Seldom does a day go by when someone or other doesn’t pronounce the American lifestyle doomed. Our cars will kill the planet, our cities will kill the planet or our very existence will kill the planet. We’re just wrong, wrong, wrong and we some person who is “right” feels the need to tell us what to do to save ourselves and everybody else.

Let me say first off, I have no sympathy whatsoever for the overpopulation alarmists. Nine times out of ten they’re crypto-eugenicists who are absolutely terrified of the countries where people are still having children above the replacement rate (places where people have dark skin… coincidence? I think not!). These are the very same people who feel that we ought to blanket all of Africa in a layer of latex to prevent “them” from ever being a threat to our self-indulgent existence. These folks are worse than the hippies — at least the hippies are willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to sustainable living (even though I’d rather see the hippies compromise when it comes to hygiene) — these folks think that shopping at Whole Foods and posting child-hating comments on blogs fulfills their duties as stewards of the earth (unless they’re not shopping at Whole Foods because corporations are evil. Lucky for us the Zero Population Growth crowd is a self-correcting problem in the long term… we just have to live with their blatant hypocrisy in the interim.

More reasonable opponents of the American lifestyle fall into two categories. The first are what I’ll call “Walden Pond Hippies.” They think we need to go back to the land and leave our cities and suburbs to fallow. While they certainly have sympathies with the crypto-eugenicists, and share their distaste for homo sapiens sapiens, the Walden Pond Hippies envision a new America based on a return to farming small towns and local commerce. And in a sense, the Hippies aren’t too far off from a livable idea — the Amish already live the life they foresee in a fairly complete way. And you can’t find people who more honestly live a substantial portion of the American dream than the Amish. Not to mention, the Amish do Steampunk in real life. In no other country could you find people like this. It just would not work.

Unfortunately, the WPH’s still want things modern things like electricity, which is where their plan (as opposed to the Amish) starts to break down. Rural living is hideously energy inefficient. There’s a reason why New York City is the most energy efficient portion of the United States, no matter how much the WPH’s despise it — density breeds efficiency. Even the Amish would have to change their lifestyles in “Hippymerica,” as they don’t oppose technology like Luddites, they just don’t want to let technology disrupt their community life. They still profit from our fancy American lifestyle, albeit indirectly. In “Hippymerica” this would no longer be possible.

The second group of opponents to the American lifestyle are what I’ll call “Effete Europeans.” Noting the flaw in the WPH argument — their proposed alternative is profligate in energy — the Effete Europeans insist on urban living as the real answer. Goodbye Levittown, hello Hell’s Kitchen. The problem with this argument is again all in the density — people who don’t have space generally don’t reproduce. There are a number of reasons why fertility rates in Europe are in the toilet but the one I want to harp on here is simple — when you’re stuck living in your tiny apartment (or worse still your parents’ tiny apartment, which appears to be the European norm), you’re not going to have kids. Which two European countries have the highest fertility rates? Ireland and France the two countries whose love affair with the land (and in France’s case, with farming specifically) hasn’t been consumed by faceless urbanism. “Euramerica” would look just like the worst parts of Amsterdam only with more cynical gun-toting conservatives. Call me unimpressed.

And so we’re left with America’s Choice: The Suburb. Sure it’s energy intensive — but not as bad as “Hippymerica” and we’ll for sure have a lot more space for the kids necessary to preserve Western Civilization than in “Euramerica.” Truth, Justice and Subdivisions. We have a long way in terms of things like energy efficiency, but if saving the planet means living in Walden or Amsterdam, then I’m all for investing heavily in space travel right now. I hear that real estate on Mars is pretty cheap these days and the views are out of this world…

Money down the Drain

Do your pockets feel a little lighter than they used to? Perhaps about $7,000 lighter? Well don’t worry, that’s just the cost of the economic stimulus for each tax paying American! That emptiness you feel is just feeling of our economy being stimulated by Obama’s package! So now that we’re out $7,000 each the question is, will it work? Will our economy finally get the treatment it needs to get up again? Will we be driven into the cold deadly arms of Socialism? Is Obama’s $825 billion package really as big as everyone seems to think it is?

The Angry Men weigh in on the issue, and hopefully you, dear reader, will as well. We want to know, what do you think of Obama’s package?

Angry Midwesterner

Despite having voted for Obama over McCain, I have to agree with McCain on this issue, the so called “stimulus package” is mostly pork. Even the slightest bit of research shows us that only around 3% of the stimulus money will be spent in the next year, and in two years time only 16% of that money will be spent. A huge chunk of the money isn’t even marked to spent before 2011. So how exactly is this the crucial time sensitive stimulus it was sold as? How does it help America if the money isn’t even being spent? This isn’t about reviving our economy, it’s about never letting a crisis go to waste, as Rahm Emanuel has mentioned, many times.

The worst of it is, the pork isn’t even good pork. It’s mostly wasteful spending probably driven by lobbyists. If Obama really wanted to pork the US so badly, I at least wish he’d had the decency to not lie to us and claim it would stimulate our economy while the special interest groups he is beholden to got theirs too. This stimulus package is a violation of the trust America put in Obama, and is most definitely not the change we voted for.

Angry Diesel Engineer

I don’t see how this massive piece of legislation (almost 500 pages in the form Obama signed) is supposed to “spend us out of our recession.”  

While I completely disdain Obama’s socialist utopia (believing that I am better suited to manage my affairs than Uncle Sam), I am interested to see what happens with all this oversight that gets put in place.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, is an interesting website, with lots of ambiguous statements about how our crazy reckless spending is going to help everyone keep their job.  I am disappointed that millions of dollars are going to create government bureaucratic jobs for said oversight positions though.

I am interested to see where this takes us especially with health care.  I’m not sure how making all medical records electronic will help save jobs (unless you get a job on the H.I.T. board).  All in all, I have great distrust in the government making health care decisions for me.  If they were making decisions for you over  100 years ago, your free health care would have been mandated by the gov. to let your blood.  In a field that is constantly improving in technique and knowledge, free market is the only logical way to go.

Angry Overeducated Catholic


I think Angry Midwesterner’s boiling it down to $7000 per taxpayer is a great way to think about this. Another is how much money is being spent per job created (about $300,000 if I recall). And a third is to note the areas most impacted by the current economic woes, the areas where the most money is going, and then notice that they don’t really line up:

At first glance, Nevada, for example, should be up in arms. In fact, that map doesn’t look at all like the map of a package intended to help out those hurt by the recession. Actually, though, the per-capita map shows you that it’s not really that bad, but it’s still somewhat disconnected from the unemployment rate.

Because, after all, it’s not really about helping those hurt by economic turmoil…it’s about buliding the Great Society v2.0 (aka New Deal v3.0).

And that $7000 price tag? Only going to go up folks, or should I say, suckers! You tax-paying, hardworking chumps whose money will be systematically confiscated and transferred to the ne’er-do-wells, luckless souls, aging Boomers, shiftless bums, and criminal classes across this great land! The Democratic leadership views you as so many stupid hick sheep to be sheared for the Greater Glory of the People’s Government. It’s just the start!

Remember: Obama is going to cure cancer…with your money, all of it if that’s what it takes.

Angry Political Optimist

The size of the stimulus package is not so much of an issue. At the end of World War II, the debt as a fraction of GDP approached 100%. Even if the dire predictions of the Republicans bear out, and Obama’s administration creates a $4T running deficit, a functional United States of America can recover in less than ten years. 

What should be worrying people is the implicit surrender of what makes America great that is embedded in these packages. Since when do Americans look to the government for assistance? Remember when people listed the classical set of great lies and number two on the list was “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you?” Americans need to look inwards to themselves and to each other for support, not to Obama and his minions. If we accept what Obama and the Congress tells us we are — what is implicit in this package — then we will NEVER recover as a nation.

As a practical matter, spending money requires an efficient bureaucracy, even if they only spend on themselves. Bush’s Katrina fiasco was caused not by an unwillingness to assist black residents but by the total unwieldiness of the FEMA distribution system. Wal-Mart, and for that matter, the US Military were on site and assisting within days (only to be rebuffed and hindered by FEMA). Does anyone really think that doubling down on the bureaucracy in Washington will allow them to spend the stimulus money. Do the math. You have to distribute $2.2B a day. (I realize that this is not the way it works, but really, by 2010, I bet that most of the money is still just an allocation on the liability side of the balance sheet. One that can be wiped away with a stroke of a pen in 2010 I might add.)

Obama and the Congress have shown their true colors. They make the Republican porkers look like pikers. Let them have their day in the sun, and then in two years bury the bastards for another 40.

    The Wall Street meltdown might have a silver lining.

    No I’m not talking about the schadenfreude that many are experiencing now that the investment bankers are falling from their lofty heights. That might be fun, but it’s not a silver lining. No, I’m talking about the large amount of highly talented people who became “quants” aka mathematical modelers in the finance sector now having to seek employment elsewhere.

    Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for finance, but we as a society over-invested in it. One of the really sad things was that the greed led a lot of people to put deep and abiding faith in the models. Those of us involved in mathematical models for any length of time know from bitter personal experience: The last thing you should do is believe a model, especially if it’s your model. Models are useful, not true, and should be viewed with a great deal of skepticism, always. While I suspect that the “quants” knew this, the greedy, myopic twenty five year olds doing the trading—the ones with the right hair and a nice liberal arts degree from an Ivy or Duke—didn’t (they’re certainly not trained to evaluate such things), and given the almighty dollar coming their way I suspect a good number of the quants started believing too.

    If you want a case in point, I offer up Doctors Merton and Scholes, Nobel laureates in economics, 1997, and principals of Long Term Capital Management. LTCM was a hedge fund founded by the smartest guys in the room. Unfortunately, their model was predicated on some assumptions that turned out not to be true, most importantly one about lack of correlation in various investments. This assumed other people weren’t copycats on what LTCM were doing. Whoops, funny how when the smartest cats in the room seem to have found a burrow of endless mice every other cat starts copying.

    One of the giant market distortions engendered by the rise of Wall Street has been the shortage of scientists, broadly defined: Fewer Americans going to engineering, chemistry, math, statistics, economics (besides finance, that is), etc. Instead, far too many of the best and brightest young people go into finance and investment banking. Something like 20% of the graduating class of Harvard in recent years goes directly to investment banking. That’s right, a 22 year old is managing your money, hoping to retire by 35 or 40 to a house in the Hamptons, another house in Bermuda, and a third one in Tahoe, with a nice trophy wife on his arm, and the surplus of young ladies living in finance capitals are there hoping to be said trophy wife. One of the reasons to chase the Ivy degree so hard was the hope—not unreasonable—that an in would be available for Junior into a hedge fund, Lehman, etc. So this massively distorted the college admissions market, too, making otherwise solid schools seem like poor buys and encouraging many families to run up piles of debt on undergraduate educations, mostly in the hope that Junior would get the right contacts in Duke that he wouldn’t get at, say, Illinois.

    I recall taking real analysis back in the mid ’90s. Hands down the smartest guy in the class was a Cal Tech educated engineer getting a PhD in Finance. Now this was just before the big model finance mania. He’d worked for a big aerospace company but with the defense budgets going down, he realized that his future lay elsewhere. This is, of course, why so many physicists ended up on Wall Street, too. I’m sure he did well but you know, finance doesn’t actually produce anything, whereas airplanes are something. It was getting so bad near the end of my tenure in grad school that I’d see students trying to “stealth” their way into finance by applying to programs in one area but taking finance classes. Getting into an actual PhD finance program was tricky and often costly but most schools will let you take a few courses in another department….

    So if there is a silver lining, I hope it is this: Smart kids with math skilz considering careers in finance, please come back. The rest of the world needs you to help deal with things like, oh, climate change, looming mass extinctions, energy shortages, world hunger, transit and infrastructure, finding productive things to do now that we won’t make piles of dough on houses nobody wants, to say nothing of good old “basic science.”

    As for the Ivy league liberal arts major turned investment banker who ran my admittedly modest portfolio into the ground with $200K in student loans breathing down his neck… thanks but I don’t want aioli, arugula, sprouts, grape tomatoes or olive tapenade, I’ll enjoy my schadenfreude plain and unadulterated.

    For further reading:

    • Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money. Excellent and very lucid writing. I read this on a plane to Vegas (for business!), which seemed appropriate.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan. Rather more personal pique than is really necessary and some excessively broad statements, but generally he’s right on, particularly about the excessive faith in the Gaussian error distribution when modeling extreme events, the so-called “tail risk” being too low. We’ve seen this in other areas as well.
    • Any others?

Shoe fashion isn’t something I think about much from a personal standpoint. I have a collapsed arch and can’t wear anything but New Balance sneakers or equivalent dressier shoes that accommodate prescription orthotics. But, not to put too fine a point on it, I’m a guy, so while I don’t care much about shoes, I do examine women, who care about shoes. Some of the fairer sex care very, very deeply about shoes, so much that there’s a store named Shoegasm.

It’s winter again and fashion still dictates that most of the ladies dress in boots. Not just any old boots but only certain kinds. If you peruse that page you will see, among others:

  • There are boots that look like something last worn by Charles I and the Cavaliers (or Errol Flynn).
  • There are rubber Wellingtons (gotta be hot).
  • There are jackboots—styled like 19th Century riding boots—with or without stiletto heels.
  • There are the pseudo-barbarian “chick from a Deathstalker movie” boots.
  • Then there are the 21st Century suede moon boot, Uggs.

As I’ve not been able to get an answer that makes any sense from the women in my life—none of whom wear Uggs—I’m going to throw this open to speculation.

What the hell is it with a suede moon boot?

Black or brown jackboots I get, and they can be downright sexy on the right woman (though stiletto heels not so much IMO). The cavalier boots look silly, whatever. The “chick from Deathstalker” boots bring back, well, memories of the chick from Deathstalker.

But Uggs?


Mildly Piqued Bemused Academician

P.S.: I’m fully willing to believe that no answer that would make sense to me exists.

P.P.S.: The “chick from Deathstalker” was the late Lana Clarkson, who was possibly murdered by famous ’60s record producer/prize psycho Phil Spector.

P.P.P.S. As you all know, fascists are fond of jackboots.

Update: Turns out they are really comfortable, or so says a lady of my acquaintance who is a fan of Uggs.

[Editor’s note: Though we’re still all celebrating Fitzmas here (as even the Angry Biologist hates Blago—though perhaps if Rod were a little less like a pufferfish and a bit more amphibian in his appearance things would be…different), we’ve decided to take a break to express our ongoing anger at, well, everything. Don’t worry, if there’s breaking news about Blago, we’ll be right back to kicking that dog while he’s still down…or perhaps we’ll just throw a shoe! Anyway, without further ado, here’s MPA ranting about a topic near and dear to his heart:]

OK, I haven’t out and out ranted for a while, but it’s after the fall semester as the days get shorter, along with tempers. Of course, I’m not really going to rant, I’m going to lecture-rant, as is fitting and proper.

One of the joys of teaching a technical subject is the fact that it’s necessary to teach intro classes, far more than most people in higher education. I use “joy” completely sarcastically, these are something that most of us find about as pleasant as a root canal. I’ve never had a root canal and hope I never do. but I have had enough other notoriously painful medical procedures (e.g., traction), so I’ll extrapolate. All jobs have their pain and drudgery component and this is one of mine.

Kudos to people who do them well because they are hard. There are two big problems. First, unfortunately, the large lecture doesn’t match up with the personal characteristics for which the job otherwise selects, i.e., an ability and willingness to pick apart the details of things, an ability to concentrate on details for long periods of time, etc., all components of introversion. (My particular line of work frequently involves working and reworking mathematical proofs and derivations for hours on end, or doing the same with computer output. It’s like sudoku on steroids.) Running a small class is easy and some classes of highly motivated advanced students go on their own almost without the need for an instructor at all. Running a medium sized (15-20 person) class is a bit harder but well within the reach of most people with some practice. That I do very well (based on my efficiency ratings, not my opinion). The big class… ugh, there’s just too much “room” to cover, too many fragile egos—intro classes are taken by noobs (freshmen, first year grad students, etc.), after all—and so on, and given how students have been educated these days, the overwhelming sense of entitlement too many have. And sad to say, overly investing in noobs is dumb because a good percentage of them won’t be there in two years no matter what you do, often for their own good. Intro courses, especially ones with “objective” content like science and math, are used as weeders.

The second problem with classes like these is the fact that the students are very heterogeneous, so you can’t count on much background knowledge. (In a smaller class this can be remedied more easily one-on-one or by encouraging a peer “buddy system.”) Sadly these days, a fair number can’t even do algebra competently, regardless of what they claim to know. Some know how to buckle down to make it through class, and, most importantly, aren’t so afraid that when you say “do the homework and you’ll get it,” they do the homework and find out that, indeed, they get it. A small, vociferous minority of these always seem to want “big picture” or “conceptual” understanding of the material essentially for free (with a nice grade to go along, naturally), without any sweat equity in their own educations. Unfortunately, these are usually the ones with the least ability to comprehend the concepts and not happy when you tell them “Look, you have to learn the details before the big picture will make any sense and that comes from, you guessed it, doing the homework.” Worse yet, they need a lot of hand holding and many feel sufficiently entitled to expect you to drop whatever else it is you’re doing (e.g., your other classes, working with the too often horribly neglected advanced students, serving on academic committees, doing your research, trying not to go insane in the short days of December, etc.) to accommodate their schedules. Inevitably you end up trying to teach to the middle but because the class is so variable, you get wild-ass questions that translate to, essentially, “I already know all this, why do I have to take this course?” and “We’re going too fast, why can’t we do the material from two weeks ago again?”

If you’re a mathphobe and you hated math and science classes—something I hear all the time in conversation is, “I hated that course!” or “I’m hopeless at math!”—guess what? The feeling is mutual, both as regards your particular fragile psychology and the giant intro class we are both stuck in. Sit down, shut up, get to work and we’ll make the best of it.

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The totally bizarre thing is, like Dr. Johnson’s view of second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience hits again next semester. Fortunately there’s a good six weeks off between. Everyone needs it. 🙂

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ObBlago: Ah, to be the professor in his intro classes and be able to flunk his punk ass right out of Northwestern, which should be ashamed to have him as an alum. My messy office for a Tardis….

Hate the game, not the players. —A colleague of mine’s favorite saying


The absolute ludicrousness of the above disclaimer should be evident to anyone. I don’t mean what it says but the fact that it needed to be issued at all is what’s ludicrous. The great State of Illinois needs to issue bonds and, because of the absolutely shameful activities of the governor, it also needs to issue disclaimers about the bonds themselves, saying that the chief executive of the state has no involvement with them.

To quote Keeanu Reeves: “Whoa!”

The fact that Illinois governors get in trouble is not terribly surprising just based on their records. George Ryan, Blago’s immediate predecessor in office, is currently in the Federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Governor Dan Walker did time for bank fraud, which at least he had the decency to commit after he left office. It goes on: All told, six Illinois governors have been charged with felonies, mostly related to tax evasion. Three have been convicted of felonies and served time. Let’s hope(?) that a fourth is coming soon. If Blago’s really lucky he can get tips from George Ryan over in Terre Haute and maybe even share a cell.

Illinois is not alone in having crooks in the governor’s mansion: Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards comes to mind as a rogue in office. He is currently doing time and due for release in 2011; perhaps he too could give Blago advice. And everybody’s favorite, Sarah “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” Palin seems to be up to some Alaskan adventures, though these probably don’t rise to the level of actual crime. However, Sarah and Blago do share a general, ah, idiom of hairspray populism, delusions of grandeur, general dislike for their current offices and willingness to play fast and loose with the rules.

I don’t even think Illinois is the most dysfunctional state. The system works in some respects: The current budget shortfall in Springfield looks nothing like the insanity coming out of Sacramento these days, such as the mind-blowing $41 billion deficit and need to write IOUs starting in February. I should note that the system works in no small part because the 1970 Illinois constitution expressly forbids most deficit spending, though of course that didn’t stop George Ryan and the legislature from spending like drunken sailors because the state was running a surplus back at the end of his tenure in office.

In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate, and improve. —Thomas Jefferson

I have no particular reason to believe that people in politics are especially clean, but Blago—and too many of his predecessors in office—are something special. There are plenty of Illinois politicians who have been dedicated public servants not cut from the same bolt of cheap, tawdry and rat-gnawed cloth as Blago. I believe President-Elect Obama to be one (let’s hope so), and politicians such as Ray Lahood, the late, great Paul Douglas, and former Governer Jim Edgar were.

The problem is precisely the fact that too many of Blago’s predecessors are special too, which makes me think there’s got to be something bigger going on. When the same problem shows up time and time again, as Larry Sabato says it’s not the individuals, it’s the system.

In fact, the entire point of a democratic republic as set out by Jefferson, Madison, and pals back in the late 18th Century recognizes this fact and puts restraints on the power of one individual. The English system they saw themselves reforming indeed had restraints on the power of the king—a matter settled during the century preceding starting with the execution of Charles I to the supremacy of Parliament established by Sir Robert Walpole, just not enough.

Scott Turow, former prosecutor, author and, ironically enough, appointed the Chair of an ethics board by Blago had this to say:

Even by Chicago’s picaresque standards, Tuesday’s developments are mind-boggling…. All of this news comes with personal chagrin for me because I was Governor Blagojevich’s first appointment to the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, a body created his first year in office. (For the record, I have never made a campaign donation to him.) The commission judges ethics complaints against state officials, supervises ethics instruction, and tries to carry out an overall mandate to improve the ethical climate in Illinois. … Ethics reform in Illinois is often regarded as an oxymoron, and I admit that the commission’s arduous efforts to strengthen our ethics laws have met with little success. Speaking solely for myself, I hope the governor’s arrest galvanizes public outrage and at last speeds reform.

First of all, gee thanks Scott, for forcing me to take all those stupid mandatory “ethics tests”! But that bit of pique aside, what would it take? Turow goes on:

One change that is obviously indispensable is overhauling the campaign contribution laws in Illinois, where there are literally no limits on political donations — neither how big they can be or who can give them. The lone exception is a law, passed over a Blagojevich veto, that takes effect Jan. 1, prohibiting large state contractors from donating to the executive officer who gave them the business. Otherwise, anybody — union officials, regulated industries, corporations, lobbyists — can throw as much money as they like at Illinois politicians.

In short, the Illinois political system at the local level is awash with money. In fact, it’s the money in the system that let Blago, given to him by his now-estranged father-in-law, Chicago alderman Richard Mell—defeat his vastly more qualified 2002 primary opponents Roland Burris and Paul Vallas, by buying lots and lots of ads downstate that the relatively poorer Burris and Vallas simply couldn’t match. So take that conservatives next time you oppose campaign finance reform!

Most local politics is subject to a relatively constant level of corruption of the beak-dipping variety. When the money’s floating around the way it is in Illinois, where the name “pay to play” is commonly known, you have to expect a higher level of corruption. If the system gets to to the point that you have to expect heroic virtue—I’m talking the “wins the Medal of Honor, saves kids from burning building, donates kidney to a stranger” kind—to resist not just beak dipping but wholesale feasting on carrion, third world land is not far behind.

OK AM, I’ll agree, it’s completely transparent, in that everyone who knows much of anything knows that state politics runs the way it does. Everyone knew Comrade Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, too. I’ll even agree that other states run this way, to varying degrees, but that particular argument is no different than the one used by corrupt pols to justify their behavior: “Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?” Since when does other people’s bad behavior excuse your own? That is the argument of a moral coward deluding himself about things he damn well knows are wrong but wants to do anyway, or his enabler.

And so what about transparency? What’s NOT transparent or accountable is decision making because they are basically made by a cabal of a small number of party leaders, we’re really never sure why they do what they do and can’t do anything about it even if we did know because you can darn well bet their districts are solid. I could go on but in short, Illinois government has all the worst features of a parliamentary system—heavy duty party control with its attendant lack of individual accountability—without the best part, i.e., the no confidence vote and clear party accountability, which would solve this whole damn problem right now. Blago would simply be gone and ready to face the music. In fact, he would have been gone a while ago when it became evident that the Democratic caucus lost faith in him.

This is serious shit and hopefully the fact that Obama knows this, much like FDR with respect to Tammany Hall in New York City, will help concentrate minds in Springfield wonderfully, but I suspect that it’ll take a more than a few Patrick Fitzgerald-provided hangings first and, sadly, have deep faith in the resiliency of the Illinois machine pols, even for whom Blago is an aberration.

I linked the nice post by Larry Sabato above, but here’s a summary of five “principles” of corruption:

  1. Corruption has no ideology, no partisan coloration.
  2. While corruption is inevitable and a constant, its precise manifestations are ever changing.
  3. Corruption flourishes in secrecy and wherever the people and the press tolerate it.
  4. A system of government or politics can be at least as corrupting as human nature itself.
  5. Any crusade to eradicate corruption is naive and doomed to failure, but corruption can be controlled and limited.

Take the now-infamous turkey episode.

(WARNING: If you are a wuss it’s mildly disgusting and might well be NSFW if you happen to work somewhere odd.)

It’s classic Palin: Over-acted in a way that makes William Shatner appear downright Oscar- and Grammy-worthy and the Checkers speech look like the Gettysburg Address, tone-deaf, and carefully pitched to push the buttons of the mainstream media and urbanites who don’t understand that, yes Virginia, the turkey on your Thanksgiving table got his f—ing head lopped off not more than a few weeks before, his feathers plucked after being dipped in scalding water and innards removed, before being packed in shrink wrap plastic on his way to your local mega mart, with the giblets neatly tucked in the now-empty body cavity.

Edit: All this was done to turkey quite possibly by illegal immigrants; almost certainly by people making very small wages and working in dangerous conditions, though the farm Sarah Palin visit was a traditional one and thus not giant agribusiness (so all the more reason for AM to dislike her).

This seems horrible for a large chunk of the population who doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that, well, not to put too fine a point on it but Turkey Day involves the wholesale massacre of millions of turkeys… year after year after year, as long as there’s been Turkey Day. Literally wholesale, as in they are going to be sold wholesale and then, eventually, retail, to you, Joe Consumer, will buy one. Maybe even Joe the Plumber will buy one with the proceeds of his new book deal, if he’s not a ham type of guy or the sort to have shot Bambi for some tasty venison roast. You see, roast or fried turkey is turkey, not soylent green… which is people. If it was a tofurkey it would be soy, which you could eat on Lent and some would argue is much more green than meat consumption… but, to paraphrase Alton Brown, that’s another rant.

Having been near the wholesale massacre of livestock before, I can assure you that nobody, but nobody, with a functioning nose can miss the blood-tanged air—not to mention the giant trough of turkey blood easily visible in the background where Farmer McDoodle keeps looking around—and, as we all know, she knows how to dress a moose and would be acquainted with the scent. If not, you would know that at a turkey farm where you’re pardoning a turkey that the rest of the happy birds are going to be turned into dinner and what comes after. In other words, much like the machine gun bullets fired at Lech “Duck Son” Kachinsky and Mikael “Misha” Saakashvili , or Vladimir Putin’s most fortituous tiger shot, Paris Hilton and numerous other celeb sex tapes, or Andrew “Don’t Tase Me, Bro'” Meyer’s little stunt with John Kerry last year, this was probably one big setup. Why play the fool like this, you ask?

Well the MSM reacted pretty much like Pavlov’s dogs when the dinner bell rang. (In case you need an edumacashun.) And MSM baiting is to be expected, because she’s auditioning not for public office but for the really big bucks that only come from being, not to put too fine a point on it, part of the New York-dwelling MSM itself. You see, I suspect that Sarah Palin’s seemingly tone-deaf post-election media campaign is essentially a long audition to host that FOX News program when she’s had a “decent interval” from the election and it won’t look like she’s walked away from her obligations as Alaska gov. It’s not tone-deaf, it’s perfect-pitch dog whistle. FOXes are canines, too.

If she’s really lucky it’ll end up being the Sarah and Joe Show for ’10, but I doubt Joe’s fifteen minutes will make it over five… his web page is gone now, for instance, and I bet that book deal will be gone soon enough, too, because the belly of the beast digests first and Joe looks like he’s got some gristle to him—gristle enough to ask tough questions of a presidential candidate, for instance, and then compare said candidate to a member of the Rat Pack. He’ll be lucky to end up as a motivational speaker. But Sarah now… she’s schmoov like buttah, but she’s got to keep her name out there if she wants that much posher than Joe’s book deal not to end up in the remainders bin faster than Monica’s story or the rest of the digested mass left by the political-media complex.

And ’10 is a long way away….

So Happy Thanksgiving, dammit. Pass the lasagna. I’m tired of this turkey already.

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In case you wondered just how the yearly massacre of turkeys is managed, here’s The Explainer. Of note is this almost definitely NSFW clip from Dirty Jobs.

The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.

In 2003, columnist Charles Krauthammer coined the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome” to be: “The acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.”

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry.

Given the emotional nature of our brains—emotions usually come first, reason a decided second—it’s almost impossible to avoid at least a little disgust at “the other guy.” All too often reason’s job is to find a post hoc rationale for the outcome emotional we wanted to support anyway. This is called motivated reasoning by social psychologists and it’s a very useful skill to learn to recognize it in yourself, and to mitigate its effects, to the degree that’s possible. (Example: I personally believe Michael Palin has reasonable grounds to sue for defamation of character simply by sharing a last name with a certain former Vice-Presidential candidate…. Edit: See this for Michael’s gracious take on Sarah, starting at about 7:45. At least he’s a class act.) It is, essentially, a function of the body much like many other functions we don’t like to talk about, like… well, you know about those so I don’t need to talk about them further. So if you’re feeling an excess of emotion—of any sort, positive or negative—right now, don’t feel too bad, as it’s hard to avoid. There are people who spend lifetimes working on the skill and let me tell you there are few things nastier than the studiously passive-aggressive conflicts among Zen Buddhists.

… the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world.

No, the true “presidential derangement syndrome”—Krauthammer was overly specific in his terminology—is a longstanding part of the political scene of America, fitting in very nicely to the the “paranoid style” of American politics so neatly outlined in an article by Richard Hofstader in Harper’s in 1964 (from which all the above quotes are taken). To be sure, it infects everyone else’s politics as well, even more than in the USA most places. Taking the time machine back to the 1990s provides a very useful reminder: Much of the excessive anger the left exhibited towards George W. Bush had fine parallels in the right’s excessive anger towards Bill Clinton, with its crazy stories about Vince Foster’s suicide (or was it murder?) and so forth. Both men were able to inspire vituperative hatred in a non-trivial number of people, in no small part because the hard core partisans of both sides viewed their elections as being fundamentally illegitimate. Lo and behold, witness many of the things that have been said about Obama, or about “the media not being tough enough on Obama,” the quadrennial Republican fearbabe ACORN, and God knows what else. Actually former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has a nice little piece on this on Nov. 5.

In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed.

Now the “paranoid style” in American politics has existed for a long time. It’s not—despite what certain partisans so desperately want to believe—the province of the left alone. Instead it has shifted around back and forth between left and right depending on their political fortunes. Lest we forget, the 1950s was the heyday of the John Birch Society, epitome of right wing paranoia, and Richard Nixon was quite adept at playing a simplified and more accessible version of the tune, a Kenny G compared to ‘Trane, as it were. Basically, for some people being on the “out” side is so horrible an experience that they fall into a nearly mindless rage. The paranoid style, in its most extreme form, is manifested by oppressed out groups. Think the Arab street or some of the really paranoid thinking in groups like Nation of Islam or white supremacists, but you can see it in slightly milder forms among many other groups, African-Americans, white guys who think affirmative action screwed them, taxi drivers who won’t shut the hell up, etc. Irrespective of the truth of one’s grievance—and make no mistake, many of the groups subject to “paranoid” politics have been screwed royally—the grudge is nurtured and due to the very strong need for a narrative our brains seem to possess, a good paranoid story just “works” emotionally. To quote some Young Earth Creationists I saw on TV once, who were ham-fistedly “debunking” Darwin, “Isn’t it just easier than all this Darwinism?” And the web seems to have made faceless exercise of rage more possible.

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point.

So, coming soon to a Diehard Republican—and, I think even more likely, the sorely disappointed “bake sale bomber” type progressives when Obama fails to deliver on the impossible things they’ve projected onto him—near you:

Obama Derangement Syndrome…

Ask for it by name…

Accept no substitutes!

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If you want practical advice, take a “news break.” I remember reading about this in one of those newspaper columns by Oprah’s favorite doctor before Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz arrived on the scene, Dr. Andrew Weil. Whatever else you might think about the good Doctor’s advice, this one is spot-on: Stop reading news for a while, say a week or two, or even a month and get yourself involved in other things that don’t constantly remind you of the stimulus that bugs you. You’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to start but how effective it is in the long run. In a nutshell, it’s cognitive behavior therapy for your overactive political brain.

Gay Pride. What image did that short phrase conjure up in your minds? Did it make you think of a long parade of well dressed citizens marching in solidarity for civil rights? If you are an average American the answer is, unfortunately, probably not. More likely you first thought of a bawdy display tramping down the street with large stylized genitalia, and folks dressed in costumes normally worn in private, which leave less to the imagination than a trip to the beach. Sadly, when it comes to pride parades and demonstrations, LGBT groups have opted not to show maturity, restraint, or an understanding of what sorts of behaviors are appropriate in public, and instead have turned these events into something that would earn participants an arrest and permanent status as a registered sex offender if it weren’t for the city permit.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. It is never appropriate to dress up as a giant penis and parade down main street. City streets are public places, and as such need to be kept child friendly. Most parents want to manage the way their children are exposed to sexual content, and groups strutting down city streets in barely enough leather to cover their unmentionables are taking this right away. Take this sort of behavior and try it on a normal day and you’ll be slapped with charges for lewd and lascivious conduct, and with good reason. There is no legitimate excuse for acting this way in a public setting. None whatsoever.

Normal folks see this sort of “pride” on display and form the logical opinion that the people participating in these events don’t have the slightest clue about appropriate behavior, and might be more than a little deranged. Given that this is (hopefully) not the message the LGBT community wants to send, it is time to put a stop to Gay Pride, or at least reform it. I have a few suggestions towards this end:

  • Lose the sexual imagery. In Gay Marriage debates the LGBT community is very vocal about how gay relationships are about love, and not lust. If so, why the need for the giant walking penises, and the troops in bondage gear? This sends the message that the LGBT lifestyle actually is just about lust. You can’t have it both ways. Furthermore you don’t see normal people behaving like this in public, we keep our private behavior in the bedroom. Even those of us who support the gay lifestyle would prefer that you keep your sex life to yourself, the rest of us don’t subject you to ours.
  • Project a positive image of homosexuals. Most of the folks I know who are gay are normal people, with normal morals, and normal lives. This is the side of gay people you want to introduce America to. Americans who oppose homosexual lifestyles largely do so because they’re afraid gay people are deranged sex offenders out to expose their children to inappropriate content. Gay Pride simply serves to reinforce this belief with solid proof.
  • Make use of abstract symbols. From the rainbow flag, to the pink triangle, to the linked gender symbols, homosexuals have a large numbers of easily identifiable symbols to rally around and project as part of their public image. Make floats that focus on these symbols (like Jewish communities focus on the Star of David and Menorah), not explicit sexual imagery and behavior. Abstract symbols are appropriate for public places, giant dildos aren’t.

In the end, I think you’ll find you win more friends with appropriate behavior and conduct than you do by being obscene and offensive.

-Angry Midwesterner

We are in for a wild ride for the next two years.

The effect seems worldwide. A political class is addicted to spending your money, a worldwide financial crises occurs and sources of funding dry up. Craving their next fix, they suddenly realize that they really can’t raise taxes to the level they want because everyone and their sister is pointing out that it was FDR not Hoover that caused the Great Depression with bad policy and higher taxes after the banking/market crises of 1929. And with the latest bailout programs the deficit is already at record highs. What’s a politico to do?

Cast their eyes about and find the pools of available cash. What pools are there? Private endowments. Corporate philanthropy. 401(k)s. Pension funds.

Senator Charles Grassley (R – Iowa) and Representative Peter Welsh (D-Vermont) are looking into how universities and colleges are spending their endowments. Seems like any college with over $500 MM in ready cash may be required to allow Congress to tell them how to spend it. Welsh is introducing legislation to force colleges to spend a minimum of 5% per year of their endowments to offset tuition. Guess who gets to make the rules on how it’s spent? Is this enforceable? How many colleges rely on government student loans; or research grants from NSF, NIH, and the like?

Corporate philanthropy? California legislators want to require foundations to report race, gender, and sexual orientation of their trustees, staff and recipients. And what if the giving isn’t in line with the legislative vogue? Kiss off those tax deductions.

Governor Rod Blagojevich, has already raided the State of Illinois’ retirement and pension funds. They are currently underfunded by billions, courtesy of a raid to continue spending on RodWerks.

Anyone remember Alicia Munnell of the first years (1995) of the Clinton administration, before Newt Gingrich rode in to block the insanity? She eyed the trillions of dollars invested in pension plans and devised a “one-time tax” plan to take $450BB of the money because its previous tax deferred status was deemed unfair.

And the effect is not just in the US. Take Argentina where, on October 21st, President Christina Kirchner has nationalized $30BB of pensions to access the cash for her debt payments. Congress is paying attention to Argentina. Speaker Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman McDermott are hearing ideas on what is effectively the nationalization of 401(k) plans in a “lets get a head start on socialism” special session of the House. Wall Street investors obviously can’t be trusted to generate a decent rate of return. Congress would guarantee 3% under one plan. That is provided that they didn’t suck the funds dry like that other “lockbox” fund we now have.

As I have mentioned before, having a government of the Party, by the Party and for the Party is a guarantee that wild spending will not perish from the Earth. So does government in general and Congress in specific have the wherewithall to make the optimal decisions on how to spend your money?

Several years ago I heard a Millercomm talk by Charles Townes, the inventor of the maser. Interesting fellow. One of his talking points was the creation of the government institute for sponsoring science at the end of WWII. The US had the Radiation Lab, which extended development of the radar, and the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge which developed atomic energy, as well as the precursors to IBM and digital computers. All very successful and arguably responsible for ending WWII in a victory.

Harvard President James Bryant Conant was the head of this group whose purpose was to direct government funding to obtain the most bang for the buck. Conant and Vannevar Bush believed in big government sponsored science. They honestly believed that they could effectively direct science in the United States and provide the best use of public funds.

Townes pointed out that the post war government spend billions on investigating science directed by these intellectuals. And that they missed a few things: the invention of the maser and its daughter the laser; the transistor and the integrated circuit; fiber optics; polymers; (the list goes on). The program was good at giving money to the big labs but the transitional technologies that created today’s world were generated out of the free market.

Let’s keep our assets out of Congressional control and let the free market, which allowed America to become a place where people can attain their visions, thrive.

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