Archive for the ‘politik’ Category

Yesterday heralded President Obama’s third State of the Union address and the umpteenth pub trivia night at McCue’s. When I realized I could only do one or t’other, it was with ephemeral sadness that I chose the latter form of mental stimulation over the former. In the event my half-strong team did not place, but I did beat my teammate in a best of seven billiards match, so not all was lost.

But tonight, almost exactly twenty-four hours later after the original broadcast, I am watching the White House’s own ‘enhanced’ version of the SOTU, which I shall embed below.

Now I click play, and…

(0:10) Already I am annoyed by the info pane because it crops the live feed–how am I to be immersed in this experience without cinematic widescreen?

(2:30) Ah, now info pane is telling me SOTU facts. Calvin Coolidge first one to deliver on radio, Harry Truman first on television. JFK first on lots of painkillers.

(4:30) Obama reaches the podium and shakes the hand of new Speaker of the House John Böhner. Don’t know the German derivation of the name, but bohner means floor polisher and may hold the secret to John’s silky bronze complexion.

(5:30) “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much,” says Obama with piercing sincerity and enthusiasm.

(6:15) The 112th Congress not only has no problem applauding itself, but also stands while doing so.

(8:25) That we believe the dreams of our children should be fulfilled sets us apart as a nation.

(10:20) “Poised” “party” “progress” “politics.” I wish info pane informed us that President Obama is currently using a rhetorical technique known as alliteration.

(10: 25) Instead I get a graph of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

(11:27) The child is super stoked about the payroll tax cut.

(12: 00) The recession has a back, and that back has been broken.

(14:30) Obama: Hey other world economies! You may bully us, but at the end of the day we’re still bigger than you!

(16:00) The key to “winning the future” is to “out-innovate” “out-educate” and “out-build” the rest of the planet. First thing we’re gonna build? This t-shirt.

(16:10) As everyone applauds Obama’s bold three-pronged plan for world domination, info pane displays a picture of him at Google a growing small business a General Motors factory.

(18:20) As Obama talks of Sputnik, info pane displays a corresponding 1957 headline. Somewhere out there, a West Wing intern is beaming at the fruit of his NYT historical archive web search.

(21:30) It turns out subsidizing energy production wasn’t so wise before, but let’s not have that stop us from giving it another go, eh?

(24:00) I’m more nerd than jock, but winning the science fair is not as impressive as winning the Super Bowl no matter what my president says.

(26:00) Apparently there are rival gangs in Denver…? No help from info pane.

(26:40) My half-Korean girlfriend is about to start a two-year stint as a pre-k teacher, so all of you can now join me in referring to her as a “nation-builder.”

Nation Builder

(26:45) And trust me, Mr. President, she’s gonna out nation build them all.

(36:15) Broaden the base and lower the rate for more efficient taxation. Innovative policy proposals straight from Econ 302.

(37:15) Remember, the key to prosperity is exports, because the money you earn from selling stuff allows you to buy more stuff you can sell, earning you more money to buy more stuff to sell.

(37:45) Obama has ordered a review of “government regahlayshuns”. Heh.

(39:45) Helping out small business bookkeepers gets an standing ovation. More frequent Quickbooks updates forthwith!

(40:00) Enthusiastic applause for belt-tightening quickly dies when Congress realizes Obama is serious.

(43:00) It appears the generals were not informed of the tens of billion of cuts to which the Secretary of Defense agreed.

(43:30) Obama flubs an already lame analogy about an airplane without an engine, and the chamber patronizes with polite laughter.

(49:00) “Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with the click of the mouse and the help of an exasperated grandchild.”

(53:00) How refreshing finally to get to a discussion of foreign policy and how al Qeada and their affiliates continue to plan ways to kill us.

(58:30) We stand for the democratic aspirations of the people of Tatooine, er, Tunisia. Tunisia’s the real place, right?

(1:02:30) Obama spouts off a ‘USA #1’ line but misses the perfect opportunity thereafter to strap on an electric guitar and thrash out a face melting riff while bald eagles swoop down from the rafters with red white and blue ticker tape streaming from their talons. Next time.

(1:07:00) Took over an hour, but we finally get to the point: “The state of our union is strong.” Phew.


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Matt Yglesias points my attention to voter intimidation within a McDonald’s franchise:

The letter doesn’t elucidate what laws are being broken, so I’m curious to know what the legal argument is and where else it might apply. If you drive by my office, for instance, you’ll see half a dozen campaign signs for every applicable Democratic election in the front lawn. If you step inside, you might hear, as I have, off-handed remarks about how Republican candidates are crazy and evil. Today in the office, I was encouraged to vote and facetiously reminded that Republicans vote Wednesday. That stuff I can take in stride and good humor because I don’t really give a damn, but mightn’t it intimidate some? Keep in mind I’m interning for a corporation (albeit mononational), a fact which Mr. Schulman’s letter indicates is terribly relevant.

As it happens, I don’t think the paycheck handbill is appropriate, just as I don’t think the lopsided signs in front of my office are appropriate (though if I indulged my subversiveness, I suppose I could always hammer in a Republican picket sign without fuss). Yet I think it’s inappropriate because it’s incongruous with the larger workplace culture, not because there’s something immoral or illicit about it. Given that the threat (giving the handbill its least charitable reading) is ultimately empty because voting is anonymous, what’s the issue? Repression or intimidation alone, in explicit print? If an atheist were working as a secretary at a church office, does he have a legitimate grievance if he’s always asked to join in office prayer?

These workplace wickets are stickier than that mayhaps, but in the end the lesson everyone seems to agree on is to keep tacit things tacit.

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As another US election draws nigh, politics becomes the sporting talk of a certain American cross section. I’m much more inclined to be an observer rather than participant, but inevitably I am drawn in to an idle political chat or two. If nothing else, these conversations force me to confront the fact that my voting views are not as anodyne as I’d like to think, and that I’d better be ready to explain myself satisfactorily.

Here’s a short and–I hope–entertaining movie I made based on how these conversations run, with the main differences being that I’m not this articulate in person and that I usually fail to convince the person I’m not some “communist whack-a-doo.” If you’re having a hard time understanding the robo-speak, you can turn on closed captions:

The main points I try to get across in the movie:

  1. There are many reasons to vote.
  2. What many, if not most, voters use as their stated reason for voting (i.e. its instrumentality, or ability to decide who wins) is irrational in a dry, technical, uncontroversial way.
  3. This is OK, because voters’ behavior reveals their voting to be for other valid reasons, such as for personal expression, group affiliation, the fulfilling of a civic duty, etc. In other words, they’re behaving like me, even if they don’t acknowledge it.

One  thing I don’t mention in the movie is that I, along with plenty of others in the electorate, rarely bother to vote in small and/or local elections when the instrumental value of a vote is orders of magnitude higher. You can try to explain this by pointing out the smaller stakes, but in my my view it’s another bit of evidence that people vote expressively.

(The paper referenced in the movie on voting probability in the 2008 can be found here (.pdf), and the statistic about death from a non-poisonous arthropod is from the always fun to use Book of Odds.)

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Here’s what I wrote two years ago:

Standing in a crowded marketplace and watching Germany lose pitifully to Croatia in the Eurocup, I began thinking about two things:

  1. Given that a few early wins by Germany in the 2006 World Cup triggered a surprising surge of national pride and patriotism, would it be possible that a World Cup victory in 2010 would so stir German self-confidence that a shift to a more aggressive, American style of foreign policy might occur?
  2. It is amazing to what extent footballers determine male fashion trends in Europe.

Here’s Nassim Taleb:

Ruh Roh!

Halbfinale wir kommen.

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Timezones and other constraints conspired to prevent me from watching yesterday’s State of the Union address, so today I downloaded a CBS broadcast of the event. Now I will watch and blog:

(0:00) CBS got Morgan Freeman to do the introductory voice-over, I wonder where that places in his chain of command.

(0:01) The parade of the bureaucrats is underway!

(0:01) Hey, there’s Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary. I love her ice cream.

(0:01) And it’s the always boxy Rahm Emmanuel; if my German and Bible classes aren’t failing me, his name means “Frame God with Us.”

(0:02) Michelle Obama towers over the wee police officers beside her. Can’t wait to find out what politically useful act of heroism they performed!

(0:06) Madame Speaker, the people’s highest ranking public servant!

(0:07) I wonder how they decide the order of who trails Obama. I like to think it’s shirtless boxing, Marquess of Queensberry style.

(0:08) After many handshakes, Obama goes in for several hugs like the teddy bear he is.

(0:10) Ahhh, the traditional handing off to Joe Biden of the manila folder containing compromising photos of the VP. Stay in line, Joe!

(0:12) Obama informs us of the history of the SOTU. But did you know that for most of the presidency, a report was submitted to Congress with no speech? I did, because I once wrote a sixth-grade history report on Woodrow Wilson.

(0:13) One in ten Americans can’t find a job? Is this the beginning of the rumored reversal of America’s depraved child labor laws!?!

(0:14) Obama finds it especially hard to read the letters from children, perhaps because they’re scrawled in crayon and rife with spelling errors.

(0:16) Americans share everything, from a desire to find a job that pays the bills to giving their children a better life. Legos, too. And Lincoln Logs.

(0:17) Obama has hope for America; the Democrats immediately stand and applaud while the Republicans sit for a few seconds longer to consider whether this position is congruous with conservatism.

(0:17) Biden anticipates a brief clap just a few seconds too early and flashes his weird sideways smile.

(0:18) The bank bailouts were “about as popular as a root canal.” Once again, Obama shows no tact with the dental lobby.

(0:20) Terror: George W. Bush :: Banking : Obama

(0:22) Obama cites an unknowable counter-factual as truth.

(0:23) Obama cites the success of a window manufacturer as evidence of the success of the stimulus. Somewhere far away, Frédéric Bastiat breaks a window.

(0:25) Man, how can Obama list all these small towns off the cuff like that!

(0:27) And you get a tax break! And you get a tax break! Oh boy, is there something taped underneath the seats? EEEEEE!!!!

(0:28) There’s no reason Europe or China should have faster trains, or cooler factories, or older buildings, or more beautiful women…

(0:28) Obama says it time to stop shipping jobs overseas to poorer people who make products Americans value for cheaper. Hip hip, hooray!

(0:32) I’m not sure what the competition is, but I’m now assured we’re not content with second place.

(0:35) The chamber is one big nuclear family.

(0:37) Clean energy is such a ginormous investment opportunity that whoever leads it will lead the global economy. This is why we must lure people into it with tax dollars or otherwise they won’t invest. Get it?

(0:39) In lieu of snark, I’ll let 1994 Paul Krugman explain why talking about economic policy in terms of national competitiveness is silly.

(0:40) Best anti-poverty measure is an education? Looks like someone’s never played Power Ball.

(0:43) Obama calls houses an investment, which is true if one takes a generalist view where autumn leaves could be considered a salad.

(0:45) Michelle Obama gets a standing ovation for “starting a national movement.”

(0:50) Yep, the American government is just like any ol’ American household. It has to stick to a budget, otherwise it’ll have to print money or collect it from others by dispatching people with guns.

(0:58) With his view of corporations and free speech, Obama clearly takes a Platonic view of rhetoric. Yep.

(1:10) “We will bring 44 nations together to secure all nuclear material within fours years so that they never fall into the hands or underpants of terrorists.”

(1:12) As Obama announces his plan to reverse the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the generals sit rigid, hands clutched near their crotches.

(1:14) Obama will support equal pay for women, and will provide paternity leave to men as they carry their mutant babies to term.

(1:16) Obama invokes George Michael (the singer, not the Bluth).

(1:16) “Democracy in a country of 300 million people can be noisy, and messy, and complicated, and frankly, it sucks!”

(1:19) Sadly, it’s now widely reported that the $8 a boy gave Obama to give to Haiti was instead spent on a Hatian corn pudding snack for the President.

(1:20) And now that God has been asked to bless us and America (just to be safe), the SOTU has ended, the fifth longest in 40-odd years.

And with that, I’m exhausted. Good night!

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When I awake each morning, cheerful is my disposition. Travails belong to yesterday, while today owns the promise of productivity. Charity and magnanimity are felt in good measure. If I had on a cap, I would surely tip it to passersby on the street, and should a man ask for change, I’d not begrudge him a sou.

Others are not like me. They wake to a bleary dissatisfaction with the state of things. Forehead blood vessels are engorged, changing the face’s topography into the mask of the malcontent. Before they even arrive at the bathroom for their morning evacuation, the morning has filled with bemoaning. Maybe it’s a general lament about the corruption of youth. Or perhaps, if you’re Rwanda Youth Minister Protais Mitali for instance, it’s something more specific, like just how irksome are those ghastly grass-thatched huts poor people like to live in:

Speaking during a provincial coordination committee meeting on Tuesday, Mitali urged mayors in the province to prioritise the issue of eradicating grass thatched houses in the country so as to beat the June 2010 deadline set by the Cabinet.

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Local Government indicates that the Eastern and Southern Provinces as leading in having the biggest number of people still living in huts, with the latter having over 27,000 such houses.

“You have to tackle the issue of eradicating grass-thatched houses as a matter of urgency.

We do not expect to see such houses anywhere in the country by mid 2010,” said the Youth Minister.

These days I find myself thinking that this type of thing, while of a flavor more flagrant, is the same cold dish served up by most political action. People and politicians just can’t seem to get enough of using the full-auto AK of government to impose their preferences onto other people. Why someone would think they’re so well endowed to play the position of pater, and further, why they get so worked up about the affairs of others in the first place confounds me. I may wake up with happiness, but there’s certainly not such a surfeit of it that I feel called to coerce others to my enlightened ways.

As Smith said long ago:

Examine the records of history, recollect what has happened within the circle of your own experience, consider with attention what has been the conduct of almost all the greatly unfortunate, either in private or public life, whom you may have either read of, or heard of, or remember; and you will find that the misfortunes of by far the greater part of them have arisen from their not knowing when they were well, when it was proper for them to sit still and to be contented

Maybe my mornings are happy precisely because I’m not bothered much when someone’s preferences conflict with my own–that I can, in spite of the jarring diversity in how people all around me live, sit still and be contented.

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In Rostock, where I lived for several months, a 23-year-old state-level politician has lost his job and been fined 200 Euro for publishing this photo on the German rip-off of Facebook:

His crime was “Verunglimpfung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland,” or denigrating the Federal Republic of Germany (that’s a German flag in there). In the newspaper article, he claims the photo was intended to counter the nationalism that is accompanying the ongoing Eurocup.

Imagine how Westerners would react if the country were some South American autocracy, say, rather than Germany. Wouldn’t it be criticized–even haughtily so–as deeply illiberal and wrong?

A good way to check for bias is to perform that little thought experiment when considering your stance on any given policy.  Consider if your opinion on e.g. trade, torture, immigration, going to war, etc. would change if it were not your home country advocating it but some unfamiliar foreign land. If your opinion would change, or reverse, it’s worth attempting  to pin down why that is. You might discover your rationale was as soggy as a flushed flag.


Update: What about state-run media?

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