The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Got a letter published over at Altercation on the ongoing If-Malkin-is-wrong-does-it-prove-AP-was-right debate involving LTC Bob Bateman.

Ethnicity and Politics

There's been a lot of noise at the top of the blogosphere (the Arctic region, as it were) about the influence of Jews on our national discourse, in particular regarding Iran. Note that I don't say "the Jews;" the discussion, properly understood, regards the unavoidable fact that a lot of high profile opinion-makers are Jewish, and clearly have an emotional attachment to Israel that they don't about, say, Thailand. Thus, Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein and others have pointed out, their opinions on the matter may not be strictly defined by the best interests of the US.

Anyway, I bring this up not to inveigh - while the point seems trivially true to me, it's hardly worth getting in the mud about - but to bring up a parallel that has, I think coincidentally, been raised simultaneously.

The redoubtable Bob Somerby, of the Daily Howler, has for the past few days pointed his finger at a more specific target than his generalized "millionaire pundit values" as a villain in our discourse. The problem is, in his words, "those g*dd*amn m*cks." He points to an extensive list of Irish Catholic pundits who are prominent in our punditry (especially at NBC), and whose old-fashioned values - sexist, hidebound, "blinkered" - have been a major cause of their obsession with the Clenis and hatred for Hillary. It's an interesting thesis, and certainly makes sense as a generator of what is, frankly, stunningly reactionary commentary on these two very important Americans.

Now, Bob was long ago dismissed by much of the lefty blogosphere as a bit of an embarassing uncle, someone who harps tirelessly/tiresomely on the War on Gore. Myself, I still read him every day because he never develops outrage fatigue - he never gives Chris Matthews or Frank Rich a pass because they're temporarily saying something pleasing, or because "that's just the way they are." And it seems to me that, with the cranking up of the Kewl Kids, his profile is rising once again. But I haven't seen anyone mention his thesis. And I think it's important, if only to help Dems defend themselves from the coming onslaught.

If you thought the War on Gore and the pathetic coverage of Kerry and the Swiftboaters were bad, you haven't seen anything yet.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More unpopular by the minute

On some level, I've been surprised that Bush's cratering popularity hasn't dipped further - in several polls, he's never been below 33% (this is job ratings, BTW, not actually personal popularity), and only occasionally have any polls shown him under 30%, despite his staggeringly unpopular escalation plan. Evidently, John Rogers was correct that the Crazification Factor (or BTKWB Quotient) really is right around 27%.

But anyway, what I thought I had noticed, and Atrios conveniently gave me the evidence for this morning, was that what is happening is that fewer and fewer people are doubting that Bush is a truly bad president. For awhile his numbers averaged something like 35% approve, 55% disapprove, with 10% waffling. Now, and for a few weeks now (probably since the idea of escalation started to hit the news), disapprove has been well into the 60s. Which means that everyone's off the fence now: you're either a Bush dead-ender or you want the man gone.

America, I take back what I said about you at 11PM on November 2, 2004.

Foodie Blogging

Interview in Salon today, with some guy named Barry Glassner who's written a book called The Gospel of Food. Apparently it's a rather whirlwind takedown of food-related pieties, from exclusionary eaters like vegans and Atkins dieters to judgmental opponents of fast food.

Since it's an interview, not a review, it's a little hard to gauge the exact balance of what he does, but it sure sounds like a "pox on both their houses" thing:
The kind of diet that Morgan Spurlock went on in "Super Size Me" is obviously going to make you sick. But so would eating three meals a day of boiled broccoli. So, I think that it's certainly wise to be concerned with eating well and eating moderately and taking into account the sorts of advice that generations of mothers have given, and occasionally fathers. Eat your veggies, eat your fruit, and don't overdose on sweets.
Well, yes. I mean, I'm not sure how valuable it is to have a book arguing that common sense is, in fact, commonsensical. Furthermore, I think it's pretty absurd to compare an all-fast food diet with a caricature of a vegan diet - who, other than snake oil salesmen, argues for extended diets of single vegetables? Not to mention that Spurlock's symptoms - liver shutdown, cholesterol count of a dying man - actually wouldn't result from an all-broccoli diet.

So what do we have? A guy opposing an actual problem - the millions of Americans who eat fast food more than a half dozen times a week - with an imaginary "other side." Why, oh why, is this formulation so endlessly popular, so addictive to publishers? I know the answer - everyone wants to be either a True Believer - and that's who the extreme diet books are for - or a Sensible, Rational Decider. And those people get claptrap like this:
I see relatively little organized attention to hunger, for example, relative to, for instance, the kind of effective and organized campaigns against particular types of foods, like trans fats. When somewhere around 35 million to 40 million Americans are facing hunger every year it seems to me that that would be the top priority of any reasonable food activist. The ban on trans fats may be a good thing, but should it be the first thing? Should it take precedence over much more pressing food issues like hunger in the city, or the availability of fresh foods to the poor in the city? No, not for one minute.
Because, of course, there are no food kitchens and pantries in New York City, neither bureaucrats nor grass roots activists promoting farmers' markets and efforts to get fresher foods into bodegas and corner markets.

Stuff like this makes me alternately agitated and exhausted. Sheesh.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why I blog for Choice

Actually, I haven't much, if at all, but choice is a central political value of mine. Many others have said it better, so I'll simply say this: the right of adult humans to determine thier own fates is the THE central right - it's life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the wellspring of every other right. And the right not to gestate, bear, and raise another human is critical to making those other rights meaningful.

And as for all the threadbare retorts that demagogues use to respond to my assertions above, well, I used them too, once. As some of you know, I was once a devout Catholic and quite conservative (although with minimal racist, sexist, and homophobic tendencies - at least no more than any other unenelightened, privileged white son of the Reagan Era). And part and parcel of that was effortless confidence in the wrongness of abortion. After all, a fetus is so obviously human - what else could it be? - and the injunction against murder is so definitive, there could be no debate.

And frankly, in the op-ed pages, that simplistic analysis gets you pretty far. Because the one thing that rarely gets mentioned in the op-ed pages is the hard reality: abortions will happen. No matter what. You can outlaw it, you can restrict it, you can make it expensive and humiliating, but you will never prevent it. And it was having this simple, obvious fact laid out for me that sent the whole edifice crashing down. After all, what use, what sense, is an absolutist moral system that flies in the face of reality?

It was this realization - that conservatism, the creed that claims for itself "realism," as opposed to the naive idealism of liberals, was hopelessly out of touch with reality - that set me on the path to liberalism. Because if there will always be homosexuals, no matter how loudly bigots preach; if there is racial injustice, no matter how rotely bigots cite selected excerpts from Dr. King; if sexism remains pervasive, no matter how many individual women achieve success, then we need to face up to the reality of our world, and respond humanely towards it. That means taking seriously the claims of the oppressed; that means knocking down barriers of prejudice, whether enshrined in civil or religious law; and that means fighting, tooth and nail, for the right to choose for all women.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Good to eat

So, as I hope someone noticed, I put up new food photos a week or two ago. At this point, those are mostly old meals - you can learn about them at Flickr, if you care for more detail. Recent holiday feasts will be coming, but I wanted to give these their time in the (very low-wattage) spotlight.

At any rate, this is, alas, a post about a failed pie. Looks gorgeous, doesn't it? My first-ever apple pie. I've done lots of elaborate cooking, but somehow this staple of Americana has eluded - indeed, intimidated - me. Step one is knowing nothing about pie crust, then step two is worrying about getting the filling right - I'm very particular about apple pies, so I hardly wanted to let myself down.

So I went with Cook's standard, classic apple pie: nothing fancy, or tricky. It's a long-lead item: about an hour to assemble, then another to bake, and a few hours to cool. And at the end of all that: heartbreak. I didn't take a picture of the overspiced puddle of soup hidden beneath that handsome crust, but I could barely choke it down. I consulted with a good friend who's an excellent baker, and it appears that a series of small mistakes may have led to the disaster. I suppose I should hop up on that horse again, but somehow, I haven't.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I was right: PA Dems are smart

Not smart enough to prevent treason, evidently, but smart enough to bring a gun to Perzel's knifefight. House Dem leader Bill DeWeese - whose "petty vindictiveness" was apparently so offensive to the dear Rep. Caltagirone - nominated Rep. Dennis O'Brien (R-Phila.) for Speaker of the House, thus defeating anti-democratic prick (and longtime O'Brien foe) John Perzel (R-His Own Ego). O'Brien is, according to reports, reform-minded and, more importantly, indebted to DeWeese. Obviously, this is not the optimal result of Dems taking the House majority, but it's certainly good enough, most importantly because Perzel had dedicated himself to obstructing Gov. Rendell's popular (supported by 60% of Pennsylvanians) agenda.

One other note, a tally I hadn't seen before: November gave us 50 new House members (of both parties), representing just under a quarter of the 203-member chamber (which is I believe the 2nd-largest in the nation, for the 6th-largest state). I think that qualifies as a sea change.

Now there's a resolution I can get behind

From Stroll, guest-blogging at Bitch, PhD:

"I realize this post is all over the place, but that's how I plan to be in 2007!"

It's old news by now, but PA Leg update to come soon; it's better news.

Monday, January 01, 2007

PA Dems know how to treat a traitor

"Caltagirone sold out to Perzel and the House Republicans," [state Democratic Party chair T.J.] Rooney said. "He now has two options: He should remain in the Democratic fold, or resign his seat immediately and switch his political affiliation to Republican -- which he in essence has done with this decision -- and run for the seat during a special election."
This article in the Post-Gazette shows a state party that has learned the hardball lessons of the past 12 years of corrupt Republican rule, using strong language, taking principled stands, and making perfectly clear the issues at hand:
"The Republicans have been in control of the House for 12 years, and the voters of Pennsylvania have voiced their opinion. It's time for a change," Mr. Mahoney (D-Uniontown) said. "There's no reform coming down the pike from the Republicans and we really need reform of the open records law and taxes. I think the Democratic leadership can deliver on that and I am going to be pushing for them to do that."
I will note that, according to the article, Caltagirone sold his soul for promises "to divide committee chairmanships equally between the parties and to adjourn the House no later than 10 p.m.," the latter to end late-night sessions intended to avoid public scrutiny. The former is only relevant to salve the conscience of the traitor, while the latter could surely have been negotiated with Dems, who have been campaigning to clean up a corrupt Republican House. Which is why I maintain that the guy's getting something that hasn't come to light yet.

Rally in Reading today, Harrisburg tomorrow. Let's hope for a Blue Revolution in PA (I'm sorry to say I'll be at work. I know, I know).