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The Achilles Heel of conservatism is thinking that everything boils down to a simple, easy to understand explanation that you don’t need some Harvard Ph.D. to explain. If you really think about it, it’s this belief that enables the FOX News type of worldview more than any other. It is, of course, highly similar to tribalism in its binary thinking, and at this point conservatism and tribalism are interchangeable concepts.

The Achilles Heel of liberalism is thinking that human beings are essentially rational creatures and that all that’s needed to win is to amass evidence and arguments. It doesn’t work because of the endlessly impressive human ability to rationalize and preserve, and it stems from an unwillingness to engage power dynamics, as Loomis says. But it perseveres, and Aaron Sorkin, Ezra Klein and Barack Obama are among its most famous proponents. Say what you want about Communism, but those folks were entirely aware of this problem and frequently chided contemporary liberals for not realizing it. Despite so much changing since the mid-19th century this problem really hasn’t.

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Being as I have recent experience on the topic, I can absolutely second Dave Brockington’s diss of Heathrow. The Burberry shops right after customs seemed more than a little ham-handed to me, and getting there is not easy. Also, one of the better things about the socialist paradise of San Francisco is easy, direct connection to transit, no expensive buses or trains to transit where they can get you with a $20 dollar charge. Really, San Francisco is not by any means a socialist paradise, but my experiences with travel there continually show a surprising relative lack of willingness to pinch a person’s pockets. This is so far as I can tell rather atypical.


I don’t get Australian politics at all:

Labor’s lead candidate in Saturday’s West Australian Senate rerun says “working people” are right not to trust the Labor party to look after their interests and he thinks Tony Abbott has good “core beliefs” and could “potentially be a very good prime minister”.

In a disaster for Labor’s WA campaign, right-wing unionist Joe Bullock, the No 1 on Labor’s ticket, has also questioned former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s Christian faith because “he’d change his mind over a cup of coffee” and says he is not sure whether Louise Pratt, No 2 on the Labor party ticket, is actually a lesbian.

Bullock said he would rather be expelled from the ALP than vote for same-sex marriage – if the party made it a matter of policy rather than a conscience vote – and said Pratt was “a leading advocate of homosexual marriage … she’s a lesbian I think, although after her partner’s sex change I can’t be sure”. [...]

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has said Bullock is “exactly” the kind of person who should represent the Labor party and after the speech emerged it was reported said he stood by that endorsement.

Putting aside the substance here for a second–perhaps Australia has a lot of Stephen Lynch-style voters that he’s appealing to? Who knows?–one is left with a few nagging questions. Such as: why would a party leader say that someone who opposes the Labor party is exactly the type of person who should represent the Labor party? Why would a political party provide any support for someone who displays contempt for official party policy and leadership and vows to disrupt it if elected? How did this guy manage to get this far into the process without this stuff getting out to the public, or party functionaries taking note? It is possible, after all, to find labor leaders who aren’t nasty, belligerent, unreliable bigots to run for office. And how on Earth did this incompetent a party actually manage to win elections and govern the country for seven years without the fucking wallabies and koalas taking over? (Cheap shot.)

Really, everything I read about Australian left politics leads me to believe that Joe Lieberman would probably be one of the more liberal politicians there. I really wish I was kidding.

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Is basically the same as the meaning of conservatives deliberately altering Andrew Cuomo’s inescapably accurate quote about the electability of staunch conservatives in New York State* to sound like he was telling them all to move out of the state. This is the way I see it. At this point, it could be argued that the entire conservative movement (including its elected politicians) has become little more than a support structure for the multibillion dollar conservative media industry. People pretend to run for president in order to make a living from it. Powerful Representatives straight-up quit in order to join it. Plausible presidential contenders would rather keep their cushy media gigs rather than bother to attempt the highest office in the land. And so on. And given the prospect of making Limbaugh money, why wouldn’t you? But the problem is basically that conservative media has already peaked. Actuarial tables suggest a deep hit to business over the coming decade, which invariably means that a lot of rich, famous, successful people will find themselves fighting each other for shrinking pieces of the pie. Don’t think I mean that it’ll all fall apart immediately–Lawrence Welk ran for forty years playing music that was obsolete when the show began, after all, and future angry elderly people might well tune into the sweet sweet sounds of Bill O’Reilly for some time to come. But it seems a good guess to bet on steady decline. Which means they’ll need to come up with more red meat, of course, and since there’s only so much fresh stuff made daily, these folks are going to have to chance it with marginal, unhealthy looking stuff, stuff past its expiration date, and so forth in order to fill their viewers’ plates. (You get the metaphor.) And we shouldn’t talk about this as though it hasn’t already started.

* Forty years since the last one depending on how you rate Al D’Amato. Who was sort of a Peter King type if I remember correctly but I could be wrong.

I forget if I’ve done this before:

It really is one of my favorite songs of all time, and an inflection point for the artist. Westerberg’s ambivalence is what powered the stratospheric accomplishments of The Replacements–had he decided whether he wanted to be just another rock star or to be the sensitive deep-feeling alt-rocker picking up the banner of his generation (or to be neither one), it’s probable he would have become a big star. Instead he vacillated between all options. At this point The Replacements are easily understandable since we can see them through the lens of all they inspired, but in the ’80s people couldn’t make heads nor tails of them, and I think the ambiguity was what was hard to understand. But that ambiguity makes the music so much more lasting and interesting–even into his solo career, album by album, even song by song, it’s interesting to look at how that particular battle was waged. In any event, by this point I think the ambiguity was gone, and this is comfortable, gentle and beautiful. Didn’t go anywhere in 2003 but it obviously should have.

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Travel photos

Top: Westminster Palace
Bottom: Glasgow Cathedral

This is a little different from my usual writing here, but I figured it might be interesting to offer some thoughts I had on my recent European trip (organized by place/chronological order):

  • London: Lots of war memorials. Buildings next to each other can often be from entirely different centuries, which made me think of all the times the city had to be largely rebuilt (the Blitz, the Great Fire, etc.), the choice to build on what was left rather than to give up or start all over. Significantly higher food quality than the US–I’m not the biggest fan of the traditional British dishes but everything was a cut above, even junk food and your Starbucks croissant (yes, we did go several times to Starbucks, because wi-fi). Buckingham Palace is more boring than Westminster Palace. My overall impression was that past and modern had found some kind of equilibrium there, if you can afford to enjoy it.
  • Manchester: Made my pilgrimages to the Alan Turing monument, who I have to thank for making a living, and the former site of the Hacienda, which I have to thank for a lot of really great music. I quite enjoyed it: a city probably about the geographic size of Sacramento (minus the suburbs, though with vastly more density) managed to have both a gay quarter and a Chinatown. Also, it’s home to the biggest mall I’ve ever seen, and while food in the UK is generally a cut above the equivalent here, they lag behind on mall food courts. I fully admit I’d taken those for granted but the one in this mall literally only had fast food of the McDonalds-Burger King-KFC variety. Disappointing. (In case you should wonder, I went there in search of some Kinks deluxe reissues, in hopes of avoiding having to order them imported. No luck.) Difficult to get a gauge on whether the old, forward-looking spirit of Manchester was still intact, though there were several seemingly spontaneous street fairs while we were there, so there’s still something going on.
  • Glasgow: To borrow a phrase, sadness made pretty. The official tour talked about how shipping and manufacturing used to drive the town’s economy until the ’80s when it went away–you only have to read between the lines and know some history to know why that was, and all the terrible stories of the people caught up in it–to be replaced by financial services and retail because of course. Still, a city determined to maintain its traditional character in architecture and feel, and quite charming of course. Excellent Cathedral, which has such a profound effect because it’s not at all manicured for massive tourist throughput.
  • Stirling: We did take a quick excursion to see the site of the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge, i.e. the first battle in Braveheart. The area now is somewhere between small town and suburb, and we arrived a bit too late to see the William Wallace memorial, but the bridge is still there. Walked across it, which is more than can be said for the army of Edward Longshanks (whose tomb I saw in Westminster Abbey in London, along with Elizabeth I and others).
  • Paris: This was our longest stop–nearly three days–and it was just enough time to realize it wasn’t enough time. Relentlessly scenic, ornate to the point of sublimity, so big and so many possible activities to do that we merely scratched the surface. The Louvre was of course on the agenda (no picture of the Mona Lisa though, as if the world needs any more of those, and it does look better in real life), as was Napoleon’s tomb (which was pretty amazing) and Versailles (Louis XIV got away with it, but it’s been inspiring tacky people for centuries). Also the best falafel I’m likely to have in my life.

Also, since I flew Virgin Atlantic I had the choice of about two dozen movies to watch on the plane. These were the ones I checked out:

  • Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut feature is good-but-flawed. The film presents Jon’s life as a series of carefully balanced elements (workouts, family dinners, hookups, porn, etc.) and rituals that provide him with stability but no longer with satisfaction, so he tries a “real” relationship with Scarlett Johansson and sees it all come crashing down, before finding a new, more satisfying equilibrium with Julianne Moore. It’s a film that clearly reflects intelligence (the way he connects Jon’s porn addiction/inability to connect with women to the cultural bombardment of sexualized images of women was done subtly enough that I didn’t roll my eyes, though still effectively) and convinces me that JGL will develop into a serious artist, though he’s not exactly there yet and there are still some growth areas. In particular he goes 0-for-3 in terms of creating plausible female characters–the Italian mom is a bit too stereotypical, ScarJo is unconvincing (Jon unluckily found the one woman in the world who isn’t thrilled to learn that her boyfriend likes to clean), and while Julianne Moore comes closest the work just isn’t done with respect to her character–there’s a moment near the end where she finally explains just what happened in her life, but the way it’s delivered and where it’s placed in the movie makes it felt like some out-of-nowhere character moment squeezed into some piece of schlock like you’d see in the new Red Dawn, it nearly made me laugh. Which is also a problem in terms of filmmaking, though for a first-timer he does a generally job of putting it all together visually and storywise. So, really, I did like the movie, and JGL is certainly someone to watch, but this really is a first movie with all that connotes. I’ll see his next one.
  • Dallas Buyers ClubAs a movie, this is a very strong effort. McConaughey and Jared Leto never strike a false note, and what I really appreciated was that this movie stays pretty minimalistic in certain ways: it only takes three scenes and about eight minutes before McConaughey gets diagnosed with HIV, rather than spending half an hour on it like most movies of this sort. There were times when I felt the movie lacked energy–they spend a lot of time on Jennifer Garner’s conflicted doctor even though she does nothing at all until the end, and she’s possibly miscast as she lacks the presence to make internal struggles interesting–but the characters’ journeys all rang true enough. Now, as a work of political art, I found the film rather annoying since it goes full-in on the alternative medicine bandwagon, no subtleties or shades of gray to be found there. While I agree that Ron Woodruf’s story is that of a man who learns to stop putting himself first and his ends were meritorious, and while the FDA is susceptible to corporate capture, the film’s utter cynicism toward the system went too far for me as many alt-medicine types are little more than hucksters, while the only real complaint against the FDA here was that they were taking too long to legalize AIDS drugs? That’s a bit much. Recommended with aforementioned caveats.
  • Nebraska: Incredible. Payne is a filmmaker that I’m ambivalent about, someone equally capable of fouling it off as hitting a home run. Nebraska is my favorite of his to date. The movie is fundamentally about the creation of a father-son relationship between a middle-aged man and an old drunk, and the best stuff is Will Forte slowly discovering things he never knew about his dad en route to a dubious payoff in Lincoln, though never from his father, who is hilariously nonintrospective. And curt, and angry, and kind of a jerk, but also a sensitive soul and one whose dignity Forte becomes committed to protecting as he learns all sorts of surprising things, both sad and impressive. The ending is one of the more emotionally satisfying I’ve seen in some time, almost as though Payne is trying to shut up all the people who insist he’s mean-spirited. It should complicate that conversation in the future.
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Larison’s discussion of the increased unpopularity of Pres. Obama’s foreign policy (parts one and two) is highly interesting, and got me thinking a bit. For example, why was the first-term Afghanistan “surge” something that did not hurt Obama, while the proposed Syrian bombing, which was about as wrongheaded but less destructive and dangerous, ultimately was? I can think of several reasons why this might be:

  1. The process was handled much better for the first case. In both cases Republicans attacked Obama for being irresolute, taking too long, and so forth, but those attacks didn’t stick because it was plain that there was a decision-making process in place, discussions were being had, different perspectives were being heard. I think the public understood this and the deliberative tone probably helped, especially since that debate was only a year removed from the brash impulsiveness of Bush. Last year, though, one saw a very different process, perhaps even a lack of one. We don’t have the benefit of the many, many books published about Obama’s Afghanistan decision in understanding how things worked with Syria, but there seemed to be no process at all, new principles were being developed on the fly, the Administration was clearly only listening to themselves and the hawkish pundits they choose to care about and the rhetorical overkill couldn’t mask the lack of an argument to use force. I do think Americans are a bit more willing to deploy military force than I would be, but you hardly need be a full-on dove to know the Administration’s case stunk.
  2. Republican critiques accomplishing an ironic resonance. Republicans have sought again and again to portray Obama as weak-kneed, irresolute, and weak from the start. Ironically, it might have been his attempts to avoid these labels that made them stick, as his apparent insistence on leaving his options open and not committing to any course of action has had the effect of forcing him into situations he didn’t want to be in, as happened with Syria. I’m reminded of the line from Ulee’s Gold to the effect that there are lots of different kinds of weakness, not all of which are evil. Of course, backing down from poorly chosen words is not necessarily a weakness, nor is flatly refusing to involve the country in the conflict in a military sense.
  3. In the same vein, while I welcome Obama’s joined opposition to bulk NSA data collection, this seems to be poorly timed to say the least. As with financial reform, it’s a reasonably good idea that ought to have been proposed much earlier to have much more political impact. Instead, Obama suffered months of backlash and spent political capital to defeat legislative measures that would have done this. The damage is done. Fairly reactive and slow-moving.

I suppose the differences are (a) an apparent decline in the professionalism/ability of the Admin.’s foreign policy team from the last term to this, and (b) this pushing perceptions of Obama’s similar conduct in both from positive to negative connotations. Any other ideas?

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