Saturday, November 29, 2008

NewSpeak of the Week: Democracy

Democracy: Government by the people of rich nations, for the rich of any nation, of the people of poor nations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Afghanistan War - Still Awesome!

Illuminating article on The Awesome War of Good Neighborliness, our righteous and wonderful invasion of Afghanistan.

It's still pretty much assumed that only crazy people opposed the Afghanistan invasion. After all, it was so obviously necessary and good.

Yet the war has accomplished none of its objectives, and continues to do so. It killed an untold number of people, and continues to do so. It has created rising instability in nearby nuclear-armed countries, and continues to do so.

This is what awesome wars look like. Not like that shitty war in Iraq.

Maybe from this it begins to look less crazy that some of us tend to oppose even obviously awesome wars.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bad Ideas are Good for You!

In Blogistan there is much talk of the War of Ideas. Our mentality about certain aspects of the conversation is dominated by this metaphor of war. In some ways, the metaphor is apt, and useful for thinking about certain things.

We have to be careful, though, how literally we take the analogy. Ideas cannot fight each other as such. To the degree they do fight each other directly, they fight out in the world, as people try to implement them - good ideas succeed and propagate, while bad ideas fail and die out. That's closer to the idea of natural selection than war.

In mass media (including the Internet) ideas compete via the adversary system - certain people become advocates of certain ideas, and those people use various forms of leverage (rhetoric, market power, community-building, etc.) to advance their viewpoint.

The leap we often make, to the great detriment of our understanding of the dynamic power of the human mind, is to identify ourselves with the ideas we advance and defend, and our enemies with the ideas they advance and defend.

It's a natural enough tendency. The trouble is, people are large - they contain multitudes. Everyone has areas of their mind that function very well, and other areas of their mind that are underdeveloped and ineffective. Our good ideas come from the areas that work well, bad ideas from the less developed areas. The way you tell the difference is through a vigorous expression and defense of ALL your ideas, the good and the bad.

The trouble comes when people assign so much emotional weight to their ideas that they cannot accept that all their ideas might not be good. They become perceptively dead, spending all the energy that should be going towards development on defending their current view of the world.

Meanwhile their opponents see this and use it as an excuse to calcify their OWN opinions into beliefs - "if we are opposing THOSE people who are so obviously deluded and wrong, we must be right!"

Never forget that to whatever degree humankind can benefit from a true War of Ideas, it is a war that rages inside of the mind of the individual. If you cannot, at the end of a decade, look back over your life and survey a veritable wreckage of bankrupt thought and action, you have wasted ten years of your life.

Advance and defend your ideas unto their death, but no farther.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Staying Home

I found this Yglesias post about the possible social effects of a prolonged economic downturn particularly interesting. As most of you probably know, I voluntarily left my career a year ago to become a stay-at-home parent/househusband. The reason it made a lot of sense is that my wife's income was vastly higher than mine, and secondarily because I do all the cooking anyway.

Despite the fact that there are quite a few households where the woman earns more money than the man, it's still quite rare, for cultural reasons, for the man to stay home. It's certainly possible that economic pressure may drive some change in this area, since two working parents of small children who have a big disparity in income can often realize an increase in their standard of living if the lower-earning partner stays home.

Such a shift would be good for me, since not only is it true that cultural baggage leads to fewer people doing it that way, the basic lack of stay-at-home dads makes being a stay-at-home dad a somewhat isolating experience.

I work, basically, in an all-female world. The men I meet are understandably wary of me because I spend a ton of time with their wives while they're at work, and to the degree that they want to befriend me it doesn't work very well because our schedules don't fit together. On the other side of the coin, when some moms from the preschool get together for 'girls night' they don't invite me, for obvious reasons.

I'm fortunate that I maintain some friendships with a group of mostly younger single guys, and I get together with them once or twice a week to drink beer and play cards and watch sports and play video games. But not everyone has that option - it's largely a luxury of men who live in the city they grew up in, as I do.

All in all, the work of stay-at-home parenting is very rewarding, but the social life that comes with the job is lonely and challenging, even treacherous. It seems likely that there will be some sort of tipping point where a significant enough increase in the rate of stay-at-home fatherhood leads to a social structure in the stay-at-home parent world that has more of a place carved out for men.

Until then, it must be said that for most men the job just isn't that appealing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anatomy of an Urban Myth

Through the Internet, and specifically through the website, people have come to understand a lot better the general concept that stories that are claimed by many reasonable and otherwise trustworthy people to be true are nonetheless false.

I personally learned through Snopes many years ago that a story that I had actually propagated myself was in fact an urban myth. The way it happened is instructive.

One day I was sitting around in an apartment in college when my buddy Tony brought out a tin of cookies. He told a story about how his Mom had sent him these cookies that she had baked from a recipe his aunt had gotten via a long, involved story similar to the one that you can find at this Snopes page.

The cookies, as I recall, were extremely good, as the cookies represented in this story must be if the story is to be plausible. And I went around for quite some time, many years in fact, telling people that I had firsthand knowledge of the story's accuracy. That is, until in 2002 a kind friend pointed me to the aforementioned Snopes page. Ouch.

Of course, you can see pretty clearly in hindsight that what I actually had was fourth-hand knowledge (Tony's Aunt tells Tony's Mom who tells Tony who tells me) of a story I had made zero effort to verify. The reason I felt like I had firsthand knowledge is because I had tasted the cookies. But "I ate some awesome cookies!" is not evidence of anything.

In the case of cookies, these sorts of things are fairly harmless. But in the case of things like alleged Iranian arms smuggling, the consequences actually can be quite dire.

I happen, for whatever reason, to know a lot of people both IRL and via email/IM relationships who work, in some capacity, within the orbit of the Pentagon (in all but one case, it's as contractors, not actual Pentagon personnel.) A LARGE percentage of these people, more than half, have told me some sort of story about how they had firsthand knowledge of the accuracy of administration claims that the Iranian government was smuggling arms into Iraq in support of anti-American fighters there.

It's very frustrating to have these conversations because it's very difficult to find a gentle way of telling someone that despite the fact that I trust and respect them and don't actually think they are lying, nonetheless I give their anecdote zero value and continue to believe that the story their anecdote supports is in fact false.

But at the risk of reopening old wounds, folks, it just isn't the case that the Iranians have any significant role in supplying anti-American fighters in Iraq.

You can see in this article how well-meaning people, having come across some tantalizing-sounding (and, crucially, privileged) piece of data, would be eager to pass along their newfound "knowledge" to others. Obviously there were Iranian arms found in weapons caches used by Iraqi fighters. But without any detail or context, you simply can't draw meaningful conclusions about such information. It's less than useless because it's quasi-information that is nothing but an encouragement for everyone to leap to the same ill-supported conclusion all at once.

We got into Iraq just that way. We were fortunate we didn't get into Iran that way as well. "Data" is not the plural of "anecdote," even when the anecdote is about an official US enemy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

George Will is a Nincompoop

Yglesias posted a little while back on a topic that I think is tangentially related to the discussion that Uncle Kevin, T and I were having on the previous two threads.

There's a whole genre of middlebrow conservative commentary that seems to be largely devoted to churning out windy blather meant to paint purely tactical political calculations as brave defenses of bedrock conservative principles.

This is no new phenomenon - the quotation "Politics is a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles" is attributed to Ambrose Bierce well over 100 years ago, and the sentiment is probably as old as politics itself.

It's unusual and mildly humorous, though, the degree of transparency and lack of self-awareness evident when people like George Will pretend that, as Yglesias quotes: "[Mitch] McConnell opposes public financing of presidential campaigns on Jeffersonian grounds."

Look, I understand that part of a partisan commentator's job is to put things in a philosophical context. Liberals do that when we talk about the grand importance of counting every person's vote, making sure that everyone who has a right to vote is able to vote if they want to, etc. That's all fine.

If I write that the reason I want every vote counted in Decatur, Georgia because disfranchisement of blacks is a cancerous blight on our national honor, etc. etc., I'm being a good liberal commentator. If I pretend that's the reason that Jim Martin wants to make sure every vote is counted in Decatur, Georgia, I'm being a nincompoop.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is Conservatism Obsolete?

Uncle Kevin had a good point in comments:

You would think that at some point someone would notice that the liberals are guilty of excess and the conservative are guilty of abject failure. There is a difference. One needs moderation, the other needs elimination.

I'm sympathetic to that point of view. With regard to the Republican party in its current incarnation, and to Conservatism as a brand, there is a lot of truth to it.

I would caution that there is a real reason that conservatism (as opposed, for the purposes of this comment, to Conservatism) exists. When solutions are implemented, those solutions invariably have flaws. Those flaws alienate people.

Chuck Klosterman wrote a brilliant article about his quixotic opposition to instant replay review in sports where he says: "And the reason I am willing to overlook what's obvious is because I would rather understand an old problem than feel alienated by a flawed solution. Which, I suppose, is precisely what conservatism is."

That's exactly right, in my view. And there's nothing invalid about the basic sentiment "I realize the old way sucked, but I liked it better." I feel that way about the BCS, for example.

The problem, electorally speaking, for modern Republicans is that at this point there's very little for them to push back against other than extremely ephemeral cultural factors that are only loosely connected to public policy. The main liberal development of the last 30 years is incremental cultural acceptance of same-sex romantic entanglements. Other than that, liberals haven't really accomplished anything significant since the 1960's.

So what Conservatism is left with is a pastiche of unconnected resentments - armchair Cold Warriors still seething over the raw deal Nixon got, aging Wall Street wannabes still bent out of shape over imaginary welfare queens, repressed sex fiends pissed off that Clinton banged a bunch of chicks, etc. There's just no significant constituency anymore for rolling back Great Society programs or busting up the excesses of the New Deal.

I guess what I'm driving at is, we're on the precipice, barring an almost unthinkable catastrophe, of the next great series of liberal policy developments in American society. From those developments will likely spring a new generation of conservatives who didn't much like the way things turned out. That's inevitable, and it's the way things are supposed to work. It's just been so long that what was once honest conservatism has morphed into this ridiculous Conservative homunculus that has no real purpose other than keeping toads like Jim Gilmore in cheap suits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I, for One, Welcome Our New Ant Overlords

People seem to be talking past each other quite a bit on whether or not, as conventional wisdom would have it, the United States is a "center-right nation." The question is sort of clumsily put, but nonetheless there is a lot of pontification on the subject at the moment and people seem to be drawing contradictory conclusions.

One reason for this confusion is a common but little-known analytic effect that has to do with the coarseness or fineness of one's view of the situation.

It's important, first of all, to make it clear that when I say "coarse" and "fine" I'm speaking in a purely non-pejorative sense. "Coarse" does not mean "crude" here. Here's a broad example:

Imagine you were an alien trying to answer the question "what's Earth like?" The first thing you might do is look at the earth from very far away. This would give you the reasonable, correct impression that the Earth is mostly water, and that in general the Earth is dominated by marine activity - water plants, fish eating water plants, swimming predators, etc.

If you took a closer look and actually came down to Earth, though, you'd find that Earth also includes a vast, technologically developed species that lives entirely on land. You would probably conclude from this that Earth is best described in terms of the activity of human beings, despite the fact that this seems to contradict your previous evaluation.

If you took a still finer view of the situation, you would realize that in fact in terms of the sheer AMOUNT of activity the Earth is dominated by two species - ants on land and krill in the oceans. Of course at a microscopic level all this would be dwarfed by bacteria and protozoans...

Which one of these answers (if any) would be most useful to your imaginary alien species depends largely on the context - that is, WHY you wanted to know what the Earth was like. But regardless of which answer you decided was best, they are not contradictory in any meaningful sense. They are all true.

The same is true of "how conservative is the US electorate?" question. The coarsest possible way of investigating this question is perhaps "if you asked everyone in the US whether they are conservative, moderate, or liberal, how would they answer?" And in that case it's been true for many years that far more people would say they are conservative than would say they are liberal.

At a slightly finer level, you could look at people's voting patterns and assign their electoral choices "Left," "Right" and "Moderate" and see how they voted - that would probably reveal, in a sense by definition, that people are pretty evenly split between liberalism and conservatism.

Or you could go down much finer to an actual policy level and assign various policies a place on the political spectrum and see how much support they got. In this last case you would find that Americans are mostly wooly-headed leftists, because in general popular opinion is very supportive of government spending, non-interventionist foreign policy, and other things that are associated with the political left. Just about the only left/right policy question that consistently comes down on the conservative side is "do you want taxes to be higher?" and even then if you structure the question in a certain way ("do you want other people's taxes to be higher?") you get a "liberal" answer.

The funniest part about all of this is that it reveals perhaps the most mundane conclusion possible - that the most effective way to remain popular as a politician in the US is to be thought of as generally "conservative," be identified with whichever party is popular at the time, and to pursue generally liberal policies while keeping taxes low on the large majority of the population.

George W. Bush governed this way - and it worked in the sense that he got reelected. Unfortunately in the medium-term, all his policies turned out to be giant failures, so now he's really, really unpopular.

So in conclusion, you can see that in America you should get elected when your party is popular, then implement policies that work out well. Not exactly an earth-shattering conclusion.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dreaming of the Mountain

Last night I dreamed I was attending some seminar but when it let out I realized I had no way to get home. In the dream I lived in a place called Werth. I asked a middle-aged guy there how to get to Werth and he sort of looked at me skeptically and told me it was only about six miles but that "Rocky Mountain" was in the way.

I sat down on the curb and thought about what to do as darkness and cold descended to chase away the warm evening sunlight.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 10

I'm thoroughly tired of football; both my fantasy teams are skidding with Tony Romo out (I'm a combined 2-4 in my two leagues since Romo went out, after starting the season a combined 11-1), and rooting for the Browns is like being repeatedly kicked in the nuts by a karate master.

Even so, I feel an odd obligation to continue churning out 4-way parlay picks. So here goes, a last-minute entry for week 10:

ATLANTA -1 over New Orleans

New Orleans is one of the teams that moves sports commentators to engage in what Matt Yglesias once called (in the context of individual NBA players) as "The Consistency Fallacy." They look really good one week, then quite bad the next week. We often see this described as "the Saints need to find consistency from week to week." But really, all teams exhibit this sort of variance around their mean output. Absent some clear evidence that the Saints are exhibiting an UNUSUAL level of variance in their level of play from week to week, we're safe in concluding that a team like this is... an average team.

Meanwhile the Falcons are pretty good; their running game is awesome and their defense is good enough. Falcons grind out a clear but close win here.

EAGLES -3 over Giants

This is a weird-looking pick, because the Giants look consistently great while the Eagles are sort of hit-or-miss. But at home, badly needing a win, I think the Eagles will have a fairly easy time creating running lanes against a speedy but not especially powerful Giants front 7.

PITTSBURGH -3.5 over Colts

No idea why this line is so low. The Colts have looked TERRIBLE against good teams, with the exception of last week against New England where they just looked half-bad in a win. Hate to pick Pitt but this looks like easy money.

Green Bay -2.5 over MINNY

Old-school conventional wisdom says that a game like this is a clear-cut Minnesota win. A team that runs the ball very well and stops the run very well against a team that wants to pass and can't stop the run. But I have a feeling this is one of those games that goes the other way, on turf, midseason, lots of points and the game turns on a big mistake by a Minnesota QB in the fourth quarter.

Plus I can't bring myself to parlay FOUR home faves against each other. Seems like death.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

In the Annals of Chutzpah..

... surely John Boehner will have his own chapter.

Today Boehner released a statement assailing a president-elect Obama for his choice of Chief of Staff on the grounds that the selection betrays a lack of bipartisan comity.

He also joins the legion of boneheads who have no idea what the word "ironic" means.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I Propose Free Wine!!!

A few Democratic bloggers have magnanimously pointed out that despite people's current conviction (which may well hold up on reflection, or it may not) that McCain ran an especially slimy campaign, he in fact did engage the public on a lot more substantive issues than Republican presidential candidates generally have in the modern era.

One substantive issue McCain brought up a lot was earmark spending. He often brought it up in the context of the federal budget and the deficit, and in this context Obama rightly pooh-poohed the idea that earmark spending is a significant part of the federal budget picture.

Even so, there is a significant issue there. The earmark system DOES invite corruption, and it almost guarantees that the dollars are not being spent entirely on things that are truly in the national interest. That's not really a controversial point. The problem is, what do we do about it? Answering THAT question is the thorny part, and McCain never made a serious effort during the campaign to provide that answer.

In my view, the main root of the earmark spending system is the difference in financing structure between the federal budget and state budgets - namely that the federal budget can meet its general budget obligations by borrowing money from the private sector, while state governments are usually prohibited from doing so. The inability to borrow money creates a slightly perverse incentive structure in state governments with regard to certain types of expenditures.

Put a bit more simply, imagine you're running the government of, say, Montana, and you learn that there's some rare goat that's going to die out if you don't build a retaining wall along the edge of some canal somewhere. Not being a goat-hater, you'll probably want to do something about it. But if you have a budget shortfall and there is a decision about whether to cut the goat wall or lay off some police officers, well, bye bye Mr. Goat.

So in theory that's why we have earmark spending. In such an instance, the Governor of Montana goes to the senior senator from Montana and he says "dude, you gotta get me a half million dollars for this goat wall." The senator goes through the process needed to insert the goat wall money into a budget bill and eventually the goat wall gets built and the goats are saved.

Of course in this instance I've chosen to spend the imaginary money on something that could reasonably be construed as being in the national interest - saving a rare subspecies of goat. In reality, a lot of earmark spending cannot reasonably be construed that way. The "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska is a famous example - it was purely a giveaway to Alaskan construction companies.

The problem is, no matter how much people may hate the idea that their tax money is going to some sweetheart construction deal in the middle of the wilderness, there's not a lot they can do about it. The only people who really have control over the process are getting much more benefit out of it (in terms of financial benefit to their state economy) than they are giving away (in terms of the impact on the federal tax rates of their constituents: essentially none), which means that all the decision-makers are essentially in a room together going

Governor: I propose free wine!
Senator: I second!
Governor: All in favor?
Both: AYE!

One big solution that's often proposed for this is the so-called Line Item Veto. This would allow the president to veto individual spending projects that he or she deemed to be not in the national interest. The problem with that solution is that it just paints another layer of politics over the process. The president is no more likely, in actual practice, to use his power responsibly than a senator or congressperson, especially given our Electoral College system that establishes a handful of states as "battlegrounds" where presidents must curry favor if they hope to be reelected.

Another solution would be some sort of nonpartisan review board to review earmark spending to determine if it serves a legitimate purpose, and ensure that the process of disbursing the money is fair. That sounds reasonable enough to me in the abstract, but one would imagine it would be a nonstarter with the vast majority of congresspeople, since it would reduce their power to please their constituents.

I'd be interested to hear from anybody who has ideas on this topic. I imagine there must be some innovative stuff out there regarding how to see that earmark spending becomes fairer and more effective dollar-for-dollar. I just don't know what it is, or where to find it.

At a Loss

I feel I should make a post about how I feel today, but I'm not feeling too eloquent. I did look back at something I wrote before the 2004 election, when I thought Kerry was going to win. Some of it is funny and still kind of apt. I don't mean for it to be a buzzkill - Raul Groom is intended to be taken with a large pillar of salt, after all.

The coming years are not going to be as much fun as we like to think. There will be no wild bacchanals where we trumpet the rolling back of the army of repressed sex fiends and psychopaths who have hounded us for as long as we can remember, and probably longer than that. Jim Morrison will not rise from the grave to proclaim the Age of the Lizard, and there will be no National Catharsis Booth where you can line up and pay $6.50 to kick George W. Bush squarely in the nads as many times as you can afford. But while it pains me to say it, alas, all of this may be A Good Thing.

Not that such shenanigans wouldn't make for a rollicking good Saturday afternoon, mind you. I can think of few things more potentially satisfying than to tie up John Ashcroft and force him to watch as I rolled the pages of the King James Bible, one by one, into huge bomber joints and chain-smoked them until he passed out from the contact buzz or I had burned all the way down through the Book of Job, whichever came first.

But despite what TV and the Ghost of Ronnie Ray-Gun would love for us to believe, life is not about wandering cheerily from one manufactured diversion to the next, sipping chardonnay and toasting the good health of our partners in conspicuous consumption. Life is work, a raging, roiling sea of work, and we take our pleasures where we can, in between turns in the field plowing and thinking of the Seventh Generation. The other option is to sit, drunk and bloated at sowing time, in the hopes of reaping what we do not sow, and if you leaf very far into good King James' Double Wide Rolling Papers, you'll find out what happens to swine like that in the end.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Voter ID

I've mostly suspended posting because I'm deathly afraid I will write something stupid that will jinx Obama and lead to four more years of McSame.

However, I got into a bit of a dustup with some friends over voter ID requirements and I wanted to put out a PSA because there's a massive amount of confusion about them.

Prior to the 2000 election, in almost all cases the procedure for voting was that you walk into your polling place, find your name on the rolls, sign the blank that says "I'm me!" and vote.

After the 2000 election, which of course was rife with problems, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, a portion of which was designed to standardize and modernize elections to avoid the "butterfly ballot" problems that depressed the Gore vote in Florida and eventually led to the inauguration of George W. Bush.

Unfortunately another portion of HAVA was an attempt by Republicans to get the camel's nose under the tent on Voter ID laws. Federal law now states that the FIRST time you register to vote in a federal election you must provide identification to the registrar, and if you don't you are then required to show ID at the polling place.

That's all the federal law says. If you are not voting for the first time, or if you provided a photo ID at the time of registration, you can still vote the old way - walk in, sign the box that says "I'm me!" and walk into the voting booth and cast a normal ballot.

On the matter of STATE law, there are some states where this is no longer the case. In most cases the ID requirements are superbroad, allowing virtually anything that could remotely be construed as ID, such as a utility bill or a bank statement, but of course if you live in one of those states you should check the state government's webpage for a list of acceptable ID.

The following states require a voter to present SOME form of identification, but do not require a picture ID, and require voters not showing any ID to vote via provisional ballot:

South Carolina
Washington (State)

There are two states that have ironclad PICTURE ID requirements: Indiana and Georgia. Both allow provisional ballots to be cast by people without ID, but in Georgia you must provide a photo ID to the registrar within two days of the election.

In Florida, the law is weird and arcane and despite the fact that based on my reading of the law you don't have to show ID, I recommend that Florida voters just cave and show ID.

In all other states, you can still vote the old way. Although many states (including my state of Virginia) have laws allowing poll workers to request identification, you can refuse to provide photo ID and just sign the box that says "I'm me!" The only circumstance in which this is not advisable is if you are, in fact, someone else.

People ask me a lot "Why is this so important to you?" Well, there are a lot of reasons. The most important is probably just that I think proper administration of voting procedures are important to democracy and I chafe when somebody tells me I have to do something that is not, in fact, required of me.

The second, perhaps more substantive reason, is that I think the end effect of HAVA and other provisions allowing poll workers to ask for ID is that a generation from now, someone will propose a federal ID law and people will not resist it because they will think "I thought that's the way it already was!"

As for WHY I don't like voter ID laws, those arguments have been made at length elsewhere and I'd be happy to have a discussion on that another time. For now, let me announce again that I, a Virginia voter who has voted before in a federal election, I will not be showing ID at the polls. If you live in one of the states that allows you to vote by normal ballot, and you oppose voter ID laws as I do, I invite you to exercise your rights and do the same.

For everyone else, just show ID! Your poll workers will appreciate that you aren't like that annoying dude with the silly T-shirts.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NFL Parlay Picker - Week 9

BROWNS -1.5 over Ravens. Because the world is not so evil that the Browns will be swept by the Ravens.

RAMS +3 over Arizona. Because I've been saying Arizona is overrated and it keeps burning me, to the point where my instinct is now to pick against them. And my instincts are always wrong.

Green Bay +4 over TITANS. Because the Titans have to lose sometime.

DENVER -3.5 over Dolphins. Because it's at Mile-High.

McCain's Name Nowhere to be Seen at Palin Rally

They say that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. So my question is, when did the McCain/Palin campaign happen the first time?

The other sign handed out to supporters read “Florida is Palin Country,” but those signs were neither paid for by the Republican National Committee nor the McCain campaign. In small print, the signs were stamped with the line “Paid for and authorized by Putnam for Congress" — as in, the re-election campaign of Florida congressman Adam Putnam, whose district skirts Polk City.

Palin/Putnam 2012!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

What Studs Terkel Meant to Me

I would love to be able to profess a greater familiarity with Studs Terkel than is actually the case. I have been exposed to him to the degree that probably most people have - I have picked up his work from time to time, enjoyed it, and moved on. I never bothered to make a considered study of the man during the portion of his life that overlapped mine. Now, he is gone. I have no easy explanation for the effect that hearing of his death had on me. Studs Terkel was, I now know, an important part of my life.

It was Hunter S. Thompson who made me want to write to begin with. But the Good Doctor made me want to write about a life that never existed; a parody of a bent and dangerous ethos that in reality I left behind long ago, and which was mostly an act to begin with.

Studs Terkel made me want to live life and copy it down as best I could. He reminded me that in the details of my small and meager existence there is monumental truth and joy that passes through me and into the lives of everyone arund me, weaving us all into the great web of history that sustains the human experiment against the howling winds of evolutionary oblivion.

Studs Terkel made me proud to be myself. For that I will remember him until I, too, have gone from this life. I hope that by then someone can say the same of me.