Friday, October 2, 2009

Sounds like somebody brought a knife to a gunfight...

So Chicago is out of the running for the 2016 Olympics in the first round just days hours after both the President and First Lady personally appeared to make speeches on behalf of its bid.


It seems that just about everybody assumed when Obama reversed his "I'm too busy" excuse and made the trip that this meant the fix was in and Chicago was a lock. Everybody assumed this because Presidents of the United States tend to only show up after all of the many thousands of people working under them have already ironed out all the issues and all that's left is to sign the final deal and take the photos.

Not Obama. Apparently he honestly just wanted to go to use the power of his office and, perhaps, his legendary personal charisma to try to sway the judges. I guess it never occurred to him that the chance to build themselves up by snubbing major officeholders like the President of the U.S. usually proves irresistible to minor, unimportant functionaries like the IOC.

I wonder if the administration figured that having him go would ensure Chicago's victory. I could see them thinking, "Gee, when presidents show up at big treaty signings and the like, they always get their way, so if we want Chicago to get the nod, all we have to do is have the President go and he'll get his way, b/c that's how it works right?"

And of course this is exactly backwards. Yes, it is rare for a President to show up for a big decision and not have it go his way but this is because most presidents have their staff make sure the decision is going to go their way before they make an appearance.

It's really just the old correlation/causation thing. The Obama-ites figured that Presidents showing up caused things to go their way but in reality Presidents show up only after they know things are going to go their way.

Not this one, though.

I also found both of the Obamas speeches to be kind of odd. I didn't read them in their entirety but from the description and excerpts in the Wash. Post, they sounded like kind of not very good US campaign speeches, which is not what one would think would win over an international crowd like the IOC.

Mrs. Obama's seemed to be mostly about how hard her Dad's life was and how much she loved him and how much he would have loved having the Olympics in Chicago. That's great but I'm sure there are heartwarming stories about challenged parents in Rio -- and everywhere else, for that matter -- who would love to have the Olympics there.

Pres. Obama's seemed to be mostly about what a great American city Chicago is, populated by people from all over the world. Wonderful then, I guess you don't need the Olympics as a show of diversity, you've got your own little Olympics every day! And saying it's a great "American city" seems particularly odd in the context of this particular decision given that 4 Summer and 4 Winter Games have been held in American cities while none have been held in S. America at all. Isn't Obama all about spreading the wealth and we're all equals and all that? Isn't it odd for him to lobby on behalf of his adopted hometown against the first serious contender from an entire snubbed continent?

It's odd, I'm kind of torn on the whole thing. On the one hand, I hate seeing the US President get so flagrantly snubbed. On the other, it's kind of Obama's fault that he put himself in the position to get slapped in the face.

On the one hand, I'm not a fan of Obama's, so it's somewhat satisfying to watch him get a first hand lesson about how international relations works in the real world, rather than (as Sarkozy memorably put it recently) Obama's 'virtual world'. But on the other it's always nice to see America come out on top.

And, as one might expect, I think the Olympics are way overrated. They're a good way for local politicians to engage in graft and wasteful legacy building at the expense of their constituents -- very rarely are they ever a net positive for the hosting city overall. I frankly wouldn't mind if the Olympics were always held in the middle of nowhere, where they wouldn't bother anyone and could be safely ignored, but that wouldn't give the IOC members the chance to collect bribes from and showcase their importance in all of the world's major cities.

I guess overall it's something of a wash. But def. embarrassing for Pres. and Mrs. Obama in light of the "sacrifice" (the Mrs.'s word) of flying over there to lobby on Chicago's behalf.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Texting while driving part II: this time it's nuanced...

Perhaps I was too rash in my post about the texting-while-driving regulation.

This article is frightening in suggesting how much of this goes on, drawing particular attention to blue-collar folk tethered to a dashboard-mounted dispatch computer while driving massive trucks. This seems like an amazingly bad idea for a whole host of reasons and one that even I would concede might benefit from some regulation. (Though the cynic in me notes that in that last article, about the executive order, there were already complications raised about extending the ban to interstate drivers because of "industry concerns" aka: I paid good money to install that computer to tell my jackass drivers where to go, don't you dare say they can't use it!)

I standby my determination that texting (or emailing or watching youtube or reading dispatches or whatever) while driving is so self-evidently stupid as leave me mind-boggled that it happens at all.

The reasons I underestimated the extent of the problem are probably twofold:

a) I cannot conceive of caring so much about my job (or, he adds quickly lest you think he doesn't care about his job, any job, for that matter) that I would endanger my life or the lives of others(fn1) for it.

b) I represent an extreme case of the one-track mindedness the article notes:
The reason, researchers say, is that the brain can effectively perform only one difficult task at a time.
I find it almost literally impossible to focus on more than one thing at a time, even if neither thing is particularly engaging or important. If I'm reading a book or watching television or doing whatever I get so focused that it is near impossible for me to even maintain conversation, a fact noted on numerous occasions by both my girlfriend and my mother.

fn1: Well, I say not the lives of others. Maybe I wouldn't mind endangering the lives of others so long as I got to choose the others. I kid! I kid! I kid b/c I have a warped and disturbing sense of humor.

Commonsense regulation

Obama has issued an executive order forbidding all federal employees from texting while driving government vehicles or while using government-issued phones in their own vehicles.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that in the coming days he will issue additional orders confronting such menaces as: stabbing yourself in the eye with a government pen or with your own pen while engaged in government business; blithely driving your government car into a lake or driving your own car into a lake while engaged in government business unless that business expressly requires the driving of a car into a lake; and, finally, jumping off a government bridge or off a private bridge while engaged in government business just because "everyone else is doing it".

While I'm sure that texting-while-driving is a rising menace, I wonder if the type of people who are prone to engaging in it are really the types to stop because they've been told it's against regulations. That is, if you are so stupid that you willfully disregard obvious and immediate threats to your own safety, will being told not to by an abstract regulation really stop you?

Also, if there are so many government employees who are, in fact, so stupid that they will place themselves in danger for no good reason but will stop if told not to, does this suggest that we might have some work to do on improving hiring standards in the federal workforce?

But perhaps I'm looking at that last point the wrong way. Maybe idiots who will follow instructions to the letter but are incapable of performing even the most basic independent thoughtful analysis for themselves are exactly who we need to carry out the detailed will of our government...

Why I hate CSI:Miami

This Youtube clip compiling an amazing number of instances of David Caruso's patented "one-liner while putting on sunglasses" is a good distillation.

To be fair to the Miami version, I don't actually like any of the many CSI variants. The only one I've ever actually seen at any length, though, is CSI:Miami. And it was atrocious. Beautiful, lush cinematography that looks absolutely glorious in HD combined with incredibly cliched storylines, laughable casting choices and pathetically bad acting.

No sir, I didn't like it.


Fascinating article in the NY Times about people organizing group living situations in the city.

The article is everything you'd expect and serves as a beautiful illustration of how difficult it can be to put together satire in today's world where actual craziness tends to vastly outstrip anyone's ability to exaggerate it.

Perhaps just a few choice quotes with some commentary...

Consider the efforts of Ms. Berger, 28, and Ms. Hazard, 24, who advertised eloquently for roommates before even settling on a house: "Some of the things we like are: permaculture, living sustainably, gardening, dancing, hula hooping, yoga, herbalism, making music, active listening, non-violent communication ..." they wrote, in part.
It's kind of sad the way they are clearly trying as hard as they can to be unique people fearlessly carving their own way in the world and yet are ending up as hopeless cliches every bit as ridiculous as the conformists whose restrictive reality they no doubt believe they are bravely fleeing.

A house in Philly apparently had this listing:
"You will probably not feel at home here unless anti-ableism, anti-ageism, anti-classism, anti-racism, consent, trans-positivity and queer-positivity, etc., are very important to you," the ad read.
Ms. Feigelson, who works as a political organizer and volunteer, explained: "It means against the oppression of those who are physically or mentally disabled, and extends to language. Like you wouldn’t use the word ‘lame.’ "
Ah yes. Because you wouldn't want to get a roommate who is in favor of the oppression of the handicapped -- as so many in today's society are.

You know, this tendency to imagine yourself as a brave warrior courageously fighting evil opression is one I've noticed for a while, perhaps I should pull together my thoughts on it at some point and share them.

Basically, the driving force seems to be that while it's a lot of fun to be bravely fighting oppression -- it's romantic and all that -- it sucks to actually live in a place that's full of real oppression with lots of power behind it b/c then, for all the romance, you tend to get thrown in jail, beaten, killed, that kind of downer stuff. So what's really fun is to come up with definitions of "oppression" that are so mild that very open, very accepting societies can be shoe-horned into meeting them. Then you get all the pleasantness of living in an open, free society bereft of much actual oppression AND all the romantic fun of proving how moral you are by bravely standing against oppression -- nevermind that this oppression exists mostly in your own imagination.

I don't pretend that this is a recent phenomenon -- indeed, based on my cursory knowledge, it seems to have been a significant force animating the late 1960's -- but it def. seems to be on the rise of late.

Then later, the reporter (fn1) asks a personality expert about the ads:
Yet she worried that other personality types, the sort who know how to fix the toaster or program the VCR, weren’t being invited into these houses.
That's not really a concern though, is it? After all, everyone knows that toasters are a tool of the patriarchy designed to oppress womynkind; VCR's, in their conceit to 'record' something that 'happened', are reflective of a normative heuristic favoring certain dominant frames of reference over others; and as for "programming", don't even get me started on how inherently oppressive the idea that it is right or even possible for one being to impose its designs and desires on another is...

Somehow even after reading this article about these brave iconoclasts creating a new type of society, one based on profound thought and deep insight about the role of humanity in the world, my conviction that Western Civ. is on its last legs and disaster will follow remains unshaken...

fn1: Who, somewhat oddly, openly admits in the article to "fretting" over her interview subjects, though that's a topic for a separate post. One on my old favorite: the NY Times. The open sympathy of their reporters -- even in the "hard news" sections -- for their subjects, when those subjects are on the 'right' side of the political spectrum, is getting pretty out of hand. But, as I say, a topic for another time.

Real rights for a truly just world

Hi all, it's me Dewey. I'll be popping in now and again to shed some progressive light on these dark corners. With luck, soon all the doubters will come to their senses and we can realize a true progressive utopia right here in the good old, benighted USA!

At any rate, here's my first...

In light of the Supreme Court's decision to review the McDonald's v. Chicago gun rights case, Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle asks "is the second amendement is a real amendment?"

The answer, of course, is that the second is clearly not a "real" amendment in the sense that it does not protect a real right -- nor, I hasten to add, do many of the others in the supremely over-hyped "bill of rights".

Real rights are more solid and lasting. They are granted by well-intentioned progressive overlords and include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:
- The right to effective, extensive, up-to-date medical care
- The right to nutritious, environmentally-sustainable, delicious food
- The right to clean, attractive, well-designed, modern housing situated in easily-walkable, vibrantly-diverse, multi-use communities
- The right to meaningful, sustainable, socially-responsible employment
- The right to societally-approved free expression of sexual preference with other consenting beings

The provision of these rights should be society's top -- indeed, perhaps only -- goal. Protecting supposed "rights" like "free speech" or "freedom of religion" or "free assembly" or "the right to bear arms" or whatever else is beyond outmoded.

In a society as rich as ours, every single person's "freedom" should be utterly trammeled if that is what is necessary to provide everyone with an equitable, meaningful, environmentally-sustainable, socially-reponsible existence.

Sure, we have this atavistic desire to cling to these archaic concepts, and that is largely understandable b/c they are familiar and comfortable. But we will not be living in a just, progressive world until we throw them on the dustbin of history as they deserve and allow our betters to redesign our society in a more perfect form.

Naturally, the evil Republicans will try to frighten us with their soceror's talk of "negative rights" and "limited government". Hopefully, the Supreme Court will make the right decision and end our country's sad devotion to this ancient religion of so-called "rights" and help us to conjure up a new progressive age and discover a base for meaningful growth. Then we can be proud of the technological progressive achievements we have constructed.

Is it clobberin' time?

NASA has announced that cosmic-ray radiation has reached its highest level in more than 50 years.

As any dedicated student of pop-culture or slightly geeky teenage boy could tell you, 50 years ago is roughly the start of the silver age of comics, a period when many of the super-heroes we all know and love were created, many through the effects of cosmic rays.

Obviously a surfeit of cosmic radiation heralds a new age of superheroes. I'm sure it will work out better than it did in Kingdom Come.

Something New

In a new turn for the ol' blog, I've invited a fresh face to put up occasional posts.

I was worried that my somewhat misanthropic, generally conservative, often contrarian views might be too out of sync with the progressive times we're living in -- and besides, my posting sched. has not been the best. So I've invited a nice, earnest progressive idealist to submit occasional posts. He will endeavor to provide a progressive take on the issues of the day, hopefully enlightening us as to why on earth that tired, tyrannical philosophy would hold any attraction for anyone.

I am informed that his first may well be up later today. He'll be posting under the name "Dewey" and will be keeping in the somewhat insouciant spirit of the blog. Look for it and I hope you enjoy it.