September 1st

Light winds, sunny skies, and an overhead but jumbled mess of surf at Ocean Beach. Welcome back.

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Reboot

Readers of this blog who share the my interest in comics already know that today is a “big day”: DC Comics, home to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (&c) “ends”.  Then, immediately “begins” again.  In the contemporary language of comics, the “DC Universe” reboots.  The Heroes, et al., who appear in DC comics after today won’t (necessarily) have lived the world chronicled in DC comics since 1938.

The idea behind the reboot is to gain new readers.  Comics readership is in decline.  This may surprise you, given the seemingly endless number of movies based on comics, but the monthly paper issues sell fewer and fewer, the readership gets older and older, and publishers grow more and more desperate.  DC determined that what repels “new readers” – the Golden Demographic of comics publishers – is “too much continuity”.

I doubt very much that this is accurate.

*

I belong to the first generation of obsessives who prized comics continuity.  I started on comics in 1983, age 9.  I’d bought them – had them bought for me – off spinner racks in drugstores before that, but in 1983 I became a collector.  I was an obsessive reader, and I was mad for serials.  I was perfect mark.    I found, in my grandparents house,  a copy of some comic, probably left behind by a cousin, that referenced, as they did in those days, the events of some other comic.  They had little boxes in the corner of the panel: see Adventures of BLANK #__.

I was hooked.  I needed to know.  The events of this other issue, hinted at in the issue I had, took on a huge importance, an almost magic feeling of permanence and reality.

I prized in those days, above all, books, records, or magazines left behind by older relatives, as this comic surely was.  Back issues were in my future.   Comics from the 1970s seemed ancient artifacts.  My local shop was spacious, most of it given over to long boxes full of back issues, through which I combed for hours.  Important to recall, in those days there was no other way to know what happened.  No reprints, no internet.  You could ask the dude at the counter.  You might get your hands on a handbook/encyclopedia the companies printed now and again.  Or you bought the back issues.   You went to the shop to get the new ones and, if you’d save $1 instead of only $.50, you bought an old one too.

You moved forward and backward in time.

*

Prior to roughly then, it didn’t occur to comics companies that people might keep their products, and by and large it didn’t occur to the readers to keep them.  Hence the scarcity (and the high price) of many comics that came out in the 1960s, after all not that long ago.  Disposability was one of the main features of the medium: cheap enough to read and then throw away, trade, or slice up and paste into your own scenes.  Comics companies also believed, or were resigned to the idea, that their audience was disposable: it would be ever comprised of teenagers who would outgrow comics, and make way for new teenagers.  This didn’t worry the companies because there were always new kids.  Marvel, for example, simply reprinted chunks from the first 66 X-Men comics as issues #67-93, assuming the people who wanted an X-Men comic from 1970 – 1975 hadn’t read them from 1963 – 1970.

Comics always had continuity, of course.  The issue-to-issue cliffhanger was a staple of the form.  But in the era of the Marvel’s huge hits – the 1960s saw debuts of Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hulk, The X-Men, Spiderman, and more – continuity grew in both importance and in the number of issues it might encompass.  This was probably for the simple reason that what happens to a character is that character, and if you believed you were creating “characters”, you needed continuity.  A less artistic reason was that multiple issue storylines could really, really hook a reader: the kind of reader who didn’t pick up an issue when he passed it on a spinner rack, the one who went  to the comics shop monthly, or even weekly.

By my time, continuity was unquestioned, and it was a large part of what attracted me.  The X-Men were reeling off 30 issue arcs.  I was dredging back issues out of the long box to fill in my  knowledge, placate my suspicions, and – I suppose – to think about the world before me.  1983 – 1985 was my own personal golden age of collecting.

But I was collecting mostly Marvel, and Marvel was a manageable age.  DC was different.  And in 1985, DC tried their first re-boot.

*

“Crisis on Infinite Earths” was this attempt.  The title hits the ear with Saturday-afternoon bombast and absurd, stoned ambition.  That’s essentially what we Marvel kids thought of DC.  Marvel was “real”; DC was comic-y.  DC had been running since 1938.  Even though comics run on a “floating timeline” – the characters age slowly, maybe a day an issue – DC faced some real discrepancies with newer characters, altered powers, a different backdrop to events.  And, as now, they wanted new readers.  “Crisis” introduced the idea of an, well, infinite number of earths, all vibrating a different frequency.  For example, on one earth (say, Earth 5) it was still WWII; thus, all the WWII-era DC comics were actually chronicles of Earth 5.  This managerie of worlds was watched over by The Monitor – the ultimate continuity know-it-all – who presided from an orbiting space ship in infinite orbit. However, his great enemy the Anti-Monitor caused all the universes vibrate on the same wavelength.  If he succeeded, he would destroy them all.

This plan was foiled by, among other things, the deployment of a cosmic treadmill.

The Anti-Monitor failed, but the storyline achieved its goal of reducing infinite earths to one earth, with the favoured remnants of the other earths (the old Superman, the WWII heroes, etc.) stranded on the single remaining earth, where they could appear in new stories.  Voila, a “single” continuity threaded out of many.  It blew my mind, though not for the same reason it does now: they wrote the editorial and sales imperative into the storyline.  The Anti-Monitor’s sketchy plan to establish the “anti-matter” universe (i.e., destroy the continuity) ended by creating a stronger continuity, killing off the Monitor in the process.  He wasn’t needed anymore, after all.  DC, in 1985, was ready to start over, with hugely popular characters like the Superman and Batman, and shot of 30 years of baggage.

New fans welcome!  But the teens of 1985 never left, and the new ones soon stopped coming.

*

Some left, of course.  I did.  Sometime in 1987, comics for me ended with whimper, not a bang.  I’ve gone back through and found the last month I bought comics, August 1987.  I was 13, entering 8th Grade.  Leaving comics made no vivid memory to match the ones attached to finding them: my grandparent’s house, the smell of the old comics’ shop on Chicago Drive with the summer light coming through the big windows, the time I saved the astronomical sum of $5 to buy a copy of the Death of Phoenix issue (X-Men #139), hands shaking at the cash register.  I mean, I knew Jean Grey died: it was referenced often in the current (1983-7) comics.  But until I bought that issue, I didn’t know that it happened.

But as I said, the post-1987 comics meant nothing to me.   I vaguely noticed prices and sales going through the roof during the 1990’s, the era of “collectible” editions.  And I certainly recalled my comics obsession fondly as my “youth”.  By the time they made an X-Men movie in 2000, it felt distinctly “retro”.  I believed comics stopped without me.

It is a truism that comics hit a a bubble in the 90s.  The stories are largely forgotten or have been explained out of existence – retconned, or retroactive continuity, in the parlance – and the massive sales’ numbers were largely the product of gimmicks.  The companies tried to re-create the rising prices of the original issues – prices that were high because no one thought they would be worth anything – with the opposite tack: the classic bubble strategy of trying to make assets valuable because everyone thought they were worth something.  They were, I guess, then they weren’t.  Comics hit the movies big, and most of them were lousy: predicated to cash in on leftover nostalgia from the oldsters.  Because that was the thing about the bubble: it wasn’t kids that rang up those prices.  I mean, it was kids: but it was the kids of 1985.  10 years older, with more money to spend.

*

The DC reboot starts today with the issue that ends the old universe, the concluding issue of a travesty of a miniseries called Flashpoint (#5) and a new cornerstone issue of the new one, Justice League of America (#1) (each $3.99).   Flashpoint is a disaster.  Nothing whatsoever has happened in the first 4 issues.  Insultingly, the main series is accompanied by something like 50 tie-in issues (all $2.99 or $3.99) which take place an “altered continuity” created by the Flash’s arch-nemesis, Professor Zoom.  Why he created this alternative universe, or what unifying principle animates it, is not evident.  It is possible Flashpoint #5 ties it together, but it seems extremely unlikely.  Instead, we got a cynical ploy of under-thought “alternative realities”, and probably an ending not unlike we got in 1985’s Crisis: a villain’s attempt to wipe out the continuity is mostly defeated, except in simplifying the continuity.  September brings Justice League and 51 other new #1 issues to explore the “new” continuity.

Now, you’ll notice that when DC gets in a bind and decides it needs new readers, it hatches an editorial edict and sends a super villain to do its work.  In both instances, the villain attacks the continuity.  Which is to say, the villain attacks the old fans.  Now, it is true that old fans will likely enjoy the new DC Universe.  I have heard not one mention, on line or in shops, of someone signing off DC because they feel betrayed.  (Unlike the rash of drinkers who quit Strohs when they changed from the gold to blue can also c. 1985…indicating, perhaps, comics fans are more addicted than beer drinkers?)  But it stands true: if continuity matters to you, its because you’ve been there or want to go there (the past of the universe); and if this is you, DC will eventually send some bad-ass to wipe you out.

*

What is continuity?  No one cares about characters who don’t experience, grow, and change.  So, continuity is vital.  Continuity is probably an artifact of film and television, for which it is the name of a position: the job of making sure the out-of-sequence filming looks in sequence when put together, mostly be keeping the inanimate objects (including extras) in the frame constant from shot-to-shot.  It is a narrative compulsion, but it is also true that if “real life” was a narrative, it would have perfect continuity.

So what does it mean for a story not to have happened?  I’m speaking somewhat archly about DC “attacking” continuity.  They are actually showing it amazing respect: to be able to ignore continuity, we must do this.  But what does it mean to ignore the continuity, and why do you do it?  In what other narrative form is an excess of narrative so anxiety-provoking that it must be attacked by villains?  Is it a literal version of Harold Bloom’s anxiety of influence, being experienced by a corporation?

It is possible, of course, that the writers will be able to tell better stories because they won’t be treading on the same ground as their predecessors, but it is unclear that removing an event (or even 500 issues of events) will change a character very much, especially if he is cherished specifically because of his iconic powers / back story / mantra.  Indeed, I am almost certain that the newly continuity-free writers of DC will actually use mostly (if not all) pre-reboot supporting characters, just in different ways than they were used the first time.  Which reminds us that the simplest way to change “continuity” would be just to make up new supporting characters.  Have Superman move from Metropolis to New York.  Perry White gets the sack, Lois Lane the heave-ho.  Keep all the old stories and all he continuity, but Superman decides to move on and have new experiences.

If DC did this, they’d be burned to the ground.

*

Continuity, it turns out, is a complicated thing.  Obviously my departure from comics in 1987 didn’t last.  In 2008, I returned. Comics are now collected in glossy, paperback books.  The internet has all of the back story you’d ever need. Comics are wildly expensive; they have car ads.  I only see adults in my shop, but we’re in SF, where there aren’t many kids.

Getting back into comics meant reading a lot of those collected editions of back issues to bridge the continuity gap between 1987 and 2008.  And some of the stories, especially those from the comics renaissance starting approximately 2000, are great.  But I freely admit the “every Wednesday” is a big part of my enjoyment, as is the connection to my own childhood, and even the remembered yearning of my own childhood for the world before my own childhood. Tomorrow I will buy Flashpoint and Justice League for these same reasons, the same reasons DC isn’t “rebooting” by making up a bunch of new characters.  You are able to play with continuity on the surface because you keep sacred a continuity that runs deeper.

But this bargain is a melancholy one.  We are nagged by worry that our continuity has gotten so long that we require grave measures to contain it.  1938-2011 is a lot of stories.  A kid who read Action Comics #1 (first appearance of Superman) at the age that I started comics is 100.  And if the situation is dire now, it will only get worse.  More stories come every week.  The stories pile up, but this is not the worry.  The worry is that, eventually, the continuity will need to end.  This isn’t just a worry; it’s an inevitability.

New fans don’t want new stories, and they barely want new stories with old characters.  They want stories anchored in time – the specific time of our lives, and of American life – that promise the eternal.  They want the Monitor: the high-wire act of near impossible complexity that wears the guise of manageable and coherent continuity.  The new fans who buy, starting tomorrow, into the “new” DCU have a wealth, an abundance, a near-infinity of stories available to them.  But those that come, they come because they want these old ones.  They’ll start their own continuity, or so DC hopes.  They’ll indulge in the childish excitement of pretending that what they know can’t go on forever, will go on forever, and go on forever because someone is keeping track.

More: a good take from Grumpy Old Fan at CBR 

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Quoting Marx Word for Word

Do you read Zero Hedge?  It is a feverish, uneasy mix of doom-saying, banker-bashing, end-of-the-world theorizing, and demands for a return to hard currency.  (It also speculates on markets.)  Here is a recent post containing all of those features. It cites and attaches an interesting note from a UBS analyst that suggests an “un-orthodox” monetary strategy.

Zero Hedge does not like monetary strategies.  Indeed, monetary strategies are, to Zero Hedge, something like the Executive Committee of the Bourgeoisie.  Or a garden path.  A divergence from all that is holy.  The death knell for the golden age of capitalism that zero hedge misses, which seems to be defined as, roughly, when a real man could make a f*cking buck.

But I will not argue monetary theory in this post.

The post interests me, as does the note from Magnus, for another reason.   Here is Zero Hedge’s prefatory language to their pull quote and attachment:

Lo and behold, suddenly the coolest thing among the post-sophist punditry is to bring up [embedded link to Roubini op ed, also blogged here] the name of Marx for this and for that, because, guess what –  he was right all along or something. Where were these same pundits when Marxist postulates were becoming apparent not only across the past year, but past century, we wonder.[…]. And yes, expect many more references to Marx by hollow econo-historians who bring nothing new to the table and merely stampede in where the herd has already boldly gone before.

I stand accused, though he’s probably not talking about me.  I believe Marx himself would admire the vitriolic spirit of Zero Hedge’s attack on its semi-allies, a technique Marx more or less created as a mode of political discourse.  (He would have been more specific in his targets, perhaps.  The Communist Manifesto, every student recalls, takes time out from the global revolution to castigate, inter alia, founders of societies for the preservation prevention of cruelty to animals.)  I sympathize with the anger.  To read an arch-capitalist like Rubini cite Marx, followed by policy proposals to substantiate the bourgeoisie, is a bit rich.  And this morning, in the FT, the pleasingly curmudgeonly-looking Samuel Brittan both pointed out that the financial world was having a Marx moment, and then promptly added to it.

Yes, Marx is being pressed into service by scoundrels.  And when not scoundrels, by those using him to save the current order, or their own bacon (hey, UBS!)  and most all of it is less than skin deep: citation posing as thought, a figure from history substituting for knowledge of it.

But some Marx is needed.  Not the Marx of “postulates”, or analysis of the first stage of industrialization, or Hegelian structural understanding of history.  Nor do we need the academic discourse of Marxism, housed in the state precincts where its been critiquing novels for 50 years.  Marx arrived, and Marx returns, at  the breakdown of the arguments the ruling class deploys to justify its status.  But what we need Marx for – by this I mean the example of Marx and not the historical Marx – is the next step.  The step the Marx-citers mocked in Zero Hedge won’t take.

By discarding the historical Marx, I don’t mean to ignore him.  The opposite: it is  important to remember the historical facts that birthed the Marxist discourse.  Marx did not appear in 1775 in France, cataloguing the abusive prerogatives of royalty against universal human rights.  He wrote in the mid-19C, when the political order was coalescing around the “rational” Bourgeoisie, with its interest in contracts, private property, commodities, and industry.  But Marx could not argue against rationality, for such would be to loose all moorings.  Instead he needed to develop a rational language that revealed, by critique of the bourgeoise rationality, the hidden (and genuine) content of same: exploitation.

The conditions of 2011 are not the conditions of c. 1850.  The analysis is not the same, and Marx’s prediction of a proletarian revolution is toothless.  Furthermore, the largest nation / second largest economy in the world is officially Marxist, and is ruled by a state which derives its legitimacy from provision for all of the workers, but looks nothing like what Marx might have expected.  (In truth, the US is vastly less “capitalistic” than, say, England in 1850.)  To quote Marx today is to dab on world historical seriousness, to induce a gasp in the minds of those who remember the Cold War.

Marx’s wild world of the cheap broadsheet is much like our blog world.  Yet, we search far and wide among the left for the next step, post-criticism.  We watch debates play out over “neo-liberalism”, with the anti’s having little to offer beyond vague hopes for the return of trade unionism.  Zero Hedge opts for scorn.  Other sites go for an anti-finance, save-the-real-capitalists tone, which surely flatters its readers as grouped among the latters.  The ne0-liberals opt to use costless web-space proposing Clintonian tweaks and expressing strong faith in monetary/ fiscal stimulus.

The urge to cite Marx, in short, is not yet accompanied by the relentless search for the “genuine content” of the ruling class’s self-justification at the end of the era of industrialization.  I don’t know what it will look like, either, this discourse.   But I think it starts with the future: how we started to imagine the future in the early days of industrialization  – capitalism being nothing more than an imagination of the future – and how we think of it now.

Zero Hedge can charge me being hollow, but I think the Marx-hunger is, in the best cases, real.  But it is very young.  A truly Marx-inspired product must confront  discredited neo-classical and Keynsian economic precepts, and fashion its own economics.  It must theorize the relation of a truly global workforce serving truly global capital.  It must acknowledge the massive growth in wealth that materially improved the world’s population since the dawn of the industrial system; and yet it must form a coherent demand for justice in the future world that finds the fissures in that system.  And it will write this work in a language that is born of, but not captured by, the present world.

It demands more than citing a dead German against downturn and injustice.  It is long, hard work.  But it is underway.

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Rick Perry / Tim Pawlenty

So long, Pawlenty.  We hardly got to time to absorb your hockey-playin’, beer-drinkin’, regular-guyness.  He was proud of his government shut down, I remember that.  Optically, he cowered before Romney and got knifed by Bachmann.  He got out at the right time and something tells me he’ll do OK.

So, moving on, we’re down to Bachmann v. Perry v. Romney.  Not a bad field, at least in representing various ideas of the GOP.  As for their personalities, the first two believe crazy things and the third believes nothing.

Since he’s new, let’s get to know Rick Perry.   Here’s Perry’s 10-point plan, will succesuflly build a bridge to the 18C, and which if enacted will allow him a ceremonial 8 years of ribbon cuttings, state dinners, and picking out drone strikes.  He shoots coyotes while jogging.  He executed an innocent man after being informed of his innocence.  He recently prayed for rain.

I question why the Rs get all the crazy ones.  What is even vaguely comparable in any D candidate to the wild accusations, crackpot theories, unexamined orthodoxies and straight-up denialism that marks an R candidate c. 2011?

Let’s consider.

Our fictional candidate would be an actual (not merely alleged) Marx-quoting Communist.  She would  run on a platform of “expropriate the expropriators”.   She would be an outright atheist.   At the end of her speeches in lieu of “God Bless America”, she’d say: “There is no God, America is on her own, which is why I’m here to help, with my copy of Das Kapital and Mao’s Little Red Book.”  She would openly and loudly accuse every rival of being crooked, self-dealing, and money-grubbing, and having risen to his position on the backs of the oppressed.  (This would be the antithesis of “hating America”.)  She would outlaw the car, because evidence for global warming is impossible to deny, and we might as well get started now rather than later.  She’d state that “you cannot prepare for war and peace at the same time”, disband the military and sell off all the weapons.

Of course, the proposed craziness of the Rs does not mean they’ll govern crazy, the implicit deal with their supporters is that they won’t be able to do anything too nuts, but they will gut regulations and keep taxes low.  This is probably correct, as it is quite hard to do even sane things via the US government’s form.  Thus they manage to get to have fun with wild ideas and still win 50% of the time, which seems unfair.

Wait, you say: the current President is a Marxist!  So, ha!

I submit that even if he was, he’d have a rational leg up on his opponents.  Marxism developed at a time when continental Europe was emerging from the “pray for rain” form of government (divine kings) and seeking a rational footing for its state organization.  If Obama was a Marxist, you could then rebut his argument!  But what can you say to someone deriving all authority from an infallible mix of the bible and the late-18C?  “You saying Saint Paul is wrong, buddy?”

Anyway, on the topic of Marx, here’s Nouriel Roubini himself, prophet of economic doom, wondering if capitalism is dead.

..Karl Marx, it seems, was partly right in arguing that globalization, financial intermediation run amok, and redistribution of income and wealth from labor to capital could lead capitalism to self-destruct (though his view that socialism would be better has proven wrong). …

Well, kinda.  A key tenet of Marxist thinking is that the bourgeoisie would make itself a state (check), but sooner or later the states would run short of new markets to exploit (globalization would build bourgeoisies in other states, and they too would be keen to exploit something) and natural resources would limit growth (oil price?).  The states would turn on each other, leading to wars, crises of legitimacy and paving the way for the revolution from below.

Do we see this today?  The exploitation of the industrial worker, which seemed the problem in 1850 that would lead to revolt, is being rapidly replaced by the subsidence of the middle class into a bizzaro working (servant) class – one without work security, or sometimes any work – in thrall to a global transnational elite and massive piles of freely moving capital.  If the bourgeois state is committed to remain a democracy, trouble is looming.  A lot of this “squeezed middle” reporting we see, and the revolts for example in the Middle East (including Israel, a democracy) imply anxieties about the death of mobility and the perception that the state now works for only a small slice of the population.  And, um, lest we forget, the most populous nation on Earth is avowedly Marxist.

So, what does Roubini think about capitalism being doomed?

To enable market-oriented economies to operate as they should and can, we need to return to the right balance between markets and provision of public goods. That means moving away from both the Anglo-Saxon model of laissez-faire and voodoo economics and the continental European model of deficit-driven welfare states. Both are broken.

The right balance today requires creating jobs partly through additional fiscal stimulus aimed at productive infrastructure investment. It also requires more progressive taxation; more short-term fiscal stimulus with medium- and long-term fiscal discipline; lender-of-last-resort support by monetary authorities to prevent ruinous runs on banks; reduction of the debt burden for insolvent households and other distressed economic agents; and stricter supervision and regulation of a financial system run amok; breaking up too-big-to-fail banks and oligopolistic trusts. …

Sigh.  One of the running themes of this blog is my amazement at commentators, who can write anything they want without consequences, and yet every…single…time they go for the anodyne.  “Is capitalism doomed?”  Not if we adopt my exciting (non-specific) 5 point plan for bank regulation!  C’mon, man!

I’m probably just bitter.  My side won’t get its Rick Perry. Dogmatic self-assurance isn’t our game.  And no one ever prayed for “additional fiscal stimulus aimed at long term infrastructure”.

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So You Didn’t Have To

The first big Republican debate of the 2012 campaign season found a collection of lifelong wielders of state power one-upping each other on the topic of their vehement disdain for state power.  Such is the fate of this strange party, its standard bearers without an excuse for why someone who loathes state power so much would wish to wield even more of it.  The Soviet threat was their saving grace, I think, and they’ve been a mess since.  In the Cold War they could seek power in order – ostensibly – to defend the nation.  Now they seek power to show how horrible it is; and last night they largely decide to show how horrible it is by displaying how horrible they are.

Indeed, they are coherent enough in their loathing of state power to agree they won’t actually govern, in the style of decision making.  Instead they swore great oaths of adherence to various principles: no taxes ever, for example.  I counted at least five questions where the questioner started with, “X [magazine / pundit / politician] termed you the most [rabidly anti-tax, frothingly pro-choice / absolutely intransigent]; is it true?  Or is someone else up here even more so?”  Their best moment of clarity was on outlawing gay marriage by a constitutional amendment, a result which is both politically impossible and ever losing support.

I thought they came off edgy and visceral (with one exception, see below) and very much aware of the absurdity of their position: at the start of a desperately long and tough process to achieve, at the end, the thing they so claim to disdain.  Also, they will all create tons of jobs!  My rankings:

1. Romney

He’s done it before, and it helped him look calm.  Reaction in the media said he “ducked questions”, but when is he going to get these actual questions?  He coherently explained his health care plan via states rights, and outlined a plan of the old Republican sauce: help the wealthy and business and the nation benefits.  I disagree, but it is coherent and its won before.  Dudes in Connecticut country clubs are nodding.  Looked neither bonkers nor scared, which was huge in that field.

(Looking ahead, it is already obvious that it will be Mitt the Mormon Businessman versus Rick the Gun-Toting, Jesus-Man Southerner.  Who will the R primary voters pick?  Dudes in Connecticut country clubs now shaking their heads.

2-3. Not Big Enough for the Both of Us

Tim Pawlenty, aswim in David-Byrne-esque suit, withered under Michelle Bachmann’s assault.  He’s done, if he’d ever actually started.  He finally got to use “Obamneycare” in a debate, but the moderator stepped on his line.  His big rhetorical move was to offer to mow people’s lawns, which was all a set up to twitch Romney on being rich.  He thinks being rich works against you among Republicans?  He quoted Spiderman, so points there.  He then closed as if he’d given the State of the Union; it’s as close as he’ll get.

Bachmann, for her part, is a fighter.  She fights and fights, as she does it fightingly.  She’ll fight some more!  Is she done?  Nope?  Fighting.   She’ll fight with congress and the courts if you elect her.  She’ll fight for Jesus every day.  She fought to not raise the debt ceiling!  And see what happened?  “Standard Poor’s [sic] downgraded us.”  If only we would have defaulted, she says, we would not have been adjudged a risk for default.

Still, her supporters are as immune to gaffes as Mama Grizzly’s were/are.  She’s in it to the end.  Can’t say the same for Pawlenty.

4. He Won’t Survive

American needs to learn to take a joke, says Herman Cain, disproving his point.  He finished off with a Donna Summer quote, and not even a good one.  Standard rich-dude vanity candidate, and in the style of this candidate, he eeds to find a niche issue he can bore us to death with.

5. The Undisputed

Question for you, Mr Gingrich.  There he is, sausage fingers clasped atop the lectern, leaning on one elbow, smirking.  What has he been doing?  Not listening to this bullshit, I can tell you that.  He’s playing a chess game in his head.  Against Kasparov.  In Afghanistan.  But, fine, since you ask:

“First, I find your question despicable.  Now, the answer is: the 90s.  Democratic president, Republican House.  We were young, sir, and we did great things.  This entire conversation is juvenile.  The Yellow Press rains calumny upon me, which I will excoriate further when I rejoin said press, as soon as I convince a few elderly shut-ins to pay off my campaign debts.”

He’s really the best.  He needs to stay in at least until he has a chance to explain how the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Renaissance caused the insolvency of medicare.  (Or something.)

6. Hunstman

So boring he doesn’t deserve a title.  Vibrated at a high frequency.  His voice made dogs anxious.  Seemed exceptionally short.  Took great pride in his role in the Hunstman Corporation, a global chemical concern.  Blamed the EPA for his outsourcing his chemical business to India and China.  Yes, why would we regulate our chemical factories?  (Hey India and China: I might run the rule over this guy’s ops if I was you.)

Also promised to turn America into Utah, which is worrisome, as this is the goal of the LDS church.

7. Ron Paul!

Made sense on “militarism”, as he does every four years.  Also blamed financial panics on US leaving the gold standard.  Um…1873, ’84, ’90, ’93, ’96…etc…1929.

8. Look at Me:

Rick Santorum mentioned polygamy twice, so he’ll consider it a win.  (Also stated darkly that there were currently polygamy-legalizing bills in state legislatures.)  Whinged about lack of TV coverage, ignoring that he’s big on The Google.  Iran isn’t Iceland, but which one shares more social views with Rick?  Got the crazed look of a man who will shortly be protesting outside these debates.  Which means he won’t have to watch them.  So he’s got that going for him.

***

Good weekend, peoples.

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Content Free

Longer post about the Republican debate coming later.

But I want to discuss the media’s “big take”: that all the candidates refused a 10 to 1, spending cuts / tax cuts ratio on a budget deal.  And via this post inaugurate a running series I will term, “Content Free”.

Many bloggers on the left  (Ezra Klein is generally a good weathervane of left-leaning conventional wisdom) latched onto the “hands-up” as further proof of the insanity of the GOP.  I didn’t blink at it, though this was perhaps my gut instinct to NOT react like the Fox moderators, who were shocked (shocked!) by it.  Primaries and relatively populist nominating processes demand a strong tilt towards a party’s extreme.  When was the last Republican who, during his campaign, even admitted the possibility of raising taxes?  Pre-WWII?  Anyway, why would 8 people’s hand-raising rhetoric be needed to convince you of anything, when you’ve just watched the entire congressional delegation staunchly refuse to raise taxes, putting the credit of the government on the line?  Isn’t that proof of more commitment than raising one’s hand in August on Fox?

But from that bit of nonsense sprouts even worst nonsense, and Matt Bai, in the house style of the “centrist” New York Times opines that that moment is the reason Americans hate politics:

But that’s just it — what any independent-minded voter saw in that moment were eight people who were not, in fact, serious about governing. They were serious about pandering to the marginal elements of their party. That’s about it.

Yes, he’s back, the “independent-minded voter”.  Not that anyone’s ever met this person.  Do you, reader, know anyone “on the fence”?  Is it even possible?  The parties aren’t far enough apart for our independent-minded voter to form a commitment?  I would submit that any actual person still “independent-minded” enough to not be sure of which party he supports must not care terribly much at all.  Which is fine, of course: you don’t need to care about this stuff every day.  But  let me suggest that not a single viewer of that debate is non-partisan; it was watched by people seriously interested in politics, and they know who they’re for, party-wise.

But the lazy repetition of the independent voter fallacy is not the main travesty of this little articlette, it comes next:

If this were merely a Republican phenomenon, the party would be alone in suffering the wrath of the average American voter. But it isn’t. You could have put a lot of Washington Democrats up on that stage, and asked them if they would have accepted $10 in new taxes or new stimulus in exchange for $1 in cuts to Social Security, and you probably would have gotten much the same response: hell, no.

Are you kidding me?  Last year, the entire Democratic party swallowed Medicare cuts to get health reform.  This year, Social Security cuts, via indexing, and even raising the Medicare age to 67 were both offered to get any revenues.  Would a Dennis Kucinich have shouted, “hell, no”?  Hell, yes.  But come on.

I have no idea what journalists think they gain from peddling these absurd equivalences.  You quickly realize, in blogging or any other kind of writing, that  breathing fire undermines your argument.  But that means you take your foot off the gas, make the argument better, tighter, and more supported; not that you should instead change your argument to tedious and unfalsifiable piffle.  So Bai opens by using a debate moment to make a point on Republican intransigence – again, I disagree this is proof of anything, but that’s his first point – but only so so he can tie in supposed Democratic intransigence and gaze longingly at the average, independent-minded voter.  Bai knew where he was going all along; he woke up this morning intent on explaining why the “average, independent-minded voter” hates politics.  To prove a pointless thesis he submits a inaccurate equivalence.

Maybe independent minded voters hate politics because journalists mail it in.

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Trust Me, I’m a Scientist

This is…odd?  Disconcerting?  Tragic?

Economics considers itself a science.  It claims to apply math to evidence.  Analysis must be supported by proof.

So how does a rift get this deep?  Competing hypothoses are the basis of science, but economics has reached thoroughly opposed and irreconcilable conclusions, generated by all-encompassing theories that have become iron laws, mouthed in platitudes.  It has, at least on one side, become a sort of theology of individual maximalisation, with the response to any question ordained by service to the agreed-upon version of the increase of same theology.

Can a science become end-focused and remain a science?  Are the two sides arguing not just different descriptions but different realities and, more to the point, different directions and goals?

I know the right wing economists are wrong.  I know they have created a bizarre world for themselves, while at the same time insulating themselves in academia, and nothing can breach their fortress mortared together with self-interest and prejudice of human nature.  They are merely another iteration in the plague of advice givers who are insulated from the results of their advice.  They have merely grafted a few math terms on the perpetual error of the ascendant class in assuming its own interests are universal.

But I worry about our side.  My side.  Are we as deeply flawed on “how things work”, just in some invisible direction?  After all, my principles seem so obvious.  I believe, as I’ve said before, the left-wing version should work: it has a rational basis, if limited historical precedent – but that it hasn’t, must give me, and more so the professionals, pause.

Sciences should not have disagreements this broad.  Beyond mere humility – which will never be found on OpEd pages – can economics salvage itself as a science, or should it give up the pretension?  What if something looks like science, but isn’t anymore and maybe never was?  What if, as the piquant critiques of the 19C held, economic science was always infected by whatever version of the future it moralized?

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