Tuesday, May 31, 2005


"I'm not usually awkward at all but..."

Ah! So this is how Hitchens intends on proving he's not an elitist. Or is it?

My favorite part:

Female audience member: Excuse me. I'm not usually awkward at all but I'm sitting here and we're asked not to smoke. And I don't like being in a room where smoking is going on.

CH (smoking heavily): Well, you don't have to stay, do you darling. I'm working here and I'm your guest. OK . This is what I like.

IK: Would you just stub that one out?

CH: No. I cleared it with the festival a long time ago. They let me do it. If anyone doesn't like it they can kiss my ass.

(Woman walks out)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Eisenhower on the future of his party

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954
(Eisenhower Presidential Papers, Document #1147; November 8, 1954. The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, Volume XV, Part VI, Chapter 13: "A new phase of political experience.")
(Thanks, Jen, for bringing this my attention.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


The rules, defended

Via Josh Marshall, the Princeton students celebrate the victory for the filibuster. But, in doing so, they say what no media seems willing to say about this whole sham:
That having been said, it is a strange sort of victory, isn't it? If you believe that Senator Frist's nuclear option would have been illegal and unprecedented - as we do, along with many constitutional scholars and political analysts - then the Republican leadership should not have considered it in the first place. Is it a victory when the world is returned to what it should be? Do we celebrate normalcy?Perhaps it's the grey skies of New York that are doing it to me, but it strikes me today that far too much energy is spent on Pyrrhic victories and self-flagellation. What a waste.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Painful TV

While checking out the must-see-TV going on at C-SPAN, where Frist and company are melting away in their own arguments, I came across this gem from the "Talking Points Memo Document Collection." The document, produced by the Republican Senate Conference advises:
Do not refer to the "nuclear option" - it should be called the constitutional option." Note: it isn't the "constitutional option." But it should be called such.Honesty is nice.While I'm on my Josh kick, see his masterful post on the slight of hand cum spiritual crisis the republicans are enduring in pushing their arguments. Bill Frist looks pained, like he's backed up or something.Also, check out Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money who asks: "Can't they even tell plausible lies anymore?" No, Scott. They can't. Their first mistake was actually referring to the Constitution, a document with which Republicans appear to be deeply unfamiliar.Poor fools. It's painful to watch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


The other Skinner

Just to prove my liberal elitist credentials and, maybe, evoke the ire of former Leftists who now bash people like Lakoff, there is a wonderful review of three new editions by Cambridge professor Quentin Skinner (no relation) in the New York Review of Books this week, though only a sample of it is online.

The article notes quite rightly that the rejection of Marxian materialism has created some new space for political ideas and, by extension, language. Now, I think that the idea that we have to reject Marx to think about political ideas is, well, silly. But I welcome the conversation that Skinner's work provokes and hope that we can think about bit more seriously about the historiography of our own moment. Language has a genealogy of its own, and that genealogy is a roadmap of power relations that need to be understood.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Food for thought: Moms, neither soccer nor security

Remember when "soccer moms" became "security moms," reactionary warmongerers bent on defeating terrorist evildoers? Well, an accused Canadian "soccer mom" takes aim at the mainstream media and, in particular, the Urban Dictionary:
Soccer mom: "Suburban mother with 2.3 kids with hollow disciplines and automaton husbands with slowly diminishing spirits;" "an American bourgeois woman of the post baby-boom generation who, instead of reaping the benefits of the sexual revolution that her foremothers and sisters fought so hard for, sold out to the new patriarchy which promised stability in the form of white suburban neighborhoods, SUVs, drive-through Starbucks and yearly trips on Carnival Cruise lines."And reclaims motherhood on its own authority:
"This was about defending motherhood as something far more complex, and yes, even more hip, than any "soccer mom" label could ever suggest...So if, when [my kids] get a bit older, they want to play soccer, I'll encourage them. And when you see me on the sidelines cheering them on, please don't call me a "soccer mom." But a "mother"? That would be just perfect.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Mea culpa, or it sure seemed possible

Well, shit. The linguistic creationism stuff I posted about the other day was, um, a joke. On second read, it's pretty embarrassing to think I didn't see that. But was it such a leap to think that famous linguists were packing up for Kansas to testify? After all, the idea of "intelligent design" is real, and language constitues part of this debate. So too, by the way, are the next wave of creationism hearings themselves. They could use an aggressive bunch of generative grammarians down there. Anyway, I've been had in this way before (check out God Made Kitty at the Creationism Science Fair). But this creationism stuff is just so far out that anything seems possible (come on, you know you believed it!). To the question What's the matter with Kansas? if find myself thinking: Anything is possible. And in this space of endless possibility I find myself reaching new heights.A sincere thanks to Language Log for not singling me out for being a sucker as they did so many others. Still, their salt-in-the-wound satire about Chomsky testifying before the Board is a must read.

Monday, May 09, 2005


Calling up ghosts, again

Following up on a previous post, Democrats - this time it's Dick Durbin - once again evoke Newt Gingrich (via New York Times):
Democrats have softened their earlier tone on paralyzing the Senate, saying they intend to push their own initiatives. And they say a snarled Senate has much less public resonance than does a government-wide shutdown like the one in 1995 that backfired on Newt Gingrich, the House speaker, and Congressional Republicans.

"We are not going to shut down the Senate; we are not shutting down the government," Mr. Durbin said. "Newt Gingrich retired that trophy."
Which leaves me wondering: Did he really?

While Senator Cornyn continues to toe the "Dems-are-obstructionist" line, Democrats do at least show signs of resuscitating themselves and making a positive argument against these judges by emphasizing the more than 90% that they have confirmed - and, by extension, what is so radical about the eight or so they are holding up.

But still, the likely outcome? Pollster Charlie Cook: "In the end, I think both sides could end up looking bad."

Friday, May 06, 2005


Language Log vs. Kansas Board of Education

Mark Liberman and Co. over at Language Log have wisely bowed out of "hearings" in front of the Kansas Board of Education on the intelligent design of the English language and policies regarding teaching "linguistic creationism" generally. Note the statement by Immanuel Quierbaiter, who will be testifying:"Anyone who takes an unbiased look at the intricacies of the English language as detailed in Harvey's English Grammar will see that it shows evidence of having been carefully designed for its communicative purpose. It is beyond belief that such a system could have simply evolved through random processes of change."These linguistic creationists claim that the perfection of English occured just in time for the translation of the King James Edition of the Bible in 1611. Interesting to note, then, that this new "perfection" changed the word "usurers," who, according to earlier translations, Jesus cast from God's temple, to "money changers," as though bankers were simply giving out Drachmas for Pesos in an even exchange. This new translation, of course, made it much easier to make business and Christian teachings jibe. Handy indeed! By the way: who exactly has argued that language develops "randomly"? As far as I know, linguistics is all about mapping the development - and the rules that govern this development. Moreover, if English is so perfect, then why, as George Bernard Shaw noted, can we spell "fish" as "ghoti"?

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Pelosi's bunglefest, or how not to save social security

A few days late, but anyone concerned with how the Democrats are responding to the last ditch efforts by Republicans to destroy social security should read Daily Howler's account of the House minority leader Nancy Pelosi's trainwreck on This Week last Sunday. Her only argument: Americans should trust the Democrats because Roosevelt was a Democrat. Beyond this, she didn't seem to really understand how social security works, or offer any substantive reason why Republican proposals should be (and, thanks to a skeptical American public, likely will be) rejected. It's a truly amazing example of how inept Pelosi is (which we also saw in her response to Bush's state of the union speech in January), but also how not to make an argument when the majority is already losing steam on an issue. All she had to do was exude some confidence and she would have won this one.Here's a sample:
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying repeal the tax cuts?
PELOSI: I'm setting up the, why there is a problem. Secondly, you can't take the money with no intention of paying it back. When President Reagan and Speaker O'Neill went to the table they established a robust trust fund that would keep us, this trust fund solvent and pay full benefits until the middle of the 21st century. Take whichever date you want. This proposal that the president put forth on Friday is an assault on the middle class, a guaranteed stream of income for them will now be reduced. The president says we're helping lower income people more. No, lower income people are, excuse me, are treated the same.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it's still a better deal than doing nothing. And the Democrats still haven't come forward with a plan.
PELOSI: No, it isn't, because you're not saying doing nothing. You're saying pay the Social Security trust fund back.
PELOSI: Stop deficit spending.
PELOSI: Pay as you go on your budget.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, how? That's what I'm just looking for. What are the ideas?
PELOSI: How is it, how is it, pay as you go is how.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How is what's important and the question is why should American people trust the Democrats if you don't have a specific plan?
PELOSI: The American people should trust the Democrats because we originated Social Security. This was a very entrepreneurial idea of the New Deal and Democrats will not allow the Republicans to turn this great deal for the American people into a raw deal for them by what they are proposing. They've never really supported Social Security, and the way to damage it, I'm trying to select my word carefully, is to destroy the universality of it. The genius of Social Security at the time was that everybody supported it in terms of the working families of America because they got a stream of income commensurate to what they put into the program. Now we have a situation where the president says, you pay every paycheck into Social Security and instead of getting a commensurate value as a retirement guaranteed benefit, we're going to have a sliding scale so if you're in the middle class, you make an average of $58,000 over a lifetime you get a 42 percent cut. It's just not right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand the critique of the president's plan. I understand the defense of Social Security, but why the reluctance to come forward with a specific plan that would show how you would get Social Security to solvency?
PELOSI: Well, you're not listening then, because what I'm saying to you is that you have to stop deficit spending which is taking the money out of Social Security. Privatization of itself will take $5 trillion, $5 trillion out of the trust fund. That's a huge amount of money. Deficit spending, borrowing the money without the intention to pay it back with interest, which is the law, now, if the president does not intend to pay Social Security back, he has to pass a law to say we will not pay Social Security back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But even if you take private accounts, personal accounts off the table you still have a $3 to $4 trillion hole over the next 75 years. How do Democrats propose to make that up?
PELOSI: Well, first of all, what you have to do is stop taking money out of Social Security without the intention of paying it back. And then as we have said to the president over and over again, let us go to the table in a bipartisan way and consider all of the options.

Monday, May 02, 2005


The Little Bush Who Cried "Crisis"

George W. Bush, who prides himself on his in-bed-by-nine ethic, reminded Americans on Thursday about what it means to do hard work. Irony aside, he chided Congress:

We're asking people to do things that haven't been done for 20 years....So I'm not surprised that some are balking at doing hard work.

For better or worse, this "hard work" stuff has been going on for quite some time, and is part and parcel of how Americans talk about politics. Many presidents recognized that it pays off. Perhaps the greatest "hard work" speech in American history was Teddy Roosevelt's Strenuous Life. TR aimed his six gun at wealthy "hucksters" and reminded Americans that

When men fear work or fear righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom; and well it is that they should vanish from the earth, where they are fit subjects for the scorn of all men and women who are themselves strong and brave and high-minded.

While we're on the subject of "brinks of doom," hard work rhetoric reached a memorable peak during the last year's first presidential debate (fun video here) when Bush used the expression eleven times, almost as though he were trying to convince John Kerry that the job would be too tough for a liberal windsurfer.

But Bush himself is falling into a trap of his own making. Hard work, when the work is the wrong work, doesn't pay off. Americans may appreciate a man who ploughs the field and chops the wood, even if it is done in a new and freshly ironed LL Bean jacket, but doing needless work? That just seems like a waste of time.

His sixty-day trainless whistle stop tour made this clear. Bush has been out there, on prairie and in desert, sounding the "crisis" alert to convince Americans that his privatization plan is necessary. And then, on Thursday, he claimed that the American people "understand that Social Security is headed for serious financial trouble and they expect their leaders in Washington to address the problem," despite the fact that polls increasingly indicate otherwise. Apparently, Bush's whistle stop "Americans" are the same ones who were allowed into his "Town Hall Meetings" in 2004: pro-Bush t-shirt and bumper sticker required for entry. Zealots, in other words, already on the bandwagon.

Anyway, for Bush to convince more than his supporters that his plan is necessary, he's going to have to sell the crisis. If he can't, a majority will continue to view this whole thing as one big choice, with Bush and his billion dollar gift to Wall Street on one side, and Americans concerned about their retirement on the other. Moreover, it's not just a choice, but a choice that has ramifications for funny distant dates like 2041. You've gotta make a damn good case to get Americans to change a system that they love if you're talking about 2041.

Despite his triumphant re-election, a majority of Americans - even those legions with the "support the troops" stickers on their cars - believe that Iraq was a mistake. This is because Bush convinced many of them that there was a crisis, and that invading Iraq was necessary. And he let them down. He continues to let them down.

The ability to establish a crisis moment is one way to gauge a leader's strength, and through this lens Bush looks markedly weak. He is "working hard" to frame this moment as one in which a fear of getting their hands dirty is keeping Congress - and, really, a majority of Americans - from stepping up to the plate. But all of the hard work in the world is irrelevant as long as most Americans think there is no plate to be stepped up to.

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