Saturday, September 04, 2004

Wow, we're posting here again. Hmmmmm....

Well, I might as well bring up a little dust-up in Blogistan regarding the Russian school massacre and the terrorist problem the Russians have in Chechnya. Yesterday, Matthew Yglesias posted as follows:

Worse, even, than the reality of the crime is the knowledge that things will get worse. The situation, clearly, can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya. At the same time, in the wake of this sort of outrage there will not only be no mood for concessions, but an amply justified fear that such concessions would only encourage further attacks and a further escalation of demands. I don't see any way out for Russian policymakers nor any particularly good options for US policymakers. Partisanship and complaints about Bush's handling of counterterrorism aside, this business is a reminder not only of the horrors out there, but also that terrorism is a genuinely difficult problem -- I think we've been doing many of the wrong things lately, but no one should claim it's obvious what the right way to proceed is.


This seems to me to be suggesting that Russia's old policy of scorched-earth, "Kill them all" military incursions into Chechnya hasn't worked worth a damn, so one might conclude that they might try making concessions -- except that this would only encourage further terrorist activity, obviously, since the terrorists would see it as evidence that they can influence policy by killing and violence. Russia, therefore, is caught in a dilemma where one alternative doesn't work and the other simply isn't possible for other reasons. This seems pretty clear to me.

But then along comes Glenn Reynolds, who seizes on Matthew's second sentence quoted above, and only that sentence, in a "Look at the dumb liberal" moment that pretty much completely misreads Matthew's point. (Read the ensuing comment thread as the Instalanche begins.) And then, after Matthew takes strongly-worded offense to this, Glenn retreats into his usual fall-back position of "Gee, I just can't understand why you'd be so mad at me", coupled with "I don't understand your position" (which somehow I was able to grasp in about the forty seconds it took me to read Matthew's entire post) and tut-tut-ing over Matthew's use of profanity. (The horror of it all! Good thing Glenn Reynolds is so gosh-darned consistent about his disapproval of profanity in political discourse.)

Matthew then goes on to clarify his original position here (as if it actually needed clarifying). I found this whole exercise rather illuminating, in light of the "Nuance? We don't need no steenking nuance here!" attitude of today's political commentary.

And here's something that's been bugging me for a long time now: what's the right thing to do if a case can actually be made that what the terrorists want actually is the right thing to do?

Friday, September 03, 2004

American males in their thirties really need to check out the ESPN2 Sport's Guy's column about why 1984 was the best year ever. I have to tell you, I'm convinced.

Free Samples
37. "Hello" (Lionel Ritchie) -- This was the one where Lionel falls for the blind girl who made the bust that looked nothing like him. Remember that one? She told him, "This is what I see when I see you," then she showed him a sculpture of Barry Sanders, who wasn't even famous yet.

83. During the same year -- yes, 1984 -- Rolling Stone was offered the chance to buy MTV, and Sports Illustrated was offered the chance to buy ESPN. Both magazines decided against it.

(I mean . . . ouch.)
Kick-ass machine #2

Kottke links this beast. That looks like it might be about as big as a land-based moving thing can get. I've been in awe of these things since junior high, when I saw a picture of a man standing next to the cutterhead, looking really tiny.

Read the first two comments--funniest question and answer I've read in quite awhile.

These are impressive, too. They don't crawl, they walk on huge feet.

The environmentalist in me weeps as I admit the coolness of stuff like this.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Swiped from a comment in a Metafilter thread about the new (totally underwhelming) iMac:
A Computer for the Borg
Following along with Jason's theme, I'll post this article about the current state of poverty in the US from the Economist. Some excerpts:
Whatever crude logic it possessed at the time, the Orshansky poverty line is by now quite arbitrary. Its originator calculated the cost of meeting a family’s nutritional needs and then multiplied this figure by three, because families in that era spent about a third of their income on food. The Census Bureau does not repeat this exercise to determine today’s poverty line; it does not recalculate the cost of an adequate diet or remeasure the share of income spent on food. It simply adjusts Ms Orshansky’s figures for inflation. Thus today’s dollar thresholds do not tell us how much a family or individual needs to get by in today’s America; they simply restate the cost of feeding a family in the 1960s in today’s prices, and multiply it by three.

As the Census Bureau is the first to concede, the poverty line is not a “complete description of what people and families need to live”. A more complete description would show that poor families now spend a far bigger share of their budget on housing (nearly 33%, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics) than on food (just 13.2%). Child care, done for free by the mothers and grandmothers of the 1950s and 1960s, is now a big expense. Deducting this expense from the measured income of families would add 1.9m to the official poverty figure, according to estimates by Isabel Sawhill and Adam Thomas of the Brookings Institution.

But a better measure of poverty would also assess the various weapons the government deploys against it. The current measure ignores non-monetary benefits, such as food stamps. Nor does it count the earned income-tax credit, a benefit paid via the tax code to the working poor, which has become every policy wonk’s favourite way to redistribute money. The Census Bureau has already experimented with such measures, and is probably itching to finally retire the Orshansky line. But its political masters in the Office of Management and Budget may be nervous of any innovation that would raise the official poverty number. To the bureau, the poverty line may be a mere “statistical yardstick”, but to the administration, it is a political stick its opponents might use to beat it with.

But if the level of poverty is fairly arbitrary, changes in the level are quite telling. Poverty fell throughout the long economic expansion of the Clinton years, from 15.1% in 1993 to 11.3% in 2000. Particularly striking was the fall in poverty among single mothers and their families, from 35.6% (4.4m) in 1993 to 25.4% (3.3m) in 2000.
Just some food for thought.
The Blue Mountain Project

Last weekend, I met Denise Cagley-Jefferson, president of The Blue Mountain Project, a charity organization in Jamaica. Here's their mission statement:
The Blue Mountain Project is dedicated to educating and empowering indigenous populations of developing countries to mobilize for sustainable economic development, specific to their needs.
That last phrase is a winner. Their work is a nice addendum to my last post because they actually do things for people. Their projects include building a wellness center and providing toothbrushes to kids.

Be sure to check out their photo album. I like this one a lot, and this one, and this one, too. (I'm trying to talk her into adding a weblog to their site; a photoblog telling the stories of the people and the place would be very powerful indeed.)

That's good work being done there.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

From a Slate piece titled "The Most Revolting Politician in America":
Santorum returns to the word "love" repeatedly in his five-minute address. Rather than speak of a culture war, he pleads that "too many of our children are surrounded by an impoverished culture, causing an emptiness not only of the stomach, but of the heart."
I'm not really sure what Santorum's getting at here, but his words remind me of the following passage from The Nantucket Diary of Ned Rorem, 1973-1985, in which Rorem transcribes his answer to a letter soliciting his support for a group calling itself "Artists to End Hunger." He's not unfriendly to charitable efforts, just this crew's misguided means and flossy language:
To speak of "hunger of the human spirit" is to use the word metaphorically. It may be that "majestic music," as you so sentimentally put it, feeds the spirit, but your group's policy is presumably to feed the body. I will not be convinced that an Indian child, numb from lack of food, can be "nourished" by Beethoven; nor will I listen to a person who asserts the contrary unless that person has literally starved. To draw no distinction between bread and music, and to claim that a starving human is eased by one as by the other, is cruel.
He also recommends that their mailings should include fewer pictures of attractive, well-fed pianists and more of malnourished children.

Also I think of this bit from C.S. Lewis's essay, "Social Morality":
Charity--giving to the poor--is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there are no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce that kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality.
It'd be nice to make a point with a string of quotations, but I'm not even sure what my point is. What I can say for sure is that no convention speech on either side is going to change a culture, much less put a bite of food in a hungry kid's mouth. I've got a sinking feeling about the Big Picture.
Make with the chit-chat, eh?

So here's an open thread. What'cha been reading? Listening to? Any good movies? Random thoughts?

Monday, August 30, 2004

Devoter

Devoter is a new political community weblog set up by a MeFier as an alternative to the ceaseless politic posts on the old blue. You can read more about it in this MetaTalk thread. I'm just kind of posting this as an FYI just in case anyone around here is interested. You can still get an uber-l33t two-digit user number, and this also means (hopefully) that MeFi will kind of go back to normal. Well, I can hope, anyways.