Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quote of the Day.

Oh that's nice to start early. Because then you can stop sucking sooner.

David Sedaris.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Plan.

Ezra writes:

"I have a plan that will raise wages, lower prices, increase the nation's stock of scientists and engineers, and maybe even create the next Google. Better yet, this plan won't cost the government a dime. In fact, it'll save money. A lot of money. But few politicians are going to want to touch it.

Here's the plan: More immigration. A pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants. And a recognition that immigration policy is economic policy and needs to be thought of as such."

Ah, yes, something I have written about many times. Many many many many times.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Editing Fail.

Indeed, consider the "nearly $100 million Kenneth Lewis earned as CEO of Bank of America in 2007, as he was leading the bank toward collapse (and absorption by Merrill Lynch)."

Wait, wasn't it the other way around?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tony The Wonderful.

Ah, I hope that I won't have enough spare time in my lifetime to run out of things to read by Tony Judt.

In his most recent essay in the NYRB, he makes a really interesting link between the unquestioning faith in communism among Marxists of the last century to today's widespread faith in capitalism.

Our contemporary faith in “the market” rigorously tracks its radical nineteenth-century doppelgänger—the unquestioning belief in necessity, progress, and History. Just as the hapless British Labour chancellor in 1929–1931, Philip Snowden, threw up his hands in the face of the Depression and declared that there was no point opposing the ineluctable laws of capitalism, so Europe’s leaders today scuttle into budgetary austerity to appease “the markets.”

But “the market”—like “dialectical materialism”—is just an abstraction: at once ultra-rational (its argument trumps all) and the acme of unreason (it is not open to question). It has its true believers—mediocre thinkers by contrast with the founding fathers, but influential withal; its fellow travelers—who may privately doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it; and its victims, many of whom in the US especially have dutifully swallowed their pill and proudly proclaim the virtues of a doctrine whose benefits they will never see.

Above all, the thrall in which an ideology holds a people is best measured by their collective inability to imagine alternatives. We know perfectly well that untrammeled faith in unregulated markets kills: the rigid application of what was until recently the “Washington consensus” in vulnerable developing countries—with its emphasis on tight fiscal policy, privatization, low tariffs, and deregulation—has destroyed millions of livelihoods. Meanwhile, the stringent “commercial terms” on which vital pharmaceuticals are made available has drastically reduced life expectancy in many places. But in Margaret Thatcher’s deathless phrase, “there is no alternative.”

It was in just such terms that communism was presented to its beneficiaries following World War II; and it was because History afforded no apparent alternative to a Communist future that so many of Stalin’s foreign admirers were swept into intellectual captivity. But when Miłosz published The Captive Mind, Western intellectuals were still debating among genuinely competitive social models—whether social democratic, social market, or regulated market variants of liberal capitalism. Today, despite the odd Keynesian protest from below the salt, a consensus reigns.

For Miłosz, “the man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgments and thinking habits are.” This is doubtless so and explains the continuing skepticism of the Eastern European in the face of Western innocence. But there is nothing innocent about Western (and Eastern) commentators’ voluntary servitude before the new pan-orthodoxy. Many of them, Ketman-like, know better but prefer not to raise their heads above the parapet. In this sense at least, they have something truly in common with the intellectuals of the Communist age. One hundred years after his birth, fifty-seven years after the publication of his seminal essay, Miłosz’s indictment of the servile intellectual rings truer than ever: “his chief characteristic is his fear of thinking for himself.”

This struck a chord in me. Consider something I wrote almost 2 years ago, as world seemed to be going into a complete meltdown:

Growing up in post-Communist Slovakia, I was a part of a young generation that was never fully indoctrinated with the theories of Marxism and Leninism. Anxious to be as western as possible, we embraced the ideas of the free market like a religion. Capitalism was cool, it was the only way to be. Today, as I listen to Greenspan, and read more about behavioral economics, I am increasingly aware that what may have previously seemed like an axiom was really just a doctrine. Maybe it is right, maybe not, but still nothing more than a doctrine.

Just for the record, my views haven't changed in the last two years. If anything, everything we know now about how the crisis developed further undermines the belief in rational fair markets. Amazingly, this knowledge was not enough to fuel really dramatic reforms. Oh well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Case For .. Whatever.

It has been almost 1.5 years since I got angry over an editorial at the National Review Online about the "Future of Marriage." In case you haven't read that piece, let's just say that that "future" didn't have much room for gay couples. And in case you haven't read my reaction, let's just say it was not peaceful.

This month, the editors have gifted us with another think piece on gay marriage, this one titled "The Case for Marriage." And while my insides were boiling while reading it, after thinking about it a little, I was overcome by a gratifying sense that it illustrates that we're winning. Consider the fact that the NRO feels compelled to make the case in the first place. It shouldn't be surprising, of course - they are making the case for a position they held for a long time. And yet, it feels like an act of desperation: they are trying, yet again, before it's too late, before the events around them render them completely obsolete, to say their piece. Of course, that is my interpretation, but check this out: In their article from April 2009, they start out by saying:

"Contrary to common perception, however, the public is not becoming markedly more favorable toward same-sex marriage. Support for same-sex marriage rose during the 1990s but seems to have frozen in place (at least according to Gallup) since the high court of Massachusetts invented a right to same-sex marriage earlier this decade."

In today's editorial, we read this:

"If it is true, as we are constantly told, that American law will soon redefine marriage to accommodate same-sex partnerships, the proximate cause for this development will not be that public opinion favors it, although it appears to be moving in that direction."

Nice shift. Here's what happened during the time between the two articles:
- Federal judge in California declares Prop 8 unconstitutional
- CNN poll finds that 52% of Americans are in favor of gay marriage
- AP poll finds that 52% of Americans are in favor of gay marriage

Clearly, the NRO is on the defensive here, and oh how good it feels:

"It may be that the conventional wisdom is correct, and legal recognition of same-sex marriage really is our inevitable future. Perhaps it will even become an unquestioned policy and all who resisted it will be universally seen as bigots. We doubt it, but cannot exclude the possibility. If our understanding of marriage changes in this way, so much the worse for the future."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

50-Something Days Left, Or: I Can Eat What I Want Without Worrying About What I Will Look Like At The Fire Island Pines Underwear Party.

Rainbow at a gay wedding in Massachusetts.

Welcome to the fall. The leaves are turning funny colors, the air is getting dry and cold, the hot naked bodies have disappeared from Central Park, and the oven is on 400F non-stop, doing what it can to satisfy my perma-craving for baked goods. Oh yea, and we're training for the marathon.

You could barely tell I'm training given how little I have been running. It's been by far the most relaxed training season ever. I mean, I don't even know my weekly mileage. I just religiously follow my training plan (most runs are time-based, not mile-based, hence my ignorance), running at most 4 times per week. And I am only up to 14 miles in my long run this week. This is quite a step back since my last running update and it happened for a good reason: the herniated disc which prevented me from running Paris has struck again, so I had to stop running for all of July and half of August. Leading up to it, I was running so much that 12 miles was just something I would run for fun on a Wednesday, often reaching north of 40 miles per week - in June. Obviously my body was like "um, no" and by early July I could barely run at all. Luckily, this happened in early July and not in October.

Olive has been instrumental in motivating me for my runs, since she is the only creature alive who I can run with and not be dropped. Having come back from an injury at a time when everyone else has been running all summer, I am super slow compared to all my friends. It's not that Olive isn't faster than me (in short distances at least). But, alas, she's a dog, and being a human with a leash gives me certain advantages over her that wouldn't necessarily be cool with my friends .. not while running anyway.

So now I'm back at it, with my legs 95% ok, still seeing a physical therapist and doing what I can to get my miles in and cross that damn finish line. After singing up for and missing 2 marathons in 3 years due to injuries, I am determined to finish this fucker. Also, I have made a commitment to raise money for Team Continuum and I am planning to keep that promise. They are a really cool organization that helps out people with cancer as well as researchers and facilities focused on cancer treatment. It's a very personal choice for me, as cancer has struck both in my family and among my friends, luckily with no tragic consequences. And that's kind of the point - I have seen first hand that with the right care and support, cancer can often be treated successfully. So please donate to this great cause.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Is Brooks Naive, Misinformed or Downright Stupid?

I was all but ready to have a lovely peaceful Friday afternoon, and then Daniel pointed out today's column by David Douchebag Brooks. In it he lays out his vision of an alternate reality in which the Democrats would not have been heading towards a terrible election.

1. Apparently, things would have been much better if back in early 2009 Obama understood that Americans will "recoil at the prospect of federal debt without end" and instead of more spending, proposed a stimulus that relied heavily on cutting payroll taxes which would "send a quick jolt to the economy without concentrating power in Washington." OMG, where do I begin?
a. Deficit = Spending - Taxes. More spending increases the deficit; cutting taxes increases the deficit. Suggesting that a stimulus program that relies on lowering taxes instead of higher spending would somehow have been less bad for the size of the US deficit is either total idiocy or a display of the typical Republican hypocrisy when it comes to deficits: they are only bad if they come from higher spending. For more details on this strange logic, see Bush tax cuts circa 2001-2003.
b. Later in the column, Brooks fantasizes: "Obama put [puts?] signs around the White House: “No Quick Fixes.” Administration officials were forbidden from promising a short-term summer of recovery." EXCEPT, I guess, when the columnist suggests that tax cuts would "send a quick jolt to the economy." So which is it, David? Do we stop promising quick fixes? Or are you suggesting that there are no quick fixes WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION of cutting taxes? How fucking convenient for a conservative to believe that!
c. For a program that Brooks implies was all about spending, the stimulus actually had a surprising amount of tax cuts. In fact, over 1/3 of its total size came from tax cuts. Best of it all, almost 1/2 of these tax cuts came from payroll taxes.. in other words, exactly what Brooks is suggesting the president could have done to avoid a historic defeat in December.

2. "At about that time, General Motors and Chrysler started teetering. Obama decided to help the companies if they were willing to make the tough choices that would boost long-term competitiveness. It occurred to him that this was the template for the whole country." I guess Brooks is somehow implying that the administration somehow failed in this respect.. though it seems to me that what actually happened was precisely what he describes AND, if anything, it worked well .. For more details, see the $1.3 billion in profit GM reported in the last quarter!

3. "April brought the cruelest fight: whether to spend the rest of the year getting health care reform or a new energy policy. Obama decided to do energy first. The economy was uppermost on everybody’s mind. Americans were wondering where new innovations would come from, what new jobs would emerge.By doing energy first, Democrats were able to spend the entire summer talking about technological advances, private sector growth and breakthrough productivity gains. Obama toured one small business after another, and got his energy bill." Do I even have to refute that?

In summary: Obama would have been hailed as savior and the Democrats loved, had they only cut taxes, bailed out the car manufacturers, told people to expect a slow gradual recovery, and passed energy reform first. Gosh, I am no huge fan of many things Obama has done but this analysis is total horse shit.

On a Roll!

Inspired by a teammate's recent post on shredded pork, I developed an immense appetite for some shredded goodness. But 6 hours of cooking were a huge turn off. I know slow cooking is a beautiful thing, but when I want something, I want it ASAP. So naturally, I started thinking about using the pressure cooker. I went to Fairway, got a piece of smoked pork butt, threw it in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes (and used the "natural release method" for the pressure to subside, IE, allowing it to sit while I went for a run with Olive and Hiro) and voilà! -the meat just fell apart between my fingers! I mixed in some BBQ sauce (a smoky flavor.. maybe one day I will attempt to make my own, but honestly.. there is only so much a girl can do in one night!) and served it on a brioche bun with slow-sautéed onions and peppers. Wow, I think I saw Jesus that night.

I decided recently that I need to do more baking. I have a lot of kitchen toys that are just sitting there most days, collecting dust, AND I have a big appetite for desserts (as well as a boyfriend who has an even greater appetite for desserts!), so I really wanted to do more pastry. To start, I picked something relatively simple: upside down apricot cake. I did my best to make this recipe less of a calorie/cholesterol bomb than it was (subbing butter with Earth Balance and part of the sugar with Splenda) .. but it still turned out to be ridiculously decadent. But so fucking good.

My next pick was inspired by our recent trip to France, where the pastries are obviously insanely good. I wanted to make something with an almond filling, which both me and Daniel totally adore. So I picked an Almond Pear Tart .. of course I modified it to be a little less heart-attack inducing but there is only so much you can do when a recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter! It turned out so beautiful that I was afraid to try it - what if the flavor is a let down? Well, holy shit, it was not. I was sitting on the sofa literally going "um, I think I took this to a whole new level." Damn right I did. I also think it motivated Daniel to wake up this morning and do a bike workout.. or at least talk about doing one.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hello September!

Things in season, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beginning of the Fall.