Unmistakable Marks

Warranted Genuine Snarks

And Speaking of History

Jim Henley looks at the outbreak of gay marriage and thinks of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I look at Bush’s proposed amendment and think attempted hard-liner coup. Desperate rear-guard (er, no pun intended) measures don’t have a stellar record of success, and this one may already be a loser (PDF).

Comments | February 24, 2004

The Verdict of History

A principle of political action that’s always seemed intuitively obvious to me is that one should advocate policies such that, in fifty years, one won’t be embarrassed to leaf through a high school history book and remember how one acted.

Naturally, this is advice that doesn’t apply to the little issues (high school history is unlikely to have much of an opinion on even something as relatively major as the Telecommunications Act of 1996). Nor is it always obvious what’ll be in the history books. Will the Iraq War be seen as a trumped-up and unnecessary adventure, a la the Spanish-American War; or will it be seen as the dawn of an era of Middle Eastern democracy, peace, and tolerance? Will terrorist mania look as hyperbolic in retrospect as The Red Menace, or will terrorism prove to be a significant and enduring threat that really does demand the abolition of civil rights and legal protections?

I suspect I know the answers, but it’s plausible that people could imagine that history would come out the other way.

But then, there are times when everyone knows exactly how things are going to go. It’s incredibly obvious to all that in fifty years, gay marriage is going to be commonplace; even its opponents tacitly admit as much. So I should be surprised to see the President fight strongly to end up on the wrong side of historical judgment, but I’m not.

The only historical question before us now is whether, in fifty years, there’ll still be a debate about which President was the worst ever.

Comments | February 24, 2004

Perhaps a Tactical Error

New York Times headline:

Bush's Campaign to Intensify, With Emphasis on His Record

Yeah, good luck with that.

Comments | February 15, 2004

Blaming the Victim

One of the more unappealing behaviors of both conservatives and the Slashdot crowd is the insistence that whenever something bad happens to someone, it must be that person’s fault. Lost your job? Well, you must not have been a good worker. Disabled? Maybe if you’d exercised more, you’d be okay, lardass. Mugged? You should know better than to go down that street at that time. Don’t go looking for sympathy, you problem-causer.

As I say, distasteful. But sometimes, it’s awfully damn hard to keep myself from doing a bit of victim-blaming myself. Consider this sob story on Salon:

Mark, who made between $47 and $55 an hour as a contract programmer back in Arizona, applied for between 300 and 400 jobs after his last contract expired in April 2001. He got just four interviews, and in the last one his interviewer was a foreign worker in the United States on an H1-B visa. He didn’t get the job. ...

His wife, Janine, ... made $52 an hour as a programmer, before losing her last job in January 2003 when she says her company replaced her with an H1-B visa worker.

So here’s a couple making around $200K a year. That’s pretty nice money — oh, hell, it’s huge money, more than 95% of American families make. Now, maybe they’re worth it. If they’re good tech people, it’s not a completely ridiculous number. But:

Between the two of them, the couple owe $75,000 in student loans from their years of technical training at DeVry University, which they now consider useless. To return to work in the technology sector, Mark says they’d need to update their skills yet again to the “latest and greatest,” which would mean $5,000 or $6,000 more for classes — money they don’t have.

They got their degrees from a tech school. And they’re apparently under the mistaken belief that the only way to update their skills is to spend big money on classes, rather than just learning stuff on their own, maybe contributing to an open source project, and possibly taking a certification test if they really want something for checklist employers to look at. These really aren’t tech people; these are just people who got into computers because the money was good. The end of their $200K lifestyle was the world returning to normal, not a descent into drugs and madness.

So far, I’m with the Slashdotters; but where I leave them is when they fail to appreciate how much this really sucks for those former $200Kers. This irrational and temporary boost of fortunes was one of the crueler aspects of the tech bubble. In a rational world, these DeVry people may never have had a $200K lifestyle, but they’d likely be content with whatever they were doing. I mean, really, who makes $200K a year? That’s not something you beat yourself up about not doing. You compare yourself to your peer group — other regular, middle-class people — and figure that you’re doing pretty well.

But having had those years of ultra-luxury, their lives got redefined. Their peer group became the successful and well-off, and they feel like failures now. Plus, they know what they’re missing, and they remember what it was like to live that way. Every time they clip a coupon, every time they buy the store-brand, they get a little reminder that life used to be a lot easier, and that they used to be better-off. It must be damnably hard to be content with one’s lot, when your lot used to be so much more.

Like the temporarily-brilliant protagonist of Flowers For Algernon, the tragedy of their lives is that they got a peek at something better without being warned that it was only a peek. They might not have “earned” that better life, and there may be nothing that could sensibly be done to ameliorate the pain that comes when reality reasserts itself; but at the very least we can say that yeah, that really sucks for those guys.

Comments | February 4, 2004

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