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Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 09:59 AM PST

Yes, It's Still the Economy, Stupid

by Feemus

It's ALWAYS the economy, Stupid.

The media is busy telling us that the parameters of the campaign have shifted. It's now about the economy. What are the candidates saying about the economy? Who has the best plan for the economy? Who can reassure people about the economy?

Well, it's never not been about the economy. But whenever politicians and the media talk about the economy, they use the term in both the most parochial and obfuscating manner possible.

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Do you ever do that thing where you say a word over and over until it becomes just a collection of sounds? Try it with "radiator." Or "apocalypse." Or "tennis ball."

After about the fifth repetition, it ceases to have any meaning.

Any time a word is repeated often enough without careful thought, it loses some of its punch. This is as true of discourse as it is of isolated words. Think how often "Nazi" gets used without getting really cognitively linked up to actual Nazis.

Now, that's not to say that the word can't be reinvigorated with meaning. As soon as it gets cold out, the meaning of "radiator" returns. Or when we really think about National Socialism, we realize that the soup vendor just has strict ordering policies. He's not really a Nazi.

It's time the Democrats on the Senate intelligence committe stop repeating "warrantless, warrantless, warrantless" and think about what it actually means. They voted yesterday on how to regulate warrantless surveillance. I think we're officially down the rabbit hole.

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I almost can't believe that I'm writing this, but....I'm going to defend Bill Richardson on the whole "is being gay a choice" thing.

Sort of.

For those of you who might have missed the brouhaha, here's the deal: during a round table discussion with the Democratic candidates about LGBT issues, Bill Richardson was asked if he thought that being gay was a choice. He said yes.

You could have heard a pin drop.

He was asked the question again. He said yes. It got very uncomfortable in the room. And he's getting a lot of flak for it.

Perhaps rightly so, but I think that the Left needs to think through more fully the reason why this position is so upsetting.

The logic goes something like this: "if it's a choice, then it can be condemned. If it's inborn, then it is morally neutral."

But this logic cedes the parameters and the terms of the argument to the anti-gay bigots. The Left does this frequently, and the Right is terrific at exploiting it: look at the way the Left's rhetoric of equality gets used by the Right to justify ending affirmative action and to support neo-segregation.

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Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 11:41 AM PDT

Alberto Gonzales for Poet Laureate

by Feemus

With Alberto Gonzales leaving, Washington gets a little less poetic.

The depth and grace of Gonzales' talent can be heard in the how he modulates the cadence of the anaphoric "I do not recall"--a less gifted artist would have been content to let this become merely a catchy refrain. But Gonzales was not afraid to take risks as a poet, employing a subtle variatio, in which "I do not recall" becomes "I can't remember" becomes "I don't know" and returns with renewed forced--in an almost transcendent register--to "I do not recall." It has the rhythmic seductiveness of Gerard Manley Hopkins, coupled with the incisive brevity of early Ezra Pound.

And who can forget his prose poetry? The merest sample is enough to demonstrate its genius:

   

I am not aware that it certainly was in my mind a problem or basis to accept the recommendation that they be asked to leave.

In "Man Carrying Thing," Wallace Stevens wrote: "The poem must resist the intellegence almost successfully." Stevens, whose often abstruse lyricism is clearly an influence on Gonzales' work, is outstripped by the younger poet who in this breathtaking passage resists the intelligence with complete success.

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Fri Aug 17, 2007 at 02:42 PM PDT

Scandal Wars: Clinton vs. Bush

by Feemus

So Karl Rove thinks the Congressional Democrats are "obsessed" with him. That he is their "white whale."

Frankly, I'd like to see them get a little obsessed with Rove. I'd really like to see them get obsessed with getting us out of this war and giving us back our damned civil liberties.

When I think about real honest-to-goodness Congressional obsession, it's Bill Clinton who springs to mind. If ever a Congress was obsessed with a single figure, it was with Bill Clinton.

And rightly so, perhaps. Travelgate. Whitewater. Filegate. Troopergate. Blowjobs.

Oh, the blowjobs.

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Mon Jul 02, 2007 at 02:30 PM PDT

Christopher Hitchens is Not Great

by Feemus

Christopher Hitchens new book, God is Not Great, is making quite a splash. It is the most damaging and moronic thing he's written to date.

Now, I don't believe in God. Not even a little bit. But what I do believe in is not being a smugly dogmatic asshole. Hitchens' polemical "antitheism" is just as exclusionary rigid in its orthodoxies as any religious extremist position and is, even worse, its based on the same misunderstanding of intellectual history as much of the rest of his work.

It's a point almost too obvious to make, perhaps, but when the nation and the world are being threatened by tyranny, absolutism, and a resurgence of imperialism, it may not be the right time to drive wedges between those who stand together in opposition.

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The Bush administration, which has been claiming for the past several weeks that it can't recall its own policies, is suddenly the champion of memory.

In Bush's radio address on Saturday, he told the story of Marine Sgt. David Christoff who died in the Iraq war. Christoff joined the military on September 12th, 2001. His reason for enlisting: "I don't want my brother and sister to live in fear."

I understand his impulse. September 11th was terrifying and bewildering. I've never identified so strongly as an American nor felt so protective of this country.

Bush wants us only to remember that shock and fear. Apart from that, his Memorial Day speeches have exhorted us to forget.

He cynically uses the story of Christoff to make us forget that this Marine's death in the Iraq was had nothing to do with the reason he enlisted--the September 11th attacks.

Bush speech this morning at the Arlington National Cemetary has a similar project of un-memory.

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Fri May 25, 2007 at 09:56 AM PDT

George Bush, Master Ironist

by Feemus

President Bush had this to say about the new funding bill:

As it provides vital funds for our troops, this bill also reflects a consensus that the Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice.

Yes, by all means, let's talk about what the Iraqis owe the Americans. Perhaps we could also ask the Nicaraguans to pay us back for all that money we gave to the Contras.

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A Washington Post article about the new immigration bill says that many on the right "derided the agreement as a sellout of conservative principles," characterizing it as a form of amnesty.

Not only are they full of shit, the Republicans are entirely lacking in any sense of (alarmingly recent) history. It was Ronald Reagan whose "amnesty" toward illegal immigrants started this whole mess. Because as nice as "amnesty" sounds, his program was really about policing a newly racialized border.

Before the Reagan sleight-of-hand (keep the audience's eye on the flashy "amnesty" while you start building barriers with the other hand) people crossed the border more freely and there was less incentive to become an "illegal." A person could simply go home at night. Work in the US, live in Mexico. But the Reagan rhetoric turned an economic situation into a military one. The border crossers were no longer laborers, but invaders.

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Two years ago Larry Summers, then-president of Harvard University, attended conference at which he said that differences in "intrinsic aptitude" may explain why there are so few female scientists at top universities.

As I'm sure we all remember, this caused a firestorm and was one of the factors that led to the resignation of an already beleaguered Summers.

The controversy played out in the press as a fight between political correctness and free speech. Which, of course, it wasn't. Summers' supporters portrayed him as a maverick intellectual whose only interest was in pursuing the truth, fighting against the forces of PC thuggery.

Well, they're back.

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How many times did Alberto Gonzales say that he didn't remember? 70?

That's a lot of not remembering.

But to claim that one doesn't remember, no matter how transparently false the claim, is to invoke radical epistemological uncertainty. It is a thing which cannot be disproven. And it works startlingly well.

What's more damaging from a PR standpoint is the matter of the missing emails. There is something more unsettling to us, I think, about the destruction of records than about being lied to.

The eighteen minute gap on the Nixon tapes. The shredded documents of the Iran-Contra affair. These deletions of public records became lightening rods for criticism.

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Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 06:10 PM PDT

Hey Poor People, You Suck!

by Feemus

In Ruby Payne's startlingly influential book on education, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, she writes:

   Low achievement is closely correlated with lack of resources, and numerous studies have documented the correlation between low socioeconomic status and low achievement. To improve achievement, however, we need to rethink our instruction and our instructional arrangements.

Ok. That sounds reasonable enough, if a little vague and simplistic. It's a great idea - vital, in fact - for teachers to be aware of and able to respond to students with different types of backgrounds.

But Payne's book isn't about developing pedagogical flexibility or adaptability. It's about pathologizing the poor.

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