Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Something to Think About.

This passage from one of Holbrooke's memos during the Vietnam war seems like a pretty good analysis of the state of play in the current war between Democrats and Republicans:

"Hanoi uses time the way the Russians used terrain before Napoleon's advance on Moscow, always retreating, losing every battle, but eventually creating conditions in which the enemy can no longer function," he wrote. "For Napoleon it was his long supply lines and the cold Russian winter; Hanoi hopes that for us it will be the mounting dissension, impatience, and frustration caused by a protracted war without fronts or other visible signs of success; a growing need to choose between guns and butter; and an increasing American repugnance at finding, for the first time, their own country cast as 'the heavy.' "

Unfortunately for us I don't think that the Democrats are Hanoi--using time like the Russians used terrain, giving up a battles but, long term, gaining the advantage. I think we are in a war of attrition in which the Republicans have successfully figured out that if they can just prevent the Democrats from winning anything publicly, and prevent the economy from recovering, the average voter will be so bewildered that they will have no idea who to blame (who is the "heavy") and simply return them to power.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Its Really Quite Simple.

Look, we have two separate problems as Democrats trying to run the country. 1) The Tax Cuts and 2) Running the Country. Because the Democrats don't understand the first thing about bargaining and negotiating we are in a massive crunch during this lame duck session. The Republicans have linked the tax cuts for millionaires to the entire Democratic governing agenda and basically said that if, and only if, they get what they want will they (possibly) allow the Democratic majority to get passed cloture and vote on DADT, DREAM, and everything else. The public and the blogs are running around with their hair on fire, to the extent that they even grasp what is happening, screaming that the Republicans either have to be given what they want or that we have to essentially burn the house down to get the legislation we want--that is sacrifice everything for the tax cuts. In fact, those geniuses at the White House are apparently debating just how badly to throw the game by extending the tax cuts to the most politically difficult next stage of the game while continuing to get nothing for it.

But the solution is really quite simple. Utterly simple. The Republican party--specifically the Senate--has demonstrated that they value the tax cuts for millionaires above all other things. In a real negotiation, with non morons on your side, this is an incredibly important piece of information. Reid and Obama should simply schedule the Tax Cut vote *that they want* for the last hours of the last day of the lame duck session. They tell the Republicans that if they refuse to vote for cloture on each and every one of the pending issues: DADT, DREAM, Judges, etc... then the vote on tax cuts simply never happens. The Bush tax cuts go away.

What's the downside of my approach? Nothing. At the moment the President and Reid's method amounts to allowing hostage taking, extortion, and brinksmanship by a number of key players (Brown, Snowe) who have shown themselves over and over again to be acting in bad faith. Under my system there would be no reward for bad faith negotiations just a straightforward quid pro quo: allow the business of government to go forward and the minority gets a shot at getting a vote on something it wants. Refuse to allow the business of government to go forward and the opportunity to keep low taxes on millionaires simply vanishes.

Now (some) Democrats will argue, apparently, that it will be fatal for Obama to allow the "Bush Tax Cuts" for the middle class to expire on his watch. But that assumes, as such arguments always do, that Obama and the Dems continue to lose the war of words that really is politics--that they throw the narrative down the drain. But they don't have to. To put it mildly: its a choice they make. If they put up a "Obama tax cut clock" on the floor of the Senate and have it count down "through the people's business" as the Republicans vote against cloture over and over again--well, the stories write themselves. Even if the tax cuts evaporate at midnight with the lame duck session from a political stand point its no harm/no foul. If middle class tax cuts are so important to the middle class Obama and the House Dems can run on middle class tax cuts for the next two years. Running on a clearly labled Obama/House Dem middle class tax cut is a much better ploy than running on "we kinda saved the Bush tax cuts for some people."

I can't believe the Democrats can't figure this out but I've been a Democratic voter and observer for a really long time. Yes, these people are just that stupid. They continually try to run on a "record of achievement" when all voters hear is "what will you do for me next." They fell right into this trap with HCR when they continually insist that the great legislative achievement of two years ago should determine how voters vote two years from now. As though getting us Social Security and Medicare guaranteed Democratic dominance with the two groups who use them the most. Well, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Grasp that the voters need to be told over and over again who is doing what to whom. Then go out and do it harder to the other guy.


Cross Posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Infra Dig

The thing about Marty is that he had his personal friends but if you didn't take a course from him, or eat at his table, you didn't even know he was alive --from the perspective of being inside Harvard or inside Soc Stud.--To me the entire thing: the festschrift for a man with no real academic production, no serious students, no moral trail other than a trail of slime--reeks of preciousness and an inability to judge the truly worthwhile. I'm deeply ashamed of Michael Walzer for ever lending his prestige to this and, apparently, for being unable to "know" with any kind of moral clarity that people don't say *incredibly racist things* without also promulgating and agitating for incredibly racist policies. Pace EJ Dionne's "we can argue/friends can argue" no one gives a flying fuck if important upper class white people are friends with, and have dinner with, other important upper class white people and if they, as they port goes 'round the table and talk turns to summer vacations occasionally give vent to racist sentiments which are politely ignored or dealt with by an uncomfortable but indulgent "oh Marty!" The thing that pisses off the students is that this mindset, these publications, these policies have real world consequences for actual people who are not, as it happens, white, or jewish, or christian.

Brad knows that I avoided the whole weekend--though I believe my family "represented"(!) but I really stand aghast at the barefaced, hackneyed, amorality on display by my former department expressed in this touching attempt to redirect the conversation:

"Richard Tuck: I let Abdelnassar Rashid speak because he is somebody that I have had dealings with and whose substantive views on this matter I respect."

This is precisely the problem. One is allowed to speak absolute racist hate speech because he is known and loved and has money and favors to dispense to his former students. Another is, briefly, allowed to speak on opposition because he is "known" and has "substantive views." This is an obscene form of "on the one hand/on the other hand" that denies the very possibility of an actual moral stance. I get that maybe in the Econ department, or Geology, or Engineering it may be appropriate to ignore a given Professor's insane and hateful rhetoric because, after all, his graphs or his mines or his bridges are top notch but I'm sorry to say that in a field like Social Studies with its proud moral and intellectual commitment to something-or-other Marty Peretz should never have been allowed to serve as other than an object lesson in what happens when an oppressed person takes a vow that he and his friends will never be subordinate again and cheerfully arrogates to himself the right to put his foot on the neck of everyone lower down on the social ladder from himself. Marty should have been seen as nothing more than a fucking object of study--not a professor in the respected sense of the word. No Fellowships in Marty's name anymore than we name fellowships honoring the diseases we are trying to eradicate.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Woman Fails Turing Test.

A commenter comments about dating over at "Annie's Mailbox" the current online version of Ann Landers.

I dated a guy awhile back who suffered from NPD. He had no consideration of my emotional needs whatsoever. Most of our relationship went like this: We would fight constantly, we'd get to the break-up point and he would feed me some line about how he really thought we could make it work if we just tried harder and would I "just tell him already" what he was doing wrong, I'd fall for it and tell him certain things he needed to change, he would completely disregard them, rinse and repeat. 

I know what you're thinking...Sounds really one sided, yes? I would always ask him what he thought I needed to change. He would always say "Nothing. Just keep being patient." 

He would never apologize, because he never felt he did anything wrong. He would accuse me of over-reacting if I got hurt or mad at something he did. When I would point out that I was bending over backwards to try and make things work while he treated me as a carpet, his response would be "I don't expect you to." He literally felt that, since he didn't claim to expect me to put up with him, he had no reason to feel bad for not putting up any effort. 

A few other things I put up with over those two years: He expected total openness from me, but would always say "I don't feel like talking" or "I'm not comfortable talking about that" when such questions were turned on him. I went the entire two years dating the guy without ever knowing what he looked like, but he expected me to be on the webcam at least once a week. (Not even dredging up all the lies he constantly told me about when I would get pictures.) We never once had a conversation over a phone. He refused to ever get one. It was on the computer or I could just deal with not talking to him. (He claimed not talking to me didn't bother him.) He expected me to be available whenever he wanted me around, and would throw fits if I wasn't. But my request that he warn me if he wasn't going to be around any given day was "me trying to change who he was" and not only did he never do it, he started purposely hiding from me and not telling me he wouldn't be around, sometimes for a week or more, after I did something that supposedly angered him. 

It took me two long years to walk away from that mess. I kept telling myself that if I proved I was different, he would open up and change. Boy, was I stupid!

The Real Problem is the Question Itself

Everyone's a twitter with this from Palin (via Steve Benen):

Palin was asked, for example, about why she initially ran in Alaska as someone interested in bipartisanship, but then abandoned that approach. As Palin sees it, she learned a lesson "when John McCain chose me for the nomination for vice president."
"[W]hat it showed me about the left: they go home," she said. "It doesn't matter what you do. It was the left that came out attacking me. They showed me their hypocrisy; they showed me they weren't willing to work in a bipartisan way. I learned my lesson. Once bitten, twice shy. I will never trust that they are not hypocrites until they show me they're sincere."
So, in Palin's mind, she doesn't want to work with Democrats because Democrats criticized a Republican candidate during a competitive presidential campaign. I get the sense that Palin may not fully appreciate the meaning of the word "hypocrisy."
But the real problem isn't that Palin is some kind of a hypocrite but that the meaning of the words "work" and "bipartisan" have ceased to have any content if the writer's question can be answered as she answered it.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010


The other name for this blog was to be "Synesthesia Ethnographica" and it was to be subtitled "The roar of the greasepaint/the smell of the crowd."  I'm just toying with "I Spy" because Mr. Aimai pointed out that the first rule of everything is "make sure they can spell your name correctly."  Still, both names have something in common.  They came to me in a dreamlike state while I was talking to my friend Stacy Pigg about anthropology, ethnography, society on the internet, politics, and our experience, as anthropologists, of being strangers even in our own countries.  Sometimes that feels uncomfortably like being a voyeur, eternally peeping through someone else's window. Sometimes it feels like being a naturalist with a really good microscope.  Sometimes it feels divine, like your third eye has opened and you can see the ley lines, or the bhuts, or just into the souls of things.

 I'm an anthropologist.  I am an anthropologist.  I am an anthropologist.  I am an anthropologist.  I am an anthropologist like some people are dancers, or singers, or artists.  Or that creepy dentist you have who toys with the long, slender, fingers of a serial killer while he tells you about his passion for making casts of teeth.  Its not a job, its a life.  As Gish Jen said to me once, about her own vocation, "I write under compulsion. Nothing else could make me do something so difficult every day."  That applies to me, as well--I see at the world ethnographically regardless of my desires.   But its not really painful: working in the field in Nepal, writing to rule, trying to please an academic audience was painful thanks to a lifetime of performance anxiety.  But simply doing participant ethnography: being with people, talking to them, hearing their stories, watching their behavior and thinking about how the world is put together? That's always a pleasure. And its all the more a pleasure when its practiced at home, rather than abroad. For one thing, in my case, the cooking's better.  For another I don't want to commute to work a thousand or so miles when I have young children at home.

Which brings me to my next subject.  Children are natural ethnographers and natural students of society and culture.  When we are parents we have two choices: to squelch their curiosity and their analysis or to encourage it.  One of my foundational memories is of walking through an airport with my grandfather, a  political journalist.  He pointed out to me what had been invisible to me, because it was taken for granted.  As I child I moved through a world of grown ups and children: I did what I was told, went where I was told, saw what the adults in my world thought it appropriate for me to see.   At my height, and in my view, the airport was simply full of busy travellers.  He looked around, almost casually, and showed me that the travellers around me were entirely white--this was in the sixties--and he said to me, conversationally, that in this country wealthy people travelled by plane, and poor people travelled by bus. The absence of non-white people around me was really the presence of something else: the entire history race and class in this country.

This is my earliest memory of being asked to see, not just to look-- to see the tip of the iceberg and to know that below the water line is more ice.  Or to see the tree line at the top of the mountain and to grasp that the line occurs because of ecological conditions.  All these people were different, and all had come to the airport for their own reasons, heading to their own destinations. But my grandfather had shown me that underneath those thousands of individual stories were hidden lines of history, power, money, race, religion, ethnicity, gender.

Here's another foundational memory of culture, and oddly enough it comes from a different grandparent: my father's mother.  She was a remarkable woman--family legend has it that she was the first married undergraduate at  Radcliffe. That is, she wasn't the first undergraduate ever to be married, but the first they allowed to stay in school.  The Dean called her in, asked her not to tell the other girls about sex, and then anxiously asked if she knew about contraception.  This grandmother accompanied my grandfather to Indonesia and Pakistan in the heyday of the Ford Foundation's development dreams.  In Indonesia she was invited to be one of the "four happily married women" to bathe the groom (this is the way I remember the story, at any rate, it might have been the bride) before a wedding.  "How do you know I'm a happily married woman?" she asked her hosts, ever curious.  "Is your husband alive?" they asked her. "Yes."  "Do you have sons and daughters and are they alive?" "Yes."  "Then you are happily married." They said to her.  That was my first introduction to the notion that happiness itself is a cultural and social construct.

To cut a long story short, since life has intervened and I'm probably writing this in a hospital room while Mr. Aimai has an intravenous drip of pain killers, I moved my ethnographic enterprise home when I had children.  Now I've decided to take it online.  I've decided to keep practicing participant ethnography in a few disparate communities and I'll write about what I find here.

This can't be any lonelier than lying upstairs in a Nepali attic filled with the sounds of cooing pigeons and scurrying rats, singeing the fringe of my hair on a candle held between me and a book...can it?