Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn will seek to offset federal aid to victims of a massive tornado that blasted through Oklahoma City suburbs on Monday with cuts elsewhere in the budget.> more ... (0 comments)
Yes, Pat Buchanan! From a lengthy and righteous diatribe against universally hated WaPo troll Jennifer Rubin:
On Monday, Rubin declared that America’s “greatest national security threat is Iran.” Do conservatives really believe this?
How is America, with thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, scores of warships in the Med, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, bombers and nuclear subs and land-based missiles able to strike and incinerate Iran within half an hour, threatened by Iran?
Iran has no missile that can reach us, no air force or navy that would survive the first days of war, no nuclear weapons, no bomb-grade uranium from which to build one. All of her nuclear facilities are under constant United Nations surveillance and inspection.
And if this Iran is the “greatest national security threat” faced by the world’s last superpower, why do Iran’s nearest neighbors — Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan — seem so unafraid of her?
Citing The Associated Press and Times of Israel, Rubin warns us that “Iran has picked 16 new locations for nuclear plants.”
How many nuclear plants does Iran have now? One, Bushehr.
Begun by the Germans under the shah, Bushehr was taken over by the Russians in 1995, but not completed for 16 years, until 2011. In their dreams, the Iranians, their economy sinking under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, are going to throw up 16 nuclear plants.
Sadly, the answer to his first rhetorical question is completely obvious. But the article just goes on like this, brutally destroying her (but not only her) entire argument from the ground up, scorching it with logic and context. Read the whole thing. It’s great.
Image from Daily Kos
The news is in: Debbie “NRA” Halvorson wasn’t quite able to return to Congress from Jesse Jackson Jr’s old seat, as expected. She’ll pick up about 20% for a distant second place. I’ve followed the story to some extent, and let me give you a taste of her messaging over the past few weeks: “Michael Bloomberg is trying to buy the election!” x 1000.
It didn’t exactly work. Bloomberg did indeed spend enormous amounts of money against Halvorson so that a less pro-gun Democrat would win. One would assume this is Bloomberg’s political sophistication working: special elections are often local and revolve around local concerns. Halvorson previously represented a suburban stretch of Chicago that didn’t have the same kinds of problems as Jackson’s district, so an “A” rating from the NRA was a nice fit. But now she’s running in a majority-black district with serious gun violence problems. Michael Bloomberg, as a smart politician, knows that claiming a high-profile scalp is extremely helpful in making people fear you politically, and that’s what he set out to do. Of course, the reason he succeeded was that Halvorson wasn’t good on the issues that mattered in her district! Yes, he “bought” the election in the sense that he kept Halvorson–who presumably would have had “Former U.S. Representative” on the ballot line–from racking up enough low-information votes just on that basis to get another shot in the House. But he also clarified the issues to the electorate. He didn’t use money to spread lies about her, he accurately represented her position on an issue. That issue was a voting issue for many people. Ergo, she lost. It’s politics.
The irony is that Halvorson is putatively upset about one of the few defensible uses of outside money in politics that I can remember. I can easily imagine the five justices who signed onto Citizens United seeing this as a vindication of their thinking. “Outside money was used to clarify a local election that nobody was paying attention to!” Antonin Scalia might say, before reading that a less liberal Democrat got shafted because of it, and scoffing. Given that our national elections have turned into wastelands of carpet-bombed ads full of insinuations, backed by third parties, this is not a remotely plausible argument in the general case. But in this case? It kind of is. It’s hard to be sympathetic that Debbie Halvorson wasn’t able to keep voters in the Illinois 2nd ignorant of her views long enough to get enough people to vote for her against their own strong interest, simply because of the job she used to hold.
Scott Walker needs to be target #1 for Democrats next year. Not only because of his ideology and way of doing business, but also because I fear him as a 2016 presidential candidate. If he gets another term, he’ll be exceptionally well-positioned for a run as a swing-stater with a strong base and access to endless money. Also, he’s a total reactionary who’s not from the Deep South, and who is taken seriously by the media. It’s a very scary idea.
The good news is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, he’s hardly a lock for another term. Walker is slightly underwater on the job approval question now, and virtually all Democrats are competitive with him in hypothetical matchups. Feingold’s actually ahead, but I wouldn’t count on that guy to make the race. In fact, nobody’s gotten in the race yet, but it’s going to be fierce. Low-turnout races with few undecideds are prime for scorched-earth negativity, especially with the money Walker will raise, and I worry that the state’s top Democrats are going to take a powder and wait to take on Ron “Sunspots” Johnson, the deadest man walking running since Ricky Santorum six years ago.
Still, it’s a good sign that this race is doable. Knocking off Walker will be tough, but the reward will be twice as great.
(or Moby-Dick, if you want to be technically correct…)
A few months ago, I decided to give Moby Dick another try after not finishing it in high school. I figured that whatever it was that kept me from finishing it wouldn’t apply any longer, since I’m now a much more mature reader and all that, and (hopefully) a little more patient. The process was somewhat on-and-off for me (after reading the review you might understand why), but I finally wrapped it up last night. And I figured I’d share my thoughts with you all here.
Moby Dick has got a really great beginning. The first two hundred pages or so were quite excellent I thought. Melville’s prose is in top shape, and lots of images and sensations are passed along with perfect vividness. The thing that really got me thinking in the book was how different being cold is now from what it was back then. Even more so than being warm. There are plenty of times when people are willing to subject themselves to heat even now–going to the beach, going to an outdoor concert in the Summer, hot tubs, sauna and so on. But being cold is now mostly just a temporary condition, something we feel briefly going between home and the car, or just after getting off the train. I’ve lived in apartments with no air conditioning before (though some of those were in the Central Coast of California, a locale where it’s not really needed and, in my experience, rarely used), but never one without heat. In Moby Dick, there’s the sense of cold as just being something that’s lived with, as sailors who literally have ice in their beards crowd into a bar without a fire to drink. Sure, some people could build fires to deal with the cold, but not everyone could afford it. The more tradition-fetishizing among us might talk about how much tougher people were back then, I’m just glad we figured that stuff out since being cold really sucks. But it’s one of those little details that takes you into the time and place more effectively that we now take for granted.
The book is ahead of its time in some ways. There’s a central relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg that is, to modern readers, obviously homoerotic though perhaps not sexual. In other ways, it hearkens back to an older literary tradition, dense with biblical and classical allusions. They are intended to place the narrative in the same epic tradition as those stories, and they work. And its depiction of the ocean is truly timeless, here represented as a force that returns men to their primal selves, between the lack of control and the separation from others. The book would have been a disaster if, say, it had been about Ahab trying to find the buffalo that stomped on his leg, since the element of being only barely in control would not have applied to a land-based story. The basics of the story are strong, and there’s a lot to like in the story’s first third. The bizarreness of the scene where Ishmael negotiates his rate on the Pequod is compelling, with two different but equally weird captains (one supremely spacey, one brash and tepee-residing) good cop-bad copping him into accepting very little money for his services. Lots of unusual but effective scenes like that.
Unfortunately, after a great opening, the book grinds to a complete fucking halt, and its middle section is unbelievably monotonous. It consists almost exclusively of three types of chapters:
- Descriptions of whales, the ocean, sailing and maritime phenomena.
- Episodes where the Pequod encounters another whaling vessel, Capt. Ahab feverishly asks if they’ve seen Moby Dick. They either have or haven’t, regardless, as soon as Ahab has his answer he abruptly shoves off.
- The Pequod finds a whale and kills it.
Of these, (3) gets the most tedious. I could see going through the routine once to show how it’s done, but they kill, like, four whales before Moby Dick even makes an appearance, and it’s the same every time. (1) is often tedious, and I admit that near the end I skimmed/skipped a few of these chapters (which are usually a page long, so don’t start hyperventilating about how I didn’t really “read” a 470 page book because I couldn’t take all of the yardarm parts). There are some nice descriptions, such as the one about “brit,” but after a point the obsessiveness of Melville’s descriptions just grates. I generally don’t like the sort of book that tries to include every single fact about its subject, no matter how tedious or unnecessary they are. After a certain point, it’s less about serving the story and more about the writer’s own obsessions, which most aren’t going to care as much about as he does by definition. I could tell what the intent of their inclusion was, but really it just felt like Melville couldn’t stop writing about all this stuff, and maybe he should have. (2) includes the more notable incidents, in particular the Town-Ho‘s story, a crazy story-within-a-story about a failed mutiny and the mutineer’s revenge that produced the only real suspense in the entire novel. That’s the problem when your book has such a famous ending! But the Town-Ho‘s story is a really great story, which has many of the same themes and ideas as the novel at large, but it’s short, intense, and a little bit crazy. I kind of wanted to read that novel right then.
The book is most famous for the Ahab-chasing-the-whale part, which makes up approximately the last 6% of the book. It’s great, every bit as epic and thrilling as it should be. But it’s a very small part of the novel, certainly smaller than the discussions of whale anatomy and yardarms. Ahab is actually more of a cipher than I thought he would be–my expectation was that the book would be about his struggle, the good man he used to be versus the vengeance-minded nut he became when he lost the leg (which happens three other times in the book, by the way, a prime example of symbolism overkill). But it’s not, really. There’s no conflict, just a single-minded desire for vengeance regardless of cost. It’s simpler psychologically, though perhaps less rich. It’s hard to get a sense of who Ahab was before the whale chomp, the book doesn’t really provide much of a sense of it. I suppose he was just a normal person, and despite his fits he still gets his crew to follow him. The elastic nature of Ahab’s insanity is one of the book’s great achievements, he’s able to pull himself together when he needs to keep his crew in line, but when alone he raves feverishly and constantly checks and rechecks his maps and calculations to find his whale. The book explicitly says Ahab has lost his sanity over the whale, and that’s good enough for me. It’s a good portrayal of madness.
All in all, I think I’d recommend the book. I really hated a lot of the middle section, which surprised me since the utter tedium of it is definitely not part of the conventional wisdom of the book, at least not any that I’ve received, and makes me think that it’s not very widely read these days, since the public perception is not in line with what the book actually is (it’s probably more in line with the movies based on the book, which I would have to assume focus more on Ahab vs. whale and less on the peculiar customs of the sea). It’s a shame, because the brilliant parts are really brilliant, and the prose is of a quality not often seen these days. My ultimate take is that this book is the prototypical book that kids in high school are forced to read miserably, while their English teacher raves about the sentence structure and descriptions. It should not be taught, like, ever. Even though it’s a “classic” it’s definitely a flawed book, not always easy to just pick up and read. But the brilliance of the good stuff manages to overshadow the lousy bits. Read it for what it is, and you’ll get something out of it. Skimming the middle stuff is very much recommended (except for the Town-Ho part, which I would seriously read a whole novel about).
Next up: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, a book that I don’t think anyone has actually read for approximately sixty years. I’m very excited.
I’m sitting back and again remarking to myself how absolutely loony it is that nearly all of the world’s energy needs are fed by steam.
Steam power got dreamed up 2,000+ years ago, fer fuxake! Archimedes came up with a steam cannon back around 200 BCE. Leonardo da Vinci trod the same road in 15th century Italy (decades before Galileo hurt Baby Jeebus’s feelings by showing that the Earth revolved around the Sun!).
It boggles the mind that, for all our advances in other fields of science and engineering, nearly every power plant you’ll ever see runs off an old-timey steam turbine. We can put a man on the moon but we can’t come up with a large-scale replacement for a bunch of huge clunky magnets spinning against some boring ol’ copper wire!? Even the gargantuan avalanches of energy released in the process of splitting the atom inside a nuclear reactor get channeled into a stupendously disappointing process that sparked in someone’s mind around the time that Moses came down with the tablets.
C’mon… The best we can come up with are solar cells!?, which convert the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect? Where’s my gravimetric field displacement manifold??, which would channel the energy released in a matter-antimatter annihilation directly into a given power grid/warp field?
Grumble… and I still want my rocket pack too…
It’s amazing the extent to which mainstream opinion in so many different spheres of politics and policy is made up of people trying to find some way to apply obviously failed ideologies in some novel-ish way. I feel like the intellectual climate in American politics right now would be familiar to people who studied the Soviet Union in the early ’80s, when it was clear that what was going on just wasn’t going to cut it, but the will to stop believing just wasn’t there yet.
I just had a sort of sublime moment reading a post by one of our faves here, Daniel Larison. He’s written versions of the same post probably dozens of times, essentially it’s the one where some media figure says we should arm Syrian rebels to have some sort of proxy conflict with Iran, and Larison says that’s really not such a good idea. This one, though, struck me especially not only in how common and even hackneyed the arguments for arming the rebels were, but for how basic and intuitive the counterarguments are, how much effort it must take just to not believe them and go on with the tired old Contra-redux shtick we keep invariably hearing. I couldn’t help but have this moment of bewilderment contemplating the gulf between them. Obviously, screwing around with one country’s allies isn’t going to make them play ball on other issues. It’s incredible that the operating ideology of how the Middle East operates is still some variation of shock and awe/”all those people understand is force” after all we’ve been through. I would attribute it to racism, but I think it’s really just a lack of understanding of how power works on the part of insipid pundits who take their own power for granted. People like to be respected for the authority they have, even if that authority is merely just that they’re a human being, with power that doesn’t extend beyond their own skin. By denying that, or trying to take it away from them, you make them angry and scared, perhaps willing to do desperate things they would not otherwise do. I don’t know if I’ve said it this way before, but the only thing that’s really insane about the right-wing in this country is their assumptions. If you accept their received wisdom (and it’s all received at this point) about union goons and brown reconquistas and black helicopters, then where they take it from there is entirely logical. If nothing else, conservatism is based on a fear of losing power, for a certain part of the electorate. You could really break this country’s two coalitions into the (white) group that’s afraid of losing power on one hand, and the (nonwhite) groups that want to gain power and a rump (white) group that doesn’t care or sympathizes on the other. This is largely why a more moderate GOP is not yet in the cards–the only way they’ll compromise on power is if they worry they could lose it all, and they’re not all that worried about that yet.
The basic gist of it is that, people will do a lot to gain more power, but they’ll do anything to avoid losing it. Losing power in the form of an allied government would probably make any sort of deal with Iran completely impossible, since they’d feel the need to make up that power elsewhere, most likely through nuclear weapons. It’s in everyone’s interest for there to be less nukes on this planet, though (a) that is not worth fighting a war over, and (b) we tolerate less stable regimes having them than Iran. Still, the common sense solution here is just to leave well enough alone. If America merely made an effort to show respect even to regimes we despise, it would go a long way toward better foreign relations. If we actually stopped messing with other nations’ internal affairs, we might be on our way to peace as a country. It isn’t always that simple, but at the moment it really could be. The serious threats to America have not been lesser in a century.
Also, this is neither here nor there, but I initially thought the author of the piece was the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, which seemed like a really odd choice to write a warmongering article. It’s not, though, they just have similar names that got confused in my head. (Rachel Kleinfeld =/= Rebecca Kleefisch)
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