Monday, March 31, 2008

Flower Power

Went down to see the Sakura (cherry blossoms) at the University of Washington this weekend. It seems even birds enjoy flowers.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Lip Service

Good Morning America was still talking about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright this morning. Must have been a slow news day yesterday.

Anyway, I was wondering why no-one else had encountered this sort of issue. But it occurred to me that someone has. Well, sort of, anyway. When Senator John Kerry was running for president, he was dogged by a persistent question:

"Can Kerry be a good Catholic and yet take positions as a lawmaker that contradict the teachings of the church on 'life issues,' especially abortion and embryonic stem-cell research?"
"John Kerry's Catholic Problem" Terry Eastland - The Daily Standard
Kerry's problem wasn't that people felt that his choice of church meant that he wasn't committed to his politics - it was that people felt that his politics showed that we wasn't committed to his church.

Somehow, I suspect that Senator Hillary Clinton would have the same problem, if someone cared to look. I don't know where she goes to church, outside of having encountered a David Horsey comic in which he ribs her about trying to appeal to Evangelicals by touting her Methodist upbringing. Now, I've never been to a Methodist church before, but I suspect that their doctrine is no more pro-choice than Roman Catholicism. But no-one has accused her of being a closet pro-lifer, despite that fact.

So in the end, it seems that Obama's problem is only partially his former pastor. It's also the fact, that unlike pretty much every other candidate, he's expected to take his pastor seriously.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Self Service

"Greed doesn't self regulate"
Ben Wiseley
Robert Salisbury has his Jacksonville, Oregon home ransacked by people who'd read a Craigslist ad claiming that he'd been forced to leave the area suddenly, and that he was abandoning all of his worldly possessions, including his horse, to anyone who wanted them. Sure enough, the locusts appeared.

I find it hard to believe that people honestly thought that this was on the level, especially in light of the fact that just last year, the same thing happened in Tacoma. It wasn't just a local story - it showed up in the New York Times, for crying out loud. One woman, after having taken Salisbury's horse, decided that something wasn't kosher and called the police to verify that things were as they seemed. And when they weren't, she returned the things she'd taken. Others however, when confronted, insisted that the ad was genuine, and that they were entitled to take what they wanted.

One wonders why we're so upset with our government for going out of its way to avoid finding out what they wanted to believe about Iraq to be false when it seems pretty clear that a segment of the general population is willing to turn a blind eye to the truth when it gets between them and looting someone's home.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Now I've Seen Everything

I'd never heard of "Aggravated and Heinous Battery" before. I hadn't even realized that "heinous" was a legal term.

I think I have to agree with The Daily Weekly on this one. Collectively, the perpetrators do add up to "Five Good Arguments for the Death Penalty." Of course, they haven't actually been found guilty of anything yet, so calling for them to hang is somewhat jumping the gun, if I may be allowed the understatement. And treating their eventual convictions as forgone conclusions sort of defeats the purpose of having a legal system, doesn't it?

I have to take my hat off to which poor sods from the the Public Defenders office wind up on this case. They're really going to have their hands full with trying to get the best outcome for their clients. I don't know if Illinois' Death Penalty moratorium is still in effect or not. These guys might just manage to put an end to it. I'm pretty sure the Court of Public Opinion will gladly sign the death warrants.

Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens

Andrew Sullivan has done something that perhaps the rest of us should have done. He looked up the full text of one of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's sermons. (And posted it to his blog.) In this case, it's the one where he talks about the atomic bombings of Japan and their (long term) connection to the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Unlike what we've seen and heard in the press, it's not so much that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki "justified" the destruction of the World Trade Center. It's that military action against civilian targets begets hatred, which, in turn, begets the desire for revenge, which, like it or not, is liable to lead to attacks against civilians.

"America's chickens are coming home, to roost. Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism."

I don't think that it can be argued that the Second World War was violent. It was, after all, one of the major wars of modern human history. Last I looked, that was kind of the definition of violent. And I'm pretty sure that there was hatred. Even if you cast the internment camps as a reasonable precaution (which I don't) I was watching a history of superhero comic books in the United States a couple of weeks ago, and I can still hear Keith David's rich voice intoning: "There were two types of depictions of the Japanese in comic books during World War Two. Buck-toothed, and fanged." (At issue here were the differences between the depictions of the Germans and the Japanese in the hyper-patriotic {jingoistic?} comic books of the time.)

I've always wrestled with the idea that the atomic bombings constituted a form of terrorism against the Japanese. On the one hand, it was pretty clear that the point that the United States was making was "surrender, or we'll keep doing this." The point behind dropping two bombs was, after all, to let the Japanese know that we had more than one, so they'd be under the impression that we could keep it up. I read that President Harry Truman's stated goal in ordering the bombings was to resolve the war in the Pacific quickly by inflicting destruction, and instilling the fear of further destruction, sufficient to cause the Japanese to surrender. While this strikes me as a smart tactic, especially in the face of what would have gone down had the United States actually had to resort to Operation Downfall, which would certain have included the production and use of more atomic weapons, it did smack of making war on civilians in order to lever the Japanese government into surrender. (But then again, so do the Ten Plagues of Egypt, none of which targeted Pharaoh himself. The Tenth killed his firstborn son, who, it seems, was not involved in any of the decision-making processes that would have freed the Israelites. And that was a close as it gets.)

Of course, a chicken and egg argument can be triggered here, with debates over who really started the chain of violence. After all, who says that the atomic bombings were not Japan's chickens, roosting in a particularly spectacular fashion?

But for me, the chickens coming home to roost argument simply casts the al-Quaeda hijackers as agents of a karmic cycle that exists outside of their own desires. I've always been leery of attempts to cast the United States as the dominant moral authority on Earth (take the argument against torture that says that if we do it, others will too), as it implies that we in America are the only people on the planet capable of making independent moral choices. Everyone else is reduced to unthinking, knee-jerk reactioneering to whatever the United States has done this week. If we take the high ground, the world becomes a better place - if we take the low road, the entire planet sinks into a morass. Does no-one think for themselves?

So maybe the problem with Reverend Wright's sermons isn't that they're anti-American. It's that they look down on everyone else.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Security Blankets

David Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did a great cartoon about Senator Barack Obama's attempts to bridge the racial divide in this country.

It's a shame that we cling to them so tightly.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is the Strategy Back?

One Republican particularly unmoved by Obama's speech was Representative Peter King of New York who said his party had "to make Reverend Wright a centerpiece of the campaign.''
"Obama's 'Cheap' Words May Prove Costly to Him" Margaret Carlson.
I was wondering, with all of the flap over Senator Barack Obama's association with his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, if we'd see the Republicans publicly move to stockpile ammunition against him as the possible Democratic nominee, in the form of stoking White opinion that Senator Obama may be a closet racist and White fears that if he's elected President that it will be payback time for more than two centuries of slavery and oppression.

Like all negative campaigning, this isn't going to result in more votes for Senator John McCain. It's designed to lower the number of votes AGAINST him. The goal, and the most likely result, will be lower voter turnout as those people who allow themselves to be swayed by the arguments stay home on election day. These won't be the die-hard Obama backers, just the people who see him as a lesser evil. With any luck, some of them will decide that it's still worthwhile to vote for SOMEONE, and find some minor candidate to support; but in all likelyhood, we're simply going to see fewer people bothering to show up.
It also turns back the clock a bit on the Republicans.
''Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization,'' said [Republican National Committee chairman Ken] Mehlman. ''I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.''
"An Empty Apology" Bob Herbert. The New York Times
In seeking to demonize Reverend Wright, and take down an Obama candidacy with him, the Republicans are returning to a tactic that the party had gone on the record back in 2005 as saying was wrong. But when push comes to shove, one suspects that they'll be too eager/desperate to continue holding the presidency to leave it behind.

Isn't this the way of all evil things? Doing things that we know we shouldn't, or that at least otherwise offend our morals, because of an unwillingness to forgo the potential benefits?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If They Had Asked ME...

It's amazing to think that this time last year, the housing market was still going strong. But people were already warning that the bubble couldn't last forever. I had my own thoughts about the topic, and came across them today. It was never posted because it's both unfinished and disjointed. But it was interesting to read again, even if it is more proof that world-class economist, I'm not...

One of the ways to end the upward pressure on home prices, I suspect, is to make it harder (in the short term) to own a home. Chose a modest percentage of an average worker's take-home pay, and make it illegal to write a mortgage loan that requires they pay more than that. Period. When the only way to sell more homes becomes to lower the price, that's what will happen.

Home prices are going up because people are chasing home ownership. The more frenetic the chase, the more money people are willing to pour into it. As you move up the socio-economic scale, the greater percentage of your income that you can afford to place into housing without making serious cutbacks in other areas. This advantage of the more affluent is what's driving home prices ever higher, and making it harder for the lower-paid to compete for real-estate. And the chase is auto-catalytic, in that as home prices spiral, people become more desperate to get in so that they can profit from the "bigger fools" that they expect will enter the market after them. They become willing to speculate with large amounts of their income, pushing prices higher.

The overall problem with attempting to rein in an "out-of-control" housing market is that it's really hard to not break the market in the attempt.

The REALLY simple solution is to simply massively overbuild the region, and pull the bottom out from under the market. When there are "For Sale" signs four and five to a block, and sellers are chasing buyers, prices will come down. But engineering a situation like this without sinking half the homebuilders in an area (or the entire local economy) isn't easy by any stretch.

There are a number of local, regional and even national constituencies that I suspect are benefitting quite nicely from the high price of housing, and will fight to prevent a fall in home prices, which will make ANY solution more difficult to implement.

In the long run, the best solution is also perhaps the hardest - for those people who can't afford to stay to move somewhere else (just not all to the same place). That will a) reduce the competition for housing and b) tighten the labor market at the low end of the scale so that those who remain can ask more for their services, thus raising their incomes to a point where they can afford better. But that means the people who leave "lose out," to a certain extent, to the benefit of those who can hang on the longest. It's that unwillingness to lose out that's driving this. The undersupply of housing desirable and/or accessible housing and the relative oversupply of people at the lower end of the job ladder (in that there are too many people willing to work for lower wages to force wages higher), contributes to a situation where home prices escalate faster than wages do.

And as you move up the socio-economic scale, the greater percentage of your income that you can afford to place into housing without making serious cutbacks in other areas. This advantage of the more affluent is what's driving home prices even higher, and making it exponentially harder for the lower-paid to compete for real-estate. And the chase is auto-catalytic, in that as home prices spiral, people become more desperate to get in so that they can profit from the "greater fools" that they expect will enter the market after them. They become willing to speculate with larger percentages of their income, pushing prices higher.

And since the supply of housing is not as elastic as the number of possible buyers, neither the market for purchases or rentals can really keep up. Apartments being converted to condominiums drive rental prices up, while homes being purchased for rental drive purchase prices up. (Not to mention the fact that if you've spent a lot to buy a place that you plan to rent out, you need rental prices to rise to be able to profitably lease the place out.) It's another auto-catalytic spiral.

Making the housing pool more elastic than the population pool is next to impossible. Even if you could physically manage it, there are a number of people who more or less directly benefit from the current situation - especially many homeowners, who would feel at risk of losing out if prices fell, or simply rose more slowly than wages for several years.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Funny, "Ha, ha," or funny "Call 9-1-1?"

When I was in college, lo these many aeons past, I decided that I enjoyed writing stories, but that I really sucked at it. So, I did the intelligent thing, and blew a few credit-hours on a creative-writing class, where the instructor made it pretty clear to me that I didn't know much about how to write a story. But by the end of the quarter, I was doing much better - enough to know that I was never going to be a storyteller. Part of the reason for this was that the audience that I was writing for was myself, and that really makes it hard to be successful, unless what YOU like is also what a lot of other people like. Which in my case, wasn't true. I'd had enough of common tropes like stories should have happy endings or that the audience should be able to identify with the main characters. I found myself wanting something that struck me as a little more realistic, and my instructor agreed that my stories were in line with the real world, but he couldn't really understand what anyone would get out of reading them. Once I decided that I wasn't going to keep up with fiction writing, I sort of put all of this aside and forgot about it, until I read a review of "Funny Games." And another and then another. While my own stories didn't set out to be shockingly violent or break the fourth wall (a device in which the characters address the audience directly, and in doing so, acknowledge that they're characters in a story) I did have kind of the same antipathy to catharsis that Michael Haneke is described as having.

Funny Games, is, from what I understand, a run of the mill home-invasion, battle-against-psychopaths movie, with one major exception - it doesn't have a happy ending. The tormented family doesn't turn the tables on their captors and come out of their ordeal stronger and with a renewed commitment to each other. No heroic law-enforcer defies the odds, bursts onto the scene just when things seem darkest, and meeting violence with violence, saves the day. No one finds some inner reserve of strength that they tap into to become a hero. In other words, there's nothing that vindicates the unrelenting violence. No stranger risks everything to rescue people out of a sense of social obligation.

From reading the reviews, I'm given to understand that Funny Games is meant to be a critique of the way in which violence is used as, rather than in, entertainment. It's also described as a shame-the-viewer piece. This is a hard sell, and I suppose its why none of the reviewers that I've read really liked it - who wants to watch a movie whose primary message is critical of its audience? People's aversion to criticism makes many social messages fall on deaf ears. Of course, when people can see the message as being critical of someone other than themselves, it loses a lot of its punch.

Part of me wants to see this movie, to understand the message, even if it is that I'm a sicko for watching the movie. But I'm not really a fan of gratuitous violence in movies (When I saw the Ninjas attacking Speed in the Speed Racer trailer, I immediately resolved never to watch it - I mean seriously - Ninjas?), and tend to see it for what it commonly is: car chases, explosions, gunfights and random beatings, especially when they have no consequences, are easier to write then an engaging plot or compelling character development. So I'm not really sure why I'd want to see a movie whose whole premise is that both plot and character development are ignored, in favor of constant violence.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Racists, Haters and Foes

In today's Slate, Ta-Nehisi Coates pens an article characterizing Geraldine Ferraro's statement about Senator Obama as racist, and Ferraro as a racist for having makes it, and then asks why we can't simply call a spade a spade, and admit that there are some very public racists in our society, such as Don Imus, Bill O'Reilly and Michael Richards. Well, it's likely because there are different reasons to not like someone.

As far as Geraldine Ferraro is concerned, while her remark dealt directly with race, and implied that Senator Obama's candidacy rested on his race, she is not a racist. The reason for this is simple - while she is rooting for Obama's opposition, she isn't against black politicians in total. I suspect that even if she were to make the same comment about each and every black politician she ever met, she'd hold to the idea that she isn't a racist, because, in each case, the criticism would be personal. And as long as it stays on that personal level, she would likely feel free to claim the moral high ground.

I suspect that Michael Richards would look at himself in the same light. While he most certainly had a beef with some black members of his audience that night, he believes (likely sincerely, even if possibly falsely) that he has nothing against black people as a group.

Imus and O'Reilly are slightly different cases. Due to some combinations of their personalities and jobs as shock jock and hyper conservative polemicist, these guys are basically (well paid) haters. (I suspect for the kind of cash they pull down, I'd do a stint as a professional hater myself.) They likely see themselves as equal-opportunity misanthropes, publicly disliking anyone when there's money in it, regardless of race, color, religion or creed. And again, they've mainly limited their rants to particular individuals or groups - it's unlikely that either has gone on the record making nasty comments about all blacks.

Many Americans have taught themselves to see making a disparaging remark about someone that calls out their race as being a very different thing from making disparaging remarks about that person's racial group. Perhaps understandably, many blacks (and other minorities) don't make the distinction. Think of how many hispanics see the issue of illegal immigration to be one of keeping them specifically out of the United States.

I would bet that a large part of this is due to the simple fact that when it really comes down to it, the most enduring legacy of racism in the United States appears to be the lingering expectation of racism. For many blacks today, white America is no less hateful than it was, say, 60 years ago, simply less blatant about it. (Hence the firey sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright - which, in categorizing people as hateful based mainly on the color of their skin, plummet right over the cliff of racism themselves.) Which is why many blacks seem to have difficulty telling the difference between a racist and a garden-variety asshole or someone who dislikes them personally. For many blacks, Ferraro saying that Barack Obama or Jesse Jackson owe the votes in their favor to a brand of political affirmative action more than to their positions or their qualifications is no different than saying that they're unqualified because they are black (and thus, that all blacks are unqualified). For Ferraro, understanding that many blacks take the first statement as code for the second, especially when it's repeated, is beyond her abilities. (Have someone make a similar remark about Senator Clinton, and she'd likely suddenly get it.)

And it's the same with other "isms." How many of Senator Clinton's supporters seem to have settled on the idea that there's no real reason, other than sexism, to vote for anyone else for the Democratic nomination?

The other factor is the social stigma attached to racism. Even hardcore racists likely feel a strong incentive to not be commonly understood to be so, and in a land where some people wear masks, other people see deception in every smiling face.

(James Watson may be a special case. He, and his supporters, don't see him as a racist because they see what he's saying as an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless, while to be a racist implies either a false belief or deliberate lies about people based on their race.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Slow News Day

Why does THIS guy have his picture in the newspapers? Okay, so his sister’s a high-priced call girl who lead to the downfall of Eliot Spitzer. How does that make HIM relevant to this story? If he was “Kristen’s” pimp or something, I could see it, or if he’d appointed himself his sister’s spokesperson. But he’s just her brother. Unless she was “out” as a call girl to her entire family and given them all the gory details, or secretly filming her trysts for Christmastime home movies, I don’t see what this random Joe could add to our knowledge of what was going on. Even if the goal simply to get some insight into the mind of a call girl, I still can’t see what this guy could tell us that a researcher can’t. Normally, I get a little irritated when people harp on news organizations about covering fluff, rather than the latest child to die from some dread disease in Africa. There’s more to the news than the latest catastrophe (or scandal, for that matter). But this does seem like it’s really reaching. Is this girl really so much of a celebrity that her family should now be front-page news?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Blind Leading the Imbeciles

[Iowa Republican Representative Steve] King also believes [Senator Barack] Obama’s middle name, Hussein, would be encouraging for terrorists. “Additionally, his middle name does matter,” King said. “It matters because they read a meaning into that in the rest of the world. That has a special meaning to them. They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name.”

"Obama Scoffs at Rep. King’s Remarks" The Wall Street Journal.
You know, I'm a fan of representative Democracy. I like to think that people can be trusted, when they're serious about it, to elect people who would actually look out for their interests, and make intelligent decisions. And I've spent a lot of time arguing with people that our elected officials aren't bad people, we just don't hold them accountable enough.

And then people go and vote someone like Representative King into office. You'd think they were trying to prove that they can't be trusted with the vote.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Who Needs Genuis?

In today's Slate, Erik Sofge pens a scathing critique of Dungeons and Dragons, and it's relatively broken system of morality. He claims that the game is about nothing other than blameful slaughter of arbitrarily defined "monsters" in the name of acquiring material goods and advancements in power.

Sofge is right, and he's wrong. Dungeons and Dragons subscribes to what I've come to regard as the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" school of Good and Evil. Monsters are, by nature, irredeemably evil enough that they are effectively incapable of change, but enjoy it just enough that you can ascribe an element of choice to their actions - and thus justify punishing them. This is in contrast to The Lord of the Rings, where the Orcs are implacable agents of evil because they're under the direct control of Tolkien's version of Satan, being, after all, the twisted creations of same.

Sofge is correct in that, at it's base, Dungeons and Dragons isn't about telling an uplifting story. But then again, neither are children's games of Cops and Robbers or most Jason Statham films. And many immature gamers are playing a cross between Make-Believe, and their favorite action movies. And, let's face it, in many action movies, if they didn't tell you who the good guys were, you'd never figure it out on your own. But Dungeons and and Dragons traces its decent, through the original Chainmail (not the one that Wizards of the Coast created just a few years ago) to wargames - where the whole point is assemble an army of what are, in effect, toy soldiers, and battle it out with the other guys army of toy soldiers. This is why high level Wizards (or Magic-Users as us old-timers remember them) bear a distinct resemblance to artillery pieces - they suck in hand to hand combat, but they'll lay waste whole companies of line troops with a single Fireball. The creative play aspect of Role-playing feels like an afterthought in older editions of Dungeons and Dragons, because it was - the game was more about giving a combat résumé to your world-beating fantasy generals as much as anything else.

But where Sofge goes astray is with the idea that Dungeons and Dragons HAS to be played this way. For the most part, it is - thirty-plus years of baggage will do that. Veteran D&D players tend to default to that mode of play, especially when dealing with people they haven't played with before - if you know nothing else, assuming that you're going on a dungeon-crawl/killing spree is a good bet. But the game itself does nothing to force you to play this way. If I decide that I'm going to make combats frighteningly dangerous, and give the players their rewards if they talk they way out of trouble, I'm perfectly capable of doing that. I might have to tweak some rules here and there, and set expectations, but I won't break the game in doing so, and nor will I strip it of its "Dungeons and Dragons-ness." If I penalize, rather than reward, the player characters for murdering Orcs in their sleep (as opposed to finding a less-lethal way of incapacitating them) - I'm not breaking the rules as they are written. (But keep this in mind - the Navy Seals wouldn't leave a group of sleeping enemies alive and well under that circumstance either - after all, unless you knew you wouldn't be coming that way again, you'd be faced with the possibility of having to fight them on your way out - but this time, you'd have a non-combatant princess in tow. One man's atrocity is another man's smart fighting.)

Sofge falls into the trap that a number of boosters of Gurps and the World of Darkness allow themselves to be caught in. The rule books to just about any role-playing game are an instruction manual about how to take an imagined world (even one based on say - the War on Terror in Afghanistan {and yes, there is a game based on that - it uses a variation on the current Dungeons and Dragons rules}) and break it down into an abstraction ruled by funky, polyhedral dice. The "framework for a unique kind of narrative, a collaborative thought experiment crossed with improvisational theater," is both a creation and the responsibility of the players.

Dungeons and Dragons is a holdover from when the hobby, being brand new, was immature. And, because of its ubiquity (pretty much everyone who games knows how to play D&D), it is the most common point of entry into the hobby. People new to anything have an immature understanding of it, and many people enter the hobby as children, or young adults. As people mature in the hobby, many "graduate" to other games, where the rules systems are tailored to support a more mature style of play. However, to be honest, a lot of gamers never really mature much beyond the kill-goblins-take-treasure style of playing. And they tend to stick with Dungeons and Dragons. You can be unpleasantly impressed that a 12-year-old is still happily riding a tricycle when he could be mountain biking - but it's not the tricycle's fault.

Sofge is correct in that there are dozens of more innovative and sophisticated games than Dungeons and Dragons. Runequest, Sorcerer, Bureau 13, Traveller, Champions, Epiphany, The Morrow Project, UnderGround or Ars Magica are all excellent examples. And many of them are out of print, and/or the companies that created them have folded. It is Dungeons and Dragons ability to stay relevant in the face of its lack of sophistication that had kept it around, despite being obsolete. There will always need to be a gateway into the hobby. And despite being somewhat outdated and unsophisticated, Dungeons and Dragons fits the bill.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

What's the Message?

For those of us in the Puget Sound area, the big news story of the week was the early-Monday-morning arson that destroyed a handful of model homes in Woodinville, Washington, and damaged a couple of others nearby. So far, what little evidence there is seems to point to the Earth Liberation Front (E.L.F.), a group of environmental radicals that has come to be labeled as "eco-terrorists."

From my layperson's vantage point, the E.L.F. are more eco-vandals/saboteurs than anything else, occasionally targeting organizations - business, government or educational - engaged in behavior that they find environmentally destructive. But it seems that it would be hard to pin down what the E.L.F. are about, because there really isn't a coherent group there. From all appearances, anyone with an environmentally-based grudge, and can of lighter fluid can act in the name of the E.L.F., and that doesn't exactly lend itself to "staying on message." It also seems that it would be difficult to work together to come up with ways that might get the word out without turning off the general public. Here in the Puget Sound area, the E.L.F. is mainly known known for setting fire to a University of Washington building while going after genetically altered trees that we actually in another building.

But it brings up an interesting point. Can a group that anyone can "join" really have a coherent agenda or message? Movements of various sorts have had this problem. Just as when the World Trade Organization Conference was held in Seattle back in 1999, and the authorities found themselves dealing with two sorts of people - "those who genuinely want[ed] constructive change and who understand the art of civil disobedience; and those for whom destruction is entertaining." And given the tendency of the media to concentrate on the more dramatic images of mayhem and destruction, the message the the would-be agents of change are attempting to disseminate gets lost in the overall din.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

There, There

I've never been a fan of political pandering, and I'm even less so if I feel that I'm in the target audience. Perhaps it's because I'm old cynic, but pandering has always felt false, and I like to think of myself as someone who can deal with the situation as it really is. I may not always deal with it well, but if that's the case, I could use the practice. The current uproars around the "Mortgage Mess" and the loss of the new military air tanker contract to Northup-Grumman EADS have produced huge volumes of people telling us how we've been victimized - by everyone from greedy banks to the United States Air Force.

But it seems unlikely that the constant talk is really going to be translated into real action. While Congressional action might be able to overturn Boeing's contract loss (which, it seems to me, would only tell Boeing that they never really have any competition in contract bids), they're unlikely to come up with a viable bailout for people who got burned in taking out home loans that required home prices continue to rise at about a trillion times wages. So isn't it time that we started preparing to deal with the realities of the situations that we find ourselves in?

Are we really so fragile that we can't be expected to deal with the fact that the economy is taking a downturn? Or, that there are some jobs that we won't have a chance as sharing in? Are these things really such catastrophes?

And in the end, that's what gets me about pandering - the underlying message is all too often - "You can't handle the new reality - you're too weak, or too stupid, or too unwise - and because of that, you're owed a better reality. And it's someone else that owes you that reality." But, you know, it's the ability to deal with hardships that creates strength. And it isn't like we haven't dealt with hardships before. The Great Depression makes the current problems with the housing market and the loss of the occasional military contract seem to minor to attend to. Not that I'd want to go through the Great Depression right now, but I'd like to think that we'd find a way to deal with it. I don't know that being told we can't at every turn is at all helpful.