Quotation du jour

At the risk of completely ripping off Andrew Sullivan’s “Quote of the Day” feature at the Dish, here’s my quote for today:

Aux jeunes, je dis: regardez autour de vous, vous y trouverez les thèmes qui justifient votre indignation — le traitement fait aux immigrés, aux sans-papiers, aux Roms. Vous trouverez des situations concrètes qui vous amènent à donner cours à une action citoyenne forte. Cherchez et vous trouverez!

– Stéphane Hessel, Indignez-Vous!

Quick hits

First up, an idea to limit our carbon footprint, save companies money, and heat homes for free, all in one brilliant idea:

TO satisfy our ever-growing need for computing power, many technology companies have moved their work to data centers with tens of thousands of power-gobbling servers. Concentrated in one place, the servers produce enormous heat. The additional power needed for cooling them — up to half of the power used to run them — is the steep environmental price we have paid to move data to the so-called cloud…

If a home has a broadband Internet connection, it can serve as a micro data center. One, two or three cabinets filled with servers could be installed where the furnace sits and connected with the existing circulation fan and ductwork. Each cabinet could have slots for, say, 40 motherboards — each one counting as a server. In the coldest climate, about 110 motherboards could keep a home as toasty as a conventional furnace does.

And secondly, a phenomenal piece in the New York Times on caring for a wife with mental illness:

When suicidal thoughts made her happy, I knew it was my cue to remind her of other reasons to feel happy. So I told her I loved her. And that so many other people loved her, too. That she was so strong for holding on. That none of this was her fault. That the feelings would go away. That she just had to keep holding on.

These suicidal conversations could be quick or they could be slow. One time we were biking to yoga together, and we had to pull over and sit on the sidewalk for almost two hours while she sobbed and begged me to let her kill herself. I pleaded with her to just hang on through this moment, and that it would pass, and that she would someday, somehow, start to feel better again.

On the supercommittee

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading all over the place about what a colossal failure the Congressional supercommittee has been for failing to reach a deficit deal and, as a consequence, automatically triggering $1.2 trillion of “sequester” cuts. To take one recent example, this week’s Economist stated that “the implications of the committee’s failure are more disturbing than the reaction of the markets has let on” and argued that, going forward, “Congress will be trying to undo the supposedly automatic budget cuts it agreed to only in order to make it impossible for the supercommittee to fail.”

Perhaps this is a naive question, but why is no one floating the possibility that the “failure” of the supercommittee was actually intentional? Or at the very least, semi-intentional. One of the biggest problems with the debt negotiations going all the way back to the debt-ceiling crisis, it seems to me, was that even the members of Congress who wanted to cut a deal felt they didn’t have sufficient political cover to do so. This was especially true on the Republican side, which is facing extraordinary rightward pressures from the Tea Party, Grover Norquist’s cultish no-tax-increases “pledge,” et al.

So then, wouldn’t automatically triggered cuts, in the event of a “failure” to reach a deal, work beautifully for both sides? In that, during months of negotiations, the two parties couldn’t reach any agreement in the traditional sense (writing a deficit-reduction bill and passing it) due to pressures from their respective political bases, instituting the very same type of deal but calling it a “failure” (for which each side can blame the other) is a fancy little way of avoiding criticism by pretending that that the “sequester” cuts were not expected to ever occur. Now, both Republicans and Democrats get to hammer each other for obstructing the deal, but there’s no clear loser — except for the institution of Congress itself, whose approval ratings are, quite frankly, already at rock-bottom anyway. Democrats get to talk about how they’ve cut defense (liberal red meat) and how Obama will veto any attempts to reverse this; Republicans get to crow about taking a step to tackle the deficit (conservative red meat). I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “win-win” situation, but I don’t see how it’s particularly damaging for the parties either. The one “loser” besides Congress in all of this could be Obama, but given the disparity between his approval ratings and those of Congress, it seems the American public has at least a cursory notion of which institution has proved itself so useless for the past couple years.

Am I wrong on this?

Today’s ironic-in-retrospect quote

Paul Krugman, 11/14/2001:

But two months into the war on terrorism, we’re starting to get a sense of how little this war will actually cost. And it’s time to start asking some hard questions.

At the beginning of the week we learned that the war is currently costing around $1 billion per month. Oddly, this was reported as if it were a lot of money. But it’s only about half of 1 percent of the federal budget. In monetary terms, not only doesn’t this look like World War II, it looks trivial compared with the gulf war. No mystery there; how hard is it for a superpower to tip the balance in the civil war of a small, poor nation? At this rate, even five years of war on terrorism would cost only $60 billion…

So the budgetary cost of the war on terrorism, abroad and at home, looks like fairly small change. Even counting the measures that are likely to pass despite Mr. Bush’s threat, I have a hard time coming up with a total cost that exceeds $200 billion.



Press organizations protest police treatment

A few months ago I noted (in a somewhat hyperbolic tone, or so I thought at the time) that the methods used by London authorities to quell the summer riots were heavy-handed and oddly reminiscent of practices more often associated with ne’er-do-well authoritarian dictatorships in the Middle East.

Well, things have only gotten weirder since then. The Occupy Wall Street movement — which, in my judgment, would likely have been ignored long ago if not for senseless police brutality — really picked up steam this past week, when a campus police officer at UC Davis pepper-sprayed peaceful protesters. (Try saying that five times fast.) The school’s chancellor, who was initially somewhat defiant, has since apologized.

And yet perhaps the more notable form of anti-police brutality backlash came in the form of this New York Times post, which stated, “A cross-section of 13 news organizations in New York City lodged complaints on Monday about the New York Police Department’s treatment of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

What I found particularly disturbing about the UC Davis incident, apart from the obvious insanity of the event itself, was the extraordinarily calm and collected manner in which the officer sprayed the students. There were cameras everywhere; he had to have seen them. A police force that can act with such impunity, metaphorically taunting the cameras with its nonchalance, is not fit to “protect” a populace. Coming less than one month after a strange scene in the Bronx in which hundreds of off-duty cops angrily protested their colleagues’ apparently justified indictments for ticket-fixing, one increasingly gets the impression that police departments around the country are collectively in need of a major overhaul. (In that Bronx story, the police even went so far as to taunt welfare recipients, and some wore t-shirts that read, “Improving everyone’s quality of life but our own.”)

I would like to suggest that this start a national conversation about police tactics, but genuine national conversation doesn’t seem to be much in vogue these days.

UPDATE (11/23/2011 1:42 AM Paris time): Well, that certainly didn’t take long. One Times reporter fires a warning shot.