Youth doesn’t impress me

Something I’ve noticed about myself recently: I’m not very impressed by prodigies. I dislike the very sharp curve on which society grades young performers. Joss Stone is indeed a great soul singer for a white teenager from Devon. But she’s not in the same league as Etta James, Bettye LaVette, or Janelle Monáe. Johnny Lang, Nikki Yanofsky, Avril Lavigne, the never-ending parade of hardworking kids on YouTube–they’re just OK. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing. Good-looking kids with both broad pop appeal and genuine skill help initiate new listeners into rich musical traditions. But if you take their ages out of the equation, I don’t think any of the folks I mentioned are really brilliant.

Dream of a glorious town

Last night’s dreams were inspired by the game of Red November I played with Suri, Brent, and T-Dawg. We were living in an amalgam of Burlington and Natchitoches. Everything was sunny, bright, and clean. I soon found out that living in such a clean, well-maintained city came at a price: a large underclass responsible for maintaining everything. Anyone who’d ever been arrested, every juvenile getting detention, everyone doing community service had to clean, fix, and maintain the machines in town. At any given social gathering, or just walking down Front Street or Church Street, people around us were distracted, scanning their environment for things to fix. The entire justice system and most civil service was based on appliance repair.

Coming in from the cold

News outlets are reporting that Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the convicted bomber of Pan Am Flight 103 who was released on compassionate grounds, may be in better health than was previously thought. Between the anger at his release, New Jersey’s resistance to a visit by Col. Qaddafi, and the continuing calls from the bereaved of Flight 103 to keep Libya isolated, I’m left confused.

We won. Libya stopped supporting terrorist organizations years ago. They’ve ended their weapons programs. The government that once ordered and paid for attacks against civilians is working in U.S. courts to settle cases brought by their victims. No one is attributing this to a change of heart; Col. Qaddafi just saw the direction the world is heading and made the smart play. I’m sure he once thought of retaining power and prosperity indefinitely with Soviet patronage, but that dream is long dead. So with the new millennium he began changing the way his country does things. He wants to come in from the cold, stay out of the news, and sell some oil. This is, by any measure, a triumph of modern capitalism and patient diplomacy. Qaddafi’s willingness to renounce violence and terrorism shouldn’t be met with shouts and sanctions. He is doing exactly what we want every other autocrat in the world to do, and that should be rewarded.

Definitely in my top 10 ever bad weeks

A run of bad luck this week is leaving me more drained, frustrated, and fragile than I’ve felt in years. My car broke down, the fan on our video card went on the fritz, a friend’s computer that I built a few years back started doing poorly, and a malfunctioning air conditioner has left us with a hot, stuffy apartment and a sodden, mildewing carpet. I can usually cope with computer problems, but it took a coworker’s help to diagnose the problem with the graphics fan. My friend’s computer is a different story: that problem definitely started as a virus, but after reformatting and reinstalling, it still won’t even boot to Windows reliably. It’s acting less like a virus and more like a dying mobo. The car is fixed, but I’m still not sure what to do about the AC and carpet. I’m not mechanically inclined and just feel lost when attempting to deal with those sort of problems. There’s a chance that the one local appliance repair place can’t even look at our AC; if that happens, we might have to buy a new window unit because some nothing little part died. All I know about fixing carpeting is that it’s usually done by guys in tank tops. But there’s no one to take care of our building right now and not much money to spare, so I have to at least TRY before calling in a professional.

You’re accountable for your predictions

Daily Show host Jon Stewart was once asked how they made those great video pieces showing politicians contradicting themselves, backpedaling, lying, misleading the public, or just saying things that were flat-out untrue. He looked at the questioner unbelievingly and replied “An intern and a videotape duplicator.” Contemporary journalism imposes simplistic narratives on complex events, grabs viewers with ideologically pure programming and charismatic hosts, treats politics like a horse race with opposing sides, focuses on the trivial and immediate to the detriment of understanding big events. And in the 24-hour news cycle, reporters are always looking for new fodder, the latest news to beat the competition–last night’s news be damned. This last problem, at least, doesn’t HAVE to be this way. Modern technology stores everything written or said by a public figure, and that history is usually accessible within seconds by professional journalists. There comes a point when the most responsible action a reporter can take is to narrow her eyes, tilt her head, and tell a politician that he’s got it all wrong. The war in Afghanistan was not chosen by President Obama. The subprime mortgage crisis was not caused by bleeding-heart regulators forcing banks to loan money to undeserving minorities. Last year’s stimulus package did not lead to runaway inflation.

Holding public figures accountable for their statements and predictions has been on my mind lately because of Tea Party activists decrying the current administration’s spending. The entirety of President Obama’s agenda is responsible for only 10% of the deficit. That’s not up for discussion. It’s just how things are, and no amount of pundit spin or Glenn Beckian yelling or wishful thinking by teabaggers will change it. When reporting on Tea Party anger with the country’s budget, pointing out that the entire stimulus package accounts for only 7% of the deficit isn’t partisan–it’s CORRECT. David Brin has written more and better on this than I ever could (see his article on supply-side vs. demand-side economics, for instance),  and I think his focus on prediction is exactly right. I had a coworker ask me a few months back ask me why I continued to support the stimulus package, and my answer was “They proved themselves right.” The president’s advisers and economists implemented Keynesian economic policies, explaining why they took those actions and what the consequences would be. And they were right; the economy performed as they said. The economy is growing, jobs are coming back (although not as fast as we would like), exports and manufacturing are up. That’s why I continue to support current economic policies and progressive economic ideas in general: they don’t just coincide with my own ethics and beliefs, they have proven themselves right. And that needs to count for something.

Writing blog posts

For whatever reason I’ve found regular writing more difficult over the last few years. A friend of mine writes in advance and sets up scheduled posts for every day, and most of them are pretty darn good. drscorpio gently pointed out that a Scholars’ College graduate like myself should have little trouble coming up with a few paragraphs for a blog post–and he’s absolutely right. I’m not sure what’s changed. My attention span is generally shorter now that I’m watching television more often than reading James Joyce, but I ALWAYS loved TV. The most formidable problem is feeling rushed and pressured, even though I know perfectly well that no one’s out there waiting with bated breath for me to write about the cultural contributions of Gamera, or how the Fucked Up song “Anorak City” is simultaneously great hardcore and a sly nod to the C86 scene, or that I continue to drive broke-ass cars. In any case, I’ve determined to write more frequently. The Duke of Wellington held that “Habit is ten times nature,” and it’s one of the truest sayings I know. Perhaps what I most need to ease the act of writing is writing itself.

I’m a good co-worker

I’m not talking about being a good worker, though from my highly biased perspective I think I am. I mean that I’m good at working in an office with fellow humanoids. I make the effort to learn both the official rules and the unspoken do’s and don’ts of each office culture. (And they’re all different. I’ve worked places where you got scowled at all morning for being 10 minutes late, places where a Friday beer was a normal occurrence, places where you could never throw a banana peel in the garbage.) Is your child’s school having a fundraiser? You won’t be able to explain why they’re raising money before my checkbook is out. I scrupulously make up any emergency use of someone else’s tea, coffee, or milk, but barely notice if someone else takes mine. I avoid unnecessary arguments, stay far away from power games, do my best to avoid getting others in trouble. If there’s a potluck, I will bring something awesome.

I just feel like it’s a worthwhile asset and a real skillset that I’ve worked on. I wish there was some tasteful way to list it on a resumé.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Really hot

It’s hot. Damn hot. The AC in our building is working, but it doesn’t do a great job. The last 700 years or so of technological development have been centered around northern Europe. I think that’s because they’re not so hot. If I was in Tenochtitlan or Ouagadougou or Chennai, I wouldn’t want to build shit either. I would want to minimize all events that weren’t lying in the shade and drinking cold wine. This message is brought to you by Joe, who is really hot.