June 30, 2010
All across the developed world, the welfare state is under attack, with differently-able economists saying that the proper response to the ruined economy is to cut back on attempts to make the economy better, to hurt the innocent, and to fulfill right-wing dreams of cheap labor.
Paul Krugman has been talking about this for what seems like forever, but as under Bush, the serious grownups ignore him. Heck, he’s only been right about everything. That’s no reason to listen to anything he has to say.
Ireland, which has enthusiastically cut spending, is suffering with no end in sight, and the promised positive consequences of cutting spending are also nowhere in sight. On the internets, the frivolous and childish people who have the arrogance to actually be right, are responding.
Another blogger then reads these responses and rewrites a biblical parable. Which he or she can do, because Slacktivist knows what’s actually in the bible (communism, as it turns out). I haven’t read the bible myself (I should, if only for the literary perspective), but I feel capable of riffing on a parable. For starters there’s the Parable of the Talent: the master goes away and gives to each of his two servants one talent (which is to say a sum of money). The first servant invests his money wisely, and when the master returns he offers him the earnings. The second servant, terrified of losing his money, hides it away and does not touch it, and when the master returns he gives it back. Needless to say the master is pleased with the first servant and angry at the second. The parallels to government spending should be obvious.
But I guess the bible verse I was thinking of wasn’t actually a parable. The apostles pick herbs to eat on the sabbath, because they are hungry. Someone angrily declares that you can’t work on the day of rest, and Jesus tells him that the sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the sabbath.
Well, here we have a situation where the economic elites and the right-wing libertarian crowd and declaring that, for the economy to be saved, the people must suffer. To which I can only say that the economy was made for man, man was not made for the economy*. If you’re arguing that real people must live in squalor in order to protect the integrity of a social construct, your priorities are seriously screwed up. The economy can and should be managed for the benefit of people, and success is measured by the prosperity of the people. The people should not be managed for the benefit of the GDP, and GDP, frankly, is a very flawed measure of success. That is all.
*: Actually that’s not all. There’s also the minor fact that, you know, they’re wrong, and even if the economy were run exactly the way they want it, the economy would still do badly, as we see in Ireland right now.
June 27, 2010
June 26, 2010
You may have caught that there was an altercation in Afghanistan command the other day: General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, was relieved of his command and replaced with General David Petraeus (the former top commander in Iraq, a man who is himself no stranger to controversy: see below) following comments McChrystal made about the civilian leadership that were printed in Rolling Stone magazine. You know what that means: it’s time for another look at American journalism.
While complaining about your bosses is a timeless tradition, the subordination of the military to civilian leadership is not taken lightly. Active members of the military are forbidden from taking part in political activity such as campaigning or attending campaign rallies (though not from voting, of course, or donating to candidates), and from badmouthing the president.
McChrystal, in a month-long slip of the tongue, basically spoke his mind to a fresh reporter, who then ran off and printed it. A short but intense flurry of commentary about what Obama should do in response ended when McChrystal did the honorable thing and handed in his resignation a couple of days after the story broke, which Obama accepted.
But one of the strangest things about the story was the media response. In their discussions of the story, all the major news outlets basically conceded, one might even say bragged, that if it had been them talking to the general, they never would have published it. How, they asked, did this rookie reporter who hadn’t demonstrated his willingness to conceal misconduct in the top circles of the military get so much access to the top commander in Afghanistan?
What a horribly uninteresting question. A better one, of course, is why are the major news outlets all so dedicated to protecting the powerful and concealing their actions from the public? Isn’t their job to inform the public?
Unfortunately we know the answers to those questions: their own livelihoods depend on maintaining trust with the powerful people who feed them information so they have no intention of breaking that trust by actually reporting on the bad things the powerful people do, and no it isn’t, or at least they don’t consider it to be.
I’ve written about this before, and the points still stand. The major post on the topic was here, and in that post I linked to these two posts which still retain their power three-and-a-half and five years later. Do read them again, they are always current. The news media see it as their job to keep the masses sated and drowsy so that the elites – both government and media – can do the work of running the country without interference from the public. They know all kinds of things about almost all the politicians that would make the public cry for their heads if they found out – and the public would be right to do so because these are things that severely compromise those politicians’ ability to do their jobs – but the media elites generally only reveal these things as a tool to drive the public anger towards particular politicians that the media elites dislike for much less substantive reasons. The media elites had no personal beef with Stanley McChrystal, and so had no interest in telling the public that he had no respect for his obligation to defer to the democratically elected government of the US, or that the military leadership in Afghanistan is in a shambles. The media elites, after all, worry that if the public finds out how badly things are going in Afghanistan, they might actually want to pull out. We couldn’t have that, now could we.
General Petraeus, incidentally, was also brought into the spotlight over the question of political partisanship in the army when his supposedly expert and unpolitical report about the situation in Iraq was basically toeing the Republican party line, supporting the Surge and arguing against a timetable for withdrawal. The situation exploded when MoveOn.org ran an ad calling the general “General Betrayus”, drawing instant and hypocritical condemnation from people who never hesitate to call anyone who disagrees with them, including military personnell, traitors.
After that, Petraeus quickly grew in Republican esteem, and has been considered a likely presidential contender for 2012 ever since.
June 23, 2010
The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing.
Our sport shall be to take what they mistake:
And what poor duty cannot do, noble respect
Takes it in might, not merit.
Where I have come, great clerks have purposed
To greet me with premeditated welcomes;
Where I have seen them shiver and look pale,
Make periods in the midst of sentences,
Throttle their practis’d accent in their fears,
And, in conclusion, dumbly have broke off,
Not paying me a welcome. Trust me, sweet,
Out of this silence yet I pick’d a welcome,
And in the modesty of fearful duty
I read as much as from the rattling tongue
Of saucy and audacious eloquence.
-William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, act 5, scene 1, 89-103.
To take a detour into my old childhood domain, videogames. Probably there’s something here that is vaguely applicable to something else in life. Possibly.
Earlier a friend of mine, knowing that I am playing the recently released Final Fantasy 13, sent me this video review of Final Fantasy 10. The reviewer takes great relish in the visceral hatred he bears for the game.
Another very popular videogame reviewer online is Yahtzee, the creator of Zero Punctuation, best known for hating everything, or almost everything, vituperatively. Then there’s the Angry Video Game Nerd, who plays and complains about bad videogames from the 8-bit era. There are others.
Why so much hate?
If you watch the first four or five minutes of the FF10 review you learn that Spoony loved the older Final Fantasies, and hates the new ones. This is common. A lot of people feel that way. But the mistake those people make is in thinking that this has anything to do with the actual games. While I can’t read any minds, I’ve played all those games myself and I firmly believe the reality is this: those guys played the old games when they were little kids and had little to no critical faculties, and the positive first impression stuck. If they were to play the old games for the first time as adults, they would not think them any better than the later games.
The games have changed tremendously, but it would be the height of shallowness to claim that these changes have been characteristically for the worse. FF12 for example, the most radically different of them all, was awesome. 6, 7 and 12 are the best in the series. Yeah that’s right, the top three has only one game from the classic era and two after it.
But whatever. You can dislike whatever game you want. What I find so inexplicable is that this guy spends days of his time playing and replaying this game that he hates and films himself talking about it. This is not sensible behavior. If you dislike something, YOU AVOID IT.
So here’s what it boils down to: people love to hate. The internet is full of haters, but there is no shortage of them out on the streets either. These are people who will cling jealously and bitterly to their hate, lashing out against and resisting any attempt to help them actually enjoy the work in question. When reading/watching/listening to any work they will go out of their way to search for things to hate. If no genuine reasons are evident, they must stretch the facts and interpret them in the worst possible light, and actively nurture a sordid distaste for everything that can possibly be left up to taste. As an example, around 22 minutes into the FF10 review, he brings up the main character’s dad, pointing and laughing, as everyone loves to do, at the whiny emo kid complaining about his childhood… and then he shows some clips which make it pretty clear that his dad was a total asshole who treated him like shit, and also incidentally an alcoholic, and that he actually has pretty damn good reason to complain, but since the reviewer is a lover of hate, that actually makes him like the dad. Yay child abuse!
Incidentally, about the emo thing: I’m not even emo, but even I’m sick of people complaining about emos. Emos are nowhere near as annoying and obnoxious as the people who complain about emos. Seriously.
But I opened this post with a Shakespeare quote, so let’s see why. Here’s what the Bard knew, and said, although he did so in a very roundabout fashion, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: you have to actually want to enjoy things. The speaker is Theseus, Duke of Athens, explaining why he wishes to see the play the craftsmen have practiced, which promises to be awful, for his wedding night. He wishes to see it because he is a noble lord, and to graciously accept that the craftsmen have practiced it out of love for him, but there is a message to us in the audience as well: if we actually try to enjoy things, our lives will be more enjoyable than if we actively try to be appalled and filled with loathing and revulsion.
You can always find flaws in any work, if you look hard. Even, for that matter, in Shakespeare. But if you want to enjoy something, and I will declare that this is exactly what we all want, then you shouldn’t bother looking for those, and instead focus your attention on searching for the things that are actually good. Because no matter how flawed the work, chances are there is something worthwhile in it. And if it isn’t enough, if the work is too bad for it to be worthwhile, put it aside and move on to the next work. But don’t sit there and scrupulously search for a thousand flaws to immerse yourself in just to make your day more miserable, and feel that you’re doing something worthwhile, because you’re not.
June 22, 2010
Dublin is a city of parks. Plenty of them are scattered liberally across the city, and after hearing a cab driver praising one in particular we decided to check it out.
Phoenix Park is the largest park in the city, quite possibly the largest of any city. Well, okay, it probably isn’t. But it’s huge (and also gorgeous). It hosts the Dublin zoo, the Irish president’s residence, the American ambassador’s residence, several cricket and other sporting arenas, and a large wilderness inhabited by a flock of wild deer, among other things. The park was on the far side of the city from our hotel, so getting to and from it was a chore in itself, and once we got there we found that the tour bus that drives around the park, that our cab driver had recommended to us, had ceased operating in October of last year. There is a regular city street that cuts directly across the park: it is three miles long, in a straight line. The circumference of the park is eleven kilometers.
Cool though it would have been to see the deer, we were on the far side of the park from that area, and had other things on the agenda for that day, so we decided to limit ourselves: we would walk to the zoo and see it, and then decide what to do next.
As it turns out, the zoo, even though it only covers about one tenth of the park, was more than enough to spend an entire day in. We were in there for five hours or so, marvelling at the animals (and it was a splendid zoo), and at the end decided we had no energy left with which to do anything but take a cab back to our hotel. 80% of Phoenix Park still waits to be explored.
June 22, 2010
My planned absence has now been brought to its pre-planned conclusion, and I have returned home. It was a splendid trip, and my host city of Dublin was gifted with uncharacteristically warm and summery weather all week, which I am assured is unheard of. The upside of global warming, I guess.
Now, since I was travelling with my mother and not with friends, there was more focus on traditional touristy things like, err, tours, than things like nightclubs, although I did at least get a good few pints of Guinness in. But let me try to think what we did.
We visited Trinity College and toured the old library which hosts the Book of Kells, the epitome of medieval manuscript illumination. Lovely old stuff.
We partook of a “musical pub crawl”, listening to music in a few pubs across Temple Bar, the old city centre with its paraphernalia of tradition that really only tourists go to and locals avoid.
While on the subject of Temple Bar, I decided that since I had not shaved for over a week, and since they have actual barbers in Ireland (and yes, there is a Fleet Street in Dublin, but the Fleet Street of Sweeney Todd is in London), that I would combine the two in a profound cultural event. What we got was a different kind of culture: it seems the barbers, and quite possibly most of Temple Bar in general, are actually in it to frustrate the tourists rather than to actually perform any services. The first barber we visited sent us upstairs to a waiting room designed to put people at their unease and scare them away. Here we sat for half an hour or more without any numbers or other actual queue system, not in line of sight of the actual barber so as to make it impossible to see if any progress was actually being made. A young boy who seemed to work there twice assured us in an incomprehensible accent that it would be mmm hmm hmm huh, twenty minutes apart. Also, the room steadily filled up with beardless teenagers, which suggested to me that the place was some sort of cheap brothel, with the barber woman actually distributing five-euro handjobs under the towel. I have my dignity, however, and after far too long of this nonsense I left demonstratively.
The second attempt was more efficient, but much more insulting. At the end of that same block was a sign declaring the presence of another barber right around the corner. We looked right around the corner and saw a candycane-striped barber pole up above a large window which read something like “Regency Barber – hot towel shaves etcetera”, with a picture of a straight razor on the window, through which we could see a man being shaved. A man blocking the door told us that this was not a barber, and instructed us to go up the street, pointing, he claimed, at a barber shop that did not appear anywhere within the street to which he was pointing, or anywhere near it. We finally got the shave by screwing tradition and culture and going to a shopping center instead, far away from Temple Bar.
Also on Temple Bar, as it happened we had quite accidentally arrived in Dublin precisely in time for Bloomsday, June 16th, a sort of holiday unique to Dublin which marks the date in which the events of James Joyce’s famously unreadable novel Ulysses takes place. Since Ulysses is set in Dublin, and charts the streets the characters move in the course of their day-long re-enactment of the Odyssey in some detail, and is apparently considered a great expression of the city’s character, the day is celebrated with dramatic readings from the book and tours of the book’s landmarks. We attended a short period of reading, before being chased away by the spectre of sunstroke; Hibernia smiles on Bloomsday.
Our hotel had a celtic song and dance show; we attended that, it was great.
We visited and toured Kilmainham Gaol, after suffering some difficulty in locating it (see below): an old prison which held a great many influential Irish rebels in the early 20th centry, which is today a museum and the site of many prison films and music videos.
A funny thing about Dublin: everyone is very happy to help you with directions to anyplace you’re trying to get to, and those directions will almost certainly be wrong. Sometimes it seems like everyone in Dublin has their own, unique, mental city plan which bears little to no similarity to anyone else’s. Kilmainham Gaol, as it turns out, is located about twenty minutes’ walk away from where our tourist map claims, and on the way there we asked four or five people who each provided directions that bore no similarity to the others. The maps themselves, much as I hate to cotton to national stereotypes (not to mention how I hate to make such an obvious joke,) appear to have been made while drunk.
In fact the Irish (or at least Dubliners) in general, as far as I could tell, seem to place great importance on their own national stereotypes. Everywhere and everyone invokes and praises their own stereotypical behavior. To us unconnected humanists who like to believe that people are always and everywhere everything at once and all the same, this looks very odd, sometimes even kind of pathetic. But nevermind that. We had a great time, and would love to return.
Also, as expected (but only barely, admittedly) I finished A NEW CHAPTER of my novel, that being chapter 13. After a massive climax in chapter 12, this new chapter is small, perhaps a little slow, and contemplative, as the characters try to come to grips with recent developments and find out what happens next. It’s not a terribly great chapter, and will change in some significant ways for the second draft, but it’s good enough for now. As always the key is to maintain forward momentum. I plan to move right on to chapter 14 very soon, but first there are some smaller projects I hope to finish and get out of the way.
Summer is my most productive time. If I worked like this all year, I might actually be able to survive as an independent member of society. Quite a thought, that.
June 13, 2010
After a period of surprisingly regular posting, next week will be light again, as I will be on vacation proper, and cannot guarantee that I will have an internet connection at any point. Who knows, I may be surprised, but I assume I will be offline all week.
I am currently engaged in a project with a friend, which does not really fall under this blog’s purview, being concerned with our hobby of tabletop roleplaying, which we expect to finish very soon and with which I am quite pleased. I am also still writing my novel, and am making steady progress with the current chapter; I fully expect to finish it before I get home again. Then it’s back to despairing over the state of the Gulf of Mexico.
June 11, 2010
The ad for Glenn Beck’s novel says not a single word about his novel.
Sure, us reasonable people would assume that, when we know the lines in the ad are from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, that they are meant to suggest a thematic connection between the poem and the novel. But we also know Glenn Beck is… well, insane. And while we don’t know, I think it’s fair to suspect that he doesn’t know a damn thing about literature in general and poetry specifically. I’d never read this poem before just now, but it seems a bit more… ambiguous than Glenn Beck’s demented ravings. It certainly doesn’t seem very friendly to the “gods of the market place” either, who apparently tell us that pigs can fly, that wishes, contrary to conventional wisdom, actually are horses, and that the moon is made of cheese. So they’re delusional and promise the impossible, and the public is lured in by their false promises? I wonder if Glenn Beck will notice and call Kipling a communist.
Wikipedia tells me that the “copybook headings” are proverbs written in old schoolbooks, such as those the gods of the market place deny and the italicized lines at the end of some of the stanzas, and that the theme of the poem is that human nature is unchanging. Hence the trite proverbs, standing for eternal truth. The gods of the market place promise the impossible, and fall. But Glenn Beck, I guess, has latched on to the single utopian line in the final stanza to claim that this is all about socialism.
Or maybe Beck just caught on that Kipling is today mostly remembered for being an Imperialist who believed the natives of the colonies were unable to govern themselves, and decided that was good enough for him.
Update: Media Matters has now acquired a copy and raced through it. It sounds… special.
June 9, 2010
This is primary season in the US, and yesterday saw a bunch of primaries across the country, but there’s one in particular that had drawn a lot of attention in the netroots, the Democratic Senate primary in Arkansas, where lieutenant-governor Bill Halter was challenging unpopular conservative Democrat Blanche Lincoln. Blanche Lincoln won, unfortunately. But once again this demonstrates how determined the Democratic party leadership is on spending all their bullets on their own feet. Blanche Lincoln is really an incredibly poor Democrat, who threatened to filibuster health care reform that included the public option, and has said that she is “proud” to be called “the best Republican in the Democratic party”. None of her Republican-leaning policies, of course, would ever actually draw a single Republican vote in the general election, and she has gone out of her way to alienate the people of her state who want actual Democratic policies. She’s a lost cause now, guaranteed to lose the seat in November… And yet the Democratic party leadership called out all their big guns to support her and defend her from someone who actually supports Democratic policies and had a much better chance of holding the seat for Democrats. It’s Joe Lieberman all over again. And then when they ‘win’, they send some guy out to insult their own supporters. Yeah, that’ll help raise enthusiasm this fall.
Edit: what Digby said.
June 9, 2010
Calling somebody a nazi is really inexcusable and utterly beyond the pale and grounds for immediate exile from civil discourse. Even when the person you’re talking about praised Hitler and attended Nazi party meetings in Nazi Germany.