What to read

I've just updated my book review list for the first time since January.  It's still not quite up to date, but I'm only about four months behind.  Hopefully, my next update will bring me fully up to date.  Its been a really good run of books since my last update– I've got two to add to my all time favorites list, one fiction, The Road and one non-fiction, Good Germs, Bad Germs.  And some other really excellent books– The Terror, Omnivore's Dilemma, The Subtle Knife–of all stripes.  Anyway, take a look and see what I've been reading (other than my voracious consumption of blogs and on-line political news sources).  The Road by Cormac McCarthy probably deserves a blog post of its own (though, this is all it will get).  The tale of a father and his son making their way down the road, just trying to survive is one of the most beautifully written and emotionally intense books I've ever read. 


Racism, Sexism, and those Appalachian voters again

Even more than I like getting suggestions from readers, I like it when my wife actually finds one of my posts interesting.  Well, now I've got a two-fer, as Kim was so intrigued by the whole racism in Appalachia thing that she suggested I discuss the potential for sexism there as well.  So, this post is actually largely channelling Kim's interesting argument.  In short, isms tend to go together.  Where there's considerable racism, there's every reason to believe there's considerable sexism.  Clearly, Democratically-inclined white Appalachian voters strongly prefer a white woman over a Black man.  But does that mean we can be so sure they would prefer a white woman over a white man?  While these voters chose Hillary over Obama, it's not unreasonable to think that many of them nonetheless hold attitudes regarding gender that where trumped due to attitudes regarding race.  Put Hillary up against a white man, i.e., McCain, and it seems that many of these voters might very well defect from the Democratic party and vote for McCain.  Probably not to the degree that will happen for Obama as the nominee, but it is probably a bit naive to think that Hillary would necessarily hold onto all these primary voters against McCain in November.

Our currency disciminates

In a rather interesting decision, a Federal Appeals Court has ruled that U.S currency discriminates against the visually-impaired.  From the Post:

A federal appeals court today upheld a lower ruling that the U.S.
currency system discriminates against blind people because bills of
different denominations are the same size, shape and color and cannot
be easily distinguished by the visually impaired.

In a 2-1 ruling issued this morning,
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said the existing system
violates the federal Rehabilitation Act and ruled that the Treasury
Department must find a way to accommodate the needs of the visually

This decision struck me as perhaps going a bit too far– blind people are going to have trouble seeing things, but it appears that the United States is unique in the difficulty of determining denomination by sight:

In his 2006 ruling, Robertson ruled that the government must make
changes to its bills, but left it up to the government to decide what
changes would be made. He also said that of more than 170 countries
that print paper currency, only the United States prints bills that are
identical in size and color regardless of denomination.

There's all sorts of possible remedies (as the article details, if you are curious).  Who knows, maybe we'll be looking at red 5's, blue 10's and purple 20's in a few years.

With a wink and a nod

It's just an aside in his essay on how Democrats should not be so afraid of gay marraige this year, but I just love how Paul Waldman sums up the media's irrational love for John McCain:

(This Sunday, Matt Bai wrote in The New York Times
Magazine, “Like every politician I've known, McCain will sometimes
surrender to the cheap ploy or prevarication when the moment demands
it, but it is often with a smirk or a wince, some hard-to-miss signal
that he knows he's up to no good.” Attention, reporters: The fact that
he winks at you, acknowledging that he's lying to the voters, doesn't
mean he's not lying to the voters. It doesn't make him more honest than
other politicians. It just means that he's letting you in on his scam.
If because of that you fail to characterize his dishonesty as such,
then he has just played you like a violin.)

This wink and a nod approach seems to have convinced many a liberal journalist that McCain is secretly liberal on social issues and they forgive him for his obvious pandering.  Even if McCain is secretly liberal in his heart, that does not really matter if he thinks that it will always be most politically expedient to be conservative on these issues.

Foreign Policy as symbolism

As mentioned in my previous post, I was quite pleased with the way that Obama hit back hard at Bush and McCain's risible and astonishingly ignorant use of “appeasement.”  Michael Tomasky has a nice analysis on why Obama's response was so effective:

the Kerry loss of 2004, Democrats began to vow: we understand what
happened. We're not going to let ourselves get outboxed and intimidated
next time around, especially on national security. There was every
reason in the world to think this was an empty promise. If Hillary
Clinton were the nominee, it wouldn't be exactly empty, because the
Clinton camp does know how to return fire. But it would be a
dissatisfying thing for most Democrats to watch, because Clinton's
returns of serve would consist of hawkish statements designed to prove
that she could be just as tough as the Republicans (witness her recent
promise to “obliterate” Iran).

Obama is doing something
altogether different. He is standing for an alternative vision of how
America should operate in the world, and he is defending it tooth and
nail. I'm not sold on the idea that negotiations without preconditions
with hostile powers are the world's best strategy. If the US had some
leverage over Iran that might be one thing, but, in our current state,
we have little. Still, this is one of those cases where the symbolic
message of what Obama did last Friday is more important, for now, than
the substance. He said: These people have screwed up foreign policy and
security. I have a different way of doing things. And I'm not ceding an

In an interesting essay, Jon Chait complains that candidates are essentially forced to make foreign policy statements that we really should not put much credence in:

Obviously, campaign rhetoric of all kinds offers an imperfect guide to
how a candidate will govern. But it's particularly true of foreign
policy rhetoric. Why is it so hard to vote on foreign policy? A
president's foreign policy tends to get driven by new developments
overseas. Any number of things could happen between now and January
that would persuade McCain to pull troops out of Iraq, or persuade
Obama to leave them there. But dramatic, mind-changing data about
health care or the minimum wage is not likely to pop up.

Chait's not happy that this is how things work, but points out that Obama has learned how to play the symbolism of this game:

Four years ago, poor John Kerry tried to explain that he was for the
war given what he knew at the time, against it knowing what we know
today, but in favor of its continued prosecution given that we were
already there. It didn't end well for him. The lesson the candidates
have taken away from this episode is that you need a consistent,
easy-to-explain position or else you'll come across as a flip-flopper.
Foreign policy has become a character issue, with nuance understood as
a sign of weakness.

Obama, as Michael Crowley explained in the previous issue, understands
that events could change his plans (see “Barack in Iraq,” May 7). But
he also grasps that the risks of appearing indecisive outweigh the
risks of appearing too dovish, which is why he so quickly disowned
Power's remarks. Republicans have arrived at the same conclusion.

I know this is one of the reasons I find Obama such an appealing candidate.  Even though it may not be entirely sensible, Obama seems to really get this important political reality– you have to appear solid and firm in your own beliefs (even when that's stupid) to show “toughness” and “character.”  I absolutely love that Obama is itching for a fight on foreign policy rather than attempting to defuse the issue by being Republican-lite.


“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

Inigio Montoya, the Princess Bride

Speaking in Israel earlier this week, Bush likened Obama to Neville Chamberlin:

“Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the
words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world
must not repeat in the 21st century. Some seem to believe that we
should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious
argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have
heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland
in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have
talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an
obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement,
which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)”

Bush (as you already know if you are reading this, is an idiot).  Appeasement is not talking to your enemies.  Appeasement is giving into their demands.  I know Bush is not good with nuance, but please!  Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler was giving him everything he wanted in the Munich agreement, not the fact that we talked with him.  How dumb do Bush (and McCain) think we are?  Obama hit back quite forcefully with his response

I'm not generally a big fan of Chris Matthews or Hardball, but this video I originally found over at TPM is brilliant.  It's a right-wing radio host going on and on about appeasement while clearly having no idea what he's talking about and Matthews calls him on it.  Great stuff, enjoy…

Immigrant assimilation

I do get tired of all the anti-immigrant folks complaining about immigrants ruining American culture by not assimilating.  Xenophobes had the same complaints about Italians, Polish, etc., not speaking our language or adapting to our culture back when they immigrated to this country in large numbers.  And now, we've got a study that shows just how wrong these views are:

Immigrants of the past quarter-century have been assimilating in the
United States at a notably faster rate than did previous generations,
according to a study released today…

The study, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute,
a New York think tank, used census and other data to devise an
assimilation index to measure the degree of similarity between the
United States' foreign-born and native-born populations. These included
civic factors, such as rates of U.S. citizenship and service in the
military; economic factors, such as earnings and rates of
homeownership; and cultural factors, such as English ability and degree
of intermarriage with U.S. citizens. The higher the number on a
100-point index, the more an immigrant resembled a U.S. citizen.

In general, the longer an immigrant lives in the United States, the
more characteristics of native citizens he or she tends to take on,
said Jacob L. Vigdor, a professor at Duke University
and author of the study. During periods of intense immigration, such as
from 1870 to 1920, or during the immigration wave that began in the
1970s, new arrivals tend to drag down the average assimilation index of
the foreign-born population as a whole.

The report found, however, that the speed with which new arrivals
take on native-born traits has increased since the 1990s. As a result,
even though the foreign population doubled during that period, the
newcomers did not drive down the overall assimilation index of the
foreign-born population. Instead, it held relatively steady from 1990
to 2006.

“This is something unprecedented in U.S. history,” Vigdor said. “It
shows that the nation's capacity to assimilate new immigrants is

So, next time you hear these complaints, remember that they don't actually have any validity.

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