Monday, December 15

Hey, Slate, I've Counted Twice Now And I Keep Coming Up With An Extra Chromosome

Jennifer Olmstead, XX Factor: "Spirited Defense of the Imaginary Accomplishments of Our 40th President". December 11

YOU may have noticed I have a minor obsession with the Date of Birth. It dates to 1980, to a car trip with my Poor Wife, her father, who was driving, and her baby brother, riding shotgun; I have no idea at this point where we might have been going. They lived an hour's drive away from us, so we would have had a vehicle of our own, and it's odd that Mom was absent, but that was the lineup. And the radio was on, and we get to the newsbreak, where the top story, as always in that benighted time, was the Iranian hostages, and baby brother says (I'm approximating), "We should just take 500 of them, and start killing one every hour until they release ours."

I can't swear to it, but I think some variation on "towel-head" might have made an appearance in there somewhere.

Now, I'm from Indiana; I've been inured, of necessity, to gleefully unalloyed racist genocidal fantasies coupling with almost Disney-esque imaginings of the power and abilities of the US military, not to mention the universal assumption of any and all proponents of the above that every white person within earshot wholeheartedly agrees, most of my life. What shook me up about the thing was that at the time, Baby Brother Ray was a first-class teenage hellion. I believe that by this point he'd wrapped two vehicles around trees while under the influence of Quaaludes, one while under the driving age and the other, of course, while under court order to avoid driving until he was eighteen. And as I recall these were two of his more positive contributions to society, on the grounds that he was at least being influenced by something, or something other than the plastic phantasmagoria of American cultural life as it haphazardly rains on Her teenaged boys like a particularly virulent case of dandruff. So I had two objections: that one really ought not aver murderousness in defense of the supposed foreign policy objectives of a nation whose most basic, lives-of-fellow-patriots-protecting traffic regulations you were not prepared to acknowledge, and that, while it was fine to smash cars into private property, provided you endangered no one but yourself, doing so on drugs was an insult to the drugs. Drugs were supposed to be taken to enjoy life, or to figure out something about it; to enhance the sexual experience or, more often in my own case, to obtain the sexual experience. None of this had anything to do with driving, unless you had to drive somewhere before you did it. Screwing this up was a faux-pas, perhaps forgivable in cases of youth; but screwing it up while identifying with the more rabid anti-humanist nationalist faction of a country which was pursuing a war, not on these supposed foreign enemies, but on you and your drugs was simply unforgivable. My snap evaluation was confirmed, that Christmas or the next, when he asked his sister and me for the latest Rush album.

(I'm probably also obligated to point out, in case the School Board is looking in, that he was nearly a decade younger than his siblings, whom the chemical hedonism of the Sixties had, within reason, passed by. For example [Opposites Attract!], my wife's intoxicants of choice, by the time I met her, were nicotine and white wine spritzers; one of the things I liked about her immediately was that having her to windward when the joint was going around meant it got back to you one step quicker, and she was never so stoned she fell asleep holding it.)

It's certainly not as if this were unprecedented, nor I somehow unaware of those native tendencies toward political solutions inspired by the Tokyo Fire Bombings, but the time frame has always stuck in my head, and I've always been acutely aware that the later notion of what might be thought of as the Ron and Nancy Reagan Youth Reeducation Program was already in place, and in part quite unnecessary, throughout the 70s. (I had, in fact, experienced plenty of it myself, in public school early in the decade. Be like your idols Sonny and Cher, kids!)

Marihuana! You'd'a thought The Bard in the English Setter Vest might've been a little more savvy in his choice of intoxicant to battle. Acid? Smack? The only thing I've ever been able to figure out is that he wanted the world to marvel that the man who could sum up the breakneck pace of a world gone mad in a single line--'Lectric'ly they keep a baseball score!--wasn't even high at the time. Ironically, of course, Cher's later career is due entirely to the easy availability of poppers.

Like any other generalization, one's DOB is no predictor of individual behavior, and it may be that the whole idea is just a pot flashback of mine--I wouldn't know, would I?--but it is interesting to see the number of Reagantots--Brooks, Reynolds, most of the Cornerites, e.g.--who view the era of their youth and/or young adulthood in a sort of universal sunny pastel haze not unlike the more earth- or jewel-toned hazes of my own formative years, but tougher, apparently, to climb back out of. Unlike the more common form of inebriation, Reagan intoxication seems to prevent one from ever wondering where the hell he'd gotten to last night, what he did once he was there, or why his pants are on backwards.

Which brings us to Slate, and the XX Factor, and someone called Jennifer Olmstead. I don't know whether she's the same Jennifer Olmstead who's an associate professor of economics at Drew University, and I don't know anything about Professor Olmstead even if I did. She's the stated author of what might be termed the ultimate Slate post, (entitled, or not, "Rapidly Aging Jailbait"), as it does not seem to exist at all beyond its capsule description on the front page of a day or so back (how's that for contrarianism?). Clicking the link brings one forward into the present, which is not a bad thing except you're still at Slate. The piece apparently stated, or did not state, depending on which shoebox you opened, that she is a newlywed, and suggests that her new hubby is a twenty-two year old notable for a culturally-deprived upbringing innocent of the teachings of The Karate Kid, a movie which predates his presumed birth. Or the face before he was born. We note here simply that tongue-in-cheekiness works best when the tongue is planted firmly. While we're at it, one should never, ever write anything even mildly approaching "deeefinitely". Not even while twittering.

Mrs./Professor/Schrödinger Kitten/Ms Olmstead writes:
Newsflash: Bush Isn't the Culprit (!!!)
Posted Thursday, December 11, 2008 5:21 PM | By Jennifer Olmstead
It was REAGAN all along, after all these years!
"The financial crisis is not only a cause of our national malaise," says Good's Jeffrey Sachs, "but also a symptom of the deeper wrong turn that America made decades ago, when Ronald Reagan declared that government had to get out of the way to restore the national economy. After a wild decade of high inflation and soaring energy prices in the 1970s, Reagan made government the enemy. From that point on, the name of the game was to cut taxes, shrink government, and allow the magic of the market to deliver the goods."
Cutting taxes? Shrinking government? Relying on the free market? The horror!

(I'm sorry. Somehow in the above we left out the bit about three or more exclamation points, especially when using even one, parenthetically or no, overpowers what little of actual substance you actually have to say.)

Now, while we don't know (deeeefinitely) whether Ms Olmstead is an associate professor of economics, we know for certain that Jeffrey Sachs was one of the youngest professors of economics Harvard has ever had, and that he's currently Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs and a Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's School of Public Health. And we know he was born in 1954, which means he might actually have some experience of the Reagan administration and its aftermath, unlike the bizarro world second-generation Xerox of a defense spouting here:
Luckily, Sachs proclaims, all is not lost. We've entered the age of Obama (who, incidentally, happens/ed to like Reagan and what he did for our country—at least until he realized he wasn't supposed to), and as soon as we learn to stop worrying and love ... taxes—which are, apparently, "the price we pay for civilization" and the only choice we have, with "the budget pushing toward $1 trillion"—then we'll fix the world, walk on water, community will be restored, and our blasted economy will stand up on weak legs and dance.

So long as we screw Reagan, who didn't, like, pick the country up off the brink of a major recession; create 17 million new jobs; cut black unemployment in half; do a little tax reform; restore the idea that the private individuals/businesses, not the government, were the source of prosperity; and work out a few minor misunderstandings with the Soviet Union ... or anything like that.

Again, absent more evidence we're not going to accuse Ms Olmstead of being an economist, but "hagiographer" is already settled. We remind you, once again, that the Reagan economy is neatly bounded by the remarks of Donald Regan, Secretary of the Treasury, in April 1981, to the effect that the spring Market rebound was due to the "anticipation" of those wonderful Reagan economic and tax policies which had yet to be enacted, and by the remarks of Donald Regan, White House Chief of Staff, surveying the wreckage of Black Monday, 1987, to the effect that the administration had never claimed to have overturned the business cycle.

So: 1) the Recession(s) of 1980-82 were man-made, the result of Fed actions (in October 1979, when Carter-appointee Paul Volcker took over as Chairman) designed to combat inflation (then running at over 14% a year) full-on, instead of trying to balance that against fears of recession and unemployment. Unemployment went up, and Carter lost his reelection bid, but in two years it worked; by the time the money supply was loosened inflation was broken and would remain so for two decades. This had nothing whatever to do with Ronald Reagan, prophet of Trendy Anti-Keynesianism. 2) Reagan's 2% job creation record is the worst for any post-war President not named Bush, and is accompanied by a growth in real wages of less than half that. 3) "Cutting black unemployment" is just a silly bit of Reagan apologetics you picked up somewhere and stuck on sideways before the icing set. Unemployment among African-Americans was twice that of whites when Reagan took office, and twice that when he left; it's one of those matters which just seem to be argued the way the Bad Guys throw sand in the hero's eyes in cinematic fisticuffs. 4) "Doing a little tax reform" included (off the top o' me head) lowering the top marginal rates twice and raising them once, giving rise simultaneously to a generation of people claiming this (the lowering) was the source of The Miracle, and a generation of people ignoring the fact that the results say exactly the opposite. It is this, I think, where Sachs' case really lies, the conflation of improved economic activity (as compared to the 1970s, economically worst decade after WWII, at least prior to our current one) with the much more successful PR campaign for tax giveaways to the wealthy. Between WWII and 1980 rising wealth indeed lifted all boats, with the bottom 20% doing the best; since then, with the exception of the Clinton years, only the top 20% have prospered. 5) Sorry, but "restore(d) the idea that the private individuals/businesses, not the government, were the source of prosperity" is just moisture-laden breath on a cold window, with more than a hint of gin; and 6) the Solitary Hero of the Cold War business is too, except that it also involved increasing the military budget to nearly half again its size at the height of the Vietnam war, despite the fact that we knew, for certain, by the late 70s that the Soviets were about to go belly up. Apparently it was necessary to keep this quiet at the time so that thirty years into the future total no-nothings could make solid pronouncements about how wildly successful it was. With a 100% certainty of success.


Christopher said...

restore the idea that the private individuals/businesses, not the government, were the source of prosperity

I want to know where people learn to talk like this, and, especially, where people learn to listen to this and not lose all respect for the speaker.

Things like this are pure marketing; somebody sincerely talking about how "businesses, not government, are the source of prosperity" is like somebody sincerely talking about how Miller Light is the best beer because of their company's commitment to less filling great taste, or somebody raving about the Olive Garden by explaining, "When I'm there, I'm family!"

Normally anybody who acts like that is rightly dismissed as a shill or a madman, but somehow, when the subject is politics, people nod along and consider the repetition of advertising slogans be a sign of intelligence and thoughtfulness.

It really, really bugs me.

map106 said...

Okay, well to lower the "conversation", as is my wont, and to be totally OT, I just want you to know, Dog, that I ordered one of your Rothko mugs for my SIL, who was a "painter" before she decided to marry my brother and then realized she had to spend all of her spare time fawning over him.

Anyway, having received it, I checked the price at CafePress because what I was charged seemed more modest than I remembered when ordering it, and I must say that you should talk to your PR folks at CP. Not about the price necessarily, but you might want to question their choice of pics that "highlight" your sense of humor.

Okay, I decided to unwrap the mug to make sure my point was correct, and of course, it isn't. I guess all I can say is 1) I'm not sure how they produced the "additional view", which is pretty useless, and 2)I think the photos and design are rather right-handed centric, and I'm a left-hander.

Nonetheless, I'm glad I purchased it, and I hope my SIL gets it; I know no one else in the family will. But, when you start making millions on your brilliance, you might want to exercise more artistic control over the products bearing your website name or its address.

Hattie said...

So if you are a woman you can't write for Slate unless you are really really dumb.

Narya said...

Hattie: Doesn't Camille Paglia write for Slate? (which I don't read). Which would make your point.

I can't read about Reagan w/o thinking about his appearance in "Cryptonomicon."

Hattie said...

Camille Paglia may write for Slate. I hardly ever read Slate. She does for sure write for Salon, but intelligent women also write for Salon.