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Maybe instead of bailing out things that are too big to fail we should arrange it so the set of things too big to fail is empty.

This list demonstrates why I will never call myself a “pet person”:

10. On the difficult journey, on the ultimate difficult journey, go with me please. Never say you can’t bear to watch. Don’t make me face this alone. Everything is easier for me if you are there. Because I love you so.

I expect that intended effect of this list is to make me feel warm with stewardship toward my pet (which I will demonstrate by standing nearby when they euthanize her?), but I’m looking here at my cat, who is curled up on my textbooks like some twee illustrated precious moment*, and thinking that it’s good, if this list is representative of pet speech, that she is mute, for I could not easily reconcile this attribution of self-awareness, deep love for me, and desire for self-preservation with the fact that she regularly wakes me up in the morning by purring while she chews on the cord of the alarm clock.

*Actually, given that it’s a copy of Four-Dimensionalism, it’s less twee and more like a live illustration of Tibbles the cat.

The Modesto Kid has drawn my attention to a new blog, It Is Time For History. With his characteristic, er, modesty, he neglected to emphasize that he himself is a contributor (see here). The prevailing tone is sarcastic, unreliable, amusing. Plus: history!

At 2:45am I awoke with a refrain in my head.  “The rain in Spain soaks mainly John McCain.”  Then I went back to sleep.

Someone has to do a parody of My Fair Lady.  Maybe teaching Palin to follow the teleprompter or the talking points?

Lots to think about in this NYT piece on Kelly Jolley and the Auburn philosophy department. I have some sympathy for, and deep suspicion of, sentiments like this:

Jolley says he thinks of his relationships with his students less as teacher-student than as master-apprentice. His goal, as he sees it, isn’t to teach students about philosophy; it is to show them what it means to think philosophically, to actually be a philosopher. When the approach works, the effect can be significant….

Jolley’s early efforts to change the culture of the philosophy department at Auburn met with quite a bit of resistance from the university’s administration. Among other things, they rejected his requests for money for more upper-level philosophy classes. Determined to build up Auburn’s philosophy major, Jolley simply taught the courses himself, free of charge.

Many of Jolley’s colleagues were similarly skeptical of what he was trying to do. Several of them urged him to “tone it down,” he recalls, when they noticed the intimidating syllabus for his first class, the history of ancient philosophy, taped to the door of his office. They advised Jolley against wasting his time trying to start a philosophy club at Auburn — the club now has about 30 members — and called his approach to teaching “aristocratic.” In particular, they objected to the fact that he was grading students not on how well they learned philosophical terminology and definitions but on their ability to think philosophically.

If I did this, of course, I’d be fired, but that’s not the main problem. More bothersome is that this comes across as a polite description of how to give the finger to 75% of the students passing through your classes. The people who drop after day two either end up being some other philosopher’s problem* or don’t do any philosophy. (There also some concerns about measuring “their ability to think philosophically.” Over the years I’ve developed elaborate rationales for my boring test construction, but the short version is that I think grading has to be done in a way that’s fairly assessable and that allows smart-ish students without the philosophical knack to get by all right.)

The other worry is the way that teaching philosophy in the tone of “come, o select students, let us ascend to the realm of Being” invites a sort of intellectual snobbishness. I wonder, sometimes, if philosophers’ reputation for tiresome arrogance comes from the habit, inculcated early on, of thinking that we’re the chosen few who get to glimpse the thing-in-itself while more prosaic intellects toil away on ephemera. Dana, do you have thoughts on this? (I’m trying to come up with porny librarian jokes, but no luck.)

*(I’m not sure about this, so take with a grain of salt, but I think Auburn relies on a regular contingent of short-term adjuncts, as opposed to hiring replacements only for sabbaticals. So the approach is “aristocratic” in another sense as well. The most brutal JPF ad I remember was from Auburn, along these lines: 4/4, $28k, and the kicker: “we expect significant departmental involvement.” Again, all from memory, subject to future correction, etc.)

This Times story on the Muppets, by Brooks Barnes, is depressing enough that I’m considering re-subscribing to the paper just so that I can cancel again.

First, there’s news that elicits mixed emotions — at best. Disney, which gobbled up the Muppets four years ago, is hoping to reinvigorate the franchise. But it’s Disney. And I’ve just used the word “franchise” in conjunction with the Muppets. Like I said, mixed emotions. Second, Barnes reports that, “recent focus groups indicated that some children could not even identify Kermit and Miss Piggy, much less ancillary characters like Fozzie Bear and Gonzo the Great.” “Some” is doing a lot of work there, isn’t it? What percentage of children in focus groups couldn’t identify Kermit and Miss Piggy? 10%? 20%? 30%? Or an End-is-Nigh 40% or more? I need hard data so I can decide whether it’s time to begin digging my End Times shelter. Also, Fozzie Bear is not an “ancillary character”. Seriously, how dare Barnes? Imagine what this will do to Fozzie’s already fragile ego. Third, of the Muppets hold on the culture, Barnes writes: “…those glory days are long gone.” Um, somebody doesn’t read the Edge of the American West very often.

All of that said, there is some good news about Disney’s stewardship:

At the same time maintaining the core DNA of the characters is crucial, so as not to alienate an older generation with warm memories from their own childhoods. Miss Piggy, as a result, does not suddenly become a vegan; she communicates about exercise by talking about how she hates to exercise. Kermit does not pontificate on going green; he listens to others talk about it in his humble, unassuming way.

Wait, did Barnes just say that I’m part of an “older generation”? Well, at least Disney’s allowing Miss Piggy to be Miss Piggy. In the end, though, there’s not much here to cheer about. Disney, we learn, is creating a “Muppets’ war room”, and that’s just wrong. Oh, and it turns out that I got played. Those new Muppets videos I blogged about a while back? Part of a “viral” marketing campaign. Sigh.

Hmm, this seems to me to be wrong,

I get what she’s trying to say, but here’s Hillary Clinton: “I think you have to ask yourself and it’s a little exercise I’d like everybody in the press, and really all of us, to go through: Would the same thing be said about a man in a similar position and the answer 99 times out of 100 is no. I think it’s been a long time since anybody covered what Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or John McCain wear or their hairstyle or any other personal characteristic like that.”

Yes, you have to go all the way back to 2007, when the press spent a month talking about John Edwards’ $400 haircut.

… Wait, no, you don’t have to go that far back. On September 1st, a network news reporter told Barack Obama that he doesn’t like beer.

… Whoops not even that far. This Monday, Jon Decker said Joe Biden does not “help[] his case when he’s making the argument on economic issues wearing French cuffs and dressed to the nines.”

… Okay then.

I will explain how Beaudrot is wrong… hey wait a second, who’s that in comments?

I’m not sure why nobody’s writing about how the Clintons have been, at best, neutral parties in this campaign. Their proxies and surrogates keep saying crappy things about Obama, and Senator and President Clinton haven’t been that much better. Yes, they were both great at the convention, where, had they been less than great, it would have hurt them personally. But since then, my sense is that they’ve done next to nothing useful for the Obama campaign and lots that has been, as I said above, somewhere on the spectrum between neutral and counterproductive.

Hi ari! [waves]You’re wrong! (I say this with a lot of respect.)

Why? In short, because I see this line as somewhere between neutral and productive. Here’s the rest of the quote from Madame Clinton:

I think that a lot of people were excited to see the Republicans have a woman on their ticket. We had a woman vice presidential candidate in 1984; the Republicans have one this year. I think that is something to be excited about because it is a change. But that’s not reason enough to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket.

It’s hard to describe the reaction of most of my friends to some of the sexist charges slung at Palin. We’re a fairly liberal bunch, and most of us are leaning Obama, but there’s something unsettling about the relentless attacks on Palin’s appearance and children. And I think part of it is that we’ve heard much of the same said about ourselves. Among my friends, among different careers and walks of life, all of the following is true:

  • Was told by a classmate, when dressed in a conservative suit, that she looked like a porn star librarian.
  • Was told by an advisor, in a department where it is common for the men to wear ballcaps and t-shirt when teaching (often without having showered), that she wasn’t dressing professionally enough during class when she was wearing a shirt and slacks and sandals.
  • Has watched all of the male advisees of her advisor go out to lunch to discuss their work. This has never happened to her.
  • Have been groped by handsy academics at conferences.
  • Have had passes made at them by superiors.
  • Has been told that she’s a bad mother for returning to work after the birth of her first child.
  • Has been told that she’s a bad mother for quitting her job after her first child.

I’m not doing justice to it (especially to the mothers, because, like, pick something a mom does, and there will be created ex nihilo people criticizing her as a bad mom), but you get the idea. Now, most of these women would not describe their lives as beat down by sexism. Their careers are fine, their families are fine, the incidents did not overwhelm what by and large have been positive experiences. But it’s recognizable, even if it’s mostly a minor annoyance. And it’s continual. And there seems to be little that the woman could do to avoid being the target of this nonsense.

And after a while, it sits in the back of her head. Imagine going on the job market, nervous, hoping you make a good impression, having had someone tell you, as a compliment, that in that outfit you remind him of a porn star.

So now here’s Palin, and here’s a lot of sexist attacks**. And I am not kidding, literally as I write this, Michelle Obama* is on my TV with Paula Deen on the Food Network***. She is making fried shrimp, and the conversation keeps drifting towards her family where Michelle is very subtly, but very firmly pointing out:

  • That even as busy as she is on the campaign trail, she loves cooking;
  • That even as busy as she is, she makes sure she’s only out of town a couple days a week so Sasha and Malia have their mom home so their routine isn’t interrupted;
  • How wonderful it is that her mom lives near by (the implication being, Michelle’s not leaving her children to be raised by a stranger);
  • How much she loves cooking with her girls. Sasha deveins the shrimp! Malia isn’t too interested, apparently, but home cooking is so important; and,
  • How much she loves to eat good food, and how she works out to maintain that slender figure.

It’s a little fluff piece, necessary for the spouse of the candidate, but the subtext is a very loud I’magoodmomI’magoodmomnotscaryatallI’magoodmom.

So, being mostly liberal women, we all recognize that just because Governor Palin has been the victim of sexist attacks doesn’t actually make up for her complete lack of good-for-the-countryness. But the sexist attacks resonate a little bit, even if we don’t all agree what attacks are sexist, and even if we think the Republicans are about the world’s biggest hypocrites for whining about this.

So what does Clinton do here? She acknowledges that a) Palin’s nomination is sorta historic b) there’s been a lot of sexist attacks, and c) says that’s not a reason to vote for her.

Acknowledging that women’s appearance gets judged more doesn’t reinforce anything or create sympathy for Palin where none existed. We women kinda noticed the attacks all on our own. It gives her a way to respond by saying, hey, we over here hear the noise, too, and we think it’s crap, and you think it’s crap, and we’re all going to move past that anyway.

I don’t see this as undermining Obama at all. I see Clinton saying something that’s good to acknowledge****, about as innocuous as saying “Senator McCain’s military service to his country has been honorable, and we thank him for that, but [hammer hammer hammer 600 years old likely to bomb Tehran if bowels act up.]”

*And man, do we love Michelle Obama. Barack, man, you are overchicked.

**Note, this doesn’t apply to all attacks on Palin. She’s underqualified, made of pure extract of wingnut, confuses foreign policy experience with geographic proximity to Alaska — fine!

***What’s funny is that I don’t even normally watch Paula Deen because her mannerisms make me want to hurt people. I had just turned on the TV to watch a movie, thinking about this post, and there was Michelle Obama! Proof from God that you are wrong, ari.

****Obama uses this sort of move all over the place: acknowledge what you think people are feeling, make them feel worthy of attention, then argue that no matter what they’re feeling, they’ll do the right thing.

Paul Krugman says “no deal”:

As I posted earlier today, it seems all too likely that a “fair price” for mortgage-related assets will still leave much of the financial sector in trouble. And there’s nothing at all in the draft that says what happens next; although I do notice that there’s nothing in the plan requiring Treasury to pay a fair market price. So is the plan to pay premium prices to the most troubled institutions? Or is the hope that restoring liquidity will magically make the problem go away?…

The Treasury plan, by contrast, looks like an attempt to restore confidence in the financial system — that is, convince creditors of troubled institutions that everything’s OK — simply by buying assets off these institutions. This will only work if the prices Treasury pays are much higher than current market prices; that, in turn, can only be true either if this is mainly a liquidity problem — which seems doubtful — or if Treasury is going to be paying a huge premium, in effect throwing taxpayers’ money at the financial world.

And there’s no quid pro quo here — nothing that gives taxpayers a stake in the upside, nothing that ensures that the money is used to stabilize the system rather than reward the undeserving.

Adam Davidson at NPR says,

I would guess that this has to be one of the biggest peacetime transfers of power from Congress to the Administration in history. (Anyone know?). Certainly one of the most concise.

It’s certainly both brief and expansive. The Secretary of the Treasury may purchase mortgage-related assets, and hire people to help him do it, and designate agents to do it, pretty much insofar as he pleases, up to $700,000,000,000, beholden to nobody and subject to no review, for the next two years.

Compare for example the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, created in January 1932, at 47 Stat. 5, and authorized to loan to pretty much any lending agency as it pleased, with not more than $200,000,000 for the relief of banks closed or in the process of liquidation. All loans had to be secured, couldn’t be made on foreign securities or acceptances, no more than 5% of the money could go to any one company, couldn’t exceed three years’ term, couldn’t pay fees or commission to applicants for loans, and so forth. Railroads accepting such loans had to do so under terms acceptable to the regulatory Interstate Commerce Commission.

The law in addition made provision for winding up the Corporation when appropriate and requiring it to report quarterly to the Congress on its activities and employees.

In short, although the situation in January of 1932 was visibly more dire than it is now, Congress was less willing to hand over utter independent authority to the Hoover administration.

With Roosevelt, Congress was a bit more trusting of the executive. Compare the National Recovery Act, of June 1933, at 48 Stat. 195. Here,

the President is hereby authorized to establish such agencies, to accept and utilize such voluntary and uncompensated services, to appoint, without regard to the provisions of the civil service laws, such officers and employees, and to utilize such Federal officers and employees, and, with the consent of the State, such State and local officers and employees, as he may find necessary, to prescribe their authorities, duties, and responsibilities, and tenure, and, without regard to the Classification Act of 1923, as amended, to fix the compensation of any officers and employees so appointed….

The President may delegate any of his functions and powers under this title to such officers, agents, and employees as he may designate or appoint, and may establish an industrial planning and research agency to aid in carrying out his functions under this title.

It’s worth noting (a) the Supreme Court found this blanket grant unconstitutional; (b) the agency created under these provisions, the National Recovery Administration, is generally held to have been a bad idea partly because of its ill-defined mission and was basically defunct by the time the Court got to it, because other parts of the law and other laws had let the Roosevelt administration create other, better defined and more successful agencies for recovery.

As for (a) I’ve no reason to believe the Supreme Court would today shoot down blanket emergency authority the way the Court of 1935 did; as for (b) I expect Henry Paulson to be a better administrator than Hugh Johnson.

But more broadly, do you think this Congress should be more trusting of the Bush administration than the 1932 Congress was of the Hoover administration? Conversely, do you think the Bush administration deserves the same level of trust from this Congress as the Roosevelt administration? Even the giant relief bill of 1935, which gave Roosevelt around $5bn, had more strings attached than this law.

Even given this level of trust, how about what Krugman calls a “quid pro quo” for us, the taxpayers? New deal or no deal.

Yeah, right. Sorry for the light posting today, everyone. I’ve had a complicated and crappy go of it, I’m afraid. The dog got spayed last week, and we’re dealing with some physical (apparently minor) and emotional (hard to say — friggin border collies are too smart for their own good) complications.

Anyway, it turns out that on this day in 1982, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon named Scott Fahlman invented emoticons, viz. the classic colon followed by a hyphen and parenthesis, :-). And thus a million blog comments were ruined. What’s weird is the guy apparently admits his sin and yet hasn’t entered the witness protection program. It takes all kinds, I guess.

Seriously, it seems Fahlman knew not what he wrought, that he now finds himself in a kind of Frankenstein scenario, having unwittingly unleashed a monster he can’t control. That’s forgivable, I suppose. So let’s put down the torches and pitchforks. But if somebody can tell me who coined “lol”, it’s on.

I love dogs, which provide me with much that is good in life. But I would not have dogs if I had to walk around my house picking up their droppings all the time. Instead I train them—if you like, I regulate their behavior—so they can’t leave their droppings in my house. It’s an inconvenience to them, and a limit on their freedom, but it saves me having to clean giant piles of dung off my floor.

A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer.
Then others appeared—people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.

From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they’ve experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report’s release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening.

But it’s an “unofficial recession.”

During the debates that led to the Armistice of 1850, many abolitionists urged Congress to eradicate slavery from the District of Columbia, making the quite reasonable argument that a institution so contrary to republican principles deserved no protection in the capital of the republic. Southern radicals, viewing such a proposal as the opening wedge of an abolitionist invasion, raised the alarm. A federal government that could emancipate slaves in DC might, under the right circumstances, end or exclude slavery in other federal jurisdictions, including the newly captured Mexican lands as well as at military outposts in slave states. Surrounded on all sides by slaveholders in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, a District rid of slavery would — or so it was feared — communicate the abolitionist poison into the surrounding black belt, where the institution was already receding.

When Henry Clay introduced the first batch of legislation to resolve the numerous sectional disputes antagonized by the recent war, he proposed a renewed federal commitment to recovering slaves who had absconded northward. Clay’s bill, which collapsed with all the rest in the spring of 1850, included the provision that alleged fugitives would be permitted the Potemkin luxury of jury trials in the South. When the “compromise” effort was renewed later that summer, James Murray Mason, a first-term senator from Virginia, reintroduced a fugitive slave law that explicitly denied the accused of the right to a habeas writ, the right to speak on his or her own behalf, and the right to plead before a jury. Court-appointed commissioners — not judges — would issue rulings that could not be appealed. Adding fuel to the civil libertarian fire, the act effective deputized the entire population of the so-called free states, where the threat of $1000 non-compliance fines would apply the proper spur to comply with the new law.

Mason’s fugitive slave bill passed, along with bills securing the admission of California as a free state, settling the Texas-New Mexico border dispute, organizing the territories of Utah and New Mexico on the basis of “popular sovereignty,” and eradicating slave auctions in Washington, D.C. The bill passed the Senate 27-12, with an astonishing 21 abstainers; in the House, the margin of victory was 109-75, with 48 congressmen unable to bring themselves to vote. Some of the abstainers — Northern Whigs mostly — were literally hiding in their offices or elsewhere in the Capitol during the vote.

The next day, September 18, President Millard Fillmore signed the bill, prompting denunciations from the abolitionist Lewis Tappan among many others:

But now we behold him basely truckling to the dictation of the South, instead of promptly and manfully VETOING the Act, for the reason that affixing his signature to it would be a violation of his oath of office, a violation of the Constitution, and an outrage upon Civil Liberty.

He had not, it seems, integrity and independence enough to act out the convictions of his understanding. He has thus shown that, instead of being the dignified chief of a nation, he is but the instrument of Daniel Webster, the manager of the acting President, and the tool of a party that is succumbing to the Slave Power, in order to secure their votes at the next Presidential election. For shame!

Charles Beecher denounced the law as “an unexampled climax of sin,” a “monster iniquity of the present age,” “the vilest monument of infamy of the nineteenth century.” Beecher’s sister Harriet soon began dramatizing the issue in a series of short sketches, which later appeared in novel form to some small renown.

Over the next decade, “man-stealers” extradited more than 330 African Americans from the North while releasing a mere dozen. Some of the law’s victims had escaped years earlier. Others had quite probably never been slaves in the first place, including a black woman from Philadelphia who was claimed — along with her six children — by a Maryland slaveholder who’d “lost” her more than two decades prior to her arrest. Outraged opponents seized on these injustices and noted that the law had extended slavery into the free states. Many pointed out as well that the law — by forcing Northern compliance with the Slave Power — effectively enslaved the North as a whole.

Throughout the free states, organized resistance bedeviled the exercise of the act. In Boston, more than 500 US soldiers and armed deputies were required to evade the local Vigilance Committee and secure the extradition of Thomas Sims in April 1851. In Christiana, Pennsylvania, more than twenty African Americans fired on a group of slave hunters, killing one and wounding several others. Fillmore dispatched marines and federal marshals to arrest dozens of blacks and a handful of white Quakers, all of whom were charged with treason. The Treason Trials quickly collapsed under their own farcical weight. Many in the north, however, would not soon forgive the suggestion that resistance to the Slave Power should count as an act of criminal disloyalty.

Meantime, Northern hostility to the Fugitive Slave Act plucked the strings of Southern honor. Though in practical terms the “problem” of fugitive slaves was borne disproportionately by the border states, the howls of outrage were greatest in the Deep South, where fire-eaters called for state conventions to weigh the question of disunion.

While accomplished academics worry about academic reviewing, less accomplished academics (hey what is UP!) worry about academic refereeing, that is, what happens when articles are submitted and farmed out to experts in the field for review in order to see if they’re worth publishing. Here is a precis of my view– just cross out “audience” and write in “professional colleague or rival.”
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There’s all kinds of speculation floating around the blogosphere about the source of John McCain’s belligerence earlier today re. Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain (TPM has the details): Sen. McCain had a senior moment, he confused Zapatero of Spain with the Zapatista guerillas of Mexico, he assumed that anyone with a surname like Zapatero must be in cahoots with other shady characters like Chavez and Castro. Any of these are possible, I suppose. But what I think really happened was that Sen. McCain offered an homage to his good friend, George Washington.

I say that because on this day in 1796, Washington retired from public life, publishing his farewell address, a stern lecture from a beloved father figure to his increasingly unruly children, the United States, on how they should comport themselves as a family after his departure from the scene. It is a remarkable — and remarkably wordy — document, including the famous admonition that the nation should “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world”. Senator McCain was there, of course, when his colleague Washington penned his address. And my guess is McCain wanted to remind us today what a great man old George was by kicking a little sand in the face of Spain, demonstrating his capacity to resist “the insidious wiles of foreign influence”. Either that or he’s a doddering old fool who can’t, in those few brief moments he’s left untended, be trusted not to insult our longstanding European allies in front of a member of the foreign press.

Kidding aside, Washington’s address remains a fascinating document, not just for the warnings about foreign entanglements, but also for sections on the corrosive influence of political parties on the body politic, the threat a large military poses to liberty, and the signal importance of maintaining the federal government. Washington was, to a very great extent, the living embodiment of civic virtue, the notion that propertied gentlemen, guided by a love of country, could act dispassionately in the public sphere. These men would, in other words, set aside individual interests in service of the common good. Such a notion sounds quaint to our cynical ears. But Washington, who chose to retire rather than become something like a king, believed virtue was the foundation upon which the republic rested. Still, his farewell address is not a sunny document; it is permeated with anxiety. In it, you can hear the death rattle of civic virtue. It is not a pretty sound.

You’re good people—known quantities, at least—so I’m thinking I might could let you in on a little a deal. Little more formal than we are here, but lots of familiar faces. You think this might be something you could be interested in, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.

Also, someone asked why I didn’t x-post my remembrance of David Foster Wallace over here. Short answer: I’m trying to do something about stuffing Vance’s reader with three versions of the same post, and that one seemed personal, so I kept it over there. I can repost here if there’s demand. The link’s probably sufficient. But if you’re interested in Wallace memorials, Scott McLemee and Kathleen Fitzpatrick‘s aren’t to be missed.

I am, as I’ve noted before, fascinated by the process of being edited. I think this is so because writing, for me as for most other scholars — I’ve an urge to put that word in scare quotes, like so: “scholars” — is a solitary task. But I’m basically a social thinker; I like to bounce ideas off other people (boing) get their feedback, and then ignore it as I stubbornly stick to my guns. Really, though, I’ve always craved an intellectual partnership that would polish the shimmering ideas that I typically shroud with gray prose. Or so I tell myself. Other things I tell myself? I’m a great dad. I matter as a person. There are unicorns.

Regardless, below the fold, you’ll find two longish pieces on editing, composition, and other writerly stuff. The first is from Harper’s. I’d link, but they have a paywall, so I’ve cut a relatively small portion of content, a back and forth epistolary exchange, from the magazine for you to see here. Giles Coren, a restaurant critic who writes for the London Times, apparently composed a rather overheated note to his editors. Then they replied — in cooler fashion.

The second piece, a marvelous essay on the word “no”, published by Brian Doyle in the Kenyon Review, you may have seen linked elsewhere: here or here (like Ezra, who already has that terrific head of hair, needs the link). If you’re interested in this sort of thing, see below. If not, that’s okay, too.

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John McCain’s health care plan is rubbish.  So says everyone.   Most of the summaries I’ve seen have focused on the fact that twenty million will likely lose their employer-cushioned coverage, and that the individual market is horrible to those who have been ill, or for those who are obese.

The plan is rubbish, for all the reasons cited.  But it’s rubbish for more reasons.   It’s rubbish because it’s made of rubbish.

The individual market is horrible to those have been ill, but when it’s stated like that, it sounds like something only the sick or chronically ill will have to worry about.*   And most of the people writing about it are either young, and eminently insurable on account of being young, or have comfortable employer-based insurance.   I don’t think they get quite how much the individual market sucks for a normal person.

So let’s play pretend, because let’s be clear: this is a bad idea for everyone.

John McCain is elected, and the health care coverage of twenty million people gets dropped.  Two of those people, Jack and Jill, are a couple in their fifties.  Jack and Jill are in excellent health and middle class.  Absolutely no chronic conditions.  Great CON. Neither of them smoke.  And we’ll assume that they’re also of normal weight.

Let’s play on  Jill is 52 and Jack is 56.  For $400 a month, they can get coverage.  This is not nice coverage.  This is coverage that tends to have a multi-thousand dollar deductible, no prescription coverage, no doctor’s visits coverage.  If they want an HMO-style plan with co-pays and prescription coverage, call it $1100.  (And of course, their risk is evaluated individually.)

But let’s make it a little more realistic.  Jill is overweight.  Not obese, mind you.  Let’s say she has a BMI of 27.  This varies a bit by company, but add 25% onto her premium.  Jack smokes.  He’s been trying to quit, but he picked up this habit back in the 60s and it’s been hard to kick.  Jack is probably now uninsurable.  (Were he younger, figure another 25%)

Actually, they probably both are.  In their fifties, they’re bad risks.  When they had employer-based coverage, this wasn’t a big deal, because their own personal risk wasn’t evaluated.  It is now.

And we’ve spotted them perfect health and perfect health histories, mind you.  According to this study, the average American adult fills nine prescriptions a year.  Someone in her fifties: 13.   So surely it’s not insane to think that someone in her fifties might be on one or two medications.

Now, we can assume that the market will change a little bit, and that Jack and Jill might have a tax credit to play with.  That isn’t going to make them younger, or a better risk.   This plan is cruel to boomers.

So who in this country is this plan supposed to benefit?

The folks at Politico have rounded up a gaggle of “presidential historians” to ponder whether this year’s is the meanest, lowest-down, dirtiest campaign ever. The scholars’ answer? No. I think they’re likely right. Only considering the modern era, 1964 was awfully ugly. As was 1984. And for my money, it will be difficult, because of those wacky Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, to top 2004.

That said, I think the article linked above misses a more interesting — because it’s less subjective — question: is John McCain running the most dishonest campaign in modern American history? I think the answer is probably yes, though Richard Nixon, promising in 1968 to win the war, might also be a contender.

* Now that, my friends, is faint praise we can believe in.

Hurray, now we own AIG. Or anyway, someone bought AIG with our money.

Sometimes even a raving lunatic like Charles Coughlin knows the right question to ask: if there’s billions in government money for the bankers, why not for the rest of us?

(Alternatively, we might say, sometimes urban sophisticates aren’t very good at economic populism.)

Paul Krugman listened to McCain’s speech yesterday morning and thought, hey, McCain’s channeling Herbert Hoover. So did I. Only Krugman got to say it first, because he got to say it on TV. Stupid old-media scoop.

Of course, Krugman also had better lines than I: “Ben Bernanke and (I think) Hank Paulson understand we could have another Great Depression if we work at it hard enough. I think Phil Gramm might be just the guy to do it.”

And just as a note with respect to our earlier discussion of such matters, notice the backdrop behind Krugman.

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