Friday, October 21, 2011

In which I write about my actual life...

I added a couple of blocks to my walk home from the bus stop this evening by getting off in Downtown, thinking it might be fun to walk by all the shops. There's a new bakery that's opened up...I should probably go back with actual cash in hand and actually try some of their stuff before I decide to like it (they do take cards, but I'm kind of reeling still from the realization of how much the debit card companies are charging retailers), but their stuff at least looked good. And they're open late on Fridays, which is pretty awesome. It was also just really cool to see the amount of activity going on...there were people in the new sports bar that opened up last month, and guys trying out guitars at one of the two music stores. I don't know why it makes me happy that there's a place selling musical instruments in Merced (two even!), but it does. Same with the martial arts place I passed, which either has never had the lights on when I've been there before, or just finished some serious renovations. It actually looks downright swanky, and the family of little girls in gi that I saw crossing the street seemed like a pretty promising thing for Merced's future too. And while it may not completely count as good news, I can attest that Magic the Gathering is alive and well in Merced too. The little game store where dorky looking teenagers get together to play doesn't seem to have much else, unfortunately, but it's still a little game store where dorking looking teenagers get together, so good for them. I'm not sure why I'm so certain that Merced's long term outlook is fewer deteriorating houses, less crime, and less empty store fronts...possibly just my optimistic liberal side, or the realization of what UC Merced's commitment to keep growing should mean...but I feel pretty secure in my optimism tonight. My route home took me by one of the houses we looked at right after I took the job here...the one that was so run down we couldn't quite take the leap of faith that the landlord was going to fix it all up once they had a renter. It's fixed up now, and there's a pumpkin on the porch. I think the number of people in my neighborhood who are putting up decorations for Halloween overall is a very good sign about this place. As I was walking by, I saw one man come out of his house with a bicycle helmet to offer to a little boy...not his own...who was out in the street on a scooter. That's pretty damned cool. I passed another group of little boys who were walking home from the elementary school, and got to overhear them trying to teach their friend how to pronounce -er, not -uh or -or, -er. Like in Merced. So I dunno, the extra couple of blocks of walking was pretty worth it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Herman Cain Still Exists

And I continue to have inadequately informed opinions about what that means.

I keep hearing that nobody really knows who his advisors are, but I'm not really sure what that means. What exactly is "the Cain campaign." If you try to call them...does anybody answer the phone? Who's doing the fundraising? Are any of these people professionals? I find the idea that they might not be intriguing. Obviously, there's an entire industry built up around taking dim-but-likable Republican governors and grooming them for national campaigns. Has Herman Cain been denied this resource by the powers that be? Or has he rejected it? If he has rejected it, is it because he's crazy or is it because he has no actual interest in winning the nomination? And then it makes me wonder about how the process works for other candidates. I mean, what would George W. Bush's tax plan looked like if he had been forced to come up with one on his own with the help of a guy he knew who had a degree in accounting? Very possibly much more rational than the 9-9-9 plan, but mostly it's just a ludicrous scenario. So much of the way modern politics works is based on the idea of the candidate as a product, manufactured and sold to us by a larger organization.

Or maybe Herman Cain has exactly the same set of organizational resources that any candidate would be expected to have at this point, but you just can't control a guy who's determined to give his opinions on "Ubeki-beki-beki-stan," any more than you can make Sarah Palin anything but Sarah Palin. Except I secretly kind of admire the Ubeki-beki-beki-stan line...since it's the only thing I know about Herman Cain's foreign policy views, I choose to believe it's his way of expressing his belief in a profound refocusing of the agenda on purely domestic matters.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Holy Fuck Herman Cain.

a.k.a. who wants to watch me tip toe very carefully around racial issues?

So Herman Cain is polling pretty well these days. Really well, in the last Zogby poll. Nate Silver's latest article about his prospects is interesting, and the one he wrote back in May is even more interesting, and I'm in the awkward situation of admitting that I really know next to nothing about the guy. I don't know whether to file him away in my head along with Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, or Bob Dole. It seems like Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic has taken kind of a special interest in him, which is both a good and a bad sign. Friedersdorf used to guest blog for Andrew Sullivan quite a bit, and I generally was impressed with a lot of his writing...but less impressed with how impressed he was by Ron Paul. But yeah, I'm about a mile away from trying to guess exactly what kind of Republican Herman Cain is.

Which leaves me with the obvious, which is that he's black. I'm pretty sure I have no sympathy for the idea that there's something automatically wrong with being a black Republican...he has as much right to disagree with me about the discentivising aspects of a comprehensive social safety net as anybody else. Apparently he gets a lot of play out of claiming that blacks who vote for the Democratic party have been brainwashed, which is pretty off-putting, but at the same time I don't know that I'm the type to condemn someone for being hyperpartisan. So I dunno. I guess the question I have at the moment is what exactly this says about the Republican Party, which I am more or less familiar with. Or if not Herman Cain specifically, how about the fact that since Obama won the Democratic nomination, the two most high profile people who have been selected by the Republicans on the national stage have been Sarah Palin, and Michael Steele (I guess technically Boehner breaks this trend, but I'm going to ignore him for convenience's sake) and if Herman Cain does manage to bag the nomination, he will be the culmination of a very interesting pattern. Sarah Palin's nomination was pretty obviously an embarrassment...a distilled version of every cynical thought that the Republican party has about tokenism and affirmative action, come back to bite them in the ass. For a while I thought Michael Steele was basically a repetition of the same pattern, but I've kind of revised that opinion after seeing him on the Daily Show after his chairmanship. He actually comes across as a pretty intelligent and competent guy, for a Republican. Obviously it's not a coincidence that the Republican party followed the election of the first black president by immediately electing their first black chairman, and if Herman Cain gets nominated this year I don't doubt it will be partially because of sentiments like this...but I guess my question is: if that means the 2012 Presidential Debates wind up being between our current black President and a black conservative Republican nomine, is that a bad thing? Or is this how change happens?

(Obviously it's a bad thing if Herman Cain turns out to be a farce of a candidate on the level of Sarah Palin, or if he has no interest in being anything as a candidate aside from the perfect vehicle for conservative resentment of Barack Obama's success, but so far I don't see much reason to assume that's the case).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Structural Unemployment

So apparently we're supposed to debate whether the current rates of unemployment are a symptom of a structural problem or a cyclical problem, but for some reason that debate always just makes me end up feeling like the Chamber of Commerce, and the subset of people who get paid to write about their opinions, each contain a whole lot of assholes. Also, I have a hard time seeing it as an either/or proposition. Overall unemployment is high, and employers are taking this opportunity to outsource as much of the risk and cost associated with training workers as they can by insisting that the training be completed on your own time and your own dime before they'll even consider interviewing you. Never mind that individual workers (or really, want-to-be workers) aren't very well equipped to deal with the potential downside of investing too much in the wrong kind of training and are operating at a significant information disadvantage when it comes to knowing which kind of training is most needed, individual workers are expendable and employers don't really care if they find a place in the workforce or not.

I guess the flip side of this is that the increase in labor force mobility in the past few decades has cut into the advantages to employers of investing in training. And I'm not sure what the actual solution would be. But I think it's pretty clearly a problem with the way the current system works, and one that makes me grind my teeth every time some fat cat decides to whine that he'd love to hire some people if only he could find qualified applicants.