Friday, December 05, 2008
Satisfaction is a subjective function of subjective expectations.In response to Ezra Klein noting that although British Health care sucks, American health care sucks even more, Sullivan points out that that's just like, your opinion, man. His notion that Britons are preconditioned to expect lousy health care and therefore rate it more positively is rather hilarious. It's like, uh, remember how much East Germans loved East Germany once they got used to it? Yeah, me too.
-Sullivan, on health care, again
As Jim pointed out not long ago:
You see the decadent phase of "Strong Hayek" in those right-wing pundits determined to demonstrate that Europe is a decadent hell-hole doomed to the tyranny of "transnational progressivism" or an Islamist takeover or both. If Europe has high marginal tax rates and high social benefits, it must - must! - shortly become a new soviet dystopia. Therefore any problems with European society must be signs of that imminent collapse.That quote is in the context of some other thoughts on international problems, but is useful as a standalone as well. If we are condemned to the belly of the fish, let us at least be able to afford our prescriptions.
The thing is, I was one of those people once, and when I say "once," I mean, even a few years ago. Gradually it dawned on me that, wow, Europe keeps not collapsing. And gosh if it doesn’t seem like some metrics of liberty are higher there and some lower, almost as if it were a normal place with a functional political economy that had both advantages and disadvantages compared to the US. Not the second coming of 1950s Poland at all. So much for "Strong Hayek!"
And again, Britain has a lousy system. But ours is lousier. The French, meanwhile, who have a public-private system with many real-life structural similarities to our own achieve broad satisfaction (upwards of 65%), far better aggregate results, and at a fraction of the per capita national outlay.
You are only excited about the arrival of this year's Beaujolais nouveau because George DuBoeuf's marketers are smarter than you.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
One reason I'm a conservative is the British National Health Service. Until you have lived under socialism, it sounds like a great idea. It isn't misery - although watching my parents go through the system lately has been nerve-wracking - but there is a basic assumption. The government collective decides everything. You, the individual patient, and you, the individual doctor, are the least of their concerns. I prefer freedom and the market to rationalism and the collective. That's why I live here.Oh-ho, rationalism and the collective. This is the sort of eruction that only exits a moron with no idea how health coverage works in the United States of America, and no interest in learning. "The government collective." Jesus Christ, dude, I read We The Living before I got my pubes. Health plans don't compete. There's no free fucking market. Shit, BCBS licensees run Medicare for a lot of states. They run half the FEHBP. For all intents and purposes, the BCBSA is an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services. "You, the individual patient, and you, the individual doctor." Hardeehar. Ken Melani eats a cardiopulmonary specialist for breakfast every day and washes it down with a pint of blood from a nearby ENT. Individual patients. It's insurance, man. It's actuarial. It's lies, damned lies, and statistics.
I mean, do people seriously entertain the idea that health insurers do not ration coverage, that PPOs and HMOs operate with less bureaucratic opacity than government agencies, that administrative decisions aren't made without the consent (or knowledge) of patients all the time? Does Andrew Sullivan really see a vibrant and competitive market driving down the cost of health coverage while increasing the availability and diversity of product? Or is he just spouting doctrinaire fag-Tory cant of which veracity he has no idea because, after all, don't bite the hand that feeds ya.
Ohemmgee - I'm pretty sure that I read this story on the Nifty Archive last night.
I think that Daniel Larison somewhat overdoes his defense of Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher's recent column, which has been much criticized by the vulgar conservatives of the National Review, et al. The proposition that "too much individual freedom" is synonymous with "unfettered materialism" begs the question. There is no reason that "an ethic of extreme individualism" must be materialistic. You could point to the tradition of religious hermitage, for instance, or to the radical ethic of wanderers like Christopher McCandless, which are explicitly anti-materialistic ethics that nonetheless reject the society of others. There is a distinct history of self-abnegating individualism, although it's been eclipsed in our awareness by individualistic self-gratification. Even "materialism" seems to me to be the wrong word. Extreme consumption is more accurate. I would not say that Americans have a problem with attachment to worldly goods. This is actually one of the most interesting ethical oddities of late capitalism, in which purchase is more important than possession and all ownership is transitory.
With those caveats, I'll respond to a couple of Larison's questions:
It is remarkable how vehemently some conservatives have reacted against this passage. Do any of them really disagree that “Americans have been poor stewards of our economic liberty, owing to cultural values that celebrate unfettered materialism”? Would they really deny that we have a culture that celebrates unfettered materialism?Maybe he's playing the naïf to make a point. The answer, self-evidently, is that yes, they really disagree. If the conservativism that Larison embraces, celebrating sobriety, moderation, community ethics, and family values that are more than an anti-queer election slogan, ever existed as a force in American politics--a doubtful notion, I have to say--it surely now occupies the same sort of super-marginal position as, say, the hedonistic anarchism of yours truly. If you read the major organs of conservative political propaganda in this country with any regularity (and I do, Reader, I do it for you), then you must by now be intimately familiar with the central economic tenets of the soi-disant Right: that America has not been profligate enough, except for niggers and spics who bought houses and ruined it for the rest of us. The hue and cry against "regulation" and "government intervention," the panegyrical praise of "markets"--these are not sentiments arising out of some rigorous Hayekian commitment to the movement of goods, labor, and capital free from the overburdening hand of central planners. National-Review conservatives aren't that serious. The sum total of their economic ideology is the totally self-evident notion that if taxes were lower, individuals and businesses would keep a higher percentage of their income. Well, no shit. Hardly the fruit of deeply analytical minds.
The regnant strain of "conservativism" in America uses a rhetoric of "personal responsibility" in order to denigrate and scapegoat the less privileged and more marginal members of our society because it is not conservativism: it's conservativism's tatooed ex-con brother-in-law: white ethnic nationalism. Its fundamental ethos is a hastily constructed set of cultural resentments. Its commitment to economic liberty is window-dressing for mere acquisitiveness. Its cultural exceptionalisms would make a young Kipling blush.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Obviously Daniel Koffler and The Editors are unaware the Gregg Easterbrook is leaving Brookings to take a new sinecure at The Star Gods Institute. Now, Daniel does a number on the physics. Me, I give you this:
Great, maybe there is an interstellar war going on just 3,000 light years away.Yes, only seventeen quadrillion six hundred thirty-five trillion eight hundred seventy-six billion one hundred and nineteen million five hundred fifty thousand eight hundred miles away (short scale).
I mean, consider the absurdity of a system of mandatory, universal, free, and public education does not quality a person to do anything. That, I say, is credentialism run amok. Then you get this crazineess. Most college degrees are mere commodities, but they're now necessary commodities, whether or not they're actually germane to a person's later life. The question is not: how can we make sure that everyone goes to college? Rather: how can we make going to college less important?
These people are like Hitler in the bunker, plotting pincer maneuvers and breakouts even as his aides kill themselves and his generals tell him all is lost. Nothing is fucked? Nothing is fucked? The plane has crashed into the mountain! Having the ex-CEO of another defunct American company that failed totally at changing with the times as your top outside director is pure poetry.
My good friend K. studies children's and young adult literature, and turned me on to the novel Twilight in anticipation of the just-released film. "It's so awful," she told me. "You'll love it." The story, as everyone in the universe now apparently knows, is of a prepossessing but clumsy and self-doubting young lady, Bella, and her love for an eternally-seventeen-year-old vampire named Edward. He ravishes (but does not ravish) her by telling her that her blood smells like flowers. Why, one wonders, would a sanguivore desire the smell of delicate flora on his red meat? Someone call Ferran Adrià! Edward and his vampiric clan are "vegetarians." They only suck animal blood. No hoo-mans, promise! The depiction of vampires is pure pastiche; the depiction of Native Americans even crazier than the shit you find in the Book of Mormon. Did I mention that the author is a Mormon? The Author, Reader, is a Mormon. The prose occupies a territory somewhat north of LaHaye/Jenkins, somewhat south of Dan Brown. I will refer to it as Equitorial Terrible. The heroine is a woman without qualities for the most part, an empty vessel for self-projection, a teenage everywoman. The hero is a paragon in every aspect, although he keeps telling Bella that he's a dangerous monster without doing anything especially dangerous or monstrous. Much has been made of the fact that the teenagers in this book don't have sex. Though written about high-schoolers, it as clearly written for girls in the twelve-to-fourteen range, so a little modesty on such matters is probably in order. I am informed that in a later volume of the series, Edward and Bella do get married and get it on.
The first half of the movie is quite a lot better than the novel. Director Catherine Hardwicke manages to suck, you'll pardon the expression, every ounce of frisson that she can out of the fraught early days of the central relationship. Between the scenery, sexual repression, and long, tremblant glances, she produces a sort of Merchant-Ivory for teenagers, which is what it is, what it is. Once the special effects start in, of course, we are in pure Mystery Science Theater territory, and the story devolves into chases and poorly choreographed fights. In the end, Bella decides that she wants to be a vampire, since she sucks so very hard at being a regular human. This would be a so-called spoiler were it not for Stephanie Meyers' extraordinary architecture of narrative telegraphy, in which the reader is given a hundred page head start on every plot point. "I know what I want," Bella intones in breathy voice-over in the film. But EmoVamp Edward won't give it to her. Here, she plays the temptress, but her lover cannot be swayed. "You want to be a monster?" No, dude, seriously, she just wants a good deep dicking. And that is the real problem with the aforementioned coyness about sex here: thirteen-year-old girls are not so unsavvy as to fail to notice that blood-sucking is a bald stand-in for a more quotidian exchanges of bodily fluids, which makes the euphemism seem unnecessary and a little bit dishonest. The whole thing is an exercise in juvenile erotica. Being a libertine, I find this sad, but otherwise untroubling. Nonetheless, to you Mums and Pops: caveat emptor, and you might want to remember to knock before you go barging into your daughter's (or homo's) room.
Let me just say that this reveals the peculiar affliction of the American Mind:
Why? Because it takes a village. The best defense against this kind of murderous violence is to limit the pool of recruits, and the only way to do that is for the home society to isolate, condemn and denounce publicly and repeatedly the murderers — and not amplify, ignore, glorify, justify or “explain” their activities.Banal as it is, and despite my anarcho-libertarian leanings, I am actually sympathetic to the hoary "takes a village" cliché. I grew up in an extended, multi-generational kinship network, surrounded by aunts and uncles, grandparents, first and second cousins, and neighborhood families whose ties went back many generations. Yet to extrapolate some sort of "global village" is preposterous. What defined that network of relationships is that we all knew each other deeply and intimately, and that our mutual interdependence was actually immediate, not some amorphous concept that we are all related in the flat-earth globalized telemarketer's tech-bubble econo-dream. As an expression of the value of small-community relationships, it's a truism, but a larger scale--city, state, whole nation, world--obviates any meaning it might contain. It is a hollow slogan, here dropped by a man whose ego is so tremendous that he has actually published an article in the most significant American newspaper calling on an entire foreign nation to put on a vast spectacle of popular disapproval in order to validate a tenet of his political aesthetic.
The derogatory pairing of "'explain'" with "justify" is so standard these days that it probably deserves no comment, but I can't resist. This is a person who demands that you do not think. To him, the process of inquiry itself is tantamount to propagandizing on behalf of killing innocents. The idea that seeking to understand how attacks like those in Mumbai came to pass and how the attackers came to be, rather than calling it all devilry, is pronounced as heresy. Thomas Friedman is the kind of man who'd have condemned Pasteur.
On the one hand, I am very fond of fucking. On the other hand, what is it with all you faggots wanting me to fuck you without a condom? Of course, I understand that barebacking is a hot porn genre at the moment--after all, mere fornication no longer titillates; prurience can't exist without taboo. That said, AIDS is, like, totally real y'all.
Most curious: many would-be barebackers seem to have a deep, Victorian confusion about the difference between pathology and hygiene. "Are you clean?"--in the parlance of our times. This is in part a euphemism, but only in part. My partners, especially (unfortunately) the younger ones, seem to understand HIV as the sole provenance of the old and decrepit, and since I shower daily, maintain my obliques, and look like I'd charm your protective Jewish mother, ergo I cannot possibly be HIV positive. Well, I'm not, but know this only because I play safely and get tested. But I've also had sex with hundreds of different men, and being well-scrubbed is not a factor to consider here. Yes, we live in a first world country--for now, dudes, for now--with access to retrovirals etc. etc. blah blah amen. "AIDS is no longer a death sentence." Right, but even if such state indefinitely obtains, it still really, really sucks.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Would such an action violate Pakistan's sovereignty? Yes, but nations should not be able to claim sovereign rights when they cannot control territory from which terrorist attacks are launched. If there is such a thing as a "responsibility to protect," which justifies international intervention to prevent humanitarian catastrophe either caused or allowed by a nation's government, there must also be a responsibility to protect one's neighbors from attacks from one's own territory, even when the attacks are carried out by "non-state actors."Uh-huh. And what if there is no such thing as a "responsibility to protect"?
Monday, December 01, 2008
Arrived at night, but morning brought the doomed,
cloud-cracked, high-ceiling, irridescent sky;
leaves blew and breath condensed and light assumed
the milk-glow of a cataracted eye,
which compliments so well the thin and shy
pale hipster boys on hand-build fixed gears zoom-
ing past the busses, underneath the high
and red-black Cor-Ten tower that now looms
in monolithic glower, artifact
of bone-borne, world-devouring culture, sign
of global spine, the axis mundi cracked,
upthrust though skin, of compound facture, back
broken and mind aloft on pain, and time
drawn out along the rivers’ muddied lines.
Best: Sautéed sweetbreads in sherry vinegar at Chez Spencer. Classic and perfect, crisp exterior, pillowy interior, sweet-sour tang of vinegar, hint (just barely) of black truffle.
Runner-up: Warm frisée and duck confit salad with fingerling potato crisps at the Applewood Inn.
Worst: Chilled noodles in sea urchin sauce at Ame. Now, I am a fan of sea urchin--foie gras of the sea and all--but this was over-rich, oddly greasy, and the noodles, Dog strike me dead if I'm lying, had to have been some grocery-store brand dry capellini.
Runner-up: Diver scallops and squid-ink salt-cod ravioli at the Applewood Inn. The ravioli were excellent, in fact, but scallops + overcooked = fail.
Cheap Mexican Food
Best: Super burrito at the yellow place on Mission that my buddy A. took me to on Weds.
Worst: "Taco" con pollo at El Farolito in Healdsburg.
Best: Amazing, attentive, interesting, informative, charming, beautiful tasting at Chalk Hill Estate, especially the 2005 "Chairmen's Club" Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec and the (sold out! damn) 1999 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon.
Runner-up: Fritz winery. Fun. 70s. Retro. Good wines.
Worst: Overpriced Rosenblum Zins. Shit, I can buy lousy non-appellation French table wines for seven bucks a bottle in Pennsylvania. Why would I spend fiddy on this dreck?
Best: The couple crossing the street toward me at Guerrero and 18th, especially the taller one in the knit hat blowing kisses to the dykes in the Honda.
Runner-up: Le mec at Chez Spencer.
Worst: The Castro. Good god.
Best: You know, I'd never ridden the damn cable car. Pretty fun, fer realz.
Worst: The gardens at Ferrari-Carano. Yawn.
Best: Martinelli Road, 11:30am, fog burning off.
Worst: Oakdale Grade. OMG barf.
So let me get this straight: it is essential that progressives not be overly or openly critical of Black Reagan as he hires staff and enacts policies completely in opposition to the, ahem, progressive agenda of his supporters, because New York-Washington media types would then note that progressives were being critical of Black Reagan as he hires staff and . . . ah, hell. Some things are beyond mockery. These folks are deliberately setting themselves up in a situation in which any deviation from the party line is an offense against the faith. Leave it to Democrats to make every man his own little Inquisitor.
Out in San Francisco, Prop. 8 was still the hot topic with my fag friends, and a few of them seemed genuinely bewildered by the silence of the incoming Obama administration on the matter, as if months and months of stated opposition to gay marriage were just a play for Ozarkan slack-jaws, who, once safely in the fold, would lose interest in distant California and the sodomitical goings-on out there, leaving the Black Reagan free to personally adjudicate every Adam-and-Steve nuptial in the Bay Area. Ha ha! I don't credit Obama's opposition to queer weddings with any greater degree of sincerity, mind you. He is, after all, a politician. The truth is that fags don't matter. What are you gonna do, vote Republican?
To me, the tepid face of queer activism became even more embarrassing during the whole charade of a California countermovement, replete as it was with straight celebrities making teevee ads full of bland encomiums to love and diversity. Sexual liberation, if I may use that outré phrase, was sacrificed at the alter of me-too bourgeois respectability, with predictable results. Everyone remembers Martin Luther King for his campaign of non-violence, but what they forget, what they choose to forget because his real radicalism terrifies most Americans, was that he was the man who stood before America and called in a debt, told the nation that the check was due. The power of his nonviolence was in the dramatic role he cast himself: this one man holding back a seething tide of implacable rage. Behind the entire civil rights movement lurked the specter of violence held in check, but not forever.
As an "issue," gay marriage hardly interests me. It's a dead-end item. Nonetheless, I regret the lame, whiny face of American queerdom, which has grown so tasteful and boring in its middle age.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Yeah. Wow. Geez. It's almost as if NBC Universal is owned by GE, almost as if the GE Energy and Technology Infrastructure subsidiaries have vested interests in the waging and outcomes of wars. I mean, with all due respect to Matthew Yglesias, who's at least a little tongue-in-cheek, this is just crazy:
But rather than focusing on McCaffrey and his issues, it’s worth contemplating the breathtaking lack of integrity on display from the television networks here. As I said, Barstow published a piece on this back in April. None of the TV networks addressed the issue he raised in anything resembling a serious manner. And, again, we now have NBC News caught flat-out in the midst of corruption, deceiving their viewers. And NBC News isn’t sorry. They’re not apologizing. They’re not ashamed. Because they’re beyond shame. They never had a reputation for honor, so they don’t even see this sort of thing as damaging.It's like accusing Budweiser of dishonor for their drinkability ad campaign, or Mike Ditka and his raging boner of dishonor for giving testimonials in favor of Viagra. When you see a military expert on NBC hawking some war, it's just GE hawking its own product. It's paid commercial time. It's product placement.
Now I suppose we could wax nostalgic for the days of independent networks or Chinese walls or what have you, but the truth is that this sort of thing is going to become even more prevalent, no matter how many turgid Times articles appear to question the integrity of this or that operation. Now that we can no longer build a billion new homes a month a zillion miles farther from any densely populated economic center, warmaking is the sole productive activity left in the American economy. Warmaking and energy extraction, the latter a game of inevitably diminishing returns to be sure, but nonetheless. So the idea that the General Electrics of the world are going to let their marketing arms, which is to say, the television networks, movie studios, "content providers" that they own, act as judicious guides to the ethical policy implications of blowing up Wherethefuckistan is palpably ridiculous. Living in a realm of Platonic pure-form divided government counterbalanced by free-press fourth-estate held accountable by informed enfranchised citizenry blah blah bloggity blawg is just the teetotaling post-Harvard civics-student version of staying constantly stoned: tethered to reality, and yet floating free of it. Complaining that NBC is in the tank for the defense industry is like complaining that Pravda was in the tank for the Red Army.