Geeky List-Making

Music dorks like myself like lists, and so naturally I appreciated it when the AV Club‘s Steve Hyden decided to make a list of his favorite albums from each year he’s been alive (if and when I get paid to do stuff like that, I will be a happy man). While Hyden totally wastes the opportunity that being born in 1977 provides (where’s London Calling? Lust for Life? Remain in Light? Rain Dogs?), I figured he was onto something with the concept. So here goes:

1990: Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas

1991: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

1992: R.E.M., Automatic for the People

1993: Nirvana, In Utero

1994: Weezer, Weezer

1995: Pavement, Wowee Zowee

1996: Belle & Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister

1997: Radiohead, OK Computer

1998: Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

1999: The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

2000: Radiohead, Kid A

2001: Jay-Z, The Blueprint

2002: Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

2003: The Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic

2004: Kanye West, The College Dropout

2005: M.I.A., Arular

2006: Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country

2007: Radiohead, In Rainbows

2008: Girl Talk, Feed the Animals

There were some tough calls here; Wowee Zowee narrowly beat out The Bends (which would have given Radiohead 4 of the 19 slots, which would have been pretty ridiculous), Loveless was a tough call over Nevermind, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot edged out Turn On the Bright Lights. Weirdly, I thought 1994, which Hyden describes as the strongest year, was the weakest; 2002 seemed particularly strong to me, as did 1991. 2006 and 2003 were also somewhat lacking. And yeah, Girl Talk is ridiculously good, and you should all go download that now. “Roc Boys” over “Paranoid Android”, “Rebel Without a Pause” over “Steal My Sunshine”, “Low” over “Sunday Morning” – I don’t know how he does it, but it works, and it’s awesome.

Crimson Über Alles

Given as two good friends of mine will be going to a lower-tier university in New Haven, CT this fall, whereas another friend and I will head to America’s oldest and greatest institution of higher learning, our conversations have contained an unusually high level of trash-talking recently, so much so that shouting “Dorothy Parker!” is now automatically assumed to be a reference to her quip, “if all the girls at Yale prom were laid from end to end, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.” When even citing Parker isn’t enough to settle the issue, one must bring out the big guns, and so I present the following evidence:

That would be Matt Yglesias, Harvard class of 2003, beating the rhetorical and intellectual crap out of Jamie Kirchick, Yale class of 2006. Bulldogs, consider thyselves owned.

In Yale’s defense, I went to a panel on LGBT activism at the Campus Progress National Conference this past Tuesday, and while there were theoretically four participants, it was basically Kirchick versus Richard Kim of The Nation. I discovered pretty quickly that, when you match Kirchick up against one of the remaining remnants of the early ’90s, anti-marriage gay left, a guy who argues that the battle for marriage equality has kept our eye off the prize of legal recognition for the Golden Girls (no, really, he actually said that), the neocon starts sounding pretty reasonable. Indeed, the only actual original idea I heard in the panel came from Kirchick, who made the case that there ought to be a gay refusenik movement, where Western countries demand, and use Jackson-Vanik like measures to pressure, countries with oppressive and homophobic legal and social environments to allow LGBT people to emigrate freely. I somehow think a movement predicated on granting asylum to lots and lots of gay foreigners would make Pat Buchanan’s mind explode, but it’s an unquestionably good cause, and if anything would do more for gay equality than marriage justice, a refusenik movement would be the ticket.

Kim kept insisting that we need to fight for recognition of unmarried couples, gay and straight, and give them things like hospital visitation rights, adoption rights, inheritance, etc. That really got me thinking: what if there were an institution that can confer those rights in one fell swoop? Oh, wait, there is, and it’s called marriage. Straight unmarried couples want more rights? Good for them; they should get married. And what about gay unmarried couples who need those rights? Hmm…maybe it would be a good idea to fight for marriage equality. I didn’t expect to agree with the organizer of the Beyond Marriage statement, but I didn’t expect him to sound quite this clueless.

A Modest Proposal

James Baker and Warren Christopher have an idea for a replacement for the War Powers Act. The main problem, as they see it, is that the act is unconstitutional (for what it’s worth, the courts seem to agree). So what do they propose instead? Um, this:

To guarantee that the president consults with a cross section of Congress, the act would create a joint Congressional committee made up of the leaders of the House and the Senate as well as the chairmen and ranking members of key committees. These are the members of Congress with whom the president would need to personally consult. Almost as important, the act would establish a permanent, bipartisan staff with access to all relevant intelligence and national-security information.

Congress would have obligations, too. Unless it declared war or otherwise expressly authorized a conflict, it would have to vote within 30 days on a resolution of approval. If the resolution of approval was defeated in either House, any member of Congress could propose a resolution of disapproval. Such a resolution would have the force of law, however, only if it were passed by both houses and signed by the president or the president’s veto were overridden. If the resolution of disapproval did not survive the president’s veto, Congress could express its opposition by, for example, using its internal rules to block future spending on the conflict.

Oh, wow! A two-thirds majority of Congress can block a military action! That’s an amazing and totally achievable method for preventing presidential overreach. But hey, if they don’t get a supermajority, they can block funding, because the past two years have definitely shown that cutting off funds is politically possible. And consultation committee – whoo! That would have required Bush to “consult” with two whole war opponents (Carl Levin and Bob Graham). He would have met with a lot more war supporters, of course (Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Ike Skelton, Tom Lantos, Joe Biden, Jane Harman, and every Republican leader and committee chair), but, eh, that goes with the territory.

Look, if Baker and Christopher want to water down the War Powers Act, that’s fine. They freely admit that there’s no reason to think that this is any more constitutional than the WPA. This shouldn’t be a problem for enforcement; in basically every major military endeavor since the act’s passing, the president has sought Congressional authorization in spite of their belief in the act’s unconstitutionality, so these acts are effective in shaming presidents into compliance. But if Baker and Christopher want to make it easier for the president to ignore Congress on issues of war and peace, they ought to say that, and not cloak it in this “the system’s broken, here’s a disinterested way to fix it” crap. Personally, I think the Bush experience has shown that we need stricter, not looser, congressional checks against presidential power, but I’d be happy to have that debate. As it stands, Baker and Christopher are being disingenuous about their goal, and so it’s hard to engage them in good faith.

P.S. Oh god, Broder’s supporting it now. I suppose I should have expected this would happen, given how happy and shiny and bipartisan it is.

Lula Rising

There’s a fascinating piece in the Times this morning on how Lula da Silva (the president of Brazil) is eclipsing Hugo Chavez as the continental leader in South America. The broad-brush reasons for this are pretty clear – with Bush fading from view and a new, charismatic, and internationally accommodating leader set to take his place, Chavez’s fiery “Bush is the devil” rhetoric and accompanying critique of the Washington Consensus have become less salient than his Mugabe-esque land reform and naked censorship. But what’s more interesting to me is how Lula is utilizing his newfound stature:

Venezuela’s attempts to assemble an alliance of countries remains limited to its ALBA trade bloc. But Brazil hosted leaders of 12 South American nations in May to create Unasur, a continental bloc modeled on the European Union that unites the region’s two main trading groups, Mercosur and the Andean Community.

Brazil has often publicly lauded Mr. Chávez’s efforts to unify South America, while subtly strengthening institutions that serve as a check on ambitious Venezuelan-backed ventures, like a gas pipeline across the continent or the Bank of the South, a development bank conceived to compete with the World Bank.

The Bank of the South remains little more than a grandiose idea. Last December, just nine days after Mr. Chávez announced the formation of the bank, which Brazil is expected to join, Mr. da Silva attended a low-key event in Uruguay to inaugurate a new branch of Brazil’s development bank, B.N.D.E.S.

The Bank of the South would be hard-pressed to catch up to B.N.D.E.S., which financed $4.2 billion worth of investments worldwide last year, including loans for the expansion of the Caracas metro.

I really like this approach. As globalization spreads, the closer the global economy gets to a traditional, national economy, and the more it, like any economy, needs wealth redistribution and other regulation. There’s only so much of that one can do in the current WTO/bilateral trade framework, and what regulation there is comes from a process lacking any democratic accountability. Things like continental unions modeled after national governments are a much better way of creating a fair global marketplace, especially in regions like Latin America where exploitation, union intimidation, etc. are still at Gilded Age levels. The EU isn’t democratic enough, true, but it has a parliament that’s given more and more power with every treaty revision and which has allowed for cross-Continental concerns to be discussed by non-elites. It’s a direction I wish North American would go in, and Lula’s good for pushing his continent toward it.

The Good Is the Enemy of the Consistent

djw has the internal illogic of our culture’s approach to animal cruelty dead to rights, until his second paragraph, that is:

[T]he lives of victims of various forms of animal abuse which are currently illegal (and uncontroversially so) are nowhere near as bad as the lifes of animals in modern factory farming. The law isn’t consistent on animal treatment because we as a society haven’t acheived any logically consistent consensus on how animals should be treated. To insist for consistency in the law before our social norms have reached anything approaching consistency is to put the cart before the horse. Furthermore, if one is convinced that factory farming is a wrong that should not be legally condoned, better to have them inconsistently tolerated in the law, providing a nice rhetorical opening to remind us all of the hypocricy of our toleration of factory farming.

Right; factory farming (and the subsidizing of factory farming) is substantially more immoral than cockfighting or dogfighting, but that doesn’t mean we should allow the latter. In a hypothetical society that allows murder, one shouldn’t legalize maiming just so the laws make sense. But this is just plain wrong:

On the other hand, the existing legal consensus isn’t quite as illogical as it might seem. We may not have anything approaching a social consensus that the cruel treatment of animals is always and forever wrong, but we are moving closer to a consensus that unnecessary cruelty to animals is pretty problematic. One needn’t endorse a strong or even weak version of animal rights to come to this conclusion. Whether–and how–we ought to reform the treatment of animals raised for food and dairy is an important question, but we’re not there yet.

No, the breeding and slaughter of animals for food is pretty clearly unnecessary, not to mention a strong contributor to both global warming and world hunger. Contrary to conventional omnivorous wisdom, “yummy yummy delicious” is not the same thing as “necessary”. Not to compare factory farmers to serial killers, but it’d be pretty creepy to think of Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer as more moral than other killers just because they made use of the products of their crimes. The naturalistic fallacy (“but we evolved to eat meat!”) doesn’t fly either; we evolved to hunt for meat with our bare hands, too, and the only people who do that get Werner Herzog movies made about them.

Meat eating is yet another thing, like slavery, dueling, and interstate war, that needs to decline as human moral consciousness expands. I agree with djw that we’re not at the point where a ban on meat production can be implemented, but I’m more optimistic that we can take steps in that direction. We can mandate a certain-sized living area per animal in a farm. We can mandate better sanitation levels, and not just ones designed to make the animals’ meat safe for consumption. We can mandate yearly inspections that check on animal living conditions, with inspectors capable of dealing out nontrivial fines and even plant shutdowns if the facilities aren’t up to code. But most importantly, we need a non-fringe coalition that accepts that this is wrong, that the way the world feeds itself today is morally reprehensible. The public face of the animal rights movement, PETA, seems hell-bent on alienating even the most sympathetic meat-eaters, and organizations that are doing good work on this, like the Humane Society, get drowned out. If we’re going to stop factory farming, and eventually meat production altogether, that needs to change.


I realize I didn’t put anything up for the 4th; I was too busy watching the fireworks on the mall, a hundred feet or so from the Washington Monument. It was surreal and awesome, and, being an idiot, I forgot a camera. But I’ve spent today looking back at the literature on patriotism I’ve found most persuasive, and settled on two passage. First, the words of Frank Church, a serious contender for best Senator of the latter half of the 20th century, and the leader in both the fight to stop Nixon and in picking up the mess of his presidency afterwards. From David Schmitz’s The United States and Right-wing Dictatorships, 1965-1989, via Church’s Wikipedia entry:

That fall [1970], Church announced on television and in speeches across the country that “The Doves Have Won” He based his assertion on the fact that the two key propositions of the dove position, “a negotiated peace and the withdrawal of American troops,” were now official policy. The remaining debate would be over when to withdraw, not whether to do so, and over the meaning of the war. “So the last service the doves can perform for their country,” Church concluded, “is to insist that President Nixon’s withdrawal program truly leads to a ‘Vietnamization’ of the war. It must not become a device for lowering – and then perpetuating – an American military presence in South Vietnam for the indefinite future. Our long ordeal in this mistaken war must end.” Church continued, “The gathering crisis in our own land, the deepening divisions among our people, the festering, unattended problems here at home, bear far more importantly on the future of our Republic than anything we ever had at stake in Indochina.” The opponents of the war needed to prevent the corruption of the nation and its institutions. Their opposition was, for Church, the “highest concept of patriotism – which is not the patriotism of conformity – but the patriotism of Senator Carl Shurz, a dissenter from an earlier period, who proclaimed: ‘Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.”

I would compare the success Church and other Congressional liberals had achieved by 1970 to that of the Democratic congress today, but it’s all too depressing. Next up, Richard Rorty, whose the opening paragraphs of Achieving Our Country made more of an impact on me than the beginning of just about any other book:

National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement. Too much national pride can produce bellicosity and imperialism, just as excessive self-respect can produce arrogance. But just as too little self-respect makes it difficult for a person to display moral courage, so insufficient national pride makes energetic and effective debate about national policy unlikely. Emotional involvement with one’s country – feelings of intense shame or of glowing pride aroused by various parts of its history, and by various present-day national policies – is necessary if political deliberation is to be imaginative and productive. Such deliberation will probably not occur unless pride outweighs shame.

The need for this sort of improvement remains even for those who, like myself, hope that the United States of America will someday yield up sovereignty to what Tennyson called “the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.” For such a federation will never come into existence unless the governments of the individual nation-states cooperate in setting in up, and unless the citizens of those nation-states take a certain amount of pride (even rueful and hesistant pride) in their governments’ efforts to do so.

As I was finishing that first paragraph when I started reading Achieving Our Country about a year ago, my immediate thought was “but what of we world federalists?” That Rorty anticipated that objection, and elegantly wove it into his narrative, says something about what a powerful force for liberalism, and for good, he was. And, for the record, I was totally thinking of Rorty before Matt posted this. Honest.

Indie Rock & Party Politics

The Atlantic crew has been posting a series of videos from a discussion panel with Yglesias, Douthat, Ambinder, and David Brooks on the future of the American party system. That’s all well and good, but let me just note how awesome it is that all of the episodes begin and end with Okkervil River’s “Unless It’s Kicks”. Well, after the annoyingly nasal All-State plug, that is.