I leave you with this idea, as we see the headlight of Train #2011 appear far down the track, heading toward the station: a constitutional democracy is something of a learned discipline, not so different from the scientific method in some ways. It takes a certain habit of mind, a kind of intellectual persistence to sustain. There is nothing automatic about it. "Serious" people in our society often seem to discount the idea that a democracy such as ours can degenerate into some far less desirable form of polity, but such thinkers suffer from the fallacy known as the normative tendency of the factual. This fallacy inculcates the illusion that the social and political arrangements around us are in some sense permanent and indestructible.
December 31, 2010
December 30, 2010
It's that time of year when all serious writers, or even people like me, cast their eyes toward the future and make meaningless predictions about what is to come. Since no one, including me again, is likely ever to look at this blog to see if I was right, I proceed fearlessly.
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
December 26, 2010
December 25, 2010
Which is undoubtedly enough. I trust no one is actively urging that it happen two or three times per annum. I once had the idea that Christmas should be like the Olympics: every four years. The Summer Olys use the prime time, the quadrennial divisible by four, like the Presidential elections. The Winter Olympics are relegated to the midterm election years. So the first New Christmas could use 2013, and every four years thereafter. 2017, 2021, 2025 and like that. Also, move the holiday itself to the solstice, which is usually on December 21 or 22, occasionally (very rarely) on the 23rd. When a 23 December Solstice happened to fall in a Christmas year, we could call it a Jubilee Year. That would happen very, very rarely. On a Jubilee Christmas, everyone's debts would be forgiven. Also, in the Quadrennial Solstice Christmas which we will first observe in 2013, we will adopt the Days of Awe approach of Judaism and use the roughly 10-day period between the Solstice and New Year to go around and make amends with all the people we've managed to offend or become estranged from in the preceding 12 months.
December 20, 2010
My favorite Disneyland thrill when I was a kid was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, which was a little scary, not too much so, with no nausea-producing, vertiginous changes in altitude or anything, just a ride through a kind of Gothic landscape of dark and vaguely spooky scenes. We should have a real life version of such a diversion beginning with the swearing in of the 212th Congress in about a month when the Republicans, with their huge majority in the House, man their battle stations. The Republicans already control the Senate, somehow, even if they only had, during the 211th, slightly more than 40 Senators, depending on which side of the bed Joe Lieberman got up on in the morning. They could have had 12 or 13 and they would have completely outmaneuvered Harry Reid. The Senate, as we all know, is the graveyard of good intentions. It does seem like a minor miracle that something so obviously right as repealing DADT could make it through that creaking, obsolete chamber, but thank goodness for such moments of grace.
Pretty catchy title, I think, the kind real columnists use. First of all, I want to go on record as saying I'm going out of the Obama-bashing business. No more. It's one of my New Year's Resolutions. I'm motivated by something that Scout said about Boo Radley; it's like killing a mockingbird. I can be as decent as Scout, I think (although that's tough, come to think of it). Barack's problem is that he's just not up to the job. Call it anything you like, inexperience, naivete, constitutional inability to be tough when tough is needed, fundamental confusion about what a chief executive is supposed to do - whatever, it's obvious the media got carried away in 2008 with the chance to elect either the first minority or the first woman President, and did not pay enough attention to the very specific attributes of the candidates in question, focusing solely on the "narrative line" and newsworthiness of this novelty. It was just too good for the networks and news outlets to pass up, and thus, once again, we got sold a bill of goods. There is a very real difference between an Image and an Actual Person, because it's the second version of reality that actually shows up in the Oval Office later, not the Virtual Hologram. There's no point in going over and over this obvious situation, and there aren't going to be any big surprises from here on out. It's all kind of painful to watch, actually.
December 19, 2010
December 16, 2010
"The whole country is now seeing the story that Michigan has been living with for a long time," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "We have kicked the can so far down the road that now all we have is a cliff to fall off."
"The recession merely revealed a reality that has been with us for a long time. We faced a growing gap in education and skills that we tried to fill with debt and credit, which gave us the illusion of growth."
December 13, 2010
December 12, 2010
I saw "Inside Job" at my local trendy-art theater recently and can report that it is a good, clear exposition of how the financial crash of 2008 came about. The movie is narrated by the sincere, trustworthy voice of Matt Damon, but the star of the show is the writer/producer Charles Ferguson, who never actually appears on screen; however, the intelligent, incredulous questions he asks of the various vermin who stupidly agreed to be interviewed for the documentary are the best part of the movie. Ferguson (who graduated from Berkeley in 1978 with a mathematics degree, then obtained a PhD from MIT in political science) is certainly a match for the shifty economists, politicians, investment bankers and other scum placed under his unrelenting microscope.
December 09, 2010
December 08, 2010
The phrase is based on a 1977 episode of "Happy Days" where the Fonz, wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, water skis on a Los Angeles vacation and jumps over an underwater enclosure containing a shark. The concept seems to refer to some watershed development in a sitcom which forever marks its turning point toward fading out. I think I remember when that happened in "Seinfeld;" it was some episode late in the Seinfeld era (it may have been the last year) where Kramer is taking a test drive with a car salesman and they get into some silly plot point about seeing how far they can drive with the gas gauge warning light on. It seemed like an attempt at the Theater of the Absurd, and it didn't really work at all. It was tedious. Seinfeld had jumped the shark.
December 06, 2010
from today's Washington Post (Dec. 6)
December 05, 2010
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain-- All, all the stretch of these great green states-- And make America again!
December 01, 2010
California always leads the way. We all know that. Trend-setters, daredevils, iconoclasts - it's what we're about. If you want to see what's going to happen next in the country as a whole, pay attention to California. Of course, with 36 million people officially (and another 5 million currently driving on Highway 57 between Pasadena and Fontana), over 10% of the American population is already here. So there is something of a tautological feel to declaring that California leads the way.
November 21, 2010
I use inflammatory titles such as the above because it's a great way to stir up readership for the blog. In general my hit count increases by a factor of about 50 for any post which concerns pensions in California. This is a highly nerve-wracking subject for those directly involved, that is, state pensioners, because this guy Joe Nation and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research just won't shut up about it, much as the pension managers and local politicos wish they would. Last spring, for example, Nation & SIEPR came out with a report on CALPers, the teachers' fund and the UC system which demonstrated that they were unfunded, using reasonable rates of return over the foreseeable future, to the tune of about 1/2 trillion smackers. Now Stanford is back with a study of local (county, city and district) pension systems in California which demonstrates that these smaller funds are also on the short side by about $200 billion. Adding it all up, we're missing about $700 billion in order to guarantee payment of all those pension promises, those Constitutionally-mandated contractual rights, those good-as-gold annuities signed with the sacred blood of John C. Fremont and Ishi, the California Yahi who walked out of the wilderness in 1911 and into the waiting arms of the University of California Anthropology Department.
"The average for all systemsin the 18-year scenario is 50percent, suggesting that one-halfof future covered payroll willbe required to meet unfundedpension and OPEB obligations.It is important to emphasizethat this estimated share ofcovered payroll reflects only thatrequired to eliminate unfundedobligations; contributions tofund ongoing pension and OPEBcosts are additional."