Friday, April 18, 2008

How bloggers are better

Having some experience with cognitive neuroscience, politics, and writing, one might expect that I would really like this piece by Jonah Lehrer.

It's okay, but now read this by 'Russ'.

I realize that traditional judges of writing may disagree* , but the latter piece is the far superior piece of writing, let alone actual analysis.

Any moron could see that.**

* Check out the highest rated sample essay and commentary on pages 9-10 - Jonah Lehrer might love it, but I am inspired to describe it as the foetid effluvia emanating from the maw of a narcissistic poseur...

** This of course represents how bloggers are worse.

Our own (benevolent?) unitary executive

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about Ted Strickland, and hoped I would be mocking myself for being silly by now. Unfortunately, I could just as easily write the post today. Just add Susan Tave Zelman to the list.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Whites of Their Eyes

Apparently, the way to get traffic these days is to weigh in on Marc Dann. Because I'm Refreshingly Out of The Loop, you won't get anything real juicy here, though. But a comment thread here drew me in, so I thought I'd elaborate on my non-commenting...

There's a difference between ethical problems, professional problems, personal problems, and political problems, and my appropriate response as gallery peanut depends on the kind of problem I'm addressing. When the A.G.'s office says that emails between Dann and his scheduler are not public records, it could hypothetically be because they showcase an abuse of power (ethical problem covered up unethically), because the A.G.'s office is in such disarray that it is inadvertently but blatantly taking multiple simultaneous positions on a legal issue (professional problem), because releasing them would show perfectly legal exchanges that nevertheless would destroy his marriage (personal problem), or because he made unflattering jokes about something like Ted Strickland and Appalachia (political problem).

Of course, it is probably some combination of two or more of those things, and "political problem" is going to be one of them. The more that comes out, the worse things look... and there's a lot left to come out. But I'm holding my fire while there's still a chance I might have some pity.

Now it's just getting silly

Did you know that Pat Tiberi is proposing an amendment that is unlikely to gain widespread support to a bill in committee that would limit Unemployment Benefit extension to 18 states that meet an arbitrary formula?

A Certain Dispatch Reporter thinks you should.

By the way, although I sympathize with Pat's difficulty in trying to get both sides of his mouth working simultaneously (less spending is good except when more spending is good), I must admit that I'm taken aback by his apparent loss of ability to think of people as people, and not a collection of faceless aggregate labels. Pat says extending the unemployment benefits (of those who have run out of or are in danger of running out of benefits before being able to find a job) should depend on which state you live in, and:

“This measure would reach the hardest hit workers first by using a targeted approach, not by using a blanket unemployment benefit extension like other proposals, making it pro-worker and pro-taxpayer,”

Find me a person who has been out of work for 6 months in a state where unemployment is "only" 4.7% (note: either Pat's staff or J.R. is apparently unable to read, as the same source that gives Ohio's unemployment as 5.3% has U.S. unemployment at 4.8%, not the 5.1% reported in the Daily Briefing piece), and let me listen to you explain to them that they have not personally been hit as hard as someone out of work in a state where unemployment is at 4.9% . Put in another way, this proposal means a hiring boom in Cincy could make NEO workers ineligible for relief. Because somehow hiring an IKEA salesperson in Butler County would lessen the impact of unemployment on the family of a cable installer in Youngstown.

What Pat meant was that his proposal would target the hardest hit arbitrarily defined aggregate masses of people, making it pro-arbitrary aggregate mass, rather than pro-worker. After a while in D.C., I'm sure it's tough to remember the difference.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Cents on Bitterness and Ambivalence

In the mid-90's, when I was working my graveyard shift food service job to pay for the rat-infested apartment I occupied with my unemployed girlfriend in a classic Dead/Dying Midwestern Industrial Town, intermittently driving a Dead/Dying Microcosm of the American Auto Industry, and hanging out with strippers and small time drug dealers, I made the to-be-immortal comment "Listen, you know White Trash, I know White Trash, we're not White Trash, we're... Bohemian."

So I realize that it is very possible to be in touch with the concerns of White Working Class voters, even to be immersed up to and sometimes past the nostrils in the concerns of White Working Class voters, and still harbor an elitist liberal attitude. It's tough to work with a guy who can't afford prescription medicine but can afford to send a check to Jack Van Impe. It's tough to talk with a woman who thinks that she can't get ahead at work because Affirmative Action has stacked the deck and not because a person (like herself) who drops the occasional N-bomb can't be allowed anywhere near customers. It's tough to talk with someone who actively discourages her kids from attending Community College because when she went they told her she could be a paralegal in two years, but they were lying and her Associate's degree was worthless. These people all knew that they were supposed to go to work, do their job, get paid, go to school, get a better job, get paid more, raise a family, help their kids do better than they did, and feel some sense of satisfaction. And they knew that that was neither where they were at or where they were going. And they firmly believed that the gap between what was and what should be was not under their control. Trying to convince somebody that there's a difference between preaching and a sales pitch, or that education was the only way to get ahead, or that just because nobody feels like a bigot doesn't mean that prejudice doesn't exist, often got received the same way: You think I'm wrong. You think I'm stupid. You don't think that I deserve any better. You think you're better than me, and you're not.

In typical liberal fashion, I engaged in introspection, and decided that although all but the first one were usually false, I couldn't completely deny all of those assertions, at least not all of the time. These were real people with sympathetic life stories, and if I presumed to know better than them, I had better get used to a snug fitting shoe called Presumptuousness.

What Obama said was that people in small-town Central PA were bitter because they know the difference between what is and what should be, and they know that gap has held steady or increased, despite the promises of decades of politicians. Obama's big-picture message is that he can shrink that gap. Bitter, cynical people would rather have their own justifications for that gap validated than get burned believing yet another politician who says he can close the gap, especially one who contends that he can do it without blaming anybody. The context of his comments was that his challenge is overcoming the cynicism that has been bred from that accumulated and justifiable bitterness.

What's interesting here is that Obama believes he can, Hillary and McCain think he can't, and both sides are doubling down. Obama's opponents are screaming: He thinks you're wrong! He thinks you're stupid! He thinks you don't deserve any better! He thinks he's better than you, and he's not! Obama is insisting that these attacks are the same sideshow politics that have been used to avoid addressing actual problems, which by extension is the root cause of unhappiness in small town Central PA.

Hillary reminds me this weekend of the song "Common People" by Pulp. It's not a flattering comparison. The irony in my overall take on the situation is that, as a populist-leaning liberal, I see Obama as being the populist for validating the discontent of Working Class Whites and crediting them with the desire to engage in transformation, and Hillary as the elitist for assuming that knee-jerk pandering is the most advantageous response to make. Of course, it is most likely a function of my elitism that I consider it knee-jerk pandering. Following that reasoning, if the Democrats of Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, etc. believe that Obama's comments make him less worthy than Clinton of being their nominee, than it doesn't really matter in what way Obama misjudged them, he'll deserve the hit he takes. Obama didn't believe he was insulting anyone's intelligence or sincerity. If that's true, intelligent and sincere people won't be insulted. If it's true and people are insulted anyway, Obama's entire campaign premise is flawed. If Obama's belief is false, and he inadvertently but manifestly offended intelligent and sincere Working Class Pennsylvanians, he deserves the hit.

Right now my cynicism outweighs my hope. Senator Obama should hope that I'm an isolated case.

Meet Max Cleland Tomorrow Night

The Franklin County Dems are having a reception tomorrow night. Funds are being raised. Click, as it says, for details.