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Eulogy for a Friend

Monday, August 29, 2011
My cat Loki died on Friday. It took me several days to pull myself together sufficiently to write this small eulogy for him. I've lost other pets before, but none of them has left quite the hole that Loki's passing has.

We were together for fourteen years. I first met him when I was a graduate student. I'd grown up with cats, but hadn't had one for several years while I was in college. My roommate at the time had a very friendly cat and I'd realized how much I missed having one around. So when she finished school and moved out I starting thinking seriously about getting one myself. Word must have gotten out in the feline community, because in a very short time I had a starving, swollen-bellied, ear-mite and flea-infested, very ugly orange tabby kitten at my door demanding to be let in.

I knew right away I was going to keep him, assuming he survived. The vet said that he was an undersized six-month old, had probably been on his own for quite awhile, and was surprised he was still alive. This would become a theme with Loki - he was an exceptionally tough, strong-willed animal. I knew after the first night what his name was going to be, since I didn't sleep a wink. He circled my bed like a shark yipping and howling, and when I grabbed him and picked him up he wriggled away and started up again. He was very busy, you see.

Those first few months were...difficult. I actually have had worse-behaved cats, but Loki had a particular willfulness about his misbehavior. He just refused to learn, or to accept discipline. Once he'd decided that something was fun, was going to be a part of his repertoire, there just wasn't any dissuading him. For a long time his favorite game was finding a flat surface and slowing pushing things off, watching them fall. It looked very much like he was trying to figure out how gravity worked. Once everything was on the floor and the table or whatever was totally cleared, he'd stretch out to his full length in a victory stretch. After about 5 minutes he would get bored and look for something else to do, like maybe lick the top off a freshly cooked pie. Loki's true love was water, however. He absolutely loved lounging in the sink, would knock over water glasses if you left them alone for more than a moment or two. When I got married I discovered that his water obsession knew absolutely no limits - BH actually dunked him in her bath a few times, and afterwards he would howl or paw at the door wanting to be let in.

I could tell hundreds of similar, strange or funny little stories about Loki: how he bossed the other cats around mercilessly, or made a funny yipping noise whenever he was doing something he knew he wasn't supposed to. I think you get the idea. But what's important to know about Loki is that as challenging as he was, he was also my friend. When I got him I was in a very dark place, lonely and unsure about the future, and although it was years before he was comfortable with cuddling with me (and never was much of a lap cat), he would always hang around whatever room I was in. We were a team. He was kind of my id.

The last year has been hard. His decline was evident, with one medical problem after another. He'd rallied from his most recent difficulties, but you could tell he was frustrated by his inability to do all the naughty things he was used to. A great jumper, he'd lost that spring and couldn't get onto the kitchen counter as easily as he once did. But he was still the same cat, still keeping all the other animals - and humans - in line. I joked that he was going to live another seven years or so, ending up as one of those elderly cats with two legs and hooked up to an IV. Too mean to die, you see.

Last Tuesday something went wrong. He was having trouble breathing, and it had gotten worse by the time we got home. We took him to his vet, who when she ran out of ideas sent us to the vet research hospital on campus. It took them three days and a battery of tests to finally figure out that his right lung had collapsed, although even then they weren't entirely sure why. We're still waiting to hear for sure, but apparently he had a calcified lung, something that took a long time to develop. That's how tough Loki was - he was running around the house raising hell with half a lung.

We could have given him surgery to remove the bad lung. He had a chance, might have made it. But the surgery would have been traumatic, he could have died during it, the recovery would have been long and painful, and he might not have fully recovered. I couldn't do that to Loki, put him through such pain for so little return. The vet took pity on us and let us take Loki home for the night. For a few hours I thought Loki might shock the world - he was running up and down the stairs, checking everything out, letting everybody know he was still in charge. But that night he slept against me, which was strange for him, and the next morning was struggling, laboring for each breath. He gave me that look, that tired, sad, look that I'd never seen on his face before. I knew he was done. On the ride to the hospital he rested his head against my hand. I knew he was saying goodbye.

It took all weekend to get over the worst of the grief, to be sure that I could write this without blubbering (I was wrong of course). I suppose all I can say, all you can really say in a time like this, is that I know intellectually that things will get better, that I'll miss him a little less, that the house will seem less empty one day. For now though it's hard to believe it.

Loki was the best pet I ever had. He was an asshole, but he was my asshole. I very much doubt there will ever be another like him.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:37 AM

4 comments :: permalink

Looking towards 2012

Friday, August 19, 2011
Not to be a killjoy, but I'm gradually coming around to the opinion that the Republicans are just as fated to win the 2012 election as the Democrats were the 2008 election. I remember spending most of 2008 assuring everyone that the fundamentals were so biased in favor of the Democrats that it pretty much didn't matter who they nominated - the election was in the bag. Now I'm seeing a pretty much mirror image of 2008.

Look at this way: the two likely nominees for the Republicans are Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney would probably kill Obama in an election, but it's difficult to see how he defeats a credible candidate in the Republican primaries. As long as Perry doesn't self-destruct, I think he's pretty much a shoo-in to be the nominee. Now Perry will lose a bunch of moderate/swing voters, sure, but what people don't realize is that people like that only make up 5-10% of the voters. Given how mobilized I expect the Republicans to be, and how demotivated I expect the Democrats to be (thank Obama), it's hard to see how Perry loses enough votes to cost him the election. Unless the economy magically turns around, and I don't see how it will, we're going to get creamed next year.

The only way to stop somebody like Perry is to do what Harry Reid did to Sharron Angle. The problem is that Perry isn't the Angle of this race - Michelle Bachman is. Sure, Perry has radical views on lots of subjects, but to fully exploit them you'd need a concerted, aggressive, and utterly ruthless negative campaign. Now tell me, do you really think Obama is the kind of politician to run that sort of race? If so, why didn't he do it against the Republicans in 2010? Or for that matter in 2009?

So I think that the best bet in 2012 is the election of a hard-right Republican President with a hard-right Republican Senate and a hard-right Republican House. Wheeee.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:19 AM

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That Can't Be Right

Friday, August 12, 2011
Matt Yglesias presented a bit of trivia based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, pointing to a positive correlation between education and alcohol consumption. I wish I could truthfully say that my first thought on the seeing the chart was "surely education is serving as a proxy for income." Alas, what I was really thinking was "wait, who only spends $600 a year on booze? The survey respondents are fibbing!"
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:41 PM

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Whose Fault Is This Mess?

Thursday, August 04, 2011
Continuing my diatribes regarding the debt ceiling deal........

Last time I promised to announce who I thought bore responsibility for our current situation. Well, at first glance there is plenty of blame to go around - political history and the general trajectory of events, conservative intransigence, democratic timidity - these have all been building for a long time. But in the final analysis I'm not a historical determinist. The objective situation may constrain the behavior of the actors, but they still have scope for action. So ultimately I guess I do blame Obama. If not the ultimate cause of the disaster, he's certainly the efficient cause. Whether he's corrupt, evil, weak, naive, or whatever, doesn't really matter. He came into office with the best hand that any Democrat has had in 40 years - majorities in the House and Senate, a discredited opposition, a united and enthusiastic party, and a country eager for a new direction. He faced a pressing set of institutional crises, in the economy, in foreign policy, in the environment, and most of all in our political institutions. So with a huge pile of chips in the pot and a full house in his hands, what's he do? He folds to a pair of twos. Sometimes it's irresponsible NOT to gamble.

I think Rude Pundit has it about right: asking ourselves why Obama did this or why he did that is a big fat waste of time. Obama was supposed to be our leader, and we waited for him to lead us, and that was probably our mistake. The elected officials in democracies aren't supposed to be leaders, not even (maybe most especially) not the President. They aren't our friends. They aren't our bosses. They're our employees. Rude Pundit wrote a great Dear John Letter, while I think the better analogy is the Notice of Termination. We hired the man to do a particular job which, for whatever reason, he has been unwilling or able to do. Time to move on.

So what now? There are lots of people seriously asking whether the debacle of the Obama presidency raises questions about the value of supporting the Democratic Party. Tim Duy (via Economist's View), Oliver Willis, and Matt Taibbi all ask what the point is if voting for the Donkeys only results in conservative policies. Really it's worse than that. For most people Obama IS liberalism. You laugh, but that's the perception. So for most Americans, liberalism now means cuts to Medicare, national surveillance, wars, Wall Street bailouts, etc. You know, all the things we're against. So Obama's presidency has been much worse than just more counterproductive incrementalism. It's been a betrayal of the legacy of more than a century of struggle for a more just America.

My principle with respect to conservatism is simple: You can't make deals with the devil. Their aim is to overturn the twentieth century, to create a hierarchical society in which everyone knows their place (under their boot). Turning the other cheek will only encourage them.

We need to disenthrall ourselves from our identification of liberalism with the Democratic Party. Liberalism didn't succeed because Democrats gave us what we wanted - we took it. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop working in Democratic Party politics. Flawed as they are, they're the only game in town. What it does mean, however, is that I and everyone else has to be lot readier than we have been to call bullshit. It also means that when we push an agenda, it has to be about a lot more than our own pet policy. Conservatism has been so successful in unraveling the New Deal in large measure due to the fact that their assault has been structural. Breaking unions, de-funding the welfare state, expanding the role of money in politics, suppressing voter turnout, and yes, encouraging suburban sprawl all please their supporters, but they also undermine the ability of the Democratic Party to function. It is long, long past time we start to respond in kind.

This isn't a little tussle over what team of officeholders gets to hand out the goodies. Quite frankly, it's them or us. It always has been.


Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:27 PM

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Quote For The Day

Tuesday, August 02, 2011
"...it should now be clear that 'libertarian' capitalism sacrifices liberty to capitalism, a truth its advocates are able to deny only because they are prepared to abuse the language of freedom."

- Gerald Cohen
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:34 PM

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I decided to take a day to cool off after the debt ceiling deal was announced, and in part just in case there were any last-minute surprises. Rest assured, I have been paying very close attention to the debt ceiling debacle.
First, off the results of this process have been little short of catastrophic. The economy is going to suffer from these cuts, with what EPI is estimating 1.8 million job losses. If that happens, we can expect the deficit to continue to increase. Yes, cutting government spending in a depressed economy in order to shrink the deficit is self-defeating.

The political process has also suffered. Ianqui is by no means alone in her disgust, but the problem goes deeper than that. Mitch McConnell has stated that in the future all increases in the debt ceiling will be matched with spending cuts - so unless there is a major change in direction, right-wing austerity politics will become institutionalized. Further, the creation of the "Super Congress" is going to continue to diminish the role of the Congress, with a consequent loss in public accountability, in what Sandy Levinson has called "delegation run riot." Now Brad Delong is speculating that debt ceiling votes will move us further towards a Congress-centered parliamentary system, but I think he's operating on the assumption that Democrats will return the favor to Republican Presidents. If that was the case, of course, no Democrats would have voLinkted for the final package - and they most certainly did. No, this is a deal that will legally rule out progressive policies. That is its explicit purpose. Just as the Teabaggers.

The damage to the Democratic Party is obvious. Obama has further alienated liberals, and has put the Democrats in a permanently bad negotiating posture. So he's demotivated his base, weakened the economy heading into an election, made himself look weak, and emboldened his opponents. Nice work, Barry.

So who's to blame? There are a couple of schools of thought related to Obama. There's the "Obama is a bad negotiator" school. There's the "Obama is a conservative mole" school. And then there's the "Obama did the best he could in a bad situation" school. There are other candidates - the slanted press coverage, the radical conservatives in the Congress. Others blame liberalism, either for its lack of political support, lack of enthusiasm in 2010, or lack of recognition of the magnitude of the 2010 defeat.

What camp do I fall into? Who do I think bears the responsibility for this disastrous outcome? Tune in tomorrow and I'll tell you, and make a few suggestions about what should be done next.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:08 PM

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