Perhaps because pretty much every aspect of society is going off the rails, I haven’t paid enough attention to the hearings to confirm Sonia Sotomayor. Judging by the Times’ coverage today and by a zillion tweets from liberal commentators like the guy behind DailyKos, today’s opening session was a chance for the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee to set fire to any rickety bridges between the Grand Old Party and Hispanic Americans and for the Democrats on the committee to affirm that she is, in fact, eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

Though of course I’m eager to see Sotomayor confirmed – for political and sociological reasons as well as judicial and legal ones – I can’t quite decide which is a worse symptom of the Republic’s political health. On the one side, we have powerful white men who belong to a venerable party that was founded, in part, to pursue a form of racial equality now embarrassing themselves with borderline-racist attacks on someone who – but for the color of her skin and maybe her gender – exemplifies every up-by-your-bootstraps story they love to tell. On the other hand, we have powerful white men and women (Feinstein and Klobuchar!) having to assert, with the backing of an Everest of evidence but against shrill cries from the American Falangists, that Sotomayor can, in fact, do the job that her entire professional adult life has led toward.

Sigh. Patrick Leahy, don’t fail me now.

And Jeff Sessions? Here’s my favorite tweet of the day:

RT @KagroX: Hilarious to hear Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of AL decry Sotomayor’s reference to “heritage.” Never happens in Alabama.

A Green-Energy War Effort?

I was surprised this morning to discover that a blogger on the Motley Fool personal-finance website quoted me – or rather, an article I wrote a few years back on the US economy during World War II – in an op-ed on the need to move to renewable and green energy. This would be gratifying even if I didn’t agree so much with the argument that we as a society have within our capacity, if not our will, to launch a huge effort to switch to sustainable energy sources, and then reap the economic, environmental, and social benefits of such a changeover. We need some bold leaders to push this point.

Thoughts on Iran

The events in Iran are gripping both as they roil that country and possibly alter the world and as they are reflected in the social media, including especially Twitter. I’m confident that in four weeks – and in four years – we’ll know a lot more about the role of Twitter in facilitating the protests in Iraq, but I’ll guess now that the service will turn out to have been much less important than regular word-of-mouth and other local communication and organization in Iran.

The corollary is that some of us in the “First World” are so enamored of the idea of tweeting the revolution because we are so enamored of tweeting to begin with: we’re seeing what we hope to see and can see (through tweet aggregators like Twazzup, for instance), not necessarily what’s really happening in Iran.

And but so, for my money the medium that’s really showing us what’s going on in the Islamic Republic is the same one that’s been showing us world-shaking events since the 1860s: photography. And nobody does the photo-essay thing better than’s incredible “Big Picture” feature. Today’s series on the protests in Iran is nothing less than breathtaking. I can barely stand to look at this shot, for instance:

A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mousavi is beaten by government security men as fellow supporters come to his aid during riots in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 14, 2009. (AP Photo)
"A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mousavi is beaten by government security men as fellow supporters come to his aid during riots in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, June 14, 2009. (AP Photo)"

Drawing: River Birch

I am trying to scan or photograph some of the better drawings I did for my just-concluded class at Carleton, but honestly, it’s tough to scan (or shoot) the drawings at high enough quality to make them look like they when you’re holding them in your hands. Here, though, is a decent shot of an ink drawing (with washes) of one of the river birches in our backyard. This was exceptionally fun to do, and it turned out well. The prof thought it was one of my better pieces.
River Birch


Perhaps as a way to distract myself from the colossal meltdowns that occur regularly at our house each evening between, say, 7:30 and 8:30, I’ll here post about two fantastic articles by Michael Lewis – the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and some other good stuff – on the financial meltdown:

“The End,” Portfolio, December 2008

An engrossing and shocking look at the deep and wide pool of stupidity that was Wall Street during the boom -and the recent bust.

“Wall Street on the Tundra,” Vanity Fair, April 2008
A long examination of how Iceland, without even really understanding what it was doing, remade itself as a capital of world finance, and is now suffering a calamity of its own creation.

Rolling Up the Sleeves

Remember the silly kerfuffle a few days ago when Andy Card, W’s chief of staff, insinuated, on the basis of the already-famous photo of a jacketless Obama working at the Oval Office desk, that our president probably didn’t have the right amount of respect for the presidency?

It was stupid for Card to say in the first place, but it’s all the more stupid now, when one can see – thanks to some research by our friends at the Huffington Post – several other jacketless presidents at the same damn desk, including

St. Ronald

Jacketless Reagan
Jacketless Reagan

And the Worst President Ever, right after his first inauguration, chilling with Harriet Miers.

Bush: No Jacket Required
Bush: No Jacket Required

(Link to the source via the great Apsies microblog.)

Inaugurated Out

I think I’m a little bit worn out, after yesterday’s frenzy of texting, Facebook posting, and blogging – just on the production end of things. Today was all about consumption, and here are three things worth your time.

The new president, working in the Oval Office (from a slideshow by the Chicago Tribune):

Obamas Oval Office
Obama's Oval Office

Elizabeth Alexander’s brilliant inauguration poem, “Praise Song for the Day.” The last lines get me:

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

My friend Rob Hardy’s equally brilliant response poem, “Praise Song for January 21, 2009.” Again, the last lines:

Today is a new day,
like any other.
Today we must stop
congratulating ourselves.
Today we must stop saying
that history’s been made.
We must start making it.

Things are better today than they were on Monday night, or even on Tuesday night. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp…

Resolutionary Road

Last year’s resolutions were few but good. Exactly one year later, I can say that I achieved each of them, though I abandoned number 1 – “Eat no potato chips” – on July 1 after proving to myself that I could live without chips but chose not to. (I can quit at any time.)

2008 was a good year in every respect. Genevieve, Julia, Shannon, and I are happy and healthy (excepting a lingering sniffle or cough right now) and as prosperous as we can be, given our chosen living arrangements and the dismal American economy. Moreover, we are all pleased with the way our lives are proceeding: through a busy toddlerhood for Vivi, toward the challenges of kindergarten for Julia, to a new avocation as a freelance writer for Shannon, and through a nice set of responsibilities and activities for me. And while local, state, national, and world affairs are even less settled on 12/31/08 than they were on 12/31/07, at least we can look forward to the inauguration on January 20 to commence a literally and figuratively new phase in American history.

So, in a vein of not fixing what’s not broken, my incrementalist resolutions for 2009:

  • Strive to be more “zen” as a father, letting the girls get to me less (or rather, letting myself get to me less about the girls) and trying to just roll with their kid-ness, good and bad.
  • Do more to help at home, creating more time for Shannon to write.
  • Write a journal article based on my dissertation for publication later in the year (culminating a long process that started in 2006 when I was solicited to write this piece).
  • Try and do at least one drawing – pencil, pen-and-ink, digital – every day.
  • Train more seriously as a cross-country skier, doing at least a couple ski races in this and next winter and doing at least one long running race. More on all that as warranted.
  • Get more sleep!
  • Pare down non-required obligations and duties to the bare minimum, saving physical and mental energy for family, friends, and work.

Happy new year to all!

Whatever Gets You to Sleep

More or less by design, today was a nice relaxed first day back at home. We ran a few errands, did some sledding, played with some of the Christmas toys, belted out “Hark the Herald Angeles Sing” a half-dozen times, reenacted the Nativity in various forms, and generally enjoyed the comforts of home.

The girls, still worn out from five days of too little sleep while at Nonna and Boppa’s house, also took nice long naps. Vivi made good on her promises of “no wi-wi” – “no cry-cry” – and in fact fell asleep after altering “Twinkle Twinkle” to go, “Twinkle twinkle Barack Obama, Barack Obama Obama Obama.” Seriously. When I left her room and wished her a good night, she responded, “Ni-ni, Barack Obama!”

Bonus Weirdness: Julia decided on Thursday to start calling her sister “Bubblegum,” and then readily adopted “Lollipop” as her own nickname. When I asked why she chose these nicknames, she busted out her biggest grin and said, “Because we’re both so sweet.” In ten years, that smile is gonna cause $20 bills to fly outta my wallet.


Saturday was a long, up-and-down day that began with a truly incredible amount of fussing by the eldest but which finished on a sustained high note. After the girls’ naps, we headed across town to a casual holiday party hosted by friends. We drank cocoa, ate cookies, watched the kids decorate and then eat cookies, and generally had a good time hanging out. The kids outnumbered the adults, so there was a certain amount of happy chaos.

We also watched the near-blizzard build and build and finally decided, more or less spontaneously, to turn the cookie party in a pizza dinner. Three guesses as to whether the kids liked this. Everything went very, very well, and most wonderfully, everyone went off to bed quite easily when we finally got home, two hours later than planned.

Reputable, Fair and Balanced

My day started well: my morning email included a link to an article by Larry Beinhart in the Huffington Post that briefly quotes a refereed essay I wrote a few years ago, “The American Economy during World War II.”

Arguing for massive public spending to curb and reverse the current recession, Beinhart uses my essay to round off two conservative interpretations of the effect of World War II on the Great Depression, quoting my line that “The war decisively ended the depression itself” and calling my essay “a more reputable, fair and balanced source” than the two conservative ones ( I happen to agree with one of those interpretations, though I dunno if that qualifies me for all those adjectives.)

Oddly enough, this is the second time this week that my essay has shown up in the political blogosphere. On Monday, the progressive writer Sam Smith used a long quote from the essay to make essentially the same point as Beinart – spend now, spend fast.

I don’t disagree.

The GOP’s Genes

The end of the campaign has meant that I’m blogging a lot less on politics, but this article by Neal Gabler in the L.A. Times is worth passing along, both for its cogent historical analysis of the GOP’s recent history and for its insights into the current civil war within the party between the right-wingers and the righter-wingers:

The creation myth of modern conservatism usually begins with Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator who was the party’s presidential standard-bearer in 1964 and who, even though he lost in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history, nevertheless wrested the party from its Eastern establishment wing. Then, Richard Nixon co-opted conservatism, talking like a conservative while governing like a moderate, and drawing the opprobrium of true believers. But Ronald Reagan embraced it wholeheartedly, becoming the patron saint of conservatism and making it the dominant ideology in the country. George W. Bush picked up Reagan’s fallen standard and “conservatized” government even more thoroughly than Reagan had, cheering conservatives until his presidency came crashing down around him. That’s how the story goes.

But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn’t begin with Goldwater and doesn’t celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party’s past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn’t run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn’t likely to be expunged any time soon.

Best Spam Ever

I received this message at one of my work accounts on Tuesday:

McCain Lawyer Impeach Obama!
McCain has reached an agreement with the Obama lawyers that makes Obama resignation effective November 11.
Barack Obama can lost President’s Chair.
McCain video report 10 November:

Proceed to the election results news page

2008 USA Government Official Web Site.