Thursday, June 25, 2009

Change the lobbies can easily believe in defeating, so far...

From nothing less than The Wall Street Journal (via the one who has the entire summary thus far):
If world-class lobbying could win a Stanley Cup, the credit-ratings caucus would be skating a victory lap this week. The Obama plan for financial re-regulation leaves unscathed this favored class of businesses whose fingerprints are all over the credit meltdown.

Update: NPR has begun this potentially very interesting project (via Digby), turning their cameras on the other faces in the rooms where "change" happens. More of this in the name of full spectacular truth, please.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zizek on Iran

Copyright-free (via):
Will the Cart Above the Precipice Fall Down?
Slavoj Zizek

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down…

In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew; in a couple of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and although there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is over. Is something similar going on now?

There are many versions of the events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western “reform movement” along the lines of the “orange” revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. – a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution. They support the protests as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic secular Iran freed of Muslim fundamentalism. They are counteracted by skeptics who think that Ahmadinejad really won: he is the voice of the majority, while the support of Mousavi comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. In short: let’s drop the illusions and face the fact that, in Ahmadinejad, Iran has a president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the cleric establishment with merely cosmetic differences from Ahmadinejad: Mousavi also wants to continue the atomic energy program, he is against recognizing Israel, plus he enjoyed the full support of Khomeini as a prime minister in the years of the war with Iraq.

Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority – this is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a West-financed coup against the legitimate president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral participation – up from the usual 55% to 85% - can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians, Ahmadinejad is good enough - they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left.

Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests along the axis of Islamic hardliners versus pro-Western liberal reformists, which is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy, or a member of the cleric establishment whose eventual victory would not affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme oscillations demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the protests.

The green color adopted by the Mousavi supporters, the cries of “Allah akbar!” that resonate from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness, clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution’s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the crowds: the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity, creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march of thousands in complete silence. We are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution.

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi effectively is a reformist, basically proposing the Iranian version of identity politics, promising favors to all particular groups. Mousavi is something entirely different: his name stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution. Even if this dream was a utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution itself. What this means is that the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover – it was much more. Now is the time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the Khomeini revolution was an authentic political event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social transformation, a moment in which “everything seemed possible.” What followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political control by the Islam establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the “return of the repressed” of the Khomeini revolution.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine liberating potential in Islam – to find a “good” Islam, one doesn’t have to go back to the 10th century, we have it right here, in front of our eyes.

The future is uncertain – in all probability, those in power will contain the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the precipice, but regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but just one corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome, it is vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit the frame of the struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If our cynical pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post-democratic era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Recommended reading

"The Case for Working With Your Hands"Matthew Crawford in the NY Times.

Looking hard at you, Senator Kay Hagan

Kay Hagan, apparently still working for the insurance lobby and not her constituents, may not last long as a Senator.

The real risk is that health care reform will be undermined by “centrist” Democratic senators who either prevent the passage of a bill or insist on watering down key elements of reform. I use scare quotes around “centrist,” by the way, because if the center means the position held by most Americans, the self-proclaimed centrists are in fact way out in right field.

What the balking Democrats seem most determined to do is to kill the public option, either by eliminating it or by carrying out a bait-and-switch, replacing a true public option with something meaningless. For the record, neither regional health cooperatives nor state-level public plans, both of which have been proposed as alternatives, would have the financial stability and bargaining power needed to bring down health care costs.

Whatever may be motivating these Democrats, they don’t seem able to explain their reasons in public.

Thus Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska initially declared that the public option — which, remember, has overwhelming popular support — was a “deal-breaker.” Why? Because he didn’t think private insurers could compete: “At the end of the day, the public plan wins the day.” Um, isn’t the purpose of health care reform to protect American citizens, not insurance companies?

Mr. Nelson softened his stand after reform advocates began a public campaign targeting him for his position on the public option.

...Honestly, I don’t know what these Democrats are trying to achieve. Yes, some of the balking senators receive large campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex — but who in politics doesn’t? If I had to guess, I’d say that what’s really going on is that relatively conservative Democrats still cling to the old dream of becoming kingmakers, of recreating the bipartisan center that used to run America.

If you live in North Carolina, now is the time to contact Kay Hagan:
The only place most of [North Carolinians] can go is one NC company – North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield...NC Blue insures 3.7 million people out of the 5 million with private health coverage in NC – and has a near monopoly on individual and small business coverage. We need more health insurance competition and options in NC, including a public option.

E-mail -


521 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-6342
Fax: 202-228-2563


701 Green Valley Rd; Suite 201
Greensboro, NC 27408
Phone: 336-333-5311
Fax: 336-333-5331


310 New Bern Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone: 919-856-4630
Fax: 919-856-4053


P: 1-877-852-9462

Update: fuckers.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A kind of pride

That the best friends of my particular generation, squashed somewhat uncomfortably in between the X and Y, seem to scorn and ignore–despite dull and repeated requests and duly notable lives–registering on...FACEBOOK (™). Fuck that infantilizing shit, indeed. You want to get in touch? You write a goddamn letter/email or activate your cell phone/implant and do some actual relating. People are not hard to find. Duly notable living has no need for a universal MTV-inspired pseudo-genericism, I don't care how "convenient" or "popular" it is. It reflects poorly.

It goes without saying that Facebook™ has nothing to do with getting in touch, everything to do with one's own image/dissemination/marketing/quantifying of one's 'self.' Also, how insulting to the memory of actual relations to be "friended" by anyone who matters or even pretend to desire to pose as "friend"-able. Click.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

customers write, further

Receiving some pics of the island top safely in place at the home of John Criswell (former head of the DNC and friend of President Johnson).

Cheers to Mr. Criswell for being an excellently patient, appreciative man and for allowing me to post these.

More photos of the top before shipping, here, here and here

Monday, June 15, 2009

always nice to hear from loyal customers...

Illustrator Nick Dewar sends some photos of a tabletop I made last year from reclaimed timber, while pointing to this article featuring his home. All of the material in that piece has its own meaning for me, as weeks and months were passed working it, or on the site where it was salvaged. The piece conjures an acute, tactile 'site of memory,' you might say (and now clearly has a loving life all of its own):

Thanks to Nick for allowing me to publish these.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Obama in love with self on TV, not fighting our corporate owners hard enough

Elsewhere Huffington waxes skeptical of Obama's financial plan muscle.

the hell

is happening in Iran? An attempted coup, apparently.

the coming lobby wars

In which entrenched corporate interests are preparing to outspend the progressive opposition ten to one (but may still lose). A couple of essential articles from The Nation; the first on "Exacting Change" and the compromises thus far of the Obama administration; the second on "The Selling of School Reform," exposing questionable motives and financial backing of Sharpton/Gingrich/Bloomberg,


" just as much a relic of a by-gone era as the little black bag."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

the acceptable range of "interesting"

...still makes Obama look very good, granted:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
"i" on News
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorEconomic Crisis

More essential reading from Mike Lux:

Easily the most thoughtful pieces of all have been two recent pieces by members of the progressive movement themselves (both personal friends, so I'll admit my bias upfront). The first, by Gara LaMarche of Atlantic Philanthropies, was a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of the challenges of both Obama and progressives, and was fairly hopeful in general, both about Obama and about the relationship between him and the movement. The second, by Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, was a more frustrated discussion of the way progressive leaders aren't challenging Obama enough, and the distancing of Obama from progressives.

From my experience in the Obama transition as the Obama team's liaison to the progressive community, and in all my conversations with folks both inside and outside of Obamaland before and since, the tension between being hopeful about the possibilities and upset that better things aren't being realized will always be there. If managed right by both Obama and progressive leaders, it can be the kind of constructive, creative tension that leads to the kind of big breakthrough progressive changes we saw in this country at key moments in our history- the 1860s, the early 1900s, the 1930s, and the 1960s (the Big Change Moments I write about in my book, The Progressive Revolution). If managed poorly, it can lead to the kind of presidential meltdowns we saw with the LBJ and Jimmy Carter presidencies, and on the Republican side with the first Bush presidency: Presidencies that started with high hopes but ended with destructive conflicts between the base and the presidency, tough primary challenges, and lost re-election hopes.

So far, I'm feeling quite good about Obama's chances for the former.


1. We need each other. Progressives need to understand that our fates for several years to come are tied, fundamentally and completely, to Obama's success as president. If he loses his big legislative fights, we won't get another chance at winning them for a generation (see health care, 1993-94), and early losses will make the Democrats more cautious, not more bold (see health care, 1993-94). If Obama's popularity fades, Democrats will lose lots of seats in Congress. If he loses re-election, Republicans and the media will say he was a failed liberal and run against him for many elections to come, even if his actual policies are more centrist (see Jimmy Carter). But Obama's team needs to understand that they need a strong progressive movement as well, and as Jane alluded to, they haven't generally acted like they do. Without progressives' passion, activism, lobbying, and money, Obama can't win those incredibly challenging legislative battles. Just as Lincoln never would have won the civil war or ended slavery without the passion of the abolitionists, just as FDR never would have won the New Deal reforms without the labor and progressive movement, just as LBJ would never have passed civil rights bills without the civil rights movement, Obama can't win these big fights alone. And he can't win re-election either without the passion of his base: see LBJ, Ford, Carter, George H.W. Bush, and many other presidents for more info on that topic.

2. Obama needs a left flank. It is a natural tendency of any White House to be dismissive of criticism, and to play hardball when people disagree with you. The Obama team should not hesitate to defend itself when being pushed from the Left, but I would caution against playing too hard at hardball. The Obama team needs a vibrant and vocal Left flank, because the stronger their Left flank is, the more Obama seems solidly in the middle. The White House would be well-served to fully support and empower progressive groups, media, and bloggers -- even when they sometimes disagree with Obama.

3. There needs to be both an inside and an outside strategy for progressives. Progressive leaders who get jobs in the administration are sometimes derided as sell-outs, and progressive groups who are not openly critical of the Administration are sometimes criticized as being too cozy with those inside. At the same time, insiders get very worked up about "irresponsible" bloggers and outside activists who they say don't understand the system and the challenges they are facing.

Having been both on the inside and the outside, I see the grain of truth in both sides' perspective, but also respectfully disagree with both sides.

We need progressive people in government, even if the cost of that is that they have to trim their sails on issues where they disagree with administration policy. We need progressive groups in regular in-depth policy meetings with the administration, even if that means they have to soft-pedal their criticisms some of the time to keep that access. And we need outsiders who will push like crazy for doing the right thing now no matter what....

-Mike Lux

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The problem with Obama's centrism that the symbolic significance of strangely mature (if still vague) rhetoric aside (and this is not nothing, these days, but at the same time we are also overwhelmed, preoccupied to the point of sheer distraction with symbolism–future billions to be spent lobbying gay marriage, anyone?), his proposals for action both amount to corporatism and remain profoundly undemocratic. Which is not to say all corporatism is somehow magically avoidable. However the current structure could easily reflect a higher degree of democratic influence; this is what frustrates. With public opinion of fundamentalist capitalism being what it is now, if Obama cannot grow a pair, then when? Of course the resulting stability, quality of life and intelligence and god knows equality of opportunity wouldn't be bad either. Mike Lux makes the point with regard to health care. Meanwhile here in "conservative" North Carolina, 85% of the population feels strongly that the free-loading rich should be taxed higher (God forbid, even back to levels under Reagan!) before a single teacher position is cut, and class sizes raised to cover massive budget shortfalls and Obama's demand for budget cuts.

Are they listening? Of course not.

Meanwhile the teacher pseudo-union, NCAE, wasted precious months in brick-headed denial fighting tooth and nail against any potential temporary freeze on scheduled minimal pay increases, willfully blind to the larger reality, i.e., that any state employee still with a job at this point should simply count their blessings.

Was the NCAE drawing their long-term strategy from a keg, or what? This is worse than a John Updike novel.

more island top...

Granted, I could really use some better lighting in the shop. The flash is also terrible. But these are all of the bottom side. The other side is superior.

Weighs approximately 200 lbs, measures 60"x36"x2". 100% end grain ambrosia/spalted maple. There is a small sink going in the middle.

The wood comes largely from the same tree, a rock/sugar maple with unusually dynamic and consistent spalting, each board selected from Peter Tennant's extraordinary yard at Bee Tree Hardwoods.

I can build more of these. Very likely priced well below those of *anybody* else. My overhead is still relatively small, and patience long. From choosing and milling lumber to design, construction and careful finishing, I do all the work myself.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

better blogs than this

The Existence Machine writes a beautiful post on translation.

This Space reads my mind (and goes on to say more than I could) on the latest William Deresiewicz, current bathroom-reading.

To add to the chorus on Terry Eagleton...

Indeed...was there ever a "windily pompous, pudgily superior type" crank more in dire need of being yanked from the ivory tower and placed in some menial capacity among his beloved proletariat for his own intellectual and spiritual sake?

But, let's face it, also possibly for ours, because in a more perfect world arguments like those of Dawkins surely deserve to be elevated. Productively. Not by mere sneering and blowing snot and sand on the entire discourse.

Matt Taibbi (via sbttp) is predictably, humorously, perhaps unnecessarily cruel, refers to Terry as
....physically resembling a giant runny nose, who seems to have been raised by indulgent aunts who gave him sweets every time he corrected the grammar of other children....If you ever want to give yourself a really good, throbbing headache, go online and check out Eagleton’s lectures at Yale, upon which the book was based, in which one may listen to this soft-soaping old toady do his verbose best to stick his tongue as far as he can up the anus of the next generation of the American upper class...Like almost all great defenders of religion, Eagleton specializes in putting bunches of words together in ways that sound like linear arguments, but actually make no sense whatsoever....

A shame, because the argument Teagleton is trying (failing, miserably) to make deserves a better spokesman. Surely there is someone out there better suited in temperament and tone to use Dawkin's appeal as a starting point to begin a more popular conversation on the concept of God (a word Teagleton seems increasingly to neglect, in the sorry tradition of all chronic and intellectually lazy polemicists). Ideally it would be someone who has not only read, say, Derrida, but still has an ear for her audience and is capable of maintaining the patience (and humility!) of an actual philosopher.

More reviews here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

show some courage, Obama!

• Don't put another $30 billion into the coffers of GM to build cars. Instead, use that money to keep the current workforce -- and most of those who have been laid off -- employed so that they can build the new modes of 21st century transportation. Let them start the conversion work now.

• Announce that we will have bullet trains criss-crossing this country in the next five years. Japan is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its first bullet train this year. Now they have dozens of them. Average speed: 165 mph. Average time a train is late: under 30 seconds. They have had these high speed trains for nearly five decades -- and we don't even have one! The fact that the technology already exists for us to go from New York to L.A. in 17 hours by train, and that we haven't used it, is criminal. Let's hire the unemployed to build the new high speed lines all over the country. Chicago to Detroit in less than two hours. Miami to DC in under 7 hours. Denver to Dallas in five and a half. This can be done and done now.

• Initiate a program to put light rail mass transit lines in all our large and medium-sized cities. Build those trains in the GM factories. And hire local people everywhere to install and run this system.

• For people in rural areas not served by the train lines, have the GM plants produce energy efficient clean buses.

• For the time being, have some factories build hybrid or all-electric cars (and batteries). It will take a few years for people to get used to the new ways to transport ourselves, so if we're going to have automobiles, let's have kinder, gentler ones. We can be building these next month (do not believe anyone who tells you it will take years to retool the factories -- that simply isn't true).

• Transform some of the empty GM factories to facilities that build windmills, solar panels and other means of alternate forms of energy. We need tens of millions of solar panels right now. And there is an eager and skilled workforce who can build them.

• Provide tax incentives for those who travel by hybrid car or bus or train. Also, credits for those who convert their home to alternative energy.

• To help pay for this, impose a two-dollar tax on every gallon of gasoline. This will get people to switch to more energy saving cars or to use the new rail lines and rail cars the former autoworkers have built for them.

Well, that's a start. Please, please, please don't save GM so that a smaller version of it will simply do nothing more than build Chevys or Cadillacs. This is not a long-term solution. Don't throw bad money into a company whose tailpipe is malfunctioning, causing a strange odor to fill the car.

...60% of GM is ours. I think we can do a better job.

From here.

Elsewhere thorough and depressing reports on the FBI's failure to prevent the entirely avoidable death of Dr. George Tiller. Why Obama hasn't yet reinstalled the Clinton-era, abortion-rights hotline is an outrage. Surely that would seem like the kind of specific thing an effective netroots could actually succeed at lobbying for, were they interested in more than cheer-leading and the seductive fantasy of playing inside baseball, Markos Moulitsas.

Update: Ok so there was this buried bit by Hunter. Why not a full campaign to hammer the hotline number issue? It seems such a little thing, with such enormous potential remedial impact.

Update II: Fuck. Goddamn fuck.