Archive | Let’s Think About This RSS feed for this section

If This Isn’t Relevant, Let’s Stop Talking About It

2 Sep

Dana Goldstein at TAPPED yesterday:

I’m looking forward to getting out among RNCC delegates today and getting their reaction to the news of the pregnancy. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

I think this is a bad idea.  I don’t want to hear stories about MSM reporters and journalists from progressive outlets repeatedly asking Republican convention-goers about the pregnancy.  We don’t need talking points about the media hyping Palin’s situation–which could look like an attack. See Goldstein three days ago:

I hope these numbers serve as a wake-up call for both the national media and the liberal blogosphere. Independent pro-choice women won’t be taken in by McCain‘s pandering choice, but that doesn’t mean the American public will respond kindly to the vilification of this woman. She is attractive, and a working mom doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world — raising a child with a disability. Yes, she is a former beauty queen who made it in politics. Most Americans will say, “Good for her,” not, “OMG WTF!!! She’s not qualified!” They will see themselves and people they know in Palin, her family, and their story.

In the same way, I don’t think most Americans will look at the pregancy question as a fair game simply because it’s been widely reported.  They’ll see this as bias (whether political or sexual) and will be more open to Republican memes that the media has crossed a line it hasn’t crossed before.

Richard Cohen and the Amazing Disappering Bottom Line

24 Jun

Supposedly, everyone has a bottom line, an absolute limit past which we won’t go. First principles, perhaps, which can’t be compromised, or a sense of fairness that compels you to fight for certain ends. Richard Cohen has looked at both presidential candidates and finds that a bottom line is what separates them:

But here is the difference between McCain and Obama — and Obama had better pay attention. McCain is a known commodity. It’s not just that he’s been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It’s also — and more important — that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This — not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express — is what commends him to so many journalists.

Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don’t know what they are.

Cohen doesn’t actually say what that bottom line is, but it’s useful to know that McCain has a bottom line.  But Obama–not sure yet.  Except, wait:

McCain has a bottom line. Obama just moved his.

Obama just moved his–indeterminate–bottom line.  Oh, and Cohen admits that both candidates have changed their position on things, but this represents a bottom line change on Obama’s part, even though we don’t know if Obama has a bottom line.  Argumentative prestidigitation abounds.  Watch Cohen work but–ah!–not too closely becuase you’ll miss that the premise of Cohen’s argument–woosh!–has disappered!  Bottom lines comes and go in a puff magic smoke.  Thanks folks, Cohen will be back on the Post Op-Ed pages next week.

P.S. Publis at Obsdian Wings nominates this for Worst Op-Ed of 2008

Surely He Cannot Be Serious

3 Jun

From Atlantic Blog:

My suspicions that Obama is a black nationalist with a racist streak are growing, but its effect on my voting will be nil.

I think this is rhetorical excess, though to what effect I do not know. Take, for example, the sentences immediately following:

It is pretty clear he is Jimmy Carter revisited, and that Hillary would make a substantially better president. Granted, in many respects they would be similar, but if Hillary had been president on 9/11, she would have started wondering who to nuke, whereas Obama would have started making a list of people to apologize to.

This is some wacky fun-time caricature Sjostrom has drawn.  But the rhetorical ante is already quite high from earlier in the post, so the claim delivered with a grin at the end is a mere pittance.  Diminishing marginal returns and whatnot.  Also, I have read some foreign policy types with a different take.

Other fun observations:

Brad DeLong is a fine economic historian, but he is also an exceptionally partisan blogger[…]

“Exceptionally partisan” is a relative measurement, meaning that, as bloggers go, he is one of the most partisan.  This seems an unfit description, especially of a man who takes Mill’s epistemological prayer “Lord, enlighten thou our enemies” seriously.  Plus, has he really considered all the crazy left and right wing bloggers–I mean the ones people read all the time?

What’s the deal here? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the massive sense of entitlement of the professoriate.

Der Spiegel’s Strange American Political Coverage

21 May

One of the more bizarre and frustrating reads of the 2008 presidential race has been Gabor Steingart’s “West Wing” column for Germany’s Der Spiegel.  It’s not because Steingart has been a strong skeptic of an Obama nomination since the beginning of the primaries, it’s that his skepticism is symptomatic of a larger misunderstanding of the American political scene.  Consider this from last week’s column in which Steingart begins sensibly enough by admitting that Obama is the likely nominee:

The right to make mistakes has been exercised extensively during this campaign, at times also by the author of this column. “All of those people who’ve been dreaming of America’s first black president now have to slowly wake up. It’ll happen one day, hopefully, but not in this election,” it was claimed after Barack Obama’s losses in New Hampshire and Nevada. The column was entitled “The End of the Obama Revolution.” (more…)

The chances that the next US president will be black and a Democrat are better than ever before in American history. The revolution continues — even if the skepticism remains.

What we are talking about here, though, is not a series of mistakes. It’s betrayal. During this election campaign, a large part of the American media has neglected to carefully follow the principles of the profession. In fact, some were about as loyal to those principles as Eliot Spitzer to his wife.

Okay, so contra Steingart’s earlier ananlysis, Obama isn’t too black or inexperienced for American voters.  And why was Steingart mistaken?  Had he misread the current political moment? Nope, it’s because the American electorate (and by implication, Steingart) were betrayed by journalists who are less interested in subtantive policy discussions than style and gaffe reporting:

Many questions could be posed that are hard to beat in terms of drama. What would happen if the Democrats really were to withdraw the US Army from Iraq? How does Barack Obama plan to address the threat that the killing fields of Cambodia could be repeated in Basra and Baghdad? Does he have a plan or even an idea for dealing with the day after?

How do the Republicans plan to end the scandal of the uninsured? Some 47 million people in America now have no health insurance. Around 9 million have been added to that total during the seven years George W. Bush has been in power. This is the greatest market failure since the invention of modern capitalism.

Will Steingart be doing more than rhetorically asking about either Obama’s Iraq plans or McCain’s healthcare proposal, as if neither of these things exist?  No, he will not. But these questions are relatively easy to answer. Former Obama adviser Samantha Power made it clear (as Jonathan Chait recently noted) that any withdrawal plan will be shaped by facts on the ground, not on some months-old campaign speculation.  And John McCain does indeed have a plan–just not, as Ezra Klein (another journalist!) has pointed out, not a very good one.  Granted, there are problems with the coverage of campaigns and policy issues (something that Ezra Klein also covered incisively in this LA Times op-ed).  But Steingart’s problem stems from a confused perspective of the American political landscape.  Take this comment from his latest column suggesting that conservative parties worldwide are heading left:

Continue reading

Dose of Democratic Stupid

24 Apr

It seems Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are now part of the “maybe vaccines cause autism, maybe it’s unicorns we should look into this” group of concerned politicians.  I’m becoming very tired of this primary.

DeLong Smackdown Watch? (Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Edition)

19 Feb

Not quite. Chris Betram–with his mighty clairvoyant powers–elicits predicts this anti-Castro response from Brad DeLong:

I haven’t looked yet, but I’ve no doubt that there’ll be lots of posts in the blogosphere saying “good riddance” to Fidel Castro (especially from “left” US bloggers like Brad DeLong who never miss the chance to distance themselves). And, of course, Castro ran a dictatorship that has, since 1959, committed its fair share of crimes, repressions, denials of democratic rights etc. Still, I’m reminded of A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other (reference please, dear readers?) that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. Ditto Cuba, for a much smaller chunk. So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care.

Thus (from DeLong):

Fidel Castro has retired. Good riddance!!

That the Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin Authoritarian Project of which Fidel Castro was the next-to-last exemplar was not an advance toward but a retreat from a better world was obvious long, long ago. Quite early–Kronstadt?–it was clear to all save the dead-enders that the project was a mistake.

Why should I approve of laudable goals achieved (to whatever extent) by illiberal means? I’m going to take the Sen/Nussbaum approach here and ask: “To what extent did the Castro regime allow citizens to realize substantive freedoms?” Taking for granted the literacy and health-care standards, Cuban welfare is substandard. Cuba doesn’t allow for political dissent or free political association unless it’s part of “socialist” objectives as defined by the state. While citizens may live in relative good health with good average education, they are severely limited in their political and expressive (personal) lives. Essentially, Cubans have the good fortune to live a long time in an oppressive socialist bureaucracy and they’re educated enough to know how bad they have it. What sort of life is that?

Why Oh Why Can’t We Have More Economically Literate English Majors?

16 Oct

I find myself scratching my head at this Kenyon Review blog post about the online presence of literary journals and the value of literary commodities. It starts out with a discussion on the end of Times Select:

Now let me say, I’ve never taken an economics class, but I get the principle here. As the New York Times recently found in the failure of their online subscription service, people will pay for a hard copy of a newspaper, but not its online equivalent. This partly reflects our sense of the internet as a free space, not only in the sense of the free-flow of ideas, but a place where everything is free. But it also reflects the fact that we live in a commodity culture: we value the object — the book — more than its contents.

The demise of the Times paywall is the wrong analogy. The problem wasn’t that people would pay for an actual paper in lieu of an online copy, but that future advertising revenue was likely to outstrip online subscriptions. The New York Times, and now the Financial Times (with the WSJ likely to follow) went full-access (mostly) because, as Felix Salmon noted, they were losing potential pageviews from Google because their content was behind a subscriber firewall. Attention is the big value on the internet (and in “old media,” if you can attract advertisers), thus, less attention meant less revenue. Everything isn’t “free,” it’s just that it’s being paid for in a different way: advertisers instead of subscribers.

Lobanov-Rostovsky is right when he suggests we often “value the object–the book–more than its content.” Books are a type of “symbolic good,” (PDF) which we as consumers buy because of the way it makes us feel about ourselves or as a way to signal to other people that we are educated and cultured. This is less true of writers and literature lovers, who are looking for the content inside the pages, but the basic observation that people will buy books less for what they contain then for their “cultural aura” is correct.

But then Lobanov-Rostovsky makes an argument I’ve read before, but still doesn’t make any sense:

Still, I find this concept surprising when we apply it to literature. I’ve always assumed that one thing we can all agree on is that a literary text can’t be reduced to a commodity. I’m thinking here of Lewis Hyde’s view of literature as a kind of gift economy, in which the intellectual and spiritual labor that goes into the making of a literary text far exceeds anything that the poet or novelist can expect to receive in return, except in the pleasure of reading other literary texts. In a sense, the value of a literary text far exceeds its cost, but only to those who already share a common set of cultural values.

I have no idea why a literary text can’t be reduced to a commodity. Perhaps one would argue it shouldn’t be, but that is a separate argument. A quick look inside the local Barnes and Nobles, Borders–even a college bookstore or small press–suggests that a text can definitely be a commodity. Books are discrete, excludable goods that you have to pay for and can carry around. And although no one can “own” ideas, creative works–while not physical commodities–are protected under intellectual property rights. We can’t quantify the “spiritual labor” that goes into a work, so we can’t compensate someone for that; we can only measure opportunity cost in the form of forgone productive labor. But that is irrelevant, because we can’t quantify the spiritual labor for anyone–doctors, lawyers, teachers, or poets.

I think this conceptual breakdown occurs because Lobanov-Rostovsky, like many others in the literary community, sees market value imputed by something like the “labor theory of value.” But as Brad DeLong put it, “[n]obody who ventured into the labor theory of value has ever emerged.” This is where the occasional economics class might help to clarify things–or at least make for more economically sensible blog posts.