Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The 80s called... they want their usufructs back

link via Agora
No good, in fact, will come of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable, which is exactly what the Obama program is starting to look like. In the folder marked "unsustainable" you can file most of the artifacts, usufructs, habits, and expectations of recent American life: suburban living, credit-card spending, Happy Motoring, vacations in Las Vegas, college education for the masses, and cheap food among them. All these things are over. The public may suspect as much, but they can't admit it to themselves, and political leadership has so far declined to speak the truth about it for them -- in short, to form a useful consensus that will allow us to move forward effectively.
I'll save you the trouble. 'Usufruct' is the right to use something you won't damage. Like, when a developer builds a building in a public passageway, forcing people to walk through private property? That's a usufruct.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq

So, I'm traveling for business, and I have a rental car. So, I listen to the radio, and to broadcast news. In broadcast news, you just sit and hear whatever some corporation or other feels you should know -- in general, this is pretty bad for democracy, but you do hear things you wouldn't seek out.

NPR told me yesterday that Afghanistan was not only bigger, but more populous than Iraq. I could have told you that Iraq had about 27 million people when we invaded, but that Afghanistan had 32? I would have said around 5. But, no. It's big. Closer to California than Texas in population.

Obama-era survey on Bush

A lot of hay has been made over this C-SPAN survey of 36 historians, which puts Bush 43 not at the bottom and Ronald Reagan -- friend of petroleum and defense interests, enemy of public welfare and education, who turned America into history's largest creditor (while Dubya exacerbated every problem he encountered, he did not create every difficulty he left us with), in the top half. It sort of makes you wonder how much presidents suck in general.

The survey gives us two things to talk about -- movement from the 2000 survey and components. Three if you count the participants, but I don't know anything about historians. The public story is that they moved this one after inauguration so they could do it for Darwin/Lincoln's 200th birthday, but you feel they kind of wanted to get the end of Shrub's episode; Clinton was rated 21st in the last year of his administration before the Marc Rich pardon. Now, he's rated 15th.

The Clinton movement is pretty interesting. In 2000, there were people who thought the internet bubble wouldn't all end in tears, NAFTA might work out, and NEWCAG was a genius. The biggest things weighing him down were military actions in Kosovo and Somalia, and some personal peccadilloes. I guess we've decided that presidents are entitled to their little invasions here and there, and all we ask is moderation, as well as the idea that integrity and capability in your role as a public servant don't have a lot to do with whether or not you cheat on your wife. 8 years of a teetotaler with no known record of adultery and a military service record have warmed us up to Bubba, although even his successor beat him on moral authority. It turned out our signifiers were all wrong.

Americans are taught as children that the slavery compromise in The Constitution made the Civil War inevitable, but apparently adults blame it on James Buchanan. I don't have a personal opinion on what caused the Civil War, but it's bad and he's the scapegoat, but shouldn't Bush 43 be at best second worst? Anyway, it's Carter that chaps my ass -- he's ranked under Cleveland, Taft and McKinley! And going down!

I find it hard to talk about the breakouts because they seem a little crazy. "Pursued Equal Justice for All" is Guantanamo George's, best known before running for President for condemning the retarded to death, best ranking. If he's 24th in that, what should we think of the bottom 18*? "Performance within context of times" still damns Buchanan as worst, but 43's ranking is the same as his overall. Apparently, historians don't buy this "historical context" hogwash, except to say that JFK had it easy: he's 6th overall and 12th in context. George W. Bush even beats Buchanan (and Hoover, which I could see) on economic management, so I'm thinking there's some anti-Buchanan bias around. You'd think if we can rehabilitate McCarthy, we could do a little work on Buchanan, but no. He only beats our former President in International Relations -- Nixon's, as you'd expect, best rank at 11, down from 8 in 2000.

64 historians participated. The methodology's not super clear, but I think each historian rated each president as a percentile in each of ten categories, and C-Span used massive parallel supercomputers to average them. Then, they summed the average for a total score (the methodology, averaging the input then summing, suggest they didn't get responses back from all historians in all areas. So, there's some hidden bias.)

* -- As Cleveland served twice, 85-89 and 93-97, there are 43 presidencies, but only 42 presidents.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Obama-era polls on Bush

I'm in a hotel in South Bend, Indiana, and they bring me USA Today. My rewards profile says to bring me the Journal, but they bring USA Today, which always makes me feel like I'm on the business end of a misinformation campaign.
Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel, and 25% neither.
Of course, what do you want to know when you read a public opinion poll? You want -- and it's not like I can see into your heart from here, everybody wants this -- to know how that's changed. But, USA Today isn't going to tell you, because it didn't know. I would have answered 'yes' to the question "Should the Bush Administration be investigated for probably illegal practices?" in 2002, and frankly for most of 2001. I'd guess that between 30 and 70 per cent of the American public felt a special prosecutor should be appointed at any given moment in the Bush 43 Presidency.

But, USA Today didn't ask. It sort of tried to make a frame in which everyone was OK with illegality as long as Oceania was at war with Eastasia. But, we weren't. We just weren't asked. So, the headlne should maybe be
Newspapers try to reingratiate themselves with American People after totally abdicating their responsibilities

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


there's no link

I'm trying to explain why I'm not posting. And, you know, here's the problem. If the Zeitgeist is with me, I've got nothing to say. A year ago, I could say, "Our economy based on retail spending fueled by a ludicrous expectation of eternally accelerating increase in real home values will detonate, obliterating the fantastical idea that 'innovative finance' was anything more than theft by the well-connected" and have some disagreement. Now, people just say, "Obviously. But, how do we get back on track?" It's sad. Over the past, say, twelve years we've been living on imaginary money, and that's got to balance out over the next few decades. This is neither a fun nor an interesting thing to say. There's an interesting drama playing out, where possible stakeholders in our future world of finance are (at least) one of two things: complicit or clueless. That is, anybody who can speak comfortably of the milieu of modern finance is probably partly responsible for its problems. The problem with talking about how this process plays out is that it's all behind the scenes. There's nothing to link to -- I'd become a source of information myself, and I'm really happier as an analyst.

WARFism is also arising on the climate change front. We've gone from people who don't really feel they have a stake in whether human life gets wiped out -- this was the kind of odd impression the Bush 43 administration made on me -- to people who, as they grapple with the issues, will come to understand that We Are Royally Fucked. Even if American meets my challenge to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production by July 17, 2018, humankind has at best even chances to make it to the end of the century.

I could talk about what 200% inflation is going to be like, but 'unpleasant' really sums it up.

It's not like people don't know there's trouble. What is there left to say? The current presidential administration wasn't elected on a platform of perfidy, or reelected after assuring the people that he'd had the epiphany that his job was 'hard work.'

The people who were enforcing the central lies of our lives have had it blow up in their faces. They're either begging for TARP money or registering for jobs as lobbyists, so I don't feel like I have to argue against them strenuously. I'm not officially hanging up the laptop, but....