Friday, July 16, 2010

The hideous new normal

via Ezra Klein.

The American Civil War and current politics

I just finished listening to the last of David Blight's lectures on the build-up to, fighting of, and aftermath of the American Civil War. I think it would be fair to say that this series of lectures transformed my understanding of American history, race relations, and politics. So much of what seemed baffling to me about my country now seems explicable, indeed even inevitable, given what happened in this country from 1861 to 1865, and then from 1866 through the rest of the 19th century. I did not realize how absolutely devastating the war was, particularly to the South. And then, after all that, for the nation to come together again within a few short years is both miraculous and hideous. Such a cataclysmic schism and subsequent rapid reconciliation could not possibly happen without a thousand myths, delusions, distortions, projections, and obsessions taking hold. And certainly not without a massive backlash and a lot of people being thrown under the bus (or to the back of it). The echoes and legacy of this trauma are so with us today that one can't really understand them without knowing about this horrendous ordeal.

Coming away from these lectures, I find myself strongly disagreeing with the "reconciliationist" interpretation of the Civil War (i.e. both sides were just, and it was a tragedy that these two noble societies shed so much blood), but understanding from a political and psychological point of view how such an interpretation was almost necessary for American whites to endure and justify what they had done to each other.

I used to laugh at peoples and nations that seemed so imprisoned by history that it is as if they were hemmed in by ghosts. After this series of lectures, I will laugh a little less mockingly, and with a little more understanding.

The David Blight lectures are available for free online from Yale's Open University. I was inspired to do so by the ongoing discussion of the Civil War on Ta-Nahesi Coates' blog at The Atlantic. Blight does not go into too much wonky military history. His main focus is on politics and on questions of meaning and implication. I highly recommend them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

People often aren't as bi as they claim to be

According to this chart, only 23% of people on OK Cupid who identify as bisexual actually send messages to both genders.

OK Cupid identifies more interesting lies here, about height, income, and age of photos.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Good writeup of the Grant verdict

Here's a good writeup that captures some of what is frustrating about the recent Grant verdict.


Rock Fans Outraged As Bob Dylan Goes Electronica

Given the number of genre and identity transformations he's undergone, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

Cartoon of the day

From here.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Rant against iPhone: not safe for work!

If you're not one of the over 3 million people who has already seen this:

Friday, July 02, 2010

Internal Monologue agrees with GOP chair Steele

Republican Chair Michael Steele attacks the war in Afghanistan! Bill Kristol is not happy about this. Sullivan hopes this starts a genuine debate within the American right about the war in Afghanistan.

It's interesting how the partisan politics plays into this: Republicans have recently been the advocates of the more militarist approach to fighting terrorism, so one would expect the Chair of the Republican Party to support the Afghan war, as they did under Bush. But Republicans have been almost reflexively against anything Obama pushes forward, even things that Republicans recently advocated (e.g. Massachusetts-style health care reform, cap-and-trade CO2 reduction). Since Obama has identified himself more and more with the Afghanistan occupation (foolishly and immorally, in my opinion), it makes sense that Republicans would attack it. I might find myself with a strange set of political allies on this issue!

My guess is that Michael Steele was following the second script (attack what Obama wants) rather than the first script (support American military actions) and this got him in trouble with many Republicans who believe the first script is the more important.

Sadly, the DNC and some others on the left are attacking Steele in a Rovian way, accusing him of "betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan." I abhor and condemn this. When Bush and his allies attempted to silence war critics with this kind of rhetoric, it was despicable. And it's despicable when Democrats and those on the left do it, too.

A Marxist critique of current thinking on the financial crisis

I think this is a good expansion of the thinking about the financial crisis. Nobody in our current political discourse is asking questions like, "What is the current power relationship between capital and labor? What do we want that relationship to be? How would policies we are currently considering affect that relationship?" I'd like to see more of those discussions happening.

(HT: Shailja Patel on Facebook)

Total awesomness

This is the best slacktivist post in some time.

I really think our political discourse regarding the economy is completely broken. The US can borrow money at extremely easy rates. Or just print more of it: inflation is extremely low to non-existent. We have a lot of unemployed people (myself included). We have a lot of things we need to do. Let's get to work, America.

But due to the desire of the Republican party to punish people who are already suffering, and the over-representation our political institutions give them, we cannot do the obvious thing. This seems like Hooverism all over again. I am very angry, and very disappointed at the nonchalance with which the suffering of so many people is treated by our political class. And these aren't even people on the other side of the world. These our us. 9.3% unemployment is a crisis. And unlike the BP oil leak, we can do something about it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Cuba embargo to take (welcome) hit today

Cuba embargo to take (welcome) hit today

Good news.

A congressional panel is poised to take the first step toward ending a decades-old U.S. ban on travel to Cuba and removing other hurdles to food sales to the Caribbean island, a senior lawmaker said on Tuesday.

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake