When Government Works

Edward KormanSometimes I am so proud of my culture. A good example was on display this morning in District Court. Judge Edward Korman came down hard on the Obama administration’s cowardly limitation of Plan B emergency birth control. The administration’s actions show that despite what Democrats like to think, Obama really is a lot more conservative than he claims to be. I can see this policy while he was facing re-election. It was still cowardly and cynical, but understandable. What’s going on now? The truth is we don’t know. Other than Obama claiming that he would have a problem with his own daughters having access to the drug, the administration has never given any rationale for requiring a photo ID to purchase it.

Judge Korman is no liberal. In fact, he’s a Republican. But apparently, he’s an old fashioned Republican—the kind that actual believes in things like the law and freedom. Because he is very angry and it doesn’t seem partisan. He has very good reasons for his anger.

He especially went after the administration for thinking that young women should have to present ID to get what all tests indicate is a safe drug. He said it was hypocritical to argue this when the administration also argues against voter ID laws. The administration then tried to argue that it is all a process: first they start with the ID law and gradually they would liberalize things. It said that this is how the public interest is best served. Korman interrupted, “Tell me about the public interest. Is there a public interest in unplanned pregnancies? Some of which end in abortions?”

Ouch!

But the truth of the matter is that the administration seems on autopilot with regards to this matter. It doesn’t seemed to have worked out why it is supporting its current policy. It’s all maddening. And what’s more, it lays bare just what a collection of political hacks this administration is. It sure ain’t hope and change. And in the case of this policy, it is exactly what the Bush administration was.

But it makes me happy to see the judicial branch of the government calling the executive to task on this matter. Forget all the bullshit about individual rights. That’s more propaganda than anything. If the government wants to shut you down or shut you up, it will. But this kind of antagonism between the branches of government is a good thing and the only thing that stops this country from completely going on tilt.

Final Republican Casualty

CasualtyToday over at The Plum Line, Jamelle Bouie discussed an issue that is close to my heart, Don’t Expect the GOP to Change on Gay Rights Anytime Soon. I think all this talk of the Republican Party moderating itself is nonsense. It is all a kind of mass pundit delusion. Moderates especially really want to think that the Republicans will be reasonable. And by that, they mean more liberal on the social issues that moderates care about.

Remember when Bobby Jindal created a stir about how Republicans had to stop being the “stupid party”? And what did he do to prove he wasn’t stupid? He almost destroyed his political career by proposing an end to the state income tax to be replaced by a regressive sales tax. Republican claims at reform are nothing by a desire that the electorate won’t notice all the terrible things they are trying to do.

Bouie noted that the Republicans are not going to moderate on same sex marriage even though a plurality of Republicans favors it. The problem is that the most consistent voters, the old, white, bigoted evangelicals really hate same sex marriage. And so the Republican Party is trying to appeal to them. But I wonder. Does that really explain it?

After all, the conservative base doesn’t vote so consistently because they love the Republican Party. You see that in polls. About 30% of the electorate think of themselves as Republican. But often, the party only gets an approval of about 20%. The difference isn’t people who are tending toward the Democrats; they just think the Republicans are being too liberal. These people are still going to go to the polls and vote Republican, even if they think the party has turned communist.

So why doesn’t the GOP change? The only reasonable argument is that the base wouldn’t show up to the polls. But we know this isn’t the case. Look at the Democratic Party. It is more than happy to snub its base in order to gain more moderate voters. In the Democrat’s case, I’m not sure it works. But in the Republican case, there is much more to gain. A lot of people have a visceral dislike of the party beyond any policies. There are a lot of upper middle class urbanites who would find the Republican Party’s economic conservatism very appealing if it weren’t for their constant “Kill the gays!” and “Oppress the women!” rhetoric.

The problem, I think, is that the people who run the Republican Party are members of the base. They really do think that homosexuality and abortion are abominations. Part of this is just because since the time of Reagan, the state level party organizations have been overrun with evangelicals. But a good part of the problem is that after a while, you begin to believe your own propaganda. Republicans have been putting out so much fear and hatred over the years that they themselves are the final casualties. It’s going to take some time to fix their systemic problems.

Heat and Dust of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer JhabvalaOn this day back in 1711, the great philosopher David Hume was born. Poet Robert Browning was born in 1812. German composer Johannes Brahms was born in 1833. And Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840. Gary Cooper was born in 1901. Night Stalker actor Darren McGavin was born in 1922. And Anne Baxter was born in 1923.

The only person I noticed having a birthday today is Traci Lords, the young woman who threw the porn industry into chaos when it was found that she had made 100 film while less than 18. She argues that this scandal actually made the porn industry much richer because of all the media attention it created. I tend to think she’s right. I’m not much interested in porn, but I know who she is. She’s 47 today and doing very well, I assume. She has a net worth of $7 million.

But the day belongs to a great talent, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who was born on this day in 1927. I am not saying that she is greater than Hume or Brahms. But she died last month and I didn’t notice it. Most people know her as the screenwriter of most of the Merchant-Ivory films like Remains of the Day and A Room with a View. But she was also a great novelist. She would have been 86 today.

Happy birthday, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala!

Afterword

This is from Jhabvala:

Cruz Vs. Reid

Harry ReidThis is really interesting. Harry Reid wanted to take the budget the Senate passed and go to conference with the House. It doesn’t much matter; the House will be against any reasonable budget. But Ted Cruz objected. He says he will only allow it if they agree that whatever comes out of the conference includes no tax increases and no raising of the debt ceiling. Harry Reid was clearly angry. He said that the Republicans had their chance with the budget. They lost. And now Cruz wants to put the very limits on the budget that the Republicans wanted but were unable to add in the normal legislative process.

Part of me wants to just tell Harry Reid to go fuck himself. If he had displayed any balls, he could have gotten rid of the filibuster and their wouldn’t be these problems. “Oh, you object? Let’s have a vote. Your objection is overruled, you fuckwad.” Just the same, Harry Reid is right: this kind of behavior is unacceptable. We shouldn’t have to have concrete rules about everything. But that’s the biggest defining feature of a revolutionary movement: it doesn’t accept norms. And the Republican Party (most of all including Ted Cruz) is a revolutionary group.

The best part of this 5 minute video is when Reid likens Cruz to a schoolyard bully. Cruz then responds, a little hurt I think, “I wasn’t aware we were in a schoolyard.” Reid interrupts and coldly says, “There’s either and objection or no objection.” And Cruz extends his arms and says, “Mr. President, I object.” He might have added, “Because I am a bully who wants to stop all legislative work if I can’t get everything that I want.” Reid is right: Cruz is a schoolyard bully. He’s also a dick.

2000 Articles

I started Frankly Curious back on 10 November 2009. It was intended to be a blog about nothing in particular. I thought that I was such an interesting guy that people would just find whatever I had to say on a subject fascinating. But over time, I found that my interests could largely be found in four areas: music, film, religion, and especially politics. From the start, I tried to limit my writing about politics. This was mostly because it came so naturally to me. Whenever I wrote about politics, I thought I was slumming. Over time I gave into my politics obsession because people generally liked what I was writing and then other sites started linking to my political articles. No one was linking to my many articles on Don Quixote.

This represents the 2000th article on this blog. (There are more on the site generally. Curiously Clever currently has 113 articles.) And it is interesting to watch how the blog was changed over time. In the first year, I posted 151 articles. And many of these were very short—what I would later use footnotes for.[1] That is fewer articles than I now normally post in one month.

There have been other changes. The average length of articles has gotten longer. I used to write articles in the 400-600 word range and now it is more like 500-700. And that is indicative of the whole process. As good a writer as you may start out as, you end as a much better writer. When I look back at the work I did in the first year, I am underwhelmed. It isn’t that the work is bad, but generally things that I was very proud of at the time seem no better than my current Nighttime Cold & Flu addled ravings.

I think when a person starts a blog, they figure they have something to say. If they stick with it, they will find that there is a feedback loop. The more they write, the more there is to write about. And this is the key: the writing becomes more interesting. My great concern is that I’ve played this out: that I’ve taken the format as far as I can. And I think about this a lot. I can continue doing what I’m doing and get marginally better at it. Or I can change it, add to it. At this point, I don’t know what that might be, except that I would like to do more video.

But for now, this is my 2000th article. Stay tuned!


[1] Like this. In the old days, it would have been a link to another page.

Homosexuality Not Factor in Economics

Bruce BartlettLast night on the Economix Blog, Bruce Bartlett returned to Niall Ferguson’s gay Keynes moment. I wrote about this over the weekend. Basically, Ferguson said that Keynes’ economics didn’t take the long term into account (not true) because he was gay (largely true) and didn’t have kids (true). Most of the criticism has been regarding Ferguson’s homophobia. But as I pointed out, the main issue is that he was dead wrong on the economics: he totally misunderstood Keynes’ most famous quote, “In the long run we are all dead.”

What is also stupid about the comment is that the only reason a man would care about future generations is if he had sperm in the game. I have no children, and yet I am terribly concerned about future generations. Part of this is personal. I have friends who have kids. I have friends who are kids. But beyond that, only a sociopath thinks of himself alone and his own well being. I assume that Ferguson is an atheist, because his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is a prominent member of the New Atheists. But his attitude is typical of conservative religious people who think without the threat of God’s wrath, there is no reason not to kill everyone you don’t like.

In Bartlett’s column, he makes a similar error. Ostensibly, his argument is that Keynes’ real mistake was that he mis-titled his book and thus gave the wrong impression about his work. But he spends most of his time on claims of Keynes’ homosexuality. It seems like he is trying to give Ferguson cover. It doesn’t much matter one way or the other. Clearly, no one particularly cares what Keynes did in his bedroom nor does anyone seriously think that it made him short sighted. But Bartlett does think his homosexuality had an effect on his work:

I think this made Keynes more willing to think “outside the box,” as we say today, and consider ideas that ran counter to the conventional wisdom.

I don’t think this is true. Everyone has experiences that allow them to see what it is like to be an outsider. If this kind of thing is going on, I’m sure it works the other way around. There are lots of people who never really accept their sexual orientation. Clearly doing so requires a mind that accepts that social conventions are often arbitrary and wrong. But it is incorrect to think that the process runs: “gay” leads to “outsider” leads to “thinking outside the box.” It just doesn’t work like that.

So let’s just all agree that being gay really has nothing to do with economic brilliance, either for good or ill.

Afterword

I don’t mean to be down on Bruce Bartlett. Although he has been a big player in a lot of really bad conservative policy over the years, he’s mostly been dead on the last few. He does look at data and act on it. He’s a good example of what I am surprised we don’t see more of: a conservative who stood still. Rather than be dragged to the right by his party, he has become one of its most effective critics.