Monday, July 27, 2009

A Little Of The Old In And Out

In: Nerds. Smart is the new black. We believe it was Jesus of Nazareth, Dubya Bush's favorite political Philosopher with Spinoza as a close second, who intoned, gravely, "-- And the geek shall inherit the Earth." And so they have, grasshopper. Policy Grind Rahm Emanuel and noted Trekkie Barack Obama rule the roost at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Power in Dc is no longer the province of Souther and Western ex-jocks and oilmen -- it now belongs to the geekazoids. Paul Krugman and the pessimistic Nouriel Roubini are numbercrunching sages and economist sex symbols (!). A squid like Paul Allen can throw a well-attended pre-New Year's Eve party on his monumental floating palace Octopus where billionaire George Soros casually steps on the dress of a shapely brunette.

And Hollywood is all about the comics geeks -- the "avids" -- featured prominently at Comicon, as opposed to the adenoidal Top Guns and hot chicks of days past. Steve Jobs is the superlative example of manliness. From EW's coverage of the Davos for comic book fans:

"If there was any doubt that the final full day of Comic-Con would measure up against the powerhouse panels on Thursday and Friday, it was most likely demolished the moment Don Cheadle demanded to watch the just-screened five minutes of footage from Iron Man 2 one more time, to the roaring approval of roughly 6,000 fans in Hall H. But Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, and director Jon Favreau were far from the only highlights of Comic-Con's Saturday. Other memorable moments:

"1. The team from HBO's True Blood -- Sookie! Eric! Bill! -- sunk its fangs into some juicy season 3 teasers.

"2. Lost exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof held court on their show's final season, along with VIP guests Jorge Garcia, Michael Emerson, Nestor Carbonell, and Josh Holloway. Meanwhile, Ian Somerhalder, in town to promote the CW's Vampire Diaries, told EW that he will return to Lost next season.

"3. Later in the day, EW's own Jeff 'Doc' Jensen and Dan 'Dan' Snierson -- a.k.a. the hosts of blockbuster web series Totally Lost -- cracked wise and hosted some special Lost VIPs of their own."

Sounds smashing abd appropriately Sci-Fi. Further examples that geek culture reigns supreme: Silicon Valley billionaires -- intellectuals, all -- are nowadays the new Masters of the Universe.

(image-- [SIC] -- via wonkette)

Out: Birthers. From the sublime to the ridiculous. If Nerds are "In" then willfully ignorant swine like "The Birthers" are most definitely out. The rabidly anti-intellectual losers, unfortunately, are on the rise politically if not socially. Wouldn't it be grand if Sarah Palin formed a viable Third Party and purged their toxin from the Democrat and Republican Parties, rendering them politically as irrelevant as George Wallace ultimately was? From Politico:

"When lawmakers return home for recess in August, they can expect to hear tough questions from constituents on the economy, health care and government spending.

"But Republicans are preparing for something else: the birthers.

"As GOP Rep. Mike Castle learned the hard way back home in Delaware this month, there’s no easy way to deal with the small but vocal crowd of right-wing activists who refuse to believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

"At a town hall meeting in Georgetown, a woman demanded to know why Castle and his colleagues were 'ignoring' questions about Obama’s birth certificate — questions that have been put to rest repeatedly by state officials in Hawaii, where the birth certificate and all other credible evidence show that Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961.

"When Castle countered that Obama is, in fact, 'a citizen of the United States,' the crowd erupted in boos, the woman seized control of the gathering and led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance."

Wonderful (Averted Gaze).

In: The Transitional Strongman. Fareed Zakaria on GPS interviewed Rwanda's president Paul Kagame last week (see above). Kagame is not the traditional democrat, but he has been good for Rwanda. This prompted Zakaria to ask: Is a transitional "strongman" sometimes good, if the nation is on a trajectory towards becoming a stable democracy? Is there room, in a fractured society exhibiting economic growth, for the transitional strongman? Or are "strongmen" always bad? I answered via email:

"By 'strongman' it is instructive to distinguish between the traditional totalitarian strongman and the, if you will, 'benevolent' strongman. The late Idi Amin of Uganda where I was born is the textbook totalitarian strongman, who, like Oedipus Tyrannus, turned the state into his own cracked psychological spectacle. President Paul Kagame, the current leader of neighboring Rwanda, is an example of the latter -- a benevolent authoritarian with the social unity and economic growth at the front of his thougts. The totalitarian tyrant and the authoritarian strongman as transitional figure towards free democratic elections -- and never the twain shall meet.

The idea of the benevolent strongman is also present on the Asian continent. As the wise author of The Post American World wrote:

"In places like Taiwan and South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, economic growth was accompanied by gradual legal, social and political reforms. Those regimes were authoritarian, not totalitarian -- an important distinction -- and thus did not seek all-encompassing control over society, which made loosening the grip easier."

Achieving economic growth while retaining political stability and control does not always mesh with our democratic ideals, as Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew -- who was interviewed on GPS -- has argued. We are now perhaps far enough from the particularly neconservative first term of President Bush, 41 to see things now more clearly. In the face of economic and social devastation accompanied with massive ethnic divisions -- as in Rwanda at the turn of the millennium -- a democratic government would be profoundly vulnerable to the worst kinds of totalitarian demagogues catering to the basest societal instincts. History would then repeat itself, to paraphrase Santayana. In those tragic instances, a small 'a' authoritarian -- the benevolent strongman -- could conceivably break that downward spiral, guiding the country towards greater stability and those aforementioned gradual legal, social and political reforms. And when that stability is achieved, then, ideally, unimpeded multiparty democratic elections would yield their desired results -- the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens.

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