Friday, October 31, 2008

Mastery and Tragedy

Ben Stein and Arianna Huffington, working together on Larry King Live, come up with an excellent characterization of the race. It is the struggle between mastery and tragedy. Ben Stein calls Obama's campaign "masterful", Huffington calls McCain's a "tragedy". That may be why we are all so sure that McCain will lose (it's in the nature of tragedy for the hero to fall) but are at the same time worried that Obama will not win (mastery does not guarantee victory).

On another note, I think Stein was right to say that Huffington's balking at the "idiotic" Wallace comparison was "incredibly insulting". She thought she was supposed to be scrappy (I don't know if that has anything to do with being a "Greek peasantgirl") and simply, as Stein said, wasn't listening. Pointless squabbling. Stein was being a gracious and, genuinely saddened loser. Her polemics were unseemly, unnecessary and had, interestingly, no sense of the tragic.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Joe Biden: Greatest Hits

This is a truly convincing argument for Joe Biden:

I wonder if seven competetive minutes of Sarah Palin could be assembled. (That's not just a rhetorical question.)

Update: Here's a grasp at the azure:

Too Much Information?

“Campaigns tend not to worry about overkill,” [says Ken Goldstein]. “Campaigns, by definition, are overkill.”

I was worried about this "infomertial" from the first time I heard about it. Both candidates were basically trying to get through the debates, not blow it, if you will. Well, now Obama, who is doing fine, is putting up a half hour target in which he will either have to say something that will have questionable appeal, or come off as saying nothing for half an hour. Granted, I believe he is up to the challenge. But he's normally risen to occasions that were forced upon him. Now he's just going out there and risking it for ... well, yes, I wonder ... for the fun of it? What is he trying to prove? What does he really stand to gain? Hopefully, the show itself will answer these questions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"The European reaction to Obama is a European delusion ... This whole election campaign deals with soaring rhetoric, hope, change, all sorts of things, but not with issues."

Noam Chomsky

Here's a video interview on this theme.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Scandal: McCain Has Given No Thought to What He Will Say at His Inauguration!

Politico brings us one the most ridiculous non-issues on the campaign trail. McCain thinks it is laughable that Obama may already have a draft of his inaugural address somewhere in his files.

Of course Obama is working on his address. He hopefully works on it every week, thinks about it every day. Has been since he became interested in politics. McCain, I guess, does not. This is yet another example of, not only the lack of intelligence in the McCain camp, but the complete absence of any sense of what thought is. A man who is running for president is always drafting his inaugural address. That's how he thinks his position through. An intelligent man does this in writing (not just in daydreams).

The fact that the Obama compaign believes it has to deny the rumour ("not one word has been written") is, of course, not encouraging. It says something about how silly this race is getting. In his introduction to Advertisements for Myself, Norman Mailer said he had been spending the time since he published his first book "running for president in the privacy of [his] own mind". He was, ridiculously, accused of being arrogant.

But surely we are not suprised that Obama has been running such a private campaign, long before his public one? Surely we hope he has considered the possibility that he might have to hold an actual inaugural address. "If I win," said Mailer of the New York City mayoralty primaries in 1969, "I am in trouble." He, of course, was a maverick.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

McCain Flavour?

I like "Whirl of Change" for Obama. But wouldn't "Crunchy First" have been cleverer for McCain?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Amateur, Armature, Armchair Finance Pundit

Here's a pretty simpleminded idea that I think might be right. Since 1995 we've seen a number of asset-price hyper-inflation bubbles. Basically, various classes of assets have gotten very expensive, very quickly. Then, suddenly, they have become cheaper.

Right now the markets are crashing. While commodities may continue to get more expensive, hard assets (like real estate) will fall in price. Those with the money to buy will be able to snap up some bargains and end up owning a lot of stuff. This is familiar stuff.

Here's my thought. If you sell something when the prices are high, you've got a lot of cash. The normal thing to do is to lend that cash to someone else in order to earn interest on it. (Holding on to cash is generally unwise because it loses value. You should "put it to work" as they say.) People willing to lend out money: that's what we suddenly ran out of. The credit markets "froze", remember?

A lot of reasons have been suggested. But what about this one: suppose there was widespread anticipation among the super-rich of an asset-price collapse. If you know there's going to be a lot of cheap stuff lying around to buy soon, you hold on to your cash. In fact, holding on to your cash (as you know) contracts credit (thus the money supply, in at least one sense) and decreases demand. As demand decreases, prices fall further.

You keep holding on to your cash. Prices plunge. Your money becomes worth more and more. And then, when the economy is in ruins, you buy. Suddenly you own half the world.

Or all of it. The amount of "fictional wealth" has been growing at a staggering rate. There is much more money floating around than real stuff to buy it with. (Because so many assets have been, as they say, "derivative".) It is conceivable that a small group of very rich people (maybe 1000, maybe a 500, I really don't know) will soon have enough money on them to buy, well, yes, everything. Prices just have to fall to their natural levels (or maybe a bit further.) And that seems to be happening.

Yes, I'm just thinking out loud. Any thoughts?

Creative Class

In a letter published Tuesday in the Alamogordo Daily News, Stirman wrote that she believes "Muslims are our enemies." Stirman [56, an interior decorator],told The Associated Press in an interview: "I don't trust them at all. They've sworn across the world that they are our enemies. Why we're trying to elect one is beside me."


For some reason, I would have expected greater sophistication from an interior decorator. Probably because of something I thought I overheard someone say Richard Florida had said at some conference one time in answer to someone's question.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

For Fairness and Balance

People, like me, who are enjoying Sarah Palin's gaffes (if that term even covers it), do well to reflect on the double standard their enjoyment is based on. Campbell Brown has pointed this out head on; Kirsten Powers has worked on the problem from the other end.

There is something more vital about Biden's vanity (if that term even covers it), but I'm open to the idea that I just give him more credit up front.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election Note

(I'm not sure election blogging is becoming of the Pangrammaticon, but I need to put these thoughts down somewhere...)

Sarah Palin: I'm like John McCain with bling on, I'm complex.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Obama's Labour Theory of Value

In St. Louis, Barack Obama raised a good question: "Do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it?" Once again, we can take this out of context and agree with his critics. Maybe he really is a socialist! (Why that's a plainly bad thing we don't really understand here in Europe.)

But I've noticed something else, which goes deeper. I get the sense that Obama is really trying to foster conditions that will allow the individual American to work his or her way out of the crisis. That's real hope. And it's fundamentally American (as I understand it). The stimulus package that is being discussed is designed, I think, to ensure that there is work (the source of value) for as many people as possible and that this work ensures the circulation of sufficient cash, even if this will have to go mainly to bare necessities. Families will have to make do with less, but not so much less that a bit of hard work for a couple of years won't get them through.

Under McCain, I fear, Americans will get the sense that they will have to wait for initiatives stimulated at the top (even on Wall Street itself) to trickle down to them. Under Obama, they'll tighten their belts, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

In Defense of Milan Kundera

Here's a perfectly good statement of the charge. For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume it's true. The Economist suggests that it's a mild offense because he was acting out of more or less desperate self-interest. Others have proposed it's mitigated by the very opposite: that he was acting out of conviction.

I want to suggest a simpler defense: he snitched on a traitor. I think it's important to keep in mind that he was not informing on an internal dissident, i.e., someone who may have been stirring up trouble under an assumed name, or organizing civil disobedience, or distributing pamphlets. Dissidents are serving their country by opposing it from within. Informing one's state about the activities of one's own countrymen in trying to change it is contemptible in the usual way.

But Miroslav Dvoracek seems to have been working for a foreign spy agency. I think that's an altogether different matter. There is a big difference an American who thinks Hugo Chavez should be treated with respect and one who sells secrets to the Venezuelan spy services. Even if you are one the former, informing on one of the latter is a perfectly respectable activity. And that remains true even if you were right about Chavez.

Conversely: suppose Chavez is a garden variety dictator. I would respect dissidents working against him within his borders. But I don't think people who start working for Venezuela's enemies are necessarily worthy of the same respect.

I haven't thought the Kundera case through yet; this is just a first observation.

Friday, October 10, 2008

TPM: Sit Down With the Thugs and Talk

There are no contradictions, only degrees of humour.

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari

I think these remarks are dead on.

We use the Brits because they've done this stuff a lot. They've sat down with thugs throughout their history, including us in our early days, I suspect ... a point we never miss an opportunity to remind them of.

This sense of not just an "imperfect union" but an imperfect world, this (for lack of a better word) sense of humour, which Obama and Petraeus seem to share, gives me a strange kind of (not at all tranquil) hope for life in the Empire during the Obama Adminstration.

(PS I'm only just starting to realize the profound service to the citizenry that Talking Points Memo is performing.)

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Ownership Revolution (improved)

To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.

Ezra Pound

I'm quite proud of this version. I think it gives us a good sense of the rhetorical tradition (or at least one rhetorical tradition) from which Obama gathers his unconquerable flame.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Well, Kirby was right. "They both did fine," Mickey Kaus tells us. I fell asleep before the debate started but, like the first Obama-McCain debate, I got up very early to check the post-debate chatter. Once again, not as a dramatic as one had hoped.

CNN identified the "Say it ain't so, Joe" line as a canned sound bite she was waiting to use. I think they're right about that. Actually, she blew it by saying "Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again" turning into a reference to anothers (at the time appearantly) improvised jab. You can feel her coaches cringing. "'Say it ain't so, Joe,' would be a good line," they might have said to her, "Sort of like Reagan's 'There you go again'."

Of course, the canned line may have been simply, "It ain't so, Joe," which she was supposed to use to correct him on some important fact. That would have been a campaign-changing moment. That coaches may have said: "Say, 'It ain't so, Joe'".

To her credit, it looks like she knew she flubbed it right away. She ends up rambling, seeming somewhat distressed. And, as some people have noted, the views on education she presents here seem very liberal. Almost a gaffe: "Her reward is in heaven"??? As she was talking her way through this she reminded me of someone, and then I realized who it was: Edna Boil.

I know that isn't fair at all. But that's what she began to sound like to me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pre-Palin-Biden Debate Theory

Watching Joe Biden and Sarah Palin talk about the Supreme Court, a thought struck me that might make the basis of a pretty good conspiracy theory. It's now clear that McCain's pick was not very well thought out. In fact, it seems clear that he picked his running mate as a PR stunt. McCain can't really have cared how good a vice president she would make, and certainly had not given any thought to how she might do as president. It just seemed like "the ticket" somehow. A way to win the race. At the time, a way to get through the next couple of months.

By contrast, Obama might have been a bit worried about how well Biden would "play" in the campaign. Would he stay on message? Would they look good together? How many gaffes would he make? But there is no doubt that Biden will make an excellent vice president. He can also do a good job as president.

It's interesting, actually. There may be reasons he could never get himself elected, but if he should be needed to step in, I don't think anybody really doubts his judgment. And after serving in an Obama administration for eight years, his electability could change. There's a critique of democracy implicit in that fact: being the right guy for the job may only be tangentially related to your electability. Biden proves that point in one direction. Palin may prove it in the other.

Or she may not even come close. And that brings me to my conspiracy theory. Trust in politicians, pundits like to say, is at an all time low. In fact, nobody really knows how to take politics seriously. ("Jon Stewart is a America's greatest journalist.") Obama offers hope that politics can be serious stuff, full of gravitas, real leadership, etc. But there's a part of all of us, I suspect, that doubts, sometimes, whether Obama is really any different than all the other politicians we don't, finally, trust. Just as there is a part of us that Obama, sometimes, brings to tears.

Enter Palin. When the American electorate chooses Obama and Biden over McCain and Palin they will do so conscious of what they did NOT want. They have an opportunity to have a serious politician in the White House and to reject an obvious show pony.

Watching Biden and Palin talk made me realize that I think Biden is an intelligent, serious, knowledgeable, politician. I believe him when he says he talks to conservative scholars who are friends of his. Because he's a serious person. He's interested in culture. He's not just a lazy, lying, bag of scum. An Obama-Biden administration will be trusted. It will be the Camelot that Kennedy never had a chance to prove he couldn't run.

If I were pulling the strings behind the scenes, my aim for the 2009-2017 administration would be that it restores trust in Washington. In fact, by rejecting the bailout, Congress has also won a bit trust from me (not that my trust matters). They said a lot of sensible, honest things along the way. They're showing character, seriousness. It would break my heart to discover that all this was just for show, that my favourable reaction to Biden was carefully constructed in some back room and that the Palin pick was all part of the plan.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

J.A. on the Bailout

A national bank of deposit I believe to be wise, just, prudent, economical, and necessary. But every bank of discount, every bank by which interest is to be paid or profit of any kind made by the deponent, is downright corruption. It is taxing the public for the benefit and profit of individuals; it is worse than the old tenor, continental currency, or any other paper money.

Now, Sir, if I should talk in this strain, after I am dead, you know the people of America would pronounce that I had died mad.

John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 1811

(Adapted by E.P. in Canto LXXI, p. 416)

[Earle Davis notes that, in Jefferson's opinion, "The National Bank mortgaged public taxes for private gain" (Vision Fugitive, p. 123).]