Friday, September 24, 2010

You don't need a weatherman to know when the wind doesn't blow

Paul Krugman thinks that the latest House Republican "Pledge to America" is nonsense, and I'm sure he's right.  Nobel in hand, maybe not necessary in this case, he tells us that the GOP can't cut taxes, end budget deficits, and preserve Medicare, Social Security, and defense spending without otherwise abolishing the federal government.

This is low-hanging fruit, even if it might plant its seed and sprout in a few months.  But what do Democrats have to offer in return, beyond the criticism?

Throughout my life, one nice thing about the GOP has always been its straightforward approach.  Republicans want to cut taxes, cut most government programs, promote big business, and increase defense spending.  I'm not sure where all the deficit reduction talk comes from.  It might be some way to express their dislike for the federal government while also seeming responsible.  Safe to say, actual deficit reduction has not been part of the program.

Try to come up with a similar list for Democrats.  During the New Deal and the Great Society, Democrats deployed sweeping, aggressive federal action to confront major economic and social crises.  I think those Democrats would have embraced the notion that during major crises government is the solution.  Ever since Bill Clinton declared an end to the era of big government, I don't know that many Democrats would make that same case.

Once that argument is foreclosed to Democrats, they deprive themselves of the ability to offer a real alternative to the GOP.  Obama tells us to band together.  He acknowledges that times are tough.  He reminds us that Bush got us into the mess and that we don't want to go back to the bad old days.  And we get the notion of passing more stimulus, as if the only solution we could conceive of to our problems is for the government to put more cash out there.

But we don't get a program.  We don't get a compelling name for what we're doing (slogans count, Obama seemed well aware of that on the campaign trail).  We don't get a comprehensive series of laws, targeting all of the causes of this mess.  And nothing we do is built around a theme, a powerful, unifying idea that explains what the government is going to do in the face of this crisis.  

I'm sure people can give plenty of reasons why this hasn't happened.  The political climate in Washington has changed.  The country has shifted to the right.  And on and on.

I know that's dismissive.  I'm just not interested in talking about losing necessary battles we don't even have the courage to join.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why I sometimes hate the Internet

Oh, we few, we happy few, who find ourselves occasionally reading or writing at Ben's Blog.  I try, I really do, but the Internet is tough.  I mean, I want to spend some time with it, but, like a crazy friend, you get that call and hit ignore, whatever you've been telling yourself.

So, yesterday, my lovely wife made me aware of this post at Feministe by Monica Potts about body mass index (BMI).  Many people have criticized BMI as a bad indicator of health, arguing that people can be healthy at any size.  Those people, some of whom dub themselves part of the fat acceptance movement, rage against an establishment media that throws around "Obesity Epidemic" pretty freely, and uses BMI to define who is obese and therefore unhealthy.

The post is pretty banal.  Being a part of various Internet sub-cultures gives people a weird sort of tunnel-vision. Who else but someone steeped in the feminist blogosphere would wake up and think, "Gee, I think the idea I really need to go out and defend today is 'fat is bad.'"  But that is more or less what this post does, arguing that BMI is relevant, that we should pay attention to it.  On the way, she makes some silly fat jokes and says nothing new or interesting.  If she has an angle, I don't know what it is.

This would be annoying enough, but then comes the deluge.  If you do go over and look at the post, be sure to read some of the comments.  Here are some highlights:
But right now I am literally shaking from anger.
Now I will go sit quietly somewhere else on the Internet until I stop feeling ill.
I hate this post. I hate you for writing it. I pretty strongly hate feministe for posting it.
what the fuck is this post.  what the fuck are your responses to people’s legitimate anger about the legitimately douchey and wrong things you said in this post.  what is going onnnn
Fuck you, Monica. Fuck your arrogant tone and FUCK your dismissive attitude.
There are some more nice moments, but I think you get the picture.  And I have to wonder: do people really get this upset when someone writes something trifling on the Internet?

Two other themes run through the comments:  threatening to never go to the blog again and anger over comments not making it through moderation.  The first I just think is funny, and it's another thing you see all the time.  The second I think is sad.  I mean, whatever people think about what's going on, if you read the comments, it's pretty clear that all kinds of stuff was getting through, including stuff that sounded pretty nasty and personal (see above).  It all reeks of a combination conspiracy theory and sense of entitlement, as if people have some right (another thing you see all the time) to comment.

So, I have some sympathy for the author.  But I can't let her off that easy.  Take a look at this response she has for her detractors:
So mostly I stay out of comments and let people say what they want: we’re all adults and we can disagree. But I’m going to say this. I greatly resent the idea that I’m not a feminist because I don’t tow the line on the fat acceptance movement. There are women in the world suffering because rape is a tool of war, there are women in the world still dying preventable deaths because of childbirth, there are women in the world watching their children die from hunger, and there are women in the world who are paid nothing or pennies for the work they do. The idea that worrying about women’s health in a way that acknowledges that obesity correlates with diseases that kill women and that fat acceptance may actually harm them — because despite the fact that posters are operating under the belief I’m unaware of the movement I’m actually very much aware, and disagree vehemently with it — is anti-feminist, is really offensive to me. Poor women die of heart disease, cancer and stroke, whether you want to believe it or not. They die because they don’t have medical care at all. The BMI is a useful indicator of the prevalence of illness in society, and that’s really important.
I'm not going to dissect this.  But it is one of my favorite responses, and I suggest you all use it as often as possible:  whenever people accuse you of not showing enough compassion, just tell them that you care about some group of people who are really screwed, make up something horrible if you have to, and then give them a smug, self-satisfied look.

Works for me all the time.