Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Important corrections!!!

It turns out Amanda Bynes was never employed by Disney. We regret the error.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hm, what's in the news?

So, I could blog about Rev. Wright, this horrible Austrian story, or Miley Cyrus.

Well, I promised no primary talk until post-North Carolina, so Wright is out (I think.) And if I think too much about this horrible Austrian story I'll probably just blow my brains out. (To quote Cordelia Chase: There's not enough yuck in the world.)

So Miley Cyrus it is!

Seriously, this is what the fuss is about? I mean, sure, I guess. But really? Maybe my standards for what counts as "racy" are just jaded from years of Internet use. What's really funny is this line from the VF article:
But doesn’t she ever feel enormous pressure, what with a supposedly billion-dollar business resting on her shoulders? And, come on, it’s Disney. Doesn’t she have to watch herself constantly?

“Not really. That’s what my parents are for. They’re there to take care of that, and I can just do what I love.”
For the record, Miley's achy-breaky-dad was at the photo shoot.

Then there's the humour of the Walt Disney corporation -- former employer of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Amanda Bynes -- getting all huffy over the damage to their asset racy pictures. You can just imagine how that letter went:
Dear Vanity Fair,

How dare you sexualize an innocent teenage girl! That's our job!

Your very truly,
Walt Disney Corp.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

How I survived the great strike of 2008

So we all survived this nightmare -- a whole 36 hours without the TTC. Truly a harrowing ordeal. I know I barely survived it.

(And before you email me telling me I'm being an asshole, I'll point out that I had to work extra shifts and work twice as hard this weekend because co-workers couldn't make it in. I'm exhausted, cranky, and understand exactly how inconvenient the strike was. Does this change my perspective? Not really.)

Some thoughts:

1) Should the TTC be an essential service because (some) nurses (sometimes) take the TTC? The implication of this argument seems to be that multi-million dollar institutions who literally employ full-time PhDs somehow are baffled by the concepts of "phone tree" and "car pool". Ah, but you say, nurses are treated like crap and their employers aren't going to pay for car rentals so they can all get to work.

Indeed. Perhaps they need a better union.

2) There have been something like 8 strikes in the TTC's history -- the last major one shortly before I moved to Toronto when I was a kid -- and some of them lasted more than 3 weeks. If I recall correctly, hospitals have employed nurses throughout most of this period. Apparently, after the inevitable epidemics broke out when nurses couldn't get to work, all mention of these horrible plagues was erased from the history books. Anyway, the TTC wasn't an essential service then, but is now. I think this buttresses my argument: we're now a city of infants.

[Seriously. Do people actually think history didn't happen, or isn't written down?]

3) If a local labour dispute can motivate the Provincial government to act within 24 hours and find a legislative solution that garners cross-party support within 32 minutes, what about all the other shit that's wrong in this province? Find me a solution to climate change in 32 minutes, and I'll have Dalton McGuinty's baby.

4) Look out teachers. You're next.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My inevitable triumph over all media begins

Okay, this is just kind of neeto. Summer before last, after reading Fred Pearce's book When the Rivers Run Dry, I wrote a review for Gristmill, posted it, struck up a correspondence with a few other people who read it, and then soon moved on.

Then I picked up Pearce's latest book from the library, With Speed and Violence, and what should I see on the back of the book?

Look closer. Second from the bottom... (click on the pic for full rez)

I'm on a book! A very pleasant surprise, even if my mother will want me to point out that I should be cited as "John Michael McGrath."

Solidarity forever

So the TTC is on strike. It's going to last all of 48 hours, because the Province is already on its way to legislating them back to work. And when it's all over, the Province will probably legislate that the TTC is an essential service (which is fucking stupid, but we're a city of whiny babies.)

Why stupid? Because as an essential service, the TTC will get the kind of treatment around negotiations that the police and ambulance services do -- basically, open wallets, help themselves. But if we wanted to keep the TTC from going on strike, we could just pay them more in the first place. To put it another way, the TTC is an essential service whether we legislate that or not. So we should treat it that way, whether they legislate it or not. And I'm not just talking about the workers -- we should be looking at way more expansions to the service than we currently are.

Except that this strike isn't actually about money. The drivers were promised lots of money and then some, to bring them up to the levels of pay for the rest of the GTA. The strike is about the possibility of non-union workers being brought in to replace non-driver staff. But, if it was just the auxiliary workers voting against the deal it still would have passed. Instead, it seems a mathematical certainty that the drivers voted to reject it out of solidarity with their maintenance brothers.

So get this: the union is doing exactly what a union -- any union -- is supposed to do. Nonetheless, we're all going to spend the weekend bitching and moaning because people in Toronto believe they have a sacred right never to be inconvenienced by anything.

As for the whole "no 48 hours notice thing", I agree that's a bit of asshole-ery, but seeing as TTC workers were already getting violent threats before the last dealine, I totally understand the desire to clear the fuck out.

POSTSCRIPT: Transit is expensive. Unless we tear up the roads and start from scratch with something new, it's always going to be expensive. That's why it's a public service all over North America -- because it didn't used to be. Time was mass transit was run by business in most places (buses and streetcars.) The economics of transport changed after WWII, and most transit companies went under, except where they were subsumed by the state.

Look at the airlines -- the most subsidized creatures in all of history short of the nuclear industry, they probably haven't made a net profit in their history, once you subtract government handounts and bailouts. Moving stuff and people is a really lousy business, and you have to pay for it. Since we can't move urban populations by barge or containership, that means we pay even more.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A modestly embarassing physics lesson

In the absence of a coolant, even modest amounts of energy quickly reach high temperatures in a sealed system.

Translation: I left the egg poacher on the burner too long, the water boiled away and the plastic cups melted in the pan.


Megan McArdle argues that the war crimes of the past (firebombing Dresden) cannot justify the war crimes of the present (torture.) I agree, wholeheartedly, something I didn't think I'd write. The idea that grampa had to butcher thousands in order to win, so what's a little waterboarding, is pretty retarded.

But she quotes Frederick Taylor's book on Dresden... and Taylor more-or-less argues that Dresden's symbol as a war crime has been abused by all and sundry, and that in a number of ways Dresden was as legitimate a target as any in WWII. That's a hell of a qualifier, in my books, but his point is basically that if you're going to yell about Dresden, you need to yell about all of aerial bombardment throughout that period.

There's also the point that the aerial destruction of Germany was, if anything, way more justifiable than torturing every other Muslim male we round up. This doesn't make it right in an objective sense, but consider at least one fact, that German artillery deployments were massively reorganized to protect Germany on the "third front" -- the skies -- which inarguably kept artillery tubes from facing advancing armies on the other two fronts throughout 1944 and 1945.

Like I said, not exculpatory for the Allied air offensive, but at least a tangible strategic benefit from the air war. Compare this to torture, which has exactly zero tangible evidence of success, and the gang of sadists in charge at the White House make Bomber Harris look positively humane.

Your afternoon dose of climate alarmism

1) Geo-engineering's most realistic proposal remains a bad, bad idea.
one of the more "promising" geoengineering ideas out there—a proposal to inject sulfates into the air to mimic the cooling effect that was caused by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991—could end up obliterating the ozone layer in the Arctic (which would, in turn, affect large swaths of the Northern Hemisphere; since the ozone shields us from cosmic radiation and whatnot, this would be a rather suboptimal outcome). This comes on the heels of an earlier study suggesting that the sulfate plan would wreak havoc on global rainfall patterns.
Note that the rainfall point isn't theoretical: the droughts in the Sahel throughout the 70s and 1980s (remember "We are the world"?) are now traced directly to the sulphur emissions from developed countries.

Still, it would be a boon for sunblock manufacturers! Why don't we report the good news about climate change!

2) This summer -- 2008, this year, a few months from now -- might see open water clear to the North Pole. (Not necessarily an ice-free Arctic Ocean, but even worse than last summer.) Worth repeating: open water absorbs much, much more heat than ice, so arctic warming represents a massive "tipping point" in climate change. Also, leaving Greenland as an island of ice in an ocean of open rapidly warming water is not a strategy for success.

3) The warming of the Arctic is probably responsible for a large increase in concentrations of methane -- a greenhouse gas 25x more potent than CO2 -- that has reversed the temporary decline we saw begin after 2000. Methane in the atmosphere eventually turns in to CO2, and then it stays in the atmosphere more or less "forever", ie for centuries.

It looks more and more (to me, anyway) like the point at which moderate human action could have averted damaging climate change is behind us. The objective now is to avoid global calamity.

Take me to the riot

Dog bites man, and Rush Limbaugh has violent, fascist fantasies about crushing political opposition.

Especially funny is Limbaugh's claim that the American right doesn't riot. Really? How about this:

Nov. 28, 2000 | MIAMI -- On the surface, it looked like the good people of Miami at their worst again. Last week's melee at the county offices here -- followed by the local canvassing board's abrupt cancellation of a hand recount -- had all the trademarks of Miami's notorious tantrum politics. Screaming, shoving, fist-waving, intimidation, ties to Elian Gonzalez and even hints of good ol' Cuban-American political corruption.

But the fact is that the fracas at Miami's recount headquarters was engineered and carried out by Republican Party operatives imported from the heartland, far from South Florida. They might have reminded viewers of Elian's Army -- and might even have taken lessons from the Cubans -- but, by all accounts, the city's strident conservative exile community was very much in the minority. As one observer put it: "There were no guayaberas. This crowd looked tweedy. They were from out of town."

Ah yes, the Brooks Brothers Riot. You know, the one that was responsible for halting the Florida Re-count before the Supreme Court deadline. Cast your minds back, way back, to 2000 when this gang of thugs took over. Just one of the many corruptions of the process that were necessary to put Bush in power. (Oh, and thanks again Supreme Court!)

Actually, I might almost thank Rush. It's good to remember, near the end of the Bush regime, what criminality was responsible for it being in the first place.

Not that I'm cynical or anything

I think teaching upper-class Texas students about labour history was one of the chapters in this dude's book, wasn't it?

Seriously, this is so familiar (not from teaching experience, but from every political debate I've ever had, anywhere) that it hurts:
The larger question here is how to teach labor history to students who have no conception of class issues. I tried to bring this up throughout the semester and put the history in a modern context, but clearly I failed because once we got to the present, the shit hit the fan. These students got real uncomfortable when it seemed that someone might be attacking their class privilege, accusing the books (and presumably me in the course evals that we did yesterday) of bias. Well, duh.

Yes, biased in favour of the poor instead of the rich, biased in favour of people who need help instead of the people who've always had it available. Blech.

There's a similar reaction when you talk about environmentalism, of course:

"Yeah man, save the planet. Stop global warming!"

"Well, you understand you might have to give up your car for one slightly less functional."

"Well, fuck that noise. Screw the polar bears!"

"Fine, keep the car.. electrics will get there eventually, I hope. Are you at least willing to pay more for beef and salmon?"

"Nope. What have you got that won't cause me to change my habits even slightly?"

"Uh... change your lightbulb?"

"Done. Woo! Problem solved!"

Kinda sorta breaking my word

So, why the self-imposed abstinence from primary blogging? Basically, the nutty things people email me about each other's candidate. I seem to have ended up on a whole bunch of anti-Obama mailing lists, so the following examples are all about him, but I'm certain Obama people have been saying, writing, and thinking equally stupid things.

1) Obama flipped Clinton off. No, he didn't. Don't be a jackass.

2) Obama's flipping-off-of-Clinton demonstrates that he disrespects women like all gang culture. No, it doesn't. Don't be a racist.

3) When Keith Olbermann said the primary should be settled in a locked room, and that only one candidate should walk out, he wasn't calling for Hillary Clinton to be beaten to death. See clause 3 of article 1, above.

I'm not providing links or citations to any of these claims, because I really hope when the primary is over, we can all go back to bashing McCain. Until then, the next time you read about the Primary at this blog should be after Indiana, at the very least.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

See, I can blame economists for anything

Dairy shortages in Japan.

Rye (wheat!!!) shortages in the US.

Is neoliberal policy to blame
? Before he found religion, I used to say that Jeff Sachs was responsible for more damage to the Russian economy than Operation Barbarossa. I'd like to see more discussion of the role that US-led, "Washington consensus"-style ravages had in creating this latest disaster. I think at this point we can fairly say that, given how "sticky" the agricultural markets are (you can't quickly put new land to plow, nor can you simply buy more dairy cows) there's a clear and present need to keep grain stockpiles. Except, of course, we seem to have put a lot of effort to get rid of them all.

Pop Quiz: Has the imperialist strain of neoliberal economics ever, anywhere, done anything that didn't involved shortening people's lifespans? Just curious.

Oh, and I realize something of note happened in a Rust-belt state in the US somewhere. But I'm gonna try and go cold turkey on the whole primary thing, at least for a little while. My resolution -- contingent on something worthwhile happening -- is to not write a word about the primary until after Indiana and North Carolina, at least.

The global food situation is in meltdown, energy prices are acting like homesick angels, and oh by the way our Prime Minister and the party he governs may have broken federal law to win the last election. And if none of that interests you, there's still this whole "catastrophic global climate change" thing we have to deal with.

So: Barack, Hillary, who cares at this point?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

He just wanted it more

Bush keeps comparing himself to Truman. Well, he finally beat him at something:
WASHINGTON — President Bush has set a record he'd presumably prefer to avoid: the highest disapproval rating of any president in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, 28% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing; 69% disapprove. The approval rating matches the low point of his presidency, and the disapproval sets a new high for any president since Franklin Roosevelt.

The previous record of 67% was reached by Harry Truman in January 1952, when the United States was enmeshed in the Korean War.

You've been warned

Pretty busy in the weeks ahead. When not busy, I'll be making the most of my brand spanking-new hardware, likely to kill the soldiers of Axis powers. When the girlfriend insists that I absolutely need to get sunlight, I'll probably drag the laptop out to a cafe and blog then.

Not saying I won't be blogging at all, but it will probably be even more sporadic than usual for now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Take that, higher education

Last assignment of the year handed in: 1130 this morning.

Year 1 of Graduate studies complete! Advance to Level 2!

For those who are curious, the title of my last essay was "Is a reporter smarter than a boiled frog? The failure of journalism in the face of climate change".

Now it's time to celebrate. But seeing as I already inaugurated the patio season last week (and what assignment was I supposed to be finishing last week? Shut up!) this week the excuse to waste money is the pile of Christmas/New Years/Chinese New Year/Birthday money that I've been saving to buy new computer bits.

After consulting with trusted friends, I now head out to the stores. Wheeee!

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Straightforward plagiarism"

Given that we're all in a media-criticism mood lately, I thought I'd reprint an excerpt from something I stumbled upon in my studies recently. After analyzing the heavy use of press releases and other publicity materials in the print media, the authors conclude:

Taken together, these data portray a picture of the journalistic processes of news gathering and news reporting in which any meaningful independent journalistic activity by the media is the exception rather than the rule . We are not talking about investigative journalism here, but the everyday practices of news judgement, fact checking, balance, criticising and interrogating sources etc., that are, in theory, central to routine day-to-day journalism practice. News, especially in print, is routinely recycled from elsewhere, and yet the widespread use of other material is rarely attributed to its source (e.g. ‘‘according to PA. . .’’ or ‘‘a press release from X suggests that. . .’’). Such practices would, elsewhere, be regarded as straightforward plagiarism. [italics in the original, bold mine --J]

---Lewis, Williams & Frankin: “A Compromised 4th Estate?Journalism Studies Feb 2008 p. 1-20

The problems are systematic. The rot goes deep. The only bright side is the ferocity of the criticism, but it would be fantastic if journalists actually took it to heart even once.

He was more correct than he knew

Some people I know found Obama's repeated invocation of "manufactured distractions" to be annoying during the debate on Wednesday. Except, here's the thing: in at least one case, the distraction was entirely manufactured, right there on TV: Nash McCabe, the woman who asked about Barack Obama and lapel-pin flags, was quoted in a NYT piece earlier this month as being angry about the lapel flag thing. So, given the conduct of these morons throughout the debate, I think we know exactly what happened.

Charlie Gibson, a few days ago, thought to himself "Self, I really want to ask Obama about why he hates the American flag. But I have to at least pretend to be a journalist, so I can't just come out and ask that. Hmm. What to do?"

(A few minutes with Google or Lexis-Nexis passes.)

"Hot damn! This lady loves the flag as much as I do, and she's from Pennsylvania! GET ME A CAMERA, STAT!"

So yeah, the press is in the tank for McCain. We knew that. I don't actually think that G-Stef was trying to throw the debate for Sen. Clinton, I think he's just imbibed the same bastard idea of what it means to be a Washington "journalist" as most of the rest of the press corps.

I suspect, but haven't seen anything yet, that the same is true of the Tuzla question Hillary got.

McCain is on G-Stef's show this weekend. If there's even a whisper of balance left in ABC's news coverage, the questions should include, but not be limited to, McCain's history of adultery, his connection with the Savings and Loan swindle of the 1980s (especially relevant given the current real estate woes!) his 100-year plan for war in Iraq, and his pandering to anti-semitic and anti-Catholic religious bigots.

I mean, c'mon: the Pope is in Washington, and McCain's been endorsed by people who think the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon. I think it's at least as relevant as whether or not Obama knows a dude who committed a crime before I was born, or before Obama arrived on the continental United States.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Read it and weep

Not a lot of time for the next few days, but if you really want to depress yourself you could read the intelligent, humane, detailed questions that were asked of the Democratic candidates at the YearlyKos convention last summer, and contrast them with the atrocity that was last night's ABC debate.

But remember, bloggers are smelly. And reporters know what they're doing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stephanopolous is a friggin dunce

George Stephanopolous just asserted to Obama, on national tv, that Iran was still working towards a nuclear weapon.

No, no they aren't. I know this, because George's network -- ABC -- told me as much less than 6 months ago.

This is horrible, really. It took them 45 minutes (of a 90-minute debate) to get to anything remotely relevant, and now they're still fucking it up.

Kill me, kill me now

I swear to God one of the talking heads in the debate between Clinton and Obama just asked, "If it was good enough for colonial times, why not now?"

I wondered the same thing in my horse-drawn carriage on my way to be bled with leeches, along unpaved roads lit only by moonlight.


Who's the snob now?

So the latest story is that Barack Obama is a snob for talking about arugula and Whole Foods in Iowa.

He was speaking to arugula farmers.

More than that, is the idea supposed to be that Iowa grows nothing but corn, and that Iowans would view anything else as alien and something to be despised?

Oh, and Starbucks' website lists 20 locations in Iowa. Believe it or not, the mass-consumption retailers of urban comforts are large, expanding corporations who try to fill every possible market. So while their website lists no Whole Foods location in Iowa for now, they do list some in Kentucky and at least one planned for Idaho. So give me a fucking break.

For this job, you need degrees

Next time somebody tells me that journalists are fact-checked, unlike smelly bloggers, I'm going to show them this little quote from yesterday's White House press briefing:
It's been suggested that the President, who has met so often with Catholic leaders and reached out so aggressively to Catholic groups, and whose social views very closely reflect Catholic Orthodoxy, is actually America's first Catholic President. What do you think of that?
This was a question posed by "Mark" to Dana Perino. "Mark" may be Mark Knoller of CBS, according to a few minutes of Googling, but it really doesn't matter: America already had a Catholic President. And not the way Bill Clinton was Black. An actual Catholic. His name was John Kennedy, and most White House reporters can undoubtedly tell you where they were when his presidency ended. Most people their age can.

But this "Mark" -- a veteran political reporter, like all White House correspondents are -- can't tell his ass from a hole in the ground. Ug.

Another latte drinking, effete liberal for Obama


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yes, it's been terrible

Chet links to Amanda Fortini in New York Magazine, who writes that the slanders and abuses that Sen. Clinton has suffered this primary season -- and will undoubtedly suffer more of if she wins the nomination -- have awakened younger (30-40 year old) women to the reality that yes, you still live in a sexist world. To which I can only say, glory hallelujah. False consciousness -- whether among gender, race, or class -- is always and everwhere a bad thing. (Sorry to drop some Marx on you like that.)

I think Kevin Drum gets it wrong when he sets up opposing camps whose loyalties are in question, though. According to sources cited by Drum, if the Democrats select Sen. Obama they'll write off a large chunk of the women's vote, and if they select Sen. Clinton they'll write off the youth vote.

My question -- and as a white dude, it's a question I'd invite women to answer because I clearly haven't a clue -- is that if Obama is selected as the candidate, would Clinton voters be angry at the Democratic party itself, at Obama, or at the atmosphere of misoginy that has permeated the campaign? These obviously range from amorphous to specific angers, and I'm curious how they manifest. I think (totally subjectively) that there's a more credible reason for Obama supporters to feel betrayed in the current circumstances if Sen. Clinton is selected. He is, as we've heard ad nauseam, leading in the popular vote, the delegate count, and the states won. To have a party's leadership overturn that would, I think, be a more obvious form of betrayal than ackowledging what I think is clear at this point -- that Sen. Clinton has not succeed under the rules of the primary system.

But that's me, and I concede that it's totally subjective. For what it's worth, I certainly haven't raised my voice in defence of Sen. Clinton from the misogynists at large in this campaign as often as I should. But people already know that I think Republican operativess and Chris Matthews are assholes, and so is any Democrat who repeats what they say. Randi Rhodes (allegedly progressive radio host) was fired, as is proper, for calling Sen. Clinton a whore, and I said nothing on either the slur or the firing because it unfolded quickly and exactly as I expected it to. So if any of my handful of readers think I've trespassed by not speaking up for Sen. Clinton, all I can say is you're probably right, and I'll work harder at that.

That said, from a purely calculating point of view, if the choice is (grossly) between alienating women over 30 or alienating young voters of both genders under 30, demography would seem to make that an easy choice -- especially if, as one of Drum's sources argues, young voters tend to keep their party IDs for life. The 30-year triumph of the Democrats in the US has as much to do with the lifespan of the generation who started voting under FDR as anything else. A huge cohort of voters became Democrats early in their lives during the depression, and stayed that way for a long, long time. That cohort gave the Democrats the White House for 28 out of 36 years between 1933-1969, and kept control of Congress in Democratic hands for almost all of that time as well. (Actually, the Democratic lock on Congress persisted long after the White House slipped from their grasp, only dissolving in the 1990s. Up until 1995, the Dems had controlled the House for 40 years.)

All of which is just to say that I think Obama continues to be the best choice for the Democratic nomination. But hey, I'm a white male young voter with a university education, so I'm playing in to the stereotype as much as everyone else.

Solar power: still the best choice

Thanks to Gar Lipow, I've been hip to solar thermal power and heat storage for a while now, and today I see Joe Romm (former Clinton administration official and blogger) thinks it could save humanity from climate-induced megadeath.

I'm not wild about the idea of covering massive amounts of desert with solar farms -- deserts are ecosystems too! -- but humanity is in survival mode at this point, so desert solar farms and offshore wind (anything that doesn't eat up valuable farmland) are the order of the day. And in any case, the amount of land taken up by solar farms would be less than we currently eat up with oil, coal, and gas infrastructure. Let Appalachia go back to forest, and make Nevada the new Kuwait of solar power.

A corollary to the potential for solar thermal is that Canada really needs to get out of the oil business, now. All of the largest future consumers of oil either have abundant amounts of solar potential within their borders or within 1000km or so, short enough distances to use HVDC cables. China has massive deserts in the west, India is pretty sunny to begin with -- though they might prefer to buy CSP-electricity via a submarine cable from the Arabian desert. Europe is conveniently located just a bit north of the planet's largest desert that isn't dark 6 months of the year, and the US has massive amounts of solar in the southwest. South America has the Patagonian and Atacama deserts, which while smaller deserts could still power 20 America-sized economies. Electric cars are coming, one way or another, and CSP will deliver clean electricity that's cheaper than gasoline. Why we would expect anyone, anywhere to continue to want the dirtiest fossil fuels in existence from Alberta, when there's such an abundant alternative available escapes me.

And of course, we won't have to pave the entire desert with mirrors and steam boilers, because CSP will be only one of many technologies at work -- rooftop solar, offshore wind, (maybe) some biomass. The point remains that 20 years from now, all of our subsidies for tar sands oil will seem like the biggest white elephant in Canadian history. So stop now, and save ourselves the cost.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I can die happy

I've lived long enough to see Hillary Clinton -- the only 2008 Presidential candidate to have already lived in the White House for 8 years -- claim to have a common touch that Barack Obama lacks.

That's right. She's had Secret Service protection since before I hit puberty, personally attended more State of the Union addresses than most Presidents, with a household income of over $100 million over the last 7 years, but yo she be down with the kids/street/grits/whatever you want, apparently.

Or, as Jon Stewart just said: "You're running to be the President. If you don't think you're better than us, what are you doing?"

Sure we can, but will we?

Matthew Yglesias and John Quiggin agree: we can keep getting richer and save the environment if, as the soon-to-be-bestseller writes, “we implement the right policies in a timely manner.” Seeing as I've made this argument in other forums before, I don't really disagree with the argument, but the likelihood of it being followed through. I'm pessimistic because, well, there's a track record here: the American government has been advised, in one form or another, on the necessity of investing in renewable energy since the 1950s, and we've seen precious little positive change.

Worse yet, in some ways we've seen a real retrogression here. In the 1950s, after America faced the wrenching oil crisis of 1948 – humorously, the “crisis” was over becoming a net oil importer for the first time ever – the Paley Commission recommended solar and wind energy as a way of reducing America's reliance on oil imports. This was presented as relatively uncontroversial, technocratic, blue-ribbon panel stuff but was abandoned by the Eisenhower administration in favor of the nuclear military-industrial-complex that was then just beginning.

Fast-forward to the 1980s, and instead of sustainable energy being more dry technocracy, it's become fully enmeshed in the culture wars. Reagan famously (and totally symbolically) removed Carter's solar panels from the White House, the green movement was blamed for the decline of the logging industry, and George H.W. Bush said, en route to the 1990 Rio Summit, “the American way of life is not negotiable.” Note the words: Bush wasn't defending a standard of living, or a per-capita GDP figure, but the American way of life.

The cars-suburbs ecology isn't just a particular economic arrangement that Americans have made, but has actually become a form of cultural identification. (Invisible to those living in it, of course, the way Obama is the first candidate with a race and Clinton is the first candidate with a gender.) You can point out that suburban commuters are wasting their money by the boatload on car costs, or that their kids are in just as much danger from any number of “urban” ills in the suburbs, but the ideal persists.

Given Obama's recent “gaffe” we're busy talking about various forms of American tribalism, it's worth pointing out the most-entrenched one is America's love of cars. I think Yglesias (and Atrios) know this persists today because every time they post about increasing density they seem to follow up by rapidly adding, “but we're not trying to take away your cars!” To put it another way, car control is going to be at least as thorny as gun control.

I don't know what the answer to this is. I suspect that the status quo will persist for some time: supporting “green” measures that are actually worse (like corn ethanol) because they comfort the public in to believing that no major changes are necessary, while providing 1/10th as much money to renewables as we do to oil or coal. Oh, and as a bonus, hectoring the Chinese and Indians for not doing their part.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The President-in-Exile speaks!

Best part comes near the end: " have no idea."

Because he knows no other way

We can argue over whether McCain really meant that Americans should be dying in Iraq for 100 years or whatever, but I think this is an excellent plain-english translation of what McCain actually meant:
McCain's wants to stay in Iraq until no more Americans are getting killed, no matter how long it takes and how many Americans get killed achieving that goal —- that is, the goal of not getting any more Americans killed. And once that goal is achieved, we'll stay.
All to secure that precious, precious oil freedom.

You're not done yet, hippies

Natasha is right: this is the most annoying trope ever.
It’s deeply frustrating to me to to hear someone with 20-30 years worth of professional experience, social networking, capital accumulation and political influence say that what they’re really waiting on is for a bunch of people with none of those advantages to come do what they couldn’t manage. In the same vein, I know that leading figures in many activist issue camps, whether elected officials or NGO staff, hope that young people, or bloggers, or ‘local’ activists, really, anyone else, will get out and start rocking the boat so it doesn’t have to be them. I’ve heard some version of this conversation too many times.

So, yes it would definitely be nice if the young people manage to fix the climate problem, and we should try, as should everyone else. It would be great if bloggers could manage all by ourselves to push the boundaries of debate and give cover to NGOs with large staffs and research budgets, or to elected officials with ready access to establishment media megaphones. But hey, a little help, that would make everything go better, right?
The idea that, somehow, it's up to my generation to fix the global climate mess that my parents' and grandparents' generations made -- while they go and retire, I suppose -- is not just silly, but deeply unfair on a global level.

Natasha mentions the obvious: youth activism is nice, but the gerontocracy still runs the show. But there's a more historical problem, too: the cohorts born since the end of the baby boom have, on average, grown in to periods of less economic growth, stagnating wages, and higher economic inequality. Oh, and we're paying higher taxes so our parents don't starve when they retire.

To put it another way, not only did the baby boom in the western countries cause so much of our current ecological nightmare, but they have throughout their lives been the ones best suited to solving it: they've had the most money, the most security, and the most political impact. And while I'm pretty sure my parents will read this and think, "hey, my life hasn't been easy street you little brat" the simple fact remains that, on a generational level, everyone before and after the baby boom has had it worse.

(Add in to the incontrovertible numbers on inequality and economic growth the future prospect that my generation will pay more for food, energy, and shelter, and it's possible -- though by no means certain -- that my life will feel a lot more like my grandparents than my parents.)

So no, if you were born in the years 1945-1964, don't pat your kids or grandkids on the head and think, "boy, they'll solve this environment thing and won't that be nice." This shit is your fault as much as it's anybody's, and it's your job as much as it's mine.

In short, stop voting Republican, old people. And if the Florida bluehair set puts McCain in the Oval Office, I'm using my secret Intertubes code to start Operation Soylent Green.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I'm an awful, awful human being

My 13-month-old niece is in a kissing phase, I suppose. She'll kiss me, she'll kiss her stuffed animals, she'll blow kisses at passers-by, she's basically a ball of adorable.

And all I've got is herpes jokes.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Internet is always and everywhere funnier than me

As awesome as this story is:
The internet could soon be made obsolete. The scientists who pioneered it have now built a lightning-fast replacement capable of downloading entire feature films within seconds.
Even better is the first comment:
I want to be isolated within a capsule, partially submerged in a gelatinous substance. I want to exist in a semi-vegetative state and be fed intravenously while my physical mind is wired into a holographic, grid-based collective, where it will be bombarded with archetypal images of what it's like to be human.

But I do not want to pay more than $39.99 per month for this, no installation fee, and I want first 3 months free if they don't include HBO.
It's important to have principles.

Crazy-ass BS throughout history

With apologies to Yglesias, I give you the Green Lantern throughout time and space: Khruschev on the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
"If we depart from Hungary, it will give a great boost to the Americans, English, and French -- the imperialists. They will perceive it as weakness on our part and will go onto the offensive. To Egypt they will then add Hungary."
--Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly, p. 50
Rhodes makes it clear that what Khruschev really believed in this case is basically immaterial. Khruschev was looking for a reason to send the tanks in to Hungary, and the ongoing crisis in the Suez gave him a semi-plausible excuse to argue that, despite the fact it had nothing to do with the demands of Hungarian protesters, the Soviet Union could not allow itself to look weak by, uh, following the sane and humane course.

Not that this has anything to do with anything, but does anyone think that if Khruschev had decided to negotiate with Hungarian rioters, or even leave altogether, the misbegotten invasion of the Suez would have gone over any better? Would NATO tanks suddenly lurch east from some secret hideaways in Austria (still not a NATO member in 2008!) and eventually conquer the Hungarians who were, after all, rioting against an invading imperialist power?

Believing crazy things doesn't become less crazy if you preface your craziness with a deep, sincere belief in your opponent's implacable craziness.

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Longevity has its place..."

40 years.

As always, it needs to be said that by the time of his murder, Rev. King was no longer consumed by racial injustice alone: he was on the side of economic justice and global justice -- speaking out against entrenched, debilitating poverty and the war in Vietnam.

Lord, how we still need him.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Not unexpected, but still surprising

We knew this was coming, but I'm shocked it's so soon:
Last month we learned that Apple passed Best Buy to become the number two retailer in the the US. Now, Apple has ascended to the top of the charts, surpassing Wal-Mart for the first time ever, according to the NPD MusicWatch Survey for January.

The news was announced in an e-mail sent this afternoon to some Apple employees, a copy of which was seen by Ars Technica. It includes a screenshot of an Excel file showing the top ten music retailers in the US for January 2008, and Apple is at the top of the list. The iTunes Store leads the pack with 19 percent, Wal-Mart (which includes the brick-and-mortar stores as well as its online properties) is second with 15 percent, and Best Buy is third with 13 percent. Amazon is a distant fourth at 6 percent, trailed by the likes of Borders, Circuit City, and Barnes & Noble. Rhapsody is in the tenth slot with 1 percent.
Obviously, the January numbers are heavily influenced by the number of people buying gift certificates, but still -- people by HMV gift certificates, too. For the record, iTunes has gone from existence to dominance in a hair less than 5 years. Oh, and I'd sell any stock you've got in the record companies:
The NPD Group has been tracking a "sharp increase" in digital downloads over the past several months as physical sales dry up. According to NPD's research, 48 percent of US teens didn't buy a single CD in 2007, compared to 38 percent in 2006.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


An ongoing series, or why reading my blog is worthwhile:

Me, June 2006:
Global grain reserves are at their lowest point since Richard Nixon was president. According to Worldwatch: "This year’s world grain harvest is projected to fall short of consumption by 61 million tons, marking the sixth time in the last seven years that production has failed to satisfy demand. As a result of these shortfalls, world carryover stocks at the end of this crop year are projected to drop to 57 days of consumption, the shortest buffer since the 56-day-low in 1972 that triggered a doubling of grain prices."
I provide today's headlines 21 months in advance. Take that, Nostradamus! The Financial Times, yesterday:
Governments across the developing world are scrambling to boost farm imports and restrict exports in an attempt to forestall rising food prices and social unrest.
The LA Times, yesterday:
KHARTOUM, SUDAN — For 15 years, he's been a "grocer" for Africa's destitute. But he's never seen anything like this.

Pascal Joannes' job is to find grains, beans and oils to fill a food basket for Sudan's neediest people, from Darfur refugees to schoolchildren in the barren south.

Lately Joannes has spent less time shopping and more time poring over commodity price lists, usually in disbelief.

"White beans at $1,160," the white-haired Belgian, 52, cries in despair over the price of a metric ton. "Complete madness! I bought them two years ago in Ethiopia for $235."
The two most-commonly cited reasons for the rapid increase in food prices? Poor harvests in Australia, and the western demand for biofuels. Climate change and liquid fuels are both directly attributable to our consumption in North America. To put it another way, people are at an increase risk of starvation because of what we drive and the way we warm our homes.

Once again, it seems that the western reaction to climate change is going to be simple: at least one person is going to have to die, hungry and scared, for every westerner that changes their lifestyle. I wonder if anyone's put together a corpse-to-Prius index?

Thank God they're stupid

Atrios writes, apropos of John "torture them all so I can be as morally serious as Michael Ignatieff" Yoo:
...there's something peculiarly evil about not just doing bad stuff but providing elaborate justifications for it.
Here's the thing: the justification isn't particularly elaborate. If you read the Yoo memos -- not something I'll recommend -- the "justification" for breaking any number of US laws and treaties ratified by the US Senate amounts to "because the President said so." Oh sure, sometimes it gets a bit artsy, like "if it doesn't happen on US soil" or "terrorists don't wear uniforms or rank insignia, ergo aren't accorded the protection of the laws of war". But the root of it, the core argument, amounts to "if the President orders torture, that means torture isn't illegal."

Obviously, this kind of legal "logic" has a long history, which I suppose makes it "conservative", but if I were a rightist party I wouldn't want to hang my hat on this particular hook.

It would be nice if one -- even one! -- of the two largest parties in Canada's parliament had an ironclad, unquestionable commitment to preventing torture whenever we reasonably can. Instead, we've got Harper and Ignatieff facing off from opposite benches. Harper, to my knowledge, has at least never argued at book-length that torture must be useful, else why would we keep torturing people? Bonus points to Ignatieff for having written several books about the enduring nature of human violence and sadism, and then (apparently) forgotten every word he ever wrote.