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    When you’re seen anywhere with your hat off…

    Posted by Sean at 14:06, November 14th, 2008

    My blog friend Sarah Hoyt is a sci-fi author, so she does a lot of thinking about social issues and the evolution of institutions. She has a post up about her support for gay marriage that takes what is, I think, the best tack possible: arguing that institutions such as marriage exist at least partially to push people toward beneficial behavior and away from destructive behavior that other around them may end up picking up after. I don’t know that I’m entirely convinced, but she goes far beyond the soundbites along the lines of “But my partner and I love each other just as much as straight couples do” or “Well, gee, why shouldn’t our gay friends have the same rights as my wife and I do?”

    Sarah also brings the perspective of someone reared in a country that was not the States:

    A law might be able to institute a system like the one in Portugal – and please, those of you who know me, engrave this in stone, because it’s the one time in my life where I’ll say something is better in Portugal – where you have to get a “legal” marriage before the religious one. The legal one is a right, (though I don’t think they have gay marriage, before anyone jumps on me) the religious one isn’t. In fact, the religious one isn’t needed. It is between you and your G-d. The legal is usually done quietly and not celebrated by those people who intend to have a religious ceremony later. (In Dan’s and my case we had our civil ceremony in South Carolina in July, then went to Portugal for the religious wedding in December after I got my green card. It gives us two anniversaries.) At any rate a law could spell out that no religion will be forced to perform unions that offend its tenets or beliefs.

    I know at this point my gay friends – or their sympathizers – reading this are groaning and saying that the law will never come because look at all the defense of marriage stuff going on. Well… a properly written law might have a better chance. It might calm a lot of the fears.

    She may be right about that, though one of the problems is that so many of the most voluble proponents of gay marriage are too wrapped up in using it to get approval from all quarters. I’m not so sure they could be trusted to lay off the churches in exchange for marriage performed by a justice of the peace.


    Speaking of fabulously opinionated pro-SSM blog friends, Virginia Postrel appeared on PJTV to discuss the problems that Obama’s glamour might pose when he actually tries to carry out his duties as president. It turns out that her chemotherapy, in addition to helping beat her cancer into remission, has given her a Marcel wave. Do we live in an age of wonders, or what?

    Love on your side

    Posted by Sean at 12:37, November 13th, 2008

    Thanks to those who e-mailed to ask what I thought about California’s Proposition 8 and its aftermath. I didn’t post anything largely because I thought I’d said what I had to say about the gay marriage debate many times over.

    I still do. But Caltechgirl, whose blog I haven’t visited nearly often enough in the last several months, hit many of the important points:

    For the record, I voted NO on Prop 8, folks.

    Now that THAT’s out of the way, let me get to my point.  Last night’s protest rallies in West Hollywood and elsewhere did NOTHING to help the No on 8 cause.

    The election is OVER.  The ballots have been counted.  The “No on 8″ side lost.

    Sitting in a busy intersection, holding up traffic and waving signs from an election that’s past now doesn’t make people want to support you.  It makes people think you are a bunch of whiny crybabies with nothing better to do than to hold them up in traffic.  Which, as we LA folks ALL know, is sh***y without protesters blocking up the main intersections.

    So get over it.  Wipe your tears.  Get up and fight back. The RIGHT way.  The SMART way.  Don’t make your opponents so upset that they resent you.  That’s no way to “win friends and influence people.”

    You looked like a bunch of sissies in front of a big bully last night.  Seriously.  Do you WANT to play to stereotypes?  Do you think that’s anyway to bring people to your cause?  Sure it rallies people who agree with you, but the majority of Californians (at least according to the vote) probably thought it was pathetic and predictable from a “bunch of whiny sissies”…

    Last night’s protest here in New York appears to have been more dignified, but several essential problems remain:

    Mitchell Stout, 41, an actor from the Upper West Side, said, “We want to have the freedom and liberty to express our love for our partners the same way any American has.”

    One of the most pervasive beliefs about gays and lesbians is that we all suffer from arrested development and are driven by unexamined and unchecked emotions–we can’t deal with being told no by Daddy (either literally or as embodied by the state), and we deal with everything based on what feels good. When our most politically active men and women appear in public this way, all they do is reinforce that crap.

    Increased gay visibility was accomplished in the context of the late ’60s and early ’70s, when reflexive posturing against The Man was the order of the day among trendy liberals. Unfortunately, like other leftists–gay, straight, male, female, white, black, yellow, other–the loudest gay activists seem to be stuck in that mindset.

    Gays did not invent the entitlement mentality, we didn’t set it loose in the land, and given how many people just voted in Obama under the apparent assumption that he would make their kitchen-table problems disappear, we can hardly be considered its most egregious proponents. It may not be fair that we should have to work extra hard to combat that image, but it is a fact that any sensible, even-keeled person with a modicum of political savvy is aware of, even in California.

    Along the same lines, I have my doubts about targeting religious organizations in these contexts. Yes, the Mormons contributed a lot of money to supporting Proposition 8, and they probably seem like a good target for gay opprobrium because a lot of Americans regard them as a bit weird. And not nice to women. Still, such demonstrations have a way of looking like protests against the moral and spiritual ordering power of religion in the abstract, an effect that’s hardly counteracted by appeals to the Mormon history of polygamy (where are people’s heads?) and soppy invocations of a government-sanctioned contract as an “expres[sion of] love.”

    Once, convincing people that gay men and lesbians really did fall in love and form life-long partnerships was a real victory in and of itself, but the argument over marriage has evolved far beyond that point by now. As long as those against gay marriage are advancing sophisticated arguments about child-rearing and community building, its proponents are going to keep getting trounced when all they do is come back with effusions about love, prejudice, and ever-expanding rights.

    Of course, it’s possible that I should be grateful that the pro-SSM activists at least seem to inhabit Planet Earth, Year 2008. Eric posts about a group of gay anarchists who are operating in such a fantasy land it’s almost touching. Almost. Eric realizes that Bash Back is not representative of the gay mainstream, but his point–that tactics that alienate Middle Americans are a great way to foment a backlash–is well taken.

    Added later: I hadn’t noticed that Dale Carpenter had, naturally, posted about the first protests almost a week ago, too:

    Here’s my advice to righteously furious gay-marriage supporters: Stop the focus on the Mormon Church. Stop it now. We just lost a ballot fight in which we were falsely but effectively portrayed as attacking religion. So now some of us attack a religion? People were warned that churches would lose their tax-exempt status, which was untrue. So now we have (frivolous) calls for the Mormon Church to lose its tax-exempt status? It’s rather selective indignation, anyway, since lots of demographic groups gave us Prop 8 in different ways — some with money and others with votes. I understand the frustration, but this particular expression of it is wrong and counter-productive.

    Public protest against a constitutional ban on marriage for gay families is entirely justified. More than a mere vote, protests communicate intensity of feelings. They’re valuable in a democracy. Something incredibly precious was lost on Tuesday. Those who lost it should not be expected to go back quietly to producing great art and show tunes for everybody’s amusement.

    That via Jonathan Rauch at IGF, who wonders whether the protests aren’t nevertheless an encouraging sign.

    Added on 14 November while dressing for dinner: Have I linked enough people yet? Of course not! Robbie at The Malcontent weighed in several days ago:

    What is required in these protests is a target. But the very nature of identity politics precludes the two most obvious demographics who voted for the initiative – Hispanics and African-Americans. Could anyone imagine a parade of mostly white gays and lesbians descending on black communities and churches in protest? No, and those pushing the protests know that tactic would never fly in America.

    Why not go after Catholics, a demographic that supported the proposition with both cash and votes? First, because Catholics comprise roughly 25% of the American population. In addition, California is a heavily hispanic state, and hispanics are overwhelming Catholic. Would any smart GLBT organizer have their activists and supporters declare war on the Catholic Church and expect support from hispanics and a large portion of white voters? No, not even in that liberal state.

    This leaves us with the Mormons, the red-headed stepchild of American religion. Secularists think they’re crazy, and other Christian denominations believe they’re a strange, deviant cult. We need look no further than the Republican primary to see that liberals and conservatives strangely converge when it comes to a low opinion of the Mormon religion. Right out of the gate, the protesters have a target that will be left wanting of defenders. Furthermore, the actual numbers of Mormons in this country is rather low.

    They’re the safe target. The only target. The one target that invites almost no recrimination among a large swath of conservatives, liberals, the religiously devout, and atheists.

    What these protesters should be asking is how a small, out-of-state religious denomination blew them out of the water when the media, history, every celebrity living and dead, and the demographic majority was soundly on their side. What these protesters should be asking is what went so wrong with their campaign and message that they could barely corral even their fellow gays into the voting booths.

    I don’t know that I entirely agree about the Catholic part; anti-RC animus hardly goes unexpressed in gay circles, though it hasn’t really flared up since the AIDS protests a few decades ago. OTOH, this was a special case, given the California demographics Robbie cites. Happily, the demonstrations planned for tomorrow target political institutions.

    Into the gap

    Posted by Sean at 18:50, November 11th, 2008

    Thanks to all our veterans today. It would be lovely if prosperity and peaceful business within a free society translated into prosperity and peaceful business all around. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. There will always be threats that need to be dealt with decisively; our gratitude to those who make it their business to handle doing so.

    Kneel before my slingshot, puny Earthling!

    Posted by Sean at 17:13, November 5th, 2008

    The Nikkei gives the Aso administration’s reaction to the election results:

    On 5 November, Prime Minister Taro Aso, having received word that Democratic candidate Obama had won the U.S. presidential election, stated, “The most important thing is to maintain, in cooperation with the new president, the relationship that Japan and the United States have both cultivated through more than fifty years.”

    Regarding discussions with Mr. Obama, he stated, “It’s not as if there were any need to meet with him immediately. It’s President Bush until 20 January of next year. I think this is a topic for after the president officially changes.” He was responding to the press corps at the prime minister’s residence.

    The same day, the prime minister released a statement: “I send my heartfelt congratulations. In cooperation with the next president, I want to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance even further, and exert all possible efforts toward solving issues that affect the whole of the global community, such as the global economy, terrorism, and the environment.

    Japan is officially in favor of peace and diplomacy and the Kyoto Protocols, and there’s been a lot of controversy over our military presence. I’m still not sure Tokyo is going to be all that happy if Obama’s preference for soothing diplomacy and cutting “wasteful” spending on defense involves going soft on China. Or Russia or North Korea.



    Interesting times

    Posted by Sean at 00:01, November 5th, 2008

    I’m a libertarian; I’m used to being unsatisfied with election results, even when the candidates I voted for win.

    I did not vote for Obama. I don’t agree with his policies, and I don’t sympathize with his view of the world. But most politicians, no matter what you think of them while they’re campaigning, have a way of turning into windsocks once elected. Time will tell what he does with the office. In a few months, he’ll be our president, and I wish him the best.

    Added on 5 November: I’m glad to see Connie and Dean posting them, but do people really need to be told these things? Reading the comments here, I guess so.

    A related point: I’m disturbed at the complaints that seem to imply that Obama was elected because of the media or his cult-creating mind rays. Yes, the media were shilling for him shamelessly. Yes, a lot of his most fervent admirers seemed to be working themselves into the sort of ecstasies that have no business surfacing anywhere outside church or a performance at the opera.

    But it’s our job as citizens to seek out information. Ours. Those who wanted to read his memoirs critically were able to do so. Those who wanted to find information about Bill Ayers and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge were able to do so. Those who wanted to know what the historical record says about social-democratic policy were able to do so. I’m not absolving CNN of its transgressions, only saying that it demeans our fellow citizens to imply that they needed to be spoonfed the truth. Some people are fully aware that Obama’s longer on charisma than on policy, and they hope that’s enough because they recognize that a lot of the most pressing issues of the day are going to have to go through congress anyway. Others decided that he would be the less deleterious choice in the long run despite disliking quite a bit of what he stands for. And finally, some people persist in believing that the Third Way will somehow work if we get it right this (twelve millionth) try.

    I don’t agree, but that doesn’t mean that large segments of the electorate were brainwashed by Wolf Blitzer and Andrea Mitchell. If we’re going to argue that people should be expected to earn their own way in society, surely we can expect them to use Google, on a terminal at the public library if necessary.

    Having now criticized my own side a bit, let me get back to the more fun project of criticizing the opposition. I agree that the election of a black president is a moving, historic moment. It was one thing to know that it was theoretically possible, because we all said that we were worried about policy and character and not skin tone. It’s another thing entirely to see America actually show that someone’s non-whiteness would not prevent his being voted in. It’s the difference between the hopeful belief that you’re good enough for your beloved and actually having your marriage proposal accepted. I get it. In and of itself, that’s a good thing. And this is an American election. so of course it’s American racial history that we’re using as context to judge it.

    At the same time, could we just every once in a while show some knowledge of the wider world here? Racism and ethnocentrism are the norm in human history, not some rebarbative Yankee aberration. The United States did not invent ethnic tensions, and it was not even the last country to outlaw slavery. To outsiders from nations that have traditionally been more ethnically homogeneous, our noisy, front-and-center conversation on race looks like unrest and a chronic inability to get along, but that’s exactly backwards. In America, arguing is what we do. Our periods of glazed-over gentility such as the 1950s tend to arise from external circumstances and be short-lived. American mouthiness and rough-and-tumble debate cause more immediate bruising, but they’ve helped us to advance organically through our racial and ethnic problems much better than the Europeans, Asians, and Africans that so many left-of-center people think we should be genuflecting to.


    Posted by Sean at 07:52, November 4th, 2008

    Just voted for the first time in twelve years that I didn’t use an absentee ballot–very exciting. I was in line by 6:05 and out of the booth by 6:30, but there were already signs that the monitors and police were surprised by the crowds. (Things were a bit confusing, but I don’t really blame them. The space is tight, and it was probably hard to work out exactly what traffic flows would be until they started.) This is probably familiar to anyone who hasn’t lived abroad for a while, but I found it oddly touching to be standing in line to vote in a school corridor, harangued from all sides by posters about punctuality and attendance and ordering class rings.

    Like a lot of people, my first experience of democracy was our mock vote in first grade for governor of Pennsylvania, complete with cigar box and squares of lined paper. (Dick Thornburgh was running against some guy named…Flaherty? Flannery?) I hope Miss Cramer’s happy that the lesson stuck. The church I was brought up in–if I haven’t mentioned this–frowned on voting in national elections. God has plans for the United States and the world, see, and you could be voting against Him.

    Just imagine trying to explain your way out of that one on Judgment Day.

    Polls are often wrong, but if they’re right, I won’t be happy with the results today. That’s the way these things go. Both viable presidential tickets well and truly bit this year, but fortunately, Washington is not largely controlled by the president alone, and the states are not largely controlled by Washington alone. Whoever wins is unlikely to wreck the republic. It just remains to see who it is.

    The way he makes me feel

    Posted by Sean at 10:44, November 2nd, 2008

    I’m late on this, having spent the last day or so with the stomach flu, trying to edge ginger ale and saltines down my throat unnoticed.

    Anyway, Reason has a round-up of thoughts by libertarian thinkers on the Obama candidacy. (I’m sure a parallel post about McCain is coming today.) While I have to say that Deirdre McCloskey gets off the best line…

    Since I live in Chicago, and anyway am a rational economist, I’m going to vote Libertarian, as usual. After all, why throw away my vote?

    …it will doubtless shock you to hear that I most like Virginia Postrel’s take. How felicitous for her that the Obama campaign came along not long after she’d turned her culture-critic’s eye to the workings of glamour!

    If elected, [Obama] will have not a policy mandate but an emotional one: to make Americans feel proud of their country, optimistic about the future, and warmly included, regardless of background, in the American story.

    A President Obama could deliver just the opposite. He might stumble badly abroad, projecting weakness that invites aggression (think Jimmy Carter) or involving America in a humanitarian-driven war at least as long and bloody as Iraq (think Sudan). As for inclusiveness, you can get it two ways: by respecting individual differences—-however eccentric, offensive, or hard to control—-or by jamming everyone into a conformist collective. Obama’s New Frontier-style rhetoric has a decidedly collectivist cast. NASA is great, prizes for private space flight are stupid, and what can we make you do for your country? A guy who thinks like that will not worry about what his health care plan might do to pharmaceutical research or physicians’ incentives.

    Obama’s campaign draws enormous power from his rhetoric of optimism-“hope,” “change,” and “Yes, we can.” But the candidate’s memoir betrays a tragic vision. In Dreams from My Father, almost everyone winds up disappointed: Obama’s father, his stepfather, his grandparents, the people he meets in Chicago. Only his naive and distant mother keeps on pursuing happiness. Then she dies of cancer. … Hope is audacious because, at least in this world, it’s futile and absurd. Faceless “power” is always waiting to crush your dreams.

    Before anyone starts screeching that McCain also has Daddy issues and that he’s also obsessed with strong-arming people into “national service” and that Obama has too proposed specific policies–yes, I know. So does Virginia, whose piece about McCain is likely, if anything, to be even more cutting when it appears.

    The things she’s talking about still matter. Obama talks a lot about hope, but his view of America is actually pretty dour: we need to be shaken from our complacency (by him and his fellow travelers) and change our ways–not because we’re a society made up of human beings that doesn’t always get it right, but because we’ve got loads of fundamental sins to atone for. As Melanie Phillips wrote last week:

    [T]he only way to assess their position is to look at each man in the round, at what his general attitude is towards war and self-defence, aggression and appeasement, the values of the west and those of its enemies and – perhaps most crucially of all – the nature of the advisers and associates to whom he is listening. As I have said before, I do not trust McCain; I think his judgment is erratic and impetuous, and sometimes wrong. But on the big picture, he gets it. He will defend America and the free world whereas Obama will undermine them and aid their enemies.

    Here’s why. McCain believes in protecting and defending America as it is. Obama tells the world he is ashamed of America and wants to change it into something else. McCain stands for American exceptionalism, the belief that American values are superior to tyrannies. Obama stands for the expiation of America’s original sin in oppressing black people, the third world and the poor.

    Obama thinks world conflicts are basically the west’s fault, and so it must right the injustices it has inflicted. That’s why he believes in ‘soft power’ — diplomacy, aid, rectifying ‘grievances’ (thus legitimising them, encouraging terror and promoting injustice) and resolving conflict by talking. As a result, he will take an axe to America’s defences at the very time when they need to be built up. He has said he will ‘cut investments in unproven missile defense systems'; he will ‘not weaponize space'; he will ‘slow our development of future combat systems'; and he will also ‘not develop nuclear weapons,’ pledging to seek ‘deep cuts’ in America’s arsenal, thus unilaterally disabling its nuclear deterrent as Russia and China engage in massive military buildups.

    My biggest problem with Obama is his instincts. I don’t think that he hates classical liberals (via Eric), any more than I think Sarah Palin hates those of us who live in blue cities.

    What I do think is that he believes, like a lot of liberals who approach things from an academic background, that human relations can be fixed in some ultimate way. We talk until we find common ground, we all make some compromises, and then we all go home partially happy and make the best of it. That means that those of us who believe that ideological conflict is inevitable, that in some conflicts there will inevitably be distinct winners and losers, and that competition among ideas is not only inevitable but frequently salutary, are spoiling the party. As Virginia implies, it’s hard to champion both conflict-avoidance and “diversity.”

    Hold a chicken in the air / Stick a deck chair up your nose

    Posted by Sean at 16:14, October 27th, 2008

    Eric and M. Simon link to this masterwork of scintillating ninnyism by, not to put too fine a point on it, the sort of person I vowed I would never, ever become when I left the Lehigh Valley. I will leave aside the ha-ha-but-I-really-kind-of-mean-it argument that white people should be banned from voting. Whatever thesis it was in service of, Jonathan Valania’s conclusion would be an insult to everyone referred to:

    By this point, you either think I am joking or are calling me an elitist. I assure you I am neither. OK, maybe a little of both. But it wasn’t always like this. I come from the Coal Belt, from that Alabamian hinterland between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as per James Carville’s famous formulation.

    I am, in fact, just two generations out of the coal mines that blackened the lungs of my grandfather, leaving him disabled, despondent and, finally, dead at the ripe old age of 54.

    So, understand that I am saying all this for the good of the country and, in fact, for the good of those hard-working white people that Hillary used to pander to.

    I know those people, I come from them. They are not some shameful abstract demographic to be brushed under the rug of euphemism by Wolf Blitzer and his ilk.

    I have broken kielbasa with those people. I went to school with their children. I have gone to Sunday Mass with a deer-hunter hangover with those people. They are bitter with good reason, and they are armed because they are scared. They mean well, but they are easily spooked.

    I fear for what is to become of them after the campaigns leave town for the last time, and Scranton and Allentown and Carlisle go back to being the long dark chicken dance of the national soul they were before the media showed up.

    I am, in fact, just one generation away from the steel mills of Bethlehem that sent my father to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns one day when I was a child, have chronically aggravated his psoriasis, and have dinged him up with joint problems.

    But you know something? Much as I adore my parents and many of my elder relatives, I have no idea what it’s like to be a plant worker. Therefore, when the discussion turns to their lives, I generally trust them to know themselves at least as well as I do.

    That’s not to say that I don’t disagree with them on policy frequently…though my disagreement, I imagine, runs in the opposite direction from Valania’s. To my mind, people who claim not to need the government to take care of them are far too ready to embrace further distortions of economic decision-making through changes to the tax code, protectionism, and support for national health care–as long as they’re pitched as “relief for Pennsylvania families.” I think they’re wrong to support such policies, and I wish they didn’t. But no one is required to adhere to my wishes when prioritizing which political values they’re going to use their vote to optimize. If a free society is to work, we have to be ready to accept other people’s choices even if we think they’re bad.

    I’m not trying to dodge the simple fact that people often make judgments based on prejudice; my point is just that you can’t tell from someone’s ballot how he or she decided whom to vote for. We’re a gigantic country in a gigantic global economy, and all of us deal with daily torrents of signals. Not even trained social scientists concur on policy, for heaven’s sake, and they’re the ones who spend their working lives poring over the data. How difficult should it be to accept that ordinary citizens, trying to make the most sense of the fragmentary information they have, don’t all agree with you or your candidate? (It might also be pointed out that Allentown is in the 15th Congressional District, which went for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. Yes, it’s a notorious swing district, and the margins were narrow; and as a registered Republican, I’m not pointing these things out as some kind of point of pride. I just think that someone who’s going to bitch about white people’s voting the wrong person into office in one paragraph and then cite Allentown in another should have a surer hand with the numbers.)

    Middle PA has its fair share of born hotheads and sourpusses, but so do Tokyo and New York. What does that prove? I have relatives who hunt. They like hunting, and they like guns. They go to church regularly and like the people in their congregations. Most of them take pride in their jobs, even if everyone has plenty of stories about being screwed by bureaucratic bossiness or the idiot colleague everyone else has to carry. The economic dislocations of the last few decades have been painful, and people can certainly get riled up over what they see as betrayal by the government. But bitter in the all-around sense? I just don’t see it. And if you want to see easily spooked, just try announcing in a group of gay guys here in New York that you’re voting for McCain.


    I know that this is not a new point, but the best way to approach people with opposing beliefs is to argue with them. Maybe you have something to teach them, or maybe they know as much as you do but have drawn different conclusions. Vigorous disagreement is built into the American experiment, but it can’t work if we’re all busy accusing each other of voting based on our hang-ups.

    Oh, and I’m not even going to go after that “broken kielbasa” nonsense. Well, except to say that, as an incoherent metaphor and in combination with the reference to the chicken dance, it put me in mind of “The Chicken Song,” which, while no more logical than Valania’s piece, at least is as funny as it intends to be.

    Added on 29 October: Happy Diwali (that’s the greeting?) to our Indian friends. And thanks to Eric for the link and the kind words as always.

    Added on 30 October: Thanks to Eric for pointing out that Valania’s confirmation bias and lefty-from-central-casting cultural and economic illiteracy go back at least a half-decade. Check out this piece that, among other things, contrasts two Philadelphia-based businesses that are owned by former partners. The founder of Urban Outfitters is now, at least to a degree, a conservative. His retail chain is described like this:

    The interior of the flagship store at 17th and Walnut streets is stylized to evoke what can only be described as janitorial chic: exposed brick, scraped plaster walls and low-hanging ventilation ducts. Everything is illuminated by the soft glow of warehouse loft light fixtures. All the merchandise is displayed against pegboard backdrops faintly reminiscent of ye olde family rec room or dad’s workshop. And piped in over the sound system is the jarring electro clatter of Peanut Butter Wolf’s oh-so-appropriately titled album Badmeaningood.

    His former paramour is still gratifyingly liberal, so her enterprises are characterized thus:

    “Hi, this is Judy in the woods,” says the voice on the answering machine at the Poconos summer home of Judy Wicks, owner and operator of the White Dog Cafe, a homey restaurant/bar in University City, and of the adjoining artsy gift shop called the Black Cat. Wicks is a prominent local businesswoman and a diehard liberal activist.

    Judy went on to open the highly successful White Dog Cafe, where she would host and coordinate countless social and community activist campaigns, while Dick went on to build the Urban Outfitters empire out of the humble beginnings of Free People.

    If you don’t know Philadelphia, you may not know how laugh-aloud hilarious it is to see the White Dog depicted as “homey.” I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with its carefully cultivated shabby-genteel atmosphere, but it’s a joke to try to argue that the place is any less pretentious than, like, Le Bec Fin. (That goes double for the bibelots at the Black Cat.) Here’s an item from the White Dog’s current dinner menu:

    Pulled Duck Confit on Chickpea Panella
    coco agro-dolce and an arugula, radish, and zucchini flower salad

    Just like Mom used to make, huh?

    As I say, I think it’s great that Wicks found a marketable business model that helps fund causes she supports. There’s nothing immoral about combining peasant-y ingredients in a fashion formulated to appeal to the Mother Jones set, but I don’t see how it’s any more inherently forthright an enterprise than Urban Outfitters. And Valania never seems to get around to noting that Richard Hayne’s company, having grown so large, has helped create wealth and employment across the globe. (He’s busy decrying “sweatshops” while giving short shrift to potential arguments about what their employees’ lives would be like if factory work weren’t an alternative.)

    Words get in the way

    Posted by Sean at 16:07, October 26th, 2008

    Heather MacDonald has a characteristically smart piece in City Journal about Sarah Palin (via Amy Alkon).

    I know, it’s elitist to expect a candidate for president or vice president to speak like an adult. Sure, there are parents out there battling the “like” epidemic who might not appreciate having someone in the White House validating their 15-year-olds’ speech habits. But, hey: “Total role reversal here.” (Palin, of course, can sound adolescent even when she uses the right verbs, as when she disingenuously denied her snarky put-down of Joe Biden’s age while lauding herself as “you know, . . . the new energy, the new face, the new ideas.”) It’s even more elitist to expect a vice president to put together sentences that cohere into a minimally logical progression of thought. There was a time, however, when conservatives upheld adult standards—such as clarity of speech and thought—without apology, even in the face of the relentless downward pull of adolescent culture. But now, when a vice-presidential candidate talks like a teenager, mugs like an American Idol contestant, and traffics in syntactical dead-ends and non sequiturs, we are supposed to find her charming and authentic.

    Nevertheless, Palin’s verbal hodgepodge may say nothing about her qualifications for the vice presidency. Judgment and political acumen could well rest on different mental capacities than the ability to order thoughts into smooth sentences. But the inability to answer a straightforward question about economic policy without becoming tangled in words suggests either ignorance about the subject matter or a difficulty connecting between ideas. Neither explanation is reassuring.

    The Palin nomination has unleashed among Republican pundits and voters a great roar of pent-up rage against liberal elites, much of it warranted. But the conservative embrace of Palin comes at considerable cost to conservative principles. The populist identity politics that Republicans are now playing with such gusto may come back to haunt them in the future.

    Liberal hypocrisy on Palin’s family dilemmas has matched the conservative turnaround with perfect symmetry, of course. And perhaps both sides will blithely and unapologetically switch places yet again as soon as circumstances allow. Still, the conservative position on the family happens to be the right one. So, too, was the erstwhile conservative defense of articulateness, knowledge, and uncommon achievement. It’s a shame to have sacrificed these ideas, even temporarily, in the quest for political advantage.

    I, too, wonder how the backing and filling is going to play out when Republicans start making rigorous classical standards of education one of their favorite topics again. I’m a bookish man who gravitates toward bookish people and lives in a bookish city, but I recognize that Palin has good instincts and has held her own in terms of hands-on achievement in office.

    What worries me is that she doesn’t give any indication of having been exposed to Matthew Arnold’s “the best that has been thought and written,” which you can do at the University of Idaho as surely as you can at Amherst if you’re of a mind to. I spent the first half of the ’90s as a comparative literature major at Penn, so believe me, I am well aware of the limits of cutesy verbal game-playing. That she’s not more honey-tongued in the lawyerly sense we’ve gotten used to since the Clintons is not something I hold against her.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that much of the history of mankind is stored in language, and Palin doesn’t seem to think or talk like someone who’s been absorbing the lessons of the past from the Founding Fathers or Orwell or even Margaret Thatcher. Palin’s “you know” and “like” don’t bother me as much as the fact that her phrasing makes ideas squishy and the connections between them unclear. Isn’t the point of exalting folksiness usually to prize blunt, fearless truth-telling?


    Posted by Sean at 19:56, October 23rd, 2008

    Well, I was all set to post a translation of an autumn poem; then I did a search on a hunch and–naturally–I’d already posted it a few years ago. Darn. Guess I’ll just have to hunt high and low for some other Japanese poem about autumn.

    Okay, I’ve put up a bunch of poems by Saigyō, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to this one. When I was in grad school and we got to this one, Donald Keene (whose Shinkokin-shu seminar I was fortunate enough to be able to take) broke into a broad, frank grin: “It’s rare and moving to see Saigyō write a poem with such warmth and humor.”



    oyamada no/iho chikaku naku/shika no ne ni/odorokasarete/odorokasu kana

    saigyou houshi

    Just outside my hut
    nestled in a mountain field
    the cry of a deer
    has jolted me right awake
    I think I’ll jolt him right back

    The Priest Saigyō

    “See how he likes it!” the sleepy Saigyō seems to say. The notes from my edition say that his plan is likely to use a clapper or noisemaker, rather than to lean out the door and tell the deer to shut up already so decent folk can get some sleep. Deer make disconsolate noises that are considered fundamental to the lonely, aching beauty of autumn.

    Added on 25 October: I think I’m a moron, but (unusually) it’s not entirely certain. I took 小山田 as a place name and had in some shadowy, inaccessible synapse a memory of having been instructed to render it thus twelve years ago; however, the edition I use almost invariably gives a note for each place referred to that tells where it would be in contemporary Japan, and there’s nothing like that here. Also, 山田 can just mean “mountain paddy,” anyway. So I’m playing Ministry of Truth (真実省? But at this point it probably would have merged with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in the 2001 restructuring, so maybe…okay, focus, Sean) and changing it above.