37 thoughts on “Just… Wow.

  1. Woohoo…that’s our president.

    Bush may have been too hasty when he said “I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.” (quoted in Slate’s Bushism of the Day.)

  2. Too bad that out of a country of well over 300 million people, less than one third of one percent tunes in to his show. The other nut, on Fox News, somehow almost gets a whopping 8/10ths of one percent to tune into his venomous spewings.

  3. You know, that’s depressing. But at least his show exists. I was trying to think of anything vaguely similar on Korean TV, and trying to think of whether a political commentator in Korea — humorous or otherwise — could get away with soemthing like that on TV here, and I came up pretty much blank. Which is even sadder and scarier.

    Anyone got a clip to prove me wrong?

  4. No clips, just a prediction. No matter who gets elected – McCain, Billary, or Obama – we’ll see a return of Jimmy Carter era 70’s unemployment rates and stagflation. There will probably be an Iranian style hostage crisis. Obama will muff it and McCain or Billary’s response will make Bush look like Ghandi.

  5. Hm. Well, Mark, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the American economy is a mess, and I can’t imagine how it’s going to recover anytime soon, so the first prediction doesn’t surprise me.

    (Also, the comparison to Carter reminds one of the last energy crisis and its influence on the American economy. I’m fuzzy on Carter’s economic policies, but I also wonder to what degree the problems came from what preceded his presidency. Not a defense, as I’m sure his policies played a role, but it’s just an observation. And one has to wonder whether the Reagan era would have been so very bad as it was — and I remember it was indeed bad — if Carter’s health care plan had actually happened. The deep social collapse of the 80s seems to me to be worse than what happened in the last 70s.)

    But I’m more interested in why you think there will be a late-70s style Iranian hostage crisis — another Carter parallel. Any reason for this, other than the way Bush has been looking funny at Iran?

    (I’d think it likelier a nuclear test, real or otherwise, would happen than another hostage crisis… let alone one as botched as the one under Carter.)

    I’m also curious why you think Obama would “muff” it, though I can’t argue with your assessment of McCain-Clinton. (McBlinton?)

  6. I just think it’s inevitable. Not really anyone’s fault, just the crazy world we live in. I think Obama’s gut instinct will be to negotiate, that it will fail miserably, and if you don’t like Reagan as the act that followed Carter, well, imagine the person that will follow Obama if some disaster occurs under his watch.

    As for the economy, I actually don’t think it’s as bad as people think – with a five percent that’s still close to the normal churn of people just leaving and finding new jobs. I just think Clinton, Obama, and McCain are all to eager to regulate, and the good times that began with Reagan and really got underway with Clinton are going to disapper with Bush the current Bush administration.

  7. Mark,

    Oh, I see. Well, I think I’ll wait to criticize Obama on his dealing with the hostage crisis until one actually occurs. However, I think that talking to hostage-takers, even when it’s doomed to fail, is a good and important first step, if not at least to establish who’s the psychotic maniac and who isn’t.

    As for economic good times, things look pretty different from where I’m standing. Unemployment numbers are gamed by every government, but still, it seems to me that the putative good times ended long ago.Maybe we lived in different 1980s and 90s or something. :)

  8. I’m sure talking is a good, important first step, but regardless of the hostage takers mental health, it’s still wrong, and the hammer needs to be brought down, pure and simple.

    We lived in the same eighties or nineties…in Canada, on the prairies. Neither Saskatchewan or Manitoba were hotbeds of economic or political innovation at that time – they still aren’t, and probably will never be. Why vote Republicrat if they want to enact the same policies that made Saskatoba a tough place to live if you were young and looking for a decent job?

  9. The hammer needs to be brought down on whom? You bomb the hostage takers and it’s goodbye hostages. Special Forces rescue ops are cool, and totally understandable, of course — that would also be a fine first move,. suggesting a no-nonsense approach — but I doubt any Administration could convince its military to contain the response to just that. With a verbal exchange, talking, the rest of the planet gets the sense that the USA isn’t just as psycho as the hostages, and maybe some sympathy for Americans grows back from where BushCo. hacked it off at the root.

    Saskatchewan was a hotbed of political innovation at one time, and even economic innovation insofar as drug dealing was concerned — lots of liquor got to the US during the Prohibition from Moose Jaw, didn’t it? (Maybe that’s mythology, but it’s the impression I got from my historian uncle.) But yeah, in the 1980s, everything was basically sterile and stagnant. However, I attribute that as much to lack of population and resources as to anything else. Influx a million more people into Saskatchewan, most of them in Saskatoon, and you’ll have a place I might consider going to live. There would be the possibility of small businesses other than restaurants staying afloat, as is possible in bigger centers.

    (I probably wouldn’t move to Saskatoon, actually, but it would be imaginable, at least.)

    However, what I was talking about is the social collapse that seemed to me to happen in the US during the Reagan years. I remember recession, massive cuts to social programs, an explosion of the drug war and penal system, and prolific spending on hare-brained military vaporware like the Star Wars program.

    (Canadian English note: “vapourware” looks stupid!)

    More specifically, the fact that the buying power of the average working class wage dropped drastically between 1970 and the beginning of Reagan’s tenure, and never really recovered.

  10. If prohibition was the last time Saskatchewan was a hotbed of economic activity, the place must be in worse shape than I thought…

  11. There was a couple of recessions during the Reagan era, but they didn’t last 12 years long. If you count Clinton as a Republican president (I do) then there was “welfare reform”, but with a Democratic controlled congress, during the Reagan/Bush I years, there tended to be a lot of gridlock, and I don’t think the cuts were quite as deep as you might think.

  12. Well, hotbed to me seems like something “big” and Saskatchewan hasn’t been “big” for a long time, as far as I know. I heard there was a big oil find, aside from oil sands that is, so maybe better is to come? Like, Alberta-scale better, not New York state better.

    As for Clinton as Republican, there’s a good argument for that in economics, apparently. But I guess the phrase, “You should see what the other guy looked like,” comes to mind; Clinton was certainly conservative, but I fear Bush I, Dole, or Perot might have made him look like rather liberal.

    Gridlock or not, my impression is that much more was gutted than we really recognize now, mostly because what we think of as normative in economic policy (and performance) is just radically more right-wing than what we used to. The “center” has floated rather farther right than it was before Reagan took the White House, as I understand it.

  13. Actually, Bush I, in terms of his legislative track record was more liberal than Clinton. I don’t know anything about Perrot, but Bob Dole was also known as a moderate with a more centrist track record than he was given credit for during the Presidential election. I think that’s what I like about libertarians – it’s more about getting things done than useless gestures and working with just one party. Gay marriage, marijuna legalization in some form and legislation to curb the abuse of eminent domain will happen a lot faster than a carbon tax will.

  14. Well, as far as I know, Bush I also lost his place in large part because his party had been sold out to theocratic nutters who dogmatically oppose the Left, in part on his watch! Anyway, my real point is that everything has marched rightward in the past 30-40 years; Bush I might have been been more liberal than Clinton, but it’s all way right by my thinking. Which also explains why it’s such a struggle to get basic sensible changes in law — gay marriage, marijuana legalization, basically funding things like decent and available education and medicine, and dealing with the environment: we North Americans have slipped so far right that decency and sanity has been stripped from our politically imaginable possibilities, even on the left. Or so I think.

    Like you, I don’t think these are partisan issues. Like you, I think dealing with stuff is more important than the football game of politics. And I imagine I would be a Libertarian if Libertarian were more amenable to a sensible conception of the delimitations of choice in complex societies like ours.

    By the way, I’ll be traveling for a bit, so further responses might be slow in coming. I’m not ignoring you!

  15. Well, if things have moved rightwards (I don’t agree with the premise, but I’ll allow) I think it’s because the left doesn’t function well as the opposition. Looking northward, the NDP was defining wealthy as making $80,000 per year, which was average income for the Unionized Auto Workers they were counting on for support.

    I’m an atheist, but I’ve lived and worked with the “theocratic nutjobs”. I’ve got my issues with them, but they tend to be a lot more open minded, and occasionally, in a genuine sense, liberal then they are given credit. If you’ve ever talked with a Pro-Lifer, at least on matters not related to abortion, you’d be surprised at how closely their views sync up with the likes of Billary, Obama, and the guy with the mustache who leads the NDP party.

    The more libertarian ele

    As for the second last graf…


    Maximizing choice and personal freedom is the whole point of the libertarian project.

  16. Mark,

    Argh! I had a response typed in, but I guess it never got through. After I get back from my trip, I’ll try reconstruct it. Leaving now…

  17. And I imagine I would be a Libertarian if Libertarian were more amenable to a sensible conception of the delimitations of choice in complex societies like ours.

    No offense, but I can’t imagine a better example of Orwellian newspeak…

  18. Mark,

    Nah, you’ve completely misunderstood what I mean there. I mean that choice is not free from practical limitations for the vast majority of human beings, and all of the Libertarianism I’ve seen conveniently ignores the role which government and legislation can and has played to alleviate this imbalance in freedom of choice.

    I’m sure your Libertarianism is much more enlightened, Mark, but in over a decade and a half online, the Heinlein-Rand formula has been the one most people have expounded, and it’s woefully equipped for liberation in a modern, complex society.

    I’m not arguing for the limitations to be established, I’m arguing that the limitations preexist any political choice or stand we can make. And that thus far Libertarian in most popular understanding of the word has not coherently dealt with that fact.

    (So my point is that “Maximizing choice and personal freedom is the whole point of the libertarian project,” is as coherent a statement as, “Communism is all about eliminating class and fairly redistributing resources within a society from each according to his [or her] ability to each according to his [or her] need.” Nice rhetoric, but both philosophies ignore vast chunks of society, culture, and human nature.

    The automatic interpretation of legislation or government programs as “limitations of choice” because it might be that on a personal level is indeed a sign of how far rightward politics in general has marched in our Western cultures.

  19. I’m not really all that familiar with the Randian/Heinlein libertarians, but surely they are about as representative of the movement as a whole “vulgar marxists” would be to the Communist party. I’m probably not the best spokesperson either, as to tell you the truth, I just read Reason occasionally, and have read a lot of writers, such as Hunter S. Thompson, P.J. O’Rourke, and Will Self, with a libertarian slant, but not necessarily a coherent, developed world view. Throw in Penn Jillette’s old radio show, and Penn & Teller’s Bullsh*t, and it’s something in the intellectual air I breathe, but I’ve never studied Hayek or Friedman.

    Reason magazine wrote an eloquent defence of the FDA, and “libertarian paternalism” is a movement that is gaining ground. It acknowledges the (unfortunate) power of the state, but tries to leverage that power as much as possible to enable people to make their own choices. Though not exclusively or necessarily or even originally libertarian ideas, but health savings accounts, charter schools, etc would fall within the paradigm. I don’t know why questioning a government monopoly on healthcare or education is necessarily a sign of “rightward” drift.

  20. Well, it may be that SF fans are early adopters, but many of my earliest ideological clashes online were with Heinlein/Rand-style libertarians. I had no idea what they were talking about, so we were constantly at cross purposes. My impression from shady fellow-travelers is that they are plentiful in American meatspeace, as far as the small slice of libertarians go.

    I might agree that “vulgar marxism” is unfortunately still the most common form; certainly, the people I met at university who espoused that side of things gave me that impression, and once a friend of mine and I wandered into a Communist town meeting in Montreal — I think we were going somewhere else, or something — and ended up sitting down and listening for amusement’s value. There was little or none: it was like a therapy session, everyone speaks his or her mind, no matter how addled it is.

    I haven’t read Hayek or Friedman either, mind. I kind of refuse to spend money on Friedman, since the gist of his arguments, when I’ve seen them, remind me of those early-90s arguments online too much: too many assumptions overlooking basic facts of reality and human nature. (Which, as I said earlier, is the basic flaw in classic communism: thinking human nature can be retooled, forcibly if necessary. Human nature can’t, which throws monkey wrenches in all systems, even Libertarianism.)

    Health savings accounts and charter schools seem to me to be stopgap measures for a society that has thrown the legislative and social responsibilities (and benefits) of government out the window willy-nilly in a deluded haze that government should be reduced as much as possible, so again, I see these policies as symptomatic of the aforementioned rightward drift, or at certain moments, like the present, march.

    Because traditionally government has demonstrated itself to be more (refilling what was cut by the crappy hotel computer:) efficient than business at a lot of this stuff.

  21. I’ll be brief.

    I suppose I was always a half-assed libertarian/vulgar marxist going through University, and even after my first year in South Korea.

    I was reading, I think it was a Terrence Corcoran column in the good old days of the Conrad Black National Post. He mentioned that for all the whinging, crying, and hand wringing, if you added up the numbers, Margaret Thatcher cut government spending less than one percent.

    That column, and another one by Robert Fulford about an NDP press junket to Cuba, pretty much drove a stake through the heart of any residual affection or interest in a lot of “lefty” political thought. I haven’t really looked back since.

  22. Mark,

    From what I’ve read, it’s not what was cut, it’s how it was cut. From what friends living there at the time told me, the whole society fell apart; I have friends who go back sometimes and have told me the social effects are still felt all over. I doubt anything Terrence Corcoran would write would convince me things are good under Margaret Thatcher.

    As for the NDP presws junket to Cuba, well, yeah. You know, when I said our politics has marched rightward, that which hasn’t done so has ossified, and become a caricature of itself. There’s no functional left now, which is why intelligent leftists are so bitter at politics. It may take a generation or two — a little more ecological collapse, a little more abject poverty and gutting of civilization’s basis — before people awaken again to demand more of their leaders.

  23. Oddly enough, it was an aside, that Terrence Corcoran made in his article. I forget what the actual editorial was about. Still, after years of hearing about how awful Margaret Thatcher was, collapse of society, and half giving credence to those beliefs myself, it was like a revelation. I mean, one percent?!? I’d like to think British society, hell, most countries are a lot more resilient than that. I’m not trying to make the arguement that things were good, but after digesting that little factoid, I knew things couldn’t have been as horrible as they were made out to be.

    It may take a generation or two — a little more ecological collapse, a little more abject poverty and gutting of civilization’s basis — before people awaken again to demand more of their leaders.

    And that attitude – with all due respect – is another cause for disenchantment. It almost sounds as if you want all these things to happen, in fact, it sounds like you would be happier if your prophecies came true than if the catastrophes you predict were actually averted.

    I might not be wild about McCain, Billary, and Obama, but I still feel “bullish” about the feature regardless of who gets elected. Elections will be held, extremes will get corrected, and life will go on.

  24. Well, first off, no, I think you’re quite wrong about that one percent. After all, that’s like saying a family can’t be that bad off if Dad’s reduced family spending by 1%. But if he’s suddenly started going to the casino and spending half the family’s monthly income, then yes, it can be that bad. Thatcher didn’t do that, but it’s an example. In fact, Thatcher couldn’t cut as much as she wished. But then again, just because the family spending doesn’t go down, doesn’t mean Dad isn’t coming home drunk and beating everyone black and blue. (Or that the price of living hasn’t gone up.) To say, “Spending was reduced by 1%, so it can’t be that bad,” is to judge the government of the time by one data point. Even this (relatively neutral) bio argues that:

    Throughout all three terms she pursued economic policies that reduced the power of the unions, decreased public spending, increased personal tax cuts, increased privatization of public utilities, and deregulated industry. Thatcher is recognized for having curbed runaway inflation, significantly reducing public spending and reducing the power of the British unions. However, her programs, known as “Thatcherism,” also produced high unemployment (which nearly tripled in her first two terms), high interest rates and increased class differentiation, as well as growth of the underclass.

    I can’t overlook the negatives when some of the brightest Britons I know utterly hate Thatcher even today; again, government spending isn’t the only effect of government.

    As for “Elections will be held”: First off, my time in Korea has reminded me of how elections are not democracy. Citizen deliberation is a HUGE part of it, and something that exists almost not at all here. It’s also withered in North America, as Lawrence Lessig notes of America in Free Culture when discussing what function blogs serve. Plenty of smart people have pointed this out, but the cultural barrier — “Don’t talk about religion and politics” — seems to get in the way of active, public deliberation on issues in most modern communities. Elections are like football games: you can choose who you root for, but it’s not really representative democracy unless citizens are voicing opinions and debating. (Let alone the politicians debating: LMB in Korea didn’t accept any challenge for debate running up to the last Korean election. Not one debate occurred, just lots of effusive handwaving about the economy, which may be why so many are in shock about his actual policies now.

    And as for “Extremes will get corrected, and life will go on”: That unfortunately does not always work. Diabetes is a commonplace example. When you get diabetes, you cannot fix it. How do we know the environment and our climates aren’t like that? You talk about the earth as if it were an economy, where extremes getting corrected “fixes” things inevitably. But we have no good reason to feel so certain that this is so.

    As for my looking forward to further ecological collapse, you probably have missed my fear of it given the fair-to-middling chance that it could (a) be an accelerating, auto-catalytic cycle, and could (b) quite possibly lead to our extinction. (After all if the oceans warm up a couple of degrees, and the methane clathrate outgasses, I’d say there’s a fair chance it’s game over for us and most complex life on Earth.)

    My observation is mostly about human apathy… how things have to get really bad before people recognize a problem. (And I’m not immune, as my dentist can tell you.) While politicians and citizens are quibbling about tax and spending cuts, the seams on the planet are showing ever more clearly.

    This doesn’t fill me with glee; quite the opposite. But I know human nature; we won’t sit up and recognize we’ve gone down the wrong path till things are very close to the wire, at best.

    At worst, we’re enacting the solution to Fermi’s paradox.

  25. Well, I’m already familiar with that part of the bio. What doesn’t get a lot of play is what happened before she became PM:


    I wasn’t fair when I said “you”, but it’s a feeling a lot of people can’t shake (from George Orwell onwards) that there is a significant element within the left that would be quite happy if society as we know it were to collapse, for whatever reason.

    The environment, well, it’s pointless to discuss it, because, well, I don’t really care about it. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as far as I’m concerned, is ugly and inhospitable. I like Japan, South Korea, Virginia, New Jersey, Nevada, and California, but it’s only worth preserving inasmuch as I can enjoy. If I can’t downhill skill on it or catch fish in it, I’m indifferent to it.

    Environmentalism? For the most part it looks like a movement run by a bunch of washed up socialists and people who smell like Church, even if they worship “Gaia” or whatever.

  26. Uh, yeah, I have nothing nice to say at this point, after reading this:

    The environment, well, it’s pointless to discuss it, because, well, I don’t really care about it. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as far as I’m concerned, is ugly and inhospitable. I like Japan, South Korea, Virginia, New Jersey, Nevada, and California, but it’s only worth preserving inasmuch as I can enjoy. If I can’t downhill skill on it or catch fish in it, I’m indifferent to it.

    reminds me of my own comment:

    My observation is mostly about human apathy… how things have to get really bad before people recognize a problem… While politicians and citizens are quibbling about tax and spending cuts, the seams on the planet are showing ever more clearly.

    I’m tempted just to write QED and be done with this comment. I’ve attempted to write something more polite in response (this is my fifth try), but in the end, I know you’re not living under a rock, and have every resource available to know better.

    Maybe reading a little WorldChanging will disabuse you of the delusion that all concern for the environment is hempen wingnuttery, at least. Because that’s probably the most toxic and counterproductive bit of what you’ve written above.

  27. Not long ago, as supported by science and not religion (some who claim Terra is a whopping 5,000-10,000 years old), this planet was a big ice cube.


    The world is constantly changing and facing real, and “What if?,” challenges. I don’t know if it is so much apathy as it is to being powerless against so many things like genocides in many places on the planet, “my way or death to the infidels” philosophies of many religions, and countless other political, economic, and social injustices that so many face in their day-to-day existences.

    We don’t know what to believe anymore. Can we be sure our news isn’t tainted and slanted by outside interests? Lobbyists are controlling the media, scientists, environmentalists, etc., like never before because money makes the world go round. I can’t believe how gullible that people are to blindly follow such nonsense because they believe it comes from the mouths of trusted public servants without agendas of their own. All of a sudden U.S. beef is a death sentence for South Koreans (yet this is what people in the U.S. eat on a daily basis with their ever-expanding waste lines) and now Pomegranates are the new wonder health food of the world thanks to pseudo-science.


    ABC News eventually debunked these many of the myths, but this company in California knew how to play on people’s fears and insecurities in regards to their health and tailored their advertisements to perfection.

    I think people no longer know where to turn to get real information that is true, but as the world continues to change (probably a lot due to the billions of people on it, and the future billions more that religions and economies need to continue their uninterrupted growth) we’ve become burnt out and grown indifferent to so much out there that is affecting all of us and others.

    No one specifically asked to be born into our lots in life, but I’m glad I am living with today’s problems rather than those of a thousand, two thousand, or a hundred thousand years ago. It sucks that I see a possible massive train wreck on the horizon, but so did many back in the cold war years “ducking and covering.” I also could put on blinders and just ignore it all. I wonder if this is what the Amish, and other communal groups, are doing. Just go about your own things and hope everything works out for the best. However, for me it’s hard to do with so much scary information coming at me from so many different angles and sources.

  28. I really am sorry if my last response was a little too “glib”. I do understand that there are a lot of things I’m interested in that you aren’t into. That’s cool. But it does cut both ways.

    While I am interested in politics and economics up to a point, I didn’t want to jerk you around by playing “skeptic” and questioning global warming.

    I’ve read your blog long enough to know we’re very different people in some respects – you do spend time thinking about things I’ve never really given a lot of thought about, and to be honest, probably never will. Nuclear war, global warming, terrorism, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and economic depressions aren’t really a blip on my radar screen.

    Ever since I was a kid I was told I had to worry about this, that, and the other thing, and to tell you the truth, I never cared about any of it. I always wanted to opt out, not be part of any movement, and just do whatever I wanted to do.

    For me, that’s the whole point of being an atheist and a libertarian. I just want to focus my attention on things I really care about. It’s about getting rid of all the useless baggage and hang-ups that other people tell me I should cling to.

    I can remember reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and when Ken Kesey got up in front of the anti-war protesters and said “This is bullshit,” it was like a revelation. I thought, “Wow. That statement was so brave.” It summed up everything I’d ever felt about the Catholic Church, or the pinkie brains (I worked at a student newspaper at the time) trying to draft people into their movement. It was great. It felt like I’d been written a blank check, and I haven’t really looked back since.

  29. John and Mark,

    I agree that it’s easy to feel the urge to drop out, and frankly, I also can’t pay attention to every potential problem out there. I do think, though, that some judicious triage goes a long way, and that sticking our heads in the sand won’t help.

    The train wrecks are getting increasingly dangerous as we go along, after all. It would be tragic if the Ken Keseys of the world were not responded to about the bullshit of totally unplugging and floating off on an acid trip, after all.

    I’d much rather throw my lot in with people who judiciously choose to care about things that are likely to matter, and hope that individual judgment and curiosity distributes human interest widely enough so that most pertinent issues.

    And by the way, it’s not like I’m running amok in the streets. For me, writing about these issues, and talking about them with people, is doing something too.

    (By the way, sorry, John, your post went into the spam filter for some reason, and I just found it now.)

  30. No problem. It happens to me quite quite a bit as well.

    I liked your latest posting on the other reasons behind the beef with U.S. beef; however, my family says this has finally hit the media in the U.S., and they can’t believe how foolish all of this is coming across.

    BTW, it does help to talk about things with people. Even those you really don’t know. It keeps us connected to society when so many of us are even disconnected from our immediate neighbors. It’s not like the days of yesteryear when as an agrarian society, humans relied on church socials to meet prospective mates of the same ilk. It’s actually come full circle, as anti-religious groups now socialize amongst themselves to meet others of the same beliefs.

  31. Well, I can understand this all looking crazy in American media. I can also understand the American media making it look even crazier than it is, by not providing any context at all.

    I surely hope talking about this stuff helps. But as I wrote to King Baeksu in the comments elsewhere, we outsiders are not likely to change many minds. We can support those Koreans who will do so, and we can try to encourage people to think and talk, and push for more critical thinking in classrooms — those of us who teach — but Korea’s going to have to figure this stuff out for itself. It’s kind of freeing, having realized that, in a way. Less of a burden than whan I pushed myself to make a big difference. Now, small difference is okay, or supporting a small difference, for now.

    It helps knowing I won’t live here forever, though.

    Ha — that last paragraph — I think that’s an apt description of the blogosphere!

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