Archive

  • Downer Sunday

    Brad Plumer's post on Sudan reminded me of a point I've wanted to make. Despite the Bush administration's criminal negligence of the issue, they've actually been among the most attentive to genocide in memory. Save Clinton's eventual intervention in Kosovo -- and that was different because it was in Europe -- the level of indifference and cynicism American politicians exhibit towards African atrocities is stomach-turning. Bush, to his credit, has been willing to call it a genocide (a surprisingly large step), support various measures to stop it, and actually work to keep some degree of attention on the situation. Should we be doing more? Yes, much. But Bush's failures are nastily endemic to the American government, they're not specific to him. The one Western leader who does care about Africa in a serious, sustained manner is Tony Blair. Indeed, he's actually sent troops to stop a genocide (Sierra Leone), and many observers think that he'd do the same in Sudan if his position in...
  • Thank You NetFlix

    So I spent a good chunk of my Saturday blowing through Season 1 of Coupling (the BBC version). That's a really, really, really funny show -- props to those who kept recommending it. But guffawing aside, three questions: • Did anyone else find the fifth episode, the one where Jeff hits on the absurdly attractive Israeli who can't speak a word of English, completely impossible to get into? It's a general problem for me. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief fairly often, but I somehow can't clear the mental hurdle erected when situational comedies beg me to believe that stunningly attractive girl X is madly attracted to schlumpy, borderline-retarded character Y. I try, but just can't. For that reason, I think it'd be impossible to watch King of Queens. I've seen it on airplanes and, aside from the not-funny issue, the premise of a fat, irritating, socially-awkward UPS delivery-man marrying, yes, a super hot and put-together woman just doesn't fit. And being unable to buy the foundation of...
  • Scarier

    Speaking of alarmism, this Marburg virus sure is scary. Big ups to Angola for doing nothing. Big ups to the tribal chiefs for inciting violence against epidemiologists who are risking their lives to help. Big ups to the radio speeches accusing hospital heads of creating the virus through witchcraft so they can get a promotion. Big ups to tribal superstition and customs which won't allow the sick to be quarantined nor the dead to be isolated. It's much more than tragic to watch such a ravaged country bring so much more pain on itself -- it's just unbelievably sad. But I'm inspired by the epidemiologists and WHO workers and others who've parachuted into one of the most inhospitable countries and climates earth has to offer in order to confront one of the ugliest, deadliest diseases we've ever seen. That's not just dedication, that's towering courage. They're all heroes. And I sure hope they stop this thing.
  • Alarmism of the Future!

    Matt Yglesias and Brad Plumer are talking about oil's impact on the collapse of the Soviet Union. Piffle. Those discussions are so 1993. The real cutting-edge blogger-alarmism is over natural gas, of which over half the known reserves are in Russia and Iran. Which is why we should be so remarkably unhappy that Tehran and Moscow have been slowly, carefully, and happily drawing closer to each other -- that's bad stuff. We're going to be needing natural gas, more than anything else it has the potential to soften the changeover from oil -- many call it a "bridge fuel". But America's natural gas reserves have already peaked, and while there's an enormous amount of the stuff out there, it is, if anything, in worse spots than oil. Concentrating so much of it in autocratic Russia and anti-Western Iran is really a recipe for trouble. It gives Russia cause to defend and protect Iran because the two together can dictate the market, and it gives Iran room to be, well, Iran. In all the criticism...
  • "What's Google?"

    Regarding Daniel's point on child poverty and the promise the internet has for linking kids to a world that'd otherwise remain inaccessible, I want to tell a quick story. Grant, one of my closest friends, works with Amnesty International going into urban areas of Chicago and teaching the students about human rights. A recent lesson plan of his focused on Abu Ghraib and American attitudes towards torture. Towards the end of the lesson he noted that further pictures, documents and information could be found on Google. One student raised his hand and, not joking, said: "What's a google?" He wasn't the only one in the class not to know. We take it for granted that the information revolution sweeping through our lives has, to some degree or another, rippled into every crevice of America. It hasn't. And while modems aren't a silver bullet to poverty and despair, they do provide those hoping for a better life but sequestered in an impoverished one with the opportunity to tap into worlds...
  • House of Scandal

    Ever wanted to learn about your friendly neighborhood majority leader and all the congressional Republicans who're friendly with him? Sure you did.
  • Words Have Power

    I'm downright intrigued by the new effort to paint the filibustering of judges as a broadside against Christians everywhere. Fascinating, fascinating stuff. Part of it, of course, is Bill Frist's understanding that his presidential hopes rely wholly on his reputation as a Christian crusader, a term I use carefully. Because that's what keep pinging my radar on all this -- more and more, you're seeing the Christian Right adopt a policy of confrontation and, indeed, aggression against the non-religious elements of American life. Culture, politics, even community -- the clash of civilization does seem to be in the offing, but it's not with the Islamists a world away, it's a homegrown conflict for the direction of the country. That was always the flaw in the Clash of Civilizations concept. The war between Shari'a and modernity was taking place in Islam's backyard, it was no worldwide conflict threatening to wash up on America's shores. No matter how many gaskets Hitchens blew on route to...
  • Always Low Wages. Always.

    Saying Wal-Mart is antiunion is slightly less shocking than calling Tom DeLay unethical, or noting that I have an elbow*. Nothing could be better known. But I think most are confused, like I was for a long time, over how Wal-Mart can actually stop the unions. So one day, I called up an organizer buddy of mine and asked. The answer was so simple that it barely qualified as an answer at all. If workers unionize, or threaten to unionize, or feint at unionizing, or think about unionizing, or see a union hall on their way to work one day, Wal-Mart shuts down the store. Oh. Nevertheless. it seemed a bit odd to me. Pretty drastic measure, knocking down a whole store because they formed a union, can they really do that? Indeedy-do, they can and they have. In fact, they just did it in Canada. The workers in Jonquiere, Quebec, signed the cards creating a union and, immediately thereafter, everyone lost their jobs and the town lost its Wal-Mart. Now the city's got deep divisions between those...
  • The Means-Based President

    While reading some post-mortems of the just passed Screw The Poor Bankruptcy Bill, I came across this sneaky little stat : "With 90% of bankruptcies attributable to job loss, divorce or excessive medical bills, it is clear that better economic policies, social services and affordable healthcare is the way to reduce bankruptcy," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) . Most of us already knew that about half of bankruptcies are precipitated by crushing medical emergency, though I'd no idea such innocuous and understandable trials as job loss and divorce made up for the rest. But isn't it weird that the answer to bankruptcy from medical bills and job loss was to make it, well, harder to declare bankruptcy? If the Bush administration had wanted to end bankruptcies, they could have offered federal reinsurance for catastrophic medical costs. You would've ended half the bankruptcies right there. If they'd wanted to do more, they could have instituted better unemployment insurance and...
  • The NBC Special Mini-Series Emergency

    Kevin Drum dismisses Kunstler's book The Long Emergency on the grounds that he tries to explain most everything through entropy. Well sure, the blatant misappropriation of physics concepts is one reason to dismiss the guy's post-apocalyptic predictions, but why stop at just one? How about the fact that Kunstler really isn't an oil expert? He was a staff writer for The Rolling Stone , published a string of (self-described) bad novels, and then wrote a few books on the crushing soullessness of suburban architecture. Hearing him confidently predict the end of civilization definitely has a crazy-guy-on-Venice feel to it. But no, you say, Rolling Stone published excerpts from the book, and if RS thinks they have merit, they probably do. Or at least they would, if Kunstler hadn't worked for RS, thus pulling that appearance into question. But maybe pseudo-physics and lack of credentials aren't enough for you. Maybe you still need one last piece of evidence that it's not quite time to head...

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