Monday, December 1, 2008

A heckuva year

So, reflected back on my last year, it was eventful. Phillies win the World Series, Giants win the Superbowl, Obama wins the Presidency, economy collapsed, things got better in Iraq and worse in Afghanistan, bad stuff happened in Mumbai...

And on a personal level, two significant deaths, some other family stuff, but wife and child are doing well. Health is great, even if I am a little chubby. All in all, more blessings than troubles.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

One year blog anniversary!

Ok, so it's not like there's been a whole lot of blogging--spurts mostly.

However, I went back and looked to see how I did on my ability to predict things, and guess what--out of four real predictions, I got every one wrong! And here's the thing--they were all reasonable at the time I made them--Hillary was going to be the Democratic nominee, Iowa would be close with Edwards winning (hah!) and some other stuff.

It's my birthday tomorrow, which is the real anniversary of the blog. But I'll be pretty busy tomorrow with work and stuff, so I figured I'd get this post in today. I'd be looking forward to my birthday more if it weren't on a Monday. I don't care about getting older much anymore. Who cares about a few more ear hairs?

But it's a good time to make some vague plans for the next year. I'm going to try to get my yard in shape, get some stuff done around the house that I've been putting off. My wife wants to get going on putting in some flooring in our bedroom that will be my Christmas break. I'm going to spend more time brewing beer--I bottled a batch yesterday and am looking forward to drinking it in about two weeks.

There won't be as much political stuff to blog about this year, seeing as there isn't a Presidential election. And I'm really going to focus on making progress with the book manuscript. I've actually been doing some stuff on it--it's never far from my mind. But a little more focus might make a big difference.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Both of you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Social conservatives

Say you're a social conservative. For 28 years now, you've supported candidates who articulated socially conservative positions, and in many cases helped them win. You've had substantial periods of time where you've controlled the Presidency and Congress, your candidates have had the opportunity to appoint 5 of 9 justices on the Supreme court, and lots and lots of other federal judges. Great political success, to be sure.

And what do you have to show for it? Abortion is still legal, there's no prayer in public school, nor are there any voucher programs, you don't even talk about things like in vitro fertilization, pornography and blatant sexuality are more mainstream than they've ever been, and the kind of social ills like teen pregnancy and drug abuse once associated with urbanization are now common in the rural heartland, your last redoubt. And if Nate Silverman is right, you're going to lose on the gay issue as well.

Why would you continue to participate in politics? Is the growth of home schooling a sign of a retreat from politics and mainstream culture? You've got no viable political leadership right now (Rick Warren isn't a culture warrior in the mold of Falwell or Robertson, not even Dobson, whose focus on the family is having financial troubles).

Monday, November 17, 2008

I spend time in airports

So I went to Boston this weekend, and to get there, I spent time in airports. Lots of times, in part for reasons having to do with planes not being fixed in time to fly me where I want to go, but in part because of how I planned my trip and my paranoia about missing a flight.

So, what is there to say about airports? Or, specifically, Logan in Boston, DFW, and Little Rock Regional? Well, Little Rock has a nice little brew pub type bar, but I wasn't there long enough to enjoy it. DFW is like a mall, and gates are far apart, I presume to make room for all the stores. Of A, B, and D, A terminal has the fewest places to eat, but it does have these chairs that allow you to put your feet up. D terminal has all kinds of crap, and B has a few places to get a beer, but nothing really exciting.

Logan, however, had sushi. So I ate airport sushi. How was it? Expensive. But OK. I mean, I'm not sick or anything. I am not the kind of person who talks to strangers much, but I try to be friendly if someone initiates a conversation. But only one guy wanted to talk during my airport hours. And none of my seat companions had anything to say.

So this might be the most boring blog post ever.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why no celebratory post?

You'd think I didn't care we just elected Barack Obama. But I do care. I've been so happy about where our country may go. I just don't have the words to express how I feel right now, other people are doing that far better than I can.

And, I think in the spirit of being wrong, I'm just going to keep posting stuff that no one else seems to be saying.

And one more thing

I don't think it's my place to tell Republicans what they should do on the issue front, but consider going back to calling for a balanced budget.

Some unsolicited advice for the Republican Party

I believe a one party state is a very bad thing. Democracy needs at least two viable parties to function properly. With that said, here is a list of things I hope the Republicans consider going forward.

1. Please, please, please, stop using the phrase "Republican Brand". It sounds horrible. Are you a political party, or a soft drink?

2. Stop blaming the liberal media every time public opinion does not go your way. You managed to win lots of times with pretty much the same media environment--in fact, now, things are even more diverse with talk radio, the internet and so forth. And if the media were so liberal, why would you be worried about the fairness doctrine?

3. Recognize why you lost. It's not Palin, it's not that McCain was a bad candidate, or anything else. You lost because Bush is unpopular, and the economy is in the crapper.

4. Loyalty is a virtue, but it should not be automatic. It was clear early on in the Bush administration that he was making a hash of certain things. The uncritical support he received from most Republicans did not help his Presidency, or the well being of the nation. Likewise, don't get caught up in arguments about the strength of the economy when it is clear that things are starting to head south. I think Reagan's eleventh commandment is doing your party some harm.

5. Think about doing away with the electoral college. I think it will be in your interest to do so--for instance, in the next 10 years, Texas may be a swing state, and when that happens, well, it's hard to see how the Republicans will even be competitive. Doing so will also encourage both parties to appeal to a national electorate, making country first a reality rather than a campaign slogan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Election of 2008

A few things happened last night that may not be noted much elsewhere.

The Reagan Youth (people in their 40s now) have in substantial numbers left the Republican party at least for the time being. This generation was never as conservative as pundits made out, though it probably was the most apathetic generation in some time. Also, I think while there are still Reagan Democrats out there, they're old.

Southern Evangelical conservatives are changing, but still Republican. It appears that the McCain campaign had some success rallying these voters with the selection of Sarah Palin, but that also alienated others. It may be that the inability of these voters to compromise will lead to their marginalization, much like the far cultural left remains marginalized.

On the other hand, there is likely to be some renewed strength in the Republican party for what they like to call small government conservatives. In my opinion, the way you can tell that movement is reinvigorated is when they start applying the libertarian label to themselves.

There will probably be some nonsense concerning this still being a center right country. Most people do not think that systematically or ideologically about the role of government. I don't think we are likely to see a new new deal or anything of the sort. We may see some adjustment of the tax code, and we'll probably get the SCHIPS bill that would have passed last year if not for President Bush's veto.

As someone who more or less believes in free markets, my main fear is that Obama will engage in protectionism, which would be the worst thing for the economy right now--far worse that a small tax increase or anything else he's proposed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

People Care What I Have to Say

Once every four years, people care what I have to say. Yesterday, participated in a forum in El Dorado, Arkansas, and today I visited my daughter's 2nd grade class and a 1st grade class in her school.

What struck me about both events was the intensity of this election. I encountered passionate supporters of both candidates, and a high level of interest from everybody. I am glad I was able to talk about the election in a way quite different from most media conversations.

The most surprising thing were the children--6, 7, and 8 year olds were surprisingly knowledgeable about the candidates and the nature of the Presidency. Unfortunately, the children did repeat some of misinformation that was out there as well. But it was a positive experience. I was especially moved by some of the African-American children, who really were excited by Obama's candidacy. This can be dismissed by some as identity politics, I suppose, but that is not what I saw out there. Something important is happening in America right now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New direction?

After the election, I may start to post about life in the rural South--in addition my not terribly frequent political posts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


No, not a pro-Obama blog, nor an anti-Obama blog. And no, I haven't entirely abandoned the blogging project.

As we get down the election wire, we should not lose sight that however dramatic this election cycle has been, even more dramatic changes may be occurring under the surface. First, it is clear that the conservative movement, one that emerged in the forties and came to dominate American politics in the 80s is over. This is not to say that conservatism is over, not by a long shot. But the movement will have to adapt. Small government conservatism (a label I think is a capitulation by people once called libertarians) died in the first Bush term, and that death was confirmed by the enormous Wall Street bailout Paulson and Bush engineered. Social conservatism is not exactly dying, but young social conservatives appear to have very different concerns than their parents--even as they favor traditional families for themselves and strongly oppose abortion, they do not seem to be terribly troubled by homosexuality, and they are far more concerned with the environment than older social conservatives. In any event, there does not appear to be a "moral majority" out there that can mobilize these voters in a single direction.

As I've posted in the past, I'm convinced that the ideological labels of the past are obsolete. Somewhere on this blog I've posted about cosmopolitans and parochials. But really, I think that move can be understood as a description of what's happening to conservatism. It leaves open the question what is happening to liberalism.

Let's make a few observations--great society liberalism died a long time ago. Much of the change brought about by the conservative movement of the last 50 years is permanent. No one, other than maybe Washington bureaucrats, thinks Washington bureaucrats can solve problems. We will not see a top down approach to solving government problems again. Rather, what we are likely to see is a kind of new new federalism--one which will encourage more experimentalism in confronting social problems. This will not be driven by some grand new liberal ideology, but rather by pragmatic problem solving. Often, it is likely that these solutions will be market based, and even market driven.

The reason that I think liberalism will move in this de-centered direction is the way in which the ideological map is changing. For liberalism to spread beyond its coastal enclaves, it has had to adapt to new climates. There is still much work to be done--the contempt coastal elites often display for the people in the heartland is destructive. Rather than ask what's the matter with Kansas, perhaps San Franscisco hippies should be asking what's the matter with themselves. I think this is happening, though slowly, as the left begins to recognize its roots in populism and the labor movement. For this to happen heartland leftists will have to find their own voice. But this does seem to be happening.

As far as wealth distribution, the latest scare to come out of this election, I hope there will finally be a recognition that while free markets and globalization have great benefits, good politics and a sense of fairness demand that public policy ensure the benefits do not accrue to the few. The pain of declining real wages for most Americans was obscured by an explosion of credit, which we're paying for now. If lagging consumer spending is a prime cause of an economic slowdown, it makes sense to enact policies that encourage consumer spending. And the only real way to do that is to boost consumer income. In short, I think supply-side economics is dead. Anyway, it was just right wing Keynesianism all along, wasn't it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Katrina, the Financial Crisis, and Civilization

Some liberals are drawing parallels between Katrina and the financial crisis, claiming that the failure of the Bush administration in one means that they cannot be trusted to handle the other. I don't know if that's the exact comparison--I long ago stopped reading anything that sought to blame everything bad on Bush. He's been a lousy President, and let's leave it at that.

The reason why I bring this up though is because there is an important, even critical way Hurricane Katrina needs to be considered in understanding what might be at stake here. Katrina showed us that what we take to be civilization is rather fragile. People will more or less behave decently as long as they are reasonably assured that the future will be much like the past, that their expectations of how the world works will not be shattered because of a levee break causing the Gulf of Mexico to flood our city.

Disorder is toxic.

And the financial crisis is scary. Katrina, as bad as it was, was a local event, and concerned a medium sized American city and areas to its east. And, most importantly, people understood what was happening and why, even if they could not do much about it. The levees broke, the flood waters came. The flood waters receded, the levees and the city could be repaired.

This financial thing, however, is much more critical. Think about it. You've got a dollar in your pocket. It has no tangible value. Its only value is if someone else is willing to take in return for some good or service. And the only reason someone will accept your dollar in exchange form something else is if he believes, he trusts that is, someone else will take it. Even gold does not really have much tangible value. And in today's economy, we are not even talking about specie and currency. We're talking about numbers on a spreadsheet somewhere. Really, we're talking about an abstraction. Money is really a belief. And it can be easily destroyed. If no one believes the money exists, or that it has value, then it does not.

At this point, we know that people do not respond well to the shattering of beliefs like that. People in New Orleans believed that the levees would hold, or that somehow the city, state and federal governments would be able to maintain some degree of social order, and when that turned out to be false, civil society quickly fell apart. If Americans wake up and suddenly find that all their money no longer exists, there will be trouble. Bad trouble. And the point is that's entirely possible. Beliefs can be tough to maintain.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hurrican Gustav

You might notice my picture. Yes, New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. I last visited in January, where the recover was fragile. The tourist infrastructure was there, but outside of those areas you got a sense that the city might not make it. Of course, Katrina by itself was only part of the equation--the city had been losing its economic base for some time.

Right now, I'm holding my breath. I do think that if the damage is minimal, it will be in fact a real shot in the arm for the city. Based on what I've seen of the evacuation, the city and state learned lots of lessons, and that should give a renewed confidence in the ability of the people of New Orleans to keep their city alive.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Is Phil Gramm right?

Or maybe we could call this manufactured outrage III.

Phil Gramm recently said that there was no recession, and that we are a nation of whiners. Now, leaving aside the predictable how dare he say that reaction, does he have a point?

In a word, yes. It isn't that some people aren't experiencing real hardship. But if we look at our current economic troubles compared to the seventies, we see that we've got things pretty easy. Inflation and unemployment are both more tame than they were. The destruction of wealth through decreasing home values might be a real problem, but if you don't plan to move and can handle your mortgage payments, you're not really suffering. And if you've been renting all this time because you couldn't afford to buy, well, now is your chance.

The fact is, a lot of our problems--high gas prices, mortgage troubles--are caused by decisions we made. If you decided to live 50 miles from where you work, and you bought a car that gets 12 miles to the gallon to make that commute, well, you did that to yourself. If you bought a house you couldn't afford assuming that real estate always goes up, that was your mistake. Being hungover is not the same as being sick.

This is the irony: If our problems were caused by forces beyond our control, we might simply chalk it up to misfortune and get on with it. But instead, since much of our suffering can at least in part be traced to our own choices, we whine in order to avoid having to take responsibility for our actions. In so doing, we avoid having to changes in how we live.

Monday, July 28, 2008

In defense of flip-flopping

From what I hear regarding the Presidential campaign, about the worst thing a candidate can be accused of is flip-flopping.

I do not understand why flip-flopping is a bad thing. There are many reasons to change an opinion of an issue. New information, new insights, being exposed to a new argument are all good reasons to change a position.

Indeed, someone who had never changed his or her position on any issue of substance is most likely brain deal. I am not going to turn this blog into a Bush Bash Blog, there's hardly any need for that and anyway in a few months, he'll be irrelevant. But his failures can be traced to his inability to evolved his positions. Rather than re-evaluate policy, Bush tended to get rid of people who challenged his beliefs.

I know there's a belief out there that equates flip-flopping with lack of principles. But our highest commitment should not be to our principles, merely because they are ours. Our highest commitment should be to the truth. Perhaps that is the problem. Given the way in which relativism has captured our way of thinking, perhaps people do not understand that a commitment to truth demands adjusting beliefs, and from time to time, abandoning them in light of new evidence. If there is no truth, I guess there is no reason to ever change a belief.

The other issue is the possibility that someone changes a position on an issue because it is politically expedient to do so. Again, I fail to see the problem here. We live in a democracy, and politicians ought to respond to political pressure. The system is often at its best when that happens.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Manufactured Outrage II--The Obama Magazine Flap

Oh, there's no shortage of this stuff. Manufactured outrage isn't the exclusive province of left, right, middle, or apathetic. It's everywhere. Frankly, if I were starting this blog over again, I'd probably just call it manufactured outrage. I'd start a second blog on the topic, but I have enough trouble updating this one.

Anyway, yes, the Obama campaign reaction to the New Yorker cover was only the most recent example of manufactured outrage. The cartoon may have missed the mark, being a little too clever. And I won't even say the flap shows a lack of a sense of humor, since that line is pretty tired too. It's the idea from the Obama folks that they probably believed they could score points by getting indignant about it. I suppose, given how easy it is to manufacture outrage these days, they may have figured that by getting worked up about it, they could take these issues off the table as it were.

But to be offended by a cartoon is something fit only for fanatical Muslims.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Manufactured Outrage--The War on Christsmas

Yeah, I know, it's been too long since my last post. You might think this blog is on hiatus. It's not. Of course, I've probably lost the small readership I have, but I'll just start over again. And why am I posting about Christmas in July? Maybe it's because I bought someone a Christmas present yesterday. Shh. Don't tell.

Manufactured outrage, the way in which media take something small and blow it out of proportion, or the way in which people with an ax to grind feign outrage over something, or failing that, make up something and then get outraged over it is all over the place.

The War on Christmas is to me the perfect example of this. Where is this war? Who is behind it? Oh, but it's real, look, there's even a campaign out there, "It's ok to say Merry Christmas". I was unaware it was ever not ok to say that. Though I pretty much hate Christmas, I was unaware of a war on it. Had I been aware, I would have signed right up. Not bought presents for so-called friends and family, told my daughter that Santa Claus was fake, not participate in the forced fun of Christmas festivities. Yes, I would have been on the front lines if there were such a war. I would have been a Navy Seal in the war against Christmas, had I only known.

The funniest thing about this war on Christmas bullshit is that it clearly has nothing to do with baby Jesus. When I was a kid, various religio-puritan types would prattle on about the true meaning of Christmas. On the left, they would complain about the consumerism, on the right, they would talk about keeping Christ in Christmas. The effect of this phony war on Christmas, however, is to get people to forget all that. If you're not buying crap you can't afford for other people, you're in league with the forces of political correctness or some crap like that.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

No new posts?

Well, I haven't been posting. I was visiting family, and I got back to Arkansas about a week ago, and since then, well, I haven't done all that much.

The Presidential election is in its especially pointless phase. I have no views on VP selections, or on flag lapel pins, ore anything else going on.

I'm going to start reading Hayek soon. Maybe that will be worth a blog entry or two.

I will say I've been listening to some 20th century classical music, which I'm enjoying. Stravinsky and Reich. Tomorrow, it's Schoenberg. But I don't really know enough about that to blog about it, other than to recommend taking some time and listening to some great music carefully if you're interesting in something new and interesting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cosmpolitans v. Populists, 2008 Election

A few posts back, I proposed a new way of understanding the fundamental cleavages in American politics, and that we were moving away from the convenctional liberal/conservative splite to something I describe as a cosmopolitan/populist split.

Like any characterization, it will obscure much that is important--you will find for instance, environmnetalists and anti-environmentalists in both camps. And social issues confound things even more. However, the issue is whether the simplification helps understand something that is really happening. And I want to suggest that at this time, my characterization is at least as useful as the old liberal/conservative characterization.

If we look at 2008, we might find some interesting ways the cosmopolitan/populist can help us understand the Presidential election.

In terms of issues, we have a fully committed cosmopolitan in the person of John McCain. On just about every issue, he stands for more integration of the United States with the rest of the world. Indeed, his troubles in some conservative quarters have a lot more to do with his cosmopolitanism than any so-called liberalism. His position on immigration is the most obvious example. But he is also committed to free trade. We see it in his background as well--he was born on a US installation in Panama.

Obama, by contrast, presents a less clear picture. In terms of style, and certainly in terms of his background, he's more cosmpolitan than McCain. His appeal has been to cosmopolitans, and he's struggled mightily to appeal to populists. The whole clinging to guns and religion dust up shows that he does not understand who the populists are, and it might show that he does not take them seriously. Yet he's a declared skeptic regarding free trade. And the Rev. Wright is clearly a populist as well, though of a different sort. If he can find a way of using that kind of rhetoric--championing those who feel left out--in a broad, post racial way, he'll be very tough to beat. If he can somehow manage to articulate populist anger, he'll win. But it will be tough. Bill Clinton was a master, but no other Democrat not named Clinton has ever managed to be persuasive.

Clinton was the populist candidate. Her defeat was in no way however a defeat of populism. Indeed, what we'll see is two candidates working hard to capture the populist vote. At this point, McCain sounds the more convincing populist, but it remains to be seen if he can continue to do so.

I think it will be tough. We're not seeing any tangible benefits from Iraq. And, in many ways, Democrats have more experience managing this kind of problem than the Republicans do. McCain's speech today championing small business and criticizing big business in the context of his economic policies probably won't convince many populists that he understands their issues. And in the end, McCain's style is that of a cosmopolitan. His military background may address an important element of American anxiety, but if the economy remains troubled over the summer, and he remains committed to maintaining current troop strength in Iraq, much of that will erode. Especially if Obama is able to address the anxiety felt by many Americans and give them reason to hope.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Road Trip!

Yes, travel is more expensive than it used to be. Nevermind that. The family is taking its annual pilgrimage to visit family in NJ. And, we believe that the car trip is a time honored tradition every family owes to its children. So, we'll leave early tomorrow. Planned departure time is 6:30, but realistically we'll be on the road about 7.

We'll go through Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, a bit in W. Virginia and Maryland, Pennsylvania, to NJ. We're going to my 20th college reunion in Pennsylvania on the way. We'll take two days to get to the reunion, enjoying picnic lunches and cheap motels on the way.

I can hardly wait. I'll gas up before we go, and while that won't be cheap, it's just part of the deal.

Bon Voyage!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Arsenic and Old Lace-Opening Night Report

A break from politics....

Opening night last night went pretty well. The audience laughed (once the air conditioning kicked in) and we covered each other's mistakes well. And, we had fun doing it.

I do think a cast of thirteen (for fourteen roles) is tough for a community organization to pull off, especially one that doesn't have its own space. We have only had about a week to rehearse with the full set, and so we really couldn't put a lot of things into the show until pretty late into rehearsals. Also, its difficult to get that many people for every rehearsal. But in the end, we got it together. Given the disaster that was dress rehearsal, things went really well.

I've mostly enjoyed my first acting experience in a production such as this.

OK, I've got some political comments. I do think that arts policy in this country needs to pay attention to these small community organizations that really do bring arts to the public. In terms of building strong communities, there's a lot to be gained by having people participate in the creative process as actors and artists and musicians. These organizations provide people an opportunity to participate, not just spectate. The point in a democracy should not just be about bringing art to a few people in a few major metropolitan areas, but bring art out of people all over the country. There's a lot of talent and potential out there.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who is the appeaser, Mr. President?

As you may have heard, President Bush is again going hat in hand to beg the Saudis to pump a little more oil. I just want to remind you that these are the people who have provided much of the funding and manpower for Al Qaeda.

What kind of man, what kind of country continues to do business with such bastards?

The President should instead say, look, we are a strong and resilient people. We don't need your oil, and we're not buying anymore. We will make the necessary sacrifices, as we have done so many times in the past. We'll walk, we'll ride bicycles. We're going high tech and low tech--new nuclear power plants and sidewalks. We'll do whatever it takes, but we're not giving you fanatics one more penny.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The coming shape(s) of American politics

For a long time, I've thought that the current liberal/conservative dichotomy have been obsolete as ways of thinking about the American electorate. Always an oversimplification of how people really think, it worked as long as outliers (people who could not be accurately labeled either but were not moderates--e.g. someone strongly committed to environmentalism and socially conservative) remained small in number.

I think what were seeing in both the Democratic and Republican parties right now is a consequence of what we might call fragmentation. For Republicans, we have a what I'll call the conservative base. Conservative in the contemporary sense across the board (they stand for low taxes, are socially conservative and want a strong military, regardless of the difficulty of doing all those things) these people are uncomfortable with McCain, and had supported either Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney. The failure of those candidates reveals the way in which the conservative base has spent too much time in its conservative echo chamber of talk radio and Fox News. The re-emergence of Southern Populism caught them by surprise. As the base becomes more alienated, they lose the ability to actually be the base, and thus the Republican party has become rather fractious. Many groups that were once reliable partners in the Republican coalition have begun to look elsewhere. Some are embarrassed by Bush's incompetence, but others are trouble by the nuttiness of some key figures in Republican politics.

It isn't as if the Democrats don't have problems of their own. The current primary between Clinton and Obama demonstrates the well known split in the Democratic constituency between young, more or less well educated, and older, and not so well educated. And of course there's a race factor here. But let's be clear about this--Obama appeals to blacks for obvious reasons, but in the past many of those voters would ordinarily be strong supporters of Clinton.

So, what links these things? We're seeing I think a tension between demographics and ideology. The debates in the Republican party are currently about ideology, while the Democrats are dealing with demographics. Obama and Clinton are ideologically fairly similar. But they appeal to different demographic elements of the party. With the Republicans, by contrast, even small deviations from orthodox ideology are the cause of fragmentation. The problem is, those deviations are in the main responses to broader changes in the political and economic environment.

So, if the old liberal/conservative split fails to explain our political future, what does? I thin we're moving towards a split between what I'll call cosmopolitans and populists. Those are the nice words. The less nice words are elitist and reactionary. We're already hearing elitist and populist in this political season.

Cosmopolitans are open to the world--they're be in favor of free trade, untroubled by immigration, socially liberal, will favor more integration with various global bodies and be reluctant to use military force, preferring "soft power". They won't mind paying lower taxes, but will want services from government, especially in fields like education and health care. However, they will also be in general willing to let market forces operate most of the time. Demographically, they'll live in metropolitan areas, be well educated, and in general young.

Populists, by contrast, will be opposed to increasing globalization. They are going to be largely socially conservative, uncomfortable with immigration, and reluctant to engage in international organizations. They will be either isolationists or advocates of hard power. They will want a safety net, be in favor of maintaining Social Security and Medicare in its current form, and will not be swayed by arguments about market forces. Demographically, they will be older, less well educated, and living in non-metropolitan areas or rust belt areas and blue-collar suburbs.

Of course this is an oversimplification, and a number of major issues aren't really touched. What is interesting to me however, is how few real life politicians seem to recognize these shifts. Huckabee did speak to the populists. But who speaks to the cosmopolitans? Not Obama, not really, though they seem to like him.

No, the real figure who comes closest to speaking to the cosmopolitans is none other than President Bush. If you leave out his social conservative positions, and see the Iraq invasion as a mistake, you see Bush is more or less advocating cosmopolitanism. Certainly, that was the direction Rove wanted to take the party.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Not a Team Player

One thing I've learned about myself is that I really am not a team player. I much prefer to work alone, and most collaborative projects I've done have been frustrating. I wonder, however, if there really are all that many people who really are good team players. In my experience, there are always going to be a few people who do nothing, a few people who will do whatever task they're specifically directed to do, and one or two people who do all the work. Thus, I am always suspicious that people who call themselves "good team players" are in fact slackers who are good at taking credit for work they did not do.

Perhaps this is why Hobbes, despite the overall grimness of his outlook has such appeal to me. Hobbes's psychology is premised on inability of people to cooperate unless coerced to do so, even when such cooperation would be to the benefit of all. Of course, it isn't just Hobbes, a similar outlook runs through The Federalist Papers and seems to underlie much of our thinking in this country.

The political philosophies that stress teamwork however, seem to me to be rather nasty. Plato, Rousseau, Marx, are the theorists of the team. And, these ideas tend to have nasty, nasty consequences. It isn't enough that I am commanded and obey. I must want to obey. Thus, the human being must be somehow transformed.

In the end, the psychology of the good team player seems almost alien to me. There's a world of difference between cooperation and even collaboration and teamwork.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who's experienced enough to be President?

The modern Presidency is demanding. So demanding in fact, that a reasonable hypothesis is that no amount of prior experience prepares you for the job. As a corollary to that hypothesis, experience is not a good predictor of a successful Presidency. I'm emphasizing foreign policy because in the current race, that seems to be where this question emerges.

Let's look at post-Roosevelt Presidents and see (Roosevelt is excluded because while his Presidency was largely successful, he had the advantage of 4 terms, a good amount of on the job training as it were.

Truman--inexperienced, good. No one would have considered Truman qualified when he took office. And he faced enormous challenges. Got the big things right. Was re-elected.

Eisenhower--experienced, good. Again, got the big things right. His experience was unique, and may have in fact been a hindrance.

Kennedy--inexperienced, bad. Didn't really accomplish all that much, despite oodles of political capital and charisma. This might be debatable in both evaluations--8 years in the Senate, 6 in the House, and some might disagree he was all that bad, but let's move on. But again, few real accomplishments, and not much of a legislative track record.

Johnson--experienced, bad. Master of the Senate. Got civil rights through, everything else more or less a disaster.

Nixon--experienced, bad. Need I say more?

Ford--hard to say. Too short a term to really evaluate, experience was unique

Carter--inexperienced, bad. Again, no comment really necessary, I presume

Reagan--inexperienced, good. While being governor of CA is a big deal, he was not a Washington type, and had little real foreign policy experience, where he probably had his greatest triumph.

Bush I--experienced, bad. One termers are usually one termers for a reason

Clinton--inexperienced, good. In these hyperpartisan times, the evaluation might be controversial. Too bad, he wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but he didn't screw up on anything big either.

Bush II--inexperienced, bad. Ideology aside, he's done little right.

So, while it's clear that lack of experience isn't a good thing, experience might be a bad thing. Look at our Presidents who came into the office with lots of experience--3 of 4 were bad. Only Eisenhower worked out well, and his experience was unique anyway. If we dismiss Eisenhower's pre-Presidential experience, we have strong evidence that experience is a bad thing.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Maybe the change in direction wasn't such a hot idea afterall

I haven't posted since this so called change in direction. Like you, I'm bored with this whole Hillary Obama thing. But that's not why I'm not posting. Between the last week of classes and finals, the normal hectic pace of Spring around here, and endless play rehearsals, I've barely had time to think about what I want to post.

I've got a few ideas, but no time to really develop them. I must note that my post on small government conservatism (And don't you think it should be conservativism?) probably owed some debt to I think a Cato piece leading up to the 2004 election, which argued that regardless of who won between Bush and Kerry, small government would lose.

Again, while normally social conservatives are cast as the villains in this piece, it is more likely business and military interests that are driving the size and scope of government operations.

Strong military=big government.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Some changes in direction

A few posts back, I noted that one problem with this blog was the lack of a focus. It was little more than random stuff, and unless you were interested in me, you had little reason to read it. Even my wife was uninterested. I guess she's heard my thoughts on all this stuff. Not only that, since the blog really seemed to lack any purpose, postings were infrequent and irregular.

As you can see, I've changed things around a little, indicated the new direction of this blog. The basic idea is to discuss ways in which political philosophy can generate insights into our current political condition.

The premise to this blog is that political philosophy provides more coherent analysis of political issues than current ideological label of liberal and conservative or left and right.

In that regard, the sources of my political thought are Hobbes and Machiavelli. Isaiah Berlin has been an important contemporary influence, and I'm currently spending time working thorugh the ideas of Michael Oakeshott.

That is not to say that I have transcended ideology. Rather, my ideology has different sources than Limbaugh or Begala. Logical coherence combined with careful attention to political reality I think lead to uncommon conclusions on current politics. Properly executed, political philosophy can provide a way for people to seriously think about politics for themselves, escaping the litanies of pundits and talk show radio hosts. In my opinion, there is no one on radio or television today worth listening. They are as dumb about politics as Joe Morgan is about baseball.

Finally, though I doubt many readers will care about this, I have serious reservations with the way political theory is practiced today. Too much of it has no connection to politics, and is little more than moral philosophy on a large scale. Thus, there is a vacuum, one which has been filled by charlatans who do not care about this country.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It seems what my readers like (all 8 of them) are my political posts. While that won't stop me from posting about the minutia of my life, I'm here to please. So, I'm going with another political post.

A few years ago, I was at the American Political Science Association annual meeting, and at several panels I attended, the name Schumpeter kept coming up. Joseph Schumpeter was an economist whose most well known work was Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. In that work, he coined the phrase "creative destruction" to describe the way entrepreneurialism transforms existing economic relations.

Schumpeter argued that there were important differences between the behavior of entrepreneurial capitalism and oligopolistic or monopolistic capitalism. In short, he argued that the promised efficiencies of capitalism are only applicable to the entrepreneurial version. There is nothing surprising in that, of course. Except that Schumpeter went a step further, and here is why he is of interest to political scientists. He suggested that oligopolists, big business if you will, are essentially willing to operate under more or less socialistic conditions. The triumph of socialism will not come at the hands of Marxist revolutionaries, but at a political alliance between big business, who are seeking capital preservation, and democratic citizens, who seek the protection and security of the welfare state. Those with a stake in the established ways of doing things would have every reason to stifle innovation.

Considered by most people today a conservative, Schumpeter can be read as a response to Galbraith. Both are working to come to grips with the reality of twentieth century capitalism, which was very different from its nineteenth century predecessor, especially in the aftermath of World War II. Schumpeter did not believe that capitalism would endure past the twentieth century. Like Galbraith, he recognized that there was essentially no difference in the behavior of corporate managers and government bureaucrats. They dealt with other people's money, and responded to whatever incentives the structure they worked in provided, rather than the discipline of the market.

Given all that, it is difficult to categorize Schumpeter. Though Austrian, he is not part of the Austrian School. He obviously differs in important ways from Keynes and Galbraith, yet there seem to me to be certain continuities with these thinkers. He is sometimes linked with pragmatism, and there might be certain affinities with other mid-century thinkers like Walter Lippmann. He also appears to owe a debt to Max Weber. One thing should be clear by this: While he is he is no ideologue, he lamented what he thought was capitalism's demise. Regardless of your politics, a revival of interest in Schumpeter's thought is to be welcomed, for he has much to offer in coming to grips with the dramatic changes we see in our economic and political world. It would be nice if innovation led to the availability of less expensive editions of his work. It appears that he underestimated the resilience of capitalism. Or perhaps he was just off a bit in his timing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Carport sale--the day after

We managed to sell some of our remaining stuff, and in fact got a pretty good price on it. We might have a buyer for a few other things. The rest went to various thrift stores. We put a few baby clothes back up in the attic. In total, we've made over $200, not bad.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wrapping up

Pretty dead in the last hour or so. We planned to end it around 2, but with 25 minutes to go, we're packing things up. We made about $150. Annabelle made about $10 on lemonade sales. I don't know what we're going to do with this stuff. Janet's going to try to sell most of the rest of the stuff on line.


We had another flurry of customers. Sold more baby clothes, and it looks like we're up to $150. We might have had some shrinkage, but since we don't want to put anything back, it's not really a problem. We had a laundry basket full of old magazines (we weren't trying to sell them, we just didn't know what to do with them) and and someone took them off our hands.

It's quiet again, but some friends are visiting.


A few flurries, it looks like someone bought a bunch of baby clothes. But there's still stuff available. A few big ticket baby items remain for sale, none of which I want to bring back inside. The lemonade sellers appear to have lost their interest in commerce. I think from here on out, it's going to be slow.

We're now giving some stuff away.


A flurry of customers have bought some of our things. There's still a long way to go, but some large items have been sold, and someone made a good deal on an old computer printer with three ink cartridges. We also now have a $100 bill, which I hope isn't a big problem in terms of depleting our change. And lemonade sales are still strong, despite the lingering morning chill.

I think our total right now stands at about 80 bucks.

Still, there's a lot of stuff available.

Live Blogging our Carport Sale

8:37 AM CDT

After emptying our attic, and scrounging all over the house for other items we no longer want, pricing them, and setting them outside, we are now live at our carport sale. We've already had a few customers, and we've had about $27 in sales. No, wait, make that 27.50. Woohoo! And Annabelle's lemonade stand is also raking in the money, though it's a little chilly (55 F) for lemonade right now. It's a little odd to have people (strangers!) going through our unwanted items. Alas, it seems like many so far are unwanted by other folks as well.

My great fear of course is that at the end of the day, we'll be stuck hauling most of this stuff back in the house. Seriously, folks. Make an offer.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is small government conservatism relevant?

These days, if you are a conservative, you generally have to pay lip service to your preference for small government. Yet, despite the prominence of this as an idea, as a political reality, small government conservatism is dead. At one time, these people called themselves libertarians, but when that idea proved to be unsalable, libertarians took up residence in the Republican party They emphasized economic issues and took up the label small government conservative.

And they have had about as much success there as the American Communist Party. And I have come to the belief that small government conservatives are very much like the old fashioned academic Marxists. Indeed, you can even say of both ideologies that they look good on paper, but fail in practice (to which both sets of true believers will retort it's never really been tried).

I think there are two main causes for the failure of small government conservatism. First, it doesn't work. Business is not opposed to government involvement in the economy, they thrive on it. They simply want regulation to contribute to their profits. If we look at the current economic issues, we see major corporations and financial institutions lining up for government handouts, and getting them. They are demanding increased regulation and supervision as well.

Second, the American people like government when it helps them. The idea of eliminating the big government programs like Social Security and Medicare is a non-starter politically. Proposals such as Social Security privatization and Health Savings accounts (which are not even really about shrinking government) have little appeal outside ideological think tanks.

But the biggest reason probably stems from the nature of the American right itself. I'm not especially thinking about religious conservatives. The real element on the American right that is in stark contrast to small government conservatism is its general pro-military stance. You simply cannot have the worlds most power military force and small government. The US military is the most successful socialist entity ever, providing soldiers and sailors all the necessities of life, including health care, food, shelter, and education.

At this point, you might expect some kind of wistful nostalgia about the frontier and an argument that small government conservatism still reigns in the American west, but that is simply ridiculous. Settling the frontier was a government program--subsidized land, large government subsidies for railroads, and all kind of assistance in logging on government lands.

The basic fact is that the US Constitution was ratified so that we would have an active government, and ever since then, the race has been on to see who could grow it faster.

I fully expect in 20 years time, kids will walk around in Milton Friedman T-shirts like they wear Che Guevera today, and they will be just as relevant.

Community Theater Update

We're about a week and a half into rehearsal, and I'm having creative conflicts with the director, who happens to be my wife. I had been doing Dr. Einstein's voice in a higher register than I normally use, with a vaguely European accent. (The script provides some guidances--Chonny for Johnny, schlipped for slip.) But I want to try it in my natural register. I think this might make Dr. Einstein more creepy and less whiny. True, it does end up sounding something like Dana Carvey in the Hans and Franz bit from Saturday Night Live, but I think it's funnier that way. We don't have any rehearsal until Monday, so maybe I'll use the weekend to try this new approach out.

I also need to work on the physicality of the role. I know I'm not getting this in rehearsal quite yet. I'm supposed to be slightly intoxicated, so whenever I am standing still, I grab whatever I happen to be standing near. However, there are also parts where I have to move quickly from one side of the stage to another. I think I need to do that more drunkenly.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I got the part!

Yes, indeed, my wife cast me as Dr. Einstein! Three rehearsals in, though, I'm still working on how I want to play the part. I have affected a sort of slightly foreign sounding accent, without trying to make it German or anything. I am also resisting the temptation to see the movie. I want to make the part my own.

The other thing I realize now with 3 rehearsal is that lots of people give up a lot of time to participate in community theater. It's fun, sure, but it's a lot of work. Everyone should consider attending a performance in their own community. There's a lot of talent out there.

Even better, get involved. Audition. If you aren't up to getting on stage, there's still lots of backstage opportunities. It's a great way to get out of the house and get invited to cool cast parties.

Of course, if you happen to be anywhere near SW Arkansas May 22-24, come on by!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Faith and Opening Day

In 1896, the American Philosopher William James (and can the fact that he shares a name with a contemporary baseball philosopher be only a coincidence?) wrote an essay called the "Will to Believe" where he argued that we can choose to believe in what he calls a "live hypothesis," one which "appeals as a real possibility to him to whom it is proposed." James was addressing the topic of religious faith as a voluntary act on the part of the believer. However, the argument aptly explains our mental state as sports fans. We set our clocks forward, and baseball starts. Another opening day is upon us and as I write this, every team in major league baseball is tied for first place.

When the season begins, we face a choice. We either believe our team has a chance to win it all this year, or we deny that the even the possibility of ultimate victory exists. One of the great things about sports is that the game has to be played, and as long as there is a game on the field, one's belief in the outcome remains every bit a matter of faith, and as such, it depends on what James called our volition. James argued that we decide, within limits, what we believe. The sports fan decides to believe the team has a chance. Maybe such a decision is easier if your team is the Braves or the Yankees. But every year the Cubs, the Brewers, and my team, the Phillies, also inspire faith. And fans of those teams should recognize the privilege it is to have faith in those teams. Moreover, the great stories of sports are always stories of upsets. David and Goliath tales (and again, the connection between religious faith and sports seems unavoidable) are so common as to be ordinary, but they are no less thrilling.

Athletes, I think, recognize this. An athlete who did not think he or she even had a chance to prevail would have no reason to step onto the field. They may be well aware that the odds are long, but they also must relish the opportunity to shock the world, or at least the home town. Competing is an exercise of faith, or at least hope. To compete is to demonstrate that victory is a real possibility. In the course of a competition, the last person to recognize that the game is over is the competitor. No one has stronger faith--when that faith is lost, the game is lost.

The fan and the athlete are engaged in related activities, so even the most jaded fan must somewhere have a glimmer of this faith. Rooting for a team is a choice, a choice that reveals a hope somewhere that this is our season. Our psychological attachments to teams that never seem to win, formed perhaps in childhood, have no basis in reason, and there is no reason that our hopes and expectations of our team should be based in reason either. Rooting for a team is a passion, but it is a passion that is, in the end, voluntary. Its voluntary nature extends to our calculation of our teams chances. We can choose to commit ourselves to a belief in our teams chances, or accept that yet again, the likelihood of success is remote.

In his essay, James posed the options as this: Either you believe, and face disappointment, or you withhold belief and avoid error. You can believe and suffer disappointment season after season, and sometimes after awhile, choosing to believe becomes more and more difficult. Perhaps, after awhile the hypothesis that our team has a chance dies, and we are no longer able to choose it. However, over the course of a baseball season, there can be no reward sweeter than to triumph after believing and never wavering. The skeptic cannot know such joy. So the fan decides to ignore those point to problems with the bullpen, the bench, and the manager and says "this will be our year." Why bother paying attention to the games if we don't think there really is a chance?

Perhaps this is simply part of the modern condition. An age based as much as our is in the skepticism of science reserved nothing other than contempt for anyone who exhibits blind faith. Moreover, there are few rewards for blind faith. We demand money back guarantees, insurance, home inspections, and prenuptial agreements. Only a foolish romantic conducts any significant aspect of his life without verification. But there really is nothing lost when your team disappoints, no matter how much you believed. Disappointment may be crushing, but the next day, life goes on, and you are no less worse for the wear. The costs are only psychic. If you win, though, you will have the joy of a rare gift. Sports, especially for fans of historically less successful teams, provide a privilege that in other contexts can only be enjoyed by the reckless.

No sport lends itself more to faith than baseball. The season starts in the spring, the time of year associated with renewal, falling in love, fresh starts, and possibility. The nature of the season with its 162 games also lends itself to faith. When a lesser team beats a better team in baseball, it is not even considered an upset. Lesser teams beats the better teams in baseball every day of the season. Upsets only occur over the course of a playoff series, and really, over the course of a season. The only thing necessary for faith is to extend what we know to be possible in one game over a season. Or, to put it another way, you never know.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Community Theater Audition

Last night I auditioned for a part in a community play. The play is Arsenic and Old Lace, and I wanted the part of Dr. Einstein. Since the director is my wife, I figured I'd be a shoo in. Nope. Another actor who has worked hard for community theater is likely to get the nod, so I've heard. I'm now hoping I get the part of Jonathan Brewster, the evil brother.

I have no interest in Teddy, the crazy brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt. My third choice is the Reverend. I think I can play an uptight Episcopalian without much trouble.

Assuming I get some part (it isn't like community theater has turned away people in the past, though there seems to be growing interest here) I'll have something to blog about for the next few months. It will interfere with the early part of the baseball season.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not Blogging

So I haven't blogged in almost a month. I've probably lost both my readers, if there are ever were even that many.

Why I haven't I been blogging? No reason. I've got stuff to say, I've had the time, I just haven't done it. The blog lacks focus, for sure. Story of my life. One thing I have been doing is thinking about what I want to blog about. And I'm realizing that when I write, I write for an audience. Of course, not updating a blog is a surefire way to lose an audience, but blogging when there isn't an audience to begin with seems pointless. I suppose I could take an optimistic approach, thinking if I keep blogging, I'll get readers.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Texas in the general election

OK, it's time to be wrong. For real. Texas might become electorally interesting sooner rather than later. I'm not saying the Democrats might win here, just that they might make things interesting. It is important to note that in 2004, Bush took Texas by a lot--23 percent. So, what makes me think the Democrats can cut into that margin?

Here are my reasons:

1. Long considered a solidly Republican state, it does have a significant populist tradition. In a year where populism seems to be doing well, that might give the Democrats some votes in Texas.

2. George Bush, who is from Texas, is not on the ballot. That will cost a few votes.

3. McCain--While I expect McCain to do well in the West, I don't know if he'll be enthusiastically received by hardcore Texas conservatives, who are really important. If Republicans who don't like McCain go into Nov. believing the Republicans are sure to hold Texas, and there's no other competitive race out there, they may stay home as a way of expressing their displeasure at McCain.

4. Demographics--Texas is now a white minority state. Not the electorate, of course, but winning Texas means getting some Latino votes. Those votes may be up for grabs in 2008, especially if Texas Republicans start acting like California Republicans.

So, what does that mean--here's the prediction--the Republicans hold Texas, but the margin is in the single digits.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Take your daughter to work day

Yesterday turned out to be take my daughter to work day--school was out, and with mom on a business trip, the simplest thing seemed to be to take her to the office. She had wanted to sit in on one of my classes anyway. Funny enough, she made at least one relevant comment regarding free will and candy, so she was paying attention, which is more than I can say about some of the students. However, in the second class, she got a little fixated on how Parliament executed Charles I.

While I was in the office, she offered to help grade, but I was afraid she'd be a little harsh, so I said I'd do it myself. One of the student workers finally put her to work punching holes in pieces of paper. Evidently, she was a real help.

So, now she seems interested in attending college one day, which is great. Unfortunately, she doesn't really see why she needs to finish elementary school. I'm not sure what that says about my class.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Superbowl Heck Yeah!

What an unbelievable game. I don't think you could script a more exciting finish--it came straight out of a sports movie with the game winning drive including the most amazing catch I've ever seen in a Superbowl. What was especially satisfying was knowing that lots of people were rooting for the whole 19-0 thing, and the Giants spoiled their little party.

At first, I handled this game like every other Giant playoff game this year--I figured they didn't have much of a chance, and a loss wasn't going to disappoint me. But as the second half opened with the Giants pretty much outplaying the Pats, I began to realize that the worst possible outcome would be losing a close one. And when the Pats scored late in the fourth to take a lead, I had little hope. And then Eli takes the team down field, and well, they scored. That whole drive I was just standing in the middle of my living room, buttoning and unbuttoning my shirt not believing what I was seeing. Well, you probably saw the game anyway.

I didn't really believe in the Giants until the end of the game last night. The defense had come a long way by the end of the season, but I had no faith in Eli Manning. But he's a fourth year QB, so it's entirely possible that the Eli who played so well last night (and really throughout the playoffs) is for real. The Giants started the season a young team. Now, they are a good young team. It's a good time to be a fan of the New York Football Giants.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I've had a touch of insomnia the last two nights--I woke up about 4:30, tossed and turned for around for an hour, and finally just gave up on sleep and got out of bed. It's probably a combination of sinus pain and sudafed (the real stuff) taken to treat my sinuses.

Sometimes, I don't mind getting up early and just reading or listening to music or something, but these last two mornings it's been a drag. I haven't felt well enough to do anything productive and it's winter so it's chilly in the house at that hour.

Strangely though, I don't feel all that tired. I'd like to get one good night sleep before I go back the gym, since if I actually could stay asleep until 6:45, I'd like to catch up a bit.

I know that as I get older, I'll probably need less sleep. So, I think I've got more insomnia in my future.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Top 40 Radio

When I was a kid in the early and mid 70s, we would listen to Top 40 radio, usually WABC when we drove around in the car. It was great. Not every song would be great, and some were really terrible. (Billy, Don't Be a Hero; My Name is Michael, I've Got a Nickel are two songs painfully branded into my brain, a trauma I will never forget.) But Top 40 Radio, as a radio format was great. Basically, any song that reached the Top 40 could be played. So you'd get rock, country, soul, pop, r and b, all on the same station. You'd hear Eric Clapton, the Osmonds, and Helen Reddy on the same station, maybe in the same set. Melanie's Brand New Key would never be played anywhere but Top 40, and it's a great song. Novelty pieces like Mr. Jaws were a staple of Top 40 as well.

Sure, there were restrictions--songs were singles, and generally under 4 minutes. But unlike the abominable format "Album Oriented Rock" or AOR, you didn't have to be white to get airplay. And the decline in the importance of rock music as part of youth culture can be traced to the decline of Top 40. The point of AOR seemed to be to erase African Americans from the history of rock and and roll. The end of Top 40, sometime in the late seventies as it was overrun by disco and cheesy pop.

The FM answer to Top 40 wasn't AOR or even worse, the Classic Rock format--those formats were more like easy listening format in that they assured their listeners they would hear the same songs over and over again. No, the FM response to Top 40 was free-form, a format where DJs selected the records. In the late 60s and early 70s, that's where you'd hear Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Tito Puente, and maybe even Glenn Gould. The format could be a bit demanding on listeners--you had to be ready to embrace the unfamiliar, and you had to trust the DJ.

For a brief while, MTV in the early 80s was sort of like Top 40. Thomas Dolby and Michael Jackson along with Bon Jovi. MTV played new wave acts who weren't played much at all on the radio. But the demographic for MTV was too narrow to really have the same kind of impact.

It might seem odd to the average hipster to equate Top 40 and free from radio, but they share the idea that music is not about genre. It's about good music. The thing the hipster misses is the artfulness of a well crafted pop song. The slicing and dicing of music into razor thin genres (emocore?) means you're going to miss a lot of great music unless you really make a major effort to seek it out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Orleans

I've just returned from New Orleans, my first post-Katrina visit. Since I spent most of the trip in the Central Business District (I was there for a conference) it's hard to say how the city is doing. As far as its crime issues, I felt perfectly safe day and night. My wife and daughter walked around by themselves, and did not feel uncomfortable either. That's not to say that the crime issue is overblown, it means that tourists aren't a target.

The city seemed sedate. It may have been that visiting between the BCS game and Mardi Gras was simply a quiet time, but compared to other visits, it seemed like a lot was missing. The hospitality industry is back in force, and there are lots of conferences and conventions, but you could tell that there were a lot fewer people around, even in the tourist areas.

We drove the Garden District, Faubourg Marigny and Treme. There, you see houses that aren't being repaired, with the eerie xs left by those searching flooded building for bodies. It was chilling. Money is still being made available, so it's possible that people will still come back to these homes. There are a ton of properties for sale as well. Rentals, by contrast, are tough to come by, and I learned rents are 46% higher than they were before Katrina.

The food and music are still great. Went to Preservation Hall, and that was outstanding. We ate at Mothers, Herbsaint, Sukho Thai, Serios, Port of Call, Cafe DuMond, among others, and all were outstanding. I didn't get any oysters, unfortunately.

Lots of people are trying to bring the city back. There does seem to be a lot of interest in bringing the city back, and the fact is there is no place like it anywhere. It's still worth a visit.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


So the people say they want change, and they're going to vote for the person who is going to change things.

But why? Thing are already changing, and they're changing rapidly. Mostly, things are getting worse. We didn't like paying $2 a gallon for gas, so they're changing that. To $3.50 a gallon. Crime is getting worse, and more teens are getting knocked up.

In fact, if there's any promise about the future, it's that it will be different.

And it's not as if things are really so terrible now. I'd vote for someone who promised not to make things worse. I'm all for the status quo.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa Preview and Analaysis!

I'll save everyone a whole lot of time. Here's everything you need to understand tonight's results. Don't worry about which issues resonated with Iowa voters, or Huckabee's non-negative negative campaigning, or anything else, because it won't matter tomorrow. Unless, of course, I'm wrong.

Politics, especially the game of nominating Presidential candidates is about expectations. You can win a primary by exceeding expectations, you can lose by falling short of them.

Accordingly, Iowa has become more important than usual, since the polls are so close among leading candidates in both parties, everyone who matters (except McCain and I suppose Giuliani) has a reasonable expectation of winning. So, losing, even by a little will be falling short of expectations. For Edwards and Huckabee even more, a loss will be devastating. Romney and Clinton can recover in a couple of days if they get decisive wins in New Hampshire. Obama could also recover with a decisive win in New Hampshire, but I have a hard time seeing Obama winning New Hampshire unless he wins (or at least come very close to winning in Iowa.

On the Republican side, McCain has already won Iowa.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Holidays are coming to an end

No, no New Year's post from me.

I'd rather post about the fact that the holiday season is coming to a blessed end. Of course, being an academic means I still have two weeks before classes start up. And I'm going to New Orleans in a week and a half.

But soon we'll pull the tree down and take the lights off the house. We'll start planning for what we want to try to do with the yard this year. (I think we'll try to plant some forsythias and try to get an early start with the tomatoes.)

Everything will be going back to normal.