Sunday, February 14, 2010

A creaky old country

That's what I sometimes think when I read the news out of the USA. The most recent exhibit is a column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times:

Two weeks ago, as I was getting ready to take off for Palo Alto, Calif., to cover a conference on the importance of energy and infrastructure for the next American economy, The Times’s Keith Bradsher was writing from Tianjin, China, about how the Chinese were sprinting past everybody else in the world, including the United States, in the race to develop clean energy.

That we are allowing this to happen is beyond stupid. China is a poor country with nothing comparable to the tremendous research, industrial and economic resources that the U.S. has been blessed with. Yet they’re blowing us away — at least for the moment — in the race to the future.

Our esteemed leaders in Washington can’t figure out how to do anything more difficult than line up for a group photo. Put Americans back to work? You must be kidding. Health care? We’ve been working on it for three-quarters of a century. Infrastructure? Don’t ask.

It really is a disgrace that China with all its resource problems and under the leadership of the Communist Party seems to have a much more forward-thinking attitude about some really basic stuff. It's like Americans have given up on practicality in favor of theological conflict -- about evolution, marriage equality, and "don't ask, don't tell."

Thanks to Brad DeLong for the heads-up.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Driftglass on Mark McGwire's steroid use


The blogger Driftglass is capable of drawing amazing, well-written insights out of any aspect of American life. Here he is on Mark McGwire's admission that he was using steroids when he racked up his amazing home run records (in Major League Baseball, for those who don't know). The emphasis is mine:

Baseball is a business in which thousands of people have tens of billions of dollars at stake.

It provides a service which is entirely voluntary -- no one is forced to attend a game, watch one on teevee, listen on the radio, or read about on dead trees -- and yet, as we saw with the case of Tiger Woods, the revenues generated by this utterly unnecessary activity keep hundreds of media companies and secondary businesses solvent.

These businesses dance always on the edge of disaster -- trafficking in fickle, wispy products like yearning and nostalgia, with a public that could so very easily wake up one day and find the whole ritual too ridiculous and ridiculously expensive to play along anymore.

Like every other bubble of the last 30 years, the Home Run Bubble was a perverse outcome created by incentive structures which rewarded bad behavior, punished ethical behavior and placed a premium on secrecy and protecting corrupt institutions.

It is a lesson that we are obviously incapable of learning.
File this one under "bubbles as a general historical phenomenon."

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Reality: the Forgotten World


This post at English Russia is typical of much of the most striking material at that photo-blog, which covers 1/6 of the Earth's surface.

Have a look.
It might prove to be a philosophical moment. It certainly is a philosophical title.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Imperial decadence -- the Fisher King bleeds

I have been trying to keep most of my political commentary off this blog (by putting it on the even more ephemeral Facebook) but sometimes, like Sir Percival, you have to say something about an event that seems to indicate what direction things are going. Why is the Fisher King bleeding? Better find out!

The event today is about Today -- the US TV news show. It has just hired the eminently qualified Jenna Hager, daughter of George W. Bush, as a reporter.

Two comments from other bloggers pretty much nail the significance.

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon
:

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it's really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There's a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

About this latest hiring by NBC, Atrios observed: "if only the Villager values of nepotism and torture could be combined somehow." The American Prospect's Adam Serwer quicky noted that they already have been: "Liz Cheney." Liz Cheney is really the perfect face of Washington's political culture, a perfect manifestation of all the rotting diseases that define it and a pure expression of what our country has become and the reasons for its virtual ruin. She should really be on every political TV show all day every day. It's almost as though things can't really be expressed thoroughly without including her. Jenna Bush as a new NBC "reporter" on The Today Show -- at a time when every media outlet is firing and laying off real reporters -- is a very nice addition though.

UPDATE: Just to underscore a very important, related point: all of the above-listed people are examples of America's Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work -- The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor -- who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice -- is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that's clear.


Note: if you don't follow political geneology, you may want to look up Greenwald's panelists on the Web.

And from Patrick Nielsen Hayden:


Our children and grandchildren will remember these strutting second- and third-generation media peacocks they way we look back at the White Russian officer corps—as examples of astonishing decadence. They will wonder how these people, out of all those who could be discussing the day’s events, were the ones chosen to be on television, day after day, as the world careened toward ruin.
Just to be clear, I don't think that either of them is overstating the case. This really is the news of the day, the item you have to know and think about.

Thanks to Brad DeLong for these links.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Flabbergasting

From the New York Times: filmmakers rally to save "meaning," blame audience for sad state of movie storytelling.

Really.

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