Daily Archives: 25 May 2015

Capitalists Hire Managers

Karl MarxOur [capitalist] friend, up to this time so purse-proud, suddenly assumes the modest demeanor of his own workman, and exclaims: “Have I myself not worked? Have I not performed the labor of superintendence and of overlooking the spinner? And does not this labor, too, create value?” His overlooker and his manager try to hide their smiles. Meanwhile, after a hearty laugh, he re-assumes his usual mien.

—Karl Marx
“Have I Myself Not Worked?”

If Court Harms Obamacare Reps Will Be Blamed

Jeffrey ToobinLast week, Jeffrey Toobin pushed back against the idea that if the Supreme Court find for the plaintiffs in King v Burwell, it is a problem for the Republicans, Obama’s Game of Chicken With the Supreme Court. In fact, he used Colin Powell’s old Pottery Barn rule to make the case. According to him, if Obamacare is broken, it will be the president’s problem because it is the president’s law. Toobin is a smart guy, but I don’t think he has a clue about political science.

Think about government shutdowns: why is it that the people always side with the president? Well, part of it is because the president is always a Democrat. Dig down a little deeper and you will see that the public’s reaction is almost axiomatic. Democrats are seen as being in favor of the government. Republicans are seen as hating the government. (I don’t think either of those perceptions are right, but they are what people think.) So when the government is shut down, it must be because the Republicans wanted it. If the proximate cause is the Democrats, it must be because the Republicans forced them into it.

The case here is even more on the Democrats’ side. The whole point of the Pottery Barn analogy was that if Bush went into Iraq and broke it, he bought it. In this case, it isn’t Obama who’s screwed things up. You’d have to use some pretty twisted logic to get there: people are getting subsidies because of Obamacare, and now they aren’t because of the continued Republican War on Obamacare, and so it is Obama’s fault for people not getting something that Obama gave them to start with. No. This is much simpler: Republicans hate Obamacare and this is their fault. This one isn’t hard. This is how it will play. Whether the Republicans will care or not is another matter.

Another aspect of this is how media shape perceptions. Clearly, the media cannot push a narrative that is totally at odds with what people are inclined to believe. But the media can certainly push a narrative that goes slightly against what the public is inclined to believe. And there isn’t even a question in this case. The media will push the narrative that the public already accepts. The only thing that will push against this is Fox News and hate radio. And the people who tune into those “news” sources will already believe the narrative that they are hearing. In terms of overall perception, we are talking about the people who listen to NBC Nightly News.

Clearly, everyone should hope that King v Burwell goes down in flames — with none of the justices siding with the plaintiffs. If that happened, maybe we could put an end to these frivolous anti-Obamacare lawsuits. If we get another 5-4 decision, I fear they will continue on. It’s like playing craps: the conservatives just keep rolling the dice hoping to get lucky. Regardless, this will be a problem for the Republicans and they will be forced to deal with it — even if they do it in a piecemeal way just until the next president’s term.

Memorial Day 2015

Memorial DayHappy Memorial Day. I used to really hate holidays — unless they were ones when people called me over to cook. To me, they were just days when the library wasn’t open and there wasn’t much news. But now, all days are pretty much the same for me. So it’s Memorial Day and that doesn’t really change anything. But Memorial Day has always been an exception in the sense that it is a serious holiday. As much as I may question the American war machine, I don’t question the sacrifice that people have made in the name of official government policy.

I’ve twice written about Memorial Day. The first time was, Remembering on Memorial Day. At that time, I said:

In general, the military is used by countries for immoral purposes, like accumulating resources and providing leaders with glory. Thus, it isn’t the military who we should despise but the country’s generally vile leaders. At the same time, I think it is a major mistake to pretend that we owe the military any greater acknowledgement than other public servants.

But this isn’t Veterans Day, it is Memorial Day. It is the day to honor those who died in our wars. Most of these people (one way or another) had no choice about serving. Regardless, they were all doing what our leaders said was the right thing to do. These people should be honored. My only wish is that we honored them by not thinking that every new war is a great idea. We should honor the dead by limited who we send to die in the future.

Last year, I wrote, Try to Be Better on Memorial Day. I think that it is worth quoting in total, because it sums up what I feel about this holiday — both good and bad:

It is the way of my people. We are not barbecuers. We do not like the Monday holidays. But if it is for a good cause, we bear it. The labor struggle is a good cause. The civil rights struggle is a good cause. And today is Memorial Day, and remembering the men and women we sent to their deaths, is a good cause. I like to think of Memorial Day as a day of remembrance of all who have died pointlessly. And before people jump on me, war is a pointless activity. It doesn’t matter that there are times when good people are forced to fight wars. World War II was a righteous war because of the Nazis and others, but certainly it would have been better if the Nazis had not risen and forced the world into war.

Let’s think about the “Good War” for a moment. As many as 25 million soldiers died during it. Of those, 5 million died while in POW camps. As many as 55 million civilians died, roughly half of them from disease and famine. What a waste. I can’t help but think of us as two colonies of ants, because the individuals on either side are pretty much indistinguishable. The treatment of Jews and other “undesirables” by the Nazis was inhuman, but other than being more concentrated it was no different than what we did to the native peoples of America. The Japanese treatment of the Chinese was terrible, but did it really justify our systematic destruction of the Japanese civilian population? Did it justify dropping two atomic bombs on them?

Again and again, I come back to 95/5 principle: 95% of the population just wants to live their lives and have their Memorial Day barbecues (or in the case of my people, write maudlin essays about the tragedy of war); and 5% of the people want something else — I don’t even know what it is anymore. It’s mostly power, I suppose. But once these things are set in motion, there seems no way to stop it. Everyone has pitchforks and torches, and in the end no one is quite sure why.

Simpsons' Mob

Unlike Memorial Day that I rather like, I really dislike Veteran’s Day. The whole thing reminds me of the bumper sticker, “If You Like Your Freedom Thank a Vet.” Sadly, the military is necessary. But the last even remotely existential threat we faced was 75 years ago. And sure, we should thank those vets. But just as much, we should thank the vets of the Soviet Union — over 11 million of whom died to protect our freedom.

But if people want to see Memorial Day as a nationalist holiday, I’m against that. The last thing we need is to expand the holiday — to make it about even more dead soldiers. The sacrifice that these men and women gave is not “cool.” It is not something to be celebrated. It is something to be honored, because as a species, we are extremely flawed. Above all, it should be a day that we, as a species, ask forgiveness from those we’ve murdered in what were almost always fights over natural resources. Very much like this:

On this Memorial Day, let’s try to be better than the chimpanzees.

So there you go. Let’s honor and remember our military dead. And let’s try to do better from now on. It is not a matter of better technology. It is a matter of better morality. Happy Memorial Day.

Morning Music: Watkins, Jarosz, and O’Donovan

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O'DonovanI was listening to A Prairie Home Companion over the weekend. One of the acts was a very compelling trio consisting of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan. My ears perked up when I heard them say they were going to do a Jim Croce song. I figured that it wouldn’t be one of his hits. One thing that is a bit strange is that Croce’s songs have not been as widely covered as one would think. That’s probably because Croce had such an ability to make a song seem especially his (even when it he didn’t even write it). But the truth is that he was a fine songwriter, and it is always interesting to hear other people interpret his work.

In this case, the trio did, “Walkin’ Back to Georgia.” It is one of his genre tunes: trying to get back together, like “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way.” But “Walkin'” is less sentimental than Croce often was when writing about this kind of stuff. It’s also a clever song in that he’s clearly referring to the state of Georgia, but at times, he implies that the girl’s name is Georgia as well.

The Watkins, Jarosz, and O’Donovan version of the song is just beautiful. Also, I like that they didn’t change the gender of the object of the song. You can think of this as being a lesbian love affair, but I think of it more simple than that. They are just performing the song the way it was meant. When Bob Dylan did “House of the Risin’ Sun” on his first album, he did it as a female prostitute. It’s always struck me as cowardly to do otherwise.

Anniversary Post: Halley’s Comet

Halley's CometIt’s a little complicated, but for now, let’s just say that on this day in 240 BC, Halley’s Comet was discovered. And now that we’ve said that, let’s admit that it isn’t true. The main way that it isn’t true is that this isn’t the date it was noted. This is the date that the comet reached its perihelion — the position when it is closest to the sun. The comet was seen before and after this date.

This appearance was documented in Records of the Grand Historian, Sima Qian’s history of ancient China that was published some time around 109 BC. The reason we know it was the Halley’s Comet is because Halley calculated when the comet had come and when it would come. So we know that it should have shown up in May of 240 BC, and Sima Qian made note of a comet at that time that appeared in the east and moved north.

Interestingly, it is probably the case that this is not the first documented sighting of this most famous comet. Halley should also have dropped by for a visit in 467 BC. A comet between the years of 468 and 466 BC was noted both in ancient Greece and ancient China. But the dating is uncertain, so we can’t say for sure that it was Halley.

So happy sorta birthday Halley’s Comet!