We must have faith in humanity

Walter Rhett on Republican intransigence and fighting ObamaCare

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The Republican portrait: It begins that no others than me or mine counts. It pits the heroic individual defending personal responsibility against the pillaging masses. It is they who kill the exalted virtue of pain and pleasure of personal success, its angst and satisfactions. Its targets are socialism, communism finding a beach front in our own hearts. It is, for them, a just cause.

It is perhaps the greatest death spiral seen in modern times, the complete commitment to an ideology of sacrifice to prove worthy of the praise of the wealthy, an anger that rejects any other way.

I describe their positions in order to decode them and to show it’s more than a mean-spirited distrust, a misguided error of judgement, an impotent fit. It is an article of faith for its followers who reside in the districts drawn to circle the coven and give them the power to punish and destroy, to show discipline by taking bounty to their rightful masters.

Beaten and conquered in Europe, forced to serve the manorial lords, these descendants embedded a hidden impulse that rejects the impulse of real freedom and the joy collaborative tolerance; 

Having been marginalized, dejected, their sense of responsibility is absent any restraint—and restraint is necessary for care, They lack the virtue of restraint, They care only for those who celebrate the absence of its virtue, the rich.. Their sense of freedom is confused.

Greed, not giving, is the way of the unrestrained.

Article

 

Elizabeth Warren will make a great Senator

I hear all this, you know, "Well, this is class warfare, this is..." whatever. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

Jennifer Egan - A short story

I'm really enjoying the Guardian's Summer Short Story Special series.

To Do - by Jennifer Egan

1. Mow lawn

2. Get rid of that fucking hose

3. Wash windows

4. Spay cat

5. Dye hair

6. Do tarot cards

7. Pick up kids

8. Drop off kids at Mom's

9. Buy wig

10. See if small removable portion of fence can be cut QUIETLY

    a. Kinds of clippers

    b. Metal solvents

    c. Electrical devices

        1. How noisy?

        2. Flying metal chips?

        3. Danger of electrocution?

            a. Rubber gloves/goggles?

            b. Lethal?

                1. Sign will

            c. Does it make the body look really shitty at death?

                1. Get tooth capped

11. Send warning letter

    a. Newspaper cutouts?

    b. Get kids to write it?

    c. Write with left hand?

    d. Be vague. "Certain unpleasant things"

12. Mail letter

    a. Or drop it off while wearing wig

13. Renew meds

14. Investigate poisons

    a. Flammable

    b. Powders

    c. Gasses

    d. Pills

    e. Herbal

    f. Chemical

    g. Musical

        1. Ask kids

        2. Hamlet – ear

    h. Ingestible

        1. Cookies?

    i. Must look INNOCENT

15. Research cameras

    a. Affixed to fence

    b. Propped in hole cut in fence

    c. Small, undetectable

    d. Implanted in flowers

    e. How to use?

    f. Must be REASONABLY priced.

    g. Take no shit from photo man.

        1. Remind him of ruined prints.

16. Pick up kids

17. Make dinner

18. Get ready for party

    a. Polka dots

    b. Black gloves

    c. Hair ribbon

    d. Veil

    e. Bring seltzer

    f. Remind Stan of party

    g. Plan two funny stories

    h. Breathing exercises to prepare for seeing THEM

        1. Kiss kiss

        2. Hug hug

        3. Remember: NO ONE CAN SEE YOUR THOUGHTS

Jennifer Egan, 48, won the 2011 Pulitzer prize for fiction for A Visit from the Goon Squad. To Do, written in 20 minutes, predates that, but has a connection: "Noreen, the crazy neighbour, arose from my interest in the protagonist of this story"

Students write witty, incisive blogs but terrible term papers. Why?

To take an example of just one classroom convention that might be inhibiting today’s students: Teachers and professors regularly ask students to write papers. Semester after semester, year after year, “papers” are styled as the highest form of writing. And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up terrible.

Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”

Here's why - Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade

Obama / Nixon

Bruce Bartlett says what you’re not supposed to say: Obama has governed as a moderate conservative, somewhat to the right of Richard Nixon. The frothing-at-the-mouth comments are an extra bonus.

And it is, of course, true; although Obama defenders would say that he had no option. Still, the point is that if you ask what Mitt Romney would probably be doing if he were in the White House and not trying desperately to convince his party that he shares its madness, it would look a lot like what Obama is doing.

There are, however, two crucial points to understand.

First, Obama gets no credit for his moderation, and never will. No matter how far right he moves, Republicans will move further right; and nothing he can do will keep them from denouncing him as a radical socialist.

Second, moderate conservatism isn’t working as a policy matter. As I’ve tried to tell everyone from the beginning of the Lesser Depression, a deeply depressed economy in which monetary policy is up against the zero lower bound turns the normal rules of policy upside down. We’re in a world in which conventional prudence is folly, in which playing it safe is extremely risky. And we have, alas, a conventionally prudent, play-it-safe president — the kind of president who might have done fine in the 1990s, but not now.

On Thoroughbreds and how the Republicans turn lies into truths

Obama Boehner Cantor Tea Party

Or how the Tea Party dumbed down politics.

I know that's a strange post title coming from someone who spends his time contemplating brand and interactive strategy, but as I attempt to weave those two seemingly disparate strands together you should know that the idea for this post came from a serendipitous moment; sleepless, I rose around 2 in the morning and in my attempt to at least provide a hint of tiredness I picked up a book I've just started reading - Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son by John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Sullivan is an amazing observer and has written a compelling book. From the sleeve notes we learn that in Sullivan's youth his father disappeared every year without fail to attend the Kentucky Derby. The mystery surrounding his annual retreat spurred Sullivan to educate himself well beyond mere horse racing; "he tracked the animal's evolution in history and art, from the ponies that appeared on the walls of European caves thirty thousand years ago, to the mounts that carried the Indo-European language to the edges of the Old World, to the finely tuned but fragile yearlings that are auctioned off for millions of dollars apiece every spring and fall." "It's a horse race" is a phrase that's often used to describe the art of politics and the idioms run deep - "jockeying for position," "neck and neck at the polls," "a one-horse race," "she fell at the first fence" - I'm certain you can come up with your own.

For the horse racing ignoramus (me,) Sullivan's book unfolds in a magical way and to use the cliché, it's a page-turner. But it was a footnote that caught my eye and got me thinking about the link between Kentucky, its ever-present Bluegrass, the derby and our recent political climate. Here it is:

It was Hegel who noticed that when people accept something as true, the thing often functions in the world precisely as a fact would, and eventually - as the world weaves itself around assumption - it becomes indistinguishable from fact. Racing is full of tacitly agreed-upon fancies. The English horse writer Arthur Vernon said of the Kentucky derby that it is "extraordinary chiefly because there is nothing sufficiently extraordinary to have raised it to the importance that it has since held." Just so. It became important because people wanted to win it; now people want to win it because it is important.

Which brings me to the Tea Party and the radical Right. To set the record straight I always voted Labour when I lived in England and Democrat since moving here 22 years ago. In those 22 years my immersion into North American politics has been one of fascination but I won't get into that here as I would have to go deep and it would become off-topic. What I am writing about here is how the Tea Party, and certain members of the Republican party, have cast aside sensible political discourse in favor of making untruths into facts and how that has ramifications for the country. Sullivan's footnote re Hegel focussed me on how, since at least the Clinton presidency, the Right has moved its opposition to one beyond politics and toward delegitimizing Democratic presidents. As Paul Krugman puts it:

First of all, the modern G.O.P. fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic presidency — any Democratic presidency. We saw that under Bill Clinton, and we saw it again as soon as Mr. Obama took office. As a result, Republicans are automatically against anything the president wants, even if they have supported similar proposals in the past. Mitt Romney’s health care plan became a tyrannical assault on American freedom when put in place by that man in the White House. And the same logic applies to the proposed debt deals.

This a great example of Hegel's insistence that when people believe something to be true, the thing functions in the world precisely as a fact; Obama created improvements to the national healthcare system that were identical to the system that Gov. Mitt Romney put in place in Massachusetts. Romney's plan was hailed by those on the Right as a success, but when Obama does the same thing on a grand scale he's tarred and feathered as a Socialist! The untruth here is that Obama's plan is not the same as Romney's so that has become fact in certain circles. Here's Krugman again:

Beyond that, voodoo economics has taken over the G.O.P. Supply-side voodoo — which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse — has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts. And even the administration of former President George W. Bush refrained from making extravagant claims about tax-cut magic, at least in part for fear that making such claims would raise questions about the administration’s seriousness. Recently, however, all restraint has vanished — indeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenue — a claim completely at odds with the evidence — and also declared that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.” And it’s true: even Mr. Romney, widely regarded as the most sensible of the contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination, has endorsed the view that tax cuts can actually reduce the deficit.

Regardless of which side of the fence you are on politically one must understand that this lack of serious political debate will end in even more ruinous unemployment, poverty and a further lengthy period of a weakened economy in this country.

I'll end with this footnote regarding another thorny issue - regulating Wall St. I could never have imagined that there would be an open philosophical debate around Hegel's views on how markets function - "the primary topic of his practical philosophy was analyzing the exact point where modern individualism and the essential institutions of modern life meet..." vis-à-vis the Wall St. crash.

Hegel, of course, never directly wrote about Wall Street, but he was philosophically invested in the logic of market relations. Near the middle of the “Phenomenology of Spirit” (1807), he presents an argument that says, in effect: if Wall Street brokers and bankers understood themselves and their institutional world aright, they would not only accede to firm regulatory controls to govern their actions, but would enthusiastically welcome regulation. Hegel’s emphatic but paradoxical way of stating this is to say that if the free market individualist acts “in [his] own self-interest, [he] simply does not know what [he] is doing, and if [he] affirms that all men act in their own self-interest, [he] merely asserts that all men are not really aware of what acting really amounts to.” For Hegel, the idea of unconditioned rational self-interest — of, say, acting solely on the motive of making a maximal profit — simply mistakes what human action is or could be, and is thus rationally unintelligible. Self-interested action, in the sense it used by contemporary brokers and bankers, is impossible. If Hegel is right, there may be deeper and more basic reasons for strong market regulation than we have imagined.

Much is at stake. It's time for leaders on both sides of the political spectrum to deliver a strategy that works for the USA and its citizens and not pursue their own personal agendas. That would be seen as leadership.

[Update] By the way, for those of you who may be worrying about the current debt ceiling and also how much debt has been run up, here's an answer - "we’ve only developed large deficits in response to the crisis, which happens to be exactly when we should be running large deficits." - Paul Krugman (See Greek debt vs USA debt)

Be reflective not reactive. It will help you and your company

Tony Schwarz - Harvard Review article.

"Facing ever more demand, complexity and uncertainty, our initial response is to push ourselves harder and more relentlessly, without taking account of the costs we're incurring.

Physiologically, we move into hyperarousal — flooding our bodies with stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. It's an automatic response to the experience of threat, and it provides an instant source of energy.

"Allostatic load" is a term coined by the neuroscientist Bruce McEwen that refers to the physiological consequences — most especially on the brain — of chronic exposure to relentless demand. When fight-or-flight hormones circulate in our body for too long, keeping our arousal high, they become toxic — not just physically, but also emotionally and mentally.

The most immediate problem with the fight-or-flight state is that our pre-frontal cortex begins to shut down. We become reactive rather than reflective. We lose precisely what we need most in these complex times: the capacity to think analytically and imaginatively; to embrace nuance and paradox rather than choosing up sides; and to take a long-term perspective rather than making the most expedient choice.

It's not good for us, and it's not good for companies."

the web belongs to us

With brands and businesses invading our social spaces online it's often hard to remember that the web is completely people-powered. By that I mean the Internet, upon which web applications such as browsers sit, has been disruptive to culture and society in a good way and terribly disruptive to brands and businesses in a bad way. 

Brands and the agencies that work for them never understood in the beginning that the web was a completely new media platform that is disruptive to its core. As Paul Ford put it in his post 'The Web Is A Customer Service Medium' “…people in the newspaper industry saw the web as a newspaper. People in TV saw the web as TV, and people in book publishing saw it as a weird kind of potential book. But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It’s its own thing.” 

And within "its own thing" is a virtual paradise; virtual nooks and crannies and caves stacked with the good stuff. Brands are not welcome within the virtual caves I roam.

Which brings me to the book, Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son by John Jeremiah Sullivan that I recently bought.

The following actions are the ones I took in discovering and buying this book:

 

  • I followed a link in a tweet from Sasha Frere-Jones, a friend and the music critic at the New Yorker, @sfj which led to a NY Times magazine article on Disneyland by Sullivan he recommended
  • I found the magazine at home and duly read it. It was a fascinating read by a writer that I hadn't known until now
  • I looked up Sullivan on Wikipedia and discovered links to some of his articles in GQ magazine. I printed those out to read later. I highly recommend that you read them.
  • I noticed that he had a novel in print, the one mentioned above, so I went to Amazon.com
  • There was a paperback available for $15 with free shipping as I'm an Amazon Prime customer but even better - from an external vendor there was a used, first edition hardback copy for $4.98 plus $3.99 shipping. Sold! (This speaks to my tactile nature and my hoarding habits.)

 

All very satisfying thanks to the web. The story doesn't end there as the people-powered web covered one more important detail. This:

The web belongs to us.

parenting and language in the age of the internet

The McCaffrey-Allen siblings

Every year summer brings release from the mundanity and churn of the Portland High School system for thousands of teenagers. My daughter, the last of our three children to graduate from Wilson High in Portland, is now unbound and looking ahead to whatever's next. College, culinary school, follow her sister to U of O? She's unsure just now but all of that may not be front of mind as she's currently hundreds of miles from home, summering in Equador.

I'm not here to write about that wonderful experience because if truth be told I'm not receiving a lot of firsthand feedback during her trip; we'll debrief I'm sure when she returns. What interests me is how when she gets in front of a computer with an Internet connection, she rattles off her thoughts quickly and anti-grammatically into her Facebook message area in the way that perhaps only a teen could rattle them off.

June 14

sooo yesterday my first meal was this huge plate of rice, beans, carne asada, and sausage. it wass sooo good with their homemade hot sauce. and then we went and walked around and we went to the mall so I could buy sunglasses. after that we went to like the boardwalk where they have all the original houses from when guayaquil was first civilized it was crazy and it was 430 steps to the top we did it twice! thats where most of carminas pix are from.. last night we came to maria isabels house and were staying here until thursday then were going to quito until sunday with her. then on tuesday we go to the beach for 2 weeks! i dont think well have a computer there but carmina has a temporary phone that works here so maybe i could call you! ok well were going to a birthday party of one of maria elenas best friends marjorie !! i love you miss you. also make sure to look at carminas pictures!

 

June 21

its okay! yeah im having a blast.. after quito we went to the farm lands of ecuador and itw as amaaaazing. we were staying with a family and they had like cows chickens horses ducks pigs and everything. and the next day we went to the womans brothers house and he took us on top of this house and he said that our eyes couldnt see as far as his property went he owns like 15 or 20 miles of property of manderin trees, grenadine fruit, cacao, passionfruit.. it was insane and we tried all the fruit then we swam in the river, but i have a bunch of bug bites it sucks :( anywayyyys, were back in guayaquil and were going to the beach today for 2 weeks with maria elenas mom and sister and then everyone else is visiting us on the weekends. oooh also maria isabel is teaching me how to make ceviche... :) yummmm ok i should go, miss you, love you!! ill call you soon

It makes me wonder if one day our North American version of the English language could be transformed into a wonderfully lyrical style similar to Italian, or South African slang that is in common use today, guided by the free-flowing cadence of teens in social network arenas.

I hope so.

Truman Capote and Marlon Brando have a chat in 1957

Most Japanese girls giggle. The little maid on the fourth floor of the Miyako Hotel, in Kyoto, was no exception. Hilarity, and attempts to suppress it, pinked her cheeks (unlike the Chinese, the Japanese complexion more often than not has considerable color), shook her plump peony-and-pansy-kimonoed figure. There seemed to be no particular reason for this merriment; the Japanese giggle operates without apparent motivation. I'd merely asked to be directed toward a certain room. "You come see Marron?" she gasped, showing, like so many of her fellow-countrymen, an array of gold teeth. Then, with the tiny, pigeon-toed skating steps that the wearing of a kimono necessitates, she led me through a labyrinth of corridors, promising, "I knock you Marron." The "l" sound does not exist in Japanese, and by "Marron" the maid meant Marlon—Marlon Brando, the American actor, who was at that time in Kyoto doing location work for the Warner Brothers-William Goetz motion-picture version of James Michener's novel "Sayonara.” Read More