Friday, November 9, 2012

An excuse to bring up Grover Cleveland...

There's an interesting debate going on in the blogs I read about how the Republican party may need to change to attract more support next time around, particularly from non-whites. It's interesting, because there seem to be two basic schools of thought. The first is that the Republicans are a party with broadly appealing ideas that are basically held down by its association with the kind of people who are afraid of demographic change in this country. The second is that the core ideas of the Republican party aren't actually that broadly appealing at all, but until now it's been possible to prop them up through association with the kind of people who are afraid of demographic change. If the first is true, all they need to do is compromise on immigration and gay marriage, get their candidates to stop accidentally saying racist things, and they'll be good to go. If the second is true, they're a lot more screwed.

If you go back far enough, you can get to a time when the Republican party pro-business and anti-government spending, but not necessarily more (and generally less) pro-white supremacy than the Democratic party. And they were obviously successful at that point and won national elections. However, here's Grover Cleveland, the only Democrat elected president between the Civil War and 1913, talking about immigration in 1897:
A century's stupendous growth, largely due to the assimilation and thrift of millions of sturdy and patriotic adopted citizens, attests the success of this generous and free-handed policy which, while guarding the people's interests, exacts from our immigrants only physical and moral soundness and a willingness and ability to work.
Here's Woodrow Wilson on the subject in 1915:
Restrictions like these, adopted earlier in our history as a Nation, would very materially have altered the course and cooled the humane ardors of our politics. The right of political asylum has brought to this country many a man of noble character and elevated purpose who was marked as an outlaw in his own less fortunate land.
And here's Henry Cabot Lodge, one of the most prominent Republican senators of the time, talking about immigration in 1910:
There is a growing and constantly active demand for more restrictive legislation. This demand rests on two grounds, both equally important. One is the effect upon the quality of our citizenship caused by the rapid introduction of this vast and practically unrestricted immigration, and the other, the effect of this immigration upon rates of wages and the standard of living among our working people.

(all quotes found here)

Notice a difference? Presidents Harding and Coolidge both passed legislation restricting the immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans. Hoover actually tried to suspend all immigration during the Great Depression. I honestly don't know how much nativism has always been a portion of the Republican appeal (although it might be telling that Catholics used to be as uniformly Democrat as blacks were Republican in the nineteen-teens and twenties), but it does kind of seem like it wasn't all austerity and fiscal discipline back then, either. It'd be mistake to assume that the Republican party is over and done with just because they only managed 48% of the popular vote this time around, but I think it's also a mistake to assume that a simple shift on immigration will actually be all that simple.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Aftermath of the Jungle Primary

So it's hard to say what the effects of the jungle primary system were...when (if) I have more time there's some numbers it could be interesting to look at, like whether the final winner was the same person who got the most votes in the primary, or if the second person won in any districts. On the most surface level though, it's probably worth noting that two of the incumbents who ended up running against someone from their own party in the general were defeated, which I think is a pretty high rate (although in a small sample size).

Specifics of those races below:

Oh and also...

"The Rape guy lost" "Which one?" Your party has serious issues if people have to ask "Which one?" #GOP #itstheTwentyFirstCentury— Alex (@AlexCarpenter) November 7, 2012

(borrowed from Andrew Sullivan, curator of the internet)

((and actually, they both lost))


So, a lot of stuff happened last night.

Obama won, which was cool. Possibly improved on by the fact that Fox News and friends were so very sure that he wouldn't. It's 2012 and your viewers aren't the only people who matter anymore! As it was happening last night, it felt like the impetus was minority turnout...which if you're going to crush the hopes and dreams of a group of people who tried to give themselves an edge through voter suppression, is an awesome way to do it. I think I have to look at more numbers before I can say that's actually what happened though. And I'm sure Republicans will try to blame it on Sandy, or voter fraud, or who knows what else.

Oh, and can we say tipping point on gay marriage? If you live in a state whose name starts with an M, or something that looks like an upside down M, and isn't in the south or sort of kind of in the south like Missouri, or I guess Wyoming or Montana...alright I'll stop trying to make a trend out of this. Except the trend is, this is happening. It's only a matter of time.

Mostly though...CALIFORNIA! I mean sure, the all caps and the exclamation point are mostly only earned because my expectations were so very very low, but it almost kind of seems like some sort of logic actually infected the initiative process. Voters conceded that a teeny tiny increase in the state sales tax might possibly worth it to keep schools running (along with a bigger tax increase on high income earners, in keeping with the "tax anyone but me" philosophy). They even conceded that giving minor offenders, like pot heads, life sentences might not be the best use of our precious revenue. And supposedly somewhere in the state, the legislator that makes the difference between the Republicans having the 33% they need to block all tax increases, and not having that 33%, stands a real chance of losing. It might be too much to hope that this will mean the rediscovery of moderate Republicanism in this state, but I'll go ahead and hope anyways.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election 2012 - How I'm voting

Federal offices - Democrats, all the way down. And I'm probably not even going to waste any time explaining this. But with the new jungle primary system, make sure you know which ones the Democrats are. I'm not sure it will be indicated on the ballot. Or there might be two of them! Depending on your district. (Or two Republicans, in which case, I'm sorry...try to make the best of it).

State legislature - Even more Democrats! Have you seen the state of the California Republican Party? They make the national guys look like geniuses.

Propositions - Holy shit there's a lot of them. And interesting ones, too. Ones that maybe actually require some thought, and potential revisions to my "vote no on everything" philosophy. For the record, I think my new rule is to vote no on everything, unless it repeals an earlier proposition, has been placed on the ballot by the legislature, legalizes gay marriage, OR raises taxes...then it merits further consideration. To get into specifics:

Prop 30: Raises taxes! And although it does appear to be an initiative rather than a referendum, it's heavily backed by Jerry Brown, so I think the quality of law writing should be close to what you could expect coming out of the legislature (not a high bar, I know, but one that a lot of initiatives don't meet). It's bad for California to have so much of our revenue dependent on the incomes at the very top, because those incomes are more volatile, but it's even worse to not have any revenue at all. Voting yes.

Prop 31: The hardest one to fit into a convenient metric. It's more serious/wonky sounding than most of the "gee, this sounds like a good idea" initiatives I generally end up voting against, and the SF Chronicle is endorsing it. However, I think I remember not always agreeing with the SF Chronicle endorsements in the past, and this LA Times editorial against it is pretty compelling.  So, voting no.

Prop 32: Republican scheme to ban one of their opponents most reliable sources of campaign funding and weaken the influence of unions? Voting no.

Prop 33: Gee this sounds like a good idea...or wait, why exactly do we need an initiative to set rates for car insurance? And how much do you want to bet that higher income people are more likely to maintain continuous car insurance coverage than lower income people, regardless of how safe of drivers they actually are? I actually think I may have gotten screwed by this exact kind of policy (although I'm not sure, because wouldn't the fact that they are trying to pass it now imply that it wasn't the law six years ago?) when I tried to get car insurance for the first time after college. Turns out, nobody believes you that the reason that you didn't have car insurance before was that you weren't actually driving (or were using a car sharing service), so I paid really high rates at first. Seems like this could screw over a lot of people who try to cut costs by going a few months or years without driving a car. So yeah, voting no.

Prop 34: Gee this sounds like a good idea...and it probably actually is. Doesn't fit into a neat little metric, but the Death Penalty is costing the state a whole lot of money for very little benefit, and it's probably wishful thinking that we'll even get politicians who are immune enough to the appeal of being "tough on crime" to abolish it. So finally, maybe something the initiative process is good for.  In fact, let's add that to the metric...initiatives that are "weak on crime" merit further consideration due to the distorting influence of electoral politics on these issues in the legislate. I hear there's very little likelihood it will pass though, probably because the same people who those politicians are worried about also vote on initiatives. I'll do my part though. Voting yes.

Prop 35: I'm as against human sex trafficking as the next person, but this is almost the opposite of Prop 34...I see very little reason why it would be difficult for the legislature to address these issues, with a lot more flexibility and less risk of unintended consequences than you get with an initiative. Voting no.

Prop 36: Speaking of unintended it too much to hope we might be able to finally do something about the unintended consequences of Three Strikes? Probably. But it's still important to keep trying. Voting yes.

Prop 37: Gee this sounds like a good idea..and that's why I'm voting no. Unintended consequences, inflexibility of the initiative process, sounds like something the legislature would be better equipped to address, rinse was repeat. (This is the labeling GMO products one, by the way).

Prop 39: So what I'm discovering is that maybe I shouldn't even bother writing this and should just post a link to the LA Times endorsements instead, because I seem to almost always agree with them. They make a good case for why this isn't likely to be handled by the legislature (as a tax increase, it needs a two thirds majority to pass, and as out of step with the rest of California as the reactionary element of the California GOP is, they consistently hold onto just over one third of the seats in the legislature) until and why the ballot box budgeting that's included in the measure is an acceptable compromise (only lasts five years). So, voting yes.

Prop 40: Speaking of the reactionary California GOP, they keep trying to change the rules of the game rather than change their platform so that they might actually, you know, appeal to more than a third of California voters. Turns out non-partisan redistricting still isn't enough to negate the fact that California isn't actually a particularly conservative state, so Republicans want to try something else. I see no particular reason why they should get to. Voting yes. (Yeah I know that's confusing, but voting yes actually approves the current districts, voting no means that someone has to come up with new district lines).

Prop 41: Oh wait, there is no Prop 41. Only ten propositions this year...clearly not nearly enough of them.

Local stuff:

So my biggest challenge with this election is just figuring out what local stuff is going to be on my ballot, and what district I'm in for things like the school board elections. So, for anyone who's looking for it, here are links to the various maps (which all seem to take forever and a day to load, unfortunately)...

Merced County Board of Supervisors
Merced Irrigation District
Merced Community College District
Merced Union High School District
Merced City Elementary School District

Based on this, I think I only really need to develop an opinion on who I want for the Merced Irrigation District...which is a little daunting, because the main controversy seems to revolve around how many acre feet of water is needed for farming in different parts of the county, which of course I am one of the world's leading experts on. I don't think I want to sit back and just let people with more expertise than I have vote, however, because unfortunately the people who take time to develop expertise are going to be the ones that have financial interests at stake, and that can be a dangerous thing. So, water allotments! There isn't a whole lot of information on the internet to work with, but what I can piece together makes me think I should probably vote for the incumbent, Gino Pedretti. He has the endorsement of a couple of different unions, which isn't an automatic deciding factor for me, but is a positive. Also, the comments in the Merced Sun Star have some useful information, specifically one from someone calling himself "patriotfreedom" who sounds like a guy I'm likely to disagree with on most things. I think I can piece together the point that he's trying to make about the current system being unfair to El Nido (if people would typically use less than four but more than two acre feet of water without a cap, and the rules are that El Nido gets 50% as much water as the rest of the county, a cap at four acre feet negative effects El Nido and no one else), and although there really isn't enough in this article to figure out much about his views, I guess I find it encouraging that he seems to be saying that farmers will have to adjust their planting in response to drought conditions (whether this is controversial, I don't know, but based on the "Congress Created Dustbowl" signs up and down the valley I don't doubt the ability of Central Valley farmers to protest the reality that water is in fact a limited resource.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Morning after debate....

4) Seeing Obama this time around makes it even more striking how off he was last time around.

5) In addition to wishing Obama had pounced on Romney for having no answer on pay discrimination aside from the free hand of the market, a quick reference to the difference between actually knowing and having a lifelong history of working with women vs. needing people to put together a binder of them for you would have been pretty awesome. Nobody found Hillary Clinton in a binder, but that actually might explain a lot about Sarah Palin.

6) There's probably no way to cram this into the pacing of the debate...but we could talk about the fact that Mitt Romney did not actually create Massachusetts from scratch? I find it pretty grating to watch him brag about successes that are the result of several hundred years of a political culture that values publicly funded education & equal opportunity. I'm guessing it's a lot harder to to get the best gender balance in high level state positions in the country if you start out in a state that isn't already the home of a lot of really successful women.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Some random, rapid fire thoughts about the debate:

1) I wish Obama would have pointed out that Romney's answer to what he would do about pay discrimination for women was "nothing - the magical hand of the free market will fix it."

2) Mitt Romney really seems to have a strange but genuine hatred of single mothers. And China.

3) The amount of adrenaline on display in both the candidates is pretty spectacular. I feel like making coherent points in that kind of setting is probably one of those much harder than it looks kind of things.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


James Fallows is doing a series on undecided voters, under the general theme of "who the hell are these people?" which gives me a great opportunity to revisit my growing animosity towards people who call themselves fiscally conservative and socially liberal. So I'm brainstorming new, more accurate ways that this could be phrased:

"I don't like paying taxes, but I do like strippers and porn."


"I don't believe in funding the federal government, and the fact that this makes bigots and fundamentalists my most natural political allies has not yet led me to reexamine my views"

Monday, June 4, 2012

Election tomorrow...

Good article on Prop 28:

Best info on Hub Walsh/Casey Steed I've found, although it takes some commitment to get through it: Still not really sure who I'm going to vote for. They both sound like intelligent, conscientious guys.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Holy Jungle Primary Batman!

Hey, so the California primary election is Tuesday, and while it will probably be a pretty low turnout affair since both Presidential nomination contests are wrapped up, you should still vote...precisely because it's going to be a low turnout affair and that's when "they" try to pass really stupid, horrible laws through the initiative system and just generally try to ruin our lives.

Well not exactly, I can't actually say that either of the initiatives on the ballot this time are pure, raw evil...but they still deserve to be voted on by more than 30% of the voting population. On top of that, somewhat excitingly, this is going to be the first year in which California has a non-partisan November, instead of having a Democratic nominee and a Republican nominee to choose between in state legislature and congressional races, the candidates on the ballot will be the top two vote getters from the primary, whatever their party. I don't think this will matter much for Merced, since races here were pretty competitive already...but for someplace like San Francisco it could mean Nancy Pelosi facing serious competition from someone just slightly to her left or right. Or it could mean a massive clusterfuck of underinformed voters who don't even have the shortcut of voting for whichever party holds their loyalty. Anyways, since I know you're all waiting with baited breath, here's how I'll be voting....


Prop 28 - Yes. This is one of those initiatives that sneaks through my policy against ever voting in favor of any initiatives by virtue of the fact that it undoes some of the evil of an earlier initiative by changing around the way term limits work. Right now, members of the state legislature typically start out in the assembly, stay there until they reach their maximum number of terms, and then afterwards have to compete to win one of a smaller number of seats in a slightly bigger district that may only overlap partially with their previous district to be elected to the state senate if they want to stay in government. This process serves very little purpose other than to confuse the incentives of ambitious young legislators (They're supposed to represent their constituents, but is that their current constituents or the ones they hope to have in just a few years? And should they view the representatives from neighboring districts as allies, or soon to be competition?) and make the assembly the subordinate to the senate in experience instead of equal. If Prop 28 passes, term limits will stay in effect, which is less than ideal, but at least individuals will be able to choose to make a career in either the assembly or the senate, instead of letting graduation from the first to the second be the de facto norm. It probably won't make a huge difference in governance, but I like the idea of my representative spending up to12 years really becoming an expert on the issues of my district...assuming that it's anyone I want to vote for in the first place.

Prop 29 - No. I mean, I hate cancer as much as the next person, but I have several issues with the way this law would work. First of all, the mindset that tries to pay for things that the government should theoretically be doing by getting one set of voters to approve a tax on people who are most likely not the ones voting annoys me. And it annoys me a couple dozen times as much if the tax is also regressive, which a tax on smokers is. I understand the desire to force people to stop smoking (or prevent them from starting) by raising the costs, and I guess there is good data out there that it's a strategy that works, but for some reason I tend to think more about the addicts who won't stop smoking but will now also have less money for their families...and I dunno, it doesn't seem quite fair to me. The real problem I have with this law though is that it would tie up yet another portion of California's tax revenue (sure, a new source of revenue, but it uses up a potential source of revenue that could theoretically be used for something else) for a purpose that marginally informed California voters thought "sounded good." Sure, cancer research is swell...but should we be increasing funding for it while we're slashing the budget for foster kids, people with disabilities, public health name it, we're slashing it? At the very least, that should be a decision that the state legislature has the flexibility to make, and possibly change its mind about in a few years if the economy changes, or if the program does not turn out as well as expected. The initiative process is way too inflexible a process to allow coherent budgeting if anyone can get something passed by identifying something that sounds good (cancer research!) and a group of people to pay for it who sound bad (smokers!), and that's why our state is fucked right now.


District 16 - Jim Costa.

I'll cop to not having done nearly enough research on this one, but there's really just no way that I'd elect a Republican to congress, even in a jungle primary. And the one other Democrat who's challenging him doesn't seem to have a website, so yeah...moving on.

State Assembly:

District 21- Adam Gray, I guess.

This race is both interesting and not interesting at the same time. There seems to actually be some controversy, but a lot of it seems to be character based and it's really hard to judge that when you're talking about small time local candidates who only even have a couple of stories in the local newspaper. Adam Gray apparently never graduated from college, which doesn't really bother me at all, and may not have been completely honest about that, which might bother me a little bit, and then described his role working with university students at UC Merced in a way that might have been misleading...which I'd want to understand better before I formed an opinion on it one way or another, because frankly, the terminology could get pretty mixed up quite innocently, or also not so innocently. On the other hand, one of the other candidates might have gotten caught driving under the influence of an illegal substance. Or he might have gotten framed. Why can't they just disagree about property zoning laws, or something I have some hope of understanding? But I'm probably going to vote for Adam Gray despite woeful ignorance because he has a flashy website and seems like he could probably beat the Republican, and it might be all I'm hoping for right now is a dutiful cog in the Democratic machine. (Since no doubt the Republican, despite sounding like a pretty decent guy, would be a dutiful cog in his party's machine and set right to work defunding government).


Merced County Supervisor, District 2 - ???????

This may be the first election ever where I've gleaned a significant amount of information from lawn signs. Hub Walsh signs seem to correlate well with other signs that I approve of, and I've also seen them on apartment buildings...which I take as a point in his favor in an area where being against apartments and the people who live in them actually seems to be a viable political stance. His opponent, Casey Steed, does not keep quite as good of company in the world of lawn signs, and visiting his website I see discouraging things like a lot of hype about lowering salaries for board members...this is almost never a budgetarily significant amount of money and almost always a sign of a slash and burn attitude towards government.  To be fair though, I don't really see the slash and burn approach in Steed's write ups on various issues. He comes across as a genuinely thoughtful guy, with a slightly Republican tinge to his thinking, but not nearly as reflexively as I was expecting based on where his lawn signs hang out. Hub Walsh's website is much more polished, and while it touches on some good things from my point of view (clean air, safe drinking water, transit, housing "options"), in the end it gives very little away, except that he's a well established guy not really sticking his neck out. So I'm actually a little torn. Steed is endorsed by the Republican party, but that's not a deal breaker for me in local level politics the way it is at the state or federal level, and I like the idea of thoughtful people in office and competitive local politics, so that may be enough to get him my vote. Especially since I'm feeling a little frustrated that in the two state level races I don't see much option except for to vote for the pre-decided, establishment Democrat. I can't quite commit to bucking my party tonight though...maybe I can find more info tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Game of Thrones

I don't have anything too particularly interesting to say about Game of Thrones lately, except that I kind of hate the characters they've created to be Robb and Jon's love interests. I mean, it doesn't help that they're only in scenes with Robb or Jon, who were already characters I was wishing the show could just forget about already. Has either shown an ounce of personality this whole time? But now they've gone and inserted these uninteresting, implausible women to share screen time with them...and damnit, I want that screen time back and replaced with one of the Lannisters.

One of the best parts of the series, in my opinion, is the way that it handles womens' roles in a medieval setting. Between Cersei, Sansa, Margaery, and even Myrcella you have a pretty broad theme going on with the reality of arranged marriage, the variety of ways that different characters adapt to the limits of their autonomy, and how they manage to scrounge some power and influence regardless. Even Daenerys, who most of the time is also a character I wish would just toss her screen time back into the pot and get out of the way, is cool to watch as she negotiates the possibility that she could make a strategic match for herself with the guy from Qarth, if she chose to, since her royal lineage is the one thing that his money can't buy otherwise. In contrast, I feel like Florence Nightingale of Westeros and that Eskimo girl ought to be prancing about in comic book style leather bikinis (maybe Eskimo girl's could include a fur cape, for realism) based on the amount that they represent any kind of realistic depiction of the kind of dilemmas that women would face in that kind of society. They're nothing but foils for the already boring male characters they're meant to attract, and it shows, and I'm really hoping they die next episode. (That's the one good thing about the show, if you really truly hate a character, there's at least a 50/50 chance they'll die soon...if only that didn't also apply to the ones you like).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Prep School

So it turns out Mitt Romney was kind of an asshole when he was younger. I mean, I actually have pretty mixed feelings about the whole anti-bullying fervor that's so prominent right now. I'm not a fan of bullies by any means, but I also feel like it doesn't take much courage or introspection to be against one thirteen year old kid beating up another thirteen year old kid, and that it's kind of telling that that's the kind of anti-gay discrimination that we've decided to fixate on. Plus, based on my own memories of middle school...relationships between kids are complex. Sometimes it's the kid throwing the punch that's been picked on the most, and sometimes mockery is a type of self defense too. Or it's a type of flirtation. Or it's who knows what. It doesn't really seem like a situation where a zero tolerance policy is applicable, and the kids I knew at least would be hard to divide up simplistically into victims or perpetrators. 

On the other hand, there is nothing particularly complex about a gang of guys pinning another one down to cut his hair. I don't think it even particularly matters if Romney thought the guy was gay. This was the 1960s after all, long hair was a big deal back then, and it seems just as likely that Romney was showing off his political intolerance. Mostly though I think it shows a sense of humor that's surprisingly lacking in empathy towards other people (or animals...nobody would know that story about the dog if he didn't think it was hilarious).

Anyways, I wasn't going to vote for him anyways, so it doesn't really matter.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I've been brooding most of the day about the idea that the problem with same-sex marriage is that it undermines the "ideal" that children should have a mother and a father. First of all, I'm starting to really hate the concept of ideal when it comes to raising children, period. The idea that anybody is either able or willing to approach child rearing from the standpoint of carefully researching what is most close to being perfect and then following it is ridiculous. First of all, most people would have to conclude that neither their or their spouse's genetics should be involved in the process...forget the studies that show that this, that, or the other thing can have a slight downward effect on IQ, to get real results you need to be willing to swap out prospective parents. I'm also fairly sure that any parent genuinely concerned with maximizing their child's safety needs to be willing to do things like give up car travel and move away from high or even moderate air pollution areas. Or on the less serious side, there's baby names. People have no end of opinions about the doom and misery that await a child whose parents give it an unfortunate name...unless that name is the last name. If it's not optional, then suddenly we remember that somehow, we all eventually learn to deal with whatever less-than-ideal hand life deals us, and our children will too.

But getting past the fact that I really, really need to take a break from pregnancy books for a while (and taking for granted that I actually see no reason two same sex parents are less ideal for a child than two opposite sex parents), why, exactly, would you obsess about the non-idealness of a choice that most people aren't even going to consider making? I think this guy (Andrew Cherlin) might have a very good point...raising children in wedlock confers status, and the thing about status is that it needs to be denied to some people in order to retain its worth. At least, looking at it from that perspective makes more sense to me than trying to understand it as some kind of bizarrely selective concern about the welfare of other people's children. Their goal is not to use the law to coerce others into what they consider better lives, I think most people - even those who I wouldn't call particularly rational otherwise - realize that that's unrealistic. We're talking about people who want to be congratulated for the way their personal preferences and good fortune already coincide with "ideal," who are used to being congratulated for it, and who resent whatever minor extent that might be taken away in order to make the world fairer for others.

(Blah blah blah obviously you can't assume that the whole 50% or so of the population that is against gay marriage is against it for the same reason. You can pretty safely assume that there are a wide variety of reasons out there...but this one I hadn't really thought about today, and the more I think about it the more significant I think it is)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pepper Spray

I may be off the deep end here, but it seems to me that if a police officer shows up at protest in riot gear when he has been ordered not to, and carrying a form of pepper spray that is outside of what his department authorizes him to carry, he is no longer acting as a representative of the police department at that point and is instead just a private citizen. I don't think the law is particularly kind to private citizens who pepper spray college students. I'm absolutely sure that unwillingness to comply with departmental guidelines regarding appropriate limits on force, not just in high stress spur of the moment conditions but with the degree of premeditation required to obtain non-standard pepper spray, should be a disqualification from being a police officer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Times change

(this is going to be a very basic nub of a post...just jotting down a few thoughts, rather than trying to craft them into an argument, because I probably have time for one and not the other. and you know, it's been two months since I posted anything here. oh also, I'm five months pregnant.)

Back in 2008 I used to joke that the Republican primary candidates represented the three faces of evil in the GOP. John McCain was the scary bomb happy guy, Mike Huckabee was the scary social conservative guy, and Mitt Romney was the greedy rich bastard. And if I had to trust the country with one of those three types, I'd pick the rich bastard. Because you know, at least rich people need the rest of us around to work for them and buy stuff. Now it's 2012, and Rick Santorum has stepped up to be the new scary social conservative guy (now with 50% more scary! although Mike Huckabee with his nice guy persona actually seemed more dangerous to me), they're all scarily bomb happy, and I forget what exactly seemed "safer" about the greedy rich bastard model of Republican. Blame giant recessions, epic unemployment, and being repeatedly told that I need to accept a world in which the basic functions of government cannot be funded because the rich need to pay less in taxes. I certainly don't want Santorum to win, and at this point it seems like there's no chance that I will, but I sure enjoy watching Romney lose. I honestly don't even know that I think Santorum would be a worse president than him. I'm just much more aware these days of how fiscal policy affects me personally, and how my interests do not line up with the greedy rich bastards of the world.

With Obamacare in the Supreme Court right now, I wonder if there's a similar dynamic going on. I worry that we're coming off of 20+ years of the delusion that extreme fiscal conservatism is somehow benign, maybe even slightly noble, and that's why we're living in a world where corporations are people and a federal attempt to fulfill one of the basic functions of government is identical to force feeding people broccoli. I think we really need to start examining the people who have gained reputations as moderates, and asking ourselves whether they really deserve it. Being on good terms with Bill Maher while thinking that keeping the tax rate for millionaires low is more important than funding early intervention for toddlers at a high risk of disability might not cut it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Further down the rabbit hole.

Gingrich wins!!!! The nightmare primary isn't quite over yet! And other such excitement.

Mostly, I think it's kind of awesome that Herman Cain and Stephen Colbert have found each other.I feel like this kind of cements my theory that Cain is, above and beyond all else, profoundly cynical about electoral politics. (Although apparently also kind of a naive idealist to think he'd be able to keep those sexual harassment accusations under wraps...but then again, I'm not sure anybody could have predicted he'd become enough of a front runner to get actual vetting). Most serious Republicans think that either Romney or Gingrich...or maybe both of them...would be disastrous for the party. Cain doesn't care which wins, and he is happy to give over his place on the ballot for a comedic stunt. Which actually makes he & Stephan Colbert a match made in heaven as far as I can tell. I haven't watched either the Daily Show or the Colbert Report on a regular basis for years, but back when I did the sense I got was always that Jon Stewart cared in a fundamental way that Stephen Colbert did not. Jon Stewart might not be a loyal party man, and he certainly has lots of complaints about the Democrats, but there are times when he stops being funny and gets earnest. Colbert, not so much. I still think it would have been interesting to see how far Cain could have gotten, if he hadn't been knocked out of contention by something so banal.

(Which isn't to say I don't think a history of sexual harassment is a disqualification for the presidency. I could probably actually make a whole argument for why Newt Gingrich's sins...extensive as they may be...exist in a different, and maybe less disqualifying, category than Bill Clinton's. But I'm not going to get into that now.)

Secondly, although this is getting to be old news by now, I find it intriguing watching the salience of the concept of class warfare in the Republican Party. Mitt Romney's whole "quiet rooms" thing kind of gave me this AHA! moment that this isn't just a talking point for them, but something they find genuinely scary. "Them" being some subset of the Republican party that clearly does not include all Republicans but appears to include Mitt Romney. And maybe doesn't include Newt Gingrich. Which I think says all kinds of interesting things about divisions within the Republican party. There's no obvious clues in Gingrich's wikipedia biography about his parents' political affiliations (his stepfather was in the military, he was raised Lutheran, and they lived in Pennsylvania and the South), but I think it's somewhat reasonable to think of him as the charismatic born-again political convert compared to Romney's old blood Republicanism. Or say, the populist vs. the anti-populist.

Nate Silver's latest article about the Republican primary seems to boil down to "who the hell knows anymore." Logically, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Romney becoming the nominee, but nothing that's happening seems to be particularly logical. I kind of think this primary season is going to end up being for the Republicans a lot like the 1924 convention was for the Democrats. In 1924, the incumbent Calvin Coolidge was supposed to be weak because of the scandals of the Harding administration, and the Democratic nominee was supposed to be a shoo-in. Except, the Democrats were divided between the big city machines and the anti-big city populists, the Klan-hating immigrants and the Klan-loving South, several of their major candidates were also touched by the scandals, and their national convention turned into a massive 103 ballot embarrassment. Which is to say, it is possible for a party to just spontaneously implode. Or at least, here's hoping. Kind of. I do believe that two coherent parties are necessary for the long term health of the country...but the Republican party has already shown up for 2012, and I think we'll all be a lot better off if its current incarnation implodes than if it's allowed to limp along passing for coherent just because we need a second party.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Who has two thumbs and has read three of the Twilight books?

So, yeah. Twilight. And I've got to say, it's not the worst book I've ever read. Angels and Demons continues to be the worst book I've ever read. If anyone wants to take a shot at a convincing argument for why I should still attempt to read The Da Vinci Code after almost losing the last shred of faith I had in humanity trying to wrap my head around the idea that so many people thought Dan Brown is a good author, be my guest. But seriously, there is nothing good about that book.

Twilight on the other hand...I thought Stephanie Meyers did a pretty good job with setting, making both Phoenix and the Pacific Northwest compelling places and the contrast between them an interesting component of the book. I thought her human characters were pretty decent. Bella's parents are pretty believable. Jacob is actually pretty likable, but then also flawed enough to be multi dimensional. Bella herself is not exactly someone I identify with or admire, but she makes an interesting case study of self sacrifice as a heroic virtue. I kind of wonder if that element of her personality isn't something we're more used to seeing in male characters. Harry goes to face Voldemort alone, Luke leaves Han & Leia on Endor to face his destiny with Vader, and I don't know how many boys I overheard in high school describe their attachment to one person or another as the willingness to take a bullet for them. The melodrama and self negation seems more shocking coming from a teenage girl, but I think we've just become used to female characters being stereotypically the practical ones. (Oh hi Hermione!).

I actually kind of feel bad about the number of people who have gone out of their way to say that Twilight is badly written, when the author clearly enjoys & respects literature herself. She doesn't just name check a few important authors to prove that Bella is brainy and smart, or throw in a Romeo & Juliet analogy because "OMG! It's like they're from two different worlds!" Actually, Bella's character is pretty reminiscent of Marianne Dashwood (the sensibility half of Sense & Sensibility), and I'm guessing a lot of other female heroines in other classic romances that I generally avoid reading because they aren't written with Jane Austen's humorous detachment from her characters.

On the other hand, lest you think this is getting too close to an actual endorsement of some kind....Edward is kind of a shockingly boring character to have an entire book about how amazing and wonderful and worth sacrificing everything for he is built around him. You hear repeatedly that he is devastatingly attractive...but his hair color is apparently bronze, which doesn't and shouldn't actually occur in nature as far as I can tell, and his defining features include dark circles under his eyes, which really isn't a turn on to most women. Also, basically every physical description of him dwells at length on the idea that his body feels exactly like cold marble...also not a turn on that I'm aware of. I'm sure most women just insert their own idea of the perfect man, or I guess now there's that actor from the movie to picture, but still, the series doesn't get any points here. Personality wise, he's kind of a dud too. He smiles a lot, or chuckles, which I guess is an attractive trait in a guy...but this is mostly related to us as "Edward smiled" or "Edward chuckled." He's apparently a musician, but compared to Bella's literature thing this does feel name checked and inserted to make his character artistic and sensitive without any really substance to it. He likes classical music. Like Debussy. And he composes too! Cause he's just that smart. He starts to kind of develop a real personality by the third book (yes, I read three of these things...and will probably read the fourth one) as an idealistic romantic, but it's still a real weak point in the series.

I think the fantasy of Edward is actually probably more the fantasy of Edward's family. He falls in love with Bella, and suddenly she becomes the primary focus of not just his life, but also his siblings' and his parents'. Edward & Bella's love is inevitably kind of static, since they jump to the "nothing else matters/I would die for you!!!!" stage immediately, but then she gets to be gradually accepted by all of the other vampires as one of the family, supplying her with a jovial and strong older brother, a sister who's bubbly and cool in all the ways Bella's not, another sister who's standoffish and reserved but ultimately sweet & caring, and a brother who's intimidating and brooding but ten kinds of badass. Add in parents who are sympathetic, attentive, wise and infallible, and contrast it with the way that Bella fits in to her own human family (she moves to Washington to live with her father to avoid being an impediment to her mom's new marriage), and you can see why it's a pretty compelling fantasy for some people.

I'm not sure it's a particularly healthy fantasy, once you add in that Bella's one and only super power seems to be self sacrifice, and I'd rather imagine that the primary audience for the books was middle aged women indulging in some escapism rather than impressionable teenagers, but that's true of a lot of things. (I'd also like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to come with a warning label for teenage boys that Spike is not actually meant to be a role model, and for Sex & the City to be edited so that Samantha Jones just comes with a caption "fictional character"). On the whole, I don't think the insistence I hear from a lot of people that the pop culture they like is noble & good but Twilight is pure trash holds a whole lot of water. And so yeah, there you have it. Me defending Twilight.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ron Paul, Nullification

I'm wasting a lot of my rage on Ron Paul these days. He's pretty inconsequential in the scheme of things, and not at all likely to become the fact that he would make a disastrous president while Mitt Romney would merely be a bad one is really neither here nor there. Except, you know, I don't really meet anyone who likes Mitt Romney. And I do meet people who seem to think Ron Paul's objections to indefinite detention and drone attacks and other foreign policy excesses that the Obama administration are guilty of mean that having him as president might actually be a good thing.

And that is where my head explodes.

Trying to be rational about it though, one of the arguments I hear in Ron Paul's favor a lot is that you have to consider what is within the President's power, and what's not. The president gets to order drone attacks these days, but he can't unilaterally ban abortion. And that's true. But there still is a whole lot of things that a president can do, that I don't want Ron Paul's ideology anywhere within a thousand miles of.

One of the big news items of the day is that Obama just made four recess appointments...putting himself in direct confrontation with the Republican house, which has been claiming that it can avoid taking recesses just by refusing to admit that they're in order to keep congressional stone walling of his appointments from leading to the shut down of entire government agencies. One of the things that you hear about Ron Paul is that it doesn't matter that he wants to dismantle the Department of Education, because that's not something he could do unilaterally as president. But if congress can essentially force the shut down of entire government agencies (admittedly not the Department of Education, but the National Labor Review Board, which I'd argue is also pretty important) by refusing to confirm appointments, then what exactly would happen if we had a president who completely refused to appoint people to agencies he didn't believe in? I'm not claiming that I know the answer to this's possible that there's some mechanism that forces a president to keep the federal government functioning, but it also seems possible to me that there's no mechanism, because thus far anyone who has wanted to be president has also thought that the federal government was an important and sometimes useful thing. Anyways, yeah. That is my question of the day. Now I'm off to go read some more in the third book of the Twilight series, because I'm well rounded like that.