Monthly Archives: April 2009

A book about America.

I just finished The Ruin of the Roman Empire. I thoroughly enjoyed this book for many reasons. First, it fills in my favorite little nook of history, which is the time between the classically established fall of the Roman empire and the Carolingian Renaissance. It’s a period of time more or less absent from most western civ classes. A lot of the wars and conquest history we learn skips right over this period. A people’s history might not find much to like either, but there are a few significant things from this period that are more mundane but that are huge, for example the codification of Roman law, which is the basis of law in all but a few countries (the two main exceptions are 49 states of the US, and Commonwealth Countries, and those ruled by sharia law).

Anyway, this is a bit of an odd history book. The author goes out of his way to spice up the history by injecting very ‘oos imagery and language in talking about the Roman empire, and the book is essentially a polemic against Justinian. It’s a polemic I tend to agree with, but it’s much more opinionated than you might be used to.

So, what’s this authors answer to the perennial question why did Rome fall? He rebuts the notion that it was barbarian invasions. No, the “barbarians” became the “Romans” as he shows. Was it Christianity as Gibbon argues? Probably not, because the Church wasn’t all that organized and there were lots of “Christianities” going on at the time. So if it wasn’t the barbarians was it imperial overstrech? Not exactly.

He argues that Justinian’s fascism (he doesn’t use the word fascism, but describes it exactly) sets up the coup de grace of the Islamic conquests by weakening the successor kingdoms in the west, alienating the southeast with religious fanaticism, and by failing to reach an accord with Persia. I agree with all of this. So, how did they get into such a position in the first place? Here’s the interesting point.

O’Donnell argues that the Imperial overstretch was a problem not just because the system couldn’t pay for itself (and he points out clearly that the Romans had no idea how economics worked and were shooting in the dark in this regard anyway) but because Rome lost its “idea of itself.” By this he means that after the Roman empire reached a certain point, it didn’t know what to do anymore. Keep conquering? But what would that mean? It was already such a huge place full of so many cultures.

I don’t think the author says this just to make another point about the fall of Rome. I don’t think it’s a mistake that he’s using all of the language and discussion of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think he is carefully, discreetly arguing that the United States is undergoing to same kind of ruin do to its imperial wars that have nothing to do with expanding the idea of the United States. We know that because even as we claim to be expanding democracy in those counties (which would be “our idea of ourselves”) we both know that we’re not really doing that and know that we’re not capable of really making those countries into new Americas or part of America, even if they do become some kind of

Specter and Misc.

Just some things I want to get on the record:

I.

This Wonkette post is hilarious, but I think what woven in to it is a very, very important truth about liberalism from circa 1970-1995: too much Orwellian identity politics stuff ruined the brand.

Fortunately, it’s time to watch out for this kind of thing because we have a popular liberal President and a governing majority in both houses of Congress, along with a new emerging center-left consensus, restoring the American equilibrium.

Things like political correctness were cracks in the old liberalism that was arguably basically already out of steam anyway, but it gave the ascendant ideology cover for its massive failures too.

By the time of Bill Clinton, liberals had learned that passing a law or funding a program isn’t enough to change things, that benchmarks and enforcement matter too. By the time of Barack Obama, everyone else learned that you still have to pass a law and fund a program to change things and that benchmarks and enforcement aren’t enough on their own.

II.

Arlen Specter is both more significant than the naysayers say and less significant than the buzz. The naysayers say he won’t necessarily generate a filibuster proof majority. How do they know? The buzz says he will. How do they know? It’s been a long time since this situation has occurred. It remains to be seen if party discipline can work. Maybe the DSCC will say we demand you vote with the party on cloture on everything. It might work.

The other issue is how this changes negotiations. It means that negotiations only need occur within the caucus. That’s huge. It’s so much different that Snowe and/or Collins may also have to make the switch to keep their relevance. Why wouldn’t they? They are going to get a Club for Growth primary anyway for their stim votes, right?

Specter also doesn’t become the most right wing Democrat in the party. That’s a mistake. That’s Ben Nelson on social issues and Joe Liebermann on foreign policy.

But he’s also not a hero. This is the guy who invented the magic bullet theory. You know, the one bullet went through Kennedy’s neck, through Connelly’s chest, and into his wrist, all without damaging the bullet.

At worst, he was part of a cover up. At best, he thought that it was better to leave it at that to avoid the American people from being stirred up into an anti-Castro war fervor, if they blamed it on Castro, or would lose their anti-Commie vigor if they thought it was the anti-Castro Cubans.

Either way, someone made a decision not on the merits but based on expediency to leave it at that. Arlen was a DA later. Would he have told his cops to stop investigating if that was their best theory? No way. And the fact that every time that theory catches abuse we don’t hear about how that happens 50 times a day in a war is more proof to me that it’s anomalous. And remember, the US Congress found later that there were in fact 4 shots. The Congress. Not Olive Stone. The US Congress. And everyone agrees that there’s no way Oswald fires 4 shots with that gun. Does this mean I believe there was some vast conspiracy? No, it means I don’t know the answer, but it also means that neither did the Warren Commission and neither did Arlen Specter.

So, I don’t really care about Arlen. I just want his vote on health care.

III.

Speaking of health care. I’m glad to see Obama showing some spine on this. It is really the key issue. Why?

First of all people who are down and out would be greatly helped by it. That should be enough on its own.

Second, our system is so badly broken that it needs to be fixed anyway.

Third, it is as important as liquid banks to our economy. See, our industries can’t compete on the basis of other country’s health care being free. It keeps people in jobs they don’t like. It keeps them from starting out on their own. It hurts existing employers who struggle to attract employees who demand that as a perq and who struggle to pay workers’ compensation which has inflated largely because of medical care.

If the banks start lending again, they need someone to lend to. People feeling secure enough to start their own business and/or hire employees might be a good start.

100 Days…

Is a meaningless arbitrary marker outside of FDR’s unique circumstances and only serves as filler for superfluous network bloviators and antiquated print “journalists”.

As for me, I am mostly happy with the start of Obama’s beginnings and gratified that the Conservatrons have validated my reasoning for jumping on the Obama bandwagon after Iowa: a black President has undermined the polite racism at the center of their ideology and thereby driven them crazy, leaving them with the missing-chromosome crowd’s accidentally hilarious teabaggery.

Now back to ice hockey….

Reconciliation and Filibuster

I don’t know much about the U.S. Senate’s weird rules. Maybe enough to properly attach the epithet “Byzantine” to them.

But here’s the thing. The Republicans have decided to filibuster just about everything, meaning that you need 60 votes to pass anything, or, put another way 41 senators hold a minority veto power.

The one catch is the Budget Reconciliation provisions which allow for the oft-demanded “up or down vote” with 50+VP or 51 being the passing number. Then there is something called the “Byrd Rule” which limits what is properly subject to the reconciliation process.

But the “Byrd Rule” developed in an era where the filibuster was a much rarer thing only used in the case of things that were big time, like the Civil Rights Act. And of course, “It’s OK If You’re A Republican” to abuse the Byrd Rule. Even McCain says they have done it.

Anyway, the extreme pressure the Republicans are putting on the leadership by forcing a filibuster on everything is only inevitably going to cause people to look for escape hatches. This is typical of Republican strategy: extreme myopia, but fully aware myopia. They will sell the future short on purpose with fully informed consent to win now.

As often as I criticize the Dems for not having balls, I would never suggest that they grow balls at the expense of their brain. All of these filibusters disturb the political equilibrium and there will be blowback.

For an example of the foregoing, look no further than the last two elections.

We eagerly await…

…the 2008-09 winner of the Bobby Holik Trophy. (;

UPDATE: I would nominate Huselius, Ribiero, Campbell, Visnovsky, Redden, Satan, Malone, and Sundin. Hard to say before playoffs are over on some of these, I guess.

Kosher Coke and Case Studies in American Idiocy

I found this article in USA Today interesting.

Of course, to be precise, it’s only “kosher” because it’s Passover, and that’s only if you’re Orthodox about it, and then, even further, only if you’re Orthodox in an Ashkenazic way. Even among the Ultra-Orthodox of the non-ashkenazi, corn products are ok during Passover. (This difference made for an interesting side conversation at my seder last year when we had hummus and tahine… never mind.)

What fascinates me is that there has to be some reason that Coca-Cola won’t sell this year round. People pay exorbitant prices for Mexican coke (which is just about the same thing, except bottled from Mexican water…) at Costco and other places. It’s expensive ostensibly because of the cost of getting here and the fact that it’s in glass bottles, but I think it also has something to do with what the market will in fact bear. I get a Mexican coke every other week or so at my favorite Mexican place down the street. If I’m feeling rich, I’ll buy a case at Costco.

Tomorrow, since I’m in LA, I’m going to a fucking Ralps or Vons in the Fairfax and I’m going to clear them out. See, Kosher coke is mucho mas barata very much cheaper than the Mexican kind, and I like cans sometimes. Bottles, yeah, yeah, they have that same pseudoauthentic cachet that vinyl records do, but, like records, they break too damn easy to be useful in all situations.

But, wtf? Why only during Passover? There’s Coke. There’s Diet Coke. There’s Coke Zero. There’s Diet Coke with Splenda (which I should like but I don’t—why the sweetener option on Diet???) There’s Caffeine Free Coke and Caffeine Free Diet Coke. There’s Lime Coke and Lemon Coke and fucking Vanilla Coke, all in diet varieties. There’s the comparatively venerable Cherry and Diet Cherry.

There’s substantial if not conclusive evidence that high fructose corn syrup has been a disaster to our country’s health, and yet still despite all of these varieties, no Sugar Coke.

Reading through the comments of something as down home Murrican as USA Today is bound to invite the usual set of mouth breathing fodder, which is why I linked it. There’s one making fun of Jews for thinking that there’s some health reason for not eating corn for one week a year. (No, no, I don’t see that as anti-semitic, just hairfuckingtrigger looking for a reason to talk trash though.) One commenter seems to think this is highly relevant to gay marriage. Maybe if those folks spent more time thinking about Adam and Eve than Adam and Steve they’d be less spooked. Just sayin’. Gay haters think about gay enough to make one question if they aren’t pining for rear entry. Then there’s a classic: Some guy telling us all how this is what Holy Holy Lord God of Free Markets has commanded for us to have, selah.

It’s painful. Anyone who isn’t a pudwhacking teenager whose reading material wasn’t limited to The Fountainhead and D&D 4th edition Dungeon Master’s guide and had the social life of a cat lady you’d think by now would have modified their free market orthodoxy. Hell, even Ayn Rand’s own real life toe sucking butt boy Alan Greenspan admits to a “flaw” in that thinking. And he has some real post-Cougar Andrea Mitchell to measure gravity on.

How one can argue that “THE MARKET” has foisted HFCS on us is beyond me. First of all, THE MARKET shows that people are willing to pay quite a bit of money for swich licours as Mexican Coke and Romance-language-sounding label wines, even if two buck chuck and HFCS Coke get it done in a pinch. I dunno, maybe fine wine is as much of an illusion as the sugar taste is. But isn’t it against THE MARKET to tell people that? Personally, I don’t care much for regular coke, but I quite enjoy the sugar version (and seem to need less of it—maybe THAT’s the problem.)

And this leaves aside the massive government subsidy of corn for decades. As usual, the ascetic dorks of Idolatrous Randism seem to always harsh our mellow by making us swallow our vitamins by not allowing one government intervention to counter another so that, I don’t know, we all end up liking to punish ourselves. Fucking weirdoes.

Anyway, we were triumphantly told in the 90s that the days of American Industrial monocuisine were over, and Sam Adams and Starbucks were the new way, and controversies over New Coke and Old would be mooted: we’d have BOTH! Odd then, isn’t it, that I don’t recall ever hearing anyone demand a Diet Lemon Coke, ever, then yet whoop there it was. Now we shop for sugar cokes like they’re going to stop making them next week or something and they won’t cough it up.

It must be those gay marrying MARKET inhibiting kikes in the Obama administration what’s doin’ it.

P.S. Just filled up my trunk from the Ralph’s at La Brea and 3rd. It’s the same price as any other Coke item, but just 2-liter bottles. (I could swear I’ve seen cans in the past…) Meaning, I got it for about 75% the price of Mexican coke.

The Great Economic Clown Show

There are a few out there like Paul Krugman, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule: most economists are right-wing ideologues who actually awarded one of their own a Nobel prize within the last 100 years (last 20 or so to be more precise) for expounding the novel concept that the economic agents of their fancy models were not perfectly rational, in no ways had access to the same or equal or perfect amount of information. Worse, mathematicians like Benoit Mandelbrot (who basically invented fractal geometry) were basically ignored when they told them that these models are of about the same predictive power as the weather (See The Misbehaviour of Markets). Which means you can say it will be hotter in the summer and cooler in the winter, but you can’t say it will be 89 degrees on August 1.

In complete and total violation of the methodological framework that has prevailed on hard sciences since Newton wrote them down, instead of saying the models were broken when they didn’t conform to history (like 1990s Japan, or today in America) they just add hacks to the model. When the astronomers couldn’t let go of the geocentric model, they devised a whole new method of explaining Mars’s apparent retrograde motion in the sky by saying Mars orbited around a sphere in its sphere proper. The fact that Copernicus’s heliocentric model made everything simpler just didn’t matter for a long, long time.

So, the Ptolemaic Economists keep adding epicycles in blind contradiction of Occam’s Razor and empirical evidence. They keep telling us that we have to trust the markets, that the government can’t fix things, and that private industry is the solution to everything.

From a sheer historical point of view this is revealed as nonsense. Ignoring finer econometric data based on these Ptolemaic models, it’s simple to see that the times of higher wage growth correspond with higher infrastructure (i.e. the commons) investment, higher capital investment, higher entry into the middle class….and higher top end marginal tax rates and government spending not being a bad word.

Historically, Copernican Economics shows quite plainly that investment in the commons bears the kind of fruit that policy makers claim to want. Copernican Economics also shows that times of widening inequality, unregulated markets, and concentrating wealth immediately precede panics and depressions.

Copernican economics might also tell you that if the biggest cause of bankruptcy, the biggest drain on the economy, the largest growing expense for just about everyone, growing like a cancer on GDP, the ostensible cause for the vaunted US auto industry’s collapse is health care that and investment in the commons of health care just might–just maybe!!!–kinda sorta be a good idea.

The problem is, the academy is ruled by the Ptolemaic Economists. The Phlogiston Economists. The curative leeching Economists (perhaps the most proper term). The scary thing is what happened to the countries ruled by the Ptolemaists. Britain became a global empire and defined civilization for 300 years after it stopped quashing the “Copernicans” like Newton, Halley, et al. Those parts of Europe that suppressed them? Well, they have nice art and better food than Britain.

America is in danger of clinging to its own legends and new Ptolemaic dogma. The legends of Ronald Reagan and There Will Be Blood. That lusty greed that drove people to California in 1849 and into the real estate market 5 years ago. We need to cut it out and start listening to the Copernicans now, or else we ought to start learning Chinese (or, God forbid, Arabic).

Iowa and Prop 8

Whatever else I may have said before about the chances of the California Supreme Court striking down Prop 8, I think the Iowa case changes everything.

The California Supremes don’t act like you’d expect Supreme Court Justices to act. They are in far less of a bubble of than their counterparts in Washington, D.C. They don’t live or work in Sacramento (the Supreme Court building there is largely ceremonial). They work in San Francisco, and, through their actions, if not their limited out of Court words, see themselves as important players in the government.

I think it would shake the self-image of at least a couple of them to be seen going backwards, especially against a trend set by a state like Iowa. (New England just doesn’t do the same thing.)

I wonder if this doesn’t cause Kennard and George to go back to where they were in the In re Marriage cases. Especially George who definitely seems himself as playing a historical role.

They can always call for supplemental oral argument. I’m not sure I’m ready to say they will strike 8, but I’d say that more dithering over that decision is sure to come.

North Korea's Toys

I live within 100 miles or so of Vandenburg AFB, which doesn’t make it my neighbor, but does make it close enough to see rocket launches leaving trails sometime. I wonder if I’ll will soon be experiencing a very bright purple night followed by a report than North Korea’s satellite launch ended up in Alaska, making Sarah Palin next in line to head NASA.

P.S. I am a little tired of this douche in North Korea. Maybe Hillary should put something in his $2000 single malt.