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Monthly Archives: March 2009

“When you stand up and when you say those things, then you’re deemed a kook.”

-Glenn Beck

Note: I really need to figure out how to embed video. Or a quick way to put pictures up in here.

Harper’s hits Bachmann on her “economic illiteracy,” while letting her own words imply that she’s just as dumb when it comes to knowing the names of countries.

Usually I’m a Beethoven fan, but the String Quartet No. 6 (last part of Opus 18) is nervous pacing and twitching musically embodied. Absolutely no good for a restless caffeine-withdrawal-ridden afternoon when half your energy is spent keeping yourself sitting in your chair instead of playing 007 or building a fort with filing cabinets and shelves or going to a #2 stall in the bathroom and camping out with your 1079-page book and see just how long it’d be until someone had to come in and break down the flimsy door or use a special key or do whatever is SOP for that sort of emergency.

She wants to prevent the Obama administration from “abandoning the dollar for a multinational currency.”

Does that mean she wants to pass a law controlling the financial decisions of other countries?

Or just that she doesn’t want the US to start circulating yuan or rubles? Because that’s illegal already. So we’d just be passing a constitutional amendment for kicks. Don’t you have anything better to do than wasting our time and defaming our state?

So I know a little bit about economics. Like how shifts in supply and demand affect prices and quantities of goods exchanged. My minimal understanding of econ actually informs my opposition to the War on Drugs. (Which, by the way, it seems like we’re getting close to ending, since Obama chose the police chief of a stoner Pacific Northwest municipality, and since a serious Republican presidential candidate has come out in opposition to it.)

But I don’t know a lot about macroeconomic theory, or, more importantly, history, because I find it boring and forgettable (unless it’s told by Niall Ferguson), so I’m more attracted to broad, institutional solutions to the economic crap-fest than the specific, complicated solutions.

So this is what Richard Painter, U MN Law Professor, suggests we a lesson we could learn from the last 2 centuries of economic peaks and troughs.

Finally, perhaps because we value the type of government we have and the experience that private sector jobs bring to government, we might consider a radical idea: no more bailouts. We will have to avoid allowing companies to get “too big to fail”, through antitrust laws or otherwise, or alternatively figure out a way to protect the rest of the economic system when a big company does fail. Whatever is done, we cannot escape the fact that bailouts and ethics don’t mix. We found this out in 1789 and we should know this now.

And this isn’t to be taken in a totalitarian, devotion to the government way. We like our government because it tries to be transparent and efficient. When the government takes over banks, those objectives are at odds with one another. If it discloses all information about which banks are taking loans, then we lose a ton of money. If it tries to be financially prudent in governing the banks, it keeps secrets from us. The best choice seems to be to reject the game outright.

Sometimes a huge company going bankrupt isn’t so bad, relative to the alternatives.

Oh man, Michele Bachmann is out of her mind. And wow, the Senate feels just like college mock trial.

Bernanke is the seasoned expert witness who always retains his composure and spits data at you like an uzi.

Geithner isn’t as good as Bernanke, but pulls a mean WTF?!1 face when Bachmann, the cutely clueless attorney, asks her red herring/non sequitur/stupid questions with her dramatic spectacle-removing gestures.

I guess if you spawn Burke, you’re entitled to better conservatives, but why can’t Republicans sound more like this? Or better yet, why couldn’t they have sounded like that about 5 years ago?

Balkin’s a cool dude. Posner’s surprisingly dense. Pretty dull, too.

Ok, so on Talk of the Nation today they’re talking about web sites that review Doctors, privacy issues, etc., and some guy called in and said, “I’m an avid blogger, and I’ve read bad movie reviews before, but I still saw the movie myself and I loved it.” As if there’s no difference between going to a movie and going to see a doctor. As if watching a bad movie is the same thing as being misdiagnosed. TotN has to revamp their idiot-caller screening process.

Also, on some right wing radio show, Tammy Bruce (who? is the proper response) ripped on Michelle Obama today. For growing up poor? For being accused of selling out her blackness? Or was it for telling kids about it? Anyway, if I may Bruce’s opinions as a representative sample of the lesbian, pro-choice, pro-gun, pro-death penalty feminist Republican crowd, our first lady has her work cut out for her. Because, I mean, who was the last President to do well who was married to someone who wasn’t popular with that crowd?

It always seemed like a tricky question, “should we adopt a rights-based or a utilitarian ethics?” Because it implies both ease-of-use questions and adherence-to-reality questions. Ethics, as an academic discipline, kind of sucks because strong adherence to principles (greatest good for the greatest number) leads you to unpalatable conclusions (ginger genocide). And it seems like the principle doesn’t have much more weight than the moral intuitions it unseats. And then it seems like we’re just trying to appease conflicting moral intuitions, which seems a lot like we’re just trying to justify our way of life, ad hoc, rather than sitting down and really figuring out what we ought to be doing.

Maybe there aren’t any moral facts that could possibly propel such an investigation, pace Singer, and the best we can shoot for is consistency. So given that some moral intuitions seem inconsistent with each other (e.g., A. it’s wrong to let kid drown, B. it’s ok to let people in Africa die of starvation/disease) how do we know which intuition we have to change/abandon? Probably the one that would do the least damage to our ethical-epistemological web, given that preservation of the web (consistency is implied in that notion) is of the utmost importance, a priori. Another worry is that there are two internally consistent, self-supporting, attractive ethical-belief (belief, not knowledge, because we gave up truth with the moral facts concession) webs out there, and we’ll have really crappy ways of choosing between the two. I suppose you don’t have to worry about this until you come to it, and there’s nothing wrong with the assumption that there’s only going to be one consistent ethical-belief web, as long as you grant that it can be disproven.

What moral intuitions do we begin with, then?

Equality? Equality of what? Moral agents, I’d assume. What constitutes a moral agent? Can’t you have several levels, perhaps a slope of moral significance and demand appropriate treatment for each tier/point on the slope. Upon further reflection, the tier/slope distinction matters a lot. It seems that respect for human dignity is a threshold system, not a slopy one. Once you are self-conscious, you’re in. I suppose some (ostensibly) morally significant characteristics are all-or-nothing… awareness of oneself as an actor, or of the passage of time, don’t seem like things that come in degrees, like the ability to experience pain/pleasure, or the ability to remember things, be trained to behave in a certain way, or the ability to use language. The all-or-nothing qualities seem much more important and fundamental to the moral system than the experiential/cognitive gray areas I’ve listed. Why? Because you can appreciate justice and fairness and the like even if you’re stupid and paralyzed. But if you can’t understand the passage of time or if you aren’t aware of your identity and agency, then there’s no foundation upon which to build any sort of moral system. (Possible counter to that: Buddhism, no-self nirvana. That certainly brings up the possibility that this whole “getting to the basics” business is just parotting the fundamental values of the culture in which I was raised, which isn’t something I’d like to be doing, but maybe it’s inevitible unless I work to steep myself in other cultures’ philosophies, a task toward which I’ve heretofar put absolutely no effort.)

One problem we dig up, if we accede to that point, is that we’re stuck with the task of defining the distinction, and deciding what to do with A) things that were self-conscious at one point but aren’t anymore, or B) things that, given time, or given time and specific environmental conditions, we have good reason to believe the things will become self-conscious.

So Jon Stewart rocked last night, and everyone knows it. Out of everyone I read, I thought Balkin had the best response.

We should congratulate Jon Stewart for outstanding television, and for an absorbing interview that raised really important issues. In this sense, he is doing great journalism. But we should not assume that regular journalists could simply imitate his mannerisms and his aggressive questioning tactics and turn journalism around. Their subjects will not behave like Jim Cramer, a journalist, did. Professional journalists must abandon the bad habits of contemporary journalism, and the sycophancy, corruption, and complicity that come with them; but to do that, they also have to find some way to free themselves from much larger social and economic forces that lead to co-optation.

It was a stunning moment of journalism, but not a usable model to solve the problem it illuminates.