Category Archives: Commentary

Trimming the blogroll in straitened circumstances

I do my writing and online reading at the Santa Monica library now. It’s comfortable and quiet, but there’s no place like home; without one, I find myself easily distracted, a much less prolific writer and a less omnivorous reader. Accordingly, I’ve trimmed my blogroll by about a hundred to include only the ones I read daily when they write daily. I’ve included the New York Review of Books and its UK equivalent because they offer some of the best reporting and commentary available on issues of interest to me.

Of the bloggers, my favorite is Malignant Bouffant, proprietor of Just Another Blog (From LA), not only for the Frank Zappa tribute of the title but because he’s homeless, I like him, we spend a fair amount of time together and I admire his lack of authorial inhibitions. Jonathon Shwarz of A Tiny Revolution is sort of like M.B. only without the tendency toward literary violence. The crew at American Leftist are actual leftists, as contrasted with pallid liberals who pass as leftists because Curtis LeMay Republicans have been in charge of describing ideological bents for about 5 decades, and are accordingly an almost invariably refreshing read. Jim Romenesko, who writes Romenesko’s Media News for the Poynter Institute, has a genius for finding and commenting upon the bizarre stories he features at his Obscure Store.

Sideshow proprietor Avedon Carol is a splendidly concise writer who reads as much as I’d like to and provides astute commentary on what she reads. Bernhard at Moon of Alabama is another leftist who, despite writing in English, his third or fourth language, makes excellent points more clearly than most people born to the language. IOZ of Who Is IOZ? is almost as acerbic as he is literate, which is impossibly so.

If you’re unfamiliar with any of these folks or the others still on the blogroll—it’s located in the righthand column beneath the Amazon crap, which you should buy in quantity so I can expand my extremely limited material horizons— please take a few moments to get acquainted. You’ll get way more than you pay for when you read them. One word of warning: Swedish Meatballs Confidential, which delves into propaganda, psychological operations and other media-related shenanigans, always includes a nude photo, artful but possibly not safe for work.

Enjoy, and tell ‘em where you found ‘em.

Barack Obama and the One-Drop Rule

So Barack Obama is planning to become the first African-American president of the United States. The first black president. Or so we’re told. But wait just a second here. How come Obama is black? When someone is tagged “white,” it’s because s/he’s all white. Allegedly. If s/he has one drop of African-American blood, s/he’s black. Of course Obama is half-black. So it’s no contest: He’s all black. 

This is the One-Drop Rule of American race relations. We all follow this rule, with greater or lesser slavishness, whites and non-whites alike. I suppose it’s true for Latinos and Asians, too, though maybe not as much, and that’s a curious thing. Maybe it’s not so bad to have Hispanic or Asian heritage? Not so bad in white eyes anyway, and they’re the ones who seem to make all the rules about race, including the One-Drop. Well, guess what that says about whites. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re white. And even if you’re black, you follow the rule. It’s just how it’s done. 

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One billion and one reasons to subscribe to Human Events

According to Ronald Reagan, Human Events magazine offers “aggressive reporting, superb analysis and one of the finest collections of conservative columnists to be found.” Of course much of that collection as Reagan knew it is under glass now, but the magazine has others who are still alive or are cleverly simulating life.

So that’s one reason to subscribe to the magazine. You also get free books, including ones explaining the menace posed by a billion bloodthirsty Muslims pounding on the wrought-iron gates of America’s finest pundit communities. One billion and one.

There are bonus reasons, too. Human Events writers aren’t just aggressive, superb and fine, but unbelievably brave as well. Take Robert Spencer, for instance.

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Columbia’s Bollinger slams Ahmadenijad: Bush’s contagious behavior?

Yes, I think that yesterday we saw a potent manifestation of the contagion of our era, a mode of how to comport oneself with others that is modeled (MBA-style?) by Mr. Insolence-in-Chief himself. It had the stamp of a particularly neoconnish brand of disdainful arrogance. And it wasn’t coming from the upstart of a world leader from Iran.

I was out of the loop, didn’t even know that Ahmadenijad was speaking at Columbia University yesterday until I heard an extended NPR report* on the event during afternoon drive-time yesterday. Complete with audio excerpts. And I was frankly appalled. Before I, the listener, like the actual live listeners in Columbia’s student audience for the event, even heard a word from the invited speaker, came an introduction by Bollinger that I’m guessing is almost without precedent in the history of guest-speaker introductions ….

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An Angolan parallel in Iraq?

A recent article in slate by Columbia economics professor Ray Fisman, drawing on a forthcoming paper in American Economic Review [“Diamonds Are Forever, Wars Are Not. Is Conflict Bad for Private Firms?“] by fellow economists Massimo Guidolin and Eliana La Ferrara, takes the answer to their question [i.e., no, not necessarily, and sometimes it is quite good for them] as a given and — in describing the relationship between the end of Angola’s civil war (1975-2002) and the fate of its diamond industry [no. 2 export after petroleum] — pushes the question one step further: “Why was war good for Angola’s big miners?” * The article’s concluding graphs are:

In the oil rush that has seized much of the African continent in recent years, we may be witnessing another instance of disconnect between economic prosperity and certain business profits. Western oil companies, whether inhibited by ethics or constrained by law, have shied away from working with unsavory and corrupt African dictators. But such qualms haven’t stopped the China National Petroleum Company from drilling in countries like Chad, as the New York Times reported earlier this week. As long as Chad’s government remains a global pariah, the Chinese will face little competition.

The situation means that CNPC, like Angola’s wartime diamond miners, has no incentive to work for peace. Quite the opposite. There is a tragic mismatch between the social imperative to end war and the business imperatives of incumbent firms to maintain their entry barriers. La Ferrara and Guidolin don’t have data about whether Angolan miners helped to prolong the conflict. But it appears it would have been in their shareholders’ interests to do so. The fear is that companies with a taste for operating in war zones, or collaborating with corrupt governments, may be willing to do what it takes to keep things as they are. Because that’s what’s good for profits.

This unproven but provocative and, alas, ‘logical’ hypothesis drawn by Fisman reverberates:
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John Edwards, (his own) lenders, Lakoff, bumper stickers, & blind trust(s)

Friday’s Wall Street Journal [sorry, can’t link] reported on 34 foreclosures in New Orleans, foreclosures by subprime lending companies which, it turns out, were invested in by the hedge fund (Fortress), which in turn John Edwards has been invested in — and which has hired him as advisor — all fully disclosed, never hidden, but nevertheless subject to suspicion and attack by the likes of Ann Coulter [please tell me I don’t need to link that].

In the immediate wake of this news, John Edwards made what is surely among the most timely [campaign-historically-speaking] of Presidential-nominee responses to personally-impacting revelations: he announced he would get rid of those assets. On the face of it, he’s thereby not only cutting his investment ties but, it would seem, “biting the hand that feeds him” [half a million in consulting fees from Fortress] so to speak, and for good cause. Be cynical if you like, but so it seems to me. Putting his considerable $$ where his mouth is. And, it would seem, suggesting that he can take a principled, moral stand against company practices even when he has a financial stake in them. He would seem to be doing in practice what Hillary recently (and rather jawdroppingly, disingenuously) stated in theory was her inability to be bought (in that case, in re lobbyists).

[Edwards’ response, as a bit of an aside, leads to a question about all these guys (notably Romney, as I recall) who put their money in blind trusts even upon entering campaign — which on the surface might seem laudable — but doesn’t such “blindness” serve also to spare them such moral decision-making dilemmas as Edwards faced here upon learning today that his own investment money was going toward lenders who were foreclosing on New Orleanians? Has this whole notion of ‘blind trust’ gone unexamined for its actual ramifications? And how many blind trustees have no clue anyway of what their funds might be invested in? Isn’t one of the key upshots that they can claim innocence of any linkage and attempt to distance themselves from whatever scandal may arise? But in fact, isn’t this a case where full disclosure itself would be the ideal? whereby candidates are tested on their mettle as Edwards was yesterday? Who else on this campaign trail, for example, is invested in these same subprime lenders but takes no stand and claims ‘innocence’ of any awareness of investment in same? Have we as voter-consumers really thought through the ramifications of this ‘blind trust’ business??]

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Childrearing & Politics: Red State, Blue State, Purple Butts

I’m not quite sure what all to make of it [though i’m about to make a lot of it anyway], and maybe I’m the only one only now belatedly seeing this, but I just google-stumbled [googlumbled?] on a nationwide survey on childrearing practices taken in August 2005, where 600 adults (18 and over, half male, half female) in each of the 50 states (i.e., a total of 30,000 adults) were phoned, random sampling, by SurveyUSA of Verona NJ with the following 3 questions:

1. Do you think it is OK to wash a child’s mouth out with soap?
2. Do you think it is OK to spank a child?
3. Do you think it is OK for a school teacher to spank a student?

If this survey made the news back in 2005, I’ve forgotten, but you’d think it’s just the kind of thing that would garner a blip on the screen on CNN or Fox (unless – hm – what was Paris Hilton up to that day?). Since SurveyUSA uses media anchorpeople to pose their questions, one would think the results must have gotten at least televised airplay.*

What really caught my attention, given that they coded each state as “red state” or “blue state” on the 2004 Presidential results, was this surely-too-divisive-to-be-coincidental finding:

On question #3, with the highest statewide “Yes” response being 53% (Arkansas) and the lowest “Yes” response being 8% (New Hampshire), and the weighted average (factoring in population) for all 50 states was 23% saying “Yes,” here is the kicker:

When you rank the states by response to question #3, every single one of the “top” 25 states — half the nation — saying “Yes” to this question was a “red state.” Every one.

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In which the LA Times proves embarrassingly indulgent of lying

If you haven’t yet seen this last Saturday’s LAT lead editorial, it’s a real winner and sign of just how much the Emperor’s Clothes Era is still with us.

What a sad and embarrassing editorial, embarrassing for those of us who have been LA Times readers all our lives [There’s a photo of me ‘reading’ it at age 3 on the front stoop next door, like father, like daughter] and who care about the integrity of our local but also national paper. And what a sad and embarrassing emblematic commentary the “D.C. cease-fire”* editorial is on the times we live in as far as the state of our Fourth Estate goes.

* web title; in print, it was titled “Truce or Consequences”

It’s old news that the MSM have become alarmingly complicit in their deferences to power à la Bush/Cheney. It’s newer news that the public at large has turned a corner and majorities see the validity for impeachment proceedings against an unprecedented unholy alliance, the President and the Vice President both in demonstrable violation of the Constitution and particularly the separation of powers and respect for checks and balances which are vital to that dear Constitution. And yet here is the LA Times seeing the White House’s latest obstructionism and defiance of their Constitutional limits and responsibilities as reason for compromise, for letting President Bush get away with his defiance of Congressional oversight and his unprecedented breadth and depth of secrecy and imperial dismissiveness.

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If it isn’t good for Bush, it isn’t good for the globe.

It’s classic MBA Presidency stuff (btw, Why aren’t all the MBAs in the nation rising up and calling for Bush’s impeachment? Hasn’t he singlehandedly devalued the stock of an MBA sheepskin forever?): “What’s good for GM is good for the nation.” When was the last time that flag got hoisted in public? But of course it’s still THE No. 1 operating principle in this sorry administration of injustice…

Latest case in point: a Bush Special corollary-inversion on that principle (see header). It isn’t enough that Bush has already politicized the entire Justice Department (e.g., US Attorney scandal) or the EPA (all of those scientific reports on the environment censored, rewritten) or Energy (policy written dock, stick and barrel by the Cheney-Halli-Big Oil cohort, in secret) or … well, as you already know, the list goes on…

Here’s the latest on the Surgeon General politicization scandal, which you’ve probably seen in today’s Washington Post. Front page, mind you. (A mini-version of the story also made the LA Times, with reference to the WP report, but on page A25. How do they do that?)

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Hope for renewable energy

This site’s new spam blocker, which keeps the comments section from being overrun by links to everything from porn sites to closet organizer merchants, was installed on June 26. As the graphic below shows, it has blocked more than 460,000 attempts to post comment spam since then. That’s about 1,000 per hour. If we could somehow set those puppies on fire, or at least the people who send them, our dependence upon foreign oil would be ended.