31 August 2012

Fiscal responsibility

Corey Robin explains how the Democrats came to be the party of fiscal responsibility.

Consider the two major presidential cycles of the last three decades: Reagan/Bush-Clinton and Bush-Obama.

During the 1980s, the Republicans cut taxes and ran up huge deficits. Then Bill Clinton came into office and announced his intention to reduce deficits. Anxious to appease Robert Rubin and the bond market, he abandoned whatever pretense of a progressive economic agenda he had set out during the campaign. He and the Democrats raised taxes and allowed government spending to decline dramatically as a percentage of GDP. By the end of his second term, Clinton had managed to generate a surplus—with the explicit purpose of not only reducing the debt but also shoring up Social Security—only to have the Bush White House squander that surplus through massive tax cuts and increased military spending.

When Barack Obama assumed office in 2008, he faced a similar conundrum as Clinton ....

28 August 2012

Link rot

So in the update of the format of my blog, a number of old posts have just plain gone missing, with no rhyme or reason.

I am not amused.

The Newsroom

I've not been watching The Newsroom despite my unreasonably vigorous love for Aaron Sorkin's writing because HBO are numbskulls and won't take my money. But I've been catching clips that people have been circulating and I've been unimpressed by them.

Take the very first scene, which really made the rounds.




It's a gorgeous piece of television, no doubt. Sorkin's article How To Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin article explains some of why, in some justifiable bragging. I'm not immune to the flavor of patriotism it's playing on. But “we fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons”? That's a self-satisfied misreading of American history that I would like to believe ... but I regard it as dangerous precisely because it's such a tasty thing to want to believe.

Then today I saw this clip come up on Facebook:




OK, that's satisfying for a lefty like me for the obvious reasons. A selection of the progressive blogosphere's greatest hits set to music? Oh yeah.

But why do we get Will McAvoy telling us that he's a Republican, that the Tea Party don't represent the real Republican party? It's not just Sorkin trying to hide that he's cribbing from the left-o-sphere again. There's something else.

I presume that Sorkin is trying to preëmpt a criticism that he's just portraying Republicans as a bunch of mustache-twirling villains. See, he protests, my protagonist, the hero of the show, he's a Republican! But to do that we have to believe that there are a great many McAvoys out there who are shocked, shocked to see these right-wing crazies sweeping in and claiming the mantle of the Grand Old Party. Yet the Tea Party is the Republican base who have formed the core of Republican ideology and electoral strategy since Nixon. Anyone paying attention should know this, but Will McAvoy, supposed ace newshound and teller of truths, doesn't.

I smell another manifestation of the Cult of Moderateness. You see Jon Stewart hint at it. It's the animating spirit of Obama-ism. If we could just tone down the crazies on both sides, American politics could be reasonable and we could work out our differences. It's a tasty thing to want to believe. But it's not true.

26 August 2012

Fear of a Black President

Living national treasure Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a vitally important meditation on race politics and Obama, Fear of a Black President. It's long, everyone in the US should read it, and I hesitate to quote it because it's a read-the-whole-thing kind of thing. But here's a taste:

Thus, in hard jest, the paradoxes and problems of a theoretical black presidency were given voice. Racism would not allow a black president. Nor would a blackness, forged by America’s democratic double-talk, that was too ghetto and raw for the refinement of the Oval Office. Just beneath the humor lurked a resonant pain, the scars of history, an aching doubt rooted in the belief that “they” would never accept us. And so in our Harlems and Paradise Valleys, we invoked a black presidency the way a legion of 5-foot point guards might invoke the dunk—as evidence of some great cosmic injustice, weighty in its import, out of reach.

And yet Spud Webb lives.

When presidential candidate Barack Obama presented himself to the black community, he was not to be believed. It strained credulity to think that a man sporting the same rigorously managed haircut as Jay-Z, a man who was a hard-core pickup basketball player, and who was married to a dark-skinned black woman from the South Side, could coax large numbers of white voters into the booth.

Go read it.


Bonus: Up With Chris Hayes has a panel discussion about the essay featuring an awesome line-up of panelists: Coates, Hayes, Melissa Harris-Perry, W. Kamau Bell, and Jay Smooth.

25 August 2012

Blog format redesign

So I've done a major refresh of the design of this blog, which I've been meaning to do for ages. The old design was built using the original Blogger templating feature, which was phased out in favor of a more sophisticated system, but I hesitated to make the switch for years because I had done so much tinkering with the template. But I really want to take better advantage of post labels, and to not have to edit the template every time I want to tweak my blogroll, and this will facilitate that.

The whole thing is frustrating: there are a lot of things about the Blogger templates that I don't like — though I've managed to hack a few things into working properly — so if I were a proper designer I would cook up something that does exactly what I want. But I'm impatient, and I have a big corpus of stuff already published here that I don't want to port over ....

At least I got it to set text width in ems, not pixels.

24 August 2012

Encyclopedia of American Loons

The Encyclopedia of American Loons currently indexes about 350 people promulgating absurd ideas, from familiar faces like Sarah Palin and John Edward to folks who should be familiar like James Dobson to relatively obscure crackpots like Rashid Buttar and Adam McLeod. Each entry provides a succinct overview and links to more resources.

Good times.

23 August 2012

Don't go to the Tenderloin

The Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco is an exceptionally skeevy slum that often catches travelers by surprise, because it lies just a few blocks from the posh Union Square district. When I lived downtown, I routinely stopped tourists who were about to blunder into the neighborhood and turned them around.

For the convenience of a friend, I've created a little map showing Where Not To Go. The areas marked in yellow are often scruffy but not scary, though I'd recommend staying out of them at night. The areas marked in red are places to avoid, period.

I have also created a much bigger version of the map.

The Extinction Burst

In a comment at Making Light (where the comments section is, stunningly, often even better than the blog itself), nerdycellist has a striking bit of lore.

In dog training there is a thing called the Extinction Burst. Let's say you're training the dog to not bark when someone comes to the door. You'll be chugging along, working your operant conditioning like a boss, and you'll notice your dog is finally starting to catch on. “Oh, you mean if the doorbell rings and I woof my servant monkey turns her back to me and ignores me, but if I don't make a noise I get a treat? Awesome!” But just when you think the dog has it all down and it possibly the smartest dog in the universe, your friend will ring the doorbell and the dog will go bugshit crazy, barking, woofing, yelping, whatever, and you'll just want to sit down with a pitcher of margaritas and give up. Don't do that. Keep going, because what you've just experienced is the Extinction Burst. A few more tries and your dog will be so silent it's like she's bored whenever the doorbell rings — like she never even reacted in the first place.

Why does it work that way? I have no idea — I'm not an animal behaviorist. But it's what I like to believe is happening with the GOP and greater society right now; they're in their back yard (Fox News) spinning frantically and barking loudly about B*ches and N**rs and F**ts because they know that very soon they're going to have to settle down and behave like reasonable mammals. It won't help if I sit down with a pint of cider and give up, but when they finally realize that their behavior has real consequences (like the Komen debacle, and the backlash that — god willing — will lead to embarrassing losses this election year) they'll behave. This helps keep me from despair. If operant conditioning works on dolphins and dogs, surely it will work on humans.

I believe I will be referencing this in times to come.

Paul Ryan

This is going to become an index of Paul Ryan stuff. For the moment it only has a few things:

  • Just before Governor Romney chose Ryan as his veep running mate, The New Yorker did a profile of Ryan.
  • Paul Krugman provides an thumbnail sketch of the Paul Ryan “plan”, including some links to other resources and making clear the lack of There there. See also Krugman's column taking down Ryan as An Unserious Man.

13 August 2012

Martini FAQ

The Martini FAQ goes above and beyond the call of duty.

A highly vocal minority of Martini drinkers, the Prescriptivists,1 insists that the short answer is in fact the only answer. Any deviation from this definition may produce an enjoyable cocktail, but it will not be a Martini. (There is a single exception: one may use less vermouth.)

Strict adherence to the Prescriptivist position brings with it several undeniable benefits. Foremost among these is the quality of the drink itself: it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to truly improve on the classic American Dry Martini. There are also practical benefits, since the Prescriptivist has no need to stock an elaborate bar. Give him an ample supply of the two base ingredients and a fresh stock of garnishes, and he's set. Finally, there is the bracing sense of keeping the barbarian at the gate, of shielding a flickering flame of culture against the gusts of fad and fashion.

Yes, you're reading that right. It has footnotes.

And yes, of course I'm a Prescriptivist. Vermouth. More gin than vermouth. Chilled. Twist or olive. Cocktail glass. Straight up. Cocktail glass. That's it.

If you add apple-flavored goo, it's now an Apple Cocktail.

05 August 2012

The Wire alignment chart

Dissatisfied with existing versions of a D&D alignment chart for characters on The Wire, I constructed my own. (I also wanted to experiment with a better visual presentation for an alignment chart.)

It's a tricky exercise, precisely because The Wire has a complex morality. I made a point of playing against type and putting a cop in the evil row, though I couldn't quite get a gangster into the good row. I tried to find character quotes which represented both the alignment and the character well.


Lawful Good
Cedric Daniels
“Bend too far, and you’re already broken.”

Neutral Good
Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins
“Man making me sound special for doing what the fuck I need to be doing.”

Chaotic Good
Lester Freamon
“When they said they couldn’t pay for further investigation, I regarded that decision as illegitimate.”

Lawful neutral
Bunk Moreland
“It ain't your turn to give a fuck.”

True Neutral
Omar Little
“It’s all in the game, yo.”

Chaotic Neutral
Ziggy Sobatka
“Like I’m the only guy in South Baltimore that tried to win the affections of a farm animal?”

Lawful Evil
William Rawls
“When I fuck you over, you’ll know it. You’ll be so goddamn certain, you won’t need to ask that question.”

Neutral Evil
“Snoop” Pearson
“Fuck this nailin’ up boards, we could kill a couple motherfuckers with this right here.”

Chaotic Evil
Marlo Stanfield
“Let them know Marlo step to any motherfucker: Omar, Barksdale, whoever.”

The one who knocks

“I am not in danger. I am the danger.” If you don't recognize the quote, an explication:



04 August 2012

Buy more stuff

In case you want to spend some money on material possessions:

  • Cool tools is Kevin Kelly's index of reviews of all kinds of things ... including lots of unusual books. Most reviews talk not just about the qualities of the product, but about how and why it's useful, like tongue depressors or those glue sticks made of post-it note glue ... and many tools are just tips and tricks that don't require buying anything.
  • The Wirecutter is a useful index of reviews of tech products and more.
  • Better Living Through Design is an index of spiffy things. The bags and desk accessories are my particular weaknesses.
  • Macrumours' buyers guide helps you guess when an Apple product will come out, reducing your chances of getting something and then feeling frustrated to see a spiffy new version released right after you buy it.
  • Koyono and Zagg are great places to look for accessories for those electronic gadgets. (Koyono also sells other stuff, including some exceedingly spiffy raincoats.)
  • Jetpens sells, well, pens, and they have a bunch of weird cool ones if you're into that.
  • Garrett Wade sells absurdly beautiful tools. The garden implements make me almost want to take up gardening.
  • Kaufmann Mercantile is a bit like Garrett Wade, offering not just tools but a range of well-made housewares and “accessories” and whatnot.
  • Saddleback Leather make exceptionally handsome, sturdy luggage. My current gig calls for me bringing my laptop home pretty frequently, so I needed a backpack but wanted one that looked like it belonged to an adult; people comment on the one I got from them all of the time.
  • Thinkgeek, TopatoCo, bOing bOing, and Unemployed Philosophers' Guild offer a range of nifty/cute/clever tchotchkes. Caveat emptor about the more eccentric electronics on Thinkgeek, though.
  • American Science & Surplus is what it says on the tin, full of great, weird stuff. Visit the website just to read the entertaining product descriptions.
  • Deutsche Optik and The Sportsman's Guide both find some eccentric army surplus and related weird cool stuff. Deutsche Optic is at the fancy end of the spectrum; The Sportsman's Guide is more meat-and-potatoes (and features product descriptions with a hint of redneck whimsy).
  • American Giant sells exceptionally well-made cotton basic clothes for men, including a “the greatest hoodie ever made”.

02 August 2012

Agile

In a sequel to a similar silly post, I offer this joke at the expense of the folks at ScaledAgileFramework.com, who may be very smart and capable people for all I know. (Though they obviously could use some help with making clear infographics.)





I myself actually have mixed feelings about the Agile software movement — there's a lot to like, but also a lot I'm skeptical about — but I was struck by a tweet by Kerry Buckley looking at that process map.

Oh, Agile. What happened?

Personally I'd ask if this doesn't mean that the dream of Agile making software development simple (though not easy) through the application of a few key principles wasn't doomed from the start.