive for so long.

For so long he was talked about as the Left's favorite republican (just as Lieberman is/was every Republican's favorite Democrat), and now (as Rush Limbaugh predicted) the left has turned on him. Because the left is as entrenched by their ideology as the right ever was, and is unwilling or unable to leave fairy-idea-land and come back down to the pragmatism of reality where stuff needs to get done. McCain has actually delivered, actually gotten stuff done. By necessity that meant he was in the sticky middle, and he hasn't gotten near enough credit for it from the people who claim to want moderates but can't let go of being self-righteous.

I hope you didn't expect me to get upset - who are these ultra-right-wingers you're secretly friends with who would be offended by you hating Palin?

Why are Democrats in sequence so bumfuzzled and then so smug and soft-headed? There's just never the sense with them that they can simply make a decision, establish a conviction, and then follow it through. Always there is the handwringing and the worry, asking themselves "oh, is this a good idea". And when they get what they want, all they can do is be smug - feel good about themselves. They're like an Alzheimers patient in a whorehouse. Every 4 years the same things happen - they constantly get screwed, and they don't want to pay for it. They wake up the day after the election and wonder to their self-righteous selves, "how did this happen?" "Somehow the evil Republicans stole the electon from us with their evil evil evil-doing."

They can never imagine how they are wrong. They can never admit that the ideals they put forward are in some way fundamentally, and unequivocally, flawed. It may make them feel all warm and fuzzy to say that jobs must stay in America and not be outsourced, but that doesn't make their conviction in any way right or in any way justified. And when they get uppity about tolerance for other people, they seem to have no notion of how much people are tired of being called racist or predjudiced just for getting up in the morning. As long as Democrats think they are constantly on the brightest white side of Good, and the Republicans are somehow inherently evil, they will never have the muddy pragmatic realism to win with people who don't give themselves the luxury of being too good to come in first.

Obama can preach his gospel all he wants, but as long as his oratory is used to serve the base crassness of decieving yourself as right in order to play on the irrational fears of populist sentiment, he can take his "new politics" and shove it up his ass. You are not being "right" when you insist still on not telling the truth about how things are. And to pretend that you are telling the truth while lying and distorting is surely a larger sin than simple pandering. If you're going to pander at least have some shame in it. Hillary and McCain are held back a little each time they have to push out crap in order to get themselves elected. It doesn't mean they're not going to do it, but at least they don't seem so proud of themselves having done it.

Say what you want about McCain on the attack - he is always principled enough to sign his name at the end of everything he does. He has at least that much pride. Obama has taken to being shy and hiding his ownership of his negative attacks. McCain tags all his ads at the end, so that even after the knife is stuck in, you know who did it. Obama's been doing it up front, so that by the end, you're not sure who did what. And know who does what is the fundamental step you follow in language and in narrative in order to be honest to how things are. If you're going to attack, you can't be shy about soiling your lily white hem with your opponent's blood. Stop pretending to be self-righteous and admit you're playing the same game everyone else is, rather than pretending to stand above it all. You are not a fucking saint. Your party is not a party of saints. At least Republicans have no shame in being who they are.

Decrying the politics of personal destruction, and still playing the gotcha game (saying McCain thinks people aren't rich till their income is $5 million) is fine if you're a normal politician - but not when you think you're the second coming of Christ. No one is better than the game. If you can play, then you surrender yourself to the compromises you have to make. Acting better than how you are is the real presumptuosness.

As for the speech, I've seen this movie before. It worked the first time. But fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. If you're not willing to offer realistic, substantive, concrete ideas devoid of hyperbole and outsize rhetoric, you are not being honest to the people you're talking to. Let your ideas be dramatic, rather than the way you couch it. Say you want affirmative action to be based on economic status rather than race. Admit that allowing people to invest their private savings accounts rather than paying into a failed Social Security system is not "gambling your money on the stockmarket", but rather ensuring for themselves a higher rate of return than the opportunity cost of capital.

Barack Obama is fundamentally irresponsible. These are the most fundamental things I taught my students when I taught them writing: 1) Be clear on who is doing what. Do not obfuscate the agency of a given action. 2) Do not exhalt with melodrama something that is paltry. If something is important, all the more it should be presented in the clarity of prose so that the emergency of what is happening can be appreciated for what it is, rather than exaggerated beyond any accurate of realistic sense.

Barack Obama is fundamentally irresponsible.

Jaimy Gordon said something particularly memorable to me once. She was rightfully reacting to my frequent and strenuous complaints about sentimentality in the writing we were reading for workshop. She described a New Yorker cartoon in which a man is reading a book. As the panels progress, he gets more and more engaged, more and more distraught, more and more moved by what he's reading. But as we get to the last panel, we see him sitting in front of a typewriter, stoney faced with a ballon showing what he's typing - "what a load of sentimental bullshit" - or something similar.

I very much sympathise with that cartoon, because it's a process I find myself repeating very often. I remember even when I was much younger, when I watched Titanic in the cinema, how I wept while watching it - though to be accurate to what went on, there were personal aspects that led up to that event. Once it was over, of course I felt completely manipulated by filmmaking that's the equivalent of pushing an elevator button. Of course over the years I've come to understand at least in part how the percolation of a Marxian perspective very much assists in creating this odd sentiment. This dictates that we should always strive to be able to understand what is going on by looking at it from the outside rather than from the inside (to put it rather simplistically) - not inhabiting the emotion, but rather questioning why that emotion is evinced. This does not necessarily undercut the sincerity of all emotion per se - but it curses us to always question the nature of our being affected by something we watch or observe.

If we were to do a practical criticism, a close analysis, of why we are affected by the ending of great expectations - especially when we are in the courtroom with pip and magwitch and we understand there to be no "help or pity in all the world" - we would perhaps dissect with awe the way dickens constructs scene, uses language etc.

In a political context though, when the sentiments you have to put forward have to be repeatable (in a stump speech) or reproducible (in the sentimental medium that is television) or is in fact the translation and repetition of affections past - it is no less able to bring about emotion. But in the context of such a direct appeal to persuasion - to vote one way or another, rather than to simply nudge people towards a more nuanced understanding of how things are or a particularly focused world view - you question whether it really should be about emotion as a means of persuasion.

The more I think about it, the more I think persuasion should be about facts. About rationality. If you want to help poor people, the question is not how do we make people feel for poor people, it is what are the best policies to lift those people out of poverty. And unfortunately sometimes those policies can seem counterintuitive - like taxing the rich less. It might not make any conventional or emotional sense - certainly not as much as giving the poor money (though that's a good idea too, via the EITC) - but if it's borne out by the facts, how it feels shouldn't make a difference.

But I'm a sucker, whether Adeena would believe it or not, and I'm a sucker for a reality distortion field. That's why I'm emotionally entertained by Steve Jobs, and why I can't help but be emotionally entertained by Michelle Obama's speech.

But so what if you feel the pain of the common people? So what if you are "like them"? Will it stop you from enacting policies simply because you think they'll work and hope they'll work, rather than counterintuitive policies that smart people can measurably and verifiably tell you will work? Because I can never help but worry that Democrats are too soft-headed not to damn the people they are trying to help, just because they can't help themselves from giving in to what people want rather than standing up for what is in those people's long term best interests. You can try and protect people all you want from the pain of free trade and lost industry, but all you're doing is delaying and magnifying the inevitable, rather than doing the hard and radical work required to create a situation where the impact of these changes would be minimised.

Jaimy also helpfully points out that people have every right to be surprised when they find out I'm not an only child.

Much has been said, not least in the popular media and even in intelligent literate writing, that decries the goal of profit maximisation as the stated goal of industry. Just off the top of my head, I think of Michael Moore's Roger and Me, where he rails against the fact that profitable industries are still closing plants and moving manufacturing to countries other than the US in the 80s and 90s (a process that, as far as I'm aware is largely complete nowadays). But even more recently The Wire - or more specifically the introduction the the 5th season - talks about how with journalism and the funding of newsrooms, it wasn't that they weren't making profits, it's just that they weren't making enough profits.

I've come to realise this to be true: that profit maximisation indeed is not a sufficient means of defining what companies should strive for. But of course my objection has little to do with agreeing with the discourse I've cited, and more to do with explaining exactly why "profitable" companies still desire to make sometimes large and drastic changes.

Much of this has to do with my having been contacted by The Christman Group, an investment bank that has an internship opening that I'm hoping to fill. But the less said about that the better, I'm sure - I don't have unrealistic expectations. Suffice to say between recieving an e-mail that expressed interest in me and arranging a phone interview, I decided to do what any responsible job-seeker would - find out as much as possible about my potential employer. Aside from reading their President Richard Jackim's very accessible book "The $10 Trillion Opportunity," (I bought the e-book online) about their company's focus on Exit Planning for mostly privately held middle market companies, I was also looking at what seems to be the beginners bible of MBA finance, Brealey-Myers' Principles of Corporate Finance. 

Brealey-Myers makes an intriguing and really rather stunning assertion about the brief managers should recieve from shareholders - exactly that profit maximisation is not the most appropriate objective of professional managers. This is in part because profit maximisation as a principle is needlessly vague - it is not time specific, it does not say for what period profit is being maximised - whether this year, next year or 5 years hence, each perhaps at the expense of the other, or of other longer term periods of profit. It makes no sense to have one year have the largest profits imaginable at the expense of profits for the next ten years. Similarly owners do not want to sacrifice profits for the next ten years in the hope that at the end of that period there will be one year of huge profits.

The answer is Net Present Value. I find it a little difficult to explain in totality the concept of Net Present Value except mathematically, and I don't wish to go into too much detail - you can read the wikipedia article on it, and download a copy of Brealey-Meyers (isn't piracy grand?). But suffice it to say it is the beginners holy grail of corporate finance. The maximisation of Net Present Value argues that given the same level of risk, the return on investment of a given amount of capital must exceed what that same capital would earn through the capital markets (buying govenment securities or shares of similar risk as the investment), or else the investment cannot be justified since it does not create more value than the opportunity cost of capital.

I'll try and make that a little more concrete. When you have a given amount of money, and you don't do anything with it other than stuff it under your mattress, you are losing money. Not just because of inflation, that makes your money less valuable, but because you are not investing it in order to create more wealth. This investment is not "funny money" - on the contrary it is very real. Whenever you put money into capital markets, that is the money that business users borrow to fund their businesses - to make more and better widgets. It's the money that people borrow to buy a house or car. These are things those people couldn't otherwise do, and you are allowing them to get those things done, for which they are paying you back your investment plus interest. That return on investment is the base level at which someone who doesn't stuff their money under the mattress operates. If you have $100 and you do nothing with it, at the end of one year you have $100 (before inflation). If you put that $100 towards buying government securities that give a 7% return at the end of one year, at the end of one year, you have $107.

What maximising NPV argues is that if you are investing in something at the same level of risk as a govenment security, it needs to provide a return of more than 7% in order to be a rational decision. Otherwise you are not making as much money as you can given the level of risk. Put another way, you are taking on too much risk for too little reward - when the going rate of that risk is lower than that of your investment.

This brings me back to the beginning of this post, about why "profitable" companies may still move factories or streamline newsrooms. Because if you are only making the amount of profit equal or less than the amount of profit you could be making by investing in capital markets, you are not making a rational decision. For the level of risk of your endeavour, you need to be making more profit than you would otherwise be making, or you're putting in all that effort and still losing money compared to investing it.

Of course in the real world this becomes more and more complicated as more variables come in, but in general this is a useful guide in terms of how to make rational decisions regarding the allocation of capital. And the efficient allocation of capital is a good thing. Me saying why that is will have to wait for another post, but suffice to say anything less is just irrational.

I've always been a big fan of Blackbird. I consider it probably the best place to go that I know of to get finely prepared food in Chicago. That may change as my experience widens, but by and large that impression has stayed with me, and whenever I go back, the food seldom disappoints. The high point was going for their New Year's Eve tasting menu, that I found altogether sublime, and which highlighted some of the key strengths of their kitchen. I've always had lovely amuse bouche there, and they've typically been fish, and they have a real strength in cooking pork.

Having said all that I suppose already constitutes a mini review of Blackbird (all that's left to say is that I really appreciate them having a small piece by Tony Fitzpatrick in each of their washrooms). Which brings me to Avec, their sister restaurant, located right next door. It's meant to be trendier and more casual, in contrast to the elegance and grace of Blackbird. I'm more a Blackbird person by nature, but it's the variety of food that pulls me to say more than that about Avec.

The first time I went to Avec, I made the mistake of going at their peak. It probably didn't help that they'd been featured on the then current season of Top Chef in Chicago. But yes, right round 7pm till whenever they close, whenever I've driven past, it's always been packed to the gills. That experience was saved really by the food, which is why I went back, but otherwise it's not what I would have thought of as ideal. I imagine that there are people who love to dawdle and socialise in a place where you can't hear yourself think, much less talk, but I'm not one of them, and if I'm going to spend copious amounts of time in a place, it would have to have a much more relaxed atmosphere. But that might just be me. trendier souls than myself may find this their Mecca, but I can find the ambience a little wanting.

Again, if you love to dawdle, you won't mind placing a drink order and waiting at least 45 minutes for a seat at the bar (a seat at a table is even longer). And while their wine selection exhibits the same elegance Blackbird does, and I could guzzle on that teat quite happily, you will be standing outside next to the rather busy Randolph St. I for one have never been quite happy in less than contolled temperature environments, and car exhaust does nothing for me.

But fine, to go through a long wait and less than ideal environment, the food service should be as impeccable as the food itself promises to be, given the lineage. Unfortunately the service tends towards the harried, with a distinct feeling that the place is at least understaffed. Our food took absolutely forever to come, and the timing in between courses was just way too long. And for that, there's none of the customary geniality of Blackbird. I suspect unless you're a regular or a big spender, terse is the watchword. But the food was very good, and very good enough to make us want to come back. I think the hostess (who's quite handsome, if you're into such things) was free enough to answer our question about when they're less harried, and we resolved to come back then - they open at 3pm, and they don't get too crowded till around 6 plus.

Today was a happy day, and we hadn't eaten yet at 4 something, so we took a swing and got there about 5, which seemed just right. Everything was lazy and laid back. On stepping in you would have thought it was the serving staff having their dinner break, rather than paying customers. We got to sit at a table, we didn't have to sit precariously at the bar, we were able to order fast and our food was timed well for arrival. Not that I go in for excessive schmoozing, but our server seemed particularly unwilling to go through the motions with us the way he was with the rest of the clientele, and I wonder what the fuck that was about. To be sure I was a little unkempt and we only had a single glass of wine between us (a nice Grenache - fruity but still mild) - I suppose more leisurely places must make more of their income on pushing the drinkies, but still - that's no call for being selective in your service.

monkey had the medjool dates - and this may be my ignorance, but they were absolutely lovely. I'm not sure where the dates were in the bowl of four, they were probably holding the spectacular meatball in the middle, covered by the bacon wrapping it all up, but the experience as a whole was very charming. The tomato sauce I thought was particularly outstanding. Next was the pork shoulder, and that was absolutely spectacular. If anything, even though the pork was absolutely perfect, it was the seasonal vegetables accompanying, lovingly rendered in the not-too-heavy pork fat, that was most outstanding. It all came together in a way altogether heavenly. Anything with pork I suspect is a home run in either restaurant, personally.

In comparison, the large plates were altogether fine, but less than spectacular after the pork. I suppose if we were more tuned in to the style of the place, we would have just had more and more small plates, but we wanted a main along with the starters, at least this time round. The pasta was next (they don't update the menus online, so I'm not sure if it was linguine or tagliatelle) - very nice, if a little heavy on the oil and a little oddly tart. Nothing to write home about, but very solid. The pizza similarly was very nice, very fine. Perhaps the meat on top was a little clumped and a little over salted. Overall the use of pepper was strong but that was actually very much to my liking. Good dishes, but overshadowed by memories of pork.

Dessert was uninspired polenta cake for her, and rather good thin chocolate bars for me. Doesn't seem as if dessert is their core competancy, so if you're full, you might just skip it for coffee and port.

To paraphrase Celia, I'm not sure if this is a place where I could willingly waste my time, but the food is definitely worth coming for, and if you're there when the food arrives in a timely fashion and you're not elbow to elbow with everyone else in there, it can be a positively happy experience. I can't see though the harm in finding a way for there to be even one more server, or if it comes to that, making a less clear distinction between the servers and the bus-boys. The service isn't friendly to speed in any situation, but that may just be my own impatience at the pace of American food.

Socialist gains are irreversible.

Again it's nice when people decide to act like they're dribbling idiots. Mindless paste-eating toddlers who can't tell the difference between the toppling of a violent regime who had attacked its neighbours, commited crimes against humanity and defied world opinion in claiming to possess weapons that would be an imminent threat to world security (Iraq) and a regime similar to that (Russia) attempting to exert imperialist influence over a sovereign and democratic nation (Georgia).

This is where the hysterical hyperbole just gets in the way of any kind of good sense. For all the many many faults of the US invasion of Iraq, the US has no desire to be imperialist. In fact it is having to empty its coffers in order to assist in restoring order and assist in the rebuilding of that country. Anyone who cannot tell the difference between that and the thuggish terrorising of a sovereign nation needs to stop eating lead paint. How can I make it any clearer? The US does not want, neither does it intend, to operate Iraq as if it were a satellite state.

Whatever you want to say about the pretext for war in Iraq, there was sufficient acknowledgement within the relevant security council resolutions for a legal basis for regime change. In the case of Georgia, the Russians provoked a response from the Georgian government after months of goading them. And with that slight provocation, proceeded to offer the most disproportionate response imaginable. If the Russian army had not planned the invasion, do you think it could so easily mobilise as quickly as all that?

Would it be nice if the US had a halo and did the right thing all the time and rode on a white horse? Sure. But back here in the real world they are at least acknowledging that Russia is flouting international law under the flimsy pretext of "peacemaking". The Russians disliked Georgia simply because it seemed to be leaning too far towards the West. Iraq had no friends by the end - much less was trying to move into a communist orbit.

If John McCain is going to take a hard line, then damn right. Russia has to understand that the privileges it enjoys being part of the world economic community require it conform to social and political norms, rather than acting like they have some kind of inherent claim on their "near abroad". People are trying to be calm and not say this is a new Cold War, but it looks remarkably close to the actions of another war that was nowhere near as chilly. I rather enjoy the irony that after scolding people above for exaggerating I'm going to now overreach in my assertions. But if Russia is allowed to annex and control Georgia, how is that in the end different from allowing Nazi Germany from marching into the Sudetenland? Russia in this case is not simply "walking into it's own backyard." They do have a legitimate claim of either influence or sovereignty over a democratically run nation state.

If people have been wary of accusing people of "appeasement" in the past, the time for that caution is gone. This is exactly a situation that merits at least a considered assessment of what Russia considers it's endgame given their actions in the past week.

Campbell Brown is a fucking idiot. And the Daily Show is at its worst when it doesn't speak truth to power so much as simply lose all perspective on what is true and accurate. There's a point where you're just being a dick. And finding ways to disagree with people simply because you don't like them, rather than disagreeing on principle based on an honest assessment of what is going on. For so long they relied on the ridiculousness of what was being said in comparison to what was happening - where has that gone? Or is Truthiness only funny when it's on the other foot?

Part of me just doesn't know where to begin. Just because I've become a Craigslist junkie looking for jobs, I stumbled on to this bullshit

Motivated Creative Solution Based Blogger

We're looking for motivated Blogger/partners with fresh ideas. We're well funded and will compensate. So feel free to explore set up a profile. 

Before you send your resume please take some time and preview our site. Tell us how you can help take us to the next level. 


If you can't smell the horseshit yet, look around the site, realize how aimless and directionless it is, like any other cooperative farce, then realize why when you look at the meandering written-by-a-child "about" page:

Blue Goose is the town meeting of the digital age. It's an interactive warehouse of user-generated news and solutions where responsible citizens collaborate globally for a better tomorrow. Blue Goose creates the ultimate neighborhood one community at a time. It's where responsible citizens of the world share and discover the most powerful tool of all--collective common sense.

I'm sorry, but if you can manage to be several magnitudes less vague, Barack Obama can use you as a speechwriter. My only response to that (and especially their rather bizarre quoting of David Brooks, of all people), is this:

"Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." 

"By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

I really don't know from where these garment-rending, cheeto-eating air-heads come from.

Getting things done requires direction. And I don't just say that because I'm a former Infantry Officer, but I am, and I'm right. But not only do these people not have any kind of direction other than a faffy notion of random do-goodery, they seem incapable of even categorizing a useful sense of the problems they wish to address. They have no heft in terms of having already attracted the mentorship or aegis of an existing useful organization, and they have no bonafides at all other than to have set up in their grandmother's basement somewhere.

Worse than that, the best they've been able to come up with is some odd kind of online panhandling, where people have "tipjars" - aside from the fact that "social entrepreneurs" should not be the equivalent of the guy behind the counter at a Starbucks, I fail to see the revenue model in hitting people up for money on the basis of hot air.

More to the point, these people are such amateurs and baseless nothings that they seem to have no notion at all about how professional their endeavour could be. This is how adults handle serious things, by actually bringing together people who know shit about shit. By which I mean something like the Copenhagen Consensus. Their about page is simple, direct and communicative, and their purpose is urgent, directive and practical:

The idea is simple, yet often neglected; when financial resources are limited, you need to prioritize the effort. Everyday policymakers to business leaders at all levels prioritize by investing in one project instead of another. However, instead of being based on facts, science, and calculations, the decisions are often made from political motives or the possibility of media coverage. The Copenhagen Consensus approach improves knowledge and gives an overview of research and facts within a given problem, which means that the prioritization is based on evidence.

Put simply, they identify what will do the most good for the least amount of money. Right now they argue that the thing to do is this:

Providing micronutrients for 80% of the 140 million children who lack essential vitamins in the form of vitamin A capsules and a course of zinc supplements would cost just $60 million per year, according to the analysis. More importantly, this action holds yearly benefits of more than $1 billion.

That is how you have the tiniest amount of effort perform an enormous amount of good. Rather than brushing cheeto-dust off your T-shirt and then taking a nap after. If they want a social network to show the good that is being done, then let them show the good of getting a return on investment that is unheard of in any other sector.

What annoys me the most is that they claim to be well funded. If someone sincerely wants to do some real good to some real effect, you don't have to look far to find the best ways to get it done. You want something to energize you? I've just given you one. Do something about it. But no, you'd rather whine and set up a talking shop of no use or consequence. I have no problem with entrepreneurial capital being wasted in pursuit of whatever, but to have it masquerade as wanting to do good is just in bad taste.

Somehow someone somewhere has to realise that the most successful of open-source efforts comes from a) having a clear mandate and direction as to principles and goals b) the engagement of people who know what the fuck they're doing, rather than the "there but for the grace of god" crowd of dilettantes who have nothing better to do than clasp at their chests as if anyone gave a damn.

Who funds this crap? No doubt voyeurs who love to watch other people masturbate - since that's what this is. Enough of a solution for you?

I tend to record a bunch of things off of MSNBC every day. I have a series recording on my DVR to record Morning Joe, I record Hardball and I record Race to the White House. David Gregory is good (though he looks like a monkey), he's personable, he's pretty balanced, he does a good job of moderating his show. His background as someone who has ever tried to grill Bush and the various Bush press secretaries while in their press room also stands him in good stead. He's a smiley presense on TV and tends to seem genuinely engaged with what's going on. He doesn't quite have Tim Russert's gravitas and chubby heft, but he makes a fun host for "Race" and would eventually be a good replacement for Meet the Press after the election, which will give him time to grow into the role before the next presidential.

Not that Hillary won't be running the day after election day. Even if Obama won, I wouldn't put it past her to at least lay the groundwork for a potential insurgent campaign in case he fucks up. That way no piss-ant little VP will stand in her way in 8 years. Not that Obama's going to win anyway.

But yes, if not David Gregory, Chuck Todd (Chucky T) - though personally I'd have it the other way around. The only reason Chucky T isn't more in the running is probably because he doesn't have quite as much seniority as of yet. Andrea Mitchell would also be an interesting choice, but I wonder. She is doing a lovely job with the lunchtime noon broadcast on MSNBC though, I must say. Chucky T actually anchored an hour of politics coverage today, from 2pm to 3pm before David Shuster, so maybe he can catch up on the airtime gap with others. I do notice though, that Chucky T is the guy that's become the somber backgrounded politics guy the way Tim Russert used to be on the morning shows, so you never know. I wonder if their new bureau chief is going to be an on-camera presence.

Chris Matthews, whatever you want to say about his politics and his slightly stubborn and fussy manner (especially when he's made to stay up late and do election coverage), he's good at what he does and very insightful. I think he pretends he's a little less in love with Obama than he was, but somehow I doubt it. He can tend to get some of his analysis of stuff skew more left than makes sense, but when you're actually good, you're sort of entitled to your views. There was a pseudo puff-piece on him not long ago that was really a hatchet job, which was a shame. It'll be interesting to see him run for Senate.

I remember Joe Scarborough as someone who was rather odious as a prime-time commentator, but I have to say that for some reason the shift to Morning Joe has done wonders for his presentation. Either that or it's age, or having Mika there for him to constantly browbeat, he's come to be genuinely watchable. He's also a well of knowledge when it comes to explaining to a liberal audience how conservatives think. Being able to explain how some things just play well, even though certain left leaning partisan audiences might set their hair on fire. Like the 3 am ad, and now the Celeb ad. It's a good show, and I watch as much of it as I can as often as I can take it. Some days the politics just gets too silly though, and I don't last much beyond an hour. I also speed through the show pretty quickly, since I skip Mika's news, most of the finance (except for Jim Cramer and Erin Burnett), all the sports and ads etc.

I'd rather stab myself in the chest than watch Keith Olberman. He and Rachel Maddow deserve one another. I'll say what I've always said about him. If "do it live" pappa bear Bill O'Reilly is an idiot (and he probably is), then Olberman is as much if not more so. Dick. And every day I tape Hardball, and every day I see Mike Barnicle in the first frame I immediately hit delete.

Pat Buchanan is my hero.

I've had a rather nice day watching the Sunday morning shows and getting a haircut. I've come to like "This Week" more and more, if not for Stephanopolous, then for the usually very good panel, particularly George Will and Cokie Roberts. I can only hope that after the election NBC does the right thing and installs either Chuck Todd (Chucky T) or David Gregory in Tim Russert's chair. For my money, Tom Brokaw just isn't aggressive enough. I refer to Face the Nation as "watching that old man", and Fox News Sunday is just surprisingly disappointing. Even after a set revamp, they still look like they're stuck in the 80's, and except for the occasional appearance by Karl Rove and sometimes Bill Kristol, the panelists are sub-par.

For such a deep voiced man, John Kerry has come to sound decidedly shrill. A shrillness that is only matched by Claire McCaskill. The Republican surrogates on the other hand are much more civil and well behaved - positively polite even. I'm just compiling a list in my head of all the rather impressive people they manage to put forward, not just as surrogates, but as potential VP picks.

Lindsey Graham I like very much, and he seems of all of them the most likely to be an attack dog and McCain's man in the Senate. Joe Lieberman is fantastic, especially today up against Kerry. I still say about Kerry that he was a mistake and he should never have been nominated. He's awful and boring and stiff, and now he's exactly the same only contrivedly forceful from having been smacked around. I remember saying very pointedly that I rather Howard Dean lose the general to Bush than Kerry win. Bobby Jindal is nicely impressive, and would be a superb pick in any circumstance. Rob Portman I trust just because of his trade background and his impeccable economic credentials, and he's not a bad surrogate, if a little mild and bland. I wouldn't be surprised if he had hidden depths of killer though. I must say I was less than wowed by Tim Pawlenty, especially up against the jibber jabber of the very charismatic Rahm Emanuel a couple weeks back.

But all in all I'm most especially impressed by Carly Fiorina, who's probably at least going to be Treasury Secretary, but who I personally think would be one of the very best choices for McCain's VP. The "shrill" comparison was especially marked when she was going toe to toe with McCaskill on Meet the Press not long ago. McCaskill was flailing away and Fiorina was dignified and unflappable. I only worry that it would be thought of too much as stunt casting, but I think she has more than enough substance to fight against that characterisation. And in the end I think she's a much better presumptive nominee in 4 or 8 years than the one waiting in the wings now, who seems to be getting so much buzz. I appreciate that Romney is helpful in Michigan, and in many ways that's going to be the whole BOW (ball of wax) this time round for McCain, but I'd like to think that as long as Obama doesn't choose Hillary, McCain would be well placed to be competitive for the womens vote.

I know Hillary is a long shot for Obama, but in many ways if he was going to choose her, this is the way he should go about it. The last thing you want is to not have the full list be aired, the right names be put forward for the future of the party, and the right constituencies smoothed by having their guy mentioned on the short list. Also, you want the Republicans to be napping and have to really dust off their Hillary ads/strategy when you bring her back. It could still happen, and it really should happen. For the uninitiated, I was a Hillary supporter before she got out of the race and I've just been gradually more and more alienated over to John McCain's side. Not lest by the character of Obama, but by the manifest problems with the Democratic platform under his candidacy. For Hillary the pivot to centrism would have been so natural, and instead we have to live through him fumbling for authenticity in the middle.

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