Archive for January, 2009

Brain Dump

January 28, 2009

I saw that one prominent blogger periodically publishes “Tab Dump” posts — lists of links to items he had open in Firefox tabs, but didn’t have time to read or blog.  So I thought I’d do a brain dump post — things floating around in my head that don’t rate their own posts.  This one is mostly political.

Early Obama: the jury is out.  He’s done some excellent things, but he’s also done some very questionable things.  The 2 shiniest examples of the latter are the defense industry lobbyist and Wall Street lobbyist he exempted from his own executive order forbidding such people.  Dumb.  Very dumb.  Both on substantive grounds — his executive order was the right policy — and on political ones.  He’s instantly made himself into a hypocrite, and introduced a whiff of corruption into his administration almost before it was old enough to crawl.  And in 2 departments of the government with existing bad reputations for corruption.  Clean that up, Mr. President.

One thing I liked very much was his interview on Al-Arabiya.  Good strategic thinking, if you ask me.

Stimulus Bill: it looks like we’ll have one.  The House just passed its version.  The version the president eventually signs probably will be quite a bit different, but the same in general outline.  Every Republican in the House voted against it.  Every single one.  I understand that they wanted it to look like a Republican bill, and I do wish the House Dems had made more of an effort to bring them along, but there’s a saying the GOP repeated frequently over the past 8 years: elections have consequences.  (The best line I’ve seen on this bill: “Yes, it’s dangerously compassionate. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good policy.”)

I don’t think any Republicans would have voted for it no matter how many compromises it contained.  They’ve made their political calculation: either the stimulus will succeed, in which case the credit will go to Obama, not them; or it will fail, in which case the blame will fall on Obama.  That leads to the following Pascal’s Wager: either it works and we get no credit for it no matter what, or it fails and we can take credit for having said it would fail and voted against it.  That’s an easy decision for a politician to make.

The question now is whether Obama, et al., can make them pay a price for having opposed it, if it works.  Frankly, I doubt it.

Wall Street: isn’t there some way we can finagle an economic recovery while putting these thieves in the poor house?  These people . . . I hardly ever quote trees, but there is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery.

I don’t get it, Big Dan.

January 26, 2009

Somebody in Arizona thinks a useful way to get kids to read is to ask them to read aloud . . . to horses.

Now, I’m all for encouraging kids to read.  But to horses?  I don’t get the connection.  I mean, it’s cute as can be that little Tyler liked one particular horse because, “He really listened well and wanted to see all the pictures,” but horses?  Are horses known to be especially avid readers?  (As opposed to geese, who lean more toward interpretive dance?)  Do horses lead such busy lives that they can’t find time to read on their own?  Does the lack of thumbs interfere with their literary agenda?

Even if so, these are fancy Arabian horses.  They can afford audiobooks.

And speaking of the inauguration and thinking…

January 24, 2009

Here’s a small — and as yet unreviewed and unreplicated — study that seems to show an “Obama Effect” on African-American test takers:

Researchers in the last decade assembled university students with identical SAT scores and administered tests to them, discovering that blacks performed significantly poorer when asked at the start to fill out a form identifying themselves by race. The researchers attributed those results to anxiety that caused them to tighten up during exams in which they risked confirming a racial stereotype.

In the study made public on Thursday, Dr. Friedman and his colleagues compiled a brief test, drawing 20 questions from the verbal sections of the Graduate Record Exam, and administering it four times to about 120 white and black test-takers during last year’s presidential campaign.

On the initial test last summer, whites on average correctly answered about 12 of 20 questions, compared with about 8.5 correct answers for blacks, Dr. Friedman said. But on the tests administered immediately after Mr. Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, and just after his election victory, black performance improved, rendering the white-black gap “statistically nonsignificant,” he said.

If it holds up, it’ll be the most important thing Obama’s presidency will have achieved, no matter what else he does.

Inaugural Thoughts

January 20, 2009

Seemed like a thread to post thoughts on the inauguration of our first African-American president might be useful.

I realized over the weekend that I hadn’t expected this to happen in my lifetime.  That surprised me.  It’s not something I’d ever given much direct thought, if any.  But if somebody had asked me, at any point in my life, if I expected to see a black president elected in my lifetime, my immediate answer would have been, “Why not?”  When I saw it actually happen, though, I was surprised.  Even though we’ve known it was coming for months.  Even though it’s looked likely for almost a year, now.  I found that when it happened — when it actually happened — I was surprised.  I guess I didn’t expect it to happen in my lifetime, after all.

That’s the good part.  The bad part is, even after having reality rush up and startle me, I still don’t really expect much to change.

From Memphis, the view is a bit different from what I’ve seen others describe.  It is for me, at least.  While I can see the glimmer of unity that others see in Obama and his style of politics, I can also see something else: a growing division.  That division is between the America that elected Barack Hussein Obama, black man; and the America I live in, that still can’t contemplate the possibility of doing so; can’t even imagine a time when it would contemplate the possibility; doesn’t want such a day to ever come.

Does Obama’s election represent greater unity?  Something post-partisan . . . ish?  Or does it only mask — primarily for my fellow liberals and progressives — growing divisions at a much deeper level?  From here in a red state, a Southern state, a city deeply divided by race, I know which it feels like.  I know which feels short-term (though hopefully two-term) and fine, and which feels like a much longer, coarser, deep-set thread of history.

Obama’s election is progress.  A wonderful milestone.  A glass of cool water in what, after the last 8 years, is a very dry and thirsty America.  But unless something changes in the next 8 years — unless this remarkable man can somehow unravel that deep, coarse thread of American history and begin to work its strands into the larger American fabric, even a tiny bit — I will continue to fear for the long-term course our country is on, for nothing will have truly changed.  All our problems will remain.

How about you?  Anything surprised you?  Any thoughts, feelings, expectations, etc., you want to share?

GOP Announces Newly-Identified Democratic Successes

January 19, 2009

In a surprise mass email today, the Republican National Committee identified the following as presidents who were foreign policy or anti-terrorism successes:

Jimmy Carter:  after the Iranians stormed our embassy, President Carter prevented any other American diplomats from being taken hostage anywhere in the world.

Bill Clinton:  after the Murrah Building, President Clinton kept us safe from domestic terrorist attacks on American soil.

Lyndon Johnson:  after the Gulf of Tonkin, President Johnson kept us safe from torpedo sneak-attacks on American ships anywhere in the world.

John Kennedy:  after the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy kept us safe from disastrously inept invasions of impoverished minor countries.

“Truly,” the email goes on to say, “the last 50 years have seen an unbroken string of successful Democratic  presidents, when it comes to foreign policy and terrorism.  Therefore, we cannot in good conscience continue to say the Democrats are soft.  We’ll never use that as a campaign issue again.  Pinky swear.”

“To be frank,” one anonymous insider told us, “they’re every bit as good as we are, which is just weird to contemplate.  Everybody’s sort of wondering what to do next.  The 2 options getting the most air are that we either start caring about domestic policy, which is pretty gay, or we just dissolve the party.  We’re really torn.”

Historians in the future will struggle to accurately describe 2000-2008.  George W. Bush was president from Sept 12, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2007.  From Jan. 19, 2001 to Sept. 11, 2001, and from Jan. 1, 2008 to Jan. 19, 2009, America was in a presidential recession.

It turns out that when a president wins election by the flip of a coin, he can defer his inauguration to the second half.  Also, he can leave the field at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The latter is covered by the cases of Owens v. Philadelphia Eagles and, secondarily, Ramirez v. Boston Red Sox; the former is de novo.

Knights Who Say…

January 16, 2009

No less an éminence grise than Paul Volcker catches up with me, Bernanke, Yglesias, Paulson, Spitzer, and Klein:

The plan calls for vastly increased oversight of major banks, going as far as to recommend the end of an era of mega banks whose size makes their failure potentially catastrophic to the global financial system.

“Keep them small, so that any failure won’t have systematic importance,” Volcker said at a news conference.

Starr Sighting

January 16, 2009

After the worship assembly on Sunday, I turn around to leave and see none other than Ken Starr making a special point to come shake my hand and ask about my winter break.  He made a special point to speak to Jody and Hillary and ask how my law school experience has been for them, too. I have barely had occasion to speak to Dean Starr over my first semester here, but on the several times we have passed at the school he has made a special point to greet me warmly and appear at least that he is genuinely concerned about how things are going for me.  I really believe that he is.

I have always tried to argue against pre-judging an individual, usually as this pertains to race or religion or socioeconomic status. Which is why I find it personally disconcerting when I notice how I pre-judge the mega-figures from the headlines. Like Ken Starr, I guess.

Dean Starr was on C-SPAN yesterday to discuss the Solicitor General position in light of President-Elect Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School. I doubt you will want to watch all nineteen minutes and forty-five seconds of the Civics lesson, but you might want to watch the first minute or two – I think I’m qualified to say that the graciousness you will see in his opening remarks, and the bipartisan tenor of his rhetoric, is not just for the television cameras.

You can see the interview HERE.


January 15, 2009

I’m not all that interested in the sports page of the LA Times, what with their obsession with USC and all things Lakers. Which is their job, I am aware, but I have no interest. So yesterday I was surprised when I did more than look at the pictures on the sports page. They had a short interview with Vin Scully. But it wasn’t just an interview; it was an interview about his calling the only perfect game in World Series history — way back in 1956. Anyhoo…the short article / interview is here. Enjoy.

It’s just a flesh wound!

January 14, 2009

Noted economic journalist Felix Salmon explains how The Knights Who Say… might successfully dismember one too-big-to-fail bank: Citi.

Top 10 of 2008

January 6, 2009

The new year is upon us, and that means it’s time for some reflection. In classic C-Love fashion, I’m sticking to what I know and offering up my Top 10 in Pop Culture ’08.

10. Flight of the Conchords. This year, their peculiar brand of hilarity earned the recognition it deserved, and even landed them a show on HBO. I still prefer their live performances, and Albi, the racist dragon, is one of my faves.

9. Superheroes. Batman, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock, Hellboy, The Spirit. Some were good, some were great, and some were just weird, but there were definite superhero vibes in the air.

8. Slumdog Millionaire. I loved this movie so much, I’m almost afraid to talk about it other than to say, you  must see it. It deserves all of the accolades and then some.

7. The Twilight series/movie/phenomenon (and Robert Pattinson’s hair). The Twilight movie has made a better return than Batman: The Dark Knight. How is that possible (other than spending less to start with)? Well, see, you take an absurdly gorgeous vampire, make him fall in love with a clumsy high school girl, fight his very nature to keep from killing her, throw in some werewolves, and you’ve really got something going. I resisted the books for a while, then I finally caved. And I must say… the do suck you in (no pun intended). The movie was unintentionally hilarious at times, but the casting was spot on. Here’s hoping they spend more money on special effects for the sequel.

6. Wall-E. Yes, he’s a cartoon robot, but Wall-E made me remember how much I miss great animated films. I actually teared up in the theater. How can you resist those eyes?

5. The return of Robert Downey, Jr. As much as I hanker for Christian Bale, RDJ gave my favorite superhero performance this year. Or maybe ever. Then he made a risky move by “playing black” in Tropic Thunder. Next year, he has a promising role with Jamie Foxx in The Soloist. Is this really the same guy from The Shaggy Dog?

4. Lost, Season 4. I’ve never been so glad that I got roped into a show from the get-go. The finale of Season 4 was  nothing short of crazy. Explosions, reveals, death, time travel, cliffhangers. I can’t wait to get back to my losties.

3. Tina Fey. Nobody made me laugh more in 2008 than Tina Fey. She gave us the funniest show on television with 30 Rock, and her Palin impersonation made SNL better than it’s been in years. Props to Tina!

2. Bon Iver. Possibly my favorite musical discovery of 2008. His sound is plaintive yet still full somehow. His quiet but powerful voice reminds me of Ray Lamontagne.

1. Lynda Barry. Barry wrote one of my favorite books of the year, What It Is. A graphic novel that questions how images and objects are connected to memories, it is beautiful, funny, and touching. No book has made me want to pick up my sketch pad this much in a very long time.