Posts tagged New York Times

Tu quoque #2

Here’s Paul Krugman, self-proclaimed Conscientious Liberal and the New York Times’s professional Keynesian opinionist:

Reading some of today’s news, it suddenly struck me: we’re living in the age of the anti-Cassandra.

Cassandra had the gift of prophecy — she saw, correctly, what was coming — but was under a curse: nobody would believe her.

Today, our public discourse is dominated by people who have been wrong about everything — but are still, mysteriously, treated as men of wisdom, whose judgments should be believed. Those who were actually right about the major issues of the day can’t get a word in edgewise.

— Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal, New York Times Blogs (2008-03-25): The age of the anti-Cassandra

What he no doubt intended is for that last sentence to be completed with the unspoken phrase: those like me, Paul Krugman. But in fact this is the sort of passage that puts one in grave peril of committing certain kinds of logical fallacies. But in fact an argument can be assessed on its own merits, apart from the vice or folly of the arguer, and I’ll certainly concede Krugman’s general point. In fact, it’s as apt a description as you could hope of the cultural position of the entire staff of professional blowhards on the New York Times Op-Ed page.

Further reading:

I am shocked–shocked!–to find that politics is going on in here!

Meanwhile, among the state Leftists….

At Common Dreams, Progressives discover that party politics has mechanisms to favor insiders, and to make it difficult for candidates to get a nomination without the approval of the party aparat. Most react with horror, and decide to change this stifling state of affairs–by committing themselves even more fervently to partisan politicking. This time in the name of strengthening our democracy, which requires wresting control of the Party out of the hands of the very people who write the rules of engagement. See, if you can win, then you can change things so that the party establishment can’t keep you from winning anymore.

Elsewhere, Stanley Fish discovers that the government-appointed directors of politically-run Universities sometimes put partisanship and political cronyism above academics in appointing senior administrators. The way he reckons it, a good result, if there is one, will not justify a bad practice, and putting someone with no academic experience in charge of an academic institution is just that. Nor is it necessary, even in the straitened circumstances (hardly unique to Colorado) the university faces. There is another way, and Michael Carrigan, one of the three (Democratic) regents to vote against Benson, pointed to it when he told me, I can’t believe that there are no candidates out there with both business acumen and academic credentials. He is right. Those candidates were out there and they still are. Perhaps the next university tempted to go this route will take the trouble to look for them.

image: a hamster runs on its wheel

Mister Buckles is taking back our democracy from the party establishment!

Playing the government game and taking the government’s patronage means playing by the government’s rules. The longer you keep walloping at it, the more stuck in it you get. Primary goals — like solidarity and social justice, or intellectual discovery and creation — have already been replaced by secondary goals — like winning elections or tugging on legislative purse-strings. Soon the secondary goals are swallowed up by tertiary goals — spending four-year election cycle after four-year election cycle bashing yourself against the hardened barricades of the Party establishment, or wrangling with political factions over the best process to find and bring in a boss combining the right balance of academic chops with the political connections needed to keep the university mainlining politically appropriated funds. This is no way to make a revolution. It’s not even a way to make small change.

In anarchy, there is another way. When the things that matter most in our lives are the things that we make for ourselves, each of us singly, or with many of us choosing to work together in voluntary associations, there will be no need to waste years of our lives and millions of dollars fighting wars of attrition with back-room king-makers–because we will not need to get any of the things that they are trying to hoard. There will be no need to fight battles between academic senates and Boards of Trustees over the right balance of academic competence and political savvy in a university President –because when universities’ funding rises from the people who participate in, or care about, the academic community, rather than being handed down by the State, the university has no need for political bodies like Boards of Trustees or smooth-operator self-styled Chief Executive Officers. We will not need to get any of the favors that they might be able to grant. When we go after the State’s patronage, politics makes prisoners of us all. But freedom means that when the powers that be try to rope you along for something stupid, or try to snuff out something brilliant, we can turn around, walk away, and do things for ourselves–whether they like it or not.

Further reading:

Lazy Linking of the Libertarian Left

  • If you’ve decided that you’re not interested in helping limited-governmentalists make the trains run on time, one of the first replies you are always going to get from minarchists and minarcho-enablers is some snide remarks about how you must advocate doing nothing out of a prissy or sanctimonious concern for ideological purity. Of course, this reply is usually plain nonsense, since it depends on the completely unargued, and in fact easily refuted, principle that the only alternatives on the table are (1) partisan politicking in government elections, or else (2) doing nothing. Of course these are not the two options, and the only reasons that you would act as if they are is (a) if you are wearing the conceptual blinders of statist political analysis, or else (b) you don’t have a clear or concrete enough conception of what someone might put down for option (3). I tried to make my point clear about problem (a) in my follow-up post; but for a more straightforward approach to the problem, see also this great post tackling problem (b) from Francois Tremblay at Check Your Premises (2008-01-22): Eight ways you can personally help to smash the State: One of the problems with Anarchism is that, unlike other political ideologies which rely on the system, the courses of actions one can take are not obvious. People who are convinced by the arguments are discouraged by the notion that there’s nothing I can do, and new Anarchists, not seeing any way out, turn to political means as the only solution. … So what can we do to resist? Not as a movement, but personally? There are a number of things that a single individual can do that brings concrete, if small, change. Read the whole thing, and note especially numbers 5–8.

  • Thomas Knapp, a market anarchist and sometime Libertarian Party activist, who has used the freedom train metaphor often in the past (and who I quoted in Take the A-Train), has a lot of thoughtful remarks in reply to my criticism, in KN@PPSTER (2008-02-01): Train kept a-rollin’, part 1 of ???. There’s some good points here, both by way of objection and by way of agreement, which I should have linked some time ago, and which provide a lot of great discussion-fodder and deserve a reply when my brain is a bit less fried than it is right now. I’m not especially convinced by some of Knapp’s rejoinders — e.g. I think that the claim that it’s easier to get from Anarchotopia once the train has already pulled in at Minarchistan is refuted by, or at least faces an as-yet unanswered challenge from, precisely the points that I raised in my follow-up post. But while I unfry my brain enough to talk at more length, you should definitely read the whole thing.

  • Mutualists and counter-economists alike may find something of interest in Michel Bauwens’s mention of the unMoney Convergence – a conference on money, liberation and systems change, to be held in Seattle April 14–16. The convergence will discuss the emergence of alternatives to government money (community currencies, Internet currencies, open currencies, etc.); the development of open, peer-to-peer infrastructures for gifting, sharing, and exchange; and efforts to move to open money systems over the next ten years. (The convergence will no doubt include plenty of crankery and rubbish along with plenty of genuinely good discussion and perhaps even mildly thrilling developments. But that’s par for the course. Again, more stuff that I’d be interested to talk about and hash out — e.g. the tensions between genuine mutual money and community exchanges, and progressive Monopoly-money deliberately obstructing non-local use — once back in a post-brain-fried state.) Anyway, read the whole thing and follow the links.

  • Finally, for a change of speed, we have the latest Radical Healthcare Reform proposal from New York Times humor columnist Paul Krugman (2008-02-04): Clinton, Obama, Insurance, in which it is revealed that the most significant policy difference between Hillary Rodham Clinton’s scheme for massive government subsidies to third-party health insurance bureaucracies and Barack Obama’s scheme for massive government subsidies to third-party health insurance bureaucracies is that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plan would force everybody to buy health coverage from a big corporate insurer, whether it’s in their financial best interest or not; whereas Barack Obama’s plan, although forcing everyone to subsidize other people’s use of big corporate insurers through taxes, would at least give each individual person some choice over whether or not it’s in their own best interest to buy corporate health insurance for herself. Krugman then suggests that reveals a major defect in Obama’s plan and a major virtue of Clinton’s plan. Because, apparently, the purely statistical achievement of universal coverage is an obvious good, regardless of what that coverage amounts to or what the cost of achieving it is, whereas the notion that a bug-government-mandated captive market for big, bureaucratic insurance companies might not always be the best way for each and every one of 300,000,000 very different people with very different needs to get their healthcare costs covered, is an idea that could only be advanced by the dupes or hirelings of the same insurance firms that stand to massively profit from this subsidy program (!).

    This is, apparently, what passes for Leftist economics among the professional statist-blowhard class in America. Libertarian mutualists, i.e. the genuinely Leftist alternative to the corporate liberal managerialism and progressive statism fraudulently passed off as Leftism today, know that radical healthcare reform would mean something very different — the abolition of government obstacles in healthcare and the emergence of grassroots networks and institutions for mutual aid among the working class, not a massive effort by the policy elite to universalize and ossify the existing boss-and-bureaucrat model of third-party healthcare coverage.

Notes on the Cultural History of Sleep

Here’s an interesting passage I noticed in an article in the New York Times Magazine, which was mostly about companies trying to sell fancy new mattresses.

The story of our ruined sleep, in virtually every telling I’ve heard, begins with Thomas Edison: electric light destroyed the sanctity of night. Given more to do and more opportunity to do it, we gave sleep shorter and shorter shrift. But the sleep that we’re now trying to reclaim may never have been ours to begin with. It’s a myth, A. Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech, told me. And it’s a myth that even some sleep experts today have bought into.

… More surprising still, Ekirch reports that for many centuries, and perhaps back to Homer, Western society slept in two shifts. People went to sleep, got up in the middle of the night for an hour or so, and then went to sleep again. Thus night — divided into a first sleep and second sleep — also included a curious intermission. There was an extraordinary level of activity, Ekirch told me. People got up and tended to their animals or did housekeeping. Others had sex or just lay in bed thinking, smoking a pipe, or gossiping with bedfellows. Benjamin Franklin took cold-air baths, reading naked in a chair.

Our conception of sleep as an unbroken block is so innate that it can seem inconceivable that people only two centuries ago should have experienced it so differently. Yet in an experiment at the National Institutes of Health a decade ago, men kept on a schedule of 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness — mimicking the duration of day and night during winter — fell into the same, segmented pattern. They began sleeping in two distinct, roughly four-hour stretches, with one to three hours of somnolence — just calmly lying there — in between. Some sleep disorders, namely waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall asleep again, may simply be this traditional pattern, this normal pattern, reasserting itself, Ekirch told me. It’s the seamless sleep that we aspire to that’s the anomaly, the creation of the modern world.

… Our peculiar preference for one well-organized hunk of sleep likely evolved as a corollary to our expectation of uninterrupted wakefulness during the day — as our lives came to be governed by a single, stringent clock. Eluned Summers-Bremner, author of the forthcoming Insomnia: A Cultural History, explains that in the 18th century, we start overvaluing our waking time, and come to see our sleeping time only as a way to support our waking time. Consequently, we begin trying to streamline sleep, to get it done more economically: We should lie down and go out right away so we can get up and get to the day right away. She describes insomniacs as having a ruthless ambition to do just this, wanting to administer sleep as an efficiency expert normalizes the action in a factory. Certainly all of us, after a protracted failure to fall asleep for whatever reason, have turned solemnly to our alarm clocks and performed that desperate arithmetic: If I fall asleep right now, I can still get four hours.

Nevertheless, while it may be at odds with our history and even our biology, lie-down-and-die is the only practical model for our lifestyle. Unless we overhaul society to tolerate all schedules and degrees of sleepiness and attentiveness, we are stuck with that ideal.

— Jon Mooallem, New York Times Magazine (2007-11-18): The Sleep-Industrial Complex

Besides grousing about one of my linguistic pet peeves — the sloppy misuse of the idiom ____________-industrial complex, the only other thing that I’d like to add is that filing the institutions that currently structure most Americans’ sleep patterns under the vague label of our lifestyle tends to obscure the issue. Depending on your age, the two main institutions that regiment your sleeping schedule are either (1) school, or (2) your job. The first has little to do with lifestyle choices; it’s something that’s forced on children by both their parents and by the government for a good 10-12 years of their lives. After a decade or more of forced training, the job you take is nevertheless a matter of adult choices. But the economic and political environment that structures and constrains those choices — and tends to favor centralized, regimented, official forms of employment not only through cultural prejudice but also through government-enforced subsidy and monopoly — deserves much more critical scrutiny than the term lifestyle conveys. In both cases, the daily schedules that we keep are no better described as an adopted style than is a straightjacket.

Cry havoc! and let slip the pronouns of war…

Here’s the New York Times’s report on Hordak‘s latest battle-cry:

BRUSSELS, May 11 — Vice President Dick Cheney used the deck of an American aircraft carrier just 150 miles off Iran’s coast as the backdrop today to warn the country that the United States was prepared to use its naval power to keep Tehran from disrupting off oil routes or gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.

… Mr. Cheney’s sharp warnings appeared to be part of a two-track administration campaign to push back at Iran, while leaving the door open to negotiations. It was almost exactly a year ago that the United States offered to negotiate with Iran as long as it first agreed to halt enriching uranium, a decision in which Mr. Cheney, participants said, was not a major player. Similarly, the speech today was not circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered, a senior American diplomat said. He kind of runs by his own rules, the official said.

With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike, he said. We’ll keep the sea lanes open. We’ll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We’ll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We’ll continue bringing relief to those who suffer, and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom. And we’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.

I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat, Mr. Cheney said. We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to return home with honor.

— David E. Sanger, New York Times (2006-05-11): On Carrier in Gulf, Cheney Warns Iran

According to the story, after Dick Cheney completes his Middle East mission of sending clear messages, he will return home, sometime next week. No word yet on when American soldiers will complete their mission of opposing, disrupting, relieving, delivering military justice, occupying, keeping the sea lanes open, etc., or when he and his buddies will allow them to return home. Nor is there any word yet on when he and his buddies will stop forcing the American people, i.e. the rest of us, to foot the bill for his plans against our will.

Further reading: