Archive for January, 2010

In Which I Ruin Jokes By Explaining Them
January 20, 2010

I feel like a lot of us could probably use a laugh right now. And sadly, I don’t have any of those. But what I do have is a lengthy post I wrote for NYU Local about laughs; sitcoms in general, and Peep Show specifically.


Good News For People Who Love Bad News (MA Edition)
January 20, 2010

I guess the upshot of this is that people who obsessively track the horse race are validated, despite all the sneering from certain people* that the individual candidates don’t make a great deal of difference in the general election because broad electoral trends are usually the deciding factor.

Of course, this is only true when one of the candidates–Coakley, in this case–is staggeringly incompetent.

I always sort of suspected that if anyone fucked up health care beyond repair, it wouldn’t be a Republican. I guess there’s still hope, though.


Roger Ailes: President of Red America
January 19, 2010

My first NYU Local piece of the new semester is up.

Happy MLK Day
January 18, 2010

What could I possibly say about today that the man himself didn’t already say a thousand times more eloquently?

Most of what I write on this blog involves reflecting on where our country is still going very, very wrong, and why that means we’re in a lot of trouble. But on days like today, it’s worth reflecting on just how far we’ve come in only a generation’s time. In the long term, the trend is positive. And when I watch the “I Have a Dream” speech, I remember why I want this country to reach its potential so badly in the first place. To me, there’s no moment in history more uniquely American than that one.

A Birther in Ted Kennedy’s Seat
January 17, 2010

I don’t mean to pick on my friend and former NYU Local colleague Joe specifically, especially since the site he’s writing for is specifically media and meta-coverage-oriented, but I think his post on the most recent twist in the Brown/Coakley tragicomedy exemplifies how media coverage of this moment, and many other similar incidents, is pretty anemic.

The problem is that with the exception of some dispatches from the liberal blogosphere–which obviously has a vested interest in milking this thing for all it’s worth–most of the coverage that I’ve seen has focused on speculating on what sort of impact this will have on the campaign, how liberals will disseminate it, what would have happened if a liberal had made a similar gaffe, etc. That’s all being treated like the big story, but it’s not.

The big story is that an ostensibly moderate Senate candidate in a blue state might very well be a closeted extremist. If he’s not, at the very least this incident shows a Romney-esque eagerness to eat the far right’s shit whenever it suits him.

That’s huge. And it’s a shame to see the general obsession with the horse race overwhelm it.

Worse Than the Disease
January 15, 2010

Cass Sunstein is a smart guy. Does he really not see the problem with combating anti-government paranoia through a covert coordinated propaganda campaign?

I mean, seriously?

More broadly, if you’re representing an interested party in a particular argument and you fail to disclose the connection, you’re undermining the legitimacy of your point. But it’s particularly egregious in a case where the risk of discovery includes further radicalizing unhinged conspiracy theorists, never mind that a policy like this is practically begging to be abused.

Alan Grayson Gets It Backwards
January 14, 2010

I understand that he’s filling an underpopulated niche on the Democratic side (that of the partisan firebreather), but the guy still irritates the hell out of me. It’s possible to make forceful moral arguments from a liberal perspective without resorting to the same obnoxious “gotcha” rhetoric of the right. And this latest from him strikes me as a waste of House time:

The point being … the Bush administration did a lot of things very poorly? How novel!

More to the point, I think the causal chain he suggests at the end actually works in complete reverse. It’s not that Republicans dislike government because they’re bad at it; it’s that modern conservatism’s utter contempt for the capability of government to do any good at all hobbles their ability to manage it effectively when it’s time for government to step in.

The Moral Obligations of Moral Philosophers
January 13, 2010

In a review of a book on bioethics over at The New Republic’s excellent new online book section, Sally Satel writes:

Fox and Swazey have faith that expertise in ethics does exist, but they believe that such expertise will not be fully realized until bioethicists take on matters of social justice. Disconcertingly, they are not concerned that a social justice agenda risks blurring the lines between disinterested ethical analysis (the authentic expertise of bioethicists) and outright political activism.

Where that line lies isn’t an easy question to answer, but I often find myself wondering if a some academic philosophers these days are a little too cautious about avoiding it. Because if you do, in fact, have an expertise in ethics–whether that’s even possible is still a controversial topic, but I think it is–then it seems to me that there are certain moral responsibilities that come along with that.

The Unbearable Bleakness of Good Comedy
January 12, 2010

So a friend of mine recently turned me on to this British sitcom called Peep Show late last week, and since then it’s been eating up a lot of my time. The premise is fairly standard sitcom fare: two roommates, one is the shlemiel, the other the shlimazel, you get the idea. But it has an interesting hook: each episode is shot almost entirely from first-person camera perspectives, and you can often hear the thoughts of the two major characters, meaning you get an insight into how they view the world that’s a lot more uncomfortably intimate than you get in most sitcoms.

But that gimmick, as well executed as it is, isn’t the real reason to watch. What’s truly amazing about the show–besides some excellent performances by the leads and supporting actors like the guy who plays Super Hans–is just how bleak it is. If you’ve become desensitized to the painful awkardness of The Office (the UK version) and Curb Your Enthusiasm, chances are this show will still be able to get you to wince. And it’s just relentless. If either of these guys catches a break, they never fail to screw it up somehow. And as the show progresses, they somehow manage to only get more pathetic (spoiler: one of them turns into a stalker). Maybe that would be easier to watch if these characters weren’t still somewhat sympathetic, and we weren’t forced to see the world through their eyes. But it would also be less hilarious.

What Democrats “Deserve”
January 11, 2010

Via the ever-indispensable Weigel, I see that UVA professor and self-appointed high shaman of political fortunetelling Larry Sabato has some curious ideas about public policy and moral desert. To whit:

“In a competitive state, Coakley would be well on her way to losing,” he said. “If the Democrats lose, they deserve to have health care go down.”

That’s a pretty banal expression of conventional wisdom. If Democrats suck at campaigning, then they deserve to see their policy initiatives fail. Take that, Democrats! It makes a basic sort of intuitive sense in that it’s roughly meritocratic. But it only makes sense if you think about policies as abstract tokens that can be traded back and forth with no impact on the world outside the game.

That’s obviously completely ass-backwards, but it’s seemingly a popular view within America’s political elite.

So what do Democrats deserve? Well, they don’t really “deserve” anything, regardless of how well they campaign or govern. They’re not entitled to anyone’s vote, and they’re certainly not entitled to seeing their agenda implemented, at least in the current system.* All of their gains and losses are means to something else, but we’re trapped in a political culture that obsessively treats them as ends.

*Which, if I were Matthew Yglesias, I would mention how that’s point one for the parliamentary system, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

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