Thursday, December 07, 2006

Give A Buck To An Unemployed Satirist, Buddy

How do you make fun of a president who says things like this:

I also believe we're going to succeed. I believe we'll prevail. Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail. I understand how hard it is to prevail. But I also want the American people to understand that if we were to fail -- and one way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it's just not worth it -- if we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.

That, my friends, is the Leader of the Free World.

There is no justice in this world. The wingnuts are also almost impossible to satirize, because every time I write something satirical about them they read it and make the satire into reality.

I call unfair competition.

Volunteering For Iraq Duty

This is not popular among civil servants, for fairly obvious reasons:

Apparently, folks haven't been stepping up to the plate. So you civil servants might not have a choice in the matter, if the Iraq Study Group gets its way. From the final report, Recommendation #74 reads:

In the short term, if not enough civilians volunteer to fill key positions in Iraq, civilian agencies must fill those positions with directed assignments. Steps should be taken to mitigate familial or financial hardships posed by directed assignments, including tax exclusions similar to those authorized for U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq.

This is such an odd "war" (using Bush's terminology for the Iraq occupation). For most of us the required sacrifice consists of shopping harder or buying one of those car magnets the Chinese make for us. But for some, the sacrifice asked is a rather frightening one.

More on Funniness

The discussion Christopher Hitchens's "Women Ain't Funny. Smooches, Bitch" story provoked suggests to me that there is a market (nonpaying, sadly) for a longer post on funniness in general. Not that I plan to write it, but I'm throwing out the idea for some enterprising blogger to pick up and run with. And here is the outline for the post:

First, make a distinction between being funny (as in a comedian) and laughing at something as being funny. The two are different things, yanno.

Second, make a note of the fact that people laugh at very different things. Racists laugh at jokes about minorities. Misogynists laugh at jokes about women. Smart folk laugh at clever jokes. Lots of people laugh at situational comedy but for different reasons. Think of the Borat movie. People laughing in the movie theater may not be laughing at same things at all. Some (gasp!) may actually laugh "on the other side" so to speak. People in the countries I've lived in don't laugh at all the same things, because jokes depend on context and shared history and many other details which don't carry over very well.

Third, discuss the hostility underlying a lot of humor, and explain why certain types of jokes will not often be told in the presence of women, and even why some men think women don't have a sense of humor. For example, the so-called dirty jokes. Not because they are dirty jokes, but because they are jokes based on hostility towards women, and women might not find that funny. In a reversal, note also that women might not tell certain types of jokes in the presence of men, and that this does not mean those types of jokes are not told.

Fourth, talk about the privileging the whole humor discussion has given to "jokes", the kinds of things which require a long preparatory statement and then some sort of a reversal. A very linear and in some ways a very predictable type of joke, and one which falls flat a lot. Other types of humor are every bit as important in my view.

There should be more points to the outline but that should get someone going.

Something else that this discussion brought to my mind is how I have to fight the humor wars with one arm tied behind my back, if I want to avoid insulting a whole bunch of people in some form of hostility-based humor. It isn't just humor wars that handicap me in these ways: Just imagine a reversal of Hitchens's column, something that would bash all men while pretending to praise them. Such a reversal would never be published in Vanity Fair.

Which is funny, I guess.

The Mystery Of The Dog That Didn't Bark

The Hound of Baskerville, was it? In any case, when I was reading through all the blog posts on NARAL and its leader Nancy Keenan, I couldn't help thinking about the dog that didn't bark when it should have.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, this might help: It is about the wingnut proposal for an act which is called "The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act". Not that fetuses can feel pain, according to medical studies, until quite late in the gestation. But this act is part of the wingnut takeover of women's reproductive rights, and Nancy Keenan, as a representative of NARAL, gave this statement about the proposed act:

"Pro-choice Americans have always believed that women deserve access to all the information relevant to their reproductive health decisions. For some women, that includes information related to fetal anesthesia options," Nancy Keenan, NARAL's president, has said in a statement on the bill.

This is an odd statement, coming from the mouth of a representative for a group like NARAL. An odd statement, because "information" usually assumes that the stuff has some bearing to facts, and as far as I can tell physicians don't know how to give anesthesia to the fetus without endangering the woman's health. Assuming that the fetus could feel pain, which doesn't seem to be the case.

Keenan is also famous for supporting Joe Lieberman (the man who said that rape victims can always walk to another hospital if the first one refuses them the morning-after pill). More and more, she comes across as the dog that didn't bark when it should have barked.

Now Fred Vincy found this* on Keenan's opinions from an article that appeared in 1990:

For many public officials, personal conviction that abortion is wrong does not extend to public responsibility. "As a Catholic, I accept the teaching of my church on abortion. That is my personal religious belief . . . As a public official, there is no question in my mind that depriving women of the right to follow their conscience is the same as imposing religious beliefs," Montana's school superintendent, Nancy Keenan, said in a Dec. 5 letter when questioned by her bishop.

Fred points out that nothing appearing since this quote suggests that Keenan has changed her views on this topic. She may have, of course, but if so isn't it curious that nothing about those changed views has been published? Keenan is leading one of the most important pro-choice organizations of the country, and her personal views on abortion are....unclear?

The usual explanation for the way Keenan acts with wingnuts is not about an abused spouse acting dysfunctionally, though that is the one I find most apt. The accepted explanation is that Keenan is hedging her bets. What if wingnuts get back into power very soon? Isn't it a good thing to be nice to them so that they will leave abortion alone?

It's pretty clear how inane such a wish is, because wingnuttery is based on the idea of reining in all women and making women behave, and abortion is one of the most central of the wingnut targets. They're not going to be reasonable about abortion just because Keenan kowtows to them at every chance she gets. They're going to make abortion illegal and then birth control, too. Which brings me back to the dysfunctional abused spouse model for Keenan.

But Vincy's find suggests yet another theory: That of a mole. Wouldn't it be something if all the time NARAL had been led by a wingnut activist? - Just joking.
*I'm assuming Fred checked that it is the same Nancy Keenan.

Let's Play the One Hundred Friends Game

This game takes general income and wealth statistics and converts them into the number of friends out of one hundred that would match each statistical group. Stuff like this:

The richest 1% of adults in the world own 40% of the planet's wealth, according to the largest study yet of wealth distribution. The report also finds that those in financial services and the internet sectors predominate among the super rich.

Ok. So one of the 100 friends gets 40 chocolate cakes, the other 60 chocolate cakes have to feed the other 99. What next? Perhaps this:

The bottom half of the population owned merely 1.1 percent of the globe's wealth. The net worth of the world's typical person — whose wealth was above that of half the world's population and below that of the other half —was under $2,200.

The widening gap between the global haves and the have-nots in large measure reflects the failure of less- developed countries to develop, while rich countries — particularly the United States — have experienced fast economic growth and a spectacular buildup of assets.

"Developed countries have pulled ahead of the rest of the world," said Edward N. Wolff, a professor of economics at New York University who is a co-author of the new study. "With the notable exception of China and India, the third world has drifted behind."

We have to rearrange the 60 cakes we gave the 99 friends. We have to take ONE chocolate cake and give it to 50 of those friends, while ONE friend gets 40 cakes and the remaining 59 cakes will be divided in varying proportions among the remaining 49 friends. This is how the world wealth distribution looks.

And what about Americans? Well, five of those 100 friends are Americans and those five get to eat 33 chocolate cakes.

Wealth is not the same as chocolate cakes, of course. Wealth is not the same as income, either. Wealth is like your bathroom sink with water in it. Income is the water that runs into the sink from the tap, and your expenses are the water running out through the hole at the bottom of the sink. Inheritances and such are like someone dumping a pailful of water into the sink whenever you get one.

This United Nations study on world wealth and its distribution is the first large study of its kind and it suffers from some obvious problems. For instance, it's hard to measure wealth and many countries don't keep good statistics on it. The valuing of wealth across countries is also tricky, because different countries have different pricing levels and it's a little easier to live on low incomes in low-income countries. But the inequalities are still very severe, even if we adjust the prices used to reflect this:

Worldwide wealth comparisons become somewhat less skewed when they use so-called purchasing power parities — the exchange rates at which products like a quart of milk or a TV set would cost the same thing everywhere. They correct distortions resulting from, for instance, the undervaluing of the Chinese yuan, and reflect more accurately the purchasing power of typical consumers in different countries.

Using this method, the United States still comes out on top but with a smaller share — about a quarter of the world's wealth. And China's share jumps to about 8.8 percent.

That's still like five chocolate cakes per American, on average. Note, though, that wealth is also unequally distributed within the United States, and here is where my game analog breaks down.

What does the very unequal distribution of world wealth mean? Other than rising anger from the poor as more and more of them get televisions in their villages and learn about how wealth is distributed? The answer varies depending on whom you ask. Here is a selection of opinions:

"These levels of inequality are grotesque," said Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam. "It is impossible to justify such vast wealth when 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. The good news is that redistribution would only have to be relatively small. Such are the vast assets of the rich that giving up a small part of their wealth could transform the lives of millions."

Madsen Pirie, director of the Adam Smith Institute, a free-market thinktank, disagreed that distribution of global wealth was unfair. He said: "The implicit assumption behind this is that there is a supply of wealth in the world and some people have too much of that supply. In fact wealth is a dynamic, it is constantly created. We should not be asking who in the past has created wealth and how can we get it off them." He said that instead the question should be how more and more people could create wealth.

Ruth Lea, director of the Centre for Policy Studies, a thinkthank set up by Margaret Thatcher, said that although she supported the goal of making poverty history she did not think increasing aid to poorer countries was the answer. "It's no use throwing lots of aid at countries that are basically dysfunctional," she said.


Wealth may be in some ways more important to own in the poor countries, because the governments themselves are poorer and lack the ability to provide pensions or health care or other programs which serve as insurance against calamitous life events. A poor person in a wealthy country has at least some access to these social insurance programs. Perhaps we should start by making the poor countries themselves wealthier?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report

It's like one of those fairy tales which starts with "If we had a penny and then found another" and which ends with "Then we'd be billionaires."* But O the unity of the group! O the civility of the group! O the bipartisanship of the group! O also the very high age and unelected nature of the group and the fact that its recommendations will not be adopted by George Bush who said this about them:

"This report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq," Bush said. "It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion.

"The commission is headed up to Congress, and I urge the members of Congress to take this report seriously. While they won't agree with every proposal -- and we probably won't agree with every proposal -- it, nevertheless, is an opportunity to come together and to work together on this important issue.

mmm. And ten more Americans died in Iraq today, in addition to many more Iraqis. I've grown cynical of all the political posturing.

And especially of the suddenly fashionable call for more civility, now that the very rude wingnuts are losing some of their power. Even Bush wants the bickering to stop:

"The country, in my judgment, is tired of pure political bickering that happens in Washington, and they understand that on this important issue of war and peace, it is best for our country to work together. And I understand how difficult that is, but this report will give us all an opportunity to find common ground, for the good of the country -- not for the good of the Republican Party or the Democrat Party, but for the good of the country."

(Bush's alleged commitment to bipartisanship would probably be easier to swallow if he referred to the opposition party by its proper name. Although the White House press office tidied up the official transcript, the fact is that even in talking about finding common ground, the president referred to the "Democrat party" -- a clipped, derogatory locution favored by those who suggest that it isn't "democratic.")

Besides, saying "Democrat" rhymes with "rat".
*It's not that bad, actually. But no report will make much difference at this point.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The World of Funny According to Christopher Hitchens

Did you read the piece Hitchens wrote on why women are not funny? If you didn't have the time or the interest or the ability to understand funniness, here are some snippets:

Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: "He's really quite cute, and he's kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he's so funny … " (If you yourself are a guy, and you know the man in question, you will often have said to yourself, "Funny? He wouldn't know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce bĂ©arnaise.") However, there is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: "She's a real honey, has a life of her own … [interlude for attributes that are none of your business] … and, man, does she ever make 'em laugh."

Now, why is this? Why is it the case?, I mean. Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.

All right—try it the other way (as the bishop said to the barmaid). Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life. If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift. Indeed, we now have all the joy of a scientific study, which illuminates the difference. At the Stanford University School of Medicine (a place, as it happens, where I once underwent an absolutely hilarious procedure with a sigmoidoscope), the grim-faced researchers showed 10 men and 10 women a sample of 70 black-and-white cartoons and got them to rate the gags on a "funniness scale." To annex for a moment the fall-about language of the report as it was summarized in Biotech Week:

The researchers found that men and women share much of the same humor-response system; both use to a similar degree the part of the brain responsible for semantic knowledge and juxtaposition and the part involved in language processing. But they also found that some brain regions were activated more in women. These included the left prefrontal cortex, suggesting a greater emphasis on language and executive processing in women, and the nucleus accumbens … which is part of the mesolimbic reward center.

This has all the charm and address of the learned Professor Scully's attempt to define a smile, as cited by Richard Usborne in his treatise on P. G. Wodehouse: "the drawing back and slight lifting of the corners of the mouth, which partially uncover the teeth; the curving of the naso-labial furrows … " But have no fear—it gets worse:

"Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon," said the report's author, Dr. Allan Reiss. "So when they got to the joke's punch line, they were more pleased about it." The report also found that "women were quicker at identifying material they considered unfunny."

Slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny—for this we need the Stanford University School of Medicine? And remember, this is women when confronted with humor. Is it any wonder that they are backward in generating it?


Precisely because humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals. And there is a huge, brimming reservoir of male unease, which it would be too easy for women to exploit. (Men can tell jokes about what happened to John Wayne Bobbitt, but they don't want women doing so.) Men have prostate glands, hysterically enough, and these have a tendency to give out, along with their hearts and, it has to be said, their dicks. This is funny only in male company. For some reason, women do not find their own physical decay and absurdity to be so riotously amusing, which is why we admire Lucille Ball and Helen Fielding, who do see the funny side of it. But this is so rare as to be like Dr. Johnson's comparison of a woman preaching to a dog walking on its hind legs: the surprise is that it is done at all.

Very funny, our Hitchens is, hammering away at this other sex he knows so very well without obviously ever bothering to spend any brain cells he still might have on that trivial and uninteresting and unfunny topic. "For some reason, women do not find their own physical decay and absurdity to be so riotously amusing". For some reason? Why doesn't Christopher offer us some sort of a quasi-theory on this assertion which he in any case rejects in the next mouthful?

The weirdest part of the whole rant is when Hitchens decides that to bash all women as unfunny, unintelligent and vain he must put in something slightly less negative, so we get this:

For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing. Apart from giving them a very different attitude to filth and embarrassment, it also imbues them with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle. This womanly seriousness was well caught by Rudyard Kipling in his poem "The Female of the Species." After cleverly noticing that with the male "mirth obscene diverts his anger"—which is true of most work on that great masculine equivalent to childbirth, which is warfare—Kipling insists:

But the Woman that God gave him,
every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue,
armed and engined for the same,
And to serve that single issue,
lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be
deadlier than the male.

My cup runneth over. First I get bashed for not getting jokes, for not being able to make them, for not being intelligent, for being vain, and then I get told that this is because I'm my uterus and in any case women are deadlier than men even though prisons are chock full of men for some reason and even though wars are a guy thing.

It's pretty awe-inspiring to think that someone like Christopher Hitchens can get up one morning (or whenever he gets up) and write something like this and then feel smug about it because he has explained Everything! Except that when I was a child I read a book my father had, called something like Speeches For Every Occasion, and it had a speech to Honor Women which said all the same things Hitchens said here, and this book was published in the 1920s. Pretty awe-inspiring, and pretty arrogant and also pretty stupid.

Why should I go through Hitchens' rant step-by-step, to correct all the stuff he hasn't bothered to study at all, because the Christopher Hitchenses of this world don't have to understand such lowly creatures as us baby factories? I'm not going to, because I'm pissed off and totally unfunny. But I can do the explaining, even spelling it out in simple terms and great detail, and if this is needed I will. But perhaps a short example will do:

I used to take my dogs for an early morning run at a local dogpark and there I used to meet the Jokey Guy with his dogs. He would eagerly grab my arm to tell the newest of his jokes, and I would politely listen and laugh at the appropriate point before getting away as nicely as possible.

One morning he accosted me with this joke:
"Why do women have shorter feet than men?"
"No idea," I said. "Why?" (See how nice I was.)
"Because evolution caused them to shrink so that women got closer to the sink. Hahaha!"

Funny how those large, florid men always turn out to taste stringier than you'd expect.
Thanks to g for the link.


The Snakepit Inc. ran out of heating oil yesterday, for reasons having something to do with a computer malfunction at the firm which meant that they forgot to send a truck around last month. I didn't notice the rapidly dropping temperature until I realized that I could see my outcoming breath in the air inside the house. Then things got colder pretty fast and much calling and yelling and pleading took place, and other miraculous events happened, including the arrival of a little man in a little van in lieue of the anticipated large oil truck, because a mere snake goddess cannot KNOW that she has run out of oil (those indicators are too tricky to read and trying to restart the boiler is too technical for her, of course). Then the little man kept going back and forth while carrying canisters of oil which he poured into the empty gut of the oil tank, all the time being menacingly monitored by Henrietta the Hound whose hackles never went down. That is how we got twenty gallons of oil, with the reassurances that more would be coming this morning, in an actual truck, the kind dependable people get instead of the little man and his canisters. Well, he wasn't a little man, rather a fairly large one, but it makes a better story with the little van.

The truck did arrive this morning. Praise all goddesses of ignitable materials and fossils. But then the boiler valve burst. You don't really want to know my mood for today's post or how it feels to move from the multi-layered look of clothing to the soaked-through-and-smelling-of-oil look. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, they send to fix the water valve problem. A temporary stopgap solution is in place right now, so I don't have mittens on though they are ready by the side of the keyboard.

Only women would write about their heating problems in such an excruciatingly boring detail, according to Christopher Hitchens, who just wrote an article about why women are not funny. Something to do with women having all the power in the world and also something to do with the need to have an audience for all those guy jokes about poop and penis problems. And then women don't get the joke until much later, so they mainly laugh on their way home from the standup comedy party. I'm so glad that Hitchens tells me how this world works, because of in vino veritas, you know.

Hmm. Maybe I should get drunk as a skunk while waiting for the valve man.

Model Envy - A Post On Economists

I'm allowed to bash economists a little, given that I belong to that stuffy group myself. And boy do we deserve some bashing. Via Atrios, I read the following from Angry Bear:

Robin Hanson thinks we economists are poorly treated:

Consider how differently the public treats physics and economics. Physicists can say that this week they think the universe has eleven dimensions, three of which are purple, and two of which are twisted clockwise, and reporters will quote them unskeptically, saying "Isn't that cool!" But if economists say, as they have for centuries, that a minimum wage raises unemployment, reporters treat them skeptically and feel they need to find a contrary quote to "balance" their story. I see the same pattern with my students - they'll easily believe physics claims, but are very reluctant to entertain standard economics claims.

The obvious next step (which Hanson takes) is to deplore the low level of economic education among nonexperts. If only, we sigh, sipping our Scotch through a plastic straw, if only those unwashed masses would kneel in front of our erudite mathematical models as eagerly as the do in front of those physics models. If only, we sigh, and fade back into the world where a mathematical model is fitted more because it's the simplest one to solve than because it would be the right one to use.

It sounds a lot like religion to me. Also like penis envy, in the sense that physics is a hard science, a rigorous science and one in which researchers climax early. So enviable. Economics, on the other hand, is a social science, a soft science, and one in which Milton Friedman was still quoted right before his death at a very ripe old age. - Shall I tell you what we economists really want? We want you to find our simple models far too difficult mathematically to follow, so difficult, indeed, that you must just accept them without understanding them at all. And we want you to confuse reality with our models or perhaps even prefer our models to reality. A few temples to us would be nice, too.

I sound angry here, and I am, a little, because model envy or physics envy or whatever you want to call it takes a tool and makes it into the thing itself. It's reality we are trying to explain, after all, not some sterile and often stationary world with no uncertainty or informational asymmetries and with assumptions never fulfilled in many real world markets.

Models can be very useful, but they are models. Natural sciences can test the formulas and models in laboratory circumstances. Social sciences don't have that luxury, partly, because even if laboratories were used they would be artificial environments likely to affect the outcomes, not ways of holding external influences constant. This means that social sciences muddle through and actually study something more complicated than some of the physics models do, and it also means that we must view the social science models with a greater deal of scepticism.

And what about the claim in the quote above, the one which says:

But if economists say, as they have for centuries, that a minimum wage raises unemployment, reporters treat them skeptically and feel they need to find a contrary quote to "balance" their story.

As Atrios points out there are several models of labor markets and not all of them predict that unemployment would increase. It might also be useful to note that the standard model predicting a rise in unemployment with higher minimum wages is based on a model which assumes that all market participants know everything relevant in the market, including all wage offers and the productivity of every single worker, and that it is a partial model, not following through the chains of events caused by the wage changes in neighboring markets or the local area in general and then back to the market where the firms products are sold.

But even if every single model gave the same prediction of higher unemployment levels economics must take into account something over and above that, and this something is the actual evidence on what happens when minimum wages are raised. Just like physicists' models must be proven in laboratory tests. Funny, innit?

Separate But Equal?

The Supreme Court is considering hammering in yet another nail on the coffin lid of racial integration in American schools. The case it has decided to study (and to use to make diversity programs ever harder to carry out) has to do with school assignment:

In the first test of school integration efforts to come before the court since Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Samuel Alito joined the bench last term, the justices heard two cases — one from Seattle, the other from Louisville — that examine whether using race in school assignments violates the Constitution's equality guarantee.

The court has supported affirmative action policies in education, most recently in 2003, when Justice Sandra Day O'Connor joined the nine-member court's four liberals to allow colleges to consider race in admissions to get diversity.

O'Connor is retired now, replaced by Alito. And Monday's two hours of arguments indicated that the court is moving toward a harder line on race-based policies.

The key player appeared to be Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is at the ideological center of the court. As the liberals asked questions that suggested they supported the school districts' policies, Kennedy joined conservative justices in expressing skepticism about programs that transfer some students out of their neighborhoods to counteract racially segregated housing patterns in those cities.

Kennedy bristled at the notion of "characterizing each student by the color of his or her skin," even for benevolent reasons. He rejected arguments that such policies do not stigmatize or otherwise harm students because all pupils end up with a place in a classroom, even if they are denied the school of their choice.

"The question is whether or not you can get into the school that you really prefer," Kennedy said. "And that in some cases depends solely on skin color. You know, it's like saying everybody can have a meal but only people with (a particular) skin can get the dessert."

Now that last paragraph is a most hilarious one for anyone who has studied the U.S. educational system, because the average black student goes to a school with far fewer resources than the average white student, and in a much more concrete sense giving up on legal attempts at integration wll leave many black students without "dessert". Without education which qualifies him or her to go to college, for example.

But something other than that is more important for these wingnut judges: Things must look extremely neutral in a very narrow legalistic sense and under no conditions can there be any inconvenience to anybody (white).

Believe it or not, I understand why some white parents are angry when their child is not allowed to attend a nearby school for reasons of racial balance. I do understand the concerns. But I'm not sure if these parents and others who oppose any programs attempting to keep at least a few schools racially desegregated really understand what is at stake here. Without exaggerating very much, a country which pays no attention to racial integration might end up in a civil war one day. A country consisting of segregated groups living separate AND unequal lives is not going to be a peaceful one for very long.

Don't believe me? Well, how about considering the history of racial segregation? You must have heard about the segregated water fountains, the segregated restaurant lunch counters, and you must have heard about the Civil Rights movement which ended all those things. And you must have heard that schools were largely racially segregated until the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in the 1950s. This Supreme Court decision made intended racial segregation in schools illegal and required school districts to institute programs that would cause schools to become integrated.

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Especially considering the fact that the average black schools had but a spoonful of the pie the average white schools offered their students in resources. Indeed, the Supreme Court argued that "separate" can never be "equal". This was in response to a nineteenth century case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, which had found that trains could have separate negro compartments as long as they were as comfy as the white compartments. It was the very fact of intentional segregation and its psychological consequences on black children that the Supreme Court of the 1950s found so objectionable.

Fast forward to the first decade of the second millennium, and the Supreme Court finds rather different matters objectionable. Segregation isn't a problem at all. Rather, it is the attempts to desegregate that are causing racial discrimination. So.

To be fair, this turnaround is not a new thing. Desegregation was resisted from day one and progress has moved on at a snail's pace if at all. There are several reasons for the slowness of any change, including racism, but the one most often quoted has to do with the need to bus children long distances at tender ages if schools are to be integrated. Or as in the most recent case under examination, to direct children to schools which are not their parents' first choices. These moves are necessary for one very simple reason: racial/ethnic segregation in housing. Blacks and whites mostly don't live in the same areas, and the same applies to Latino and Anglo families.

Let's ask the important question: Supposing the new wingnut-enforced Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action in education, what will the consequences be? My answer is a simple one: Such a decision will make education more segregated along racial and ethnic lines. It will also cause a larger quality difference between the average education a minority child receives and the average education a child belonging to the majority receives.

Why the latter prediction? Because public education in the United States is largely funded from local taxes. Poorer areas have less money for schools and will end up having schools with fewer resources. Blacks and Latinos are, on average, poorer than white and Anglo families, and are more likely to live in poor school districts. What the consequences of these quality differences will be for the future positions of blacks and Latinos in the society I leave to you to consider.

It could be that these effects don't matter that much for wingnuts who are uninterested in a fair and harmonious society. It could also be that things might not get much worse than they already are, for even though intentional segregation in education is illegal, "unintentional" segregation is commonplace. A few years ago a study found that two-thirds of all black and Latino children attended schools where the students belonged mostly to minority groups. Add to that the white flight into private schools and suburban public schools and one might cynically argue that the wingnut Justices can't do much more harm than already exists.

One might so argue, but one would be wrong. Things will certainly become worse if it's clear that the option of doing nothing is the preferred one. Races and ethnic groups will become more isolated from each other and education will become more uneven. The education a child gets will depend even more on his or her race. The very argument Kennedy seems to find so reprehensible is the one his opinion might bring about.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Walrus Resigns

John Bolton has resigned, or will resign, once his recess appointment comes to an end.

What does this mean? I naturally hope that it means a more intelligent U.N. policy by the U.S., but it might also mean that either Bush has found someone even more ill-mannered to represent this country or that he has some wonderful star-studded role for Bolton to serve.

I will miss the moustache, though, the reason why this post is titled the way it is. How does one keep it from getting into food all the time?

Running As Woman In Politics

Tony Blair's fourth child was born while he was already Britain's Prime Minister. To get by, he did what some other dads in high-pressure jobs do: He tucked his kids in to bed at night, then went back to the office.

The above quote is not a real one. I did a reversal on an actual quote about Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate for the presidency of France:

Segolene Royal gave birth to her fourth child while she was France's environment minister. To get by, she did what some other moms in high-pressure jobs do: She tucked her kids in to bed at night, then went back to the office.

Royal, the Socialist candidate in this spring's presidential elections, has become a symbol of modern French womanhood. Well-spoken, smart and stylish, the 53-year-old lawmaker is a mother of four who balanced her family life with a career as one of France's most powerful women.

Why bother to do such a reversal? Perhaps because it's always good to look at the barriers women face in the public sector, especially given the large number of misogynists who believe that women are just not smart enough or interested enough to get involved in politics. Or perhaps I still hope to cause a few "Aha!" experiences among some unsuspecting readers. Such as the realization that nobody wonders if Tony Blair has "balanced" his life with his career, so he doesnt't have to spend any energy on proving that he is, after all, a proper man, and that saved energy is available for his work.

Women such as Segolene Royal or Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi have to pass a test before they can be taken seriously as politicians, a test which I shall call the Fear Of Insufficient Womanliness Test. This is where the woman must prove that she is still a conventional woman in all the important ways, that the children she has will not suffer if she runs, that her husband won't have to eat frozen dinners, that she will still try to look and act feminine. That doing all this AND being a president or the Speaker or a senator is necessary suggests one reason why so few women bother with politics.

Add to the first test I just discussed the second test these same women must pass, one which I shall call the Fear of Excessive Womanliness Test, and it's no wonder that the number of viable women candidates starts shrinking rapidly. In the second test the woman must prove that she is not at all like any of the worst stereotypes about women, not at all. She is not catty, nosir. She is not overly emotional, nope. She is not weak, a pushover or unable to call for people to be killed if needed. Just imagine if men like Tony Blair or George Bush would have to pass a similar Excessive Manliness Test where they'd have to prove that they won't suddenly go all red-faced and bulgy-eyed with anger, that they won't get carried away with penis-comparisons, that they won't fail to see social cues in the behavior of VIPs from other countries. Just imagine what that would do to the number of men representing Americans in the Congress.

It's hard to imagine, because we see men, especially white men in the U.S., as individuals, not as icons of their sex and/or race, and individuals carry a lot less weight on their shoulders than do walking representatives of a whole sex or race.

HaHa! Gotcha!

Danny Glover has written a much-discussed article about bloggers. The gist of the piece is this:

THE Netroots." "People Power." "Crashing the Gate." The lingo of liberal Web bloggers bespeaks contempt for the political establishment. The same disdain is apparent among many bloggers on the right, who argued passionately for a change in the slate of House Republican leaders — and who wallowed in woe-is-the-party pity when the establishment ignored them.

You might think that with the kind of rhetoric bloggers regularly muster against politicians, they would never work for them. But you would be wrong.

Over the past few years, bloggers have won millions of fans by speaking truth to power — even the powers in their own parties — and presenting a fresh, outsider perspective. They are the pamphleteers of the 21st century, revolutionary "citizen journalists" motivated by personal idealism and an unwavering confidence that they can reform American politics.

But this year, candidates across the country found plenty of outsiders ready and willing to move inside their campaigns. Candidates hired some bloggers to blog and paid others consulting fees for Internet strategy advice or more traditional campaign tasks like opposition research.

If you read the whole article, you also find a graphic which shows several bloggers who have accepted assignments from politicians, together with the amounts (usually fairly low) that these bloggers have been paid. The list isn't quite correct in its implications, by the way. Jesse, for instance, handed Pandagon over before he took a political job. But the point of the piece is probably not in giving precise information on those bloggers who may have somehow failed to be the angry citizens hammering at the gates and actually got through the gates. The point is to lament the idea that those hammering at the gates actually want to get in. Now I find this weird: If I hammer at your door it doesn't mean that I'm trying to scare you into running out through the back to leave the house empty; it means that I want to be let in.

What Glover is really saying in this piece is that bloggers can be corrupted with money, and that this makes them no better than the political establishment. You can't be a righteous idealist with a heavy purse of gold pieces, I guess, although nobody has let me try that combination out yet. But then you can't be a righteous idealist without food and housing and clothes, either, and money buys those things.

It's weird how suddenly all the thousands of liberal bloggers become a short list of a few names, too. Well, it's not weird at all. It's the way the establishment tries to define blogs: by looking for the traditional leaders in a hierarchical system and by trying to either destroy or co-opt those "leaders".

None of this has anything to do with blogs like this one. I'm not trying to break into the political corridors of power, and I'm not going to work for any politician. Which means that I just wrote about something totally irrelevant, I guess.

Want A Headache?

If so, perhaps I can be of service. My weekend Deep Thought had to do with my belief that the universe and human behavior and other similar serious issues are all irreducibly complex, and that no amount of analysis or religious writing can really simplify all this to a few statements and rules. The corollary to this Thought was that for some odd reason many people deny this complexity and insist on very simple solutions to everything. In other words, they refuse to agree with me...

But more seriously, or probably less seriously but in a more serious way, I came up with this conclusion:

There are two kinds of people: Those, who find the universe irreducibly complex and those who prefer simple but false dualisms.

Heh. I think I just gave birth to a paradox.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

1973 In Calliope's Splicing Frame

Posted by olvlzl.

Yesterday morning NPR’s Weekend Edition had a bit of would-be funky pastiche of audio clips from commercials and other places. It was all right but it put me in mind of a much better made, much more interesting and much earlier piece done by the too little known American composer, Ruth Anderson. The 1997 revision of her 1973 piece SUM (State of the Union Message) was put out on the CD Lesbian American Composers by the late and lamented CRI label*.

SUM is about the most fun of any avant-garde music I’ve heard. With it’s clever editing and manipulation of sampled radio and TV commercials and other bits, subtle structure and sly, period gender-bending it’s got the feel of a condensed day at Coney Island. Or, since the closest I’ve gotten to that is the bizarre spectacle of the old peer at Old Orchard Beach, it’s how I’d imagine Coney Island used to be. And isn’t that what radio is all about? Well, the piece does end with a calliope, after all. It’s concentrated, surreal nostalgia.

CRI is gone and it’s catalog which went to New World Records, hasn’t yet been reissued. Though there are intentions to do that, it is too bad that this piece and other works which could be, aren’t available in some lower overhead format. I’ve only heard a few of Ruth Anderson’s pieces and I’d like to hear more. I might even look into something faster than dial-up if they were available.

* If you are interested, you who might be able to find one of the few remaining copies, the disc is Lesbian American Composers, Composers Recordings Inc, CRI CD 780.

Cheney Is Planning On Preventing Oversight

Posted by olvlzl.

John Dean has an important article about why the Democrats are going to need support to finally provide oversight to the Cheney-Bush regime. The media has been doing their best on behalf of their god-king so it's going to be to The People to make certain the facts are discovered and made public.

Rumblings on Capitol Hill suggest that Republicans may literally be "out of control" as the minority party. Many Republicans in Congress are upset that they will lose their perks, and they want to punish the Democrats for winning. In addition, the White House believes its conservative base wants it to make life difficult for the Democrat Congress, so they will assist in doing just that.

The word on K Street is also that making life difficult for Congressional Democrats will help Republicans win the White House and Congress in 2008. As one well-connected Republican attorney in Washington told me: "We see a war coming on Capitol Hill." In fact, many Congressional Republicans believe they are better at being opponents than proponents, so they look forward to raising hell.

Since Democrats are going to encountering some major stonewalling, when they try to pursue oversight of the Bush Administration, this raises two key questions: What should the Democrats do in response to the stonewalling, and how should they do it?

A lot of people were predicting that Cheney in particular would go to any lengths to stop his activities from being looked at. The obvious reason would be that he has been guilty of high crimes of an impeachable nature. He is cornered. He and the Republican media will do everything they can to keep the Congress from doing it's job. Literally they will do anything that they can, don't be surprised no matter what happens. These are the people who invaded Iraq, afterall.

It's a two part article, the second part will be as important as the first.

Could This Empty Suit Be Your Next President?

Posted by olvlzl.

Mitt Romney is touching all the bases in his attempt to win the Republican nomination for President. He's going after the support of the gay-bashers, the neo-confederates, the Nordquist bunch and those who generally hate the state he pretends to govern. Now he's going to add to the burden of the Mass. State Police, giving them the responsiblity for arresting illegal residents. For those of you who haven't been keeping up with him you really should. For a person with such a high maintenance facade he's spends an amazing amount of time in the mud.

Swear Not At All

Posted by olvlzl.

ennis Prager wants to force non-Christian congressmen, and presumably others, to use a Christian Bible to swear the oath of office

Headlined, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," Prager argued that using the Quran for the ceremony "undermines American civilization."

"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible," he wrote. "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."

Conservative bloggers have picked up the criticism and run with it.

Apparently they're ready to make a religious test, willingness to swear on the Christian Bible, a requirement for office. Readers here will know, of course, that this is in direct violation to Article VI of The Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Will the originalists, Federalists, strict-constructionists rise up as one to defend the document of their idolatry? I'd say the chances of that are about the same as a close inspection of the outgoing congressional class of having fulfilled their oaths, presumably mostly taken on said Christian Bible.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: [So help me God].

Call me picky but if 5% of them fulfilled this solumn oath, especially the support and defend the Constitution part, I'll buy a hat and eat it.

Perhaps Praeger et al don't know this but Jesus had a few ideas about this business of taking oaths from Matthew Chapter 5:

33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:

35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

I know, it's the King James version, but you know I suspect only that version would be acceptable to them. Course, that could make the Catholics feel uneasy.

Will George W. Bush step in and tell Praeger et al to get stuffed in order to be a uniter? If he does I'll eat that hat I'm not going to have to eat for that other dare.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Retrospective View of a Narrowly Averted Sandbagging

Posted by olvlzl.

When she appointed Silvestre Reyes to head the House Intelligence Committee Nancy Pelosi didn’t please everyone, some on blog threads complained about him being too conservative, I, frankly, don’t know. What was clear is that she had masterfully solved the Harman-Hastings controversy that had been cooked up by a media obviously set on destroying her effectiveness in governing the House. And it is more than slightly plausible that Harman had played a hand in promoting the “scandal” as a means of getting herself appointed by setting up a weak alternative in Hastings.

This piece from Thursday has some information that I’d managed to miss in all the junk about it, including this eye opener:

UPDATE: Not that any more are required, but one should add to the pile of myths and falsehoods fueling this story the notion that Pelosi was "denying" Harman her natural and rightful place as Chair, or "demoting" her or pushing her aside. In fact, the House Intelligence Committee -- in addition to having unique non-seniority rules -- also has unique term-limit rules, limiting members to no more than four terms in a six term period.

Harman had met the term limits, and thus, rather than having some entitlement to become Chair, Harman was hoping that Pelosi would, in essence, break or waive the rules in order to appoint her. Pelosi did not go out of her way to "deny" Harman what would have been her rightful place, the central assumption of most of the anti-Pelosi commentary. The opposite is true: Pelosi would have had to invoke unusual steps in order to appoint Harman as Chair.

In the two attempts at turning Nancy Pelosi into damaged good, this and the Majority Leader contest there is the same MO that the media used with Clinton, turn nothing into scandals, declare observance of the rules to be illegitimate, report rumor as if it was fact...

While I am certain that Nancy Pelosi is smarter than her enemies in the press, they outnumber her and they’ve got the mic. Without our support for her efforts the corporate media can destroy her and, most importantly, stop the efforts to defeat George Bush and the massively corrupt Republican Party. It’s going to be hard enough just to keep the Jane Harman’s in the party from blindsiding her. But maybe Nancy Pelosi is showing them that she won't cave in to that kind of intimidation.

Imagining Arizona Dranes c. 1905-?

Posted by olvlzl.

Arizona Dranes was a blind, African-Mexican American, Pentecostalist* singer and piano player from Dallas. She was featured on about 16 sides in the 1920s and accompanied groups on a few others the last of which dates from 1928. That is the extent of her recording career. She is known to have performed in Pentecostalist circles until 1947 when she abruptly disappears from documentation. Some believe she died in the 60s. The scant handful of miscellaneous facts about her live, her education at the Texas Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youth in Austin and her playing piano for the Church of God in Christ don’t add much to our knowledge of her life. Whatever else that was, it wasn’t a climb to the top of the music business.

But listening to her recordings **, all made when she was in her twenties, it is clear that she was an unusually talented musician with a powerful and fluent piano style. Jerry Lee Lewis could have learned a thing or two from her. Her singing was vigorous and entirely unafraid. The diction is what you would expect from someone trained in the elocution of the period, clear and refined. I might not believe the message but this is the real thing, music of total conviction.

We can assume that Arizona Dranes must have thought about the musical world outside of Pentacostalism. She clearly knew the positively irreligious “barrel house style” which supplies a lot of the rhythms and techniques she sanctified in her gospel music. It is likely that she could have had more success and a real recording career if she had been willing to play secular music or to play in venues beside churches and revivals. Sr. Rosetta Tharp, who some say was influenced by Arizona Dranes, took that path and had a long and successful career that extended to New York and Europe.

The temptation is to regret that Arizona Dranes didn’t do the same thing, to believe that her beliefs, as much as the bigotry she faced, robbed her of success. Though possible that might not be true. Her life was undoubtedly limited by bigotry towards her ethnicity, her gender and her blindness but maybe it wasn’t limited by a choice to remain “in the church.” Maybe like Emily Dickinson, Arizona Dranes chose from the options available to her the one which seemed to offer what she wanted. Dickinson almost certainly wouldn’t have produced her work without her unmarried isolation. Maybe Arizona Dranes found something that doesn’t show up in the documents, some source of light or purity that those of us who aren’t Pentecostalist don’t see, maybe it was the best available career choice.

Her life might look like it was sacrificed to a rigid and limited sect but it is condescending to think that a woman of her obvious intelligence and will wouldn’t have been capable of making her own decisions. There isn’t any evidence that she compromised her dignity.

* I believe this is the Pentecostalism of the Azusa Street Revival of William Joseph Seymour which, though quite conservative, held to a level of racial and gender equality which were revolutionary for the time. It was one of the few religious sects in that period which had women preachers. Maybe given the facts of the world she lived in, Arizona Dranes was as free as she could hope to be within it’s confines. We can’t know, we can only hear what is there to be heard.

**Complete recordings by her and other early gospel singers are on:
Spreading The Word, Early Gospel Recordings JPS7733

You can hear some sound clips here and here. Note: I’m on dial up so I haven’t actually tried these.

Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia,

See, hear, speak and think no evil of industry.
or, Don't bother me with the facts.

Posted by olvlz.

It would be hard to imagine a more serious problem than global warming, the subject of this fact based column by Derrick Z. Jackson.

Just moments after James Milkey, Massachusetts assistant attorney general, opened his statement on how the state "will be hit particularly hard" by rising oceans, Scalia pounced on him with: "I thought that the standing requires imminent harm. If you haven't been harmed already, you have to show the harm is imminent. Is this harm imminent?"

Milkey responded, "It is, your honor. We have shown that the sea levels are already occurring from the current amounts of greenhouse gases in the air, and that means it is only going to get worse as the . . ."

Scalia interrupted again with, "When? I mean, when is the predicted cataclysm?"

Jackson then goes on to point out that the duck-killing "justice" should learn more about his hobby. Will he? It is unlikely. The case will be decided by whatever Anthony Kennedy decides to do. It is entirely possible that the future of the biosphere depends on what he has for breakfast the day the "justices" vote.

In the Globe's Quotes of Note sidebar there is this quote from Al Gore:

"In the arguments, Justice Scalia said, 'I'm not a scientist, I don't want to deal with global warming." I just wish he felt that way about presidential elections."

Also read Jackson's recent columns in an ongoing series about the real Martin Luther King. The great one who really lived, not the innocuous myth.

Crime And Blandishment

Posted by olvlzl.

Yesterday in a discussion on Hullabaloo of the too late and too partial enlightenment of the pro-war liberals about Iraq, the proposal was made that there should be real consequences, professional and social, to having called for what was so plainly an illegal, unprovoked, unwise and just plain stupid war. Ok, I said it. Usually it’s the punishment of policy makers but here it’s a member of the clerical class, the press. In response, I was accused by one of Josh Marshall’s defenders of calling for those of insufficient doctrinal purity to be lined up against the wall, as is charged against the communists in the Spanish Civil War. Don’t you wish that the Orwell fad would pass? Who ever thought reading that dyspeptic contrarian, good for all excuses, would unhinge so much of the center-left? What I had advised was that if they wanted to redeem themselvs they should quit the centers of corruption in DC and go do some fact-based reporting away from the temptations of the insider world. Temptations they apparently can’t resist.

While it is true that Marshall is far, far from the worst of the media I just can’t get over that big and growing pile of corpses, the wards full of the maimed, those maimed who don’t have access to hospitals because they are chuck in the middle of a horrible civil war, their suffering families. In order to explain my eagerness to see that there be real consequences for what people of influence write let me pose this thought experiment.

Say that instead of supporting the invasion of Iraq these pro-war liberals had been caught red-handed, plagiarizing a column about baseball. What are the consequences for this crime against words? The career and social penalties for someone guilty of stealing words run from temporary banishment to total and lifetime damnation. Race, gender, past-profitability and political persuasion being the usual mitigating factors.

Shouldn’t the promotion of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, helping to bring about the entirely unnecessary and futile carnage and the fully predicted spreading regional disaster, carry a heavier penalty than paying an author the compliment of stealing their words? I can tell you from experience that sloppy punctuation on a blog thread carries more of an onus than promoting this war has for most of it’s supporters.

You pro-invasion liberals, don’t you think you should take some time off and ponder your folly? At the very least, shouldn’t you go back and study what the side that turned out to be right had to say about it during the run up? Don’t bother with sappy, self-interested contrition, that’s useless and it’s gotten old. You want respect, you’re going to have to earn it. Forget your ambitions, that’s what led you to where you are now. Try the facts, they’re not heavily rewarded but they are what will turn out to be real in the end.

Don't Bother Milton, The World Hath No Need of Thee

Posted by olvlzl.

The short burst of adulation at the death of Milton Friedman was overly polite, hardly mentioning his association with Chilean fascism. He’d been smart enough to send some of his boys to do the dirty work, though it was under Pinochet that some of his more stridently held views got a try out. The favorite of those among conservatives is the pension system. That it has not turned out to not provide the boon that it’s admirers here continue to pretend it does hasn’t gone unnoticed in, now democratic, Chile. You can read this piece in The Guardian, which shows that Friedman’s only lasting achievement in the real world was one he was deeply ashamed of, witholding taxes.

Failure in the real world isn’t, of course, any bar to the establishment’s hagiography industry. Here in the United States an academic who has told the rich and powerful what they wanted to hear, didn’t get into trouble with his more powerful colleagues and, especially, who was successfully sold in the pop media is assured a place in the grand pyramid of hype. Friedman will, officially, be a genius for quite a while to come.

A more interesting view of his Chicago School style is held in this piece by Christopher Hayes, describing his experience while taking an Intro to Econ. class in the Vatican of neo-classical economics. His description of what he learned there should force a change in name, this program of dogma and theology isn’t neoclassic, it’s neo-scholastic. Most interesting to me is the section in which he describes the appeal of the system.

As taught by Sanderson, economics is a satisfyingly neat machine: complicated enough to warrant curiosity and discovery, but not so complicated as to bewilder. Like a bicycle, input matches output (wind the crank and the wheel moves), and once you've got the basics of the model down, everything seems to make sense.

He goes on to say that so much of the money babble in the media became comprehensible to him because he had learned the patter of the system, the lingo of this branch of the trivium. Marketplace and the Wall Street Journal became understandable. You can imagine that the beginning student in Thomist Philosophy or even quasi-religious, official system experiencing a similar thrill as the scales fell away and they beheld the majesty of their ticket to the easy life as a cog in the machine. Not the key to the universe exactly, to the university. Or at least tenure. This next paragraph in Hayes’ article holds not just for economics but for most of the social sciences:

The simple models have an explanatory power that is thrilling. Once you've grasped the aggregate supply/aggregate demand model, you understand why stimulating demand may lead, in the short run, to growth, but will also produce inflation. But the content of that understanding turns out to be a bit thin. Inflation happens because, well, that's where the lines intersect. "A little economics can be a dangerous thing," a friend working on her Ph.D in public policy at the U. of C. told me. "An intro econ course is necessarily going to be superficial. You deal with highly stylized models that are robbed of context, that take place in a world unmediated by norms and institutions. Much of the most interesting work in economics right now calls into question the Econ 101 assumptions of rationality, individualism, maximizing behavior, etc. But, of course, if you don't go any further than Econ 101, you won't know that the textbook models are not the way the world really works, and that there are tons of empirical studies out there that demonstrate this."

The damned empirical world, always marring the beautiful and simple thing. But for most people Econ. 101 is farther than they'll ever go. For them a small collection of slogans. As in the most famous model, they can still believe the earth is the center of the solar system, the real world isn't allowed to filter into the more popular areas of the media or political speeches. If anyone has seen any evidence of the real world in the Bush II regime or the cabloid media, it’s just a mirage.

The problem isn’t that reality isn’t known, it’s that like any late stage empire, the system and it’s rotting foundations are what are really important to those who hope to plunder the ship as it beaches. The scribes and praise singers don’t really believe what they’re writing, they just want their efforts to pay the most. That’s why they do what they do. How long do you think “Market Place” would stay on public radio if they focused on the worsening position of most people under the system we have now? How many working class people do you know who are better off after deregulation and open markets? I don't know a single one, not one. No money, no influence.

And it isn't just the working class and the destitute that lose from the agreed to lie of conservative economics. As we watch the disaster of global warming, pollution and overpopulation becoming real around us, remember that Friedman was a total opponent to environmental regulation. Looks like he got out just in time, doesn’t it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The AIDS Quilt

I saw parts of it yesterday. The real shock is when you start reading and studying the individual quilt squares, the longing and the grief and the celebration of lives which were cut too short. And the enormous amount of creative energy that just floods out of the quilts. I cried.

Today is the World AIDS Day. We have grown used to AIDS, we are no longer frightened to death by it, just because people with AIDS can now live longer if they get the right medications. But in many parts of the world the medications are not available, and AIDS is still the greatest human catastrophy happening right now.

This is what we have to juggle with, the enormity of the problem on the one hand and the acute personal grief of each death caused by AIDS on the other, a patchwork quilt in some odd dimension. It is difficult to keep both in view at the same time, and losing sight of one distorts the way the problem should be treated. Yes, AIDS is a giant which eats people like popcorn. Yes, AIDS is the death of a young woman (left herself a widow by it) in Africa, leaving her children parentless and possibly infected themselves, leaving the grandparents or older siblings responsible for more and more children, causing many children to end up careless altogether, on the streets. But also: Yes, we can starve this giant if we really want to. I hope we want to.

Aphrodite Blogging

Just some pictures of the beach where she was born:

Thanks to PJ

From The Mouths Of Little Girls With Leopard-Spotted Gloves

This video has been making the rounds. It's the handiwork of Bastard Fairies, and I originally saw it on Brilliant at Breakfast, but I stole it from Watertiger.

Rush Limbaugh

Here is the loverboy of the wingnuts going on about the majority of the human race:

From the November 30 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: My cat -- here's how you can get fooled. My cat comes to me when she wants to be fed. I have learned this. I accept it for what it is. Many people in my position would think my cat's coming to me because she loves me. Well, she likes me, and she is attached, but she comes to me when she wants to be fed. And after I feed her -- guess what -- she's off to wherever she wants to be in the house, until the next time she gets hungry. She's smart enough to know she can't feed herself. She's actually a very smart cat. She gets loved. She gets adoration. She gets petted. She gets fed. And she doesn't have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat's taught me more about women, than anything my whole life. But we put voices in their mouths.

Bolds mine.

My rule about insulting people is that I try not to do that, except in self-defence, and then all stops are pulled. So here it goes:

Rush Limbaugh is something that accidentally crawled out of the primal slime. Accidentally, because his bits and pieces never fit quite right and he never lost the fat and swollen shape of a slimeball. Accidentally, because whatever might have created the slime in the first place forgot to insert a few human codifiers into this particular gunk of stinky snot, things such as conscience, empathy and manners. Or the ability to ever get it up except by looking at torture pictures or snaps of Big Macs.

Rush Limbaugh is an ugly, self-centered, addicted piece of crap. I bet he eats his own dingleberries during those long and lonely nights when none of his ex-wives will talk to him when he calls to whine.

The Arid Land Of Politically Correct Debate

Or translated into a juicier language: Gimme sterility or gimme cunt. All this is in reference to some thoughts I've had today on the question whether the price of trying to avoid sexist and racist slurs is the death of all full-blooded and flavorful writing. Jane Hamsher, quoted in Shakespeare's Sister's blog post (with Sis's views on the topic which you should read), thinks that this might be the case:

Jane doesn't want FDL to become "a slave to the PC language police who want to mau-mau it into sterility by throwing around loaded and innacurate [sic] race- and gender-baiting accusations," which I understand, because I use both the word whore and the word cunt—and have defended their use on multiple occasions. But there are ways to use words and there are ways to use words—and knowing the difference, rooting out the subversive context from that which simply perpetuates oppression, is not enslaving oneself to language police; it's doing the basic work required of someone who wants to be edgy, rather than a retrofuck jackhole.

FDL is Firedoglake, Jane's blog, and what Jane is talking about in that quote is something that many people say: If we start policing language to avoid insulting particular groups, what sort of a language do we have left? An amputated one, with no lips and half a heart? Or something that sounds like one of those summaries you get on the medical studies they've done on your prescription pills (studies lasting for two months, by the way, while you take the stuff for fifteen years and recently find red horns growing on your forehead, but sure, the stuff is safe as it has been tested).

The fear some people (and almost all wingnuts) have is that language loses its evocative power and its rich history if we limit ourselves to only non-insulting terms. And that might be a real risk if language never evolved, if new smears (such as "asshat") were not invented all the time and if they never replaced older ones. But the evocative power of words such as "cunt" is something that I don't enjoy: to be reminded of how much some people detest my gender and my sexual organs. Likewise, the "rich" history of words such as "nigger" is a history of oppression and treating blacks as inferiors. Funny, by the way, how most people have stopped using "nigger" as a slur, at least in public arenas, but losing the use of "cunt" somehow causes a lot more debate about historical losses. This is probably further evidence of the greater unacceptability of open racism when compared to open sexism.

Shakespeare's Sister makes an interesting point in her post about this topic, and that is this one:

Sometimes in the past I have used cunt as an insult. (When CNN invited Ann Coulter to comment on the 2004 presidential debates, I sniffed, "I didn't realize they had officially transformed into the Cunt News Network.") I'm not defending it; I can't. If someone had called me on it, they'd have been right, because, let's face it, I love using the word that way. I love its power to demean so neatly, so economically, and so completely. It has so much gorgeous power that it's almost irresistible. And any argument I tried to use to defend my right to call someone a cunt—not ironically, not as a compliment—would be total and complete bullshit. I wouldn't possibly try to claim that using it that way isn't nasty, when the reason I love it is because it is.

So I know damn well if I call someone a cunt to demean them, I'm going to get taken the woodshed, and rightfully so, and if I try to rationalize it, I'm full of shit. There it is.

In other words, if you insist on calling someone a cunt, you better realize how it reads to many and you better accept the reactions your use of the word will cause. It's not sufficient to deny those reactions or to accuse the other person of political correctness or lack of humor or picking on trivial stuff. Because words like "cunt" are heavy artillery and they are misogynistic. If that is what you want to use, go ahead. But don't hide behind something much flimsier when the counterbarrage starts.

Still, I can see gradations in the use of sexist slurs. To say that "person x is a cunt because of acts a, b and c" is slightly different from saying that "x is a cunt because all women are". The misogyny in the last comment is more obvious, though I'm uncertain whether it's less pernicious. Something so openly woman-hating is easier to defend against, inside the mind, as if it were, than something more indirect.

I believe that debate doesn't have to become arid if we try to avoid words that have a history of demeaning women or minorities or other groups which have traditionally been demeaned. It just takes a little bit more creativity to coin new terms for insults if that's what you wish to do, and it's always possible just to describe the evil acts of x and to leave the judging of x to the reader or listener. In any case, politically correct debate is something quite different from what I described in the previous two sentences, if we regard "politically correct" as that which flatters the groups in political power. That's how I view the term, and it would be a pity if my evocative and rich interpretation of it was denied.

Being A Fly On The Wall At The Supreme Court

It is not fun, at all, because the fly finds out how emotional these guys can be when deciding on matters that affect all our lives. Here is Scalia on the case about Bush administration's refusal to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases in new vehicles:

Milkey faced skeptical questioning from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the court's newest members, but the most sustained -- and entertaining -- interrogation came from Scalia.

At one point, he acknowledged the role of carbon dioxide as a pollutant in the air but wondered about it being a pollutant in the "stratosphere."

"Respectfully, Your Honor, it is not the stratosphere. It's the troposphere," Milkey said.

"Troposphere, whatever. I told you before I'm not a scientist," Scalia said to laughter. "That's why I don't want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth."

For a second there I imagined how this quote would be taken if Scalia's first name was Antonia. Can you hear the screaming about women being genetically unable to understand science? How they shouldn't be judges, if they can't take the heat in the kitchen? Oh well, Scalia is not a woman so his expression doesn't matter.

Except that it shows an odd initial prejudice by a Supreme Court Justice.