Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You may interpret this as an attack on Joe the Plumber

The guy has been completely full of crap from the time he made up that ridiculous yarn about buying a business he couldn't possibly have afforded (or worked for) that, in any event, made less than half what he claimed it did.  (He's alright on the name thing, though. I know people who go by their middle names.)  The point isn't so much that the story is BS as that, in any credible scenario, Joe is much better off with Obama's tax plan.  

Now Joe the foreign affairs expert claims that an Obama presidency will mean the destruction of Israel.  

The McCain campaign latched onto Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher like a lamprey, desperately hoping to exploit his cred as an average, everyday working man.  I don't buy it.  Regular people tend to know what the hell they're talking about when they open their mouths.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The World Doesn't Work

The famed $700-billion bailout plan, Largely as a throw to taxpayers having trouble swallowing a plan using hundreds of billions of dollars of their money to prop up banks run by executives who make more in a year than most people earn in a lifetime, contained restrictions on the compensation that could be offered to executives of companies that accepted the money.  It was more a punitive measure than a constructive means of solving the credit crisis.  Lavish as they are, executive compensation figures still pale in comparison to the shear scale of the problems facing the global economy.

That being said,  when Alan Greenspan made his little admission last week that the world doesn't work quite the way he thought it did.  He said he'd been working under the assumption that institutions would act in their own self-interest in a way that protects their shareholders. 

Could it be that, as compensation packages became more and more larded with extravagant bonuses and golden parachutes, the interests of managing executives became dangerously decoupled from those of the shareholders?

Conservatives have often pushed to grant corporations the legal rights and protections the constitution affords people but it's important to remember that they're not actually people.   They're large groups of people and it's entirely possible for some of them to act against the best interests of the rest.  The consequences of this are worst when those people happen to be in charge.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thanks, I guess

I just had to comment on this article by Christian Schneider, largely because it's not the sort of thing one would expect to see coming from a conservative think-tank.  Milwaukee is apparently again feeling the slow creep or urban exodus and, as crime fears rise and condo projects falter, Schneider is admirably concerned for the future of our state's largest city.  He hits on an interesting solution for urban revitalization, namely "The Gays!"

As a card-carrying Madison homo, I'm pleased, if a bit bemused ("Gay" is only to be used as a noun ironically, Christian.) .  It's nice to see that some conservatives have stopped peaking into our bedroom windows long enough to realize that the rest of the house is rather well kept. That said, there's a little more to it than just inviting the friends of Dorothy to fix up a neighborhood or two.

Schneider is talking about the "creative class" ala Richard Florida and frets over Milwaukee's relative disadvantage in attracting creative bohemians (like gay people) who tend to have high incomes and foster a vibrant, tolerant atmosphere.  To his credit, he realizes the folly of the city trying some sort of clumsy pandering.  If Milwaukee is really interested in courting the creative class (gay and otherwise) she need look no further than her smaller sister.  

It wasn't long ago that the differences between Milwaukee and Madison were really striking.  Milwaukee was hemorrhaging population to the suburbs as crime rose and manufacturing jobs left by the thousands.  Madison was riding the swelling tide of the knowledge economy and saw the university's research prowess parlayed into billions of dollars in development.

Milwaukee has largely learned that lesson.  Its four large universities have taken the lead in trying to turn a city built on brawn and beer into a brain trust but there was a severe caution a couple of years ago.

Conservatives didn't consider Wisconsin's marriage ban to be an economic development issue but they should have.  It was not an issue of great internal contention in Madison.  The UW - Madison was unequivocal about the chilling effects of writing bigotry into the state Constitution and, effectively, hanging a not-welcome sign out to an entire group of people, not that most people here needed to be told.  The city rejected the ban three to one. 

Milwaukee did not.  The ban's passage was all but assured when the state's largest metropolitan center voted for it by a slim margin.  

It's hard to cover up that kind of intolerance.  Milwaukee has a thriving gay community but, to really become known as a city that values the creative class, it has to demonstrate that it shares their values.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No, Virginia, there is no timeless architecture.

The State Journal released its paean to the State Street redesign today and there it was, in the photo caption: "timeless."  Specifically, the new look is said to create, "a more modern but timeless landscape."

What the hell does that mean?  My guess is that they're trying to encompass both the "sleek" buss shelters and the trite, bastard-victorian curlicues tacked onto the streetlamps and kiosks.  Nothing highlights State Street's waning status as the center of Madison counterculture like faux old-world charm.

"Timeless" is usually used as a code-word for old-fashioned.  It's symptomatic of the mistaken impression that things only started coming in and out of style within the last fifty years.  The solution is imagined to be a reversion to the architectural fashions of yore or, more likely, kitschy misinterpretations of them like the hulking "prairie style" pedestrian bridge that looms over East Washington Avenue.  Surely, Frank Lloyd Wright would've designed something just like that if someone had gotten him blind drunk and dulled all of his pencils.

There's no avoiding time.  The current wave of post-modern nostalgia will pass and, in twenty years, people will wonder who could've thought those lamp posts were a good idea.  What I think distinguishes tired old relics from cherished icons is the care that went into them.

The State Street redesign, with its design by committee, its lack of any sort of coherent theme and its upcoming pathetic excuse for public art (a friend referred to the chosen design as a horizontal phallus with a beaver) is unlikely to stand the test of time.  That's alright, too.  Time marches on and, if everything we built were worth saving, future generations wouldn't have anyplace to leave their own mark.

How to not debate

You really have to marvel at the skill (or luck) of the Republican political machine.  Coming into last night's vice-presidential debate, they were faced with a quandry: Sarah Palin has serious knowledge gaps on national issues.  Her interview answers with Katie Couric had turned into a magnificent fiasco for the McCain camp.  She would simply fall apart whenever Couric insisted upon a direct answer to a question Palin couldn't bluff.  

Despite her inability to fabricate information she doesn't have, Palin is rather adept at political BS. She has a demonstrated ability to effectively deliver pre-packaged talking points, be they off a teleprompter or from memory.  The challenge was to ensure that Palin would not be knocked off her talking points.  They had to turn the debate into a speech.

They had a few tools at their disposal.  First, Joe Biden, Palin's debate opponent, is a notorious "gaffe machine."  The Obama camp had a comfortable lead coming into the debate and wasn't enamored of the possibility of Biden running his mouth a bit too long in the highest profile event he's likely to headline. 

Second, (and I'm speculating here) they had some dirt on moderator, Gwen Ifill.  The fact that Ifill has been writing a book on the african-american political experience, including a chapter on Barrack Obama, was well known before the McCain people  agreed to the debate.  They could've brought it up at the time but, by agreeing to Ifill as host, they had something to tar the moderator with should things not go their way.

Now the stage was set and it was time to pick the format of the debate:  90-second responses with no follow-up.  Ifill was effectively neutralized as the follow-up, the bain of Sarah Palin's existence, is off the table.

Come debate night, the outcome was predictable.  Whenever Sarah Palin was asked a question outside of her prepared talking-points, she simply didn't answer it, choosing instead to rattle off a prepared screed on an unrelated topic.  Thus, we got a lot of unasked-for fluff about energy policy and whatever the hell she was talking about when asked about her greatest weakness. Even if the format had allowed, Ifill was not in a strong position to insist on any sort of substance from either candidate, especially Palin.

An effectively-moderated, actual debate might have turned out substantially differently but neither campaign wanted to take that risk.  Whoever won the debate, we lost.