Another One Bites the Dust

Another bookstore that is: Olsson’s Books in Dupont Circle closes:

“The Dupont Circle location of local bookstore chain Olsson’s abruptly closed today, with signs having been taped in the window thanking customers for 16 years in the Washington area. A single flower had been placed in the doorway, appearing to be the beginnings of a shrine.”

Man, this blows big time. Last summer, I used to go to that particular Olsson’s every week because it was a five minute walk from where I lived. See, I have a compulsion: everytime I go into a bookstore, I HAVE TO get a book; I just have to, there is no helping it. So I must have spent close to $300 dollars that summer on books alone.

It truly makes me sad that local bookstores are closing down one by down: it’s bad enough already with the big chains like Borders and B&N, and the problem is compounded due to the economy. I was pretty heart-broken when Cody’s Books on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley closed, and I was pretty ecstatic that the new owners decided to re-open the store on Shattuck. But even that little venture couldn’t last very long, as the new Cody’s closed shortly after I left Berkeley for DC.

And this is the one thing that DC seriously lacks compared to Berkeley: the variety of independent/used bookstores and record stores. There is almost nothing here, and given the current economic condition, I don’t think the outlook for independent stores is good.

So RIP, Olsson’s.

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Post-Modern Child-rearing Practices

From Eurozine: Manual for postmodern childrearing:

“Be suspicious of all forms of progress displayed by the child and question its origin and the oppressive underlying ideology. Operate on the basis of necessity rather than meaningfulness, and encourage the child to renounce all outward distinctions such as cakes or scholarships. Do allow sweets from strangers.”

This is just one example, but the piece itself is hilarious. I swear, sometimes it’s too easy to mock post-modernism. But my favorite?

“If your child accuses you of incomprehensibility, then accuse it of logical positivism.”

The Bail Out Bill is Now Available for Your Leisurely Perusal

Looks like the New York Times have gotten its mitts on the draft bill of the bail out plan (pdf) that will most likely go to the floor tomorrow. Granted, this is a draft, but barring any major 11th-hour shenanigans, what you are reading is the largest bail out in US history, all in a 110 pages.

A quick preview:

2 The purposes of this Act are—
3 (1) to immediately provide authority and facili4
ties that the Secretary of the Treasury can use to
5 restore liquidity and stability to the financial system
6 of the United States; and
7 (2) to ensure that such authority and such fa8
cilities are used in a manner that—
9 (A) protects home values, college funds, re10
tirement accounts, and life savings;
11 (B) preserves homeownership and pro12
motes jobs and economic growth;
13 (C) maximizes overall returns to the tax14
payers of the United States; and
15 (D) provides public accountability for the
16 exercise of such authority.”

After going through it, we can hopefully find out just how much this bill intends to go about its purpose.

WWJRD: What Would John Rawls Do? (regarding the Bail Out?)

Chris Bertram provides a possible answer to this question:

“Lefty: I know, but there’s this thing called the difference principle.

Pancho: What’s that then?

Lefty: Well it says that we should arrange the way our society works so as to give the least advantaged people the best prospects they can have …. it’s kind of hard to apply it in the middle of a crisis, but it might justify something like the Paulson plan, if that’s what it took ….

Pancho: I have my doubts, how can it be in the best interest of the least advantaged to throw money at the guys who made the bad decisions? Won’t they just make risky choices again, and land us all in a similar mess in a decade or two?

Lefty: Maybe. But let’s assume it is true (we do a lot of that) that throwing money at the bankers is in the long-term interest of the least advantaged, because that’s what’s necessary to save the system.

Pancho: Assume away … you usually do ….

Lefty: Well then, the difference principle says that justice requires the Paulson plan.

Pancho: What? But that’s crazy!

Lefty: Sometimes philosophy makes counterintuitive recommendations ……”

Of course the real, and the only, question is this: will the bailout actually help the less advantaged, i.e., Main Street rather than Wall Street? And this seems to me something that pure ideal theory cannot really resolve, especially since we are in the very midst of the crisis, having no way of knowing just what the true market value of those bad assets are, and uncertain whether taxpayers will lose, break even, or turn a profit.

In other words, the justificatory power of the difference principle, as it is applied to the Paulson plan, turns on an empirical reality that we do not know yet. So far, all we have heard is that if we don’t do anything, the Four Horsemen will rise and signal the end of the world as we know it. We keep hearing: now it’s not the time for deliberation, because if we don’t get this thing pushed through Congress THIS VERY FUCKING HOUR, the sky will fall!

Which goes back to my original point: a week simply isn’t enough to really deliberate the in’s and out’s of the biggest bailout in American history. It seems that Congress and the media have all been convinced, when in fact both Paulson and Wall Street have offered no persuasive empirical evidence. In fact, all Paulson is doing is merely asserting, and this assertion can be boiled down to one sentence: Give us ze money Lebowski, or we’ll cut off your johnson.

Finally, as an aside, the philosophical dialogue is in desperate need of revival. It boggles my mind why philosophers don’t try to write more philosophical dialogues. I mean, shit, even someone as stylistically gifted as Nietzsche didn’t even write one, what’s up with that?

iPhone blog testing

just testing my new iPhone

The Onion at Its Best

NASCAR Cancels Remainder of Season Following David Foster Wallace’s Death:

“LOUDON, NH—Shock, grief, and the overwhelming sense of loss that has swept the stock car racing community following the death by apparent suicide of writer David Foster Wallace has moved NASCAR to cancel the remainder of its 2008 season in respect for the acclaimed but troubled author of Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

In deference to the memory of Wallace, whose writing on alienation, sadness, and corporate sponsorship made him the author of the century in stock car racing circles and whom NASCAR chairman Brian France called “perhaps the greatest American writer to emerge in recent memory, and definitely our most human,” officials would not comment on how points, and therefore this year’s championship, would be determined.”

Leave it to The Onion to produce an absolutely brilliant, hilarious, ironic (or is it sincere?) tribute to David Foster Wallace. I think DFW, were he alive, would have found this piece to his liking. It’s a mock tribute that rings true than some real tributes, because the style and the substance of this satire is David Foster Wallace-esque.

But what really kills me is this:

“”Racing and literature are both huge parts of American life, and I don’t think David Foster Wallace would want me to make too much of that, or to pretend that it’s any sort of equitable balance,” Helton added. “That would be grotesque. But the truth is that whatever cultural deity, entity, energy, or random social flux produced stock car racing also produced the works of David Foster Wallace. And just look them. Look at that.””

It’s a perfectly pithy and absurd paragraph, but in its absurdity it only reveals what is even more absurd, namely, that while racing is a huge part of American life, literature, sadly, is not.

Embrace Your Inner Judicial Activist

Not blogging about the FUBAR-ness that the House GOP pulled last night, because I am hung over, and it’s a Friday, and the sky looks like ashen.

Instead, I’m going to talk about something near and dear to my heart: jurisprudence. In my malingering state, I read this article on Reason, discussing Scalia’s decision in Heller. Damon Root’s argument essentially boils down to the claim that Scalia (who wrote the majority opinion) was inconsistent in applying his philosophy of judicial restraint in Heller:

“Following Scalia’s own rhetoric of modesty and restraint, why should the Supreme Court substitute its wisdom for that of the local officials directly accountable to the inhabitants of Washington, D.C.? What makes handgun bans and mandatory trigger locks clearly unconstitutional but not other “longstanding prohibitions,” to borrow Scalia’s phrase? More importantly, why entangle the federal courts in the political thicket at all? As Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his dissent, “no one has suggested that the political process is not working exactly as it should in mediating the debate between advocates and opponents of gun control.””

But this is not even the real argument of the article: Root’s real argument is to say that both judicial activism and judicial restraint are misguided philosophies. In his opinion, the real role of the judiciary is this:

“If anything, such examples confirm that the last thing we need is more or better judicial restraint. What we need is a principled form of judicial activism, one that consistently upholds individual liberty while strictly limiting state power. Too bad neither the right nor the left seem very interested in that.”

This just sounds strange coming from a libertarian perspective, but on closer examination, I think it makes sense. In fact, I will go one step further: if judges aren’t “activist” (in the derogatory sense of the word often employed by the right), then they might as well not be judges.

Damon Root is right: the whole purpose of the court is to protect individual rights against the tyranny of the majority. This is the only thing that legitimates the existence of a supremely powerful, undemocratic institution in a democratic polity. The right always complains about “legislating from the bench,” except, of course, when such legislating from the bench goes their ideological way, as it did in Heller.

But instead of always being trapped in this discourse of “activism vs. restraint,” let’s just all recognize that this is what we have accepted when we adopted the Constitution. Yes we’ve given up a huge amount of power to judges who are not held accountable, but we’ve only done so because we think it’s worth the sacrifice. The right and the left both need to fucking acknowledge this. It’s just rational choice theory guys.

However, I am assuming, up until now, that it is, in fact, worth the sacrifice. Maybe it isn’t, and whether it is or isn’t can only be determined by the polity itself. One could make the argument of revealed preference by saying that since we haven’t changed those parts of the Constitution dealing with the judiciary, we therefore find the sacrifice acceptable, or at least tolerable.

Sure, it sounds plausible, but here I proffer an alternative: maybe the American people are not smart enough, or don’t care enough, to really think about whether it is in fact worth the sacrifice. This simply isn’t brought up in American political discourse: we tacitly accept the premise of the Judiciary, but we also bitch about it incessantly. It’s become an easy and cliched target. We can’t have it both ways.

That’s all I’m saying.