The American Conservative, 20 October 2008

Psychotherapist Jim Pittaway looks at John McCain and sees a man badly in need of psychiatric evaluation.  Pittaway stresses that he would never diagnose a patient whom he has not met, but published accounts of McCain’s experiences and behavior suggest that he may suffer from moderate Traumatic Brain Injury.  Pittaway writes:

There are three signal characteristics of moderate TBI: emotional disregulation (volatility), perseveration (inability to let go of thoughts or feelings or to see them in broader perspective), and concrete thinking (abstractions and nuance are compressed into right or wrong, good or evil, people are either “for me or against me.”) 

McCain’s notoriously bad temper (for example, hitting a 93 year old colleague on the Senate floor), his insistent repetition of ideas that have been proven false (for example, claiming that Iran was arming the anti-Iranian group “al Qaeda in Iraq,” a claim that earlier this year humiliated him when he had to be publicly corrected by a friend- and which he then continued to repeat at subsequent appearances), and his habit of describing every conflict as a moral struggle (for example, briefed on some structural difficulties in international finance his response was to ask the briefer “So, who’s the villain?”) suggest the behavior patterns associated with moderate TBI.  Torture and beatings McCain has described receiving from his North Vietnamese captors could hardly have failed to inflict substantial injury on his brain.  Psychiatric tests and neurological scans can rule TBI in or out rather easily, but McCain has made it clear he will never submit to such examination.  McCain’s stated belief that he avoided any psychological damage by sheer willpower is what psychologists call “magical thinking,” and suggests that his psychological wounds are surrounded with a formidable structure of denial. 

Pittaway himself has treated many TBI patients, and his description of their lives is terrifying if it applies to a man who may find his finger on the nuclear trigger.  “Difficulties with abstract thinking breed obsessive behaviors and tendencies to personalize issues in very concrete terms in lieu of dealing with nuance and complexity.”  Moreover:

In my work with TBI patients with moderate symptoms, I am invariably struck by the level of frustration they encounter on a daily basis.  Unless it is severe, brain injury is a closed wound.  Since victims appear undamaged, everyone around them expects- and they themselves often expect- normal skill sets, behaviors, and emotional ranges.  The energy it takes to compensate for functional deficits is extraordinary, and the absence of affirming feedback breeds a senseof isolation that morphs over time into deep-seated resentment.  It ismuch, much easier to stay focused on one thing, which accounts for the characteristic obsessiveness.  Execution is driven by resentment and anger rather than objective circumstances.  Thisbreeds a toughness that can endure enormous amounts of stress before decompensation- which is almost always of an extremely violent nature- occurs.

Elsewhere in the same issue, David Gordon looks at Public Choice Economics.  Public Choice economists argue that indifference to politics is rational among voters, inasmuch as no one vote is likely to decide an election.  Gordon points out that there are other motives for voting than the hope that one will decide the election.  For example, even votes for a losing candidate may send a message that the eventual winners will notice, and being among the winners of a high-profile contest brings a satisfaction that many people desire. 

John Derbyshire reviews the “Stuff White People Like” book.  Unlike The Atlantic‘s reviewer, Derbyshire doesn’t get the significance of the phrase “White People”-the targets of Lander’s mockery are trendy progressives who would hate to be labeled as typically white.  He does mention Lander’s personal favorite among sites that have imitated his, “White Stuff People Like” (plaster, cream cheese, plastic bags, swans, mayonnaise, cocaine, and snow are the list so far.)

Counterpunch, 16-30 September 2008

Is McCain sicker than we know, ask Alex Cockburn and Fred Gardner.  Cockburn’s attitude towards McCain is properly lurid and sensationalistic; here he speculates that Crazy John might be in the terminal stages of melanoma.

Ukuleleists for Obama

Ukulele enthusiasts may wonder what it means for us that so prominent a figure as Mr. O grew up in Hawai’i, the homeland of the instrument.  Did he play it when he was young?  No- but this very year, he was seen taking a ukulele lesson from virtuoso Abe Lagrimas, Junior

According to ukulelehunt, the web is now crawling with people strumming the ukulele to show their support for his campaign.  Ukelilli is an example. 

From ukulelia, a short film about “Ukes for Obama” with a couple of songs, including their anthem, “Aloha Mama, I’m Voting for Obama.”


Some blogs by prominent academics

Should professors wear buttons endorsing candidates for public office while they teach their classes?  Certainly not, says Stanley Fish on his blog. 

George Lakoff uses his theory of semantics to analyze the message John McCain sent by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Juan Cole quotes a paper proposing Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy in Latin America as a model for the next president’s Middle East policy. 

Labor economist George Borjas hasn’t updated his blog since August, but what’s there is still interesting. 

University of Michigan linguist Sarah Thomason occasionally blogs under the screen-name “Sally Thomason.”  The drawing at the top of the post is one of hers.

The Atlantic Monthly, October 2008

This issue‘s cover features a controversial picture of Senator Crazy John McCain. 

Hail the Leader!

Hail the Leader!

 The controversy mainly has to do with the photographer’s other images of McCain.  The Atlantic defended the image above. 

The legend, “Why War is His Answer,” seemed eerily apt- the magazine arrived in the same mail as a gift from a friend (thanks, cymast!) a Quaker “War is Not the Answer” bumper sticker. 

Interesting points after the jump.


The Nation, September and October 2008

1/8 Sept– Kristina vanden Heuvel quotes Mikhail Gorbachev’s Washington Post op-ed on the Georgian crisis, claiming that “if we had heeded his vision of a truly post-Cold War world, we might not today be confronting such dangerous geoploitical gamesmanship.”  Vanden Heuvel points out that in Kosovo, the West supported the KLA’s demands for independence on grounds that treated the right of self-determination as all-important, the sovereignty of the nation-state as unimportant.  In Georgia, we oppose the Abkhazians and South Ossetians in their demands for independence on grounds that treat the sovereignty of the nation-state as all-important, the right of self-determination as unimportant.  Unless we can practice foreign policy in such a way as to show equal respect to these twin principles, vanden Heuvel argues, there will be no hope for world peace.

Stuart Klawans recommends Trouble the Water, a documentary about the destruction of African-American New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina made by African-American New Orleanians in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. 

15 Sept– Stephen F. Cohen on the lives of people released from Stalin’s gulag; David Schiff on the opera Peter Grimes; a poem by Mahmoud Darwish.

22 Sept– The first of four consecutive issues to feature the name “Palin” on the cover.  Robert Grossman’s comic strip sets “The Legend of Flyboy McPlane” to music.  Margot Canaday reviews William Eskridge’s history of sodomy laws in America.

29 Sept– The cover is a spoof of the New Yorker’s now famous Oval Office cartoon.  After the jump, images. 

D. D. Guttenplan on a couple of books about the history and meaning of comic books; Paula Findlen on Giordano Bruno’s life, his philosophy, and the power of his story as a rallying point for anticlerical sentiment.

6 Oct– I’d always thought of the idea that the Hanoi regime had withheld American POWs at the end of the war as a sick delusion.  Sydney Schanberg gives reasons to think otherwise.  Apparently there is a great deal of evidence to the effect that such a thing did happen, and Crazy John McCain has behaved rather unpleasantly in his role as one of the chief figures in the official effort to hush that evidence up.  

13 Oct– Several contributors argue against the idea of bailing out major Wall Street firms, calling instead for an effort to rebuild the American economy from the bottom up. 


The American Conservative, 14 July 2008 & 28 July 2008

14 July– A special issue on the causes and consequences of World War Two; the cover asks “How good was the good war?”  Seven contributors disagree on various points, but all concur that the international situation confronting the United States today bears very little resemblance to that which confronted Britain and France at the Munich Conference in 1938.  Several contributors cite Wilhelm II’s Germany on the eve of World War I as the state from which the USA could take the most powerful cautionary lesson.

Right-wing third party presidential candidates Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin get friendly writeups.

Steve Sailer (lefalcon’s least favorite blogger, and for good reason) reviews Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City and slashes Florida’s claims about the “creative class” to bits.   Florida claims that culturally tolerant cities are the places where it is likeliest that creative elites will form and develop new, commercially successful products and systems.  Florida’s favorite example is Silicon Valley, which he says owed its genesis to the wide-open mores of San Francisco.  Sailer points out that Silicon Valley is in Palo Alto, 33 miles from San Francisco.  Sailer finds that Silicon Valley’s location is in fact typical of the geographical centers of innovation in today’s economy: “high tech regions don’t sprout in diverse cities but way out in the suburbs.  Think of Route 128 outside of Boston, the Dulles Corridor in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, the two Silicon Prairies west of Chicago and north of Dallas, or the biotech office parks next to Torrey Pines golf course in scenic North San Diego County.”  This pattern, Sailer asserts, holds because “Bohemians don’t invent gizmos.  Nerds do.  The geeks and the golf-playing sales guys who peddle their inventions are usually team players who are relatively monogamous and family-oriented.  They soon wind up in the ‘burbs, where they find backyards and good public schools.”  It’s after the inventions are made and the wealth starts coming in that the cultural openness and sophisticated urbanity Florida talks about comes in.

Fred Reed uses the inside back cover to take the USA to task for being a society that is “unrelaxed, therefore uncontemplative.”  Perhaps that’s why he lives in Mexico now.

28 July– Leon Hadar believes that the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2002 was a just war, but that it is now long past time to withdraw US troops from the country.  He argues that it is unrealistic to expect a foreign army to bring order to Afghanistan.

Michael Brendan Dougherty reports on the apparently unanimous support that Roman Catholic bishops in the USA have given to the least restrictive immigration policies available.

David Gordon describes the “Rawlsekians,” a group of young libertarian thinkers who want to combine the egalitarian political philosophy of John Rawls with the neoliberal economics of Friedrich Hayek.  He finds the results unsatisfactory.

Ed West provides an hilarious review of a new book about the bin Laden family.  After running through many outlandish anecdotes about the family, he ends thus:

On the whole the bin Ladens seem to be a sympathetic bunch- charming fellows, mostly.  One has to come to the same conclusion as the FBI: there are millions of bin Ladens running around, and “99.999999% of them are of the non-evil variety.”

Obama, McCain Prepare for Debate

The American Conservative, 22 Sept 2008

In this issue. John Laughland describes the Saakashvili regime in Georgia, quoting along the way gushing praise that various Western media outlets have lavished on that grubby little dictatorship.  Faced with the contrast, Laughland provides an intriguing psychological theory to explain why media and policy elites in the USA and the states ranged with it so often form passionate attachments to unappealing foreign states and leaders:

The Georgian president has indeed achieved extraordinary success in presenting his fiefdom as a Jeffersonian paradise.  This is partly due to Georgia’s use of operatives in Washington, such as John McCain’s foreign-policy advisor Randy Sheunemann, and a PR firm in Brussels.  But more importantly, it is the result of a virulent form of Western self-delusion.  Faced with seemingly intractable domestic problems, in which different political actors have to be balanced, Western states like to indulge in occasional but dangerous flights of foreign-policy escapism.  We imagine that we can free subject peoples with our bombs.  The image of a victim nation has now become an easy psychological trigger that can be applied indiscriminately to Bosnian Muslims, Iraqis, and now Georgians.  These unknown peoples and nations are but a blank screen on which we project our fantasies.  Our image of them says much more about us than it does about reality.    

Tony Smith analyzes the foreign policy teams and statements the presidential candidates have made and concludes that neither is likely to conduct a significantly less warlike administration than the current one.  Both candidates are committed to the major tenets of the interventionist consensus: democratic peace theory, the notion that states governed by democratic institutions are unlikely to make war on each other (Smith mentions thinkers Bruce Russett, Andrew Moravcsik, and John Rawls as advocates of this theory); democratic transition theory, the idea that liberal democracy could be established in any of an extremely wide variety of social contexts (here Smith cites Larry Diamond); and “R2P,” the notion that a state forfeits its sovereignty unless it meets its “responsibility to protect” its population (Smith cites Thomas Franck and Anna-Marie Slaughter.)  “With these three concepts, a witches’ brew has been concocted.”  America’s wars against Serbia in 1999 and against Iraq since 2003 have bubbled up from this unholy concoction. 

Septimus Waugh reviews Gerard deGroot’s The Sixties Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decade.  Waugh mentions an article deGroot wrote for The Journal of Mundane Behavior, wherein he argued “that the writing of history is too influenced by what is interesting and newsworthy to be a true reflection of the past, which is made up of the boring and humdrum events of survival.  By concentrating on extraordinary events, historians, he complained, were pandering to myth, though to tell the true tale of the past would be boring.”  So Waugh sets out to explode the myth of the 60’s as a time of extreme behavior, letting people into his story who spent the decade minding their own business.

Counterpunch, August & September 2008

August- Alexander Cockburn reviews Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland.  Cockburn has a lot of fun reminiscing about the 1964-1974 period, but denies Perlstein’s thesis that the American political scene hasn’t changed much since then.  “It’s a different, less strident, less violent, less creative time.”  He and Jeffrey St. Clair then offer “One cheer for Sarah Palin.”  “The liberal attacks on Sarah Palin are absurd to the point of lunacy… Given the highly experienced maniacs who have been destroying this country and the rest of the world decade after decade, one would have thought that the E word would be an immediate disqualification.”  They also point out that the three-point oil plan she introduced as governor of Alaska are now on display as the three-point oil plan of one B. Obama: “a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, an energy rebate tax, and the development of a transcontinental natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay across Canada to the Midwest.”  They don’t mention that Obama has been a presidential candidate longer than Palin has been governor, so it’s not so clear who came up with the idea first. 

1-15 September- Promoted on the Counterpunch website as “The Timebomb Who Would Be President,” this issue features two front-page articles about Crazy John McCain.  In “McCain’s 14th Amendment Problem,” Douglas Valentine argues that since the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits traitors from holding public office, the man the North Vietnamese codenamed “Songbird” while he was their prisoner is not eligible to be elected president.  Cockburn and St. Clair tell the story of Crazy John’s two marriages, including this: “According to two emergency room physicians in Phoenix, interviewed by Counterpunch and who tell us they don’t want their names used, it was at this time” [when Crazy John was under investigation for his ties to corrupt financier Charles Keating] “that Cindy McCain sought medical attention in the Phoenix area for injuries consistent with physical violence: bruises, contusions, and a black eye.  There were at least two more visits for medical attention in the Phoenix area by Cindy, with similar injuries, between 1988 and 1993.”  True?  Who knows?  But those who paid attention to the 2004 Illinois Senate race can’t help but remember the end of Blair Hull‘s campaign.