hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Friday, January 10, 2003
this letter from Al Gore to his supporters hasn't gotten much attention:

. . .I wanted to communicate with you directly about my decision not to be a candidate in 2004. I am extremely grateful for all of the support from the many people who encouraged me to run. But after much deliberation, I have decided that the best contribution I can make in 2004 is not by once again becoming a candidate myself, but rather by serving in other ways and continuing to fight for the right result.

After traveling throughout our nation on behalf of Democratic candidates this year (and then for the past five weeks on a book tour), I concluded that a Bush-Gore rematch would inevitably involve too much focus on the past - partly at the expense of the 100% focus on the future which I believe will be needed to maximize the chances for victory in 2004. I am mindful that for many, there are still deep feelings about the 2000 election that have not gone away and of course, most of us feel very strongly that our nation's current policies under the Bush Cheney administration are unwise and harmful to our country . . .

. . .I intend to remain very active in fighting for the causes we believe in and working to ensure that the Democratic Party becomes a more effective voice for the values that you and I share. Later in this election cycle, I intend to endorse a candidate for President - but only after carefully reviewing the proposals and plans of all the candidates.

Early in the New Year, I will deliver a series of policy speeches in the hopes that some of the ideas I have been working on will prove of interest to the candidates and others. As always, I welcome your suggestions on what you believe is most important for our country's future. . .

. . .Let's keep fighting!


Al Gore

words of wisdom from the K-man:

. . .I hear through the grapevine that one of my web stalkers went into a snit over my Spiegel interview - particularly over a joke about Bush resembling Ferdinand Marcos more than Gary Cooper. . .In case you're wondering: no, I don't think that Bush is the moral equivalent of Marcos, and I'm not endorsing the theory that 9/11 was a Carlyle Group conspiracy. But as many people have now acknowledged, this is an administration of "access capitalists" - which is just the American version of crony capitalism. Is there also a resemblance in the sense that Bush has used fears of terrorism for political gain? Of course there is. Memos from Karl Rove are quite explicit about using the war on terror as a political issue. Moreover, the Bush administration's creation of a cult of personality, its obsessive secretiveness, its propensity for mass arrests, and its evident fondness for Big-Brotherish schemes of public surveillance are not the actions of men who have a deep respect for the democratic process.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003
Kevin Drum and others have been pondering what effective Democratic marketing slogans would look like. Here's one suggestion: "jobs gap". That is, a healthy American economy creates two million jobs a year. Our economy stopped creating jobs in 2000, and in the last two years has actually shed around 2 million jobs. Therefore the term Democrats should be using is "There is a jobs gap of 6 million workers". That is, there are at least 6 million people who should be working, if we can get our economic act together, who aren't. Just like Kennedy attacked Nixon for the (nonexistent) "missile gap", Democrats should be proposing solutions to close the "jobs gap", and challenging the President to do the same.

common sense from an unemployed American:

Bob Herbert
"I don't know if we can change the heart of C.E.O.'s into thinking, `Well, you know, I'm getting $30 million, but I can save some jobs if I give back $15 million and live on just $15 million this year.' They never think like that. And until they begin to think like that, we'll be at their mercy."

Andrew Sullivan has gone out very far on a limb with his "Bush Good, Clinton Bad" two-step over North Korea. Saying that this crisis is completely caused by Clintonian fecklessness and appeasement, and the Bushies had and have no choice but to do what they're doing. How is that going to square with the latest news that the intelligence on the Uranium enrichment program was discovered in 2000, the Clintonites briefed the Bushies on this uranium program in early 2001, and the Bushies apparently sat on the information for 18 months before publicizing the program in October 2002, setting in train the chain of events whereby, if nothing changes, North Korea is going to begin cranking out nuclear bombs with metronomic regularity?

I don't know how any honest person who has paid attention to what has gone on in North Korea can hold the views Andrew Sullivan holds. The only hope for him, then is to largely ignore the North Korea situation, and so avoid the logical inconsistencies between his preferred version of history and the actual version of events. Which is what seems to be happening.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003
various people are discussing diets, and O-dub in particular is endorsing the Atkins diet. Robert Park, a University of Maryland Physicist who wrote a very good book called "Voodoo Science: the road from foolishness to fraud, once had a funny post about diets in his weekly column "What's New", written for the American Physical Society:

Eighty-five percent of Americans list weight loss as their top goal, but studies find we are going the other way. So Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman invited authors of the most popular diet plans to Washington to debate nutrition. At one extreme there was Dr. Dean Ornish pushing his high-carbohydrate diet, and at the other Dr. Atkins, the current number one best-selling author, urging people to eat the hamburger patty and the cheese and throw away the bun. Atkins, who didn't look exactly svelte, took a postprandial nap during the proceedings. Since all of these best-selling authors have become millionaires, WN decided to offer the "physics plan": burn more calories than you consume.

initially posted in Max Sawicky's comments section, discussing the betrayal of Komrade Kaus. Matt Yglesias said Kaus supports Universal Health Care, voted for Gore, etc. but Atrios said the Mickster never writes about those subjects, and if you spend all your time attacking liberals, and coming up with tendentious, sophistic arguments why, despite all surface appearances, liberals are wrong and conservatives are right, then at some point you have to turn in your "I'm a Liberal!" card:

Actually, Kaus's book not only advocated Universal health care (and a universal draft), he also advocated a guaranteed, sub minimum-wage, above-poverty line federal jobs program. Here's a quote from his booknotes interview

"I advocate an ambitious welfare reform proposal that would end welfare, replace it with WPA-style guaranteed jobs. It costs $50 billion. . ."

His blog is becoming semi-embarassing, especially his defense of Bush's economic policies and his attacks on Krugman, but I'm not quite ready to give up on "Rhino" Kaus. He was, for example, the only bonafide journalist to acknowledge that the Judge overseeing the recount *would* have counted overvotes, therefore Gore *would* have won, therefore the Supreme Court decision *did* steal the election for Bush. He was also the first to report the obvious - the media hated Gore's guts. He also endorsed Mark Green over Mike Bloomberg, though I think Bloomberg seems to be a pretty good Mayor. He also had a link the Daily Howler, though he seems to have removed it. BTW, his caption for the Daily Howler link was "tries to spoil the fun" What exactly is that supposed to mean?

Here are more relevant quotes from his very readable and interesting Booknotes interview:

". . .There are disputes between liberals and conservatives. The primary one between [Charles] Murray and myself would be a belief in the efficacy of government. I would argue government worked during the New Deal. The WPA worked; Desert Storm worked. . .And I think Murray would say, "Oh, any government effort is going to be crippled by bureaucracy and liberal interest groups, and the unions are going to sue and the legal aid groups are going to sue, and you're never going to be able to fire anybody from these WPA jobs. It's just going to degenerate into a sort of shadow dole, where people are doing make work and raking leaves and doing useless tasks." And that's a legitimate argument. I mean, I certainly can't win that argument hands down. I can argue that let's give it a try, that I think government can work, but it's a legitimate conservative position to say the government can't work. . ."

". . .It's interesting. The book is pitched to liberals, pitched to Democrats. I find that I am love-bombed from the right and I am attacked from the left. . .If you take two steps in the direction of conservatism, they say, "That's great, Mickey. You know, come on all the way. Come and be a Republican conservative." Whereas the left, if you take two steps in the direction of conservatism, say, "You've defied the true faith. You're attacking unions in this book. You know, forget you. You're hopeless. . ."

". . .I find that people on the left -- I mean, part of the book is -- part of this is my fault, in a sense. I'm very confrontational with the left. I like to be very clear and pick fights with the left. The book is antagonistic to people on the left, and they naturally react back antagonistically.

When you get in a dialogue, you find that there really isn't all that much antagonism. For, you know, people say, "Well, it's unfair to ask welfare mothers to work," you know. And then you say, "Well, but I'm offering them a job. I'm supplementing it so it's an above-poverty job. I'm offering day care. And I'm offering national health insurance." And are you telling me that it's -- you offer all that to somebody and she says, "To heck with you, I want a check," do you think she has a right to a check?"

Saturday, January 04, 2003
conservatives always bemoan the legalistic adversarial culture. But don't they realize that culture is at least partly due to a bare bones safety net?

Jonah Goldberg writes about The Lord Of The Rings in his column today. He addresses two questions: 1) Is the Lord Of the Rings racist? 2) Is it pro-war propaganda? Goldberg's answers are hell no, and hell no. For racism, his argument is basically that though the Orcs were dark-skinned, they aren't meant to be considered human. They are obviously, ineradicably, sub-human creatures. For the charge of war-mongering, he says Tolkien made the Orc's subhuman, and the ensuing war indisputably just, to sharpen the point of how people can rationalize not doing the right thing.

What Goldberg demonstrates is how even an intelligent and insightful person can go wrong, wasting hundreds of words in irrelevancies, if they choose to ignore inconvenient evidence. If you you wanted to show LOTR was racist, you wouldn't pick the orcs as evidence, you would pick the "Cruel Men of Harad-Rim", or the Southrons with their Oliphaunts, all of whom Tolkien chooses to portray as fighting for Sauron. If not racist, LOTR is at the very least highly ethnocentric.

Which I think, gets to the point. The correct response to charges of racism is not to foolishly deny that racism exists, but to simply say "Yes, the LOTR is mildly racist. But so what? It's also a great work of art which has the power to inspire and entertain people of all races." In assessing the racism of LOTR, it's important to know what Tolkien was trying to do: He was trying, in part, to create a mythology for the English people, something comparable to the rich Scandanavian mythologies which Tolkien admired. And, as Joseph Campbell has noted, all mythologies are ethnocentric: the names for the in-group will be synonomous with "human", while the out-groups will have names like "funny face" or "broken ears". The fact that LOTR exalts the English and demeans other peoples is hardly surprising: it was written by an Englishman, and meant primarily for other Englishpeople. The correct advice to people who are offended by the racism in LOTR is to put aside what you dislike, and appreciate what's worth appreciating. And if you just can't ignore the racism, then write your own damn story.

Of course, this advice has broader applicability: For example, a conservative Christian can disapprove of the bohemian morality in the musical Rent, and still recognize that it is an inspiring, moving work of true artistic merit.

As for the charge of war-mongering, this is easily disproved by something Tolkien wrote in 1965, in the forward of the American edition of LOTR, when he was asserting that the LOTR was *not* meant as an allegory of World War II:

"The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves. "

This is a rather shocking statement of ambivalence, or if you like, "moral relativism". The line about "both sides holding hobbits in hatred and contempt" should put paid, I think, to both admirers and detractors who think of Tolkien as an ardent Cold Warrior, and who think of LOTR as clearly intended to exhort the Free Men of the West to face their Evil Empires with confidence and moral clarity.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003
I wrote this in the comments section of jeff jarvis's weblog, and then realized it was too darn long for a comment:

I think cable TV, and to a lesser extent, radio, are dead-ends for liberals. The problem is that the customers for those businesses aren't viewers, they're advertisers. To give a small example, Andrew Tobias (www.andrewtobias.com), a smart and sensible liberal, has written one of the best (and funniest) personal finance books ever, "The Only Investment Guide you'll ever need". Assuming he has basic TV skills, he could, I'm sure, create a great and wildly successful show on investing and personal finance. The problem is that most of the advertisors on such shows are big brokerage firms, and big companies in general, and that the good, sound, advice and information Tobias gives will often, though certainly not always, run counter to their financial interests.

Joe Conason once wrote that he had been intervied for a slot on Fox News, but later got word that he had been black-listed by someone high up in the organization. And it is not an accident, I think, that smart, effective liberals like Josh Marshall and Paul Krugman and Jonathan Chait aren't on TV more. Producers like predictable people, who will say predictable things. Someone like Krugman or Marshall or Chait, who know more about policy and will not be manipulated into saying things the producers and hosts want to hear, are deeply disturbing to them. Even C-Span, follows this pattern. Brian Lamb is a moderate Republican with a libertarian bent, and you'll notice that the left of center people on C-Span are usually bland, non- confrontational establishment people, like Frank Rich, or far to the left, like Cornel West.
Non-establishment liberals, like Josh Marshall, are rare, and people who really like to mix it up with conservatives and are effective at doing it, like Krugman and Chait, are non-existent.

At this point I run the risk of being paranoid, and perhaps that's true. But it's not only me. The current Washinton Monthly has an article by a business journalist asserting that advertiser pressure is a key reason that business journalism stinks.

Also, let me just say that I think the solution is the internet, and specifically a liberal organization that produces trustworthy, reliable Consumer Reports-like information on non-ideological subjects, and uses the credibility derived from that to build a respected news and political organization, with perhaps a mild liberal bias.