Raban on Palin

Via @hughmcguire on Twitter comes an article from the London Review of Books that takes a piercing look at Sarah Palin. It puts her apparent popularity in a clear light by invoking Poujadism, and shows how the really big chunk of America that does not live in cities have long been drawn to Poujadistic candidates. A difference, however, is that this candidate really is a small-town bumpkin, unlike Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot, and even the Bushes, who were all big money city slickers who simply knew how to appeal to the anti-liberal, anti-urban yee-haws.

But the article, penned by Jonathan Raban, doesn’t take the easy tack that I’m toying with. He doesn’t put her down for being rural, he simply exposes and explains her appeal so that we city folk can have a clearer understanding of why some people aren’t so quick to condemn her. The article then goes on to skewer Palin rightly; based on her Mercurial tactics, complete disregard for process and accountability, and terrible track record of hypocrisy, pork-barrelism, and mismanagement. It also takes a few shots at her intellect:

What is most striking about her is that she seems perfectly untroubled by either curiosity or the usual process of thought. When answering questions, both Obama and Joe Biden have an unfortunate tendency to think on their feet and thereby tie themselves in knots: Palin never thinks. Instead, she relies on a limited stock of facts, bright generalities and pokerwork maxims, all as familiar and well-worn as old pennies. (Emphasis mine.)

Watch for that phenomenon in the Vice-Presidential Candidates debate tonight. Specifically, watch for this:

Given any question, she reaches into her bag for the readymade sentence that sounds most nearly proximate to an answer, and, rather than speaking it, recites it, in the upsy-downsy voice of a middle-schooler pronouncing the letters of a word in a spelling bee. She then fixes her lips in a terminal smile. In the televised game show that passes for political debates in the US, it’s a winning technique.

The article, which is fairly long at 5500 words, is worth the time it takes to read. It provides an excellent resumé of Palin’s strange rise to prominence in Alaska, as well as a survey of the swaths of destruction she may leave behind if she moves to Washington. Describing the post-Palin Wasilla, the town for which she was Mayor, Raban says:

Present-day Wasilla is Palin’s lasting monument. It […] is a centreless, sprawling ribbon of deregulated development along a four-lane highway, backed on both sides by subdivisions occupied by trailer-homes, cabins, tract-housing and ranch-style bungalows, most built since 1990. […] Wasilla is what inevitably happens when there are no codes, no civic oversight, no planning, when the only governing principle in a community is a naive and superstitious trust in the benevolent authority of the free market.

Go read that article. Especially if you’re a rural America who is easily charmed by jabs against urban liberals and you think someone like Sarah Palin has something good to offer.

Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill, by Jonathan Raban.

Bail Out

I‘m no economist, so I’m not going to make the mistake of pronouncing one way or another on the proposed $700 Billion Wall Street bailout that is currently being discussed in the U.S. But I’ll say this, if economists Marcus Alexis of Northwestern University, Jeremy T. Fox of University of Chicago, Matthew Kahn of UCLA, Steve Pejovich of Texas A&M University, and Caroline Fohlin of Johns Hopkins University – along with almost 200 other academics – feel it’s bad enough to sign this online petition against it, then maybe it’s not such a great idea.

Doomsayers claim they’ll fall into another 1930s-syle “Great Depression” if the banks are not bailed out. People who are sick and tired of corporate welfare and backroom shenanigans between Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue say they should stick it to ’em and let ’em sink.

Nobody wants to see the economy fail, but the real question seems to be “what would make the economy fail?” Given the extraordinarily high profits the major banks have made year after year over the past decade, will it really crush the economy if they have a bad year? Maybe; but I’m not an economist, so how would I know?

But what else could you do with $700 Billion? What if they said “screw the banks, let’s invest that money in America?” This MSNBC article proposes seven better uses for $700 Billion, and my inclination is to believe what it says over what a bunch of guys in blue pinstripe suits say.

According to the article:

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would cost $180 Billion to fix the various bridges in the U.S. that are in need of repairs. A month ago, $180 Billion seemed like an astronomical amount. Now, compared to the Wall Street bailout, it’s chump change.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers also estimates it would cost $185 Billion to bring the U.S.’s rail infrastructure up to speed. The U.S. is a big country, and getting around by rail will likely become a more popular option for both people and cargo as flying becomes less and less viable (due to high fuel prices and overzealous and misdirected airport security). The basic infrastructure is there, but it has faded and degraded over time as the almighty car and the almighty jet plane have taken over. But we’re in the midst of a sea change in how stuff gets around. Rail is already there; doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of it?

The article goes on to talk (unfortunately briefly) about other ways to spend some of that $700 Billion, such as investment in renewable energy and reduced-consumption technologies, investments in health care and education, and even national security (hopefully, in a way that makes sense).

One big advantage to that kind of $700 Billion spending is that it provides a good return on investment. These are all thing that really must be done, one way or another, and best of all, they create jobs. It’s not like those bridges are going to rebuild themselves.

But what do I know? I’m not an economist. Hell, I’m not even a U.S.er. Whatever happens, it’s going to be expensive, and I hope that the money is spent in a way that strengthens the nation and its people, and not just the Wall Street economy.

Sold! Advanced Book Exchange and Cirque du Soleil

A few Canadian businesses have been sold recently. For example, the outstanding Advanced Book Exchange (ABE), the Victoria-based clearing house for hard-to-find used and rare books, has been inhaled by Amazon. ABE claims they will continue business as usual and will not relocate.

On a more acrobatic note, 20% of Cirque du Soleil has been sold to interests in Dubai (at least it’s only 20% — for now).

Big Sur in Flames

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn is one of the beautiful properties under threat from the wildfires raging along the central California coast. According to this article, the inn was evacuated on Sunday, and the fire was so close that a burning log rolled into one of the rustic cabins, although it was quickly extinguished by fire fighters.

Loyal readers of this blog will remember Deetjen’s. That’s the place where Martine and I stayed during our trip to California in 2004. It was my second time at Deetjen’s and Martine’s first. The reason it was so special (besides the obvious — that Deetjen’s is a gorgeous, laid-back inn in a stunningly beautiful location) was revealed in this blog post. (Check item number 5.)


One of the beds in the room where we stayed. (Photo courtesy JLT on Flickr.)

I hope they get the fires out soon, and I hope Deetjen’s and other places in Big Sur, such as the Henry Miller Library, along the coast are saved.