Monday, July 14, 2008

I’m Not a White Guy, but I Play One in Real Life… Or Do I? is one of my guilty pleasures… ok, that’s a lie. I rarely feel guilty about anything and this is not the exception. I like the site. I think it’s funny. I think it’s spot on. And I wonder if it makes me a great big hypocrite.

As everyone familiar with the site already knows, it’s really less ‘stuff white people like’ and more ‘things yuppies/hipsters like’. As an aside, it’s interesting how hipsters and yuppies have basically become the same thing.

The fact is, I own a few t-shirts that make people on the street chuckle; I really care about grammar; and I think The Wire is the best show… ever! It hit me last week; maybe this is shit that I like as well.

Never being one to settle for mere appearances (it’s one of the reasons that I find yuppies and hipsters so annoying), I decided to do a little back-of-the-envelope calculating.

There are currently one hundred and three things on the site, and this is where I stand:

Things that I don’t mind: 30 out of 103 or 29.1%
Things that I actually like: 19 out of 103 or 18.4%
Things that I can’t stand: 39 out of 103 or 37.8%

I’m happy with the results.

Here’s the real question: when did yuppies and hipsters merge into one giant, smug, annoying demographic?

This is from EJ Dionne's Column in the Washington Post

…they were writing about the conservative Supreme Court that struck down so much of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program and the effort by FDR to be given the power to name additional liberal justices to break the court's conservative majority. Roosevelt's reach for expanded executive authority was unwise because he made it easy for his opponents to compare him to Hitler and Stalin.

I thought that Roosevelt’s court-packing scheme was unwise because it represented a gross overstepping of executive authority and a complete disregard for our system of checks and balances.

I want to like E.J. Dionne. He teaches at my school, and he has seemed completely reasonable every time I’ve heard him speak. I cannot, however, help but see his column as the sort of polemical, red team vs. blue team thinking that we really need to get beyond. Here’s more:

In knocking down the District's 32-year-old ban on handgun possession, the conservatives on the Supreme Court have again shown their willingness to abandon precedent in order to do whatever is necessary to further the agenda of the contemporary political right.

The court's five most conservative members have demonstrated that for all of Justice Antonin Scalia's talk about "originalism" as a coherent constitutional doctrine, those on the judicial right regularly succumb to the temptation to legislate from the bench. They fall in line behind whatever fashions political conservatism is promoting.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for bashing on your political/ideological opponents, but not when you’re bashing on straw men. This assertion that Scalia and the other conservative justices are just the tools of some larger right-wing “agenda” does not go very far towards making a valid legal or political point. It seems much more likely that they actually believe, both as justices and as citizens, that the Second Amendment grants an individual right and not a collective one.

It’s one thing to criticize people for having opinions that you disagree with, but shouldn’t that criticism be based on finding actual fault with the argument and not just on the fact that you disagree. In other words, it’s fairly ridiculous to criticize conservatives just for being conservative.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why I Self-Identify As a Libertarian

This is taken from Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Boumediene v. Bush:

The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed. That consequence would be tolerable if necessary to preserve a time-honored legal principle vital to our constitutional Republic. But it is this Court’s blatant abandonment of such a principle that produces the decision today.

And this is from the NY Times editorial on Heller vs. DC:

Thirty-thousand Americans are killed by guns every year — on the job, walking to school, at the shopping mall. The Supreme Court on Thursday all but ensured that even more Americans will die senselessly with its wrongheaded and dangerous ruling striking down key parts of the District of Columbia’s gun-control law.

It seems to me that either you uphold that individual freedoms have value in-and-of-themselves, value apart from their social utility, or you believe that it is perfectly fine to constrict individual behavior in the pursuit of social aims. You cannot, however, have your cake and eat it as well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

This is from an article in today's NYTimes:

Today, Luang Prabang displays preservation’s paradox. It has saved itself from modern development by packaging itself for tourists, but in the process has lost much of its character, authenticity and cultural significance.

Is it me, or does it take a slight bit of hubris to make a judgment about what characterizes "character, authenticity, and cultural significance"?

Here is more:

The Buddhist heart of Luang Prabang — the tranquillity that attracts visitors from abroad — is being defiled...

Why is there this presumption that non-western culture is this fragile thing that needs to be coddled and protected? This is a bit like claiming that the throngs of visitors, both from here and abroad, that come to New York or Washington, DC have caused those places to lose their character and authenticity; or that all those tourists who flock to the Vatican have defiled its "Catholic heart".

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Whose Perceptions Anyway?

I wonder if there ought to be some sort of disclosure rule for these things. Paul Krugman writes:

... the fact that perceptions about the economy are worsening week by week, and one might have expected the central theme of the Democratic campaign to be “throw the bums out.”

I’m not sure what to make of this statement when it comes from someone who spends so much time preaching a general gloomy view of the economy. Especially when he later writes in the same piece:

Polling numbers aren’t much help: for now, at least, you can find polls telling you anything you want to hear...

This was in reference to the Democratic primary, but one cannot help but ask: if “polling numbers aren’t much help”, than how can you say anything meaningful in regards to “perceptions about the economy?”

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Sad Irony of Climate Change Hysteria

We increasingly inhabit a world of our own imagination, and that, in itself, is not a bad thing. I am posting this on a blog. A blog is not a real place; it exists, or perhaps does not exist, only in the ether. It is an imaginary space made possible by technology; technology made possible by the fruit of the human mind. This is a positive manifestation of human imagination.

The problems with imagination arise when we become so enthralled with our own ingenuity that we fail to see the forest for the trees. Take a look at this article, and then look at this one. See a disconnect there? Can you appreciate the irony? If not, then I suspect it is because you are well-fed and comfortable. You have already benefited from the long and steady march that has been the last few thousand years of human history.

The really morally repugnant aspect is that while we take food away with one hand, we pat ourselves on the back with the other; and out of our mouths we speak self-righteous half-truths.

To make the claim that climate change is the biggest problem facing the world is to stoke the imagination with thoughts of poverty, hunger, and depravation, while, in reality, remaining mostly indifferent to poverty, hunger, and depravation.

Environmental extremism is a secular religion, and, as such, is not a new story. It has been with us as long as consciousness has been with us. It is the mythological story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, or Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. It is the biblical story of Babel and of the flood. It is the story of a thousand prophets of gloom and doom, who have stood on the nearest available mountaintop, or soapbox, and proclaimed to all who would listen, “The end is nigh!” It is the paradox of humility that asks us to tread lightly, if at all, on this earth while it pretends to predict the next fifty to a hundred years of human and natural history.

It is all right there in those two stories: imagination verses reality.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

SCHIP: Get Healthcare or Die Tryin'

Kelvin Martin was a notorious stick-up artist from the projects in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Despite his small stature, he was only 5’3”, he was able to make a nice living for himself robbing drug dealers and rappers throughout the 1980s. Not surprisingly, he died an early and violent death. Kelvin Martin was known as 50 Cent, and his moniker lives on today as the adopted name of rapper Curtis Jackson.

Jackson took the name, “because it says everything I want it to say. I'm the same kind of person 50 Cent was. I provide for myself by any means.” Prior to his multi-million selling major label debut, 50 cent, the rapper, scored an underground hit with the track “How to Rob”. That song details 50’s plans to rob a litany of successful artists, and personifies the “by any means” attitude that has pervaded much of hip-hop culture:

Aiyyo the bottom line is I'ma crook with a deal
If my record don't sell I'ma rob and steal
You better recognize nigga I'm straight from the street
These industry niggaz startin to look like somethin to eat

Despite the rather ugly subject matter, the song actually seems crafted for comic effect and the backing track makes “How to Rob” seem less menacing than tongue-in-cheek:

Did you ever think that I'd flash the nine?
And walk off with your shit like it's mine?
I'ma keep stickin niggas until I'm livid
I'll rob Boys II Men like I'm Michael Bivins

Is it that our federal legislature has been listening to old 50 Cent mix tapes, or is just that street culture displays the inevitable trickle down effects of governing by redistribution? I tend to think the latter. So, while I should react with no great surprise, I cannot help but be slightly disturbed by SCHIP. I am fairly ambivalent about the program itself. I do not know enough to pass judgment. It is the idea of taxing smokers to pay for it that bothers me. If this is such a wonderful program, then why don’t we all pay more taxes to pay for it? I can leave the answer to that question to be answered by another question; the one posed by either 50 Cent.

Why pay for something myself, when somebody else already has it?

As David Broder writes it in The Washington Post:

The bill would be financed by a 61-cents-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes. If ever there was a crowd-pleaser of a bill, this is it.

I suppose I am sad because so many people see this as a good, and just, and moral thing to do. It is an interesting brand of morality that we are peddling these days. One can only imagine the following scene in which ‘little Jimmy’ comes home from school crying:

‘Little Jimmy’: Mommy I want x, and I don’t have x. I have to have it. I need x.
Mom: Well, ‘little Jimmy’, that’s easy. Just get together with a bunch of your friends at school; find someone who has x and isn’t very popular and take it from him.

In that context, it sounds rather perverse, but pass it in Congress and give it stamp of “democratic action”, call it the “will of the people”; then theft becomes appropriation; vice becomes virtue; and the vulgar predatory behavior that would seem to typify prison life becomes “social justice”.