Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It was worth it.

I got a laugh out of this Red Sox fan's explanation for the exceptionally bad weather we've been having in Boston.

Why I'm grumpy.

Weather report says it's 45 degrees, but feels like 27. 20 effin' 7!! Welcome to summer in Boston?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Of course, this might be a factor also....

Today's Boston weather report.

Urban decay

Interesting article in today's New Republic about the state of urban America (you may have to pay for it). This writer thinks that reports of American cities' improving health are greatly exaggerated, and cites four areas where urban dysfunction is driving people to the suburbs and exurbs: housing, infrastructure, jobs, and public education. The article mentions cities like Boston, San Fran, New York, and Portland that have had a reputation for attracting the hip and well-educated as suffering from problems in these areas. As a resident of Boston, this seems fairly obvious -- and if some of these think tanks want to pay me, I could pretty easily come up with the same conclusions it seems to take people who get paid lots of money to conduct research to figure out. Housing prices in Boston -- and indeed all of Massachusetts -- are spectacularly high. People like me and my fiance, who, I flatter myself, are the sort of people cities might want to retain, simply cannot afford to buy a home in the city (unless we fancy paying $400,000 for 600 square feet).

As to whether public education is a problem, you just have to observe my neighborhood for a while to figure that one out. There are two types of children around where I live. First, babies and toddlers, many of them white. Indeed, when walking the dog in the afternoon I see lots of hip young white couples pushing strollers. Then, you see older children and teenagers -- but all black. If I go home early on a weekday afternoon, I can see lots of black teenagers heading home from school for the day. Basically no white ones. At about, oh say, school age, all the white kids are mysteriously sucked out of the city. My guess? They've been taken away by the suburban school fairy, who promises parents a public education without all the metal detectors.

That may sound kind of, um, unpleasant, but I think it's safe to conclude that this is happening because these young, educated couples have the resources to leave the city, buy a home in the burbs, and put their kids into better quality public schools.

Republican talking points

Alright, alright, we get it -- the Republicans want Bush's nominees to get an "up or down vote" on the floor. Maybe their strategy is to drive the country insane but repeating the same words over and over again: up or down vote, up or down vote, up or down vote. I'd like to know who thought of that little talking point phrase and smack him/her.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Senate

I've been on travel for the last week, so haven't been able to blog. I'm now sitting at a computer in the convention center java bar (yeah, it's called that) to comment on the latest effort by radical Republicans (and I do not use that term lightly) to change the rules of the political game midway, for their own immediate benefit. CNN did a live broadcast of Bill Frist on the Senate floor this morning, explaining why he wants to get rid of the judicial filibuster, just this once. He repeatedly makes the argument as one of "opposition to a Senate minority preventing judicial nominees from getting a vote on the Senate floor." Why does he specifically refer to the injustice of the minority party doing this? Because the Republicans did exactly the same thing during Clinton's second term when they had control of the Senate. They bottled up his nominees in committee, so they wouldn't reach the floor for a vote; Senate rules say any nominees not acted upon during a session will be dropped, and must be re-submitted by the president.

So, to repeat, during the Clinton Administration, the Republicans used a parliamentary procedure to prevent the president's nominees from getting an "up or down" vote. Which is exactly what Democrats are doing. Filibusters are a legitimate parliamentary procedure. They may be bad or annoying, but they're legitimate.

Since they can't make the argument, then, that they're against this practice on principle, they make the claim that it's somehow wrong when the minority party does it. This is, of course, nonsense. The Senate is nothing if not a body that elevates minority power over the majority. After all, it's in the Senate that the state of Montana, which has roughly half a million residents, has exactly the same power as California. The Republicans have 55 Senate seats to the Democrats' 45, but these 55 senators represent a minority of the U.S. population.

There is nothing in the Senate rules, or even Senate precedent, that suggests the minority party's job is to roll over for the majority; that's for the House of Representatives.

One last point -- to me, this issue is really not about judicial nominees or the pros and cons of the filibuster. I don't feel strongly about using the filibuster for nominees, and am inclined to think a president really should be able to nominate whoever he wants, and the Senate should only withhold consent if the nominee is patently unqualified.

The real issue is respect: respect for the American system of government and for 200 years of tradition in the Senate. The current Republicans have shown that they have no respect for American system if it stands in the way of getting what they want, and what they know will be good for all of us. This is what happens when fundamentalists take over. Right now, we're seeing Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the fundamentalists have invaded and inhabited the Republican party. It will be interesting if the conservatives eventually realize they want their bodies back.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Oh no, all the lobbyists are turning Republican!

In his New Republic article (you may need to be a subscriber) critiquing the advent of "big government conservatism", Jonathan Chait makes the case that this apparent oxymoron is not the accidental result of myriad unrelated policies (like the No Child Left Behind Act or politically-motivated subsidies), but is in fact the new Republican philosophy. He cites, as one piece of evidence, the "K Street strategy" masterminded by Tom DeLay. This is the campaign to force Washington lobbying firms to hire only Republicans, unlike in the past when lobbying firms tried to remain bi-partisan, knowing that either party could be in power at any given time.

The K Street strategy is one of the many things that Democrats hold against Tom DeLay, but personally, I think the Democrats should really take a "briar patch" approach to this idea: Oh no, whatever you do, please don't turn all the lobbyists into Republicans, that will be awful for us! There can't be many more despised professions than that of Washington lobbyist. I'd wager they rank up there with used car salesman or trial lawyers in the minds of most Americans: sleazy, opportunistic, dishonest.

So frankly, I'm delighted by the K Street Strategy. When the inevitable backlash against Washington excesses comes -- and it's looking like it might be happening soon -- it'll be nice to have all the bad guys be Republicans. Plus, as long as the lobbying groups are bi-partisan, you're not going to see either political party really go after them. But if Democrats are already being excluded from the public trough profession, they have no reason to defend it (although they'll gladly re-join when given a chance).

So, no, please, Tom DeLay, don't turn all those lobbyists into Republicans, please!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Displays of patriotism

In my post about dopey displays of patriotism, my Anonymous commenter described the opposite problem in England: any open display -- dopey or not -- is discouraged because it may be considered provocative or threatening to (presumably) somebody who is not white or not a citizen. So this item in Andrew Sullivan's blog today caught my eye (scroll down past the cute doggie picture). A conservative commentator wrote Andrew about the increasing tensions in the Netherlands between the native Dutch population and the large Muslim immigrant population:

In January, two schoolboys in IJsselstein were ordered to remove Dutch flag patches from their backpacks because Moroccan students might consider them provocative. It turned out this flag ban is officially in force at many schools.

I know something about the England's colonial history, which could explain why some would view patriotic displays as insults -- although I disagree with this view. But I am unaware of any history between the Dutch and the Muslim world that would create such an underlying menace to displays of the Dutch flag. Is there something I am missing here? The Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, is reknowned for being one of the most liberal and tolerant societies in the world; presumably it is this openness which led to so many Muslim immigrants finding a home there.

That story becomes even more troubling by this sentence:

Meanwhile Muslim kids have pictures of van Gogh's murderer on their lunchboxes because they consider him a hero, and nobody dares tell them to remove those pictures.

Van Gogh refers, of course, not to the dead painter, but to the dead film-maker and provacateur, who made films decrying the ugly aspects of Islamic fundamentalist and was killed in retribution.

Things like this do make the U.S. problem of too much (banal) patriotism seem preferable to ridiculously pc fears of patriotism. If citizens of liberal, pluralist countries are not allowed to display pride for their countries, it may be easy to forget how important it is to defend them.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Fun ways to waste time

The Social Security Administration website has a database of popular baby names in the U.S. for every year from 1880 to 2004. You can search it by year or name or decade. It's incredibly addictive!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

This blog's namesake

I haven't actually posted about the man in whose honor this blog is named. I'm listening to the Red Sox play the Detroit Tigers (having figured out how to listen and work), and, as Mark Bellhorn walked to the plate, the announcer said: So far, Bellhorn has walked and fanned [struck out, for you non-baseball people]. Very nicely summarizing Mark Bellhorn at bat.

I was sorry for a while that I chose to name this blog something so pointless and obscure, but perhaps the connection is that Mark Bellhorn is a non-flashy, but valuable team player? Or that he whiffs a lot, but occasionally hits one out of the ballpark. Or maybe it's just that he always looks vaguely disheveled.

Defining federalism, or, Why I am wrong sometimes

One of the fun and disturbing things about blogging is, you get to see all those thoughts that sound so great in your head, on the computer screen. Where they can be judged with an objective eye. And sometimes the harsh light of my computer monitor is unkind.

Re-reading some past entries (is that as narcissistic as it sounds?), I've noticed that I throw the word "federalism" around, sometimes using it in ways that are completely contradictory. So what does this word mean?

According to my very old Oxford American dictionary, it means:

Of a system of government in which several states unite under a central authority but remain independent in internal affairs.

So, that's cleared up. And I'll try to stick to just the one definition in future posts.

More of the same

Also, I love this bit:

Britons Mark Newby and Colin Fallows already have accelerated their car to 146 mph in just 1,000 yards -- the longest, safest distance available to them in England.

Headline: "Team goes for electric car speed record"

Fill in your own joke here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Bill Frist

Not too surprisingly, the New Republic doesn't like him either.

Not only have Republicans embraced big expansions of government that would make Tip O'Neill proud and abandoned their commitment to federalism, but they also have adopted -- without apparent irony or shame -- the "identity politics" for which they have long criticized Democrats. Now we must be subjected to whining and moaning about the "war on religion" being conducted by those atheists on the Democratic side of the Senate. I'm glad that Bush isn't buying that one, but is this really going to make Frist a viable presidential candidate?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Jangly guitars and Misunderstood Morrissey

As I'm growing old and increasingly sentimental and nostalgic, thought I'd pull out some of the old "alternative" records I loved in the 80's. Remember jangly guitars? Not really? Those lovely Byrds/Television influenced records of the mid-80's have been mostly forgotten now, especially since Nirvana was the band that finally brought the alternative college music scene to the masses, and they were all about a grungy, heavy-guitar sound (not that there's anything wrong with that).

First played the Feelies: the Good Earth, a very nice record that's a perfect example of the melodic, non-guitar-hero sound of jangly guitar music.

Also listened to the Smiths' The Queen is Dead, one of the greatest rock/pop records ever. Besides featuring the peerless Johnny Marr's gorgeous multi-layered guitar effects, it also has some of Morrissey's best writing. I've always thought Morrissey is rather misunderstood as being about nothing but misery. Which is there, to be sure, but I think there's a lot of humor in his writing that people overlook, especially on The Queen Is Dead:

So I broke into the Palace, with a sponge and rusty spanner
She said, "Eh, I know you and you cannot sing."
I said, "That's nothing you should hear me play piano."

Anyway, if you like beautiful, melodic pop songs, the Smiths made some of the best ever. The combination of Johnny Marr's musical gifts and Morrisey's unique, slightly bent sensibilities made for some great rock/pop recordings. Too bad neither of them has done anything as great on their own.

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