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04/13/2003 Entry: "The Economist and I part company over Lexington on California"

I believe I will let my Economist subscription lapse and just read what they put on the web. They've been annoying since they endorsed the wrong guy, still won't admit it, and that $220/year sub money buys a lot of bandwidth, stockings and cuticle cream.

And now they hate California. From this week's Lexington:

"Ever since September 11th Californians have been out of the American loop, flummoxed by the war on terrorism and locked into a pre-September 11th mindset. Far from pioneering the future, the Californian upper crust seems stuck in the 1990s, maybe even the 1960s. And now the war is widening the gap."

If California is stuck in the 90s, one of the best decades of the 20th century, then hooray for us! Peace, prosperity, innovation, two tall, good-lookin', legally elected guys running the country, although Gore has better taste in ties and women.

What Lexington misses about California is that liberal Californians are liberal mainly because they've succeeded and want others to succeed, if only so the whole mess doesn't come down around all our ears. California conservatives just seem (to me) to want more money and to use the State government to punish the children of non-blondes. The old 'I have mine, everyone else can go to hell' thinking, translated and updated from the old 'après-nous le déluge' thinking. The other thing about Californians is that we have nerves of steel: Earthquakes, fires, riots, yes, they make us anxious but really don't slow us down that much. So, as horrified as we all were on and after September 11 (and I know this because every office I had to go to on that day everyone was crying, including me), it didn't solidify us into the officially sanctioned stance on the War on Terrorism, but left many of us thinking hard about a) how to avoid acts of terrorism in the future; b) why our security measures failed (which is part of 'a'), and c) possibly taking a hard look at the culture, ours and the terrorists, that created the incident. But all of that was swept away by rage and Operation Enduring Freedom and any serious investigation, let alone the kind of criminal trial we used to do here in the US, of Osama bin Ladin was bombed to bits. I said more about this in an April 4th blog entry. It's tough being governed by rage-a-holics and that other word that starts with an 'a'.

And then there was this cranky bit in Lexington:

"The first is that California, not least its journalism, is stuffed full of celebrities whose access to the airwaves is inversely related to their knowledge. ... And Sean Penn's assurances, based on a three-day visit, that Iraq is 'completely free of weapons of mass destruction'?"

And has Sean been proven wrong yet?

Then Lexington hits the class warfare button and not very well either:

"...watch yet another degree-less actor denouncing the 'war for oil'..."

Are only people with Bachelors degrees and higher allowed to denounce the 'war for oil'? If that's the case, then the trade-off must be that only publications founded and based in the US can criticize California. And if that shuts Lexington the fuck up, I'll confine myself to denouncing the war as a ploy to rule through fear because the bush junta cannot govern through consent. I never thought it was for oil in the first place. See how easy we California girls are to get along with?

Pish! Having or not having a degree isn't a measure of intelligence or worth. Grow up, Lexington, and smell the latte. Eric Hoffer, Mother Jones, and St. Francis of Assisi didn't or don't have degrees and look how well they turned out. I think there's an element of jealousy in Lexington, I mean, once you have a degree you can never unhave it and there's one less possibility in life. When you don't have a degree, well, the vista is still infinite. I don't have a Bachelors degree; so much to do, so little time - like making a living and, occasionally, art.

The green-eyed monster also lurks in this slam at degree-less actors because - love 'em, hate 'em - they are so much prettier than most people who have degrees and all the rest of us. Since we don't have (lethal) human sacrifice in this culture, we have to content ourselves with just hating those how are better looking. Eh, civilization, what can you do?

Oh, and as far as clueless actors polluting the purity of the media, Lexington, I have five words for you: Charlton (my cold dead hands) Heston and Ronald (Bitburg) Reagan (but they have degrees, so in Lexington's World, they don't count. Hm.)

So, yes, I believe I will let that Economist subscription lapse and send some of that money to Pacifica radio, bless their wacky little lefty hearts. To paraphrase EF Benson, the wacky Left is like Australia for me: I never want to go there, but I always want it to be there.

And even if California wasn't the 6th largest economy in the world, well, if we didn't exist, someone would have to invent us and The Economist just isn't up to the job.

And just to be really wicked, click here for the entire column.

Lexington

The left-out coast Apr 10th 2003 From The Economist print edition

A state that used to be a trendsetter is stuck in a time-warp

CALIFORNIA has always prided itself on getting to the future first-on pioneering the suburban affluence of the 1950s, the tax-cutting revolution of the 1970s and the high-tech boom of the 1990s. So consider a horrible possibility: that now it is the "new America" in the west that just doesn't "get it" (in the infuriating phrase of the 1990s' cyber-gurus) and the "old America" in the east that is grappling with the future.

Ever since September 11th Californians have been out of the American loop, flummoxed by the war on terrorism and locked into a pre-September 11th mindset. Far from pioneering the future, the Californian upper crust seems stuck in the 1990s, maybe even the 1960s. And now the war is widening the gap.

September 11th is usually credited with bringing America together. But it also opened up a psychological gulf between the two coasts. People on the east coast were inevitably more shocked and shaped by that terrible day than people who witnessed it on television from a distance of several thousand miles. That psychological gap has grown bigger with time.

New Yorkers and Washingtonians live, day in and day out, with the knowledge that their cities are the prime targets of another terrorist attack. A succession of grim events has reinforced this sense of vulnerability: the mysterious anthrax attacks; the crashing of an airliner in Queens; the Washington sniper; and the recent terror alert, which sent easterners rushing to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting but left Californians bemused. California's worries are very much pre-September 11th worries: the economy, schools and the budget deficit. Fewer than one in 50 Californians names homeland security as his main concern.

The war on terrorism has also shifted the national spotlight back to the east coast. In the 1990s it was hard to take your eyes off California. Geeks and their gadgets became a national fetish. Young journalists flocked to San Francisco to work for Red Herring and the Industry Standard. Publishers handed out million-dollar advances for the latest Silicon saga. But who gives a fig about Moore's law these days?

Meanwhile, the war on terrorism has shifted the national spotlight on to two subjects that California flunks badly-politics and geo-strategy. Of course, the golden state has islands of expertise, such as Rand, a Santa Monica think-tank which arguably invented the study of terrorism, and the Hoover Institution, a conservative power-house. But it also has two big disadvantages.

The first is that California, not least its journalism, is stuffed full of celebrities whose access to the airwaves is inversely related to their knowledge. Remember Barbra Streisand's press release suggesting that Saddam Hussein is president of Iran? And Sean Penn's assurances, based on a three-day visit, that Iraq is "completely free of weapons of mass destruction"?

The second is the implosion of the local Republican Party. Given the neanderthal nature of many of that organisation's members, it is tempting to say good riddance. But a one-party state seldom makes for healthy political debate. Worse, the Democratic Party is controlled by its most extreme elements. At a recent state party convention delegates loudly booed Joe Lieberman, despite the fact that this intelligent moderate was addressing them on a pre-recorded videotape.

A good deal of Californian political discussion is locked in the 1960s. Listen to Pacifica Radio, read some of the Los Angeles Times columnists, or watch yet another degree-less actor denouncing the "war for oil", and you are immediately transported back to that heady decade-to a time when American power was always being put to malign ends, when the American armed forces were always bogged down in an unwinnable war, and when the CIA and the FBI were always up to no good. This mindset is not unique to California, of course; it is to be found in most universities in the land. But in the rest of the country the class of '68 has to contend with a cacophony of other voices. In the nation's biggest state it reigns almost unchallenged.

California sleepin'

Will California recover, or is it bound to fade like some ageing screen siren, while younger floozies (Texas? Florida?) grab the limelight? One depressing thing about the state's current marginalisation is that it actually began before September 11th. The bloom was already off the Silicon rose even before the terrorist attacks. Moore's law had become snore's law, computers just another commodity.

Politically, California has been out of the loop ever since the Clintons moved out of the White House. Californians were never going to warm to George Bush and his southern-fried brand of Republicanism. This is a state where Bill Clinton (who won the state twice by a 13-point margin) is still a hero and where even 54% of registered Republicans oppose restrictions on abortion rights. The energy crisis that followed hot on the heels of the 2000 election reinforced Mr Bush's image as a devil. Californians are less inclined than almost anyone else in the country to give the president the benefit of the doubt on anything from tax cuts to homeland security.

But the odds are surely on another comeback. Silicon Valley will contrive some new revolution that seizes the national imagination. This year's Oscars had the smallest audience for 30 years, but Hollywood still creates the images that define America in the eyes of the world. Above all, there are the immigrants: California still pioneers America's demographic future.

And, besides, there are compensations in being out of the loop. Do you really want to be on the cutting edge of history at a moment when that cutting edge is all about terror and destruction? Sit in a café in West Hollywood, bathed in sun and surrounded by suspiciously beautiful people, and you can see the point of taking the occasional holiday from history.

***

 

 

 

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