Sunday, May 31, 2009


I was a big fan of the recent This American Life episode "The Friendly Man," which featured all stories by Scott Carrier, who has a kind of wistful, reflective tone. And then yesterday I heard a bit of Scott Carrier's first ever NPR story replayed on the show Hearing Voices. It is about his hitchhiking trip from Salt Lake City to Washington, DC, and it turns out that you can download the full mp3 online. It is about 20 minutes long of so, highly recommended...

Stanley Kurtz has the right to be mediocre

Stanley Kurtz seems to think he is onto something*** with this 20-year-old Obama quote asking whether law firm hires had yet granted minorities the "right to be 'mediocre.'" But isn't it completely clear what Obama meant? Here's the context of his quote, helpfully provided by Kurtz:
Until the minorities who are going to the good but not the most prestigious schools, those who are doing a good job, who are highly competent and have the intelligence and the energy to do terrific work -- until those people are looked at and hired in significant numbers -- I think you are going to continue to have serious recruitment and retention problems.
The point being, obviously, that there is a difference between having law firms that are comfortable making minority hires in the case of super-over-qualified top-students and having them consider hiring minorities as a matter of course, even including those who are not head boy types. Obama states his assumption here that a lot of people who didn't go to Harvard are nevertheless very qualified to be lawyers and ought to be considered for various lawyer jobs.

That's not controversial, is it? I think it is so obvious as to be pretty much a truism. This statement doesn't even sound bad on the surface, it's just basically an all-around reasonable thing to say. What do you think Stanley Kurtz expects me to find objectionable about it?

***It should be noted that Stanley Kurtz is in the habit of thinking he is onto something that turns out to be nothing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Police sirens vs. ambulance sirens

There are other parts of more substance to this longish Q&A with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, but something about this exchange stood out to me:
Q: By the way, I hear sirens in the background.

A: Yeah, but if you get to be a mayor in a big city, you’ll be able to distinguish between police sirens and ambulance sirens. When I hear an ambulance siren -- unfortunately -- this sounds so morbid, but you always send up a prayer because you know they’re either rushing to pick somebody up or taking somebody to the hospital. For police sirens, you check your BlackBerry real quick, to make sure nothing serious is happening. That was an ambulance siren.

Keep Patrick Fitzgerald working, Pt. III

And the one-man anti-corruption movement rolls on. I am standing by my big-picture feeling that federal prosecutions are a more effective tool for changing Chicago's political culture than a.) journalism, b.) better government think-tanking, c.) democratic reform (i.e. convincing people to vote the bums out).

But maybe that is just because right now prosecution appears to be the only effective tool. It's seeming pretty effective lately, though!

P.S. ... I'm open to arguments that these prosecutions won't have a deterrent effect on future crooked Chicago pols. But I certainly think they will. If you were an alderman, at this point wouldn't you pretty much assume your phone was being tapped?

Keep Patrick Fitzgerald working
Keep Patrick Fitzgerald working Pt. II

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sentence to think about (or, More on the new Republican solution)

Picture civil society as a nice lawn, and picture government as a weed. As the weed grows, the lawn gets wiped out. Civil Societarianism is the ideology that tries to grow the lawn. Progressivism is the ideology that tries to grow the weed.
From Arnold Kling, as prompted by Jonathan Chait.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Are Republicans reading from the Netroots' playbook, or not?

This is one of those broad, obvious questions that becomes more and more complicated the more you actually try to think it through. The totally unsatisfying answer, of course, is yes and no.

I have been trying to put together some sort of a coherent post about this and I cannot seem to get it straight, so I am going to post what I have and invite other opinions.

The first point here is that some of the fundamental questions the GOP faces today are very similar to those the Democratic Party faced in George W. Bush's first term: How much ground do you cede to the majority party? How much should you cooperate with a popular opposing-party president?

The Republican Party's answers to these questions, so far at least, have been "none" and "none." This has created visible delight among many Democrats, who see it as a way of doubling down on ideological purity that is driving out moderate pols and citizens from the GOP. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's decision this weekend to join the Obama administration is just the latest example, and this Politico piece has some good context on the killing-off-of-Republican-moderates situation.

For many on the right, though, the argument is that the Republican Party must use its time in the wilderness to become a true opposition party. Something like a vote on the economic stimulus package is a question of principle, and if the GOP is ever going to regain public support it needs to have a spine and not bend to political winds.

If you think back to when Bush was riding high -- or even to Al Gore's 2000 campaign -- those are pretty much precisely the arguments made by a lot of people on the left, aren't they?

The answer is "yes," but there are some important differences. The Netroots -- following the lead of the very strategically minded Kos -- always tolerated a pretty big tent for the Democratic Party provided candidates were regionally appropriate. This explicitly meant supporting conservative Democrats in races liberal Democrats couldn't win, and basically the left-wing base accepted that as a reality. The fact that the Democratic base tolerated pro-life candidates in various races all over the country, for example, amounts to massive concession of ideological purity on the left. And yet this type of moderation has largely been understood to be a good thing for the left insofar as it helped build Democratic majorities in Congress.

In the current debate on the right, I see virtually no acknowledgment that the Republican Party ought to allow for regional variation in its candidates. Tell me if I am wrong, but all I see is a debate between "conservatives" and "moderates" -- no real discussion of how a Republican might have to take somewhat different positions to win in the northeast or the Midwest, or increasingly in the Mountain West. I would think that is the discussion Republicans will have to have if they lose in 2010, but maybe I am wrong.

For my part, I certainly agree with the conventional wisdom that the more the Democratic Party encroaches on the moderate wing of the Republican Party, the better off Dems will be and the worse off GOPs will be. But it seems to me there is something to the right's have-a-backbone argument, just as there is clearly some political value in just the pure esprit de corps that comes from being a loud-and-proud opposition party.

So my answer is that while the GOP is clearly adopting some of the Howard Dean-era Netroots political strategies, it remains to be seen whether it will at some point choose to a.) moderate the party at the national level, which the Netroots never really wanted Democrats to do, or b.) adopt some form of a strategic long-game and tolerate regional variations, a strategy with which the Netroots have been remarkably effective. Or, the Republican Party could c.) do neither, and test the political value of ideological purity only, or d.) try something else that I haven't thought of. Anyone have thoughts on which of these is most likely, and/or which would be most effective?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


to Dom & Jern on the birth of my new niece Giulia, with whom I now nearly share a birthday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bun B of UGK interviewed

This is a great interview with Bun B that talks about growing up in Port Arthur (he was a breakdancer!), doing "Big Pimpin'," grammar/spelling in rap and losing Pimp C. What a cool guy Bun B is.

The Sound of Young America

Unfortunately the interview did not get around to one of my favorite things Bun B ever did, which was to nickname himself "Big Dick Cheney" and Pimp C "Tony Snow" on the 2007 double-album "Underground Kingz." I don't know that there would have been a lot to discuss on that topic, I just think those are hilarious rap aliases still.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where are the black Vulcans?

Reihan Salam makes a totally good point here:
My understanding, confirmed by Wikipedia (which doesn’t fill me with confidence either, but it’ll do in a pinch), is that [black Vulcan character fromStar Trek: Voyager] Tuvok is a “full Vulcan,” thus suggesting that Vulcan variation in physiognomy roughly parallels human variation. Which is a little implausible, but fair enough. Because Tuvok is one of the only black Vulcans we’ve come across in the Star Trek universe, you have to wonder: what accounts for this?

In the most recent Star Trek film, there were no black Vulcans at the highest levels of the Vulcan Science Academy. This could mean that black Vulcans are a very small minority. Yet Tuvok’s wife, T’Pel, was also a black Vulcan. And so the pool of black Vulcans couldn’t be trivially small. Or perhaps endogamy is relatively common across Vulcan ethno-somatic groups. But doesn’t this strike you as an affront to the iron laws of logic? If ethno-somatic endogamy is not particularly common, one assumes that sharp “racial” distinctions would erode over time. Maybe not. But surely this phenomenon has to be explained somehow.

The iron laws of logic do cast doubt on another hypothesis, namely that the late emergence of black Vulcans in the Star Trek universe suggests human-like discrimination against Vulcans who vary from the phenotypic norm. Granted, we’ve seen evidence of Vulcan hypocrisy before. Vulcan color prejudice would really take the cake, though — it would be in such sharp tension with everything we’ve come to know and admire about Vulcan culture as to strain credulity.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Mr. Anastasio goes to Washington

So last night Trey Anastasio appeared at an evening reception in the Senate celebrating 20 years of drug courts, no doubt part of his public penance of having been found guilty of drug possession but avoiding jail time. With that in mind, I offer up a brief video of Trey w/ Dave Matthews and Friends doing "Up On Cripple Creek,' and surprisingly his singing isn't terrible.

Saxdrop stands before the Judge

Well , not really.

I generally have a hard time disagreeing with Richard Posner. His reasoning is almost always so damn rational, measured, and air tight, and we already tend to come from a similar set of priors, that even if I could poke a hole, I'd have to twist around backwards to do so.

But I found this line from his op-ed in today's WSJ curious:
"Competition between banks was discouraged by limits on the issuance of bank charters and by (in some states) not permitting banks to establish branch offices."
This line comes directly after he blames aggressive deregulation in the 70s as one of two culprits in the financial mess. Does that sound like deregulation to you? Creating barriers to entry is, many times the sole purpose of regulation. This may seem like nitpicking on some small part of his overall theme, but the central premise of his new book is that this phantom deregulation mixed with a licentious Fed combined to create a failure of capitalism, which brought this mess upon us.

He also goes to claim that the actual deregulatory measure which allowed banks to first start paying interest on checking/savings accounts led to unsustainable liabilities. That just makes no sense at all. Of course all this will get much more attention that it probably merits because it has the "Come to Jesus" characteristic that Alan Greenspan saying in a hearing "the free market doesn't work the way I thought" did.

Judge Posner, you used to be so cool...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Huzzah! Nicole Gelinas solves the Republican quandry

I was fortunate a few weeks ago to moderate a symposium with City Journal editor Nicole Gelinas as a presenter. I've been reading her pieces for years now, and always found her to moderate and insightful, and she proved to be no less so in person. Going back on some earlier pieces, I came across this gem:
"Americans don’t see abject government incompetence as an argument for no government. They see it as an argument for a government that is at least passably competent at fundamental tasks. Republicans do the country a disservice by not recognizing this truth. And since some Democrats seem to confuse Americans’ desire for a competent government with a desire for a government that does everything—a disastrous misstep in the opposite direction—Republicans need to provide a rational counterweight."
Yes, I think that's about right. From "Jindal's Missed Opportunity." Maybe this isn't sufficient, but it's a productive suggestion, and I think it threads the needle of offering something of appeal and value to everyday voters while not meaningfully violating core principles.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Wayne Coyne disappointingly backs off his Arcade Fire diss

He didn't really mean it:
I wish that had never happened. I didn’t necessarily mean it about the people in the Arcade Fire. I meant it about the guys that were running their stages at a couple of festivals. I wish whatever had been said wouldn’t have been taken as such a defiant statement from the Flaming Lips, because it wasn’t.
I take his point about it being a "statement from the Flaming Lips" -- I think it was just Wayne Coyne, a talkative guy who had an opinion and said his opinion. ... But who believes that Coyne was actually talking about "the guys that were running their stages at a couple of festivals"? Not me!

Previously: Win Butler is so missing Wayne Coyne's point

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Friday, May 01, 2009

Question: was Bush really a rampant deregulator?

Obama repeatedly called for restoring common-sense regulation on the campaign trail, and less careful partisan Dems have repeatedly blamed Bush's careless deregulatory policies for any manner of ills, including the current financial crisis. My question, like what?

And I dont mean to be glib. I'm actually wondering. In trying to understand the current crisis, it's important to understand the mechanisms or variables that actually changed along the course of affairs that led to this point as opposed to a less painful one.

I offer as the first piece of evidence that Bush may not have been to blame (acknowledging that it is an open question), this piece from my colleague Vero back in January. She demonstrates using aggregate measures of regulation that Bush, far from being a deregulator, was the biggest regulator in history (and makes the side point that Democrats in recent history have actually been the lightest regulators).